Friday, August 9, 2013

Strength of Schedule - NL Central

Football fans know strength of schedule. A D-I team playing a bunch of SEC opponents has a harder schedule than one with a bunch of home games against lower-division cupcakes. Strength of schedule calculations even up those differences.

You don't hear about strength of schedule in baseball because every team plays more or less the same schedule: 19 games against each team in its division, 6-7 against every other team in its league, and 20 interleague games. There are slight variations, especially regarding interleague play, but for the most part, every divisional rival plays the same teams.

The timing, though, can make a difference. Say you're the Angels. (First of all: Sorry about the season.) If your schedule has most of your games against the Rangers and A's in the first half of the season and most of your Mariners and Astros games in the second half, your second half schedule will be easier, even though you're playing the same number of games in the division as your rivals. You get it.

I'm going to start looking at the remaining schedules for teams in the closer races. Today: The NL Central. Entering play today, the Pirates, Reds, and Cardinals all had 48 games remaining. But they're not the same 48 games. The Pirates and Cards have nine games against each other, but six are in St. Louis. The Pirates have three interleague games on the road with playoff contender Texas; Cincinnati has three with doormat Houston. St. Louis has to play the Braves four times.

Overall, Cincinnati's games are with teams with an aggregate winning percentage of .489. Pirate opponents are at .494, and the Cards play teams with a .505 percentage. Adjust that for home/road differences (home teams win 54% of all games) and the same relationship holds: .485 for the Reds, .494 for the Bucs, .501 for the Cards.

What does that mean? Probably not much. Over the last 48 games of the season, those differences translate into an extra half a win or so for the Reds over the Pirates, and a little less for the Pirates over the Cardinals. Which doesn't mean that the current standings are set in stone, just that the final standings will be determined on the field of play, not by the schedule-makers.

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