Future Perfect: A Balanced Schedule for 2013

Beginning next season, Houston will move to the AL West and there will be two leagues of 15 teams, each with three five-team divisions. Although my plan for how to handle this new arrangement is no more likely to be adopted than a re-make of Love Story with Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee in the roles of Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw, I’ll share it after the jump.

Under my ideal plan for 2013 and beyond:

–Each team would play 18 games against the other four teams in its division.  That would add up to 72 games of each team’s regular season schedule.
–Each team would play 6 games against each of the teams in the other divisions in its own league.  That’s another 60 games per team, so we are up to 132 games of the schedule so far.
–Each team would play six inter-league games against each of the five teams in a single, designated division in the other league. That’s 30 games , so  now we are up to a full, 162-game season. Rival divisions would be assigned on a three-year cycle, so that for example NL West teams would play AL West teams in 2013, AL Central teams in 2014, and AL East teams in 2015, and then start the cycle again in 2016.


–The standings to determine the wild card teams, as between teams in different divisions, would be separate from, and calculated in a whole different way than, the normal, 162-game standings used to determine division winners.  The inter-division wild card standings would be based on points, sort of like hockey standings.   Teams would be awarded three points for a win in an inter-division game, one point for a win in an intra-division game, and zero points for inter-league games.

These point standings would achieve strength-of-schedule fairness among teams from different divisions competing for the wild card.  Because under my proposed schedule, intra-division rivals play each other three times as often as they play league teams outside the division, the points system adjusts for what would otherwise be unfair strength-of-schedule differences by giving three times the weight to inter-division games.  And because, under my proposed schedule, there would be no schedule overlap at all in inter-league games (as between teams in different divisions competing for wild card spots), to avoid strength-of-schedule bias in wild card standings I simply would not count those inter-league games for wild card purposes.       

–Every inter-league game, regardless of home field, would be played with a modified DH rule.  Under this rule, each manager would have (instead of a DH for the whole game) one and only one chance, at any time during the game, to use a pinch-hitter who would not have to play in the field and would not became ineligible to enter the game again later (as a pinch-hitter or otherwise), although of course he could not bat again until the other eight lineup spots had come up at least once.  Think of this as the “one at-bat DH” rule, or the “super-pinch-hitter” rule.

Although these proposed rules and scheduling concepts may have other problems, they are structured to be as fairly balanced as possible.  Therefore, they will never actually happen.  But I hope they are at least amusing to consider.

43 thoughts on “Future Perfect: A Balanced Schedule for 2013

  1. 1
    Thomas says:

    I think this is genius, except for the DH rule and I’m well aware I’m in the minority in that I like the AL home DH NL home pitcher batting. Regardless, the scheduling and wild card formats are genius. I love it.

  2. 2
    Max says:

    I could easily see the schedule set up being used. Baseball, though, would never ever have a point system for wins and losses, it’s not “tradition”. Ironic, since we are setting up a schedule for interleague play every day.

    • 3
      birtelcom says:

      Because MLB seems enamored of the annual interleague play between certain natural rivalry teams (NY/NY, Chi/Chi, LA/LA, etc.), I doubt they will really adopt a balanced, multi-year cycle of interleague games such as the one I’ve suggested, unless and until there seems to be such audience exhaustion with the natural interleague rivalries that it starts to effect the bottom line. In choosing between maximizing revenue and maximizing balance, MLB will generally go with maximizing revenue, understandably.

      • 4
        Mike L says:

        birtelcom @3, I see the current interleague schedule as a serious mistake. It’s clearly only intended for ticket sales. But I’m troubled that it really does create an inherent inequity because of differing strength of schedule-one that is exacerbated by the additional wild cards.

