Projected 2017 Strengths of Schedule

It’s that time again! Last year, I wrote this post on March 9. This year, it’s going up on March 7. I suppose that means this post is consistent. Let’s get into talking about schedule strength.

I think I say it every time, but with baseball, people tend not to care about this very much. Or at least, they do care about it, but they care about it far less than they care about almost everything else. There’s a general assumption that baseball schedules are more or less even, and the truth is that they really are. You can get overwhelmed when you think about a 162-game slate, as opposed to a football schedule that’s one-tenth as long. You’d think it allows for more regression. There can be real differences at the extremes, however. Last week, I spent a little time examining projected division strength. Might as well go the one step further.

The method here is the same as always. If you still remember it, feel free to skip right over this paragraph. Here is our current projected standings page. Here is our current playoff odds page. If you’re just poking around for the first time, you might pick up on the fact that not all the numbers are identical. There are actually at least tiny differences everywhere! This is easy to explain. The projected standings page reflects what we might call “true-talent projections.” The playoff odds page, however, takes those team projections and then folds in the regular-season schedules. The differences, therefore, are because of schedule adjustments. And by looking at those adjustments, you can easily infer projected schedule strength.

It takes but a matter of moments, and so everything is laid out below in two plots — one for each league. We’ll start with the American League, and in here you see the words “extra wins” on the y-axis. A positive outcome shows that a given team stands to face a pretty easy schedule. A negative outcome indicates the opposite. I wouldn’t worry too much about the specific numbers shown here themselves; rather, what’s critical are the numbers in relation to one another. It’s a given that the projections aren’t perfect. Doesn’t mean we can’t go ahead!

As expected, the Indians project to have the easiest schedule in the American League by far. The schedule grants them more than two extra wins, and the biggest part of this is their divisional context. The White Sox are bad, and they’re sort of bad on purpose. The Twins are bad, if less on purpose. And the projections aren’t big fans of this Royals team either, not that that’s new news. The Tigers are the only other seemingly competitive team, and they’re overall average. There’s a reason why the Indians’ odds of winning the division are so incredibly high.

So, chances are, the Indians will take the AL Central walking away. But don’t fret too much, Tigers fans, because there’s still an opportunity here. Who’s the closest wild-card competition? The Blue Jays? The schedule gives the Tigers almost a two-game relative advantage. The Mariners? It’s an advantage of more than one game. The Yankees? More than two games. I think, on talent, the Tigers are looking up at superior teams, yet this is a break, if a minor one. It makes their chances incrementally higher, as if they were to improve their roster at one or two positions.

No one gets it in the shorts quite like the A’s, but you can also see in here how the AL East looks to be murder. And to put these numbers on a different scale: The Indians’ average opponent projects for a winning percentage of .486. That’s the equivalent of a 79-win team. The Tigers’ average opponent projects to be about .500. The Yankees come in at .511, and the A’s come in at .514. The difference between a 79-win team and an 83-win team is imperceptible on a given day. There are 162 days. The little things, as always, add up.

Moving to the National League:

In last year’s post, I had to note that the Royals point affected everything, because the community was a lot higher on them than the projections. This time around, the community has chosen the Rockies as its Cinderella. So, take that for whatever it’s worth, but the projections don’t think the Rockies are all that good, and that’s part of the reason why the Dodgers end up first. There are also, of course, the Padres and the Diamondbacks, so it’s not like it’s because of the Rockies and nobody else. The Dodgers project to benefit much like the Indians do.

The Cubs are right there with the Dodgers. It kind of doesn’t matter much, since the Cubs will win their division anyway, barring multiple catastrophes. But there’s the all-important matter of home field in the playoffs! Plus bragging rights. If the top seed in the NL is going to come down to LA and Chicago, well, neither stands to have an advantage here.

This is all somewhat boring — the better teams are on the left, and the worse teams are on the right, because the worse teams have to play the better teams, and the better teams don’t have to play themselves. Any intrigue, again, involves the wild-card hopefuls. The Giants and Mets get a leg up on both the Cardinals and the Pirates. We’re talking about one win, more or less, but teams will pay a lot for an extra win, given the opportunity. That’s something you always have to keep in mind — a free-agent win costs something around eight million dollars. These projected wins don’t work exactly the same, but if baseball as an industry is obsessed with earning the tiniest advantages, well, here you go. The schedules sometimes grant them.

