The AL East War Of Attrition

They say all games are created equally, and that each outing in a long season is just one of 162 games. That’s certainly true, from a mathematical perspective – 90 wins is 90 wins, regardless of how a team gets there.

From a practical perspective, however, not all games are equal. While the primacy effect may make it seem like it’s the games late in the season, within a tight race, that “matter more,” the argument can be made that it’s the games earlier in the year that can shape a team’s endpoint the most. In particular, success in the games ahead of the July 31 trade deadline, when looked at together, is paramount.

The American League East is a great example of this. With five teams projected to perform similarly before the season, the spread in the division so far is perhaps wider than most anticipated, with 9.5 games separating first and last. The team quality evaluation hasn’t changed all that much, however, with each team projected to win between 35 and 37 games (.480-.521) the rest of the way. The teams who have performed well early are in the driver’s seat for a playoff push, even though they don’t necessarily project as better than the others the rest of the way.

This is important not just for building an edge within the division – it’s made three teams buyers and two teams sellers ahead of the deadline.

When saying that early-season games matter more, this is what we mean – even if the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox could conceivably go on a run with their current rosters (and rest of season projections actually suggest those two teams will perform the best from today forward), they’re in a position now where their record could lead them to be sellers at the deadline. The Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees, meanwhile, have won enough that they could see themselves as buyers.

So even though early-season games don’t count as more than one of 162, early struggles have put the Sox and Rays in a position to take themselves out of the race entirely.

Meanwhile, the other three teams have every incentive to try and add pieces, especially given how close the division still projects to be. Based on our standings projections, all three teams project to finish with between 81 and 85 wins, with the Jays and Orioles separated by just a game atop the division. The second-place team in the division also projects to finish just a game back of the second wild card berth.

Here are the standings to date and the projected standings in table form:

Team W TD L TD W% TD GB TD W Proj L Proj W% Proj GB Proj
BAL 49 41 0.544 85 77 0.522
TOR 48 45 0.516 2.5 84 78 0.515 1
NYY 46 44 0.511 3 81 81 0.497 4

With margins that narrow projected, each of these teams has the incentive to add a piece (or pieces) ahead of the deadline. If a win is made up of 10 runs and the division could be decided by as little as one win, then every run – every base, really – counts. The AL East may currently look like a war of attirition, but it’s going to be one that’s won on the margins.

Each team has obvious holes to try and fill, too, plug-ins that may seem small but could make all the difference.

Baltimore
Weaknesses: 10th in AL in starter ERA, 12th in AL in IP per start, 15th in AL in starter FIP, 3rd in reliever wOBA vs. LHH

Even though the O’s have been solid in allowing a division-best 4.11 runs per game, their rotation could use reinforcements. A Baltimore team that plays its home games at Camden can’t necessarily expect to shut opponents down entirely, but adding another arm to eat innings above replacement level would have value. Jorge de la Rosa is a name the O’s have reportedly been linked to, if the Colorado Rockies decide to move him, and while he’s not a great fit for the ballpark and can’t be relied on for six innings an outing, he’d at least help.

There are a handful of other names that could be on the market, and Brandon McCarthy would have been a nice fit given his groundball ways, but perhaps A.J. Burnett or Kyle Kendrick could be pried from the Phillies at a reasonable price. Kendrick showed a nice batted ball profile last season that’s regressed some, and he’s also averaged 6.19 innings per start the past two seasons.

Elsewhere, the Caleb JosephNick Hundley catching duo has hung in well with Matt Wieters out but would be an area to solidify, and a LOOGY could help out in the bullpen now that southpaw Zach Britton has the closer’s chair (T.J. McFarland has decent numbers overall but has been hammered by lefties). The catching market is somewhat thin, but Wesley Wright might be available from the Cubs for a PTBNL or low-level prospect.

