Entering play on May 12th, the Braves stand first in the NL East with a 21-15 record. The Nationals are in second with a 20-16 record, followed by the Phillies (17-21), the Mets (14-19), and the Marlins (11-26). I am going to focus on the Braves and Nationals, because I think they are the two that will stay in the division race in September.
The first comparison that we’ll look at is the Pythagorean Win-Loss record. This is the record that comes from the amount of runs you scored (wins) to the amount of runs you have given up (losses), also known as the run differential. The Braves Pythagorean record is 21-15, while the Nationals is 17-19. This means the Nationals should be playing below .500 ball, but are the beneficiaries of luck.
Luck is the amount of wins that a team is away from their Pythagorean Win-Loss record. For an example, the Baltimore Orioles were the luckiest team in baseball last year with 11 wins more than they’re Pythagorean record indicates. Five teams were five wins less than their Pythagorean record indicated, with only the St. Louis Cardinals making the playoffs from that group. This year, the Nationals are tie with the Yankees with a luck of three extra wins, while the Braves have 0. I’d rather be lucky than good, but luck can sometimes run its course. From the math the Braves are better.
The next matter to be discussed is the strength of schedule (SOS). To calculate SOS you simply calculate the number of runs per game their opponents are better (or worse) than the average team. In lamens terms, I use baseball reference and fangraphs to find the SOS. The Braves are in a tie with five other teams with their SOS rating of zero, which is good for 14th place. The Nationals, on the other hand, have an SOS rating of .1, which is good for a tie with five other teams for 9th place. This means the Nationals have played a tougher schedule, but not by enough to make up for their record.
The Simple Rating System (SRS) is the final measure that we will view to judge the Braves and Nationals. SRS is very easy to calculate. You add the number of the run differential, which was discussed earlier, and then you add the SOS to it. The Braves SRS is 0.7 (0.7+0), while the Nationals have an SRS of -0.2 (-0.3+0.1). The Braves rank as the 5th best team with the Rockies in this measurement, while the Nationals rank in a two-way tie with Milwaukee for 18th. SRS is the system I like to use to see how good teams are. Using this system, the Braves are the cream of the crop in the NL East, as everyone else in their division is ranked under 17th.
The Braves have edged the Nationals in every category except luck, which is something everyone would like to be winning. The Braves luck has been average, while the Nationals have been one of the luckiest teams in baseball. I imagine that Nationals will play better, and their luck will go back down, but it’s important that the Braves try to capitalize on the Nationals poor play.
It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves as the Braves are struggling, but slumps and skids are no way to judge a team. The overall product can’t really be identified this early in the season. Slumps and skids can reveal a false product. Granted, numbers do not always check out, but they take into account the skids that teams fall into, something the average fan does not. It’s easy to feel disheartened by the Braves play of late, but the numbers say that they are still one of the elite teams in baseball.