In good standing: converting Major League Baseball to a point system

In early November, long time baseball writer and current radio personality Tony Massarotti spoke on his show “Felger and Mazz” on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston about his concerns relating to the future of baseball. Massarotti joined the Boston Herald in 1989 and covered the Boston Red Sox from 1994 through 2008. He’s been a contributor to The Boston Globe since 2008 and is a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Although Massarotti has been around the game for over two decades, he recognizes that a change might be necessary to keep fans interested. Major League Baseball implemented pace of play rules this season to help shed minutes off lengthy games, but perhaps it’s not just the length of games that’s making baseball fans like Massarotti turned off by the sport. He explained:

“I think baseball needs a radical overhaul to make the regular season more meaningful. When I say more meaningful I mean in the short term — adding another playoff team doesn’t do a whole hell of a lot to make a Wednesday night game against Houston more watchable… and I like baseball.”

Massarotti said it hit him when watching Game 7 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals. The game had so much on the line; the fate of the series onto those final nine innings. MLB divides its seasons into series, but what meaning do these series have? If a team picks up a couple wins and drops one, it’s simply on to the next one.

The plan proposed by Massarotti was this: why not give each regular season series some true meaning? His idea was a point system, much like the National Hockey League has for its regular season (two points for a win, one point for an overtime/shootout loss, and no points for a regulation loss). Admitting he was “thinking out loud,” Massoratti proposed a three-game series win would result in three points and a sweep as five points.

Mazz brought this idea up recently on his show “The Baseball Reporters,” which also airs on 98.5 The Sports Hub, and it had me thinking: how would last season’s standings look if a point system was in place?

The setup

Because the MLB schedule doesn’t evenly divvy up its games for every team to face others in the same fashion (examples being splitting an Inter-league series into a four game home-and-home series months apart, random two game series, and four game series), the three- and five-point system couldn’t be directly applied. So the following was used: three points for a series sweep, two points for a series win, one point for a series tie, and no points for a series loss. This of course is not a perfect system, but it worked best for last season’s schedule.

The results

Below are the end of season standings for the 2014 season, with teams in order of how they actually finished. Beside each team in parentheses is the number of points earned via the point system explained above and the team’s win-loss record.

AL East
Baltimore Orioles: (67) 96-66
New York Yankees: (50) 84-78
Toronto Blue Jays: (53) 83-79
Tampa Bay Rays: (53) 77-85
Boston Red Sox: (48) 71-91

AL Central
Detroit Tigers: (61) 90-72
Kansas City Royals: (68) 89-73
Cleveland Indians: (66) 85-77
Chicago White Sox: (41) 73-89
Minnesota Twins: (45) 70-92

AL West:
Los Angeles Angels: (68) 98-64
Oakland Athletics: (66) 88-74
Seattle Mariners: (59) 87-75
Houston Astros: (44) 70-92
Texas Rangers: (41) 67-95

NL West
Los Angeles Dodgers: (66) 94-68
San Francisco Giants: (65) 88-74
San Diego Padres: (43) 77-85
Colorado Rockies: (41) 66-96
Arizona Diamondbacks: (39) 64-98

NL Central
St. Louis Cardinals: (66) 90-72
Pittsburgh Pirates: (64) 88-74
Milwaukee Brewers: (56) 82-80
Cincinnati Reds: (49) 76-86
Chicago Cubs: (38) 73-89

NL East
Washington Nationals: (75) 96-66
Atlanta Braves: (64) 79-83
New York Mets: (52) 79-83
Miami Marlins: (43) 77-85
Philadelphia Phillies: (46) 73-89

The standings remain relatively the same, but there are a few changes in the playoff picture. The Washington Nationals take the spot as baseball’s top team with 75 points and host the winner of the Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates, taking place in San Francisco. The St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers series remain the same. In the American League however, the Central Division champion Detroit Tigers end up on the outside looking in with 61 points, as the Royals take the crown with 68 points. Instead of playing in the play-in wild card game, Kansas City takes on the Baltimore Orioles in the Division Series. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim would await the winner of theCleveland Indians at Oakland Athletics in their play-in game.

How to perfect the point system

Looking back at the schedule, it’s clear that MLB’s current season format is not point-system friendly. It’s not fair for teams to earn three points off a three-game series sweep, while others earn only two points for winning three of four games. As Massoratti points out, the season would have to be reformatted. His proposal was removing four-game series and having a pair of three game series each week with a day off. Although his idea sounds great and uniform (and I’d personally love it), it would extend the season, particularly the post-season into November.

Days off aren’t the biggest concern when drafting up a point-friendly schedule, but its imperative each series is only three game in length. Here is a breakdown of the current MLB schedule:

  • 76 division games (19 vs each opponent, with three home & three away series) 47% of the schedule
  • 66 league games (33 vs each division, with six or seven games vs each team. One home/one away series vs each team) 41% of the schedule
  • 20 inter-league games (16 vs entire division, four vs one other division opponent. One series each team) 12% of schedule

The point-friendly schedule would follow along the same lines of today’s scheduling, with some slight changes. Here’s how it would look:

  • 72 division games (18 vs each opponent, with three home/three away series) 44% of the schedule
  • 60 league games (30 vs each division, with a home and away series vs each team) 37% of the schedule
  • 30 inter-league games (15 games vs one division, with one series each team. 15 games against five other teams) 19% of the schedule

The increase in inter-league play could help raise attendance for franchises struggling to get butts into seats. Plus, who doesn’t love seeing American League pitchers struggle at the plate?

Take aways and final thoughts

A hurdle with a point system is rainouts, but this can be easily handled by rescheduling the game and designating it as part of the original series.

The biggest question I had going into this was “will a point system actually make a difference?” In my opinion, it could. Let’s say two teams have identical records of 6-3. “Team A” won two out of three games each of its first three series (in visual terms, WLW, WLW, WLW). But “Team B” swept its first two opponents and was swept in the third series. By the Massoratti system, B would have 10 points, while A would have nine. I would personally award two points for a sweep and a single point for a series win (I have simple tastes), so B would have four points and A would have three.

It’s a simple, yet dramatic change that would either be accepted as a positive direction for the game, or absolutely despised by baseball diehards. Regardless, it’s something to at least think about for the future.