AN Mailbag: The New Kids In Town

Welcome to the first installment of the Athletics Nation Mailbag! We hope that this feature will further personalize AN by allowing us to bring you the content that you want the most. If you have any burning (A's-related) questions, or if there are topics that you wish we would cover, then send your questions to:

athleticsnationmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com

From time to time, we will dip into the mailbag and post our answers. Remember, there are no stupid questions!

Today's question:

"Would you like to make money working from home? Click here to learn how an area mom made $3K a month just by copying and pasting links on Google!"

Wait, hold on, that's just junk mail. Nico, what kind of sites have you been signing up for with the AN mailbag account?!

Alright, I'm pretty sure this one is real. Our first question comes to us from David:

"What do you think the impact of having the Astros in the division (will be) on the A's and the AL West? 19 games against a struggling franchise instead of playing the Yankees, Rays, Tigers, etc."

What a fantastic question. I'll start with my knee-jerk reaction, and then go a little bit more in-depth.

First, some background. I hope that everybody reading this site already knows that the Houston Astros will leave the NL Central and join the AL West for the 2013 season. Furthermore, you hopefully know that the Astros were by far the worst team in the Majors last season, losing 107 games and getting out-scored by 211 runs by their opponents. Given those facts, it seems obvious that playing the Astros will allow the A's to post a better 2013 record than they would have otherwise. However, the other members of the AL West should receive the same benefit, so this change shouldn't affect Oakland's chances of defending their division crown.*

What it might affect, though, is their standing in a potential Wild Card picture. Thanks to unbalanced scheduling, which loads team schedules with extra games against division rivals, the Yankees and Red Sox spent a decade inflating their records with dozens of games against perennial doormats like the pre-2008 Devil Rays and the pre-2012 Orioles. The AL Central always seems to have at least two awful teams every year. Now the AL West has their own punching bag, at least for now.

So, there's my short answer. The addition of the Astros gives the AL West a better chance at scoring one of the AL Wild Card berths (or both, for that matter). Now let's move on to the fun part where I make tables and charts and take things way too seriously.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of how many games Oakland played against each opponent in 2012 and how many they will play in 2013:

Team 2012 meetings 2013 meetings
AL West (57) (76)
Angels 19 19
Mariners 19 19
Rangers 19 19
Astros 0 19
AL Central (41) (34)
Indians 10 7
Royals 9 6
Tigers 7 7
Twins 9 7
White Sox 6 7
AL East (46) (32)
Blue Jays 9 7
Orioles 9 7
Rays 9 6
Red Sox 9 6
Yankees 10 6
NL teams (18) (20)
Giants 6 4
D'Backs 3 0
Dodgers 3 0
Padres 3 0
Rockies 3 0
Brewers 0 3
Cardinals 0 3
Cubs 0 3
Pirates 0 3
Reds 0 4

In order to add 19 games against the Astros, Oakland had to give up 19 games against other teams. None of these games will come from their other AL West foes, though; Oakland's normal 19-game schedules against the Rangers, Angels, and Mariners remain unchanged.

Oakland's 2012 schedule was loaded slightly toward the AL East, but that will change in 2013. After playing that division 46 times last year, they will drop 14 of those match-ups this time around. This is an extremely fortunate turn of events, because it's difficult to find a weak team in the East this year. The Yankees and Rays should remain strong, the Orioles can't be counted out after their 2012 success, and the Blue Jays have already added two strong starting pitchers, two All-Star hitters, and two Izturis's to their roster. The Red Sox look like garbage right now, but it's only November; they have multiple All-Stars returning from injuries (Ellsbury, Ortiz, Bailey), a couple of bounce-back candidates (Lester, Buckholz), and plenty of time to flex their checkbook and turn themselves into, at least, a decent squad. Plus, they have Jonny Gomes now.

As intimidating as the AL East is, though, Oakland won or tied the season series against every single one of those teams in 2012 (28-18 overall). It is impossible to predict how they will fare against the East next year, but let's at least assume that Oakland's 8-1 record against Boston is unsustainable, and that one of the other teams will win their season series against the A's. A safe prediction might have Oakland playing .500 ball against the East in 2013.

Oakland only loses 7 games against AL Central opponents, which initially appears to be fortunate because that division figures to be weak again in 2013. However, the devil is in the details: they still play Detroit 7 times (same as last year), and they actually add a game against the White Sox. The real effect will be the loss of 8 games against the Royals, Indians, and Twins, all of whom figure to be weak again next year. In this case, the A's are trading 8 games against weak Central teams for 8 games against the weak Astros. This is kind of a wash.

