A Visit to the Mound
Baseball fans over-analyzing an over-analyzed game
|But Coach, I only sent that pic to one girl.|
A Visit to the Mound is regularly updated series of emails touching on a wide range of baseball subjects.
To me, saying that baseball should have LESS playoff teams because you want to see the 2 teams with the best record in the World Series is kinda like arguing that gay marriage should be illegal because being attracted to a person of the same sex might be contagious and that the science is still out on that one because no one has done the research yet. In other words, its absurd. Its also like saying that there are too many billboards at the stadiums as if teams shouldn't be trying to maximize their returns at every opportunity.
Let me remind you and anyone who might read this that the MLB season is 162 games long with each team playing 81 home games. Its not easy work getting butts in those seats and eyes on those games day in day out. Going to a baseball game is not an inexpensive proposition and sitting through 162 3 1/2-4 hour baseball games on TV is no treat either, ESPECIALLY when you are watching a team that is either not competitive or not competitive enough so for a shot at the post season.
This is compounded when you think about how regional of a sport baseball is. Yes, the Yankees, Red Sox, and to an extent the Braves have done a great job at expanding their national appeal, but very few people outside of Houston are Astros fans. Same goes for the Royals, Rays, Rockies, Marlins, etc. The longer into the season fans of these teams are able to stay engaged in their team the better. Not only is it the best thing for business, but its the best things for the fans relationships with those teams.
Our defending American League Champion Kansas City Royals are a prime example of this. Before our time the Royals were often considered the AAAA team for the New York Yankees as so much of their talent wound up in NY before it had a chance to win in Kansas City. Then they held on to players in the '80's (when baseball put in ALCS & NLCS) and won, but then in our lifetime we say the same thing happen again. Carlos Betran, Johnny Damon, Zack Grienke, the list goes on, shipped out of town because the Royals didn't want to spend the money on players when they weren't going to compete. Then what happened in 2014? Bolstered by a trade that brought in Major League talent, the Royals hung in it all the way to end, got hot in the playoffs and the rest his history. If there was not 2 Wild Card spots and maybe only 2 teams from each league made the team then Shields would have been dealt and the Royals would have been rebuilding again.
More playoff spots means more teams in contention, more eyes on the product and more fans maintaining an interest year after year. Seems like a smart strategy for a sport that has an average fan base the sits right around the mid 50's. But here's a question for you. Right now MLB has 5-ish playoff spot per league. Too many to some, but still much less than the NBA or NHL and only 1 less that the NFL. How many playoff teams is too man? Sure long term fan engagement is great, but how excited are most fans when their team locks down the 8-seed in the NBA? I tend to follow a lot of Boston media and some folks are wondering whats up with the Celtics approaching the 8-seed in the East. I know the Celts are rebuilding, but is it that bad that the team might be ahead of its time frame? And does sending half of the conferences' team to the playoffs cheapen the whole experience?
As a lifelong hockey fan, I can say throwing 16 teams in the playoff mix is nothing short of awesome. It differs from the NBA in the sense that low seeds regularly have a chance. Bottom seeds have made it to the cup, and won it. But hockey is different, they've had multiple teams come back from a 3-0 series deficit in the playoffs. Remember when the Red Sox did that it was a huge story, but it actually has happened in hockey enough to the point where it's a fun story, not a monumental one.
That said, the length of baseball games doesn't lend itself to more playoff games. I love a good 5 hour late october slog as much as any baseball stalwart, but that doesnt play to the casual fan. Plus when your team is in the playoffs, it's a different vibe sport to sport. Overtime hockey is, in my opinion, the only thing that matches the anxiety, dread, and excitement of late inning playoff baseball. Baseball's "slowness" just lends itself to heightened wonder and anxious pacing in the playoffs. The "slow" moments are building up to one moment where everything can change (Cue Don Henley's "in a new york munute...oohh we wooo...) If the Red Sox had to play MORE games in October, do you really think you could stomach that? Probably, but you might have some explaining to do when you walk into work the next day wearing one shoe and 3 day scruff going.
In regards to your Shields comment, did the pundits who bashed the Royals for that trade ever double back on their words? Or did they just slink away like the guy who starts a fight and lets his friends finish it? The whole argument against it was the years of control of Wil Myers.....who the Rays recently traded. That trade proved to me that snap judgments on organizational moves are good for sound bites and tweet headlines in the 24 news cycle, but they take years to play out and truly evaluate.
The fact that baseball has only had 1 team to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series says two things. One of which being that there just haven't been nearly the same number of playoff series that hockey and basketball have seen. And two, the difference between good teams and good enough teams is probably pretty wide.
Now imagine if 8 teams from BOTH the National League and the American League made the playoffs in 2014. How excited are you right now thinking about a 5 game series between the Angels and the Yankees and the Nationals and the Mets. That's right, both NY teams would have made the playoffs as 8 cedes and both teams would have gotten snuffed out like a spider in a day care. And if that's not bad enough consider that the 7 & 8 cedes in the NL both would have had a 79-83 record. All that to add another week and a half to a season that already ends in early November. Eck...
I do think its funny that you brought up having a rooting interest in October baseball. I remember in September of 2013 as the Red Sox marched towards the playoffs thinking about how my life was about to change in ways I wasn't prepared for in the next month. Sure enough, there I was arguing with strangers about the proper application of runner interference & texting you to discuss the Sox bullpen situation while at my wife's birthday dinner. October baseball does things to me and not all of them are good.
As far as grading trades go, talking heads gotta make noise (its why they're there), but its impossible to grade a trade when it happens, 24 hours after it happens, a whole year after it happens. Baseball is the ultimate long game. Its one of the reasons why advance stats took hold here first. There are a lot of games and players can spend a lot of time in an organization. So while its tempting, and some times necessary (if its your job) to pass judgement on a single transaction moments after it happens everyone knows you're just talking to be heard.
Now for fun, almost 3 years later tell me who won this trade:
Red Sox acquire Allen Webster, Ruby De La Rosa, Ivan DeJesus Jr., Jerry Sands & James Loney
Dodgers acquire Adrian Gonzales, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett & Nick Punto
Red Sox also sent $12 million.