On Realignment

Yesterday, I suggested realigning both leagues into two divisions each as a means of making the playoffs fair. I went back through the last 12 seasons to see what would have happened if they were aligned that way.

Since we’re looking at a time before the Astros moved to the AL, the alignment I used is a little different than the one I suggested in yesterday’s post. Here’s the breakdown:

AL East: BOS, NYY, TBR, TOR, BAL, DET, CLE

AL West: LAA, TEX, OAK, SEA, KCR, CHW, MIN

NL East: NYM, PHI, PIT, ATL, MIA, WSN, CIN, MIL

NL West: COL, SDP, LAD, SFG, ARZ, HOU, STL, CHC*

*I put the Cubs in the West mainly to have both Chicago teams in the same region, and also to preserve the long-standing Cubs-Cardinals rivalry. It would make just as much sense, geographically, to switch them with the Brewers.


Obviously this is an imperfect exercise because realignment would have changed every team’s strength of schedule. Still, I think it gives us an idea of what to expect.



2012
AL East: NYY (95-67) and BAL (93-69)
AL West: OAK (94-68) and TEX (93-69)
Actual playoffs: NYY, OAK and DET (88-74), plus a one-game playoff between TEX and BAL

Well, that’s about as fair as it gets. The four best teams in the league would have been the four teams in the playoffs. The 88-win Tigers would have missed the postseason entirely in favor of superior teams.


NL East: WSN (98-64) and CIN (97-65)

NL West: SFG (94-68) and STL (88-74)
Actual playoffs: WSN, CIN and CIN, plus a one-game playoff between STL and ATL (94-68)

Okay, that one didn’t go as well. The 94-win Braves would have finished third in the East and out of the playoffs.


2011

AL East: NYY (97-65) and DET (95-67)
AL West: TEX (96-66) and LAA (86-76)
Actual playoffs: NYY, DET, TEX and TBR (91-71)

Under this scenario, the Rays and Red Sox would have missed the playoffs despite having better records than the Angels. It’s certainly not egregious, but it’s less than ideal.


NL East: PHI (102-60) and MIL (96-66)

NL West: ARI (94-68) and STL (90-72)
Actual playoffs: PHI, MIL, ARI and STL

On the other hand, the NL gives us a playoff featuring the four best records in the league. This is the first case in which the realigned playoff teams would be the same as the actual playoff teams.


2010

AL East: TBR (96-66) and NYY (95-67)
AL West: MIN (94-68) and TEX (90-72)
Actual playoffs: TBR, NYY, MIN and TEX

Those four teams had the four best records in the league. That’s exactly what I’m looking for, and it’s what the old system gave us as well.


NL East: PHI (97-65) and either CIN (91-71) or ATL (91-71)

NL West: SFG (92-70) and SDP (90-72)
Actual playoffs: PHI, CIN, ATL, SFG

We have our first (or last, since I’m going in reverse order) one-game playoff under the proposed system, as the Reds would have faced the Braves in a fight for second place in the East. Again, the five postseason teams would have been the five best teams in the league.


2009

AL East: NYY (103-59) and BOS (95-67)
AL West: LAA (97-65) and TEX (87-75)
Actual playoffs: NYY, BOS, LAA and MIN (87-76)

We would have seen an exciting race for that last playoff spot, as Seattle, Detroit and Minnesota all finished within two games of the Rangers.


NL East: PHI (93-69) and FLA (87-75)

NL West: LAD (95-67) and COL (92-70)
Actual playoffs: PHI, LAD, COL and STL (91-71)

This realignment would have left out both the Cardinals and the Giants even though they had better records than the Marlins. Again, that’s bad but not egregious.


2008

AL East: TBR (97-65) and BOS (95-67)
AL West: LAA (100-62) and CHW (89-74)
Actual playoffs: TBR, BOS, LAA and CHW

In real life, the White Sox beat out the Twins in a one-game playoff for the AL Central. In this scenario, they would have played for second place in the AL West. The Yankees would have missed the playoffs with a better record than either team (as they did in reality), but only by a margin of one game.


NL East: PHI (92-70) and MIL (90-72)

NL West: CHC (97-64) and either HOU (86-75) or STL (86-76)
Actual playoffs: PHI, CHC, MIL and LAD (84-78)

This is a weird one. The NL West was pretty terrible in 2008, as the Dodgers won the division with that meager 84-78 record. My proposed realignment would give the division three superior teams in the Cubs, Astros and Cardinals.


