Expanding MLB Playoffs: Focus on Fairness

As Dave Allen noted this afternoon, Buster Olney reported over the weekend that Major League Baseball is considering a realignment proposal that would equalize the number of teams in each league at 15 and potentially eliminate the current divisional format completely. While I’ve been trained to believe that nearly every “improvement” MLB suggests is probably a bad idea, this actually seems like a pretty fantastic idea to me, in large part due to my desire to see increased fairness in the sport.

Right now, all four AL West teams have an inherent advantage in the chase for a playoff spot due to the size of their division, while all the NL Central teams have an inherent disadvantage. While it hasn’t manifest as a significant problem in most years (mainly thanks to the ineptitude of the Pittsburgh Pirates), there’s just no way around the fact that the NL Central teams have to beat out five opponents to win the division while the AL West teams only have to beat out three. A smaller pool of competitors simply makes it easier to make the playoffs, and it’s hard for me to come up with a good reason why some teams should have an easier path (structurally, if not always in practicality) to a division title than another.

Getting rid of the divisions entirely eliminates that problem, and while it may not have been the intention, it also creates the other massive inequity in baseball right now – the fact that the Blue Jays, Rays, and Orioles have to overcome baseball’s two behemoths to make the playoffs. While baseball is cyclical and I’d generally suggest against creating rules that react to current organizational strengths and weaknesses, it is a reality that the Yankees and Red Sox have long term, sustainable advantages over the rest of baseball. Their markets and their history have given them the ability to generate large amounts of revenue, and they use that revenue to build rosters that other organizations simply could not afford.

By eliminating the divisions, Toronto and Tampa Bay would then only be tasked with beating out the rest of the American League, rather than having to leapfrog one of baseball’s two giants. Additionally, in seasons where all four of those teams might be among the five best in the AL, each of them could potentially be rewarded with a playoff berth, and I hope we’d all agree that an ideal world would allow the best teams in each season to make the playoffs.

Increased equity in these areas make this plan have significant appeal to me. Objections over things like an interleague game every day (who cares?) or maintaining traditional division races (when maintaining the status quo prevents legitimate improvement, tradition is a problem, not an asset) are not things I’d be overly concerned about. To me, the positives outweigh those downsides. However, there is one very real issue with the no division plan that would have to be worked out – the schedule.

With no divisions, and everyone competing against each other, fairness almost demands a balanced schedule, where all teams play the same opponents the same number of times. Without a balanced schedule, you’ve made playoff spots more achievable for some teams, but still give teams unequal paths to the goal. A balanced schedule would eliminate these inequalities, but also creates some real problems, and ones that I’m not quite as eager to accept.

1. More games out of the same time zone. It simply isn’t that much fun to be a fan of a team on one coast that plays their games on the other coast, and it’s not an efficient revenue model for teams or networks either. Ratings for 10 pm starts of east coast teams on west coast road trips are lower, and likewise, when west coast teams head east, the games start before people get home from work. Decreasing the number of fans who can actually watch games is not in baseball’s best interests.

2. In an effort to increase fairness with a balanced schedule, we decrease the equity in terms of travel for the teams on each coast. It’s simply harder to fly from San Diego to Boston than it is to fly from Chicago to either city. Perhaps we can argue that the teams on the coasts already have built-in advantages due to the population migration in the U.S., but we at least have to acknowledge that teams in the corners of the country would have to spend a lot more times on airplanes than the teams in the middle of the country.

3. We also have to keep in mind that for the players, this is their job. How many of us would like it if our job suddenly decided that we needed to be away from home more often, and that we weren’t going to get any kind of extra compensation to offset the increased travel? Perhaps we’d just be thankful we still had a job in this economy, and I realize that drumming up sympathy for well off Major League players isn’t exactly going to be an easy task, but I don’t think we can overlook the fact that a balanced schedule probably makes their life more difficult.

Do these costs outweigh the benefit of the increased fairness of a no-division plan where the best teams made the playoffs more often? I don’t think so. While I haven’t digested all of the factors involved with adopting this plan, I still think the benefits would be worth it.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

92 Responses to “Expanding MLB Playoffs: Focus on Fairness”

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  1. bikozu says:

    In before hundreds of comments calling you an idiot for suggesting that any change to baseball could possibly be good.

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  2. Xeifrank says:

    The 15/15/5 format is obviously fairer, but it is my opinion that having more divisions adds more interest to the season as teams are more likely to have natural rivals under the current (or similar to current) system.

    The 15/15/5 will likely add more travel distance for each team. At what point does that become a problem?

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  3. Evan says:

    You’re an idiot for suggesting any change to baseball could be good.

    But really, the idea is good, but downsides of a balanced schedule are ok with me (for the reasons you stated above). I prefer divisions, with a bonus wildcard team thrown in a first round bye for the best record.

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    • Evan says:

      The downsides are NOT ok with me*

      that changes things a bit

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    • Bonus wildcard does not give a first round bye for the best team but an extra series for the worst teams. I personally like realignment, or at least floating divisions, to be fair for teams in the AL East and like divisions.

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      • Drugs Delaney says:

        “Bonus wildcard does not give a first round bye for the best team but an extra series for the worst teams.”

        How does it do that? Under the current format, the worst team is almost always a division-winner. Looking at the last ten seasons (from 2001-2010), only two Wild Card teams have won fewer than 90 games: the ’05 Astros (89) and the ’06 Dodgers (88). Over those ten years, 4 NL division winners have finished with 85 or fewer wins. The fewest wins for an AL Wild Card team in that period is 94 games (’07 Yankees). Only once was a Wild Card team the 4th best record: the ’02 Giants, a 95-game winning team. In other words, only time in twenty (5% of the time) has the Wild Card team had the worst record of the eight playoff teams.

