When trying to assess a team’s overall talent in reference to the rest of the league, several things come up.  How good would the team be if they were in division ‘X’?  How good would they be if there was a balanced schedule?  What if there were no divisions?

As Jays’ fans, we ponder these questions often in reference to our own team’s plight in the daunting and hellacious AL East.  We find ourselves wondering if our lovable but maddening purveyors of mediocrity would see the playoffs if only the gods of geography would allow them a move to either Central division.  How much of Toronto’s failure (or success) is due to its division and how much of it is due to actual team talent?

I have been arguing all season that the Jays are at least as good, if not better than, the Tigers and Angels.  Obviously Detroit’s late season surge ended the debate for now, but in my mind the Jays are a better team than the Angels and have been at least as good as the Tigers up until the last month.

I started wondering if there was a way to prove this.  Is there a way to estimate a team’s record if both luck and division placement were non-factors?

Part of that question has already been answered by Bill James.  James developed Pythagorean Winning Percentage (PW%) which is a team’s estimated winning percentage based entirely on run differential.  The record of most teams closely resembles their PW%, but in some cases a team either drastically over- or under-performs their PW%.  There are a number of theories as to why, but because it doesn’t seem to be a repeatable team skill, most chalk it up to luck.

So that takes care of the luck factor (at least as much as possible), but what about the other portion of my original question?  What would a team’s record look like if every team were to play a balanced schedule?  In other words, how much better would the Blue Jays be if they didn’t have to face the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays 19 times each in a given season?  What if they only had to play them as much as everyone else?  And what if Interleague Play was banished so teams wouldn’t have to play in games against other teams with different rules?

Enter: Weighted Pythagorean Winning Percentage (wPW%).

This stat is entirely too simple in concept to be A) original or B) accurate, but it’s interesting nonetheless.  How is it calculated?

First let’s look at PW%:

James’ original PW%, modified by Baseball Reference for accuracy:
= [RS^1.83]/[(RS^1.83) + (RA^1.83)]

‘RS’ is runs scored and ‘RA’ is runs against.

wPW% is calculated simply by taking each team’s PW% against each division in their league and finding the average.  This allows us to estimate how the team would have performed if they played an equal number of games against each division.  Smaller and larger divisions like the AL West and NL Central are weighted accordingly as well.  Again, Interleague Play was removed from the equation partly because of its ridiculousness and partly because teams do not play against every team in the opposite league in a given season, so estimating it here would be misleading.

So, to start off, let’s have a look at the actual 2011 final standings in both leagues; Pythagorean records are also included in these standings:

‘P-Record’ is Pythagorean record, and P-GB is how many games back the team would be in their division if Pythagorean record was the official record.

As you can see, removing luck as best we can would have put the Red Sox into the playoffs as the AL Wildcard, three games over the Rays.  The Indians would see a five game deduction, while the Royals underperformed their P-Record by seven games.  In the NL, St. Louis would have won the Wildcard by three games over Atlanta and four games over the Dodgers, while only finishing two games back of the Central division winning Brewers.

Now, here is an estimate of how the standings would look in each league if divisions were removed and everyone played a balanced schedule against only their league.  First the AL:

The ‘/Record’ column shows how many games better or worse a given team would be against their actual record, while the ‘/P-Record’ column does the same against their Pythagorean record.  The far-right column shows the team’s actual ranking within their league.

As you can see, the Blue Jays would benefit most in the AL by playing a balanced schedule, while the Clevelands would suffer the most.  The Jays wPW% would have them as an 84-win team, outperforming their actual record by three games and their Pythagorean record by five.  The Clevelands, meanwhile, would drop to a 69-93 record (fourth in their division!) according to wPW%.  The Tigers would finish with 88 wins and the Angels with 82, meaning my original thought about their skill compared to Toronto’s wasn’t too far off.  The Jays would actually have been the sixth-best team in the AL, only three games worse than the Rays and only four worse than the Tigers.