Toronto
Weaknesses: 14th in AL in catcher WAR, 13th in AL in OBP vs. LHP, 13th in AL in starter FIP, 14th in reliever wOBA vs. LHH

The weaknesses listed above miss a couple key points for the Jays: Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie are all hurt. You can’t exactly replace that kind of production in an instant (Nolan Reimold is trying, though), but Lawrie’s injury in particular highlights how thin the team’s infield depth was, with Juan Francisco, Munenori Kawasaki and Steve Tolleson combining for 197 plate appearances in the past month (as the Jays collapsed) for a combined 0.2 WAR. Help at the hot corner or keystone, which wouldn’t be redundant when Lawrie returns since he can play either spot, would be huge.

But there are other holes, too, like behind the plate where Josh Thole has inexplicably been the team’s best backstop with the bat in his hands, and at most spots against lefties, evident when Brad Glenn hit fifth. Catcher, second, third, wherever the Jays add punch, it needs to be with someone who can hit lefties. The team has long been enamored with Gordon Beckham and Chase Headley, who fit that description some.

There’s also the elephant in the rotation, where Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman could either face late-season innings caps or simply run out of gas. With J.A. Happ already holding down a rotation spot and Liam Hendriks as the first man up if a spot-start is needed, there’s obviously a great need in the rotation. Burnett is someone the team tried to nab in the offseason and is a solid fit, if Rogers is alright adding that kind of salary for a late push.

That’s a lot of holes for a would-be contender, but the bright side is that patching a couple of them for marginal gains would really add up, and the bar to improving the outlook is pretty low.

Yankees
Weaknesses: 14th in AL in shortstop WAR, 14th in AL in designated hitter wOBA, 3rd in AL in reliever wOBA vs. RHH

How does this work, can we suggest they just cut into Derek Jeter’s playing time? Yes, the batting average is hanging in there and the defensive metrics don’t show him as having embarrassed himself, but between Jeter, Brian Roberts, a struggling Kelly Johnson and a back-down-to-earth Yangervis Solarte, the Yankees need infield help. Daniel Murphy from the cross-town Mets would fit the bill at second, which might be the better play considering they at least have an excellent defensive backup at short already.

The Yankees could also use a bat of any kind to help add punch, as they rank in the bottom-third of the league in isolated slugging despite a lefty-heavy lineup in that ballpark. Adam Dunn’s a great ballpark fit if they think Carlos Beltran can man a bit more outfield, while Alex Rios seems a pretty terrific spiritual fit for some reason.

Of course, if anyone is going to be fitted for pinstripes, the search probably begins in the rotation, where Masahiro Tanaka is no longer an anchor and Brandon McCarthy can’t exactly go it alone. Would the Rays trade David Price within the division for a Godfather offer? Could Bartolo Colon hop on the subway? Does Edwin Jackson and his perennial ERA-FIP gap move the needle in that park? There’s no obvious upgrade, except for any upgrade, because Shane Greene isn’t someone you want to trust meaningful starts to.

Outlook
Does it feel like three division contenders were just discussed? Not really, right? The Jays’ lineup is decimated and their rotation is just skating by, while the Yankees are down to a single starter who was in their opening day rotation in Hiroki Kuroda. The Orioles might win this thing by employing the most gauze alone.

But the fact that all three teams, warts and all, remain in the race and project to stay in it, speaks to how big a difference small upgrades could make. No edge is too tiny in a tight race.



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Blake Murphy is a freelance sportswriter based out of Toronto. Formerly of the Score, he's the managing editor at Raptors Republic and frequently pops up at Sportsnet, Vice, and around here. Follow him on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.


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Brendan
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Brendan
1 year 11 months ago

I think Baltimore ends up taking this. TB and Boston put themselves in too deep of a hole, and I’m surprised the Yankees and Blue Jays can even field a team right now with all the injuries. Baltimore stays healthy and I think it’s theirs.

I think the Jays can take the 2nd wildcard though. Their only competition seems to be the Yankees, Royals and Mariners, and ultimately I don’t see any of those teams as better than the Jays.

nard
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nard
1 year 11 months ago

You think?

Brian
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Brian
1 year 11 months ago

Really, you think the Mariners aren’t better than the Jays?

The Jays rotation and bullpen are a mess, their offense is crashing back down to earth, and are generally playing .500 ball.