        The average number of wins for the NL Wild Card from 2001-2010 is 91. The average number of wins for the weakest NL division winner over the same period is 88 wins. In the AL, the gap between the Wild Card and the third-best divisional winner is even wider. The weakest AL division winner has averaged 91.5 games, compared to 96.3 wins for the AL Wild Card, a gap of roughly 5 wins.

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    • charley says:

      Baseball is all about tradition and history. But frankly, tradition has become more of a hindrance than not. This new system is logical and better for everyone in the end. The best teams making the playoffs is how it should be and the current system prevents that. Who wouldn’t want the sox, yanks and rays in the playoffs if they had the best records.

      furthermore, a bonus wild card is futile. Let’s cut to the chase. This new split system is the ultimate goal and should be implemented sooner rather than later. An additional wild card only proves how flawed the current system. Not that I don’t like the system, that doesn’t matter. It’s flawed. I’m red sox fan. So you can understand why this doesn’t affect me either way.

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  4. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    Although I agree with your fairness argument in principle, as a business professor I must argue that profits not be forgotten. The highest revenue games often come from geographic rivals (not Seattle vs the Padres), so baseball in general should encourage more of these games. I personally think that the NL west should only play the AL west in inter league; NL central vs the AL central; and the NL east versus the AL east only. I know this is potentially unfair, but it would encourage more revenues and more tickets sold, and get rid of the travel argument a bit. On the other hand, it is less unfair than you think because a team like the Marlins would get several games a season at home versus the Yankees and Boston every year. Yankee and Boston games are near locks for a sellout, so the Marlins may generate more revenues making them potentially more competitive.

    Also certainty of schedule makes trading more interesting. If I am the Mets I trade my best players to AL teams not in the east this off-season knowing I will never play against them. Or if I am the favorite in the AL West in December and I know the Yankees are the favorites overall, maybe I make a better trade to the Nationals rather than I would with the Cubs knowing the Nationals get 6 against the Yankees during the season the Cubs wont. In other words, a slighter tougher nationals club means less chance for the Yankees without hurting the As. So the As help the Nationals by giving them a better deal. Those kinds of deals are interesting to me.

    I agree each league needs the same number of teams though I would add 2 to the AL. (Mexico City and Newark NJ, or maybe another Canadian)

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Mexico City is pretty far away from any US team and nobody wants to go to Mexico City. Canadians don’t give a shit about baseball. Indianapolis, Vegas, Portland, Newark, those are pretty good choices. Maybe even Nawlins (New Orleans).

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      • kick me in the GO NATS says:

        I know more Canadians who care about baseball than don’t. Sure it is less than Hockey, but so is baseball to the NFL in this country.

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      • kick me in the GO NATS says:

        Mexico City would mint money for baseball. profits there would crush most American cities. Plus, now you add a whole new country to the TV viewership of the game. A country with nearly a third of its population as wealthy as the US, and a population who cares more about baseball than most Americans.

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      • OKGOJAYS says:

        There are a lot of Canadians who love baseball, and love the Blue Jays, unfortunately since they have been placed in the AL east with Boston and NY they have not made the playoffs, without a winning team it is tough to fill a ball park. Being the only team in the country there are 36 million potential fans that have access to watch every game on TV or radio throughout the country. The Jays also have one of the richest owners in the MLB with company profits of over 4 billion dollars last year. Realignment would be the best possible thing for teams in the AL east.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Not only that but the more regional you make baseball, the more only people in San Fancisco and Dallas care about a Rangers/Giants World Series while everyone else watches the NFL.

      The one thing the NFL has done so well is make every team fairly visible. You have to go through the league to get broadcast rights to a game, which means that more teams get more national coverage.

      So if you’re going to make baseball even more regional than it already is, you’ll have to fix the TV problem so people in the midwest care about a world series between two non-midwest teams.

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      • Blue says:

        ” you’ll have to fix the TV problem so people in the midwest care about a world series between two non-midwest teams.”

        Um, you’ve got it exactly reversed–people on the coast need to care about a WS between two midwest teams.

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      • Jay Levin says:

        Does it really matter if we fix the regional problem?

        What percentage of total MLB revenue comes from the World Series anyway?

        Is it possible that we shouldn’t treat World Series ratings as a significant barometer of success or profitability?

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  5. If we have 162 games and 15 teams we get a balanced schedule of 10.8 games against each opponent. If we take the 10 part of that, we can divide that evenly with two 3 games series and two 2 game series, meaning five games in each respective ballpark. The .8 would come up to 12 games extra, which I would presume would be the interleague games (four 3 game series, which is also evenly divided).

    They could also do 9 games against each opponent and use the 1.8 leftover to make 27 “other” games (interleague, whatever). But if we’re going with 9 then we can only have three 3 game series which would put six at one team’s home stadium and only three at the other team’s home stadium. There might still be a fairness issue here if this is the format they go with.

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    • Matt says:

      If they do 9 game season series, it would likely be 2-3-4 or 2-3-2-2, with 4 games in one location and 5 games in the other.

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    • kev says:

      I like your idea, but how about 2 five game series? The players and people associated with the teams tend to dislike 2 game series, and your plan would require and abundance of them. I can’t see the players jumping on board with that one. I personally think it would be cool to match up for 5 games in a row, being able to face each starting pitcher.

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      • Eli says:

        I love the idea of 5 game series, home and away, facing one whole rotation each time.

        If you want to talk about balance and fairness, only facing two or three guys in a rotation per series creates a potential huge imbalance that goes largely unmentioned now.

        How cool would it be to know that you get to see EVERY starting pitcher in your league at home, at least once (unless they happen to be on the DL)?

