Proposing a Third Option for MLB’s Schedule

Under this proposal, the 2006 Cardinals wouldn't have made it to Shea Stadium for the NLCS. (via Laura)

Under this proposal, the 2006 Cardinals wouldn’t have made it to Shea Stadium for the NLCS. (via Laura)

Every year, the baseball playoffs roll around. Nearly every year, people observe the unfairness of it all—the teams that make the playoffs aren’t always the ones that deserve it the most, and the less deserving teams have a nasty habit of doing pretty well once they get to October. This didn’t start with the second wild card, or the wild card in general—when there were only two divisions per league, much weaker teams could sneak into the playoffs and win the World Series (as happened with the Twins in 1987). Even going back before divisional play some of the results seem cosmically unjust, like Cleveland winning 111 games in 1954, getting swept by the Giants, and not making it back to the postseason for 50 years.

Baseball occasionally adjusts to try to make things more fair, conspicuously making all divisions five teams following the 2012 season. Ultimately, though, no adjustment is going to handle the central conflict baseball faces in this regard: Short postseason series don’t necessarily reward the best teams, and so any system that relies on short series is going to lead to unsatisfying outcomes (from a competitive fairness perspective). The fairest way of resolving this would be to have a perfectly balanced schedule and a single regular season champion (as is done in European soccer). The team that plays the best over the course of the season gets the trophy.

However, even disregarding the practical issues with a perfectly balanced schedule in baseball, having a designated set of high leverage games is good for the league and fans for a variety of reasons. Just to name a few, they increase fan engagement (leading to more ratings and more dollars), build a community by having everyone focusing on the same games, and give us the opportunity to watch a different form of baseball, one featuring aggressive tactics, more opportunities for stars, and greater specialization. Thus, any schedule proposal that gets rid of playoffs altogether would be not only unworkable from a business perspective but also probably makes things worse for the fans.

What follows is my proposal for a third option that preserves most of the things to like about the current system while also making the championship a bit more meritocratic—and mitigating a couple of other issues to boot. While this departs pretty substantially from the current system, I did my best to make it practical and something that MLB could conceivably do in the near future. For this reason, I ruled out expansion, contraction and substantial changes in the length of the season or the structure of individual games.

I should be clear that the relative merits of systems are largely matters of taste and preference. While I think this system has some clear advantages over the current one, reasonable people can certainly disagree about what level of change is necessary (if any).

Here’s the proposal, in brief:

  • Teams will be split into a top conference and bottom conference, each with 15 teams, and use promotion and relegation to move between the two (we’ll use conference to refer to these, since division and league already have meanings in baseball).
  • Each team will play every other team in the league in a way that yields an approximately balanced 143-game schedule.
  • The team with the best record in the top conference over those 143 games will be the champion for the year.
  • Each team will play an extra 20 games scattered throughout the course of the year against its current divisional rivals (regardless of which conference they are in).
  • The team in each division with the best record in those 20 games advances to the playoffs, along with up to two other teams; the playoffs winner will win a separate title (analogous to the FA Cup in English soccer).

Surely, you want more details.

Promotion and Relegation

Each year, the bottom two or three teams in the top conference will be moved to the bottom conference, and the top two or three teams in the bottom conference will be moved to the top conference. This accomplishes three things:

  • As we’ll see, it permits a reasonably straightforward system where each team plays a balanced schedule.
  • It dramatically complicates tanking and keeps things interesting and competitive for teams that aren’t within a reasonable distance of the championship. Nobody cares about the difference between being decent and mediocre in the current system, but if playing too poorly means that your team is eliminated from title contention next year, the finer differences matter—so besides the race for the championship, there are relegation and promotion “pennant” races as well.
  • It provides opportunities for high-stakes, meaningful playoff games without interfering with how the championship is awarded. Have the 12th and 13th teams in the top conference play a three or five game series to determine who has to drop down the next year, or the third and fourth finishers in the bottom conference do the same. Since playoff-style baseball is a Good Thing — broadly speaking — adding some more of it in a way that doesn’t mess with the championship is almost a no-brainer.

A Balanced Schedule of 143 Games

Each team plays each other team in its conference seven times (a four-game series and a three-game series, home-and-home) and each team in the other conference three times, totaling 143 games. This isn’t perfectly balanced, since not every team will have the same number of home games (some teams will play 70, others 73) and which teams play which at home won’t match up perfectly, but every team competing for the same thing will play the same teams the same number of times, which is a big improvement over the current system. No more concerns that the Mets and Nationals get to play the Phillies, Marlins and Braves 57 times while the Brewers and Reds have to play the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates 57 times.

