June 04, 2012

Lost amid the justified hoopla of Johan Santana becoming the first Mets pitcher ever to throw a no-hitter was the fact that it overshadowed how well the Mets have been playing for some time now. In fact, bolstered by Santana's gem, New York started this week in a tie for first in the NL East with the Marlins and the Nationals only percentage points behind. Throw in the Braves (two games back) and the Phillies (3 ½) and the division can boast five teams over .500.

The only other division that could make that claim as the week began is the AL East. While that division may not have as much bunching at the top, it is even more densely packed than its NL counterpart. The Rays, Orioles (one game back after dropping two of three in Tampa Bay), Yankees (1 ½ behind), Red Sox and Blue Jays (both three games out) are doing their part to maintain the division's reputation as the toughest in baseball.

Starting this weekend, we'll get to see these Eastern powers go head-to-head when interleague resumes with the Yankees hosting the Mets, the Red Sox hosting the Nationals, the Orioles hosting the Phillies, Marlins hosting the Rays and the Braves hosting the Blue Jays. Of course, there's no telling how the standings will look by then.

NOTE: All stats are through Sunday, June 3.

Rankings written by the Ben Duronio of Fangraphs. The system used to rank the teams is based not on the current standings or a gut feeling about team quality, but on how well they've performed at the underlying traits that predict future performance better than wins and losses.

wRC+ is an offensive index where 100 is league average and every point above or below that denotes how far from league average a player's performance has been up to that point. It is adjusted for park and league, so it takes into account the context of a player's surroundings, and allows for comparison of performance from players in different situations and in different times.

MLB Power Rankings
1 Texas <a href=Rangers" title="Texas Rangers">
Last Week: 1
WAR Winning Percentage: .694; Current Winning Percentage: .593; WAR Wins: 37; Current Wins: 32

The Rangers have just three players who have hit below league average this season: Yorvit Torrealba, Alberto Gonzalez and Michael Young. What is even more impressive about the Rangers is that Ian Kinsler has been the worst hitting infielder among the four regulars, and he has a .350 on base percentage with six home runs and seven steals. If the season ended today, the Rangers 119 wRC+ would be the highest team mark since the 2007 Yankees.
2 Washington Nationals
Last Week: 2
WAR Winning Percentage: .628; Current Winning Percentage: .577; WAR Wins: 33; Current Wins: 30

Bryce Harper has performed even better than expected in his first month of major league play. He won the NL Rookie of the Month award for May after hitting .271 with 13 extra base hits and 13 walks in 121 plate appearances. Meanwhile, Gio Gonzalez won NL Pitcher of the Month honors for a May in which he had a 2.25 ERA, 45 strikeouts against 13 walks and just one home run allowed.
3 Los Angeles <a href=Dodgers" title="Los Angeles Dodgers">
Last Week: 4
WAR Winning Percentage: .614; Current Winning Percentage: .611; WAR Wins: 33; Current Wins: 33

The Dodgers were playing tremendous baseball for nearly the entire first two months of the season, but things seem to be unraveling as of late. Los Angeles has won just one of its past seven games, scoring only 19 runs over that span. Matt Kemp came back from the disabled list but went right back on it after re-injuring his hamstring. The Dodgers' need for Kemp's bat has been evident over the past few weeks, and his health will be the key if they want to hold off the surging Giants, who are now just three games back in the NL West.
4 St. Louis <a href=Cardinals" title="St. Louis Cardinals">
Last Week: 3
WAR Winning Percentage: .614; Current Winning Percentage: .500; WAR Wins: 33; Current Wins: 27

The Cardinals allowed the Mets their first ever no hitter, and followed up the no hit performance with a shutout loss against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. The Cardinals have been hit pretty heavily by the injury bug, but even the healthy bats went cold this weekend. The return of Allen Craig should help the St. Louis offense bounce back, but the eventual returns of Jon Jay and Lance Berkman can't come soon enough.
5 Chicago <a href=White Sox" title="Chicago White Sox">
Last Week: 6
WAR Winning Percentage: .577; Current Winning Percentage: .574; WAR Wins: 31; Current Wins: 31

