The new postseason proposal would be terrible for fans and for the game

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Yesterday someone at Major League Baseball leaked a new postseason idea they have brewing for 2022. The upshot: wild cards would be eliminated, there would be seven playoff teams in each league, up from five, and from there the format of the postseason would radically change.

Since it was a leak and not some official announcement, there was no one from Major League Baseball spinning it. Thankfully for the league there is no shortage of national baseball writers who are happy to do the spinning for them. I won’t point out anyone specifically — I’ve been told I’m rude for doing that, and I’m not feeling particularly rude today — but know that the spin basically goes like this: “this is great as it gives more teams a shot at the postseason, which in turn will generate excitement, and of course now that the postseason is more attainable for teams, it will serve as an anti-tanking device.”

Which is all wrong, of course.

To increase the value of something — to make it more special and exciting — one does not increase the supply. That’s basic economics. Since money can be dreary, let’s think of it as ice cream. I love ice cream. Ice cream is awesome! If someone gave me ice cream all the damn time, however, it would be less awesome. It would become everyday and mundane and, in fact, I’d probably be happy to forego ice cream once in a while.

That’s more of a personal opinion, of course. Maybe some of you would like ice cream every day. I won’t speak for you. Just know that the quality of your ice cream would probably suck a lot more if you got it more often. By way of example, let’s look at the quality of the playoff ice cream we would’ve gotten over the past decade if the proposed postseason system were in place:

  • 2010: an 82-win team makes the postseason
  • 2011: an 81-win team makes the postseason
  • 2012: an 83-win team makes the postseason
  • 2013: an 81-win team makes the postseason
  • 2014: two 79-win teams tie for a postseason spot
  • 2015: two 83-win teams make the postseason
  • 2016: a 79-win team makes the postseason
  • 2017: three 80-win teams tie for the postseason
  • 2018: three 82-win teams tie for a postseason spot
  • 2019: an 84-win team makes the postseason

As it stands now, the worst team to make the postseason in a non-strike-shortened year was the 2005 Padres who won the NL West with 82 wins. The worst World Series-winning team was the 83-win Cardinals in 2006. They’re seen as aberrations now, but under the proposed rules, teams of that quality and worse would be playing October baseball every year. Given how baseball sees far more variation in short series situations than other sports we would, without question, have 95+ win teams getting bounced out of the playoffs most years, rendering the regular season far less significant and turning the postseason into a tournament that is increasingly unconnected to the previous six months of baseball.

Maybe you like that. If so, good for you. But I can tell you a group of people who should not like it: the players. This is because, contrary to what some of those national writers are saying, the new postseason format would not discourage tanking. It would encourage it.

It would allow a team that appears to be headed for about 80 wins or so — what we now call a losing team — to stand pat and say, with a straight face, that they think they’re a playoff contender. It would give total license to 85-86 win teams to stand pat or even shed salary as they’d stand a very good shot at the postseason each and every season. It would create zero incentive for the 86+ win teams to turn into 90 or 95-win teams as such a thing would be pretty pointless.

People talk about tanking in terms of the current Detroit Tigers or the Houston Astros of a few years ago. Teams happy to lose 100+ games for draft position or whatever. The more pernicious aspect of tanking, however, is what the Red Sox are doing. Or what the Indians have done for the past couple of years. When teams who, by all rights, should be going for it are declining to go for it in order to save money on payroll. As it is they’re doing things like trading Mookie Betts, considering trading Francisco Lindor and declining to make offseason acquisitions which might take them to the next level over some pretty harsh criticism and in way that creates fan apathy. If you make 80-83-win teams “playoff teams” every year, you incentivize such behavior in a pretty significant way.

Which is to say that the proposal is one aimed at depressing salaries every bit as much if not more than it’s aimed at “creating excitement” or “shaking things up.” Indeed, I suspect that’s the real idea behind this. I suspect it’s a proposal with an eye on upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations.

If you’re a general fan of baseball you should hate this proposal because it would render the regular season far less meaningful and would render the postseason even more of a crapshoot. If you’re a fan of a specific team you should hate this proposal because it would give license to your team’s owner to serve you a substandard product year-in-year out. If you’re a player you should hate this because it would strongly encourage teams to spend less on players than they already do.

It’d be good for the owners and for the league’s bottom line. That’s pretty much it. And that’s nowhere near enough.

Follow @craigcalcaterra