Friday January 7th, 2011

Don't expect an answer soon on whether two wild card teams will be added for 2012. The idea is on a slow track. Baseball owners want to study the issue jointly with the players association in a year in which they will be negotiating a collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expires this year.

Discussion about an expanded postseason, for instance, is not on the official agenda for owners when they meet next Wednesday and Thursday in Arizona. Commissioner Bud Selig is meeting with his on-field matters committee in Arizona, but after the owners conclude their portion of the meetings. The committee has had preliminary discussions about an expanded postseason.

No playoff formats have been formally proposed, though informal discussions have indicated a split among baseball people whether wild card teams should play a best-of-three series or a one-game "knockout" to decide who advances to the Division Series.

The NFL owns this weekend: Wild Card Weekend. It's a concept American sports fans understand and even demand: win or go home. Baseball has a chance to claim the same kind of ownership in October -- a dedicated day of wild card excitement and urgency. Follow along here . . .

What would two more wild cards do to the postseason? Based on the 15 full seasons under the six-division format, here some answers. (Keep in mind, however, that outcomes and win totals likely would have differed if teams knew a second wild card spot was at stake.)

Who benefits from an expanded postseason?

West Division teams, apparently. Of the 35 teams (including ties) that would have qualified for the second wild card, more came from the AL West and NL West (eight each) than any other division. The Giants and Mariners tied for the most would-have spots with four each.

How far would the playoff bar be lowered?

Low enough so that you can dream about a pennant "race" even if your team is built to be a few games over .500. Check out the average win totals from 1996-2010, including the second wild card in each league in retrospect:

AL East champion: 98.2

World Series champion: 95.2

AL wild card: 94.9

NL Central champion: 93.1

NL wild card: 91.5

NL second wild card: 89.1

AL second wild card: 88.8

The difference in the AL, where the Yankees and Red Sox run up big win totals, is significant. You're talking about needing six fewer wins to snag an AL wild card spot. (Good news, Blue Jays: you won the theoretical 1998 second wild card with 88 wins!)

Wouldn't lowering the playoff bar create the possibility of more tiebreaker games?

Yes. But based on the past 15 years, there were only four ties among 30 spots for the theoretical second wild card. However, that would have included the first-ever three-way tie in baseball history, with the Mariners, White Sox and Red Sox all tied for the second wild card in 1996. Good luck untangling that mess.

What should baseball do?

Anything but add a best-of-three series -- including nothing. The status quo is better than adding to the already too-long inventory of non-decisive playoff games and off days that is taking some shine off the World Series. Two knockout games in one day (think NFL wild card weekend or March Madness) is a far better choice if the playoff pool is expanded.

How would that have worked last year?

Grab your guacamole and settle in for some great action, folks:

The Braves against the Padres at 5 p.m. ET in Atlanta.

The Yankees against the Red Sox at 8:30 p.m. ET in New York.

Wait a minute. Are you telling me the Yankees and Red Sox would have played a one-game postseason knockout in prime time under this format last year?

Yep. And it would have happened in 2008, too -- 30 years after Bucky Bleeping Dent, back at Fenway Park.

So, let me get this straight: Over the past three years, among 21 postseason series played, we got only two knockout games (when both teams face elimination), and yet you can guarantee in advance two of them every year and played on the same day -- and it might be Yankees-Red Sox or Dodgers-Giants (as it would have been in 2002)?

Yep.

Cool. All that's left to think about is how to brand it. Play-In Day? Elimination Day? Survivor Round? Knockout Round? Wild Card Friday?

Uh, we'll get back to you on that.

The Baseball Writers Association of America this week gave an emphatic thumbs down to Hall of Fame candidates connected to performance-enhancing drugs. Nothing new there. Since 2007, 15 players have appeared on the ballot who were tied to illegal PEDs through various public sources (the Mitchell Report, news reports, court filings, books, admissions, etc.). None received 25 percent of the vote.

How much have PED links affected the voting? For a quick snapshot, you can compare the first-year ballot percentage of those 15 players to the first-year percentages of their two most similar players who have appeared on a ballot according to Similarity Scores, a concept of statistical comparisons developed by Bill James and listed by baseballreference.com. The premier candidates took big hits, some not as much as you might think, and most were too insignificant as candidates to show much of a difference.

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