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December 24, 2008 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Are there rules that Major League Baseball uses to determine how teams are scheduled?

Does anyone have a link/info *detailing* the breakdown for MLB schedule-creation? I searched high and low and I can't find anything concrete. I want specifics: exactly how many intradivision/intraleague/interleague played, odd game allocations, future commitments and schedule cycles (like the NL Central plays the AL Central this year-- what about next year?) If there are travel guidelines and/or special conditions that affect the actual number of games scheduled vs.
opponent, then I want to see those too. (Like, for instance, a team vacating its home park for a political convention, the Olympics, Bulls/Hawks Circus Trip-- stuff like that.

I've read several different websites that explain all this in general terms, but that's not what I want. I want to know *exactly* what rules/guidelines/algorithms MLB is using to create its schedule (and yeah, I know MLB actually farms out that job to a private contractor).

Why, you ask? Because I think Bud Selig is the antichrist and I think MLB is (and has been) playing fast and loose with the MLB schedule in the interest of short-term, flavor-of-the-day, knee-jerk, cheap, hollow profits.
It's just very difficult to advance this opinion if you can't look at the rules. Which is why I think these rules are intentionally placed in SUPER TOP SECRET status, which is why I can't find them.

But enough rambling. Can anyone help me?

(posted for the brother of zerobyproxy...)
posted by zerobyproxy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
It doesn't sound like the rules are "hard and fast" according to this article linked from the homepage of the firm that scheduled the 2008 season. Presumably you've already found their site, but have you tried contacting them?

This article is pretty good at explaining the complexities involved.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 10:03 AM on December 24, 2008


d'oh the first "this article" was supposed to link here.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 10:08 AM on December 24, 2008


[a few comments removed - just flag like usual, people, thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 10:19 AM on December 24, 2008


Not a complete answer because I'm afraid it's not as simple as "a formula", but some info...

Scheduling is not part of the official rulebook. Traditionally it's been up to the individual leagues to schedule as they see fit, but with the "integration" of the AL and NL in recent years it's become more formulaic, though obviously with a lot of discretion that the League can apply. They are selling a product, after all, and they want to create games and matchups and pennant races that get fans interested and sell tickets. Each year, the schedule proposed by MLB must be approved by the clubs and the Players' Union during the previous summer, though, and there can be many revisions before a final schedule is approved in the winter/spring.

For example, in each Collective Bargaining Agreement, the union obtains some very specific scheduling terms to improve the "working conditions" of players. For example:
  • The season may be played over a period of no less than 178 days and no more than 183 days.
  • Doubleheaders cannot be scheduled on consecutive days.
  • Twilight-night doubleheaders are limited to 3 per home team per season.
  • No team can be scheduled to play more than 20 days in a row without an off day.
  • A team traveling from the Pacific timezone to the Eastern timezone is to have one day off.
  • A game cannot be scheduled to start later than 5 p.m. when a doubleheader is scheduled the following day.
(And many, many, many more.)

With so many tricky requirements, it's hard to imagine a simple formula, and I actually admire the schedule makers for solving what looks like the world's biggest logic puzzle.

John's house is red; Steve's house is not next to John's; Only two houses are blue....

And to answer the other part: yes, Bud Selig is Satan. I think this is well-established.
posted by rokusan at 10:35 AM on December 24, 2008


Yeah, I don't know what kind of chicanery goes on to make the schedule, but I can confirm that much of it is likely in pursuit of the all-mighty buck--at least in the sense that some match-ups are scheduled around certain holidays (like the Red Sox always playing at home for Patriots' Day).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:26 AM on December 24, 2008


I also know that there are all sorts of scheduling issues with the stadiums too. In addition, in NY, they make a significant effort to not have the Yankees and Mets home at the same time although they do sometimes overlap (and play each other). There are a certain number of games played intradivision and a certain number inter league. My guess is that you could reverse engineer the rules by looking at several schedules and seeing how often they play in their own division as well as in the other divisions within their league and then inter league play. I also heard that each team gets a certain number of weekend home games so that each tema has an equal shot at higher revenues.

