The AL East Looks Like the Toughest Division Again

These are our current projected standings. Meanwhile, this will, at some point, become our updated playoff-odds page. When that second page is updated, you’ll notice some small differences when compared to the first, as the projected records on that page will take into consideration the various team schedules. That will make for a post of its own! Because it can be worthwhile to examine schedule strength. Not all baseball schedules are created the same.

What follows here is maybe a sneak preview, or maybe a shortcut. It’s at least related, because what I’ve done is figure out projected division strength. The math almost couldn’t be simpler. Up there, I linked the team projections. In the plot below, I’ve averaged them in appropriate groups. Somehow people think of me as a baseball expert. Anyway, let me say this: As of today, it looks like the AL East is baseball’s toughest division. The AL West is close behind. And the AL Central looks like relative garbage.

All this is is the average projected win total per team by division. I truncated the y-axis so you could more clearly see the differences in here. I’m not trying to be deliberately misleading. I know you’re not supposed to do that, but, please forgive me.

One takeaway would be that the American League is projected to be better than the National League. That usually upsets some National League fans, but, I don’t know what to tell you — the AL has won the majority of the interleague games every single season since 2004. I don’t know why the trend would stop today, not after the AL won last year 55% of the time. I’m open to your counter-arguments.

More to the relevant and specific point, the AL East and the AL West, here, appear the strongest. Then there’s a gap, followed by all three NL divisions, which are practically tied. The separation between the best and the worst NL divisions is 0.4 wins. Then, bringing up the rear, there’s the AL Central. It’s this division that most stands out, so we should spend a few minutes on potential implications.

For one thing, this gives the Indians a path to the best record in the league. They’re already the clear favorites in the division, and now the White Sox are fully, unquestionably rebuilding. The Twins are somewhat more quietly rebuilding, and the Royals are in a very challenging spot. I have to assume that the Indians will, pretty easily, end up with the softest schedule in the AL. Another potential implication is this could boost the Tigers’ wild-card chances. Although they might not be as strong as, say, the Blue Jays or Mariners, those teams will face tougher slates, and they’ll also be looking up at their own strong division favorites. Maybe the schedule will be worth an extra couple wins. Maybe that’s all the Tigers will need.

To a certain extent, this all reflects very little change. The AL Central is projected to be the weakest division for the fifth time since 2005, spanning 13 years. (It’s actually been the weakest division twice.) Another six times, it’s been projected to be the second-weakest division. Projections haven’t really liked the AL Central at all since 2007. This is more normal than abnormal.

As for the AL East — again, I have 13 years of preseason projections, and this is the twelfth time the AL East has projected as the toughest group. Back in 2006, it projected as the second-toughest. The current streak is up to 11 consecutive seasons, and the division has worked out as actually the strongest six times. On average, over the whole window, the AL East has projected as easily the best division, and it’s also been easily the best division. At some point, the group will get weaker, just because it has to, but it’s going to take a team or two giving up. It’s going to take a couple rebuilds, because right now, you could argue that any of the five teams could feasibly make the postseason. And for a while the projections have liked the Orioles too *little.*

In the other league, you should be struck by the balance. We’ve had a stretch of a few years where it looked like the NL East might be too soft, but now the divisions are practically equal. There are rebuilding clubs in all of them, excellent teams in all of them, and in-between teams in all of them. Maybe the NL West has one rebuilding team, instead of two, but that one team is probably the worst one, so the averages work out. The more useful indicator will be average team-by-team schedule strengths, but for now at least it seems like nothing in the NL should be too extreme one way or another.

All in all, maybe this is best for the Indians. If not them, it’s best for the Tigers, whose playoff shot is far more uncertain. In turn, that would make this most unfortunate for AL wild-card contenders in the other two groups. When a team like the White Sox elects to tear down, they’re not the only team affected. And you should remember they’re far from finished tearing.

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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7 years ago

Somehow people think of me as a baseball expert.

The beauty of baseball is the near infinite ways in which one can be a real bonafide expert. (and in turn, a real bonafide fan). You can be an expert at throwing sliders like Andrew Miller, or an expert at crafting a game narrative like Vin Scully. You can be an expert in prospect evaluation in both traditional and advanced models. Machine learning, psych evaluation, physical projection. You can be an expert in negotiating player contracts. You can be an expert in the laws around collective bargaining. You can be an expert in baseball uniforms, or unheralded prospects with the fringiest of chances to become regulars.

My favorite expertise, however, by far, is Jeff’s ability to get an entire group of people collectively invested in the little things. It’s not just that he makes us laugh, it’s not just that he finds interesting insights. It’s that he unites an entire group of baseball fans around ideas big and small, stories important and trivial.

So, this is totally offtopic of the article, but just had to say thanks for being a Baseball Expert. Also more GIFs next time, please.

7 years ago
Reply to  bananas

Outstanding comment, Bananas. Jeff is one of those fortunate folks (and we his very fortunate followers) who is doing exactly what he should be doing.

7 years ago
Reply to  bananas

Early contender for Comment of the Month.

7 years ago
Reply to  jruby

Now I just barfed all over my keyboard…

7 years ago
Reply to  bananas

I just barfed a little in my mouth…