The Best and Worst Teams, Two Months In

Four weeks ago, I introduced Expected Run Differentials, using the various linear weights tools we have on the site to construct a metric to evaluate a team’s performance without any timing or sequencing factors. Essentially, this method just counts up the context-neutral value of positive or negative events a team allows, and gives us an expected result if every team had distributed those events in the same manner. While run differential strips timing out of the conversion from runs to wins, this construct strips out timing from the runs themselves, and gives us the most sequencing-free look at a team’s overall performance to date.

Since it’s been nearly a month, let’s go ahead and update the numbers and look at what we can learn from them. There’s a lot of information in the table, and each column is sortable, so you can see where teams stand either by runs scored or allowed, expected runs scored or allowed, run differential or expected differential, or the differences in each section. The table is presented by expected run differential, from best to worst, and a reminder that the differences are set so that positive numbers are always favorable for the team.

Offense R xR Difference Defense RA xRA Difference Total Rdiff xRDiff Difference
Athletics 270 256 14 —— 170 165 -5 —— 100 91 9
Angels 256 256 0 —— 211 176 -35 —— 45 81 -36
Cardinals 212 215 -3 —— 188 178 -10 —— 24 37 -13
Rockies 271 282 -11 —— 237 249 12 —— 34 33 1
Giants 234 219 15 —— 186 195 9 —— 48 24 24
Dodgers 234 250 -16 —— 227 229 2 —— 7 20 -13
Marlins 246 245 1 —— 222 225 3 —— 24 20 4
Braves 178 194 -16 —— 174 176 2 —— 4 19 -15
Blue Jays 274 280 -6 —— 244 264 20 —— 30 16 14
Brewers 220 229 -9 —— 203 215 12 —— 17 14 3
Tigers 232 230 2 —— 213 216 3 —— 19 13 6
Nationals 203 210 -7 —— 202 197 -5 —— 1 13 -12
Cubs 194 182 13 —— 205 188 -17 —— -11 -6 -5
Yankees 224 226 -2 —— 231 232 1 —— -7 -6 -1
Indians 230 234 -4 —— 255 244 -11 —— -25 -10 -15
Rays 214 221 -7 —— 241 233 -8 —— -27 -11 -16
Reds 177 186 -9 —— 196 200 4 —— -19 -14 -5
Mariners 218 182 36 —— 207 198 -9 —— 11 -16 27
White Sox 258 239 19 —— 268 256 -12 —— -10 -18 8
Astros 209 221 -12 —— 247 239 -8 —— -38 -18 -20
Pirates 203 219 -16 —— 228 240 12 —— -25 -21 -4
Orioles 220 225 -5 —— 233 247 14 —— -13 -22 9
Twins 216 210 6 —— 243 235 -8 —— -27 -25 -2
Mets 208 197 11 —— 213 224 11 —— -5 -27 22
Royals 205 190 15 —— 219 218 -1 —— -14 -28 14
Rangers 232 230 2 —— 242 258 16 —— -10 -28 18
Red Sox 217 217 1 —— 234 253 19 —— -17 -36 19
Diamondbacks 220 222 -2 —— 277 261 -16 —— -57 -39 -18
Padres 175 169 7 —— 203 208 5 —— -28 -40 12
Phillies 201 197 4 —— 232 247 15 —— -31 -51 20

A month ago, the A’s and Angels came out on top as the two best teams in baseball, with a pretty good sized gap between them and the third place team. That remains true, and the gap has only gotten larger. The gap between the #2 and #3 teams is now essentially equal to the gap between #3 and #13. Or, to put it this way, the Angels are as far ahead of the Cardinals as the Cardinals are ahead of the Cubs. The Angels have gone 16-10 since the first publication of this list suggested they were better than their mediocre start, but by their underlying performance, even that could be considered a disappointing result.

It’s tempting to still see the Angels as an offensive juggernaut who is trying to get enough pitching to survive, but the team has actually been just as good at the things that prevent run scoring as they are at the things that lead to run scoring; they are third in the majors in expected runs scored, but tied for second in expected runs allowed. Because their wOBA allowed is being driven by in-play outs as opposed to the kinds of things that are more obviously good pitching — they have allowed just a .269 BABIP — it’s less likely that they will sustain this kind of performance all year, but even with some expected regression, it’s time to stop thinking of the Angels as a team that is going to give up a lot of runs. Their defense is good, the pitching is fine, and they can really hit. The Angels of 2014 are playing like the team people have been expecting the Angels to be for a few years now.

