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ERIC Number: EJ1033110
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2013-Aug
Pages: 4
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 5
ISSN: ISSN-0025-5769
Delving Deeper: Studying Baseball's Wild-Card Team Using Probability
Auer, Richard E.; Knapp, Michael P.
Mathematics Teacher, v107 n1 p74-77 Aug 2013
The modern era of professional baseball playoffs began in 1903, when the champions of the American League and the National League played the first World Series. Except for one year, 1904, this playoff system was maintained until 1969. Beginning in 1969, each of the two leagues in Major League Baseball (MLB) was divided into two divisions to accommodate the addition of extra teams in each league. From then through 1993, the two divisional champions in each league played against each other in an initial playoff round to determine which teams would go on to the World Series. In 1994, as the result of more expansion, each league was reorganized into three divisions. To maintain a tidy playoff system, each league began sending a "wild card" team into the first of three rounds of playoffs. This wild-card team would simply be the best of the three second-place finishers and would join the three divisional winners in the first round of games. Ever since MLB began discussing the use of wild-card teams, controversy has ensued. Hall of Famer Johnny Bench was quoted as saying, "Someday, we'll have a team that wins the World Series without winning their own division" (Lawes 1992, p. 3). As recently as 2006, Pulitzer Prize nominee Rick Hummel complained, "Already baseball has been burned (some would say scarred) by the fact that three of the past four World Series winners have been wild card teams... Baseball needs to make it much harder for a wild card team" (Hummell 2006, p. C6). To understand the three-division playoff system, consider the final 2006 American League standings. The divisional champs--the New York Yankees, the Minnesota Twins, and the Oakland Athletics--advanced. Among the second-place teams, the Detroit Tigers had the highest winning percentage, even higher than Oakland's, and hence were labeled the wild-card team. In the playoffs, the wild-card Tigers defeated the Yankees and Athletics to advance to the World Series, where they lost to a division-winning St. Louis Cardinals team from the National League. The Cardinals had only the fifth-best record in the National League, but as winners of their division they advanced to the playoffs over two teams with better records. The purpose of this article is to use basic probability to support the idea of having wild-card teams in MLB playoffs. The authors develop a model for the years 1994 through 2011, when the American League had 14 teams, the National League had 16 teams, and each league sent one wild-card team to the playoffs. Using this model, they show that the wild-card team should probabilistically be better than at least one of the division winners, just as in 2006.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. 1906 Association Drive, Reston, VA 20191-1502. Tel: 800-235-7566; Tel: 703-620-3702; Fax: 703-476-2970; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A