Friday, June 13, 2008

Large Rift Between Two Great Baseball Divisions And Mediocre Followers

I have been more and more surprised over the past few days to see how the Baseball Playoffs Now algorithms have been ranking divisions. Take a look at the current numbers:

MLB Division Rankings
1 - AL-E - 100.0%
2 - NL-C - 95.9%
3 - AL-W - 37.4%
4 - NL-E - 29.5%
5 - AL-C - 9.0%
6 - NL-W - 0.0%

The discrepancy between the #2 division and #3 division is frankly startling, and I set out to explore why the formulae think the AL East and NL Central should get all the glory.

Divisions are ranked by averaging the Power Ratings of all teams within the division on a couple different scales. First, let's look at the Power Ratings for some divisions:

AL East (#1 ranked division)
BAL : 0.5125
BOS : 0.8681
NYY : 0.4939
TAM : 0.8476
TOR : 0.6290

NL Central (#2 ranked division)
CHC : 0.9769
CIN : 0.4909
HOU : 0.5185
MIL : 0.6365
PIT : 0.5180
STL : 0.6829

AL West (#3 ranked division)
LAA : 0.6659
OAK : 0.6666
SEA : 0.1034
TEX : 0.4611

NL East (#4 ranked division)
ATL : 0.4621
FLA : 0.4130
NYM : 0.3601
PHI : 0.7772
WAS : 0.0396

Power Ratings are equal measures of a team's pure wins and losses against infinite strength of schedule and a team's runs scored and runs allowed against infinite strength of schedule. They're very accurate and excellent tools for rating the past performance of teams.

But the division ranking system also explores the divisions' records when playing out-of-division games. Here are the quality wins of all divisions when playing outside their division (measured in percentage, where 1.000 is the best and 0.000 is the worst):

AL-E : 0.899
AL-C : 0.000
AL-W : 0.265
NL-E : 0.459
NL-C : 1.000
NL-W : 0.146

The NL Central holds a tenuous lead on this statistic, going 118 - 89 (.570) outside the Central. The AL East owns a record of 104 - 79 (.568), but Baseball Playoffs Now factors in additional numbers to create "quality wins:" home field advantage, run differential, and more weight to recent games. The NL Central widens its lead by doing well in these categories.

Moving down a rung on the out-of-division records, the NL East's mediocre WL% of 91 - 95 (.489) is not enough to hold off the AL West at 89 - 88 (.503), yet quality wins again make the difference. The NL East has been playing well as of late outside the division, and doing so more often outside their home ballparks with larger run differentials. But that's not enough to save the East. Quality wins outside the division only counts for about a third of a division's rating, and the NL East suffers from low Power Ratings in the other two-thirds.

For as many missteps as the AL West has made (Oakland has recently lost series to Toronto and the New York Yankees, Texas fell to Tampa and Cleveland, and Seattle has choked on everything), the NL East kept pace. Washington is the worst team in baseball and the Mets are #22.

Even as the #3 ranked division, the AL West rates only 37.4% on a scale from the AL East (top) to the NL West (bottom). Both the AL West and the NL East have a lot of work to do if they hope to compete with the top two divisions.

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