Friday, January 23, 2009

Commish For A Day #9: Balanced Schedule, InterLeague

This Commish For A Day entry comes from Brad, who was good enough to go hog-wild on the balanced schedule idea while eliminating Inter-League play. I thought this made a nice follow-up from the realignment idea earlier this morning. Brad, following his balanced schedule/Interleague reasoning, riffs on a number of the ideas I originally posed. Despite the length of this posting, I included it all.

My one move would be to eliminate interleague play. Here are the repercussions of its elimination.
  1. The most pervasive benefit is that it allows the leagues to return to a balanced schedule (or a nearly balanced one).
  2. A balanced schedule removes the advantages some teams may get as they pursue the wild card. Did the Brewers have an easier path to the Wild Card than the Mets since their interleague games were different? I don't know, but without interleague play and with virtually identical schedules I don't even have to think about it.
  3. Relatedly, the balanced schedule eliminates the random penalties and benefits brought on by fluctuations in division strength. As things stand now, why should the Orioles face a tougher path to the Wild Card than, say, the Athletics?
  4. The balanced schedule allows teams in a league to benefit from the attendance boost seen when big market teams visit. I'm sure cities like Pittsburgh and Miami would benefit from seeing more of the Dodgers. In 2008 the three best road attendances (based on average) were held by the Red Sox, Cubs, and Mets. Why should the crowds they draw most benefit the teams within their divisions? The Red Sox, for instance, don't need the bounty of 8-10 visits from the Yankees to fill Fenway, but I'm sure the Tigers would like more than the one scheduled visit the Yankees have in 2009, a late April, 3-games series beginning on a Monday.
  5. A balanced schedule eliminates instances like last year when the Red Sox and Rays went 7 games in the ALCS. By the end of that series, they've played 14.5% of their games against each other. Put another way, after playing the regular season, the ALDS and the ALCS, those teams had done the equivalent of playing 1 out of every 7 games against each other. That's a bit much and only really benefits the fans and teams in those two markets. If you think such an occurrence is uncommon, think again. There have been 12 seasons played since interleague play began. That means there have been 24 League Championship Series. Eight of those 24 (aka, one-third) have ended up like this whereby division rivals are meeting to determine the pennant.
  6. The thrill of the World Series is enhanced. I don't want to know how Ryan Howard has fared in the past against Scott Kazmir in interleague play. I want to know how he's going to respond seeing Kazmir for the first time with Utley in scoring position now that these teams have made the Series.
  7. Player marketability. If players get more exposure across the nation, this increases their marketability, and marketable players increase fan interest. Fan interest leads to all sorts of revenue: MLB Network ratings, RSN ratings, ESPN ratings, online subscriptions, ticket sales, merchandise sales, etc. MLB and its teams don't need help selling more Red Sox hats, the Sox run the team well enough to keep those sales brisk. But there should be more people in random places buying an Indians hat because they've seen enough of Grady Sizemore to follow him closely. It almost seems as if MLB is followiig the 80/20 rule for merchandising since I imagine a large amount of their shared merchandising revenues probably comes from the top 20% of marketable teams (Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, Mets and Angels).
  8. Rivalries: Interleague play is supposed to facilitate this, but it's really not necessary. A few years ago the Yankees and Mariners had a great rivalry. Obviously, geography was not a detriment. The Red Sox and Angels have a good rivalry going on now. Rivalries are rarely created, but they are often the culmination of unplanned events. A balanced schedule provides more opportunities for rivalries to develop organically since all intraleague teams see each other more often.
  9. A balanced schedule eliminates those quirky 2-game series that frequently occur since the schedule has to accommodate unusual travel needs. These 2-game series benefit no one.
  10. A balanced schedule should eliminate the NHL- and NBA-style home-and-home series. I don't want to see Kazmir face Beckett on a Monday in Tampa, then see the same matchup again on Saturday in Boston. A matchup like that loses its luster when it happens twice in 6 days.
As for the other suggested moves, allow me some time to explain why I think they are less worthy of being changed compared to the above-mentioned tact.
  • Elimination of the DH: I don't like the DH because I prefer the strategies that come with pitchers batting, but it allows for some additional stars which help fan interest. Plus, it's not like I've ever heard of a fan losing interest in baseball because of the DH.
  • Expansion of the DH: Yes, the DH adds stars, but not that many. Ask most people to name 5 great DHs in history and they'll probably have trouble getting beyond Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez and Frank Thomas. Yes, the DH adds stars, but not that many, and I think the 30+ years of having one league with a DH shows the number of stars is minimal. Plus, we know the MLBPA likes it for how it raises some salaries. Add more DHs and salaries go up, and this likely gets passed on to fans.
  • Eliminate the Wild Card: The traditionalist in me doesn't like the Wild Card, but I can't dispute what it does for fan interest as more teams are in the running for that last playoff spot. Plus, it changes the whole dynamic of the trade deadline by forcing teams to make a decision. Since most teams aren't willing to signal to their fans that they are giving up on the season on July 31, the prospect of deadline moves helps fan interest.
  • Change the Arbitration Process: How does this help the average fan? Perhaps there would be some salary restraint which could be passed on to fans in lower costs, but prices of things often go up, occasionally hold steady, and rarely go down. It doesn't seem likely that teams would save $5 million in annual arbitration costs that would noticeably trickle down to fans. Plus, teams and players have already come up with a change to the process whereby many players are taking financial security in exchange for teams gaining some cost control. See Cole Hamels' deal as just a recent example.
  • Eliminate Type A/B Free Agent Draft Pick Compensation: Again, this doesn't tangibly benefit the average fan. What, exactly, would this do for Brewers fans (or the team) in light of CC Sabathia's departure? Even from another angle, how many teams are really not signing Jason Varitek because of the loss of a draft pick involved with signing him? Maybe a few or a handful. While the classification of Types A and B free agents would seem to need refining, there is an overall risk/reward system in place that works well. Teams have to balance the risk of offering arbitration to their own free agents, and signing teams need to balance the more measurable short-term gains against the hard-to-quantify value of a lost high-round draft pick. Players may get some short-term financial security by accepting arbitration, but they risk it by declining arbitration and trusting the open market to be more fruitful.
  • Increase the Number of Teams in the Postseason: Based on the NFL, NBA, and NHL, fans would probably like this, but there are shortcomings. For one, it's a scheduling problem. The regular season would likely need to be shortened, and that takes accessible games away from fans and money away from every team. Also, scheduling postseason games would be difficult if there are more to be played. TV networks don't want early start times, so the value of rights would be less robust if early game times are required. If earlier start times are used (i.e.., afternoon), ratings go down and so do the value of sponsorships. Yes, it's some new money, but the overall benefit doesn't seem to significantly help all teams beyond the rights fees that are secured (and perhaps I'm underestimating the value of those fees).

