A Season of Tournaments

October 26, 2015
 A Season of Tournaments

            Suppose that a baseball season was organized around tournaments.   This is not an unrealistic idea so far, is it?   A season could as well or as plausibly be organized around tournaments as in the current way; it is merely an accident of history that we went in a different direction.

            We have 30 teams now, and, as it happens, 30 teams is the perfect number to make this plan work.   Let us suppose that, twice every week, a new tournament starts with 16 teams.    Is that the right place to start this explanation?   Maybe not. . .maybe here.   The season is a long sequence of 3-game series; let’s say that a season is a series of 50 3-game series, or a couple more for some teams.    The loser of each series is eliminated from that tournament, and immediately entered into another tournament which starts the next Monday or the next Friday.    

            The season is a long series of 16-team tournaments.    Each Monday and each Friday, a new 16-team tournament begins.   The 16 teams in that tournament are the 15 teams which lost their previous series—thus were eliminated from their previous tournament—plus the one team which WON the tournament which has just ended.  

            At all times, then, all 30 teams are involved in a tournament:

            16 teams are playing opening-round games,

            8 teams are playing second-round games,

            4 teams are playing semi-final round games, and

            2 teams are playing the championship series.  

 

            Eight of the first sixteen lose, and start another tournament in the next series, joined by four of the second 8 teams, two of the 4 teams from the semis, and both of the teams which just met in the championship round.       There are always four tournaments being played, one in its opening round, and one having its championship series.  

            Qualification for the post-season, qualification for the World Championship, is based not on your overall won-lost record, but on (a) on how many tournaments you have won, and (b) I’ll explain later.   I see this approach as having the following benefit:  that teams are constantly presented with the immediate opportunity to win something meaningful.     You have crucial games, critical games, being played throughout the season, and being played by every team—unlike the current system, in which (a) there really are no critical games until at least mid-August, and (b) some teams never play a meaningful series.    Every series is in a sense a critical series—at least more so in this system than in the current one.   Cleveland can be playing San Diego on May 5, and it’s a critical series because the winner moves on to the championship match of that tournament.  

            It creates "moments of tension", thus moments of great interest and great excitement, throughout the season.    San Diego may have a nothing team with nothing going on, but if they win three straight series—which can happen to anybody—then they’re playing for the championship of that tournament, and that makes that a BIG series.   The media spotlight comes suddenly to San Diego vs. Cleveland, because the winner of that series has won something that is very meaningful:  A tournament championship.   They get a banner.  They get a trophy.   They get a leg up for the post season.

            In theory, a team could win as many as 12 tournaments a year.   In reality, that’s impossible; you’d have to win every series all year.    The most tournaments that any team could win in the season is maybe 5, maybe 6.   If you win 3 tournaments during the season, you WILL qualify for the post-season, no matter how many teams qualify for the post season.    There are 50 tournaments and 30 teams, so an average team will win 1.67 tournaments per season.    You just have to win 3 two-week tournaments, and you’re above the mark.  

            You win your first-round series, your fans get a little bit excited.   You win your second-round series, your fans are excited.   You win your third-round series, your fans go crazy.   You win the tournament, your fans get to celebrate.   I see that as building the fan base, building excitement about the game.  

            A lot of questions to be answered here. . .How do you seed the tournaments? 

            There are 30 tournament lines.    Lines 1 and 2 are the teams playing for the championship.   Line 1 (Seat 1) is whichever of those teams was the higher seat in the previous round; Line 2 is whichever of those two teams was on the lower line (Lower Seat) in the previous round.   

            Lines 3 to 8 are the teams in the semi-final rounds of the next tournament.    Maybe I should map this:

 

Level

Seat

4

1

4

2

3

3

3

4

3

5

3

6

2

7

2

8

2

9

2

10

2

11

2

12

2

13

2

14

1

15

1

16

1

17

1

18

1

19

1

20

1

21

1

22

1

23

1

24

1

25

1

26

1

27

1

28

1

29

1

30

 

 

            Seat 1 plays Seat 2, Seat 17 plays Seat 18, Seat 29 plays Seat 30, of course.    If you are on line 29 or 30 and you win, then in the next round you go to Seat 14.   If you are on line 29 and 30 and you lose, then in the next round you go to Seat 30. 

