Another Season Gone By Without Realignment

For the first time ever in the divisional era, 1 division has managed to run the table against the other two. Barring the Royals taking 3 of 4 from Tampa over the weekend, there won’t be a single team in the American League who will have put together a winning record against the AL East.

Since 2007, only 8 teams in the American league have been able to put together a winning record against the AL East, (LAA 3 times, OAK twice, TEX, DET and SEA once). This season, as things currently stand, the Central and West divisions have combined to go 149 – 198 (.429%) winning percentage against the AL East, a record comparable to the Cleveland Indians or the Washington Nationals.

What’s worse, is that the AL East will end again with the team that has either the worst, or second worst record in the American League (assuming Buck Showalter doesn’t phone it in this weekend), but looking deeper into their divisional performance, how bad exactly is the AL East’s punching bag?

(Record, Winning Percentage, % Diff from total)
2010 Orioles: Non-AL East Record (39-47*, .453, +.054), 4 games at home v. Detroit left
2009 Orioles: Non-AL East Record (40-50, .444, +.049)
2008 Orioles: Non-AL East Record (46-43, .516, +.095)

AVERAGE % Diff = +.066, or 10.7 Wins

And the 4th place Jays?

2010 Blue Jays: Non-AL East Record (43-43*, .500, -.019), 4 games in Minnesota left
2009 Blue Jays: Non-AL East Record (49-41, .544, +.081)
2008 Blue Jays: Non-AL East Record (49-41, .544, +.013)

AVERAGE % Diff = +.025, or 4 Wins

This means, on average, even the worst that the AL East has to offer, averages almost 5% points higher against non-divisional foes, or roughly 7 wins better across a 162 game season. How much are those 7 wins worth? If you’re Tampa, obviously zero since the only way to fill the ballpark there is to give away 20,000 tickets, but to a team like Seattle or Toronto (as highlighted above), the 2009 Jays managed 75 wins at 23,162 fans a game, whereas the 2008 version of 86 wins averaged 29,626. Obviously its a very rudimentary look at attendance and I’m ignoring plenty of factors, but the fact is and has always been that outside of Tampa Bay, people will inevitably jump on the bandwagons and go to see winning teams win ballgames. The point I’d like to be making here is the financial impact of regional divisional slotting, and if you take the leap with me, obviously the analysis will have a more profound impact.

For comparison purposes, lets look at the AL CENTRAL 4th and 5th place finishers

2010 Kansas City: Non-AL Central Record (36-50*, .418, +.007), 4 games at home v. Tampa left
2009 Kansas City: Non-AL Central Record (33-57, .367, -.034)
2008 Detroit: Non-AL Central Record (47-43*, .522, +.065), 13-5 in interleague games

2010 Cleveland: Non-AL Central Record (33-55, .389, -.039)
2009 Cleveland: Non-AL Central Record (33-55, .389, -.012)
2008 Kansas City: Non-AL Central Record (44-46*, .489, +.025). 13-5 in interleague games

AVERAGE % Diff = .002, or +.4 Wins

The 2008 figures are both skewed in the positive directions due to AL Central success during interleague play, getting to play the even weaker NL West in the majority of their IL games, and zero games against that division’s winner (84-78 Dodgers), so discounting those games, the result is:

AVERAGE % Diff = -.015 or -2.7 Wins

Does the AL East really cost a team 7-10 Wins a season like it has the Orioles? Probably not, there are plenty of other factors that go into a teams eventual W-L, but traditional Strength of Schedule metrics that value the winning % of your opponents, or Runs Scored/Runs Allowed Differentials often don’t capture the simple facts that your record and team stats will be positively influenced by facing the Royals 18 times a season. Who knows, maybe the 2010 Blue Jays, who lead the majors in slugging and home runs, could’ve competed this season in another division where its young pitching staff wasn’t exposed to the three highest scoring teams in the league (NY Boston Tampa) for 54 games? Under this current alignment, we can never be too sure.

On the positive, at least the divisions regionally make sense in their current form, unlike football. I’m sorry, putting Miami in the AFC EAST, Baltimore in the AFC NORTH, and Indianapolis is in the AFC SOUTH makes about as much sense as the BCS national championship formula.




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14 Responses to “Another Season Gone By Without Realignment”

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  1. CircleChange11 says:

    Thanks to the NFL, and MLB’s urge to be like them (without realizing the appeal for the NFL has nothing to do with the divisional alignment or playoffs, but violence, shorter games, shorter season, excitement, etc), we’ll never return to the 1-division or 2-divisions per league format.

    2-division per league, absent a LDS, with a balanced schedule (no interleague) would be mightly fine with me.

    One of the values over a long season is that the cream really does rise to the top, Sorry SD (stay classy), and the need for additional playoff rounds are diminished. In the NFL, the wild card team almost never makes it to the SB, because they have to play tougher nteams, on the road, and win 3 straight. That would be the baseball equivelnt of winning about 10 straight, all against tougher teams. In baseball, the wild card team has pretty decent fortunes actually.

    I like the regional aspect of the basebal divisions, but we also need to understand that our nation’s wealth and population is pretty regional as well. With no effective spending limits (ceilings or basements), we basically have mandated disparity, or fordcing teams to lose money to win games … with no guarantee that winning will bring more money. An owner would likely be better off owning the Lovable Losers, rather than the 2 time WS champion Marlins.