Also of note in the AL, both the Rays and the Red Sox would actually be worse (in terms of their Pythagorean records) if a balanced schedule were to be introduced.

In the NL, there are a lot of large discrepancies.  The Phillies would go from being the best team in the NL, to being the only truly elite team as the Brewers and Diamondbacks wPW% have them at just 89 wins each, 14 games worse than Philly.  The Braves meanwhile would improve their standing by three wins over their Pythagorean record, moving them past the Cards for the NL Wildcard.

The two craziest results in the NL are found in the NL West where the Padres, helped by a solid run differential overall, would improve their record to 84-78 with wPW%, buoying them into marginal playoff contention.  The Giants meanwhile were so terrible against both the NL East and NL Central this season that their wPW% dropped them to a terrible 73-89 record.

Lastly, the Pirates’ wPW% puts them two-tenths of a percent behind the Astros for the worst mark in the NL.

You could make the case using this stat, that the AL Central far outperformed their collective talent, and for the most part, the AL East was brought down slightly by their division mates, but no concrete conclusions can be made about how good or bad any of the other four divisions are.  We can still assume, because of Interleague Play and other factors, that the AL is a much better league overall than the NL, but wPW% does not seek to answer that question.

In sum, the Jays would have been better (even marginally contending) if there was a balanced schedule and they would probably be better than the Angels and only slightly worse than the Tigers and the Rays.  When I first calculated this stat back in late August, the Jays were about two games better in wPW% than the Tigers; it wasn’t until Detroit’s late-season hot streak that they truly surpassed them.


Comments (8)

  1. Nice analysis.

    I really hope we get a more balanced schedule starting in 2013.

  2. I’d be interested to see how the turn of the millennium Blue Jays would stack up using this method.

    As a few people pointed out in a column I wrote (http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/on-matusz-halladay-and-the-hall-of-fame/) the Jays seemed to be close but ultimately had a below .500 Pythagorean W-L, much like this season’s team did. I’d have to think there would be a similar effect.

  3. I’ve performed this calculation myself in the past (though I included interleague play even though I knew it was unfair) during the JP years when trying to argue “look, the Jays really are this good!”

    It’s an interesting discussion point and good ammo against those who refuse to acknowledge the challenges of the ALE.

    Of course, the schedule is not weighted equally and this affects roster construction. I feel pretty confident that the Jays would have challenged for a playoff spot (and conducted their offseason plans accordingly) if there was a balanced schedule, no divisions and the best 4 teams made the playoffs (which I prefer to a 5th playoff team personally).

    The Tigers and Angels are comparable to us with significantly larger payrolls; their strategies are based on their inferior decisions. I’m quite confident AA would have the Blue Jays ahead of them with a comparable payroll if the schedule was weighted equally.

  4. Thanks – I didn’t know what wPW% was and your article explains it very well

  5. Crazy in depth as always. Good job T dawg

  6. Travis, Travis, Travis. I wish with all my heart that you can begin to enjoy baseball for the wacky and whimsical way it unfolds, not according to these abstract statistical theorems such as you proferred in this blog. You wanna prove that the Blue Jays were at least as good as the Tigers for MOST of the past season? And we do what with that esoteric, arcane data? That’ll make you feel better? I gotta buy you a Stroh’s, a Lafayette Coney dog, take you to the Motown Museum or somethin’, gotta bring some real cheer into your life. You played baseball, if I remember correctly. You got the best inside info right there. You know of it’s poetry and beauty, it’s randomness, and, yes, heartbreak. You don’t need no stinking pythagorean winning % to make sense of it all. Scuse me: w/PW% (?!?! ) Yeah, the AL East looks tough to me, and has for awhile. But why do we have Rangers and Giants in the Series last year? Or the Tigers and Cards in 2006? ‘Cause it’s baseball! Bill James, that bastard, passed you his sabermetric crack pipe, and you inhaled. I want to set up an intervention, I want to save you before it’s too late. Because I care about you…Listen, you told me the other night that Delmon Young is the most over-rated outfielder, of the past 100 years (I’m paraphrasing), based on stats you had at the ready, yet the Tigers went 30-10 after getting him. Ripley’s, I know, but where does that leave us? Maybe Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski is smarter than you or me, or Bill James and Billy Beane, that’s basically what I’m sayin’ here as well…This ‘rant’ is courtesy of rain delay in the Bronx, and my comments are tongue-in-cheek, at least parts anyhow…Go Get ‘Em Tigers!

