American League Central Playing Like the Best Division in Baseball


May 1, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder (28) tosses his bat after drawing a walk in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

We usually don’t have much to be proud of here in the American League Central division,* but, in the early part of this season, the AL Central has performed as well as (or better than) any other division in the game.

*As a Detroit Tigers fan I’m speaking loosely here. We can obviously be proud or our Tigers and the rest of the division can be proud of Detroit, but for us as one united group, things have been pretty down for a number of years now.

This isn’t a super-scientific study, and I’m not sure how much emphasis we want to place on this going forward (probably none), but the AL Central is rating well in a myriad of ways (not really a myriad though, more like three).

The first is the simplest: winning percentage. AL Central teams have combined for a .532 percentage – 86 win pace for a team – which edges out the AL East for the top spot (.529) in Major League Baseball. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “well, the AL East plays a tougher schedule”. And you know what? You’re right. According to Baseball Reference, the AL East has played the toughest schedule so far this year (but the AL Central is second). But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the AL East is (or is playing like) the better division right now.

According to Pythagorean Record, the AL Central is the best division by a wider margin. According to this run differential method, the AL Central is the top division with a .546 percentage (88 win pace in 162 games). Second is the NL Central at .523, and third is the AL East at .516. In fact, the AL Central is the division in baseball that is most underperforming their pythagorean expectation – they’ve lost two more games than the pythag record predicts. So one might say that they have both (a) the best divisional record in baseball and (b) been the most unlucky division in baseball.

Neither the true win-loss record nor pythagorean win-loss record takes into account schedule strength, however. For that, we have to (or choose to) turn to Baseball Reference’s Simple Rating System. As you might gather from it’s name, the SRS isn’t meant as an exact indicator, but it doest factor in strength of schedule, and it is probably good enough to give us a general idea of relative team performance quality. According to SRS, the average AL Central team is 0.62 runs better than the average MLB team. The AL East is seond at 0.54 runs above average.

The Tigers are the highest rated team in all of baseball according to SRS at 1.5 runs per game above average, but it’s not like it’s a one-team show that’s pulling up the rest of the division. Three AL Central teams (Detroit, Kansas City, and Chicago) exist in the top ten (the only division that can claim that), and all five are rated in the top 18 (the only division that can claim that as well).

We’re only about a month into the year so these things will certainly change as we move forward, but early indications give us hope that the AL Central’s reign as basball’s doormat may be coming to an end.