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July 20, 2009

Prospectus Hit and Run

Schedule Difficulties

by Jay Jaffe

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With the possibility of a Roy Halladay deal still lingering, there's little question that the Blue Jays' actions where he's concerned will have an major impact on the rest of the 2009 season. Not only would any trade give his new team a significant boost in their race for a playoff spot, but the vast majority of the Jays' remaining games-53 out of 69-are against the eight American League contenders, those AL teams with records above .500. A revised look at our strength-of-schedule rankings shows that Toronto is tied with the Orioles for the most difficult second-half schedule. If the Doctor is in, the Jays are primed to play spoiler. If he's out, not so much.

Our initial look at strength of schedule used pre-season PECOTA projections as the basis for calculating the opponents' winning percentages for all 30 teams, not only for the whole season, but also by month and by half, the better to identify the schedule's contours. With over half the season in the books, we've dispensed with the PECOTAs in favor of each team's Hit List Factor, the average of their actual winning percentage and their various Pythagorean-based winning percentages from our Adjusted Standings page-the stuff of our weekly power rankings.

Instead of plugging in those winning percentages uniformly, we've once again applied two adjustments based on data from the last three years, one to account for the home team winning 55 percent of the time, and the other for the AL winning 58 percent of interleague games. Using the log5 method similar to that used by Clay Davenport in the Playoff Odds report, this boils down to a 25-point (.025) bonus or tax applied based on whether the opponent is at home or on the road, and a 40-point (.040) one applied for interleague play. Thus when the Yankees (.579) play the Mets (.487) at Yankee Stadium, the latter's adjusted winning percentage is recorded as .487 - .025 - .040 = .422. When they play at Citi Field, it's recorded as .487 + .025 - .040 = .472. From the Mets' point of view, the Yankees are a .644 team (.579 + .025 + .040) in the Bronx and a .594 (.579 - .025 + .040) team in Queens.

Here's how the 30 teams rank by second-half strength of schedule (all ties listed alphabetically):


Team Season 1st 2nd
Blue Jays .514 .497 .536
Orioles .522 .510 .536
Royals .505 .494 .518
Yankees .508 .500 .518
Rays .504 .496 .515
Athletics .518 .521 .514
Rangers .503 .495 .513
Red Sox .504 .498 .512
White Sox .497 .485 .512
D'backs .503 .497 .510
Astros .494 .485 .505
Indians .505 .504 .505
Tigers .495 .488 .503
Giants .497 .493 .502
Mariners .502 .502 .502
Padres .512 .523 .499
Angels .505 .510 .498
Reds .491 .490 .492
Nationals .504 .516 .489
Pirates .492 .495 .488
Braves .494 .499 .487
Twins .494 .499 .487
Phillies .490 .495 .485
Marlins .496 .507 .483
Rockies .497 .508 .483
Cubs .489 .496 .482
Mets .496 .508 .481
Cardinals .483 .486 .480
Brewers .492 .504 .477
Dodgers .489 .499 .477

As you might expect, it's a tossup as to which AL East contender would benefit the most if Halladay were traded out of the division, thus significantly weakening the Jays. Barring a trade, and based upon an every-fifth-day usage pattern, all three teams would likely face him three times after the July 31 trading deadline. If no trade is consummated by this coming Friday, the Rays will add a fourth start against Halladay, one of the dozen games they have remaining against the Jays (six at home, six on the road). The Yankees, meanwhile, have 11 games remaining against Toronto (five home, six road), all after the deadline. The Red Sox have just nine games left against Toronto (six home, three road), but after being beaten by him on Sunday, they're probably rooting the hardest for a trade.

The Yankees have the toughest remaining schedule of any AL contender, a function of the fact that they've got 10 games apiece against the Sox and Rays, both of whom outrank them on the Hit List. Seven of their 10 against the Sox are at home, where they're only 0-2 against their foes this year, as compared to 0-6 at Fenway.

As for the teams outside the AL East, here's an oversized handful of take-home points:

  • In the AL Central, the White Sox have by far the toughest road, with a particularly brutal slate the remainder of this month-a hefty .554 based upon hosting four-game sets with the Rays and Yankees, and making three-game visits to Detroit and Minnesota. Their opponents' strength drops to .508 in each of the final two months. The Tigers have it easier at .503 for the rest of this month, and then .504 for August and .493 for September/October. Contrary to Buster Olney's evaluation, the Twins have the easiest slate of the three, with a .512 slate between here and the end of the month, followed by .477 and .480 cakewalks in August and September/October via 12 games apiece with the Royals and Indians.

  • The imbalance of power between the leagues is such that the NL team with the most spoiler potential, the Diamondbacks, ranks just 10th overall in remaining schedule strength. Among contenders, the Giants have the hardest row to hoe-much harder than the Rockies, their closest rivals for the NL Wild Card. The 19-point gap between the two teams is the equivalent of 1.3 games in the standings over the remaining schedule.

  • Differing strength of schedule isn't terribly likely to be a factor in the NL East, where the Phillies now lead by 6 games (4 more than when that Halladay article was written). The top four teams, including the badly bleeding Mets, are separated by just six points over the whole second half. The Braves (.467) and Phillies (.469) have the softest Septembers of the quartet, thanks to frequent meetings with the division's crash-test dummies, the Nationals.

  • In the NL Central, the Brewers are tied for the easiest remaining schedule overall, but their September is a bear at .512, with a three-game set against the Diamondbacks their only series against a team with a record currently under .500. The fourth-place Astros' longshot bid for a post-season berth (estimated at just 8.4 percent) is complicated by the steepest remaining schedule, with the Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers facing slates between 23 and 28 points easier. They're more likely to play spoilers.

  • Whatever the merits of the very real concerns about the lack of depth in the Dodgers' rotation and bullpen-from Clayton Kershaw's innings total to Jonathan Broxton's toe and Ronald Belisario's elbow-they face a .460 September schedule which should allow them some time to rest and experiment with their playoff options.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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