Expanded playoffs help heavyweights
There has been plenty of hand-wringing since Major League Baseball announced the addition of another wild-card team from each league, expanding its playoffs to 10 from eight.
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But what do the numbers say? In a phrase, the rich are getting richer -- a lot richer.
The Wall Street Journal asked Ben Alamar, the founding editor of the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, to build a statistical model of the changes. His conclusion: The teams that will receive the greatest reward from the addition of the two wild cards are the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, and the Texas Rangers -- teams that have won a combined 11 American League championships under the old wild-card system.
Using the statistical projections for those teams simulating this season 3,000 times, the Yanks, Red Sox and Rangers are now virtual locks to make the playoffs, while the Tampa Bay Rays, a small-market party crasher three times since 2008, got a healthy bump as well.
The Yankees now have a 94 percent chance of reaching October, the Rangers an 85 percent chance and the Red Sox an 80 percent shot. The extra wild-card spot improved the chances of the Rays to 56 percent from 29 percent.
Once the playoffs begin, the numbers suggest the wealth will rise even farther toward the top, rather than trickling down. Under the old system, wild-card teams had about a nine percent chance of winning the World Series.
Now, adding in a one-game playoff, their chances shrink to about 4.6 percent. Division winners, meanwhile, have a 13.6 percent chance of becoming world champs, about the same as their chances under the old system.
The difference now, though, is winning a division title means having a chance to win the World Series that is 300 percent better than a wild card's. Under the old format, a division winner's chances of winning the World Series were only about 44 percent better than a wild card's.