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How to fix MLB’s scheduling problems

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To limit pitcher injuries and reduce travel costs, try this approach

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at Washington Nationals Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The current 162-game season may be killing the game we love. Teams travel from one end of the continent to the other just to play a 2 or 3-game series; pitchers are sent out on short rest due to weeks of continuous play.

Players are getting injured too often and the scheduling imbalance is evident. There has to be a better way.

This isn’t a new issue either. It’s existed for a long time and plagues many franchises (Orioles angle from Jonah Keri here and ESPN’s Jayson Stark’s angle here). It has existed, and will continue to plague MLB, until its addressed appropriately.

This article looks at some of these issues, and provides some suggested fixes.

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Scheduling Issues are Evident

Since this is a Rays site, I’ll use a couple of examples from their schedule this upcoming season to make my point.

  • Very early on in the season - from April 12th through April 26th - the Rays play every single day (3 starts per SP in the rotation). In this time span they will travel to NY, then Boston, then St. Petersburg, and north again to Baltimore. That’s 15 games and 4 travel days (5 if you include heading home afterwards) all within 15 days.
  • It doesn’t get any better after that. From April 28th through May 17th, the Rays play every day. That’s a total of 20 games played in a row, beginning with a flight to Toronto, then down to Miami, home in Tampa for 8 days, north to Boston, and over to Cleveland. While the home stretch is likely appreciated, but it does little to rest the game’s best players and pitchers, and this stretch results in each starter working 4 starts in a 20 day period.
  • And the final scheduling issue I want to point out here is the competition quality. The 2016 season saw the two AL wildcard teams come from the AL East (TOR and BAL), which means that the Rays played 3 of the best teams in the AL 57 times, whereas the Indians benefitted from facing the 2 worst AL teams 38 times, seriously skewing the season’s results. Not only can this lead to lesser teams making the playoffs while better ones sit out, but it makes the playoffs less reflective of the best teams in MLB.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

First, the schedule is nowhere near efficient. It fails to minimize time and money spent on travel and doesn’t allow MLB’s best players to perform at their best for as much of the season. It is also uneven in that some teams are unfairly forced to face the best competition while others benefit from being in a division that includes numerous rebuilding teams.

So how do we fix the schedule?

It’s actually simpler than it seems, but it does look like a radical change on the surface - something MLB seems to be more willing to consider now than ever before.

Teams, Conferences, and the 155-Game Season

The first thing that needs to happen is that MLB expands to include 32 teams. This would not only bring in over $1B to the league’s coffers in terms of franchise fees, but it would also lead to larger revenues from operations.

Armed with an even 16 teams per conference, MLB can decide whether or not it wants to maintain the current AL/NL conferences with the DH in the AL and no DH in the NL. This does not need to change, yet, and can be approached at another point.

In this proposal there is no need for divisions, only conferences.

One thing that having 31 opponents does is allow for each team to face one another for 1 x 5-game series, leading to a 155-game regular season.

While it is a slight reduction in the number of games played, it also places more emphasis on winning each game and shouldn’t result in any lost revenue when you consider that the league has added 2 teams in this scenario and thus added 155 games to its schedule. Why?

  • 30 teams x 162 games = 4,860/2 teams per game for 2,430 games
  • 32 teams x 155 games = 4,960/2 teams per game for 2,480 games

So not only is MLB adding more area coverage and income through new TV contract, but it is also adding over $1B to its coffers and benefitting from 50 extra games played.

Sure, the benefits are now split among 32 teams vice 30, but the increased revenues from the extra games and TV deals should be enough to compensate any perceived loss resulting from a shorter season.

Reduced Travel Costs

We now know that MLB would benefit in numerous ways from the added franchises and increase in games played, so how else does MLB benefit from these changes financially speaking?

The most cost-efficient way to go through a 155 game schedule is to minimize travel costs, which we know can seriously hit the bottom line.

In this proposal, each team would be on a rhythm of 2 series away, followed by 2 series at home (or vice versa), and be centred in one geographical area.

For example; the Rays could open the season at home, play 5 G series, get a day off, play another 5 G series, then travel to their next 2 series - say Baltimore and Washington - playing 5 G vs BAL first (for example), day off, and play 5 G against WAS before returning home for the next 2 series.

Using the Rays 2017 schedule as an example, this would contrast in the following ways:

  • 2017: Demands are 38 travel days to new destinations
  • Proposal: Demands are 22 travel days, reducing costs by approximately 42%

When you’re talking about booking flights or charters for teams and their staff, and being able to reduce demands of those costs by 42%, you should be able to get someone’s attention, right? You would think so.

And not only does this benefit MLB teams, but it also reduces travel costs for those associated with broadcasts, helping the TV deal’s partners as well.

