Parity Comes To The AL

Here’s a question – who is the worst team in the American League this year?

The Indians currently have the worst record at 5-10, but they have the highest wOBA of any team in baseball and a significant amount of talent. With a -5 run differential, they’re not even struggling that much out of the gates. I think we can safely disqualify them.

Both Oakland and Los Angeles are off to 5-9 starts, but they entered the seasons as the two teams picked to contend for the AL West division title. The Angels have been playing at less than full strength, while the A’s are waiting for their newly imported offense to start hitting. They might not be great teams, but they have plenty of reasons to think they won’t be among the league’s worst.

Tampa Bay is 6-9. They were in the World Series last year. They’re out.

Texas is 6-8 so far, and most people had them finishing last in the AL West. As always, the offense is good and the pitching is bad. But with an offense this good and a ton of young talent on the way (Derek Holland just arrived in the majors to lead the wave), it’s hard to see them finishing with less than 70 wins.

Minnesota? They’re 7-9 without Joe Mauer, and while they have the worst run differential in the league so far, adding an MVP-calilber catcher will help significantly.

Baltimore? 7-9 to start off, and like Texas, they can score but not pitch. However, like Texas, there’s just too many good players on the O’s to see them as truly awful, and Matt Wieters will eventually join the club.

Every other team in the AL is currently above .500. Kansas City and Seattle are good candidates to regress from unsustainable hot starts, but they each have wins in the bank that aren’t going to be taken away. Even if we expect them to play at their projected preseason levels, they’ve won enough games early on to add a couple of wins to our end-of-season expectations.

If there’s a truly bad team in the American League, I can’t find them. There are teams that are better than others, but it’s the National League that features all the turkeys this year. Right now, it looks like every team in the junior circuit will finish with 70+ wins.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


31 Responses to “Parity Comes To The AL”

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  1. Drew says:

    I’ve got to think that +18 from one single win skews the Indians run differential, maybe just a little.

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  2. KingKirkpatrick says:

    I don’t see the Royals regressing TOO much…I mean, their pitching is pretty legit, their peripherals are fantastic…their ERA will go up some b/c they can’t sustain their HR rates…..but to counteract that, their offense should improve, as their BABIP is low considering their LD%…and Guillen will replace Bloomquist’s bat soon and hopefully Olivo will see less playing time, Gordon might be back in the last couple months.

    I don’t think the Royals will win 90 or anything, but 79-85 won’t surprise me at all. They clearly don’t suck near as bad as many were saying.

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    • JH says:

      I’m not so sure about that offense improving. They have 4 guys with wOBAs over .380, none of whom can sustain it, and Mike Jacobs and John Buck have been hitting like the greatest players alive. They aren’t.

      Aviles will improve, Dejesus will improve, Guillen is better than Bloomquist, Gordon will come back, and Butler might be significantly better than he’s shown, but Buck, Jacobs, Crisp, and Teahen are all in for major regressions. The slippage will probably outweigh the improvements.

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      • KingKirkpatrick says:

        Yes, there are four guys that are hot that will regress some…but you just names five guys who will all get better..with Butler and Gordon (when he returns) likely to improve by quite a bit.

        I’m not saying the offense will be above average…but it’s gonna be better than it is now.

        Also, I don’t think Mark Teahen is guaranteed to regress THAT much. His LD% was in the mid to upper 30s last I looked……that’s pretty fantastic…and he is 27 years old..so.

        I predicted 79 wins before the year started. A few more than that wouldn’t shock me though. I think that’s realistic, given the division they play in.

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      • JH says:

        Yes, 5 is more than 4, but the difference is in the quality, not the quantity. Dejesus is in for a big improvement. Aviles almost certainly won’t reach 2008 levels, though I expect him to get better. Guillen will be a better bat, but he’ll give a lot of value back in the field. Gordon and Butler are massive question marks.

        On the other hand, John Buck currently has a wOBA of .490. His career mark is .304. Mike Jacobs is at .410 (previous career high: .340). Mark Teahen is spotting a .404 wOBA thanks to his completely unsustainable .409 BABIP. His career mark is .331. Alberto Callaspo has a BABIP over .400 supporting his .391 wOBA, and Coco Crisp’s .296 ISO is the definition of a small sample size fluke – particularly since it’s buoyed by 3 triples – as many as he hit last season.

        The Royals have 3 league average hitters hitting like hall of famers right now, and 2 below league average hitters hitting like all-stars. That’s over half of the lineup playing way, way, way over their heads.

        For the expected improvers, Aviles is the only one who’s potentially a huge improvement that will cancel out all the regression that’s on the way. A little improvement from DeJesus (should get his .300 wOBA back up to .350 or so), a minor addition from Guillen (still barely above replacement level, so not much of an upgrade), and theoretical upside from Gordon and Butler just isn’t going to make up for those 5 guys coming down to earth, which they will.

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    • Joe R says:

      Mike Jacobs’ BABIP in his three Florida seasons:
      .299
      .312
      .264

      His current:
      .367

      And a .340 ISO
      I will eat my shoe if he doesn’t regress.

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      • KingKirkpatrick says:

        JH, you said in the beginning of your post that DeJesus is in for a big improvement, and then later say that DeJesus will only improve a little.

