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Who’s got the scheduling edge in the N.L. Central for the rest of the season?

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A look at the remaining strength of schedule among the teams within the Cubs’ division.

Willson Contreras hits a home run in the All-Star Game
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The All-Star Game was a bit later this year so it’s not really fair to talk in terms of “halves” at this point. However, as the midsummer classic wrapped up in Washington, D.C. this week I wanted to look at the strength of the rest of the Cubs schedule and what that might mean for our boys in blue.

Just looking at the Cubs remaining games didn’t tell me very much, though. The numbers mean a lot more if you look at the other teams in the NL Central have left and can compare the two. There are some interesting tools for this, notably Baseball Prospectus’ Strength of Remaining Schedule and ESPN’s Relative Power Index, and I’ll take a look at both here. However, I also wanted something slightly different for this analysis, so I also mocked up my own Strength of Schedule Score that you’ll see below. If you sort of want to skip the math part and head to the end I’ll understand. All of these metrics basically agree that the Cubs are in a strong position relative to the rest of their division following the All Star Break.

This post is divided into three parts. First, I’m going to talk about my methodology, then I’m going to talk about the results, finally, I’m going to look at some home/away splits.

Methodolgy

So a couple of notes before we begin, there are different ways to look at a team’s strength. ESPN’s Relative Power Index looks at what has already happened to date and is based on the following:

The basic formula is 25 percent team winning percentage, 50 percent opponents’ average winning percentage, and 25 percent opponents’ opponents’ average winning percentage.

It’s a bit more difficult to find out how Baseball Prospectus is calculating their Remaining Strength of Schedule, but it is still a useful link to check in on from time to time. As far as I know they are also the best place to get a quick read on the remaining schedule. In other words, it’s looking at what’s left in the season. Since this is a Cubs site, I’ve created a small chart showing the RPI, SOS and Home/Away games remaining for NL Central teams. One note, for RPI a higher number is better, for SOS the lower number is better:

NL Central RPI and Strength of Schedule

Team ESPN RPI BP SOS Home GR Away GR
Team ESPN RPI BP SOS Home GR Away GR
Cubs .522 .490 38 31
Brewers .509 .510 33 31
Cardinals .499 .510 33 31
Pirates .497 .504 28 37
Reds .489 .506 34 32
ESPN and Baseball Prospectus compiled by Sara Sanchez

These numbers give us a quick and dirty look at the division and hold good news! The Cubs are in the strongest position according to RPI and have the weakest remaining schedule.But I still found myself wanting to know a bit more.

Some days I get off work and have like 15 windows open on my laptop, it’s usually an equal mix of Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, BleedCubbieBlue, Twitter and a Google spreadsheet or two. Yesterday was one of those days. So after I decided I wanted to know more than I could figure out from RPI and SOS I started googling, then I started punching in some data, and basically we wound up here.

I looked at each team’s win percentage to date, their Fangraphs playoff expectancy percent and their FiveThirtyEight.com playoff expectancy percent, and then I assigned scores based on where they fit based on the following:

Win percentage over .550 = 3 points, .500 to .549 = 2 points, .450-.499 = 1 point, under .449 = 0 points.

Fangraphs playoff expectancy percent over 67 = 3 points, 33-66 percent = 2 points, 10-33 percent = 1 point, 9 percent and under = 0 points.

FiveThirtyEight playoff expectancy percent over 67 = 3 points, 33-66 percent = 2 points, 10-33 percent = 1 point, 9 percent and under = 0 points.

Winning percentage is pretty straight forward and I looked at breaks that were roughly approximate quarters of the possible opponents for the NL Central (ie, every team in the NL and the AL Central.) I used both Fangraphs and FiveThirtyEight because while both use a model that runs the season thousands of times to determine their playoff odds they look at different underlying data to reach those conclusions.

Anyway, what I wound up with were three reasonable baselines for looking at how strong a team was heading into the home stretch, they mostly agreed, but there are some discrepancies as you’ll see below. The point system is a rough way to iron out those differences.

NL Central Strength of Schedule

Here’s what I wound up with in two charts. The first is the larger, messier chart in case you’re really interested in the underlying data and breaks. The second is cleaner, it’s my breakdown of hard, average and easy games remaining for each team in the NL Central.

