Layoffs Haven’t Hindered Playoff Groups Traditionally

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Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

On Saturday, three of the 4 residence playoff groups misplaced the opener of their respective Division Collection. The losses ranged from 3-2 dramas to 11-2 laughers. Sunday, the American League groups performed their second video games, and the house groups went 0-2. Now that we’ve seen six video games and the house groups are 1-5, it’s time to ask the plain query: Is that this format irrevocably damaged?

Okay, fantastic, that’s probably not a good query. However there’s been numerous hue and cry concerning the playoff system not too long ago, headlined by an article by the estimable Ken Rosenthal that got here out this morning in The Athletic, and because the resident “I don’t see what all of the fuss is about” man at FanGraphs, I don’t see what all of the fuss is about. What higher time to dive into the numbers and see if we are able to discover some attention-grabbing details on both facet of this debate.

The most important gripe, so far as I can inform, is that the layoff between the tip of the common season and the beginning of the Division Collection unfairly disadvantages groups that secured a bye. Their opponents get to play baseball, whereas they’re compelled to take a seat on their butts. It’s a each day sport, goes the argument; disrupting that rhythm results in a drawback even when further relaxation feels like a carrot relatively than a stick.

The present postseason hasn’t been in use lengthy sufficient to say a lot of something about it – a 1-5 stretch for groups with a small edge within the playoffs is hardly noteworthy, and we are able to’t precisely lean on 100 years of postseason historical past to assist remove the noise. The present playoff format, with 12 groups and two first-round byes in every league, is simply two years outdated. We’re essentially going to be coping with small samples right here. However let’s begin by folding these along with this yr’s knowledge, as a result of it would bulk up our pattern dimension significantly.

Final yr’s conflict of bye groups towards Wild Card-round winners was a useless warmth. The video games had been break up 8-8; the collection had been break up 2-2. For those who zoom in on the primary two video games of every collection, the groups with the bye went 5-3. Zoom in even additional, to the primary recreation solely, and so they went 3-1.

You possibly can go deeper than that. Dan Szymborski culled the historic database for each matchup in playoff historical past the place one workforce had a layoff of 4 or extra days whereas their opponent had a layoff of two or fewer days. That counts the final two years of the playoffs, but in addition video games from the two-Wild-Card period, the place the highest general seed confronted the winner of a winner-take-all recreation after a quick layoff, in addition to the occasional playoff recreation from earlier eras.

There have been 35 of those video games in baseball historical past. The workforce with extra relaxation has gone 24-11 in them. Dan additionally predicted the winner of every of those video games based mostly on the workforce’s seasonal document. From every workforce’s document, you’d anticipate the rested groups to go 19-16; they’ve been barely higher in mixture, which is smart given the pool we’re drawing from. Right here’s a listing of all of these video games:

Rested vs. Unrested Groups, Postseason

Recreation Date Workforce Layoff Opponent Opp Layoff Rested Workforce Anticipated Win% Rested Workforce W/L
10/7/2023 Braves 5 Phillies 2 .619 L
10/7/2023 Orioles 5 Rangers 2 .599 L
10/7/2023 Dodgers 5 Diamondbacks 2 .628 L
10/7/2023 Astros 5 Twins 2 .511 W
10/11/2022 Braves 5 Phillies 2 .618 L
10/11/2022 Dodgers 5 Padres 1 .670 W
10/11/2022 Astros 5 Mariners 2 .632 W
10/11/2022 Yankees 5 Guardians 2 .575 W
10/8/2021 Giants 4 Dodgers 1 .540 W
10/22/2019 Nationals 6 Astros 2 .379 W
10/12/2019 Yankees 4 Astros 1 .440 W
10/4/2019 Astros 4 Rays 1 .603 W
10/23/2018 Purple Sox 4 Dodgers 2 .637 W
10/5/2018 Purple Sox 4 Yankees 1 .586 W
10/24/2017 Dodgers 4 Astros 2 .552 W
10/14/2017 Dodgers 4 Cubs 1 .608 W
10/6/2017 Dodgers 4 Diamondbacks 1 .602 W
10/25/2016 Indians 5 Cubs 2 .473 W
10/7/2016 Cubs 4 Giants 1 .635 W
10/9/2015 Cardinals 4 Cubs 1 .551 W
10/3/2014 Nationals 4 Giants 1 .580 L
10/4/2013 Purple Sox 4 Rays 1 .566 W
10/24/2012 Tigers 5 Giants 1 .432 L
10/15/2010 Yankees 5 Rangers 2 .501 W
10/28/2009 Phillies 6 Yankees 2 .405 W
10/15/2009 Dodgers 4 Phillies 2 .543 L
10/22/2008 Phillies 6 Rays 2 .437 W
10/24/2007 Rockies 8 Purple Sox 2 .428 L
10/21/2006 Tigers 6 Cardinals 1 .601 L
10/22/2005 White Sox 5 Astros 2 .593 W
10/20/1996 Yankees 6 Braves 2 .505 L
10/19/1991 Twins 5 Braves 1 .537 W
10/15/1988 Athletics 5 Dodgers 2 .530 L
10/17/1987 Twins 4 Cardinals 2 .468 W
10/20/1981 Yankees 4 Dodgers 0 .509 W

A few of that may come down to raised pitching matchups; the workforce with extra relaxation ought to have the ability to set their rotation favorably. However that’s type of the purpose of the additional day off; positive, in previous years it might need been an accident of scheduling, however the league is now utilizing it to offer groups a bonus. Attending to deploy your finest beginning pitcher whereas your opponent makes use of a mid-rotation arm is one manifestation of that.

