By BRENDAN McGAIR • email@example.com
PAWTUCKET – Changes – some more subtle than others – are coming to how the International League maps out the schedule of games that ballclubs like the Pawtucket Red Sox use as a guide from early April until Labor Day.
Starting with the 2017 season, the PawSox and their fellow I.L. brethren will adhere to a 142-game schedule. That represents a two-game reduction from the 144-game slate that’s been in place since the 1999 season.
In 2018, International League teams will be asked to adhere to a 140-game slate – something that the PawSox haven’t been associated with since 1987. During a recent visit to McCoy Stadium, International League President Randy Mobley pointed out that the number of games is more at the directive of marching orders from Major League Baseball.
“The rule for a lot of years has been 140 games, but you have to ask permission if you want more. The majority of the farm directors have to approve it and it got to the point that the 144-game schedule was always approved,” said Mobley. “Now the commissioner’s office is putting more emphasis on player’s rest. They strongly suggested that it would be in everyone’s best interest to trim this down and get back to the rule itself.”
The change from 144 games to 140 games will also affect the International League’s Triple-A counterpart out west, the Pacific Coast League. Since this is a mandate across the minor-league scope, the Double-A Eastern League will be asked to cut from its current 142-game regular-season format.
“We didn’t necessarily go all that willingly. It’s not something that we would have done voluntarily or on our own,” said Mobley. “We were strongly encouraged to do it.”
You can argue that cutting upwards to four games off the Triple-A schedule has its positives and drawbacks.
Taking away one home game in 2017 and two home games in 2018 means fewer opportunities for clubs to make revenue. For teams that already struggle attendance-wise, it could put a further crimp on how business gets conducted.
The true underlying reason why MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is serious about having all minor-league operations play the same number of games can probably be traced to avoiding long stretches of consecutive dates.
Remove the three-day all-star break in July and the PawSox have just five off-days this season, one of which took place last Wednesday. Barring rainouts, Pawtucket will play 25 straight days before its next day away from the ballpark on Monday, May 23.
“It’s about making sure they can perform up to their capabilities,” said Mobley.
“Do you want to play more games so you try to simulate what they’re trying to do in the big leagues because they play for at least another month? With all the moves and transactions that happen during the season, I can the benefits for both sides,” said Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles. “Some of these stretches … they’re tough. Going 25 days straight with one day off can be tough, but that’s why you’ve got to make sure to manage it and everybody gets a chance to play. That way you’re able to find out about all your players.”
Mobley says that the 2017 schedule is already done and the 2018 slate is already in the design phase. The possibility exists that the PawSox could open the season on a Friday as opposed to Thursday, which has traditionally been the case. One thing that won’t change is Labor Day Monday still serving as the final day of the regular season.
How the International League maps out schedules for each of its members has undergone some drastic modifications. For years, the schedule was entrusted to Dave Rosenfield, longtime front office employee of the Norfolk Tides. Now its in the hands of computerized models done by Johns Hopkins University, who according to Mobley provided approximately 10 proposed 2017 schedules for review before agreeing upon one that was feasible for all teams.
“That was decision was made for modernization. When you’re doing that schedule long hand, you can spend days and weeks before getting to a point where you realize ‘this isn’t going to work’ and throw it in the trash can,” Mobley explained.
Given this new scheduling method represents a huge jump from how it used to be arranged, representatives from the 14 International League teams and Mobley gathered in January to look over the 2017 proposals. Those from Johns Hopkins who were tasked with this project were also present to answer questions and talk about what would happen in the event the computer received too many protective dates, i.e. clubs wishing to be home on certain days and away for others.
“We have found there’s an upside and a downside to taking the personal side out of it. You can’t manipulate because the computer is only going to do what you tell it to do. If a human is doing it and he sees something occurring, he may be able to break a pattern and do something a little different to adjust,” said Mobley. “The more contingencies you give the computer, the less favorable the overall schedule.”
Mobley, who says that it’s possible for the International League schedule to one day feature a marriage between human variables and computer elements, mentioned large-scale events such Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 as examples of protective dates where it would be in the best interest of the teams – in this case, Louisville and Indianapolis – to be on the road during those particular weekends.
An example that does not fall under the category of protective dates is the RIIL Baseball Championships that are held every June at McCoy Stadium. In this case, it’s about finding available dates while the PawSox are out of town.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03