Thursday, September 19, 2013

Baseball's Playoffs are the Worst

I'm writing this post now, a fortnight before any actual heartbreak occurs, to remind myself and all the other baseball fans that I know that the baseball playoffs are basically a glorified eight-way coin flip. There is no rhyme or reason for basically anything that happens. A booted double-play ball and a missed call can wipe out a 94-win team in two innings. A random starter can catch fire or you can have David Eckstein on your team. The point is, the sport is fundamentally flawed in that its playoffs have almost zero relationship to the regular season.

Tim Salmon, Troy Glaus, and Garret Anderson were the best hitters
on a World Series-winning team
There are some stupid theories bandied about this time of year about what it means to have a team built for the playoffs as opposed to the regular season. You're supposed to have a good bullpen, an ace, and have momentum. Turns out basically all of these things have been proven wrong. One, five, or seven games are simply way too few to accurately measure who's a better team. The Red Sox have been a juggernaut this entire season, but if they lose in the playoffs, and chances are they will, someone will throw out that it's because they don't have a "true" ace. They won't lose because they don't have Felix Hernandez (yet), they'll lose because they lost a glorified coin flip.

The obvious problem with this is that our entire system of sports is built around the assumption that the playoffs accurately determine the best team. This assumption is certainly true for the NBA, and true in large part in the NFL (although, as always, fuck Eli Manning with his two Super Bowl rings). Baseball is different. The San Francisco Giants haven't been the best team in two of the last three years. They've had great teams, teams good enough to hope that heads comes up three times in a row so Tim Lincecum can talk about jizz in his eye on live TV, but that's it. 

Baseball essentially chose, with the expansion of divisions and two wild cards, to sacrifice the importance of the regular season to increase the entertainment value of the playoffs. The most fair option, in the sense that the two teams playing most deserve to be in the World Series, would be two pennant winners facing off in a seven-game (or longer) series. Alternatively, adding the DH to all 30 teams, playing a balanced schedule, eliminating the AL and NL, and having the two best records play at the end of the year would be as fair as possible. Obviously, that's never going to happen, and I doubt anyone seriously wants it to. Sports are supposed to be entertaining first and foremost, so leagues will drift from pure fairness to foster rivalries, minimize travel, and most importantly maximize revenue by creating as entertaining a playoffs as possible. 

Baseball's strategies and structure make balancing fairness and entertainment incredibly difficult. This is frustrating if, say, you're a Braves fan who's watched his team win one World Series for 14 straight playoff berths. It's great if you're a fan of the Marlins, who have somehow won as many World Series in the past 25 years as any non-Yankees team. Again, to continue to beat the dead horse, there is no rhyme or reason to the baseball playoffs. Home-field isn't all that important, there are no true byes to obtain (or at least not the same extent as the NFL), and five games is too small of a sample size to determine anything. Baseball's playoffs are the worst.  

I'll gladly eat my words and get called a flipflopper when the Braves win the World Series.

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