This setup and the 143-game total seem sort of strange, but the length and the balance make it highly unlikely that a champion—the champion of the season—will seem inappropriately deserving. (In the event of a tie, a three-game playoff can determine the champion.) For whatever it’s worth, I couldn’t come up with a better number that would let the combinatorics work out so easily.

This system dramatically increases the probability that the best team wins; using some simplifying assumptions and running some simulations, I estimate that the chance the best team wins the championship goes from roughly 20 percent to roughly 40 percent—a huge jump in the right direction. Even better, in my eyes, is that all the games are worth the same amount, and you don’t have to observe the unsettling optics of a team being eliminated by a team with a much worse record (as in 2006, when the Cardinals finished 14 games behind the Mets and beat them in the NLCS). The winner in this system will always be a deserving team.

A Divisional Schedule of 20 Games

Each team would play five extra games (a two-game series and a three-game series) against each of the four teams in its division, using the current divisional alignment. These games would be scattered throughout the regular season but would not count toward the overall championship. Instead, the division champion would be chosen from the team with the best record over those 20 games, using single-game tiebreakers.

This may seem even more suspect than the 143-game proposal. However, it accomplishes the following:

  • Pads the season out to 163 games and gives teams more games against their natural rivals, preserving some of the practical and financial advantages of the current unbalanced schedule.
  • Provides an opportunity for more high-leverage games, again without compromising the overall title structure.
  • With a tiny, high-variance sample, allows underdogs to succeed and makes it clear that the uncoupling of the playoffs from the process of determining a champion is a conscious decision.
  • Allows for more interesting strategy by giving games different values to different teams. For instance, this past year the Phillies could have made the conscious decision to focus on the division rather than the conference. By shuffling their rotation accordingly, they could have Cole Hamels pitch seven or eight of the 20 division games, and the strategic choice involved would make games more exciting and provide more fodder for discussion and analysis.

A Playoff of Division Winners

You may have noticed that I have thus far mentioned only six of the eight proposed playoff teams, with no details about how to select two other teams. That’s because there are at least a few reasonable ways to go about this, and I don’t think one is a clear winner.

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My distinct preference is to have the final two slots go to the Japanese and Korean champions. Those are high-quality leagues, and I would find it immensely enjoyable to watch the meeting of different playing styles and baseball cultures under the bright lights. It would also partially make up for MLB’s hubris in calling its championship the “World Series” despite including teams from only two countries.

That said, a number of obstacles would likely make this a non-starter. The Korean Series and Japan Series aren’t typically completed until well after the end of the MLB regular season, and so either the KBO and NPB or MLB would have to alter their calendars, which is unlikely. One could potentially solve that by using All-Stars made up from the eliminated teams in those two leagues, but that wouldn’t help with the fiscal risk: MLB’s TV partners would be wary of showing games with only one built-in fan base, as well as the substantial risk of having a World Series with no MLB teams. (MLB probably also wouldn’t be thrilled by the fact that the KBO and NPB would have to play home games at neutral sites, dragging down attendance.)

Assuming that foreign teams are a no-go, then, what else could be done? A simple option that I’m partial to is giving the previous year’s playoffs winner a bye into the second round, then having three divisional series followed by semifinals and finals, all best of seven. (If the previous year’s winner wins its division, either the second place team from that division or the runner-up from the previous year could take the first round slot.) Other options that are workable but less appealing: choosing one or two second-place teams, choosing one or both conference champions, or playing a round robin to eliminate teams before going to a bracket. Each of these has benefits and drawbacks, but they all work.

One other fundamental issue with the playoff that I’ve left undiscussed is what the stakes are. Why should people care if the championship’s already been determined? I personally don’t think that’s an issue—if there’s playoff baseball on and a trophy at stake, fans will watch, and the players and teams are competitive enough that they’ll welcome another shot at a trophy. It’s not a problem in soccer, where parallel competitions are pretty common, or in college football, where most of the postseason is pointless, and so it should be fine here. However, to sweeten the deal, MLB can offer incentives to teams that do well. For instance, it would be very simple to give playoff teams an extra allotment to spend on the amateur draft—maybe the winner’s cap goes up by $2.5 million, with smaller bonuses for the other playoff teams.

