The Nationals’ Hot Start Has Had Some Help

I feel like I just wrote this recently somewhere, but I guess I’ll write it again. In baseball, people don’t pay too much attention to strength of schedule. In part this is because numbers aren’t easy to come by. In probably larger part, this is because strengths tend to mostly even out. That’s true over full seasons, for sure, but there’s no reason it should be true over smaller samples. Like, here’s a stat for you. Pitchers Aledmys Diaz has faced so far have allowed a combined .877 OPS. Pitchers Brad Miller has faced so far have allowed a combined .653 OPS. Is it any wonder why Diaz is presently out-hitting Miller? That’s an enormous gap, and it isn’t going to remain so enormous.

Let’s turn our attention to the overall standings. By wins and losses, no one has been better than the Cubs. That’s no surprise. They’re even with the White Sox, which is a bigger surprise. Then you find the Nationals. Though they’ve lost a couple in a row, they’re still 14-6, and while we expected the Nationals to be pretty good, we didn’t expect them to be this good. Of course, we’re kind of still waiting for the Nationals to play a major-league opponent.

That’s an exaggeration, but here’s where we are: the Nationals have played 20 games, and six of them have been against the Braves. Five have been against the Phillies. Six have been against the Marlins, and three have been against the Twins. To the Nationals’ credit, they’ve done what they were supposed to, but this is an example of schedules not balancing out in the little picture. Oh, and the Nationals have also played more home games than road games. In part, they’ve started well because they’re good. And in part, they’ve started well because their opponents have mostly been bad.

I decided to run some math, for fun, which is a weird sentence. Obviously, it’s easy to find a team’s actual winning percentage so far. But I also calculated an expected winning percentage so far, based on our pre-game odds. You’ve seen those odds before, and they factor in pitchers, lineups, and home-field advantage. The Nationals lead baseball in expected winning percentage, at 61%. The Braves are in last, at 38%. The plot below shows the difference so far between actual winning percentage and expected winning percentage. Think of this as a more accurate gauge of early under- and over-achievers.

win-expected-win

You might’ve had a similar mental picture already. It’s pretty obvious no one has over-achieved quite like the White Sox. It’s no less obvious that no one has under-achieved quite like the Astros. And the Nationals, by this measure, have definitely played well, even adjusting for the soft slate. But even within the division, the Phillies come out as superior over-achievers. The Nationals rank right there with the Royals.

Here’s a related plot. Our Playoff Odds page shows a projected rest-of-season winning percentage. This takes schedule strengths and whatnot into account. Earlier I already calculated an expected winning percentage to this point. The plot below shows the difference, which more or less reflects schedule strength to date. This is rest-of-season Win% – expected Win% so far.

schedule-difficulty

The Nationals stand out, for reasons already discussed. They’ve had that expected winning percentage of 61%, but the rest of the way, they’re projected at 55%. Which is clearly still good, but we won’t have a great feel for the Nationals until their opponents start getting stronger. That won’t take long — they’re about to play 10 straight road games in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Chicago. Shortly thereafter they’ll finally start playing the Mets. The early schedule has allowed the Nationals to build some confidence, rallying around Dusty Baker and putting memories of 2015 out of mind. That’s all positive, and I liked the Baker hiring, but there’s plenty left yet to be learned.

The Mets have taken some advantage of a favorable beginning. More ominously, the Yankees haven’t, and things aren’t about to get easier. You can see that the Cardinals and Pirates have had it just a little easy. Now look at the other end. There’s no one there on the Nationals’ level. But the Indians should have it a little easier moving forward. In fairness, a chunk of this probably just reflects the return of Michael Brantley. The Tigers are there with the Indians — they’ve had a relatively tough start. And the Braves are looking for a let-up, after having gone literally 1-17 against the Mets, Nationals, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Cardinals. The Braves somehow swept the Marlins, but you also see the Marlins there above; the Braves have been their one poor opponent. They’re also in for a more favorable road, which’ll boost their wild-card chances. And, I guess, their division chances, but, let’s be serious.

Over any small sample, you absolutely do have to consider strength of opponent. Just because it mostly evens out in the big picture doesn’t mean it’s always a non-factor, and sometimes it can drive great success or embarrassing failure. To be sure, the Nationals have played good baseball, and the Braves have played bad baseball. But the Nationals have also played bad baseball teams, while the Braves have done the reverse. Chin up, Braves fans. Things ought to get a little less embarrassing.

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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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johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

The Cubs have only played 3 games this year against a team with a winning record. Might be worth mentioning that they’ve also had a lot of help in their start instead of using their start as evidence for the accuracy of preseason predictions.