Now, the actual 2008 Astros only played 161 games because of Hurricane Ike. Since they finished the season in third place and out of the Wild Card race, they didn’t bother making the odd game up. Under my proposed realignment, though, they would have finished just half a game ahead of the Cardinals for second place in the reimagined NL West.


The Astros would have had to make up that last game. With a win, they’d be in the playoffs with an 87-75 record. With a loss, they’d end up tied with St. Louis, and they’d play a one-game playoff for that final spot in the Division Series.


Either way, realignment would have kept the 84-win Dodgers far, far away from the postseason. So much for Mannywood.


2007

AL East: BOS (96-66) and CLE (96-66)
AL West: LAA (94-68) and SEA (88-74)
Actual playoffs: BOS, CLE, LAA and NYY (94-68)

Realignment would have left the 94-win Yankees out of the playoffs while letting in the 88-win Mariners. As a Red Sox fan, I’m good with this. Objectively, I’ll admit that it isn’t terribly fair.


NL East: PHI (89-73) and NYM (88-74)

NL West: ARI (90-72) and COL (90-73)
Actual playoffs: PHI, ARI, COL and CHC (85-77)

In this realigned NL, we still would have had that thrilling Game 163 between the Rockies and the Padres; it just would have been for second place in the West rather than the Wild Card spot. Meanwhile, the 85-win Cubs would have been pushed aside, and the 88-win Mets would have been in. It’s a small improvement, but an improvement nonetheless.


2006

AL East: NYY (97-65) and DET (95-67)
AL West: MIN (96-66) and OAK (93-69)
Actual playoffs: NYY, DET, MIN and OAK

Other than differences in first-round matchups, the AL playoffs would have been exactly the same in a realigned league as they were in a three-division league.


NL East: NYM (97-65) and PHI (85-77)

NL West: SDP (88-74) and LAD (88-74)
Actual playoffs: NYM, SDP, LAD and STL (83-79)

The 83-win Cardinals infamously won their division and went on to win the World Series. In a realigned NL, they would have finished third in the West and out of the playoffs.


2005

AL East: NYY (95-67) and BOS (95-67)
AL West: CHW (99-63) and LAA (95-67)
Actual playoffs: NYY, BOS, CHW and LAA

As with the 2006 AL, these are the four teams that actually made the playoffs in the old three-division system. Even the first-round matchups would have been unchanged in this case.


NL East: ATL (90-72) and PHI (88-74)

NL West: STL (100-62) and HOU (89-73)
Actual playoffs: ATL, STL, HOU and SDP (82-80)

If the ’06 Cardinals were the worst world champions in recent memory, the ’05 Padres were the worst playoff team in recent memory. Realignment pushes them out in favor of the 88-win Phillies.


2004

AL East: NYY (101-61) and BOS (98-64)
AL West: MIN (92-70) and ANA (92-70)
Actual playoffs: NYY, BOS, MIN and ANA

Every now and again, I’ll still hear someone say that the ’04 Red Sox weren’t legitimate world champions because they didn’t win their division. To this, I’ll always point out that the Sox won 98 games that year, giving them the second-best overall record in the league by a wide margin. It’s not their fault that the one team with a better record happened to be in the same division.


At any rate, the playoff teams in the realigned AL match the playoff teams in the actual AL for the third straight year.


NL East: ATL (96-66) and PHI (86-76)

NL West: STL (105-57) and LAD (93-69)
Actual playoffs: ATL, STL, LAD and HOU (92-70)

Adding the Reds, Pirates and Brewers to the East in a year that all three teams were terrible certainly doesn’t look like a great move in hindsight. Four teams (HOU, SFG, CHC and SDP) would have missed the playoffs despite better records than the Phillies.


2003

AL East: NYY (101-61) and BOS (95-67)
AL West: OAK (96-66) and SEA (93-69)
Actual playoffs: NYY, BOS, OAK and MIN (90-72)

Here, realignment essentially swaps out the 90-win Twins for the 93-win Mariners. That seems like a good move.


NL East: ATL (101-61) and FLA (91-71)

NL West: SFG (100-61) and CHC (88-74)
Actual playoffs: ATL, FLA, SFG, CHC

The best four teams made the playoffs under the old rules. The best four teams would still have made the playoffs with the proposed change.