Drawbacks

As with any fairly drastic proposal, there are some potential drawbacks to this plan. Many of these relate to the difficulty of anticipating fan behavior. Will ratings be affected for playoff games when the championship is no longer at stake? Will the new system be perceived as contrived or excessively complex? Will attendance suffer too much among teams in the lower conference? To my mind, there’s reason for optimism, given that college football and basketball have not been harmed by changes large and small to their postseason and conference structure. In spite of that, though, or any other market research or analysis based on past and current behavior, ultimately there’s no avoiding the uncertainty that stems from a change this large.

There are also risks of unintended consequences in team and player behavior. Careful thought would need to be employed in setting up some of the exact details: important off-field aspects of the game like revenue sharing, the luxury tax, the trade deadline, waivers, and allocation of picks and money for amateur player acquisition would need to be adjusted to make sure that the new league structure doesn’t create perverse incentives.

One other objection that might be raised is that building teams for the regular season is different from building them for the postseason, given the increased importance of depth relative to star power, and that the latter approach is preferable. I don’t think there’s any real rebuttal for that, given that it’s a value judgment, except perhaps to note that there’s limited reason to believe current GMs are deliberately building a roster that trades regular season wins in favor of a possible postseason edge.

Finally, there are the smaller cultural costs that occur with big transitions. People would have to learn new benchmarks for team and player statistics, and given the baseball world’s attachment to history, numbers and historical numbers, that’s something that will trigger strong feelings. To the chagrin of many, we’d be forced to relitigate the DH question. To my mind, these aren’t good reasons for rejecting any proposal that would improve the game, but they are important to many people, and so I don’t dismiss them entirely.

Conclusions

Abstracting away from the details, what is this proposal really about? It’s an effort to ensure that the teams that play the best over a large sample are the ones that win championships. To me, that’s important enough to be worth the decreased status of the playoffs, the risk of turning off fans, statistical complications, and the other drawbacks. You might disagree; ultimately, as with so many other structural questions, this is a question of aesthetics that can’t be argued in objective terms.

Do I think MLB is going to implement this proposal? Of course not. But what I would love is for baseball to take a holistic approach to fixing the playoffs, because there’s no reason to be bound by the current system and stuck making small tweaks. Big format changes are possible, and the league should be open to them because some of them make sense.


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Frank Firke crunches numbers for a tech company. He writes about baseball at The Hardball Times and irregularly about other sports at his blog, Clown Hypothesis. Follow him on Twitter @ClownHypothesis.
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Bpdelia
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Bpdelia

Interesting but far far far too radical to ever gain any real support.

A much more reasonable and simple option is to simply weight the playoffs.

Teams are seeded by record.

When the one and eight play 7 of the eight games are at home.

With a more even distribution in the middle tiers.

Make the final round a 9 game series, which had historical precedent and adds huge ratings games rather than eliminating them.

Obviously there has to be a balanced schedule which is actually quite simple to achieve through any number of ways.

Bpdelia
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Bpdelia

That should say 6 of the 7 games at at the first seeds home.

All series will be 7 games aside from the finals which are nine games allowing for at least a series that requires an entire rotation.

Also no off days aside from travel. Only one travel day.

In the first example the first 6 games would be in the #1 seeded teams stadium. If a game seven is required there is one travel day with the 7th game at the 8 seeds stadium

Frank Firke
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Frank Firke

Thanks for commenting. I have some practical and conceptual issues with that system (which is an interesting suggestion), but the main idea driving my proposal is that a playoff is not a good way to pick a champion in most sports, especially professional baseball. Given how even teams tend to be, I think a short series (even using HFA to skew things a little bit) is always going to have the potential for results that are less than ideal.

David Scott
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David Scott
The simplest way to get to a balanced schedule might be to eliminate divisions. To do so, however, one would have to replace the lost playoff games so that MLB does not lose the money it currently makes on them. Here’s what I would propose: 1) Eliminate divisions, and move to a balanced schedule for each league. Eight games against everyone else in your league gives you 112 games. Two games against every team in the other league (necessary because of the odd number of teams in each league) brings each team to 142 games. Four games can be set… Read more »
tz
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tz
I’d love for folks to seriously mull over this proposal. There’s a lot to like here, especially for those who want regular-season excellence to be rewarded. The big issue in making this work would be getting the general public to recognize the regular-season champion of the “Premier League” as the true MLB champion, including a trophy ceremony from the commissioner and of course the requisite visit to the White House. There should also be a pool, similar to the post-season pool, that gets split say 60/30/10 for the top 3 finishers in the Premier League, built from revenues on regular-season… Read more »
Frank Firke
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Frank Firke

I think those are great ideas; the luxury tax exemption in particular is an interesting incentive. I can imagine the owners objecting to the players getting 100% of the Cup revenue given that the Cup is replacing the lucrative playoffs, but there should be some middle ground where the players do get a large share or bonus of some sort.