And yet, they’re still playing as well as the A’s, who are just a steamroller destroying anything in their path. It’s still hard to fathom that a team of cast-offs is this good, but we’re going on over a year of total dominance, and they’re not showing any signs of slowing down. The A’s are amazing.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Diamondbacks are no longer the league’s biggest dumpster fire, as both the Padres and Phillies have surpassed them with a combination of lousy everything. Expect all three to be sellers in July.

But then, look at who is fourth from the bottom; the defending World Champs. Injuries have been a legitimate problem, but the Red Sox haven’t fluked their way into a big hole; they have really played terrible baseball over the last month. It’s too early to write them off after a couple of bad months, but it’s certainly worth noting that this isn’t a team that is simply failing to hit in critical situations, with an obvious area for progression coming. For two months, the Red Sox have just played like one of the worst teams in baseball.

And as Jeff noted this morning, the Astros are showing some real signs of improvement. They had a -59 expected run differential four weeks ago, and now they’re at just -18; in other words, they’ve played like a team that should have outscored their opponents by 41 runs over their last 27 games. For the better part of the month of May, the Astros have played like one of the best teams in baseball. Of course, the fact that they were atrocious in April still counts, and we shouldn’t ignore previous history when projecting them forward, but they certainly appear to be significantly improved.

The season still has four months to go, so there’s enough time for the teams in the middle to change their course and salvage the 2014 season before it is entirely a lost cause. I wouldn’t even give up entirely on the Red Sox yet. But these numbers are a good reminder of who is actually playing well on a daily basis, rather than who is just getting hits or outs in the right situation, inflating their run differential and win-loss record in the process. Right now, it looks like the road to the World Series runs through the American League West.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Bill
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Bill
2 years 2 months ago

Is it possible to integrate this table to live-update daily?

maqman
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maqman
2 years 2 months ago

It may just come down to whatever team has the most remaining UCL’s in their rotation wins.

R.A. Dickey
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R.A. Dickey
2 years 2 months ago

damn

LHPSU
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LHPSU
2 years 2 months ago

R.A. Dickey: Living proof that UCLs are bad for you and that you should have it removed.

Garrett's Mom
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Garrett's Mom
2 years 2 months ago

Agreed. Every pitcher should toil in mediocrity for the majority of their career before riding an inconsistent circus pitch to a Cy Young season, then promptly falling off the map again.

Jason B
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Jason B
2 years 2 months ago

You’re right of course. He only had one good season ever, and never pitched well before or after!

Oh wait…that’s…that’s not what happened? Like, at all?

Well damn.

Stan
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Stan
2 years 2 months ago

This table isn’t sorting for me. Not sure if anyone else has the same issue.

tz
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tz
2 years 2 months ago

Still can’t get over how well the Marlins are doing. They really could maintain their winning record this year, especially considering all the games with the Mets and Phillies down the stretch.

Guy
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Guy
2 years 2 months ago

If the Tigers weren’t so awful the past week, they would have been quite a few slots higher in differential.

AK7007
Member
AK7007
2 years 2 months ago

And if the Diamondbacks had good players they would be at the top. But instead, we have what happened, not “if they were better, they would look better.” I know, totally surprising.

Tim A
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Tim A
2 years 2 months ago

And the A’s super bullpen has ten losses or they would have forty wins.

LG
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LG
2 years 2 months ago

If a frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his butt

Johnston
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2 years 2 months ago

Yes, and if my aunt had wheels, she’d be a wagon.

Ghost Hands
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Ghost Hands
2 years 2 months ago

Yikes… So the Padres and Phillies are really bad but are supposed to be even worse. Philly has quite the hole to dig themselves out of in the next five years or so.

companion cube
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companion cube
2 years 2 months ago

As a Braves fan, I certainly look forward to that effort.

Chaos Path
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Chaos Path
2 years 2 months ago

And the catastrophic, emasculating failure thereof.

Za
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Za
2 years 2 months ago

It’s the new “worst team that money can buy”. It’s hard to believe how RAj didn’t see this coming.

J.P.
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2 years 2 months ago

Can an expected Pythagorean W-L record for each team be extrapolated from this data?

Andy
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Andy
2 years 2 months ago

Using the approximate squaring formula, the A’s are on a pace for 116 wins, matching the Mariners in 2001. The Angels would be the highest winning WC team ever, at 110–and if this actually comes to pass, expect some clamor for rules changes.

Picky point: The Angels xRA is 80, not 81.

Andy
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Andy
2 years 2 months ago

Or maybe you got 81 because of some fractional difference.

