Nationals Baseball: Schedule talk

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Schedule talk

So commenter Jay and I are having a disagreement about the schedule. He thinks, and there are others, that the Nats have had a particularly tough schedule in comparison to the rest of the NL East leaders. I say poppycock.  POPPYCOCK! So let's review

Overall the Strength of Schedule is very high for the NL East. Currently Miami is #1, Braves #2, Mets #3, Phillies #5, and the Nationals down at #11 thanks to the recent bout against the bottom of the NL West. This seems to suggest the Nationals have had the easiest schedule so far (in terms of teams played)

Jay's argument though makes three points 1) The Nats have had two West Coast swings already while only the Mets have made a road trip that includes the NL West yet. 2) The Nats have played a lot more games against teams who made the playoffs last year.  3) The other NL East teams have played a lot of games against eachother inflating their own SOS number

Let's take these in reverse order. Does it matter that you play a lot of games in dvision and can that inflate your SOS ranking? Generally I don't think so, but early enough in the year it may under certain circumstances and those circumstances would be - you play a lot of bad teams other than the teams we are comparing AND you do very well against those teams AND you basically split your games against the competition. It's the old SEC football out of conference thing that you hear talked about. They play lousy teams build up 3 wins so when they play eachother everyone seems stronger.

For example let's say PHI plays ATL 6 times in the first 12 games and the other 6 games they flip-flop series versus the Marlins and Padres. They go 6-0 against those teams and the games against eachother are now worth a lot more. 

ATL : 5 Cubs, 4 Reds, 3 Rockies, 7 Marlins, 3 Giants, 2 Rays
PHI :  3 Dbacks, 1 Orioles, 3 Reds, 6 Marlins, 4 Pirates, 4 Giants, 4 Cardinals, 3 Rays
NYM : 3 Dbacks, 3 Reds, 3 Rockies, 5 Marlins, 3 Brewers, 3 Padres, 6 Cardinals, 2 Blue Jays
WSN : 7 Dbacks, 3 Reds, 4 Rockies, 6 Dodgers, 4 Pirates, 5 Padres, 3 Giants

OK so I went ahead and quickly underlined the teams currently +2 over .500 and better and bolded the teams -2 or worse. It's not perfect because SOS is an at the time measurement but it gives us an idea of the good / bad breakdown

ATL : 8 Good, 11 Bad
PHI : 8 Good, 10 Bad
NYM : 12 Good, 11 Bad
WSN : 8 Good, 14 Bad

OK so what this would suggest is that the *gasp* the Nationals might be benefitting from an easier schedule and thus have their records inflated. Now their SOS wouldn't be inflated but the teams who have played them the most might.

ATL : 6 games
PHI : 3 games
NYM : 6 games

This is kind of a double edged sword here. It could be argued that the Braves and the Mets have had their SOS a bit inflated by playing a team that has had THEIR record inflated by some lousy out of conference scheduling. But that team we are talking about is the Nationals.

But now we need to move onto point 2 - this is dependent a lot on the idea that this season is what matters and being only 1/3rd or so into it - is that reliable? Or to put it more bluntly - are the Dodgers "bad"?  No one doubts that any of the other teams bolded above are bad. You probably only glance a side-eye at the Pirates being good but it's not crazy enough to dismiss it. But the Dodgers being bad? Last year's NL Champ? A team most had winning the West?  To me the "made playoffs last year" isn't fair. Teams do get bad and good all the time. Outside of the first few weeks of the year I wouldn't rely on last year's record at all. But that doesn't mean that the Dodgers are as bad as their record right now. There are other things to look at even if we disregard last year.

It's hard to say the Dodgers are turning around - yeah they've won 5 of their last 6, but that's with the 3-0 against the Nats mucking things up. So we'll have to wait on the record to show us anything, but what about the peripheral stats?  Pythag has the Dodgers at 25-23, not world beating as predicted but FAR from the terrible team the record would suggest. They are 5-8 in one-run games, and 1-7 in two runs games. This also suggest luck has played a big part in their current poor record and it isn't actually reflective of their talent. There's nothing to suggest though that they are getting better - April is a lot like May, the bad luck has stayed around at about the same clip.

If we look at the Dodgers like this though -it's fair to look at possible outliers for anyone else. Genearly outside of +-2 pythag wins.  Unlucky with the Dodgers, seems to be the Cubs.  Lucky seem to be the Rockies - maybe the Mets, Brewers, Giants and Marlins.

What does this do to the above? Braves schedule seems a little weaker, Phillies a little weaker, Mets more than that weaker, the Nationals probably a push (Dodgers up, Rockies, Giants down - this makes sense bc likely most of LAs bad luck would be transferred to good luck for other NL West teams)

Then we get to the final part which is the West Coast swings and at this point I throw up my hands and say I don't know. I've searched for evidence that these matter but haven't found any.  It's anecdotal.  I will say that as someone that's followed baseball I've never felt that West Coast swings themselves were that bad. I focused more on road trips that jump mulitple time zones with no rest, and stretches of play, home or away, with no days off. Only one of the Nats road trips here potentially qualify - a trip to SD then AZ with no day off before the swing started at the end of a 17 games no-rest swing. Of course that is when they did the best.