Binyamin
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Binyamin

Unbalanced schedules came about only because of that terrible idea called interleague play. Problem solved.

Death To Flying Things
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Death To Flying Things
I’ve never understood the criticisms of the current postseason format. It consistently produces entertaining Septembers and Octobers, and every once in a while gifts us with a season that ends as great as 2014. What’s so “cosmically unjust” about putting two teams on the diamond with a level playing field and letting them settle it? What’s so bad about a system where the winner, although always a very good team, is so hard to predict? If I were going to change anything, it would be to expand each league to 16 teams (hello Montreal and Inland Empire) and do away… Read more »
Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider
To me, the problem with the current system is that it devalues the regular season. You can be mediocre all year (whether because of injuries or just poor play) and get hot at the end and beat teams that have been good all season. Aside from it being “unjust”, I personally don’t like seeing mediocre teams battling for the championship and, with the risk of offending SF and KC fans, that’s what we saw in 2014. I don’t want the same teams winning every year, but I don’t like the idea that the championship is largely random, depending on the… Read more »
Death To Flying Things
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Death To Flying Things
There is always a trade-off between regular season relevancy and postseason relevancy. Take college basketball: I would say that it has the best postseason of any American sport, but at the cost of one of the worst regular seasons. The addition of more clubs in the MLB playoffs has increased my enjoyment of it. I don’t mind two hot teams making the World Series in 2014. Very many fans loved the dramatic comeback of the Royals against the A’s and enjoyed their Cinderella status. And then there was Madison Bumgarner! No complaints from me about all that, even though my… Read more »
Paul G.
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Paul G.

The pennant winner always has some randomness to it even when it was the regular season winner. Quite a few pennants have been decided by only a handful of games. Yes, sometimes some team will destroy the league and win by 20 and would almost certainly always win no matter how many times you replayed it, but really any pennant decided by 5 games or less could have easily have gone differently, and even 10 game wins could have been overcome with some luck.

A lot of this is picking the randomness you prefer.

Kyle
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Kyle

If you think the regular season is devalued now, wait until you have a team running away with best record with two months to play and there’s 20 teams with nothing to play for.

Wes
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Wes
I don’t get the reason so many people in the USA want to adopt relegation. Look at the annual league tables for the Premier League. There’s a lot of churn among the bottom teams, but essentially, one team that won between 7 and 9 games is replaced by a different team that ends up winning between 7 and 9 games. And relegation doesn’t seem to prevent an unbalanced league–during the 2000’s four teams (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Man. U.) took 38 of the possible 44 top four finishes. Also, try selling relegation to owners who have paid $750 million or… Read more »
Frank Firke
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Frank Firke
As is mentioned below, I suspect the parity issues in European soccer come from the greater leverage players have in forcing transfers and the vast disparity in team budgets, much more than they do from pro/rel. If the “pyramid” only has two levels, then there’s much less of a risk associated with promotion/relegation from the owners’ perspective, as there’s no chance that your team pulls a Leeds United. This is especially true given that a) the two conferences will not be nearly as separate as divisions in Europe are (a team in this system will play 45 or more interconference… Read more »
Shawn
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Shawn
A different idea for the cup competition: Teams: 90 (30 MLB teams plus 30 AAA and 30 AA affiliates) Round 1: Last week of July MLB teams and four best AAA teams receive byes 56 remaining teams randomly paired for five-game series (2-3). Winners advance. MLB plays regular season while this goes on in the minors. Round 2: Last week of August 64 surviving teams drawn against each other for 5-game series (2-3). Teams in same system cannot be drawn against each other until semis. Otherwise draw random. Rounds 3-7: End of September–October 32 surviving teams play out the bracket.… Read more »
Yehoshua Friedman
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Yehoshua Friedman
The system of promotion and relegation in British soccer can’t be applied to US MLB and MiLB because of the affiliation system. A AAA or AA team is controlled by a MLB team. Also the economic base of the city where the MiLB team is located is way too small. If a monster AAA farm club of some team is destroying its competition, it’s doing it not with its own players but with players from the parent club. If they were promoted they would be the equivalent of an expansion team without the money to acquire decent players to compete.… Read more »
bisonaudit
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bisonaudit

The problem with unbalanced leagues in European soccer hasn’t come about because of relegation. It’s the result of capitalism. The American sports leagues employ explicitly anti-capitalist constraints on teams and players in order to artificially level the playing field to the general benefit of a closed community of owners.

