At this point in the season (mid May), win loss record is a poor indicator of team strength. With the help of lady luck, a team can win more than their fair share of one run games.
Run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed) is a better metric of team strength. If a team has scored as many runs as it has allowed, you expect that team to have a .500 record after 162 games. On average, teams with a 0 run or point differential have a .500 record in all sports I’ve looked at (football, baseball, basketball, soccer).
However, early in the season, a team’s record can get out of whack from run differential due to short term variance. A team with zero run differential might have gotten blown out in some games but won more than their fair share of one run games. We’ll see how that applies to Milwaukee below.
Rankings after adjusting for schedule strength
At The Power Rank, I take run differential and adjust for schedule strength using my team ranking algorithm. These rankings consider the luck in winning close games as well as the competition a team has faced early in the season.
Here are the results through May 23, 2014.
1. Oakland, (30-17), 1.82
2. Los Angeles Angels, (26-20), 0.86
3. Seattle, (23-23), 0.82
4. Detroit, (27-16), 0.80
5. Colorado, (26-21), 0.71
6. Miami, (25-23), 0.66
7. San Francisco, (29-18), 0.59
8. Kansas City, (23-23), 0.09
9. Toronto, (26-22), 0.08
10. Atlanta, (26-20), 0.07
11. St. Louis, (26-21), 0.07
12. Washington, (24-23), 0.03
13. Los Angeles Dodgers, (25-23), -0.04
14. Minnesota, (23-21), -0.07
15. Cleveland, (23-25), -0.12
16. Chicago White Sox, (24-25), -0.13
17. Texas, (23-24), -0.22
18. Baltimore, (23-22), -0.25
19. Chicago Cubs, (17-28), -0.28
20. San Diego, (21-27), -0.30
21. Tampa Bay, (20-28), -0.31
22. Boston, (20-26), -0.35
23. Cincinnati, (21-24), -0.35
24. New York Yankees, (24-22), -0.36
25. New York Mets, (21-25), -0.37
26. Milwaukee, (28-20), -0.38
27. Philadelphia, (20-24), -0.57
28. Pittsburgh, (20-26), -0.62
29. Houston, (17-31), -0.66
30. Arizona, (18-31), -1.23
The number after a team’s record is a rating. This rating gives an expected run margin in a game against an average team.
The puzzling AL East
When I usually discuss strength of schedule in baseball, I start with the AL East.
Over the past decade, this division has dominated the game Boston and the New York Yankees. More recently, upstart Tampa Bay has used analytics to join the elite in this division. In past years, these teams usually appear in the top 10 of my MLB rankings.
This season, only one team from the AL East (Toronto!!) cracks the top 10.
In fact, among AL East teams, only Toronto has scored more runs than they have allowed. If anyone would have predicted this before the season, he or she would have been crazier than Charlie Sheen.
The remaining AL East teams are ranked 18th and lower. The Yankees bring up the bottom at 24th out of 30 MLB teams.
It’s still early in the season. Based on preseason expectations, I expect Boston and Tampa Bay to bounce back. However, an AL East takeover of the top 10 seems unlikely.
Seattle will win the AL West
The Mariners have a measly 23-23 record, good for 3rd in the AL West.
However, Seattle has scored 12 more runs than they have allowed. When you adjust this for schedule strength, they rise to 3rd in The Power Rank.
A big part of this performance is their play against Oakland, the top ranked team. Seattle has played 10 games against Oakland and posted a +2 run differential in these games. The Power Rank sees this and makes a drastic adjustment.
However, the adjustment is too drastic. Oakland has scored 2 more runs per game than their opponents. If they continued on this pace, they would end the season with a run differential of +331. There’s a better chance that a Khardashian has a happy marriage the rest of her life than Oakland’s continuing on this pace.
I doubt that the AL West really features the 3 best teams in the majors. However, I do think Seattle gives Oakland and the Los Angeles Angels a run for the division title, with newly signed Robinson Cano playing the role of hero. Joe Peta, author of Trading Bases, predicted a division title for Seattle before the season.
The Cubs are better than the Brewers
Milwaukee has stormed out the gate. Behind the bats of Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun, they have a 28-20 record and lead the NL Central.
However, Milwaukee has a +3 run differential for the season. That’s smaller than the +4 for the Chicago Cubs, their division rival with an unlucky 16-28 record.
Moreover, adjustments for schedule strength drop Milwaukee to 26th in The Power Rank.
To explain this adjustment, consider a mid April series against Pittsburgh, 28th of 30 MLB teams in my rankings. Milwaukee scored 5 less runs than Pittsburgh but won 3 of 4 games. As you might have guessed, they won 2 of those games by one run.
The Chicago Cubs are 19th in my rankings. All the NL Central teams are looking up at St. Louis, ranked 11th. Expect the Cardinals to take the division.
Check out the MLB rankings, updated nightly
The MLB season is young, and lots will change over the coming months.
To stay up to date with my calculations, check out the MLB rankings, which are updated each morning.