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2013 Scheduling - What It Could Look Like

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One of the uncertainties for the 2013 schedule with the move of the Houston Astros to the American League is how the schedule is going to look like. Currently, the Rays play 18 games in the interleague format, 72 games against the American League east, and the other 72 games against the other nine teams in the American League. 

The logical assumption is the Rays then play eight games against those nine teams, but baseball rarely does the most logical thing. Consider that the Rays played the White Sox eight times in 2011 but the Indians just six time, the Royals seven times, and faced the Twins ten times. For years, a mom and pop operation in Massachusetts ran the schedule and several smaller companies have managed the schedule since then with the process remaining rather secretive since.

It does not take a genius to figure out how the schedule will change in 2013 as there are only two options: the status quo or a return to a (somewhat) balanced schedule.

We know that there will now be 30 interleague games starting in the 2013 season which leaves schedule makers with just 132 games to play with. Commissioner Bud Selig loves the unbalanced scheduling that baseball has had in place for several years while fans have mixed reviews on the process. If the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement showed anything, it showed that what MLB wants, MLB usually gets. 

Assuming the unbalanced scheduling stays in place, it actually makes the scheduling process incredibly easy. 30 games for interleague play, 72 games within a team's division since every division will have five teams, and 60 games to split up between the ten teams in the other two divisions in the league. For the Rays, that would mean three series at home and three on the road against the Orioles, Blue Jays, Yankees, and Red Sox with home and home series against the other ten American League teams. The immediate benefit of that would be just two trips to the west coast since it would be unlikely the schedule makers would send a team from one coast to the other for a single three-game set.

While that format is clean, it does create a decided advantage for certain teams when you consider that the 12 teams that do not win the division are competing for two wildcard spots while playing different strengths of schedules. 

The Texas Rangers first made it to the World Series in 2010 when they went 46-29 within their division and in interleague play while finishing just 44-43 against the rest of the American League. In 2011, the Texas Rangers had the second-best record in the American League at 96-66 but 40 of those wins came against the teams within their own division including a stellar 28-10 mark in the games in which they played the lowly Mariners and Athletics.  Compare that to the Boston Red Sox who went 50-40 in 2010 and 48-42 in 2011 within their own division and in interleague play and did not make the post-season in either season.

Playing in the American League East is no picnic. Jonah Keri has said many times that he considers the American League East the toughest division in all of sports. The wildcard format has been in place for 17 seasons and it was just this season that a team qualified for that spot with less than 94 wins. The Rays play in the toughest division and needed the most improbable of comebacks to make the 2011 post-season but a continuance of an unbalanced schedule with the increase in the already-unbalanced interleague fairness will not help. 

Using the WAR values provided by Fangraphs, the teams in the proposed 2013 American League finished with the combined hitting and pitching fWAR values:

  1. Rangers - 60.6
  2. Yankees - 59.9
  3. Red Sox - 59.5
  4. Tigers - 48.5
  5. Rays - 46.1
  6. Angels - 43.8
  7. White Sox - 40.3
  8. Royals - 39.1
  9. Blue Jays - 33.8
  10. Indians - 30.1
  11. Athletics - 29.7
  12. Orioles - 22.9
  13. Mariners - 22.6
  14. Astros - 21.4
  15. Twins - 20.8
The WAR total is 188.4 for the American League East, 178.8 for the American League Central, and 176.3 for the American League West. 

If we use the proposed schedule for the 132 non-interleague games with each team playing their division opponents three times as often as they do the other ten teams, here are the average 2011 fWAR values for the American League teams that would appear on each team's schedule. 
  1. Rangers - 147
  2. Yankees - 151
  3. Red Sox - 151
  4. Tigers - 154
  5. Angels - 156
  6. Rays - 158
  7. White Sox - 158
  8. Royals - 159
  9. Athletics - 163
  10. Indians - 164
  11. Blue Jays - 165
  12. Mariners - 167
  13. Astros - 168
  14. Twins - 169
  15. Orioles - 171
One way Major League Baseball could balance out the inherit advantage a team like Texas has or the disadvantage the lower teams have would be to balance out the interleague schedule with tougher opponents. Another way would be to eliminate the unbalanced schedule as much as possible. A potential scenario would be to have the divisions play each other 15 times rather than 18 with the teams alternating the extra home series each season. That would leave 72 games to split with the remaining ten teams - which is how the schedule works now. 

The American League East is only going to get tougher as Toronto continues to make good moves outside of donating Mike Napoli to the defending league champions. There is something to be said about controlling one's destiny when defending unbalanced scheduling. Yet, when the fallback plan to not winning is competing for two wildcard spots against other teams, most of which have an easier path to that route, the case could be made to adjust the status quo.

I would not hold your breath given the fact unbalanced scheduling provides more massive television market bonanzas with the Yankees/Red Sox, Giants/Dodgers, Cardinals/Cubs, and Phillies/Mets to rake in big ratings and big dollars.There is a reason why we have unbalanced scheduling and interleague play and it is not because fans begged for the implementation of both. As Joe Maddon said in 2010 when asked if it was tougher to win the AL East in 2010 than it was in 2008:
"Yes. I'm saying yes because of the [rise] of Toronto and now Baltimore. This is definitely a reason to argue in favor of a more balanced schedule. We wouldn't have to see these teams as often....That's a form of baseball masochism right there."