The 2016 season is just 25 days away, and it projects to be a very exciting one for the Chicago Cubs.
As the season the season draws nearer, though – and we remember just how long Spring Training can be – the prospect rankings, pre-season projections and individual/team power rankings will all draw to a close.
Taking their place will be the results of the Spring Training battles, a surprise big league debut or two, and some further analysis regarding each team’s strength of schedule. And, while at its most, one team’s strength of schedule (over another’s) provides just marginal advantages, a win or two here or there often makes a huge difference.
At FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan kicked off the strength of schedule season by rating each team’s strength of schedule using current projections. You can find the results in a graphical format here, as well as some accompanying analysis. As always, I encourage you to check it out for yourself, because there’s far more to learn from the source data than I can offer with just a few hundred words.
However, that isn’t the best result in baseball, and it isn’t even the best strength of schedule in the National League.
Ahead of the Cubs in the NL, you’ll find the Marlins (just over one extra win), the Nationals (just under two extra wins) and, finally, the Mets (just over two extra wins) – which could have an enormous impact on the Wild Card race. In this way, the Nationals and Mets have a much clearer path to the playoffs than, say, top teams in the other two divisions, because there are only two projected strong teams in the NL East, as opposed to three, and schedules are imbalanced to increase intradivision matchups. The Nats’ and Mets’ relative strength of schedule advantage over the other Wild Card contenders, then, is very real and very significant. In what projects to be a tight race for the final two spots, being in the NL East has its very clear advantages right now.
Unsurprisingly, the teams with the toughest strength of schedule in 2016 are the projected worst teams in the league (because, again, they don’t have the benefit of playing themselves). Rounding out the bottom of the NL, you’ll find the Reds (just over 1.5 negative wins), the Rockies (just under 1.5 negative wins) and the Padres (just over one negative win). The Brewers are in roughly the same spot as the Padres, because they, like the Reds, will have to face three good teams within their division more often than the rest of the league.
The AL has a good deal more parity than the National league, in terms of strength of schedule, but that matches the individual team and divisional parity throughout the league. Although, the Orioles (just about two negative wins) are facing the toughest schedule of any team in baseball.
You can check out the rest of the projected strengths of schedule here, and read up on more about the implications therein. Although the gains and losses are very small, marginal even, they are real and can seriously affect the playoff races, which are often decided by just a game or two.