Toronto Blue Jays: Paper Champions of the AL Central

Posted on September 19, 2011

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By Steve McEwen

Geoff Ratliff and Jeremy Sickel, Editors

Perennially mediocre, constantly rebuilding but never torn down, delightfully average; all are labels frequently applied to the Toronto Blue Jays. The team’s record over the past ten years shows a team that regularly hovers around .500 baseball (800-803). There is the old worn out argument from Blue Jays fans that “It’s the AL East! If we were in another division…” which, no doubt, annoys fans of other teams, leading to the predictable retort of “play the hand you are dealt.” Looking deeper, we can form an educated hypothesis of how the Blue Jays would actually perform in another division. First, let’s look at their actual records from the 2002-2011 seasons.

As this chart indicates, by record alone Toronto would have won the NL Central in 2006 and the NL West in 2008. In these ten years, they would have finished in a higher placing in another division in 23 of 50 scenarios, and remained in a similar finish in 16 of 50.  Of course using actual records to say that they would have been better off in another division is using flawed logic, because it doesn’t account for the fact that they would have a drastically different schedule. While there is no true way to judge this, there are indicators we can use.

Looking at inter-division record vs. AL Central

The Blue Jays have had a good record against AL Central teams over this time period. They have had seven winning seasons, a .500 season, and two losing seasons, thus leaving the Blue Birds with a total record of 189-162 over the sampling period. In addition, over the last four years they have amassed an 86-59 record. It’s worth noting that the AL East over the last ten seasons has a 961-798 record vs. the AL Central with only one sub .500 campaign, highlighting the dominance of the entire division over its counterpart.

The Mini Experiment

Let’s do something foolish; I will take records and project them out as if the Blue Jays were in the AL Central.  By using this map of the teams, let’s say Toronto replaces Cleveland in the AL Central for geographical purposes.

Let’s look at the last five seasons:

Note: Inter-league Schedule was not changed when moving schedules.

2007: AL East record 83-79, AL Central record 85-77

Would have ranked 3rd in the AL Central.

2008: AL East record 86-76, AL Central record 98-64

Would have won the AL Central. (Unlikely to go 18-0 versus the Minnesota Twins)

2009: AL East record 75-87, AL Central record 87-75

Would have won the AL Central.

2010: AL East record 85-77. AL Central record 84-78

Would have ranked 3rd in AL Central.

2011: AL East record 73-73, AL Central record 75-68

Would rank 2nd in AL Central.

Again, pulling out such small sample sizes really isn’t logical. Similar to evaluating a player’s ability versus a team from another division, there just isn’t enough data. However, it does give us a little bit of context from which to build a case.

In Conclusion

Just as you cannot judge a player based on, say 10-20 games worth of data, it is difficult to accurately state that the Blue Jays would truly be better off given this limited data. Although we can create educated projections of how a team would do, we can never truly tell how they would do in that particular situation. There’s more to baseball than just raw data which is why, as they say “…this is the reason they play the games.” There are the intangibles such as knowing an opponent and their weaknesses, field conditions, weather, etc. All of these factors can have a huge impact on any one game. While the numbers strongly suggest that the Blue Jays could perform better in the AL Central, there is only so much that can be attributed without actually playing the games. However, over a decent sample size, I am happy to name the Toronto Blue Jays the “Paper Champions of the American League Central”.

You can read more from Steve on his Blue Jays Prospects blog

Posted in: MLB