        • 22
          birtelcom says:

          “exacerbated by the additional wild cards”. I don’t like the idea of wild card spots being decided among teams with unbalanced schedules, which is why I’ve tried to come up with a balanced system. But I don’t think the problem is made any worse with the extra wild cards, in fact it’s probably been lessened, because the value of being a wild card team has been reduced. First, the structure of the new system makes it no more likely than before that a wild card team will get to the World Series. Just as before, only one wild card team gets to the Final Four of each league. But unlike before, the wild card team who does get to each league Final Four will probably have already used its best available starter in the play-in game that all wild cards will now have to endure, even before the four-team playoffs begin. By adding an extra wild card team Selig has meaningfully reduced the value of being a wild card, enhanced the relative value of being a division champ, and as a result, I think traditionalist baseball fans should actually be pleased.

          • 23
            Mike L says:

            Birtelcom-I like your proposal. I don’t like interleague play or wild cards. I’m going to disagree slightly on the extra wild card. Even if it’s a one game playoff the fact that the second team could sneak in with a schedule that is significantly weaker bothers me.

      • 20
        Insert Name Here says:

        If MLB wants interleague “natural rivalries” each year, it could be set up like so:

        2013: AL East vs. NL East, AL Central vs. NL West, and NL Central vs. AL West
        2014: AL East vs. NL West, AL Central vs. NL Central, AL West vs. NL East
        2015: AL East vs. NL Central, AL Central vs. NL East, AL West vs. NL West

        So then… 2013 has NY/NY, O’s/Nats, and Rays/Marlins (plus Astros vs. their former division rivals). 2014 has Sox/Cubs, Indians/Reds, and Royals/Cards. 2015 has A’s/Giants and LA/LA.

        Is the revenue lowered compared to 2012? Probably.

        BUT are Selig & Co. really expecting revenue to INCREASE when they add more of something fans don’t like?

      • 40
        Max says:

        I think the “natural rivalries” have played themselves out. As a Mets fan, sure in 1997 it was exciting and cool to play the Yankees. But 15 years on, playing them 6 times a year has become old hat. I am pretty sure this is the same feeling everywhere (LA, Chicago, whatever Toronto or Pittsburgh’s “natural rivalry” is, etc.) I think they should rotate the rivalries out so that when those teams do play each other again, it will have some edge to it. I mean, I know it is the policy of any corporate entity that “more is more” but since they are initiating such drastic change next year, I like to think they will try and get it right for a change.

  3. 5
    Lawrence Azrin says:

    1) The scheduling idea is great, but MLB will never have interleague games against just one division. They want to maintain natural interleague rivalries, while also playing opponents from all the different divisions. You couldn’t have the natural interleague rivalries every year if you were changing the divisions every year.

    2) Agree with Max/#2, MLB would never go for a point system, like the NHL. This is a very creative way to adress the strength-of-schedule bias you refer to.

    3) I agree with #1/Thomas here, I also know I’m in the minority, but I like the AL/DH and NL/no-DH for interleague, it forces each leaue to adapt to an unfamiliar situation. It probably favors the NL, since it’s easier to find a player on your bench who can hit decently, than for AL pitchers to try to improve their hitting in a few weeks before interleague games.

  4. 6
    birtelcom says:

    Keep in mind that the point system would only be used for wild card standings among teams in different divisions. The good old regular standings we know so well would still apply in full to determine who wins the division and for who wins a wild card spot as between teams in the same division. And remember that under MLB’s new playoff system, who wins the division is more important than it has been in years. Wild card spots no longer get you into the true playoffs, they really only now get you into a play-in game. In short, under my proposal, the standings that are so familiar to all of us wouldn’t be going away by any means.

    • 34
      BSK says:


      Isn’t is possible that you can have a rock-paper-scissors scenario with Wild Card teams? For instance, assume division winners are Yanks, White Sox, and Rangers. Boston leads Tampa Bay in their division. Boston trails Detroit in points. Tampa leads Detroit in points. Who gets in?

  5. 7
    Doug says:

    If you want inter-league, balanced schedule as you’ve proposed is the only way to go. Interesting how easily that came together with 5 teams in each division.

