How Would Realignment Affect Playoff Races?

Over the weekend Buster Olney reported that Major League Baseball and the players’ union discussed a possible plan for realignment. The plan would move the Houston Astros, or possibly the Florida Marlins, to the AL so that both leagues would have 15 teams; eliminate the three divisions within each league; have the top-five teams from each league go to the playoffs; and require an inter-league game every day (because of the odd number of teams in each league). There is lots to consider with such a realignment — fairness, logistics, etc. — but I wanted to look at a single aspect: how will this plan would affect the number of competitive playoff races at the end of the season?

With the top-five teams in each league making the playoffs, instead of three division leaders and a wild card, the playoff picture would change. Would this mean more or fewer competitive races at the end of the regular season? To quantify this I counted the number of playoff teams that wouldn’t have made the playoff if they had won three fewer games, and then counted the number of non-playoff teams that would have made the playoffs if they had won three more games. Though not perfect, I think this is a good proxy for the “end-of-season” excitement. I counted this number under the current alignment and under the realigned leagues.

Here, as an example, is the AL from last year. Teams in italics made the playoffs and bolded teams met my “competitve-race” criterion.

AL East AL Central AL West
Tampa Bay Rays 96 Minnesota Twins 94 Texas Rangers 90
New York Yankees 95 Chicago White Sox 88 Oakland Athletics 81
Boston Red Sox 89 Detroit Tigers 81 Los Angeles Angels 80
Toronto Blue Jays 85 Cleveland Indians 69 Seattle Mariners 61
Baltimore Orioles 66 Kansas City Royals 67

In this case I get zero competitive teams. If either the Rays or Yankees won three fewer games they still would have made the playoffs since the Wild Card saves them. Here are the same wins under the realigned system, with the Astros included.

Tampa Bay Rays 96
New York Yankees 95
Minnesota Twins 94
Texas Rangers 90
Boston Red Sox 89
Chicago White Sox 88
Toronto Blue Jays 85
Oakland Athletics 81
Detroit Tigers 81
Los Angeles Angels 80
Houston Astros 76
Cleveland Indians 69
Baltimore Orioles 66
Kansas City Royals 67
Seattle Mariners 61

Under the new system the same four teams would have made the playoffs, but they would have been joined by the Red Sox. Here, though, there are now three teams that meet my competitive-race criterion. Three fewer wins for the Rangers or Red Sox pushes them out of the playoffs and three more from the White Sox puts them in.

Doing the same for all the years back to 1995:

Year AL Current AL Realigned NL Current NL Realigned
1995 3 4 3 2
1996 4 5 3 0
1997 0 3 2 0
1998 2 4 3 0
1999 0 0 3 0
2000 5 2 0 3
2001 0 0 3 0
2002 0 3 2 0
2003 3 2 2 6
2004 3 5 4 3
2005 2 3 3 5
2006 0 3 6 2
2007 0 2 7 2
2008 2 5 5 3
2009 2 5 0 3
2010 0 3 3 0
Average 1.63 3.06 3.25 2.13

Over the past 15 years this new system would have made the AL almost twice as competitive and the NL about a third less competitive. Overall an extra 0.3 teams would be in a competitive race per year. So the realignment would have slightly, but not drastically, increased the number of teams in the playoff hunt. Although it would change which teams were in the hunt, the new system would make it easier for teams from good division, e.g. the AL East, to make the playoffs.



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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.


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mettle
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mettle
4 years 11 months ago

if it’s easy to do (which I’m guessing it is), it’d be interesting/useful to see if the results are essentially the same, or different, when close = 2, 4 or 5 GB.

bonestock94
Member
bonestock94
4 years 11 months ago

This is overwhelming, not sure what to think. I’d like to see teams in great divisions get a shot and bad teams in weak divisions just not make it. I’m not crazy about daily interleague play though.

William
Member
William
4 years 11 months ago

wouldn’t the rangers not make the playoffs if they won three fewer games ( 90 – 87, chicago had 88)

Ryan
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Ryan
4 years 11 months ago

This seems like a stretch. Teams would have very different schedules under the new realignment (no unbalanced schedules, different format for interleague). Your anaylsis seems to suggest that this new scheduling format would have the same outcomes. I don’t think we can assume that.

Telo
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Telo
4 years 11 months ago

One of the key points is that it devalues the wildcard, which I think is a good thing. Anything to keep emphasis on the regular season is at least a step in the right direction. Even if it creates a crapchute of a situation between the 4/5 teams… maybe that’s what they deserve.

