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A wonderfully sensible realignment/schedule optimization plan

May 20, 2011, 3:35 PM EDT

Light Bulb

In response to the realignment post earlier this afternoon, I got an email from reader Ron in Chicago, in which he exhaustively sets forth a realignment/schedule optimization scheme that pretty much accomplishes what everyone seems to want and does so in the least obtrusive manner possible.

It expands the playoffs, as seems inevitable. It makes travel better. It makes the schedule more balanced. It ensures that the season doesn’t stretch into November. It’s pretty wonderful. That is, unless you like divisions.  I guess they’re fine, but I’m willing to chuck them in order to increase balance and stuff.

Ron has already sent this along to Major League Baseball and has shared it on a message board or two, but I think it deserves some wider exposure, so I’m reproducing it in its entirety.  Let’s scrutinize it and see what the flaws are and how, if possible, we can improve it.  The goal, I think, is to come up with a plan against which we can judge whatever proposals Major League Baseball actually comes up with over time, and I think Ron’s is a great start.

Everything below the line is from Ron in Chicago. I am but his scrivener.


You said no divisions might just work, and I agree.  Here is my plan I came up with, assuming they’re expanding the playoffs next year:

Both Leagues 15 Teams– If they are going to have 5 teams in each league make the playoffs, go all the way and have both leagues 15 teams. That way, the top 33% in each league makes the playoffs. My idea is to move the Colorado Rockies to the American League since they don’t have a century or more of history in the NL, and it would also even the leagues by time zones– 7 east, 4 central, 4 west (mountain/pacific).

Shorten the Season by a Week- With the added round of playoffs, baseball has to shorten the season by a week (25 weeks). If they can play 6 day/night doubleheaders, they can do this. They could be scheduled roughly every three or four weeks, scheduled on Saturday’s.

Interleague Play All Year- With 15 teams in each league, there will need to be interleague play all season. All teams would play 18 interleague games, with either one or three series going at all times.

Close to a Balanced Schedule- There would still be 18 interleague games, but the other 144 games would be split up this way– you play the four teams in your former division 11 games, and the other ten teams 10 games for the 144 total. I really don’t care which four teams you play 11 games, but I did it this way so rivalries like the Yankees/Red Sox and Cubs/Cardinals will always play four series per season. The Rockies would be considered a former AL West team, and the Astros would be a former NL West team.

50 Series Per Season- With 25 weeks, they could still play roughly two series per week. With the All-star break, they have to cram one week with two 2-game series still, but it can work. Example of a White Sox schedule breakdown:

Home series in bold:
Cle: 3-3-5
Det: 2-3-3-3
Min: 3-3-3-2
KC: 5-3-3
Bal: 3-3-4
Bos: 3-3-4
NY: 4-3-3
Tor: 4-3-3
TB: 3-3-4
Col: 4-3-3
LAA: 4-3-3
Oak: 4-3-3
Sea: 3-3-4
Tex: 3-3-4
Cubs: 3-3
NL: 3
NL: 3
NL: 3
NL: 3

Schedules would alternate in the second year, and then be reset in the third year.

Series breakdown:
2-game: 2
3-game: 36
4 games in 4 days: 6
4 games in 3 days: 4
5 games in 4 days: 2

Road trips would be scheduled with common sense, so there isn’t excessive travel expense issues. With only 25 road series, this should not be an issue. Also, with interleague play all year, they can schedule those games with more common sense. For example, if the White Sox had to play in San Francisco, they could schedule that series around a trip to Oakland, so they are in the same place for the whole week.

Season Schedule:
Opening Day would be on a Thursday, from March 29 to April 4.
All-Star Game: Tuesday, from June 26 to July 2.
Final Day of Season: Wednesday, from September 19 to September 25.
Game 7 of World Series: Thursday, from October 25 to October 31.

The 4th Place team would host the 5th place team in a best-of-three on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday following the regular season.

If they did this in 2012, the full schedule would look this way:
Opening Day: Thursday, March 29. When OD is in late March, they should schedule the opening series in warm weather cities, and domes.
All Star Game: Tuesday, June 26
Final Day: Wednesday, September 19
Play-In Series: September 21, 22, and 23

“Division” Series would be expanded to a best-of-7:
AL: 9/25, 9/26, 9/28, 9/29, 9/30, 10/2, 10/3
NL: 9/26, 9/27, 9/29, 9/30, 10/1, 10/3, 10/4

League Championship Series:
AL: 10/6, 10/7, 10/9, 10/10, 10/11, 10/13, 10/14
NL: 10/7, 10/8, 10/10, 10/11, 10/12, 10/14, 10/15

World Series:
10/17, 10/18, 10/20, 10/21, 10/22, 10/24, 10/25

This is the earliest the World Series can end, but the World Series will never be scheduled in November. They can expand the playoffs, make all rounds best-of-7, and still finish the World Series in October.

