Monday, May 11, 2009

Scheduling Nonsense

As I write this, Colby Rasmus has knocked in the go-ahead run in the tenth, and the Cardinals bullpen has held on for an 8-7 win to salvage 1 game against Cincinnati.

St Louis now heads into their first scheduled off-day since 20 April. And only their second scheduled off-day this season. It also starts a stretch of off-days for them, as they will enjoy 18 May, and 28 May, and 15 June without baseball.

How is it that they play 34 games with one scheduled off-day, then have 15 games with three? Does this make any sense?

And who ever heard of a 2 game series? The Cardinals have three this year, against Philly, Pittsburgh, and at whatever-the-hell-they-call-it-its-not-Shea-anymore. How about a 2-team, FOUR GAME home stand before 2009? Does that make any sense?

Teams have grumbled about the schedule for years, but this is the first time I can remember it being so ridiculous that even casual fans noticed it was dumb.

I can never figure out why the sequence of games is the way it is now. When I was a kid, the Cardinals came to the West Coast twice. And you always knew that, on those trips, they would at least play either San Diego or San Francisco on the same swing through LA. Most times they just did CA, playing all three teams on one 9-game road trip. This made a lot of sense to me.

It doesn't happen that way anymore. Take this year, for instance. The Cardinals have already flown out to play Arizona, a series sandwiched between a home stanza with Houston and a 4-game trip to Chicago. At the end of the month, they fly to SF from Milwaukee before returning to St Louis. They will visit LA and SD on the same road trip in August, although they might as well take the same flight with the Padres to LAX on 16 August.

Fortunately, I have the solution. It is possible to divide the country into lanes. Much like the I-X5 Interstate Freeway system, which cuts the country North/South, I've divided the country into sections. Helpfully, they're grouped by division; this is because of the unbalanced schedule. It doesn't make sense to include a non-divisional team on a travel circuit that the other teams will visit only once a season.

For those of you who like visual references, here's a map of the country.

Map Courtesy of

National League:
East Coast #1 - Philadelphia, New York
East Coast #2 - Washington, Atlanta, Florida
Mid West #1 - Cincinnati, St Louis, Houston
Mid West #2 - Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee
West Coast #1 - Colorado, Arizona
West Coast #2 - San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco.

A couple of things jump out right away. For the NL Central, it's great; 3 teams at home, the other 3 teams visit on that particular home stand. For the other two divisions, there'd have to be some creative scheduling, because if Colorado and AZ are on the road, playing at SD and LA respectively, what's SF to do? Probably play one of the East-Coast teams, or something. But the bottom line is the cities are grouped geographically, which saves money, and lowers the number of cross country flights per year.

It's much more human friendly to schedule by circuits than by the 'dart board method', which seems to be what is used now.

This model can also be applied to the AL:

East Coast #1 - New York, Boston, Toronto
East Coast #2 - Baltimore, Tampa Bay
Mid West #1 - Minnesota, Kansas City, Chicago
Mid West #2 - Detroit, Cleveland
West Coast: Texas, California (er, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim's Orange County Disneyland Complex, LLC), Oakland, Seattle

The AL West sucks from a travel perspective. Texas belongs in the AL Central, but who ever heard of a three-team division?

I think all would be happy with the circuit approach. I throw this model out for comments from far and wide. Feel free to try and poke holes in it, and I will be happy to respond. Two more things:

(a) Once I'm done with school (which should be middle of next week), I will set up an optimization problem and actually publish a schedule for 2010. I hope to have that by the 28 May off-date, assuming my brain doesn't explode and the computer doesn't melt (and the creek don't rise)

(b) This schedule assumes no Interleague play. Because I hate Interleague play. There will be more on that later this month, I assure you, but here's something to chew on in the interim: How is it that, twelve years into Interleague play, the Angels have never visited St Louis, and the Cardinals have never been to Camden Yards?

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