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Expanded playoffs are a bad idea

I really dislike Rob Manfred.

2019 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

In a recent interview, real-life supervillain Rob Manfred said that he expects the 16 team playoff format to remain past the 2021 season. He says the overwhelming majority of owners support this decision. As for the players, well I think he forgot they are a factor in this decision. Because they actually have to agree to this and I don’t think that thought ever crossed his mind to be honest.

Not that we needed more evidence, but it’s pretty clear that this empty suit does not like baseball. Every decision he makes indicates he doesn’t give a shit about the sport. He cares about lining his own pockets and lining owners’ pockets, because they pay his salary. Anything that can be done to make more money, he’ll do it. He does not care about the players, he does not care about the sport, and he does not care about us, the fans.

He’ll indicate that fans want this. He’s pulled this shit before. No baseball fans like the man on 2nd in extra inning rule. This is a fact. Statistically speaking, someone is in favor of it, sure, but there is going to be nobody in the comments or the replies on Twitter arguing with me for saying no baseball fans like the man on 2nd in extra inning rule. Expect him to say something similar about the 16 team playoff format once it happens:

Nobody did that. This is made up. Certainly not “lots of people are saying,” the phrasing of which - well, it speaks for itself at this point. And by that I mean, nobody should literally ever start a sentence that way if you want people to believe you. If you want to convey that you’re making something up, that’s a shortcut you can now take. I’m actually kind of disappointed he’s not a better liar than that.

Enough about the other terrible changes to baseball by the owners’ stooge. Back to the possible new playoff format. This would be terrible for baseball. The regular season would be rendered meaningless and the playoffs more random than ever. This would not technically be bad for the Cardinals, who could cakewalk their way to a playoff appearance every year under this format.

But I don’t want it to be easy to make the playoffs. I’ll care much less about making the playoffs if going slightly under .500 is the standard to beat. I’ll care much less about the regular season. It won’t matter. It will matter only to mediocre and under .500 teams. An under .500 team’s fans are not going to be excited to make the playoffs. They’re just not. It’s not that fun to watch a losing team and the prospect of the playoffs is not going to change that. Especially with a looming date with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1st round.

There are two related arguments for why this should not be on the table. It will be easier to make the playoffs and the playoffs will be more random than ever, and those two things combined together means that there’s basically no reason to ever spend on a baseball team again. Why spend on a superteam when you can get knocked out by a 78 win team with two great starters? Why spend money on an 85 win team when that will easily make the playoffs? You’re removing all incentive to try to get better with this playoff change.

Here’s the main problem. Baseball is not a fair sport. Over the long run, good teams separate themselves from bad teams. But in a short sample? Anything can happen. Bad teams beat good teams all the time. The worst teams still win 50 games and the best teams still lose 60 games. The difference between baseball and the other sports with large playoffs is that the better team can be relied upon winning more often than in baseball.

For example, in the NBA, there is an 80% chance that the better team will win in a 7-game series in the playoffs. In order to match that rate, the NFL would need a best of 11 series, the NHL would need a best of 51 series, and the MLB would need a best of 75 series. Which is absurd, but it illustrates the difference between the NBA and the MLB: baseball is simply more random in a 7-game series. So comparing baseball across leagues doesn’t really work if you want the winner of the World Series to reflect one of the best teams in the sport.

Owners know this. They know that baseball is random in a playoff series. They know that if you increase the playoff teams, it will only increase the randomness. And if the entire season comes down to a random set of games, the only thing that actually matters is making the playoffs. And if making the playoffs is easy, which it very well will be, then you don’t actually need to improve your team.

Do your odds improve if you’re actually good? Sure. Is any individual team, no matter how good, likely to win the World Series? Nope. That’s true now too of course. But at least the current format values winning the division, which makes the regular season matter and makes winning the division matter. And the odds that a 95+ win team ends up winning the World Series is pretty good right now, and that would not be true in a 16-team playoff format.

Now keep in mind this is a Cardinals blog. I am a Cardinals fan. I am fully aware that, under the current playoff format, the Cardinals would have made the playoffs every single year since 2008. We should be applauding this. Or at least, if anyone was in favor of this, it’d be Cardinals fans. But, I think I speak for most Cards fans when I say, we are not.

In fact, Cardinals are a prime example of why this would be a bad idea. Since 2011, the Cardinals have played all but a few games where there were playoff implications. September frequently functioned as a playoff of its own, with each win or loss mattering deeply. Under the new format, that goes away. And if September is a playoff of sorts, boy would it be a miserable one. A race to 80 wins is just not fun to watch.

Also why the Cardinals are a prime example, but really the NL Central as a whole? Despite being a competitive division, none of the three frontrunners in the Central have done anything to improve their team except for bargain bin pickups. No team really feels the need to have to improve. Because they don’t want to spend and think they can get by with the team they have.

Make no mistake: I don’t actually have a problem with the Cardinals strategy for now. With difficult to find upgrades, expensive and soon-to-be expiring contracts, and untapped potential in young guys who need to play, it actually makes sense for the Cardinals to see what they have before the huge prospects arrive and more money comes in. But I don’t want to see this every year and the Cardinals usually get a big name per year (Heyward, Goldschmidt, Ozuna) and there’s much less incentive to do so with the playoff standard being lower.

Players should reject the proposal (and I do believe they have to accept this format for it to happen, much to Manfred’s annoyance I’m sure). The reaction I’ve seen on Twitter from a few players indicates they don’t want this anymore than fans do. Teams would stop spending money on free agents with less incentive to try to get better if they’re already good enough to make the playoffs. Which is exactly why the owners love this idea. More revenue from the playoffs, less money to the players.

To preemptively argue any counterargument that the 16 team playoff is anything but an awful idea that will be bad for the sport, you’re on the side of Rob Manfred, famous hater of baseball. Case closed.