Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine
A common theme around the Box for the last 6 years is the claim that being in the AL East is killing the Jays. If only they were in a weaker division, like the AL Central, where teams do not have to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox. Then the Jays would be contenders!

But if you look at the data, it is almost impossible to draw that conclusion...

An AL East team plays their division rivals 72 times a year, and plays AL Central teams 35 times a year (roughly, since there is the occasional game missed by rainout or whatever). If the Jays switched over to the Central, they would be switching about 37 games from being against East teams to being against Central teams. Then the theoretical upper-bound of extra wins a move would give them is 37 - a situation which would arise if they always lost to East teams and always beat Central teams. Even in an absolute best case scenario such a move would not turn the 2004 Jays into the 2001 Mariners. A more realistic swing would be the situation where a team was a .450 club against the East and a .550 club against the Central. Moving that team from the East to the Central would give them about 3-4 extra wins a year. That is not a huge amount, but it could easily be enough to turn a very good team into a division winner.

I decided to take a look at Toronto's record against the Central and the East for each of the 6 years under J.P. Ricciardi. The Jays in 2004 were a .387 team against the East and a .406 team against the Central. That 19 point difference, spread over 37 games, would give the Jays an extra 0.84 wins. Round up, and we give the Jays one extra win in 2004 by moving them to the Central.

This a very rough, back-of-the-envelope method with sample-size issues abound - but it gives us a rough idea of the magnitudes involved in a league switch. I suspect a more sophisticated method would provide very similar results.

Here are the win adjustments for the Jays in the 2002-2007 period:

2002: -2 extra wins (78 wins to 76)
2003: 5 extra wins (86 wins to 91)
2004: 1 extra win (67 wins to 68)
2005: -3 extra wins (80 wins to 77)
2006: -3 extra wins (87 wins to 84)
2007: 0 extra wins (83 wins to 83)

If we drop those totals into the standings for the AL Central (and create an NL-Central like 6-team division), without adjusting the win totals for the other teams, here are the year-by-year standings:


MIN 94 67 .584
CHW 81 81 .500 13.5
TOR 76 86 .469 18.5
CLE 74 88 .457 20.5
KCR 62 100 .383 32.5
DET 55 106 .342 39

TOR 91 71 .562
MIN 90 72 .556 1
CHW 86 76 .531 5
KCR 83 79 .512 8
CLE 68 94 .420 23
DET 43 119 .265 48


MIN 92 70 .568
CHW 83 79 .512 9
CLE 80 82 .494 12
TOR 68 94 .420 24
DET 72 90 .444 20
KCR 58 104 .358 34

CHW 99 63 .611
CLE 93 69 .574 6
MIN 83 79 .512 16
TOR 77 85 .475 22
DET 71 91 .438 28
KCR 56 106 .346 43

MIN 96 66 .593
DET 95 67 .586 1
CHW 90 72 .556 6
TOR 84 78 .519 12
CLE 78 84 .481 18
KCR 62 100 .383 34

CLE 96 66 0.593
DET 88 74 0.543 8
TOR 83 79
0.512 13
MIN 79 83 0.488 17
CHW 72 90 0.444 24
KCR 69 93 0.426 27

Other than 2003, which:
  • Was arguably the weakest 5-team division in the history of the American League.
  • Had arguably the worst team in post-war American League history.
the Jays would finish 3rd twice and 4th three times. And by this method, 2003 is at best a coin-flip for the division title. Their best showing outside of 2003 is probably 2006, where they finish with 84 wins, in 4th place, but "only" 12 games out of first.

Can we please let this "if only the Jays were in the AL Central" meme die already? There is no credible evidence that, outside of 2003, it would have made any difference.
What if the Jays Had Been in the AL Central During Ricciardi's Regime? | 13 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Paul D - Saturday, May 10 2008 @ 10:02 PM EDT (#184984) #

Pepper, glad to see you back.

My next comment is more of less off-topic, but I wanted to post it anways.  

I know that this season is frustrating.  It's tough to be a Jays fan, when, like every other year since 1993, it doesn't appear as though they'll be playing meaningfull games in September (with the possible exception of 98).  And everyone has ideas for why this is the case, and I assume that every Jays fan is frustrated right now.  However, could I make a plea for civility at the box?   There is a great website, please try not to let your frustrations spill over into snark/attacks on other posters.

/high horse

Wildrose - Saturday, May 10 2008 @ 10:15 PM EDT (#184986) #
Well Pepper I challenged you to provide some evidence and you certainly did. Good work.  
brent - Sunday, May 11 2008 @ 07:21 AM EDT (#184996) #
I think something is missing here because no team in baseball would rather play the Red Sox and Yankees than the AL Central teams. Having to take on the better AL offenses in the AL (NY, BOS, and TB) will change strategies such as giving extra Doc starts versus tougher opponents. Also, those other teams don't have the payroll to add extra players if they need to compared to Bos and NY. I can't express some of the ideas and feelings I have when looking at your numbers to articulate them. I am glad that you are taking a first step toward looking at this issue of a team switching divisions. However, I don't think this really proves much so far. I hope more commenters can improve this with some more ideas. Tango, are you out there?
robertdudek - Sunday, May 11 2008 @ 07:32 AM EDT (#184997) #
When exactly has Tampa had one of the better offenses, before this year that is? The Jays haven't been able to beat average teams, what makes you think they'd win significantly more games if they were in the Central.

What's missing here is some people's unwillingness to face facts: the Jays have not been a very good team and it's not because they have to play in the AL East.

