AL East division update: June edition

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Boston Red Sox

Standings
The Sox are first (42-29), on the strength of the league’s best offense per Fangraphs’ WAR. Sporting almost identical home (21-14) and road (21-15) records, they are a game and a half above Baltimore, having scored 73 more runs than they have given up,
Most valuable player
Clay Buchholz looks as shiny as Cy Young in June. After doubts about the sustainability of his April dominance, he’s posted, in June, his best strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.00 even) and is generating ground balls (52.9 percent groundball rate) and weak contact (22.2 percent infield fly ball rate) aplenty. Spitball rumors aside, Buchholz looks like a top 10 pitcher this calendar year.
Least valuable player
To call Will Middlebrooks’ sophomore season anything short of a disaster would be kind. After 75 thoroughly impressive games last season that left a resume littered with red flags (0.19 walk to strikeout rate) and pop-outs (15 homers in less than half-a-season’s worth of at-bats), Middlebrooks has tumbled, becoming an offensive and defensive liability. He’s been slower (his speed rating has dropped), less patient at the dish (a terrible 0.14 walk to strikeout rate), and worse in the field (he’s been more than four fielding runs below average, per UZR). At this writing, Middlebrooks is the only Boston everydayer who has clocked in below the Mendoza Line and Replacement Level Lines both.
Deadline necessity
The Sox have a deluge of capable bullpen arms, even after Joel Hanrahan’s fall to a torn flexor tendon, and could swing one of the redundant, talented Japanese righties in their pen—Koji Uehera or Junichi Tazawa—or even a low-level prospect for a lefty-masher to have on the bench. The Sox hitters are only .248/.326/.390 against left-handed pitching this year, and that with some minor good fortune on the fall of the ball (.311 batting average on balls in play).
Playoff odds
Per ESPN, 81.2 percent; per Baseball Prospectus, 77.4 percent.
Sustainability (10 scale)
Eight. Though there’s still a half a season of baseball left, the Sox have no glaring holes, a properly stocked farm system (in Triple-A alone, there lies starting pitching in Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster; catching in the major-league christened Ryan Lavarnway; explosive talent up the middle of the field in the recently-promoted Xander Bogaerts; and a future lefty-killer in Jackie Bradley Jr.), and the advantage of middling juggernauts like the Los Angeles Angels and, to a lesser extent, the Toronto Blue Jays. Look for the Sox to make the playoffs cleanly.

Baltimore Orioles

Standings
The O’s are second (40-30), thanks in part to an offense that leads the league in home runs (92) and slugging percentage (.453).
Most Valuable Player
Just three years ago, Chris Davis was spending half of another season with the Texas Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate, the Round Rock Express. Today, Davis has transformed himself into a patient masher with similar plate discipline to Carlos Gonzalez and Paul Goldschmidt: four true outcomes—a lot of walks, a lot of strikeouts, a lot of line drives, and a lot of bullet home runs. Davis leads the league in home runs (23) and isolated power (.363), among other categories, and has anchored a surprising offensive force in Baltimore.
Least valuable player
The grand honor is a toss-up between Nolan Reimold, he of 113 wasteful plate appearances and Freddy Garcia, who has allowed an absurd 15 home runs in just nine starts. Let’s focus on Garcia as a way to segue into the Orioles’ desperate need for starting pitching at the deadline; after all, he still has a rotation spot, this despite his best efforts. He, kid you not, has received considerable good fortune from the powers that be: he has a .232 BABIP (50 points below his career average) and he’s stranding far too many men on base (his 82.5 percent left-on-base rate should look closer to 70). Oh… this all while his strikeout rate has reached new lows.
Deadline necessity
How better to illustrate the glaring necessity than through Freddy Garcia? The Orioles have tried patch-ups and preemptive call-ups (Kevin Gausman, power-prospect, had no business making five starts at his development level), and must be longing for a clean bill of health from wunderkind pitcher Dylan Bundy, who has suffered from elbow issues this year. The O’s staff is, by most measurements, near the bottom of the bottom third in all of baseball; they could use a Yovani Gallardo, a Ricky Nolasco, a Bud Norris and a Matt Garza, all.
Playoff odds
Per ESPN, 43.8 percent; per Baseball Prospectus, 40.1 percent.
Sustainability
Four. Unless they stitch their starting rotation in a real manner, the Orioles might be in trouble. Count me among those who believe Chris Davis’ batting average will end up closer to .280 than .340. Count me among those who believe Manny Machado will look like a league-average offensive third baseman the rest of the way. And count me among those who would be ultra-worried—if I had any allegiance to the O’s—about the fact that not a single Orioles starter—save Gausman, ironically—has an xFIP below 4.00.

