Monday, April 13, 2015

The Undefeated Detroit Tigers

After compiling a 2-4 road record against, in all likelihood, the two worst teams in the National League Central, the Pirates play their home opener today against the Detroit Tigers, one of two undefeated teams so far. The other, the Kansas City Royals, are in the Tigers' division, so the two teams are tied for first in the American League Central at 6-0. The Tigers, however, lead the majors in run scored, with 47, and run differential, scoring 31 more than their opponents. They pace the majors in batting average (.355) AND on base percentage (.433) AND slugging percentage (.550), and they're second to the Atlanta Braves in ERA (2.00). They've started the season well, obviously.

This illustrates my gripe with interleague play. It's necessary now, because each league has 15 teams, so in order to have every team active, there has to be at least one interleague game everyday. Fine. I'm not crazy with how baseball did well throughout the 20th century with the two leagues not meeting outside of the All-Star Game and the World Series, but whatever. It doesn't spoil the game for me, even though every year it foments a new round of the same DH arguments we've heard for 40+ years. 

The problem is that the schedule's not balanced. Everybody plays 20 games agaisnt the other league, but they don't play the same teams. In the Central, the Pirates play six games against the Tigers, the defending divisional champion. That's the most in the National League Central. The Cubs and Reds play the Tigers just four times, the Brewers and Cardinals three times. The Brewers get six games against the woeful Minnesota Twins, compared to four for the Cardinals and Pirates and three for the Cubs and Reds. Here are the weighted won-lost records of each National League Central team's American League opponents this year:

  • .511 Reds
  • .504 Pirates
  • .503 Cardinals
  • .498 Cubs
  • .495 Brewers
Granted, those aren't huge differences--over 162 games, the Reds' average opponent would be 83-79, while the Brewers' would be 80-82--but why should there be a difference at all? And I'm not factoring in home-and-away games. For example, the Cardinals have three games against the Tigers, who won 90 games last year and are 6-0 this year, at home and none on the road. The Pirates have three games against the Royals, who won 89 games last year and are 6-0 this year, on the road and none at home. If I tweak the weighted won-lost records by home/road splits, using the overall average that home teams win 54% of games, I get this:
  • .511 Reds
  • .505 Pirates
  • .503 Cardinals
  • .497 Cubs
  • .497 Brewers 
Again, not huge differences, but one game could be the difference between first place and a wild card, or a wild card and going home. If we're going to have interleague play, shouldn't it be balanced? Four games, two home and two away, against each opponent in the other league would do it. As is, we could get pennant races decided by the schedule instead of the players. And it's worth emphasizing that the Pirates play a tougher interleague schedule than any team in their division other than the Reds.

There's a reason for the unbalanced interleague schedule. It allows for six games--three home, three away--between natural interleague rivals, like Mets/Yankees and Dodgers/Angels. That, of course, limits the number of games with other teams. In the National League Central, there are six games between the Cubs and White Sox for supremacy of Chicago, six games between the Cardinals and Royals for supremacy of Missouri, six between the Reds and Indians for supremacy of Ohio, and six between the Brewers and Twins for supremacy of States You'd Best Avoid In The Winter. For the Pirates, though, their natural rival is probably cross-state Philadelphia, which is already in the National League. So instead...Hey, let's replay the 1909 World Series, every year! Pirates beat the Tigers, four games to three! Honus* outshines Ty! Unfortunately, 106 years later, the Pirates are stuck playing six games against a team that's won its division five straight times.

*The Honus Wagner/Ty Cobb thing was the big story of the series, as the Pirates shortstop and the Tigers right fielder were their respective leagues' big stars (and batting champions). Wagner, 35, easily outhit Cobb in the Series, batting .333 with a .967 OPS, compared to the 22-year-old Cobb's .231/.656. And please, don't say Honus as in bonus. It's pronounced hah-niss,

No comments:

Post a Comment