    I understand the natural rivalry stuff but here’s what’s wrong with it.
    – Rivalries (natural or otherwise) come from familiarity. Thus, the true rivalries are with the teams in your division, not clubs you see in only two series a year.
    – Many clubs don’t have “natural” rivals. Do people in Seattle get stoked because the Padres are coming to town? Or, do Philadelphians circle the Blue Jays series when the schedule comes out?
    – Now (in 2013) that we’re going to have inter-league play every day of the season, it’s going to be just another game on the schedule, not a part of the schedule that’s different. So, the “allure” (if that’s what’s juicing the ticket sales) will fade.

    Not sure I understand the intention of the modified DH, other than to come up with something that’s somewhere between the AL and NL rules. The concept apparently is that pitchers still have to hit for themselves, but you can economize on PHers by using the same one to hit for multiple pitchers (as an example). Would make boxscores awfully difficult to decipher, especially if one of these guys pinch-hit in different spots in the order (while still not hitting more than once in any turn through the order). Personally, I think having the rules of the visiting team’s league govern inter-league play would make more sense, so that fans could see something different.

  6. 8
    Luis Gomez says:

    I’m not sure people will see “something defferent”, I mean, on the earlier days before sportscenter, baseball tonight, MLB Network, et al; I could understand that expression, but nowadays, I think baseball fans in DH ballparks are very aware of the non-DH style of play and viceversa.

  7. 9
    Luis Gomez says:

    I meant “something DIFFERENT”. Darn it, I keep butchering your language, sorry.

  8. 10
    bstar says:

    I like some of the suggestions, here, birtelcom, but I don’t think your point system will totally fix the inherent unfairness of the wild card. Take the NL East teams, and the current system we have now. Because this division is so much better than the NL Central or West, obviously having to play your division opponents in the NL East makes their schedule harder and gives an advantage to NL Central and West teams in bidding for the wild card.

    But with your point system, although it may make things a little fairer overall, it will swing the pendulum in the other direction and now favor the NL East teams for the wild card. The reason for this is that the NL East’s 3-point games will occur against weaker opponents, while their tougher one-point intradivision games, which now count less, will come against tougher opponents. But NL Central and West teams will be penalized with just the opposite: their 3-point games will include games against the NL East-making their interdivision schedule harder, while their one-point games will be against weaker competition, making it actually harder for these teams to accumulate points.

    Still, it’s probably an improvement over the current system, but it would be very counter-intuitive to treat interdivision games as more important than intradivision ones.

    • 14
      birtelcom says:

      bstar, the idea of the point system is that every team in the league has the same 18 possible points to earn against every other team in the league. The 18 points are earnable in 18 games when it comes to the other teams in the division and in six games when it comes to the teams in the other divisions, but it’s the same 18 possible points against each team, which creates the balance in the schedule.

      Or think of it as a balanced schedule of 18 games against every other team, except that some games are played simultaneously. One win by the Cubs over the Dodgers counts as if it were three wins by the Cubs over the Dodgers, but it’s not really any different, from a schedule balance point of view, than if the Cubs and Dodgers had played three separate games, which the Cubs swept. If the Dodgers are a tough team to beat, then from a schedule balance point of view that one game counts as three games against a tough team. The effect of the point system should be that everybody plays the equivalent of 18 games worth of points against every other team, whether hard to beat or easy to beat.

      • 15
        bstar says:

        OK, think of it from a different viewpoint. By your set-up:

        4 intradivision teams(4 x 18 games x 1 point)=72 possible points
        5 interdivision teams(5 x 6 games x 3 points)=90 possible points
        5 interdivision teams(5 x 6 games x 3 points)=90 possible points

        So the intradivision games are actually weighted less than the interdivision games. This will favor teams playing in tougher divisions because their 180 possible interdivision points will have a higher expected value by not having to play their tougher division opponents in this set-up than teams in lesser divisions. Their interdivision schedule, which means more to your formula per team, will be easier than teams in lesser divisions. Also, their intradivision schedule, tougher than teams in lesser divisions, is weighted less.

        It’s a minor issue, but to correct it you would have to multiply the 72 possible intradivision points by 90/72 or 5/4 to achieve a perfectly weighted balanced schedule.