Shawn
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Shawn

Most German teams are co-ops owned by the memberships.
Many Spanish teams too.

Eric VT
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Eric VT
I was always curious what would happen to the popularity of baseball if there were only 16 regular season games – like in the NFL. Casual fans complain about the boredom of so many pitches now – but would they be on the edge of their seat with each and every pitch if the games meant so much more? What is you took those 20 games and turned it into the qualifier for Wild Card positions in the playoffs? I would actually keep alignment the same and make it into a 3 game series against each divisional opponent. That would… Read more »
Sean
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Sean

I think this suggestion missed an extremely crucial element:

The travel aspect of the relegation/promotion schedule would be insane. One of the main reasons divisions are still a big deal in MLB is because they are oriented towards travel schedules.

Imagine if 14/15 of one conference was on the east coast and 1 team was Seattle (lol). The amount of travel in this situation would be borderline insane.

Frank Firke
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Frank Firke

Yes, that’s a concern; teams would probably have to take longer road trips than they currently do. Having the 20 divisional games and having 45 games against the other division mitigates the effect of the exact scenario you propose, however.

Splits
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Splits

You mentioned that the 20 divisional games would be scattered throughout the regular season. This would be confusing for the fans. There would be two records to keep track of at once. It would feel arbitrary that some wins would count toward a championship and others would not.

Overall, I think it would be better to place those 20 games at the end of the season. This would function as the beginning of the playoffs, like the round-robin portion of the World Cup. It would decrease confusion all around.

Frank Firke
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Frank Firke

It’s possible that that’s confusing or seems arbitrary, though having different records with different meanings doesn’t seem to be an issue in college sports (or in the NFL, given the tiebreakers). My reason for splitting them up is that it provides the opportunity for more strategic decisions—a team in a relegation battle might not use its ace in a divisional game, whereas a team that is more secure in its position can shift its rotation so it maximizes its chance at winning something that year.

RichW
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RichW

A key issue with baseball playoffs is too many days off. I like a 9 game series but it should be 5-1-4 or 4-1-5 where 1 is the only day off. Baseball is a daily game and it should be that way in the playoffs.

ray miller
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ray miller
Interesting article, wildly flawed plan that has no chance of being implemented–and that for lots of good reasons. I’ll divide my argument into two parts: 1.) specific problems connected with the plan, and 2.) the urban legend that the current system is horribly wrong. (Death to Flying Things: I’m with you! And, great handle–my favorite nickname of all time!) I have been avidly following the Barclay’s Premier League for several years now. That, of course, is England’s top soccer league, and (in part) the model for Frank’s plan here. It is a 20-team league, no divisions, perfectly balanced schedule, best… Read more »
Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider
But a champion shouldn’t, IMO, be the team that is simply the hottest at the end of the season. The entire season should count for something. Yes, the team that is the best at the beginning may not be the best at the end, but those beginning games should count. I can think of several teams that were, effectively stiffs: the 2006 Cardinals, the 2007 Rockies (.500 most of the year until a hot last three weeks), 1973 Mets (82 wins, albeit under the old 2 division set up) and, I would argue, the 2014 Giants (10th best record in… Read more »
Frank Firke
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Frank Firke
There’s a lot to respond to there, and a lot of it is taste. One thing I will comment on is that the championship and promotion/relegation races are going to encompass a lot of teams. If you take last year’s final MLB standings as a proxy, there were only 3 teams in the top 15 (the “top conference”) that were neither within 5 games of being relegated (13th) nor within 5 games of being in first, so mid-table isn’t particularly large. (As I have some code that simulates seasons under the new system, I can also estimate how many teams… Read more »
njguy73
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njguy73

After 1954, the Indians didn’t get back to the postseason for 41 years, not 50.

Frank Firke
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Frank Firke

Thanks for catching that!

Mr Punch
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Mr Punch

Relegation doesn’t work in the US franchise system. The closest US analogue to European soccer leagues is actually college football. On the other hand, keeping the 2006 Cards, who would have finished fifth in the AL East (yes they would have) out of the postseason would have been great.

njguy73
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njguy73

And good luck trying to get the player’s union to sign off on it.

Frank Firke
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Frank Firke
While I like promotion/relegation as a way of mitigating tanking and enhancing pennant races in baseball, I actually view it as being much less conceptually important to a good system than a balanced schedule and a regular season championship. A very large part of the reason it’s included here is that (at least from where I sit) it’s hard to come up with a 30-team balanced schedule that determines a single champion and doesn’t deviate substantially from current scheduling principles. You could do a 145 game schedule where each team plays 5 against each other team, but that’s 10% fewer… Read more »
Mike
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Mike

MLB probably expands at some point

what do you do with the new system then?

