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Dumb Tie-Breaker Is Dumb

Oakland Athletics v New York Yankees
This play might have determined home field advantage in the wild card game.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Do I oppose the “record against your division” tie-breaker for WC home field advantage simply because in 2018 it hurts the A’s? Absolutely not. Do I care more because the A’s are positioned to be hosed in the very possible event Oakland and New York finish the season with the same record? Well, probably. But dumb tie-breakers are dumb regardless of who they favor.

Don’t get me wrong — the tie-breaker they’ve come up with isn’t the worst of all possible ideas. Worse would be if they insisted on having a one-game playoff in which the only thing at stake was who hosted the actual one-game playoff. Imagine if the A’s had to fly from Anaheim to New York just to play a game Monday that determined they had to fly back to Oakland Wednesday for the wild card game. Or if the Yankees had to fly from Boston to Oakland for a Monday game that concluded they needed to fly back to New York for the wild card game.

So clearly MLB needs a tie-breaker in the event the two teams split the season series. The one they chose, however, doesn’t relate to anything meaningful. The first problem is a problem with the wild card itself, and that is that teams are fighting for the same spot (or in this case home field advantage in the same game) without being measured against the same schedule.

For example the Yankees’ record in their own division includes 19 games against the Orioles, which is unfair to the A’s, and 38 games against Boston or Tampa Bay, which is unfair to the Yankees. For whatever it’s worth, the other 4 teams in the AL East are a combined 309-317, while the other AL West teams are a combined 326-299. So perhaps a slightly unfair advantage to the Yankees overall, but mostly an arbitrary measure that has nothing to do with which team is better or more deserving of the home field advantage.

So how should it work? From my point of view, the tie-breaker has to revolve directly around the A’s vs. the Yankees in order to be relevant and fair. So while it’s generally a poor measure of anything, the tie-breaker if the two teams split the season series should be “runs scored in the season series”. At least the two teams have some direct control over how many runs they score, or give up, in their head to head matchups, and the quality of other teams, the imbalance in schedules, does not come into play.

Also, it has the ancillary benefit of rewarding or punishing teams that choose to punt games — something they at least control and do intentionally. You turned a 7-1 game into a 13-1 blowout by letting a position player pitch the 9th inning so you could rest your bullpen, and suddenly a tie-breaker comes down to runs scored in the season series? So be it: you could have gone to a better reliever if you had wanted, but you judged it better to allow a bunch of extra runs. If you pay a price for that, at least it’s a price you decided to pay in a game against the team you are battling for playoff spot or venue.

I intentionally decided to write this article all the way up to this point without checking to see whether the A’s or Yankees would have won the tie-breaker had it been constructed this way. At this very moment I have no idea how it actually came out in 2018. I am now going to look it up and report back. Stay tuned..........

.......OK, I’m back. It turns out that in the season series, which the A’s and Yankees split 3-3, the A’s outscored the Yankees 33-28. The A’s should rightfully have been granted home field advantage if the teams finish with the same record, meaning that karma owes us a record one better than the Yankees. May it be so.


How should home field advantage rightfully be determined when the season records and season series are tied?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    One-game playoff for home field advantage
    (77 votes)
  • 24%
    Record within your division
    (385 votes)
  • 40%
    Runs scored in the season series
    (630 votes)
  • 4%
    Best record in September
    (67 votes)
  • 19%
    Coin flip
    (302 votes)
  • 6%
    Alphabetical order by team name (and apostrophes come before any letter)
    (107 votes)
1568 votes total Vote Now