MLB realignment: How better teams could be placed in different divisions, and why that approach would be overly reactive.

Currently, there are five teams in the AL East that might win the AL Central. Ist das fair?

The overall domination of the AL East is one of the themes that is starting to emerge throughout the first half of the 2023 MLB season. This has led many to question if the playoff format should be altered and to begin planning for potential realignment.

The entire division is effectively performing like the top club in baseball, as shown in this week’s power rankings. Teams in the AL East currently have an amazing 99-49 record when they don’t play one another. Collectively, the five teams are performing like an outside division team with 108 victories. Ridiculous.

Since those victories had to come from someplace, the AL Central has ended up looking fairly bad. The only team outside of their division with a winning record is the Twins, who are currently at.500. The entire division is a pitiful 32 games below.500.

It’s still too early in the season to begin meticulously tracking postseason standings on a daily basis, but for the purposes of this debate, the current seeding for the American League playoffs is as follows:

1. Rays (AL East champ)
2. Rangers (AL West champ)
3. Twins (AL Central champ)
4. Orioles
5. Blue Jays
6. Astros

However, this is how it would appear if we arranged everyone according to winning percentage:

1. Rays, 32-12, .727
2. Orioles, 28-15, .651
3. Rangers, 26-17, .605
4. Blue Jays, 25-18, .581
5. Astros, 24-19, .558
6. Yankees, 25-20, .556
—-
t7. Red Sox, 24-20, .545
t7. Twins, 24-20, .545

Since the Red Sox won two of three games in their series against the Twins, if we discard divisions and use tiebreakers, the Twins would have been ranked seventh in the American League heading into Thursday. Despite this, they currently hold the third seed since they are the best team in baseball’s poorest division.

The Yankees would have been denied a playoff position if everything continued as it is (hint: it won’t), and the Red Sox would also be quite unhappy. After all, five of the top seven records in the league are in the AL East.

Since the schedule is now more evenly distributed, events like this are guaranteed to occur when there are weaker and stronger divisions due to the ebbs and flows of roster formation. The divisional alignment occasionally creates circumstances that seem unfair. The three greatest records in baseball in 2015 were all from the NL Central. Two of the top three baseball teams had no chance of even reaching the LCS round due to the playoff system because two of them had to play each other in the Wild Card Game, and the victor of that game faced the division champion in the NLDS. Recall the NL West from 1993? The Giants won 103 games but failed to qualify for the postseason.

Just two extreme cases out of thousands that have occurred over the years. We could continue forever. It has happened repeatedly.

Fans and the media still enjoy debating how to make things more equitable in modern times, and leagues then work to correct any perceived inequities. I’m aware that the longer the Yankees and Red Sox remain in their current positions (as opposed to, say, the Orioles and Rays), the hotter this debate will become.

The Yankees and Red Sox should finish in the top three of their division, which is the straightforward response to complaints that the system would swindle them out of a playoff position. Be better and win more games, or, to put it more clearly. If someone wants to modify the system, it shouldn’t be because some clubs were left out; rather, it should be to alter how the playoffs function as a whole.

And while I’m not certain if there is a problem at all, if we were to talk about “solutions,” here they are.

1. Eliminate divisions

Although I have a strong “no” opinion on this, I have noticed some trend in its favor. The idea here is that divisions are less significant because the calendar is much more balanced now. As a result, we would have a clearer understanding of which clubs were the greatest and most worthy playoff teams if there were only two 15-team leagues rather than divisions.

The fact that the schedule is just “more balanced” than not balanced at all is the main problem. It’s impossible for 30 clubs to play 162-game schedules, and if a schedule must be concentrated in one region, I admire how they’ve left open the option for regional rivalries to develop. For the scheduling part, I still believe divisions are necessary, even if they alter (remember that thought).

2. Go by best record for playoff seeding

See the second set of standings I listed above? Those were essentially the AL standings as a whole. That would be how things stood at the moment if we ignored divisions and only took the top six clubs, which really seems like a decent idea in a meritocracy.

The issue with this is that, if divisions are used, the division winner may end up being disregarded for the playoffs. If that is the case, then why do we even have divisions? Thus, we are once again the best choice for doing away with divisions.

I’ll reiterate again that we have overcome divisional injustices in the past numerous times, and we will do so once more. Because two well-known teams were unable to place in the top three of the strongest division, I’m not inclined to completely do away with divisions or simply ignore them when determining playoff seeding.

3. Realignment

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been questioned numerous times on realignment. The issue is that I simply don’t see how the divisions may be realigned at this time. Although the division into the American and National Leagues was somewhat arbitrary, many now revere the division in which their favorite club plays. Not for the entire MLB, I don’t want to tamper with it. How would we realign if the divisions within each league are already established on a regional basis?

Would we be attempting to sway teams into the “right” position to appear “fair” during the playoffs? How might that operate in the future? Do we simply reshuffle the teams each offseason based on how strong we anticipate them to be and try to distribute them with something like two playoff contenders, one fringe contender, and two average teams each division? Do we plan to repeat that process every year or maybe every three? I’m laying it out this way to make a point, even though I know it seems absurd. I believe that the majority of the realignment discussion stems from the current state of the AL standings.

Just now, it’s difficult to imagine anything in this field being feasible.

Nevertheless, this is the right response:

4. Stay the course for now

Nothing is changing right now. Divisional injustices have existed ever before divisions were introduced. It just comes with the territory. The Phillies, who finished the regular season 14 games behind two different teams in their own division, will win the NL after being left out of the playoffs after having an 87-win season. Things happen. That’s what makes it enjoyable at times.

Now, for those who ache for change: I believe that change will come at some point in the reasonably near future.

MLB won’t pursue significant changes until the A’s and Rays ballpark concerns are handled, according to Commissioner Rob Manfred. The A’s appear to be coming to a close. Let’s assume that by 2027, when the Rays’ contract with St. Petersburg for Tropicana Field expires, negotiations will have concluded.

The general consensus is that Major League Baseball will add two franchises after things are finalized with new ballparks for both of those teams.

With 32 teams, it is simple to operate with two leagues of 16 teams each and four divisions within each league. Or perhaps they use larger eight-person divisions (I doubt it, but it’s possible).

Your readjustment is there.

Everyone who is concerned that the one or two AL East teams with winning records would be left out in the cold for the postseason will simply have to put up with it until then. We’ve survived such travesties in the past—sarcasm dripping—and we’ll survive this time as well.