Discussion

New format lowers MLB's playoff bar

Changing the MLB playoff format would unfairly reward mediocre teams with postseason bids

Updated: January 14, 2011, 10:59 AM ET
By Doug Mittler | ESPN Insider

Baseball's owners meetings wrapped up yesterday, and one of the issues that was discussed was expanding the postseason. And based on Bug Selig's comments, the commissioner seems intent on moving forward with the plan after the 2011 season when the collective bargaining agreement expires. "I feel good about it," said Selig in regards to expanding the playoffs. "There is a lot of interest in it. But we have a lot of details to work out."

Most speculation suggests that the new format will be the following: Add one wild-card team per league, with the two wild cards playing either a one-game, winner-take-all or a best-of-three format. Proponents say it will legitimize the regular season, forcing potential playoff teams from the same division to actually compete instead of coasting in September when at least a wild-card berth looks secure.

We propose that Bud look back at the past few years and to see some unintended consequences. He would notice things like a play-in to the play-in and a 95-win team playing an 87-win team. Maybe this isn't so perfectly symmetrical after all.

We asked Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory to estimate how a one-game playoff matchup in each league between the top two wild-card qualifiers would have played out over the past five years. A look at these matchups, along with Szymborski's simulated outcomes (percent chance of winning in parentheses), shows how baseball is lowering the bar for October admission.

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