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Realignment Reconsidered

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Olberman explains why my take on realignment, going divisionless, and interleague play is WRONG in all its particulars. He makes valid points.

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Written by jjvedamuthu

June 19, 2011 at 14:36

More Realignment Musings

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Diamondbacks don’t want to move to AL. Bah! Who cares?! They came into existence in 1998. Their opinion matters not!

Calcaterra’s arguments about the logistical problem(s) of adding another Texas team to the AL West make a lot of sense, too. The Mariner already travel more miles than almost every other team pretty much every year; some (most) years they are first in miles traveled, other years they are second, depending on what sort of interleague nightmare the Marlins end up having to deal with (last year,  because they played AL West teams, the Marlins traveled the most miles, but pretty much every other year the Mariners do).

Calcaterra then asks if realignment is just a Trojan Horse method of universalizing the DH? Gosh, I hope not. Not that I like watching pitchers hit, since they generally don’t, but rather I like watching managers try to use their benches, though thanks to Tony LaRussa-influenced bullpen construction, they don’t have much to work with these days.

[Parenthetical Rant–Curse LaRussa and his “defined bullpen role” stuff that makes bullpen management kind of a paint-by-numbers routine. And how come announcers who always pine for the old pre-pitch count days also say that guys in the bullpen need to know their roles? Huh? Back when they didn’t use pitch counts they brought in bullpen aces in high-leverage situations rather than just in ninth with a three-run lead and no one on base. I tell ya’, announcers really take the cake for failing to consider the lather that passes their lips. (I like Bert Blyleven, but he’s as guilty as anyone for talking out both sides of his mouth: starters should finish what they start ’cause he did it, but bullpen guys HAVE to know their role. Read The Long Season, read Ball Four, those guys had no idea when they’d be used…..) *sigh* 3 shots and a beer later and I still wish LaRussa would swallow the lemon he’s been sucking on since about 1980 and retire…so. damn. overrated.]

Here is a link to Goold’s piece, “The Problem with Perpetual Interleague Play,” which Calcaterra references. Note, however, that the short response to its contentions is this: how about we add two roster spots, instead? Granted, LaRussa would immediately add two more relief pitchers so he can make the sixth to ninth innings last even longer, but other teams might rationally use them to extend their benches and add additional hitters so that NL teams will be DH-capable. The problem with Goold’s piece is that while he makes a bunch of decent arguments about the problem of perpetual interleague play, he leaps to the conclusion–without a shred of evidence–that it’s all just a ploy to force the DH on the NL. Huh? It’s not completely terrible, but it’s pretty weak and weasley. While he isn’t writing for Foreign Affairs or an appellate court, you gotta’ figure he could at least reach his conclusion with some evidence or at least a decent argument.

Joe Lemire at Sports Illustrated doesn’t like abolishing divisions. Divisions, he says, “have a sense of identity and purpose.” This argument makes some sense on its face. Apply it to other circumstances, however, and you begin to see its inherent weakness. For example, in the former Yugoslavia, ethnic nationalism supplies “a sense of identity and purpose.” Uh, not so positive. It is an appeal to “the ways things have been” rather than to any intrinsic necessity. He then says that divisions heighten rivalries. As though there were no rivalries before divisions. Sorry, pal, but rivalries between the Cubs and Cardinals and Yankees and Red Sox persisted long before anyone in the Commissioner’s Office even dreamed of divisional play. The rest of his piece nicely demolishes the problem of persistent interleague play, so I’ll that be.

Here is an example from 2008 on why divisions suck and insert a imbalance (and irrationality) into the game that should be corrected.

Written by jjvedamuthu

June 14, 2011 at 14:40

Realignment Round-Up

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I will try to keep my comments brief (yeah, I know that’s pretty much UNBELIEVABLE…and a lie).

First,  links to my previous posts on the matter are here, here, and here.

Craig C. at Hardball Talk expresses cautious optimism but the fan poll likes divisional play or something.

“Duk at Big League Stew mostly talks about the Rangers and Astros in the same division as the “best” possibility. Uh, ??!!(Remember, I think divisions create suboptimal outcomes and should be rejected on that level alone; the Seahawks winning a playoff game doesn’t matter–they should not have even been in one, let alone hosting one).

FOX Sports’ J.P. Morosi also says move the Astros to the AL West. Where he gets really, really stupid is when he says that the four divisional structure made the regular season so important in baseball. This man knows very little about baseball history, apparently. You see, the thing that made baseball’s regular season so damn important for about seven decades was that…one team from each league made the post-season. That is, until divisional play started, there was only one post-season series: the World Series. So, his “history” is based on his lifetime of memories rather than on, uh, HISTORY. Historians call this sort of insipidity, “presentism,” the belief that all of history leads up to the now, and that it can be interpreted solely in terms of the now. And the whole concern about teams not being able to raise a divisional championship banner…does anyone really get teary-eyed seeing a divisional championship banner go up? No, really, who cares? A league pennant, uh, pennant matters; a divisional crown, is…kind of dumb.(Okay, so I LIED when I said I would be brief.)

