The 2013 Major League season is (almost) over, with only a tiebreaker playoff between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers remaining. But the complaints have been flying fast and furious that the Major League schedule for 2013 was unfair to teams in the American League East. Specifically, contending teams from the West and Central divisions were able to fatten up on relatively weak opponents (Houston, Seattle, the White Sox, Minnesota) while the AL East was strong top-to-bottom. Since the wild card is a competition among teams from all divisions, the claim is that in a balanced schedule the AL East teams would have been far more competitive for the two wild-card spots. See, for example, http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/unbalanced-schedule-unfair-al-east-teams-wild-card-race-092213 for a representative complaint.
Interesting thesis: but is it true? To find out, we calculated the Balanced Schedule Equivalent Record for major league teams. The BSER calculates what team’s records would have been had the Major Leagues played a balanced schedule in 2013.
The logic behind the BSER is simple: each team played a total of 142 games against the 14 other teams in its own league, plus 20 interleague games. This works out to an average of just a little over 10 games against each team in a balanced schedule, as opposed to 19 games against teams in its own division and an average of 6.6 games against teams in the other two divisions. If we scale each head-to-head record by the appropriate factor (142/(19*14) for teams in one’s own division; 142/(6.6*14) for teams in the other divisions) we arrive at what the in-league record would have been for each team, had they played a balanced schedule. Add in the interleague games, and, voila; we have the final BSER.
The results for the National League are shown in Table 1
|Team||BSER Wins||Actual Wins|
Though there are some differences here (LA finishes with the National League’s best record, instead of having the third seed, and Pittsburgh goes to Cincinnati for the wild card instead of the other way round), the playoff teams are unchanged. In the American League this is (almost) true as well.
|Team||BSER Wins||Actual Wins|
|Chi White Sox||66.44679882||63|
Boston keeps the league’s best record, and Oakland remains the #2 seed, a game behind. Interestingly, Cleveland actually wins the Central by two games over Detroit, and Tampa Bay is the other wildcard. The complaints do have some validity: Texas did benefit enormously from the unbalanced schedule, winning 10 games more than they would have done in a balanced schedule. However, the AL East teams wouldn’t have done a great deal better under a balanced schedule (Tampa Bay would actually have lost a game, and the Yankees and Baltimore would only have picked up three each).
The calculation here is quite simple; if Major League baseball is genuinely perturbed by this season’s outcome, it could shift to the BSER to calculate wild-card teams and home-field seedings for the playoffs, thus permitting MLB to retain the unbalanced schedule and the excitement of the division races while maintaing fairness in inter-division competitions.
Or not. The flaws in that plan are easy to see from the above tables: the whole point of unbalanced schedules is to emphasize division games. Suppose a team finished second in its division in the unbalanced schedule, but third in the wild-card race behind the third-place team in its own division (as you can see from the above, the BSER can invert standings in a division). Who goes to the wildcard? And should Cincinnati or Pittsburgh have the home-field this year? Pittsburgh finished ahead in the division, but Cincy in the BSER race…
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