Solutions to Major League Baseball Scheduling issues, with a Focus on Chalenges for the 2015 Regular Season.
I was thinking about the future MLB schedule that will be released next fall for 2015 and there are potential issues that will have to be resolved. Before I get to those particular problems, lets first cover some ground about the new scheduling system, issues it presents and alternatives, then you will see how I am looking ahead to a potential 2015 schedule for Major League Baseball.
Say what you will about the 2013 schedule that was released last fall for this MLB season. Are there problems with teams playing only one home and one road series against everyone outside the division? The Rays would certainly say yes, as they are in the midst of a 37 game, 38 day schedule, in part because of a makeup game in KC that was originally scheduled for what turned out to be a very snowy May 2. The Rays would also argue that this idea of having a truly unbalanced schedule is largely the cause of this problem and there would be some truth behind that. Before 1998, every team in baseball had two visits to every other teams ballpark in their own league. The 1997 season brought us the first examples of one series only visits, which were the interleague games on that schedule, a baseball first. The 1998 schedule brought the NL a very set of random schedules, with teams playing nine games against most teams outside their division, but in some cases only seven or eight games, meaning that teams would only make one visit to one ballpark and play host in two series or vice versa. Scheduling had no real true predicted outcome, other than that teams played almost the same number of games against teams in their own divisions in both leagues. When 2001 brought us the modern unbalanced schedule, teams in all but the NL Central made three visits and were host three times against their divisional opposition and in nearly all instances, teams would have one home and one road series outside the division against everyone else, with a few exceptions.
All indications are that MLB will use a similar approach in 2014 to the one used this season and I largely have no complaints about it, though to me the divisional schedule should be a flat nine home and nine away against everyone and the non-divisional part within a team’s own league should be seven games against everyone else instead of six against four teams and seven against six more. The interleague arrangement is as fair as it can be given the 20 game limit in the current basic agreement and the limits baseball has set on itself in terms of how it schedules games. More on that in a few paragraphs. If baseball went to a more balanced schedule in 2014 keeping the current interleague arrangement which we can be very certain won’t happen, the total of divisional games would be cut from 19 to 13 against each other team, or a reduction from 76 to 52 divisional games. This would push the number of games outside the division but within the same league up from the current 66 to a total of 90 or nine games against each of the remaining 10 teams. IN affect, you would be taking eight series of scheduled games off the books in division play, while adding ten series of games outside the division. Because you are adding to new series to the schedule and taking the total number of scheduled series from 52 to 54, you would schedule as the NL did for years when it had 54 scheduled series between 1969-92. You would schedule the games outside the division against six teams in a 3-3, 3 format. Against the other four teams, you would schedule in a 4-2, 3 or 3, 4-2 arrangement. This of course creates a problem with more 2-game series, a problem that cannot be avoided if baseball insists on keeping the traditional schedule where teams always play an early week and a weekend schedule. There were very rare cases in 1997 where teams did play a Monday-Tuesday or Tuesday-Wednesday, followed by a Thursday-Friday, and then a Saturday-Monday schedule. You can see this if you look at the 1997 June schedule for teams such as the Montreal Expos on www.baseballreference.com. There was one other time in 1998 where baseball took an odd scheduling approach. The Braves were at the Rockies and the Marlins at the Diamondbacks from Friday April 17 to Monday April 20. All four teams flew east and took Tuesday off, then from Wednesday April 22 to Friday April 24, the Rockies were at the Marlins and the Diamondbacks at the Braves. The visiting teams then switched cities and played two more on the road for that Saturday and Sunday April 25-26, then they all flew west again and this time, the Braves went right back to playing the Diamondbacks and the Marlins likewise against the Rockies. So can baseball be a bit out of the box if it wanted, sure it could.
