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RotoAuthority Unscripted: Strength of Schedule (Part 1)

I know. Strength of schedule is for football and basketball, and all those other, lesser sports. Baseball is pure, and played over 162 games that the quality of opponents balances out for everyone but those in the American League East. 

But there aren't 162 games in September, just 28. A great schedule might make a mid-rotation starter seem (and score) like an ace (preview: pick up some Nationals), while a terrible one may take a big bite out of a great pitcher's value. The same thing can be said for hitters, and since we enter our final stretch run or our playoffs when the calendar turns to September, this one small, skewed sample is what will make or break fantasy seasons.

It's happened to all of us before, for better or for worse. I remember once setting a league record for regular season wins, thanks to Chris Carpenter's 28 consecutive 2004 quality starts. Tanked in the playoffs because that streak ended in September. I've also ridden amazingly lucky final months all the way to the league championship, and if you don't like all your chips riding on all that luck...play roto style next year. For now, take advantage to the one part of luck we know in advance: the schedule.

Below, I summarize each team's upcoming schedule, and give a recommendation for their pitchers and hitters based on the parks they'll play in and the quality of their opponents. I'm taking 2013 park factors from ESPN and team pitching (sorted by xFIP) and hitting (sorted by wOBA) stats from Fangraphs.com. I especially recommend taking a look at that park factors list, because there are some surprises. Also, each team name is a link to their September schedule, in case you don't trust my report. Or want to buy tickets, I guess.

Small caveat: I am neither a statistician, nor a mathematician, so I didn't turn this research into a fancy and useful algorithm because I really don't know how.

Arizona Diamondbacks 

Total: 28 games (14 at home--shown in parentheses throughout this post), Dodgers 7(4), Rockies 6 (3), Giants 5, Padres 4, Blue Jays 3 (3), Nationals 3(3).

Home park factor: 0.952. A surprisingly neutral park.

Pitching: no games against baseball's best offenses, though the Blue Jays, Rockies and Dodgers are in the upper half (and the Dodgers are on the upswing). They have 9 games (Padres and Giants) against low-ranked offenses.

Hitting: they play 10 games against top-tier pitching staffs (Dodgers and Nationals), and 7 against bottom-tier staffs (Padres and Rockies).

Analysis: Balanced schedule

Atlanta Braves

Total: 28 games (14 home) Phillies 7(4), Marlins 5(1), Mets 3(3), Padres 3(3), Nationals 3, Cubs 3, Brewers 3(3).

Home park factor: 0.966

Pitching: Zero games against average or above-average offenses. Eight games against the worst two offenses in baseball, with 14 more against bottom-third offenses.

Hitting: Three games against a top-third pitching staff, 13 against bottom-third staffs.

Analysis: Pick up every unowned Braves pitcher you can. Even the relievers in some formats. Don't be afraid to keep your hitters in the lineup too.

Baltimore Orioles

Total: 28 games (14 home) Blue Jays 6(3), Red Sox 6(3), Yankees 5(4), White Sox 4(4), Rays 4, Indians 3

Home park factor: 1.017 

Pitching: Nineteen games against top-third offenses. Only the Yankees and White Sox (both in bottom-third) give any respite.

Hitting: Only 4 games agaisnt top-third pitching, and 6 against bottom-third.

Analysis: Stay away from O's pitchers, but their hitters have a balanced schedule.

Boston Red Sox

Total: 25 games (13 home) Yankees 7(3), Orioles 6(3), Tigers 3(3), Blue Jays 3(3), Rays 3, Rockies 2, White Sox 1(1)

Home park factor:  1.048. Another park that hasn't played as hitter-friendly in the past.

Pitching: Fourteen games against top-hitting teams, including 9 against two of the top four offenses. Eight games against bottom-third offenses.

Hitting: Ten games against top pitching; nine against bottom-tier pitching.

Analysis: Expect streaky hitters (take it series by series in daily leagues), and reserve pitchers except when playing the Yankees and White Sox.

Chicago Cubs

Total: 27 games (13 home) Pirates 7(3), Brewers 7(3), Marlins 3(3), Reds 3, Braves 3(3), Cardinals 3, Phillies 1(1)

Home park factor: 1.160 (2nd highest in MLB)

Pitching: Six games against top-third hitting; 4 against bottom-third teams.

Hitting: Sixteen games against top-third pitching staffs; only one against bottom-third pitching.

Analysis: Drop your Cubs hitters, despite the extra-Friendly Confines. It's not like they were hitting anyway.

Chicago White Sox

Total: 28 games (15 home) Tigers 6 (3), Indians 6(4), Royals 4(4), Twins 3(3), Orioles 4, Yankees 3, Red Sox 1, Blue Jays 1

Home park factor: 1.042

Pitching: Eleven games against the top three offenses; seven against bottom-third opponents.

Hitting: Nine games against top-third pitching; 11 against bottom-third.

Analysis: Sox pitchers could be getting crushed in September. Avoid them, and even pick your spots with Chris Sale.

Cincinnati Reds

Total: 26 games (16 home) Pirates 6(3), Cardinals 4(4), Mets 3(3) Dodgers 3(3), Cubs 3(3), Brewers 3, Astros 3, Rockies 1

Home park factor: 1.102. 

Pitching: Five games against top offenses; 9 games against bottom-third teams.

Hitting: Ten games against tough pitching staffs, but 7 against low-quality pitching. 