The optimization program that runs this is one heck of a program I assume.

I am a Yankee fan and I think Bud is nuts.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:27 PM on December 24, 2008


So, what I hear from the responses is this:

The AL and the NL submit schedules to the MLB office. The MLB office then "adjust" schedules as they would like. There are no "rules" governing whether how a league schedules is acceptable or not. There is no "hopper" that sifts through all of the variables and then spits out a schedule.

Is that right? Are there no rules regarding scheduling? Incredulously, I find this absurd. No methodology? What kind of advantages, although small, can be meted out by the MLB national office? Do these affect the betting line? Do they affect the "ass stupid" All Star Winner-Home Field Advantage" rule? Christ, I don't know. Doesn't it seem that this is wrong? Anyone"

And a Merry Christmas to all! Talk to you tomorrow.
posted by zerobyproxy at 6:59 PM on December 24, 2008


In 2001, MLB introduced the unbalanced schedule, where teams play teams in their own division more than other same-league teams (e.g., the Yankees play the Red Sox a ton, but the Tigers much less). So there's a start to the formula. I think it's 19 games vs. each division team in the 5-team divisions, which is 76 games. (Not sure about the NL Central or AL West.)

Here's a CNN article from 2001 about the change. (Humorously dated references: Worries that Braves fans wouldn't get to see Gary Sheffield, or that Dodgers fans would miss out on Greg Maddux. Given that both those players ended up playing for those teams, I guess it worked out alright.)

The articles in the first post probably describe it as best as it can be. It's quite the opposite of the NFL, where you at least know who every team is due to play and that they'll basically all be on Sunday -- and you only have to fit 16 games into 17 slots for each team. Plus all the divisions are the same size!
posted by SuperNova at 10:54 PM on December 24, 2008


Here's a detailed article at the official MLB site, but having only skimmed it I don't know if it sufficiently answers your questions. Plus, it's on the official MLB site, so they may conveniently gloss over some stuff.

Personally, I feel like a lot of baseball's interests, even if out of greed, serve fans' interests also. So it's not unlike other forms of capitalism in that regard. Of course, the Yankees' giddy embracing of capitalism on the other hand may not be in the sport's best interests... (although I think it doesn't really become a black eye until the Yankees actually win an WS with that payroll, and MLB has been lucky in that regard).
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:09 PM on December 24, 2008


I asked Mr. Micawber, who knows more about this than any one person should. He explained it to me years ago, but I was not remembering all the points:

"What the person is asking for is not available publicly. Nobody is going to have a hard and fast list of rules that determine a schedule. Through careful research, the various factors that affect the schedule can be pieced together. There are many factors, some of which are hard-and-fast rules, some of which have flexibility.

Number of games
Every team plays 162 games
Every team plays 81 games home and 81 games away
Teams play an unbalanced schedule, with a higher percentage against their own division
Every team must play at least 5 games against all non-division teams in their same league
Every team must play at least 15 games against teams from the opposite league.

There are many more nuances here, as the numbers of teams in each division varies, so the Mets might play 18 or 19 games against each team in their 5-team division. The Cubs are in a 6-team division, so they might play each team in their division only 16 or 17 times.

Additionally, most teams play 18 interleague games, but because there are more NL teams than AL, there are always some NL teams that get an extra NL series instead of an interleague series. (ie. this year, the Mets are getting extra games at home against the Cardinals instead of another AL team).

Home/road concerns: Locked-in dates
The Cincinatti Reds always play their first game of the season at home (historical concerns)
Boston Red Sox always play at home on Patriot's Day (3rd Monday in April)
These are the two that I know of but there might be some others.

