Rebalancing the Schedule

Ed. note – First post in a long time due to many a thing happening in my personal life. Thanks for coming back!

One of the more challenging aspects of modern sabermetrics is the unbalanced schedule. This imbalance began in 1997 with the introduction of Interleague play during the regular season, and the balance was tilted further when MLB decided to put an additional focus on divisional play and have 19 games a year between teams within each division. An additional wrinkle was added last year when the Astros, as a condition of their sale to Jim Crane, switched leagues and caused the AL and NL to have an odd number of teams.

Let’s try to rebalance the schedule. I’m going to make a few assumptions:

  • The teams will stay in their leagues
  • The possibility of expansion or contraction of the leagues will be ignored
  • The schedule will remain at 162 games
  • No 2 game “series” will be allowed

It’s fairly simple to see that, under these restrictions, a truly balanced schedule across both leagues is impossible. 162 is not divisible by 29, and with 15 teams in each league, interleague play is required. The closest possibilities to a balanced schedule would each violate at least one of my assumptions: 162 divided by 29 is approximately 5.6, so having one team play each other team 5 or 6 times would result in 145 or 174 game schedules, respectively.

The next closest thing to a completely balanced schedule across both leagues is to try and keep the number of games played against each other team as close as possible. Additionally, it makes sense, for both logical and historic reasons, to make sure that a team plays more games within its league than outside of it. Let’s look at a scenario where a team plays each team from the other league 4 times. This leaves 102 games against the other teams in the same league. The schedule could then be completed with an almost balanced intraleague schedule: 7 games against the 10 teams in the other 2 divisions and 8 games against the other 4 teams within the same division.

That schedule actually could work out pretty well. With 15 series against teams from the other league each year, each team could alternate home and away each year, playing 8 interleague series at home one season and 7 the next. This impacts how the 7 games against the teams in the other 2 divisions within the same league would be split. You can’t have the intraleague ideal of playing 5 teams 4 games at home and 3 games on the road and 5 teams 4 games on the road and 3 at home. In the season with 8 home interleague series, only 1 of these series would be played with 4 games at home and 3 on the road. This would get reversed in the season with 7 home interleague series. The 2 teams impacted could be changed every 2 years, resulting in a 10 year cycle for this schedule scheme.

There’s still a bit of imbalance in the schedule, but I feel it’s more balanced than what MLB currently uses. It also makes sure fans who follow their teams would have a chance to see all of baseball’s stars, making the players, and the sport by extension, more marketable. An additional bonus is the hype for those storied intradivisional rivalries is more justifiable (looking at you, Entertainment and Sports Programming Network).

Mr. Manfred, my phone line is open if you’d like to discuss.


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