People study these things pretty relentlessly. I feel if there were a link it would have been found and presented. So I'm inclined to dismiss this. As much as we feel there might be something here, the history of baseball has shown there really isn't, at least not in the face of talent and other sports randomness

So what do I think at the end of all this?

I think the Nationals schedule is a bit better than it's getting credit for and the other NL East teams a bit worse and given that there's a little, emphasis on a little, of the internal boosting going on here. I also think the west coast trips don't matter nearly as much as you'd think. Even if you do buy into it, they did it would be a wash when the West Coast teams come east and pretty much all of the Nats West Coast opponents have.

All in all I think the numbers that currently state that the Nats have had an easier schedule are probably inflated, but not enough to say that the reverse is true, that the Nats have had a tougher schedule. I'd be inclined to say that things have been pretty even with the NL East teams so far and that what we've seen is indicative of the talent on the field currently. The Nats have a good chance to prove that wrong though - Beat up Atlanta in Atlanta. 


Robot said...

Whatever. The Nats need to win more games, I don't care against whom. Preferably everyone.

Another decent outing by Hellickson last night, btw. Got into and lucked out of some trouble but can't really complain given who he's replacing. This team needs to score more runs bc you can't rely on your #5 giving up only one run.

Ty Miller said...

I think the other thing Jay has missed is the Nats have played the Phillies just three times. The Braves-Phillies will be playing their 12th game this year tonight. Obviously, that allows the Nats to beat up on a team ahead of them in the standings, but more likely is an opportunity for the Braves to gain a game or two on both teams as they beat each other up.

To me the key for the Nats is now getting Murphy back. Murphy and Soto really lengthen the lineup. Without them 6/9ths of the lineup is not all that impressive given the brutal amount of injuries, as I remain dubious of Adams and Reynolds.

Behind Schedule said...

I think we all can agree that the Pads, Fish and O's are terrible. Even if there has been a minor difference in strength of schedule, it's being corrected in real time.

Win 5 of these next 7 games.
Get healthy. Stay healthy.
Then take 2 against the Braves.
First place by June 4.

Kubla said...

I was looking at the Fivethirtyeight Elo rankings. They rate the Nats at 6th in MLB, with the Cubs the only NL team ahead of them. The 7-10 teams are all National League: LAD, SLO, MIL, ARZ. The Giants escape the bottom 10, the Pirates don't. If we're thinking about top 10 as good, next 10 middling, and bottom 10 bad, then the NL would be:

Good: Cubs, Nats, Dodgers, Cardinals, Brewers, D'backs
Middling: Braves, Phillies, Rockies, Giants
Bad: Pirates, Mets, Reds, Padres, Marlins

The NL East teams have also played the Blue Jays (meh), Rays (meh), and Orioles (bad).

In this case, the Nats have played 10 games against good teams, 16 against bad, and 21 against middling. Of these, 15 were against the NL east.

Braves 11 good, 17 bad, 19 middling [30 vs NL east]

The Mets have played 18 good, 11 bad, 15 middling [21 vs NL east]

The Phillies 10 good, 19 bad, 17 middling [24 vs NL east]

The overall picture looks like the Nats are playing an average to weak schedule, driven in part by the composition of their division. However, it's not that different from anyone else in the division except the Mets, who have played more good teams outside the division (12) than anyone else has in total.

mike k said...

Damn Harper remind me never to get into a disagreement with you...

Regardless of whether the schedule for the Nats has been tough, injuries on offense has been of bigger impact. If you had told me before the year began that the Nats would have this sort of injury luck, I would've signed up for 26-21 in a heartbeat.

Kubla said...

^^^^ If those numbers don't quite add up, it may be because I missed excluding some cancelled games from the totals or because I've fallen prey to the math geek curse of deteriorating mental arithmetic.

Anonymous said...

One glaring issue I see here is that all of the other teams have played the Marlins between 5 and 7 times. The Marlins aren't just bad, they're historically bad. The Marlins are 28th in hitting fWAR, but wait, they're also 28th in pitching fWAR. I did read before the season that the Nats would have one of the easiest second half schedules (based on projections) of any team in baseball.

ocw5000 said...

10 Washington (26-21) 0.04
16 Atlanta (29-18) -0.02
18 NY Mets (24-20) -0.05
24 Philadelphia (27-19) -0.15

These are such negligible differences

Jay said...

Hi Harper. Thanks for the post. You make several good points.

My point with the playoff teams from last year is that the Cubs and Dodgers have been good for years. It is early yet to write the Dodgers off in my opinion. When the Nats played Arizona, they had the best record in the NL and hadn't lost a series yet all year. Colorado your right is not good every year, so who knows. I am going by the fact, that when I looked at the schedules for teams in the NL East at the beginning of the year that I was worried about the Nats having a slow start. Finally, I saw a comment by Boswell in his chat on Monday that stated the Nats had played 33/45 games against teams with a >.500 record plus 6 games against the Dodgers who won 100+ last year. So that ends up being 39/45 I would count as tough competition. Again, I could be wrong and strength of schedule is relative.

