Division Inequality and the A's

I have been an Oakland A's fan for 30+ years, and wouldn't want to do or say anything to minimize their playoff chances.  However, I thought I'd address the issue of division inequality in baseball, and how it affects the A's as well as teams in the NL.

The following article was written, not specifically with the A's in mind, but to pose the question: Why hasn't MLB done something about this glaring issue?

Let me know what you think...

and GOOOO A'S!

It's high time baseball did something to fix one of its biggest problems. No, I'm not talking about steroids, scuffing baseballs, or the Chicago Cubs. It's the huge competitive advantage some teams have gained merely by belonging to the right division.

Back in 1994, Major League Baseball suffered a lost season, which ended in August with no playoffs or World Series. That was also the first season that the American and National Leagues were restructured into three-division leagues instead of two. At that point there were 28 teams in the major leagues. With the addition of Tampa Bay and Arizona in 1998, that brought the number of teams to 30. Although there has been a realignment of teams since then, the basic structure of the league has not changed since 1998.

With 30 teams and six divisions, there should be an equal number of teams (five) in each league. This is true of all but two divisions: The National League's Central Division has six teams, while the American League's Western Division has four. This may not seem like a big deal until one looks at the percentage chance that each team has of making the playoffs.

Major League Baseball currently allows eight teams into the post-season each year. The six division winners get in, plus two Wild-Card teams (one from each league). That means that (all things being equal) each team should have a 26.67% (8 divided by 30) chance of making the playoffs.

However, in the American League (AL) West there are only four teams. Each team has an opportunity to get into the playoffs by winning its division or claiming the Wild-Card spot for the AL. Each AL West team thus has a 25% chance (1 in 4) of winning its division, plus a 9.1% chance (1 in 11 non-division winners) of claiming the Wild Card spot. This adds up to a 34.1% chance that each AL West team has of making the playoffs. By comparison, each team in the AL East or AL Central has only a 29.1% chance of making the playoffs (20% to win their division, plus 9.1% chance at the Wild Card). That's a full 5% competitive advantage that the AL West teams have over the other two American League divisions.

In the National League, there is a somewhat similar scenario, except the National League (NL) Central has six teams while the other two divisions have five. This means that each NL Central team only has a 24.4% chance to make the playoffs (16.7% chance to win their division, plus 7.7% chance to claim the Wild Card spot). The teams in the NL East and NL West have a 27.7% chance of making the playoffs, so the disparity in the National league is only 3.3% instead of five percent.

If one looks at all six divisions, one can see the wide gap between the teams in the NL Central and the AL West:

National League
East ----- 27.7%
Central -- 24.4%
West ----- 27.7%

American League
East ----- 29.1%
Central -- 29.1%
West ----- 34.1%

As anyone can see, the teams in the AL West have a 9.7% higher chance of making the playoffs than the teams in the NL Central. Compound this advantage with the fact that two AL West teams (the A's and Angels) have repeatedly dominated the other two division rivals (the Mariners and Rangers), and the disparity between the divisions grows even further. This large disparity sways the competitive balance to the point where Major League Baseball needs to address the issue.

The solution is relatively simple: Move one NL Central team to the AL West. Then, (all things being equal) every team has the same chance to make the playoffs each year. Keeping location and competitive balance in mind, logical choices to move to the AL West are Houston or Chicago. The Cardinals (St. Louis) are typically the best team in the NL Central, while Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Cincinnati are farther east than the Cubs or Astros.

Until the problem is fixed, I'll relish being an Oakland A's fan even more.
See you in the playoffs (again)!

Roto Journal Article

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