THT Dartboard: July 20, 2008

Dartboard
Divisional Picture


Dartboard

Welcome to The Hardball Times Dartboard, our weekly attempt to rank all the teams in baseball. The Dartboard Factor is how many wins a team would be expected to have at the end of the season if it played a neutral schedule. Next to that, you’ll find the Dartboard Factor from the previous week. An explanation of our method can be found here.

With four days off for most teams this week not much has changed since last week’s Dartboard so in lieu of delving into stats, we’ll give out some first half grades. Now, it wouldn’t make much sense to grade teams on an actual performance curve since that’s what the Dartboard does anyways. Instead, I’ll be grading against my own expectations for each club coming into the season. Oh and this isn’t going to be a Harvard curve either; expect to see some surprising grades.

#1 Boston Red Sox (Dartboard Factor = 99, 99): C+
Right off the bat we get to a perfect example of how I’m grading each team. A C+ for the best team in the majors? Well, coming into the season the Red Sox were the consensus pick as the best team in the majors and my own prediction had them as about a 96 win team. In that sense, the Red Sox have only slightly exceeded expectations hence a C+ grade.

#2 Tampa Bay Rays (Dartboard Factor = 99, 101): A
I have been a big booster of the Rays for a few years now and though I did think that 2008 would be the start of their ascension, no way did I feel that ascent would be so rapid. I thought the Rays would have been a slightly above .500 team this season and they’ve managed to blow that out of the water.

#3 Chicago White Sox (Dartboard Factor = 96, 95): A
The pitching staff has outperformed expectations wonderfully while the offense has been somewhat unlucky to date, providing a rebound possibility for the Sox should the run prevention unit regress in the second half.

#4 Chicago Cubs (Dartboard Factor = 94, 96): B+
Along with the Mets it was the Cubs that seemed to make up the class of the National League and so they don’t get that high of a grade here. However, the NL Central was supposed to be just a two-team race and instead the Cardinals have made a run for contention and the Cubs are still holding court atop.

#5 Los Angeles Angels (Dartboard Factor = 92, 90): B+
Despite some unwarranted optimism from some people on the Mariners side, the Angels were always clearly the best team in the west and so they’re not going to get an A grade for accomplishing the expected, but like the Cubs above, despite lofty expectations, they have still managed to exceed them enough to warrant a good mark.

#6 Oakland Athletics (Dartboard Factor = 90, 92): A
Written off by many, but not all, coming into the year, the A’s have managed to stay in contention throughout the first half and now the focus out west will remain on seeing what they can accomplish now that Billy Beane has not deviated from his rebuilding plan and dealt away Rich Harden, Joe Blanton and now possibly Huston Street as well.

#7 Minnesota Twins (Dartboard Factor = 88, 87): B+
With Johan Santana gone and Francisco Liriano still not fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery, it seemed like a dark season for the Twins especially with Cleveland and Detroit expected to run away with the division. Instead, they’ve managed to cobble together a good enough offense to make noise and now with Liriano possibly back into shape the Twins might be looking to add before the deadline.

#8 Milwaukee Brewers (Dartboard Factor = 88, 87): B-
The acquisition of CC Sabathia is proving to be a winner so far. Much of their overall 2008 grade is going to be based on how that trade works out for them.

#9 New York Yankees (Dartboard Factor = 88, 88): C+
Of all teams, the two New York teams are the ones with the most helium at the break as the Yankees transition of Joba Chamberlain has gone swimmingly, and needfully so with how little they got out of Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes and the rapid emergence of the Rays. They’re about where I expected them win-wise, but they’re going to have to find ways to get better in order to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in the Wildcard era.

#10 Philadelphia Phillies (Dartboard Factor = 88, 87): C+
The starting rotation has been holding the Phillies back as they hold one of the better NL defenses, offenses and bullpens. Will adding Joe Blanton be enough? They’ll have a dogfight on their hands for both the NL East and the Wildcard with the improved NL Central.

#11 St Louis Cardinals (Dartboard Factor = 87, 85): B+
The Brewers bring in Sabathia and the Cubs respond by adding Rich Harden. Meanwhile, possible Wildcard competitor Philadelphia trades for Joe Blanton and the Cardinals continue to stand pat despite one of the worst rotations in the National League. It’s going to be hard to make a deal without letting go of Colby Rasmus and in the long run it’s likely in their best interest to just hope for the best this year.

#12 Toronto Blue Jays (Dartboard Factor = 85, 85): C+
The Blue Jays have been notably unlucky on the year, though nowhere near the level of the Braves, and yet still have managed to play around to a slightly above .500 record. No thanks to the third-worst offense in the AL. It’s all been the pitching and defense.

#13 New York Mets (Dartboard Factor = 84, 83): C-
A late upward movement in their grade due to the double digit winning streak and rocking upwards in the standings. The Mets are back to about where they were expected to be, atop the NL East, but still their performance to date has been a bit of a letdown to most.

#14 Texas Rangers (Dartboard Factor = 84, 85): B
I foresaw a murderously bad pitching staff as they certainly delivered on that projection, but where I saw just an average offense, the Rangers have instead exploded with the bats. For awhile this season scrap heap pick up Milton Bradley lead the AL in OPS by a hundred points! Even correcting for the friendly confines of Arlington leaves this as one of the bigs best offenses. Boy do they have zero pitching though.

#15 Detroit Tigers (Dartboard Factor = 83, 83): D
The pitching and defense seemed suspect entering the year, but the offense was supposed to set the AL on fire. Instead it’s been merely above average while the pitching and defense deteriorated faster than expected. Combined, it’s left the Tigers far outside October play and serving as another reminder how important it is to consider both preventing and scoring runs on the path to victory.

