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September Schedules Part 2: NL East, AL Central, NL Central

Last Friday we kicked off our September Schedules preview with an introduction of purpose and methodology, then evaluated the upside-down AL East. If you missed it check it out. All I’ll recap here is that I’m using Fangraphs WAR to grade team pitching and wOBA for hitting, and ESPN’s 2014 Park Factors. If I make recommendations based on other stats, factors, or extenuating circumstances, I’ll let you know.

Today we'll hit the NL East, the AL Central, and get halfway done with the NL Central. Next week, we'll finish it all off. This is a long one, so watch for the page break.

Atlanta Braves
Home: 13 (0.947—19th—pitching favorable) | Road: 12
Opponents: Phillies (6), Nationals (6), Pirates (4), Mets (3), Marlins (3), Rangers, (3)

Most of the Braves’ road games are in parks that have favored hitters this year—Texas and Washington, and, surprisingly enough, Pittsburgh and Miami. However, all those games are in the first half of the month: after the 15th every game will be in Atlanta or Philadelphia, which have both played pitcher-friendly. So if you can grab Atlanta pitchers off the wire in the second half of September, go for it. It helps that the Braves get nine games against two of the three worst offenses in baseball (Phillies and Mets), and six more against the below-average Rangers and Marlins. I like Braves pitchers in September.

The hitters won’t enjoy the park effects, so consider dropping fringy Atlanta guys for the second half of September. Plus, they get six games against Washington, the best pitching staff in baseball by WAR so far. Braves hitters do get to beat up on the Mets and Phillies, who are bad on both sides of the ball, and the Pirates, who are the worst pitchers in the game. So, there are pluses and minuses for the hitters.

Final Grade: Good news for Braves pitchers, with great matchups loaded into the second half of the month. Pick them up! Hitters get easy opponents but tough parks—it probably evens out.

Miami Marlins
Home: 13 (1.032—11th—moderately favorable for hitters)| Road: 14
Opponents: Nationals (8), Mets (6), Phillies (6), Brewers (4), Braves (3) 

The Marlins’ road games are a mix that looks like it should help pitchers a little, doing a bit to neutralize Miami’s hitter-friendly home park factor. Only their last four games of the season at Washington are in hitter-friendly road parks…but the Nationals’ league-leading pitching staff should more than balance that out. The good news for Miami hitters is that only the Nationals and Braves offer not-terrible pitching opponents. With so many games against the Mets, Phillies, and Brewers, Marlins hitters get a

pretty good schedule on the final balance.

The pitchers get a pretty good deal too: those Mets and Phillies are friendly opponents on both sides of the plate. While the Brewers are above-average hitters, and the Nationals about average, the Braves chip in three more games against weak opponents. 

Final Grade: With almost half their games against true doormats, Miami’s pitchers and hitters ought to perform pretty well (relatively—the Fish aren’t that great to begin with) in September. Sneak some Marlins onto your roster if you need extra starts or at bats.

New York Mets
Home: 13 (0.906—27th—very pitching favorable)| Road: 12
Opponents: Nationals (7), Marlins (6), Braves (3), Astros (3), Reds (3), Rockies (3)

Someone in the MLB scheduling department must not have wanted the Mets to enjoy September. They can’t play themselves and they don’t get any games against the Phillies. I  guess six games against the Rockies and Astros makes up for it, especially for Mets pitchers, since those games will happen at home. In fact, the Mets don’t have any of the big hitters’ parks, giving their pitchers good park effects overall. The Rockies are the only heavy-hitting opponent by wOBA, but their best two players are out for the season and the games are in New York anyway. You know what? I think the scheduling department likes Mets pitchers after all. 

Not so much the hitters. Mets batters get ten games against top-third pitching staffs, seven against baseball’s best, plus playing most of their games in pitcher’s parks. While the Rockies and Astros offer easy opponents, that’s not enough to recommend fringy Mets hitters.

Final Grade: Load up on Mets pitchers for September, but avoid their hitters at all costs.

Philadelphia Phillies
Home: 10 (0.906, 25th, very pitching favorable) | Road: 16
Opponents: Marlins (6), Braves (6), Pirates (4), Padres (4), Nationals (3), A’s (3)

Good news for Cole Hamels owners: the Phillies play only six games in hitter-friendly parks (Miami and Pittsburgh) and even those aren’t any worse for pitchers than mid-pack. Ten games against the weak-hitting Padres and Braves will be nice too, though you may want to sit Philadelphia pitchers for the AL-park series in Oakland. Other than that, though, Philly pitchers get few matchups that grade out as any worse than neutral and plenty that end up favorable. The wins might be hard to come by, but things could be good for your ratios. 

