Looking around professional sports, MLB has to have one of the most convoluted scheduling schemes in the world. On the simple/elegant end of the spectrum, you have many professional soccer leagues, in which a team plays every other team in the league once on the road and once at home. On the other end of the spectrum is MLB: play each team in your division (which may have 4, 5, or 6 teams in it) 18 times each year, and play teams outside your divison but in your league 6-10 times each. Then play your “rivals” from the opposite league in 6 games each year, unless of course you don’t have a rival because with uneven number of teams in each league not everyone can have just one rival. Then play three games with a handful of teams from the NL, mostly from the same division, but not always.
I feel that no matter what individual justification there is for each aspect of the schedule, the end result is a big mess. Surely it doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of baseball, but it seems to make the season unnecessarily complicated.
With the Astros reportedly moving to the AL West, all divisions will have 5 teams, removing a huge barrier to a more elegant schedule. Yes, there will always be some interleague baseball going on, but I’m personally not opposed to this. As a counterbalance to the large number of intradivision games, it’s nice to have some variety in the schedule.
With balanced divisions, there are a number of realistic simple schedules that can be created. The first one that came to mind for me was:
1) Play all teams within your divisions 9 times at home and 9 times away.
2) Play all teams in your league but not in your division 3 times at home and 3 times away.
3) Play all teams in one NL division 3 times at home.
4) Play all teams in a different NL division 3 times on the road.
And there’s your 162 games. While I’m not a big fan of playing each team in the division 18 times a year, I do like playing intradivision teams more often than other teams, and 18 is a number which makes things work out easily. Setting the schedule this way would make it so that each team within the division played the same schedule, which I think is a big improvement on the current schedule.
The one thing this would do away with is the intraleague rivalry matchups, which can lead to persistently unbalanced schedules within a division. If it is so important that two teams play one another, they should be in the same league or the same division. A lot of the high attendance for these series can be attributed to the timing of the games–they are typically scheduled as a summer weekend series, which is going to have higher attendance anyway because the weather is warmer and it’s easier to go to the games on the weekend.
The one big problem I see here is that the schedule is almost too symmetric–in order to get the season done in the same number of weeks as now, you can’t always play two 3-game sets each week. It might be possible to split up the 9-game intradivision sets in such a way (1 4-game, 1 3-game, and 1 2-game) that you can compress the schedule enough. Looking back to 2009, the Twins had at least nine 4-game series in the schedule, so it could be tricky to make everything work out right.
Back in reality, there is probably little chance that the schedules will be this balanced when they come out in 2013, but they shouldn’t be quite as arbitrary as they are now.