A wonderfully sensible realignment/schedule optimization plan

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In response to the realignment post earlier this afternoon, I got an email from reader Ron in Chicago, in which he exhaustively sets forth a realignment/schedule optimization scheme that pretty much accomplishes what everyone seems to want and does so in the least obtrusive manner possible.

It expands the playoffs, as seems inevitable. It makes travel better. It makes the schedule more balanced. It ensures that the season doesn’t stretch into November. It’s pretty wonderful. That is, unless you like divisions.  I guess they’re fine, but I’m willing to chuck them in order to increase balance and stuff.

Ron has already sent this along to Major League Baseball and has shared it on a message board or two, but I think it deserves some wider exposure, so I’m reproducing it in its entirety.  Let’s scrutinize it and see what the flaws are and how, if possible, we can improve it.  The goal, I think, is to come up with a plan against which we can judge whatever proposals Major League Baseball actually comes up with over time, and I think Ron’s is a great start.

Everything below the line is from Ron in Chicago. I am but his scrivener.

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You said no divisions might just work, and I agree.  Here is my plan I came up with, assuming they’re expanding the playoffs next year:

Both Leagues 15 Teams– If they are going to have 5 teams in each league make the playoffs, go all the way and have both leagues 15 teams. That way, the top 33% in each league makes the playoffs. My idea is to move the Colorado Rockies to the American League since they don’t have a century or more of history in the NL, and it would also even the leagues by time zones– 7 east, 4 central, 4 west (mountain/pacific).

Shorten the Season by a Week- With the added round of playoffs, baseball has to shorten the season by a week (25 weeks). If they can play 6 day/night doubleheaders, they can do this. They could be scheduled roughly every three or four weeks, scheduled on Saturday’s.

Interleague Play All Year- With 15 teams in each league, there will need to be interleague play all season. All teams would play 18 interleague games, with either one or three series going at all times.

Close to a Balanced Schedule- There would still be 18 interleague games, but the other 144 games would be split up this way– you play the four teams in your former division 11 games, and the other ten teams 10 games for the 144 total. I really don’t care which four teams you play 11 games, but I did it this way so rivalries like the Yankees/Red Sox and Cubs/Cardinals will always play four series per season. The Rockies would be considered a former AL West team, and the Astros would be a former NL West team.

50 Series Per Season- With 25 weeks, they could still play roughly two series per week. With the All-star break, they have to cram one week with two 2-game series still, but it can work. Example of a White Sox schedule breakdown:

Home series in bold:
Cle: 3-3-5
Det: 2-3-3-3
Min: 3-3-3-2
KC: 5-3-3
Bal: 3-3-4
Bos: 3-3-4
NY: 4-3-3
Tor: 4-3-3
TB: 3-3-4
Col: 4-3-3
LAA: 4-3-3
Oak: 4-3-3
Sea: 3-3-4
Tex: 3-3-4
Cubs: 3-3
NL: 3
NL: 3
NL: 3
NL: 3

Schedules would alternate in the second year, and then be reset in the third year.

Series breakdown:
2-game: 2
3-game: 36
4 games in 4 days: 6
4 games in 3 days: 4
5 games in 4 days: 2

Road trips would be scheduled with common sense, so there isn’t excessive travel expense issues. With only 25 road series, this should not be an issue. Also, with interleague play all year, they can schedule those games with more common sense. For example, if the White Sox had to play in San Francisco, they could schedule that series around a trip to Oakland, so they are in the same place for the whole week.

Season Schedule:
Opening Day would be on a Thursday, from March 29 to April 4.
All-Star Game: Tuesday, from June 26 to July 2.
Final Day of Season: Wednesday, from September 19 to September 25.
Game 7 of World Series: Thursday, from October 25 to October 31.

The 4th Place team would host the 5th place team in a best-of-three on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday following the regular season.

If they did this in 2012, the full schedule would look this way:
Opening Day: Thursday, March 29. When OD is in late March, they should schedule the opening series in warm weather cities, and domes.
All Star Game: Tuesday, June 26
Final Day: Wednesday, September 19
Play-In Series: September 21, 22, and 23

“Division” Series would be expanded to a best-of-7:
AL: 9/25, 9/26, 9/28, 9/29, 9/30, 10/2, 10/3
NL: 9/26, 9/27, 9/29, 9/30, 10/1, 10/3, 10/4

League Championship Series:
AL: 10/6, 10/7, 10/9, 10/10, 10/11, 10/13, 10/14
NL: 10/7, 10/8, 10/10, 10/11, 10/12, 10/14, 10/15

World Series:
10/17, 10/18, 10/20, 10/21, 10/22, 10/24, 10/25

This is the earliest the World Series can end, but the World Series will never be scheduled in November. They can expand the playoffs, make all rounds best-of-7, and still finish the World Series in October.

Standings
Standings would be presented with all 15 teams in order. The top-3 teams would be blocked off so it’s easy to see who is in the playoffs if the season ended that day. Then the next two teams would be blocked off to show who would be in the Play-in Series. Then the rest of league follows.

They would show how many games out of 5th, 3rd, and 1st place each team is, in that order. That way, if your team is out of the playoff group, the first column shows the least amount of games you’re out of the playoffs. Then the 3rd place column, then the 1st place column showing how many games each team is behind the 1-seed.

Right now, the top-3 in the AL would be Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Detroit. The Angels would host the Yankees in a best-of-3.

I’d also make it a rule that the Play-In Series teams cannot produce Playoff merchandise until they actually win the series. That way, you’re putting a premium on finishing in the top-3 in the league, and you’re not rewarding the 5th place team with any home games until they beat the 4th place team in their park.

I think this would be a great format. It would bring more teams into the race without the problem of who is better–a good wildcard team, or a bad division winner.

Just eliminate divisions, play a close-to-balanced schedule, and seed the top-5 in order, and nobody can complain about the format.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.