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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The 2020 Schedule Meets the Chopping Block

Life isn’t fair, as it continually reminds us, but we try to keep sports as far from the harsh light of reality as we can. The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays certainly don’t start in the same place when creating a roster, but when those players are on the field, everybody has to play by the same rules. Whether you’re facing Gerrit Cole or whatever fifth starter the Baltimore Orioles Mad-Libbed onto the roster, you have to get actual hits, score actual runs, and make actual Statcast-blessed defensive plays.

It’s extraordinarily difficult to keep the schedules teams face fair. Ideally, we’d want every team to face the same strength of schedule. With complete discretion over the design of the season, that’s still a nearly impossible task, without knowing which teams will be the best and worst ones ahead of time. And it becomes definitely impossible with unbalanced division schedules, series played mostly in three or four-game chunks, and a need to avoid having teams travel thousands of miles every day, like some character in the final season of Game of Thrones.

And even if you avoid all these things using some dark magics from the Necronomicon or Carson Cistulli’s personal notes, you’re still bound by the laws of the physical universe. Teams can’t play themselves, so even if every team played every other team the same number of games each season, the Yankees get a bonus by not having to play the Yankees, while Orioles’ hitters never get the opportunity to feast on Orioles pitching.

A consideration of the consequences of this season being shorter than usual.

 

QLE Posted: April 21, 2020 at 01:02 AM | 9 comment(s)
  Beats: 2020 season, dan szymborski, schedule, shortened season

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Arizona-Florida Plan Creates a Solvable Scheduling Pickle

Last week, two competing plans for an alternate-site baseball season were leaked. The first was the so-called Arizona Plan: Send all 30 teams to Arizona, rotate games between the available fields, and play an abbreviated major league season with no in-person audience. That plan has its logistical pitfalls, but one of the few things the plan doesn’t alter is the existing divisional structure of baseball. Aside from a shorter season and its attendant complications, baseball would mostly work the way it always has: the Red Sox, Rays, and Yankees would attempt to club each other into submission, the AL Central would be full of rebuilding teams, and so on.

The second plan, the so-called Arizona-Florida plan, would be something else entirely. Instead of recreating the exact structure of the league in one city, this plan would place each team at their spring training facility. Many of the logistical issues from before would still need to be answered. Assuming those can be handled, however, there’s still one major twist: instead of existing divisions, the teams would be grouped by geographic proximity — and, of course, given that the existing setup isn’t 15 AL teams in one location and 15 NL teams in the other, the leagues would be scrambled.

....

First things first: how would an odd-numbered league work? Baseball has gone to interleague play in part to avoid this question: in a game where most every team plays most every day, having odd-numbered leagues won’t work. That’s why expansion was always done with two teams joining a single league at once; before the Rockies and Marlins were added, the AL had 14 teams to the NL’s 12. When the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays joined the majors in 1998, the Brewers were shifted to the National League to keep the numbers even — 16 NL teams and 14 AL.

When, in 2013, interleague play became a daily occurrence instead of a specific chunk of calendar, the Astros shifted to the AL, setting up our current 15-team leagues. But of course, the daily interleague play plan won’t work anymore; no one’s flying back and forth across the country in this plan, which is specifically designed to avoid flying back and forth across the country.

A further consideration of aspects of the current proposals concerning the 2020 season.

 

QLE Posted: April 14, 2020 at 01:22 AM | 6 comment(s)
  Beats: 2020 season, arizona bubble league, florida, schedule

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

MLB: Throw out the schedule and turn 2020 into one big tournament

The shape of the 2020 Major League Baseball season doesn’t even make the top-100 list of things that matter at the moment, but it’s my bailiwick, so I’m thinking about it a lot right now. Thinking, mostly, about how it might look when it does, eventually, resume.

At the moment it’s almost impossible to imagine a season that resumes before Memorial Day and, more realistically, I think it’ll be much longer. Let’s say for a moment that teams don’t ramp up training again until June and the season can’t get started until July. What then?