The White Sox look like team comeback. Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and A.J. Pierzynski have already combined for 3.8 WAR after posting a collective -2.2 last year, and Jake Peavy is less than one win away from hitting the 2.9 mark he received last year. Even scarier for the rest of the AL Central: The White Sox are winning while Gavin Floyd, Philip Humber and John Danks all have ERAs over five. Each are capable of performing much better in the second half, and if all three improve down the stretch, the White Sox may be tough to beat.
6 Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 11
WAR Winning Percentage: .560; Current Winning Percentage: .556; WAR Wins: 30; Current Wins: 30

Melky Cabrera has been the talk of the team, as he recorded more hits in May than any other Giant in history (yes, more than Mays, Bonds and everyone else), but fellow outfielders Gregor Blanco and Angel Pagan have been very impressive as well. Blanco currently has a 123 wRC+, backed by a 16.1 percent walk rate and .383 on base percentage, while Pagan has a line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .314/.354/.464. The trio has not hit for much power, with just nine home runs between them, but the Giants rank fifth in the majors in outfield WAR.
7 San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 5
WAR Winning Percentage: .546; Current Winning Percentage: .519; WAR Wins: 29; Current Wins: 28

It's hard to believe how good the Red Sox have been considering that Jacoby Ellsbury has played just seven games, Carl Crawford has played none and Adrian Gonzalez has been a below average hitter with a 95 wRC+. How are they doing it then? By getting tremendous production from some players who started the year at triple-A Pawtucket. Daniel Nava has already been the fifth most valuable player on the team by offensive WAR in just 24 games played, and Will Middlebrooks's play has forced trade talks surrounding Kevin Youkilis. This is not how the Sox expected to win, but they have put themselves in a good position as they await the return of their injured players.
8 Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 7
WAR Winning Percentage: .535; Current Winning Percentage: .574; WAR Wins: 29; Current Wins: 31

The Rays' pickup of Hideki Matsui is paying early dividends. He has just three hits in 16 plate appearances, but two of them have gone for home runs. Matsui will move to a lesser role with Desmond Jennings returning from the disabled list on Monday, but he should provide the Rays with even more depth and flexibility to mitigate injuries and play matchups. He is not the player he used to be, but he is a pretty solid 25th man to have on the roster.
9 Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 10
WAR Winning Percentage: .533; Current Winning Percentage: .509; WAR Wins: 29; Current Wins: 28

Just as Roy Halladay hits the disabled list, Vance Worley returns. The unheralded member of the game's top rotation has the second best xFIP of any starter on the team, so his return should help mitigate the loss of the potential future Hall of Famer. The Phillies won't get the type of production they've received from Carlos Ruiz (2.8 WAR) all season, so the lineup needs Jimmy Rollins (67 wRC+) and Placido Polanco (85 wRC+) to improve to score enough runs to stay competitive in a very tough NL East.
10 Miami Marlins
Last Week: 14
WAR Winning Percentage: .533; Current Winning Percentage: .574; WAR Wins: 29; Current Wins: 31

The Marlins took a risk putting newly-acquired Carlos Zambrano in the rotation after his poor 4.82 ERA last year for the Cubs. The risk has paid off so far, as the big right-hander has a 2.81 ERA through 11 starts and 73 2/3 innings for Miami. In addition to his sterling performance on the mound, Big Z hit a home run in yesterday's win, the 24th of his career in. For reference purposes, Phillies outfielder Juan Pierre has hit 16 home runs in over 7,500 plate appearances.
11 Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 8
WAR Winning Percentage: .527; Current Winning Percentage: .556; WAR Wins: 28; Current Wins: 30