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      • OKGOJAYS says:

        A 5 game series would be amazing, Right now there is potential that one team can face more Top of the rotation guys as they play different teams and another team could face more bottom of the rotation teams, This would give you the opportunity to see all of the other teams pitchers but there could also be the situation where 1vs 2, 2 vs 3, 3 vs 4, 4 vs 5, 5 vs 1 arises where you might only have the true advantage in one game. Or it may have teams that have a pitcher that can pitch on short rest put their #1 guy in twice vs divisional rivals. It also creates 5-15 game road trips but cuts down on the actual travel. It also leaves you exposed to a down season if you face your division rivals on the one week your star slugger goes on the DL. I never see 5 games series happening for this last point.

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  6. chel says:

    my realignment proposal if they don’t want to dissolve the divisions but still want to have 15 team in each league and 5 teams in each division is to move the diamondbacks to the AL WEST (not enough time of existence for them to claim they are an NL club with tradition) and move the astros to the NL WEST (if the rangers are in the west, then the astros can’t complain)

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  7. Jeff says:

    From a strictly economic perspective (so setting aside the fairness argument, which is an important one, for a minute) is there a potential of long term cost for not having teams represented geographically in the playoffs the way the division format ensures (to a certain degree) now? The example Dave uses of the Yanks, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays all making the playoffs underscores the point. If you are willing to grant that East Coast teams, because of market size, fan passion, whatever, have an inherent advantage over Midwest or West Coast teams, could we end up with a pattern of the East coasting dominating the playoffs (Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Phillies, Braves, etc.) at the expense of other regions? And perhaps more importantly, even if this is “fair”, could it be a long term problem for baseball if the Midwest or West Coast is consistently underrepresented in the playoffs?

    Haven’t thought this through long enough to be sure the logic is correct – just something I thought would be worth thinking about.

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    • DD says:

      This is a reasonable point, and hopefully the powers-that-be engage in the kind of long-term planning that is necessary when making such a drastic change to the game.

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  8. Sox2727 says:

    Does anyone have any insight to how the DH will be impacted in these proposed scenarios? Playing more interleague games puts the AL teams at an inherent disadvantage when it comes to comprising their rosters.

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    • DD says:

      Maybe they will finally cave and add the DH to the National League too.

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    • Hasn’t been discussed. But for it not to be uniform would be ridiculous. And whether or not the DH is a good rule, it must be enacted for all teams, as it would be totally unfair to make teams who have commitments to DHs to have to pay big bucks for a bench player.

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      • Al Dimond says:

        There is a fair way to remove the DH. Pick a date beyond which no player is signed, and end the DH and re-align the divisions on that date.

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      • Not to turn this into a DH discussion, but… It is patently ridiculous for the two leagues to play under different rules. I consider myself a traditionalist but it’s time for the NL to adopt the DH. The players union won’t stand for its elimination and everyone agrees that offense helps sell tickets. In any event it is certainly more interesting to see a good hitter at bat than a one whom, if he couldn’t pitch, would be in A ball or something like that.

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      • Eli says:

        I remember hearing somewhere a while back that the NL is the ONLY LEAGUE in baseball (college, minors, high school) that DOESN’T use the DH.

        Does anyone know if this is correct?

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    • kick me in the GO NATS says:

      From what I have read, the jury is still out as to whether the AL or NL has a disadvantage. I personally think logically and by evidence the NL is disadvantaged, but that is another thread for another time.

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  9. David says:

    Speaking of idiot ideas …

    I read it in one of the other blogs linked on this site, but someone’s had the idea for rather radical realignment. In addition to 15/15/5, shuffle nearly EVERYONE around based on geography. The National League becomes basically the 15 westernmost teams in baseball, the American League the easternmost teams.

    Chicago become the geographic middle with their teams remaining split between the leagues. The only time any teams would have an opposite coast road trip would be for relatively few interleague games they play each season.

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    • AJS says:

      That would actually cause the reverse problem of the one Dave brings up. Teams in the middle of the country (Chicago, Milwaukee, Minnesota) would have much father to travel on a consistent basis than those on the west coast. Also, Western League teams would have to travel a lot more than Eastern League teams in general, which could reduce their profitability and take a toll by the end of the season.

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      • David says:

        There is no such thing as an alignment where everyone’s travel is identical. The best you can do is minimize it across the board. Teams is the less population-dense West are always going to travel farther.

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  10. Mark says:

    I’m with you, my initial reaction to the idea is more favorable than not. There certainly are some pragmatic difficulties, and the idea will take some further inspection, but my first impression is that the benefits outweigh the problems. I will say though, part of this may be a sort of pre-emptive bias I have to the expectation that the loudest gripe against the proposal is the most superficial issue of all: The interleague issue. If anything, this proposal would make interleague play far more interesting, relevant, and most importantly natural. Instead of forcing teams together strictly for rivalry and extraneous justifications for the rivalrly games for a short portion of the season, interleague competition would become an integral part of the season. It wouldn’t just be an excuse to get the Mets and Yankees or Giants and A’s to play each other, those geographical rivalries would be added benefits of something more inherently important to the 162 game season anyway. East plays West in basketball. NFC plays AFC. And in neither case are these matches forced. No one complains about them because they’re natural to the structure of the sports. Under the proposed structure, it seems to me baseball would join the same boat, all while making the game itself more balanced competitive enterprise.

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  11. BooleanSyntaxBear says:

    I’d be curious to see how “traditional rivalry” games affect total MLB revenue. Is a Yankees/RedSox game more valuable to baseball than, say, Yankees/Tigers or RedSox/Rangers?

    Or does it simply shift the revenue from the Tigers, Rangers, et.al. to the Yankees and Sox?