        4 intradivision teams(4 x 18 g x 1 pt. x 5/4)=90 possible points
        5 interdivision teams(5 x 6 games x 3 points)=90 possible points
        5 interdivision teams(5 x 6 games x 3 points)=90 possible points

        • 16
          birtelcom says:

          Bear with me, bstar, as I work through the logic of your argument, but is what you’re saying just the result of the fact that a team does not play against itself? I admit that in any balanced schedule system, a good team will seem to have a weaker schedule than a bad team because the good team does not have to play against itself. But I don’t really consider that a true schedule imbalance.

          Let’s say all 5 NL West teams are the cream of the NL. Let’s weight them at a 1.1 degree of difficulty to beat. All the other NL teams are average, so we weight them at 1.0 degree of difficulty. As you point out, the Padres will play only four teams with a degree of difficulty of 1.1 and 10 teams with a degree of difficulty of 1.0. And, again as you point out, the Cubs will play five teams with a 1.1. degree of difficulty and 9 teams with a 1.0 degree of difficulty. So, yes, the Cubs have a tougher schedule than the Padres.

          But now let’s say that the NL West only has four teams, not five, with a 1.1 degree of difficulty — every team except San Diego. San Diego and the other ten teams in the other divisions are at a 1.0 degree of difficulty. The NL West is still the toughest division in the league, with four above-average teams, but San Diego’s schedule advantage over the Cubs disappears. The Padres now have four 18-point opponents at a 1.1 degree of difficulty and 10 18-point opponents at a 1.0 degree of difficulty. So do the Cubs. But the Dodgers, who are still a 1.1 degree of difficulty team in this scenario, have a “weaker schedule” than either the Cubs or the Padres, because they do not play against themselves. The same would be true of the Giants, Rockies and D’Backs. Overall, the division seems to have weaker schedule than the other divisions. But all of difference arises from the fact that a good team does not play against itself.

          Does that explain our different analyses or am I still missing something?

        • 17
          Evan says:


          The difference in points achievable in your division comes from the team not playing itself. If each team played every other team the same number of times it would be fair, but the strengths of schedule would not be even because the bad teams would miss out on X number of games against a bad team (themselves) and the good teams would miss out on a good opponent. This is why at the end of the year if you look at strength of schedule numbers the best teams usually appear to play the easiest schedules. It’s an advantage for the stronger teams, but not an unfair advantage.

          • 24
            bstar says:

            I’m saying under birtelcom’s system, as I illustrated, the intradivision games are weighted (72/252)= 28.6%. The interdivision games are weighted (180/252)=71.4%, or 35.7% per division. So for an NL East team the breakdown is 28.6% for NL East games, and 35.7% for NL Central and West games. Obviously, if your schedule is harder for the lesser third(28.6%) and easier for the 71.4%, that gives you an advantage. For NL Central teams, the opposite is true. The easiest part of their schedule, the intradivision part, is weighted less and the tougher part is weighted more, which puts them at a disadvantage.

            birtelcom, yes only having 4 teams on your intradivision schedule is what is causing this inequity, but the inequity is there for both good and bad teams.

            Even though birtelcom’s system improves greatly on strength of schedule differences, it doesn’t completely solve it 100%. Using my multiplier of (x 5/4) for intradivision games and birtelcom’s (x 3) multiplier for interdivision ones, in fact WOULD make accumulating points 100% fair irregardless of what division a team played in. The whole point of multiplying by 3, birtelcom, was to create fairness in the points system, but you have to account for the 4-5-5 inequity somewhere.

            Without it, you are giving an advantage to teams in tougher divisions to accumulate higher point totals.

  9. 11
    Evan says:

    The points system is interesting and intriguing, but using these two different methods for determining the division races and the wild card is defective.