I am just curious if that has been worked on

Frank Firke
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Frank Firke

The simple way to do it is to promote five teams instead of three the year before expansion (or four instead of two), and then add the two new teams to the bottom division.

Blake
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Blake

Remind me about what’s wrong with the current format.

Bob
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Bob
Well the biggest problem is the 1 game play in. The Pirates won 98 games (in the toughest division) and then got sent home after losing a 1 game play-in and it’s just bc they are arbitrarily in the toughest division. They’d have easily won the NLE or NLW and not be subjected to the randomness of the play-in game. In addition, there are way too many days off in the playoffs which allow teams to re-shuffle rotations and so rarely need to use 4th or 5th SPs. But that’s driven by the television gods, so I don’t see that… Read more »
Kyle
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Kyle

This doesn’t discourage tanking. It makes it even more desirable and really encourages teams to go all-out with their tank job.

As it is, you have a chance at winning a title if you can get yourself to the 85-win true talent mark. A couple of extra wins by luck or a weak division and you’re in the coin-flip playoffs.

With this system, you really have to be one of the top two or three teams on paper to have a meaningful chance, so you’re just going to tank even harder to make sure you get a superteam going.

tz
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tz

The best way to avoid tanking is fairly simple, whether it’s MLB or the NBA.

The team with the worst record gets the 20th pick in the first round, and the second-worst record gets the 10th pick as disincentives for tanking. The third-worst team gets the #1 overall pick, fourth-worst gets #2, etc.

Put this into play and watch the teams near the bottom actually try to maintain a respectable roster so they don’t slip out of contention for the next Bryce Harper (or LeBron James).

gc
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gc
Ray Miller may have gotten some of these points in his long comment but my take is: – stats from inferior AL or NL years still carry weight. Stats from 2nd division will always seem to be asterisked. What if Ralph Kiner hit 61 HRs for a lousy Pirate team facing the Browns etc, would he have eclipsed Babe’s record or played a career as unable as Josh Gibson to be the HR king? – Lots of people buy single game tickets or packages based on the opposing team. Without the big draws, the second division teams inherently stay at… Read more »
Bill Bell
Guest
A system in which half of the major league teams are put into a lower conference would never work because the owners and fans of the bottom 15 teams would never put up with having to play a whole season with no possibility of being crowned champion. Worst yet, under the proposed system 12 of those bottom 15 teams would also be stuck in the lower conference the following year as well, which means two consecutive seasons with no possibility of a championship. If there’s going to be relegation and promotion, I’d suggest having only 9 teams in the bottom… Read more »
Frank Firke
Guest
Frank Firke

Having different sized divisions is an interesting wrinkle that might mitigate some of the concerns other people have suggested, but there’s a big issue with the exact system you suggest: if you have an odd number of teams in a league and no interleague play, then there’s always one team off, which is a huge problem in baseball (no way anyone signs off on having a team have Friday-Saturday-Sunday as off days).

One of the things that’s appealing to me about my system is that every team plays every other team each year (and hosts 22 or so of them).

Barney Coolio
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Barney Coolio

Relegation is tough for baseball since say, the Padres get relegated, then they make a big push, that just gets them back in the first division. Ordinarily, that big push would get them into the playoffs, but no, they’re just back in the first division, which is quite disapointment.

Chaim Mattis Keller
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Chaim Mattis Keller
It’s not hard to come up with a 30-team balanced schedule. The obstacle most can’t seem to get past is the binary league structure. When the leagues were completely separate entities, this made sense, but now, with shared umpires, interleague play, and the occasional team moving from one league to another for the overall convenience of MLB, the idea of two distinct leagues is an anachronism, and is unnecessary. So how do you balance a schedule with 30 teams? Solution: 5 divisions of 6 teams each, divided geographically (details on request). Each team plays other teams in its own division… Read more »
Frank Firke
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Frank Firke

In my view, you shouldn’t ever have two teams that have played different schedules competing for the same spot in the postseason. Your suggestion is an improvement over the current MLB system, but to be balanced, any system with wild cards has to have every team in a league playing the same teams the same number of times, and that’s where things get hairy.

Bob
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Bob

The only problem is that this “balanced schedule” is not balanced. Other than that, it’s interesting.