Ender
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Ender
2 years 2 months ago

The problem with this data is Wei-Chung Wang. Wang is a pitcher for the Brewers who they picked up during the rule V draft so they can’t send him down. He sits on the bench all game every game and only comes in if the Brewers are getting blown out.

Take his 7.2 IP of 17.61 ERA, 6 BB and 5 HR and you probably paint a completely different picture of the team.

I only use him as an example and it is a bit of an extreme one. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen another team use a player like this before. The point is with just 54 games the expected W/L is probably less meaningful than the actual W/L because the game is played completely differently based on being ahead or behind.

maguro
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maguro
2 years 2 months ago

Those innings still happened, though. In the three games where he got bombed – 17 Apr vs PIT, 30 Apr vs MIL and 19 May vs ATL – the Brewers went from being being 1 run down to being blown out, so he has cost them some opportunities to win and the record should reflect that.

Johnston
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2 years 2 months ago

By that log

Johnston
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2 years 2 months ago

By that logic no badly managed game should ever count.

Kumar Plocher
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Kumar Plocher
2 years 2 months ago

Okay, I’ll be “that complaining SF Giants fan”. But seriously, the Giants are scoring more runs than expected, and allowing less runs than expected. When you look at their performance as a team, aside from the beast that is Jean Machi, you don’t see a whole lot of fluky superstar performances. To what might you attribute this, if they are “expected” to be worse in both categories?

Robert Hombre
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Robert Hombre
2 years 2 months ago

3rd-highest strand rate in the majors for their pitchers. Barring extremely high-K pitchers, that doesn’t frequently sustain itself. Likewise, they’re 14th in the majors in wOBA but 8th in runs scored.

The closing of those two gaps is about 90% of the explanation.

chaz
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chaz
2 years 2 months ago

couple points:

1) Guess who has the lowest strand rate in the majors? The A’s. Oh, and the A’s strike out less batters than the Giants do. So that point doesn’t make much sense.

2) For offense, if you use wRC+ instead of wOBA (to account for AT&T park suppressing offense) then they are 9th, right in line with their real production.

chaz
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chaz
2 years 2 months ago

oops, meant highest. The A’s have the highest strand rate in the majors.

Daniel
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Daniel
2 years 2 months ago

The difference can only be explained by two things: timing of events and bad model valuation. I don’t think that the offensive linear weight models are wrong. They are probably the strongest bits of advanced baseball statistics we have. The xRA seems to just be the opponent’s offensive weights. I’m not sure if that’s the best way to evaluate expected results of pitching and defense, but it can’t be too terribly off. It just probably isn’t that predictive of the future.

I guess one thing I’m curious about is if or how much this integrates run environments. That is, higher OBP teams tend to score more runs on the same offensive events.

The timing is generally seen as a luck factor; you should not expect a team to have good or bad but neutral timing. But it is certainly possible that some of this could be controlled. Particularly, I see the Manager having at least some affect because of the lineup, substitutions, rotation, and pitching changes. Other than that, it is hard to make a case that clutch or other sequencing is controllable or sustainable.

nolan
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nolan
2 years 2 months ago

Bochy

Ghost Hands
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Ghost Hands
2 years 2 months ago

The Giants lead the MLB in AVG, OBP, & SLG with RISP w/2 outs. They’re slashing .288/.381/.461 as a team in those situations.

Brian
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Brian
2 years 2 months ago

Talk about a team playing way over their heads. That won’t keep up.

G-Dawwwwwg
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G-Dawwwwwg
2 years 2 months ago

The Giants probably aren’t a true 104-win team. Once you accept that, these numbers might make more sense.

They’re 102, tops.

Jiminy Cricket
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Jiminy Cricket
2 years 2 months ago

It’s likely that both Mike Morse (both his OFF + DEF production) and Ryan Vogelsong (P production) are outperforming their expected output at a decent rate.

They’re not necessarily having flukish seasons, as both have put up similar numbers in the recent past, but most projection models were decidedly bearish on their 2014 outlook.

channelclemente
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channelclemente
2 years 2 months ago

I suspect, given the ‘bearish’ tone of Fangraphs projection, there will soon be a dirth of chickens around to sacrifice to the gods of excursions to the mean.

Jiminy Cricket
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Jiminy Cricket
2 years 2 months ago

‘dirth’ protest too much.

Shankbone
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2 years 2 months ago

“Right now, it looks like the road to the World Series runs through the American League West.”
The AL West is the story, not those lucky SF Giants. Get with the program.

Johnston
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2 years 2 months ago

The A’s are totally amazing and you want to talk about the Giants?

