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Why is the MLB Season So Long?

A friend of the blog recently posed an interesting question to me: why is the Major League Baseball regular season so long and the post-season so short?

(from flickr user Joe Penniston)

The MLB regular season in 162 games long. There are 30 teams in the league, 8 make the playoffs, in which a maximum of 41 games can be played.

The NBA regular season, by comparison, is 82 games long. There are 30 teams in the league, 16 make the playoffs, in which a maximum of 105 games can occur.

So the ratio of regular season to playoff games in the MLB is (2430 to 41) - 59.3 to 1. The ratio in the NBA is (1230 to 105) - 11.7 to 1. This is a pretty big discrepancy.

Instead of ending the baseball season around October 1st, MLB could end it around early September. This would cut the regular season to about 130-135 games per season. The number of teams allowed into the playoffs could be doubled if the MLB allowed in two 2 teams per division per league and 2 wildcards per league. Additionally, the bogus 5-game first round could be eliminated and all rounds bumped up to 7 (or more) games.

Who would this benefit? I think the most obvious beneficiary would be the teams on the margin that would otherwise not make the playoffs. Fans of teams that don't necessarily win their divisions can still experience playoff excitement. I also think it benefits the most talented teams, since the statistical likelihood of the worst team in the league beating the best team in a short 5 game series is surprisingly high. 7 game series increase the sample size and the probability that the expected outcome (best team wins) will occur.

Who would this hurt? Franchises that never (or almost never) make the playoffs would be hurt, since they would have a couple dozen fewer games to sell tickets to every year. The Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates, for instance, are pretty infamous for rarely making the playoffs. Though this could be resolved if MLB were to establish some sort of playoff revenue sharing agreement between teams.

I'm sure there are other consequences I'm overlooking here. Please let me know who else this might benefit/hurt. Bonus points will go to the person who can best explain why Major League Baseball will probably never adopt this idea.


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