Predicting the AL (L)East

Posted Wednesday July 23, 2014 at 1:23:22 pm in Real Sports

NOTE: This was written on July 20th, 2014.

From 1998 to 2007, it was pretty easy to predict the AL East. It was usually the New York Yankees in first, the Boston Red Sox in second, and the rest (Orioles, Jays, Rays) in whatever was left. And usually the difference between the Tier 1 teams (Yankees, Red Sox) and the Tier 2 (3?) teams was quite a lot. Typically double digit games behind. Sometimes 20 or more. Until 2014.

For the longest time, the AL East was referred to as the AL Beast. In 2013 I wrote an article outlining as such: Is The AL East The AL Beast? The main takeaway was this (comparing the AL East to the NL Central):

 

  • The AL East has 4 contenders vs. the NL Central's 3
  • The AL East has better hitting
  • The AL East has better fielding

 

But 2014 is a horse of a different colour. 3 teams in the AL East (Yankees, Rays, Red Sox) are in the bottom 5 in runs scored per game (4.02, 3.96, 3.86, respectively). 3 teams in the AL East (Red Sox, Jays, Yankees) are right around league average in runs allowed per game. And 3 teams in the AL East (Jays, Yankees, Red Sox) are right around league average in defensive efficiency.

But more importantly, the average record in the AL East from clubs with a winning record (Orioles, Yankees, Jays) is 51-46. That's it. So with the AL Beast regressing more towards being the AL Least, what division in the AL is the new "Beast?"

If you go off of records alone, the AL West stands out immediately. There are 3 clubs with winning records (A's, Angels, Mariners). Their average W-L record is 57-40. 6 more wins than the AL East, 6 less losses. That's a 12 game swing. The AL West has 2 teams 20 games or more above .500. The Mariners (in 3rd place) are 7 games above .500. There is only *1* club in the AL East more than 7 games above .500: the Orioles (10).

So with that being said, it's going to be difficult to really predict the AL East. It's a hodge podge of mediocrity. And with the O's in the middle of a brutal west coast road trip where they'll face the behemoths of the AL West (A's, Angels, Mariners)...things are even more of a toss-up.

But I'm here to try and unravel the mystery behind just whom is going to win the AL East. And I'm going to go out on record and say that the AL East will be lucky to have *1* team snag up one of the 2 Wild Card spots.

I'm going to try and tackle it by breaking down the following:

 

  • Rank of team (taking into account offense, defense, pitching [rotation and bullpen])
  • Strength of schedule remaining
  • Current record
  • Trades

 

So without further ado, let's jump right in.

 

Ranking Each Team

I typically like to judge the totality of team by breaking down 5 categories: offense, defense, bullpen, rotation, and overall pitching. I'll put their AL East ranking in parentheses.

 

Baltimore Orioles (417 R, 388 RA, PW-L 51-45, W-L 53-43)

  • Offense: 4.34 R/G (2nd), .742 OPS (2nd), .265 BA (1st), .319 OBP (4th), .423 SLG (1st)
  • Defense: 24 Rtot (1st), .700 defensive efficiency (1st)
  • Bullpen: 3.45 ERA (2nd), 1.253 WHIP (2nd)
  • Rotation: 4.09 ERA (5th), 1.359 WHIP (5th)
  • Overall pitching: 4.04 RA/G (1st), 3.86 ERA (3rd)

The O's offense is largely centered around the homer. They're not a patient club, but their aggressive style coupled with the highest batting average in the division puts them neck and neck w/ the Blue Jays for the best offense in the division.

Their defense is another sign of strength. It's easily the best in the division...and one of the best in all of MLB.

The Orioles have a starting rotation that is largely mediocre. They don't have any elite pitchers, but they also don't have any terrible pitchers. Basically their rotation typically gives them a chance to win on any given night....unless it's Ubaldo walking the entire ballpark.

The O's bullpen, however, is a one of the best. Basically if their starters can go 5-6 IP and keep the team in the game...usually the bullpen shuts down the opposition.