Home/road concerns: Shared Facilities
The Florida Marlins and Minnesota Twins share their stadiums with football teams. Their leases state that football scheduling takes priority over baseball, so the weekends they are home in September is dictated to them by the NFL schedule.

Home/road concerns: Same city
Whenever possible, the Mets/Yankees, Cubs/White Sox, Dodgers/Angels and Giants/Athletics are not home at the same time. I think this rule now applies to Orioles/Nationals as well.

Home/road concerns: Distribution of weekends
Weekend games have to be split evenly throughout the year. Nobody gets to be at home for all 4 weekends in July, etc.

Home/road concerns: Series length
Although not a hard-and-fast rule, MLB tries to make sure that no homestand or roadtrip is longer than 10 games.

Semi-repeaters
A semi-repeater is when teams play each other at close intervals on the schedule, often with only one other series between the matchup. Example: Mets play in Florida on Fri-Sat-Sun. Mets go home, and play Atlanta on Tue-Wed-Thu. On Fri-Sat-Sunday, they play Florida again, this time at home.

Eliminating semi-repeaters is one of the toughest things to do on the schedule. When the scheduling contract was moved from the mom-and-pop operation that did it for 24 years to another larger company, it was the better elimination of semi-repeaters that was a big reason why the bigger company got the contract. (Article here: http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=1936328)

Scheduling of off-days and doubleheaders
Generally are dictated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players.

Rules include:
All 162 games have to be played within 178 to 183 days
No 1-game series, except to makeup rainouts
Teams cannot play more than 20 days in a row
Teams cannot have more than 2 off days in any 7 day period

There are many more rules, including regarding day/night games and travel distances.

Scheduling of opponents
This is probably why the person asking that question is upset. Scheduling of interleague opponents is where the schedule becomes potentially unfair, as each teams won't necessarily be facing the same other teams.

Ex.: The Mets are going to have to play 12 games against Boston, Tampa and the Yankees in 2009. Personally, I'd prefer them to get those 12 games against Kansas City, Seattle and Texas.

There are several quirks in the interleague scheduling process:
"Natural rivalries" -- ie. the Mets/Yankees, Dodgers/Angels, Giants/Athletics, Cubs/White Sox, Reds/Indians, etc. ALWAYS play each other home-and-home (for a total of 6 games).

From 1997-2001, teams only played interleague games against their geographic division (ie. NL East v. AL East, NL Central v. AL Central, etc).

Starting in 2002, a rotation system was implemented, where opponents from all divisions were rotated. Generally (but not always) teams would still play interleague opponents from a featured division, plus the natural rival, if applicable.

Ex. The Mets in 2009, where they are playing Baltimore, Boston and Tampa (in addition to two series with the Yankees).

Scheduling controversies come up because the rotation scheduling of teams, combined with the fact that there aren't the same number of teams in each league, combined with the "natural rivalry" games means that some teams don't get to face others as frequently, and there are some gaps that develop. The Mets, for example, have never played the White Sox at home. I don't think the Dodgers have ever been to Yankee stadium.

The biggest problem is that:
1. The Yankees and the Red Sox are the biggest road attendance draw in MLB, and consequently, every NL team wants them to visit;
2. Both are in the American league, which has fewer teams than the NL, and consequently there are more NL teams for them to visit;
3. The Yankees are locked in to always playing at the Mets each year, which means there are fewer road teams they can play against."
posted by micawber at 10:14 AM on December 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


A note from my brother. He has a couple of more questions that generate from the other responses. Thank you all for the great responses.

Thanks micawber, that's the best answer so far!

Mr micawber said...

"What the person is asking for is not available publicly. Nobody is going to have a hard and fast list of rules that determine a schedule. Through careful research, the various factors that affect the schedule can be pieced together. There are many factors, some of which are hard-and-fast rules, some of which have flexibility."