The early season magic is beginning to fade for the Orioles, who have now lost eight of their last 10 games. Although they are still very much in the AL East race, they are the only team in the division that has not outscored its opponents this year. On the bright side for the Orioles, the pitching has been rather solid outside of Tommy Hunter. Only Jason Hammel has really stood out, but Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen and Brian Matusz have all been rather sturdy middle of the rotation pitchers, with Arrieta having the lowest FIP of the bunch at 3.97 despite an ERA above 5.00.
12 Detroit <a href=Tigers" title="Detroit Tigers">
Last Week: 12
WAR Winning Percentage: .522; Current Winning Percentage: .463; WAR Wins: 28; Current Wins: 25

The Tigers caught a tough break this week as No. 2 starter Doug Fister was forced to be put back on the disabled list after making just five starts since his earlier stint on the DL. Fister is the only other Detroit starter besides Justin Verlander with a FIP under 4.00, so the Tigers need his arm back in the rotation to stay within arm's reach of first place in the AL Central. Given the questions in their rotation, the Tigers are likely to be early shoppers when the trading season kicks off.
13 New York Yankees
Last Week: 9
WAR Winning Percentage: .521; Current Winning Percentage: .547; WAR Wins: 28; Current Wins: 29

The Yankees have gotten some really good production from Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Russell Martin over the past 14 games. Both Teixeira and Martin have on-base percentages well over .400, while Teixeira and Rodriguez both have four home runs over that span, including A-Rod's bomb against Justin Verlander on Sunday. The Yankees' struggles with men in scoring position have been a bit overstated, as they actually have the 13th best wOBA in those situations. That is not quite the level you expect from Bronx Bombers, but it also is not nearly as bad as many have made it out to be.
14 Los Angeles <a href=Angels" title="Los Angeles Angels">
Last Week: 13
WAR Winning Percentage: .511; Current Winning Percentage: .509; WAR Wins: 28; Current Wins: 28

With Bryce Harper winning NL Rookie of the Month, it was only fitting for rival uber-prospect Mike Trout to win the same award for the AL. In just 33 games played, Trout already has the highest WAR on the team, due to a combination of great hitting and superb defense. Trout currently has a line of .318/.374/.538 atop the Angels lineup. It is no coincidence that Los Angeles is 20-13 in the 33 games Trout has appeared in.
15 New York Mets
Last Week: 17
WAR Winning Percentage: .510; Current Winning Percentage: .573; WAR Wins: 28; Current Wins: 31

Finally, the Mets have their first ever no-hitter thanks to Johan Santana on Friday night. The performance puts Santana's comeback in the limelight, as the lefty has his highest strikeout rate and lowest FIP since joining the Mets back in 2008. Not only has Johan come back strong in his return from shoulder surgery that forced him to miss all of 2011, but he has actually come back to the form he had in his Minnesota days, when he was an annual Cy Young candidate.
16 Cincinnati <a href=Reds" title="Cincinnati Reds">
Last Week: 16
WAR Winning Percentage: .500; Current Winning Percentage: .566; WAR Wins: 27; Current Wins: 30

Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton are the only two players with a higher wRC+ than Joey Votto's 189. This may go unnoticed to some, but Votto has the highest on base percentage (.428) and WAR (17.5) since the start of the 2010 season, which makes him at least arguably the best player in the game over the past three seasons. The Reds offense has not helped out Votto a ton, but third baseman Todd Frazier has certainly done his part. Frazier has a 142 wRC+ backed by 6 home runs in just 97 plate appearances.
17 Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 15
WAR Winning Percentage: .498; Current Winning Percentage: .537; WAR Wins: 27; Current Wins: 29

The Braves broke their eight game losing streak earlier this week, and also called up prospect Andrelton Simmons to take the place of fellow rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky. Atlanta has been just below average based on our defensive component of WAR, but Simmons taking over shortstop should lead to that number increasing going forward. Scouts view Simmons as one of the top defensive shortstops in the game already while Pastornicky had the lowest UZR of any player in the majors, coming in at 10 runs below average.
18 Colorado <a href=Rockies" title="Colorado Rockies">
Last Week: 25
WAR Winning Percentage: .483; Current Winning Percentage: .566; WAR Wins: 27; Current Wins: 30

