How 2023 MLB balanced schedule could affect playoff races

Amongst all of the modifications you may discover on the sector in 2023 — the pitch clock, the positioning ban, the bigger bases, the pickoff limits — there’s one other quietly significant one which may not be fairly so apparent in case you weren’t searching for it. For the primary time since Interleague Play arrived within the Majors in 1997, the schedule will probably be balanced. Each crew will play the opposite 29 groups at the very least as soon as yearly and likewise go to every metropolis at the very least as soon as each different yr.

It’s meant to be fairer for the Wild Card race, and to forestall issues like “5 fanbases nonetheless have not ever seen Shohei Ohtani come to city,” as is at the moment the case. Long-term, it is clearly going to satisfy these objectives. But for 2023, there is a extra attention-grabbing query, notably in the truth that groups will probably be taking part in 24 fewer video games in opposition to their very own divisions than they did earlier than, and that query is, “How will this affect the playoff races?”

Think in regards to the Phillies, who bought to feast on the Nationals (16-3) as they gained the ultimate Wild Card slot by a single recreation. Think in regards to the Guardians, who had been a mere .500 in opposition to successful groups but an enormous 58-36 in opposition to shedding groups on their solution to successful the AL Central by 11 video games. Think in regards to the Orioles, Blue Jays and Rays, who for many years have had practically 1 / 4 of their schedule coming in opposition to simply the Yankees and Red Sox. Who you play issues, and who you play in 2023 underneath the balanced schedule goes to be completely different than who you might need performed earlier than.

So: Who wins out right here? Let’s run the numbers.

What we did was to take the 2023 schedule breakdown, as outlined right here, and in contrast it to what the 2023 schedule would have been underneath the outdated guidelines, with extra in-division play and fewer intraleague play. (Under that format, Interleague Play opponents rotated in opposition to the opposite league’s divisions one per yr, so in 2023, it could have been NL East vs. AL Central, NL Central vs. AL West and NL West vs. AL East. That’s the what-would-have-been comparability we’ll use, not the 2022 schedule we simply noticed, as FanGraphs’s Dan Szymborski did in a great preliminary look final summer time. If you actually wish to see the large ugly grid of what our schedule comparability appears like, examine that out right here.)

Knowing the distinction between who groups would have performed and as an alternative now will probably be taking part in — for instance, the White Sox would have performed their 4 AL Central rivals 19 occasions apiece and nothing in any respect in opposition to the NL West; now they play within the division 13 occasions apiece and choose up 15 video games in opposition to the NL West — it is simple sufficient to take every crew’s 2023 projected successful share from FanGraphs and whip up some power of schedule numbers based mostly on who, and the way usually, you ‘re going to play versus what it could have been in any other case.

All of which provides us these outcomes…

It is, as you’d anticipate, not an enormous quantity. Plus, it depends largely on groups taking part in to projected efficiency, which we all know will not occur completely — though there’s typically a reasonably robust relationship between projected outcomes and precise outcomes. But it would assist change the result of a recreation or two right here and there, and that could be the distinction between entering into the playoffs or going residence.

It’ll assist: The total AL East and the whole AL West

It will not matter a lot for: The AL Central

It’ll damage: No one, meaningfully

By this methodology, all 10 groups within the East and West will profit to the tune of between .015 and .030 factors of opponent power of schedule. (The solution to learn that’s like this: The Orioles would have had a .517 projected opponent power of schedule, the toughest within the recreation. Now, they’re going to have a .490 projected opponent power of schedule, the ninth-easiest. That’s a +.027 enhance for them.)

It makes all of the sense on this planet that the AL East groups could be happy, as a result of it is baseball’s hardest division, and now they get to play lower than each other. To illustrate that, take the Blue Jays, who get to slice off 24 video games in opposition to the East. They had been going to should play 4 in opposition to the Braves both manner, and would have already been scheduled in opposition to the NL West. But now, these 24 video games that will have been in opposition to the beasts of the east now come in opposition to the weak NL Central and the 4 remaining NL East groups — two of which are not a lot good anyway.

It’s the identical within the AL West, which at the moment has 4 groups projected .500 or higher. Take away 24 video games in opposition to divisional rivals — that is particularly good for Oakland, which does not get the advantage of taking part in itself — and change them with video games in opposition to the NL West and NL East (which, once more, is extraordinarily prime heavy) , and see the profit.

But for the comparatively weak AL Central, it does not look like it will matter a lot. That’s as a result of these 5 groups had already been scheduled to face the NL East in 2023, so these video games aren’t new, and as an alternative they’re going to choose up video games in opposition to the equally weak NL Central and the NL West, which includes a considerably depleted ( in comparison with earlier years) Dodgers squad and the very poorly projected Rockies. We undertaking these 5 groups with nearly no change in any respect.

The takeaway: It was already fairly arduous to see the Central sending a crew to the Wild Card, given the power within the East and West, and this solely exacerbates that.

It’ll assist: No one, meaningfully

It will not matter a lot for: The NL Central, the NL West

It’ll damage: The NL East

Interestingly, the other, though maybe that is not so stunning as a result of Interleague Play goes from 12% of a crew’s schedule to twenty-eight%, and each win for one crew is a loss for an additional; this all has to steadiness out one way or the other. The distinction right here is one in every of depth, as a result of whereas each leagues are considerably comparable in that the Central is the weakest division, the AL might need 5 good groups within the East and 4 within the West, whereas the underside halves of these divisions skinny out extra shortly within the NL.

(To that time, of the 11 groups projected by FanGraphs with the bottom projected successful share, seven are within the NL.)

The NL East advantages in an identical solution to the AL East, although. Take the Mets, for instance. They would have performed 66 video games in opposition to the NL Central and West, and now they’re taking part in 64, so there’s little or no distinction there; identical for the 4 video games in opposition to their beforehand scheduled Interleague opponent, the Yankees. But as an alternative of taking part in 76 video games in their very own division, it is now solely 52, and that is considerably a wash, as a result of whereas they do get to keep away from the robust Braves and Phillies extra, additionally they lose the advantage of taking part in the weaker Marlins and Nationals as a lot — a pair of groups that New York gained 27 of 38 video games in opposition to final season.

Those lacking 26 video games should go someplace. A dozen of them come in opposition to the AL East, the place Baltimore, Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto ought to all be aggressive or higher. Fifteen extra come in opposition to the AL West, the place 4 of the 5 golf equipment (all however Oakland) are projected to be .500 or higher groups. That sounds more durable.

In the NL Central, it is nearly equivalent to the AL Central. It’s not a powerful division, they usually had been already going to play the AL West in 2023, so the commerce in its in-division video games for extra video games in opposition to the AL East (which is a nasty factor) and AL Central (which is an effective factor), and it is nearly one thing of a wash.

The distinction within the leagues we see is within the NL West, which does not profit as a lot because the AL West may. That’s partially as a result of it was already scheduled to face the troublesome AL East this yr, and so 24 of the in-division video games will now be in opposition to — and let’s quote ourselves right here — “the AL East (which is a nasty factor) and AL Central (which is an effective factor), and it is nearly one thing of a wash.” If it looks as if Arizona wins out right here, it is barely in any respect, so only a +.003 projected improve.

The takeaway: This may really assist the Wild Card contenders within the Central and West, who had been rightfully watching a Mets/Braves/Phillies trio and questioning if two of the three Wild Card spots would already be spoken for, no matter who wins that division. The street out of the East simply bought barely more durable.

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