Paul G.
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Paul G.
Interesting concept. I see two big problems. First, baseball has tried the large division concept before, both in the 1890s (the 12 team “big league”) and in the 1960s after the first expansion. Neither worked and were replaced. What you are suggesting here are two 15 team leagues, which seems rather optimistic. Relegation games in the first division seems like paltry prize in exchange. Americans are generally not impressed with “we’re not as bad” events unless they are funny. Second, baseball is a sport that lives by the motto “Wait until next year.” It sometimes happens. If your plan was… Read more »
Frank Firke
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Frank Firke
You’re correct that the biggest risk is that we don’t know how Americans would react to this system–it’s certainly possible they wouldn’t care as much about relegation battles as fans of European sports do. With respect to the second point, that certainly wouldn’t be ideal, but I don’t think that it would happen particularly frequently. Since expansion, there have only been 6 teams that have finished with the best record in the league after finishing outside the top 12 the previous year (i.e., in danger of being relegated), though most of those 6 have come within the last 15 years.… Read more »
Paul G.
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Paul G.
It does not need to happen frequently. It only needs to happen once. One bad result will be the end of the system. Heck, I’m not sure I would want to watch baseball if half the teams are barred from the championship on day 1, even if the most likely result is all 15 teams would not make the playoffs under the old system. That seems less fair than the 1987 Twins. At least the Twins were not guaranteed a championship. And do remember that the small window teams tend not to be signing lots of big free agents. They… Read more »
Matt Finnigan
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Matt Finnigan
I think you’re trying to achieve too much fairness by weighting the regular season so heavily over the post-season. The beauty of post-season games in American professional sports is the agony of one team and the ecstasy of another. Post-season baseball is not just about teams gettting hot at the right time. It’s also about teams, or even just specific players or managers, not performing under pressure. If the Cleveland Indians could win 111 games in 1954 and then lose 4 straight – which they only did once during the regular season – in the World Series, then maybe they… Read more »
JM
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JM
I’ve thought a great deal about how to reward the best regular season teams come playoff time, and I’ve settled upon a surprisingly elegant solution. The regular season is essentially a way to earn lottery tickets. Under the current system there are 8 lottery tickets available in each league (each worth a 1 in 8 chance of making the World Series). 2 go to each of the division winners, and 1 goes to each of the wild cards. My proposal: distribute the 8 tickets (I call them Playoff Points) proportionally to teams in each league based on wins above .500.… Read more »
Andy R
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Andy R
How about…. Expand to 32 teams (Montreal/Charlotte?) Two eight-team divisions in each league (no interleague). 15 games in the division, eight outside the division for 153 games. Four divisional champs and two wild-cards in each division. The goal is to crown a divisional champ, so the two wild-cards play a one game knockout, winner to play the divisional champ. The wild-card gets only Game 3 in to best of five against the champ. No more interleague, and the schedule can be massaged to a 24 week season, hopefully eliminating possible bad postseason weather. There are probably flaws, but it’s off… Read more »
Trp In Pa
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Trp In Pa
There is no guarantee that the “best team” is always going to win the championship in whatever sport. The New York Giants were not the best team in the league in 2007, but they beat the “unbeatable”Patriots in the Super Bowl after making the playoffs on the last day of the regular season(as a 4 seed, I believe) The 2008 Phillies won the World Series after coming back from six games? back with three weeks in the season and beating the Dodgers in theLCS. The Rays made the World Seriesthat year, as a wild card and beating Boston in the… Read more »
steve
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steve
it took a few years but Ive actually come around to the idea or relegation/promotion when it comes to European Soccer. I’d love to see it implemented somewhere in sport in the U.S but baseball would be the least likely sport to ever consider it. Maybe the NBA oh NHL where the gulf between the top and the bottom of the league is much larger. At any rate regarding the original proposal…a few key things should be altered in your next version to make it workable first. the playoff trophy should be played at the beginning of the following season… Read more »
Paul G.
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Paul G.
If you are going to have 10 levels, how many teams is that going to be? 80? 100? 150? 200? Then you more or less have to eliminate the current farm system arrangement and go back to the old days where the minors were independent, or you will have a farce where most of the teams that are supposedly trying to compete are actually not competing by contract and the major league teams need to rearrange their affiliates every year thanks to their AA team now playing in AAA or A. (I suppose some other arrangement could be devised, but… Read more »
Kevin Walker
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Kevin Walker

Leave it at 162 games. Put in some traditional double-headers in the schedule , go back to just east & west divisions, and scrap inter-league play. Playoffs should be 6 teams, each league (12 total teams) the top 2 seeds in each division/ league get a bye. Remaining 4 teams in based on W/L- 3 plays 6, 4 plays 5, in best of 3 round. Next round is best of 5, Championship is best of 7, World Series best of 7, and be completed be fore November.

