February 26, 2024

What we learned from MLB’s schedule changes last year and what to watch for this season


Nine months ago, the NFL released its new schedule in that typical, understated way it’s so world-renowned for …

With a nationally televised special on two networks featuring not only the on-screen reveal of every single game, division by division … but also … according to a league TV promo … “in-depth analysis of the top matchups and primetime games.”

OK then. Meanwhile … there was baseball … which two months later revealed its own new schedule for 2024 … in a nationally not-televised press release. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, if you look at those two phenomena and conclude they’re proof that nobody really cares much about the baseball schedule, well, let’s just say that you have no idea.

“I’m telling you,” said MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, scheduling guru Chris Marinak, “I get more letters on this topic than any other topic.”

And yes, he said “letters.” As in handwritten letters from all sorts of people, laying out an array of creative new scheduling formats that would “solve” all of baseball’s problems, from travel to rivalry-boosting to more games against the Yankees for everyone.

Just about none of those formats would actually work in real life, we regret to report. But Marinak admires them all the same.

“I think it’s just like a cool math problem,” he said, “that people really gravitate towards.”

So on that note, now that we know how much you really care about baseball’s fascinating scheduling jigsaw puzzle, it’s that time again — to look at the 2024 version of the Major League Baseball schedule.

It’s the perfect way to get ready for spring training, as you’re still trying to digest those 77 chicken wings you ate at your Super Bowl party. Don’t you think?

How it works


Coming to an MLB ballpark near you, this year or next: Shohei Ohtani (Brian Rothmuller / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Just in case you slept through last year’s schedule column … not to mention the season itself … let’s review how dramatically different the format that debuted in 2023 is from the previous schedule.

Number of teams played

New schedule: 29
Old schedule: 19-20

Yes, every club plays every other club now. So will your favorite team face Shohei Ohtani’s Dodgers this year? It will — this year and every year Ohtani plays on this side of the Pacific. What a concept.

Interleague games

New schedule: 46
Old schedule: 19-20

When interleague play first entered our lives in 1997, it was somewhere between a wild lab experiment and a curiosity. Not anymore. Now it’s driving business (more on that shortly) — and the biggest attractions on this schedule.

Have you always wanted to see Aaron Judge play in person? Do you live in a National League city? Hey, great news. The Judge will be holding court in your town this year — unless he’s not … in which case … next year for sure! Under this format, every team visits every team in the other league once every two years.

It’s called showcasing the stars. The other sports have strategically used scheduling to do that for pretty much ever. Now it’s baseball’s turn.

Division games

New schedule: 52
Old schedule: 76

Games versus rest of league

New schedule: 64
Old schedule: 66

Under the previous schedule — the good old “unbalanced-schedule” era — every team played each of the other four teams in its division a staggering 19 times apiece. Too many! That number is down to 13 apiece: two series per year at home and two on the road.

Does that change create more travel — more miles and hours spent on airplanes? Oh, yeah. (More on that shortly, too.) But does it make for a schedule that feels more fair now? It does (with certain exceptions). Here’s why:

Under the old schedule, if two teams in different divisions were battling for a wild-card spot, they used to play, on average, slightly more than half of their games against common opponents. With the new format, that number jumps to over 75 percent. That seems helpful.

What it really accomplishes is this: Now, winning 90 games in the AL East means basically what 90 wins means in the AL West. And it’s about time.

What baseball learned from last year’s schedule

Does anything in life — or sports — look the same on the drawing board as it looks when you finally live it? Admit it … not much! Baseball has now lived with a full season of this new schedule. Here’s what we think everyone learned:

It was an attendance bonanza — We live in a star-driven universe. So what happened when baseball finally figured out a better way to deliver its stars to its fans’ front door (by having every team play every other team for the first time ever)? Those turnstiles started spinning and never stopped. That’s what.