The 162 needs to have more weight, and the division system actually hurts that (IE when a WC team has a better record than a division winner, plus schedule unfairness with strong divisions.)

I like this setup a lot. Reward the three best teams in each league. Give the next two best teams a diceroll to get into the playoffs. It’s actually closer to the old setup than people realize, where there was only one round of playoffs then the WS.

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
4 years 11 months ago

Well what about the expanded wild card with the current format? Wouldn’t that do the same thing? Maybe the problem isn’t the current alignment, but the current playoff format. 5 teams from each is just a better situation because it makes division winners mean more and wild card teams have a harder road. Realignment or not, 5 teams in each league is the best way to go in the playoffs.

RC
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RC
4 years 11 months ago

Most of the time, the wildcard is the 2nd best team in the league. Why do we want to give them a hard time, while giving an 89 game winner from a shitty division an easier time?

I want the best teams around playing in each round of the playoffs. The division system is in direct opposition to this.

Ryan
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Ryan
4 years 11 months ago

To really figure this out you’d have to compute it using a balanced schedule and each teams win % against the others holds. For example if the Angels won 4 of 6 from the Tigers, then we can hypothesize they would win 8 of 12 under the new format. If the Angels won 11 of 18 from Texas that we would credit them with 7.3 wins ((11/18)*12). This would be the only way to get a somewhat accurate win total.

Dash
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Dash
4 years 11 months ago

Due to the variability of players throughout the season, you can’t just assume that all of the games would work out to the same percentages of wins and losses. Aside from that, you have victories and defeats that defy normally expected results (such as abnormal LOB-rate, BABIP, etc.). You might also have different effects in those games that were actually played because the schedule would have been different and thus there would have been different circumstances surrounding those games (previous opponents, time, etc.). The only real way to handle this that would be any better than what Dave did would be through many simulations of the entire schedule for each league.

minute
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minute
4 years 11 months ago

If you think the blue jays/red sox wouldn’t have done better without an AL-EAST heavy schedule, and that the AL CENTRAL/WEST teams wouldn’t have done worse, you’re out of your mind.

Big Jgke
Member
Big Jgke
4 years 11 months ago

The Jays would be huge huge winners in this scenario. As would the Rays.

supgreg
Member
supgreg
4 years 11 months ago

The problem with just adding up last season’s wins, is that with the new structure, the schedule would be completely different. The White Sox would have played more games against the better former East teams, while the Blue Jays would play more vs the worse Central and West teams.

Dash
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Dash
4 years 11 months ago

The White Sox would have also played more games against inferior AL East and AL West teams. We can’t just apply a penalty to all non-AL East teams and assume that we’re correct.

Sox2727
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Sox2727
4 years 11 months ago

So the White Sox would’ve automatically done worse by playing more games against the AL East? Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t the White Sox go 7-1 against the Red Sox last year and 13-2 going back to 2009? Just because you’re playing more games against the big bad AL East doesn’t mean you’re going to have more losses automatically.

Baron Samedi
Member
Baron Samedi
4 years 11 months ago

No, but more often than not, the White Sox would have done worse playing AL East teams over that historical period than AL West teams who are, by and large, inferior to their AL East counterparts.

Phegan
Member
Phegan
4 years 11 months ago

This is very similar to the plan that I wanted to see.

I like the idea of bringing 15 teams per division and having interleague spread throughout the season, like other sports.

The only thing I would do differently is go to East and West, and the top 2 teams in each division make the playoffs, no 5th team. The first place team in the East plays the second place team in the West, and First in the West plays Second in the West.

I really don’t like the logistics of a 1 game playoff between two teams. I think MLB should stick with 8 teams, there is no reason to expand. The only way that makes more sense it to go with 16, but that is way to many, and baseball will go into December as a result.

So to summarize:
Realign to East/West, 15 teams per league, interleague spread through season, 4 teams in play offs, top 2 in each division.

chel
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chel
4 years 11 months ago

this way you have 2 quick problems:

15 teams per league that you want to divide east/west. 7,5 teams to each coast?

in the AL East you have 8 or 7 teams (including the yankees and the redsox) and only two can advance to the playoff. you are putting more teams in the situation of the bluejays and orioles, and i believe that’s part of what we are trying to fix

OKGOJAYS
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OKGOJAYS
4 years 11 months ago