Puh-lease.

yeah
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yeah
2 years 2 months ago

this is great Dave, thanks!!

can you do this by runs / game rather than absolute runs? not every team has played the same number of games so far….

JCA
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JCA
2 years 2 months ago

I read the post on how expected runs allowed is calculated. It seems to start with a conversion of wOBA allowed into wRC allowed, and adjust for baserunning. how is the quality of the fielding captured? I say this as a Nats fan who has been awed by the collection of Strangeloves and Michael Jackson impersonators (glove on one hand for no reason) they have run out there. Actual runs allowed is 5 more than expected, and I wonder if the quality of their “fielding” is already captured in the expected runs.

David
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David
2 years 2 months ago

From the first post in this series last month:
“And there are even a few extra omissions on the run prevention side of things, as wOBA allowed only measures the outs-on-balls-in-play aspects of fielding, and not the outs-on-the-bases aspects, so teams that are good at throwing out runners, preventing steals, or turning double plays are underrated by wOBA differential as well.”

Mr Punch
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Mr Punch
2 years 2 months ago

The Red Sox may be defending champs, but last night they had 2013 starters at only two positions. It’s turnover (at least) as much as injuries. They did manage to beat the Braves, but that’s a team with awful fielding overall despite a couple of standouts.

Snoth
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Snoth
2 years 2 months ago

Would the differentials between R and xR have a high correlation with BA with RISP? Negative differential would correlate to a low RISP BA?

GW
Member
GW
2 years 2 months ago

Why use linear weights instead of Base Runs?

ralph
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ralph
2 years 2 months ago

AKA: Dave Cameron noticed the Giants have the best record in baseball and felt the need to explain why they’re RISP totals aren’t sustainable. Who knew!

Dave is getting more hackneyed by the post.

BIP
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BIP
2 years 2 months ago

Given that he didn’t mention the Giants at all, I find your theory unlikely.

TKDC
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TKDC
2 years 2 months ago

No, Dave has it in for the giants. It makes perfect sense. The reasons are so clear I don’t even have to make them up.

Noah
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Noah
2 years 2 months ago

I like the xRunDiff, but by no means should the top teams simply be taken as the best teams. Obviously the Marlins aren’t going to win the division without Fernandez. Also, Expected Runs scored and allowed are just based on wRC+, FIP, and UZR, but obviously some people are going to regress while others will improve. This is especially true for hitters, because our expected runs scored doesn’t adjust for inflated hitter HR/FB rates and BABIPs. Encarnacion isn’t going to hit 60 home runs. Puig isn’t going to bat .340. So I wouldn’t count anyone out based on xRDiff besides maybe the Phillies.

ncb
Member
ncb
2 years 2 months ago

drunk me thinks it is weird to have a table sorted by the second to last variable in the table. Maybe give it first then all the other stuff?

Man
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Man
2 years 2 months ago

why are people still listening to this clown? #6 org anyone? LOL

Matt
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Matt
2 years 2 months ago

Approximately how many years of the Cubs having 90+ losses in a row, are we going to pretend they’re better than their record?

Brian
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Brian
2 years 2 months ago

The Angels should have about ten more wins than they have. They had so many games so far they should have won but Scioscia made stupid decisions and blew easy wins.

Owen
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Owen
2 years 2 months ago

My evaluation of the Red Sox this season went from “gee, they’re bad at situational hitting” to “gee, they’re bad at hitting,” to “gee, they’re pretty terrible at everything now.” Of course, the current 6-game win streak has now totally convinced me that everything’s fine and the ten-game losing streak shall never be spoken of again. Some combination of Xander Bogaerts and Rubby De La Rosa will lead us to the promised land.

R
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R
2 years 2 months ago

These numbers must be wrong since they don’t show the Jays as being the best when they clearly are.

nate
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

i’m not much of a stat-head so can someone explain how these stats take into account the fact that some teams (the Cubs) are going to have a totally different roster in a few weeks as they start calling up prospects. thanks.

Jason B
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Jason B
2 years 2 months ago

They don’t. They’re descriptive (of what’s happened so far), not prescriptive (of what’s to come).

Shalesh
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

Fangraphs expects (see Standings tab) Houston and the Cubs to be the worst teams in baseball each winning 70 games by year’s end. Dave’s table above shows 10 teams worse than Houston and 17 worse than the Cubs. What other information is the Fangraph’s forecast considering that Dave’s table isn’t?

Also, it would be nice to have xRdiff column in a table with each team’s current record and Fangraph’s year-end forecast.

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