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MLB - Midseason Team Reviews

By Peter Friberg
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 balance.

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...

American League

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 consolation prize.

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 bat.

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.

National League

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 half.

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.

Throw strikes.

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 Wild Card.

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 staff.

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.

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