Batters get a different story. The parks won’t be favorable for Philly hitters, which will tilt the balance in favor of the mid-pack pitchers they’ll be facing. Four games against the Pirates aren’t enough to make me pick anyone up from this lineup with this schedule. 

Final Grade: Just like the Mets, expect a value boost from Phillies pitchers for the month, but you don’t want any part of their lineup. 

Washington Nationals
Home: 13 (1.037, 10th, hitting favorable) | Road: 14
Opponents: Marlins (8), Mets (7), Braves (6), Phillies (3), Dodgers (3) 

Four games in Miami, combined with the Nats’ home games, tilt the park factor schedule just a little in favor of hitters, but the overall effect ought to be largely neutral—all their other away opponents are in pitchers’ parks. Nationals pitchers shouldn’t mind, though. The number-one staff in baseball will face only one above-average offense (the Dodgers), and get those games out of the way in the first three days of the month. Their next toughest opponents are the Marlins. To be fair, the Fish are still 16th in wOBA, but yeah. You have to like the pitching matchups for Washington.

Things aren’t terrible for Nationals hitters either. The Mets are 29th in pitching WAR and the Phillies also rank in the bottom third. The Braves and Marlins fit into the middle tier and the Dodgers…well, at least those games will be out of the way early. 

Final Grade: If a Nationals pitcher makes it to the waiver wire, he should make it to your team. Unlike some of their division rivals, you should feel relatively safe using Washington hitters too.

Chicago White Sox
Home: 11 (1.055, 8th, hitting favorable)| Road: 14
Opponents: Royals (7), Twins (5), A’s (4), Indians (3), Tigers (3), Rays (3)

This is a very nice park schedule for hitters. Not only is Chicago a good place to hit, but parks that have seemed to be pitchers’ parks in the past (Detroit, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota) have all played favorable to hitters this year. The only pitcher’s parks the White Sox hitters will face are in Cleveland and Kansas City, and both play very close to neutral.

That’s the good news for Chicago hitters, but it’s the end of it. Every team the White Sox will face can pitch; they worst staff they’ll face is Minnesota’s (14th by WAR). Except for the A’s (11th) all the others are among the top 10 staffs in baseball. The best you can do is pick your matchups for Sox hitters.

 White Sox pitchers won’t be enjoying the parks they’ll play in, and they won’t enjoy the lineups they’ll face either: only the Royals are below-average hitters from this bunch. 

Final Grade: The White Sox get a rough draw for September, and you’ll probably want to avoid their players on both sides of the ball, though hitting matchups are playable. 

Cleveland Indians
Home: 17 (0.962, 16th, mildly pitching favorable) | Road: 10
Opponents: Tigers (7), Twins (6), Astros (4), White Sox (3), Royals (3), Rays (3), Angels (1)

The Indians play just six September games in hitter-friendly parks, which is good news for their pitchers. Of course, that’s mostly because the Indians have so many home games, and their park is almost exactly in the middle as far as park effects go, so this one has to be counted as basically park-neutral for the month.

Pitchers will face tough-hitting opponents, thanks in part to so many games against the Tigers. Of all their opponents, only the Royals are below-average hitters, with the White Sox and Angels among the top ten lineups in the game. I’ll be staying away from Cleveland pitchers.

Things are a little better for Cleveland hitters, but not enough. While the Astros and White Sox offer favorable matchups, everyone else pitches well. The Central division must be tougher than it looks....

Final Grade: I won’t be taking chances on Cleveland players, as the final month could be pretty rough on both sides of the ball.

Detroit Tigers
Home: 16 (1.110, 3rd, very hitting favorable)| Road: 10
Opponents: Twins (7), Indians (7), Royals (6), White Sox (3), Giants (3)

Tigers hitters have to enjoy the park effects of this schedule: so many games at home in an extreme hitters’ park, plus three in Minnesota leave only seven in neutral-to-pitchers’ parks (Kansas City and Cleveland). The White Sox and Giants offer weak opponents, but the Twins, Indians, and Royals are all above-average or better pitching staffs. That won’t be enough to neutralize the stadium boost the Tigers’ hitters should get, though. 

