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January 21, 2004

Can Of Corn

Strength of Schedule, by Opponents' Defense

by Dayn Perry

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A couple of questions before we get started...

More obscure at this moment, Marcy Playground or Larry Fortensky?

What sort of demographic are syndicated Highlander reruns on Spike TV really hitting? Single males fond of lederhosen, with a tattered, dog-eared copy of Monster Manual II within arm's length of the john? Troubling, no?

If a key member of the brain trust of the last non-Yankee American League dynasty is clearly in need of gainful employment, why isn't his name ever mentioned in the handful of GM job searches that come up every winter? I'm speaking, of course, of Charlie Finley's precocious commandant in Oakland in the 1970's, M.C. Hammer. While observers of MLB's minority hiring practices are rightly concerned about the straits of Bob Watson, Willie Randolph, Dave Stewart, Donald Watkins and a host of others, where's the hand-wringing over Hammer? Few others have his front-office pedigree, yet his phone rings not. I imagine this is unspeakably upsetting for him, but I implore you: Please, Hammer, don't hurt 'em.

Anyway...

Baseball's adoption of interleague play and the unbalanced schedule has presented analysts with some new challenges. Quality-of-competition concerns have mostly been overstated, but they do exert a substantive influence over what happens on the field. Frankly, the way the schedule is arranged doesn't make a whit of sense, considering teams from different divisions compete for a single Wild Card spot, but that's the system we've been given.

Much has already been done in terms of calibrating statistics to reflect the injustice of MLB's scheduling policies, but one thing I've yet to see addressed is the quality of defenses lineups are facing around the league. That leads me to TAD.

You might recall James Click's piece on Team Adjusted Defense (TAD) from a few months ago. By dint of some mathematical acrobatics, James has added some sorely needed alterations to Bill James' defensive efficiency metric. What we're left with is a valuable snapshot of team defense. In any event, what I'm attempting to do this week is come up with strength-of-schedule rankings based on the quality of the defenses they've faced. Allow me to regale you with an explanation.

First, what I've done is establish a "defense factor"-type thingy that's similar in calculation to park factors--a team's TAD number divided by the league-average TAD number. Then I've multiplied the number of games a team has played against another team by the opponent's defense factor. The next step is to sum those figures for all games and divide the total by the number of games played for the season (162 for all but the Giants and Mets, who played 161 in 2003). The resulting figure is the team's strength-of-schedule factor for opposing defenses. The final tabulations:

 
1.      Florida Marlins - 1.00525
2.      Cincinnati Reds - 1.00522
3.      Milwaukee Brewers - 1.00519
4.      New York Mets - 1.00447
5.      Colorado Rockies - 1.00414
6.      St. Louis Cardinals - 1.00354
7.      Pittsburgh Pirates - 1.00352
8.      Chicago Cubs - 1.00348
9.      Kansas City Royals - 1.00312
10.     San Diego Padres - 1.00288
11.     Montreal Expos - 1.00260
12.     Arizona Diamondbacks - 1.00252
13.     Los Angeles Dodgers - 1.00226
14.     Atlanta Braves - 1.00202
15.     San Francisco Giants - 1.00161
16.     Philadelphia Phillies - 1.00140
17.     Texas Rangers - 0.99910 
18.     Chicago White Sox - 0.99870
19.     Houston Astros - 0.99857
20.     Detroit Tigers - 0.99812
21.     Minnesota Twins - 0.99801
22.     Cleveland Indians - 0.99780
23.     Seattle Mariners - 0.99772
24.     Baltimore Orioles - 0.99709
25.     Oakland A's - 0.99653
26.     Anaheim Angels - 0.99514
27.     New York Yankees - 0.99431
28.     Boston Red Sox - 0.99411
29.     Toronto Blue Jays - 0.99338
30.     Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 0.99244

At first blush, the variance appears to be quite small; while that's true, keep in mind this is a per-game rate. Some observations on the data:

  • The D-Rays finished 12th in the AL in runs scored despite, in terms of opposing defenses, playing the easiest schedule in baseball.
  • It's certainly not enough to tilt the NL MVP scales, but Albert Pujols did play against stingier defenses than did Barry Bonds.
  • Marlin hitters faced unaccommodating circumstances--a notable pitcher's park and the toughest defensive schedule in the game.
  • Were NL defenses really that much better? Well, that's what the numbers say.
  • The Reds played the second-toughest schedule in the league. Something perhaps to explain Adam Dunn's paltry batting average in '03?
  • Despite facing some of the weakest defenses in the league, the Angels' team batting average dropped from first in the AL in 2002 to seventh in 2003.

That's all. Best of luck in avoiding all Golden Globe Awards coverage.

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