Maybe this is unfair, but when people from Major League Baseball talk about how difficult it is to make a schedule every year, I picture a bunch of middle-aged men working with a DOS program from the 80’s, and thinking there is no better way to do it. UPS has thousands of trucks on the road at any moment, and if you go online and ask for a pickup they have a program that can instantly figure out which truck is closest to you and which truck has space and time to deliver your package to its destination. It seems to me that the same logic would apply to scheduling thirty baseball teams, except it would be about one percent as complex.
Actually, it isn’t logistics; it’s algebra. Not to go geek on you, but all they have to do is figure out the variables for this formula: 4x + 6y + z = 162, where x equals the number of games within your division, y equals the number of games in your league but outside your division, and z equals the number of interleague games. Since there are now six divisions with five teams each, every team can be scheduled according to the same formula, so it should be exponentially simpler than it was when the divisions were unbalanced. In practical terms, let’s divide it into its three components:
First, interleague play. The Indians will tell you that there is no way to avoid the farce that happened Friday night, but there is: less interleague play. Personally, my life will not be diminished if I never see Zach McAllister bat again. To be more specific, I would rather play the Yankees and Red Sox more and the Marlins less, given the choice (since I buy the tickets, they should listen to me). Interleague play may have been a novelty when Cleveland fans could only see Willie Mays a couple of times a year on the game of the week, but with the options available today we can see Bryce Harper or Joey Votto on TV as often as we see the Indians, if we want to.
Some interleague play is necessary because of having an odd number of teams, but when the Indians play twenty interleague games a year it is no longer a novelty.Minimizing the number of interleague games would restore the novelty factor and also decrease the schedule distortions that result when teams competing for the same wild card spot play schedules of differing degrees of difficulty.
So what is the minimum number of interleague games that can be played a year?
Well, the season is 26 weeks long, and you need to have an interleague game five nights a week (there is seldom a full slate of games on Monday or Thursday, so you could simply schedule an even number of teams in both leagues on those nights if no interleague games are scheduled). That means a total of 130 interleague games a year, which comes to nine per team. The math dictates that the total be an even number, so each team must play at least ten interleague games. My sense is that twelve or fourteen games would result in a smoother schedule, but let’s leave it at ten until someone runs it through a bigger computer than I have.
There are ten teams in the American League that are not in the same division as the Indians. These games will comprise the bulk of the schedule, so getting this number right is crucial. For reasons we just saw Friday night, it is preferable that each team visit every other team at least twice, but they should play each other less than teams in the same division. Eight games would be a bunch of two game series, which seems like a travel nightmare and not much continuity in the schedule. Twelve doesn’t leave enough games within the division.
That brings me to a total of ten games, which would be two two-game series and two, three game-series against each team. That would total a hundred games. Add in the interleague games and you have 110, leaving 52 games within your division, or thirteen against each team. Not exactly splitting the atom. Or understanding the balk rule, if you want something truly complex. This would mean fewer games against natural rivals like the Tigers, which is something of a negative, but, again, the Indians are competing for a wild card against teams in other divisions, so the more similar the schedules are across the entire American League, the fairer it is.
Compare a more balanced schedule to the situation this year, when the Indians are competing for a wild card with teams from the AL West, who have up to eighteen against Houston, or when we play some teams nine times and other teams only six. Since that breakdown is completely random, some teams invariably get schedules with more West Coast trips and more games against contenders.
One benefit of this schedule is that it is simple. When I was a kid there were two divisions in both leagues, and you played everyone in your division eighteen times and everyone in the other division twelve times. Everyone you were competing with for a playoff spot played exactly the same schedule, so it was fair. The Indians would have two west coast trips every year; otherwise their trips were regional, like Boston/New York or Kansas City/Minnesota. It was a lot less travel and you didn’t have issues like the Yankees not coming to town after the first week of April. Bud Selig was running the Brewers back then, so I figure he remembers this. Let’s hope so.