            If you are on line 27 or 28 and you win, then in the next round you go to Seat 13.   If you are on line 27 or 28 and you lose your series, then in the next round you go to Seat 29.   Like this:

 

Level

Seat

Next Round Seat

4

1

 

4

2

 

3

3

 

3

4

 

3

5

 

3

6

 

2

7

 

2

8

 

2

9

 

2

10

 

2

11

 

2

12

 

2

13

 

2

14

 

1

15

 

1

16

 

1

17

Seat 8 or 24

1

18

Seat 8 or 24

1

19

Seat 9 or 25

1

20

Seat 9 or 25

1

21

Seat 10 or 26

1

22

Seat 10 or 26

1

23

Seat 11 or 27

1

24

Seat 11 or 27

1

25

Seat 12 or 28

1

26

Seat 12 or 28

1

27

Seat 13 or 29

1

28

Seat 13 or 29

1

29

Seat 14 or 30

1

30

Seat 14 or 30

 

            So far, so good, but then it gets a little bit tricky.    If you follow this logic through to the end, then what happens is that the two teams which have just played a championship series are left with lines 15 and 16, which means that they will meet again the next day in a first-round series.   Obviously that is undesirable; if the Cubs and the Rangers play for the tournament championship one day, they don’t want to be playing an opening-round match the next day.   

            We COULD put the two teams which have just played a championship game on Lines 15 and 23, but there is a problem with that, too.   If the Cubs and Rangers play the championship series and we place them on lines 15 and 23, then they COULD, in theory, play ANOTHER championship series starting ten days later; this could happen and would happen every so often.   We don’t want to repeat a championship series that we have just seen; we want to stir the pot.   To stir the pot, we place the two teams which have just met for the championship on Lines 15 and 19, so that they would meet again (if they are to meet again) in the THIRD round, not the fourth:

 

Level

Seat

Next Round Seat

4

1

Seat 15 or 19

4

2

Seat 15 or 19

3

3

Seat 1 or 16

3

4

Seat 1 or 16

3

5

Seat 2 or 17

3

6

Seat 2 or 17

2

7

Seat 3 or 18

2

8

Seat 3 or 18

2

9

Seat 4 or 20

2

10

Seat 4 or 20

2

11

Seat 5 or 21

2

12

Seat 5 or 21

2

13

Seat 6 or 22

2

14

Seat 6 or 22

1

15

Seat 7 or 23

1

16

Seat 7 or 23

1

17

Seat 8 or 24

1

18

Seat 8 or 24

1

19

Seat 9 or 25

1

20

Seat 9 or 25

1

21

Seat 10 or 26

1

22

Seat 10 or 26

1

23

Seat 11 or 27

1

24

Seat 11 or 27

1

25

Seat 12 or 28

1

26

Seat 12 or 28

1

27

Seat 13 or 29

1

28

Seat 13 or 29

1

29

Seat 14 or 30

1

30

Seat 14 or 30

 

            And, in the following round, each team could land on any of four rows:   

