why baseball’s current wild card system is not crazy

Background: From 1994-2011 each league has had 3 divisions, and each division winner would make the playoffs. Since 3 is not a convenient number of teams to have in a playoff, they also added one wild-card slot for the team with the best record in each league that wasn’t a division winner. This meant of the 15 teams in each league, 4 would make the playoffs.

In 2012 they added another wild-card slot, and the first “round” of the playoffs is one game between the two wild-card teams. Whichever team wins moves on, and now they’re down to 4 teams again.

When I first heard about this (i.e. when I started following baseball again after the Astros stopped losing 100 games in a season) I thought this was pretty stupid. Baseball is a sport played over many games – their regular season of 162 games is the longest of any major sport by far – so having a one-game playoff to determine who advances seems unsporting and random. However, after a bit more thought:

– Yeah, a one-game playoff is fairly arbitrary. But it is exciting! And for one of the teams, they wouldn’t have made the playoffs at all, so they’re clearly in a better position.

– I like baseball’s emphasis on the regular season (as opposed to basketball, where more than half of the teams make the playoffs), but this change actually makes winning your division even more desirable.

– Having 5 out of 15 teams make the playoffs instead of 4 out of 15 isn’t that big a change, and 5 out of 15 feels reasonable to me.

So, on the whole, yay baseball!

P.S. This has nothing to do with the fact that the Astros are currently in the second-place wild-card spot 🙂

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