Friday, July 12th, 2002
At the halfway point, I figured it was high time to take a refresher course
through the leagues. In this article, I review each leagues' teams that are
leading their division, within five games of its divisional leader, or within
six games of the league's wild card.
In the American League (alphabetically) that is Anaheim,
Boston, Minnesota, New York, Oakland, and
Seattle. In the National League, that is Arizona, Atlanta,
Cincinnati, Florida, Los Angeles, Montreal, St.
Louis, and San Francisco. Of note: this group is only one team
shy of having half of all teams and six of the fourteen could be describe
as "small-market" or "low-revenue" teams; so much for a lack of competitive
I came to these conclusions for these reviews from looking at team stats
and league rankings for those statistics. I hope to show each team's particular
weaknesses and what that team might do to shore up its deficiencies.
Onto the reviews...
Anaheim: 51-35 / -3 in West, -1.5 in Wild Card
Anaheim's pitching has been solid this year. The Angels' offense has been
widely praised for its high collective batting average. And it should be;
the team has excelled in getting hits. Unfortunately for Angel fans, those
same hitters have demonstrated the collective patience of a mongoose on crack.
They rank third to last in bases-on-balls.
The Halos are also short on power. First base is the real source of the problem
in the power-outage. The Angels' everyday first baseman, Scott Spiezio,
has all of 4 HR. A more reasonable 15 HR (which is near average for an AL
first baseman) would propel the Halos from 11th to tied with Boston for 8th.
Not as big of a jump as preferred, but a significant advantage over their
current predicament. Replacement level first baseman are numerous and cheap
in AAA. The Angels need to find one before their playoff hopes head south.
Boston: 52-33 / -2 in East, Lead Wild Card
Beantown has two primary concerns: one, stay healthy; two, find power. The
first concern is the more important of the two. Last year the Sox were decimated
by injuries. This year, if Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra,
Manny Ramirez, and Derek Lowe can all stay healthy, Boston
should pressure the Yankees all season and have the Wild Card birth as a
Solving the second concern could help the Sox dethrone the Yankees in the
East. If the Red Sox could get Jim Thome in a trade from Cleveland,
he would single-handedly give Boston enough juice to chase down New York.
Minnesota: 50-39 / Lead Central
The Twins, despite being the feel-good story of the year, are causing much
head scratching among those of us who take an evidence-based approach to
our baseball analysis. The Twin's biggest problem has been a lack of power.
That problem is maddening when you look at the resources the Twins have.
The Twin's AAA team has three guys named Mike starting in their outfield.
The Three Mike's have a combined 59 HR. At least one of them should be in
Minnesota right now. Jaques Jones is a solid defensive player and
a pretty good offensive player. But at least two of the Mikes, Cuddyer and
Restovich, can flat out rake. There is no reason why one of them shouldn't
be starting in LF right now.
The problem most people think of when they look at the Twins is the collective
lack of health of Eric Milton Joe Mays, and Brad Radke.
While it is true they have been less healthy and less effective than was
expected, that issue hasn't been as big as a problem as one might expect.
The Twins will coast to the division title, but some forward thinking from
their GM could help do some damage in the playoffs. Otherwise, this year's
feel-good story may have an early ending.
New York: 55-32 / Lead East, Best record in AL
What the Boss (George Steinbrenner) wants, the Boss gets. The only
thing the Yankees need to be concerned with is their stars' health. Adding
Raul Mondesi and Jeff Weaver were pretty astute moves which
give the Yanks the kind of depth they're accustomed to. Only a catastrophic
injury (or three) would prevent the Yankees from reaching the playoffs.
Oakland: 50-38 / -5 in West, -3.5 in Wild Card
The A's so far have been the "jack of all trades, master of none" of the
AL. In the statistical measures I looked at (HR, BB, OBP, HR allowed, BB
allowed, and a few others) the A's were near the middle of the pack (this
pack not the whole AL), but never at the top or bottom.
Their Big Three (Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson)
and Ted Lilly should help them win a few more games. They should pass
the Angels relatively soon and challenge the Mariners for the West and Boston
for the Wild Card.
Seattle: 55-33 / Lead West
The Mariners need to stay healthy, especially Edgar Martinez; they
can't afford to have him miss more time. Also, as good as Rubin Sierra
has been for Seattle, they need more power and LF would be the easiest place
to find it. I wouldn't be surprised to see them go looking for another power
Before I get on the National League, it was interesting to note these six
teams all rate 1-6 in team On Base Percentage and they hold six of the top
seven in team ERA. If you can get on base regularly and keep the other team
from scoring, you'll win a bunch of games.
