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September 1, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

The Wild, Wild Card

by Joe Sheehan

Many of you have seen the work of Jeff Hildebrand here at the Web site and in Baseball Prospectus 2000. Last night, he sent out this missive:

OK, so the majors aren't the only ones who can do some screwy things about
playoffs. I just found out something really weird about the International
League playoff situation. The standings are currently:

Buffalo 83 57 -- Pawtucket 82 57 .5 Scranton 81 59 2

Scranton and Pawtucket finish with four games against each other and Buffalo also has four games left. The top two finishers will make the playoffs since the wild-card will definitely come from their division.

Consider the following not at all impossible scenario: Scranton wins three out of four against Pawtucket, winding up on Monday afternoon, while Buffalo only wins one of the first three of their remaining games. So before Buffalo's Monday night game, the standings would be:

Buffalo 84 59 -- Scranton 84 60 .5 Pawtucket 83 60 1

Now, should Scranton root for Buffalo to win or to lose? That should be obvious, but the actual answer is they should hope Buffalo wins. In that scenario, Scranton makes the playoffs without having to do anything else. If Buffalo loses, they have to play a one-game playoff and the loser is one game behind the winner, along with Pawtucket.

However, because the PawSox have played fewer games, their winning percentage would be fractionally higher and therefore they would get the wild card spot.

Or in other words, yet another example of why the wild card is bad.

Thanks, Jeff. As I've mentioned, I have no real use for the wild card because of how it distorts the race for division titles, and here is another example of how it complicates an otherwise fantastic race.

We could see another bastardization of the process this season; it's entirely possible that the AL West could finish in a tie, with the leaders of the divisions having the same record as, say, the Red Sox or Indians.

Hmmm...this may be easier to do with an example. Say we all wake up on October 2 to this:

AL East

New York 91-71 Boston 86-76

AL West

Seattle 86-76 Oakland 86-76

In this scenario, the Red Sox, Mariners and A's are in a three-way tie for two spots, with the A's and Ms tied for a division title.

But the Red Sox would automatically get the wild card, the winner of a one-game Athletics/Mariners playoff would be the AL West winner and the loser would be very, very drunk that night. Why? Well, on Mr. Selig's Wild Ride, the extra loss by the AL West team gives that team a worse record than the team that didn't have to play an extra game, so they lose.

I suppose it's better than "runs scored in division games" or something equally NFL, and it's OK...NO, IT'S NOT! It's stupid and lazy and a thousand other things I'm usually hearing other people call me. Penalizing a team for playing for a division title, and giving a non-division-winner a free pass instead, is appalling.

This isn't some longshot, either. It nearly happened in 1995 in the AL and in the NL last year, and with half the American League separated by about seven games, it could easily happen this year.

Now, forget all that, because when we come back on Tuesday, we'll be discussing the AL's six-team scramble for the, uh, wild card. Have a great holiday weekend, everyone.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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