Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Who Benefits From 2020 Schedule?

Indians at Orioles 6/29/19

In a season of uncertainty, we all want some form of expectations. In the first and hopefully only season with 60 games, each region’s teams can help show who gains an edge based primarily on geography.

Strength of Schedule

This is usually more useful in football because nobody cares about the disparity between the Yankees’ and the Astros’ schedules in a full 162-game season. It’s long enough that we can accept the final standings as a true measure of each team’s ability, for the most part.

Here is each team’s strength of schedule (SOS) based on the 2019 standings:

Formula: SOS = 2/3 * (average of division rivals’ W-L%) + 1/3 * (average of the W-L% of the other league’s division in the same region ex. AL East and NL East)

*Teams play more games against geographical rivals (Yankees and Mets, Rays and Marlins, etc.), but this is still almost 100% accurate.

Perhaps the biggest factor is that better teams tend to have an easier schedule, and the reasoning behind that is simple: if you are the Orioles, then you are not able to beat up on the Orioles. Instead, you have to face teams that are not last in the standings, therefore harder to beat.

An ordered list of all MLB teams’ strengths of schedule can be found below this article.

Geographical Advantage?

Following the same logic of each team’s strength of schedule, I found the strength of schedule for a hypothetical average team in each division to determine which ones are the easiest and which ones are the hardest to play in. For example, if the AL East has a SOS of .500, then an average AL East team’s SOS is .500. The lower the number, the better it is to be a competitive team in that division.

Here is a list of each division’s SOS:

AL West: .515

NL West: .510

NL East: .507

AL East: .503

NL Central: .489

AL Central: .475

What most of the easier divisions have in common is that they have a bottom feeder with around 50-60 wins per 162 games. That’s the Tigers, Royals, Orioles, and Marlins. In the west, the Mariners, Rockies, and Padres all finished with around 70 wins—not enough to pull down the weight of 100-win teams like the Astros and Dodgers. A 100-win team is 19 games over .500, and a 70-win team is 11 games below .500; the average between the two is four games over .500, meaning a random team would be more likely to lose against the 100-win team than to beat the 70-win team. Now you can see why it’s easier to play in a division with a team like the Orioles, who did more than enough to even out the Yankees last year.

A surprising conclusion is that the idea of the AL East being the hardest to win in is actually not true. Fans of the Yankees, Rays, and even Red Sox should not feel like their team starts with an unfair advantage.

This Is 2020, Not 2019

Of course, things won’t play out exactly the way they did last year. Here is a recap on how major offseason moves affect the difficulty of playing against regional-based teams:

One thing to keep in mind is that the regional schedules are bound to create more disparity in divisions. For example, the Mariners may still be a 68-win caliber team, but with the Rangers and Angels improving they will probably lose at a greater pace despite the talent level being similar to last year.

AL East

In: Alex Verdugo, Kevin Pillar, Gerritt Cole, Yoshi Tsusugo, Jose Martinez, Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, Randy Arozarena, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Shun Yamaguchi, Travis Shaw

Out: Mookie Betts, David Price, Didi Gregorius, Emilio Pagan, Tommy Pham, Justin Smoak, Jonathan Villar, Jesus Aguilar, Travis d’Arnaud, Avisail Garcia

The division is slightly better than it was last year, but it might be a little easier for the teams at the top if the Blue Jays still can’t put it all together. The Red Sox are significantly less competitive, especially with Chris Sale’s injury. The Yankees and Rays should not feel like they are fighting an uphill battle as they compete for the division and a wild card spot.

NL East

In: Dellin Betances, Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha, Will Harris, Starlin Castro, Eric Thames, Travis D’Arnaud, Marcel Ozuna, Will Smith, Cole Hamels, Jonathan Villar, Jesus Aguilar, Corey Dickerson, Brandon Kintzler, Didi Gregorius

Out: Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon, Todd Frazier

Every NL East team avoided getting worse this offseason. While Noah Syndergaard is out for the year, the Mets at least have the volume of starting pitching to make it less of an issue. Zack Wheeler stays in the division, and more than a handful of good-not-great players have come in. Donaldson and Rendon playing elsewhwere makes it a little easier on opposing pitchers, but those two don’t outweight the influx of talent. The idea that this is the NL’s hardest division may actually hold some truth after an offseason in which literally all five teams improved (barring injuries).