UncrunchyTaco
Member
UncrunchyTaco

The chart above shows the Cubs have outperformed their expected win% by a good margin. Where does he say that their start is evidence of prediction accuracy?

tz
Member

Of course, the Reds and Diamondbacks would have winning records if they hadn’t played the Cubs yet. Are they among your 3 teams?

dovif
Member
dovif

Tz

When your sample is 20 games, 3 games would put a .333 team to be a .500 team, that does not mean they are not a .333 team

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

So here 20 games is too small a sample, but below you talk about the Mets beating the cubs as definitive. So… Which is it? Whatever one fits your narrative?

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

The Mets destroying the Cubs four games in a row in the postseason when both teams knew they had to focus and play their best, and the Cubs had no injuries or other excuse (while the Mets were missing their starting shortstop) looks pretty convincing. This wasn’t like ‘it could have gone either way, on another day who knows?’ Not one of the four games was even close. If you can stand a dose of reality, go back and look at those games and think about whether it was just a fluke. Now it’s April and the Cubs like the Nationals are beating up on weak teams who have no chance to make the playoffs.

Korean to Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back
Member
Korean to Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back

Mets were destroyed cubs 4 matches in a row here as both teams knew to focus and play the best, and children are not injured or apology (leaving scarce Mets shortstop) looks convincing. It is not “what can happen anyway, the other day, who knows?” None of the four games were close. If you can not stand the fact that you go back and watch the game and just be a coincidence. Now it’s April and hatchlings were beaten by the weaker teams in the country have the opportunity to relocate.

dovif
Member
dovif

Jedihoyer

Winning in the playoff is pretty definitive. Being 7-13 or 10-10 in April is not as definitive

Every playoff has a winner, and the team would be playing their best and not resting player. There is no if the Cubs had won 3 of the games, they would have won the World Series … Actually if they did win 3 of their losses, they still would not have won.

Saying if the Cubs and dback did not lose a game, they would not have a losing record … Is kinda silly

World Series losers would not have won the World Series, if they did not play the winner, the mets weren’t winners last year, that is pretty definitive. Saying if

Korean to Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back
Member
Korean to Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back

Pigeonsthat says:
29 April 2016 23:14

eatwhen

Pobeda Play is quite informal. Not final at 7-13 or 10-10 April

Each tournament has a winner, and their best player, not resting team played. There is no if the cubs Vin 3 games, they won the championship. In fact, if you win in their three defeats, they will win.

That if the pups lose the match and was not all, will have lost record. He is a little stupid

Who lost the World Series to win the championship if they do not play the winners, the Mets last year’s winner, for sure. and who

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

A Ruben tejada is hardly a starting shortstop, the cubs didn’t have Russell, who is a legit starting shortstop. And these are professional athletes who focus every at bat or they don’t get paid. The playoffs are a crapshoot for a reason, small sample.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

Between two evenly matched teams they’re a crapshoot. Between two completely mismatched teams this isn’t the case. The cubs were completely overmatched against the mets, anyone who looked at the games could see that. It was like a minor league team playing a major league team. That isn’t a crapshoot.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

Its hard to win an argument against a smart person. It’s impossible to win an argument against a dumb one.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

In other words you have no argument.

Dick Monfort
Member
Dick Monfort

Argument no have you words other in.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

No, but you will continue arguing when you are wrong, like you have done every time you have ever posted. The best team doesn’t always win the world series, also comparing last years cubs team to this one is dumb.

Curious Gorge
Member
Curious Gorge

I think this is a pretty good word to describe GiantsFanJohn

Obdurate.

ob·du·rate
?äbd(y)?r?t/
adjective
stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion or course of action.
synonyms: stubborn, obstinate, intransigent, inflexible, unyielding, unbending, pigheaded, bullheaded, mulish, stiff-necked;

Come to think of it, that Tampa troll as well…

dovif
Member
dovif

Jedihoyer

Actually you did not even have an argument. You just set up a straw man and tried to argue you were right.

If you had actually read what I said, i was commenting against someone who said if Arizona had not lost 3 games against the Cubs, they would be above .500, that is like saying if Atlanta had not lost 6 games to the Nationals, and won them instead, they would be 500 too. I am saying you are what your record say you are. You then set up a straw an and say that I was talking small sample size, which I was not doing. I was actually saying the opposite.

So yes it is very hard to win an argument against an idiot as you said

And yes the Cubs was not remotely closed to the mets last year

dovif
Member
dovif

As for the Cubs being better this year.

Zobist looks old and seem to have continued his decline from the last 2 year.

