We forget this every year, but it remains true: a look at the ranking is just a snapshot in time. A year ago on this date, the Chicago Cubs were approaching first place in the NL Central, the first team in the NL West (a division in which the Giants and Dodgers have won over 105 games) was San Diego, and the eventual champion Braves was below .500. In two months, you’ll forget where everything was on May 24th.
So the rating itself can be deceiving. This is for several reasons, but there are two main ones:
These two concepts account for one of my favorite quick and dirty stats: the Baseball Reference’s Simple Rating System. This number, which takes into account both scheduled/allowed runs and schedule strength, attempts to calculate how many runs a team should beat an average team in an average game by. The 1927 Yankees were expected to beat the average team by 2.1 runs; the historically terrible Tigers of 2003 should have lost to them by that exact amount. He can tell who’s better than the rating makes them seem, and who’s worse.
And that can tell us a lot now. So, using the Simple Rankings System (and a little common sense), here are four teams that are likely to be better than they look in the rankings and four that look worse.
Giants (0.8 SRS)
The Giants are in third place in the NL West which, it has to be said, is exactly where they were at this point last year. (And they ended up with 107 wins.) So it’s assumed that Giants fans aren’t worrying too much, but if they are, they should stop. The Giants’ Pythag record matches the current one, but they also faced every other National League team with a winning record (Padres, Dodgers, Cardinals, Mets, and Brewers). They are 5 1/2 games behind the Padres, despite having a higher SRS than the Padres (0.6). For what it’s worth, the Dodgers are only half a game above the Padres, despite having the best SRS in baseball at 1.9.
Cardinals (0.8 SRS)
OK, so you have to count a little for the last two Sundays of St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals outscored the Giants and Pirates 33-10 in those two days, but to be fair, if they had pitched anyone other than Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina in the ninth inning of those games, it would have been 33-2. Still, this has contributed to the Cardinals currently having the second-best running differential in the National League, despite being 2.5 games behind the Brewers in Central NL. Another reason they might be at that location? They’ve only played Reds, Pirates and Cubs nine times (it’s 7-2); the Brewers have played them 18 times (they’re 13-5). The Cardinals have nine more fattening games on these teams than the Brewers.
Phillies (0.8 SRS)
the Phillies to sense as a team that should have a better record than it does, and SRS very much agrees. They’re another team whose racing differential belies their sub-0.500 record, but their schedule has also been tough. They’ve played their seven games against the Dodgers — going 4-3, no less — and they’ve also played half of their 19 games against the first-place Mets. And they didn’t play last place Washington at all.
Marlins (0.6 SRS)
The Marlins are in fourth place, but they are better than their record. The issue here is not scheduling: it’s executing the distribution. The Marlins outperformed their opponents in 17 runs, which, on average, would give them a record of 22-18 instead of 18-22. They simply need their luck to equalize in the second half. It doesn’t mean that willing happen, of course. Only, in a fair world, it would be.
Brewers (0.2 SRS)
The Brewers have had the best start in their 40-year history and are on track to win 103 games. But the agenda has Many to do with it. As mentioned, they played more than half of their games against the Reds, Cubs, Pirates, Nationals and Orioles. They will have to play the Dodgers, Mets, Cardinals and so on very soon. They’ve parted ways with the Cardinals 2-2 so far – they’ve got four more against them this weekend – and the split could come down to all those head-to-heads.
Blue Jays (0.0 SRS)
There’s been a sense so far that the Blue Jays have stuttered but are still keeping their heads above water… and that they’re about to get away. This could very well happen, but Pythag’s number really argues that they’re not as good as they played. They are two games above 0.500 but three games below their Pythag number. It’s their schedule that allows them to balance: they’ve played the Yankees nine times, the Astros six times, and the Rays and Red Sox a total of 10 times. And they didn’t play the Orioles once.
Radius (0.0 SRS)
It is a generally accepted assumption that all advanced metrics should break in the Rays direction. After all, how else are they taking it? But the Rays, according to SRS, were an average team this year. Their problem has been their schedule. They played nearly two-thirds of their games against teams under .500, including the Cubs, A’s (who they played with seven times), Mariners and Orioles (with whom they played six). Meanwhile, they only played the Blue Jays three times and never played the Yankees. They will have to beat the Yankees to win this division. They will have ample opportunity to do so.
White Sox (-0.6 SRS)
For all the consternation there has been over Tony La Russa and his management style this year, you’d think this was a powerful team losing close games on the sidelines. But the SRS thinks the White Sox are a far below average team, worse, in fact, than the Mariners, Red Sox and, alas, the Cubs. (They have the same SRS as the Orioles.) Considering that most of the White Sox’s best injured players will be back relatively soon, the fact that they’re still above .500 and staying in this race seems vitally important. Maybe La Russa is doing something right, anyway.