Swartz: Fixing MLB’s playoff structure overhaul

From SABR member Matt Swartz at The Hardball Times on February 18, 2020:

The most recent playoff restructuring proposal from Major League Baseball has been widely panned, and while I would not favor those changes, I think some of the ideas could actually be used to create better playoffs while still maintaining or increasing the importance of regular-season games. I share the common sentiment that having teams “pick their opponents” is way too gimmicky, but that element could easily be nixed. The more serious concern is that the MLB proposal lowers the incentive to improve one’s team by spreading the possibility of being a postseason winner across too many mediocre teams.

Increasing the number of playoff teams is a welcome change. The standard deviation of team wins has grown rapidly. From 2007 to 2017, it consistently stayed between nine and 12 wins. Then suddenly it grew to 15 wins in 2018 and 16 wins in 2019. The spread of team talent level has risen dramatically even as the spread of payrolls has not—some teams are a lot more innovative than others nowadays. Limiting the playoff field to just one third of the league leads to a lot of non-competitive teams, lowering ticket sales, TV viewership, and salaries. Adding more playoff teams is an obvious way to combat this.

However, as many critics of MLB’s proposal have noted, adding playoff teams diminishes the attractiveness of winning more regular-season games. This has the same effect as a small playoff field—it makes regular-season games less important, which will also impact ticket sales and TV viewership, while stifling salary growth. Owners and players should certainly agree that baseball does best when the regular season matters most.

Read the full article here: https://tht.fangraphs.com/fixing-mlbs-playoff-structure-overhaul/

Originally published: February 18, 2020. Last Updated: February 18, 2020.