Level

Seat

Next Round Seat

Round after that

4

1

Seat 15 or 19

Seat 7, 9, 23 or 25

4

2

Seat 15 or 19

Seat 7, 9, 23 or 25

3

3

Seat 1 or 16

Seat 7, 15, 19 or 23

3

4

Seat 1 or 16

Seat 7, 15, 19 or 23

3

5

Seat 2 or 17

Seat 8, 15, 19 or 24

3

6

Seat 2 or 17

Seat 8, 15, 19 or 24

2

7

Seat 3 or 18

Seat 1, 8, 16 or 24

2

8

Seat 3 or 18

Seat 1, 8, 16 or 24

2

9

Seat 4 or 20

Seat 1, 9, 16 or 25

2

10

Seat 4 or 20

Seat 1, 9, 16 or 25

2

11

Seat 5 or 21

Seat 2, 10, 17 or 26

2

12

Seat 5 or 21

Seat 2, 10, 17 or 26

2

13

Seat 6 or 22

Seat 2, 10, 17 or 26

2

14

Seat 6 or 22

Seat 2, 10, 17 or 26

1

15

Seat 7 or 23

Seat 3, 11, 18 or 27

1

16

Seat 7 or 23

Seat 3, 11, 18 or 27

1

17

Seat 8 or 24

Seat 3, 11, 18 or 27

1

18

Seat 8 or 24

Seat 3, 11, 18 or 27

1

19

Seat 9 or 25

Seat 4, 12, 20 or 28

1

20

Seat 9 or 25

Seat 4, 12, 20 or 28

1

21

Seat 10 or 26

Seat 4, 12, 20 or 28

1

22

Seat 10 or 26

Seat 4, 12, 20 or 28

1

23

Seat 11 or 27

Seat 5, 13, 21 or 29

1

24

Seat 11 or 27

Seat 5, 13, 21 or 29

1

25

Seat 12 or 28

Seat 5, 13, 21 or 29

1

26

Seat 12 or 28

Seat 5, 13, 21 or 29

1

27

Seat 13 or 29

Seat 6, 14, 22 or 30

1

28

Seat 13 or 29

Seat 6, 14, 22 or 30

1

29

Seat 14 or 30

Seat 6, 14, 22 or 30

1

30

Seat 14 or 30

Seat 6, 14, 22 or 30

 

            In this way we stir the pot, constantly creating new matchups, new series that (mostly) haven’t been played recently—but the seating is automatic; nobody determines what seat you occupy in your next series except you.  

            There is a SLIGHT tendency, in this system, for weak teams to be matched up against other weak teams and for stronger teams—teams which have just won a couple of series in the previous tournament—to be matched up against other strong teams.    This creates a slight "levelling" effect, a slight advantage for the weaker teams.   I tried to calculate how large this effect would be, but I failed; it’s too complicated to create the spreadsheet that simulates the problem. . . .I mean, I could do it if I worked at for a week, but we all know this tournament isn’t going to be adopted next year anyway, so I don’t see that that’s a good investment of my time. 

            It’s a small advantage, anyway; teams which were eliminated in the first round in the previous tournament play other teams that were eliminated in the first round of the previous tournament, like an NCAA tournament in which the 16th seed is matched up not against the #1 seed, but against the #15 seed.   But for that advantage to become meaningful relies on "good teams" being the same as "teams which did well in their previous tournament", which they can’t possibly be, since, if good teams are matched up against good teams and bad teams are matched up against bad teams, then as many good teams will lose as bad teams, thus destroying the advantage.   Does that make sense?   It is an advantage that destroys itself, thus cannot be persistent.   Pretty sure that the "weaker team advantage" would be very small.

            A larger levelling advantage than that is that, if you have a weaker team, then you wind up being entered in more tournaments.    If you lose your first-round series every time, then you are entered into 50 tournaments a year, giving you 50 chances to get hot and win a tournament.   If you WIN your first-round series every year, then you are entered into a maximum of 25 tournaments during the year, actually less, assuming that you sometimes will win in the second and third rounds as well.   The better teams in this system will waste a lot of energy winning one or two series before they are eliminated and have to start over; the weaker teams will waste less energy, and be given a fresh start more often.

            Suppose that a team wins a series by winning the first two games; what happens to the third game of the series?  

            The third game of the series becomes a "challenge game" or a "bonus game".   Getting into the post-season depends on winning tournaments, and (b) I’ll tell you later.   (b) is bonus games.     Since getting into the post season depends upon winning two or three regular-season tournaments, there are going to be a LOT of ties.   Ties are broken by the bonus games.    One team will have 2 tournament wins and 14 bonus games, while another team will have 2 tournament wins and 13 bonus games—2 + 14 against 2 + 13.   The team that is 2+14 gets into the post season.

            So those "extra" games, those games that are played after the series has been decided, rather than being throwaways, become tremendously important; in fact, those games may be MORE important, one for one, than the other games.   If you’re ahead in a series 1-0, then it behooves you to win the second game so that you have a chance at a bonus win in the third game.    If you are behind in the series 0-1, of course you want to win the second game so that you have a chance to win the series, but if you lose the second game, you still have a chance at a bonus win, which will be quite important if you can win a tournament here or there.   (Of course, there is no "bonus game"  in the championship series, since that is just TOO anti-climactic.   If you win or lose the tournament championship series in two games, you get a day off.)    

