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.