Flawed MLB Format May Screw 2015 Padres
Baseball is unique. Because of it’s relatively mellow nature, it can be played nearly every day for 5 months, producing large sample of data. But due to the flukey nature of a single baseball game’s outcome, the sport also happens to necessitate large sample sizes in order to determine which clubs are really better than others in a given season.
So not only can you play a 162 game schedule, you kind of need to, in order to determine who the best teams are. That is the purpose of the regular season afterall.
Unfortunately, the current playoff format, along with a weighted divisional schedule undermines the value of a large sample and could have serious implications for the 2015 Padres.
The Wild Card game provides a real incentive for winning your division, which is good. It levees a disadvantage to the Wild Card team that advances, which is good, too. It kickstarts the playoffs off with a thrilling winner-take-all contest, which is fantastic. The issue is that teams are awarded a spot in this game based on their win-loss record, but they’ve played totally different schedules.
Take 2015 for example.
Teams play 76 games against their own division and just 33 against each of the other two divisions in their league.
If you’re the Marlins and you added some helpful if deeply flawed pieces to a nice young core, you can consider yourself a contender because you get to play 57 games (nearly a third of your schedule) against the shaky Mets, the rebuilding Braves and the clueless Phillies. The 19 games against the Nationals are admittedly no picnic.
But if you’re the Padres, you play 38 games against the World Champion Giants, and the super-talented and super-funded Dodgers. In the NL West even the bad teams, the Diamondbacks and the Rockies, despite being no serious threat to make the playoffs, will at least cause problems for 38 games.
Again, the Padres play the NL East only 33 games compared to the Marlins’ 76. This means that in total, the divisionally weighted schedule accounts for 43 games where teams in different divisions see their schedules diverge.
Interleague play further piles on to the “strength of schedule” problem. The 2015 Marlins/Padres example doesn’t look too out of balance here (the Marlins play the AL East and the Padres play the AL West), but it adds another 20 games to the schedule where the two teams play different opponents.
That brings us to 63 games against competition that differs from the team you are directly competing with for a Wild Card spot. It’s safe to assume those 63 games affect playoff outcomes every season in at least one league. This imbalance, which is at extreme logical odds with the win-loss based assessment of who gets to go to the playoffs, shouldn’t exist. Furthermore, it doesn’t need to.
The only reason the schedules are so damn whacky in the first place is because of Interleague play, which MLB is convinced fans love. The debate over whether that is true is the topic for a different article, but suffice it to say that if people actually do like it, they probably wouldn’t if people actually understood what it’s costing the game.
If Interleague didn’t exist you could use the 20 games you’re currently wasting against teams against whom you aren’t even competing against for a playoff spot and say, play them against teams you actually ARE competing with for a playoff spot!
That would leave us with a 162 game season played against 14 opponents. That’s 11 games against each team in your league, with 8 left over. So you play 12 games against 8 teams and 11 against the rest. This of course also means that one team in each league would always be without an opponent. The solution? Give more days of rest for teams. I have a feeling three extra days off every month or so would be a welcome change for players.
A bit untidy? Yes. But not nearly as messy or stupid as adhering to a system where 38% of your schedule directly interferes with the goal of ensuring the best teams get in the playoffs.
For teams like the 2015 Padres, who are fringy contenders, this incredible imbalance could mean another year without post-season baseball. For the Marlins, it may provide a way to divert attention from five years of stringing fans along with a sequence of front office decisions that were not in the best interest of baseball, mixed in with the occasional bold-faced lie.