And then he proceeds to list many of the hard and fast rules, which all make perfect sense. However, the claim that "nobody is going to have a hard and fast list of rules..." simply cannot be true when one examines the amount of money invested in this league. Is there a "Manifesto of Scheduling" that is writ in stone somewhere? Maybe not, but there's simply got to be some guidelines or general rules somewhere, don't you think?


* This breakdown is exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for. Where did it come from?

"Number of games
Teams play an unbalanced schedule, with a higher percentage against their own division Every team must play at least 5 games against all non-division teams in their same league Every team must play at least 15 games against teams from the opposite league."


* If there is a gentlemen's agreement of sorts about scheduling, then who's on board? Commissioner, MLB, owners, front offices, umpires, player's union, media affiliations? And doesn't this arrangement sound extremely unlikely in the context of modern professional sports?


* If so, what precedent does it follow? Wasn't the schedule much more concrete prior to re-alignment (in the pre-wild-card, pre-interleague days of 4 Divisions)? Who decided it back then? Were those rules simply tossed out? Whahappened?


* Is the player's union involved? I would suspect their involvement is strictly governed by the CBA, so 'no' would be my guess, so long as the scheduling guidelines are observed.


* Is the schedule solely at the discretion of the Commissioner's Office (within CBA constraints)?


* Do the owners have to 'sign off' on it? If so (and I would assume this to be true), how many owners required to ratify? Anyone got veto power? Is a team obligated to play a given schedule? Headline, December 2016: "Yanks No Longer will Play Royals, Oakland, Texas Annually-- Bombers will Rotate Among Lesser Market Teams Once per Three Years-- Loss of Revenue Cited by Commissioner's Office" Hyperbole aside, why couldn't this happen if there is no actual scheduling contract?


* Along these lines, don't you think the Blue Jays would rather have another series against the Yankees or Red Sox as opposed to the Marlins? Don't you think the Pirates would rather have another series vs. the Dodgers as opposed to the Royals? Seems pretty obvious to me, so that tells me the interleague matchups are not subject to team approval. I guarantee you the owners signed off on that at some point. (but when?, how many?)


* I get the breakdown of home series: everyone wants to be at home in July and August, but that simply cannot be accommodated. I understand you're never going to have a perfect 50/50 split each month-- some teams will be at home more in April, some in August. But how 'bout the breakdown of weekend vs. weekday series? This seems to be a slippery area where an unscrupulous schedule-maker might bend (but not break) the unwritten? rules. You follow me?


Look, I know there's a lot that goes into it, but to me, that implies a systematic method in place. I'd just like to know more about it. Any further insight would be very appreciated.

Thanks again!
posted by zerobyproxy at 2:27 PM on December 26, 2008


*whew* here's more from mr. m.
one thing to keep in mind is that he is the kind of guy who reads something once and remembers it forever. understand that, for fun, he'll go read through the schedules of every team on a saturday night so we can make fun of the various promotional days. he is one of those boxscore guys, has his own scoresheet he designed himself, keeps them going back forever, compiles them into spreadsheets for his own use. (I find this completely normal and charming, in case you think that geeks don't get the girl.)

so my apologies, i guess, that he can't tell you that he read fact X in book or article Y, but it's easily researchable yourself.

And then he proceeds to list many of the hard and fast rules, which all make perfect sense. However, the claim that "nobody is going to have a hard and fast list of rules..." simply cannot be true when one examines the amount of money invested in this league. Is there a "Manifesto of Scheduling" that is writ in stone somewhere? Maybe not, but there's simply got to be some guidelines or general rules somewhere, don't you think?

Yes, of course. When I say "nobody is going to have a hard and fast list of rules" I mean that nobody's going to have them on the internet in a convenient, readable fashion. Major League Baseball doesn't do that. I haven't heard or seen anything like that leak out. (If you do -- please let us know).

In addition to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (which is negotiated with the players union) and the Official Baseball Rules (which cover the rules of how the game on the field is played) -- both of which are available to the public -- there is also something called "The Official Professional Baseball Rules Book" which all 30 MLB clubs are a party to. I know it covers the rules for transactions, waiver claims and the like. I would imagine the rules of the unbalanced schedule are in there.


