Moving Astros to AL West leads to incredibly simple scheduling solution?

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.

6 thoughts on “Moving Astros to AL West leads to incredibly simple scheduling solution?”

    1. MLB has to implement something like this. They already have the rotating AL division vs NL division and this just makes it easier. However, I really think the interleague rival concept will be kept, which mucks up things.

      1. I think I read the plan was to at least reduce the rivalry to one three-game series a year, which would reduce the effect of it. I do like the idea of teams playing the same schedule. I don't think it is as important in baseball as other sports, but I'm sure it has had an effect on races.

  1. Hell, I think it would be fine to put more flexibility in there.
    Against intraleague not intradivision teams, just have it that each team must play 5 to 7 games, no fewer than two but no more than four at a single arena. So the options would be:
    (3-3, 4-3, 4-2, 3-2, (2+2)-3, (2+2)-2)

    Likewise, with intradvision teams, make it 17 to 19 games, and the difference in home games between two teams over the season can be no more than two games (so a 10-8 split is OK, but 10-7 and 11-8 are not).

    I'm still not all sold on the constant interleague, or the ten interleague series! (Almost 20% of the schedule). Still, I like the symmetry of you host one division, and travel to another. That way, everyone in the division and west-coast road trips can be more focused. Either you play 15 games in the western division or 30. Also, it reminds me how some years for the interleague schedule, all the AL fields were used for one week, while the next week, only NL ballparks were used. It's different but fun and quirky in the same way.

    That said, if they go with the variation I have above, I'm better with it.

    I'm guessing that if Houston moves to the AL, "rivalries" may have to die, because they're muddled.
    Nevermind, those work nice. Move the Rox to the AL instead of the Stros, and the west is cleaned up (TEX-HOU, COL-ARI), and we're only left with two "stretches" (SEA-SDP and TOR-PHI), which I think are currently "rivals" anyways.

    Another Idea that minimizes intraleague:
    Stay with 6 intraleague series each year. You get your rival once and each team in one division. Every three years, you play your opposite division (AL central plays NL central), so then you get two series against them.
    Rivarlry games are always to be played on summer weekends. I don't think there should be any problems with that.

    Then, with those 12 games I just removed from the Interleague schedule, you play 3 more games against four other interleague teams: two from each of the other divisions, in a rotating 5-year pattern.

    Eh, that's ugly, too. Could do like the NFL, and make it based on last year's record: you play six more games against each team that placed the same as you in the other divisions in your league the year before, but that feels more viciously imbalanced, but it should create a little more churn in standings. If in year 2, teams A and B are basically the same, but in year 1 team A played great while team B stunk, team B has a better chance to replace A as the division's rep in year 2.

  2. The Wild Card is also going to be expanded. I hope the WC teams play each other in a 1 game playoff. I think it places more incentive on winning the division so you get a bit of a fresher team and you also dont have to worry about the crapshoot of the one game play-in. I love baseball and all, but having the playoffs drag on and on bores me (see NHL/NBA playoffs which lasts about 2 months)

  3. I've thought even more about this. My fear with year-round interleague, Selig's gonna feel pressure to go to unified DH rules. And as eliminating the DH in the AL would lead to about ten sluggers losing their starting jobs, I doubt that the DH is going away. And I like variety, and knowing that there are two ways to play baseball, so I don't want that to happen. So what I thought was, what if there were two new teams, and an NFL-style 4-team, 4-division, 2-conference (ahem, league) structure.

    Intra-division: 3 teams, 18* games against each
    In one of the other divisions in team's league, on a rotating basis: 4 Teams, 11* games against each
    In the other divisions in your league: 8 teams, 6* games against each
    In one of the divisions in the other league, on a rotating basis: 4 Teams, 3 games against each.
    Against team's assigned rival: 1 Team, one four** game series.
    (If the rival is in the other-division league that a team plays its other interleague games against, then those teams get to play each other seven** times that season.)

    *±1, if you prefer a little bit of fudgeability, as I do.

    OK, I don't know how to bring a Wildcard (or two) into this, unless it's to play a play-in with the lowest-seeded of the Division winners. Or, horror of horrors, the two lowest-seeded division winners have to play three-game
    Eww, I feel dirty even thinking of that.

    Let's try some divisions:
    ALW: SEA, LAA, OAK, SLC***

    NLE: NYM, PHI, PIT, BRK***

    ***Expansion teams in Salt Lake City (or Portland, or Sacramento, must be in Mountain or Pacific time zone) & Brooklyn (or Queens or New Jersey)

    Yeah, those NL divisions are messy, but I didn't want any division covering more than two time zones.

    The rivalries don't match up with divisions. I don't think that's a scheduling problem.

    †Yes, I'm breaking the "traditional" BOS-ATL and SEA-SDP rivalries. I don't think anyone will care.

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