A Glance at Rest-of-Season Strength of Schedule

Welcome to the time of year where it’s all about fractions. If the regular season were a game, we’d be at the start of the sixth inning, and the leverage is beginning to climb, making everything more important. Your team’s in the race and you want it to make a trade. Maybe the deal projects to add half a WAR over the course of the remainder. What’s the value of a win on the free-agent market, $7 million? And wins are more valuable in high-leverage positions on the win curve, right? A half-WAR improvement might be worth five or ten million dollars. That’s a lot of dollars! For many of the teams in baseball now, runs are more important than they would’ve been in April.

People care now about every last little detail. You never know which detail might end up determining which teams do and don’t make the playoffs. Among the details to care about: strength of schedule. Schedules, as everyone knows, are unbalanced. So some teams might have easier schedules than others. Now that we’re at the All-Star break, who’s looking at a schedule advantage, and who’s looking at a schedule disadvantage? Not a single race has been decided, so opponent identity will be some kind of factor in how the rest of the season plays out.

When I looked at this before the start of the season, I figured out average projected WAR for each team’s scheduled opponents. This time I’m taking a slightly different approach, made possible by some of the pages we have here on FanGraphs. At the core, these numbers still depend on the rest-of-season projections. Maybe you’ve been to this page. You’ve almost certainly been to this page. Both of them include rest-of-season projections, but you might notice that the numbers don’t perfectly match up. For example, on the former page, the Dodgers are projected for a .555 rest-of-season winning percentage, but on the latter, that same number is .553.

There’s a reason for this! That reason isn’t a glitch. The former numbers are based on projected talent. The latter numbers include adjustments, like adjustments for opponents, and adjustments for home games and away games. So this actually makes things very simple: we can figure out schedule strength by finding the difference between the projections on the two pages. A team projected for more success on the second page is considered to have an easier schedule than a team projected for more success on the first page.

Obviously, these numbers are only as good as the projections. Obviously, there’s going to be player movement in the weeks ahead, and some teams will be weakened and strengthened. The Cubs are weaker now than they were a short while ago. The Rays, probably, will be weaker in August than they are today. But let’s accept the error bars and move on to the chart. On the y axis will be wins. The calculation: adjusted projected win total minus unadjusted projected win total. So this measures schedule-based win advantage or win disadvantage over the final 2.5 months.

I should’ve warned you to prepare to be underwhelmed. There are differences evident in the chart, but look at that y axis: the biggest positive is 1.1, and the biggest negative is -1.1. In black and on the left, incidentally, is the American League; in red and on the right, the National League. All but one team have fewer than 70 games remaining, and while schedule strength is a factor, it’s not nearly the same kind of factor as, say, own roster strength. The absolute biggest takeaway point here is that strength-of-schedule is a pretty small factor. It’s not worth being up in arms about.

But still, differences are differences. You see mostly good teams with positive numbers, and weak teams with negative numbers. This is because good teams have the advantage of not having to play against themselves, while weak teams have the identical disadvantage. The Tigers don’t have to deal with a few series against the Tigers. The Phillies don’t get to feast on a few series against the Phillies. That’s just part of how things have to be, and I’ll note here that the projections continue to love the Nationals. And yet, there’s a team in the NL with an even bigger advantage than the Nationals.

That’s the Cardinals, who’re in a delicate place. They’re one back of the Brewers in the NL Central, and they’re a half-game back of the Wild Card. If you believe the information presented here, the Cardinals have the NL’s most friendly schedule the rest of the way. The difference between them and the Brewers here is a full win, which isn’t insignificant given the state of things. You might also notice the Braves’ position; on the unadjusted page, they finish with a .525 winning percentage, but on the adjusted page, that’s .517. You can see why the numbers so vastly prefer the Nationals as NL East champions.

On the AL side, you see some teams involved in the Wild Card hunt. Arguably the two best teams have the two most favorable schedules, but then you have the Indians, Royals, and Blue Jays, with the Yankees bringing up the rear. The Wild Card is basically always going to be an incredibly close race, so single games really can make a huge difference, and the Indians might have relatively smoother sailing than, say, the second-slot-leading Mariners. We can at least say strength-of-schedule isn’t not a factor.

