Strength of Schedule in the NL Central | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Yesterday, I published an article on Fangraphs Community discussing the effect that strength of schedule can have on early-season offense.  Among other things, I noticed that while the Oakland Athletics have been tearing up the league with their bats, they’ve also faced some of the worst pitching in the league for two months straight.  Are the Athletics a good team?  Sure they are.  Would they have scored this many runs if they were facing some decent pitching?  Probably not.

How does that analysis apply to the NL Central this year?

The NL Central hasn’t exactly torn it up this season in the offense department.  By wRC+, a first-rate metric for evaluating batter production, the clubs currently rate as follows:

Team wRC+ MLB Rank
Pirates 98 11
Brewers 96 14
Cardinals 95 15
Reds 85 25
Cubs 80 29

“100″ is average.  This means that every single club in the Division is below average offensively.  The Pirates have produced the best, by a small margin, the Brewers and Cardinals are close behind, and the Reds and Cubs have been wholly inept, down in the basement.

Some of this depressed production likely can be traced to the quality of the pitching the NL Central has faced over the first two months, which has been pretty brutal compared to most other teams.  As I calculated it, this is what we end up with:

Team AVG Cubs Reds Brewers Pirates Cards
Opponent SIERA 3.62 3.63 3.58 3.61 3.62
VS AVG 3.73 -6 -5 -8 -6 -6

This table may be a bit difficult for the uninitiated, but it’s the same sort of table I had in the article I linked above.  Here’s what you need to know: (1) SIERA is a metric that does a really good job of evaluating pitcher talent; (2) The average SIERA in baseball this year is 3.73; (3) A lower SIERA means the pitching staff is better (and tougher for opposing batters); and (4) small changes in SIERA have a big effect on runs scored.

Every single NL Central club has faced pitching that, in the aggregate, was better (lower) than the 3.73.  According to my calculations in the last row, it has cost each club from five to eight runs over the course of those two months. Of the NL Central teams, the Brewers were hit the hardest, at eight runs lost, which equates to about one win lost.  So, before you criticize the Brewers or Cardinals too much for their hitting struggles, realize that they were facing some fairly tough competition.

What’s important, though, is that this should change for the Brewers in June.  Look at the gulf between the quality of pitching the Brewers will face, and the rest of the division next month:

Team AVG  Cubs Reds Brewers Pirates Cards
Opponent SIERA 3.70 3.63 3.87 3.31 3.75
VS AVG 3.73 -2 -5 +7 -22 +1

The Brewers get to face some fairly terrible pitching in June.  In fact, they are the only team in the division that is facing below-average pitching next month.  The improvement  is worth an extra seven runs over average, almost an extra win over the course of the month.  Compare that to the Cubs and Reds, who once again face tough, above-average pitching, and the lowly Pirates, who are walking into a meat grinder of a schedule that may well finish them off.  My method estimates they will lose about 22 runs — which is about 2.5 wins — simply from strength of schedule alone.  When you compare the Brewers to the Pirates over the course of June, you have a differential of 29 runs, which is over three wins of expected benefit to the Brewers before they even play the games.

As I noted in my Fangraphs article, this means that Brewers will enjoy in June the same (poor) quality of opponent that the Athletics have been tearing up so far in 2014.   The Cardinals have a somewhat favorable schedule as well, but it is nothing like what the Brewers are being handed.  With Aramis Ramirez returning to health and the rest of the lineup starting to click, the bottom line is that the Brewers will have no excuses if they do not use their June schedule to bury some of the basement teams in the division, and at least remain competitive with the Cardinals, who have been nipping at their heels.

The Brewers have generally made the most of their opportunities so far this season; this is their next chance to do the same.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @bachlaw.

All data is from Fangraphs.

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. Eric Cumming says: May 29, 2014

    I think the June numbers for the Brewers could have a lot to do with playing 7 games against the rockies in June. They are last in the NL in team FIP and xFIP and second to last in team ERA. They also lead the league (tied with dodgers) in wRC+ (yay Coors Field!) So while the offense could be in for a good month, that does not necessarily translate to lots of wins in June.

    • Jonathan Judge says: May 29, 2014

      The Rockies are part of it, but so are the Mets, Twins, and Pirates. I agree that the pitching has to be decent at Coors, but the Rockies are also starting to come down to earth.

  2. Evan (Maryland) says: May 29, 2014

    26 of the Brewers first 54 games have been against NL Central teams so a flaw in the statistics might be that of course bad hitting would show the NL Central has good pitching. I’d like to plays devil’s advocate as well and say the Brewers could get rocked by teams like Colorado who’s hitting has been on a tear this year. That would make the Brewers own increase in runs a moot point. I’m really trying to be optimistic about this team but in the end to not be a fringe candidate the Brewers need to start separating themselves during games and not relying on the 1 run win. K-Rod and the rest of the bullpen won’t protect every 1-2 run lead and scoring 4.07 runs a game simply won’t do it going into the summer.

    • Jonathan Judge says: May 29, 2014

      Evan, I think it’s fair to say that the NL Central has above-average pitching overall and that this is part of life in the division. But, that’s why when you get months outside the division, like the Brewers are about to enjoy, they need to take advantage of them.

      As for one-run games, I agree that you don’t want to make a living with those, but the Brewers are uniquely equipped to win those games. I wrote about that last week.

  3. L says: May 29, 2014

    neat stuff

  4. Matt T. says: May 29, 2014

    Can you please relate Milwaukee’s schedule directly to Oakland’s? If all this bears out and/or if Oakland had a similar schedule to what Milwaukee WILL HAVE, we could start to estimate (on paper) Milwaukee’s June record.

    • Jonathan Judge says: May 29, 2014

      You’d have to do more than that, because you’d have to look at both pitching and hitting opportunities, and then adjust for park and league. Even then, you’d have enough random variation that the estimate would have pretty wide probabilities on either side. Oakland is irrelevant to the Brewers except as a reference point, and to underscore that they need to score some extra runs this month.

  5. chuck says: May 29, 2014

    Really interesting article. I have been following the Brewers for most every game this season and prior to each game I look at least the opposing starter ERA. I kept getting blown away at what the Brewers kept facing in at least that regard.
    So I guess I am not quite getting senile yet; though your and other formulas continue to boggle my mind’s, up to a few years ago rather lucid brain :)

  6. BrewersWorldSeries says: May 29, 2014

    Has Will Smith reached a level where we can start referring to him as “The Fresh Prince”?

  7. Kyguy922 says: May 29, 2014

    Are you calculating team SIERA or individual SIERA? Are you adjusting for pitching matchups, because you only face a subset of each pitching staff when you play a team. If you play a two three game series vs the LA Dodgers but avoid Greinke and Beckett both times, it will not be a strong indicator of the Dodgers team SIERA.

    It is a good rough justice but don’t know if we can draw too much for that reason, but good work though!

    • Jonathan Judge says: May 29, 2014

      Thanks. Here, I used overall team current SIERAs. That gives us many more innings to work with and a better reflection of the true talent of those pitching staffs, and avoids giving any team too much credit for the simple luck of avoiding a particular pitcher or two during a particular series.

  8. Jason says: May 29, 2014

    This next month is huge. The only team on the schedule for the month is 2 separate series against the Rockies. It would be nice to get a cushion for whenever our next cold streak is


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