    If it’s the former, there’s a legitimate reason for keeping an unbalanced schedule and preserving those rivalries. It wouldn’t necessarily have to involve the traditional divisional format, but if Sox/Yankees, Cubs/Cardinals, Dodgers/Giants, Tigers/WhiteSox generate more revenue for baseball, there’s a good argument to be made that it protects the health of baseball in the long run.

    Perhaps give each team a Rival which is evaluated and possibly changed from year to year (every 3 years? 5?), which results in an unbalanced schedule. To compensate for the necessarily resultant imbalance, use the interleague schedule keep things even.

    For example, let’s say the White Sox have to play the Tigers 6 extra times next year, and the Tigers finish 10 games over .500, but the Sox finish 10 games under. To balance things out, the Tigers have to play a commensurately tougher interleague schedule, while the White Sox can play an easier one.

    Rivalries are preserved, yet schedules are reasonably balanced.

    Thoughts?

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    • Sox2727 says:

      I think it’s an interesting idea. I’ve often wondered if they would adopt an NFL style schedule with interleague. 1st place teams play each other, 2nd place teams play each other etc.

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  12. Telo says:

    As a baseball fan, I completely agree with Dave. It’d be a great change. So let’s move to the real economic and logistical negatives that he presents.

    I’d argue that while Dave explains these perfectly, in actuality these aren’t huge issues compared what currently exists in the realm of travel inequity. There are already long road trips to the west coast for east coast teams, and vice versa, now there would be a few more. And with creative scheduling the actual flight time increase wouldn’t be that bad at all.

    I don’t have the time right now to draw out the scenarios, but here’s a real quick and dirty:

    -140 intraleague games (this means adding an interleague series)

    -3 series at each other team in the league (3/3/4) – 45 series total

    Currently you play 5 series against your division. That’s 25 out of your 46 intraleague series. Under the current setup you’d play 12.

    So, you’re going from 25/46 divisional or easy/close travel series 12/45, for a difference of 13 EXTRA series that would be longer travel than usual.

    Clump a few of those longer road trips together and you are really looking 4-7 longer flights than you normally take. Now, this is not including the revenue issue, but just something to think about.

    It’s not that drastic of a change! I like it a lot.

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    • Telo says:

      Well I did the math with 16 teams cause I was in a rush but you get it. Numbers changed below, could still be wrong, gotta go………

      ~~~~~

      -140 intraleague games (this means adding an interleague series)

      -3 series at each other team in the league (3/3/4) – 42 series total

      Currently you play 5 series against your division. That’s 25 out of your 43 intraleague series. Under the current setup you’d play 12.

      So, you’re going from 25/43 divisional or easy/close travel series 12/42, for a difference of 13 EXTRA series that would be longer travel than usual.

      Clump a few of those longer road trips together and you are really looking 4-7 longer flights than you normally take. Now, this is not including the revenue issue, but just something to think about.

      It’s not that drastic of a change! I like it a lot.

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  13. Xeifrank says:

    One thing I always thought odd about the NFL scheduling is their template of having the first place teams face more difficult teams than last place teams. Nobody seems to complain about that in football too much.

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  14. Mike says:

    RE: #1&2 – Just keep an the current unbalanced schedule that lets teams stay in their own time zone more often. All 30 clubs are MLB teams. I just don’t think an unbalanced schedule is as big of a deal as everyone thinks. An unbalanced schedule matters more for a shorter season (such as a 16 game NLF season). The long MLB season already discourages fluke-y outcomes. This is still a lot more fair than the current arrangement (four & six team divisions; AL bEAST).

    RE: #3 – Who cares? Dave said so himself but I don’t even think it’s even worth mentioning. I don’t care at all if very rich athletes spend a few extra hours on a private plane.

    Also, which NL team would move to the AL? How would that be determined?

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  15. VivaAyala says:

    Good article. I think that the problem Dave points out, while significant, don’t outweigh the advantages that the proposed plans has over the status quo (at least in terms of fairness).

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  16. George says:

    5 game series would mitigate the travel problem.

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  17. Professional Sports Leagues in 2011 says:

    I like the movement, but it doesn’t go far enough. I’m all for adding playoff teams, but 5 per league is not enough. The NFL has shown us that 6 is perfect for approximately 30 teams. The NBA playoffs are overcrowded with 8 per side, and every year playoff teams sit at home in MLB since only 4 make it. Really, what was the difference between the Braves & Padres last year? With 6 on each side, you have the best two with a first-round bye after the season is over (reward for regular season includes the chance to set up rotation). Worst division winner & 3 wild cards (3 vs. 6, 4 vs. 5) start a series the Monday after the season ends (season would go back to ending on a Sunday). Three game set, next round starts Friday (hey, kinda like now!) and proceed like the playoffs as we know it. The logic behind the quick turnaround is to reward the best two teams again, while the strong finish to a lengthy season would be required for the last 4 in. Hopefully, this takes care of the people who prefer less playoff teams. And since they do actually make the playoffs, all the revenue-concerned are also satisfied.

    As for division realignment, common sense dictates 6 divisions of 5 teams. Color me revolutionary, but I have no problem with that. And since I’m not allergic to interleague play, I have no problem with that either. It really wouldn’t be that complicated to come up with a balanced schedule for all with the numbers so well lined up. A starting point is to once again follow the NFL’s weighting of their schedule and go with 18 divisional games per rival (9 home, 9 away each for 72 total), 6 games each with the rest of your league (3 home, 3 away, totaling 60 games), and 30 interleague games, all with one of the other league’s three divisions (3 home, 3 away for 5 teams, or the last 30 games!), which would rotate annually so you’d play each division once every three years.