Don’t forget that getting rid of the divisions would also balance the schedule and could change the standings as well. The realigned table potentially being really wrong. If the schedule was balanced and you played each team in your division 10 times with 22 interleague games last years standing would have looked like this. (for this calculation I assumed 11games/team in AL and 10 in NL with 22interleague games and adjusted the numbers accordingly)
Example calculation BLUE JAYS WINS = (162/165)*[(44*EWin%)+(55*CWin%)+(44*WWin%)+(22*NLWin%) = 84games (rounded down)

AL Team Name (Projected wins and change from actual)
New York Yankees 98 +3
Tampa Bay Rays 97 +1
Chicago White Sox 91 +3
Minnesota Twins 89 -5
Texas Rangers 89 -1
Boston Red Sox 88 -1
Toronto Blue Jays 84 -1
Oakland Athletics 80 -1
Detroit Tigers 79 -2
Los Angeles Angels 75 -5
Baltimore Orioles 69 +3
Kansas City Royals 68 +1
Cleveland Indians 66 -3
Seattle Mariners 63 +2

NL
Philadelphia Phillies 96 -1
San Francisco Giants 94 +2
Atlanta Braves 93 +2
San Diego Padres 91 +1
Cincinnati Reds 87 -4
St. Louis Cardinals 87 +1
Colorado Rockies 82 -1
New York Mets 81 +2
Florida Marlins 78 -2
Chicago Cubs 77 +2
Milwaukee Brewers 76 -1
Los Angeles Dodgers 75 -5
Washington Nationals 70 +1
Houston Astros 69 -7
Arizona Diamondbacks 66 +1
Pittsburgh Pirates 54 -3

Under this scenario there would be a great race for first overall in the AL with 4 teams battling for spots 3,4,5.
In the NL there would be 3 teams battling for first place overall and a tie at 5th which would be exciting as well.
If you are worried about losing the divisional title give out a title like in hockey to the top team in each league for the regular season.
To make interleague more meaningful you could also have the league with the best overall record get home field advantage and if there is a tie then use the all star game.

stratobill
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

Good job. This seems like a reasonable approach towards answering the question of whether eliminating divisions would make for more or less excitement in September. There’s room for improvement, as others have pointed out, but this is fine for a quick and dirty analysis.

Personally I would change the criteria from your addition/subtraction of 3 games and make it 7 games because it is not unusual to have teams stay in contention for five and a half monthes only to slump at the end. Last year’s
Rockies are a perfect example. As of Sep 18th they were 1 game out of first place but ended up 9 games out. So they were truly in contention until the final week of the season.

Matt Defalco
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Matt Defalco
4 years 11 months ago

You have to realize that the team’s records would and possibly could change greatly because teams like the Jays wouldn’t be playing the Yanks & Sox as often and the Royals wouldn’t be playing the tigers/twins/indians as often.

Sox2727
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Sox2727
4 years 11 months ago

One thing that hasn’t really been touched on with all this “realignment, expanded playoff jazz” is the state of the DH. If we’re going to have interleague series everyday, what will happen here? The AL teams will have to start adjusting how their rosters are comprised because of this. I think if this is the route MLB wants to go a decision has to be made either for both leagues to use the DH or not.

OKGOJAYS
Guest
OKGOJAYS
4 years 11 months ago

I disagree, even though there is an interleague game every day it is two different teams playing and we could actually end up with less interleague games with a balanced schedule. All it means is that for one series once a month or less you will have to go without a DH. I like that there is still an option for a league where pitchers hit and fat guys go before retiring.

Daniel
Member
Daniel
4 years 11 months ago

AL teams playing in a NL park can’t use a DH (or has to play the regular DH in the field), but is that scenario worse than a NL team playing in an AL park? The NL team has to bat someone at DH (most likely an inferior hitter to the AL team’s DH).

Trotter76
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Trotter76
4 years 11 months ago

Is this the long-awaited move to destroy the distinctions between the AL and NL? If it happens, it’ll be the 2nd time in my life that a team has switched leagues (Thanks a lot, Mr. Selig). Now there will be games between the leagues every day? Why do I feel that the DH is coming to NL ball soon? I guess if the NFL is king, we all have to act like the NFL.

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
4 years 11 months ago

well they have been a much better run league the past few years. Manufactured parity or not.

Izzy
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Izzy
4 years 11 months ago

How come no one is acknowleding the travel aspect of things? It’d be impossible to build a fair schedule when you’re making some teams travel thousands of miles more than others.

Chair
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Chair
4 years 11 months ago

A moer balanced schedule would be a big part of realignment too no?