    Also, let's assume the playoffs were expanded to include two wild card teams per league, those being the two teams with the top records of non-division winners. Here are the second wild card teams that would have been added since the Wild Card began in 1995:
    2008: Mets & Yankees
    2007: Padres & Tigers or Mariners
    2006: Phillies & White Sox
    2005: Phillies & Indians
    2004: Giants & Athletics
    2003: Astros & Mariners
    2002: Dodgers & Mariners or Red Sox
    2001: Giants & Twins
    2000: Dodgers & Indians
    1999: Reds & Athletics
    1998: Giants & Blue Jays
    1997: Mets or Dodgers & Angels
    1996: Rockies & Red Sox, White Sox or Mariners
    1995: Astros & Angels

    Other than the Blue Jays, all of these teams have already seen the playoffs between 1995-2008. The Pirates, Royals, Orioles, Brewers, Rangers, or Expos/Nationals would still have been the curdle of the inept crop. Yes, adding another team would increase fan interest as the end of the regular season approaches, but the 14-season data indicates the playoff appearance benefit for teams would be as cyclical as the quality of individual franchise management. Add in all the other scheduling issues added playoff teams cause (along with the as-yet unmentioned likelihood of more off time between games which can decrease the quality of play), and this doesn't seem like a good move.

    All in all, while while I'm loathe to accept it, adding playoff teams does have great potential benefit. There is additional TV money to be had, and it does increase fan interest as teams could remain in contention longer and another team would make the playoffs. It all seems to contradict the regular season, though. Why have 162 games to determine the playoff-worthy teams if so many are going to make the playoffs? Add two more playoff teams and then one-third of the teams will qualify each year. That seems a bit much for my tastes and it leads to some scheduling issues. While I don't like the overall idea, and there are some quirks to work through, it's hard to deny the strengths of adding more playoff teams. Knowing my luck, this will be the next big move Selig makes.
  • Trading of Draft Picks: I'm all for it, but it doesn't lead to many things which boost the value of the sport. I don't think Pirates fans would feel any better knowing the team traded Nady & Marte and part of the return was an extra draft pick. Plus, this is not a simple rule change as long as draft pick compensation remains for the loss of free agents.
  • Change the Amateur Draft: I'm all for it, but I'm not sure how it leads to many things which boost the value of the sport. Well-managed teams will find and pay (within reason) for quality players whether they're from Montana, Moscow, Martinique or Malaysia. Fans are generally unconcerned with a player's origins. They just want to believe the player can help.
  • Eliminate the All Star Game Winner Determining WS Home Field Advantage: I'm all for this, but let's face it: This move has been a poor idea that hasn't yielded the desired benefit (fan interest in the All Star Game), but the negative impact of this format hasn't caused much harm to anything other than our traditionalist sentimentalities. If anything, they need to increase the size of rosters for All Star teams just to ensure there isn't something like another Brad Lidge/Scott Kazmir incident as there was this past year.
  • All Playoff Start Times on Weekdays at 7:30 pm EST: I like the idea of earlier start times, but why automatically penalize teams and fans in the Mountain or Pacific time zone? On top of that, you're adding in other factors with this move, like the fact that an NLDS game at Coors Field will have odd game-time shadows. While local start times could be improved, I do think the sport and the networks have done a better job lately of scheduling games to accommodate the markets where games will see the highest viewership.. Plus, if all games start at a set time, that means all Division Series games will be played one at a time. There's no way the league (or networks) would allow multiple games to have the same start time, thus this move would mean only one Division Series game per day if all games must start at 7:30 EST.
  • Salary Cap/Floor: I'm totally against this, and I could go on for hours, so I'll try to be brief. In US sports leagues, caps and floors have taken understanding of the game away from fans. Sure, I may understand that Donovan McNabb presents salary cap issues for the Eagles next year, but how? Why? What could they have done differently? If I'm a Royals fan and the team says the 2009 budget is $65 million, I can at least easily understand how much money they have committed, how much they have available, and have a framework of understanding and judging their moves. Fans shouldn't have to simply accept player moves as a consequence of "salary cap reasons," nor should they have to deal with NBA-style trades where teams do 5-for-2 swaps but the team receiving 5 players automatically releases 2 of them.