Heywood is not remotely closed to schweber, at this stage, he might already be one of the 5 worst contracts in baseball

Lackey have been highly inconsistent, and Rizzo look completely lost at the plate atm

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

You said 3 games doesn’t change the quality of a team, but because it’s the playoffs 4 games does? Think of how stupid that is. This isn’t the nba, baseball is incredibly high variance. You can be a winning poker player but lose over a 30k hand sample. Daniel Murphy had an 1.800 ops in that series, is Daniel Murphy a true talent 1.800 ops player? One team playing at a peak level and the other playing below average for 4 games is evidence of nothing. Before writing this I should gave just looked at your second comment to see you are just johns other troll account.

Korean to Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back
Member
Korean to Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back

Jedihoier

In fact, I can not even talk. It’s just pretending to adjust and try to pretend that you were right.

If you actually read what I said, I spoke with someone who said that if Arizona lost 3 matches and Panda, they will pass. 500, the same as saying that if Atlanta has lost Game 6 at home, and earned instead, they will have the same 500. I tell you that your data will tell. Then put straw and said that I spoke with a small sample, does not work. It’s actually the opposite.

Therefore, it is very difficult as an argument against idiots like you said

And if the hatchlings do not bridge the gap for the Mets last year,

cmpody
Member
cmpody

Dovif

Yea, Rizzo has been a 1.0 WAR player with a .151 BABIP, just completely lost. Heyward has already been .6 WAR player and Zobrist a .5 WAR player even though neither has hit for any power at all, just terrible contracts. And Lackey’s xFIP of 2.95 is very concerning. On the one hand I agree Heyward is no Shweber, that guy was a stud, not sure what the Cubs were thinking getting rid of him

dovif
Member
dovif

Jedihoyer

It is really hard to win an argument with idiots

Where did I say 3 games does not adjust the quality of the team. Please stop with your clueless strawman. I was commenting on the absurdity that to said that 3 games against the Cubs made them a losing side

I will stop arguing with you now because you are probably an Internet troll who do not have a real argument and who post under other idiotic usernames

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

You said 3 games over a 20 game sample doesn’t change the fact a team is still .333 team. Yet 4 games over a 4 game sample apparently made the Mets infinitely better than the cubs

Spartacus
Member
Spartacus

Seriously Jedi… ignore him. Don’t know how this guy found Fangraphs, much less was able to turn on his computer for that matter. He’s missing a chromosome or two, it’s not worth it.

Dick Monfort
Member
Dick Monfort

Weak opponents. As in no one thinks they will contend for the playoffs

Korean to Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back
Member
Korean to Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back

the toilet of his gigantic:
April 28, 2016 at 10:55

Pande only played three years with a team with a winning record. Maybe after that they had a lot of help in their own homes instead of his career as a proof of the accuracy of prediction in the preseason.

output gap
Member
Member
output gap

They have also played more road games than home games. When you sport a +74 run differential through 21 games, you’re really, really good.

You really need to get a new hobby.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

And you wonder where the bias idea comes from. P.s all those teams except the brewers are above .500 against non cubs teams.

Spartacus
Member
Spartacus

GiantsFanJohn has been all over the place spewing his muck. The other day he tried saying he’s been calling the Cubs an excellent team, while he’s talking all this gibberish in other places, and now he’s bringing this up in a non-Cubs article. I can’t take him seriously. It’s not worth trying to have an intelligent discussion with him. Yeah, it’s a long season and anything can happen, and their .750 winning percentage isn’t going to hold up, but what else the fuck does he want them to do? I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but I’m done with him.

Dick Monfort
Member
Dick Monfort

Because this article actually is about the Cubs. The Cubs are actually mentioned in the article before the Nationals are mentioned, and I quote:

‘Let’s turn our attention to the overall standings. By wins and losses, no one has been better than the Cubs. That’s no surprise. They’re even with the White Sox, which is a bigger surprise. Then you find the Nationals.’

The writer then goes on to show that the Nationals record is due to their weak schedule, saying nothing about the fact that the Cubs’ schedule has been equally weak. The clear implication is that the Cubs record, unlike the Nationals’ record, is deserved and does reflect their true ability.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC

So wait, the team that was supposed to be the best being the best is not supposed to be evidence of what exactly? You’re giving me a headache.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

Okay, let’s give them names. Brewers, Rockies, Reds, Diamondbacks, Angels. That isn’t exactly a tough schedule. Three games against the Cardinals is their only serious test so far.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

Put another way, that’s four teams who before the season were thought to have no chance of making the playoffs and one team which was thought to have a chance until A.J. Pollock got injured. The Cubs are beating up on weak teams just like the Nationals are.

Krisco
Member
Krisco

Here’s a whole article about the Nationals. And here’s you, once again, ranting on and on and on about the Cubs.