    • As most of us here will say…our better understanding of the game through advanced stats (that even Dombrowski uses) make the random events even more awesome. This was merely to see what MAY happen if the schedules were balanced…that doesn’t mean it would happen.

      There is poetry in better understanding.

      Also, I don’t blame Dombrowski for getting Young, but the Tigers’ hot streak had less to do with Young than Cabrera being awesome, Fister pitching out of his mind or Verlander being Verlander. Young was an upgrade over what they had and was acquired for nothing, but he’s not a very good player. A thirty game sample with the Tigers is not enough to say one way or the other. Remember how great Sam Fuld was for the first 30 games of the season? Young’s traditional numbers from 2010 look great, but every other number (ones that have been developed over the last 30 years of intense research) suggest he’s probably average at best. In every other facet of life, we continue to develop new ways to better know things; why is that such a bad thing in sports (especially in baseball).

      I’m not trying to suggest that the Tigers are a bad team, just that they are helped by their division…which is clear no matter how you slice it.

      If the best teams always won the World Series it would be BORING and I don’t want that, but the reason it doesn’t has more to do with small sample sizes than anything else. Baseball is an incredibly balanced game; that’s why each team plays 162 games to determine who is the best. Once the playoffs start, anything can happen in a 5-7 game series. Even the worst team in baseball can beat the best team in four out of seven game. To me, the GM’s job is to get the team TO the playoffs, everything else is largely out of their hands.

      But thank you for commenting Kelly, and come on back to these parts and read what Dustin and others have to say. You may find our way of thinking will enhance your enjoyment of baseball as it has mine. I’m more into the game and knowledgeable about it than I ever have been. This is the way things are going; every front office (even the dumb ones) use advanced stats to build their team. Not doing so would be akin to giving up before the season even started.

      This counter-rant is random and jumps around everywhere, but I hope you get what I mean. Also, before I forget to tell you: you guys were fantastic last week. The Witnesses played their asses off and you, as always, were tremendous.

  7. Your deep passion for the game, if enhanced even more by these pursuits, well, then it knows no bounds.
    I do know that every GM, good or bad, uses these advanced and enhanced statistical info these days. I guess I cited the Delmon Young pick-up because it seemed the Tabbies’ offence clicked just as he was inserted into the line-up. Undoubtedly Fister’s arrival, and some other minor factors ( for ex. Rayburn’s bat awakening, in spite of his bad defence!) were crucial to their hot streak. I guess I’m saying Cabrera, Martinez, Avila, Perralta were constants previous to Young’s arrival and Delmon was the final ingredient that made it hit a higher gear, his career history notwithstanding ;) He SEEMED to be in the middle of any of their important offensive outbreaks during his 40 games. Jim Leyland wasn’t referring to Young specifically this week when he said “we caught lightning in a bottle” as an explanation for the late-season run. He might have been referring to Fister, actually, if I recall. But it might apply to all of the above, including Young. Finally, the Tigers pretty much crushed their division, as any other great or good team from the AL East may have done. Yet they (or the Angels) might not fare as well in a balanced, divisionless AL, I can agree with that too. I guess sometimes I just find that we’re just walking out on an overly hypothetical limb, and my vertigo might kick in!

    Thanks for the big-up re The Witnesses, very humbled by that. Was great seeing you last week and hope we get to catch up in person during these play-offs. Love your blog, keep up the great work.

    ol’ mc

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