NL Central Opponents and Remaining Schedule

Team Winning Pct Playoff Pct FG Playoff Pct 538 Cubs GR Brewers GR Cardinals GR Pirates GR Reds GR Sara Score
Team Winning Pct Playoff Pct FG Playoff Pct 538 Cubs GR Brewers GR Cardinals GR Pirates GR Reds GR Sara Score
Indians .547 98.5 96 3 3 8
Twins .468 2.3 5 2 1
Tigers .418 0 0.1 2 3 3 2 0
White Sox .347 0 0.1 3 0
Royals .284 0 0.1 3 3 3 2 0
Phillies .558 46.8 61 3 4 6
Braves .553 37.4 54 1 3 3 6 6
Nationals .500 58.7 28 7 6 7 4 6
Marlins .418 0 0.1 3 3 4 0
Mets .415 0.1 0.1 3 4 3 0
Cubs .591 97.2 97 8 11 10 7 9
Brewers .561 49.2 60 8 6 9 9 6
Cardinals .511 24.8 18 11 6 9 6 4
Pirates .495 6.8 5 10 9 9 9 1
Reds .448 0.2 1 7 9 6 9 0
Dodgers .552 91.5 79 7 7 3 9
Diamondbacks .546 50.5 51 7 3 6
Rockies .531 22.1 26 3 7 3 4
Giants .510 14.7 20 7 3 4 3
Padres .404 0 0.1 4 3 7 1
Total Games Remaining 69 64 68 65 66
Winning Percentage and Playoff Odds for the NL Central. (GR = Games Remaining) Fangraphs, MLB, and fivethirtyeight compiled by Sara Sanchez

Once I had a way to look at winning percentage and playoff odds in one number I decided to break down what that 0-9 score meant a bit and came up with the following breaks. A Sara Score of 6-9 was a hard game, a score of 3-5 was an average game, a score of 0-2 was an easy game. With those breaks, we wind up with this:

Percentage of games remaining by difficulty

Team Total games 6-9 Total games 3-5 Total games 0-2 Total Games Percentage of "Hard" Games Percentage of "Average" Games Percentage of "Easy" Games
Team Total games 6-9 Total games 3-5 Total games 0-2 Total Games Percentage of "Hard" Games Percentage of "Average" Games Percentage of "Easy" Games
Cubs 19 18 32 69 27.54% 26.09% 46.38%
Brewers 18 22 24 64 28.13% 34.38% 37.50%
Cardinals 27 17 24 68 39.71% 25.00% 35.29%
Pirates 28 16 21 65 43.08% 24.62% 32.31%
Reds 29 10 27 66 43.94% 15.15% 40.91%
Sara Sanchez

The Cubs and Brewers have similar numbers of hard games remaining, but the Cubs have more easy games left than the Brewers. The Pirates and Reds have the most difficult schedule remaining, and the Cardinals are somewhere in between.

Home and Away Games

The last piece I wanted to take a look at were home and away splits. Some teams do markedly better at home. For example, the Cubs have a home winning percentage of .651 and an away winning percentage of .540. This is fortuitous since they have more games left at home than away (38 v. 31). The projection here is a lot simpler than my earlier math, I just took the win percentage from the first part of the season and multiplied it by the number of games left at home and away for each team.

NL Central Home/Away Splits and Projections

Team Home Win Pct Away Win Pct Home left Away left Projected Home Wins Projected Away Wins Projected Record
Team Home Win Pct Away Win Pct Home left Away left Projected Home Wins Projected Away Wins Projected Record
Cubs .651 .540 38 31 24.7 16.7 42-27
Brewers .625 .500 33 31 20.6 15.5 37-27
Cardinals .500 .522 33 35 16.5 18.3 35-33
Pirates .547 .432 28 37 15.3 16.0 31-34
Reds .447 .449 34 32 15.2 14.4 29-37
Splits from Fangraphs, Projections by Sara Sanchez

Again, it would appear that the Cubs have an edge here. It’s worth noting that 42-27 would be a .609 win percentage for the remainder of the season. There are a few other oddities in the data. St. Louis actually has played better on the road than at home this season, and they have more away games than home games, so that could be a slight edge for the Cardinals. The Pirates have been much better at home than away and they have the fewest number of home games remaining. The Brewers have by far the largest difference in winning percentage between home and away games, and only slightly more than half of their remaining games will be played at Wrigley North Miller Park.

As with all numbers these are projections that could change a lot. The trade deadline is looming and teams could look different. The Cardinals have a new manager and that could reinvigorate them going forward in the same way the Reds experienced a resurgence after firing Bryan Price. But at this moment in times things look pretty good for the Cubs as far as their remaining schedule goes, no matter how you look at the data.