“There must be some kind of way out of here,” said the joker to the thief. There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief”. This opening to the classic rock song penned by Bob Dylan and made famous by Jimi Hendrix can be an apropos description of the baseball season as we reach roughly a quarter of the way through the season. Only the most ardent fan would have predicted the San Francisco Giants being in first place in the National League west in the middle of May. This is the point where teams really start to decide what and where they are for the year. The trade deadline is about six weeks away, but no one can realistically say it is still early. Bullpen roles are fairly well defined now, and positional battles have been ended. The super two cutoff is upon us, which means teams will begin calling up their top prospects (Hello Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert). With so much happening, let’s take a gander at the state of play around the big leagues with something good and something which may be the demise for each club.
American League West: The Oakland A’s are in first place, no surprise there. They are 4th in majors in home runs and 5th in steals. They have the power/speed combo working well. One problem may be the defense, as they are 28th in defensive runs save. This is surprising since Matt Chapman and Matt Olson are premium defenders at their positions. The Astros offense has been humming along as their batters lead the majors with 8.6 offensive WAR. The team ERA of 3.80 is outperforming their 4.10 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which means regression could be on the way. The Seattle Mariners are a weird team all of the way around. They are 27th in offensive WAR with 2.6 and 22nd in pitching WAR at 1.9. The fact they are just below .500 is the good news. They are batting .204 as a team, which is last in the majors. While I am not a major believer in batting average being an indicator of success, there has to be a basic level of being able to successfully get hits in order to produce a functional offense. The Texas Rangers are 11th in offensive WAR (4.7), and with their 23rd ranked pitchers (1.8), they will have to keep up their .301 BABIP in order to keep the bottom from falling completely out once the summer hits. Last, but not least are the Los Angeles Angels. On the good side, they are 5th in the league with a .417 SLG, so they have power. If they try to take a walk (last in majors at 6.7%), they could really have something on offense. The pitching in for the Angels hasn’t been completely terrible. Their .321 BABIP is worst in the majors, but they are 3rd in majors with 10.51 strikeouts per game. Adding to this volatile cocktail is the fact they are 27th in the majors with 4.30 walks per game. So if they can get back into the strike zone, and have a bit of BABIP regression then there is room for improvement, and a way out of the cellar.
American League Central: The White Sox are proving to be the team we thought they were, despite some of the gaffes by manager Tony LaRussa (Liam Hendricks should not be running the bases). 3rd in the majors in offensive WAR (8.1) and 4th in pitching WAR (6.1) will get it done. The only causes for concern are they lead the league with a .322 BABIP, but only have a .143 ISO, so they don’t have power to carry them if the BABIP cools off a bit. Cleveland keeps the ball in the yard as their 15.9% HR/FB ratio and 46.4% GB (groundball) rate suggests. They are in the top five in MLB for both stats. They better keep it up because their offense is a mess. They are second to last in offensive WAR (1.7), and the issues are myriad. They are second to last in batting average (.208) and OBP (.281). The team has posted a wRC+ of 83 (100 is league average). Not good. The Kansas City Royals run. They are second in the majors with 31 stolen bases. Their pitching needs some work; having exit velocities over 95 MPH on 42.4% of the batted balls, and an average exit velocity of 90.3 MPH, against their pitchers makes the 4.67 team ERA an accurate reflection of the work from the mound. Next are the Detroit Tigers. Well, they are 12th in BABIP, which is just about league average. A -0.7 offensive WAR means they would be better off with a lineup of AAA guys. The Spencer Torkleson era cannot begin soon enough in Motor City. Finally, there are the Minnesota Twins. The Twins are 5th ISO, so they still pack punch, even if the home runs haven’t come (10th). They are also the owners of the worst pitching WAR in Major League Baseball (0.6). This is down to home runs. 1.60 HR/9 and a 17.2 HR/FB ratio is going to get teams beat most of the time.
American League East: The Boston Red Sox have surprised me a bit. They are 3rd in pitching WAR (6.4) and 4th in offensive WAR (7.5). They are legitimate on both sides of the ball. Their reasons to not get too confident are the .313 BABIP will likely come down, so the .181 ISO will have to play up once it happens. The Toronto Blue Jays are 4th in home runs, 6th in steals, and 8th in runs. The young team is starting to grow into what they can be. The 3.73 ERA is outpacing the 4.11 FIP, so they are due for regression on the pitching side. They are 27th in team defense, which might cause issues in the future. The Tampa Bay Rays are doing it like they always do-with pitching. They are 7th in pitching WAR. The main ingredient there is they limit the free passes. 2.78 walks per game is tied for second best in the league. They are 6th in defensive WAR, so this is a solid foundation for future success. The .224 team batting average is concerning, because with a middling .374 SLG, the offense can dry up at any time. The New York Yankees lead the majors in pitching WAR (7.4), they lead in K/9 with 10.55 (Thank you Gerrit Cole), and they are second in FIP (3.14). Simply put, they can pitch. Now the offense is not good. 21st in offensive WAR (3.7), 27th in BABIP (.265), and 25th in average (.223) which the Yankees have to hope are related to COVID issues and other injuries. The Baltimore Orioles are 9th in pitching WAR (4.3), largely for which they can thank John Means and his 1.8 WAR. The offense is 27th with 2.6 WAR . They rank no higher than 25th in HR, RBI, Runs, Steals, or batting average. Lots to work on in Baltimore.
Lots going on in the junior circuit. I do think the Yankees will rebound; the Twins will contend, and the Angels won’t finish in last. Next up are the things in the National League.