Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Realignment Good for MLB, Bad for Twins

Buster Olney reported about a week ago that there's a chance Major League Baseball will realign their current two league-three division per league format into a two league-one division per league format. Five teams from each league would make the playoffs, and the schedule would hopefully be much more balanced, which would create the most fair way for teams to make the playoffs. Major League Baseball obviously isn't all that concerned about evening the playing field, as they seem unlikely to ever adapt a salary cap that would give teams like Florida and Tampa Bay a chance to compete year in and year out with the Yankees and Red Sox. Of course, getting the players to agree to a salary cap is difficult, even if it comes with a salary floor*, and in my opinion realigning baseball would be a great idea.

*Most people understand what a salary cap is (A limit on how much the team can spend on payroll) but what a lot of people don't understand is that when a salary cap is implemented, there's also a salary floor. If a salary cap was introduced, teams like Florida, Kansas City and Pittsburgh would likely need to spend closer to $60MM or $70MM a year, rather than $40MM just to turn a profit. Salary caps hurt the stars and help the average players, which is why it's unlikely to ever get passed.

As a Twins fan, the realignment would hurt the team more than it would help. The AL Central, despite boasting three teams with over $100MM payrolls, continues to lack the elite level teams that the AL East and AL West churn out year after year. That would mean moving from the AL Central to a 15-team, one division league (with the Astros moving from the NL to the AL) would likely hurt the Twins in the long run, even with an added playoff spot per league.

Assuming the schedule becomes more balanced, the Twins won't get to play the AL Central teams more often than the rest of the league, which would be a problem. The team went 47-25 last season against the AL Central, which is a .653 winning percentage, and 47-33 against the rest of baseball, which is a .588 winning percentage. From 2001-2010, the Twins were 888-734 (.547) overall. During that time, the team was 428-313 (.578) in the division, while they were 460-411 (.528) against the rest of baseball. Clearly, it's more beneficial for the Twins to continue to play more than a third of their games against Kansas City, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago than the rest of the league. Assuming the schedule continues to have 18 interleague games on it, that would leave 144 games a season to be played against the 14 other American League teams.

In a perfect world, that would mean the Twins would play 10 games against 10 of the AL teams, and 11 against the remaining four. That would be a balanced schedule, which would certainly be the most fair way to balance the leagues without implementing a salary cap. I'm not certain this is how the schedule would be created, but it makes the most sense.

The Twins played Kansas City, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit about 18 times a season over the last decade, which would mean if the schedule became balanced the Twins would likely lose 8 games per team, so they'd have 32 more games a year against the rest of the American League as opposed to beating up on the AL Central. The difference between a .578 winning percentage and a .528 winning percentage over 30 games is a little under two wins, so the change over the course of a full season is actually minimal, but considering the Twins have played in 2 game 163's in the last 3 years, every game matters.

With the Yankees and Red Sox expected to always contend, that would leave three playoff spots for the other 13 American League teams to battle for, and while the Twins would likely prefer to remain in the AL Central and continue to compete in the league's worst division, giving teams like Toronto, Baltimore and Tampa Bay a more even playing field is a great idea for baseball. There's a lot of obstacles that this realignment plan would need to overcome, including getting 75% approval from the owners this coming winter, but it would make baseball much more compelling.

Personally, I'm getting tired of watching the Royals 18 times a year and only getting to see the Yankees 7 times, even if it means the Twins lose 11 more games than they would have.


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