Gambill: The sanctity of the 162-game season

From SABR member Brent S. Gambill at Baseball Prospectus on October 9, 2012:

There’s an unwritten rule in professional sports, “You never subtract. You only add.” Add teams. Add divisions. Add playoff teams. Add playoff games. Add television contracts. Add revenue. You get the idea.

With that in mind, Major League Baseball broke in another playoff format last Friday, adding a new round consisting of one-game playoffs between four wild card teams. Since its announcement in March, I have commonly called the new round the “contrived one-game playoff.” After 162 games, one-game playoffs make no sense. Teams don’t play one-game series in-season (make-up games don’t count). One-game playoff games should be reserved for their original purpose: deciding a race that remains tied after 162 games.

In the inaugural year of the new system, the American League wild card playoff was anything but contrived. The Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers had identical records at 93 wins. With or without the addition of the playoff game, those two teams would have played for the right to make the postseason. The only technicality is that the one-game playoff is now considered part of the postseason. Like the 1995 California Angels, 1998 San Francisco Giants, 1999 Cincinnati Reds, 2007 San Diego Padres, 2008 Minnesota Twins, and 2009 Detroit Tigers, no losing team will remember it as a playoff game.

In the National League, where there was a six-game difference between the two wild card teams, “contrived” fits perfectly. In any other year since the creation of the wild card, the St. Louis Cardinals’ season would have already been over. Under the new playoff system, they were like a reality show contestant being given a second chance to win the competition. Thanks to the new postseason system, the 88-win Cardinals got to take on—and defeat, in the only game that mattered—a team with a far superior record over a 162-game season.

My concern is the sanctity of the 162-game season. The regular season has less impact on the postseason than it ever has before. Commissioner Bud Selig should be commended for his progressive approach to increasing the game’s revenue and popularity, but those successes have come at a cost to the game’s competitive integrity.

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Originally published: October 9, 2012. Last Updated: October 9, 2012.