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October 11, 2012 11:58 am

Manufactured Runs: Is the 2-3 Format Fair?

18

Colin Wyers

Has the Division Series format for 2012 put some teams at a home field disadvantage?

Today, the Oakland A’s and Detroit Tigers face off in an elimination game for both teams, with the winner advancing to the League Championship Series round. The A’s looked almost certain to be eliminated last night until they mustered some late-inning heroics, scraping together a three-run ninth against Tigers closer Jose Valverde.

On paper, the A’s were the higher seed coming into this series and thus were entitled to the greater home field advantage. But without last night’s miraculous win, the A’s were never going to see the benefit of their better record, due to the format of the five-game series. In order to cut down on travel days, MLB has switched to a 2-3 format—two games at home for the lower seed, then three games at home for the higher seed. In the 2-2-1 format it replaced, the team with the better record gets to take, well, advantage of their home field advantage if the series runs to three games or five games, with only a four-game series depriving them of that benefit. In the current setup, the series has to run five games for them to see the benefit of their higher seeding.

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Ben and Sam discuss the impact of CC Sabathia's elbow soreness on the Yankees' short- and long-term outlooks, and the difference between winning a division and winning a wild card under the new playoff format.

Ben and Sam discuss the impact of CC Sabathia's elbow soreness on the Yankees' short- and long-term outlooks, and the difference between winning a division and winning a wild card under the new playoff format.

Effectively Wild Episode 19: "Scraping Ice"

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As three series head to Game Fives, we dig up an investigation of the five-game format's fairness.

While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive (and mostly free) online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audiencesend us your suggestion.

As we prepare for the three remaining Division Series to be decided, revisit Mike Carminati's case for switching to a longer series format, which originally ran on November 2, 2006.


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The postscript on the stretch races of 2007, and how remarkable the blown leads and late-season successes of that year were compared to history's most epic collapses.

Given the peril the Tigers' season is in, it seems appropriate for us to bring this back to provide a sense of the history of epic collapses. This was the new chapter that was supposed to go into the paperback edition of It Ain't Over, but for reasons only the publisher can adequately explain, it didn't get inserted. Given that we've got a great race in play once again, here's what you missed.

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November 2, 2006 12:00 am

Is the Best of Five the Worst of Series?

0

Mike Carminati

Major changes to the MLB playoff format should carry weight with the commissioner. Here's why.

Even though they comprise just a quarter of the playoff teams each year, we have not had a World Series without a wild card since 2001. Since the wild-card experiment began in 1994 there have been seven World Series out of 12 with at least one wild card, and one with two (2002, San Francisco and Anaheim). Wild-card teams have won four of the 12 World Series.

The odds that a given wild card would win a Series are one out of four. The odds that at least one World Series team got in via the wild card are seven out of sixteen and that both were wild cards is one out of sixteen. All of these numbers have been exceeded, and when you consider that the wild card cannot have the home-field advantage in either of the first two rounds, the results are even more improbable.

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Major League Baseball's recent decision to base home-field advantage in the World Series on the outcome of the All-Star Game runs contrary to the way Commissioner Bud Selig normally operates. Spurred by last year's All-Star debacle in Milwaukee, the entire process - from concept to approval - took only six months, and failed to employ even one sub-committee of analysts to explore the issue. More typical of Selig's decision-making process is his announcement of the newly-formed special task force for "The Commissioner's Initiative: Major League Baseball in the 21st Century."

Major League Baseball's recent decision to base home-field advantage in the World Series on the outcome of the All-Star Game runs contrary to the way Commissioner Bud Selig normally operates. Spurred by last year's All-Star debacle in Milwaukee, the entire process - from concept to approval - took only six months, and failed to employ even one sub-committee of analysts to explore the issue. More typical of Selig's decision-making process is his announcement of the newly-formed special task force for "The Commissioner's Initiative: Major League Baseball in the 21st Century."

One of the issues the new task force will supposedly investigate is whether or not to expand the playoffs. It's not a particularly new idea - Selig himself quietly broached the subject last October. Although the specifics haven't been laid out for public consumption, it is widely assumed that four teams would be added to the post-season mix, raising the number of participants from eight to 12.

If approved, the accelerated pace at which MLB is adding playoff teams will continue. For 66 seasons (1903 through 1968), both leagues were division-less and the pennant winners advanced directly to the World Series. In 1969, professional baseball celebrated its 100th birthday by adding four expansion franchises. Each league was split into two divisions, with the four divisional winners playing into October. A quarter century later - perhaps encouraged by his Brewers' participation in MLB's unplanned eight-team bash in 1981 - Selig further subdivided the leagues into three divisions and presented baseball fans with the Wild Card. Just nine seasons after expanding the playoffs to include eight teams, and less than a year after deferring industry contraction, he is now considering a 12-team post-season format.

Those who want to include more teams in the post-season share a widespread belief that fans stop turning out at the ballpark when their local heroes aren't involved in a playoff race. Many organizations favor the notion of letting more teams into the playoffs for that reason alone. However, is their perception accurate?

Studying the effects of a single action on attendance is challenging simply because so many factors can influence a team's attendance: marketing, position in the community, performance, the comings and goings of players, popularity of the sport, and new playing facilities, to name a few. Furthermore, using previous MLB attendance data doesn't seem appropriate in this case, since by expanding the playoffs to 12 teams, baseball would be entering new territory for the sport. Though a significant number of fans despise the Wild Card, since its inception Wild Card teams have a 94-68 regular season record on average. Were the playoffs to expand further though, some of the beneficiaries would be little more than .500 ball clubs. The attendance effects of such mediocre teams consistently reaching the post-season won't show up in baseball's existing historical record.

To try and analyze the issue, I decided to see what happened to attendance in the National Basketball Association when it expanded its playoffs by four teams (from 12 to 16) prior to the 1983-84 season. In addition to adding the same number of playoff teams as baseball might, NBA attendance figures from that time have the added benefit of not being tainted by work stoppages or brief surges caused by a wave of newly extorted arenas. As a result, those effects don't have to be accounted for in the analysis. Though consumer choices and behavior have changed substantially in the past 20 years, we should still get some indication as to what MLB can expect from its fans if and when it chooses to allow more teams into its post-season dance.

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