Standings would be presented with all 15 teams in order. The top-3 teams would be blocked off so it’s easy to see who is in the playoffs if the season ended that day. Then the next two teams would be blocked off to show who would be in the Play-in Series. Then the rest of league follows.

They would show how many games out of 5th, 3rd, and 1st place each team is, in that order. That way, if your team is out of the playoff group, the first column shows the least amount of games you’re out of the playoffs. Then the 3rd place column, then the 1st place column showing how many games each team is behind the 1-seed.

Right now, the top-3 in the AL would be Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Detroit. The Angels would host the Yankees in a best-of-3.

I’d also make it a rule that the Play-In Series teams cannot produce Playoff merchandise until they actually win the series. That way, you’re putting a premium on finishing in the top-3 in the league, and you’re not rewarding the 5th place team with any home games until they beat the 4th place team in their park.

I think this would be a great format. It would bring more teams into the race without the problem of who is better–a good wildcard team, or a bad division winner.

Just eliminate divisions, play a close-to-balanced schedule, and seed the top-5 in order, and nobody can complain about the format.

  1. bjavie - May 20, 2011 at 3:47 PM

    Sounds interesting. No mention of the DH rule, but I guess that’s a different discussion altogether.

    Not a big fan of a 5 game series during the regular season and I am not sure I understand why we NEED realignment.

    Bottom line, they gotta shorten the season somehow and the day/night double headers at least keep the owners happy by maintaining 162 game sales – although there was nothing better than a two-for-one twi-night double header at The Vet when your 9 years old and getting to see Schmidty get 8 or 9 at bats in one day!!

    • madhatternalice - May 20, 2011 at 4:11 PM

      I have to agree. Why DO we need realignment? I may be old school, but I prefer divisions, and the removal of divisions still won’t solve the problem. Does anyone think that the parity in baseball right now will match the parity in 10 years? The Braves may stink in 10 years, and the Nationals may be unbeatable. Or Bill Gates may buy the Pirates and raise their payroll to $149 million.

      In 2001, the Mariners won 116 games and the Rangers finished dead last in the division. 2010 saw the exact opposite.

    • pipkin42 - May 21, 2011 at 3:06 AM

      “old school” is relative. Baseball didn’t start out with divisions. I say go back to how it was before expansion. That’s truly “old school.”

      Or not. Because this is a meaningless term.

  2. mithrophon - May 20, 2011 at 3:48 PM

    I am in awe of both the plan (amazingly detailed, workable, and appealing) and the amount of time Ron in Chicago has on his hands (I’d tell him to get a hobby, but I think he already has one. He should get a 2nd hobby).

    Great job!

  3. Chris Fiorentino's Rash - May 20, 2011 at 3:52 PM

    This comment doesn’t apply to Ron’s idea (which is interesting).
    I would like to see interleague play done away with. Its a gimmick that has run its course just like the home field advantage crap with the All Star Game.
    Interleague needs to be put to bed atleast for a few years. Lets rebuild some interest in teams never seeing each other until the big series.
    All Star thing needs to be put in a grave.

    • Old Gator - May 20, 2011 at 5:05 PM

      Absolutely agree about the “homefield advantage” of the All Star Game – ditch it. It’s an idea so stupid that it could only have come from one alleged mind.

  4. yankeesfanlen - May 20, 2011 at 3:57 PM

    Now that I’ve read it three times, I can safely say “What? Wait…….”

    • uyf1950 - May 20, 2011 at 4:08 PM

      yankeesfanlen – when I read your comment. I couldn’t stop laughing. Because that’s exactly how I feel. I realize I’m not a rocket scientist, but I don’t think of myself as a dummy either. But I have to admit I think I would understand it a lot better if it were in English. That’s really, just my opinion.

      • Old Gator - May 20, 2011 at 5:06 PM

        I have a degree in mycology, and I must admit that studying mushrooms didn’t help me make jack shit out of this plan either.

    • Jonny 5 - May 20, 2011 at 4:17 PM

      I feel like……….

      that right now…… I’ll have to read it a couple more times I guess.

    • Lukehart80 - May 20, 2011 at 4:22 PM

      Don’t worry guys, your favorite team will still be allowed to outspend everyone else.

