You hear it from time to time here on Camden Chat as well as various other outlets: the Orioles are victims of their division. If only they could spend some time in AL Central they'd be contenders. If not contenders, they'd at least be able to tally enough wins to avoid being an embarrassment. It actually just came up a few days ago in one of our daily open threads. I don't think anyone says it as an excuse for the team the Orioles have been for the past decade-plus. Rather it's a way to vent frustration at the idea that it'll be tougher to build a contender in the AL East than anywhere else in the league. That may be the case, but WOULD the Orioles be competitive in the AL Central? Would they have any more success? There's no way to accurately determine exactly how they'd do in the AL Central; there are just too many variables. But there are few ways to get a ballpark idea.
The simplest way to make a comparison seems to be taking the winning percentage the Orioles had against each division and swapping the number of games played between the AL East and Central. I know the teams and number of games played in the AL West and interleague would also be modified slightly, but this is just for fun, and while math_geek might disagree, too much math just takes the fun out of things. And before the sample size police come after me, I also know that just 37 games against a division doesn't necessarily indicate how they'd do in almost twice as many games.
Anyway, if the Orioles were in the AL Central in 2009, it'd look like this:
|Division - Winning %
|2009 AL East Orioles
|Bizarro AL Central O's
|vs. AL East - .333
|vs. AL Central - .459
|vs. AL West - .342
|vs. Interleague - .611
Hm. Well that's not very encouraging. Here are the Orioles hypothetical records with the same formula applied to the Orioles in each year from 2001-2008 (2001 is the first year of unbalanced scheduling).
|Actual O's record
|Bizarro AL Central O's record
Yep, still pretty embarrassing. Just a 25 game difference over 9 years. And that doesn't even factor into this fantasyland that one of the AL Central teams would probably have to go over the AL East. Otherwise there would be a 6 team AL Central and a 4 team AL East. So if in this exercise you swap the two worst teams and send the Royals over to the AL East (sorry, KC!), you'd have to take out their portion of the overall AL Central record. I won't redo the math, but from 2001-2009 the Orioles are 65-46 (.708) against KC. Yikes.
Another common complaint, and one that I agree with whole heartedly, is the unbalanced schedule. It makes no sense to me. I don't even get the argument for it. Well, I don't know what the argument for it is but if I heard it I'm sure I wouldn't get it. The baseball season is 162 games long, there is plenty of time to play each team an equal amount. It's not football where there are only 16 games. I'm of course under no delusion that a balanced schedule would have put the Orioles in the playoffs or anything, but still. I personally think the MLB is so desperate to pimp the Red Sox vs the Yankees that it's the entire reason for going unbalanced.
(by the way, if you're interested in the guts of the math, here's my worksheet, including what a balanced schedule might look like)
I don't think anyone would argue that it's easier to compete in the AL Central than the AL East, but the Orioles can't use that as any sort of excuse because they are just straight up awful. I think the team with the most legitimate complaint regarding the division in this decade is the Toronto Blue Jays. In the past 10 years the Blue Jays have won at least 80 games 7 times and have only finished above third place once. I'm willing to bet this sort of exercise with that team would show very different results as they've had teams with talent in the recent past. The O's have no such excuse.