JW
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JW
4 years 11 months ago

I’ve thought about realignment about a month ago thinking that Tampa Bay should probably be moved somewhere. What about 5 distinct divisions or leagues that are composed of 6 teams each? Move Tampa to San Antonio perhaps–then have a 6 team SW League of Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, San Antonio,Colorado Rockies, Kansas City, Arizona–6 team Pacific Coast League of San Diego, both LA teams, Oakland, SF Giants and Seattle. Then create a Midwest League of Minn Twins, Milw Brewers, both Chicago teams , St Louis and Detroit. Then a North East League of Toronto, Pittsburgh, Philly, New York Yankees, Boston and the NY Mets and the fifth league would be the South Central League of Cleveland, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Florida, Washington and Baltimore.
As far as playoffs go have one wild card team and have a WS tournament similar to the College WS.

roadrider
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roadrider
4 years 11 months ago

I don’t like this idea at all. No, I don’t like the current system either but for far different reasons that people in favor of this idea do. For the life of me, I cannot understand what was wrong with the 1969-1993 setup. Why baseball needed to go with this wacky three-division scheme which made an abomination like the wild-card necessary (if not at all palatable) escapes me. And if you’re questioning my characterization of the wild card as an abomination then why is there all of this activity (second wild card, 15-team no division leagues) going on trying to fix the issues caused by it?

All this proposed system does is double down on the worst aspect of the current system, namely the elimination of winner-take-all pennant races. There will be little, if any reason for the first three teams to compete at the end of the season most years (barring a 1964-style scenario -but how many times can you expect that?). All of the “meaningful” end of the season competition will be between teams fighting for the fourth or fifth playoff spot. How is this different from mediocrities from one of the weak-sister divisions we have today fighting to be an 86 or 87 win “pennant” winner. Yeah, it’s exciting for the fans of those teams but so would a lottery for last place teams to get a (real) wild-card playoff spot.

Even worse, the top teams will have every reason to try to game the system (like the Yankees did last year when they tanked the divisional race to avoid facing the Rangers and Cliff Lee in a 5-game series) to pick their playoff opponent. I don’t see the 15-team league solving this problem, in fact it’s likely to make it even worse since the league “title” will become even less meaningful than it is now.

I am not in favor of expanding the post-season. The regular season is long enough to sort out the legitimate contenders and the post-season now drags on into November. If you add more teams are you willing to accept playing the World Series at Target Field or Fenway Park in mid-November or having to accept neutral, warm-weather sites? Baseball should not try to emulate other sports in their playoff systems. I love hockey and I accept their playoff system because it’s in their tradition – when the NHL had six teams, four made the playoffs – plus they play in an indoor, climate controlled environment. But I don’t want to see baseball creep closer to an NHL-style playoff system.

Yes, some very good teams would miss the playoffs under the pre-1994 scheme but so what? That’s what made the regular season and the post-season meaningful. There’s no way to reproduce that or even approximate it either within the current scheme or by turning the regular season into a six-month long seeding process for an overlong post-season tournament.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
4 years 11 months ago

uhhh, who did it make the regular season more meaningful to? O yea, the few good teams. It made the regular season more meaningful to fewer teams and less meaningful for pretty much everyone else.

Just adding one more wild card makes the regular season mean more than any previous system. It means a lot to win the divison because you don’t have to go through the wild card round and the games in September mean a lot more to more teams because more teams are within reach. More teams will prevent division leaders from tanking it on purpose because regardless, you don’t wanna be a wild card team.

I hate it when old people say that there needs to be LESS teams in baseball. It’s downright stupid. From a competitive standpoint and an economic standpoint.

Adding a round won’t make baseball “last until mid-November” just reschedule some stuff around to make it work. Shit just start the regular season earlier, drop 2 rest days per round, etc are all easy fixes.

Another thing is, this is NOT a slippery slope into the NHL’s system. You want MLB to keep the same system they had from 1969-1993. How many teams were in baseball in 1969? 24. And 4 made it, about 17%. now we have 30 teams and 8 make it, 26%.

What you want is nostalgia. If you cut back to just 2 teams in each League, about 10 teams will fold. Which isn’t good for baseball. It’s economically stupid.

jorgath
Guest
jorgath
4 years 11 months ago

Here’s my counterproposal:

Rather than realign, expand the AL by two teams. Ideal locations IMO would be Indianapolis and Charlotte. Then go to a four-division-per-league system, with (if you insist) a wild card who will playoff with the worst division winner in the bye round. Alternatively, go to a two-division-per league system, with top two from each division in the playoffs.

