This week Major League Baseball approved a new playoff format that would add a 2nd 'wildcard' team in each league. The two wildcard teams in each league will now compete in a one-game play-off game, the winner advancing to play the team with the best record of the three division winners.
It is my opinion that this rule will, over time, hurt the Red Sox more than any other team. It probably is beneficial to MLB overall, but because of the salary inequities that exist in baseball - the Red Sox' chances at a title will be negatively impacted over time.
The reasoning is based on the simple fact that, over time, higher salaries DO result in more wins. Certainly they are no guarantee of winning any single game, series or even a single season. But over time, yes, they do. Look no further than to our 'friends' to the south in NYC.
Let me reiterate that I am talking right now about long term trends. In any given season you can always have the case of a low-budget team upsetting everybody. But over the long term, spending more on talent results in more wins. This is not arguable.
So, over time, the teams that spend the most in each division will win more games and thus more division titles. This is most apparent in the AL East where the team that has by far the biggest gap in spending between itself and it's competitors has, well, won more regular season games and more division titles over time than any of the other teams in the same division.
Winning the division more times means, very simply, more appearances in the playoffs (Not to mention home field advantage for at least the first round). The more appearances, the more chance your team will get hot and thus, the more chances you will go all the way to the World Series. And the more times you appear in the World Series, the more chances you will win it. It is simply a raw matter of numbers.
Prior to the introduction of the Wildcard format in 1995, this put the Red Sox at a huge disadvantage. We could spend way more than most teams in baseball, but we were never going to compete with the Yankees and thus, again, "on average" that meant we'd simply end up in 2nd and NOT in the playoffs. The introduction of the wildcard changed that. Finally, despite spending less than the Yankees, the Red Sox could at least out-spend the other teams contending for the wild-card spot and at least _get in_ the playoffs.
From 1919-1994 (76 seasons) we finished first (and made the playoffs) just 6 times.
From 1995-2011 (17 seasons) we finished first twice, but made the playoffs 9 times. We won the WS twice!
So the introduction of the Wilcard could almost have been called the "Help The Red Sox Get in the Playoffs" rule.
It still wasn't ideal. Because of being in the Yankee's division, Boston has been forced to spend WAY more than teams like the Twins, Chicago, Rangers, etc., while competing for the same playoff slot. No other team is hurt more by the lack of a salary cap in MLB than the Red Sox. We are forced to spend more than any team except the Yankees - and all for a chance at 2nd place and a wildcard spot in division series. But at least this new format gave us a chance.
So now we come to 2012 and baseball's lame attempt at trying to contrive through rule to create the same exciting 'last day in baseball' that emerged organically in game 162 last season.
Well, we have gone from spending more than anybody but the Yankees for a chance at a wildcard spot in a division series to spending more than anybody but the Yankees for essentially a 50/50 chance at a wildcard spot in a division series.
The fact is that when teams are close, the outcome of any single game is generally going to be close to a 50/50 proposition (again, trending over time). Two teams that meet for the one-game wildcard playoff are going to both be 'good teams' and so over time, that's going to be a 50/50 proposition.
That right there, basically will cut our chances of winning a World Series title in half. It gets a little worse - the requirement to HAVE to go through this one-game playoff will probably screw up the pitching rotation of the teams that have to play it, putting the winner at a further disadvantage when they go on to face a division winner in the the division series.
So basically, this new rule COULD be called the "Cull the Red Sox From The Playoffs" rule. But, when you consider that, as the team that spends the second most to the Yankees, the Red Sox - again, over the long run - are usually going to be the best equipped to defeat the Yankees in a series, this could also be called the "Boost the Yankee's Chances To Win the World Series Back Up a Notch" rule.
Yes, I'm waving my hands a bit over the exact probabilities. But the basic net result is straightforward. So long as MLB continues forward with a model where the Yankees vastly outspend other teams, and the Red Sox continue to spend 'second most', then over time the Red Sox' probability of winning the World Series in any given year has just taken a big cut. Maybe not exactly in half. But of that order of magnitude.