This breakdown is exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for. Where did it come from?

I think it's outlined in some of the articles mentioned. When the schedule was last revamped in 2001 (?) there were some news articles about it. The breakdown can be observed from looking at the schedules of each of the 30 teams however.

If there is a gentlemen's agreement of sorts about scheduling, then who's on board? Commissioner, MLB, owners, front offices, umpires, player's union, media affiliations? And doesn't this arrangement sound extremely unlikely in the context of modern professional sports?

I'm sure it's a written thing, something that all of the clubs are subject to. The players union are involved only as far as the restrictions in the CBA.

Teams get their say when they submit their schedule proposals to the league office. MLB then gets to tweak it, in accordance with their preferences (ie. trying to keep roadtrips no longer than 10 games; insuring an even balance of weekends).

Media concerns only affect game times, not the teams involved or the day the game is played. (Exception: media concerns dictate the playoff schedule, to the extent of which day of the week the World Series starts, so they don't have to play a game on Friday night, the worst TV ratings night).

* If so, what precedent does it follow? Wasn't the schedule much more concrete prior to re-alignment (in the pre-wild-card, pre-interleague days of 4 Divisions)? Who decided it back then? Were those rules simply tossed out? Whahappened?

Changes to MLB rules like the schedule are voted on by the owners. I believe there are quarterly owners meetings. I don't know the voting rules to enact change, whether it's simple majority, two-thirds, etc.


* Is the player's union involved? I would suspect their involvement is strictly governed by the CBA, so 'no' would be my guess, so long as the scheduling guidelines are observed.

Not for scheduling changes, so long as they are within the guidelines of the CBA. Note that the CBA authorizes up to 18 interleague games per team per season.


* Is the schedule solely at the discretion of the Commissioner's Office (within CBA constraints)?

Don't know.

* Do the owners have to 'sign off' on it?

Maybe?


If so (and I would assume this to be true), how many owners required to ratify?

Don't know.

Anyone got veto power?

Doubt it.

Is a team obligated to play a given schedule? Headline, December 2016: "Yanks No Longer will Play Royals, Oakland, Texas Annually-- Bombers will Rotate Among Lesser Market Teams Once per Three Years-- Loss of Revenue Cited by Commissioner's Office" Hyperbole aside, why couldn't this happen if there is no actual scheduling contract?

It couldn't happen because I'm sure there's a written rule about it that all the clubs are a party to. I'm sure that compliance with the schedule as set by MLB is a condition of being a major league club.

* Along these lines, don't you think the Blue Jays would rather have another series against the Yankees or Red Sox as opposed to the Marlins? Don't you think the Pirates would rather have another series vs. the Dodgers as opposed to the Royals? Seems pretty obvious to me, so that tells me the interleague matchups are not subject to team approval. I guarantee you the owners signed off on that at some point. (but when?, how many?)

The owners definitely voted and signed off on interleague play generally (in 1996, play started in 1997). I don't know about the methodology of the matchups.


* I get the breakdown of home series: everyone wants to be at home in July and August, but that simply cannot be accommodated. I understand you're never going to have a perfect 50/50 split each month-- some teams will be at home more in April, some in August. But how 'bout the breakdown of weekend vs. weekday series? This seems to be a slippery area where an unscrupulous schedule-maker might bend (but not break) the unwritten? rules. You follow me?

Every team plays on every Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the season, and every team gets 13 home weekend series. This is a "hard-and-fast" rule of the schedule.

Each team's home weekend series are pretty evenly distributed through the 6 months of the baseball season. Having more than 2 home weekend series in a month is very unusual.

Weekday games fill in the gaps, with off days almost always on Mondays or Thursdays.
posted by micawber at 6:36 PM on December 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


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