The Mariners, meanwhile, sport a top 3 rotation, the best bullpen in baseball, and offense is trending up.

There’s a reason the Mariners have outscored their opponents by 60 and the Jays 24.

Joey Bats
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Joey Bats
1 year 11 months ago

The injury bug is even a bit worse for the Blue Jays since Reyes has a bum shoulder he’s trying to play through and Joey Bats is still nursing a hamstring problem.

santorumforpresident
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santorumforpresident
1 year 11 months ago

I think the Rays have a better chance at this point than the Yankees. I wouldn’t count out the Jays making a big move for a pitcher that could help them, but the Yankees rotation is so banged up that I can’t see them keeping up this win percentage the rest of the year.

Rick Hahn
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Rick Hahn
1 year 11 months ago

Take my DH, please

lvmnz
Member
lvmnz
1 year 11 months ago

Does the outlook really only go as far as the division? I don’t understand that. I don’t want the Yankees just to survive out of the division. I want them to win the World Series. If you’re not making a run at the title, then what are you doing? If the Yankees were even close to on par with American League counterparts, I would be wanting them to look at ‘tiny edges’ over those teams, but since they are emphatically beleaguered by injuries and sheer lack of quality, I want the Yankees to be looking the other way and selling to teams who rightfully want to make a go at it this season.

Dr. Martin van Nostrand
Guest
1 year 11 months ago

With baseball the way it is, just get into the playoffs and anything can happen. If the Yankees could win the World Series in a season where they only won 87 games and had the 5th-best record in the AL (2000), then it’s not direly impossible to do so if they were, in a perfect world, able to add Pineda and Tanaka back to the rotation for the stretch run.

But, of course, can they sustain until August-late August? Jeez, I really don’t have much optimism for that.

But to get back to your point, you don’t sell when you’re only four games out of first place in your division, a weak division at that, and you especially don’t sell when you spent half a billion dollars on the roster during the preceding off-season. And, besides, what do the Yankees have to sell? Robertson and Kuroda are the only players who can or might fetch back equitable value in the long-term. None of the other veterans hold any long-term value in a trade scenario, and trading someone like Betances would just be stupid given how much team control he has left.

dudekid
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dudekid
1 year 11 months ago

None of these AL East teams really stack up to the A’s, Tigers, Angels, hell, even the Mariners really. I’m still clinging onto hope that the Sox have a run left in them, but that’s just my long time homerism.

Doug Lampert
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Doug Lampert
1 year 11 months ago

I grew up with a deep conviction that the Sox would do well until August or September, then collapse spectacularly.

I don’t know in retrospect how common the pattern actually was, but it sure felt like it happened every year.

I have some trivial hope that this year they’ll do it in reverse and have an astonishing recovery, but I’m not holding my breath, and I’m not too upset or worried, 3 series in 11 years is a lot. I can wait a few years for the next one.

Cave
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Cave
1 year 11 months ago

Expect the Mariners don’t even stack up to the Rays.

Henry Newhouse
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Henry Newhouse
1 year 11 months ago

The Jays stack up well against the Angels and Mariners if they can stay healthy, that’s a pretty difficult precondition for them to meet though. The Yankee’s aren’t really a good team even when everyone is healthy, the Sox aren’t anywhere near as lucky as last year, Tampa shit the bed in a manner generally expected from a Cleveland franchise, and the Blue Jays have no pitching and trouble staying healthy. The AL east almost makes the AL central look good…

srpst23
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srpst23
1 year 11 months ago

Any chance you could do this for the NL Central? There are 4 teams over there that are projected to finish very close, and all of the teams have injuries/holes to fill. It would be nice to see them in this sort of structure.

Antonio Bananas
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1 year 11 months ago

I second this.

Phil
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Phil
1 year 11 months ago

While none are great, Showalter is already juggling six reasonable major league starters for five slots. In contrast to Strasburg two years back, org is managing Gausman to have innings available for regular turns as far as the club can go, and Buck’s trying to figure out how delicately to unseat someone like Gonzalez or another mid/back guy who are all doing well enough to hang on to their jobs.