As for why the NL overall stands to gain wins, while the AL overall stands to lose them — I don’t know exactly why that is, and neither did David Appelman when I asked him. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that the AL remains better than the NL, and AL teams have to play one another all the time, so that’s bound to be extra challenging. Even if that isn’t the right explanation, it’s just not that important, because the orders of teams within each league look correct. It’s not so much the specific number as it is how that number compares to other numbers.

I know I don’t need to remind you that the projections are imperfect. On top of that, timing matters, and maybe someone will face a good team without facing the best starting pitchers. Major injuries can cause certain injuries, and a team like, say, the Marlins could look different in August than in May. This is mostly to benefit your own present curiosity. I’ve got some good-looking news, Cleveland.

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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cmarts cups
7 years ago

“It kind of doesn’t matter much, since the Cubs will win their division anyway, barring multiple catastrophes.”

As Ben Lindbergh explained in a recent essay for The Ringer, the Cubs posted a historic BABIP against last season. Pecota has them projected for around 90 wins based on normalization of that luck. Throw in a general step back in the rotation for lack of solid depth and loss of Dexter Fowler and his 4+ War season and good defense in center, and it doesn’t take much to see the Pirates or Cardinals have a good year and the division is quite competitive.

I guess my point is it wouldn’t take Jon Lester and Kris Bryant going down for the year to make this division race competitive. Pirates and Cards have good teams and many players that could exceed expectations.

7 years ago
Reply to  cmarts cups

“Throw in a general step back in the rotation for lack of solid depth and loss of Dexter Fowler and his 4+ War season and ***good*** defense in center…”

You spelled “extremely mediocre” wrong

7 years ago
Reply to  jruby

Fowler produced 1 DRS in 2016, but he was terrible before that. Maybe the uptick in defense is due to Jason Heyward joining the Cubs outfield in RF last year?

You’re right that it would be foolish to expect above average defense from Fowler in 2017.

7 years ago
Reply to  johansantana17

Small sample size and all, but looking at the defensive stats from last year, Fowler saved 1 DRS in CF during 1027.1 innings. Heyward played 171 innings in center and had 4 DRS.

7 years ago
Reply to  johansantana17

I thought it was assumed his defense improvement was from better positioning, and so he’s actually likely to repeat his slightly above-average defensive performance.

7 years ago
Reply to  cmarts cups

What Lindbergh failed to mention or notice is that Baseruns or similar methods had the Cubs as a 110+ win team last year and they got “unlucky”. If the luck evens out a more regular BABIP could still have the Cubs win close to 100 games.

With their record low BABIP, they should have won 110 games. Raise the BABIP and they “should” have won 100 games, for example. You also have a full season of Schwarber and you have to assume some progression from Heyward offensively.

7 years ago
Reply to  ratwheels

I would assume Heyward will be a 4th outfielder actually. He is struggling against minor league pitching right now.

7 years ago

in ~5 games?

7 years ago
Reply to  mr.met89

did you count last season/spring training? I am. especially since he has been “working so hard”

7 years ago
Reply to  cmarts cups

3 top tier contact managers in the rotation between Hendricks, Arrieta, and Lester plus one of the best overall defenses in recent memory makes me think it’s not a fluke. Of course we expect them not to repeat “best BABIP against compared to league average ever,” but it’s a roster constructed with weak contact allowed and fantastic defense at every position.

7 years ago
Reply to  cmarts cups

I’m banking on a Pirates upset ( given the proper odds )

7 years ago
Reply to  cmarts cups

Those projections might have the cubs as a 90ish win team, but still have the cubs winning the division by like 10 games, so I’m not entirely sure how you are using them as some form of evidence to go against what Jeff says here.

Cubs 92-70
Pirates 81-81
Cardinals 76-86

And why are you mentioning them losing Fowler’s 4 war, shouldn’t the projection system(s) already know that he is no longer on the cubs roster?