The Rockies cut veteran Jamie Moyer this week and also saw star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hit the disabled list. Tulowitzki's absence will force others to produce in order to remain competitive, which Dexter Fowler has already begun to do. Fowler is enduring a breakout season, with a .298/.400/.582 line which includes eight home runs and six stolen bases in as many chances. Since May 27, Fowler has seen his average rise from .237 to .298, and the Rockies are 7-3 in that span while winning six of their last seven.
19 Arizona <a href=Diamondbacks" title="Arizona Diamondbacks">
Last Week: 18
WAR Winning Percentage: .483; Current Winning Percentage: .463; WAR Wins: 26; Current Wins: 25

Chris Young's return from the disabled list has not been nearly as exciting as his performance was before he was injured. The centerfielder has hit just .129/.250/.161 over the past 14 days. Thankfully for the D-backs, Paul Goldschmidt heated up over that time frame. After hitting just two home runs all season, the powerful first baseman has hit three home runs and has a .474 on base percentage over the past two weeks. Arizona has not hit many home runs, ranking just 20th in the majors after ranking 10th last year, so the Goldschmidt's rediscovered power is certainly welcome.
20 Milwaukee <a href=Brewers" title="Milwaukee Brewers">
Last Week: 19
WAR Winning Percentage: .483; Current Winning Percentage: .444; WAR Wins: 26; Current Wins: 24

Rickie Weeks is the last man standing in an infield that has seen its shortstop and first baseman tear an ACL and be forced to miss the remainder of the season, its catcher break his right hand after a suitcase fell on it, and a third baseman strain a quad muscle. The extent of Aramis Ramirez's quad injury is not yet known, but Milwaukee needs his bat in the lineup as Weeks has hit just .170/.309/.308. Weeks does have a small three-game hitting streak, so maybe things are starting to heat up for the former All-Star.
21 Cleveland <a href=Indians" title="Cleveland Indians">
Last Week: 20
WAR Winning Percentage: .462; Current Winning Percentage: .528; WAR Wins: 25; Current Wins: 28

Jason Kipnis has a higher wRC+ than Robinson Cano, Dan Uggla and Ian Kinsler. His performance to date has been one of the biggest reasons for Cleveland's above .500 record. Despite Kipnis leading the way offensively, the Indians need better infield defense to keep their record intact. Cleveland ranks fifth in the league in ground ball rate but is middle of the pack in terms of balls in play that have landed for hits, with their overall defense ranking in the bottom seven in the league based on our fielding component of WAR.
22 Kansas City <a href=Royals" title="Kansas City Royals">
Last Week: 23
WAR Winning Percentage: .460; Current Winning Percentage: .442; WAR Wins: 24; Current Wins: 23

The big problem with the Royals so far has been pitching. Only Felipe Paulino has an xFIP under 4.00, and he has made just six starts and thrown 37 innings. Offensively, Eric Hosmer has seemed to get it together lately. The young first baseman has an on base percentage over .400 and two home runs over the past two weeks, despite having just a .277 on base percentage for the season. The Royals definitely need to pitch better to join the AL Central the race, but getting Hosmer back on track ? and keeping him there -- is essential.
23 Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 22
WAR Winning Percentage: .459; Current Winning Percentage: .340; WAR Wins: 24; Current Wins: 18

With just 18 wins on the season, the Cubs are reportedly going to start shopping their veteran players, which includes nearly everyone on the roster not named Samardzija or Castro. While Matt Garza is likely to be their most valuable trade chip, savvy buyers may prefer Ryan Dempster instead -- he'll cost less to obtain and is likely to provide similar second half performance.
24 Seattle <a href=Mariners" title="Seattle Mariners">
Last Week: 26
WAR Winning Percentage: .443; Current Winning Percentage: .429; WAR Wins: 25; Current Wins: 24

