February 2012

Future MLB Schedule with 15-15 Alignment, 18 Interleague Games Can Work, 22 More Optimal

AS we all know, scheduling for any major organization is one of the most difficult tasks and some times, one of the most frustrating. Scheduling it could be argued is part science and part art form.

What follows is a detailed analysis of how the 2013 and future MLB schedules should look like, based on two different models of interleague play. Both models balance the number of home and road games for all teams across all situations, which was in part the driving force behind the new 15-15 alignment.

During the announcement of the labor agreement, it was stated that the number of interleague games would remain close to current levels. For the sake of scheduling a fair number of games home and away, let’s assume that the working number of interleague games per team will be at minimum a total of 18, perhaps as many as 22. Let’s look at how the scheduling will work, since MLB seems to remain committed to a schedule that has a focus on more divisional play.

First, let’s make an important note about scheduling in MLB. All teams must play between two and four games per series, the only one-game series is allowed as a season opener, like the Cardinals and Marlins on April 4 in Miami. Baseball has 26 weekend blocks of scheduling, which are meant for series that run Friday-Sunday, Thursday-Sunday, or Friday-Monday. There are 25 mid-week blocks for scheduling, which can be series that run Monday-Wednesday, Monday-Thursday, Tuesday-Thursday, or the rare Tuesday-Wednesday series, and as has been the case for all teams during one week the last few seasons, a pair of consecutive two-game series, a Monday-Tuesday followed by a Wednesday-Thursday series. It is important to note that no team could play a full schedule of three-game series, because this would require 54 blocks of time for scheduling and only 51 are offered as noted above. There must be the same number of series at home as on the road, or offer a schedule that has no more than one extra road or home series, but maintaining an 81-81 game schedule. From there, work out the appropriate number of series and games to fit the various combinations, that add up to this 81-81 game schedule within these 51 blocks of the calendar dates between opening day and the closing day of the championship season.

For a pure 51 block schedule, one team would have a pair of home three-game series offset by three road 2-game series and as you will see in the first example below that features 18 interleague games, that is the formulation that works best, here the team with the two game roadies would play 26 road series and 25 at home, but the number of games would be equal at 81-81. The reverse would be true for the host team with the three two-game series.

The first examination is the schedule that gives each team 18 interleague games. This schedule in order for both leagues to have the same number of home games, nine per team, would require that one league play three different three-game series at home, then play a three-game series and three two-game series on the road against the other league. This process would use seven blocks of the 51 available on the schedule, all AL teams would have the three three-game series at home and all NL teams would have a three-game and three two-game home series in interleague play. This would then flip the following season, based on the leagues and not the teams traveling to the various cities. It also limits the number of 2-game series on the schedule to three and would allow for all intraleague series to be either three or four games each. Due to the odd number of teams in each league, having two-game series as part of intraleague play would become very complicating, because you would now be playing multiple two-game series as part of divisional play and you could not schedule all the two-game blocks at the same time on the schedule, by leaving those on the interleague slate only, you could do this with much greater flexibility and not have to worry about scheduling several two-game series at the same time.

As for the afore mentioned intraleague portion of the schedule, lets first deal with divisional play. Schedule 17 divisional games per team, eight at one city as a pair of four-game series, nine at the other with three different three-game series. This schedule would take 20 blocks of scheduling per team for the divisional portion and when added to the seven portions used for a team’s interleague schedule, 27 of 51 blocks are now used. This leaves 24 blocks for the interdivisional games inside the league and 76 total games. Take 76 and divide by two, you have 38 games against each of the other divisions inside the league. For this schedule against one of the other divisions, you would play one team six games, three home and three away, play two teams seven games, one three home and four away, the other four home and three away. Finally, the remaining two teams would be played nine games, six home and three away for one, three home and six away for the other. Take the White Sox for instance, say they play the Angels three home and three away, the Rangers six home and three away, the Astros three home and six away, the Mariners four home and three away, and finally the Athletics three home and four away. Home games against the AL West would total 19, 6+4+3+3+3, the same on the road. Chicago would play the Eastern Division in the same way, put the Red Sox in place of the Angels, Yankees in place of the Rangers, Orioles in place of the Astros, Rays in place of the Athletics, and Blue Jays in the place of the Mariners and you now have your 38 home and 38 road games, 19 in each direction against each of the two divisions outside Chicago’s own division. Each year, the schedules would rotate like the NFL rotates teams for interconference and interdivisional conference games. IN this case, you are rotating the teams assigned to the various schedules, since you have a three-six, six-three, three-four, four-three, and a three-three schedule. These 24 total series for interdivisional play, take up the remaining blocks and create a perfectly filled schedule for all teams using 51 schedule blocks

Thus, when you look at this in terms of the schedule blocks, three two-game series would be on the schedule, all interleague. A total of 36 three-game series would be on the schedule, 12 divisional, 20 interdivisional, and four interleague. A total of 12 four-game series would be on the schedule, eight divisional and four interdivisional.

