FanPost

Which Division is the Strongest in Baseball?

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Since I was a little kid, especially growing up in the Northeast, one of the constants in my life in discussions was that the AL East reigned supreme as the best division in baseball. When players were traded, it was often reviewed as they’d improve if they were leaving the AL East or regress if entering it.

While I’m not going to go back through historical records to check the accuracy, I believe with the unlimited salary caps the Yankees and Red Sox bought their way into being the best division, with others in division having to spend to compete.

So last night over drinks with a friend who is a Red Sox fan, we debated if this still holds true. Obvious homerism, and lack of facts made for a jovial discussion but no real information. So I decided to do some research.

There are a few articles on this, I do note, when they were written as it does create some variation which I’ll add the link and a brief recap:

1.) MLB.com - Odd rankings, Castrovince has the AL East 1st, and the AL West 4th. Justice has the AL West 2nd, and the AL East 3rd.

2.) Bleacher Report - Written in February, Ranked AL West 2nd, and AL East 3rd Their goal was to rank them based on deepest to thinnest.

3.) Sportsnaut - Written in February, Ranks the AL West 5th, and AL East 2nd.

4.) The Ringer - Written just a few weeks ago, they used a modified version of Simple Rating System and came to the conclusion that as of a couple weeks ago, the AL Central was on pace to be the WORST division of the past 50 years. A good read

Always an interesting exercise, but most of these analyses did not seem to be fact based, and were more of "gut feel" type of reviews. So I wanted to dig in, and look at all of this from a few different perspectives.

Wins

Losses

Win %

Run Diff.

AL East

313

290

0.519%

103

AL Central

255

345

0.425%

-369

AL West

331

277

0.544%

229

NL East

293

307

0.488%

-53

NL Central

316

289

0.522%

94

NL West

304

304

0.500%

-4

Standings:

So there were a few quick take-aways, based on Standings alone the rank would be:

1.) AL West

2.) NL Central

3.) AL East

4.) NL West

5.) NL East

6.) AL Central

Run Differential

I didn’t want to look only at the rankings based on Standings, so I did add in the Run Differential for each league. The rankings based on that would be:

1.) AL West

2.) AL East

3.) NL Central

4.) NL West

5.) NL East

6.) AL Central

Figuring that playing against your own league would level out on both (Run Diff will always be 0, and Win % will always be .500), so it gives somewhat of a true reflection. And the correlation between Run Differential and Standings was as expected. But as I thought it out, there seemed to be an element missing, as the strength of your competitors makes a significant impact, and the MLB is not balanced in that way. You obviously would have a lot more wins and score more runs if you were playing the Royals and Orioles than if you were playing the Astros and Red Sox. So I wanted to do a quick ranking on Strength of Schedule to-date (add up total for each league then divide by 5). The results were as follows:

Strength of Schedule

Tied for 1st: AL West (.508) and NL West (.508)

3rd: AL East (.501)

4th: NL East (.500)

5th: NL Central (.500)

6th: AL Central (.485)

Man, that AL Central.. just brutal. But it does support that the AL West was not getting there through playing easy opponents. It did make me wonder if the NL West was maybe a rank too low on the rankings above, but corroborated most of the other rankings.

3rd Order Win %

Great addition from Willy McGee's Twin - I hadn't explored this stat before, for those who don't know, it is described as.

A teams projected winning %, based on underlying statistics and adjusted for quality of opponents.

1.) AL West - (0.546)

2.) AL East - (0.528)

3.) NL West (0.511)

4.) NL Central (0.510)

5.) NL East (0.498)

6.) AL Central (0.417)

Payroll

Lastly, I wanted to look at total average division salaries, both to look at the correlation, and under somewhat of the theory of the best players should be paid the most. Although that’s obviously not the case, I figured it does bring some interesting conversation points on the correlation and gives some insight based on why the divisions may struggle.

1st: NL West - $156 Mil

2nd AL East - $151 Mil

3rd – AL West - $142 Mil

4th – NL East - $131 Mil

5th – NL Central - $129 Mil

6th – AL Central - $117 Mil

Conclusion

I wanted to keep this analysis as factually based as possible, working to remove home-team bias, and expected that the results would not agree with my thoughts. I was pretty shocked to see that the results actually exceeded my expectations, and I would say without a doubt, that in 2018, the AL West is the strongest division in baseball.

Using the Ringer’s article about the AL Central potentially being the worst division in the past 50 years, the other item of note was that it had the AL West ranked as 5th best in the past 50 years. This was based on The Baseball Guage (Dan Hirsch)’s stats - with full rankings are found here, the AL East ranks in at 27th.

What are your Thoughts? Who would you vote is the strongest division of 2018? Let me know in the comments on different methodology or stats you would have used as well.