Now let’s look ahead to 2015 and interleague play in particular, now that I have presented the options that could be offered using a slightly modified unbalanced schedule and the more balanced approach just presented. The problem in 2015 is that the scheduled interleague arrangement is NL East vs. AL East, NL Central VS AL Central, and NL West VS AL West. The issue, teams only played 16 games against their assigned interleague division, three home games against two teams, three away against two more, and a two home-two road arrangement against the fifth. The remaining four games were a two home-two away in the squeeze week against a natural rival. IN 2015, the natural rivals are already part of the alignment, but going down to just 16 interleague games and adding the other four games to play within a team’s own league outside the division creates a problem, not enough scheduled series. The only way to resolve this would be to force teams to play a pair of two-game series in place of a single four-game series against a team in its own division or in one of its non-division matchups within the league. This though does not work, in that you have just 51 scheduled series, so you would have to apply this approach twice to create 52 scheduled series, 26 home and 26 away, which also then creates the one squeeze week of three scheduled series, to offset the one series for the week of the All Star Game. Chances are that baseball will not take this approach, though it could be a workable solution and it would make the balance a bit more fair in terms of the games played outside the division, seven games against eight teams, six against two more.
Another approach, though one I could not live with frankly, would be to schedule only games against your assigned interleague division and keeping the max total of 20 such games. The approach here would involve scheduling a four-game series at home against one team, a four-game road series against a second team, and three sets of two-game series home and away against each of the other three teams, using your designated rival in the squeeze week with a two home-two away back-to-back. This would be a very doable schedule in terms of the number of series, holding at the present 52, but four-game series would almost always have to be scheduled in the Thursday-Sunday or Friday-Monday block, since baseball does not prefer to schedule a two-game set over a weekend period. So in this respect, the scheduling does become quite restrictive and it might be more of a headache than the folks in the Commissioner’s Office care to take on.
This brings me to a third approach and one that I favor the most. Again, keeping in mind that I want to change the number of divisional games from 19 to 18 against each divisional opposition and move the total of all non-divisional games in a team’s league to seven per opponent, I propose this approach for the remaining 20 games that are filled by interleague play. Schedule the assigned division as you have done in the prior seasons, in this case, keep the two home-two away squeeze week against the major rival, then schedule three home against two teams and three away against two more. That gives you 16 games and leaves four on the schedule. Those four can be scheduled as a two-game series at home and a two-game series on the road against teams in the other divisions. The idea. Take the 2013 standings and do an approach like the NFL. So the 5th place Astros would host the Cubs and visit the Marlins, the 5th place White Sox would host the Marlins and visit the Padres, the 5th place Blue Jays would host the Padres and visit the Cubs, assuming those are the teams that all finish last. You would take the same approach for the teams in 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st. The reason you have to use the 2013 schedule rather than 2014, is because the Players Union must have a draft of a preliminary schedule by July 1, 2014 and clearly the 2014 standings would not be known. Taking this approach for these two-game series, also allows for some flexibility for scheduling other series prior to or after such games on the schedule. Say the Astros were at Miami for two games using this approach in 2015, they could then stay in the eastern part of the nation and play the Rays or go north and play a team like Baltimore, Boston, or the Yankees. Similarly, they could play an eastern division team in the AL, then head to Miami for those two games before going back to Houston or coming west to play a team in the Midwest, like the white Sox or Kansas City.
This approach would keep the schedule looking very much like it did in 2013 and should in 2014. The only difference, instead of playing six different teams, a team would play seven different teams for interleague purposes, three games against four teams, four games in the two-two home and away against the rival, then two home and two away against two different teams outside the assigned interleague division.
These are approaches baseball could take to create a 2015 schedule that is at least a tad more agreeable to all involved. My task in the coming months, I may succeed and I may fail, is to create schedule drafts using all of the approaches I have described here and submitting them to all concerned around the baseball industry. The three proposals I will submit, 20 interleague games, 18 against each team in the division and seven against each team outside the division in a team’s own league as just described, as well as my approaches that take the same interleague formula and go with a 13-nine split between games against divisional opposition and non—divisional opposition within the league, and the 16 game interleague approach with 19 games against each team in the division, seven against each of eight teams outside the division in a team’s own league and six games against the remaining two teams.
If I have made your head spin so fast that it is about to pop off, like a cork under increasing pressure as it is forced up by the combination of vinegar and baking soda used in so many elementary science experiments, please accept my apology.