The second half is a coin flip for the O's when it comes to pitching. It's entirely centered around Gausman and Ubaldo stepping up their game. Or the O's supplanting an injured Ubaldo (or ineffective Gausman) with a guy like AJ Burnett.

 

Boston Red Sox (374 R, 410 RA, PW-L 44-53, W-L 45-52)

 

  • Offense: 3.86 R/G (5th), .695 OPS (4th), .247 BA (5th), .323 OBP (3rd) , .372 SLG (5th)
  • Defense: -8 Rtot (2nd), .680 defensive efficiency (5th)
  • Bullpen: 3.32 ERA (1st), 1.265 WHIP (3rd)
  • Rotation: 4.03 ERA (4th), 1.308 WHIP (3rd)
  • Overall pitching: 4.23 RA/G (3rd), 3.80 ERA (2nd)

 

The Red Sox offense is Mike Napoli, David Ortiz, and Brock Holt. The rest are struggling. This should be of no surprise as it's largely made up of young players (Boegarts, Bradley, Holt) and role/injury prone

players (Gomes, Nava). I expect the Red Sox offense to perform similarly for the remainder of the year. And that's basically be the worst in the AL East.

The BoSox defense is a strength...but it's largely centered around that of Jackie Bradley Jr and Dustin Pedroia. That said with Bradley Jr. patrolling CF in Fenway Park, he can make up a lot of ground.

As for their pitching? It's basically their bullpen and Jon Lester. The rest are very vulnerable. And I don't expect it to change much in the future.

The Red Sox should be a seller in the second half of 2014. They'll be lucky to hover around .500 for the remainder of the season.

 

New York Yankees (386 R, 416 RA, PW-L 45-51, W-L 49-47)

 

  • Offense: 4.02 R/G (3rd), .694 OPS (4th), .252 BA (4th), .313 OBP (5th), .381 SLG (4th)
  • Defense: -30 Rtot (5th), .683 defensive efficiency (4th)
  • Bullpen: 3.78 ERA (3rd), 1.280 WHIP (4th)
  • Rotation: 3.96 ERA (3rd), 1.259 WHIP (1st)
  • Overall pitching: 4.33 RA/G (5th), 3.90 ERA (4th)

 

The Yankees spent a boatload in the offseason to upgrade their struggling offense: Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran were the big ticket items. Role players like Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson were signed on the cheap. They were added to compliment guys like Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter, and Mark Teixeira. That said, the Yankees offense is one of the worst in the American League. Aside from Brett Gardner and a slightly resurgent Mark Teixeira...the offense has been miserable.

The fact that the Yankees are so old shouldn't surprise anyone. It also shouldn't surprise anyone that their defense is the worst in the AL East because of their age.

And for their pitching? Basically their starting rotation was Masahiro Tanaka...and everyone else. Tanaka is currently on the DL with a UCL tear...and has undergone a PRP treatment. Most think he'll have Tommy John this season...and as such the Yankee rotation is in shambles. They signed Brandon McCarthy...who will most likely end up as cannon fodder that will eat innings.

Their bullpen is basically Dellin Betances and David Robertson. Aside from those two, it's nothing special.

That said, the Yankees are somehow playing way about their PW-L once again. Which cracks me up considering GM Cashman had this to say about the O's before the season started, "When you over-perform, like the Orioles did (in 2012), you realize that?s more of an anomaly. And last year was a market correction.? The real question is whether last year was an anomaly for the Yankees...and if so, the market correction should mean the Yankees fall apart in the second half.

 

Tampa Bay Rays (388 R, 406 RA, PW-L 47-52, W-L 46-53)

 

  • Offense: 3.92 R/G (4th), .708 OPS (3rd), .253 BA (3rd), .325 OBP (2nd), .383 SLG (3rd)
  • Defense: -24 Rtot (4th), .695 defensive efficiency (2nd)
  • Bullpen: 3.85 ERA (4th), 1.240 WHIP (1st)
  • Rotation: 3.76 ERA (1st), 1.274 WHIP (2nd)
  • Overall pitching: 4.10 RA/G (2nd), 3.79 ERA (1st)

 

The Rays only regular player with an OPS over .800 is David DeJesus. Joyce and Zobrist have an OPS above .750. Longoria is quickly approaching a .700 OPS. That means one thing: the Rays offense is one of the worst in the AL...and I don't expect them to improve that much in the second half. The loss of Wil Myers has been huge. And Longoria struggling is holding the entire offense back.