There were 11 weekends last season in which the Friday-to-Sunday attendance across the sport topped 1.5 million. Nine of those weekends came in a span of 11 weeks, between June 9 and Aug. 20. There had been five weekends with attendance that high in the previous four full seasons combined.

Attendance overall was up by more than 9 percent — the largest jump in three decades. Of course, there was a lockout hanging over the previous season, so 2022 was a down year. But when you dig inside those 11 big weekends, the star-power quotient was a clear factor.

It was officially more fair — There were six wild-card teams that lived to see October. You know how many of them came out of the two Central divisions? That would be none.

At the risk of igniting way too many We Hate Your Team or possibly We Hate Your Central Time Zone story comments below, we’re still going to argue that was a good thing. Was there any debate that those were the two weakest divisions in the majors? There shouldn’t be.

But under the old schedule format, baseball was actually penalizing teams stuck in good divisions with harder schedules. It was also rewarding teams in bad divisions with easier schedules. Is that a sensible way to run your sport? C’mon. How?

In 2022, the Blue Jays had to play 94 games against teams that were .500 or better. The Guardians had to play only 68. The Mariners, who were in the same wild-card free-for-all as Toronto, played just 71. Does that seem fair?

Here’s another example: In four of the past five full seasons, either the AL Central or NL Central has jammed two 100-loss teams into the same division. Under the old unbalanced format, that meant the good teams in that division got to play nearly 25 percent of their schedule against 100-loss division doormats. Under the new format, that drops to 16 percent.

It’s still not perfect. We’ll explore that in this piece, too. But in a sport that now has six wild cards, it’s more important than ever to create a schedule that evens out that imbalance. Now here’s the best example yet of how that turned out …

Did the new schedule propel the Diamondbacks to the World Series?


Ketel Marte and the D-Backs celebrate after sweeping the Dodgers in the NLDS. (Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)

The team that represented the National League in the World Series had to play in the same division as that 100-win monster known as “the Dodgers.” The team that represented the National League in the World Series also sneaked into the wild-card field by winning one more game than the Cubs.

That team was the Arizona Diamondbacks. So is it safe to say that team was in favor of this schedule? It is. We know because we asked its general manager, Mike Hazen.

Turns out he’s a big fan of fairness in scheduling, because why the heck not.

“I think the new schedule offers far more competitive balance,” Hazen said, “and doesn’t make the climb harder if you have a team, or teams, in your division that are as good as the NL West has had the last few years.”

So what’s the argument that this schedule format helped the Diamondbacks make the postseason? We have some thoughts.

Six fewer games against the Dodgers. That’s always a good start. The Dodgers bludgeoned their division last year (34-18). So did any of those other NL West teams miss playing them six extra times? Here’s a wild guess: No.

Six fewer head-to-head games against the PadresWhen we look at the 2023 Padres, we see one of the biggest disappointments in baseball. But when Hazen looks at the 2023 Padres, he sees a team that got so hot in the final two weeks, it only finished with two fewer wins (82) than the Diamondbacks (84). So playing fewer division games “certainly played a role,” Hazen said, “not just with LA, but also (the Padres) would have had more chances to pass us as well.”

Nine fewer games against winning teams. Re-balancing the schedule meant the Diamondbacks went from 99 games against teams that were .500 or better in 2022 to 90 such games (exactly the league average) last year. Think that helped them? They went 44-28 versus sub-.500 teams in 2023, as opposed to 40-50 against the powerhouses.

A bunch of games against the AL Central. If baseball had used the old schedule last year, the Diamondbacks would have played zero games against the AL Central — one of the worst divisions of all time, with a combined record of 94 games under .500. Instead, the Diamondbacks got to play 15 games against those teams — and won nine of 12 against the four AL Central teams with losing records. You think they’d rather have played 12 more against the Dodgers and Padres? Let’s guess no again.

Obviously, we’ll never know what might have happened in the alternative universe in which the Diamondbacks had played that season under the old schedule. But if we were going to draw up a formula for how to take advantage of a balanced schedule, they’d be teaching the course.

