The inaugural installment of the power ranks are focusing on the numbers. Small sample sizes be damned; let’s find out why teams have got out these particular starts and whether it is sustainable or not.
#1 Tampa Bay Rays
Pertinent number: 9.31
Despite a 7-6 record, the Rays bullpen has struggled, mightily. An ERA over nine is terrible, regardless of games played. But has their performance truly been that bad? Advanced stats would say, no. While the Rays collective bullpen ERA sits at 9.31, their expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP) is a much more manageable 4.72.
So what has contributed to the poor totals? Two numbers leap off the stat sheet: Tampa is dead last in the league in its stand rate. An ungodly 55.2% left on base percentage (LOB%) is definitely an important factor to consider. That’s a historically pathetic rate and will certainly come up in the coming weeks. Determining why that number is so low will require some speculation, but a 37.3 ground ball rate (GB%) and 5.59 BB/9 from the unit certainly are not helping matters. Both, rank 29th in baseball, ahead of only the Cubs.
The Rays have managed a winning record in spite of the inflated bullpen stats. When the numbers normalize, expect their win total to increase.
#2 New York Yankees
Pertinent number: -4.5
New York’s team Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) currently rests at -4.5. You’d think that would be a collective effort from an aging squad that just doesn’t have the range they used to, but that’s not the case. It’s two players, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson that are dragging that number down.
Granderson is last, by a substantial margin at centerfield, in both UZR and Range Runs (RngR). He simply doesn’t have the ability to track down fly ball other centerfielders can. Jeter has been equally as bad. He too ranks last among all starting shortstops with a -2.3 UZR and -2.6 RngR. Fortunately for the Yanks, Jeter and Granderson are the only players of the starting nine with a negative defensive rating. Meaning, the play from the shortstop and centerfield positions are having a serious, negative impact on the team’s total number.
The good news? New York isn’t built around defense, like the Rays, and as long as the offensive production is above average, there is no problem. Jeter leads all shortstops in Weighted on-base Average (wOBA) at .429, the highest mark of his 18-year career, and Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at 0.7, a number that is actually been brought down because of his poor defense.
After his three moon shots Thursday night, Granderson vaulted into the Top 5 at the position in wOBA (.422) and Isolated Power (ISO) (.396), while possessing an unfortunate .273 average on balls in play (BABIP).
Jeter’s totals figure to be unsustainable based on his career averages, but Granderson’s actually figure to get better. Point being: if the two can continue to produce among the elite at their respective positions offensively, the fact they’re defensive liabilities won’t pose much of a problem.
#3 Baltimore Orioles
Pertinent number: 49
Through their hot start, the Orioles have been all over the map statically. They’ve retained a shockingly high team wOBA (.332) and ISO (.207), both in baseball’s Top 5, while producing middling results in On Base Percentage (OBP), .310, 18th in the majors, and average, .245 (14th). Ever crazier has been their total lack of plate discipline. Baltimore batters strikeout in 22.4% of at-bats (4th worst), while only managing a free pass 6.7% of the time (24th).
But all that won’t matter as long as they continue to pile up the extra base hits. The Orioles have constructed a team of pure power and that’s translated into runs early in the season. In 13 games, they’ve crushed 49 extra base hits; good for second in the league. The low On-Base numbers suggest that all this offensive could be an aberration, at least in terms of driving in runs, but there is real power on this team and they’ve posted these quality number without receiving anything from a usually reliable power source in Mark Reynolds. Reynolds has been brutal to start the season with no long flies and a humiliating .103 ISO, well off his career .234 number.
#4 Toronto Blue Jays
Pertinent number: 4.42
The Jays have been an intriguing case study. They don’t really hit, but still manage a ton of runs, and don’t pitch or play defense all that well, yet manage to limit runs. Something doesn’t add up.
Jays starters have produced a 3.55 ERA on the season, which is tenth best in baseball. What becomes problematic is their 4.42 xFIP. The projected number is almost a full run higher than the results that have been produced on the field. As Jerry Seinfeld may inquire: what’s the deal with that?
The starting staff currently has a BABIP against of .204. So, only one of every five balls put in play are ending up as hits. Simply, that’s unsustainable. League BABIP usually ends up in the neighborhood of .290-.310. Now, it isn’t inconceivable that the Jays could end up well below the average, but a fill 100 points? No chance. The number is such an outlier that the next closest staff, San Francisco, rests in second with a .238 BABIP. Sorry Jays fans, regression is coming and coming quickly.
#5 Boston Red Sox
Pertinent number: 2
They’ve lost Jacoby Ellsbury for months, Carl Crawford just started swinging a bat, and Kevin Youkilis looks to have aged 500 years in the offseason; but somehow offense hasn’t been the problem in Bean Town.
Pitcher wins have been shoved aside as a meaningful stat in terms of determining individual performance, which makes sense. There are many factors that go into pitcher wins. An error here, lack of run support there, a bad bullpen or blown call can affect of a pitcher and notch one in the win column. What pitcher wins are good for, is information about a team’s results. And Boston starters have just two wins in 12 in 2012, not good.
In fairness to all the peripheral factors, the Red Sox starting pitching has not been quality by any means. The staff has a 5.97 ERA, but a FIP and xFIP almost a run and a half lower than that mark. So, Sox supports can rejoice that the starting pitching has been a bummer so far, but that’s likely to change.
The bullpen has been much worse. They sit only ahead of the Rays with a 6.63 ERA, but, like Tampa, have a significantly better xFIP (4.20). The problem, is that xFIP is far more generous to players that can miss bats and allow home runs. Usual regression to the xFIP number would be expected, but the Red Sox relievers strikeout a healthy number of batters (7.61 K/9) and cede the second most homeruns per nine innings (HR/9), 2.21. Now, it’s a small sample size and those numbers are likely to come down, but for now, it’s much better idea to look at the bullpen’s FIP (5.70) as a predictive stat than using xFIP, which would normally be the case.
Pat Mayo was nominated by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association for both Golf Writer of the Year and Humor Article of the Year in 2011, but came away empty handed. Either way, don’t let that stop you from listening to him on RotoExperts’ Fantasy War Room, Thursdays at 8pm ET. Have a question? Need to complain? You may contact Pat @ firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @thepme.