    So there you have it, balanced schedule, balanced divisions, balanced regular season, balanced playoffs. I sincerely hope someone in charge is reading, because interleague play is not evil, and going up to 30 games from what it is now is not that big of a deal. Perhaps rare matchups would have more meaning for fans if, you know, they actually played each other, ever, kinda like, you know, the Red Sox & Yankees, who play each other…ALL THE TIME!

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  18. TanGeng says:

    Looking at the geographical distribution of teams:

    On the east coast + Toronto, there are 10 teams. This is the East.
    West of the Rockies, there are 8 teams. This is the West.
    In the middle there are 12 teams. These are the Central.

    It’s natural to get 10/10/10 in one way or another with the the current 30 teams. Two of the central teams have to play in the west. Presumably the 2 Texas teams could play on the West. If MLB expands by 2 more teams then there could be 4 groups of 8.

    I don’t like long post-seasons. It’s too tiring. Oh and if they could emphasize the divisional races more that would be nice. Give the divisional winning team a substantially large cash prize (8 million? to be split among the players and organization) or something would be intriguing.

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  19. Small Sample Goodness says:

    #1 can be offset, at least partially, by doing things that could increase viewership and grow the fanbase as a whole.

    Dump the archaic, asinine blackout restrictions that prevent people from watching games, they’re completely unnecessary. This is especially true for people that are dumping expensive cable services with MLB.tv being worthless in-market. Want me to watch games? LET ME WATCH THE @#$%#@% GAMES!

    Quit crapping on people that actually want to share the exciting and interesting things that happen in the game. Youtube can be a GOOD thing, quit yanking anything and everything MLB related off of there. All they’re accomplishing is stifling growth.

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  20. Scott says:

    3 divisions of 10 would work great for geographical reasons.

    W: SEA, SF, OAK, LAA, LAD, SD AZ, COL, TEX, HOU
    C: MN, MIL CHC, CHW, KC, STL, DET, TOR, CLE, CIN
    E; NYY, NYM, BOS, PHI, PIT, BAL, WSH, ATL, FLO, TB

    There’s alot of natural rivals there and ones that would grow over time. 8 team playoffs remain. Top 2 in each division, then next best 2. Seed them. And play it out.

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    • Chair says:

      This would get rid of the NL and AL which I love, however what then for the schedules?

      I suppose you could play 10 of the 20 teams outside of your division at home one year and on the road the next, that’s 80 games, then play the other 9 teams in your own division 9 total times (or three series, two at home one on the road one year, two on the road one at home the next year) that’s 81 games more games, 1 short of the 162 current total. Add one 4 game series to the mix or just scrap that one game.

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      • Chair says:

        redo

        The problem is that in order to play each team in the league 3 time at home and 3 times away that would require an 174 game schedule.

        I’ve seen it argued that should 2 teams be retracted it would turn into the current 162 game schedule. That however seems very unlikely.

        Here is how it could be done

        Against all 9 teams in your division play two 4 game series (one home/one road)= 72 games

        Against 10 of the out of division teams play two 2 game series (one at home/one on road)

        Against the other 10 of the out of division teams play one 3 game series and one 2 game series. Five of the 3 game series at home 5 on the road.

        To make the 2 game road series less annoying, play them in conjunction with a 3 game road series that’s nearby. For example play the Cubs three times then the White Sox twice then move on, same for the Florida Clubs, the New York clubs etc, basically all the current inter-league “rivals”.

        Some would say that it would be unfair to play that extra 5th game against teams outside of your division because they would not be the same for each team, but at the end of the day that’s just 10 extra games and not as bad as the current interleague format. Overall it’s a much more balanced schedule.

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      • Chair says:

        For an example

        Dodgers play SEA, SF, OAK, LAA, LAD, SD AZ, COL, TEX, and HOU 8 total games

        TB 4 games FL 5 games

        NYM 4 games NYY 5 games

        BOS 4 games PHI 5 games

        CIN 4 games CLE 5 games

        MIL 4 games MIN 5 games

        BAL 4 games WAS 5 games

        KC 4 games STL 5 games

        CHC 4 games CHW 5 games

        DET 4 games TOR 5 games

        ATL 4 games PIT 5 games

        It would alternate year to year. I don’t love it, because it has the potential to be unfair, but its close to an equal 162 game schedule.

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    • Chair says:

      Or course the biggest problem with that is the concentration of high budget teams on the east coast….which is one of the current problems

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  21. michael bourne says:

    I think the NFL playoffs are ideal. Let six in with two wildcards per league. Now we just need two mlb expansion teams.

    I feel the current extreme difficulty to reach the playoffs is the weakness of baseball popularity. The AL wildcard helps Boston and Nyy mostly, but only one of those two seems a lock for the playoffs, not both. Other Al east only need to beat one of the two and all other AL teams.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      I agree. The unfairness of the 4 team AL West and 6 team NL Central has never been that big of a deal to me because that’s assuming the teams are equal If the Central has 4 shitty teams then their better teams look a lot better than they really are (Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Cincinnati this year). Add a team in like Vegas or Portland and another in New Jersey.

      Something I think baseball should REALLY consider that would help curb the New York City money advantage is to add another team close to or in the market.

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      • kev says:

        NY loyalties are deeply entrenched, I just cannot see a NJ or another NY team attracting fans. Especially with Philly, DC, and Baltimore all nearby. If two new teams are created, I personally like the idea of Charlotte and San Antonio. Oklahoma City, or Mexico City are other possibilities.

