Over the weekend, David Lennon of Newsday reported that a reduced regular season schedule is on the table and "gaining momentum" in collective bargaining agreement negotiations between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association. The floated change is a return to a pre-expansion 154 game regular season slate—the American League changed to a 162 game season in 1961, and the National League followed suit in 1962.
Despite no changes to the number of regular season games since 1962, the season has been getting longer on account of additional postseason games. In 1969, divisional play expanded the postseason with the introduction of the "League Championship Series." The series began as a best of five but later expanded to best of seven series in the mid 1980s. The 1990s saw the introduction of the Wild Card, and a second Wild Card was added a few years ago. This has resulted in a lot of cold early April and late October baseball.
Commissioner Rob Manfred’s perspective, as well as the team owners he represents, would like to keep the schedule as it is. The problem with a reduced schedule for them is revenue. It would mean four fewer home games and potential issues with television contracts. Lennon indicates that Manfred referred to "economic ramifications" to make a reduction workable—pay cuts for players, in other words.
A reduction in the schedule would benefit the players in a few ways. First, it would make the season-long grind more manageable. Including spring training, teams that don’t even play in the playoffs play for more than seven months. Tony Clark, representing the MLBPA, argues that a reduction would increase game quality over quantity by providing more rest to the players. And it’s true that a 162 game slate forces a lot of days off for the game’s stars. From 2013 to 2015, only nine players have played all 162 games (each did it just once). Conversely, there have been 181 player seasons to play between 150 and 160 games.
If 154 games is the MLBPA’s target and 162 MLB’s ideal, then a compromise might be somewhere in the middle. It’s clear that this will remain a part of the current negotiations, although a decision might wait for a future CBA.
For the Rockies, a reduced schedule might be more beneficial than for other teams. The grind might have a larger effect on Rockies’ players than others, on account of altitude (and accompanying altitude changes). There are no definitive answers regarding fatigue, altitude, and player performance, although the connections are intuitive and should provide grist for the Rockies researchers’ mill. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Rockies’ analytics team has already tackled this question. Don’t mistake that for informing Dick Monfort’s perspective on it though. In negotiations such as these, the owners will remain a coalition represented by Manfred.