Detroit pitchers are mostly too good to pass up, but with the injuries they’ve faced, there are some fringier guys in the rotation. If they remain there, the parks won’t do them any favors, and neither will opposing hitters; only the Giants and Royals are below-average at the plate.

Final Grade: Park effects should make Detroit’s hitters a good September investment, but stay away from their fill-in pitchers.

Kansas City Royals
Home: 13 (0.994, 14th, almost exactly neutral) | Road: 13
Opponents: White Sox (7), Tigers (6), Red Sox (4), Indians (3), Yankees (3), Rangers (3)

Having the year’s most neutral park goes a long way towards making this a park-neutral schedule, but they also play seven away games in hitters’ parks and six in pitchers’. Don’t think that counts as good news for Royals pitchers, though, as they play 16 games against top-10 offenses. You know it’s a crazy year when the Yankees, Rangers, and Red Sox are the breather days for the pitching staff. ’d shy away from Kansas City pitchers in September.

Poor Royals: they also play 16 of their games against top-10 pitching staffs. Though their hitters should enjoy the other 10 games against the White Sox and Rangers, that won’t be enough.

Final Grade: Stay away from Kansas City players on both sides of the ball in September. Things may not look pretty.

Minnesota Twins
Home: 15 (1.059, 7th, hitting favorable)| Road: 11
Opponents: Tigers (7), Indians (6), White Sox (5), Angels (4), Diamondbacks (3), Orioles (1)

The Twins hitters should enjoy the parks they’re playing in—they’ve got only four games in pitchers’ parks all month, and three of those are in the nearly-neutral Progressive Field in Cleveland.  The opposing pitchers will be relatively tough, as over half of their games come against the Tigers, Indians, and Angles. But then, the Tigers may not be full-strength and Twins hitters will also get to face Chicago, Arizona, and Baltimore. That, plus the park factor, makes Minnesota’s hitters worth speculating on.

I’d stay away from their pitchers, though. In addition to playing in tough parks, all but the three games against the Diamondbacks will be against top-10 offenses. In fact, I’d stay far, far away from Twin pitchers, because that might be the toughest schedule any staff has.

Final Grade: Twins hitters are fair game thanks to favorable parks, but clear Minnesota pitchers off your roster as fast as you can: nearly every game they play will be against top-notch hitters in hitters’ parks.

Chicago Cubs
Home: 16 (0.947, 20th, pitching favorable)| Road: 9
Opponents: Brewers (6), Pirates (6), Dodgers (4), Cardinals (3), Reds (3), Blue Jays (3)

The park schedule comes out pretty favorable for Cubs hurlers, with only six games (in Pittsburgh and Toronto) in hitters’ parks, and most of their games in the Friendly Confines. That’s about the end of the good news for Cubbies pitchers, though, as only the Cardinals and Reds fall below 11th in wOBA among their opponents. I’d stay away from Cubs pitchers in September, even with the favorable park factor.

Chicago hitters shouldn’t enjoy the park effects, though they’ll enjoy the competition a little more than the pitchers will. Of their opponents, only the Dodgers have been above-average, while the Reds, Brewers, and—especially—the Pirates have been downright terrible. It’s probably enough to overcome the unfavorable parks. And hey, maybe the wind will start blowing out again in Wrigley….

Final Grade: Watch out for Cubs pitchers, as things could get pretty ugly. Cubs hitters could be sneaky-good, with a slate of bad pitching staffs to face in the last month.

Cincinnati Reds
Home: 13 (0.956, 17th, pitching favorable) | Road: 12
Opponents: Cardinals (7), Brewers (6), Pirates (3), Cubs (3), Mets (3), Orioles (3)

Only the three games the Reds will play in St. Louis will be in hitters’ parks, which should tip the balance of favor towards Cincinnati pitchers. Though they’ll play half their games against top-11 offenses (Brewers, Orioles, Pirates), they also get the mid-pack Cardinals and the bottom-dwelling Cubs and Mets. Overall, things look decent-to-good for Cincy pitchers.

Hitters won’t enjoy the park’s overall effects (but they will like the homers), but they should enjoy the opposing pitchers: of their opponents, only the Cubs have been top-third in pitching; to be fair, though, the Cardinals have made some significant additions. Still, I like things pretty well for Cincinnati hitters.

Final Grade: Things look moderately good on both sides of the plate for the Reds, the parks are in favor of their pitchers, but the opposing pitchers are in favor of their hitters. Speculate carefully on both.

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