No More Divisions? Yes Please (Part 3)
We've talked about the ACC and all of MLB scheduling history, and now we finally get to why we're here: divisions need to go!
The Biggest Problem With Divisions:
Take a look at the current MLB standings. Now, I'll preface this with an understanding that we are only in mid-May and a lot can and will happen to change what baseball looks like from now to the end of the season, but take a look. Some teams have had relatively weak schedules to this point, others have been going against mostly difficult teams. In short: as bad as the Boston Red Sox look right now, you can't write them out just yet.
So, in getting back to my topic, if we look at the current wild card standings, two of the three AL teams would be coming from the East (Rays & Blue Jays) while all three in the NL would be coming from the West (Padres, Giants, & Diamondbacks). While it'd be unrealistic to expect a wild card to come from each of the three divisions- especially given the teams that are in the central division of either league- it really shouldn't even be something to consider. The wild card will go to the next best three teams according to record after the division winners, the best teams will (should) be in the playoffs every year.
But divisions make this not happen.
If the season ended today, the Minnesota Twins would have a spot in the playoffs as the Central division winner. They're the 5th best team in the American league while facing a schedule of predominantly worse teams than the AL East and West. They'd get better treatment in the playoffs while being a worse team.
If that's not good enough for you, take a look back to last season. The San Francisco Giants won 107 regular season games to take the NL West. The Los Angeles Dodgers won 106 games and had to settle for the 1-game wild card crapshoot playoff game. The Dodgers had the 2nd best record in all of baseball and had to go through the playoffs at a disadvantage for essentially "not being good enough" (or getting the wild card).
Divisions make it that we award mediocrity in the MLB.
The MLB had made it a system that they award mediocre teams in poor divisions and punish teams stuck in harder divisions. Teams like the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks don't have the same budget as the Dodgers, Giants, or even Padres. For the Rockies and D-Backs, they'll have a chance to compete for a year or two when everything clicks just right before they'll have to have players traded or depart because it's not logistically sound to keep them around when they won't be able to compete.
The consensus around the MLB is that the Nolan Arenado trade to the St. Louis Cardinals was a bad look for the Colorado Rockies and for the MLB. Having divisions is a key contributor as to why that deal happened. Why would a team be willing to trade a potential future homegrown hall of famer AND include money in the deal on a pretty decent contract? Because they had a shot in 2018 when they made the wild card, had a down year in 2019 and 2020, and realized their window to compete was gone. (Meanwhile, the 91 win St. Louis Cardinals won their division in 2019 and got a better seed than the 93 win, 2nd place in the AL East and wild card team Washington Nationals.)
So, how do we fix this?
A True Balanced Schedule:
Yesterday we looked at how the MLB is going to implement what they are calling a "balanced schedule" starting in 2023. To sum it up, it's not actually balanced...but it may the only way.
A true balanced schedule would have the MLB move away from divisions and have a strict American League and National League again (like back in 1968). And then there are three ways to balance what "balance" means: MLB-wide, league-wide, or both.
If we were to consider an MLB-wide truly balanced schedule, we'd need to either add more games to the schedule (3 home, 3 away games against each of the 29 teams = 174 games) or remove a lot of games (2 home, 2 away games = 116 games). To do any sort of 5-game split would be- technically- unbalanced as one team in each matchup gets a favorable split when at home. However, a 3 home, 2 away flip-flop schedule would set up a decent 145 game season, but it's not great.
That would open up anywhere from 9-17 extra games to be played against various teams, likely by historic rivalries and geography.
If we were to consider a league-wide balanced schedule, we'd need to add a few more games (6 home, 6 away against each of the 14 teams = 168 games) or also to remove a lot of games (5 home, 5 away = 140 games). However, a 6 home, 5 away flip-flop schedule would be a near-perfect 154 game schedule. I'd be a big fan of that. Add in a 6 game (3 home,3 away) interleague series against the "natural" rival and we lose just 2 games in order for a true great balance to be found.
Is it perfect? No. But it's balanced.
A Brief Note on Interleague Play:
I don't like interleague play. The more the teams play between leagues, the less valuable the World Series becomes. It wouldn't be must-see TV to watch the Yankees and the Dodgers because in the 2023 system they're going to play every year anyway. Add in that the teams will already be familiar with each other and have strategies from in-person observations on each team, and the intrigue of the World Series loses something.
However, I understand the more the MLB can intermingle teams the better for ratings. Interleague will never go away and in fact is getting more important. But, in doing so there has to be a give and take, and when the MLB announced the expansion of interleague for 2023 where did they take games from? Divisional opponents.
Maybe I'm onto something here after all.