Their defense has largely taken a step back in 2014. I don't see them improving much.

That said...the Rays have the best pitching in the AL East. And that should scare a lot of clubs. This is a team that has largely gotten by with a below average/average offense with a stellar rotation. Look to the Rays to leap frog the Jays and Yankees in the second half (or come very close to it).

 

Toronto Blue Jays (436 R, 418 RA, PW-L 51-47, W-L 50-48)

 

  • Offense: 4.45 R/G (1st), .747 OPS (1st), .258 BA (2nd), .325 OBP (1st), .422 SLG (2nd)
  • Defense: -17 Rtot (3rd), .689 defensive efficiency (3rd)
  • Bullpen: 4.36 ERA (5th), 1.423 WHIP (5th)
  • Rotation: 3.89 ERA (2nd), 1.334 WHIP (4th)
  • Overall pitching: 4.27 RA/G (4th), 4.05 ERA (5th)

 

The Blue Jays offense was on fire. And would you expect any less from a club with Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Adam Lind? That said, the Jays offense Is reeling. Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie, and Edwin Encarnacion are most likely on the DL for another few weeks. It's very possible that the Blue Jays could find themselves under .500 before they're back.

The Blue Jays defense is so-so. Nothing special, nothing awful.

Their pitching, however, leaves much to be desired. It was largely centered around Mark Buehrle pitching way above his head. Guys like Drew Hutchison have ran into trouble lately. R.A. Dickey has an ERA approaching 4.00. And their bullpen is easily the worst in the division.

The Blue Jays resurgence in May and June was mostly a mirage. Expect them to continue to falter for at least next month or so.

 

Strength of Schedule Remaining

 

Baltimore Orioles

 

  • 63 remaining
  • 42 against .500+
  • 21 against < .500

 

 

Boston Red Sox

 

  • 64 remaining
  • 50 against .500+
  • 14 against < .500

 

 

New York Yankees

 

  • 65 remaining
  • 34 against .500+
  • 31 against < .500

 

 

Tampa Bay Rays

  • 62 remaining
  • 42 against .500+
  • 20 against < .500

 

Toronto Blue Jays

  • 63 remaining
  • 31 against .500+
  • 32 against < .500

 

Hardest schedule remaining ranking:

  1. Boston Red Sox (78% against .500+)
  2. Tampa Bay Rays (68% against .500+)
  3. Baltimore Orioles (67% against .500+)
  4. New York Yankees (52% against .500+)
  5. Toronto Blue Jays (49% against .500+)

 

Current Record 

  1. Baltimore Orioles 53-43
  2. New York Yankees 49-47 (4 GB)
  3. Toronto Blue Jays 50-48 (4 GB)
  4. Boston Red Sox 45-52 (8.5 GB)
  5. Tampa Bay Rays 46-53 (8.5 GB)

The difference between the top record (10 over .500) and the worst (7 below .500) is only a matter of 8.5 games. But even still, the mediocrity in the AL East coupled with the fact that they play each other so much will keep this division in a dog fight. The difference between the best and the worst isn't as great as the records would make you think. Essentially the Rays got off to an incredibly slow start, but have rebounded as of late. The Red Sox started off on fire, but completely fell apart. The Jays started off slow, then got extremely hot, but are now reeling. Surprisingly the Yankees and Orioles have been the most consistent clubs all season.

 

Trades

I think the second half of 2014 is going to sway dramatically depending on where David Price goes (and whether he's traded), Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and that's largely it. There aren't going to be many impact players traded other than those 3...and it's not even for sure whether any (or all 3) of them will be traded.