Dave Allen at FanGraphs, isn’t insipid, and has an interesting evaluation of realignment and playoff races.

Here are some interesting observations about team construction and perpetual interleague play.

And, finally, here is a terrible idea for the realignment scheme–Bowden’s idea is way, way more palatable (all divisions even-sized, at least) and I give it a palpable UGH.

Written by jjvedamuthu

June 13, 2011 at 12:58

Relignment and Re-Divisioning, Continued

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More discussion on realignment and re-distributive divisioning from former-GM Jim Bowden and Rob Neyer.

To Bowden’s proposal, I say UGH!

My problem with Bowden’s proposal is that it goes way, way too far. This isn’t the NBA or NHL or NFL, whose history’s prior to, oh, 1950 are largely lost in a beer and whiskey haze. No, this is baseball, which has a rich history worthy of preservation and a sense of continuity.

So, Bowden goes a lot too far.

Heck, even the NFL, in its last–extensive–realignment, realized that pure geography wasn’t conducive to maintaining historical rivalries: Dallas in the NFC East, for example. And the “new” NFC North is really the old NFC Central as it existed prior to  Tampa Bay joining it in 1977.

A view that dissents from mine and Neyer’s was presented by Al Yellon. However, his “response” suffers from not being very responsive: even though Yellon’s piece is a response to Neyer’s, he fails to grapple with Neyer’s pre-emptive answers to the points Yellon raises. That is, Neyer raises those points and answers them, while Yellon just repeats those points without dealing with the answers to them that Neyer makes. About the only real point Yellon makes is to say he appreciates the “quirky” irrationalities of the status quo. Which in my book is sort of like saying you love the Electoral College or the Smoot-Hawley Tariff (sorry, as a political scientist weird things like that leap up at me when I’m looking for quick and dirty analogies).

Remember, I think they should move a team from the NL to the AL–a team which came into existence in 1968 or later, for NONE of the original National League teams should be moved to the AL; you got 100+ years in the NL you get to freakin’ stay there–so that both leagues have 15 teams, and then you eliminate divisions and have league-wide standings and (as close as possible to) a balanced schedule.

Even though I don’t care for interleague play, the reason I don’t care for it is that teams in the same division play different interleague opponents based on their “natural” rivalries. Well, in a 15 team league with no divisions you play each team in the other league twice (30 total games) but that means everyone plays the same opponents, so it wouldn’t be as biased as the status quo. It at least irons out part of the wrinkly inequities of the current “system” of determining interleague opponents. The Mets get screwed every year, and while they aren’t really a threat in the NL East this year, and while I also don’t really care for the Mets, it still is unfair that they have a harder road to hew right off the top than the other teams in their division.

Neyer wisely points out that most of what we’ll here from sports “pundits” (like that colossal idiot Dan Shaughnessy, may a keyboard scald his filthy fingers) will basically whine about the unfamiliar:

Not all, but most of the arguments will essentially be this: We can’t do it this new way, because I like the old way!

Just so you know, most of the people making that argument were also dead-set against realignment and the related changes in 1994. Then, like now, most of the arguments were fundamentally about fear of change, rather than what might be more entertaining, more profitable, more fair, etc.

I don’t mean to dismiss the arguments and the complaints that will attend any change to the current protocol. I’m just saying that most of them will be driven by emotion rather than logic. Which is fine; without emotion, there wouldn’t be professional sports and I wouldn’t make a pretty good living writing stuff for you to read.

I guess that’s kind of like my argument–uh, whine–that the old-school NL teams should stay NL, but divisional play began only in 1969, whereas the NL played with the same eight teams from, oh, 1900 or 1901 until 1962.

Anyway, vote in the poll at the bottom of Neyer’s piece. The results might surprise you.

I’ll try to keep up with the “Pundit’s” reactions to this news from over the weekend. It should be interesting.

Written by jjvedamuthu

June 12, 2011 at 16:18

Realignment and De-Deivisioning Talk

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Now this is what I like to hear: talk that MLB will move to two 15-team leagues with no divisions. Buster Olney, one of my favorite baseball writers if for no other reason than the amazing The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, does the reporting.

The key considerations are

From a competitive standpoint, it’s the kind of thing that needs to happen. It’s not fair that the teams in the National League Central are at worse odds of reaching the postseason than the teams in all other divisions. The Cardinals, or Brewers, or Cubs must finish with a better record than five other squads in order to win the division and secure a playoff berth. The division winner in the American League West, meanwhile, only has to beat out three teams. The odds can change yearly based on talent level and the Wild Card race — at the moment it’s an advantage to have the Astros and Pirates on the schedule frequently — but simple math says a team in the Central will face a disadvantage most seasons. And, hey, the Bucs are showing signs of life.