2002

AL East: NYY (103-58) and BOS (93-69)
AL West: OAK (103-59) and ANA (99-63)
Actual playoffs: NYY, OAK, ANA and MIN (94-67)

In this case, realignment exchanges a 94-win team for a 93-win team. That’s not good, but it’s fairly minor, especially given that the Twins played in an awful division that year.


NL East: ATL (101-59) and MON (83-79)

NL West: ARI (98-64) and STL (97-65)
Actual playoffs: ATL, ARI, STL and SFG (95-66)

Okay, this is the biggest strike against realignment we’ve seen. The change replaces the 95-win Giants with the 83-win Expos. (On the plus side, the poor Expos could use the break.) Two other non-playoff teams had better records than Montreal.


2001

AL East: NYY (95-65) and CLE (91-71)
AL West: SEA (116-46) and OAK (102-60)
Actual playoffs: NYY, CLE, SEA, OAK

Even the first-round matchups would have been exactly the same. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.


NL East: ATL (88-74) and PHI (86-76)

NL West: HOU (93-69) and STL (93-69)
Actual playoffs: ATL, HOU, STL and ARI (92-70)

Man, the NL East was terrible back in the early aughts.



In this analysis of 24 league-seasons, we’ve seen the following:

Realignment would have made the postseason pool stronger in the 2012 AL, 2009 AL (just barely), 2008 NL, 2007 NL, 2006 NL, 2005 NL, 2003 AL


On the other hand, realignment would have made the postseason pool weaker in the 2012 NL, 2011 AL, 2009 NL, 2007 AL, 2004 NL, 2002 AL (just barely), 2002 NL and 2001 NL.


The postseason pool would have stayed the same in the 2011 NL, 2010 AL, 2010 NL (mostly), 2008 AL, 2006 AL, 2005 AL, 2004 AL, 2003 NL and 2001 AL.


In all, we have seven league-seasons in which realignment would have made a stronger postseason pool and eight in which it would have made a weaker postseason pool. The remaining nine league-seasons would have seen no difference other than the addition of a one-game playoff in the 2010 NL.


You’d get slightly different results by realigning the league in different ways, but the point is that the two-division system is more or less a wash with the old three-division system. I still prefer the two-division setup, though, because it eliminates all of the most unqualified playoff teams of the last 12 years: the ’05 Padres, the ’06 Cardinals, the ’07 Cubs and the ’08 Dodgers. The worst team to make the postseason in my reimagined league: the ’02 Expos in an insane down year for the non-Braves members of the NL East. The second-worst: the ’06 Phillies, who replace the aforementioned Cardinals.


Compared to the issues introduced by the second wild card, though, this realigned setup looks pretty excellent.


As far as this year is concerned, we’d have the following standings:

AL East: BOS, DET
AL West: OAK, TEX

NL East: ATL, PIT

NL West: LAD, STL

Really, the only race worth watching in a realigned league would be the fight for the NL East. The Reds would trail the second-place Pirates by just one game, and both would have a legitimate shot at the first-place Braves. Out West, the Dodgers and Cardinals might flip-flop at the top, but both would go to the postseason; the same could be said for the A’s and Rangers in the AL. As far as the realigned AL East is concerned, the Tigers could make a run at the first-place Red Sox, but even that is a long shot, and both teams would make the playoffs either way. It would take a pretty impressive run for the third-place Rays to get in.


Such a league wouldn’t be terribly exciting in September, but we’d be guaranteed to see the best eight teams in the playoffs, which makes for excellent October baseball.



Look, there’s only one perfectly fair playoff system. Eliminate divisions entirely, have every team in each league play all of the other teams the same number of times and pick the best X teams to go to the postseason. Since baseball is never going to use such a system again,* we have to find a way to work with divisions and keep things mostly equitable.

*I say again because this was exactly the system used in the pre-expansion era. There were two leagues, and the best team in each league went to the World Series. I like that the current playoffs include more than two teams, but I think the intent there was good.


In realigned leagues with two divisions each, we’d create a more balanced schedule while keeping the big geographic and historic rivalries (Yankees/Red Sox, Cardinals/Cubs, etc.). Interleague play would be easy to manage as well, either throughout the year as it is now or as a short stretch in the middle of the season as it was previously. Finally, it would require expansion, which means more baseball. Who doesn’t want more baseball?


Of course, we could also just go back to the old rules. Just please get rid of the second Wild Card.

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