The Big Game(s)

I have heard a very interesting debate over the past few days here in Chicago: Which is harder to win, the College World Series or the MLB World Series? On first thought, the knee-jerk reaction for many baseball aficionados is the MLB World Series. It seems the logical choice, right? Here’s some food for thought.
The typical collegiate season consists of between 50-70 regular season games, followed by a conference tournament (format varies between conferences but generally, most conferences use a double-elimination format or variation thereof), and if a team is lucky enough to go to the NCAA Tournament, a regional bracket, a best-of-3 Super Regional, the CWS playoffs, and the best-of-3 CWS Final. If you assume that a collegiate team plays 60 regular season games, and plays the maximum possible games in both their conference tournament (in most conferences, teams can play up to 6 games) and NCAA tournament brackets (5+3+5+3=16), a college team plays roughly 82 games in a season. That’s a solid half-season of baseball for an MLB team. Less wear and tear on collegiate players, yes – but a 60-game regular season means that each game means more. Also consider that only one-half of the games a team plays are intra-conference games. Most conferences do not automatically qualify all members for their baseball post-season tournament – the Big Ten, for example, qualifies the top six out of ten. Most conferences qualify the top two-thirds of their membership. This makes each conference victory very valuable.
Major League Baseball, however, runs a 162-game schedule. Out of 30 teams, 8 qualify for the postseason. The first round is a best-of-5 series, while the final two rounds are best-of-7. The tradeoff is simple – a longer season, requiring more endurance, gives a team a little bit larger margin for error in the playoffs. In collegiate ball, two losses in a round and a team is out. In MLB, depending on the round, elimination comes after three or four losses. Also, regular season games are individually less valuable to each team.
Out of curiosity, I simulated the 2006 MLB Playoffs (using the original first-round matchups) to see how each team would have fared in a College World Series-style tournament. Each league was a four-team double elimination bracket, with the World Series being a best-of-three championship. Home team is the team with the better record, with the wild-card team ineligible for home field until the World Series (as the MLB runs the playoffs). The results:
American League
(October 1)
Game 1: Minnesota 12, Oakland 2
Game 2: Detroit 11, NY Yankees 4
(October 2)
Game 3: Detroit 8, Minnesota 5
Game 4: Oakland 7, NY Yankees 1 (NY Yankees eliminated)
(October 3)
Game 5: Minnesota 5, Oakland 2 (Oakland eliminated)
(October 4)
Game 6: Detroit 11, Minnesota 6 (11 inn.) (Minnesota eliminated; Detroit Tigers – AL Champions)
National League
(October 1)
Game 1: NY Mets 4, LA Dodgers 3
Game 2: San Diego 2, St. Louis 1
(October 2)
Game 3: San Diego 7, NY Mets 3
Game 4: St. Louis 6, LA Dodgers 0 (LA Dodgers eliminated)
(October 3)
Game 5: NY Mets 11, St. Louis 10 (St. Louis eliminated)
(October 4)
Game 6: NY Mets 11, San Diego 0
(October 5)
Game 7: NY Mets 10, San Diego 3 (San Diego eliminated; NY Mets – NL Champions)
MLB World Series (Best-of-3; AL with home-field advantage)
Game 1 (October 6): Detroit 5, NY Mets 2
Game 2 (October 7): Detroit 4, NY Mets 0 (Detroit – WS Champions)
An interesting result, but not entirely unexpected. I can’t say that the double-elimination style tournament would ever be feasible for Major League Baseball, but it certainly would give an unexpected twist to the postseason competition. I would not run it exactly as I ran it above – certainly I would expand the tournament to include days off. Usually one could schedule games on alternate days – one day on, one day off. The World Series (if it maintained as a best-of-3, which would never happen) would work on the same schedule – game day, travel day, game day, etc. While I like the idea of a double-elimination tournament, I do prefer a longer championship series. Oh, for the days of the best-of-9 World Series…

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One Response to The Big Game(s)

  1. Rob Bonter says:

    I would like to see a reversion to four MLB divisions, and sending all four divisional winners directly to a 12-game schedule round robin WS, so that each team plays each of its three opponents twice at home and twice on the road. This would also revive daytime WS baseball, a tremendous marketing tool in offices and schools.
    The Final Four concept has already been proven successful in college BB and I would expand upon it by putting all four regular season division winners head-to-head in WS competition. Not incidentally, this format would eliminate the utterly disgusting “wild card” garbage, for a much better championship-determination system

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