musclesPrevailing 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?

Well, FanGraphs took a look at both the projected relative divisional strengths, as well as the strengths of schedule based on a projected WAR for the involved teams.

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).

  • Kyle

    The Reds and Pirates both crapped the bed a bit this offseason. I still like both long-term.

    • Brett

      Pirates, yes. Reds, no. But we’ve been down this road before. :)

      • JB88

        I’m guessing you mean that your like for the Pirates/Reds long term is “yes”/”no”, not that you liked their offseasons in a “yes”/”no” way.

        • Brett


      • ssckelley

        I agree, the Pirates scare me long term. The Reds, not so much.

        • Edwin

          The Reds don’t scare me long term, but they still have some nice players on their team, so all it would take is a couple good moves by their FO and they could be right back in it.

          • Noah_I

            I think it depends on if the Reds are good or not over the next two years. The Reds are maxed out and don’t have much room to spend. If the Reds are good in 2014 and 2015, they kind of just have to ride out Latos, Cueto, Chapman and Leake. If the Reds are mediocre or worse in either 2014 or 2015 and are willing to trade those assets, they could get a new core of prospects to use to build around Votto, Bruce and Bailey, along with their other solid cost controlled pieces (Frazier, Cozart, Mesoraco, potentially Hamilton).

            If the Reds compete, though, and just have to let those pitchers hit the open market and take comp picks for them, I just don’t see how the Reds don’t hit a major bump in the road for a few years starting in 2016.

            • Edwin

              Very true. They’ll have some difficult choices to make, but I think that if they make some savy trades in regards to Latos, Cueto, Chapman, and Leake, they should be able to stay at least somewhat competative, and have a shot to open another window in a couple years.

              I guess what I’m thinking is that the Reds at least have a chance to try and do the “rebuild while somewhat contending” route, as opposed to being destined to bottom out for 2-3 seasons.

    • Darth Ivy

      the reds have $15k left on their house at 8%, so they’re okay….

      ….eh? ….eh?….

  • JB88

    Your comment in the last paragraph seems to suggest that should the Cubs get better their schedule will automatically be better, but that is only true if one of St. Louis, Pittsburgh, or Cincy also get worse. Otherwise, it just means that the schedules for the Cards, Reds, and Pirates only gets harder.

    For example, using the 2013 records as an example, the Cards have the fourth easiest schedule precisely because they played the 5th worst team in baseball and the 11th worst team in baseball a total of 38 games (plus getting another 4 against Houston in 2013), meaning that over 25% of the Cards’ schedule was played against the 11 worst teams in baseball. If the Cubs are suddenly a .500 team, suddenly that number drops, making the Cards schedule tougher, but not making the Cubs schedule any less tough.

    • Kyle

      ” meaning that over 25% of the Cards’ schedule was played against the 11 worst teams in baseball. ”

      Considering that “11 worst teams in baseball” represents 38% of the non-Cardinals teams, I should hope so.

      • JB88

        The number is higher. I didn’t calculate it for all of the Cards schedule, but rather to show that a disproportionate number of those games come from 2 teams suggesting that the Cubs road isn’t any easier than we thought it was a few days ago.

      • JB88

        Playing the 11 worst teams in baseball comprised 42% of the Cards schedule last year.

        By comparison, the Red Sox played the 11 worst teams in baseball only 31% of the time.

  • Boogens

    Hey Brett, how’d you get Kyle to sit still for that photo you used in the article? 😉

  • shammai

    I don’t know, Brett, are you sure the Cubs don’t get to play themselves? Because I seem to remember them beating themselves a whole heck of a lot the past few years.

    • Brett

      Heh. Set ’em up, knock ’em down.

  • NorthSideIrish

    Derrick Goold ‏@dgoold 1m
    Initial estimates off. #Cardinals get Diaz for four-year, $8 million contract. Update shortly: @STLtoday #stlcards

    Holy crap…I had seen rumors of him getting 4 years/$20M+. Effing Cardinals voodoo…

    • mjhurdle

      Its the Cardinals, so obviously he will become a HoF 2B now, but I think it was pretty telling that the Yankees, with their need and payroll, didn’t even try for him after they scouted his workouts.
      I could be wrong, but i think that, if the Yankees thought there was even an average shot at this guy being a serviceable MLB player, they could have blown that $8 million offer out of the water. Heck, they could have blown the rumored $20 million offer out of the water as well.
      Hopefully the Yankees were right, but …Cardinals

      • IA_Colin

        Yeah couple arguments come to mind. If he accumulates 2 war over those years then technically value is there. But I would argue that Maximizing Kozma off the bench can get you 1 WAR per season at like 500k a year? Is he even better than Kozma?

  • SenorGato

    I’m getting to the point where I just want to call the Cards overrated. Of course it makes no sense to say that but I swear this mainstream attention is compensating for underrating them during the 2000s and earliest parts of this decade.

    OTOH I keep going on these Cardinals rants to where its annoying me. Purely an intuition call and based on only things in my head.

    I do like watching me some Pirates baseball these days, though I tend to agree with Kyle that their offseason was weak.