    Imagine this scenario: Team A is in division one and has no chance of winning the division, but is in contention for the final wild card going into the end of the season. Teams B & C are in a different division in the same league and are tied for the division lead. However Team B had an exceptional record in interleague games and intradivision games, but did comparatively poorer in interdivision within its own league. Team C on the other hand did very well in those interdivison games within its own league. As a consequence team Team C has far more points in the wildcard system than team B does. In fact the spread is so wide that team A has no chance of beating out team C in the wildcard, but has an insurmountable lead over team B. As luck would have it teams A and C are playing each other that final weekend. No other teams are within range of Team A in the wild card standings.

    Team A’s only chance of making the playoffs is for team C to win the division. Team A would have to intentionally lose its games to help team C win the division.

  10. 12
    Andy R says:

    The inherent flaws of a 15-team league are inter-league games every day(which cheapens the novelty factor somewhat), and the idea that the two leagues are nothing more than conferences. Would baseball consider one more round of expansion to get to 32 teams? Where would they go? Charlotte? Buffalo? San Antonio? Back to Montreal??

    Just thinkin’…

    • 13
      bstar says:

      I’m not sure where they’d go, Andy, but I’d bet a lot of money MLB, whenever they do expand to 32 teams, will follow the NFL’s model and go to 8 4-team divisions, with 2 wild cards per league. So then 12 of the 32 teams will make the playoffs, further cheapening the regular season. This is perhaps the biggest reason I am not a fan of the extra wild card team this year–it’s going to lead directly to 6 teams per league making the playoffs once expansion happens again.

      • 21
        Andy R says:

        You’re probably right, bstar- to me, baseball isn’t suited to the “mini-division” concept, since a team would play so few of its games within their division- I would almost rather see 32 teams in 4 geographical divisions and scrap the concept of NL and AL completely, with 154 games played only in your division/league. Traditionalists would hate it, but tradition has been backhanded by the game for so long that there seems to be no tradition left…

        • 26
          Paul E says:

          Andy R:
          With 32 teams, wouldn’t a 16 team league of 2 eight-team divisions work w/o inter-league play? A team would play its seven division rivals 14 times and the eight teams from the other division 8 times each. This would equate to a 162 game schedule (w/o interleague play-HOORAH!!). Let the two division rivals play an 9 game LCS with maybe two travel days. Forget the “wild card”…..kill the DH, too.

          I promise to go work on Iran and North Korea if MLB ever goes forward with all of the above

          • 27
            Richard Chester says:

            Paul E: I agree with you except for the DH change. Would you want a 9 game WS also?

          • 37
            Paul E says:

            @27 Richard:
            Make it 11 games: 4 – 5 – 2 with only two travel days….and the All Star game winner gets nothing except bragging rights. Prior year’s WS winner’s league gets the home field advantage

        • 28
          e pluribus munu says:

          I’m growing increasingly surprised that no one has yet demanded that we bring back the Browns.

          • 39
            Paul E says:

            The only thing worse than nostalgia is amnesia. If you think my ideas smack of “yearning for the old”, how about going back to 24 teams and letting the other six serve as draft fodder? This would almost totally eliminate the “shitty” fifth starter and improve the depth of everyone’s starting pitching rotation. It might even get so damn competetive we could eliminate the 10 year/ $200M contracts AND we might see pitchers throwing inside more in an effort to maintain their jobs in such a competetive workplace.

            Any suggestions on the 6 teams we should eliminate? (Pittsburgh, Tampa, Oakland, KC, ? ?).

          • 41
            e pluribus munu says:

            You could always improve the average performance level by cutting teams – I’m not sure there’s much gained in terms of the value of the game, and there would certainly much lost for the fans in cut cities. You’d basically narrow towards big markets and eliminate great some baseball cities like Pittsburgh (besides, these things run in cycles: today you’re suddenly referring to the first-place Pittsburgh club; a few years ago you might have named Detroit).

            I share birtelcom’s concern about the integrity of championships – or, to be more precise, the relevance of the regular season to the championship season – which has been diminishing since ’69.

