Stats taken from Baseball Prospectus, Yahoo Sports, and Baseball Reference. Logos taken from here.
First Half MVP: Alex Rodriguez, 3B, NY Yankees (.317/.413/.665, 30 HR, 54.5 VORP, 3.77 WPA). He’s come a long way since October, 2004.
First Half Cy Young: Eric Bedard, Baltimore (7-4, 121.7 IP, 149 K, 3.40 ERA, 31.3 VORP). 20 more IP, almost 3 more K/9 than Beckett.
First Half Surprise (Player): Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore. Former first round pick claimed on waivers after the Indians DFA’d him, has a 2.74 ERA and only 18 BB in 102 IP. Second half expectations should be somewhat tempered by a .235 BABIP.
First Half Surprise (Team): Yankees’ actual record being nine games worse than their expected record.
Even with Manny Ramirez starting to show signs of decline, and Ortiz’s magical clutchness suddenly disappearing, the Red Sox have the best record in baseball, and a 10 game lead in the East. Dustin Pedroia is living up to PECOTA’s lofty expectations, and Kevin Youkilis’ .419 OBP is third in the AL (Ortiz is second, Pedroia is 13th). The team’s strength has actually been the bullpen’s 2.82 ERA.
Matsuzaka and Beckett have led the way in the rotation, and Okajima is actually a close third behind them in VORP. Papelbon’s Strikeouts-to-Hits ratio (yes I just made that up) is 2.5:1, thanks to a completely unsustainable .221 BABIP.
Maybe Alex Rodriguez leading the Yankees to a championship is just not meant to be. Despite being on pace for a 57 HR, 163 RBI year, the Yankees have only about a one in five chance of making the playoffs. And the chances of A-Rod returning next year may be even smaller than that.
Despite Torre’s questionable usage patterns, the bullpen has a solid 3.83 ERA. After thoroughly enjoying his recent exploits, I was going to write about Scott Proctor’s imminent demise, having thrown so many innings (47 2/3). But his splits from last year tell a different story: despite 55IP before the break, he managed a 2.28 ERA in 47 2/3 IP in the second half. So maybe (probably?) it all catches up to him, but maybe not.
You’d never know it, but the Blue Jays are tied for second in the East. Vernon Wells has been a disappointment after signing his big contract, but has been tearing it up since moving to the leadoff spot (.309/.387/.745 in 55 AB). Alex Rios has been the team MVP, hitting .294/.350/.520.
In the rotation Halladay wasn’t his normal self in the first half, but his peripherals are pretty much in line with last year. The bullpen has been a nice surprise, with a 3.62 ERA. Casey Janssen (45IP, 2.40 ERA) has been great except for one outing, although his 4.7 K/9 doesn’t inspire optimism. As for their $47MM closer…oops.
Brian Roberts has had a fantastic first half for the Orioles, with a .405 OBP and 27 steals in 31 attempts. Miguel Tejada’s .423 SLG is 54 points below his career average. Jay Gibbons and his .265 OBP should probably stop getting at bats. Same goes for Corey Patterson (.605 OPS).
Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Burres- Mazzone effect, anyone? Despite losing Adam Loewen for the year after just six starts, and the continued struggles of Daniel Cabrera, the starters have a 4.08 ERA. It’s been the relievers that have hurt them, with a 5.02 ERA.
The young talent is great and all (especially James Shields), but the Devil Rays’ defense is pathetic. It’s the worse in baseball, and it’s not particularly close. As spectacularly bad as Fossum, Jackson and Seo were by themselves (combined VORP: -55.5), the defense really killed them also, as they had BABIPs of .375, .376 and .390, respectively.
Although failing to make headlines, Carlos Pena (.609 SLG!) has been a force, as has B.J. Upton (.320/396/.545 at the age of 22).
Outlook: Much has been made of the Yankees’ second half schedule, and for good reason- their .486 SOS is the lowest in the league. But the Red Sox also have a pretty easy time from here on out, as they play the Devil Rays an amazing 15 times. Although the Yankees have a decent chance to sneak in through the Wild Card, the division seems out of reach, as they have about a 25:1 shot.
First Half MVP: Magglio Ordonez, RF, Detroit (.367/.446/.604, 52.6 VORP). .421 BA in June is misleading, as he had an unusually high BABIP and slugged “just” .537.
First Half Cy Young: Johan Santana, Minnesota (10-6, 2.75 ERA, 121 IP, 30 BB, 125K). And he’s just getting warmed up.
First Half Surprise (Player): Gil Meche, Kansas City (122 IP, 3.54 ERA). Sure he’s getting paid well, but who actually expected him to be worth it?