New York Yankees

Standings
The Yankees are third (38-31), and are the first of the three teams we have studied with stronger pitching than hitting. The Yankees have a noteworthy discrepancy between home and away performance so far: their record at home (19-13) is much shinier than their road record (19-18).
Most valuable player
The easiest prize to give belongs, unquestionably, to Robinson Cano. Sure, Brett Gardner matches his hits total and surpasses him in fielding metrics, batting average, on-base percentage, runs scored, and stolen bases. Forget about all of that: Gardner has batted with Cano behind him more than half the time, the ultimate form of protection. But Cano—with volatile Vernon Wells, the up-and-down Kevin Youkilis, and the free-swinging Travis Hafner on his back—has been a force, even as his batting average has tumbled. Take his June, for example: even as his balls fail to fall (.227 BABIP and a .222 batting average), he’s remained a league average batsman, thanks to his skyrocketed patience (1.13 walks per every strikeout in June, compared to a 0.45 mark in May).
Least valuable player
Call me bitter, but Mark Teixeira has been the biggest parasite to the Yankees over the past month, which, incidentally, has been the worst stretch of the season for the Bombers. Since he’s returned from a nagging wrist injury (that he just re-aggravated, begging the question: did he come back too soon?), the team has gone 8-8. The offensive output is dismal: there are only four games in all of June in which the Yankees have scored more four or more runs. And in that span, Tex has had more than 50 mostly empty at-bats (.151/.270/.340) in the heart of the Yankees order.
Deadline necessity
With Curtis Granderson (who will take Vernon Wells’ spot) and Derek Jeter (who will render David Adams useless) on the mend (but still on the horizon), the Yankees have a few necessary offensive reinforcements on the way. The Yankees sport a dismal .240 team batting average at this writing, and have holes all over the field: they could use offense in the left side of their infield (Adams and Jayson Nix have a combined three home runs and 65 hits in 71 combined games), in the outfield (to spell the offensively challenged Ichiro Suzuki every once in a blue moon), and in the DH hole (preferably a lefty-killer who can share time with Hafner, which would also bolster the bench).
Playoff odds
Per ESPN, 32.9 percent; per Baseball Prospectus, 62.4 percent.
Sustainability
Six. June has been a slightly tumultuous time to be a Yankees fan, but this tumble is during the peak of storm of injuries—the offense should see a big lift with the impending return of Granderson and Jeter soon after the All-Star break. The shine has worn off the offensive stopgaps like Wells, Youkilis and Lyle Overbay, and the Yankees needn’t wait until the July 31 deadline to make a splash in the market. In a year of survival, the Yankees are on the verge of thriving.

