How Unfair Is The Unbalanced Schedule?

I've seen a few things around the tubes lately - like this post from Rob Neyer - regarding realignment or changing the schedule around, specifically focused on the AL East. The idea is that it's unfair to the Orioles and Blue Jays to have to be stuck in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox, and then have to play them more than other teams do on top of it. The biggest problem for me is that a club like the Rays can be the third best baseball team in the majors and still be left out of the playoffs. Making the schedule balanced isn't going to do anything about that, but how much would it really improve the standing of the lesser AL East teams?

First, some assumptions (they may be a bit messy, but I think the point still stands):

(1) The AL East each year has a 95 win team, a 92 win team, an 87 win team, a 76 win team, and a 70 win team. That's an average of 84 wins for the division, which is where it's been (on average) for the last few seasons.

(2) The rest of the AL plays like a 79-80 win team, so that the average AL is at about 81 wins. You'd expect an AL East team to then beat another AL team about 53% of the time. Actual AL East winning percentage against the Central and West the last three years: 53%.

(3) The NL plays like a 73 win team, so that the average AL team beats the average NL team about 55% of the time (which also corresponds pretty well with recent history).

So based on the unbalanced schedule, an AL East team will play each other East team 18 times, the NL 18 times in interleague play, and the rest of the AL 72 times. Using the log5 method for calculating winning percentages for games, here's how many victories the 70 win AL East team is currently expected to have versus the:

95 win team: .349 winning % for 6.3 wins
92 win team: .367 W% for 6.6 wins
87 win team: .396 W% for 7.1 wins
76 win team: .463 W% for 8.3 wins
Rest of the AL: .441 W% for 31.8 wins
NL: .481 W% for 8.6 wins

For a total record of almost 69-93. The team would be penalized a little over 1 win for playing the tougher schedule. The 76 win team would be knocked down by about half a win. That's certainly not the end of the world.

So for each game that the 70 win team plays against another AL opponent instead of the 95 win team, they gain about .092 wins (.441 minus .349). For AL over the 92 win team it's .075 wins; over the 87 win team it's .045 wins; and over the 76 win team it goes the other way by .021 wins. So on net, each game moved from the AL East to the rest of the AL would expect to add about .048 wins to the 70 win team's tally

If we balance the AL schedule out by making it 11 games against each team (with one extra against, say, the 95 win AL East team) - a difference of 27 games from in the division to out of it - then the 70 win club would be expected to go about 71-91. The 76 win club would actually pick up half a win, and expect to go 76.5 and 85.5.

My understanding is that one of the reasons that the balanced schedule doesn't work out well is interleague play, so if we get rid of that and do 13 games against each of the AL East opponents and 12-13 against everyone else in the AL (totaling 110), then the 70 win team is back down to 69-93 and the 76 win team is back to about 75.5 wins. Since the AL average is 81 wins, that means the teams the 70 win team is playing are slightly better than that, knocking down their record. So perhaps "fixing" things would actually be worse*, since the team would still be in the same place but having lost revenue from hosting the Yankees, Red Sox, and NL teams less.

* I briefly considered titling this post "How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Unbalanced Schedule".

So in conclusion, we* might want to stop complaining about how unfair the schedule is. If your team is bad currently, then they would probably be bad anyway (if a little less so).

* And that certainly includes me.

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