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In a follow-up to yesterday's post I decided to look at the strength of each AL division from 1994 (the first year of the 3-division setup) to present. Below the cut is the data.

I did the most basic thing I could think of - just looked at the Win/Loss% of the teams in each division. Since the W/L records of inter-division games will be .500 (by definition), this will act to move all the division records closer to each other - bad divisions will not look as bad as they were and strong divisions will be stronger than their winning% would indicate. But this at least gives us a guide to which divisions were stronger than which. The data is as follows:

Year AL East AL Central AL West
1994 .518 .533 .438
1995 .489 .498 .516
1996 .484 .516 .500
1997 .527 .470 .488
1998 .538 .465 .499
1999 .522 .457 .511
2000 .493 .506 .518
2001 .474 .481 .565
2002 .490 .453 .566
2003 .513 .457 .520
2004 .512 .475 .517
2005 .507 .496 .511
2006 .495 .520 .525
2007 .504 .499 .514

AVG02-07 .504 .483 .526

A few points:

  • In the 6-years of the Ricciardi regime, the AL East has played .504 baseball. That hardly seems like a "tough" division (particularly when compared to the AL West), but it is better than the Central's .483 clip.
  • The 1998 AL East was particularly rough, yet the Blue Jays managed to pull off 88 wins. Had they been in the Central, they almost certainly would have won it. So if Dave Till meant that the Jays would have won two division titles if they weren't in the East, he may in fact be correct if he meant the 1994-2007 period (and not just the Ricciardi regime). Since he didn't specify, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. :)
If we take the 42 divisions in this analysis and rank-order them based on winning percentage, we see that the Jays under Ricciardi have not had a single year where they have played in a particularly tough division:

Year Division Percentage Rank
2002 AL West .566 1
2001 AL West .565 2
1998 AL East .538 3
1994 AL Central .533 4
1997 AL East .527 5
2006 AL West .525 6
1999 AL East .522 7
2006 AL Central .520 8
2003 AL West .520 9
1994 AL East .518 10
2000 AL West .518 11
2004 AL West .517 12
1996 AL Central .516 13
1995 AL West .516 14
2007 AL West .514 15
2003 AL East .513 16
2004 AL East .512 17
1999 AL West .511 18
2005 AL West .511 19
2005 AL East .507 20
2000 AL Central .506 21
2007 AL East .504 22
1996 AL West .500 23
2007 AL Central .499 24
1998 AL West .499 25
1995 AL Central .498 26
2005 AL Central .496 27
2006 AL East .495 28
2000 AL East .493 29
2002 AL East .490 30
1995 AL East .489 31
1997 AL West .488 32
1996 AL East .484 33
2001 AL Central .481 34
2004 AL Central .475 35
2001 AL East .474 36
1997 AL Central .470 37
1998 AL Central .465 38
1999 AL Central .457 39
2003 AL Central .457 40
2002 AL Central .453 41
1994 AL West .438 42

In 1994 all four AL West teams finished under .500 during a strike-shortened year. If we take out strike-years, then the 2003 AL Central was the 2nd worst division in American League 3-divisional history. The argument that the Jays should have been a playoff team in 2003 is basically saying that, had the Jays played in one of the worst divisions in history, they would have won 90-92 games.

AL Division Strength 1994-Present | 6 comments | Create New Account
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Mike Green - Sunday, May 11 2008 @ 11:36 AM EDT (#185010) #
Thanks, Pepper, and welcome back.  The Atlantic cuttlefish is certainly no bigger than the Pacific cuttlefish, and so the less savvy ones end up as sushi.
Mick Doherty - Sunday, May 11 2008 @ 03:04 PM EDT (#185019) #

Mike, these last two articles have really been terrific. Welcome back indeed. Here's my thought about the analysis, and the only wrench I can think of so far ...

The toughest division in which to make the playoffis is not necessarily the one with the best Win %, but needs to be one that doesn't have that Win % skewed by a dominant Big 2, as by definition, only two teams from one division can even possibly make the playoffs in the same year.

Only three times since the '94 strike (e.g. "in the Wild Card era") has someone other than BOS or NYY finished either 1st or 2nd in the AL East ... in 2006, TOR finished 2nd, while BAL finished 1st in 1997 and 2nd in 1996.

The last time neither one of those two finished either first or second (or both) was 1992, when TOR was 1st, and MIL 2nd (NYY 5th and BOS 7th -- a different era!) ... and of course at the time, there was no Wild Card!

In that same time frame, every team in the AL West has won at least one division title -- actually, and I didn't check this, but I think each has won more than one -- while every team in the Central except Kansas City has either won a division title or made the World Series as a Wild Card (or both).

I don't know enough about math to know if it'd work, but I think it might be instructive to see how dominant those two top playoff-eligible spots in each division are before drawing any conclusions about how the Jays might have done.