      • uyf1950 - May 20, 2011 at 5:51 PM

        My friend, there is absolutely nothing preventing the “other” billionaire owners of which there are at least 7 with spending a like amount of money on their team and on the entertainment for the customers.

  5. Loren - May 20, 2011 at 4:03 PM

    My first thought is that a divisionless format like this would solve the “AL East is unfair to the Blue Jays” type problems, but at the cost of pushing even more teams out of contention earlier in the season. I haven’t looked at any historical standings to back this up because I’m lazy, but teams in a weak division might be six games back in third place in the current format and still have some hope and in this system the same team could be 10 games out with six teams between them and a playoff spot. It’s true that the non-division format would reward the best teams, but if that means more fans lose interest earlier or whole regions go unrepresented in the playoffs for years and years I don’t think the change is worth it. (Plus I couldn’t even dream of eliminating or reducing interleague play anymore.)

  6. wlschneider09 - May 20, 2011 at 4:10 PM

    I keep reading it, keep trying to find a problem. I keep failing.


  7. riverace19 - May 20, 2011 at 4:14 PM

    For someone opposed to all change in baeball, this proposal has merit.
    The best feature is evening up the number of games played vs. other teams in the league. Right now the schedule is weighted very division-heavy, to the point where series get boring. For example, the Astros play the Pirates something like 18 times this season… when teams outside of the division only play 2 series against each other.
    I like interleague play (at first I was opposed of course) – it allows for interesting matchups usually reserved for the WS but not limited to just 2 teams.
    Good comments on here, and good job Ron in Chicago for putting a lot of thought into this.

  8. heynerdlinger - May 20, 2011 at 4:18 PM

    I’m not sure why this has to eliminate divisions. The proposal still maintains an unbalanced schedule based on “former” divisional alignment. Why not just call those divisions, and give the division leaders a playoff berth?

    At worst one or both of the wild card teams may have a better record than one or two of the division leaders, but that could be solved with playoff seeding. And maybe a team gets shafted out of the playoffs because a team takes its division with a really mediocre record, but that’s unlikely. (I don’t have the time to run the numbers. It would be easy enough to see how this would have played out over the last 20 years though.)

  9. simon94022 - May 20, 2011 at 4:19 PM

    You can’t get to a plausible realignment plan without taking into account three things:

    1. One of Selig’s biggest accomplishments has been a schedule and divisional alignment that has almost all teams (sorry, Rangers) playing the bulk of their road games in their home time zones. That means teams can charge more for their local broadcast rights. All forms of “balanced” schedules mess this up and are therefore nonstarters.

    2. Fans and owners have tremendous loyalties to the “American” and “National” League brands, even though the two leagues haven’t actually existed as separate organizations for the past 15 years. You’re not going to tell the Reds or Giants or Mets that they are leaving the NL, just as the Royals, Tigers and Yankees are never going to leave the AL. It’s a huge branding issue. Therefore, NBA style realignment is a nonstarter.

    3. The schedule can’t work easily unless the number of games that teams play against each opponent is divisible by 6, allowing for home and road series of 3 games each. MLB squeezes in 2 game and 4 game series throughout the year, but for all sorts of reasons those need to be the exception, not the rule. Formats that require 9 or 10 or 11 games against each opponent on a regular basis are therefore also nonstarters.

    • mschempp - May 21, 2011 at 8:30 AM

      Your second point is immaterial, as there is still the NL and AL, just no divisions. Colorado has only existed since 1993 or whenever, so has a short history in the NL. Colorado would also benefit immensely from having a DH, so I think most Colorado fans would be accepting.

      The first and third points can also be solved, I think. Although, I think the first point is overstated, especially for teams not on the East Coast.

  10. indyralph - May 20, 2011 at 4:32 PM

    The only thing I see that Ron glosses over is the travel. The average distance from home of a road game is significantly greater with a balanced schedule than unbalanced. So you are either making more long trips, or your long trips need to be longer. The solution, I think, is to have extended road trips. So all NL East teams would need to be traveling west at the same time, play the NL West teams on the road and consecutively, while NL central teams play each other. Logistically it might be difficult to pull off, given the number of external influences on stadium availability (for instance LA, SF, Houston, Arizona and San Diego would all need to have their stadiums available for the same two week stretch). And it creates a minimum of 2 15 game road trips per year, which may not get the players’ association so excited.