Tampa Bay Rays

Standings
The Rays are more talented than their record (36-33) and fourth-place standing might indicate. Based on how many runs they should have scored and projected winning percentage, respectively, the Rays are—according to Baseball Prospectus —closer to a 38 or 39 win team at this juncture.
Most valuable player
Evan Longoria is showing what he can do with a clean bill of health: riding the wave of a fortunate BABIP, Longoria is besting his career highs in slugging percentage (.552, better than his .531 mark his rookie year), weighted on-base percentage (.390, better than last year’s .378), and batting average (.306, better than his .294 total in 2010). After missing 29 and 88 games the previous two seasons, respectively, he’s been a steady boon in the middle of the Rays’ batting order, not missing a single game. Icing on the cake, in summary: 3.8 fWAR is more than double the next-best total on the team, which belongs to the surprise story of the century, James Loney.
Least valuable player
Yes, closers are often some combination of overrated, misused, abused or overhyped. But Fernando Rodney, slotted in the ninth inning all year, has a win probability added of -1.53; by most metrics, Rodney has hurt the Rays more than he’s helped them, and seems to be holding his post simply because of superior work in 2012. Most were surprised when Rodney—fresh from a disastrous 39-game stint with the Angels, in which he walked 28 and only struck out 26—posted a 76:15 strikeout to walk ratio last year while tallying 48 saves. Hell: he got Cy Young votes. But the past is a grotesque animal: he’s a mere 14-for-19 this year on save chances, has reverted to his wild ways with the walk, and has sunk below the replacement level. It’s time for a change.
Deadline necessity
The fearsome threesome that was supposed to be Matt Moore and David Price and Jeremy Hellickson has been subpar, bad, and worse. Alex Cobb, breakout pitcher of 2013 (3.00 xFIP, clean!) just got smoked with an liner to the head, and will undoubtedly miss some time and the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona is a fifth starter in name, practice and dreaming. The Rays need pitching, and not in the form of Chris Archer (top pitcher at Triple-A, who nonetheless cannot manage a sub-4.00 FIP this year on the farm), if they want to sneak into the playoffs as a Wild Card team again.
Playoff odds
Per ESPN, 41.1 percent; per Baseball Prospectus, 35.0 percent.
Sustainability
Five. The Rays are riding on the coattails of Longoria and a few unsustainable hitters otherwise (i.e., Loney), though their offense is third in the league in fWAR despite a .290 BABIP and a .258 batting average. Wil Myers should help keep the offense afloat as some come back down to Earth; but without a deadline shakeup, the pitching seems destined to sink this ship.

Toronto Blue Jays

Standings
Eight and two in their last 10 games, the Blue Jays have climbed all the way up to 32-36, still last in the AL East, and still outscored (by 15 runs overall). The bad news: The Jays are, by Baseball Prospectus metrics, as subpar as they seem so far, scoring as many runs as would have been expected (if not more). None of their three algorithms have the Blue Jays as a .500 team or better so far.
Most valuable player
This iteration of Jose Bautista has been closer to last season (roughly 40 percent better than league average on offense) than the year before (roughly 82 percent better than league average, both per wRC+), but he is undoubtedly the Blue Jays’ best player in 2013. His line is mostly built on the strength of an otherworldly May, where he reached 57 times in 130 plate appearances. Colby Rasmus looks rejuvenated, too, and is a close second in this voting.
Least valuable player
The easy answer is R.A. Dickey, if expectations (another Cy Young season) versus reality (half a win above the replacement level) is the main criterion considered. The real answer is Brandon Morrow, who owns an awful trio of ratios (5.63/5.43/4.56), an awfully ineffective fastball (nine runs below average on his four-seamer, per Fangraphs’ PITCHf/x), and a still-dwindling strikeout rate (at sub-seven strikeouts per nine, he’s inching farther away from his double digit readings in 2010 and 2011).
Deadline necessity
N/A. With such playoff odds, the Blue Jays should call this season the bust it is. They should rest the broken and battered (Dickey included), shop the overpaid (Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, and maybe Melky Cabrera, too, if anyone wants him), and give a few youngsters a taste of time in the big leagues.
Playoff odds
Per ESPN, 12.1 percent; per Baseball Prospectus, 5.0 percent.
Sustainability
Nine. The glitter was not gold: they have an offense too reliant on the home run (fourth in baseball in homers; 17th in total offensive fWAR), an enigmatic pitching staff and an injury-plagued roster up and down. I don’t foresee a turnaround from the doldrums of spring.

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Comments

  1. Nick Fleder said...

    Yankee fan, actually. Machado has a .367 BABIP and regularly posted sub-.300 BABIPs in the minors (and in his time last year). Machado will continue to wreck on defense… but he’s not a .300 hitter. And can you please tell me where Boston is weak? Stud pitching, depth at Triple-A, and at least three offensive stars at any point.

  2. Shawn said...

    Then how do you explain that a team with no glaring weaknesses has a 2-5 record against the O’s?

  3. Braves Fan said...

    Don’t count out the Jays just yet. Reyes will be back soon and should provide a nice boost. Edwin Encarnacion is absolutely locked in and deserves to be an All-Star.

