Estimating Remaining Strength of Schedule

All right, here’s the deal. At the start of the season, everybody cares about schedule strength, but they care only a little bit. At this point in the season, far fewer people care about schedule strength, but they tend to care much much more, since the games are higher leverage than ever for those still in the race. So if you’re someone who cares about schedule strength, boy, do I have the post for you. At least, I have a post for you.

Two graphs follow, one for the American League, and one for the National League. This was actually really easy to put together. If you click on “Standings” above, you end up at this page, and that one has team projections on it. If you go to the Playoff Odds page, though, you see similar but different team projections. That second set adjusts for schedule, so to find a measure of schedule strength, one need only compare the projections on the two pages. It’s so easy you could do it yourself! You can do more than you think yourself.

There’s a key difference between this and what you might read elsewhere about schedule strength. People typically look at the number of games against, say, .500+ opponents. Or they’ll evaluate schedules based on team records so far. This is 100% about projections, so if there are projections you disagree with, that’ll have an effect. So this is kind of a FanGraphs measure, but then this is FanGraphs, so take it with however much salt you like. On the graphs, a positive number means an easier schedule. The bar shows the number of extra wins once you schedule-adjust. Of course, negative means the opposite. We’ll start with the American League, because here, the American League looks boring.

AL

schedule-strength-american-league

Look at those big, bold bars! Then look at the y-axis. There’s not so much of interest here. The Royals, by a small margin, have the easiest estimated remaining schedule, but then they’ve already basically locked up a playoff spot, and they’re the favorites for home-field advantage. At the other end, the A’s face the toughest schedule by this method, but the A’s also suck, record-wise, better only than the Red Sox in the league, at this writing. So nobody cares about Oakland’s remaining schedule.

If there’s anything worth highlighting here, it’s probably how the Blue Jays compare to the Orioles and Twins. Right now, the Jays are in the second wild-card slot, a game ahead of those other teams. So, the situation is tight, and everybody realizes that. Because of the moves Toronto made, a lot of people are probably figuring they’ll run away with a playoff spot, and the Twins might finally be playing to their weaknesses. But let’s try not to get ahead of ourselves. The Twins are in the mix. The Orioles are in the mix. And based on these numbers, the difference between the Jays and Twins’ remaining schedules is worth more than half a win in Toronto’s favor. The difference between the Jays and Orioles is about a full win. It’s not everything, but it’s not nothing, and it’s something the Jays’ rivals would have to overcome. Toronto has gone and put itself in good position.

NL

schedule-strength-national-league

Now that’s more like it. The y-axis has doubled in size, as we’ve got numbers here of greater magnitudes. The biggest positive number in the AL is 0.3; here, it’s 1.5. The biggest negative number in the AL is -0.8; here, it’s -1.3. Granted, here, the toughest remaining schedule belongs to Colorado, and nobody cares about that, but then, on the other hand, there is a race for the worst record. We’ll get to that in a bit.

The graph is led by the NL East, where we see the Mets, Nationals, and Marlins, two of which are in any way relevant. As far as the division is concerned, the Mets and Nationals effectively cancel out, with neither team getting an advantage. But then, whoever doesn’t win the division will be fighting for a wild-card slot, and that’s where this gets more interesting. Consider the Cubs, who occupy the second slot. The Nationals’ schedule is almost a projected win easier. Then consider the Giants, who are just barely behind the Cubs. The difference between them and the Nationals, above, is almost two and a half wins. Obviously, the same goes for them and the Mets. The Giants are a win and a half behind the Cubs, on schedule. If you just look at the playoff picture, you see the Giants close to the wild card and still close in the NL West. But they have the toughest remaining schedule of all the contenders, so success isn’t going to come easy. Not that it ever does. What a pointless thing to say.

As for the worst record, and therefore the first overall draft pick: not even long ago, it looked like the Phillies had this sewn up. At the All-Star break, there was a 9.5-game gap between the Phillies and baseball’s next-worst team. But since the break, somehow, the Phillies have baseball’s best record, so now either they’ve closed in, or other teams have closed in. Depends how you look at it. The Phillies are separated from the Marlins by one game. They’re 2.5 from the Brewers, and three from the Rockies. We have a race on our hands, and now it does matter that the Rockies have the toughest remaining schedule overall.

By schedule, the difference between the Phillies and the Rockies is about a win and a half. That helps the Rockies’ case. The Phillies and Brewers are about even, and the Marlins have an easier remaining schedule than the Phillies do, by about a win, so this could come down to Philadelphia and Colorado. Any number of things could happen — see: recent Phillies results — but this is at least how schedules are aligned. The Phillies have another 10 games against the Marlins, and there are six against the Braves, and three against the Brewers and Red Sox. The Rockies do get to play the Diamondbacks, but then, the Diamondbacks are still better than the Rockies are. And the Phillies also get to play them.

Turns out there’s always something to watch for. There might always be something at stake.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Craig Tyle
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Craig Tyle

Does this take into account home vs. away?