April is finally over, and we’ve come to what, to me, is often the toughest time to be a baseball fan. The weather hasn’t yet turned. Your schedule isn’t yet relaxed for the summer. The newness of the season has worn off, but the year is young enough that the games still feel weightless, throwaway.
It’s also the hardest time to be an analyst. Teams that are taking you by surprise aren’t yet doing anything reliable, anything to report, per se, but their results are starting to accumulate to the point where they matter, real or not. It’s exceptionally hard not to let your eyes glaze over when the standings seem stuffed with teams who have won between 11 and 17, and lost between 11 and 17, but it actually matters where they all are on that spectrum. A sixth of the season is gone, and the Yankees lead the Rays by four and a half games.
That all informs what you’ll read below. During the first two iterations of this weekly rankings update, I gave you miniature mission statements. Here, I want to get a little more transparent about my methodology, as these bones begin to cover themselves in meat.
First of all, you will see changes in my rankings, nearly every week. In a perfect world, that wouldn’t be so. If I had a comprehensive system for rating and ranking teams, the way Dan Szymborski and the geniuses behind PECOTA do, I would make almost no changes, because I would be better able to assert conviction in my estimates of team quality. I don’t, so while I do my best to pay attention to all the teams, all the time, each week’s rankings will reflect some new information, my effort to accommodate whatever I’ve learned about the landscape over the previous week.
You won’t see large changes, though, precisely because I’m sensitive to the specter of overreacting to small samples. Even after a month, as this exercise illustrates, we know about three sentences’ worth of real news about each team. The only drastic week-to-week moves will happen when injuries strike, and even then, it’s often easy to overstate the real damage any individual injury does to a team.
Okay, without further ado, the latest Power Rankings, with one full month in the books:
30. Houston Astros (9-19): The last three Astros teams, en route to league-worst records, finished April with run differentials of -37, +4 and -45. This year’s squad stands at -54.
29. Minnesota Twins (12-12): Programmed pitch-taking permits them to pull positive performances out of poor players. If only opponents felt obligated to be so passive in return.
28. Chicago Cubs (9-17): I have the persistent sense that this group of players could play much better, but they keep not doing it. Maybe the upside just isn’t there.
27. Chicago White Sox (14-15): Tyler Flowers has a .560 BABIP this season. That is, in microcosm, how the Sox have ended up scoring the fourth-most runs in baseball thus far. Utterly unsustainable.
26. Philadelphia Phillies (13-13): Phillies aged 33 or older have been worth 5.5 WAR so far. Phillies 32 or younger have given back 3.0 WAR. This organization’s future isn’t bright.
25. Colorado Rockies (16-13): A .363 team BABIP at home. A .984 team OPS there. Troy Tulowitzki is going nuts, but what happens once he gets hurt and Charlie Blackmon returns to Earth?
24. Arizona Diamondbacks (9-22): In a just universe, maybe Arizona would win more than its share of close games to make up for their awful start. In this one, they’re 4-4 over their last eight.
23. New York Mets (15-11): Narratives drive perceptions. The Mets are still seen as star-crossed and cash-starved, so no one’s taking them seriously. That’s probably okay, for now anyway.
22. Miami Marlins (13-14): Fernandez grabs the biggest headlines, but Stanton, Yelich and Ozuna could be the best offensive outfield in the league right now. A ton of fun to watch.
21. San Diego Padres (13-16): The Mariners ceded defense to get out of MLB’s offensive cellar. The Padres are standing on principle, willing to score two runs a game forever. It’s not going well.
20. Seattle Mariners (11-14): If ever a team were less than the sum of its parts, it’d be this one. Too many similar, even redundant, players to utilize well.
19. Pittsburgh Pirates (10-16): The defense is still very good, but the magic is gone from their pitching staff. Per Baseball Prospectus, that staff is the very worst in baseball.
18. Baltimore Orioles (12-12): I’m impressed at how well they’ve weathered the early season, staying afloat. They have a chance to get much better as they get healthy.
17. Cincinnati Reds (12-15): With hindsight, you can see the luck that helped them pop up with such strong seasons recently. There are holes here, and a dwindling number of strengths.
16. Toronto Blue Jays (12-15): I don’t see a lost season, but they would need to commit to it in order to seriously compete. Second base and back of rotation are problems.
15. Kansas City Royals (14-12): This team reminds me of the 2012 Giants. Strong, veteran starting pitching, tons of contact on offense, sound defense. They, too, have to improve at margins.
14. New York Yankees (15-11): Some of their weaknesses really haven’t flared up yet, but with Michael Pineda in danger of joining Ivan Nova on the shelf, they might be now.
13. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (14-13): I liked their offseason starting pitching pickups, and sure enough, that unit is holding up its end of things. Inability to upgrade in trade could be problematic.
12. San Francisco Giants (17-11): I don’t see the starting rotation holding together or performing as well as they have early. Even so, their balanced positional core makes them interesting. 10-5 at home.
11. Cleveland Indians (11-17): I’m among the poor, deluded souls who still believe fully in both Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer. I also think the offense will come out of its funk.
10. Milwaukee Brewers (20-8): At last check, their collective OPS against relievers was 85 percent of the league average. A heavily right-leaning, hyper-aggressive lineup can be exploited late in games.
9. Texas Rangers (15-13): A better version of Baltimore, they’re lethal if still in the hunt come midsummer. It may all be a chase for a Wild Card Game berth now, though.
8. Detroit Tigers (14-9): Miguel Cabrera’s last two months are his worst two in seven years. Playing such an interrupted schedule hasn’t helped him find a rhythm.
7. Boston Red Sox (13-14): Organizational depth is awesome, but most easily leveraged when guys get hurt. They may need to get creative in order to get the most out of theirs.
6. Tampa Bay Rays (11-16): It’s easier to forgive their lack of spectacular offense when the pitching staff stays healthy. They need to demonstrate an ability to work around the rotation holes.
5. Washington Nationals (16-12): Bryce Harper’s injury hurts, but this team has solid outfield options in the minors, plus Nate McLouth. Meanwhile, Doug Fister is set to complete their rotation next week.
4. Atlanta Braves (17-9): I do think Harang’s strong starts were mirages, but the steady stream of arms the Braves always seem to have inspires confidence. Strong, well-balanced team.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (15-12): If Clayton Kershaw comes back cleanly from injury, they might be number one soon. Dee Gordon’s start plugs what looked like a big hole. Few holes remain.
2. St. Louis Cardinals (15-14): We knew their tons-of-singles offense couldn’t remain elite without doing something better. I’m somewhat surprised at just how much they’ve come back to Earth, though. We’ll see.
1. Oakland Athletics (18-10): Somehow, learning that A.J. Griffin is out for the year wasn’t even enough to keep them from moving up. This team has everything. They’re truly 25 men strong.
You know what? Just writing that rekindled my spirit. I’m ready for May.