First Half Surprise (Team): By default, it would have to be the White Sox. As pessimistic as PECOTA was, I think most people expected them to be more than two games better than the Royals.
The Tigers’ offense has been firing on all cylinders all year, as their league leading 512 RS are 41 more than anyone else. Beyond Magglio, Sheffield, Guillen, Granderson and Polanco all have VORPs over 20. I doubt Neifi’s recent transgressions will slow down their offense, although Craig Monroe’s .223/.270/.388 line is pretty miserable, especially for a LF. Most importantly, the team’s .330/.403/.510 line with RISP has been a big reason for their success, and shouldn’t be expected to continue so far above their overall .290/.352/.473.
If Jeremy Bonderman could figure out how to get through the first inning, he could challenge Johan for the Cy Young. AB/HR in the first: 10.7. In all over innings: 112.7. Bonderman has allowed seven of the 10 home runs hit off him this year in the first, an astonishing number. Zumaya’s injury really hurt the bullpen, which has scuffled to a 4.93 ERA, almost a full run above the starters’ 3.99. Justin Verlander has seen his K/9 spike from 5.8 last year to 7.8 this year, which is a very good sign for Detroit.
Travis Hafner’s first half is very worrisome for the Tribe, as his SLG is down over 200 points from last year, from .659 to .452. The man who hits behind Pronk, Victor Martinez, has had the opposite transformation, with his .553 SLG being significantly above his career average of .476. If these trends continue, pitchers are going to have to stop pitching around Hafner, lead the league in walks with 65 walks. Jhonny Peralta seems to have settled in to what he is going to be, as his .277/.348/.464 line is almost exactly the average of his fantastic ’05 and terrible 06 (.275/.345/.453). Of concern for the Tribe is right field, where Trot Nixon (.238/.333/.335) looks very much done.
Courtesty of FanGraphs, here is a graph of C.C. Sabathia’s BB/9 rate throughout his career:
Even with a .326 BABIP and a terrible outing last week, Sabathia’s ERA is 3.58, and a lower walk rate is a big reason why. Amazingly, that’s the third best walk rate on the team, as Paul Byrd has six walks all year (and two of them were intentional), and Rafael Betancourt has a 36:3 K/BB ratio. Fausto Carmona’s early success was a big flukey, but his increased K rate (3.3 K/9 in his first nine starts, 7.5 K/9 in his last eight).
The Twins’ offense is Morneau, Hunter, Mauer, Cuddyer, and not much else. Those four have been good enough for 4.95 R/G, 8th in the league. But Nick Punto and his .272 SLG have held the offense down, as have Luis Rodriguez’s 105 .526 OPS plate appearances. If the Twins got any production beyond the fifth slot in the order the lineup would be scary. They don’t.
There is a reason I used Santana’s picture, even though he plays for a third place team. Here are his post-ASG stats for the past four years:
Personally, this year’s White Sox team has taught me two very interesting things about PECOTA- first, that it doesn’t have feelings, and the second thing being that it’s usually right. Jim Thome (.435 OBP) has been fantastic when healthy, and Konerko has been solid. Nobody else has a VORP over 5. To say that Jermaine Dye (.214/.271/.402) and Joe Crede (.216/.258/.317) have come back down to earth would be quite an understatement.
As expected, the starting rotation has been solid, with a 4.07 ERA. Buehrle, Vazquez and Garland (ERAs of 3.03, 3.65 and 3.92, respectively) have all been excellent. If Jose Contreras (5.19 ERA) had performed near his ’05 and ’06 levels the rotation would really be something. In the bullpen, Bobby Jenks (8.3 K/9, 3.28 ERA) is good, and everyone else (Thornton, Logan, Bukvich, Aardsma, Sisco, Macdougal, Masset) is awful. Bukvich “leads” that group with a 5.11 ERA.
The Royals are 11th in RS, and 11th in RA. Throw in the fact that they’re 12th in defensive efficiency, and I guess you have a pretty good recipe for finishing in last place. Beyond Meche, Brian Bannister (3.71 ERA) has been excellent, although he doesn’t really strike anybody out (43 K in 80 IP). David Riske has parlayed an increased K rate (7.1 K/9) into a solid first half. Unfortunately, Scott Elarton (9.17 ERA), Odalis Perez (5.68 ERA) and Jorge De La Rosa (5.16 ERA) have combined for 44 starts.
David DeJesus (.418 SLG) leads the team with a 17.8 VORP, which is not a good thing. Alex Gordon has obviously struggled, but he did pick it up in June (.327/.383/.500). The Royals have five hitters (Gordon, Ross Gload, Jason Larue, Emil Brown, Ryan Shealy) with 100+ plate appearances and negative VORPs.
