Will MLB's Realignment Create Fair Schedules For Everyone?

Houston, TX, USA; General view of MLB baseballs before a game between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE

We're going to have 15 teams in each major league in 2013. That will require schedule adjustments. Will MLB be able to create fair schedules for everyone?

One of the biggest complaints about the unequally sized major leagues -- 16 teams in one, 14 in the other -- is that teams don't play identical schedules, as they did in the pre-Wild Card era.

Oh, it was so simple then. With single leagues before 1969, everyone played everyone else 22 times, or 18 after expansion to 10 teams. With two divisions, you played everyone in your division 18 times, everyone in the other division 12 times (this changed a bit after the AL expanded to 14 teams in 1977).

Now? The schedules are a hodgepodge of match-ups; even within a team's own division, it won't play the same number of games against all opponents. Certain clubs get home-and-home series against teams that aren't considered good (think: Cardinals/Royals), while others get more difficult ones (think: Mets/Yankees).

This is all going to change in 2013, or so MLB says, when the Astros move to the American League and we have two equal-sized leagues, 15 teams each. This is going to require at least one interleague series at all times, and Jayson Stark has a summary of some of the proposals being studied:

  • Everyone will play 18 games against teams in their own division
  • Everyone will (ideally) play no more than 18 interleague games (possibly 20)
  • Everyone will have a designated interleague "rival" (even if it's a forced "rivalry" like Rangers/Diamondbacks or Astros/Rockies, two possibilities mentioned by Stark)

Let's see how those numbers add up. 18 games against all opponents in a five-team division comprises 72 games. Add 18 interleague games and that makes 90; making it 20 would be 92.

That leaves either 70 or 72 games to be played -- since there's no way the owners will reduce the schedule from 162 games and give up the associated revenue -- among teams in the other two divisions in a club's own league, ten of them in all.

So you'd be looking at seven games apiece against the other 10 teams, if you go with the "70" concept. That would require a large number of four-game series, and also mean you'd have to alternate home-field advantage each year with a non-division rival. For example, the Yankees would play the Angels seven times a year; one year they'd play more games in New York, the next, more in Anaheim. With the "72" concept, you'd have a couple of random games to scatter among league opponents, which would mean some teams would play other league rivals seven times, others eight.

That doesn't really solve the "fairness" issue, does it?

Another proposal would have the same 18 intra-division games, but increase the number of interleague games to 30. That would make 102 total games between a club's intra-division and interleague schedules, and leave 60 other games for the other teams in any club's league -- six each, or one three-game series in each city. In fact, with such a schedule you could make every series a three-gamer, and every team could have either Monday or Thursday off every week.

Adam Rubin of ESPN New York has a few more details, and writes:

Sources cautioned that the 2013 Major League Baseball schedule, and the precise new configurations, are still being discussed.

They need to think this through very carefully. MLB does have an opportunity to make the schedule fairer for everyone -- but if they're not careful, they could have even more complaints than are made now.

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