Projecting Strength of Schedule for Pitchers and Hitters

Friday morning, as I began the tedious process of combining all MLB schedules in one spreadsheet, I noticed that FanGraphs’ resident volcano expert and prolific content generator Jeff Sullivan posted one very similar article, and then another shortly thereafter. He focused on projected WAR, while I planned to look specifically at projected average ERA and wOBA a team must contend with over the 2014 season. So at the risk of writing a similar post, one with drier writing and less cool graphics, I submit to you the following simple table and graphs.

We often look at the strength of a division and make generalizations about the hardest place to pitch (AL East) and hit (NL East). Like park effects, we sometimes jump to conclusions about the effects of dream lineups and weak interdivision rivals. Chad Young’s analysis of Prince Fielder’s move to Arlington is a perfect example of how enthusiasm can be misplaced when we forget that 90 of a club’s 162 games take place outside of their division, with 20 games occurring in a different league.  The table below shows projected mean wOBA and ERA by team, which are weighted by expected plate appearances and innings pitched, respectively. As expected, AL teams generally have a DH-fueled high wOBA and inflated ERA when compared to their NL counterparts. All projections are courtesy of Steamer’s 2014 pre-season projections. Keep in mind that Steamer regresses stats like wOBA and ERA, so there is not as huge a gap between the Red and White Sox (0.332 vs. 0.317) compared to what you might see during the season. However, Steamer has been shown to be one of the best projection systems available when it comes to capturing player-to-player variation in performance (i.e. ranking players by production), which is sufficient for looking at the differences between teams.

2014 Steamer Projections*

Team

wOBA

ERA

BOS

0.333

3.85

TOR

0.331

4.16

BAL

0.326

4.13

NYY

0.322

3.92

TB

0.318

3.63

DET

0.330

3.64

KAN

0.324

3.95

CLE

0.321

3.91

CHW

0.317

4.35

MIN

0.312

4.33

TEX

0.332

4.09

LAA

0.327

4.00

SEA

0.325

3.84

OAK

0.320

3.81

HOU

0.310

4.41

WAS

0.328

3.58

ATL

0.322

3.66

PHI

0.310

3.72

NYM

0.309

3.85

MIA

0.309

4.04

STL

0.326

3.49

PIT

0.323

3.73

MIL

0.321

4.02

CHC

0.319

3.98

CIN

0.318

3.66

COL

0.347

4.22

LAD

0.329

3.44

ARI

0.329

3.78

SF

0.323

3.72

SD

0.319

3.80

*adjusted for PA and IP

I was surprised by the high ERA attributed to the San Diego Padres, poor enough for 6th worst in the NL. The Reds’ Choo-less offense is also, somewhat surprisingly, projected as the 7th worst in the majors. Let’s take a moment to silently reflect that the Minnesota Twins, despite having a spacious ballpark and a non piss-poor payroll, are still projected to give up more earned runs than the Colorado Rockies.

While the table displays projected wOBA and ERA by team, the charts below illustrate the mean wOBA and ERA faced by each team over 162 games.

 

Projected wOBA

Last September Dave Cameron presented a convincing argument that Chris Sale’s 2013 season was as good if not better than Max Scherzer’s, but was obscured in part because Sale routinely pitched against the Tigers and Scherzer routinely pitched against the White Sox. These projections reinforce the argument in favor of opponent-adjusted measurements—Detroit pitchers are projected to face a wOBA of 0.321 while Chicago pitchers play against teams with a projected wOBA of 0.324.

San Diego and San Francisco are home to some of the most pitching-friendly stadiums in the country. However, in part because they play 28 away games against the Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Dodgers, their opponent’s wOBA is higher than people might expect. However great it is that a flyball pitcher like Ian Kennedy has a home in spacious San Diego, it’s important to note that the Padres are slated to face some tougher-than-average lineups. Projected ERA

ERA drops off pretty sharply when we get to the NL. Surprisingly, hitters for the Nationals and Dodgers appear to have the easiest schedules in their league, despite being in divisions which are better known for their sharp pitching than strong offense. Not having to face the likes Clayton Kershaw or Stephen Strasburg can do wonders for a lineup.

The heavy-hitting Tigers are slated to face the worst pitching staff in the majors. While this is somewhat unfair considering they have the league’s best hitter, it is very unfair that the lowly Marlins will face the best pitchers in the league.

Projections are only predictions, and assuredly some teams will drastically outperform and others will underwhelm by season’s end. However, these data remind us that our preconceptions about who plays in an extreme park or which teams are in difficult divisions should not be overemphasized, nor should we discount the idea that some lineups or pitching staffs will have a significantly more difficult time than others. Over the course of the season, a single team will square off against almost 20 other teams in over a dozen different parks. Whatever the strength of their schedule, position players and pitchers face a wide variety of competition, and no doubt a good many will surprise us all.




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