'Quality' of MLB divisions tells a hidden story

July 11, 2019 07:52 PM

Divisional strengths and weaknesses often get lost in the shuffle when analyzing Major League Baseball. It’s easy to zoom in too tight when handicapping game-by-game, day-by-day through the season. Bettors and analysts can miss out on big-picture dynamics that are influencing results. 

The annual All-Star break provides a chance to take stock of overall divisional quality.

For example, the National League West is probably a lot better than you had realized. Sure, you knew the Los Angeles Dodgers (who visit the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park this weekend) were having another great season. They’ll kick off their second stage of 2019 with a 60-32 record. Awesome. But, everyone else in the NL West except San Francisco is over .500 when not playing the Dodgers! Even with the Giants, it’s close.

Rest of NL West excluding Dodgers games: Arizona 42-37, Colorado 42-37, San Diego 40-39, San Francisco 36-40.

No tankers there. Arizona and Colorado might be battling for first place if they played in the NL Central. 

On the other end of the spectrum, the American League Central is truly horrible. Minnesota is legitimate. Second-place Cleveland probably isn’t, despite a 50-38 record. The Indians might not be in the wildcard race if they hadn’t gone 13-5 against divisional dregs Detroit and Kansas City. The Chicago White Sox are near .500, but that’s thanks to a 13-7 record against the Tigers and Royals. 

Detroit and Kansas City are a combined 58-118. Cleveland is 37-33 when not playing them, Chicago 29-37.

A shortcut for evaluating divisional quality is simply to eyeball games over or under .500 in the daily standings. Every game played within a division is both a win and a loss, so those cancel out. A division that’s well over .500 is beating everyone else. One that’s well below .500 is struggling. 

Divisional rankings at the moment:

AL West plus 22: Powerful Houston leads the way. This group is admittedly helped by having only one tanker. 

NL West plus 21: Already discussed. Because the NL is 15 in interleague win differential, VSiN would give the nod to this quintet as best in baseball. A differential of 21 in the superior league is more impressive than 22 against softer competition. 

NL Central plus 1: An exciting race could feature no great teams and no bad teams. Generic in comparison to other divisions. 

NL East -6: Atlanta’s surge has helped offset Miami’s malaise. Washington’s doing the same for the New York Mets on a lesser scale. 

AL East -11: Tricky division because it might have three playoff entries and two virtual Triple-A teams.  

AL Central -27: off the charts awful, despite Minnesota’s rise to relevance. 

When handicapping inter-divisional or interleague games this weekend and beyond, be sure you check to see if divisional dynamics are being factored into the money line. 

 

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