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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Two More Playoff Teams Added to Baseball... Too Many?

MLB has announced today that two more wild card playoff teams will be added starting in 2013 and quite possibly 2012. That brings the total amount up to 10 teams.

Is that too many teams? Baseball purists may seem to think so. After all, baseball has historically had very high standards for playoff teams. You usually had to win your division in order to be in the playoffs in years gone by. The wild card is a recent invention for the game, only showing up in 1994. Is it too soon to add another wrinkle? Are two more playoff teams two too many?
First, let's consider how many playoff teams get in to the playoffs in the other major sports.

In the NFL, with 32 teams, each division winner and two wild card teams per conference make it in, for a total of 12 teams. That's 37.5% of the total teams.

In the NBA, with 30 teams, eight teams per conference make it in, for a total of 16. That's 53.3%.

In the NHL, with 30 teams, eight teams from each conference end up in the playoffs. Once again, 53.3% of teams are in the playoffs.

With MLB's old rules, only four teams per league ended up in the playoffs. That's eight total out of 30 teams. That's 26.6% of the league.

If we add two more teams total, that brings our total of playoff teams to ten. That's 33.3% of the league will end up in the playoffs.

In comparison to the other major sports here in the US, baseball will still have some high standards for who gets to go to the playoffs, higher than all the other major sports.

Second, it won't hurt the sport that badly. We don't know how the rules will shake out, so we can't sort out what the matchups would have been exactly. Still, consider: This year, the Red Sox and the Braves, two very large markets, would have been in the playoffs. In 2010, the Red Sox and San Diego Padres would have been in. In 2009, the Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants would have been in, and so on. These are all decent teams, honestly.

So it wouldn't kill baseball to add two more teams. It wouldn't water down competition, and it's still far better than most other major sports leagues.

Edit: Deadspin likes it as well:
We've known this was coming for a while, but it's worth emphasizing if only because it's so rare that baseball does something clever. The purists will complain about playoff creep, but in a single stroke, the league ensured that a larger share of teams have an incentive to compete until the end of the season (whether it's the division leaders who don't want to slip into the uncertainty of the one-game wild card playoff, or the middling teams for whom a handful of additional wins might mean a playoff run). That's good for fans, and that's good for baseball's revenue streams. It's rare that those two things line up.