Hopefully most of you remember my post about the World Series last year, but if you don’t, here’s a quick refresher: I have a hard time getting into it because I feel like a seven-game series is too small of a sample to actually determine the best team.
Compared to the rest of the season, the baseball playoffs are just a blip on the radar and in no way do I consider it legitimate to use a seven-game series to determine the best t
eam in a sport that typically doesn’t see more than a .200% difference between the best and worst regular-season teams in 162 games. If there’s one thing that baseball needs, it’s sample size. If there’s one thing I love, it’s also sample size. Interestingly, the MLB postseason seems to intentionally steer away from that in the playoffs and this year’s new playoff format is a flagrant offense.
Here’s how we picked the playoff teams last year: In each league, the three division champions made the playoffs, plus one extra spot for the best second-place team, the wild-card winner. In short, four teams make it based solely on the strength of their 162-game resumes.
Here’s how we pick the playoff teams this year: Those three division champs from each league still make it, but the wild card is awarded to the team that wins a one-game playoff between the two best teams that don’t win their divisions. The 162-game season is used to select the teams for that wild-card game, but then all of that is thrown away and we use a single game to determine who moves to the next round.
Statistically, this makes no sense. In regards to determining the fourth-playoff worthy team, this new model literally throws away the results of the 162-game season and places all the weight on a single game. Sample size fans around the world cringe.
I originally intended to calculate some sampling error data to express in terms of a percentage how inferior a one-game playoff is to a 162-game season, but that’s not mathematically possible because the formula doesn’t recognize a sample size of 1. In other words, math tells us that one game cannot possible tell us anything about which team is better. More than that, it probably just tells us which team has the best ace starting pitcher, instead of which whole team is better.
Do I support a wild card? Yes
Do I support baseball playoffs? Yes
Do I support one-game playoffs in sports that aren’t baseball? Yes, because in other sports, the better teams wins at a significantly higher rate than in baseball
America’s pastime is just a fundamentally different sport than the rest and we need to see a larger sampling of contests to actually determine which teams are truly the best. The switch to the new wild card play-in game was made I’d guess in the interest of giving more teams a shot at a title. But if that’s what you’re going for, why not just scrap the regular season and play a massive Baseketball-style bracket with all the teams in the league. Then everyone would have a chance!
Here’s my point: I genuinely want to feel like I’m seeing the best teams possible in the playoffs and I don’t think a one-game wild card gets us that.