MLB playoffs uitgebreid naar TIEN teams


Chipper JonesGoed nieuws voor de Boston Red Sox en Atlanta Braves van 2012: vanaf heden plaatsen vijf teams per league zich voor de playoffs. Nu gaat niet alleen de beste niet divisie-winnaar door, maar de twee beste niet divisie-winnaars. Deze twee, de wildcards, nemen het dan in een one-game-playoff tegen elkaar op. De winnaar van deze one-game-playoff speelt vervolgens uit tegen de beste ploeg in de playoffs, die niet in dezelfde divisie zit.

De reden voor de uitbreiding van de playoffs is dat commissioner Bud Selig extra spanning wil aan het einde van het seizoen. Hij redeneert dat hierdoor extra teams nog playoff-kansen hebben en daardoor langer tot het gaatje zullen gaan. Een bijkomend voordeel is dat de one-game-playoff er voor zorgt dat de wild-card een must-win game achter de rug heeft, wat de niet wild-card teams voordeel geeft.

Aan de andere kant hebben de afgelopen seizoenen bewezen dat het systeem zoals wij dat nu kennen prima werkt. Meerdere malen moest er een ‘Game 163’ aan te pas komen om een playoff-plaats te beslissen. En ook vorig jaar (hoewel er geen game 163 aan te pas kwam) was het spannend tot aan het einde. Sterker nog, de laatste week was onbelangrijk geweest in het toekomstige systeem, want dan hadden de Red Sox en de Braves het sowieso moeten opnemen tegen de Tampa Bay Rays en St. Louis Cardinals in de wild-card ronde en waren de collapses die de Red Sox en de Braves parten speelden een kanttekening.

Baseball-writer Joe Sheehan heeft in zijn uiterst interessante en informatieve e-mail newsletter (30 dollar per jaar: TIP) het volgende te zeggen over de nieuwe wild-card regel:

Maybe the Padres had their run a few years too early. In the wake of the Yankees/Rays non-race in the AL East, in which both teams made it perfectly clear that the division title meant little versus getting ready for the postseason, there’s a movement afoot to implement a rule change that would force teams in similar positions to value the division title more than it was valued this year. The most popular of these involves allowing a second wild-card team from each league, and having the two wild-card teams meet in a very short playoff, either one game or a best-of-three, to advance.

I called this idea “unimaginably stupid” on Twitter, and trust me, I was underselling its problems. The idea is to make winning a division more valuable than winning the wild card, so much so that a team will have to try to win its division. What it effectively does, though, is make winning a bad division valuable. To use the 2010 AL season as an example, the Twins and the Rangers, both inferior to both the Yankees and Rays, would have been free to rest their regulars and set their rotations, because their divisions couldn’t produce a viable challenger. Meanwhile, the Rays and Yankees would be fighting for a division title to stay out of the Coin Flip Game. Despite being objectively better teams — both of them — they would both be disadvantaged relative to worse teams. A system that metes out punishment and reward in inverse proportion to quality is a bad system.

Let’s play it out, though. The Yankees and Rays bust their humps all month, win a few extra games, maybe 99 for the Rays, 98 for the Yankees. With a “second wild card” to play for, the Red Sox make a couple of small additions, pick up some wins in September and get to 91. One of those extra wins comes at the expense of the White Sox, who fade a bit faster, enabling the Red Sox to lock up their spot in the Coin Flip Game heading into their last series of the year.

Now, the #3 seed, the #4 seed are preparing for the playoffs, while the two best teams in the league are playing for the right to not be dropped into this unimaginably stupid Coin Flip Game against a team that, because the sixth-best team in the league is far enough behind the fifth-best, is itself resting! Moreover, after proving itself to be eight or so games better than than its divisional partner over a full season of play, the second-place team is now, after losing its run at the division title,

The second-best team in baseball could go from fighting for a division title and the best record in its league to a one-game playoff against a team it was miles ahead of for six months. It may sound far-fetched, but it is not that far removed from what we would have had this year had the rule been in place. It’s pretty much what you would have gotten in the AL in 2005, where the Yankees and Red Sox tied for first place while the “second wild card” would have been the Indians, five games clear of the A’s for the #5 seed.

Foto: Getty Images

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