Sunday, May 9, 2010

An idea for MLB realignment, Part Two: How to Realign the Revised Major Leagues

Part One looked at two likely candidates for expansion if/when MLB decides to expand within the next ten years. This next part will look at how the two new teams and the resulting realignment will help MLB's scheduling logistics.

Right now the two Major Leagues, American League and National League, are fractured into an uneven arrangement. The AL has 14 teams frayed into three uneven divisions of five, five and four teams while the NL has 16 teams frayed into divisions of five, six and five. This arrangement was made necessary after the addition of teams in Tampa Bay and Arizona back in 1997 in order to assure that every team had a league opponent. Had they been divided evenly into two leagues of 15 teams, each league would have had an odd number of teams, meaning there would always be at least one team without an league opponent, which would have necessitated constant interleague play, taking away the unique draw of interleague play.

Adding two teams would now give us two leagues with 16 teams, which would allow more even division distributions and give every team a mathematically equal chance of winning their division. As the NFL did when they expanded to 32, MLB would have to expand to 8 divisions, each holding four teams. This would make the playoff system simpler and eliminate the need for the wildcard: Every four-team division's champion makes the playoffs, and that's it.

However, if we were to put both expansion teams in the 14 team AL, that would create a relative competitive imbalance in the short term, possibly the long term. Both teams would be relatively non-competitive their first few years, giving the other AL teams an easier schedule. However, awarding one expansion team to each league keeps the leagues uneven.

Therefore, as was done with Milwaukee's move to the NL during the 1994 expansion, you would need to move an NL team to the AL. You could make a case for a number of potential teams to make the move, but my pick to shift to the AL is the San Diego Padres.

- Geographically, there's a cluster of eight teams on or west of the Rockies, which makes forming the new AL and NL West divisions easy. However, among them are 5 NL teams and 3 AL teams, making an NL West team the best suited to make the move.

- The Padres don't have as much rivalry history with other NL teams and, sad to say, wouldn't be missed by NL West teams. The Giants and Dodgers have significant NL history, and the Diamondbacks are also one of the NL's World Series champions, plus their relative proximity to the Dodgers and Rockies makes it more sensible to keep them in the NL West

So the Padres would move to the AL, and each league would get one of the expansion teams. As I mentioned, teams would be clustered geographically in attempting to form the new divisions, to help reduce travel time between divisional cities. For example, right now the Texas Rangers are in the AL West, requiring a long flight to play one of their divisional foes. By moving them to a division with other southern AL teams, this would reduce their travel burden significantly. And vice versa: Seattle, Anaheim and Oakland would not have to fly to the central US as much, replacing those flights with flights to closer San Diego.

It turns out that all teams fit for the most part neatly into clusters of eight. Here is a map outlining all 32 teams in this scenario, with color coding to indicate how the divisions would be aligned. The only team that still gets shafted in terms of geography is Colorado, which is closer to the central and northern cluster of teams, but is the odd team out among those clusters, while helping the western cluster fill out their need for eight teams. Here in text is the new alignment:

AL West: Seattle, Anaheim, Oakland, San Diego

This division remains mostly intact, and would likely see a boost in pitching stats as the Rangers and their launchpad ballpark are ditched for San Diego's cavernous Petco Park. With all four teams boasting pitchers' parks, offensive numbers will take a tumble.

AL North: Minnesota, Chicago White Sox, Detroit, Cleveland

The AL Central stays mostly intact, losing only the perpetually non-competitive Kansas City Royals. This could become the most competitive four team division in the revised MLB.

AL South: Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Texas, Charlotte

This new division is a hodge-podge of castoffs plus the expansion team in Charlotte. It would be the anti-AL West, with all four teams boasting hitters parks (Charlotte would likely begin play in Knights Stadium, which is one of the International League's hitter friendliest parks). Tampa's probably got the most pitcher friendliest park, and only because it's generally neutral or slightly hitter friendly.

AL East: New York Yankees, Boston, Toronto, Baltimore

This division remains mostly intact, losing only the Tampa Bay Rays (much to the relief of the Yankees and Red Sox). Not to the relief of the Red Sox or Yankees, the new playoff format means no wildcard, and the division winner takes all.

NL West: San Francisco, Colorado, Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona

The NL West stays intact save for San Diego's defection. Losing the cavern in San Diego should provide a slight increase in ERAs and batting numbers for the division.

NL North: Milwaukee, Chicago Cubs, Omaha, Cincinnati

The NL Central gets exploded, with the largest fragment making up the NL North, joined by the expansion team from Omaha. Like the AL South, this should be a hitters division: the Cubs and Reds play in hitters parks, and while Milwaukee's park trends slightly towards pitching, Omaha's TD Ameritrade Park was modeled closely after old Rosenblatt Stadium, which was a friendly park for hitters.

NL South: St Louis, Houston, Atlanta, Florida

Two Central teams land in the new NL South with two NL East defectors. The Marlins will have a new stadium by this point and jury's out on how it will play, though the humidity has trended friendly towards hitters. However, Atlanta and St Louis have pitching friendly parks, which along with Houston's weirdo park should at least make things interesting.

NL East: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Mets, Washington

Pittsburgh gets deposited with the remaining NL East teams in a revised NL East. Philly's launchpad provides a fine juxtaposition to the pitching-neutral parks of the other three teams.

Obviously, there's no way to know how these teams will play in 5-10 years (though it's likely that the Royals under their present penny-pinching ownership will not be competitive), so there's no way to know if these divisions will be fiercely competitive or a walkover for given teams. But the new alignment's geographical clustering will reduce travel time for every team, and will reduce costs as air travel's costs continue to rise.


  1. If MLB were to do something about the DH problem, they could have 15 teams in each league and have an interleague game everyday. However there’s no easy answer to the DH problem because the players union is opposed to getting rid of it, and the NL clubs don’t want the DH.

  2. Looking back at this, I'll add a few things:

    - Houston moving to the AL changes how realignment would work out. I'll probably rewrite this someday, knowing now that Houston should probably stay in the AL, and that the expansion teams will be put in different leagues.

    - Charlotte has since built a new park that, unlike Omaha's new park, is definitely a Triple A stadium. They are probably out of the running and probably okay with that.

    - However, support has built in recent years to bring MLB back to Montreal, and if I had to pick a replacement for Charlotte then a revived Expos franchise would probably be it.

    - Hahaha hoo boy was I wrong about the Kansas City Royals. None of us could have seen that coming.