  4. Bill on da Shore said...

    “Count me among those who believe Manny Machado will look like a league-average offensive third baseman the rest of the way.”

    OK, justify that statement. A league-average 3B would be Trevor Plouffe, slashing .264/.344/.457/.801 with 1.0 WAR. Trevor’s 14th among 27 3B with at least 150 ABs this year (thanks ESPN for easily sortable stats). Does the writer really think Manny is going to regress to that going forward? What possibly would be the justification for such a prediction? He doesn’t like Manny’s ears?

  5. everdiso said...

    Boston’s offense is dependant on an unsustainable league leading .321 team babip (Iglesias .507, Carp .400, Salty .387, Napoli .385, Pedroia .355, Nava .320, Ellsbury .319) that will most certainly decline drastically the rest of the season.

    The dream rebound season that their SP have given them is not quite as unsustainable as the offense, but is still likely to decline over the rest of the season. Buchholz and Lackey in particular will likely regress, while there’s no reason to think that the sox will get any more out of lester/dempster/doubront than they already have.

    And I’m not sure where the writer sees this plethora of relievers that the red sox should be trading from.

    Breslow 2.73fip
    Tazawa 2.80
    Uehara 2.81
    Miller 3.14
    Bailey 3.95
    Mortensen 4.84
    Morales 6.06

    with Wilson (2.87fip) and Aceves (6.81) as the only real deth options after the top 7. That’s OK at best, and the Red Sox shouldn’t even be thinking of moving any of their good relief arms.

    This Red Sox start is about as unsustainable a start as any team in baseball.

    Is this writer from Boston by any chance?

  6. everdiso said...

    STANDINGS in APRIL

    1. BOS 18-8, .692, +38,—-
    2. NYY 16-10, .615, +10, 2.0
    3. BAL 16-11, .593, +26, 2.5
    4. TBL 12-14, .462, +0, 6.0
    5. TOR 10-17, .370, -33, 8.5

    STANDINGS SINCE APRIL

    1. TOR 24-19, .558, +25—-
    2. BAL 25-20, .556, -11,—-
    3. BOS 26-21, .553, +41,—-
    2. TBL 24-21, .533, +8, 1.0
    5. NYY 22-21, .512, -6, 2.5

    You sure you’re going to give up on the Jays already, thanks to one unbelievable underachiving bad month?

    They currently sit 4.5 games back of a playoff spot with 92 games left, btw.

    And that’s with a roster that would improve drastically just by having its players all return to career average performance the rest of the way.

  7. starkweather said...

    Machado has a .367 BABIP and regularly posted sub-.300 BABIPs in the minors (and in his time last year).

    This is slightly flawed, though. Machado was pressed in the minors to move up as quickly as possible. He got moved up pretty much as soon as he adjusted to each level. His prospect status was always based on a whole lot of projection, most of which had him as a .300 hitter with 20hr+ power (at SS, though)

  8. Eric said...

    Adam Lind has been the Jays best hitter, not Bautista. And then it is probably Edwin Encarnacion. Colby Rasmus is not in that conversation yet.

    Also, your least valuable player section for most teams is actually a ‘most disappointing player so far’ section. RA Dickey has been bad but not the worst Blue Jay. He has probably been the worst given expectations but I would say that others have been worse.

    Don’t think you did much homework here.

  9. JR Steve said...

    Again the potential failure of metrics to predict the future. Injuries/ sub performances to/by Reyes, Johnson,Happ,Cabrera,Lawrie, Beuhrle,Dickey make it virtually impossible to project anything for the Jays.Only with a roster free from major disrupting influences like the Bosox or Orioles can metrics have any validity.

  10. Gil said...

    I agree with the other comments that singling out Bautista and Rasmus as the two best Jays players so far is a little odd, especially Rasmus as a “close” second. The author specifically cited wRC+, so here’s how they rank in that:

    Lind: 161
    Encarnacion: 140
    Bautista: 129
    Rasmus: 116

    I’m guessing positional considerations must play a big role?

    Dickey is disappointing, sure, but plenty of guys are sucking it far worse. Izturis, Bonifacio, Arencibia—and don’t forget the train wreck that is Ricky Romero. He was supposed to be in the rotation, remember.

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