There’s simply not a lot proof, whether or not short-term or long-term, {that a} layoff results in a drawback. Even previously two years, residence groups have gone 4-4 within the first recreation of the Division Collection. That’s the interval that everybody is most fearful about, and it’s nonetheless been a useless warmth. It’s additionally merely not sufficient knowledge to say a lot of something; eight video games isn’t a lot of a pattern, notably when all of the groups concerned are playoff caliber.

Although I don’t see a lot proof {that a} layoff is hurting the perfect groups, I do sympathize with the impulse to offer larger seeds extra of a bonus. The expanded playoff discipline has given extra fanbases a style of the postseason, however there’s additionally an implicit hazard: the extra groups you enable into the playoffs, the much less sense it makes to expend assets making an attempt to qualify. If every of the 12 playoff groups had the identical probabilities of successful the World Collection, the sport would endure. Nobody would attempt for 100 wins if successful 88 gave you a similar odds, and even roughly equal odds, of successful the large prize on the finish of the yr.

Byes are an vital method to supply differentiation between the perfect groups in baseball and the following tier down. Profitable 90 video games is much less interesting than it as soon as was. Within the final two years, six seeds have received 84, 86, 87, and 89 video games respectively; two groups made the NL playoffs after successful 84 video games this yr, in reality. I believe it’s vital to counter that pull in direction of the center by giving the perfect groups a bonus.

Historic knowledge recommend that the additional layoff is a significant benefit, however there are at all times extra choices to incentivize groups to win. John Smoltz advised one thing I’m fairly keen on: eliminating relaxation and journey days to compress the time between the Wild Card collection and the following spherical. That will power non-bye groups to both use pitchers on brief relaxation or broaden their rotation to incorporate lower-tier starters. It will notably blunt the benefit that groups just like the Phillies, Twins, and Diamondbacks, who’ve two elite starters, at present maintain.

The playoffs have at all times tilted the equation in direction of extra begins out of your finest arms and fewer from the again of the rotation, however the padding has gotten greater within the new playoff format. Wild Card groups are presupposed to be deprived by having to play extra video games in much less time, however after tonight’s video games, the Phillies and Diamondbacks can have every performed 4 video games within the final seven days. I don’t suppose there’s any proof that the additional layoff is hurting the groups that obtain byes, however the decrease seeds are hardly dealing with an not possible burden from taking part in further video games. They, too, have way more relaxation than they’re used to within the common season, and this impact is much more pronounced this yr, because of all 4 Wild Card collection winners sweeping. If we’re making an attempt to create a drawback for decrease seeds, this method isn’t doing that.

Fixing this could be untenable for the league, as a result of it’s arrange the best way it’s largely for TV causes. As Rosenthal identified, slicing out a journey day between the final Wild Card recreation and the primary recreation of the following spherical would imply taking part in afternoon video games, one thing the league’s broadcast companions wouldn’t like. The NLDS additionally has a non-travel off day this yr, similar to the ALDS did final yr. That stands out like a sore thumb – nevertheless it’s there in order that the league can begin all 4 Division Collection on the identical day and nonetheless broadcast a number of video games on TV daily. At this time could be a journey day for all 4 collection in any other case, and MLB appears to choose blanket protection to an equal taking part in discipline between the 2 leagues.

Rosenthal advised reseeding the playoffs after the primary spherical, and I believe that’s a no brainer. It wouldn’t have an effect on very a lot in any respect, in my view, nevertheless it’s higher than the choice of not reseeding. Granting the highest seed in every league an extra marginal benefit for gratis to the printed schedule, which appears to be the explanation the league has resisted different makes an attempt to offer that prime seed an edge, is a superb thought.

Whereas I don’t consider that the present playoff system is giving prime seeds a drawback, I do suppose it’s vital to be vigilant about defending the sides that higher groups obtain. Aggressive stability isn’t assured in a sport with income sharing and no wage ground, and notably one the place the result of brief playoff collection is at all times closely random. The higher workforce advances in 80% of seven-game NBA collection; Michael Lopez, Greg Matthews, and Ben Baumer discovered that MLB would want a best-of-75 collection to match that charge. If you need the perfect groups to play within the World Collection yearly, baseball’s inherent randomness is a large headwind.

So good on everybody for obsessively looking for another roadblocks and trying to take away them. I believe the impulse to guarantee that the present playoff format treats good groups pretty is commendable. I would like the design to offer prime groups an edge, by no means thoughts parity. A system that damage them could be unthinkable. I simply don’t suppose that layoffs and relaxation days are serving to blunt that edge.



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