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    • GiantHusker says:

      With 2 expansion teams chosen partly with geography in mind, the teams could be reorganized into 4 leagues or divisions fairly neatly, West, Midwest, Northeast and South. Every team could play every other team every year and still play substantially more games within their league/division. The 4 league/division winners and the teams with the next 4 best records, regardless of league/division, could make the playoffs.
      Advantages are obvious:
      1. Maintain, and even enhance, regional rivalries (e.g. all 5 California teams in the same league/division).
      2. Fans in every ML city would get to see their favorite teams play there for at least one series in every 2 years (e.g. the Yankess would come to Cincinnati every other year for a 3-game series).
      3. Every team would have an almost-equal chance of making the playoffs, even if they are stuck in the toughest league/division (e.g. the team with the 3rd-best record would always make the playoffs).
      4. Travel and out-of-time-zone games would be reduced.

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  22. Rick says:

    Getting rid of the customized interleague schedule would be a huge help. Stop forcing the geographical series and just have a home and away that rotates division each year.

    vs Division: 12 games (48)
    vs Other Divisions in league: 8 games (80)
    vs Interleague Division: 6 games (30)

    That’s 158. It’s a good number. If the 162 number is sacroscant, add in a 13th divisional game.

    As for the there always being an interleague series going on, I think that’s a good thing. You can always have that game highlighted, keeping a running AL vs. NL count going etc. Make a thing of it.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Chair says:

      But why not just eliminate the NL and AL?

      I like your scenario though.

      Also imagine how cool the allstar game would be if it were no longer ALvsNL. It could be different every year, a real entertaining circus event.

      Veterans vs young guys

      US vs international

      lefties vs righties

      they could have a mini draft to determine the teams

      stuff like that

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        like what the NHL does? I love that. I’ve always thought a team of the best statistical pitchers w/ the worst statistical hitters vs a team of the worst statistical pitchers w/ the best statistical hitters would be fun.

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      • kick me in the GO NATS says:

        better pitching team wins 70% of those, I’ll bet, because the bad hitters tend to be good fielders and visa versa. Good pitching and defense shuts down good hitting most of the time. bad pitching walks bad batters quite often. The all star game would have shut outs one out of three years for the good pitching teams, and would be long as 8-10 guys of the bad hitting guys would walk.

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  23. FFFFan says:

    The improved fairness is a key argument in favor of eliminating the divisions. I would speculate that an even more fundamental positive of this format could be a general improvement in AL Baseball.

    I think the competitiveness of the AL East is rooted in George Steinbrenner’s ruthless drive to win. To compete for playoff spots, the Red Sox, Rays, Jays, and O’s had to work harder. By removing the divisional firewalls, all AL teams will have to work harder to get in. I think this could improve AL baseball overall. Just a theory.

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  24. Iceman11 says:

    It would be good for all of the teams in the Central division to have more games with NewYork and Boston. Nineteen games a year with KC and Cleveland (no offense) is not good for the turnstiles. There is no “rivalry” between those teams and Chicago or Minny.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bascinator says:

      Disagree. Indians fans HATE the White Sox more than any team in the AL Central. The Sox beat us out for the division crown in 2000 and 2005. Maybe it’s a one-sided rivalry, but it exists on Cleveland’s end.

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  25. Antonio Bananas says:

    How about they completely change everything? You divide it up into 3 Leagues, East, Central, West, 10 in each. The League winners are the top 3 playoff seeds and then the other 7 spots are all wild card. No ridiculous travel and it’s fair. 10 playoff spots like what’s proposed because I love it. Maybe the NL East and AL East make up the East, the NL and AL Central make up the Central except the Astros who move to the West with the NL and AL West teams.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Antonio Bananas says:

      If you’re worried about different time zones not getting enough exposure, why not go North and South Leagues with East, Central, and West Divisions?

      North League East Division: Toronto, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies.

      That alone, only allowing 2 teams from each division would mean one of Philly/New York/Boston misses the playoffs. Which is a good thing.

      South League East Division: Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta, Florida, Tampa, kinda top heavy at the moment but the others will come.

      North League Central: Milwaukee, Cubs, ChiSox, Tigers, Twins

      south League central: Cleveland, cincy, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Kansas City

      north League West: Seattle, San Francisco, Rockies, Oakland, Anaheim

      South League West: Rangers, Astros, D’Backs, Padres, Dodgers.

      Or have it just 6 divisions, one league, 4 wild cards. Lots and lots of different ways you could do this.

      Of course, because Bud selig is dumb, he wants baseball to continue to be regional where the only time world series ratings are decent is when it involves a large market club. So nothing will come along to hinder the Yanks, Sox, or Phillies. He’ll “help” the Royals by having them play the Yankees.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  26. GoGiants says:

    Perhaps to get rid of the timezone issue they could have divisions in the way that the nba does, where your division does not affect your making the playoffs or not, but can still dictate your schedule. It may not be completely fair, in that toronto/baltimore would still be playing more games against new york and boston, but three teams in a division would still be able to potentially make the playoffs, allowing each division winner to make the playoffs with two wild cards.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  27. Brian Grant says:

    3 Divisions of 5 teams that CHANGE every season based on how you finished the previous year..East Division/Mid-West Division and West Division..all with the DH. The top 5 Teams from both Division go into one Division the next season..into the AL divisions

    Based on the 2010 finish, the 2011 divisions would look like this
    AL EAST..Bos,NYY,TB,Philly,ATL
    AL MID-WEST Minny,Cincy,STL WSox,Det
    AL WEST Tex,SF, SD, Col,Oak
    NL EAST Tor,Balt,Flor,Mets,Wash
    NL MIDWEST Clev,KC,Cubs,Pitt,Milw
    NL WEST Angles,Sea,Dodgers,Az, Hou

    There will be 3 division winners and one wild card team. The following season, the divisions would be changed based on the 2011 finish..thus allowing teams to move around and play other markets and ‘escape’ the dominant teams and increase attendance..

    Also, in favor of some kind of balanced schedule..

