It seems like it took 56 to 60 percent of our energy to get there, but we’re finally halfway through the 2013 baseball season. Perhaps the most fascinating development of the first “half” is the dominance of the AL East, with four teams playing at least .537 baseball, which equates to 87 wins over a full season. Only eight teams outside the division, and none in the NL West, have won as many games as the fourth-place Yankees. To top it all off, the team in fifth place is the team many of us expected to win the division.
While this would be a remarkable development taken at face value, it’s even more astonishing when one considers the imbalance in MLB’s schedule. Those five AL East teams have played 44 percent of their games against each other, obviously breaking even in those games, while compiling a 158-112 record against all other teams. Essentially, the AL East is a 95-win team when playing outside the conference.
After the jump, we’ll take a look at what balancing the schedule might look like based on early returns from 2013.
To determine what a team’s record might look like with a balanced schedule, I prorated their current intradivision win-loss record to 24 games (or six against each division opponent) and their current interdivision record to 138 games, (five or six against each non-division opponent), and added those two components.
Of course, this makes a few assumptions not fully grounded in logic. It assumes that, in 34 to 52 games, each team has settled into its true talent level against division opponents, and that it has done the same in 44 to 59 games against a wide range of out-of-division teams. I made no adjustments for interleague games, which works against the AL, which has gone 107-94 (.532) against the NL and would benefit handsomely from more interleague play.
Those shortcomings aside, I think the table below represents a reasonable facsimile of what the league might look like with a balanced schedule.
[table id=140 /]
“act%” is the team’s actual W-L record to-date. “bal” figures represent a 162-game projection based on the method above. “Diff” represents the projected gain or loss in a team’s W-L percentage (or “permillage”, as we express it in baseball).
A few observations:
First, the total “balanced” projections are, somewhat ironically, out of balance, due to rounding and teams not having played the same number of intra- and interdivision games. The league goes 2424-2436, which is a rough year for Selig & Co.
More interestingly, two playoff spots would be affected by this rebalancing. The Rays, who have destroyed non-division competition, going 35-17, including 9-1 interleague, leap to the top of the East. The Orioles, who would miss the last Wild Card spot by 1 1/2 games if the season ended today, wind up six games ahead of Texas, which has picked on division foes (25-13) while barely breaking .500 (29-28) against everyone else.
Before crunching these numbers, I expected the A’s to take a hit, as more than half of their 17 games over .500 can be explained by their 9-0 record against Houston. But Oakland is just 14-15 against the rest of its division, and 33-24 against the field, including a league-high 13 wins (vs. 5 losses) in interleague play. Extrapolate those interleague wins to a schedule including 86 interleague games and the A’s open up a nine-game lead in the West.
While the NL Central has three strong teams, some of the strength of the teams at the top can be attributed to their beating up on the Cubs and Brewers, who in turn have played well against the rest of the league. St. Louis, at 22-12, has played the fewest intradivision games in all of MLB so far, including just 14 against the Pirates and Reds. Look for those three teams to come back to Earth a bit this summer as they begin to cannibalize each other.
The Giants only seem to be able to beat their putrid NL West counterparts, against whom they’re 27-20, and anyone they play in October. This, as well as some of the the other findings one may observe in this data, is likely more a factor of the timing of streaks than of actual head-to-head tendencies. The Giants’ recent 3-16 slide was division-agnostic, as they lost series against the Marlins, Dodgers, Rockies, Reds, Dodgers, and Mets. Sometimes a team gets in a funk that even a visit from the Marlins can’t fix.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to touch on the plight of the Blue Jays, who are suffering through baseball’s second-longest playoff drought despite having put many talented teams on the field over the last two decades. Toronto is playing like an 89-win team outside the brutal AL East, but they’re a 65-win laughingstock within the division. Balance the schedule and they pick up eight wins, placing themselves within shouting distance of the playoff race. Adjust further for their 9-5 record against the National League and they may win a few more.
Unfortunately for the Jays, I don’t think a balanced schedule is on the way.