Yoenis Cespedes’ great throw home to nail Howie Kendrick was one of the great plays of the 1st half of the season. Let’s dig in to more of the goings-on in the 2014 1st half, shall we…
Before looking back on the portion of the 2014 MLB season that has occurred up until this point in time, it is important to recognize something in the context of statistical facts and figures such as these:
If Masahiro Tanaka leads MLB in wins at All-Star break, he would be only 2nd rookie to do so, joining Fernando Valenzuela (via @EliasSports)
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 10, 2014
Jose Altuve/Dee Gordon each have 100 hits/40 SB by All-Star Break. Last time 2 players had 100/40 at break- 1986 (R. Henderson/Raines)
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 9, 2014
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) July 8, 2014
All of these tweets are about things that happened before the All-Star break in relation to other seasons prior to an All-Star break. I’ll use just the first and fourth of these to prove the fallacy here — although I’ll dismiss the first one right away with the fact that it’s related to pitcher wins, and pitcher wins are stupid. Let’s deal with Jose Abreu and his home runs by a rookie before the All-Star break.
|Home Runs before the All-Star Break by Rookies|
Okay so the data I compiled didn’t really refute the above graphic, as I had expected it to. But, the Jose Canseco line does illustrate the only real point I’m trying to make as an introduction to this whole thing: not all 1st halves are created equal, because the “1st half” is not the first 81 games of the season, it is all of the games played prior to the ASG, regardless of when the ASG is in a particular season.
Nevertheless, we’re at a lull in the action – as last night’s home run thingy proved – which is why it serves as a good opportunity for reflection. Let’s first take a look at the standings that have been produced so far. Let’s start with the American League, as well as some observations:
- If we didn’t know it before – and we should have – we do now: never bet against the Oakland Athletics. As of right now, they are clearly the best team in baseball, and – in the short term at least – the Jeff Samardzija trade made them even better. Their average run differential per game is a full .6/run ahead of the next highest team, the Angels. Their rotation, led by the triumvirate of Samardzija/Scott Kazmir/Sonny Gray, is among the best in baseball (3.13 starters ERA & 77.6% LOB% both rank second in MLB). Their bullpen, boasting the likes of Sean Doolittle, Luke Gregerson, and Dan Otero, has been a force to be reckoned with (3.3 fWAR for bullpen is 3rd-best in AL; 76.9% LOB% and 3.00 ERA are 2nd among AL bullpens). Oh, and Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, and Derek Norris‘ great contributions are among the reasons why the A’s lead all teams with seven players at the ASG.
- I mentioned how close behind Oakland the Angels are. The AL West, man. The A’s are the best team in baseball, but the Angels? The Angels are 9-1 in their last 10 games, 16-4 in their last 20 games, and have the best record in baseball since June 6 (25-9). Oh, and Mike Trout is yet again the best player in the AL, both according to B-Ref and FanGraphs. My Mariners are currently in the playoff positions, leaving us with two teams in Texas. The Rangers have been absolutely decimated by injuries and the Houston Astros – though still bad generally and making headlines for the wrong reasons specifically – have a load of young, exciting, and intriguing talent who have been called up to the big leagues including George Springer, who ranks 10th in the AL in home runs.
- From worst to first — or something. The Boston Red Sox, who won the World Series in 2013, are now in last place in their division and have posted a record nine games below .500. The Rays have also struggled in the AL East, though they’ve seen a mini-resurgence, winning 13 of their last 20 games. Atop the AL East is a Baltimore Orioles squad with a power punch Nelson Cruz (28 HR, 74 RBI), Adam Jones, and a great offensive year from Steve Pearce.
- Ah yes, the AL Central. In my mind, a division always with a significant amount of parity and one or two miserable sides. At this point, it’s the Detroit Tigers and everyone else. Why have the Tigers been so great? Ian Kinsler (arguably among the 10 best AL position players this year), Miguel Cabrera, and the unrelated brothers Martinez (J.D. with 182 wRC+ & .309 ISO and Victor with a 165 wRC+ & .296 ISO). The offensive contributions of those four and their teammates have been enough to overcome threats from their rivals, as well as a poor showing from Justin Verlander.
Let’s move on to the Senior Circuit, as well as some observations on that league.
- The last couple years – at least in my mind – having been relatively the same: the NL’s East and West divisions have a couple teams each that battle it out up top, while the NL Central provides a different kind of intrigue with three or four teams vying for the divisional crown. This is certainly the blueprint this year seems to be following, and we’ll start in the geographical middle with the central…
- How great have the Milwaukee Brewers been? Or at least had, I should say. The Brew Crew had an amazing April (19-8, .704) and a stellar June (18-10, .643) with a mediocre May (13-15, .464) in between. July? Woof. The fellas from Wisconsin have a 2-10 mark so far this month, and have lost 13 of their last 20. That said, they’re still 10 games over .500 and atop their division, thanks in large part to Carlos Gomez (.304/.370/.510 with 14 HR, 17 SB, and 48 RBI) and Jonathan Lucroy (.315/.385/.494 with nine HR and 44 RBI). The Reds, Pirates, and Cardinals are all hot on the Brewers’ tail however, as all three are at least 18-12 over their last 30 games and none trailing by more than 3.5 games in the division.
- Out East, things have not strayed too far from pre-season projections and expectations of most in the baseball world, as we now have a two-horse race on our hands between the Boys in the Beltway and The Bravos. After an 11-15 May, first-year manager Matt Williams has his boys hot heading into the dog days with a 24-15 record since June 1 and a 13-7 mark over their last 20 games. Infielder Anthony Rendon has had a breakout year (.287/.343/.490 with 13 HR, eight SB, and 53 RBI) while Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann have been a formidable 1-2 punch atop the Nats’ rotation.
- The West has experienced a noticeable split so far this season, with the top two teams among the best in the NL, and the bottom three all at least 12.0 games back. Up top, the Giants were red hot to start the year, entering June 1 with a record of 37-20. Since then, San Francisco is 16-23 and have fallen out of the top spot in the division. Replacing them at the top is the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have had seen great first halves from Yasiel Puig (.309/.393/.522 with 12 HR and 52 RBI) and Dee Gordon (.292/.344/.398 with league bests in both triples with nine and stolen bases with 40). On the mound, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu have both been good, but as I’ve written before, Clayton Kershaw has been nothing short of phenomenal (11-2, 1.78 ERA, 126 K/13 BB, 1.60 FIP).
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) July 15, 2014
That’s where we stand right now. Tonight, we settle in for the All-Star Game, followed by an off day tomorrow (although the Triple-A ASG will air on MLB Network at 7 ET/4 PT) and another on Thursday before the action resumes this weekend. If you need a teaser, said action includes Cincinnati visiting the Yankees, Milwaukee heading to Washington, the Dodgers doing battle with the Cardinals, Baltimore visiting the A’s in Oakland, and the Seattle Mariners heading down to the Big A for a 3-game tilt with the Angels.
Until next time,