            By the way, I’ve come to like the DH-rule, since without it the leagues would virtually have lost distinct identities. Given my own values and the recent trends in interleague competition of every kind, I see it as the last desperate line of defense for loyalists of NL superiority.

    • 19
      Insert Name Here says:

      More expansion wouldn’t be surprising… I’ve got my money on Portland and New Orleans for the new teams. That way we can have what would be the “AL South” with Texas, Houston, New Orleans, and Kansas City, and Portland replaces Texas in the AL West.

      • 25
        bstar says:

        With all the unbelievable crowd support the NBA Oklahoma City Thunder are getting from their great fans, I wonder if OKC would be a possibility. And what about Louisville? Hasn’t their support of their minor league team been fantastic over the years?

  11. 18
    Paul E says:

    Since Bud Selig and his minions are oblivious to common sense and tradition, and are merely interested in maximizing revenues in any fashion possible, why not this pipe dream:
    1) Eliminate the DH (for good/permanentl
    2) Kill inter-league play (the novelty has worn off)
    a) Play interleague exhibition games in late March/early April
    3) Go with a 160 game schedule by playing 20 games against your division rival and 8 sgainst each of the 10 teams in the other division
    4) One wild card team and they don’t play a home game in the first round

    Selig sucks (sorry). I’m sure his family loves him…and he has some loyal friends, but, geez, he sucks (sorry).

    Years ago, my father used to refer to Bowie Kuhn as a bumb. Now, I understand

    • 31
      John Autin says:

      I’m no Selig fan, but I remain convinced that a 2nd wild card, in the current plan, actually makes it harder for a wild card to win it all, which I think is good.

      Nothing wrong with maximizing revenues if it doesn’t cost you in fairness and credibility.

      • 33
        Doug says:

        My problem with the new wild card format is you could have a situation where one of the wild cards just missed winning its division, and the second wild card was well back. Then, it’s basically a crap shoot between a “deserving” wild card and another who doesn’t really belong.

        Not only that, but the deserving team, in its effort to win the division, may have used up its best starters and have to go with a #3 or #4 starter in the wild card game against a team which, knowing it wasn’t going to win the division, was preparing for the wild card game and has its #1 starter primed and ready to go.

        • 36
          bstar says:

          Not only that, Doug, but the team that was probably battling the “deserving” wild card for the division crown may have also had to use up its best pitchers down the stretch to win the last few games of the season and clinch the division. Let’s suppose these are the teams with the two best records in the league. Now you’ve got the #1 and #2 best teams in the league with their regulars not rested and their rotation not set while the team with the fifth best record, well back of the other 4, is able to pitch its best pitcher in the coin-flip game with its regulars rested.

  12. 29
    Jameson says:

    Interleague play should be one game against each team in the other league.

    • 30
      John Autin says:

      Intriguing idea. Would you have it in a single month, like a giant carousel, or spread the games out?

      • 35
        birtelcom says:

        Remember, John, with an odd number of teams in each league every day of the season at least one team in each league has to either be playing an interleague game or not playing at all.

      • 38
        jameson says:

        I would have the games spread out over the course of the season. I don’t think it would be too difficult to tack on single games during road trips to nearby cities in the teams own leagues. A game against the Orioles while your team is playing the Nationals, etc. I think Colorado and Seattle are the most geographically isolated MLB teams, most others are close enough to other teams with a few sharing cities or very close or close enough: NY, Chi, LA, SF/Oak, StL/KC, Pit/Cle.

    • 32
      Paul E says:

      That would certainly increase airline revenues

  13. 42
    Fireworks says:

    birtelcom’s been reading my comments! Thief!


    MLB has a golden opportunity to fix things in 2013 (I too thought up the 4×18, 10×6, 5×6 scheduling scheme, as I’m sure others have–the math really works out neatly), but MLB is so enamored with these stupid interleague rivalries.

    Gonna be disappointing when they screw up the opportunity to right things.

    But hey, it’s what the fans want, right? Just like the fans want the integrity of the ASG to be kept by tying it into the WS. Bud Selig really knows the fans.

  14. 43
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