Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association agreed Thursday to expand the playoffs from 10 teams to 16 teams for the 2020 season, the sides announced.
“This season will be a sprint to a new format that will allow more fans to experience playoff baseball,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement announcing the expansion. “We look forward to a memorable Postseason concluding a year like no other.”
Commissioner Manfred was right about one thing, this year is like no other. A new postseason structure, just 60 regular season games, no fans in attendance, and hand sanitizer at first base.
All second-place teams in the six divisions will now qualify for the playoffs. The seventh and eighth playoff teams in each league will be determined by best record.
The first round of the playoffs, scheduled for Sept. 29-Oct. 2, will be four three-game series in each league with all games played at the higher seed’s home stadium. The rest of the rounds will be their customary length: The two division series in each league will be five-game series, while the American League and National League Championship Series and World Series will be seven-game series.
“We hope it will result in highly competitive pennant races as well as exciting additional playoff games to the benefit of the industry and all involved heading into next year,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in the statement.
In each league, the division winners will be seeded 1-3, the second-place teams 4-6 and the teams with the next two best records 7-8. The first-round pairings will be 1 versus 8, 2-7, 3-6 and 4-5, Manfred said. So similar to a NBA playoff structure.
Pros of the Expanded Postseason
The pros of the expanded postseason are obvious. More teams involved, means more fan bases viewing the MLB product, which means more TV money.
The 3 game first round series creates the opportunity for some real upsets. Imagine the Yankees or Dodgers, expected 1 seeds, being upset by a team under .500. It is a real life David vs Goliath. The league doesn’t want that scenario to play out, but it adds a layer of excitement and intensity that wouldn’t be available in a normal season.
With more teams having the chance to make the postseason, the final stretch of games of the regular season will be hectic. We might see 8 teams still alive on the final day of the season, as opposed to maybe 1 or 2 in a regular year.
Cons of the Expanded Postseason
When it was announced that there would be just a 60 game regular season, the importance of each game was similar to that of a playoff game. One bad weekend and you could fall out of contention.
But with the expanded playoffs to 16 teams, more than half the league, teams can afford to take their foot off the gas pedal, rather than accelerate it. The top teams like the Yankees and Dodgers almost guaranteed themselves a postseason birth the second the proposal for an expanded playoffs was agreed upon.
The truth is the expansion adds excitement for the postseason, but harms the overall importance of the regular season. There will be teams that make the postseason that are under .500 and frankly don’t deserve the opportunity.
The change means 53% of the 30 teams will reach the playoffs. If eight teams had qualified for the playoffs in each league from 1995 through 2019, 46 teams at or below .500 would have made it, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau.
There would have been only three seasons in which all playoff teams would have had winning records, Elias said: 2000, 2003 and 2009.
The only time in the past 10 seasons that eight teams in each league finished at or above .500 was in 2012, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The real losers in this scenario are ironically the best winners. The top seeds gain nothing from securing the best record. No bye, no real home field advantage without fans in attendance, and the chance of being upset in a 3 game series by an undeserving team.