One thing that makes no sense is to simply start the currently-existing schedule from where it would be on go-date. Mostly because it’d be unfair. I mean, the full schedule is already unfair given its unbalanced nature, with teams in different divisions competing for the Wild Cards and for playoff seeding while playing schedules of radically different strength compared to their competitors. If, say, the Athletics have half of their games against Houston lopped off but the Rays still have to play the Yankees a dozen times or more, you’re just exacerbating an already suboptimal situation.

One way to deal with that is to generate a new schedule, unbalanced or balanced, that begins at the new start date. Scheduling is super hard, though. The number of variables that go into it are massive. Logistics, travel patterns, avoiding various large events in certain cities such as concerts and political conventions whatnot are a lot to plan around, and that’s with months and months of advance work. When we figure out 2020’s go-date, we’re not going to have a ton of time to generate a coherent schedule and plan for it in all the ways it normally has to be planned for.

On the bright side, at least Kool and the Gang have already written the perfect theme song for this.

 

QLE Posted: March 17, 2020 at 12:52 AM | 8 comment(s)
  Beats: schedule, tournament

Friday, February 28, 2020

Astros, ‘Field of Dreams’ game highlight 2020 MLB schedule

CHICAGO (AP) — The Washington Nationals defend their first championship. The Houston Astros take on, well, the world. Major league baseball comes to Iowa — and returns to London.

Here are a handful of dates to mark on the calendar:

THURSDAY, MARCH 26

St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds: Nick Castellanos brings his “Every day is opening day” mantra to Cincinnati, where opening day is pretty much a city-wide holiday. The quirky outfielder signed a $64 million, four-year contract with Cincinnati in January, a key part of an active offseason for the refurbished Reds. The Cardinals, led by Jack Flaherty and Paul Goldschmidt, are going for their second straight NL Central title.

So, see anything you want to attend?

QLE Posted: February 28, 2020 at 01:05 AM | 1 comment(s)
  Beats: field of dreams, hall of fame, london, opening day, schedule

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

The Pen: How baseball might change in the 2020s

Baseball has such a long history of proud consistency and a culture built on self-referential comparisons between eras. From a distance it’s defined by sameness across centuries, but when you zoom in, it feels like we’re always in a moment of pivotal — and controversial — change. That was true of the last decade (10 years ago there wasn’t even in-season testing for human-growth hormone, only the Los Angeles Angels were interested in a young man named Mike Trout, and instant replay applied only to home runs) and it will certainly be true of the 2020s.

For instance: an overhaul of the way pitch selection is relayed and even who does the relaying. On Monday, I reported on Major League Baseball’s plans to test prototypes as soon as this spring for technological communication of pitches. We don’t know yet what that will look like — wearable random number generators, lights in the mound, or something else entirely — but I’m sure its implementation will be contentious and hand-wring-y and full of opportunities to lament the state of a once-great game.

I, for one, am looking forward to it. Implicit in that news was another forthcoming change. MLB (in this case that means people within the commissioner’s office) expects teams to shift toward having coaches in the dugout calling the game instead of catchers behind the plate. The various trickle-down effects — making the backstop more of a filler role for another offensive powerhouse — are fascinating, both fun to predict and exciting in their exhaustive unpredictability. Baseball doesn’t change so much as evolve — developments in the wider world beget necessary reactions which beget adaptations or even exploitations and counterstrikes and codifications and overcorrections, and the whole process is constantly acting on all areas of the game in perpetuity.

In the spirit of all this and the new decade, here are a handful of (arbitrary and largely uninformed) predictions for baseball in the 2020s

Which of these shifts will we see? Which won’t happen? Which of these will, but that we wish didn’t?

QLE Posted: January 08, 2020 at 12:56 AM | 0 comment(s)
  Beats: montreal, player managers, robot umpires, schedule, the future

 

 

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