Is the AL East Really The AL Beast?

Is the AL East Really The AL Beast?

Posted Tuesday July 30, 2013 at 1:47:20 pm in Real Sports

The American League East has long been called the best (toughest) division in all of professional sports. But is it really the case?

Year in and year out prior to the 2008 season the AL East was really controlled largely by the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Then 2008 came around and nearly a decade of losing baseball came to an end when the Tampa Bay Rays (fresh off a name change from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays) reeled off a 97-65 season culminated by a trip to the World Series. In case you're wondering, in 2007 they went 66-96. That was a 31 game improvement year over year.

From that point until 2012, it was all Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays. Then the Baltimore Orioles came along and went 93-69 also ending up with a trip to the post season (American League Division Series). They went from going 69-93 to going 93-69. A 24 game improvement very similar to that of the Rays from 2007 to 2008.

So it's no surprise that if you look at the standings in the American League East today and they read as follows:

  • Boston Red Sox: 63-43
  • Tampa Bay Rays: 62-43 (0.5 GB)
  • Baltimore Orioles: 58-48 (5 GB)
  • New York Yankees: 55-50 (7.5 GB)
  • Toronto Blue Jays: 48-56 (14 GB)

And let's not forget that prior to the start of the 2013 season, the Toronto Blue Jays were the favourite of many to win the American League East with their acquisitions of Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Melky Cabrera. According to USA Today's MLB salary table, the Blue Jays team salary at opening day was a whopping $117.5 million. Last year it was only $75.4 million. That's an increase of over $40 million. And they're in last place by a long shot.

It's long been my thought that the American League East is the toughest division in all of baseball. And if you look at the average record of each division, it'd read like the following (rounded):

American League

  • East: 286-240, .544 WP, 57-48 average record
  • Central: 251-263, .488 WP, 50-53 average record
  • West: 251-271, .481 WP, 50-54 average record

National League

  • East: 247-274, .474 WP, 49-55 average record
  • Central: 273-245, .527 WP, 55-49 average record
  • West: 255-270, .486 WP, 51-54 average record

If you put the divisions up against each other, they'd rank like the following:

  1. AL East: .544 WP
  2. NL Central: .527 WP
  3. AL Central: .488 WP
  4. NL West: .486 WP
  5. AL West: .481 WP
  6. NL East: .474 WP

Even more so, let's look at the actual league records themselves:

  • American League: 788-774, .504 WP
  • National League: 775-789, .496 WP

The pendulum slightly swings in the AL's favour.

Looking at the standings for all the divisions, the AL East has 4 teams above .500 and in contention. If the season ended today, the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, and the Baltimore Orioles would all be in the playoffs. This means 3 teams from the AL East would be in the playoffs. In similar fashion, the NL Central would have *3* teams in the playoffs as well: Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds.

So, it seems that the 2 powerhouses are the AL East (4 teams) and the NL Central (3 teams). So let's break down those teams a little bit.

Hitting

  • Boston Red Sox: 5.12 R/G, 783 OPS, 531 runs scored
  • St. Louis Cardinals: 4.88 R/G, 746 OPS, 498 runs scored
  • Baltimore Orioles: 4.72 R/G, 760 OPS, 500 runs scored
  • Tampa Bay Rays: 4.68 R/G, 751 OPS, 491 runs scored
  • Cincinnati Reds: 4.37 R/G, 725 OPS, 463 runs scored
  • New York Yankees: 3.88 R/G, 676 OPS, 407 runs scored
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: 3.86 R/G, 698 OPS, 398 runs scored

Obviously the Yankees are not an offensive threat. But surprising to me the Pirates are actually swinging wetter noodles than the Yankees. So for the top 7 teams in the AL East and NL Central, the AL East has 3 in the top 5.

But what about pitching?

Pitching

  • Pittsburgh Pirates: 3.39 R/G, 3.10 ERA, 349 runs allowed
  • St. Louis Cardinals: 3.57 R/G, 3.37 ERA, 364 runs allowed
  • Cincinnati Reds: 3.58 R/G, 3.33 ERA, 380 runs allowed
  • New York Yankees: 3.95 R/G, 3.74 ERA, 415 runs allowed
  • Tampa Bay Rays: 3.99 R/G, 3.78 ERA, 419 runs allowed
  • Boston Red Sox: 4.15 R/G, 3.84 ERA, 440 runs allowed
  • Baltimore Orioles: 4.43 R/G, 4.32 ERA, 470 runs allowed

Pitching is what favours the NL Central teams. They have the top 3...and it's not even close, really. Understandable being that it's the National League and they have to face 1 less legitimate hitter. But it's amazing how much better the NL Central teams are in terms of pitching.

So we have hitting and pitching. How about something a little more inexact...defense?

Defense

  • Tampa Bay Rays: .715 defensive efficiency, .990 fielding percentage
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: .715 defensive efficiency, .982 fielding percentage
  • Cincinnati Reds: .710 defensive efficiency, .988 fielding percentage
  • Baltimore Orioles: .706 defensive efficiency, .992 fielding percentage
  • New York Yankees: .695 defensive efficiency, .989 fielding percentage
  • St. Louis Cardinals: .690 defensive efficiency, .988 fielding percentage
  • Boston Red Sox: .688 defensive efficiency, .985 fielding percentage

If we go by defensive effiency, the AL East has 3 in the top 5 yet again.

So what's the take away?

  • The AL East has 4 contenders vs. the NL Central's 3
  • The AL East has better hitting 
  • The AL East has better fielding
  • The American League has a better overall record
  • The NL Central has been pitching

Oh, as for the Blue Jays? They have a better hitting club than the Reds and Pirates (Jays score 4.62 R/G, 480 runs scored total). Their problem is above and beyond pitching. And there was a point (few weeks ago), where every team in the AL East was .500 or better. That was fresh off the heels of their 11 game winning streak. Since then they have fallen apart.

The gut reaction holds true. The American League East is the American League Beast. But now we have numbers to prove the point.

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view