|

Time ripe for NPB to alter makeup game format

by Jason Coskrey

The Orix Buffaloes will be on the field when the Pacific League Climax Series begins on Oct. 12.

Orix won’t be anywhere near the postseason action, mind you. The 64-71-5 (through Sunday) Buffaloes are in fifth place, six games adrift of the fourth-place Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, and they’ll stay there.

No, while the Chiba Lotte Marines and Seibu Lions are duelling it out in the first stage of the Climax Series, the Buffaloes will be playing out the string in a pair of makeup games against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles at Kleenex Stadium on Oct. 12-13.

Games that have no business brushing up against the postseason, when the spotlight should shine solely on the six teams — three each in the PL and Central League — still trying to reach the Japan Series.

The Buffaloes and PL champion Eagles are both rooted in place, so their series has no bearing on anything, existing only to make sure each team will have played 144 games.

They are being made up now, because Japanese baseball refuses to find a better way to make up games, choosing instead to simply backload them at the end of the schedule in lieu of double-headers, using the weekly day off, or some other solution.

This results in an uneven ending to the season, where teams finish on differing dates instead of all at once. The Buffaloes and Eagles, for instance, have three games left; the Marines and Lions have one to play; while the Hawks and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters are already clearing out their lockers.

This robs Japanese baseball of the possible excitement of a chaotic final few days with pennants and Climax Series positions up for grabs, as has been seen in the major leagues in recent seasons.

This year’s makeup schedule in particular is also not without a modicum of risk.

The Eagles’ focus should be on the final stage of the Climax Series, and a freak injury in a meaningless game could wreck their postseason.

NPB has seemed steadfast in not addressing the issue, the extent of which was shown a couple of years ago, when, for slightly different reasons, a baseball fan offered up the suggestion of a more efficient schedule.

Canadian mathematician Richard Hoshino and a colleague at the National Institute of Informatics had used mathematical formulas to develop such a schedule after noting the inefficiency from a cost, environmental, and travel standpoint, of a normal NPB slate.

He wanted to present his findings to NPB but, according to a 2012 story in The Japan Times, was rebuffed. Undeterred, he took NPB’s unique factors into account and reworked his techniques, only to have the head scheduler claim to be too busy to meet with him.

“Although Japan is a small island country, the teams travel over 280,000 km to play their regular-season schedules, the equivalent of seven trips around the Earth,” Hoshino was quoted as saying by Stephen Hesse in The Japan Times.

“My supervisor and I have become experts in scheduling theory, especially with the direct and practical success of optimizing the NPB schedule. But for me, it’s not enough to be writing research papers. I know a group of mathematicians have been working with Major League Baseball since 2004 to create efficient regular-season schedules, and naively hoped I might be able to do the same here in Japan, especially given my passion for environmental sustainability.”

The bullheaded resistance to even entertain change, even that for the better, is why NPB will continue have an uneven finish and squander away a chance to have get fans excited about the upcoming postseason.

So this year, the Orix Buffaloes will still be playing when the playoffs begin. Hardly the rousing kickoff to the fall the league should be striving to create.