MLB’s 2020 schedule is imbalanced and that’s okay

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MLB’s 2020 schedule is imbalanced. And that’s okay. We’re in the midst of a pandemic, so MLB has prioritized limiting travel as much as realistically possible over creating a balanced schedule. That being said, some teams will benefit from the imbalanced 60-game schedule and some teams will be hurt by it.

Travel

Every season, teams on the West coast tend to travel more miles than their Central and East counterparts. That is still the case with the 2020 schedule, but there are some notable differences. For instance, the Rockies ranked 21st in travel miles in 2019 at 29,939, per Baseball Savant. If they complete the 2020 regular season schedule, they will have traveled 11,332 miles, the fifth-highest total in the majors. As a percentage of total miles traveled by all teams, the Rockies are going from 3.8% in 2019 to 6% in 2010. Similarly, the Astros will travel more, up to 5.7% of total miles traveled from 3.8% in 2019.

A few teams are traveling comparatively less: the Brewers (2.8% to 1.6%), Mets (3.3% to 2.2%), and Cubs (2.7% to 1.7%).

Here’s the total travel miles by division:

  • AL West: 209,536
  • NL West: 186,081
  • AL East: 170,625
  • NL East: 165,900
  • NL Central: 144,055
  • AL Central: 143,068

West teams have it toughest, followed by the East. The Central teams have the best travel schedules.

Strength of Schedule

During the unveiling of the 2020 schedule on MLB Network, this graphic was shown on screen to illustrate the disparity in strength of schedule for some teams:

Only 33% of the Diamondbacks’ schedule will be against teams that finished .500 or better last year, while 63% of the Phillies’ schedule will be against such teams. On the road, those percentages are 27% and 67%, respectively.

MLB’s schedule restricts teams to playing their divisional opponents as well as teams from the corresponding division in the other league. In other words, NL East teams play other NL East teams as well as AL East teams. It’s a 40-20 split, so the Phillies will play the Braves, Marlins, Mets, and Nationals 10 times each and split 20 games against the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees.

The East divisions in both leagues are both more competitive than the West divisions. In a 162-game season, PECOTA was projecting three above-.500 teams from both East divisions as well as three in the AL West, but only one from the NL West (the Dodgers, of course).

To continue using MLB Network’s example above, both the Phillies and Diamondbacks are vying for the same prize, a Wild Card berth, if we’re being realistic. But the D-Backs’ road there is a lot easier than the Phillies’ and it has been exacerbated by the makeshift 2020 schedule. That’s likely the case for most East teams compared to most West teams, not just the Phillies and D-Backs.

In the end, though, everyone knows the situation. They’re all trying to make the best of a bad situation and get a season in before it’s too late. Imbalanced or not, all 30 teams are (hopefully) going after the same goal: to win the 2020 World Series. Among other things, the team that adapts best to the circumstances will come out on top.