            There is a strategy element there—how important is winning this game today vs. the game tomorrow—and it is possible that there could be some situation in which a team could benefit by losing, although I can’t actually see how that could happen.     Teams would occasionally benefit by losing a series 0-2, thus giving them a chance at a bonus game, but I don’t see how a team could ever EXPECT to benefit by losing, since the benefit of winning the tournament is always much greater than the benefit of winning a bonus game.

            How do you start the season?

            Well, there’s a problem there because the system relies on a rolling schedule, so the question is, how do you start the numbers rolling?    How do you do the initial seating?

            That’s not a huge problem because there are a lot of possible solutions.    My preference would be to seat the teams at the start of the season based on how long it has been since that franchise has won a World Series, and, in my view, that would give the #1 seat initially not to the Cubs, but actually to the Astros, since the Astros have NEVER won a World Series—never is longer than "since 1908"—and the Astros have been playing in their current city longer than any other team which has never won a World Series.    Anyway, you seat the teams initially in that way. . . .

            Except that that would enable one of two teams—let’s say the Astros or the Padres—to win a tournament by winning just one series, which I think gives an intolerable advantage to that franchise.    So I would seat the teams 1 through 30 on that basis, but then give the first weekend (or first series) off to the last two teams, which would be the most recent two World Series champions, and move everybody else down two, so that Seats 1 and 2 were empty.   That gives the cities which have gone a long time without winning a World Series an opportunity to get a little bit of a leg up in the race to the post-season, but they have to win TWO series in order to win a tournament, rather than just one.   I think that giving THAT much of an edge to the Cubs or the Astros or somebody. . . .I think that’s OK.

            But you don’t have to do it that way; you could start the season with two 15-team tournaments, and one team getting a "bye" in the first round in each tournament.    That’s a little awkward because then two more teams have to get byes in the second tournament. . . .it takes four tournaments to work itself out and get everybody playing on the same schedule.    It’s a little awkward, but not so awkward that you can’t make it work.   

            At the END of the season, the season would wind down slowly before the playoffs/World Series start, which I think would be a nice feature.   The last tournament starts on (let us say) September 17.   If you’re in the championship series at that time, that’s your last shot; win it, or you’re done (unless you have already qualified for the post season.)   On September 20 sixteen teams will have finished their seasons, but 14 will still be playing.   Many of those teams will be playing for their lives, since there will always be teams that will qualify for the post season if they can just win one more tournament.   On September 24 twenty-four teams will have finished their seasons, but six will still be playing.   On September 27 twenty-eight teams will have finished their seasons, but the other two will be playing a championship series.   In almost all cases at least ONE of those teams will qualify for the post-season if they can get this last tournament championship, and, since everybody will be done, that will be just a crazy series, with the eyes of the nation on that series. . ..an effect that will apply, in general, from September 20 on; as more teams have finished their schedule, more and more attention will be focused on the teams that are still going.   By September 30 all of those games will be done, all of the positions decided, and the post season can start.  

            The plan creates a new area of statistical analysis.   Each player would have a record in first-round games, a record in third-round games, etc.   An average team wins 1.67 tournaments a year, which means that an average team PLAYS IN 3.33 championship series a year.  In a long career, a player might play in 70 championship series.   Somebody would hold the record for home runs hit in a championship series, probably Daniel Murphy, and that record would not be "7"; it would be "48" or something like that.  Different games have a different leverage indexes.  That would be fun.  

            Who’s the home team, and who’s the road team?  Again, there are a lot of ways to do it, but the obvious way is this.   If one of the two teams in a "match" was on the road in their previous series and the other team was at home, then the team which was on the road is the home team for this series.   If both teams were on the road, or both were at home, then whichever team has been on the road longer (or has been at home for less time) is the home team.   If that is the same, then the lower-seated team is the home team.  

            Another problem with going to a system like this, probably actually the largest problem, is that it would require a major adjustment to how tickets are sold, since—like any tournament—the schedule is not known until the previous series is decided.    We go on these road trips; my wife buys tickets a month in advance for Philadelphia at Milwaukee, and we drive to Milwaukee.   You wouldn’t be able to sell tickets that way.   You could still sell season tickets, but you’d have to develop a quick-response model.   I don’t see that that’s a huge problem; with modern computers we sell a lot of things on a quick-response model, and take it for granted.   