Two club executives suggested to Olney that the Astros, currently at the bottom of the NL Central, would likely be moved to the AL West to create a potential rivalry in Texas with the Arlington-based Rangers.

There’s also been a discussion of getting rid of divisions altogether, and simply awarding playoff spots to the top five records in each league. The NHL has a well-received setup that is fairly similar.

This makes sense to me, as I said here.

It will make playoff qualification much more fair.

Unfortunately, according to Olney it’s only a 50-50 proposition. Why, oh why, is baseball always, say, ten to twenty years behind the curve? Historical consciousness doesn’t have to mean inability to recognize the demands of the future.

I think you go all the way and eliminate divisions entirely so as not to reward suboptimal play by giving teams with worse records in easier divisions playoff spots that should go to teams that have better records. For example, someone is probably going to get screwed in the AL East, where the third-place team will probably have a better record than the winner of one of the two other divisions.

Worries that the regular season is rendered irrelevant by adding additional rounds of playoff play are really, really insipid in light of how the divisional playoff structure can exclude teams with better records because they play in very strong divisions. It might not happen every year, but the very fact it is even theoretically possible demonstrates the insipidity of the current structure of play.

Also, as I’ve said before, interleague play screws things up for divisional races, since teams’ schedules aren’t all equally difficult (or easy) due to “natural” rivalries, thus defeating the purpose of divisional races.

If you didn’t click the link, what I said about it was this:

If divisional races have meaning, then pairing off teams for “natural/geographical” rivalries, while sort of cool in a post-modern/simulacrum/hyperreal kind of way, means that teams in the same divisions don’t play the same quality of opposition. That is, the Mets always draw the Yankees, but the Braves don’t necessarily have that headache.

This factor alone makes the divisional races kind of a farce.

If you must have interleague play–and to me that’s a big if, but I guess everyone with the money favors it–then you also must eliminate divisions if you wish to produce a regular season (audition) for post-season play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by jjvedamuthu

June 11, 2011 at 13:07

Realignment Idea

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Neat idea.

What do you think? I totally favor getting rid of divisions and using league-wide standings. If the purpose of the playoffs is to determine the best team, then divisional winners with records worse than other teams are a farce. Baseball season is sufficiently long to determine on the basis of won-loss records who the best teams are.

In the current configuration I hate interleague play.  If divisional races have meaning, then pairing off teams for “natural/geographical” rivalries, while sort of cool in a post-modern/simulacrum/hyperreal kind of way, means that teams in the same divisions don’t play the same quality of opposition. That is, the Mets always draw the Yankees, but the Braves don’t necessarily have that headache.

This factor alone makes the divisional races kind of a farce.

If you must have interleague play–and to me that’s a big if, but I guess everyone with the money favors it–then you also must eliminate divisions if you wish to produce a regular season (audition) for post-season play.

Just sayin’.

UPDATE–Here is an analysis of interleague play’s imbalances which I kind of vaguely referred to without coherently explaining. The key line reads like this:

The inherent imbalance that this system creates can make very real differences in tight pennant races.

But he really makes the point in these paragraphs:

The Red Sox, however, get a huge boost over their AL East competitors, because they get to play the floundering Cubs, Padres and Astros. They also get series against the sub-.500 Brewers and Pirates. The only team currently above .500 they have to play in their interleague slate is Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the Rays have to square off against a tough Marlins team for six games, along with three-game sets against St. Louis, Cincinnati and Milwaukee. Given that just 2.5 games separate the top four teams in the East, it’s very likely that those extra contests against quality opponents could cost the Rays at least a division title and maybe even the AL wild card, while helping Boston sneak in.

Likewise, the Rangers look to be in a tight battle in the AL West for the rest of the season with the A’s and Angels. Fortunately for them they get a huge boost from their interleague schedule, since they get to play the hapless Astros six times, while Oakland has to face the cross-Bay World Champion Giants six times, plus the Phillies and Marlins three times each. The Indians, as they work to prove they are not a fluke, will have to contend with the fifth-hardest interleague schedule in baseball.

Over in the National League, the Reds join the Tribe in that they get totally screwed by their interleague schedule. Not only do they face the toughest opponents because they don’t face anyone currently under .500, they are also one of just four National League clubs that have to play 18 games against the AL. Admittedly, the Indians team that they play six times may not be as good as advertised, but the Reds still have to play the AL East in all 12 of their other interleague contests, which should prove difficult. Meanwhile, the Cubs and Brewers get six games each against the White Sox and Twins, respectively. That might have looked tough on paper in March, but less so now.

In the NL East, Atlanta only has to play 15 games against AL clubs, nine of which are against teams that are under .500. On the other hand, the Marlins get 18 contests against the AL, six of which come against Tampa Bay, and three each against the A’s and Rangers. Depending on which pitchers they run up against when the Angels come to town, the Fish could be shut down then too.

Written by jjvedamuthu

May 21, 2011 at 12:47