Reports surfaced earlier this month that Major League Baseball is "seriously weighing" multiple changes to its current postseason format. These alterations -- -- would increase the amount of postseason teams per league to seven (with top seeds being granted first-round byes) and division winners would have their choice of whom they would prefer to play in the three-game wild card round.
Any changes to the playoff format would need to be agreed to by the players union in the next collective bargaining agreement, which takes place after the 2021 season..
Many of these propositions stem from MLB's desire to reach a younger audience and build on increased ratings received by broadcast partners in 2019 -- MLB on Fox, ESPN Sunday Night Baseball and MLB on TBS all saw increased viewership, according to MLB.com.
Since commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB are open to trying something new, we thought we would come up with our own modifications to make the postseason more entertaining for baseball fans. We aim to have at least semi-realistic proposals with this list. These ideas are individual of one another as it would be impossible to implement all at once.
Here are five ways to make the MLB postseason more entertaining.
1. Bring the DH to the National League
This argument is part of a larger one for implementing the designated hitter option in the National League permanently. Nonetheless, adding the DH to the NL would also assist in making the postseason more entertaining. With rare exception, pitchers rarely have the ability to consistently produce with a bat in their hands.
In the 116-year existence of the World Series, pitchers have combined to hit a total of 15 home runs, the last coming in 2008. Pitchers went 0 for 11 in last year's World Series. A total of 17 pitchers hit over .200 in the regular season last year. The list goes on.
As exciting as "pitchers who rake" moments are, the production is few and far between -- and nearly non-existent in the postseason.
The absence of a designated hitter option can also put a team at a disadvantage come playoff time. NL teams, for the most part, build their teams with the idea that eight non-pitchers will start in a lineup. When the World Series comes around, many NL teams are put at a disadvantage by not having an option at DH because they have not needed an extra hitter until that point. Meanwhile, AL teams are often forced to sacrifice defense by forcing their regular designated hitter into a position on the field.
This argument has been ongoing for years. The next CBA could provide an opportunity to make the change.
2. Double-elimination bracket
This modification is two-fold:
- Combine the AL and NL playoff teams into a single, eight-team (three division winners and one wild-card spot in each league) bracket.
- Two losses and you're out.
When looking at the NCAA College World Series format, it's fanatical and unpredictable -- much of that attributable to the numerous win-or-go-home contests. The three most-watched games in the history of baseball were all winner-take-all Game 7s, according to Statista.com. Fans love it. Players love it.
Rockies catcher Tony Wolters said this after the 2018 Wild Card Game: "The feeling of hearing the fans, and the vibrations you were getting inside your body, it's a very addicting feeling. It's something you won't ever forget."
Teams with the better record would host in this format. The travel element might make this a non-starter with players, but there's no chance owners would give up the revenue and let games be played at a neutral site.
In this format, the winner moves on to the winner's bracket and loser moves down into the loser's half for an immediate elimination game. Take a look at the NCAA College World Series bracket for a more visual reference.
The two clubs that advance to the championship would then play a best-of-seven series, just like it has been for more than a century.
3. Five warmup pitches
Game interruptions from pitching changes are even more evident in the postseason. Baseball Reference data show the average playoff baseball game is 3 hours, 38 minutes; a 28-minute increase from the average regular-season game.
Postseason rules grant clubs nearly three minutes for each pitching change -- that's after the pitcher has already been throwing out in the bullpen. Depending on the situation, bullpen pitchers can throw anywhere from 10 to 40 pitches in the bullpen before being called out to the game mound. Albeit at the college level and not the pros, it seems that warmup pitches are truly just extra time to get your mind right and adjust to the new environment -- much of it is mental. It's helpful, but not necessary. These guys are professionals.
Those warmups can quickly add 20 to 30 minutes to a game that features five to 10 pitching changes. The new three-batter minimum rule being implemented this season will certainly help, but the number of pitching changes was at an all-time high.
Give relief pitchers five warmup pitches on the game mound and let's play ball. Adjustments can be made for unique situations, such as an injury.
4. Seed playoffs by record, not division
As things stand in the current, 10-team playoff picture, division champion clubs automatically advance to the LDS, skipping the Wild Card Game regardless of win totals. Within this format, teams with a higher win total are often forced take a more difficult playoff route. For instance, the Washington Nationals, who won 93 games last season, hosted the NL Wild Card game while the St. Louis Cardinals, who won 91 games, received an automatic bid to the divisional playoff round.
If not for Juan Soto's hit and Trent Grisham's misplay in the outfield, the Nats -- who finished the regular season with the third-most wins in the NL -- could have been eliminated and still searching for their franchise's first title.
An even more severe situation unfolded in 2018 when the Oakland A's and New York Yankees both had better records than the Cleveland Indians, but they were forced to play an elimination wild card game because of Cleveland having won its division.
Although many might argue this would take away from the importance and honor of winning a division title, the goal should always be to win as many games as possible, no matter the division or competition. Under this format, the best teams in the regular season would be rewarded with the appropriate seed in the postseason, based solely on regular-season records.
5. Add additional instant replay umpire
There is nothing that drives fans more crazy than a long, grueling instant replay stoppage of play. Of the 590 official replays in 2018, the average replay duration took a little less than 90 seconds, according to FanGraphs. That is still a lifetime on the millennial minutes scale.
What can be done to resolve this elongated break in play?
MLB could place an additional umpire official in a booth at the actual postseason game with their own instant replay system. Rather than waste time by stopping the game, bringing out the replay phone system, and calling into Secaucus, N.J., for each replay, the league would provide the designated replay umpire official with all the tools and resources they would need to make a call within the booth. Then, once a determination is made, that official can alert the on-field crew with a ruling. Play on.
Instant replay can kill momentum, pause excitement, and often ruin the adrenaline of a great play -- especially in the playoffs when every play is crucial.