            But I know that that’s not a huge problem, because I know that this isn’t happening, anyway.    I think that there is a certain value in learning to see options, even when we are committed to a different course.   New leagues will start; adjustments are made.    Over time, things do move from the "idea" stage to the "actually exists" stage.   A FEW things do.   Ideas are like maple seeds; a thousand seeds fly down from each tree, but only one seed in a million actually becomes a new maple tree.   

 
 

COMMENTS (7 Comments, most recent shown first)

Zamboni88
While it is an intriguing concept, my problem with weekly tournaments is that they are not that interesting every week. Consider for example the professional tour. They have tournaments every week, but most people don't have the time energy or interest to keep track of the Quad Cities Open or the Greater Greensboro Classic. The so-called majors get the lion's share of the interest and the others are of no interest to anyone other than hard core golfers, the golfers themselves, their families and their sponsors.
3:47 PM Oct 30th
 
hotstatrat
Well, this would confound Scoresheet (Fantasy) players and folks who like to compare seasonal records - folks like me on both accounts. However, as a live spectator sport, this would certainly be more fun - there would always be some championship happening plus a critical series with your favorite team if you have one.

Minor quibbles:

I don't think the Tampa Bay Rays deserve a championship more than the Cubs. Imagine if we have another expansion - the new team could easily get a quick championship. Let them pay some dues: start the counting from when a franchise was born, if they've never won it before. Another question: do the Rangers deserve a championship more than the Astros? The new Senators moved to Texas a decade after Houston arrived, but the franchise came along a year before. To eliminate contentious franchise moves, you'd have to go by franchise age.

Gosh, the teams playing for the championship shouldn't be deprived of an opportunity for a bonus win, even if one wins the first two - especially since they have to tumble back to the first round after the series.


3:58 PM Oct 28th
 
bjames
Well, but what I assumed was too obvious to say--apparently I was incorrect--is that beyond qualifying for the post season, one's POSITION in the post season depended on how many tournaments you had won. So if you've won three tournaments you'll be in the post season, but if you win FOUR then you have home field advantage in the post season, etc.
7:01 AM Oct 27th
 
tigerlily
Interesting thought Bill. One thing I'd suggest is that instead of awarding points only for winning a tournament points be awarded similar to tennis with points being awarded based on how far into the tournament each team makes it. For example, an ATP tournament with 32 players awards points as follows;

Rd of 16 - - - - 45
Quarterfinals - 90
Semifinals - - - 180
Runner-up - - 300
Winner - - - - - 500

I think this would help keep interest as the season progresses with each tournament meaning something for teams even if they don't win this or that tournament.
11:21 AM Oct 26th
 
Gfletch
I see a few problems:

1. Teams can qualify for the post season (and will) sometimes quite early, even occasionally by winning their first three tournaments. Then you have the old split-season issue where you have very little to play for during the balance of the season
2. I think fan interest would be good at first but then quickly decline. Ho-hum, another tournament, another trophy, happens every week anyway. And this might devalue the World Series, becoming just one more trophy along the way.
3. This is a little bit like tennis and golf, isn’t it? Especially golf, with the FedEx Cup. No one really cares who is named the player of the year, the focus is all on how many tournaments you won.

This made me think…why not 30 tournaments a year, one at each major league city? Each city would then be building a history for “their” tournament. I like it, but there are some serious, even fatal logistical issues with having all the teams in town at the same time…in particular I don’t know if you can fit all the games in one tournament into one ballpark, and unless you play in a domed stadium rainouts would be a disaster.

10:13 AM Oct 26th
 
bjames
Appreciate the thought. I can't see quickly how you could make it work with two leagues. . .maybe I'm missing something, but I can't see it. I can't figure how to make it work with two leagues, 32 teams or 34. I think you'd have to give somebody a "bye" each series to make it work.
9:44 AM Oct 26th
 
tangotiger
I love crazy ideas like this, especially as you note in the end, it gets us thinking in new ways.

In addition to the schedule not being known in advance, I think teams have time-zone issues. What would happen to your proposal if we split the league (actual separate leagues, not the conferences currently in place) into East/West, or even East/Central/West?

How much dependence does your proposal have to the number of teams in the league?


8:48 AM Oct 26th
 
 
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