    I used to scoff at the idea that one of the intended side benefits of the wild card is that NY or BOS would be in the playoffs every year (instead of one of them finishing 2nd in a 2-division format) … now, I’m not so sure.

    The strength/weakness of divisions also plays into individual awards as well.

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  2. tbr says:

    And the funny thing is, the Royals came darn close to taking three out of four from the Rays – within two outs. Fun fact: The Rays had a winning record against EVERY AL team except one. They went 4-4 with the Royals.

    Question: Why write an article touting realignment without proposing your idea about what said realignment should be?

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  3. Jack says:

    Somebody has to be in the same division as the Yankees.

    So Rogers makes its money hand over fist from revenue sharing and taxes payed by the yankees instead of fans at the gate. boo f—ing hoo.

    And, I’m a jays fan.

    I wish – wish- there were no divisions, two leagues, one round of playoffs: the world series. It won’t happen, but baring that, any silly divisional expansion – realignment – exchange – is just silly. if Tampa Bay, that eternally incompetent hopeless laughing stock can climb the ladder and win the division there really isn’t a problem to worry about.

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  4. BreedenT says:

    @TBR: Obviously the glaring omission from my article is the lack of a re-alignment presentation, and I probably should’ve titled it something along the lines of “Strength of Schedules and the Financial/Standings Impacts”.

    My plain vanilla base case fix would involve moving 1 team to the AL (so you’d have 15 and 15), play every team in your league 11 times independent of divisions (14 opponents * 11 games) gets you to 154 games, leaving you 8 to leave interleague home and home rivalry games intact (junking interleague division vs. division style of play).

    From an owner standpoint, its an equitable solution as it increases the impact of each divisional head-to-head match up (theoretically driving up the value of the ticket), as well as increasing the number of visits that attendance driving teams visit non-divisional opponents (such as the Yankees to Cleveleand, Red Sox to KC, etc…). From a fan stand point, it would ALMOST equalize the strength of schedule of each team, meaning the only variable would be the strength of the interleague rival, but 8 games across a 162 game season is much more equitable than the current system despite its imperfection. How the playoffs get built from here, you could leave the current system exactly in place as is (as boring as that sounds), since with an equal schedule, the 4th (or better) best record in baseball will have had roughly the same schedule as its peers, but a better record and therefore better to be included in the playoffs.

    Thoughts/comments are well appreciated.

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  5. MikeS says:

    So if the AL central is that bad, how horrible is the NL if in two separate years one of the worst teams in the AL can go 13 – 5 in inter league play.

    Small sample size aside and all.

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  6. matt w says:

    Baltimore in the AFC North makes sense — the other teams in the division are Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, making it one of the most geographically compact divisions. What really doesn’t make sense is Dallas in the NFC East. (Done to preserve rivalries with the Giants and Eagles, but still.)

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  7. Mr Punch says:

    The obvious realignment would be a small one – move the Yankees to the Central. That would improve attendance there (Yanks are a strong road draw), facilitate a rivalry with Chicago, and of course break up the AL East. Cleveland or (preferably, despite geography) Detroit could be shifted to the East.

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  8. Aaron says:

    While the 15 and 15 team split seems ideal, it is impossible, unless interleague play becomes an entire season thing. For each series, each league would have one team that would not play for 3 days at a time. There is no way that would occur.

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  9. Nate says:

    Is the problem economic parity? The East is full of great front office talent, for sure, but the reason it will continue to be a difficult division (not just the reason it’s tough now) is the economic disparity. If there ceases to be an economic disparity, then I don’t see an ongoing competitive imbalance problem.

    But hey, if you want radical realignment, I suggest a 3-league scenario on my blog, that takes into account market size of each league/division.

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  10. Sal Paradise says:

    @Aaron:

    Why would that have to be?

    Teams A-B, C-D, E-F start on Monday, end on Wednesday.

    Teams G-H, I-J start on Tuesday, end on Thursday.

    Teams K-L, M-N start on Wednesday, end on Friday.

    Teams A-O, C-B, D-E can start on Thursday.

    F-G, H-I can start on Friday.

    J-K, L-M can start on Saturday.

    Teams N-A, etc. can start on Sunday.

    Save for the start of the season, you only need 1 day off to make it work (obviously it gets more complicated with travel time, but the point is that if you stagger series starts/ends, you can coordinate 15-15).

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  11. RobBob says:

    @Sal

    It would be required because MLB wants every team to play every day on weekends. This goes as well for owners, local businesses, and local and travelling fans. Me too.

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  12. Christian says:

    @CC11

    Winning 3 in a row in the NFL is not like winning 10 in a row in baseball. That is lazy, and incorrect. I see where you are coming from (1 win to advance in the NFL playoffs vs 3 or 4), in baseball you also get to lose games. The odds of ripping off 10 in a row, for evenly matched teams, are one in 1,000. So what happens in the other 999 iterations? The home team advances? Nobody advances? Your model makes no sense.

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  13. DonM says:

    Two divisions per league, balanced schedule, two wild cards (based on record, not division).

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  14. RogerH says:

    Two divisions per league. Each division winner plays a best of 5 with the second place team in that division in the “LDS”. The winners move on to the LCS and you can take it from there. This way no playoff games/revenue is lost because the LDS’s are kept, but you still get the best team in each division in the LCS.

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