Dave Till - Sunday, May 11 2008 @ 07:42 AM EDT (#184998) #
Thanks for posting this, Pepper. I stand refuted. Or perhaps pwned. :-)

Though I will say this: even by your calculations, the Jays would have gotten into the postseason at least once in the Ricciardi era. And one is more than zero.

Pepper Moffatt - Sunday, May 11 2008 @ 09:14 AM EDT (#185002) #
"I think something is missing here because no team in baseball would rather play the Red Sox and Yankees than the AL Central teams."

*This* is the inherent problem with this AL Central meme.  This implicit assumption that the AL East is somehow a 3-team division.

If I were the Jays, I would rather face the Royals than the Yankees.  But I'd also much rather face the Orioles than the Twins or Indians.

When you consider all the teams in the AL East - the good (Yankees, Red Sox) and the bad (Orioles, Devil Rays) things are pretty much a wash.  Any way you slice the numbers, it comes out about even.. except 2003, and even then we're talking about a roughly 5 game difference.

And no worries Dave, we're still BFF. :)  You're right.. the Jays would have been a coin-flip (or slightly better) to win the AL Central in 2003.  I suspect the 2003 AL Central was the worst division in AL 3-division history, so saying that they would have had a good chance of winning it.. doesn't say much.

As an Expos fan, I can't fathom how anyone.. anywhere.. can suggest that the *Jays* have been dealt a bad hand.
grjas - Sunday, May 11 2008 @ 09:26 AM EDT (#185003) #
Let's make a deal!

With Wells gone, JP has three options: 1) hang on and hope this punchless offence turns a miracle. Enough said. 2) blow up the team and go young. Pity he doesn't have the farmhands to jump start this 3) Make a deal with some value this year but with a clear eye on next.

I vote for 3). This team already has the most precious commodity- good young pitching- so why blow it up? They are relatively strong at most positions- 2nd, 3rd, RF, CF(contract aside), catching (well barely, but). AJ still has some value despite being the 5th best starter on the team so far, and after Halladay, the other 3 are ready to move up one rung in the starting ladder. Purcey is probably close enough to be a 5th starter.

So don't wait for AJ to plummet in value, or perform well enough to leave at year end. Use him as the centrepiece of a trade such as: (a) AJ and overbay for a youngish first basemen with pop (b) AJ and lind for youngest LF with pop (c) AJ and a SS for a SS who can hit and field. Or mix it up with a lefty.

If you get one additional hot bat now, you can add another in the offseason at DH or first base, and possibly a shortstop. This doesn't give up on the season, or sell out the farmhands. But it positions the team for another run or two before they lose Halladay.

With the pitching this team has, they are not far off. But with this much of the season gone, it is clear they need at least 2-3 bats to get there in 2009. It's time to start hopping.

JayFan0912 - Sunday, May 11 2008 @ 09:34 AM EDT (#185004) #
I just have a comment on the analysis.

With the jays moving to the central you would assume that the extra wins/losses would come at the expense of wins/losses to the
other opponents ... so perhaps you need to modify the W-L record of the other teams.

With this factored in, the jays would probably have made the playoffs in 2003.

Frank Markotich - Sunday, May 11 2008 @ 10:30 AM EDT (#185006) #

AJ Burnett has trade value, but since he can opt out at the end of the year, only a contender would be interested.

Said contender, if they already have a young 1B or LF or SS who can hit and is under control for a few years isn't going to give them to you for Burnett, unless they have a replacement on hand, in which case they don't want Overaby or Eckstein.

Burnett, if traded, will have to be for prospects. The return will depend on how badly the other team wants pitching

Pepper Moffatt - Sunday, May 11 2008 @ 11:22 AM EDT (#185009) #
"With the jays moving to the central you would assume that the extra wins/losses would come at the expense of wins/losses to the other opponents ... so perhaps you need to modify the W-L record of the other teams."

Perhaps, but the adjustment here would be minor at best.. if we add the Jays to the AL Central, each team would play the Jays 9-10 more times and each their other division rivals a total of 9-10 games less (so 2-3 games for each team).

The games we take away will have an average record of .500 (by construction).. If we assume the Jays play .600 ball against the other teams (which is a fairly liberal estimate), then teams will go from 5-5 in those games to 4-6.. so at most in 2003 we should knock off one win from the win column of each team and add a loss to the loss column.  At most.

Now my estimate of 5-games was pretty back-of-the-envelope rough.. a more sophisticated analysis might say the Jays would have added 3 wins, or maybe 7.

So yeah, the Jays probably would have made the playoffs had they been in the Central in 2003.  But it's not a slam dunk.  And do you really want to hang your hat on the idea that, in the best possible of worlds, the Jays would have won 92 games in 2003 playing in pretty much the worst division in AL 3-division history?

JayFan0912 - Sunday, May 11 2008 @ 03:06 PM EDT (#185020) #
It's nice that you did this work ... still, one playoff appearance is better than none.  In fact, all teams in the AL central made the playoffs with the
exception of the royals. That type of mobility is present in all other divisions except the AL east.

I think JP could have done a much better job, and disagree with his draft strategy  (all  college),  but making
the playoffs in other divisions seems at least doable. Maybe the jays, orioles, and devil rays are just poorly run.

brent - Sunday, May 11 2008 @ 06:01 PM EDT (#185025) #
Robertdudek, my memory failed me as Tampa faded last year after a good start. About AL average in runs scored two of the last three years. Like the story of the hitter that has a good start and stays on top of the leaderboard all year and the hitter with a cold start and hot finish to end up at the same point.
What if the Jays Had Been in the AL Central During Ricciardi's Regime? | 13 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.