The term “strength of schedule” makes ears perk up this time of year, as a March Madness-related debate is likely around the corner.
Baseball’s season is significantly longer than college basketball’s year, but a baseball team’s strength of schedule merits consideration this time of year because rosters are more-or-less set and team projections have been posted, shared and analyzed in anticipation of Opening Day.
Things have a way of evening out over the course of 162 games.
All schedules aren’t created equally, as unbalanced schedules and knowing that some divisions are stronger than others makes strength of schedule all the more important — even spread over a 182-day regular season.
Over at JABO, Jeff Sullivan went ahead and projected team strength of schedules with the help of FanGraphs’ total projected WAR (you can see the Cubs’ page here), each team’s MLB schedules, and some calculations. It’s an interesting method of attack and you should definitely check it out.
As for the Cubs, whose projected team WAR (34.1) is 16th in baseball, their strength of schedule is the 10th easiest in baseball. Awesome, right? Ah, but in the National League, the Cubs’ S.O.S. checks in as the sixth most difficult in the 15-team league.
A year ago, the Cubs had the third hardest projected strength of schedule in the NL at this point. Understandable, considering the talent gap between those Cubs and their division, which featured three teams coming off 90-win seasons, each of which was expected to be competitive in 2014.
For the second straight year, the Orioles have the toughest projected schedule. All they did last year was win the AL East and reach the ALCS. So, it’s not as if overcoming a projected strong schedule is impossible.
The Cardinals have the easiest SOS among NL Central teams, while the Reds have the toughest S.O.S. in the division — and second toughest in the NL, being edged by only the Phillies.
It looks as if the Cubs find themselves at a disadvantage in the Central and in the Wild Card.
Adding up the NL Central’s projected Team WAR, we get 170.8, making it the senior circuit’s most competitive division. The NL West comes in next at a collective 162.2 WAR. The NL East (which has three of the six lowest projected Team WAR numbers (the Mets, Phillies and Braves) checks in at just 120.2.
It’s interesting to note some extremes here, particularly in the NL East.
The Nationals, who have the highest projected team WAR, have the easiest projected S.O.S. overall. It makes sense, considering they’ll play the Braves (23.7 projected Team WAR, 29th of 30 teams) and Phillies (20.8 projected Team WAR, 30th) 19 times each. They’ll also benefit from not having to face themselves.
The 2015 Cubs are projected to be much improved compared to the product that took the field on Opening Day 2014. But challenges lie ahead as long as the Pirates and Cardinals are playing well in the division.