Analysis: The number of home games and strong park factor should help Reds hitters, while the below average offenses they face should keep the park from hurting their pitching too much. Reds pitchers and hitters get favorable schedules.

Cleveland Indians

Total: 27 games (15 home) Royals 6(3), White Sox 6(2), Twins 4, Astros 4(4), Orioles 3(3), Mets 3(3), Tigers 1

Home park factor: 0.953

Pitching: Four games against top offenses, but 21 against bottom-third offenses.

Hitting: Only one game against top pitching, but 11 against bottom-third pitching staffs.

Analysis: Pick up Indians, as they have great schedules for pitching and hitting--the first four games of September are their only matchups against contenders.

Colorado Rockies

Total: 25 games (13 home) Dodgers 6(3), D-Backs 6(3), Cardinals 4(4), Padres 3, Giants 3, Red Sox 2(2), Reds 1(1)

Home park factor: 1.186--by far the highest factor in baseball (but you knew that).

Pitching: You know you don't want Coors starts, so we'll focus on their road matchups, where they have 6 games against low-quality opponents.

Hitting: Ten games against top pitching staffs.

Analysis: The park factor is so strong here that it takes a scheduling miracle for me to suggest picking up random Rox starters--no miracle here. 

Detroit Tigers

Total: 26 games (11 home) White Sox 6(3) Royals 6(3), Mariners 4(4), Red Sox 3, Twins 3, Marlins 3 Indians 1(1)

Home park factor: 1.104

Pitching: The 3 Red Sox games, and the one against the Indians are the only ones against good hitting. With 18 games against bottom-third teams, the Mariners' series will be one of the Tigers' biggest challenges.

Hitting: Those 4 Seattle games are the Tigers' only ones against top-third pitching, but they have nine against low-quality staffs.

Analysis: Even the back of the Tigers' rotation should shine in September, as should their whole lineup. 

Houston Astros

Total: 27 games (13 home) Indians 4, Mariners 4(1), Athletics 4, Angels 3(3), Reds 3(3), Rangers 3(3), Yankees 3, Twins 3(3)

Home park factor: 1.086

Pitching: Ten games against top-third lineups (Rangers, Angels, and Indians), but only 3 (Yankees) against bad lineups.

Hitting: Seven top-third pitching matchups (but none against elite pitchers); seven against bottom-third pitching (Athletics and Angels).

Analysis: Not nearly a good enough schedule to make up for the Astros players' weaknesses.

Kansas City Royals

Total: 27 games (13 home) Mariners 7(4), Tigers 6(3), Indians 6(3), White Sox 4, Rangers 3, Blue Jays 1

Home park factor: 1.046

Pitching: With 16 games against top-level offenses (including 6 against the league-best Tigers), KC pitchers will have a tough time of things.

Hitting: They'll play 13 games against top-ten pitching staffs, including 6 against those Tigers. At least one game against the Jays should be favorable.

Analysis: The Royals have terrible matchups on both sides of the ball. Drop or trade any KC players you can.

Los Angeles Angels

Total: 28 games (13 home) Rangers 7(3), Athletics 6(3), Rays 4(4), Mariners 3(3), Astros 3, Blue Jays 3, Twins 1, Brewers 1

Home park factor: 0.974

Pitching: Fourteen games against top-third offenses; only 4 against bottom-third teams.

Hitting: Seven games against top-quality pitching, but 10 games against the worst three pitching staffs.

Analysis: Angels hitters are fair game, but cut ties with any questionable Angels pitchers, even relievers.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Total: 27 games (11 home) D-Backs, 7(3), Rockies 6(3), Giants 6(3), Padres 4(1), Reds 3

Home park factor: 0.854

Pitching: Only the 6 Rockies games are against top-third lineups, but the Dodgers get to play 10 games against the bottom-third Padres and Giants.

Hitting: Only the 3 Reds games are against high-quality pitching, while the Padres and Rockies offer 10 games of bottom-third pitching.

Analysis: With an off-balance home/road split for the month, Dodger hitter should benefit from playing away from home...except that 6 of those road games are in San Francisco and San Diego. Parks aside, the Dodgers have great matchups on both sides of the ball.

Miami Marlins

Total: 28 games (13 home) Nationals 7(3), Phillies 6(3), Braves 5(4), Mets 4, Cubs 3, Tigers 3(3)

Home park factor: 1.081

Pitching: Eight games against top-quality offenses; 13 against bottom-third lineups.

Hitting: Fifteen games against top-third pitching is bad news for a bad lineup--3 games against the Cubs won't make up for that.

Analysis: Feel free to drop Marlins hitters not named Giancarlo. If you're desperate, the pitching has a pretty favorable schedule, provided you release the Fish from you net before their final series against Detroit.

Milwaukee Brewers

Total: 27 games (14 home) Cubs 7(4), Cardinals 6(3), Mets 4, Braves 3, Pirates 3(3), Reds 3(3), Angels 1(1)

Home park factor: 1.067

Pitching: The Brew Crew faces top-third offenses 7 times, but has 11 games against bottom-third clubs.

Hitting: With 15 games against top pitching staffs, and only 8 against low-quality staffs, the Brewers hitters could be in for trouble.

Analysis: The schedule is mostly balanced, but that isn't enough to recommend many players on this team.

Join us on Saturday for a very special episode of Stock Watch...in which we evaluate the schedules of the remaining fifteen teams and provide a quick summary of who to target, who to avoid, and who to drop.




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