Friday, June 24, 2011

Baseball Realignment?

As you may have read, MLB is toying with the idea of realignment, moving Houston to the AL West and eliminating divisions, so that we would have two 15-team leagues with 5 teams making the playoffs in each league. I cannot describe how much I find this idea to be foolish and poorly considered. As I’ve argued before, the excitement over a long baseball season is the pennant race. Of course, players chasing milestones and batting titles is interesting, but it is a team game and having two or three teams battle it out down to the wire is the essence of a baseball season.

With this new idea, there will be a race for 4th, 5th, and 6th in each league. Oooh, the thrills of watching a team strive for that 84th win to sneak into the final wild card spot! Some argue that this new system will help teams like Toronto who are always frozen out by playing in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox. That might be true, but it will be at the expense of a meaningful season. Instead of six potential pennant races, we'll have two races for the final spot.

Look at the standings now. We have four divisions with the top two teams within a game and the biggest lead is Philly's 4 game advantage on Atlanta. This season could have races in each division right down to the wire.

On the other hand, if we combine the AL into a 14-team league, we have one race with Detroit and Texas fighting it out for 5th. That would doubtless capture the attention of the nation. Certainly Toronto is in a better position, lying only 4 games out of 5th instead of 8.5 games out of first, but they are 36-39. They are not good! They should not be in a race until they are a solid and consistent team! I really, really want the Jays to make the playoffs in the AL East, not in some watered-down 15-team system.

For evidence of just how bad this idea is, one only need to look at Japanese baseball over the past few years. Where once there were two pennant races every season, with two or three teams fighting for a cherished spot in the Nippon Series, now a full 50% of teams make the playoffs every year, rendering the regular season essentially meaningless. The battle is for 3rd place between two mediocre teams. First and second place are still important as they come with advantages in the playoffs, but there’s little point paying attention until then. Last year was a perfect example where a middling Marines team finished 3rd in the Pacific League, just a half-game in front of the Fighters. They then got hot at the right time, taking advantage of a silly playoff system that had them play 15 games over 30 days. The 144-game regular season was simply not meaningful.

So take it from me MLB, keep the divisions and keep the pennant races. It's one baseball tradition that should be saved.



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