I get why a Price/Lee type pitcher would offer incremental value, but Kendrick/De La Rosa types don’t make any sense for Baltimore’s roster – they’ve already got more of those than they know what to do with.

Fortytwo
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Fortytwo
1 year 11 months ago

Why do projection systems keep underestimating the Orioles? I mean honestly, they were projected to 75 games by PECOTA at the beginning of the season, here they are projected to take the biggest hit of the three contending teams – why? I don’t get it. The Yankees have had to outperform their Pythagorean measure to get this far, and now with a rotation cobbled together with twine and prayers they are expected to play near .500 ball?

grant
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grant
1 year 11 months ago

Because they’re not really that great. They’ve played very well, to their credit, but a lot of that comes from Cruz having a by-a-mile-career-year at age 34 post-PED suspension, and big contributions from formerly replacement level guys like Steve Pearce. Yes, Davis and/or Ubaldo could bounce back, but both of them have inconsistent histories, and there’s no one else on the roster likely to improve (maybe Machado). They’ve had fewer injuries than their competition.

All in all, more likely to have negative regression than positive regression.

Fortytwo
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Fortytwo
1 year 11 months ago

How many times over the last three seasons has this team been projected to negatively regress? Seriously PECOTA predicted Jones to put up a .775 OPS or some such nonsense. Which is more likely, Davis and Hardy getting their HR stroke back; Gausman continuing to put up solid numbers in the majors, Machado continuing to progress – Or the yankees playing .500 ball for the rest of the season with that rotation?

Adam Jones hater
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Adam Jones hater
1 year 11 months ago

Well Jones does only have a career .803 OPS so .775 is really not much of a difference. He is putting up a .820 right now. A couple bad games and he is at .775. This guy hates walks!! Hate them!

Steve
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Steve
1 year 11 months ago

Not sure about this. It’s not like its been all roses for Baltimore. They lost their starting All-Star catcher for the year, Davis has regressed into Rob Deer, Ubaldo has turned back the clock to 2012, and they are getting nothing out of 2B. There have been some better-than-expected performances from Cruz and Pearce, but not a ton. Most of their guys have been performing about to expectation otherwise.

It is true that in the Showalter/Duquette era, projection systems have consistently under-ranked the Orioles. They are doing something that is overlooked by the models.

Orsulakfan
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Orsulakfan
1 year 11 months ago

I am just happy (and amazed) that the Orioles are mentioned on Fangraphs, although of course they dog them when they do. I suspect they don’t like the Orioles on here precisely because they defy their projections. I would guess there have been more articles on Tanaka than on all of the Orioles combined on here.

All that said, the Orioles are a flawed team, and they have a tough run just after the Allstar break. I think if they can survive that then they should be alright. As for players who might lead such a charge, I would say Davis, Hardy, Gausman, and Machado are the best candidates. Hopefully that would offset likely regression from Cruz, Pearce, Britton and O’Day.

Baroque6
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Baroque6
1 year 11 months ago

Biggest need for the Orioles has to be a 2nd baseman, right? They have 6 competent starting pitchers, making a Kendrick/de la Rosa trade unnecessary as Phil pointed out. And Joseph has been fine — doesn’t hit but his framing/defense has been outstanding. Schoop and Flaherty, on the other hand, have not proved adequate.

Dave Cornutt
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Dave Cornutt
1 year 11 months ago

What’s the latest on Andrew Cashner? If his return looks to be not too far after the break, I could see the Jays making a run at him. The Yankees would probably like to also, but I don’t think they can offer anything that San Diego would be interested in.

Peter Gammons
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Peter Gammons
1 year 11 months ago

I don’t buy that platelet-rich talk. They are hoping against hope that it will work, but the last I checked, ligament tears don’t heal themselves, which means it is likely Mister 24 and O will fall victim to Tommy John’s evil knife by early September. Brandon McCarthy against the world will not win this division, and the Cashman is more than intelligent enough to figure that out. Expect no big moves, and a sub-.500 finish. Not the best way for Jeets to ride off into the sunset, but this is how it’s gonna be.