Rio Grande
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Rio Grande
This reminds me of all the people pushing for voting reform to make voting “more fair.” I don’t like it, and I don’t like this. I don’t see why we should change a perfectly good system. Maybe make the playoff series a little longer (3, 7 and 9, perhaps) and the regular season a bit shorter. That’s it. Why do we need to mess around with this? A team that beats another team in 4 out of 7 games is already “more deserving” than the team they beat. It isn’t like the NFL, where the better team or more deserving… Read more »
Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas

Is there any empirical evidence that the unbalanced schedule increases interest? I would think that the long-standing rivalries would still hold up, but interest would stay.

In fact, I think the reason playoff baseball has such low viewership in relation to other leagues is baseball is too regionalized. Most fans have the option of either their home team (through their RSN) and then typically a Yankees vs Red Sox game on ESPN or TBS.

Fans don’t know about other teams and don’t care. There’s no history or emotional attachment.

Bob
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Bob

No, I think playoff baseball isn’t as popular as it could be bc it runs into the football season. Heck, playoff games have to be scheduled so that they don’t conflict with freaking Thursday night football! I know that’s sounds idiotic to real baseball fans but that’s just the way it is.

Death to Flying Things
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Death to Flying Things
Where is the evidence that baseball clubs “tank”? Definitely they do deep rebuilds to stock their farm system with loads of promotable talent (see: Houston Astros). And of course salary dumps happen. But that’s different than a team deliberately losing games towards the end of the season to improve their draft position, which is my understanding of the term “to tank.” NBA teams tank. That’s because the number one draft pick can be a franchise changer the very next season. College baseball players are much harder to project, and with a few very rare exceptions, they need a few years… Read more »
Frank Firke
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Frank Firke
A few responses to that: 1) The draft is not a magic bullet, but there are several examples of teams who built winners around a core of a few straight high picks after being very bad for multiple years in a row. 2) I include “deep rebuilds” where the team passes up obvious opportunities to improve themselves in favor of running out some roster flotsam that will yield them better draft picks in my definition of tanking (and have a pretty strong aversion to it), but you’re correct that macro- and micro-tanking are different behaviors. 3) The motivation is very… Read more »
Bob
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Bob
A true balanced schedule is probably never going to happen again (unfortunately) both because of regional imbalance and simply bc there are so many teams that it’s just impractical. As already mentioned, if expansion is an inevitability then an 8 division set up is probably where this ends up going (or they end up going to 4 large divisions like the NHL did). If they do the 8 div set up, teams can play 36 inter-division games (12 games against each of the other 3 teams – 2 home & away series) and 24 games against the other 3 league… Read more »
JimBob
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JimBob

This is far too complex for people of average intelligence to accept. It’s also completely insane.

Eric M. Van
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Not that I think your relegation system works*, but the combinatorics work hugely better with expansion to 32 teams. Each team plays 6 games versus teams in its own conference plus 3 versus teams in the other. Perfect balance. There are four divisions of 8 teams each. Each existing league is split into four geographic half-divisions. In odd years, the eight half-divisions are paired league-wise, with one division being the AL East and South, another the AL Midwest and West, and the same way with the NL; in even years, they are paired geographically, so that the “traditional rivals” from… Read more »
Eric M. Van
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By the way, her’s how you do the relegation. Add each team’s inter-conference record to its conference record, which creates a virtual balanced schedule (by counting inter-conference games twice). That gives you a seeding order. Remove the 8 teams in the divisional championship, which automatically qualify for the upper conference. (Once in a while a bottom-15 seed might win a division, but we can live with that.) The top two remaining seeds do as well. The 3rd seed plays the 12th (20th overall, most likely), the 4th plays the 11th, and so on, with the top seed getting home field… Read more »
Eric M. Van
Guest
Let me take this a step further, to something that might actually be barely conceivably adoptable. As noted, all inter-conference games can be counted double, creating a virtual balanced schedule (VBS). Division games are added to this to produce four division champs. The four remaining teams with the best VBS fill out the divisional playoffs. If the lower conference champion has a better VBS than the upper-conference, they meet in a special Championship Series after the playoffs. The VBS makes the inter-conference games, which are the least competitive (and hence ordinarily least interesting), doubly important. They’re almost 30% of all… Read more »
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