In the six games the Mariners played last week from Monday to Sunday, they scored 49 runs, including 21 in one contest against Texas. The Mariners have scored 234 runs all season in 56 games, but last week they managed to scored 21 percent of their entire run total in just six games. The reemergence of Justin Smoak (.292/.343/.520 over the last 30 days) has provided the team with some much needed power, but Smoak has had good months before. He'll need to show he can keep hitting over a larger sample before the team gets too excited.
25 Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 24
WAR Winning Percentage: .440; Current Winning Percentage: .519; WAR Wins: 24; Current Wins: 28

The wheels are beginning to fall off for Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek. For most of the season the two starters have had low ERAs despite having high FIPs, and lately their results have started to regress. Over Alvarez's past three starts he has allowed 14 earned runs in 17 innings, while Drabek has allowed 15 runs in 15 2/3 innings in his past three. The Blue Jays do not need Drabek or Alvarez to be aces in order to win, but they certainly need them to be better than they have been.
26 Houston <a href=Astros" title="Houston Astros">
Last Week: 21
WAR Winning Percentage: .433; Current Winning Percentage: .426; WAR Wins: 23; Current Wins: 23

Not much has gone well for the Astros this year, but Jose Altuve has arguably been the National League's top second baseman. The 5-foot-6 middle infielder has a 133 wRC+ and NL leading 1.9 WAR, and is also the subject of http://www.howmanyaltuves.com/, "The best Altuve measurement tool online." Short jokes aside, Altuve has proven that he can stick with the big guys, as his ISO (isolated power) is higher than noted power hitters Alex Gordon and Justin Upton.
27 Pittsburgh <a href=Pirates" title="Pittsburgh Pirates">
Last Week: 27
WAR Winning Percentage: .421; Current Winning Percentage: .509; WAR Wins: 22; Current Wins: 27

The Pirates have had solid pitching from their top three starters -- James McDonald, A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard -- but with Charlie Morton going down with an injury and Kevin Correia netting a 5.44 FIP, the starting staff will have a difficult time holding down opposing offenses at the same rate theirs is held down. Of course, given the Pirates' offense, that's an unreasonable standard for any group of pitchers; even an All-Star team would be challenged to prevent enough runs to keep Pittsburgh's line-up in most games.
28 San Diego <a href=Padres" title="San Diego Padres">
Last Week: 28
WAR Winning Percentage: .381; Current Winning Percentage: .327; WAR Wins: 21; Current Wins: 18

Outside of spacious Petco Park, the Padres have a team ERA of 5.20. Only the Mets have a worse road ERA in baseball, so it is pretty clear that the Padres lack the talent needed to succeed outside of their vast stadium. The Padres are a team built around pitching and defense, and because they aren't getting much pitching they aren't winning many games. The offense is light and centerfielder Cameron Maybin has been lackluster with just an 88 wRC+ after signing a big extension in the spring.
29 Oakland <a href=Athletics" title="Oakland Athletics">
Last Week: 29
WAR Winning Percentage: .322; Current Winning Percentage: .426; WAR Wins: 17; Current Wins: 23

The A's have won just one of their past 11 games, and have already been shut out 10 times this season. The A's have the seventh highest walk rate in the game, staying true to their Moneyball roots, but the power numbers are below average and the team is hitting a putrid .209 on the season. Josh Reddick has really been the only above average regular, netting 2.1 WAR with a 146 wRC+. ?
30 Minnesota <a href=Twins" title="Minnesota Twins">
Last Week: 30
WAR Winning Percentage: .309; Current Winning Percentage: .377; WAR Wins: 16; Current Wins: 20

The biggest problem with the Twins is that they have a contact-heavy staff -- which is evident with their league low strikeout-per-nine rate -- and an awful defense. Only three other AL teams have allowed more balls to land for hits. It is not surprising that building a team around a contact approach while not focusing heavily on acquiring solid defenders has not worked out in Minnesota.

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