The Angels didn't get fat on the West

Their division rivals were weak, but L.A. was just as good against everyone else. Plus: Who did get fat on their division?


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King Kaufman
October 1, 2008 10:30PM (UTC)

Reader ahoy polloi, whom I mention because that's such a great screen name, takes issue with my pointing out that the Los Angeles Angels had the best record in the American League, which I mentioned because that would have been pretty much impossible to know if you'd just followed national baseball coverage, which focused almost exclusively on the Eastern Division when talking about the A.L.

"A considerable factor in the Angels' 100-win season," ahoy polloi writes, "was the chance to pound the miserable AL West teams 19 games apiece."

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An interesting point and a beautiful theory, but alas not supported by the facts.

The Angels were 36-21 against the A.L. West, for a .632 winning percentage. Against everybody else, they were 64-41, a .610 winning percentage. If they'd had the same winning percentage against their own division as they had against everybody else, they'd have won 99 games instead of 100. They didn't get fat on Texas, Seattle and Oakland.

But it's an interesting thing to think about, how strength of schedule might affect a team's record. We think about it a lot in college basketball and football and a little in the NFL, but except for the whining of the Toronto Blue Jays about having to play in the A.L. East, not as much in baseball.

I thought I'd figure out how the standings would have looked if every team had had the same winning percentage within its own division as it had against nondivision foes. I didn't know what I'd find, and I want to make it clear I don't think this is particularly useful. It's just fun.

Here it is, with a couple of notes first: I didn't count Tuesday's tiebreaker game, which wouldn't have been necessary if the standings looked like this, and the last column reflects the change in the team's record by this measure vs. their real record.

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Team   W-L   Pct.   GB   vs. real
Eastern                
Boston   103-59   .633   --   +8
Tampa Bay   97-65   .600   4   --
New York   88-74   .544   15   -1
Toronto   88-74   .544   15   +2
Baltimore   83-79   .511   20   +15
Central                 Detroit   85-77   .522   --   +11 Chicago   81-81   .500   4   -7 Cleveland   81-81   .500   4   -- Minnesota   81-81   .500   4   -7
Kansas City   79-83   .489   8   +4
Western                    
Los Angeles   99-63   .610   --   -1
Oakland   76-86   .467   23   +1
Texas   76-86   .467   23   -3
Seattle   60-102   .371   39   -1

The teams that got fat by playing their own division are our friends from Tuesday night, the White Sox and Twins. And look who would have won the Central if they only could have played within the division the way they played outside of it: the Tigers -- this column's preseason pick! Vindication! And please forget what I just said about this not being useful.

The Red Sox really got hammered by the East, but that doesn't necessarily mean they somehow deserve to be considered the best team because they had a tough schedule. The Rays also play in the East, and they were the same team within the division as outside of it. And they had to play the supposedly great Red Sox, which the Red Sox didn't have to do.

And by the way, look how good the Orioles were when they weren't playing division rivals.

If you just want to take the weak A.L. West out of the equation and look at how everyone did against the East and Central, here were the top winning percentages:

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1. Los Angeles, .621
2. Boston, .585
3. Tampa Bay, .572
4. Toronto, .565

Score one for the Angels not relying on being in the West to pile up the best record.

Here, just for fun, is how the National League standings would have looked if teams had had the same winning percentage within their division as outside of it.

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Team   W-L   Pct.   GB   vs. real
Eastern                
Philadelphia   92-70   .567   --   --
New York   88-74   .544   4   -1
Florida   79-82   .489   12.5   -5
Atlanta   74-88   .456   18   +2
Washington   57-104   .356   34.5   -2
Central                 Chicago   97-64   .605   --   -- St. Louis   95-67   .588   2.5   +9 Milwaukee   88-74   .544   9.5   -2 Houston   83-78   .518   14   -3
Cincinnati   83-79   .512   14.5   +9
Pittsburgh   70-92   .432   27.5   +3
Western                    
Los Angeles   79-83   .489   --   -5
Colorado   77-85   .478   2   +3
Arizona   68-94   .422   11   -14
San Francisco   65-97   .400   14   -7
San Diego   61-101   .378   18   -2

We've found our team that got fat by playing its weak Western Division foes. It's the Diamondbacks. Look at that: Outside of the West, they were a 94-loss team, yet they spent much of the season in first place and only missed the playoffs by two games. The Dodgers benefited by playing in the West too. Everyone did, except the Rockies. The Dodgers still would have won the West, but with the dreaded losing record.

The N.L. playoff picture would have changed by one team if teams had played within their division the way they did against nondivision foes. The Cardinals would have won the wild-card race, and it wouldn't have been much of a race. The Cards would have beaten the Mets and Brewers by seven games. The race would have been for the Central Division title, the Cubs beating their rivals by two.

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Boy, that was a lot of work -- mostly coding -- to figure out some useless information and, I hope, debunk the theory that the Angels got fat on the A.L. West. It was the other L.A. team that got fat on its division.


King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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