One of the oddest things about the world of high school baseball is how the playoff format is set up. No I am not talking about the bracket setup. Everybody loves a good bracket. The oddest thing is how teams advance in those brackets, whether it is through a one game or three game series. It would be like asking two football teams if the winning team at halftime wins the game, or whoever is leading after three quarter of basketball is the winner of the contest. It has always seemed odd to me.
I actually asked the head coach of the McKinney North baseball team Jim Gatewood about whether he has a preference of a one-or-three game series, and I thought his response was spot on.
“I didn’t. You know some years you have a preference, but this year I didn’t have one. If somebody wants to play one game, we can play one game. If somebody wants to play a series, we can play a series. Of course you look at each series and each opponent and you look to see where you think your advantage is. If you think you are matched up against a team you don’t think you have a chance against, you probably just try to beat them one time.”
Gatewood also brought up Justin Scharf who was a former Bulldog pitcher who graduated in 2009 and lead North all the way to within one game of advancing to Round Rock. Scharf was a relatively unknown kid who suddenly took the playoffs by storm with his unusual throwing motion and awkward arm slot. Hitters had rarely ever seen a pitcher like Scharf, so it was safe to say that many players sat in the dugout scratching their heads to figure out how to solve this guy.
One of the biggest reasons North was able to advance as far as they did was due to playing several one game series over the month of May, forcing opposing lineups to have to solve Scharf quickly in order to win the ballgame and avoid elimination. It was a genius decision by Gatewood and his staff and it lead to one of the most successful seasons in Bulldog history.
But should that be allowed? Baseball is a game of averages and statistics, and common baseball knowledge says that over the course of a season, or even a series, your stats generally reflect who you are as a player and as a team. Simply put, if you are a very bad team the averages over the entire course of a season will reflect that very reasoning, and so will the numbers in the win-loss columns.
Even in a best-of-three series the better team wins more times than they lose, because the more at-bats they see and the more plays they have to make in the field, the law of averages says that the better team will get more hits, score more runs, and make more plays in the field than the other team.
However, you can throw averages out the window when you talk about a one game, winner take all matchup. Anything could happen in just seven innings and there is nothing that the law of averages can do about it. When Major League Baseball put in the new one-game Wild Card game in each league starting this fall, many baseball minds hated that concept because it could mean that the less-deserving or less talented team would advance on. Many believed that this way of advancing two playoff teams would bring better stories like the 1980 U.S.A hockey team, yet keep out more dominant and talented teams like the 1980 Russians.
While I have absolutely no problem with teams taking advantage of the system and playing one game to pitch their Justin Verlanders, I just don’t believe the call should be put in the coach’s hands to decide. I believe that every series should be best of three because more times than not the better team can come back and take the series if they happen to have an off night in game one.
I look very forward to asking several coaches, both in baseball and in softball, about whether they prefer one or three games to decide the outcomes of their playoff series. While I never see the UIL forcing high school teams to have to play a set number of games in a series, this is just one of the oddest things about high school sports, and even with all of the craziness sometimes, we still love every second of it.