AL East starts season atop power rankings

The American League East, after a fairly quiet offseason, remains ahead of the field using the formula to rate baseball’s six divisions that the ESPN Stats & Information Group rolled out in 2011.

The formula accounts for four different variables that measure team and divisional strength: ESPN.com power rankings, non-divisional win percentage, strength of schedule and individual player rankings.

Each team is given a score from 4 to 120, based on those four variables (1-30 for each variable), and the total score is averaged by the number of teams in each division.

2011 Final Divisional Rankings

Based upon these ratings, the American League East was the strongest division at the end of the 2011 regular season with an average of 83.2 points. The National League East was second, nearly 15 points behind the AL East.

For much of 2011, both East divisions battled for the top spot in the rankings, but the American League East took a commanding lead in August and never was overtaken. The Florida Marlins, New York Mets and Washington Nationals combined to go 24-37 in non-divisional games last August. Even with the collapse of the Boston Red Sox in September, the NL East could not recover from a weak August.

Looking ahead to 2012, the American League West and Central divisions have gained ground on the top divisions -- thanks in large part to the additions of Albert Pujols (Los Angeles Angels) and Prince Fielder (Detroit Tigers). Both the AL West and Central divisions benefited from their arrivals -- both divisions have jumped 1.8 points since last season.

The AL East still remains far ahead of the other divisions after a fairly quiet offseason. Three of the top six and four of the top 12 teams in the ESPN.com preseason power rankings reside in the AL East, validating the strength of the division.

Even with the reigning World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, the National League Central is ranked as the weakest division heading into 2012. The division lost Pujols and Fielder, two of last season's top 12 hitters, according to ESPN’s Player Rater.

Expect the next edition of the divisional rankings to look drastically different, as many teams open the season against non-divisional opponents. Highlighted by Wednesday night’s matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins (ESPN, 7 ET), the first week of the season is filled with divisional and inter-divisional matchups of power teams sure to alter future rankings.

2012 Preseason MLB Divisional Rankings