An even better argument though, can be made for increasing from 18 to 22 interleague games. If baseball wants to have a few less four-game series, the alternative would be to nudge the total interleague games per team from 18 up to 22. The schedule formula would be somewhat similar, the four extra interleague games would replace four of the interdivisional games, the divisional formula would be as previously outlined. Now in terms of interdivisional games, the four-three and three-four series would both become three-three in all four examples, two against each of the other divisions within the league. The interleague schedule would now feature three different three-game series at home and one two-game series at home. The very same arrangement would be used for road games. The two home and two away games could be played in that four-day block like we see this spring on May 13-14 and 15-16, leaving 50 blocks to fill on the schedule. Those 50 blocks would thus feature only eight four-game series, all within the division. The remaining 42 blocks on the schedule would all be three-game series and much easier for MLB to schedule as it relates to travel and the like. Of these, 12 would be divisional, 24 interdivisional, and 6 interleague. This extra four interleague games, reduces the number of 2-game series by one, and creates only nine out of 26 weeks where teams would play 7 straight games, assuming the typical Thursday to Wednesday or Monday to Sunday schedule, because of the extra three-game series. The alternative with 18 interleague games produces the extra 2-game series and also creates a total of at least 12 different situations where a team would play a 7 game stretch consecutively as a four-three or three-four combination. To see how efficiently the schedule works using the 22 game interleague formula, look at the Texas Rangers schedule from last season and you will see that the Rangers, like all teams, typically had a couple weeks where they had a day off between a pair of three-game series, before having a week where they would play a three and a four game series consecutively. The 18 game interleague formula no matter how you play with the numbers, does not flow as smoothly as the 22 game formula, now that we are moving into a 15-15 alignment that requires interleague games scheduled within all blocks of the season calendar.

What about a 20 game interleague schedule one may ask? The 20 game interleague option is not worth considering, because to balance home and road, you are forcing a pair of three and a pair of two game scheduling requirements home and away, thus the minimum number of two-game series is at least four. The conclusion based on simple math, the 18 game interleague schedule for each team can work and is not a bad choice if MLB and the MLBPA do not want to change this number. The math also shows very clearly though, that the 22 game interleague schedule greatly increases schedule flexibility without harming the integrity of the divisional schedule with no impact on the total number of games that can be scheduled against a team within the same league as it relates to interdivisional play.

Opinion: Baseball Makes Right Move with 15-15 Alignment, Wrong Move With Alignment Structure

In March of 1995, while baseball was mired in what seemed like a never ending labor dispute that brought us replacement players, no Orioles team, and the prospect of Blue Jays games played at a 6000 seat stadium on the Florida gulf coast, MLB announced that in 1998 a pair of new teams would join the circuit. We learned of the future teams that would be called the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays and immediately there was talk of which leagues the teams might play in. While the Devil was taken out of the Rays following the 2007 season, the devil in the details of realignment was seemingly dealt with in October of 1997, when the Brewers were moved from the American League to the National League. Some thought this was the best move that could be made, others though felt baseball took the easy way out, baseball was afraid to make any big and bold changes some said. Changes like having interleague games on the schedule every day of the season. Interleague play after all was a brand new experience for the fans, 1997 was the first year of such games and we were lead to believe that no fan in his or her right mind could accept the fact that the Yankees might play a series against the Pirates on the season’s final weekend, because that somehow would ruin the purity of the pennant race, it would somehow create some artificial form of unfairness to the other AL East teams. Of course anyone who truly followed baseball, realized that argument held water like a civ, because it would have been no different than the Yankees playing any team from the AL Central and given the alignment at that time, at least one Eastern team had to play a Central team every day on the schedule that the four Western teams faced one another.

The result from this silly idea was that the two leagues would not have the same number of teams, of course baseball justified that by reminding us that from 1977-92, we had two extra teams in the AL. The argument against 15-15 also was this odd idea that the AL West would have to take a second team from the Central Time Zone, or move the Rockies or Diamondbacks to that division and slide a Central Time zone team from the NL Central to the NL West, likely the Astros. Hmmm, so it was good enough for the Rangers to be in a western division but no one else? The arguments were to some including me, filled with a lot of hot air that was fouled by the aroma of arguments that failed a simple smell test.