The NL is no were near as cut and dried.
Arizona: 51-36 / -2.5 in West, Lead Wild Card
Early in the season, when Matt Williams broke his leg, I commented
that the D'Backs would be better off with Junior Spivey in the lineup
everyday. I don't want to pat myself on back (at least not too much), but
Spivey's play this season has been complimentary to my predictions. So while
every other team needs to stay healthy, Arizona needs to keep Matt out of
its lineup. Okay, that's a bit harsh, but Matt's skills have eroded a bit
so that the Diamondbacks are better off with him on the bench.
Of course, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson need to keep pitching
like gods and someone else (anyone else) needs to start pitching like they
belong on a major league roster.
Of no fault of Schilling and Johnson, only Milwaukee has given up more HR
than the D'Backs.
It wouldn't hurt to get a few more HR from the D'Backs hitters, as well ...
they sure do miss Reggie Sanders, don't they?
Atlanta: 56-32 / Lead East, Best record in MLB
The Braves, despite their success, have two glaring and ironic weaknesses
and one oft-reported one. The former two both involve the base-on-balls.
Atlanta pitchers need to issue fewer BB, and their hitters need to take more.
It's amazing that a team can have the success that the Braves are having
without being better in each of those areas.
Of course, the Braves also need some power from 1B. They'll cruise into the
playoffs, but like Minnesota, ignoring those needs could cause an early exit.
Those weaknesses led to many early playoff departures since '95.
Cincinnati: 46-41 / -2 in Central, -5 in Wild Card
The Reds have to be the biggest surprise this year. But despite all the power
from the outfield, they still are down the list in team HRs. Unfortunately
for Reds fans, their pitchers are giving them up much more regularly.
Another problem on the staff is team strikeouts. I'm not going to get too
in-depth here, but one way a pitcher can excel is to strike out a high number
of batters. The reason why a strike out is so important to a pitcher is because
it reduces the number of balls put in play. It's been shown that about 30%
of balls put in play -- by each pitcher -- end up being hits. So the fewer
balls in play, the better chance of success. And Cincy pitchers are doing
their defense no favors by letting a lot of balls get put into play. If this
doesn't turn around, look for their team ERA to sky-rocket in the second
Florida: 45-43 / -11 in East, -6 in Wild Card
Despite being in "sell" mode, Florida is still in the playoff (Wild Card)
hunt. Their hitters are patient. They're hitting the long-ball. They are
doing almost everything right. There is, however, one thing that could turn
this team around.
Marlin's pitchers have walked more batters than any other NL team. That alone
will lose a bunch of games for you. Turn that around and they could win the
But then, what do I know? I'm just a lowly scribe.
Los Angeles: 54-34 / Lead West
The Dodgers pitching staff has been remarkable. I predicted fourth-place
finish for this team. It looks like I significantly underrated the pitching
Where I was correct was in evaluating their hitters' patience. The Dodgers
are last in the NL in walks. Taking a few more free passes would help this
team score a few more runs and win a few more games. Those few extra wins
would probably ensure a division title. As it is, the Dodgers have to watch
their back as Arizona and 'Frisco chase them.
Montreal: 46-41 / -9.5 in East, -5 in Wild Card
Les Expos have had one big problem all year. Their pitchers have been giving
up the long-ball. With the acquisition of Bartolo Colon, this annoying
trait could be a thing of the past. If so, expect the 'Spos to make a big run
at the Wild Card.
St. Louis: 47-38 / Lead Central
The Cardinals have the same problem discussed in the Reds' section. Their
pitchers don't strike enough hitters out. And with the loss of Darryl
Kile, those K's will be even harder to come by.
This team will probably coast into the NL Central title from lack of a
challenger. And will then take an early departure from the playoffs.
San Francisco: 49-38 / -4.5 in West, -2 in Wild Card
This team is a bit hard to rate the way I rated all the others. Barry
Bonds so skews the patience aspect that the team looks much more patient
than it is. So if someone (besides Barry) would work the count and take a
few walks, it would significantly help the Giants' offense.
Like the Cards and Reds, the Giants pitchers need to strike a few more hitters
out. Playing in Pac Bell Park helps the pitcher put up some good stats (ERA),
but a few less balls in play would be a boon to the Giants' success.
Enjoy the second half.