Cameron: Are the wild cards now a trap?

From Dave Cameron at FanGraphs on July 22, 2012, with mention of SABR President Vince Gennaro:

Over the weekend, Vince Gennaro — president of SABR, author of Diamond Dollars, and friend of FanGraphs — launched his own blog. For his first post, he talked about the second wild card and it’s effect on the upcoming trade deadline. In that post, he said some of the things that I’ve been thinking lately, so instead of just repeating those ideas, I’ll quote him instead:

What are the implications for trade deadline deals? Since we know the real financial payoff for a team’s performance results from a run through the postseason—the deeper the run, the richer the pot of gold—teams will need to shift their mindset to not treat all postseason qualifying positions as “equal”. In the new system, it may make more sense to fortify your ballclub when your playoff status is assured, but being anointed a division winner is still in question—think Texas or even the Angels. However, a team fighting for a wild card berth should think twice before they go all-in for the privilege of potentially extending their season for one more day. This is the exact opposite of the old mindset—do everything you can to qualify for the playoffs, but don’t worry too much about winning the division.

 Vince is right about the incentives of the old system, as there was no real incentive to try and secure a different seed within the playoff structure. If you were in, you were in, and your goal should have been to just get in. But, now, the addition of the second wild card changes everything. In reality, it’s the play-in game that is really the differentiator here, as the new structure created a vast separation between winning your division and finishing as a strong runner up. As Jesse noted last week, the playoff probability curves have shifted, and the incentives on when to be a trade deadline buyer have to shift as well.

There are now twice as many wild cards, but they are less than half as valuable as they used to be, as they only guarantee a ~50-50 shot at a real playoff spot, and, in order to secure that playoff spot, the team will likely have to burn through their pitching staff in order to win the one game playoff. Rather than entering the division series on even footing, the wild card may now very well be without their best starting pitcher until Game 3 or Game 4. Not only does a wild card entry no longer get you any guaranteed home playoff dates, it increases the likelihood that the wild card will be losing in the first round.

These are good changes that I’m in favor of, but the devaluation of the wild card may have some unintended consequences at the trade deadline, as Vince noted in his post.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: July 24, 2012. Last Updated: July 24, 2012.