        Of course Jacobs and others will regress, but DeJesus and Aviles will raise their numbers quite a bit, as will Butler. There is no way Butler is a .600 OPS hitter.

        Also, at the end of your post, you say there are five guys that will be “coming down to Earth,” when the first time you said it was four guys.

        I think you are confusing yourself here, I’m not really sure what you’re talking about in some of your post.

        As a team, the Royals BABIP has been low based on what it should be, given their LD%. That should even out and that takes into consideration players overachieving and underachieving so far, for whatever reason. I’m not saying the team is going to score 850 runs or anything ridiculous, but 750 isn’t unrealistic, IMO. Three offensive sinkholes have been largely removed from the team (Gathright, Gload, and Tony Pena Jr.)..that’s a decent upgrade in and of itself.

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  3. B says:

    I have a question about UZR. I’ve trusted it for a while, but looking at the stats, I just can’t anymore unless this is explained to me.

    Daniel Murphy currently has the third best UZR in the league among LF. He might be the worst LF I have ever seen. There is no possible way that he is above average in the OF.

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    • alskor says:

      SSS… embrace it.

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      • archilochusColubris says:

        Yeah but the thing is he’s looked exceptionally crappy during the small sample as well. This isn’t like Bonifacio hitting over his head, it’s someone giving up runs and wins and still earning high marks.

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      • B says:

        yeah, what arch said. SSS applies when someone hit .400 but has a .500 BABIP so he’s playing over his head.

        This is like someone hitting .400 with a .150 BABIP. For AVG you would assume it’s a fluke, but that’s because BA is a very straightforward stat that can definitely be trusted.

        UZR, I’m not sure if I can trust anymore. I would like to see where John Dewan’s +/- has Murphy. Maybe this is just a fluke. But Murphy has looked absolutely horrific in LF, and there is no possible way he has been above average.

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      • alskor says:

        No, it applies especially with UZR… You should not be surprised to find strange results on a small scale with UZR at all. Some think it requires a 3 year sample to work best.

        What has Murphy done? Butchered some balls. UZR doesnt punish too much for that and mostly focuses on range. Murphy’s range hasnt been all that bad so far. That will correct itself.

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  4. KR says:

    I agree that TB isn’t a bad team at all, but “they were in the World Series last year” isn’t a good argument, unless you would like to defend the 1998 Florida Marlins. :)

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    • Nick says:

      Of course the Rays unlike the 1999 Marlins return mostly the same team.

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    • joser says:

      Most of us understood that to mean “the team that won the most difficult division in the AL last year, and then defeated a couple of good teams to reach the WS, returns essentially all its key players this year.” What Dave wrote was just shorthand.

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  5. Jonathan says:

    Which means don’t expect any 100 win team. Outcomes from this – higher chance of some surprising teams making the playoffs and close races in all divisions.

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  6. Panetta says:

    The Indians have the worst FIP in ALL of baseball. Their pitching is a complete disaster. Most teams in the AL are gonna come around offensively during stretches of 2009, pitching, as usual, will differenitate the playoff-bound teams. That Cleveland “has a substantial amount of talent” is hardly a compelling arguement. Pair the bad pitching with their below-average defense, and I think you can make a strong case the Indians are the worst team in the AL.

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    • lookatthosetwins says:

      And yet every projection system put them at the top of the AL Central. I put them 2nd, but that’s mostly because I’m a homer. I really don’t think a few weeks of crappy pitching is enough to make them worse than the royals.

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    • Joe R says:

      Dice-K for Kelly Shoppach.
      /prays

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  7. Preston says:

    Follow-up question: who’s the fourth best team in the AL (assuming we stick with the preseason consensus that the top 3 are Boston, NYY, and TB in some order)? Just like it looks likely that everyone will finish with 70+ wins, I don’t see a single one of those other 11 teams that looks likely to win 88, let alone 90 games.

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    • Evan says:

      Last season it was pretty clearly Toronto, but this season I’m surprised Dave didn’t mention them in his search for the bottom.

      I’d say the Indians are might be the fourth strongest team in the AL (despite their start).

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      • jw says:

        An 11-5 start does a lot to quell pre-season doubts.

        Of course Ryan has sucked, Purcey has been barely passable, and they now already have their two-three starters on the DL (news of the day, Romero to the 15-Day with an oblique strain). Rios has shown signs of coming out of his slump, however, and even a barely passable starter looks pretty good in front of that defense.

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  8. everett says:

    i think i’d be willing to name whoever loses this weekends twins-indians series the worst team in the AL

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    • lookatthosetwins says:

      I’m glad to know that who the worst team is is going to be based on a 3 game series. Especially considering, as I mentioned above, the any statistical projection that I saw had those two teams 1-2 in the AL central. I really don’t feel that 2 weeks of crappy play puts them at the gutter.

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  9. Jimmy Gobble says:

    I take personal offense to your insinuation that being a turkey is a bad thing.

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  10. Tito Landrum says:

    Quick edit: The O’s are 8 – 8.

    thank youuuuuu.

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  11. ball four says:

    I think it’s Oakland. Unproven rotation, punchless offense. It’s a shame because this bullpen looks fantastic, but they’re not going to score enough runs, and their starters will get outpitched a fair amount of the time too. They’ll probably win less than 70 games.

    Great post, Dave, and I agree that the overall depth in the league seems far greater than usual.

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