IN 1995 while attending Texas A&M, I personally wrote the then “Acting Commissioner of Baseball” and I did receive a reply from Mr. Selig. My proposal was a detailed realignment that featured interleague games starting with the 1998 season. My alignment was simple, Kansas City would move to the American League’s Western division joining Texas, Oakland, Seattle, and the then California, now Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels. Detroit which at the time was in the AL East would move to the Central and Tampa Bay would go into the East. Baseball instead opted to leave Kansas City in the AL Central and shove Milwaukee over to the NL Central, an idea I thought was silly. Arizona of course went to the NL West as I proposed and no other changes took place in the senior circuit. The main difference from my proposal was what happened to the Royals and Brewers. To me, sure Milwaukee was an NL city for 13 years with the Braves, but for 28 years with the Brewers, they were an AL city and the AL was where the Brewers belonged.

Now all these years later, baseball finally figures out that 15-15 is not so bad, yet the thought of simply moving the Brewers back to the AL and sliding KC to the Western Division was not even thought of, at least that is the view that I hold. Nor was any consideration given of moving Colorado or Arizona to the AL, teams which did not have the long history of being in the NL like say, the Houston Astros. No, instead baseball’s reaction is to move Houston, which had been an NL team for nearly half a century over to the AL, focusing on the now in-state rivalry with the Texas Rangers.

I have three points to make as it relates to this argument for moving the Astros to the American League, again seeing how baseball officials want to underscore it seems the ability of fans to see through their collective smoke screen. For starters, this rivals argument is again a leaking civ. The Phillies and Pirates have always been NL rivals and in the same state, the only situation that was like this until Houston joins Texas in the AL next season. How important was the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh rivalry? It was so important that the Pirates were put in a different division from the Phillies with the move from two to three divisions in 1994. Following the advent of the new schedule that was more focused on divisional games starting in 2001, the NL Pirates and NL Phillies sometimes played each other no more frequently than the Yankees and Mets, or Cubs and White Sox, or Angels and Dodgers in interleague games during the same season. So the evidence clearly shows that the supporting arguments for the mythical intrastate rivalry, fails the smell test badly and if this were a legal case, lawyers making such arguments would have been run out of court faster than a mouse that was chased out by a hungry Siamese cat for producing such easily refuted statements.

Second, if the rivals argument is the source of how to align, insisting to align based on geography and this state rivalry notion, then the following argument must be made and followed through on by baseball executives. Pittsburgh must move back to the Eastern Division of the National League and Atlanta is thus moved to the Central Division. A good map or GPS system is all it takes to realize that Pittsburgh is a good bit further east than Atlanta, Pittsburgh is just east of the 80 degree meridian of longitude and almost due north of Miami, where as Atlanta is past the 84 degree meridian and nearly due south of Cincinnati. To make the rivalry argument, then this approach to realignment is a slam dunk to borrow a phrase from another sport as geography clearly shows that Atlanta should be with Cincinnati, the Cubs, Milwaukee, and St. Louis, while Pittsburgh joins the Mets, Washington, Philadelphia, and Miami.

Lastly, the new alignment will have completely removed a large part of the southern US from National League exposure, as fans in Texas will now have to go to St. Louis, Denver, or Atlanta to see National League games on a regular basis. Growing up in Texas, one of the great things about having a team in each league, was the ability to at any point in the season, go to Houston or Arlington and know that every other team in baseball would be making an appearance in one of those cities. Now given how baseball does interleague games, it is a safe bet that the same teams would be put on the Astros and Rangers home schedule and allow for less exposure to the other half of major league teams during the season. Texas fans we must not forget are not like Pennsylvania fans, where Philadelphia fans are an hour 20 minute train ride from Yankee games or just under two hours to Orioles games. Similarly, Pittsburgh fans are roughly a three-hour drive from Cleveland games, thus giving them much easier access to see teams from the other league if they so desire. Texas fans now will have to drive more than half a day to get to an NL city with the move of Houston to the AL in the 2013 season.

In conclusion, baseball gets it right by going to 15-15, this should have and could have been done prior to 1998 when the Rays and D’Backs came into existence. Baseball’s ultimate solution though came up way short, because what could and should have been done was never considered and now the fans of the south central US and Texas in particular, find themselves left out in the cold, not to mention fans of other NL teams who through 2012, knew they could go to Houston and see their home town team roll in for a game in the Space City.

Baseball needs to get it right and consider leaving Houston in the NL and moving Milwaukee back to the AL where the Brewers called home for their first 28 years in baseball, following their 1970 flight from Seattle.

For Blind Fans, Baseball Ticketing and Seating Information Should be Improved

For most any baseball fan who is familiar with their home ballpark, getting a seat is a simple process. You already know where the better seats are, you know what your preference is as it relates to being by the home dugout, by the visiting bullpen, or being in a section that is protected from the rain or from the blazing afternoon sunshine. When you go to a ballpark you are not familiar with, one of the first things you do if you are picky about things like this, is to look at the seating maps and decide if you want to have similar seats as you get in your home park, or if you need to move to another location to meet your objectives, like being by the visiting bullpen or being protected from the elements.

