Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wilder Card

There's talk again about adding a second wild-card team to the playoffs.  There is a part of this that I love.  It gives meaning to winning the division again.  If you do you get a first round bye and a few days off.  That's huge. Last year it was a foregone conclusion for weeks that the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays were both going to make the playoffs.  Despite that they battled down to the last day of the season, it really didn't matter which team won the division because the other was going to win the wild card.  Under an expanded playoff structure it clearly would have mattered.

But there a part I don't like.  The part that exaggerates an injustice in how baseball teams are currently aligned.

There are six teams in the NL Central.  If all things are random, each team in the division has a 16.7% chance of winning each year.  By contrast, the AL West has only four teams.  Each of those teams has a 25% chance of winning.  To put it another way, a team in the AL West is half again as likely to win their division as a team in the NL Central.

Now add the current one wild card team.  A team that doesn't win its division in the National League has a 7.7% chance (1 in 13) of winning the wild card spot.  Over in the AL, the non-division winners have a 9.1% chance of winning the wild card (1 in 11).  Again, more teams in the NL; less chance of making the post-season.

Now add the two together.  All else being equal, a team in the AL West has a 34.1% chance of making the playoffs, while a team in the NL Central has only a 24.4% chance.  That's quite a gap - almost ten percentage points.  A team in the AL West will make the playoffs a little more than once every three years while a team in the NL Central will make it less than one in four.  One extra trip to the playoffs every ten years for an AL West team just because they have only four teams in the division.

Now add another wild card team.  The chances of winning the division remain the same, but the chance of winning the wild card in the AL increase to 18.2% while the chances in the NL increase to only 15.4%.  Add the two together again and an AL West team now has a 43.2% chance of making the playoffs while an NL Central team has only a 32.1% chance.  The gap has widened to over 11%.

I think Major League baseball ought to address this inequity.  A simple solution would be to move one team from the National League to the American League and have five teams in each division.  Of course there would then need to be at least one interleague series going on at all times, but I think that's OK.  Interleague play has been around long enough that we don't have to continue to treat it like the spectacle that we still do.  We could just incorporate it into the regular schedule - I'm sure that could be worked out.  A side benefit is that you could split up the NY-NY, CHI-CHI, and LA-LA series so they're not all happening on the same weekend.  Better for TV.

What team would I move to the American League?  Why, the one that's been there before of course.

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