The Balancing Act of an MLB Schedule
June 20, 2018
Is it just me, or does anyone else think the Mariners' schedule is a bit wack?
No one I've talked to about it seems to care, so maybe I'm alone in this. But it bugs me when the M's (or any other team) play the same opponent on consecutive weekends, or (relatedly), when the entire season series against a particular opponent is over and done with before we even get through June. The Mariners are already done with the Indians, Rays, and Twins, and will be done with the Red Sox next weekend. By the All-Star break they'll have finished with the Royals. Hell, Cleveland was out of the way before the end of April. Meanwhile, we have to endure three visits from the A's.
I suppose its a product of my age. I mean, my formative baseball years were the 1980s, when there were but 26 Major League clubs and two divisions in each of two separate and distinct leagues. Each team made at least two trips to every other city in its league every year, balanced out over the six months of the season. Squads in the 12-team National League played each of its divisional brethren 18 times (three series at home, three away) and played each team in the other division 12 times (two series home, two away). The American League was up to 14 teams by then, so their clubs only played 13 games against division rivals, but that still meant two trips to each town on the circuit.
Of course, you can't do that these days. We've got 30 teams now, and the powers that be decided we needed Interleague Play and six divisions, so the old formulas don't work any more. But could we do better than what we've got now? Depends on your definition of "better," I suppose. But I think so.
The culprit of this problem, if you indeed consider it a problem, is mainly Interleague Play, but since we're stuck with that in some form, we'll have to work with it. The other issue is the unbalanced schedule concept, of which I wholeheartedly approve—during the years of balanced schedules, divisions were arbitrary; unbalanced makes winning a division mean something more than just being lucky not to be east of the Mississippi and have to share a home with the Yankees—but tweaking is in order.
Change is hard, so even tweaks will run into objections and power struggles. Even so, because I am basically a nerd, I have a suggestion for future seasons. I fully expect it to fall on deaf ears, even if it were to reach the Commissioner's office.
Let's start with the rules. The latest collective bargaining agreement between ownership and the players' union imposes the following restrictions:
- The schedule shall consist of 162 games and cover no more than 183 days
- No more than 20 consecutive days without an off day for any given team
- Homestands and road trips shall consist of no more than four series
- Each team shall have 13 home weekends
- No team shall travel more than 50,000 air miles over the course of the regular season
- No scheduled doubleheaders
- Not in the CBA but accepted as rules: the Red Sox shall be at home on Patriots Day, the Dodgers shall be at home on Jackie Robinson Day, the Nationals shall be at home on July 4th, the Blue Jays shall be home on Canada Day
For the Mariners, that travel restriction is particularly relevant, given Seattle's geographic isolation from the rest of the league, but nothing here is too constricting. We can work with it. So adding to those rules, let's lay out what we want to achieve:
- Maintain a division-heavy schedule, so teams play their divisional opponents more often than other teams, but reduce the overall number to allow for more balance (currently, clubs play 19 games vs. each team in their division, six or seven vs. others in the league) and less disgust in my season ticket draft when we get down to nothing but A's and Rangers games
- Have each team within a division play an identical schedule, e.g. the same teams the same number of times (currently they do not)
- Reduce the number of Interleague games (currently 20)
- Give more equity to opponents in each half of the season
So, for divisional play, let's try cutting the number of games from 19 to 14. That gives a total of 56 games (14 × 4 divisional opponents) with 106 more to distribute among ten league opponents and an Interleague division. If we assign 9 games to each non-divisional league opponent (9 × 10), that leaves 16 for Interleague series.
Given the mandate for 162 total games we're stuck with at least some inequity, but this way it's just one Interleague game per team that doesn't match up with their divisional cohorts' schedules, which is as minimal as you can get. (Ironically, the reason we got 162-game schedules in the first place is so scheduling equity could prevail—when the leagues expanded from 10 to 12 teams in 1961-62, eight games were added to allow for scheduling uniformity.)
Using this structure, we get two visits to each divisional foe, two visits to half of the other cities in the league and one to the other half (with the teams only visited once coming to the host team's place twice and vice-versa, switching every year), and one series against each team in an Interleague division (one a home-and-home four-gamer). This does away with the "natural rival" Interleague series because they are not equitable. Mets and Yankees will still meet every third year, it's fine. Get over it.
A Mariner season might look like this. Thoughts? Or is this just one fan's hangup?
What do you think about the current MLB schedule structure?