  11. cubsfanincincinnati - May 20, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    The only beef I’ve really had with interleague play is how unfair the games can be for teams within the same division. I think the following plan would eliminate that:

    Move Colorado to AL West and Houston back to NL West to create 3 5-team divisions in each league

    Schedule as follows:

    18 game (9H/9A) vs teams in your division – 72 games
    6 games (3 H, 3 A) vs other 10 teams in your league – 60 games
    6 interleague games (3H/3A) vs teams in one division in other league (play each division every three years) – 30 games

    Keep 162 game schedule and keep the playoffs the way they are.

    Each team within its division plays the exact schedule.

    Every team gets a home series with every interleague team in their park at least every three years.

    Interleague play would have to happen throughout the year – some might find that a negative (I would not)

    I can’t imagine scheduling a season under this format would be any worse than what we have now.

    • indyralph - May 20, 2011 at 5:03 PM

      What you are suggesting removes the “rivalry” aspect of interleague play, which won’t happen before the end of interleague play. You would be replacing too many Mets/Yankees and Angels/Dodgers series with Mariners/Astros or Pirates/A’s. I doubt you’ll ever even find a small minority who prefer that.

    • spudchukar - May 20, 2011 at 5:04 PM

      Personally I would like to see less games within the division and more against teams in the other divisions. I sense this originated with travel closeness anyway, and is an extra hour in the air all that disturbing. Like you 6 interleague games is enough, but the first round has to be expanded to 7 games.

  12. amhendrick - May 20, 2011 at 4:55 PM

    You don’t have to shorten the season as much if you don’t give teams two off days per week during the playoffs. They only get about 3 per month during the regular season.

  13. spudchukar - May 20, 2011 at 4:56 PM

    Basically brilliant. I still kinda like sending Houston to the American League West, setting up a Texas rivalry, and making the trip to 2 time zones a little easier to manage, but certainly Colorado is the next best option and one that I could easily get behind. Not sure about all three games in the 4th place teams home, and expanding it to five creates too long of a lay-off. Perhaps the first game could be played in the 5th place city and the remaining two in the 4th place one. That is problematic also, I know, cause one could argue which one has the advantage, but making the play-offs and not getting any home games is going to be a tough sell. Big Kudos to expanding to 7 games the first round of the play-offs, that change alone would probably get me behind it. Plus it creates a greater penalty to the once wild card and now 4th or 5th finishers, much like the current play-off expansion does.

    As Loren pointed out teams may fall out of contention sooner, which might effect attendance, but if you look where things stand currently, only the Twins and Astros would be sellers. Trading might get a little more interesting, no fear of trading within your division. I see no DH problem, just leave it as it is. If there is one area I would like to see tweeked, is the multiple even series match-ups. Three game series certainly are preferable, even at the expense of playing one less rivalry game.

    There will be financial concerns, but expanded play-offs, more games against top teams could balance out the loss due to the double-headers. Great fodder for thought.

  14. bradwins - May 20, 2011 at 5:00 PM

    Awesome job, Ron. I wish I had more time to discuss the details and offer some opinions, but it is nearly 5:00 and it is Friday. I will make sure I revisit this over the weekend and see if I can’t make even a minuscule contribution to this incredibly detailed, incredibly smart proposal.

  15. Old Gator - May 20, 2011 at 5:03 PM

    I would shorten the season to cut down on the number of colds kids catch at April and September games up north, shorten the playoffs since nobody really watches them until the deciding games anyway, and lengthen spring training to try to get more oblique injuries out of the way before the season starts. Get rid of that brutal Neanderthal atrocity known as the designated hitter once and for all so that former designatedhitterball fans – the only good kind – can anticipate the pitcher who hit someone the inning before getting his comeuppance (this added level of violence might lure more fans away from hockey and NASCAR), put the gimpy ballplayers and the guys who can’t catch or throw out to stud earlier to give them a chance to learn to do color commentary, and to give more kids a chance to escape from the farm teams before they are rendered down for ethanol, give Bud Light a watch and get rid of him, and make the Brewers and Feesh pay for their own goddamned stadiums instead of the local taxpayers who made it clear they didn’t want to pay for the stadiums themselves.

    • buddaley - May 21, 2011 at 9:09 AM

      Sorry Old Gator, but it the absence of the DH that is the atrocity. If you are interested, here is only a sample of my reasoning:

      I have no argument with those who simply prefer the game without it. That is simply a matter of taste. But when they try to argue that it is bad to have the DH, as if there is a rational argument against it, they are dead wrong.