    Another point: Baseball's guaranteed contracts, which would likely disappear under a cap system, make things intelligible for fans. Teixeira looks like a great move for NY, but will they regret it in the later years since the contract can't be voided and they're on the hook for all of the money? Perhaps a better example would be Todd Helton of the Rockies. Fans love him, he was once an elite player, and everyone now seems to wish he weren't a financial burden. But at least it all makes sense. If we had NFL style cap rules, the Rockies would release him in mid-January (about a month before Spring Training, just like how NFL teams release players in early June), and fans would have no way of understanding how the Helton contract impacted the franchise even after the player was released.

    I think it's good for fans that all of these commitments are clearly understandable, not like those 39-year old NFL safeties signing 5-year contracts to spread out the salary cap impact even though it's unlikely the player will reach year 3 of the deal, let alone the near-certainty he won't play all the years.
  • Finally, how the heck are revenues going to be determined?
    There are too many franchise-owned [Regional Sports Networks] which could adjust their rights fees for their own benefit. Right now, MLB is concerned that a team like the Yankees undervalues its YES rights fees. What can the league do if the Yankees start overvaluing those rights fees?. On top of that, why should the Pirates have to raise their payroll because the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field may strongly inflating league-wide revenues? Combined, I've seen estimates that those new stadiums could mean a total of around $1-1.2 billion. Can all other teams withstand the accompanying salary structure these NY-based revenues might cause?

    I don't know, but if I'm a Diamondbacks fan I don't want to hear anyone explain my rising ticket prices have gone up because the team had to raise payroll in accordance with league rules.
  • Require Retractible Roofs on New Stadiums/Stadiums are All Team-Funded: These moves are potentially beneficial way down the road. But not now. Look at the NL. The Cubs and Dodgers have the oldest stadiums. Unless new Cubs ownership replaces Wrigley, it's going to be here a while. The Dodgers are investing heavily in Dodger Stadium, so it's not like they're close to replacing it. The next oldest NL stadium is Coors Field. Other than the Marlins in the NL, no one in the league is searching for a new stadium. In the AL, only the Athletics and Rays are making a new stadium push. Basically, the drive for new stadiums has passed and only a few teams remain to get something built. Two teams are in Florida and one is in northern California, and both areas are generally unreceptive to substantial taxpayer investment. So, even if they get some public funds, it likely won't be too much. All in all, I'm against the idea of retractable roof stadiums. It's a game that I'd rather enjoy outdoors (whether I go to a game or watch on TV). But the bottom line is that if either of these ideas had any value, they should have been implemented around 1990.
  • Next Commissioner After Selig: Lots of choices, but the strengths of an individual today may not be the best match when it's time to replace Selig, so it doesn't seem wise to pick his successor now.

    Other moves I considered but disregarded (I'll spare you the reasons):
  • Changing the Saturday Game of the Week format.
  • Fixing the territorial rights issues which hamper online broadcasts.
  • Changing the playoff format (namely to minimize the number of off days, but also to get rid of silly rules preventing the wild card team from facing the division winner in the first round).

For previous CFAD entries:

  1. Commish For A Day #1: Territorial Rights
  2. Commish For A Day #2: Best-of-7-LDS
  3. Commish For A Day #3: The All Star Game, Neutral Sites
  4. Commish For A Day #4: Instant Replay
  5. Commish For A Day #5: Playing by the rules
  6. Commish For A Day #6: 40 Man Roster
  7. Commish For A Day #7: No DH!
  8. Commish For A Day #8: Realignment

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