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.

Neal Huntington thinks players should be allowed to re-enter games after concussion testing

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Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who has suffered many concussions throughout his 12-year career, was hit on the back of the helmet on a Joc Pederson backswing Saturday against the Dodgers. Through Cervelli remained in the game initially, he took himself out of the game shortly thereafter and went on the seven-day concussion injured list on Sunday.

Perhaps inspired by Saturday’s event, Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested that players should be allowed to re-enter games once they have passed concussion tests, the Associated Press reports. Huntington said, “Any player that had an obvious concussion risk incident should be allowed to be removed from the game, taken off the field, taken into the locker room, assessed by a doctor, assessed by a trainer, go through an extended period of time and then re-enter the game. Because right now, all of this has to happen on the field.”

Huntington added, “The player has to feel pressure as he’s standing there with 30,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 eyes on him. He has to feel pressure to make a decision whether (he’s) in or (he’s) out of this game. He knows if he takes himself out and he’s the catcher, there’s only one other catcher, and the game becomes a fiasco if that other catcher gets hurt.”

Huntington, who has been forward-thinking on a number of other issues, has it wrong here. The concussion protocols were created because players frequently hid or under-reported their injuries in order to remain in the game. Especially for younger or otherwise less-proven players, there is pressure to have to constantly perform in order to keep one’s job. Furthermore, there is an overarching sentiment across sports that taking time off due to injury makes one weak. Similarly, playing while injured is seen as tough and masculine. Creating protocols that take the decision-making out of players’ hands keeps them from making decisions that aren’t in their own best interests. Removing them would bring back that pressure for players to hide or minimize their ailments. If anything, MLB’s concussion protocols should become more stringent, not more relaxed.

The powers that be with Major League Baseball have no doubt followed the concussion scandal surrounding the National Football League. In January, the NFL settled for over $1 billion with retired players dealing with traumatic brain injuries, including dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. For years, the league refused to acknowledge the link between playing football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia and has many negative effects, such as increasing the risk of suicide. Since baseball isn’t often a contact sport, MLB doesn’t have to worry about brain injuries to this degree, but it still needs to take preventative measures in order to avoid billion-dollar lawsuits as well as avoiding P.R. damage. In December 2012, former major league outfielder Ryan Freel committed suicide. Freel, who claimed to have suffered as many as 10 concussions, suffered from CTE. MLB players can suffer brain injuries just like football players.

Huntington seems to be worried about not having enough rostered catchers in the event one or two catchers get injured. That is really an issue of roster management. Carrying only two catchers on the roster is a calculated risk, often justified. Huntington can ensure his team never has to be put in the position of not having a catcher in an emergency by rostering a third catcher. Rosters are expanding to 26 players next year, by the way.