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Fixing Baseball Schedules and Playoffs


Baseball’s schedule and playoff structure work against each other.

In each league, there are three divisions, each of which has one winner, leading to three playoff teams. At the same time, each league is awarded a “wild card“, a slot for a non-division-winning team with the best record in the league. In theory, that’s a great idea. In practice, it turns out to be inequitable. This is because of the schedule.

In the current reality, baseball teams play in-division teams significantly more often than out-of-division teams. That means a very good teams (like the Toronto Blue Jays) are consistently shut out of the playoffs because they are playing in the very difficult division and are more likely to lose. Meanwhile, a team in a weaker division (like the Diamondbacks) have an easier time accumulating a good record. The result is that the value of a win is not constant.

Add to that the absurd wrinkle of interleague play, where teams play an essentially arbitrary non-league opponent, and we have an extremely unbalanced (and unequitable) schedule.

Baseball, here is my plan to solve the problems of inequity:

  1. Eliminate interleague play. It doesn’t actually help determine the best team in the league. I should note that stats indicating that interleague is more successful at drawing fans are skewed by the fact that interleague games are mostly scheduled around weekends in June.
  2. Eliminate the unbalanced schedule. If that means the Red Sox, Yankees, Devil Rays, and Blue Jays have the best records in the AL, so be it. In fact…
  3. Eliminate Divisions. This is probably my most controversial position. Divisions are cute but unnecessary. We’re all global, wired people. We still have two leagues, and it would be great if the four best teams in both leagues were to make up every year’s playoffs. I have no doubt that at least one of the four top teams would come from all the divisions, except the NL Central. In fact…
  4. Move a team back to the AL. More teams are competing for the same limited number of spots in the NL Central, and that’s inequitable. Moreover, it’s “easiest” to win the AL West, which is also inequitable. I know MLB wants every team playing on some nights, but it is possible, using 3- and 4-game series, to schedule staggered days off so that no more than one team is off on any given day/night. (Hint: every team gets a day off every 15 days, at most.)
  5. Make the All-Star game a true exhibition, in a warm-weather city, during the winter. It would be great to see a November baseball game, played in Hawaii, where the best players have less to worry about injury, and aren’t in the middle of trying to compete. How awesome would it be to award the Cy Young Award, MVP, Rookie of the Year, etc, at this event? This, I’m most negotiable on…
  6. Add two more teams to the playoffs. Instead of four from each league, six. Six out of 15? 12 out of 30? That’s still a small number of playoff teams. Seeds 3-6 play the first round, with the top two teams get a 1st-round series bye.

Here’s how it would work…

  • Regular Season: With 14 opponents in each league, and a balanced schedule, we have a natural 154-game regular season (11 games per opponent). Yes, a reduced regular-season makes sense.
  • “The Wildcard Series”: Teams 1 and 2 get a bye on the 1st round of the playoffs. Team 3 plays team 6, and teams 4 and 5 duke it out in the Wildcard Series. This is a high-pressure best-of-three operation, played immediately after the season (no rest).
  • “Division Series”: The Wildcard winners play teams 1 and 2 based on seed. This remains a 5-game series. This series should be renamed.
  • League Championship Series: Winner take on each other in a seven-game series.
  • World Series: League champions battle.

With the reduction of the regular season by eight games, there is enough room to make the Wildcard Series a 5-game series, and the Division Series a 7-game affair (currently, the maximum number of games a team plays is 181, and the maximum number the new scheme would have is 180).

PROS: This allows more teams in the playoffs, selling expensive tickets, and create more buildup to the World Series. Simultaneously, the increased TV revenue of longer playoffs, coupled with the best teams in baseball actually playing each other. Fans of mid-market and mid-tier teams have more incentive to root for their teams, because chances of making the playoffs has increased by 50%. Speaking in terms of revenue, the loss of games from the regular season schedule is more than made up for (in my mind) by the increased competitiveness of teams during the season, and the increased amount of playoff revenue.

CONS: You can never have all teams playing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. An odd number of teams forces at least one team not playing a day. Division rivalries are weakened (note: I don’t care about this, but some might). This can be obviated by expansion of two more teams, which I do not think the market can support.

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Filed under: Boston Red Sox, Culture, , , ,

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Idealink by vijtable is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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