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Out of Left Field: Shortening the MLB Regular Season

162 games needs to become a thing of the past.

Man on the Mound by Matt McGee is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Out of Left Field: Shortening the MLB Regular Season

Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

There’s room for improvement across the board when it comes to the game of baseball. Whether you are a hardcore traditionalist, or a fervent supporter of sweeping reform, you likely believe something about the Major League product could be changed for the better. Maybe it’s pace of play, the length of games, or the playoff structure. Perhaps you love the idea of a universal DH, or the implementation of a salary cap. Or you could just find the game to be plain old boring, a shell of its former glory of the 1990s and 2000s.

But there’s one change to the game that might hold the key to improving upon several of these issues. And, ironically, we are just beginning to experience it due to concerns around the ongoing COVID pandemic. And that, my friends, is a shortened regular season.

I propose that MLB seriously consider reducing the number of games teams must play during the regular season. It doesn’t have to be the 60-game sprint that started last month, but we sure as hell don’t need 162. It’s too much, pure over-saturation. In the way that fans often find an individual game of baseball too long, too boring, and full of downtime, the same could be said for the MLB regular season as a whole. Top to bottom, it’s just unnecessarily long.

How it could work

Before I get to the potential benefits of a shortened regular season, consider the following rough sketch:

  • Teams play 120 regular season games (not 162), between April and September.
  • These 120 games will be broken up into 40 series of 3 games each. No 4-game series, no 2-game series, and no double headers.
  • The season will begin on the same day for all teams.
  • Each 3-game series will always be followed by an off-day (39 in total). In essence, teams always play on the same days, and off-days will be shared by all teams as well.
  • No changes to the current playoff structure required, aside from the postseason potentially beginning earlier.

Is it a drastic change? Absolutely.

But, in addition to simply cutting down on an unnecessary amount of regular season games, this new schedule could have a lot of upside.

  • Fewer games overall means less scheduled “rest days” for star players, and would take less of a toll on all players in general. MLB players are worried about not being marketed enough? What’s better marketing than having your best players on the field for a higher percentage of contests?
  • Fewer games per week would also be easier on fans, particularly casual ones. Five games a week is a lot easier to tune in for than seven, and gives fans a bit more time to miss it.
  • A reduction in the number of games, but with an increase in built-in off days, could allow for teams to roll with a 4-man starting rotation. Instead of a no-name fifth starter, or an insufferable “bullpen game”, fans would get to see their team’s ace take the mound more often.
  • Because teams always play on the same days, their pitching rotations will always be aligned barring injuries or shuffling by the manager. This means more instances of “ace vs. ace” pitching duels.
  • For the players themselves, the built-in off days following each series means that teams will never have to travel on a game-day if they don’t want to. Which, if anything, will help to improve the quality of play on the field.

Is this a perfect system? Probably not, especially if you’re the owners (less revenue from ticket sales and TV deals). But I’d argue there’s a lot to like here from the player and fan perspectives. Fewer games in quantity, but a drastic increase in quality. Better pitching match-ups, a higher chance of seeing superstars play every night, and built-in breaks for both fans and players to get a little extra time off. The 162-game season, if anything, is working against the quality of the product, and shortening it could do wonders to help bring back a sport that is teetering on the brink or irrelevancy among sports fans in the US.

Like it? Hate it? Let us know what you think.

Ryan Kelly lives in Cambridge, MA, a stone's throw away from his beloved Boston teams. When he is not working as an editorial assistant, he is providing commentary on the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins for The Turf.

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