Jake’s Takes: Should The MLB Consider Divisional Realignment?

August 18, 2023

Jake’s Takes: Should The MLB Consider Divisional Realignment?

Jake Moszskowski's latest edition of "Jake's Takes" examines the historic pace of the AL East, the historic weaknesses of the AL Central, and reasons why the MLB might want to consider realignment.

If the average baseball fan takes a look at the standings right now, a few things will jump out at you. Maybe you’d be surprised by the teams at the top of their respective divisions (Rangers, Reds, Diamondbacks, Orioles) or the teams near the bottom (Yankees, Angels, Mets, Padres). 

Upon closer inspection, you’d probably notice the historic pace that the American League (AL) East is on. As of August 15th, all five teams are above .500, paced by the surprising Baltimore Orioles (who are 74-45, two seasons after going 52-110). Meanwhile, the Yankees (with a payroll exceeding $280M) are in fifth place in the AL East, with a record of 60-59. 

If you looked at the standings again, you’d notice that the Yankees would be in second place in the AL Central, and every other AL East squad would be in first. The AL Central is currently paced by the 62-58 Minnesota Twins. Every other team in the division is at least five games under .500. For those interested bettors, several books actually offer odds on who finishes with more wins - the AL Central Champ or the AL East last place team. 

Though curiosity kills the cat, I checked in with Huddle’s trading team to see what would happen if the Yankees (currently in last place in the AL East) played a postseason series against the Twins (currently in first place in the AL Central). The results spoke volumes. If every game was at the Twins stadium for a three game series, the Yankees would have a 53% chance of winning Game 1, a 47% chance of winning Game 2, and a 54% chance of winning game 3. The starting pitcher matchups for that theoretical series would be Cole versus Gray (G1), Rodon versus Lopez (G2), and Cortez versus Miada (G3). Despite being in first place in the Central, the Twins would only have a 46.2% chance of winning that playoff series. 

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As of now, the AL East has a chance to threaten the record for the best combined winning percentage for a season (set in 2002 by the AL West). The AL East has a decent chance of challenging that record, though it would be more impressive by the 2023 AL East (which has five teams) versus the 2002 AL West (which had four teams). 

The AL East has long been considered one of the most competitive and challenging divisions in baseball, but historically it has been dominated by the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. In 2023, the AL East is led by the Orioles, Rays and Blue Jays, who have a combined record of 212-148 (as of August 15th). If anything, that’s a testament to the strength of the division. That said, while AL East boasts its own allure, their dominance has made the uneven distribution of talent and competition within other divisions even more noticeable.

On the opposite side of the spectrum exists the plight of the AL Central, which is currently experiencing an almost historic downturn. In terms of run differential, the AL Central is a ghastly -315 (as of August 15th). While unlikely, it’s not out of the question that an AL Central team will win the division with a losing record, something that has never happened in MLB history. For that to happen, Minnesota (the current division leader) would have to go 19-23 the rest of the way (assuming they remain in first place). With six games against the Rangers, three games against the Rays, and another three against the Reds, they do not have the easiest schedule to close their season. 

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The 2023 MLB season has exposed this stark power disparity, warranting a complete reevaluation of the league’s divisional structure. While the AL East’s historical dominance is admirable, it comes at the cost of an unbalanced league and leaves teams like the Red Sox and Yankees fuming in fourth and fifth place, when they’re actually better than the division-leading Minnesota Twins. Divisional realignment might be necessary to create a more level playing field for the league. By addressing this issue in the offseason, the MLB can ensure a healthier and more sustainable future for America’s favorite pastime.