Math check: We are adding 19 games against the Astros, cutting 14 from the AL East, and 7 from the AL Central. If that sentence adds up to you, then you might have a case of the Mondays. The rest of us are wondering where the other two games are coming from. The answer: Increased interleague play. And while those extra two interleague games won't be against the Astros, they will be the direct result of the Astros switching leagues.

Since each league will now have an odd number of teams, interleague match-ups will be spread out throughout the season, rather than bunched up together. I naturally assumed that this would result in a major increase in interleague match-ups, but it appears that the quantity of games against NL teams will be quite similar (20, up from 18). Normally, Oakland plays 6 games against the Giants; next year, they will only play 4. This is a bummer, because A's/Giants games are some of the most entertaining dates on the schedule. It's also a boon, because the Giants are a really good team, and I heard that they won some meaningless tournament last fall after the A's lost the World Series to Detroit. Wait, isn't that what happened? I don't know; things got really weird for me after the A's got knocked out and I'm still piecing together the facts.

After playing the NL West last year, Oakland will face the NL Central in 2013. They'll swap a doormat (Rockies) for a doormat (Cubs), a possibly-surprising team (Padres) for a possibly-surprising team (Pirates), a strong maybe-contender (D'Backs) for a strong maybe-contender (Brewers), and a legit Wild Card-contender (Dodgers) for a legit Wild Card-contender (Cardinals). On top of all of that, they will add 4 games against the Reds, who were one of the best teams in baseball last year and should be again next year. Figure that two of those Reds games replace the two eliminated Giants games, and the other two are extra additions.

The final equation is this: Oakland adds 19 games against the Astros, and 2 against the Reds, in exchange for 14 against the strong AL East and 7 against the weak-side of the AL Central. I would go a step further and say that the two leftover Reds games replace two of the lost Yankee games, which seems like a fair swap.

That leaves us with one more question: How will Oakland fare against the Astros themselves in 2013? Results against doormat teams varied last year; the A's destroyed the Indians (8-2) and swept the Rockies (3-0), but lost their season series against the Royals (4-5) and barely broke even against the Twins (5-4). The best comparison, though, would be their record against the Mariners. With the chance to rack up a decent sample size versus a weak intra-divisional foe, Oakland put up a 12-7 record against Seattle. Let's say that the A's can put up that identical season series against Houston next year. If they would have been 6-6 in their eliminated AL East games, and, say, 4-3 in their AL Central games, then they would have gone 10-9 in the games that they removed to make room for the Astros.

Keeping in mind that all of these numbers are completely made up, and this equation isn't even scientific enough to grace the back of a napkin, a 2-win swing doesn't seem that out of line. If 2 wins seems like a small change to you, consider what such a difference would have done to the 2012 standings: the A's would have finished with the best record in the AL, and they would have faced the Orioles in the ALDS rather than Detroit. Their final series against the Rangers would have been completely different. Looking forward to a theoretical 2013, 2 wins could mean the difference between home-field advantage in a Wild Card playoff, or it could mean the difference between a Wild Card and a division crown. Two wins is a big deal.

*Before we finish our discussion, there is one other change to consider. Until now, the Astros have been the geographic interleague rival of the Texas Rangers, meaning that Texas has gotten 6 games against Houston every year while Oakland has gotten 6 against the Giants. Lately, that has been a big boost for the Rangers record; in 3 of the last 4 seasons, Texas went 5-1 against Houston, and in the other year Texas went 4-2. Rather than getting 4 interleague games against their less-talented neighbors in 2013, though, they will get 4 against their new geographic rival, the D'Backs. This could easily be a one- or two-game swing the other way for the Rangers. So, when I said that the presence of the Astros won't help the A's win their division, that was not an entirely accurate statement. Thanks to the shuffling of interleague match-ups, Oakland (and Seattle and the Angels) will get a small boost in the divisional standings against the Rangers.

So, there you have it. If the general landscape doesn't change too much (which it will), and Oakland plays comparably to 2012 (which is impossible to predict), then the presence of the Astros in the AL West should give the A's at least a one-game boost against the Rangers in the AL West race, and something like a 2-win bonus in the Wild Card standings.

Or, Jose Altuve will explode into the tiniest MVP in history, Jed Lowrie will have a power surge that Boston never saw coming, and a rotation of untested rookie pitchers will shock the world and lead the Astros to a surprisingly good season. Nah, shit like that never happens in real life.

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