    Thoughts?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Would never get over in the US. Also, you want a team who works hard to win a lot of games to change division and have a harder schedule logistically because of it?

      It’s a bad idea. The roaming divisions idea complicates things.

      How about to stop teams from getting too dominant….you punish bad teams and restrict teams with a huge advantage. You make them publish their books. If they want public money to build stadiums, show us where the money goes Mr. Pittsburgh Pirates owner. If you aren’t putting the money to good use, you lose your team or the team gets demoted. If you are the Yankees or anyone, you have a salary cap. there is also a salary floor.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  28. Steve0 says:

    It would be a much larger structural change (due to the AL DH rule), but in order to cut down on travel they could have 15 East teams and 15 West teams. The cross country travel could be packed into an long interleague road trip for each team. It would also prevent the World Series (for the most part, depending on how the current Central/West teams in the middle of the country shake out) from being a regional-only affair.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  29. Bpdelia says:

    I like it. Tradition? What about those of us who remember and prefer the first 90 years of two leagues? West coast start times is an issue as is lost revenue from fewer nyy bos prime time games.

    As for interleague it’s, time to only have interleague once every three years.

    Yes schedule will be more.complex but its surmountablr.

    The increased fairness and increase in teams with a chance outweighs those concerns.

    One thing though there would need to b a better reward for winning the league.

    I say first place teams get 5 of,7 at home in first round.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  30. Peter Gammons says:

    I have no idea what this article is talking about. The Red Sox are, and have always been, a plucky group of small market overachievers trying to compete in the looming shadow of the Evil Empire.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  31. Andy R says:

    Why not just blow the whole thing up completely? Contract Oakland and Tampa Bay, put the 28 teams in one table, 6 games against each team, 162 total, top 12 make the postseason. Wow, I just woke up- you wouldn’t believe the nightmare I just had…

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  32. The Iron Horse says:

    I am not sure why most of you even watch baseball. Like I really don’t get it, but I know it isn’t the same reason I watch baseball.

    I watch baseball to see the continuation of a story that started in 1903. I have read all the history of that story and I like following what happens the next year.

    For those of you who have no idea about how the story goes, there are these 2 separate leagues that each crown a Pennant winner at the end of the season. Then, the 2 best teams from each league battle it out to see who is the best.

    Obviously, because of expansion, you couldn’t just have 1 team in each league make the playoffs. However, because the odds of winning any 7 games in baseball is so close between the 2 teams, the more teams you add to the playoffs, the better chance a weaker team wins the World Series. The goal is to have the best teams playing in the World Series.

    After the World Series is over, then a chapter is complete. The next season starts a new chapter. I watch baseball to see how my favorite team does the next season.

    I have no idea why some of you watch baseball. Obviously the history of the game has no affect on you or you wouldn’t want there to be no AL and NL. You obviously don’t watch to see who the best team is, or you wouldn’t want to expand the playoffs.

    I do know why I watch baseball. And I also know that most (not all) of the suggestions in the OP and comments that followed directly try to destroy what makes baseball great: its History. And for that reason, I am opposed to what you suggest.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Antonio Bananas says:

      I’ve before shown that the difference between a 90 win team and a 98 win team isn’t much. Due to the streaky, variable filled nature of baseball, pretty much all playoff teams are on the same level. Using their win % the difference between the amount of wins a 98 win team and a 90 win average over any length of 19 games is just 1 game. Over any 19 game stretch a 98 win team wins just one more game. So who cares if the wild card team wins the WS. Doesn’t mean an “undeserving” team won. Maybe they had injury problems, maybe they had bad luck in facing other teams best starting pitchers. Maybe they had bad luck and faced a lot of teams that were hot.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Not only that but if you’re point is to make sure the team with the best record wins the World Series because you have some bogus belief that that’s the “best team” then why not just have everyone play everyone equally, ending in no playoffs and the team with the best record wins?

        This is about keeping baseball healthy. More playoff teams with the structure of a wild card round makes the regular season mean for for teams in a divison race and for more teams who are in the hunt.

        There is no logical business or competition-based argument against this. 10 teams isn’t that much, it’s still less than any of the other big sports.

        I’d like to see someone do a least significant difference test with teams win percentages over the course of 20 games to see if there has been any real difference between playoff teams. I doubt there is.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • The Iron Horse says:

        My reply to your post is posted below. Clearly, I am not an everyday FanGraphs user.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  33. toddrcompton says:

    Dr. Thompson’s ideas…

    http://www.tinyurl.com/BaseballOnlyBetter

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  34. The Iron Horse says:

    If we extend your logic, everyone should be in the playoffs. There’s no point for a regular season. If injuries can account for the 1 game difference, then injuries may just account for a 20 game difference as well. There’s always an excuse for not finishing first.

    This is not about making baseball healthy. That’s a false presupposition because the game is actually healthier than ever. Baseball is making more money now than it ever has in the past. So making any changes has nothing to do with the health of the game.

    Anytime any playoff team is added, it makes the regular season less important. The whole point behind the 162 game schedule is to find out which teams performed the best (you can’t control injuries and they happen). If more teams will make the playoffs, then they’re really just fighting for positioning, which isn’t very exciting at all.

    If you read some history about the sport, you will discover that they tried the idea of just having the bext record be the winner. It wasn’t very exciting. However, they got lucky because a rival league started up. And since the league was a rival league, it crowned a champion the same way, by having the team with the best record win it. Pretty quickly, the public demanded a series of games between the 2 champions to decide who was the ultimate champion….a World’s Series. This idea was so successful, that every sports league since has copied its model.

    Obviously, you have to let more than 1 team in each league into the playoffs. If not, then too many fans lose interest in the season. However, you can’t let too many teams into the playoffs or you will devalue the regular season by making win-loss records meaningless (something you have already supported with your above post). There needs to be a balance.

