Friday, November 18, 2011

Playoff Cage Wrestling

I'm still undecided as to whether I like the new concept of a play-in game for the playoffs, however my real concern with the upcoming system is which two teams end up playing in the additional game. As a fan of a team in the AL East, I've seen many seasons where crappy teams in other divisions get home field advantage to a far superior Wild Card team. It usually wasn't too big of a problem since once the playoffs started the wildcard team was on essentially equal footing with the division winners, but with the new two wildcard team scheme about to be implemented I'm concerned that the wrong teams are being forced down the more difficult path to the World Series. I'm all for divisional rivalries and having winning the division mean something, but when most divisions only have one team that make the playoffs we've got to acknowledge the fact that often at least one divisional winner is undeserving of their playoff position.

Below is data on the playoff teams plus the additional two wild card teams from 2002-2011. S.O.S is the Strength of Schedule rank for the entire league (a rank of 1 indicates the team played the hardest schedule). There is the slight issue that winning teams play easier schedules since they are responsible for giving their opponents more losses, but given the range of wins in each case we should still be able to draw some meaningful conclusions.

So what can we draw from this? In the 20 league instances, 14 times the wild card team either had a greater win total than the worst division winner or had the same win total with a more difficult schedule. In fact 5 of those times the wild card team was better than the second division winner. When analyzing the potential second wildcard team, in 8 out of the 20 instances the second wild card team finished better than the worst division winner and once even better than the second division winner.

I want to see the best teams in the playoffs with a hopefully deserving team making it to the World Series. Unfortunately that just won't happen under the new playoff scheme. We've seen that the Wild Card team is usually better than at least one of the division winner and plays a tougher schedule to get there, why punish them further by putting them in a one-and-done game to get into the playoffs. Shouldn't it be the worst teams that play in that game. From 2002-2004 Minnesota made the playoffs as the third division winner, winning less games than the wild card winner, and playing the easiest schedule in the entire league. Under the new playoff scheme the two wild card teams with better records and tougher schedules would have to play a single game to get into the playoffs. How is this fair? I don't have a problem with rewarding Minnesota for winning their division, but this has gotten excessive. If they were to make the playoffs in a system like this, shouldn't they be the team forced into the single game playoff?

In these 20 instances, the third division winner won an average of 90.4 ± 4.4 games and had a S.O.S. rank of 22.5 ± 8.8. The wild card winner won 93 ± 2.7 games with a S.O.S. rank of 12.7 ± 7.5, and the second wild card team won 89.6 ± 2.0 games with a S.O.S. rank of 14 ± 8.1. The third division winner is clearly undeserving of its easy path. Nothing wrong with expanding the playoffs, let's just make sure its fairly skewed to the correct teams.

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