Pepper Moffatt - Sunday, May 11 2008 @ 03:09 PM EDT (#185021) #
" Only three times since the '94 strike (e.g. "in the Wild Card era") has someone other than BOS or NYY finished either 1st or 2nd in the AL East"

Right.. but the implicit assumption that is being made here (and by everyone else) is that those two always win the division because they're so good... that they're just dominating everything.

But an alternative explanation could be that the other teams in the division are so lousy, that the Red Sox and Yankees end up winning by default.  Given that the division, at least in the J.P. era, has been right around the .500 mark, there's about as much evidence for either view.
AWeb - Sunday, May 11 2008 @ 03:34 PM EDT (#185023) #
How about this as another way to measure it: Toronto's record in the big bad scary East vs everyone else. It might explain how perceptions are getting coloured. I'm going to lump interleague play into "the rest". 

1994: 13-22 vs 42-38.   Obviously killed by divisional foes this year, but hardly exceptional against the rest.
1995: 18-34 (yikes!) vs. 38-54.  Well, this team just stunk
1996: 22-30 vs. 52-58.  Third straight year of divisional woes.
1997: 23-25 vs. 53-61. 
1998: 27-21 vs. 61-53. Slight edge within the East - so begins the third place era.
1999: 24-25 vs. 60-53. Yankees and Boston just killed them (5-19 combined)
2000: 28-21 vs. 55-58.
2001: 37-39 vs. 43-43. Throw in 40 home and away wins, adn the 2001 Jays defy you to describe them as anything other than "unremarkable".
2002: 41-35 vs. 37-49. The West (12-24) was unkind to the Jays.
2003: 37-39 vs. 49-37. Here's the best non-AL East record of the bunch.
2004: 29-46 vs. 38-49. Oh yeah, 2004...Welcome John Gibbons!
2005: 38-36 vs. 42-46.
2006: 43-31 vs. 44-44. The best Al East record of the era, everyone else drags them down.
2007: 36-36 vs. 47-43.

Overall, that's 416-440 (.486) against the East, and 661-686 (.491) against the rest. 1999 and 2003 are years where the Jays struggled to win against the division, perhaps costing them a playoff chance, but 2000, 2002, and 2006 are the opposite. There's very little to suggest the Jays have a harder time finding wins because of their division - looks like random noise to me. They have a hard time winning because they have been a thoroughly average team almost every year.
Dave Till - Sunday, May 11 2008 @ 07:45 PM EDT (#185026) #
You're giving me too much credit, Pepper - I thought that the Jays would have won in 2000 and 2003 had they been in the Central. I was wrong. In 2000, the Jays would have won the AL East (not the Central) if they had had the Yankees' financial resources.

That year, the Jays were in first at the All-Star break, and had a good enough team to win a weak division (which the East was that year). But the Yankees could afford to trade for a bunch of players at the deadline, and the Interbrew Jays couldn't. The Yankees bought that pennant (and the ones since).

I don't think the Yankees have been smarter than the Jays all these years - they've just had the bottomless wallets of the Steinbrenner family to help them out. (The Red Sox, on the other hand, are both rich and smart - they'll be tough to dislodge.) In the AL Central, there are good teams, but they have normal payrolls.

costanza - Monday, May 12 2008 @ 12:57 AM EDT (#185038) #
How about a "what if"...?

I don't think it's a stretch to suggest that the 1998 Jays were the 3rd-best team in the AL.  As "AL Central champions", they ride into the playoffs with a powerful offence and a solid pitching staff led by the "mysteriously rejuvenated" Roger Clemens.  They maybe even pull an upset over the Sox in the first round (talk about motivation for Roger!), but even if they don't, the season is considered a success, and there's nothing but positive vibes in the off-season.

Roger Clemens doesn't ask for a trade, as the Jays' chances of defending the division title look quite good... news breaks about Tim Johnson's lies, but the story is treated as a "Weird news" story and laughed off.

At the same time, the Leafs miss the playoffs for a second straight season, and a terrible Raptors season is followed by a lockout that wipes out the start of the '98/'99 season.  With Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark and Damon Stoudamire all recently traded, Carlos Delgado becomes the face of Sports in Toronto and Blue Jay games re-emerge as the "place to be".

What happens in 1999 under this scenario?  Despite the turmoil caused by the Clemens trade and Johnson firing, the "real" team won 84 games, led by huge seasons from Delgado, Green, Fernandez and Batista.  The DH spot was a mess, though as Canseco was never replaced.  Wells actually out-pitched Clemens, but it's not unreasonable to think that Rocket would've been better had he stayed in Toronto.  In my scenario, I see the team (with Clemens & Canseco) winning 90 games in the AL Central... perhaps not enough to actually make the playoffs, but enough to carry the "momentum" the team had built up.

2000 and beyond obviously play out quite differently (and JP never comes to Toronto)

Ah, if only...
AL Division Strength 1994-Present | 6 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.