Your mileage may vary


The Phillies and Mets will play two games in London in June. (Bill Streicher / USA Today)

The Padres will fly more than 50,000 miles this season. The Pirates will travel about 25,000. Does that seem odd? Not if you remember that the Padres (and Dodgers) will play in South Korea this year … and the Pirates, um, won’t. But what better excuse than that to roll out the list of teams that will fly the most this season and the teams that will fly the least, courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Most miles traveled, 2024

 TEAM   MILES

Padres

51,690

Dodgers

49,131

Mariners

47,438

Giants

45,904

A’s

45,034

Angels   

43,004

Diamondbacks

41,664

Marlins

41,073

Mets

39,418

Phillies

38,118

Fewest miles traveled, 2024

TEAM MILES

Pirates

25,389

Cardinals

26,647

Cubs

27,180

Reds

27,475

Guardians

27,763

(Source: Baseball Savant)

There won’t be a quiz on all that. But if you were to theorize that teams on the West Coast travel waaayyyy more than teams in the Central divisions, you just aced this geography exam.

But let’s move on, because it’s the year-to-year fluctuations that interest us most. So …

Biggest increase in air miles, 2023-2024

TEAM 2023 2024 INCREASE

Mets

31,659

39,418

+7,759

Padres

44,208

51,690

+7,482

Dodgers

41,698 

49,131 

+7,433

Tigers

26,606

31,536

+4,930

Phillies

34,307  

38,118

+3,811

Biggest decrease in air miles, 2023-2024

TEAM 2023 2024 DECREASE

Cardinals

35,524

26,647  

-8,877

A’s 

51,527 

45,034 

-6,493

Nationals

34,486

28,709

-5,777

Rays

39,478

33,754

-5,724

Pirates

30,263

25,389

-4,874

(Source: Baseball Savant)

So what’s the deal there? Some of it is easy to explain. Some of it is more nuanced.

• The Padres and Dodgers open their season in South Korea. It’s not that conveniently located.

• The Mets and Phillies will play two games in London in June. The New Jersey Turnpike apparently won’t have its London exit open by then.

• The Cardinals played in London last year (against the Cubs). They won’t this year. That’ll save a few miles.

• And what about those other teams? Almost all of their fluctuations are simply about random year-to-year travel variation. The Tigers have to jet off to San Francisco, San Diego and Arizona for interleague games this year. Last year, they didn’t. The Nationals are the opposite. Last year, they had to go to Anaheim, Seattle and Houston. This year, those teams visit D.C. Got it?

At any rate, here’s the most fascinating part. Is it possible that those fluctuations could have an impact on division races and the wild-card frenzy? It totally is, because …

• The Padres will fly about 17,000 more miles than the Rockies.

• The Mariners will fly about 11,000 more miles than the Rangers.

• The Dodgers will fly about 8,000 more miles than the Diamondbacks.

• The Mets and Phillies will fly 7,000 to 8,000 more miles than the Braves.

• The Twins will fly about 5,000 more miles than the Guardians.

• The Rays will fly about 3,000 more miles than the Yankees.

Some of that is (repeat after us) about South Korea and London. Some of it is just based on how the schedule broke. Some of it has to do with teams’ requests about how they prefer to travel (three-city trips or two-city trips). Some of it will even out next year. But you know what seems pretty much impossible to even out? The location of …

Seattle!

Anybody out there have a map handy? It might be useful in reminding us that there is no possible schedule that could make life easy for the Mariners, if only because there isn’t another city in their league within 800 miles. And if the A’s really do move to Las Vegas, there won’t be another city in their league within 1,100 miles.

So this season, the Mariners will spend more than 47,000 miles in the air — over 10,000 more than their two division rivals located in Texas. In 2022, the last year of the previous schedule format, it wasn’t much better (46,386). In other words, if their fervent hope is to spend less time in the sky, they don’t need a new schedule. They need a team rocket ship.

