Prevailing wisdom has it that the Chicago Cubs now play in one of the toughest divisions in baseball, and their schedule therefore will be among the most difficult in baseball.
Does that wisdom hold up to statistical analysis?
Somewhat surprisingly, the NL Central comes up as the second worst division in baseball, ahead of only the NL East. With the Cubs among the worst teams in baseball (projected), the division was always going to take a hit in that regard, but there are three legit playoff contenders at the top of the division, including a Cardinals club whose WAR projection should offset the Cubs’. So what’s the deal? Well, in the same piece, there’s a plot of the actual WAR values for each division over the years, and even last year, when the NL Central was “tough,” it was still just a middle-of-the-pack division. Beating up on the Cubs and Brewers apparently helped the three at the top quite a bit.
Given the above, then, you’ll no longer be surprised when I say that the Cubs’ projected strength of schedule (by WAR, as opposed to by previous-season winning percentage, as we discussed before) is just average for all of baseball.
HOWEVA, the Cubs’ strength of schedule for the National League is the third highest, behind only the Giants and Padres. This, too, is to be expected, given the Cubs’ projected crappiness (which is to say, they don’t get to play themselves).
So, what’s the lesson here? The Cubs’ division and schedule aren’t that tough, but, relative to the rest of the NL and NL Central, they’re projected to have a tougher row to hoe. In a way, though, it’s modestly encouraging: if these broader trends hold, when the Cubs actually project to be a good team, they may suddenly have one of the more favorable schedules in baseball (the Cardinals, for example, have the 4th easiest).