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#pounditTuesday, October 19, 2021

Introducing the LBS Plan: A solution to fix MLB’s playoffs and regular season

Rob Manfred

Major League Baseball is considering some radical changes to its existing playoff format in order to help increase interest in the sport, but we have a proposal that is much better than the one they are considering.

THE PROBLEM

One of the biggest issues plaguing baseball the last few seasons has been the lack of teams actively trying to build championship rosters. Too many teams saw the Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees etc. as being too far ahead of them and decided there was no point to signing free agents and making trades to try improving when such a gap between the very best teams and everyone else seemingly existed. Making matters worse, the teams that had given up and were looking to trade away top players as part of a rebuilding effort only found those same teams to be the buyers in the market, which resulted in the talent gap further widening. That’s how you end up with nine 100-win teams the last three seasons compared to just two in the three prior seasons.

The sport is at its best when all teams are trying to win and believe they have a chance to win. Decreased fan interest is a terrible consequence to the superteams problem.

MLB’S PROPOSAL

MLB’s proposal as reported by the New York Post’s Joel Sherman (hours after a pitcher sued the Astros – coincidence on the timing?) is to:

– increase the playoff field to seven teams per league
– give the top team in each league a bye into the division round
– allow higher seeded teams to pick their playoff opponent on a TV show
– make the first round of the playoffs a 3-game series with higher seed hosting all three games

FLAWS IN MLB’S PROPOSAL

MLB believes its proposal to expand the playoff field to seven teams per league will encourage more teams to try winning, but as we found out with the second wild card, that’s not always the case. Teams that were in competition for the wild card spots realized that it’s not worth trying to win that spot when all it does is earn you a 1-game playoff just to make the divisional series. The amount of playoff spots and the format of the playoff series needs to work hand-in-hand for teams to feel it’s worth making a run at winning.

MLB’s proposal to have a three-game series with the higher seed hosting all three games is severely flawed.

First off, baseball is a long, series-based sport, and MLB teams are supposed to be fairly even. The shorter the length of a series, the greater the chance of a fluke result. The longer the series, the more likely you are to see the better team prevail. A 3-game series for the playoffs is just too short. Plus, having only one team host all the games is unfair. Further, such a setup robs one team of one of the big benefits to making the postseason — the ability to host a playoff game, which is great for the home fans and generates more revenue/income for the team.

THE LARRY BROWN SPORTS PLAN

The LBS Plan is based on the belief that the current 162-game regular season is too long and full of too many meaningless games. It’s also based on the belief that the most meaningful regular season games are: Opening Day and the final weeks of playoff races. The LBS Plan seeks to replicate that feeling and create more meaningful games.

How do we do that? It’s simple: Two half-seasons.

MLB needs to cut down the regular season — 150 games would be great, but 154 could also work. They key is to make the season two halves of equal length, with the All-Star break in between.

7-team Playoff Format
– Top two teams per league in each half make the playoffs
– All division winners (based on cumulative record) make the playoffs
– Any spots where there is overlap (e.g. winner of the half also is winner of a division), next team with best cumulative record makes playoffs
– Team with best cumulative record in league gets bye into division series round of playoffs
– Wild Card and Division Series are both best-of-5 in 2-2-1 format
– LCS and World Series rounds are both best-of-7 in 2-3-2 format (I’d rather do 2-2-1-1-1, but considering baseball is outdoors unlike basketball or hockey, all the extra travel in October could push things into bad weather)

Also, I do like giving higher seeded playoff teams a choice of opponents for the intrigue and trash-talking possibilities it could create.

WHY THE PLAN WORKS

Fans love Opening Day because it’s great to welcome baseball back each year, and more importantly, because of the possibilities it represents. Each team begins 0-0 and there is hope that anything can happen. That freshness and excitement can last about a week or month, depending on how your team is doing. But once injuries hit and/or a team starts playing poorly, much of that hope is lost for a team and its fan base.

That’s why having two halves is great.

A team that had a poor first half now gets a chance to start over in the second half. A team with injuries in one half can still make the postseason if they are great in the other half. A team that’s hot in one half but cools off in the other can still make the playoffs. Rather than having half of MLB fan bases disengage after May or June, they all get to have renewed excitement midway through the season. There is also no excuse for teams not to try winning when they have an extra opportunity to qualify for the playoffs.

And just like you get two Opening Day feelings per year, there will be the excitement of a playoff race twice per season at the end of each half. Teams will be competing hard to get those spots.

ANSWERING QUESTIONS FROM SKEPTICS

Skeptics may ask what happens with the teams that qualified for the playoffs by finishing at the top of the standings in the first half. What motivation would they have to try in the second half rather than just coast and manage workloads? The biggest motivation would be to go for the top overall spot in each league, which would yield a bye in the playoffs. Yes, the team would have a layoff for a week until their division round playoff series begins, but getting to avoid the first round of the playoffs would be a strong reward. The opportunity to have home field advantage would also be incentive to try hard in the second half. Plus, players have performance and award bonuses that would motivate them to keep playing well/hard in the second half.

Skeptics might wonder how would the trade deadline work? You probably only need one deadline, and it would come in the middle of the second half, once teams have a chance to see how they fare.

Skeptics might also ask: why would the owners and players agree to a shorter regular season if that would mean less money? The reason is that it wouldn’t necessarily mean less money. What is lost by eliminating 6 home games (in a 150-game regular season) or 4 home games (in a 154-game regular season) is more than gained by increased attendance and ratings at the end of the first half, start of the second half, and in the extra playoff games. Also, players should be in favor of this system because it would mean more teams trying to win, which would lead to more competition in the market place, and therefore higher salaries.

Owners and players would have to look at things from the bigger picture and recognize that is good for the overall health of the game. And when the game is healthy overall, there is more money for owners and players due to fan enjoyment.

This doesn’t fix all of MLB’s issues — we have other suggestions for defensive alignments, service time manipulation, length of games, and more — but this is a start.

What do you think of the LBS Plan?

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