But something noteworthy jumped out at us in this year’s Mariners slate of baseball and globe-trotting: They won’t play a single road game in their own time zone until June!

By then, they’ll have visited New York, Boston, Toronto, Washington and four cities in the Central Time Zone. Which means they won’t play a road game that starts after dinner in Seattle until the 11th week of the season.

Whose fault is that? Ha. Did you keep that map handy? It’s tough to blame the league when you remember the Mariners only get to play six road series all season in their own time zone. So if an expansion/geographical realignment package ever came up for a vote, where do you think the Mariners would stand?

Do the schedule markers hate the Giants and Mets?


Logan Webb’s Giants will play 102 games this season against teams that had winning records in 2023. The Twins will play 73 such games. (Ron Chenoy / USA Today)

Does strength of schedule even matter in this sport? Well, as we reminded you last year, it doesn’t matter quite as much in baseball as it does if you’re, say, Mississippi State, trying to wriggle into those March Madness brackets. However …

One GM reminded us recently that, of the five teams with the hardest strength of schedule last year, none of them made the playoffs. So keep that in mind as we check out this season’s projected toughest and easiest schedules from our friends at STATS Perform. Also keep in mind that all of these computations are based on last year’s records (opponents’ win percentage).

Hardest 2024 strength of schedule*

TEAM 2024 SOS   

Rockies

.514  

Nationals

.512 

Red Sox

.511  

A’s

.510

Mets 

.510

(*based on 2023 records, opponents’ win percentage)

Easiest 2024 strength of schedule*

 TEAM 2024 SOS

Twins  

.483

Tigers

.487

Guardians  

.488

Astros

.489

Rangers  

.490

Mariners 

.490

(*based on 2023 records, opponents’ win percentage)
(Source: STATS Perform)

What do those leaderboards tell us? Be careful about jumping to conclusions, if only because the worst teams always play the toughest schedules. Why? Because the league has never figured out a magic trick to allow them to play themselves. But there is another way to look at strength of schedule that might be more revealing.

Instead of doing this by winning percentage, let’s break it down by which teams play the most — and fewest — games against teams that had winning records last year. As you’ll see, this makes for a slightly different list.

Most games vs. winning teams*

TEAM GAMES

Red Sox  

105

Mets 

103

Rockies 

103

Giants

102

Pirates

101

Nationals 

101

Cardinals  

101

(*based on 2023 records)

Fewest games vs. winning teams*

TEAM GAMES

Twins 

73

Tigers 

84

Royals

85

Guardians  

85

Astros

86

Mariners 

86

White Sox

86

 (*based on 2023 records)
 (Source: STATS Perform)

The Mets, Giants and Cardinals are on that Most Games Versus Winning Teams list, but that’s more their fault than MLB’s fault. They all dipped under .500 last year, in divisions that featured three other teams apiece with winning records. That’ll do it.

What’s more eye-opening is that second list. Check out that 11-game gap between the Twins and the Tigers, the team with the next-fewest games against winning teams. Does that seem huge? If it does, maybe it’s because it’s historically huge.

According to STATS’ Jesse Abrahams, only three MLB leaders in this department since 1901 have had a larger differential between themselves and the team with the second-fewest games against clubs that were over .500 the year before:

YEAR TEAM DIFFERENTIAL

2019

Cleveland

22

2015

Nationals

12

1985

Padres

12

2024  

Twins

11

2014

Dodgers

11

So what should we take away from all of this? Thanks to the sluggish state of the AL Central, the Twins are incredibly well positioned to win their division again. They understand that.

They had the easiest strength of schedule of all 30 teams last year. It’s certainly looking as if they will again. But their general manager, Thad Levine, says that A) it’s all cyclical, so the Central will rise again, and B) it’s never just about the schedule.

Among the points he made:

• The Twins were actually better than their record (87-75) in many ways last year. Their Expected Won-Loss record, based on run differential, was 93-69 — only one game worse than the Orioles’ Expected W-L, believe it or not. Plus, the Twins ranked in the top 10 in the sport in both pitching WAR and batting WAR. So they were hardly just a fluke, schedule-driven playoff team.