That said, I expect the Orioles, Blue Jays, and Yankees to be somewhat active.

Look to the Orioles to pick up a bullpen arm to replace that of Brian Matusz. In addition, they'll continue looking into LH bats and SP options. There's talk of trade discussions with the Phillies regarding AJ Burnett. Outside of that, don't expect many dramatic moves by the O's.

The Yankees are always going to be in on trades...even though they're playing about their heads and Masahiro Tanaka is going to most likely need season ending Tommy John surgery. That said, the Yankees farm system is largely barren. I don't expect them to land someone like Cole Hamels, but they very well might be able to swing a trade for Cliff Lee if he proves he's healthy once he rejoins the Phillies. Aside from that, they've already picked up Jeff Francis and Brandon McCarthy. There's a possibility that the Yankees upgrade their rotation further with a middle of the rotation pitcher...but don't expect too much else.

Now, what about the Blue Jays? There are rumblings that they're tapped out financially. That said, I wouldn't put it past the Jays to try and upgrade their starting rotation. They're going to have to try and weather the storm of missing Lawrie, Encarnacion, Lind, and to a lesser extent Nolan Reimold. If they're not able to, you might see them maintain status quo unless they somehow are able to stay in contention.

The biggest question mark is that of the Rays. Are they sellers? Right now they're 8.5 GB. Their offense is nothing to write home about, but their rotation is the best in the division. I can see them making a run in the 2nd half...but they'd need that rotation to keep Price in it in order for them to do so. The question is whether or not the Rays think their starting pitching can continue to hit on all cylinders. If not, Price has

got to be traded. And I doubt sincerely he's traded in the division. If anything he'll go to a club like the Mariners or the Cardinals. In addition, the Rays have a lot of interest in Ben Zobrist.

As for the Red Sox? I don't expect them to be sellers or buyers. They may very well trade a guy like Koji Uehara who is a free agent in 2015 and is a highly effective and coveted closer. It would be a savvy move for a club that has the hardest schedule remaining in the AL East.

 

Overall Wrapup and Predictions

The Red Sox falter on the weight of a ridiculously tough second half schedule (78% of games remaining against clubs with a .500 record or better). They trade Koji Uehara to a contending club...most likely outside of the division. The Tigers are one of the potential landing spots as Joe Nathan has struggled to the tune of 6.23 ERA and a 1.587 WHIP. The Sox finish in last place in the AL East with a record of 74-88.

The Toronto Blue Jays struggle to maintain a .500 record until Encarnacion, Lind, and Lawrie come back from their respective injuries. The Jays buoy their rotation a little bit, but ultimately their bullpen and injured line up end up giving them little traction overall. The Blue Jays finish in 4th place in the AL East with a 81-81 record.

The Tampa Bay Rays continue to surge and play spoiler against the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Orioles. Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, and Alex Cobb stabilize the rotation, but the offense sputters the remainder of the season. The Rays actively discuss trades with the Reds for Ben Zobrist and David Price with the Mariners and Cardinals. David Price is traded outside the division to the Cardinals in the end. All that said, despite a tough schedule, the Rays end up righting the ship and end up with an 82-80 record finishing 3rd.

The New York Yankees are crushed with the news that Masahiro Tanaka will undergo season ending Tommy John surgery. Additions to the rotation of Brandon McCarthy and Jeff Francis do little to bolster the rotation whereas mainstays Kuroda and Phelps keep the Yankees above water. The Yankees light remaining schedule keep them in contention...but ultimately they end up in 2nd with the Blue Jays with an 83-79 record.

The Baltimore Orioles struggle during their west coast trip and accompanying home games against the Angels and Mariners by going 4-6 on the road and 2-4 at home. But after that, the injuries to the rest of the division and the trade of David Price allows for the O's to swoop in and win the division. It isn't done without drama, however, as the O's second toughest schedule remaining in the AL East causes a few hiccups for the birds. Ultimately they finish with an 87-75 record 4 games ahead of the Yankees and win their first AL East pennant since 1997.

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