So many elements are going to combine to make a difference over the final several weeks. Relative schedule strength is going to be one of them. It’s not going to be as important as it might seem — schedules, generally, just aren’t very lopsided, especially within leagues — but every run counts, right? It’s something to chew on here as baseball takes a break.

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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.

27 Responses to “A Glance at Rest-of-Season Strength of Schedule”

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  1. Candy LaChance says:

    “isn’t not not a factor”

    Why so negative, Jeff? Seriously, isn’t this one too many n’ts or nots?

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  2. Jake says:

    Where are the Nationals?

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  3. geo says:

    Is anybody else having trouble deciphering some of the logos? For example, I can make out the Cardinals in positive numbers on the NL side, but who is the other team with them? When I click on the image it takes me to a page that actually makes it smaller, which doesn’t help. Can you give us a way to make it bigger?

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    • should now link to bigger image

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    • Jeff says:

      I’m just not a fan of this kind of chart in general (these bar charts with team logos being used to “colour” the bars). I wonder if it might be more readable if the axes were flipped, putting the numbers on the x-axis and the teams running down the y-axis – that way you could use bigger logos since they wouldn’t have to be crammed into such a small space.

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  4. Ryan Mann says:

    “The two best teams” in the AL? Last I checked it was A’s-Angels-A’s, not Angels-Tigers.

    Related, interesting that the Angels have a tougher road than the A’s.

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    • ed says:

      Angels just got the majority of the TX/HOU part of their schedule, the A’s have about 25 games left with those 2

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    • jmsdean477 says:

      Tigers project better then Angels the rest of the way, as do the A’s. I think this type of SoS is important for a team like the A’s that struggles at times vs the best teams, but absolutely destroys bad teams.

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      • wallysb01 says:

        Yeah, this.

        Since June 30th the A’s are 8-6 while the Angels are 12-2. However, the A’s have played teams with an average of a .528 ROS W%, while that number is .471 for the Angels.

        Also the A’s played 6 of those games at home, while the Angels played 7 at home.

        Put it all together and the A’s have done about as well as they probably should have through a relatively hard part of their schedule while the Angels have done better than they would have been expected to in a relatively easy part of their schedule.

        So good for the Angels, but the A’s did well to just not give up their lead in the west.

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  5. Mike says:

    Thanks Jeff. Not 5 minutes before you posted this I was looking for this info. it’s like your in my mind man…

    And yes, the Nationals logo should just be the W…. bad design.

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  6. Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

    Looks like the Braves and Brewers stand out as good teams expected to win fewer games. Is this because of the schedule or projections?

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    • Steven says:

      I would imagine it is a little of both, but mostly schedule. Taken at face value, the graph is literally wins added/subtracted due to the schedule. However, the Brewers low projection will also decrease the strength of their opponents schedule. So if you think the Brewers are a .506 team (like BP) or a .525 team (like they have been playing) rather than a .479 team (per FG), then the Cardinals, Pirates, Reds schedules all look a little tougher.

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  7. Hank G. says:

    Considering how many teams logos are basically a circle with something inside, is it too much to ask that you create the graphs at a higher resolution or find another way to identify the teams? I spent more time trying to figure out which logo was which team than reading the article.

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    • Grant says:

      I haven’t heard of a way to adjust graph resolutions in excel. You can mess with the dimensions, but that wouldn’t help much.

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  8. Bip says:

    This graph makes it look like the AL is leaps and bounds better than the NL.

    Just for the sake of interest: The win % of the AL against the NL this year is .537, which is a 51-44 record given 95 games, which is the exact record of the Cincinnati Reds. Unfortunately the Reds are not .500 against the AL this year, which would have been appropriate. That record is also 2.0 games behind the best record in the NL, which is admittedly all bunched together at the top right now.

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  9. Baltar says:

    Wow! I almost always love your articles, Jeff. So I couldn’t believe that you wrote, “For many of the teams in baseball now, runs are more important than they would’ve been in April.”
    Wins and losses (and therefore runs) are exactly as important in April as in September for all teams. If a team misses the playoffs by one game, then each of the losses kept them out; if they make the playoffs by one game, then each of the wins put them in.

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