• But that’s not all: The Twins also were one of only three AL teams that had a winning record against teams over .500 last year. In other words, it wasn’t as if all they did was beat up on the bad teams in their division.

So realistically, it’s talent, Levine said, that makes the Twins a contender. But you can’t dismiss that historically easy projected strength of schedule, either, he acknowledged, because it’s that potential advantage “that vaults (this team) towards the top of the list of teams projected to win its division.”

And that’s correct, but let’s remember two things. The first is, they didn’t make their schedule.

“From the front office to the clubhouse,” Levine said, “we have always espoused the position that we play the schedule put before us.”

Good point, and one every team should espouse. But it also brings us to a second big takeaway …

Remember, the Twins are the exception, not the rule

Take another look at the chart at the top of that previous section. Notice anything? Abrahams did:

Every team in baseball — except the Twins — is scheduled to play more than half of its games this season against clubs that had a winning record last year. That’s 29 teams, the most in the history of this sport.

YEAR TEAMS

2024 

29

2004

27

1982 

26

1989

24

2009  

24

(Source: STATS Perform) 

Only once, since baseball expanded to 24 teams and went to expanded playoffs in 1969, has there been a season with a higher percentage than this year. That was 1982, when all 26 teams were scheduled to play more than half their games against teams with a winning record the year before. It was also a time, not coincidentally, before both leagues switched to a heavily unbalanced schedule. (Just the NL was unbalanced back then.)

Why do we mention this? Because it’s a reminder that baseball switched back to this more balanced format last year in search of more fairness — and whaddayaknow, that happened.

The success of those schedule changes got a lot less attention last year than the success of the rule changes. But now that we’ve taken a step back to view it all from afar, it’s clear the pitch clock wasn’t the only thing that worked.

More fun with the 2024 MLB schedule


Adley Rutschman’s Orioles won’t see too much of their AL East rivals early in the season. (Reggie Hildred / USA Today)

In other schedule odds and ends …

• The Red Sox have to play four series in the Pacific Time Zone this season. They’ll play three of them before they play a single game in Boston.

• The Angels and Braves play in two metropoli where the Opening Day weather might actually be kind of balmy come March 28. So naturally, they’ll play their Opening Days in Baltimore and Philadelphia.

• We can’t wait to see how the Orioles line up against the AL East, right? Wrong! Exactly two of their first 13 series are against teams in their own division. Which at least means we have some epic AL East donnybrooks coming in the final four months of the season.

• Then there are the Mets. They’ll play the Brewers, Tigers, Royals, Pirates, Cardinals and Cubs in New York before anybody in the NL East stops by.

• And, in a related development, the Phillies’ early schedule is equally eclectic. They open with the Braves — but then only have one week before August in which they play two NL East teams in the same week.

The reason: Since both the Mets and Phillies have to travel to London, MLB wanted to frontload many of their out-of-division games, so they can stick closer to home on either side of that London jaunt.

• Another takeaway from last year: Pay attention to those interleague schedules. Of the 13 teams that finished below .500 last year, none had a winning record in their 46 interleague games. Of the 12 playoff teams, 10 had winning records in interleague play.

Now here comes the weird exception to this trend. The only two playoff teams that didn’t dominate the other league were the two World Series teams — Texas and Arizona, because of course they were.

• And one more thing! The postseason schedule isn’t set yet. But there’s one thing baseball has decided it wants no part of — a World Series/presidential election doubleheader day!

If last year’s World Series had gone seven games, Game 7 would have been on Nov. 4. Know what date the election is scheduled for this year? Nov. 5. So this year’s Game 7 is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 2. What could possibly go wrong … except the Twins getting to the World Series and getting snowed out three days in a row!

(Top photo of the Dodgers and Padres, who will open the 2024 season by playing in South Korea: Ric Tapia / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)





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