MLB: Spring Training-St. Louis Cardinals at Boston Red Sox Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Player Health: Getting The Best from The Best

The resulting rest and reduced stress from the schedule changes listed above is substantial. First and foremost, players would be able to spend more time with their families and friends. There’s something to be said for keeping players happy through this process.

Starters

Starting pitchers, who are now throwing harder than ever and getting injured more often as a result, will now be able to work once in a 6-day rhythm. This allows for more healing time - possibly reducing the risk of injury and the number of TJ surgeries as a result. That keeps the best pitchers and talents on the mound, where they belong.

The five day series also allows for each team to face the other team’s best starter once in a series. This ensures fans in that location get a chance to see the best, and it also ensures that by the end of the season each team’s performance is reflected more evenly since they saw more similar pitching performances than the current system allows for.

Finally, when teams are handing out more than $200M to pitchers when performances warrant it, you’d think they would be interested in allowing for a system that may do a better job keeping pitchers healthy.

Relief Pitchers

All too often the pen gets used and abused during a season, leading to a high turnover rate year-to-year. Consider what a “reset” day once every 6 days would do for each pen and how much healthier they may be long-term as a result. Again, if the aim is to have the best players and pitchers in the game competing each season, this is one way to ensure it happens more regularly.

Position Players

Position players would now be receiving a day’s rest every 6 days as well, likely reducing the need for sitting out a game here or there to heal some nagging issues.

Not only should that enable fans to watch the best players on the field more often, but it should also help players perform at a higher level for a longer period of time each season as they’re able to address issues for adequately without putting their team at a disadvantage.

With the price of game tickets going up steadily, fans want to see their stars and the very best in the game when they show up at the park, not the replacements who need to step in more often than they ought to because a manager needs to rest his star players to keep them healthy.

Another point here is that teams will no longer be able to “head hunt” when things happen in a series as they try to address their animosity. Sure, it’s likely that many enjoyed watching Rougned Odor sock Jose Bautista as he got in his face, but does that really need to be part of the game? Do we want kids to emulate this? Not likely.

This not only help teams keep players healthier, but may allow NL teams to sign slightly older players who are currently not expected to be able to play every day in the field because of their age. Instead of relegating them to the AL, they’d get a shot at signing with an NL team and get a chance to rest up every 6 days.

Baseball: World Baseball Classic Exhibition Game - Team USA at Boston Red Sox The News-Press-USA TODAY Sports

Fan Fatigue and Increased Game Value

While some may see the 6-day schedule as problematic, I’d say it benefits more than it harms because it helps ease what some are calling fan fatigue. Just as we need a break from work once in a while, fans can use a rest and take a day off here and there. The continuous pace of MLB play can be tiring not only for the players, but also for the fans.

And finally, there’s something to be said for limiting the number of games - slightly - to make each game mean more than it currently does. Sure, the levelling of competition in MLB and the addition of Wildcards have allowed most teams to be in the playoff hunt further on into the season. However, that doesn’t mean that shortening the season by 7 games wouldn’t place more emphasis on each win. It still would, and it would therefore enhance the intensity of each game played.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

All-Star Game and HOF Inductions

If you’re wondering how we’d fit in this schedule with the all-star game smack in the middle of it, I have a fix for that as well. It’s my opinion that the all-star game should strive to reflect - first and foremost - those who were the best for an entire season, not just a half season.

Therefore, why not move the all-star game to occur before the season begins, when we can both reflect on the previous season and welcome the new season? And why not simultaneously induct the HOF inductees who were just voted in during the offseason?

Not only would this make it a media frenzy event that would be much more marketable than a mid-summer classic, but it would set the tone for the upcoming season and have the best of the past and the best of the present rubbing shoulders.

With ratings continuously plummeting, at least trying something new seems to make sense at this point, and this could be a fit.

MLB: Baseball Hall of Fame-Induction Ceremony Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Concluding Thoughts

MLB is currently taking aim at making games faster - for some reason - and it’s getting under the skin of those who love the game most. Baseball is meant to take a long time, let that be. Instead, focus on making MLB efficient and effective in how it operates.

In making these changes, MLB should benefit substantially financially speaking, should benefit from having better, healthier - and happier - players on the field, and would be able to promote the best teams in the playoffs by ensuring the right and best teams make it there through a more fair schedule.

Personally, I don’t see any issue from these changes aside from the possibility of having to double up play during the last day of the series should there be a rainout at some point. MLB would also have the alternative of using the day after the series to play any missed game, requiring only a travel day change to make it happen.

I’m curious to see everyone’s thoughts on these proposed changes, and although I know there’s millionth of a chance - or less - of any of them happening, I believe they’re worth talking about if we want to grow the game and make it as great as it could be. At least it’s a better conversation than talking about speeding it up, which reduces much of what baseball fans cherish most.

I’ll step down from my soapbox now. Thanks for reading.