#16 Atlanta Braves (Dartboard Factor = 81, 79): C+
Bitten by the bad luck snake so far this year, the Braves cannot buy a win in a one-run game and now they face a limiting amount of time and the pressure of Mark Teixeira‘s looming free agency and subsequent budget-blowing price tag.

#17 Baltimore Orioles (Dartboard Factor = 81, 82): B+
In the consideration at the start of the year as possibly the worst team in the AL, the Orioles have instead rode a lucky ball in play distribution and a roughly league average to a surprising record. Make no mistake of it, they’re quite a ways off and now Adam Loewen‘s pitching career is over.

#18 Los Angeles Dodgers (Dartboard Factor = 79, 77): D+
Same old story with the Dodgers, can pitch but can’t hit. I thought they would slightly above .500 this year so they’re getting docked for being under that mark and docked further for managing to do that poorly in a division so substandard.

#19 Florida Marlins (Dartboard Factor = 79, 80): B+
The loss of Miguel Cabrera was supposedly to neuter their offense and their reliance on a collection of unknowns and prospects in the pitching staff was supposed to limit their run prevention ability. Indeed the pitching has been horrid, but the subtraction of Miguel Cabrera has allowed the Marlins to improve on defense and so far they haven’t been hurt by the loss of his bat.

#20 Arizona Diamondbacks (Dartboard Factor = 78, 79): D
The Dan Haren trade seemed to lock up the thought-to-be competitive NL West for Arizona and they started the season like they meant it, but since then have fallen completely flat. There’s hope yet as they still are within grasp of the playoffs and their underlying numbers show them to be a better team than their record.

#21 Cincinnati Reds (Dartboard Factor = 75, 74): D+
There seemed to be some promising elements for the Reds, most notably a terrible back end of the division, but the Cardinals turned out to be better than expected and the Reds pitching evaporated.

#22 Cleveland Indians (Dartboard Factor = 74, 73): F
The bullpen, so often a strength in 2007, just imploded on the Indians this year and the further degeneration of Travis Hafner, a hitter who has a four-year, $60-odd million contract that hasn’t even kicked in yet, decimated the offense. Matt LaPorta may be the answer at first base, but Hafner might weigh that team down for years to come.

#23 Kansas City Royals (Dartboard Factor = 73, 74): C
Jose Guillen has so far lived up to his contract, but it’s important to not judge multi-year contracts by their first season as Gil Meche is showing.

#24 Houston Astros (Dartboard Factor = 73, 71): C-
I was pretty down on the Astros coming in and that was with counting on Roy Oswalt to be a foundation in their beleaguered rotation. Instead, it’s been Lance Berkman helping to keep the team from falling to the depths of the teams below. Meanwhile, Miguel Tejada has been exactly what many predicted; done.

#25 Pittsburgh Pirates (Dartboard Factor = 70, 71): C
Expected to be a non-factor per usual, the Pirates instead decided to win a few more games than people expected in the first half and their outfield has been terrific. But you cannot overlook the collapse of much of their ballyhooed young pitching which makes for troublesome prospects at how soon they’ll be able to climb back over .500.

#26 Colorado Rockies (Dartboard Factor = 69, 68): F
I was more enthused with the Rockies than most, thinking the young hitting core and the defense of Troy Tulowitzki would make up for a unimpressive pitching unit. Alas, none of those have come to pass.

#27 Seattle Mariners (Dartboard Factor = 67, 66): F
Injuries haven’t helped and neither has a massive dose of bad luck on the side of hitters such as Adrian Beltre, Kenji Johjima and Jeff Clement, but the Mariners front office made questionable decisions during the offseason and have paid the price.

#28 San Francisco Giants (Dartboard Factor = 67, 67): C
A mixture of worse than expected (even the most pessimistic prognosticators of Zito didn’t predict this to happen) and better than expected (Lincecum, Lewis, etc) have the Giants sitting just about as expected.

#29 San Diego Padres (Dartboard Factor = 63, 65): D
Preseason predictions for the Padres ranged anywhere from first to fourth in the seemingly polar NL West (which has turned true for the wrong reasons). Personally, I was deeply concerned with where their offense was going to come from and so I had them fourth in the NL West and coupled with some bad luck (their BaseRuns record suggests they’ve played like a low 70s win team), I’m not marking them down worse than a D.

#30 Washington Nationals (Dartboard Factor = 59, 60): C-
There was little hope for the Nationals coming into the season, but they weren’t expected to be this bad. Granted, most of their beyond expected struggles have been the result of a multitude of injuries.


Divisional Picture

The playoff picture takes the above ranking and reforms the teams back into their leagues and divisions including the wild card. This is in no ways a prediction, this is an assessment of how teams have played so far this season, not how each team is going to play.

AL EAST
Red Sox – 99
Rays – 99
Yankees – 88
Blue Jays – 85
Orioles – 81

AL CENTRAL
White Sox – 96
Twins – 88
Tigers – 83
Indians – 74
Royals – 73

AL WEST
Angels – 92
Athletics – 90
Rangers – 84
Mariners – 67

AL WILD CARD
Rays – 99
Athletics – 90
Twins – 88
Yankees – 88
Blue Jays – 85

NL EAST
Phillies – 88
Mets – 84
Braves – 81
Marlins – 79
Nationals – 59

NL CENTRAL
Cubs – 94
Brewers – 88
Cardinals – 87
Reds – 75
Astros – 73
Pirates – 70

NL WEST
Dodgers – 79
Diamondbacks – 78
Rockies – 69
Giants – 67
Padres – 63

NL WILD CARD
Brewers – 88
Cardinals – 87
Mets – 84
Braves – 81
Marlins – 79

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