Division Realignment

By mattmilner

Anyone who has followed baseball at all in the past decade probably knows about the growing disparity between the finances of the richest teams and the of the poorest teams. This problem is easily seen in the American League East, where you have the Red Sox and Yankees who have huge budgets, and the Rays, Blue Jays, and Orioles with much smaller budgets. What it boils down to is teams with big budgets can essentially rebuild overnight, while those with small budgets usually have 5+ year rebuilding plans and have a much harder time hanging on to their home grown talent once it reaches free agency.

Recently, there has been talk out of Bud Selig’s office of division realignment. No serious talks have been discussed yet, but Selig says he would be open to discussing it before and during the next collective bargaining agreement. Now, the traditionalist in me does not like the idea of realigning the divisions, but the realist in me sees that there is an issue that needs to be resolved for the sake of baseball. Floating realignment probably addresses these problems better than any alternative out there.

I think a realignment system set up for 5 year intervals with the alignment based on average team budget and record over that time period would keep parity in baseball high, which in my opinion, would help teams from all markets draw fans to the stadiums. If we pretend such a system was to be put into effect next season, here is what the data would look like.

Yankees $  200,627,941
Red Sox $  128,353,439
Mets $  120,957,962
Angels $  108,674,798
Cubs $  106,856,519
Dodgers $  101,788,768
White Sox $  100,771,666
Tigers $    99,931,115
Mariners $    99,749,130
Phillies $    96,899,494
Braves $    92,599,372
Cardinals $    91,887,577
Astros $    89,803,266
Giants $    85,937,185
Blue Jays $    75,617,900
Orioles $    74,870,527
Reds $    67,876,655
Brewers $    65,921,933
Rangers $    65,657,492
Indians $    63,951,300
Diamondbacks $    62,760,063
Twins $    62,650,708
Padres $    61,741,972
Athletics $    61,462,381
Rockies $    57,533,700
Royals $    56,021,267
Nationals $    52,872,200
Pirates $    44,154,271
Rays $    39,255,833
Marlins $    32,911,967

As we can see, the Yankees easily outstrip all other clubs in terms of payroll

Yankees 0.590
Angels 0.586
Red Sox 0.577
Phillies 0.552
Cardinals 0.541
Twins 0.535
White Sox 0.530
Mets 0.527
Dodgers 0.519
Tigers 0.511
Indians 0.510
Braves 0.507
Blue Jays 0.507
Cubs 0.506
Brewers 0.505
Athletics 0.502
Astros 0.499
Marlins 0.498
Rangers 0.494
Rockies 0.493
Padres 0.490
Diamondbacks 0.488
Giants 0.472
Mariners 0.470
Reds 0.465
Rays 0.463
Orioles 0.426
Nationals 0.423
Pirates 0.409
Royals 0.404

…and lead the way in winning percentage as well.

Now we can take these two variables and figure out which teams belong together. I’m going to use the same number of divisions and teams from each league.

Each division breaks down like this: Division 1 is for the top teams in the league, Division 2 is for the middle teams, and Division 3 is for the bottom teams.

AL Division 1

Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, White Sox, Tigers

AL Division 2

Twins, Blue Jays, Indians, Mariners, Rangers

AL Division 3

Athletics, Orioles, Rays, Royals

NL Division 1

Mets, Phillies, Dodgers, Cardinals, Cubs

NL Division 2

Braves, Astros, Brewers, Giants, Reds, Diamondbacks

NL Division 3

Padres, Rockies, Marlins, Nationals, Pirates

The playoffs would work the same way that they do now: three division winners and a Wild Card winner.

This alignment would be in place for five years and then reevaluated and realigned based on the same criterion. This makes it more likely that a team like the Rays, who are probably one of the top four teams in the American League, will make the playoffs. The schedule would have to be balanced again, since travel costs and strains would mount in divisions like the AL 1 and AL 3.

This alignment likely keeps each division a lot closer, thus making each division race more interesting and drawing more fans to games down the stretch in markets like Pittsburgh, Washington, and Kansas City, which don’t see many meaningful September baseball games.

Some may say that this system opens the door for teams that don’t really deserve to be in the playoffs to make it there. I would argue the opposite. If each team plays each other team roughly the same amount of times, the true good teams will emerge and move on to the playoffs. The difference is that while a team like Marlins will likely not finish in the top two in the NL East this year, they would have a far greater chance of winning the NL’s 3rd Division outlined above.

Realigning the divisions with a floating realignment introduces more parity into the game, and allows the best teams to earn their spots in the playoffs based on performance against the league rather than being unlucky enough to play in a division with several big market teams.

Readers, let me know what you think either via comments or email at matt.milner@bringingheat.com

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