Friday, March 22, 2013

Integrity of the Game

I have heard from too many places lately that the Astros rebuilding plan is an affront to the integrity of the game, most recently in a series of tweets from Peter Gammons and a quote from Scott Boras. Part of this criticism is usually that the Astros losing will guarantee 3 teams from the AL West, which is unfair to the teams in AL Central and Al East. The poor babies. Peter Gammons put it this way:
Is this true though? Does having a bad team in the division guarantee that 3 teams will make the playoffs?

You all might remember that the Astros lost 107 games last year. The Cubs lost 101. Despite having two punching bags, only the Reds and Cardinals made the playoffs from the NL Central, with the Braves taking the first Wild Card. So obviously its not an absolute guarantee. As last year was the first year there were two Wild Cards, that is our only actual example. That could have been an outlier, so I looked back at every season since baseball went to the unbalanced schedule in 2001.

Since then, there have been 16 instances when a division featured a team that lost 100 games or more. Only the 2006 AL Central would have placed three teams in the playoffs under the current format. And that year, the Royals were hardly historically bad, as they only lost 100 games. The 2003 AL Central with the 119 loss Tigers would not have produced either Wild Card. The 2004 NL West, with the 111 loss Diamondbacks, would have added the Giants as the second Wild Card, but would not have had both. The 106 loss Brewers would not have produced either Wild Card in the 2002 NL Central. And the NL Central in 2011 would still have placed only two teams, despite the 106 loss Astros.

Clearly, having a bad team, even a historically bad team like the 2004 D-Backs or 2003 Tigers, doesn't guarantee 3 teams in the playoffs from one division. If three teams from the AL West make it this year, it will be because the other competitors didn't do enough to keep them out. They will have no one to blame but themselves. Blaming the Astros and whining about the "integrity of the sport" is just lazy.