AL Central

In: Josh Donaldson, Homer Bailey, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Delino Deshields, Domingo Santana, Edwin Encarnacion, Yasmani Grandal, Nomar Mazara, Steve Cishek, Trevor Rosenthal

Out: Brusdar Graterol, Corey Kluber, Yasiel Puig, Yolmer Sanchez

Everyone should be pleased to see that the most laughably weak division is no longer a walk in the park for its good teams. The White Sox are now competitive after a flurry of free agent signings, and the Indians will face the consequences of their one big trade. They lost Kluber and also Emmanuel Clase, who is serving a PED suspension for the entirety of the season… but at least they have Deshields, right? The Royals and Tigers stayed quiet, and the two “big” signings by the Tigers (CJ Cron and Jonathan Schoop) have already been in the division. Instead of having fun off Tigers pitching, they’ll be hitting against the Twins. Going into the season, the only team that can have playoff-lock status is the Twins.

NL Central

In: Avisail Garcia, Eric Sogard, Justin Smoak, Luis Urias, Wade Miley, Shogo Akiyama, Casey Sadler, Steven Souza Jr. Guillermo Heredia, Jarrod Dyson, Luke Maile

Out: Trent Grisham, Drew Pomeranz, Jordan Lyles, Jose Martinez, Randy Arozarena, Yasmani Grandal, Zach Davies

The NL Central is a scrambled egg with some salt sprinkled on: not much changed outside of players being shuffled around the division. This is true of players like Nicholas Castellanos, Mike Moustakas, Pedro Strop, Jeremy Jeffress, etc.. Overall, it’s about the same; four above-average teams will be fighting to the end without any one of them having a significant ability to separate from the pack.

AL West

In: Tony Kemp, Austin Allen, Anthony Rendon, Dylan Bundy, Julio Tehran, Jason Castro, Jordan Lyles, Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson, Todd Frazier, Taijuan Walker

Out: Gerritt Cole, Hector Rondon, Jurickson Profar, TJ McFarland, Emmanuel Clase, Delino Deshields

What the Astros lost, the others picked up. As for the rest, it’s not much different: Mariners are still rebuilding, the Rangers are a respectable team that could certainly turn some heads, and the Angels still have weak pitching. The Astros are one of the AL’s best teams despite their weak offseason, and the A’s should be in the wild card hunt once again. Not much changed here, but the talent is more spread out now instead of being concentrated at the top. There is definitely a chance the Rangers manage to take a higher position in this division considering they solidified their starting staff this winter and already have a solid offense.

NL West

In: Mookie Betts, David Price, Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, Hector Rondon, Starling Marte, Tommy Pham, Emilio Pagan, Drew Pomeranz, Trent Grisham, Jurickson Profar, Hunter Pence, Billy Hamilton

Out: Alex Verdugo, Kenta Maeda, Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, Luis Urias, Ausitn Allen, Will Smith, Kevin Pillar

The Dodgers are the clear favorite in the National League after the Mookie Betts trade, but this division is better than just one team. The Diamondbacks have improved after a near miss in their wild card hopes, and the Padres have emerged as playoff contenders after their busy offseason. The Rockies and Giants did very little. The NL West now has three legitimately good teams, which will likely create some more disparity between the four non-powerhouse teams than there was last year.

With that said, here are my adjusted rankings of each division’s difficulty, with the easiest at the top:

AL Central

NL Central

AL East

AL West

NL West

NL East

It’s clear that the best region to win in is the central because there is one playoff lock and three bottom feeders. The majority of eastern teams would consider themselves contenders, but teams like the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Phillies have a track record that indicates otherwise for the time being and/or have significant holes in their roster. The same is true of the west, but there are more complete teams (Padres, Diamondbacks, Rangers) knocking on the door than there are in the east. No matter what, the disparities caused by regional play will not be valid excuses on October first. The ability to win games no matter who the opponent is results in postseason victories. That holds no different in the regular season this year.

MLB Strength of Schedule based on 2019 Season

1: Mariners .536

2: Marlins .534

3: Angels .532

4: Padres .531

5: Orioles .530

T-5: Rockies .530

7: Rangers .526

8: Giants .523

9: Blue Jays .517

10: Diamondbacks .515

11: Phillies .509

12: Athletics .506

13: Mets .504

14: Tigers .503

15: Pirates .502

16: Red Sox .500

17: Nationals .497

18: Astros .496

T-18: Reds .496

20: Dodgers .493

21: Braves .492

22: Royals .491

23: Cubs .487

T-23: Rays .487

25: Brewers .482

26: Cardinals .480

T-26: Yankees .480

28: White Sox .477

29: Indians .456

30: Twins .448

Nicholas Lobraico

High school student, former baseball player. Pitching enthusiast. Rays man in a Yankees land. Follow me on Twitter @LobraicoNick