Second, I based the West coast swing theory on my own personal experience when I travel west for work and such - the long flight, the 3 hour time change etc. Also, Dusty Baker (no statistician I'll admit) once stated that he thought West coast trips were always tough. Again, I could be wrong. I've never seen any definitive links on this either.

Third, my point on the NL East playing each other was that they had a sorry out of division SOS. The Braves and the Phillies have beat up on some pretty bad teams imo improving their WL record and each other's SOS.

I still think the Phillies and Braves lack the pitching to keep this up. I mean is Nick Pivetta going to finish top 5 for the Cy Young? I doubt it. I do wish the Nats would have signed Arrieta just to keep him from going to the Phils. I also don't think the Braves offense keeps it up. Nick Markakis and Kurt Suzuki, and I would argue Ozzie Albies, aren't this good and I expect them to come back to Earth. The Phils and the Braves remind me a lot of the Nats their first year. I think they'll stay in it till July and August and then slowly fade back to the pack. The Mets I think just can't stay healthy enough. Now if the Nats can't stay healthy, then it may not matter.


Jay said...

Here is what I posted earlier about how I broke down SOS comparisons for the NL East. Again, you guys all make good points and most likely the differences are negligible at best.

Braves: 8 games against last year’s playoff teams

Cubs 3-2
Colorado 2-1

Cincinnati 2-2
TB 2-0
Miami 5-2

Did play in Colorado for 3 games. No West coast swing yet.

Philly: 3 games against last year’s playoff teams

Arizona 1-2

Miami 3-3
Cincinnati 3-0
TB 3-0

Goes to LA, SF, and Cubs end of May

NY: 6 games against last year’s playoff teams

Colorado 0-3
Arizona 3-0

Cincinnati 1-2
Miami 4-1
San Diego 2-1

Did go to StL and San Diego road trip

Washington: 17 games against last year’s playoff teams

Colorado 1-3
LA 1-5
Arizona 5-2

Cincinnati 3-0
San Diego 4-1

Two West coast swings. No more West coast trips this year.

Mark said...

I'm with Jay on this... Your analysis boils down to Dodgers are Bad and Diamondbacks are middling. They were both playoff teams last year and Arizona was killing it before the Nat's played them. Maybe the Nat's broke them...

Anyways, if you categorize them both as good teams (that have had a rough stretch so far this year), the argument flips to Jay, not to mention that Miami is terrible and the other NL East teams have played them 7, 6 and 5 times.

Harper said...

Jay/Mark - well what I kind of boiled it down to is not the Dodgers are bad but a question of how one views the Dodgers are (the Dbacks in the normal SOS number would count a lot for the Nats as they were good at the time... I think that's how it works) If you think the Dodgers are bad the Nats sched has been easy. If you think they are good - the Nats sched has been hard. I kind of take the middle road that the Dodgers aren't "playoff guarantee good" this year (certainly without Seager and Kershaw) but are a decent team so the Nats schedule is a little better than the numbers say. This is something we all can have a take on since its asking your opinion

the 33/45 thing that Boz put out there sounded good - until I realized that the NL is overloaded with above .500+ teams (at the time it was 11 out of 14 - now it's 10) so the Nats number wasn't actually unusual (and wasn't that big in comparison to the other NL East teams either

West Coast - I do think there should be an effect. Like you I've been around the country for work and it matters. At the same time though I have to say it should matter in reverse - West Coast teams coming East. And since the Nats have played all the NL West teams here then whatever disadvantage they had going there would have been an advantage here, right?

Jay said...

I agree on the West coast in reverse idea. I've heard announcers and stuff talk about x team from the West coast winning a bunch of games on the East coast and how that is a big deal. So you would think playing a West coast team at home would help a little.

I didn't realize the NL was overloaded. I'll admit that I saw Boswell and just agreed. Definitely a case of confirmation bias on my part.

One other thing that I have always thought but would be impossible to ignore is that traditionally good teams get everyone's best shot. I've thought this more about the Redskins than the Nats, sort of in reverse. The Redskins would beat great teams on occasion and then lose to bad teams. This always made me wonder why that happened. It occurred to me that the good teams may have overlooked the Redskins and then lost, while the bad teams looked at the Redskins as winnable games and thus won. The Nationals as a perennial playoff team get everyone's best shot. They are sort of a measuring stick for other teams. Thus the Dodgers lose to the Marlins, but LA is more motivated to show themselves and everyone else that they can beat the Nats. The up and coming teams are the same. Beat the Nats and prove that you are almost there as a contender. However, I will freely admit that this idea is very nebulous. In theory, every win counts the same so every team should try to get every win possible. However, I do think that not all wins are equal.

Anyway, fun stuff. I agree with Robot. The Nats need to score more than 1-2 runs per game and get on a roll again. Of course, the Caps are in the Stanley Cup finals, so the world may be about to end soon.

Mark said...

I agree that if you believe there is a disadvantage in coast to coast travel then the Nationals swing west evened out with playing west coast teams at home, although the Nationals had zero days off for a really long stretch as part of their 2nd WC swing. Ironically, the Nationals did better out west than they did at home against the west. BASEBALL!

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