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The changing face of MLB


It’s the stretch run of the 2022 season. Twins fans look forward to meaningful baseball in August and September, and maybe October too! :D

Yet much commentary has been shared this year on the lowly state of the AL Central, and that the Twins may have had a different approach to the trade deadline if they played in either of the other divisions, while a team like the Orioles may have taken different decisions in they were in the AL Central. While opinions vary, it seems that divisional alignments play a significant role in playoff chances and related roster management decisions.

Additionally, the expanded playoff format has created the unseemly arrangement of one divisional winner functioning as a wild-card entry, as the divisional winner with the lowest regular season winning percentage will host a wildcard series, while the top two divisional winners gain a playoff bye. Why have 3 divisions if one of the divisional winners gains no advantage in the playoff format?

Is the current divisional structure serving MLB well?

MLB is now structured like every other pro sport, as one league with two conferences holding two or more divisions, under a single commissioner, a universal rule book, and increasingly balanced regular season schedules.*

With these developments, along with MLB and MLBPA further integrating gambling revenues, and the seemingly inevitable future expansion of franchises into two 16-team leagues/conferences, more change is coming, as the game and the business model for the league, owners, and players continues to evolve. One of those changes could be re-aligned divisions.  

It doesn’t seem likely realignment would happen prior to the end of the new CBA in 2028. But these discussions are undoubtedly already happening within MLB leadership. I say let them hear and consider the voices of the fans.

So let’s help them out at TD,and provide well informed, common-sense wisdom for the power-brokers in MLB.

What would a sensibly reorganized league/divisional alignment look like? 2 divisions in each league, 8 teams each? 4 divisions, 4 teams each? Mix up current AL and NL teams? What values should be prioritized in aligning divisions-geography, traditional rivalries, travel demands, weather, payroll/market size?  Could divisional alignments create more fairness, so that each team would have a roughly equal chance to make the playoff field?

How would you re-make the future of MLB if you were Commish for a day?

*”Beginning in 2023, teams will play five fewer games against division opponents, instead playing one series against every team in the other league. Teams will continue to play their “rival” Interleague team four times, twice at each ballpark. Teams will face their four division opponents 14 times each season -- seven home and seven away -- for a total of 56 games. They will also face the other 10 teams in their league six times apiece, playing a three-game set at each ballpark.

 

Rather than 16 Interleague games, teams will have 46 such games on the schedule -- four against their geographic rival and three each against the other 14 teams, alternating ballparks annually. As a result of the adjusted schedule, teams within the same division will have 91% of their games in common, an increase from 84% under the old schedule. Schedules among teams in the same league will feature 76% of common opponents, up from 52% in an unbalanced schedule. The new schedule not only will allow for more parity but also will help balance the home/away schedules within divisional series, which saw one team host 10 games and the other nine under the unbalanced schedule. Teams now will host seven games apiece against all of their divisional opponents beginning in 2023.” 

Source: MLB.com, 3-11-22.

https://www.mlb.com/news/more-interleague-games-on-balanced-schedule

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The first thing MLB needs to decide is if they will expand, contract, or keep the status quo. If the last, which seems most likely, the divisional structure probably stays the same, and they keep on tinkering with the playoffs to maximize revenue. 

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Remarkable the AL East as these teams do play each other, which means they are raking it against all other teams.

I still wish would play less game against the other League.

Travel has become the only issue to keep the divisions.

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Keep the divisions but play more games out of the division so a situation like this year where some really good AL East teams will not make the playoffs and a team playing lesser competition from the AL Central with a worst record, makes the playoffs and gets a home series.  I see next year they are taking a step in that direction.  I also am really glad that they eliminated the one-game WC playoff.

One thing in all the major sports that I have advocated for is to use winning percentages to slot playoff teams and determine home field.  1 plays 8, 2 plays 7, etc.  I think this is the most fair once team get into the playoffs.

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I like the new playoff format. It, theoretically, keeps every team in postseason play trying hard through the regular season. There's not a ton of drama for first round byes this year as the east and west division winners in each league have the byes virtually locked up already. But it will keep the teams in the NL east battling hard as both the Mets and Braves would vastly prefer a bye than hosting a 3 game series. The central winners get a playoff advantage by automatically hosting a 3 game series against the worst wildcard team. Now that wildcard team could actually be better than the division winner (Seattle currently holds 3rd WC spot, but has 1 more win than the Twins who would host them), but that just goes to show there's an advantage to winning the division. 

Barring any relatively dramatic falls and rises in the NL that playoff field looks to be set, so now it's a matter of jockeying for position between the Dodgers, Mets, Brewers, Cardinals, Braves, Padres, and Phillies. Those teams all know they're likely in the playoffs, but the Braves and Phillies would far prefer to catch the Mets and the Cardinals and Brewers very much want to win the division over just getting the wildcard. 

The AL has more playoff spots available, and I think the league is probably disappointed to have seen Chicago, Cleveland, and Boston basically stand pat at the deadline, and Baltimore actually sell at the deadline as they're all within 3.5 games of a playoff birth. NY and Houston are going to play out the season full bore as they want homefield advantage throughout. We know the situation in the central with 3 teams battling for that title so you'd expect them to go all out. Toronto, Tampa, and Seattle all want to host a 3 game set instead of play on the road so they aren't going to unnecessarily sit guys down the stretch.

Mixed with 28 instead of 40 man September rosters I like what MLB is doing with the playoff setup to keep as many good teams as possible playing their best players. And the 28 man rosters means the games against the non-playoff teams in September won't be playoff hopefuls vs AAA squads. I think they're doing well keeping the competition high as the season comes to a close. And balancing the schedule more moving forward is a great move as well.

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