Monday, October 6, 2008

Baseball's Playoff Problem

Do not be deceived by the fact that the bases are the same distance apart or that the uniforms are identical, post season baseball is not the same as the game we watch during the regular season.

To determine who makes the playoffs, teams are built to win consistently, daily, and ultimately to win 1 more game a month than their rivals. In the case of the White Sox, they won only one more game than the Twins to make the playoffs. In other words, it took, in their case, 163 games to establish difference.

In the playoffs, particularly the silly 5-game first round, they determine the best team in only 3 games. Over the course of 162 games, the difference between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Philadelphia Phillies was 2 games (or a 1.2% gap). Clearly you have to draw the line somewhere. A playoff series head-to-head (without all those other pesky teams from the regular season) is a good way to limit statistical variance, but 5 games (equal to 3% of the 162 played in the regular season)? By contrast, the NFL plays 1-game playoff rounds, but that is equal to 6.3% of their regular season and the NBA always plays 7-game rounds, or the equivalent of 8.5% of their regular season.

Complicating baseball's problems further, is the fact that with all the off-days during the playoffs, teams can play a completely different strategy than during the regular season by going to a three pitcher rotation. Which teams make the playoffs is usually determined by which teams' #5 starters are the best. In a 5-game series, the fifth starter might pitch out of the bullpen. This explains why the great Atlanta teams of the 90s always made the playoffs, but only won the World Series once. It also explains how the Cubs could lose to the Dodgers in 3 games: we didn't even see their complete regular season roster play.

I, for one, would like to see all the playoff series be at least 7, if not 9 games long. I can hear Selig from his perch chirping that it will make the season extend too late into Fall. My response: pish posh. Eliminate all the travel days, include a couple of double headers and get starters 4 and 5 involved. Then the post season will accurately reflect the game that teams played to win their way there.

1 comment:

Colin said...

I couldn't agree more. It should be just like the rigors of the regular season.