Dan Szymborski of the invaluable Baseball Think Factory takes a look at Major League Baseball’s unbalanced schedule in his latest column for ESPN, and comes to the conclusion that the Toronto Blue Jays have the toughest schedule in baseball.  With a three game series against the Philadelphia Phillies having been added to the Jays schedule, Toronto barely edges the Baltimore Orioles.  On the other end of the spectrum are the St. Louis Cardinals who have the easiest schedule in baseball.

If the two teams were switched, and the Blue Jays played the Cardinals schedule in the NL Central and St. Louis played Toronto’s schedule in the AL East, what would happen?  Well, Szymborski uses ZiPS projections to find out.

Suddenly, the Blue Jays chances look a whole lot better. Freed of a division where the team is projected to finish in fourth place, 14 games behind the Boston Red Sox, Toronto suddenly becomes a contender in the NL Central, finishing 86-76 and edging out both the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers, currently projected to win 85 games. The Cardinals, still very competitive in the NL Central even after the loss of Adam Wainwright, find themselves suddenly fighting for fourth place with the Orioles in the AL East.

It’s hard out there for an AL East team.  In addition to having to face the best teams in baseball more than any other team in the league, you also have to win more games than those best teams in baseball.  As much as we talk about adding another Wild Card option and increasing the amount of playoff teams, a balanced schedule would seem to be the most obvious way to ensure a more competitive balance.

But don’t expect the Blue Jays to necessarily be too up in arms over the lack of fairness in the schedule. Toronto is very happy to play host to visiting New York and Boston fans whenever the cities’ teams clash with the home team at Rogers Centre.  If the sheer number of Yankees and Red Sox fans in attendance don’t convince you, surely the merchandise counters making the opposing team’s memorabilia available for purchase will sway you.

Comments (18)

  1. JP Riccardi would have had a field day with this article if he were still Jays GM.

  2. I’m not sure about the last point. Attendance would be higher through September and October if the Jays were able to make a playoff run. I’d think that would make up for less games against Boston and NY.

  3. I cannot put into words how infuriating it is to see members of the Blue Jays counter staff waving NY and Boston souvenirs when the teams are in town. Can you imagine if they did that in Fenway? And it’s not like Toronto fans don’t buy merch. There are plenty of jerseyed fans in the stands.

  4. Can the Think Factory and ZiPS get a reasonable handle on how many more WS we may have been part of, if any? Ahhh eff it – I dont want to know actually. I am content with the Jays being in the AL East and I love seeing them play and compete against the Yanks and Red Sox. We will have some Amazing teams to watch when we get really competitive for the AL East pennant.

  5. Agree with JJM. Contention would likely immediately replace and surpass that revenue, especially if it was sustained over two or three years.

  6. Interesting thought

  7. The thing is that a balanced schedule still doesn’t make all things equal. The Jays would still be competing against the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays in win totals, and the three of those teams would have easier schedules as well.

    Also, I’m not so sure a competitive team’s ticket sales would be greater than what you’d miss out from Red Sox and Yankees no longer coming to town. That’s likely 12 games you have to consider.

  8. Though I know the schedule isn’t in the team’s control, the desire to hold onto those Yankee and BoSox dates represents the kind of short-term-gain thinking that got the Leafs into trouble.

    A balanced schedule would sacrifice some lucrative dates, sure, but it would also make it more possible to compete for a playoff spot, which means more meaningful games late in the season, which leads to better crowds. So you sacrifice 15 or so crowds of 40,000+, but you potentially gain 50 crowds in the 30,000 – 40,000 range.

  9. Guess I should have refreshed before I typed.

  10. Just look at the Jays dominance in the last 5 years over the AL central as proof. In any other division this team would be a lot more competitive… I guess what bugs me the most about being in the AL east is that it takes out all of the excitement before the year starts.. White Sox, Twins, Tigers fans all have legitimate hopes at playoff contention. The jays don’t .

    However it is what it is. . if you grow up in a really bad neighbourhood, you don’t whine about it you either get tough or you fail. So jays need to get better and they have

  11. Hope is a powerful thing. It’s something we haven’t had here in awhile. It’s true though that in a year like 2011 it probably won’t matter much since the Jays are rebuilding anyways.

    The number of home dates they would lose has been a little overestimated here – a balanced schedule would mean going from 18 games to about 11 or 12 (half of which are home) so they would be giving up roughly 1 home series against each division opponent. I think in most years making up the lost crowd/revenue from those 6-8 Bos/NY games would be possible down the stretch if the team had a better shot at contending. It is riskier/less-predictable than the way things are right now though.

  12. A balanced schedule would lose 6 or 8 total Red Sox/Yankees games not 12. Even before reading the Extra 2% you would hope the Jays have done this calculation and have figured out which side of the fence they should be sitting on (financially anyway). But my very ignorant guess would be a balanced schedule would make more money at the gate.

    From the fan point of view the Jays should a) be lobbying hard for a balanced schedule and b) accept that, for now, building an NL central contender is not good enough (looking at you JP) and get better.

  13. From the Jays point of view: on top of the balanced schedule I’d also be lobbying hard for MLB to go back to the pre-1994 alignment of 2 divisions but with 2 wildcards in each league. So that the best teams actually make it into the playoffs regardless of division instead of sometimes having weak West or Central division champs that don’t deserve to be there. (Granted this doesn’t happen every year but it’s annoying when it does.)

    This would obviously be a dream scenario for Toronto though and, even though it makes alot of sense and would be one of the most fair ways to determine which 4 AL teams make the playoffs, it won’t ever happen. Instead we’re probably going to get an extra wildcard team and a single-game or 3-game playoff crapshoot. Brilliant.

  14. I just don’t get baseball having their two biggest teams in the same division. I’m all for making the regular season count and having 8 playoff teams, and I get that there’s a rivalry there… but seriously. Throw the Yankees in the central and give us the Tigers back or something. /nevergonnahappen

  15. Lets get rid of the divisions all together – just have the AL and NL. Balanced schedule and top 4 from each make the playoffs or top 3 with the winner getting a bye. This crap with the AL West only having 4 teams (and theoretically each team having a 25% chance at winning the division) and the NL Central having 6 teams is ludicrous.
    I can understand why the NHL/NBA have geographical divisions as they are traveling to a new city 3 or 4 times a week and to be flying from TO to LA to Toronto to Vancouver and back to TO in the span of 5 days would get tiring over the course of a season.
    Its baseball they play 4 and 3 game series and typically don’t return home in between series ! Big F’ing deal if you have a four game series in Anaheim and then have to fly to NY for a weekend series and then go back to Seattle for another 3 game series

  16. Forget the gate, if the Jays were contending the additional money they would make on TV and merchandising would far, FAR, exceed what they take in when the big boys come to town. With a sports-starved populace, T.O. could become a baseball town again – and that’s where the real money is.

  17. Actually I don’t have a problem with the Jays playing in the AL East. The unbalanced schedule to me comes into play during interleague play. All teams in each division play different teams during interleague play that are not the same amongst divisional foes, thus making the schedule unbalanced. Example if the Yankess play the Mets (a sub .500 team) 6 times and lets say won all 5 out of 6 games and the Jays play the Phillies and Braves (both teams above 500) 3 times each and win 2 out of 6 and lets say the Yankees beat the Jays by one game for the WC spot in the playoffs. Would that be fair when one divisional foe had an easier schedule then the rest of the division.

  18. Also on a separate note. The Jays more often then not have done really well against AL East teams and the rest of the AL. The main problem the Jays do have is during interleague play for various reason. No DH and the majority of the teams they play are above 500 teams.

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