Uh oh: Revisiting the current playoff format in MLB

Now that the playoffs are over and hopefully tempers have simmered, I wanted to bring up an issue that many disagree with: the current playoff format. I believe that the format, which includes extended layoff periods as a reward for winning teams, is fundamentally flawed. While it may seem to work favorably for the Phillies in this case, I am against it as a rule. I'd like to outline my reasons for this stance and acknowledge that I respect differing viewpoints but wholeheartedly disagree.

1. Timing: One of the core issues with the current playoff format is its impact on timing in baseball. Hitting is all about timing, and pitching is about disrupting that timing. Extended layoffs disrupt a player's rhythm, making it difficult for them to maintain their performance at the Major League level. Even when players are injured, they are often sent to the minor leagues to regain their timing. Going directly from a prolonged layoff to Major League action is extremely rare. For instance, Bryce Harper's case, where they didn't send him to a minor league rehab assignment, was surprising. The norm is a player who has missed extended time gets a rehab stint just to regain that timing. These layoff periods adversely affect competitive teams by giving them nearly a week off between games, which can be detrimental to their performance. This is also seen in Spring Training (where the pitchers are ahead of the batters), early in the season (when announcers claim his timing just isn't there yet), and around the all-star break (where teams often send a pitcher to the minors with options to keep him on his routine).

2. Counterarguments:

  • One common counterargument is that extended layoffs allow teams to set their pitching rotation. However, most top teams in Major League Baseball have already clinched their division by mid-September (Braves Sept 13, Dodgers Sept 17, Os Sept 28 and playoffs Sept 17, Astros were the exception). They have plenty of time to set up their rotation and rest their key players, so the argument about setting the rotation becomes less relevant.
  • Another counterargument is that there's a four-day layoff during the All-Star break, and it doesn't seem to bother anyone. However, during the All-Star break, every team has four days off, and it is not a situation where one team is off while the other continues to play. Its an even playing field in that circumstance. With this playoff format, teams are operating under different rules.

3. Impact on the Sport: I believe that the current playoff format negatively impacts the sport in several ways. When the wild card was introduced, it diminished the importance of winning divisions, as teams began prioritizing making the playoffs over divisional battles. Until MLB stepped in, the Red Sox/ Yankee division race lost its excitement because neither cared who won the division, they just wanted to get in. Likewise, this format may discourage teams from aspiring to be historically dominant. What is the incentive for a top-spending teams like the Dodgers, Yankees, Mets, and Padres to continue to increase payroll. Teams may question the return on investment in building super teams if they're prone to early playoff exits. Consequently, teams might focus on assembling squads that are just good enough to make the playoffs and take their chances from there. This approach could drive down overall spending across the sport, leading to inferior quality products and negatively impacting the free-agent market. I am very concerned with what impact the failure of the Mets, Padres, and Yankees has on the FA market this offseason. Your Ohtani’s of the world will always be paid, but I suspect their will still be an all-star team sitting on the FA market when pitchers and catchers report. If division winners had more success smaller-market teams, such as the Rays, Indians, and Reds, could be motivated to invest in talent to compete at a higher level leading to a better on field product for the fans. But this current format takes away the incentive to spend and greedy owners can, and probably will, use this as an excuse to not spend on players.

While I do recognize this is a very small sample size, this is not revisionist history for me. I was baffled when MLB came out with this "reward" for the top two divisional teams. The past two seasons moreso confirm my feelings on this format. However, I never liked people who just complain about a problem. I’d prefer if there were solutions as well. So here is my solution. Before I do I would like to preface with this – I would prefer less teams in the playoffs and no bye, but MLB is driven by money. They will never give away playoff revenue. I could see expansion happening at some point, balanced leagues, and realignment, but this solution is based off the current system.

1st Game 162 is played on Saturday at 2PM EST. This is similar to what we have now, except those games are played on Sundays. Having them at 2 would enable the teams to travel the next day for

2nd WC1 v WC2 and Div3 v WC 4 Double headers starting at 11AM EST

Sunday becomes an all day event with two guaranteed playoff games.

· NL 1 – 11 AM 4:00 PM

· AL 1 – 1 PM 6 PM

· NL 2 – 3 PM 8 PM

· AL 2 – 5 PM 10PM

This would be an all-day event that would celebrate baseball. With the 5-hour spread the home team would still collect 2 gates, and it would be insane. In the likely event that the teams split, you come back Monday for a winner take all game. The winner of that series would then travel to the top division winner for a series that starts Wednesday. There is still a layoff, but it is 3 days vs what has been turning into a week.

Based off this last season the last game would have been 9/30. Round 1 would have been 10/1-10/2. Round 2 would have started 10/4 which would also enable MLB to extend it from a best of 5 to a best of 7, which would mean more money for the MLB and less randomness found in shorter series.

Do I think MLB would go for this? No. MLB is terrified of the NFL and an all-day playoff double header would directly compete with NFL viewership. Also, I’m sure the MLBPA would not want the players playing a double header or have travel from the East Coast to the West Coast to play a 3PM or 5PM game. So, its not a perfect solution, but it’s a fun one.