As for Toronto vs Baltimore, has anyone analyzed either of these teams 2nd-half schedules? As of this writing, both teams have a run differential of 26, and the Jays are projected to have a greater run differential for the rest of the season. However, a key simple fact in Baltimore’s favor is that they have played in 2 fewer games. All things being equal the rest of the way, Baltimore wins the division. However, I believe Toronto will win. Here’s why: Both team’s rotations are suspect, but the O’s have a higher FIP than ERA right now. In the lineup, several O’s have disappointed (Davis, Hardy, etc.) and several Jays wound up injured. That said, there are some reasonable “ifs” to speculate on happening as we begin the 2nd half of the season, that are possible for Toronto. If Encarnacion heals up on the shorter end of the current estimate, and Lawrie returns as soon as expected, and Toronto makes a move to add a bat, especially if it is a catcher with even average pop, that should be enough improvement in WAR to sneak ahead of the other birds. Anthopolous has not shied away from the big deal in the past, and I expect him to have no trouble making a small deal to mildly improve the lineup. This race is close enough that mild improvement, and a little bit of luck with health is all that is required to win the division.

Btw, no win is too tiny.

grant
Guest
grant
1 year 11 months ago

Speaking of the schedule, Balt and Tor play 9 games against each other the rest of the way, including 6 in the last two weeks of September.

Baltimore also starts the 2nd half with a brutal 10 game trip vs. Sea, Oak and LAA.

That’ll have a big impact on the division.

Fortytwo
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Fortytwo
1 year 11 months ago

My only thing would be this, The Orioles have been trending up since May – The Jays have lost a lot of ground. The Jays have followed a pretty decent script, get hot – get real hot, then realize that we don’t have a lot of pitching, especially in the pen, and fall off.

The Orioles’ FIP numbers are terrible – but their defense is simply one of the best and it is not going anywhere. The Orioles are putting a +20 DRS squad out there so far – the Jays on the other hand -11. One of the reasons why the pitching, while mediocre, has been successful.

Adam Jones hater
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Adam Jones hater
1 year 11 months ago

The Jays are also fielding a AAA team right now due to injuries. Even the players that are still in the lineup are beat up (Bautista and Reyes). That is really why the Jays have trended down. I do think the Orioles will win the division because the Yanks and Jays are too banged up.

Nick in ATL
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Nick in ATL
1 year 11 months ago

What is this Godfather offer that the Yanks could come up with?

Nick in ATL
Guest
Nick in ATL
1 year 11 months ago

Figured I would here crickets…

Jd rocks
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Jd rocks
1 year 11 months ago

He means an offer they can’t refuse. Like, an overhyped prospect and the cash for a downtown stadium, and a promise said stadium will not entomb their skeletal remains.

Jon L.
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Jon L.
1 year 11 months ago

I think you mean the recency effect rather than the primacy effect. The primacy effect is the tendency to remember what’s first.

Anyway, it’s nice to see this descriptive analysis of the battle of the non-titans in the AL East. It’s a very different sort of race this year.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
1 year 11 months ago

Would the Rays trade Price to the Yankees for a “Godfather deal”? If we’re making analogies, the best the Yankees could do it hold a squirt gun to their head. In 2 months, the Rays might have a better record than the Yankees.

Phil
Guest
Phil
1 year 11 months ago

No edge is TOO tiny in a tight race. *grammar police*

Phil
Guest
1 year 11 months ago

I think a lot of what the O’s do hinders on how good Gausman can be in the second half. With no innings limit, if he sticks in the rotation, I think he can be good and boost the weaknesses that were discussed. Besides Wieters, 3/4 weaknesses he can help with. Starter ERA, IP, and FIP. Not sure he ever really starts to go deep into games this year, but think Gausman is a real key as to how the O’s progress in the second half….

Grammar police, making the rounds again
Guest
Grammar police, making the rounds again
1 year 11 months ago

Hinders? Hinges.

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