Outlook: The Tigers’ offense will come back down to earth, but I don’t know if that will be enough for the Indians to catch them. Getting Zumaya back would be huge for them, as their bullpen has been a mess. Fortunately for the Tribe, there’s a decent chance the consolation prize in the Central will be the Wild Card, as BP think there’s a 63% chance that the WC comes out of this division. The Twins have a shot, but it will take a lot more than Johan adding to his collection of hardware for them to catch up- they probably need to add another bat, and their young starters really need to step up.
First Half MVP: Ichiro Suzuki, CF, Seattle (.359/.410/.459, 23 SB, 2 CS). If you say Vlad, I can’t argue. I took Ichiro because of defense, steals, and his team exceeding expectations.
First Half Cy Young: Dan Haren, Oakland (10-3, 2.30, 129.1 IP, 101 K)
First Half Surprise (Player): Chad Gaudin, Oakland (8-3, 2.88, 32.5 VORP). Am I the only one who didn’t realize he’s only 24?
First Half Surprise (Team): Seattle, obviously.
The Angels are only seventh in the AL in R/G, but that is somewhat misleading, as they are .04 R/G away from fourth. It always starts with Vlad, but this year he has more support than in years, led by All Star snub Orlando Cabrera (.328/.366/.444). Casey Kotchman’s plate discipline is tremendous (24 K, 25 BB). At just 24, if he develops a little more power he’ll be really scary. Also, after signing the big contract, Gary Matthews Jr. has been better than (I) expected (.279/.341/.436). Overall, a very balanced attack, with seven hitters having VORPs over 10.
The pitching as a whole is very balanced, with a 4.17 starters’ ERA and 3.91 bullpen ERA. The starting rotation, however, is not, with Lackey (2.91 ERA) and Kelvim Escobar (3.19 ERA) at the top, but Ervin Santana (5.97 ERA) and Bartolo Colon (6.44 ERA) holding them down. The back of the bullpen is filthy as usual, with Scott Shields (1.70 ERA) and K-Rod (38.2 IP, 53 K).
Where’d these guys come from? The surprise Mariners’ offense runs through Ichiro, but veterans Adrian Beltre (.277/.377/.488) and Jose Guillen (.283/.354/.441) have also contributed. It’s always a huge plus for an offense not to be pulling any dead weight, which is true for the Mariners, who have nobody with a VORP under –3.
J.J. Putz (0.88 ERA, 41 IP, 44 K) has been dominant at the back end of the bullpen . After scuffling a little and struggling with an injury after his one-hitter against the Red Sox, Felix Hernandez, with the help of some dedicated bloggers, has come on strong lately (2-0, 2.12 ERA in his last four starts), and seems poised for a big second half. Even Jeff Weaver (2-0, 1.67 ERA in six starts) has been good since returning from the DL.
Impressively, the A’s have five guys with OBPs of .369 or above. This got me to thinking about Billy Beane and Moneyball, and wondering what areas Beane currently believes there is value in. The following is a graph of the A’s OBP and defensive efficiency, relative to the league average, during Beane’s tenure.
Over the last five years, the A’s OBP has only been about league average but, except for last year, their defense has been well above average each year. They’ve come a long way since Beane took over in 1997, when they were 28th in Defensive Efficiency.
The A’s rotation, with its 3.36 ERA, has kept them from completely falling out of the race. Although Blanton’s .238 BABIP is unsustainable, Oakland’s excellent defense (.720, first in the AL) should keep the rotation from falling back too much in the second half. Despite the high OBPs, the A’s have scored the second fewest runs in the AL. Jason Kendall and his .227/.263/.280 line have not helped matters, but this may change in the second half as they get Piazza back, and possibly give Kurt Suzuki more time behind the plate. Oakland has really been decimated by injuries, and could be helped by some guys coming back in the second half.
Of the five Rangers pitchers to make 13 or more starts, Kameron Loe has the lowest ERA at 5.36. Not good. The Rangers’ bullpen has really saved them (to the extent that a 38-50 team can be saved), with a 3.51 ERA. If they end up trading Gagne (1.32 ERA) and Otsuka (2.51 ERA) at the deadline, things could get real ugly in Arlington come August and September.
Outlook: It looks like the Angels’ division to lose, as the Mariners have played over their heads, and the Athletics struggling to score. But this race is far from over. It’s entirely possible that Ichiro and King Felix carry the Mariners in the second half and keep this race close come September. The A’s are also still in it, with the combination of all the guys returning from injuries and their annual second half surge. Tied with the Indians in the loss column and only two games behind the Angels, BP gives the Mariners about a 35% chance of making the playoffs, which seems a little high. That being said, I do think they have a shot. I would put the Angels at about 70% to win the division, with the Mariners at 20% and the A's around 10%.