On playoff seeding issue, Major League Baseball lacks behind




Imagine you’re the commissioner of the MLB.

You, in theory, want what’s best for the sport, including increased viewership — especially considering the low ratings in last year’s World Series, while Sunday Night Football nearly doubled in viewership.

Good, competitive games, for certain, will increase viewership. Competitive games usually happen between the best teams. So, as commissioner, you want the best teams in the playoffs playing as long as possible.

It seems like a pretty novel concept, right?

One, you, the regular joe falling asleep on the couch during the fifth inning while eating chips, can easily understand. For the old boys of the MLB, using basic logic to satisfy fans might as well be open heart surgery.

For the umpteenth year in a row, divisions continue to rule in baseball. In the MLB, where a team finishes among its competitors in its geographic area is more important than where it finishes in the entire league.

That, as one would expect, creates some problems.

Under the current divisional system, the No. 2 seed in the National League would be the NL West-leading Dodgers, who hold fourth-best record in the league. The third seed would be the Mets, who sit atop the NL East with the league’s fifth-best record. That leaves the Pirates and Cubs, the teams with the second and third-best records in the entire MLB, respectively, as the fourth and fifth seeds.

In a system where the four and five seeds have to play each other in a three or five-game series, this would be a bad situation. In the actual MLB, where these two teams have to face off in a one-game playoff, it’s egregious.

This system reduces two of the very best teams in the MLB to a coin toss play-in. The victor’s prize? They get to face off against the Cardinals, who sport the best record in baseball. Yeah, it gets worse.

Having one of the sport’s best teams eliminated from the playoffs so early is bad business.

Hopefully, the MLB will learn from the NBA, which announced earlier this month that it will now employ a seeding system based solely on record in each conference.

The tipping point, perhaps, came last season when the Trailblazers, who won their division, finished with 51 wins, earning them the fourth seed. The Grizzlies and Spurs, meanwhile, finished with 55 wins and got the fifth and sixth seeds, because they finished one game behind the Rockets in their division.

The Spurs, the 2014 champions and one of the presumed front-runners again, lost in the first round to the Clippers. Having a title contender eliminated so early might generate buzz, but it also creates a missed opportunity for more competitive playoff series.

Under the leadership of some fresh blood in the form of Adam Silver, who took over as NBA commissioner in 2014, the NBA changed the long held system. Incidentally, back in baseball, Rob Manfred just assumed office in January 2015 as MLB commissioner, taking over for Bud Selig, who retired after holding the position since 1998.

With a new leader and a clear example of the inadequacy of the system, perhaps the MLB will soon make a change, too.

Sadly, that’s likely presumptive thinking.

The MLB is too in love with tradition and nostalgia to make a switch so soon. Baseball is the proverbial parent or grandparent who continues to use a flip phone over a smartphone because they’ve “used it for years.”

Take instant replay, for example.

Baseball was the last of the leagues to employ instant replay in 2008, but it did in limited circumstances. In that system, teams could only review home runs, and umpire crew chiefs had to initiate the reviews.

In 2014, the MLB expanded replay to include a wider variety of challengeable circumstances, challenges which a team’s manager can initiate once a game, or twice if he wins the first challenge.

The system still has some limitations, as managers cannot challenge balls and strikes, which are left to be called within the constructs of a home plate umpire’s arbitrary strike zone. Putting a cap on the number of challenges makes little sense, too.

It’s become apparent that getting things right is not important to the MLB. Smug complacence due to tradition supercedes logic.

Complacency is a tough thing to get out of. It takes a realization, a slap in the face to release from its grip. When fans are left watching lesser teams play more games than the Pirates and Cubs as ratings drop, perhaps the light bulb will go on for Manfred and the MLB.

Or maybe he’ll just rest on his laurels as he watches the sport continue to wither. It’s tradition, after all.

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