Division structure:
AL East: Boston, Cleveland, New York, Toronto
AL Central: Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minnesota
AL South: Baltimore, Charlotte, Kansas City, Tampa Bay
AL West: Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, Texas
NL East: New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington
NL Central: Chicago, Colorado, Milwaulkee, St. Louis
NL South: Atlanta, Cincinatti, Florida, Houston
NL West: Arizona, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
4 years 11 months ago

Change cincy and Washington, Jesus, what are you trying to do? Phillies, Mets, Pirates, Nats? Are you a Phillies fan? Not only that but Washington is closer to “south” I think.

jorgath
Guest
jorgath
4 years 11 months ago

Actually, I’m a Nats fan. I was thinking culture — Washington is far more “East” than Cincy, and Cincy is far more “South” than Washington, culture wise.

Julian
Guest
Julian
4 years 11 months ago

Thing is, this way, the Yankees would have gotten a playoff spot pretty early anyway, and there would be pretty meaningless competition for the best team in the league.

What if you make the 3rd best team face the 6th best team, and the 4th best team face the 5th best team in each league in a play-in (or a new round)? That way there will be competition for the first 2 spots, not just spots 4 and 5.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
4 years 11 months ago

The competition is for the division winners. Having the best record in the league isn’t and shouldn’t really be that important unless everyone plays the same teams. Otherwise there’s too much variance to actually say “they had the best record, give them an advantage.”

Cidron
Member
Cidron
4 years 11 months ago

Problem with the re-alignment into two leagues/divisions, or whatever.. Alot of teams will be out of it by June, if not May. There are teams in the AL west that wouldnt sniff the playoffs as well as the AL central in that format. Not even the “division champ” (of the old divisions) would make it. It would be NY-Bos-TB-Tex every year for a good time, with the occasional Tor, ChiSox, Minn (if they right that ship), LA-A filling in slot #5. How does “Same Four Plus One” make for better. Would you want to be the owner if the league basically said “You have no chance of post season, but we do like the Yankees there”. Ok.. They can spend money like the Yankees, but that aint gonna happen with the likes of Minn, KC, Pitt, heck, even some of the “winners” are also tight with their money.

RC
Guest
RC
4 years 11 months ago

Right, but how is that any different than Toronto, Baltimore, etc, being out of it by May, like it is now?

Is it really a big deal that the 2nd team in a poor division is being eliminated rather than the 3rd or 4th team in a better division?

David
Guest
David
4 years 11 months ago

I like this proposal second to 5 divisions of 6 teams, all playing with the same damn rules. Top two teams in each division make the playoffs seeded by record.

jorgath
Guest
jorgath
4 years 11 months ago

Here’s my counterproposal:

Rather than realign, expand the AL by two teams. Ideal locations IMO would be Indianapolis and Charlotte. Then go to a four-division-per-league system, with (if you insist) a wild card who will playoff with the worst division winner in the bye round. Alternatively, go to a two-division-per league system, with top two from each division in the playoffs.

Division structure:
AL East: Boston, Cleveland, New York, Toronto
AL Central: Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minnesota
AL South: Baltimore, Charlotte, Kansas City, Tampa Bay
AL West: Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, Texas
NL East: New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington
NL Central: Chicago, Colorado, Milwaulkee, St. Louis
NL South: Atlanta, Cincinatti, Florida, Houston
NL West: Arizona, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco

Ballboy
Guest
Ballboy
4 years 11 months ago

While I agree with roadrider, if you have to do something like this jogarth’s proposal is the way to go. I think people are seriously undervaluing the division races. With the institution of the wild card, we haven’t had a division race between the top two teams in the league, since the wild card guarantees that the top two teams with the best records make the playoffs every time.

Though this would also mean no real race between the top two teams, I would add one wrinkle to jogath’s eight division proposal. That is that the wildcard (the best team not to win a division) replaces the winner of the weakest division, judged by each division’s won loss record that year. The weakest division does not send a team to the playoffs, unless the top four records happen to be owned by all four division winners. This would reduce the chance of a team with a losing regular season record making the playoffs by winning a weak division.

jorgath
Guest
jorgath
4 years 11 months ago

I could work with that, although middle-ground: Wildcard gets a one-game playoff with worst division winner, rather than the 3-game one I was initially thinking.

TrevHoff
Guest
TrevHoff
4 years 2 months ago

“Three fewer wins for the Rangers or Red Sox pushes them out of the playoffs and three more from the White Sox puts them in.”

This is wrong. The Rangers would have had to lose 9 more games to miss out on the playoffs as they went through as division winners.

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