Is the Extra Wild Card Format Good for the Red Sox?

Major League Baseball, you may have heard, has altered the playoff format for the first time since 1995. In 2012, we’ll see the addition of two new wild card teams – one per league – each of which will face off with the other wild card in a one game playoff. Discussions of whether this is a good or bad thing for the sport don’t interest me, particularly, because they’re academic: the change is made, it’s not being retracted and none of us can properly predict the impact.

I am, however, extremely interested in what impact the shift in format would have for the Red Sox. Would we still be talking about beer and fried chicken, for instance, if the second wild card had been available last year? In all probability, yes, because while we would have been that second wild card, we would have been starting Beckett on two day’s rest for the one game playoff.

But still. As the American League East grows more competitive by the year, what’s the impact of having one more opportunity to reach the postseason? Like a lot of Red Sox fans, I’m extremely interested in this question. Which is why I was initially interested in Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory’s piece on ESPN entitled “Winners and losers of new playoffs.” Who would benefit the most from the new format? And conversely, who did it hurt?

Oddly, however, Szymborski – who is very, very good – didn’t take what I thought would be the obvious step in answering this question. He’s done the math to estimate the playoffs odds before the change, as well as the 2012 playoff probability after, with the table below sorted by the latter.

But in the context of answering questions regarding the impact of the new playoff format, this format is unhelpful. I’m much more interested in understanding what the difference is in the odds between before and after are, and who benefits the most.

Based on his research, I did some very basic math, subtracting the odds before from the odds after, the results of which are below.

The good news? The Red Sox appear to benefit as much as almost any team from the new format. Which is enough for me to support it.


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