The Pirates Have the Easiest Schedule Left

Baseball schedules aren’t totally balanced. They get most of the way, but they’re well short of perfect, part by accident, and part by design. At this point, every team in baseball has something like 70 games left before the start of the playoffs. Among the remaining team schedules, it looks like the Pirates have the easiest one. The Yankees, meanwhile, would appear to have the hardest one. Good for the Pirates. Bad for the Yankees.

You can leave now if you want. You’ve already got two pieces of information, and I’m not one to mess around with you. Imagine all the time you could save! But maybe you want to see the rest of the landscape. Maybe you want a bit of an explanation. It’s your call — I’m writing this now no matter what. I’m also now moving to the next paragraph.

Why does schedule strength matter? It feels silly even just typing that out. Anyone would rather play worse opponents than better opponents, if given the choice. It’s all about collecting as many wins as possible. Think about some of the trades you’re seeing, or some of the trades you’re likely to see. Teams will give up legitimate prospects to ever so slightly boost their 2016 win projections. It all matters. When you’re trying to win the World Series, anything and everything could be important.

You might realize I’ve written about this before. What I love is how easy it is! There are a few ways to try to calculate schedule strength. Here at FanGraphs, it couldn’t be simpler. If you click on Standings up there, you end up at this page. There, you see projected rest-of-season winning percentage. Yet we also have a Playoff Odds page, where there are slightly different projected rest-of-season winning percentages. These projections take schedule into account. They’re more complicated than the others. So you can estimate schedule strength by looking at the differences between the projections.

What I’ve done is subtracted the Standings page projection from the Playoff Odds page projection. I then multiplied that difference by the number of games each team has left. This results in something I’ll call the win advantage. It’s the number of wins a team is estimated to gain or lose based only on remaining schedule. Here’s what the whole baseball landscape looks like at this moment:


Here’s how to read this: Based on schedule and projections, the Pirates’ remaining slate will boost them by 1.5 wins or so. The Nationals are projected for a similar boost. At the other end, the Yankees stand to be hurt by 1.5 wins. The Orioles are projected for a similar disadvantage. There’s nothing in here that’s super dramatic. No team’s season will be made or broken based just on opponent identity. But think about the market value of a win or thereabouts around deadline time. The Pirates are sitting relatively pretty. For the Yankees, things won’t be getting any easier.

You shouldn’t immediately jump toward anything being unfair. After all, this considers just remaining schedule, and it says nothing about the schedules that have already been played. Again, no, of course the schedules aren’t perfectly balanced. But, take the Pirates. They have 16 more games against the Brewers. They have 11 more games against the Reds. They have seven more games against the Phillies. To this point they’ve played just 11 games against those three opponents combined. The Pirates just opened the second half on the road in Washington. Just before the break, they had back-to-back series against the Cardinals and Cubs. They’ve earned this softer slate.

And it’s a soft slate. The Pirates’ average remaining opponent has a projected winning percentage of .478. The Yankees, by contrast, come in at .525. The Orioles are at .521. There are some very slight differences as well in remaining home or road games. If you take the position that what’s done is done, then schedules look like they could be real factors.

The Pirates are battling for the wild card. Now, many competitors also have soft schedules. But just based on those schedules, the Pirates are estimated to gain more than a win on the Dodgers. They’d gain two games on the Giants, in case the Giants slip. The Dodgers would gain nearly a game on them. The Nationals have it the easiest, slightly, in the East.

Turning to the other league, the Yankees are still trying to figure out how they’ll approach the deadline. They stand to lose a game to the Blue Jays, and a couple games to the Tigers and White Sox. The Rangers have a slight leg up on the Mariners and Astros. The Red Sox have a full game advantage over the Orioles, thanks to the Red Sox’ opponents averaging a .505 projected winning percentage. We always take these things day by day. We don’t think often about strength of schedule; we just figure teams should win as often as they can. There’s no real need to mentally overcomplicate things. It just should be remembered that it’s easier to win when the opponents are worse. Fractional advantages and disadvantages add up over the course of months, and these are going to be important months.

No deadline approaches should change based on remaining schedule strengths alone. The effects aren’t that significant. This is just one of a million things that will help determine how the season plays out. Don’t be surprised if the Pirates catch fire. And don’t be surprised if the Yankees keep alternating their wins and their losses. Their performances won’t be about their performances alone.

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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5 years ago

Didn’t the Cubs have the easiest (or at least one of the easiest) schedule in the first half?

What does it say about the NL Central that the Cubs are also in the top half of teams for easiest schedules remaining?

Does it say anything about the Cubs?

5 years ago
Reply to  thestatbook

The Cubs will have an easier central schedule by virtue of not having to play the Cubs.

5 years ago
Reply to  Shauncore

Based on their track record against teams with winning records, they’d likely lose anyway.

Isn’t it awful they don’t get to play the Reds for 162 games?

output gapmember
5 years ago
Reply to  thestatbook

They play the schedules they are dealt. They had a relatively easy April / May and then had a tougher June and July. Their rough stretch was during 3.5 weeks of everyday baseball and mostly on the road. The next 3-4 weeks they play almost exclusively at Wrigley.

5 years ago
Reply to  output gap

Their schedule in June/July was not much more difficult. The winning percentage of opponents in April/May was .475, in June/July, it’s .480.

Their winning percentage is also 250 points lower than it was with a very slightly easier schedule.

5 years ago
Reply to  thestatbook

It says they don’t have to play themselves!

5 years ago
Reply to  thestatbook

John is that you?