For blind fans, while the visual aspect of where to sit is not a factor if they are not at the game with sited friends, there are factors that are still considered when choosing seats. If I’m getting tickets for me and other friends who are sited, then I do care where in the ballpark I sit for their benefit. If I am taking someone to a game who maybe is not as familiar with baseball, it helps to know where we are in the ballpark as it relates to the field itself. Once years ago, I took a friend to an Astros game at Minute Maid Park, but being that it was her first baseball game and only my third time to attend a game in the Astros new home on that early May night in 2002, I did not truly know where we were in relation to the field, which did not help me in trying to answer a couple of her questions. I knew what section we were in because of the confirmation on my ticket order I had placed online, but I could not truly say that I knew where it was within that ballpark.

Even when I go to games by myself, there are things to consider in terms of the game experience. For example, I’d rather sit near the front row on the third or fourth level if I’m behind home plate or on the baseline inside first or third base, because unlike the lower level outfield seats, you are physically closer to home plate and can hear how the ball comes off the bat or how it hits the glove of the catcher. So as I have started purchasing tickets for my 30 ballpark, 30 day tour, I have found that knowing just where you are in each park is somewhat of a challenge.

For starters, no two ballparks number their sections in the same way. I have had to be resourceful in finding web sites that detail how the sections are arranged in each ballpark, so I at least have a rough idea as to where in the ballpark the sections are, behind the plate, on the infield baseline, down toward the right and left field corners, or behind the outfield fence. Some ballparks start with section 100 down in the right field corner and the numbers go up as you move around to the left field corner, wouldn’t logic say section 101 or section 1 is behind home plate? Dodger Stadium does this and the section numbers go up the further down each line you go, even numbers on one side, odd on the other side, like street address numbers. Other ballparks start the numbering on the Left field corner and move the opposite direction.

What is more confusing is how ballparks name their seating sections. Lower boxes in some ballparks are on the first level, others like Baltimore have them on the second level. Field boxes in some stadiums I have discovered are truly right at field level, others are placed further back behind the premium seating. Club seating, second level in some ballparks, others like U.S. Cellular have them on the third level. Then there are terms like loge, mezzanine, upper box, view box, terrace, and more. These terms mean different things in different ballparks, some closer to the infield than others, some at levels that are higher up in one ballpark then they would be in the next one.

For the blind fan, trying to truly know where you are in the ballpark is as I am discovering, a major undertaking of extraordinary effort. I would recommend two things to the ball clubs as it relates to this subject. First, by each ticketing choice, have a quick note of some sort that says where the seat is, infield, first or third base line and saying if it is an infield or outfield section. If the section is both infield and outfield, then on the following page that shows what seat you were offered, have a notation that says the seat is on the infield, in the outfield, Etc. Second, the clubs should have a page that details each seating category, where it is, and which sections are in that area. It should say which sections are behind the plate, which one’s go up the first and third base lines to the corner bases, Etc. By doing this, fans like me who are blind, truly have a feel for where in the ballpark their seats are and if they might want to look for seats in another section. It might also be a good idea to give us the ability to click on each section number within a seating category to see what the best seat is that is available.

Finally, a word about the ticket purchasing process as it relates to the security check or user authentication as it is also known. Sited users see a visual text code which they must enter to verify that they are a legit ticket purchaser. This method does not work for the blind, because screen readers cannot read graphic based images with no character based text. To counter this, audio versions of similar challenges are now used, where the user must enter the words and or numbers spoken on an audio track, with some degree of gargled background noise that can be problematic. There are other methods that would be as effective which have been utilized by other web-based services. Perhaps the ticketing systems could move to some sort of basic knowledge question that any user should know. Such questions would require either the answer to a basic math problem, or a question about something that is well known, such as naming the capitol of a major state like California or Texas, naming the nation that borders the United States on the north or south, things that would require user input that foils computerized robots, while making the process for all users a bit less frustrating.

While some of these technical issues are outside the control of the ball clubs, others like those outlined here are simple steps that the 30 ball clubs should take. The process would greatly improve the ticket purchasing experience for the blind, allowing all fans to truly have an idea of just where they are choosing to sit in any ballpark, from Fenway Park to dodger Stadium, from Safeco Field to the new Marlins park in Miami.

For fans who want to follow my 30 ballpark, 30 day adventure, you may like the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BlindBaseballTraveler30ParksIn30Days where quick planning and game experience postings will be filed. More in-depth features will be posted to this blog.