The Key To The AL West?

In the simplest of terms, there’s only one way to win a division. You have to win more games than the other teams. There are, however, many ways to go about doing that. It has been said by many that the Rangers won the AL West in 2010 by piling up wins in interleague play, and in 2011 by dominating the head to head match ups against division opponents. What I’d like to do is examine what merit those statements have, and what bearing those two portions of the schedule may have on the outcome of the AL West standings for 2012.
First, we’ll look at 2010. The Rangers went 14-4 against the senior circuit and won the division by 9 games over the Oakland A’s. Oakland, that year, went 8-10 during interleague play. Since the Angels were only one game back of Oakland for third place, I’ll include their interleague record as well, which was 11-7. What is interesting is that all three teams did well within the AL West in 2010. Each team played 57 intradivision games and, of those, Texas won 32, Oakland won 30, and Anaheim won 35.With such similar results within the division, a good argument can be made that the differentiator for Texas that year was their domination of the National League (at least during the regular season). However, it can also be said that interleague play is such a short portion of the schedule that it is relatively insignificant. After all, aren’t we all warned about putting too much stock into stats with a small sample size? Clearly, going 14-4 against the National League didn’t hurt the end result, but it may be a stretch to say it was the key to winning the division.

Let’s move on to 2011. The Rangers took the division by 10 games over the hated Angels. The supposed key to the Rangers winning the West that season was their stellar record against division foes. Texas was 40-17 against their AL West stable mates. That’s quite salty indeed. What makes it even more impressive is that no other team in the division won more than 27 intradivision games. The Rangers weren’t just 23 games over .500 in the division, they were 13 games over their closest competition. This is a larger sample size, and is more representative of the full season of play. I would feel absolutely comfortable with saying that the Rangers’ dominance of the AL West is what won them the division in 2011. For the sake of consistency, Texas was an even 9-9 in interleague play. Anaheim was 13-5, and Oakland (if anybody cares) matched their 2010 record by going 8-10.

The Rangers clearly had a handle on interleague play in 2010, but were merely .500 in 2011. The Angels had a great interleague record in 2011, but were bad against their own division. While it’s great to win games against the National League, it won’t win you a division all on its own. I believe that a combination of interleague wins and intradivision wins is a better indicator of a good team than either stat alone.

The MLB schedule, at least for the AL West, includes 75 games against either National League teams or teams within the division. That’s only 7 games short of half a season. In 2010, Texas won a total of 90 games. 46 of those wins came from the two categories we’re talking about today. That’s more than half of their season total of wins coming from interleague and intradivision play, which constitute less than half of the games played. Second place Oakland won only 38 of the games considered. The fact that Anaheim also won 46 of those match ups and finished third in the division is an indicator that my science (or attempt thereof) is inexact.

In 2011, Texas was even better when combining the categories. The Rangers won 49 of those 75 games, while the Angels won only 40. Considering that Texas won the division by 10 games, the difference is quite telling.

So how does all this play into the 2012 season? The Rangers just finished interleague play and matched their excellent 2010 record by going 14-4 against their NL West opponents. Unfortunately, the Angels fared well, too. They went 12-6. So far against the West, the Rangers are 10-12, while Anaheim is 12-10. Fortunately, the Rangers still have 35 games left against AL West teams, and a 5 game lead in the division. If form of the last two years is to hold, Texas needs to improve their winning percentage in the division. To match even their 2010 record, they’ll need to win 22 of those 35 games.

Fortunately, as I said earlier, there are many ways to go about winning a division. Even if interleague play and beating up on the West don’t get the Rangers there, maybe their 16-5 start to the season will.

Chris Kautz is a Senior Staff Writer for ShutDowninning. He can be reached at Chris.Kautz@ShutDowninning.com or on Twitter @SDIChris.
Chris Kautz

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