    Baseball actually struck that balance with this current playoff system. All the teams that are close in win-loss records now make the playoffs and battle it out. However, there is a significant difference in the win-loss record between the 4th best team and the 5th best team. Letting in 5 teams begins the process of ruining that balance.

    Baseball owners will destroy as much as they can to squeeze out that last dollar. However, the radical realignment is the more disturbing thing because it changes the fundamental point of baseball: to have the best team (or “luckiest team” to some of you) in the AL play the best team in the NL.

    I actually love baseball. And those ideas try to ruin what it is that I love about it. Continuity is a huge reason baseball is as popular and successful as it is and radical realignment ruins that.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      “If we extend your logic we should let every team in” actually no. My logic is about making the regular season more meaningful for more teams and make the division races more meaningful. This hasty “well let’s just let everyone in” makes the regular season totally irrelevant and less meaningful for everyone. With 5 teams, more teams are fighting for that last spot and the division races mean more because you get a bonus.

      “The injuries may account for 1 game difference then they can account for 20″. Not really, you see, there’s this statistical thing that everyone (not just baseball) uses call confidence intervals, variance, and least significant difference that you can use to show which teams are statistically better than another. If 2 teams are 4 games apart, the chances of them being that statistically different are slim. Teams 20 games apart, chances are you’ll see that they aren’t statistically similar in their winning. Not only that, but I didn’t just say “injuries” some teams face hot teams more often than others, some teams get lucky a lot, etc. You can’t just say “well than the Pirates could make an argument to be in the playoffs” because you use statistical measures to find statistical difference. Variance, confidence intervals, leaast significant difference. Things companies use to find out if they should install machine A to increase productivity over machine B. It’s not that crazy of an idea.

      “Baseball is healthier than ever” in an ultimate, absolute value kind of way yes. In a relevant way, no it sure as hell isn’t. How is a World Series game having less ratings than a regular season football game “healthier than ever”?

      “Anytime you add a playoff spot you make the regular season less meanigful, they’re fighting for position”. How is that less meaningful? Let’s say all 30 teams have a million fans. You let 2 in, maybe 5 are in the race, 5 million fans care. you let 10 in, maybe 13 are in the race, 13 million fans are interested. You can’t say “let everyone in by your logic” because at some point, fans won’t care because the regular season is meaningless. Letting just 1/3 of the teams in, with the very tops getting an advantage makes both the division races, and the last playoff spots more meaningful and interesting and more interesting for more teams. If I can use your ridiculous slippery slope ideology, if letting more teams in makes the regular season less meaningful, then would letting in less make it more meaningful? If that’s the case, just let 1 team in, and that’s your champion. See how crazy it sounds to use your logic “well by your suggestion let’s just do something you didn’t suggest”.

      I know the history of baseball. If you want to be a traditionalist, let’s not allow anyone who isn’t white play. Baseball changes, times change, get over it. There are 30 teams, some with a huge advantage over the others, rules need to be changed once in a while.

      I agree, the current system is great. However, it devalues the division race. Who cared that the Rays won the east last year? Nobody, there is no advantage to winning your division. In a 5 game series home field doesn’t matter much. With 2 wild card teams, then it would matter because the yankees would have faced the Sox in a (presumably) short series.

      The 3 division winners and 2 wild card is the absolute best idea. the 3 teams that fought hard to win the division are rewarded. The teams that survived and won the 2 wild card spots get rewarded but not as much.

      With so many teams in baseball and, as I said, so many with advantages and disadvantages, a stair-step type of reward system is beautiful. It’s rewarding to even make the playoffs, it’s even more rewarding (not under the current rules, but under the new rules) to win the division, even more rewarding to make it to the LCS, even more rewarding to make it to the World Series, and the ultimate reward to win the world series.

      Nothing is devalued by adding one more team. Division titles mean more and that one more spot means a few more teams have meaningful septembers.

      One final note, I’ll restate my stance on “well you’ll get fluke champions”. What is the difference between a 98 and 88 win team? It’s 10 wins, which is about 1.5 more wins per month. The difference isn’t that much. If I have time, I’m going to do a least significant difference study with teams to show you fools that just because a wild card team wins the World Series doesn’t mean they aren’t deserving.

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  35. Ben says:

    i think your point about hte blue jays and the rays could easily be construed the other way. if we get rid of divisions and just allow the top 5 teams from each league into the playoffs, imagine the huge disadvantage to all the central and west coast teams. it would basically be yanks, redsox, and rays, plus the blue jays are looking like they will be a strong team in the coming years, leaving only ONE team from teh central or west. i like divisions because it eliminates any possibility of a coastal bias.

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  36. Kevin says:

    If divisions go away and balanced schedules are in, why not just play a completely balanced schedule with all 30 MLB teams? Still line up the best five records on each (AL / NL) side for playoffs, but play all teams each year. Very fair. No more travel than current schedule. Takes the Yankee dominance situation out of the equation. Get to see everyone. Creates new REAL rivalries which are now not possible (Twins/Brewers, O’s/Nats, Angels/Dodgers, A’s/Giants).

    Next thing will be to balance payrolls with one of those cap things…

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  37. Andy says:

    After skimming all the posts, I’m surprised no one has mentioned introducing a salary cap. I’m all for the 15/15/5 due to fairness, but I think the Yankees payroll and their ridiculous seat prices are truly unfair.

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  38. Hollie says:

    Your articles are for when it absolutely, positively, needs to be understood ovenihrgt.

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  39. Thanks for any other great article. Where else may anybody get that type of information in such an ideal method of writing? I have a presentation subsequent week, and I’m at the search for such info.

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