Monday, September 28, 2009

Head to Head

You know how you decide which is the best team? You watch them play head-to-head. The team that wins - that's the best team.

That's why I like the unbalanced schedule. It's easy to criticize. Fans will point out that it makes the Wild Card inherently unfair. Stats geeks gripe cuz it ruins their clean little metrics. And team promoters grumble because big market teams visit less often.

But I'll take it, because I like seeing my team face the opposition. 70+ games every year against your own division generally decides things. Just look at the last four years:

- The team with the best record within the Central division also won the division in 2005 (the White Sox, 52-22) and 2007 (Indians, 48-24).

- The happened again last year, only in a much cooler fashion. At the end of the regular season, both the White Sox and the Twins not only had tied for overall record, but they had tied for their divisional record too (44-29). So they had a one-game playoff, which propelled the White Sox to finish +15 games in the division while the Twins slipped to +13. And the White Sox were the AL Central champions.

- In 2006, it also worked out, though no quite as cleanly. Detroit had the best divisional record (+15 games over .500), but Minnesota (who was only +6) passed them in the overall standings on the last day of the season. But both teams went to the playoffs, and the Tigers got the last laugh, making it to the World Series, while the Twins couldn't get out of the ALDS.

That's why somewhere between 2001 and now I stopped penning a yearly staple of sports writers. You see it almost every August. It's the story that shows that even though your team is only back a handful of games, they would need to play something like .700 ball assuming the team in front of them plays .500 ball. I quit writing it because it's become almost meaningless with the unbalanced schedule. You don't need a sustained period of excellence to gain three games. You need a really good weekend.

Or week, which brings us to this year. Within the division, the Twins have had a much better record, finishing +15 games over .500 compared to the Tigers +9. The Twins have also beat the Tigers head on this season, winning nine of fourteen games. But to continue this clean little divisional trend, they'll need to win three of four in Detroit.

That's the way it should be. Prove you're the better team the week before the playoffs. Sweep and it's over. Win three of four, and you're worthy. Win one of four and the last weekend is meaningless. And if it's a draw, we'll let the rest of the season break the tie.

There is an elegance in lots of the advanced baseball metrics that we examine throughout the season. But I'll take the simple head-to-head matchup. The team that wins - that's the best team.

Bring on the Tigers.


David said...

Love it.

TT said...

The Twins need to win 3 of 4. Otherwise they and the White Sox will need to combine to win 5 of their remaining 6 games just for the Twins to tie the Tigers. The Tigers can clinch by taking 3 of 4. Should be fun.

Anonymous said...


You are both right and wrong about the unbalanced schedule.

Wrong: They should play 14 to 15 against each division foe, and then take the left over games and play the east at least 2 to 3 more times every season. It's unfair to everyone but us (cause our division has mostly been the worst of the 3 over the last 9 years).

Plus the more you play better teams, the more of a gauge you have to see how you match up, and you are not lulled into thinking you are better than you are (see Twins, every year in playoffs).

I do agree, where you are right, the we should still play an unbalanced schedule. Just not so damned unbalanced.

Jack Ungerleider said...

I did some math on this earlier in the year when the local media was griping about being done with the Yankees before Memorial Day or what ever it was. What I determined was that unless you reduce interleague play to 8 games (2 x 4 game rivalry series) you probably can't get an unbalanced schedule with more games against the East. The issue is that nobody wants 2 game series littering the schedule like they were a few years ago. The best result I came up with for the Central was as follows:

16 games/team in Central (64 games)
10 games/team East & West (90 games)
8 games "rivalry"
Total - 162 Games
The problem here is logistics. You see this formula works for the AL Central and the AL East. (5 team divisions in 14 team league) It would need to be adjusted for the AL West (4 team division) and it doesn't even consider the NL (16 team league 5/6/5 breakdown.) Add to that they need to balance travel so that the Twins don't start a road trip with 3 games in Anaheim and continue with 4 games in Baltimore and finish with 3 games in Texas.

My conclusion is that its a very complicated multi-variate problem and I think MLB probably does a pretty good job of it.

Anonymous said...

I read today if there is a tie after today's games that there will be a one game play off. I thought that after the Sox and Twins did that last year it was decided that the MLB would look at head to head records and the winner there would be division champs.
Which is it?
Sox Fan Loving being the spoiler!