This September is proving to be a bit of a dud, isn’t it? The National League Central is fun to watch, if you enjoy watching .500 teams trying to not lose a division title. The wild card, while always fun, always seems secondary to the main action. And there’s no drama in the American League at all. September isn’t living up to its hype this year.
So I started wondering, what was the most important month of the year? Was there a month that was more critical than the others?
The answer is May. Consider these teams:
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox put away the AL East title in May. In fact, their May record was the single best record of any team in any month (20-8/.714 winning percentage). Following on the heels of an impressive April (16-8/.667, tied for the fourth-best month), the Red Sox had a 36-16 record at the end of the month, and a 10-game lead over the Orioles. Yes, the Orioles were in second at the end of May.
You knew that the Red Sox got off to an impressive start, but really—their April and May were two of the five best months of any major league team this year. Yet there were other teams that found their stride in May.
New York Mets
The Mets in May had the third-best mark in the majors of any team in any month: 19-9/.679. They didn’t have as commanding a lead as the Red Sox, because the Braves were 30-23 at the end of May, but they still had a 4.5 game lead. What’s more, their May was the single best fielding month of the year.
If you use Defense Efficiency Ratio to measure fielding (simply put, the percentage of balls in the park caught by fielders), then the Mets in May used their gloves far better than any team in any other month. Their May DER was .754, twenty points higher than the second-best mark: the White Sox in April (.734).
San Diego Padres
It’s not yet clear if the Padres will make the postseason, though they currently lead the wild card race. But they would be out of the hunt without their 18-9/.667 record in May. The Pads were led by a remarkable 2.17 ERA in May. Unlike the Mets, who have relied on their fielders heavily this year, the Padres are all about the arms. Their May FIP mark of 2.94 was the lowest monthly mark in the majors all year, and their 3.52 FIP in April was the fourth-lowest.
On the other hand, there were a couple of teams that lost their stride in May.
Take away their May record, and the Reds are a .500 team—that’s pennant contention in the NL Central. But their 9-21/.300 mark in May doomed them to the bottom half of the division. In fact, the Reds lost more games in May than any other team in any other month. I can’t really add any commentary, because Justin’s month in review says it all.
The Rangers were 9-20/.310 in May. After a 10-15 April, that pretty much did them in.
Other months of note
Actually, the Reds and Rangers didn’t have the worst months of the year. The Devil Rays did, with a 9-20/.259 record in July. Fielding was Tampa’s biggest weakness all year, and July was no exception. Their .642 DER in July was the third-worst monthly fielding performances of the year. The second-worst was the Devil Rays in June, .640. In June and July, Tampa Bay put together two of the worst fielding months you can imagine.
The worst monthly DER performance belongs to the Brewers in August. In fact, you can argue that the primary reason for the Brewers’ fall in August (9-18/.333) was their inability to catch the ball.
Here are the Brewers’ monthly DER figures, from April through August:
One of these things is not like the others.
Now, DER isn’t always all about fielding. For instance, the Brewers’ pitching staff also allowed slightly more line drives in August than any other month. But the Brewers’ Revised Zone Rating in August was the worst in the majors (.777). In contrast, the Royals’ August RZR led the majors at .856, a difference of over forty plays made. Those plays would have helped the Brewers’ playoff chances considerably.
Moving on, in two separate months of the year, a team actually posted an OBP below .300. That’s bad for an individual player; atrocious for a team. And it was the same team that did it twice: the Pittsburgh Pirates in July (.293) and April (.295). Amazingly, the Pirates posted a .359 OBP in August, one of the key reasons it has been their only winning month of the year (17-13/.567) so far.
The offense in Philadelphia and New York (American League version) sizzled in the month of July. The two top monthly OBP figures in the majors this year were the Yankees (.389) and the Phillies (.386). In fact, Philadelphia’s slugging percentage in July was also the highest monthly figure of the year (.527), and the Yankees’ SLG of .524 was third.
So you can see why the Yankees scored a whopping 7.2 runs per game in July, the highest monthly figure in the majors. The July Phillies had the third highest monthly mark: 6.4. The other high-octane offensive month that should be mentioned was Detroit’s June, when they scored 6.7 runs per game with a .373 OBP and .477 slugging percentage. The Detroit bats weren’t so bad in May, either, when they averaged 6.1 runs a game with a .361 OBP and .527 SLG (just behind the Phillies’ July mark for the highwater SLG of the year).
That’s what some of the monthly trends tell us. And since this was so much fun, I thought I’d look at one other split.
I wondered: which teams have picked up the most from each lineup position? Have there been awesome leadoff men, powerful cleanup hitters, cool contributors from the eight spot? To get a handle on it, I first calculated the average number of runs created per lineup position in the majors. Then, I compared each team’s performance in each position relative to the major league average. In other words, I compared each team’s leadoff hitter to all leadoff hitters, No. 2 hitters to all No. 2 hitters, etc. I then ranked them by difference.
And here’s the list of which specific lineup positions contributed the most relative Runs Created to their team (I didn’t look at the ninth lineup position):
Team Pos RC RC vs. Avg Most frequent batter NYY 4 153 55 A-Rod FLA 1 129 39 Hanley Ramirez BOS 3 138 37 David Ortiz DET 4 135 37 Magglio Ordonez DET 1 124 35 Curtis Granderson PHI 7 104 32 Abraham Nunez ATL 2 118 31 Edgar Renteria ATL 3 131 31 Chipper Jones PHI 1 118 28 Jimmy Rollins NYY 7 97 25 Robinson Cano
It turns out this is a fluke. Nunez, who is batting .239 overall, has batted .292 in the seven spot. The player with the second-most at-bats in the seven spot, Wes Helms, has batted .287 there. And the batter with the third-most at-bats in the Phillies’ seven spot, Jayson Werth, has batted .388 while batting there! In fact, just about every player who has batted seventh for the Phillies has been tremendous there: Greg Dobbs: .325. Aaron Rowand: .370. Carlos Ruiz: .304. Nunez actually has a worse batting average than most of the players who have batted seventh for the Phils!
All I know is that if I played for the Phillies, I’d be begging to bat seventh.
How about the lowest contributing lineup positions? Glad you asked.
Team Pos RC RC vs. Avg Most frequent batter STL 4 69 -30 Edmonds/Encarnacion CHW 1 62 -27 Jerry Owens SFG 2 60 -27 Omar Vizquel WSN 1 64 -26 Felipe Lopez SDP 3 75 -26 Adrian Gonzalez STL 1 65 -25 David Eckstein TOR 4 74 -25 Frank Thomas/Glaus TOR 3 76 -25 Vernon Wells/Rios KCR 4 76 -23 Mike Sweeney CHW 2 65 -22 Iguchi/Fields
Wow. The heart of the Blue Jay order, as well as the top of the White Sox order, have been pretty bad this year. You probably have your own invective-filled commentary, depending on which team you follow.
References & Resources
The lineup splits were courtesy of the greatest website on the Internets, Baseball Reference. The monthly team totals were compiled from our stats provider, Baseball Info Solutions.