To a casual observer, you seem rather obsessed, and the Cubs’ red-hot start seems to be causing you some severe emotional pain. I encourage you to follow them less and follow your team more. Barring that, I suggest you and “Rational Fan” get together and form a support group.

Anyone rooting for the Cubs to lose is bound to be unhappy more than they are happy this season. 105 wins doesn’t appear to be out of the question.

cmpody
Member
cmpody

You are actually right for once. The only test the Cubs will face all year are from the other elite teams. It’s not hardly their fault they are so much better than the average and crummy teams. All they can do is beat them senselessly which is what they’ve done.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

It also helps that 3 of their starting pitchers have more than 90% lob% and their babip against is .251. It’s difficult to imagine a pitching staff getting luckier.

cmpody
Member
cmpody

Yea that BABIP and LOB % have nothing to do with the fact that Cubs starters don’t give up much hard contact and that the Cubs D is extremely solid across the board. I guess maybe when the Cubs BABIP start rising they will only win games 8-3 instead of 6-1.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

Actually if you’ll bother to check the statistics you’ll notice that the cabs pitchers are 12th out of 30 in hard%, okay but not exactly dominant. And this against weak opponents.

cmpody
Member
cmpody

Weak opponents all of whom except the Brewers are above .500 against the rest of the league at this point. And the Rockies D’backs and cardinals are all top 10 offenses. But at least you didn’t try arguing the Cubs aren’t good defensively. It’s a start.

cmpody
Member
cmpody

I’m sorry, the Rockies are below .500 too. So 2 out of 7 series have been played against teams below .500 against the rest of baseball. Yep that’s just like playing the Braves, Phillies, Marlons and Twins.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

Weak opponents. As in no one thinks they will contend for the playoffs

cmpody
Member
cmpody

So contending for a playoff spot is the final word of how good a team is…in April? So there is no difference between playing a team that could lose 110 games and a team that might lose 90, just because neither team is expected to contend? The Cubs have played mostly non contenders, but these non contenders have with the exception of the 3 games vs the Brewers and Braves played competitive baseball against the rest of the league.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

I referred to preseason odds as the most objective available evidence for how good a team is. Obviously.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

And regarding LOB% and BABIP, luck is luck, no matter who you’re playing against. And don’t try the ‘Cubs pitchers don’t allow hard contact’ argument again because I just showed that’s wrong.

Dick Monfort
Member
Dick Monfort

Because this article actually is about the Cubs. The Cubs are actually mentioned in the article before the Nationals are mentioned, and I quote:

‘Let’s turn our attention to the overall standings. By wins and losses, no one has been better than the Cubs. That’s no surprise. They’re even with the White Sox, which is a bigger surprise. Then you find the Nationals.’

The writer then goes on to show that the Nationals record is due to their weak schedule, saying nothing about the fact that the Cubs’ schedule has been equally weak. The clear implication is that the Cubs record, unlike the Nationals’ record, is deserved and does reflect their true ability.

cmpody
Member
cmpody

Ummm, ok. D’backs 11-9 against all non cub teams. Reds 8-7 against all non cub teams. Angels 11-9 against all non cub teams. Cards 11-8 against all non cub teams. And it’s not like the Cubs are winning every game 5-4 and scoring all unearned runs. They are pummeling teams in every facet of the game.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

None of these teams are playoff contenders.

cmpody
Member
cmpody

But all are much better than the Braves, Phillies and Twins.

Krisco
Member
Krisco

Cubs just beat the Braves 6-1 with a 5-run rally in the 8th.
Any comment, johnforthegiants?

cmpody
Member
cmpody

Krisco

I’ll answer for john. It doesn’t count as a win for the 2016 Cubs, because the 2015 Cubs were swept by the Mets in the NLCS. Or something

Krisco
Member
Krisco

cmpody,

I think you’re right. By john’s count, I’m pretty sure the 2016 Cubs are 2-5. The two wins against the Cardinals count (I presume), but none of the others do. It’s a shame. And here I thought the Cubs were looking like a playoff team.

cmpody
Member
cmpody

Actually Krisco, I think they are only 1-5, because one of those victories in Stl was with Mike Leake on the mound. And Leake is really only an average pitcher and Lackey was just lucky that night anyway, so yeah 1-5. I thought they were good too, but now that john has shown me the light I realize that the 2016 Chicago Cubs are actually just as bad if not worse than the 2003 Tigers.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

Check the preseason odds for the cubs opponents vs the nats opponents, considering that the dbacks lost pollock. They’re the same. The brewers, reds, angels, and rockies were rated bottom of the barrel, at least as bad as the nats opponents.