Max Scherzer favors ‘ghost win’ format in revamped MLB playoffs

Two men sit at a table, one speaking into a microphone
Mets pitcher Max Scherzer, right, seated beside union negotiator Bruce Meyer, discusses MLB contract talks during a news conference Tuesday.
(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
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Max Scherzer favors a radical reworking of the baseball playoffs, one that would have the higher seed in the first round of a 14-team postseason start off a best-of-five series with a 1-0 lead.

Major League Baseball and locked-out players, who resume collective bargaining talks Sunday, both want to expand the postseason field from 10 teams — that’s been the field since 2012, other than the 16 teams in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

The union prefers 12 and the parties appear headed toward that number, but Scherzer said players would consider 14 if clubs would agree to the “ghost win” format.


Under MLB’s 14-team plan, the division winner with the best regular-season record in each league would get a bye and advance directly to the division series. The two other division winners would choose their opponents and be at home for a best-of-three round.

The division winner with the second-best record would choose its opponent from among the three lowest-seeded wild-card teams. The division winner with the third-best record would then get to pick from among the remaining two wild cards. The top wild card would face whichever team is left over after the division winners make their choices and also play all games at home.

Selections would be made on a televised show.

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“We felt like competition could be eroded in that scenario, and we had specific examples of different players who spoke up that highlighted that specifically,” Scherzer said after Tuesday’s breakdown in labor talks.

“Continuing on from those division winners down, we didn’t see the proper incentive for those other two division winners,” the New York Mets pitcher added. “We didn’t understand why they didn’t want to take us up on a more competitive format.”

The lockout was in its 94th day Saturday, four days after MLB commissioner Rob Manfred canceled the first two series of the regular season, which had been scheduled to start March 31. Players are expected to respond Sunday to team owners’ latest offer, the last before talks ended Tuesday.

Before talks broke down, players said they could agree to a 12-team postseason subject to an overall agreement. There remains a possibility 14 teams could return to discussions, depending on tradeoffs in the end stages of negotiations.


Under the postseason plan the union has discussed but hasn’t formally proposed, the higher seed would be home for all games and need two wins to advance, while the visiting team would have to win three times. MLB told the union it is not interested in such a format.

A team with the first-round bye would be off at least five days, possibly complicating starting pitcher plans, and the fans of the lower seed in the opening round would not have any home games. MLB does not think the ghost win is the preference of broadcasters and thinks the concept would not be well-received by fans.

“The 14-team format MLB originally proposed offers significant advantages to division winners and provides incentives to win at every level of the bracket,“ MLB spokesman Glen Caplin said Saturday. “In an effort to compromise, MLB accepted a 12-team format after the discussion of formats including a ‘ghost game.’ MLB made clear that the ‘ghost game’ raises serious issues and is not a viable path forward.”

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The ghost win has been used in the Korea Baseball Organization since 2015, when its playoffs expanded from four teams to five in the 10-club league.

“Working with the economists on the union staff, we felt like we had devised a format that you would incentivize competition throughout all the season, especially for division winners,” Scherzer said. “We didn’t see that that solely home-field advantage was going to be the necessary piece to try to go out there and win your division.”

Without the ghost win format, Scherzer said “a 12-team format made more sense to us.”

Pitcher Andrew Miller, like Scherzer a member of the union’s eight-man executive committee, said Scherzer’s thoughts on the postseason carry weight within the union.


“A core goal of this negotiation is to increase competition, and there’s no way we’re leaving the table without something that does that,” Miller said. “We’ve spent a lot of time debating the merits of various playoff formats and there’s probably not a better guy to ask in the room than Max. But we’re not going to do anything to sacrifice this competition of the season.”