  16. mjaugelli - May 20, 2011 at 5:05 PM

    The biggest issue here is the decrease in “rivalry” games from 18 to 11. It isn’t such a big deal when you consider the Marlins against the Nationals, but neither the league nor particular teams’ ownerships would ever accept such a decrease in revenue by losing 7 Yankees – Red Sox games…

  17. curr68 - May 20, 2011 at 5:43 PM

    Last night I had a dream that I was Jose Bautista’s underwear.

    • jimbo1949 - May 20, 2011 at 7:47 PM

      Skid marks!!


  18. Richard - May 20, 2011 at 5:50 PM

    I’d like to see five divisions of six teams each. Every team would play 90 in-division games and 72 out, with 12 games each against teams from two other divisions in a system that would rotate yearly. Top two in each division make the playoffs. The bottom four second-place teams play two out of three to make the final eight.

  19. uuddlrlrbastart - May 20, 2011 at 6:46 PM

    I hate interleague play and, thus, hate the 15-team, interleague game every day ideas that are thrown around on occasion. I admit to not having done this anything nearly as in-depth as far as scheduling, as in the above, but I think baseball needs to expand two more teams and move to four four-team divisions. Only division winners make the playoffs, and in terms of schedule, assuming no interleague play, each team would play their division rivals 14 times and out-of-division rivals 10 times.

    I have no idea where the MLB would expand, but using two of the more common possibilities, Portland and Charlotte, I came up with the following divisions:

    NL East – Mets, Phillies, Pirates, Nationals
    NL North – Cubs, Brewers, Reds, Cardinals
    NL South – Marlins, Braves, Astros, Rockies
    NL West – Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Diamondbacks

    AL East – Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays
    AL North – Indians, White Sox, Twins, Tigers
    AL South – Royals, Rangers, Rays, Charlotte
    AL West – Mariners, Angels, A’s, Portland

    The concepts of North, South, and East are a bit muddled, but you get the idea. And I haven’t broken up any major rivalries.

    I think this is more realistic than anything else, if only because expansion brings in a ton of money to MLB and I think interleague play every day would be a non-starter, seems like it would have been done already.

  20. bigtrav425 - May 21, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    2 things..the DH stays and less days off during playoffs WITH ability to place someone on inactive list with legit injury during playoffs and able to bring them back even at 2 games later..obviously have to be able to add a guy during those 2 games as well

  21. marinersnate - May 21, 2011 at 4:55 PM

    “A Wonerfully Sensible Realignment/Schedule Optimization Plan”

    Alternate title:

    “Another Good Scheme To Make Sure 3 AL East Teams Reach The Playoffs Each Year”

  22. stairwayto7 - May 22, 2011 at 9:50 AM

    First contract 2 teams that have no history, like the Rays and Marlins.
    2nd- get rid of divsions! Have naional league of 14 teams and American league of 14 teams.
    3rd- everyone plays 12 interleague games on a rotatign schedule! No 6 games of Cubs-sox, Mets- Yanks every year! One year a NL team would play Boston, Cleveland, Detroit and Seattle and following year play Yanks, Angles, Rangers and Royals!
    4th Top 4 team make playoffs! No team can cry taht they had better record but played in harder division!

  23. mdak06 - May 24, 2011 at 6:49 PM

    I am confused … why do so many people think that we should eliminate the divisions in baseball?

    I like the fact that I see my team playing its division rivals more often than other teams. I’m not convinced it should be quite as many games as a lot of teams play right now, but I think 14 or 15 makes sense. Rivalries are important, and I don’t think they’d be as good with a “balanced schedule.”

    Yes, baseball used to get by without divisions … BUT … back then they were still playing every team in their league 18-22 games per year! The rivalries exist because of repeated competition … just playing 10 or 11 games per year against a team doesn’t do a lot to sustain a rivalry.

    While I’m not a big fan of interleague play, I think it should continue only for the sake of balancing the leagues – getting 15 teams in each league, 5 teams per division. Having one division with 4 teams and another with 6 makes no sense at all.

    I appreciate the effort that Ron put into is plan, but I don’t think it’s the right plan. I think having divisions make sense.

  24. zooomabooma - Jun 7, 2011 at 9:39 PM


    Getting rid of divisions is wrong.

    Move the Rockies to the A.L. West and Houston to the N.L. West.


    Plus cut back on interleague play by at least 1 series per year. Mets at Yanks in 2011 then Yanks at Mets in 2012. Repeat.

    And allowing 2 more teams into the playoffs is wrong unless it’s a 1-game play-in. Seriously, do we want 10 out of 30 teams making the cut? The playoffs shouldn’t be for such putrid mediocrity.

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