Given all the nasty early-season weather, and the persistent questions about fan engagement, I thought this was a pretty fair question today by Dave Kaplan, who was interviewing Anthony Rizzo on ESPN 1000:
Cubs star Anthony Rizzo says he would be all in for a shorter MLB season. Would you like a 142 game season as USA Today suggested or keep it at 162?
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) April 17, 2018
(As of this writing, shortening the season to 142 games actually has 51% of the vote. Keeping things at 162 games is actually receiving only 28%.)
The season was 154 games from 1920 to 1961, and has been 162 games ever since, so my sense it that most of us feel like a standard baseball season is 162 games. It’s also my sense that most fans – especially hardcore fans – can’t get too much baseball.
But Kaplan and Rizzo, in the discussion today, did raise a few good points: a shorter season allows you to lop off some of the worst weather at the beginning and end of the season, it takes a little better care of the players, and it maximizes the fan enjoyment (both because the games are in nicer weather and because you aren’t just playing a ton of games to get as much revenue as possible).
I think the obvious counter, in addition to the “MOAR!” thing, is that baseball’s margins for earned results are so thin that you need a ton of games to really determine which teams are actually the best. In fact, I remember reading somewhere (apologies for the lack of precision here, because it was years ago and I can’t remember where) that to really distill down the best teams in the league to something like 90% accuracy, you’d actually need to play over 200(!) games.
Shrinking the season, then, would make for more years where the best teams do not actually win the most games, and – arguably – deserving teams are left out of the playoffs for lack of enough games to prove themselves.
The counter to that counter, though … is that really a bad thing? Maybe that’d be a little more fun for fans out there knowing more teams have a shot each year. Maybe we’d see a lot less tanking, as teams know flukiness can play a greater role in making the playoffs.
I’m not sure I’m sold either way on this one, and I don’t love to make a decision on these kinds of things while there’s a historically bad weather April going on (it can make it a little too easy to say, “Yeah, get rid of a few weeks, obviously!”).