The five best offensive teams by offensive runs above average in the month of June are the Pirates, Tigers, Royals, Twins, and Diamondbacks. The Royals have been the best team in baseball this month with an 11-3 record, with the Indians second at 10-5. Since May 18, the Royals have made up 6.5 games in the standings and the Indians have made up eight games on division-leading Detroit. The Royals have a shot to take over first place on Tuesday night if they can beat Max Scherzer. They are the only team in the American League to have a record better than 6-4 over their last 10 games. Are they for real? Read on to find out.
As for the other divisions, it’s time once again to commend the Oakland Athletics. Not only do they have the American League’s best record at 42-28, but 51 of their 70 games have been played against teams with a record of .500 or better. They are 29-22 in those games and 13-6 against sub-.500 competition. The list of starting pitchers this season for the A’s features Sonny Gray, a 24-year-old in his second season serving as the de facto ace, Scott Kazmir, who was pitching in independent ball two years ago before having a great season with the Indians in 2013, Jesse Chavez, a converted reliever with a 4.80 career ERA, Tommy Milone, an average southpaw with huge home/road splits, Drew Pomeranz, a former high draft pick that struggled in Colorado, but has found a home in Oakland, Dan Straily, a 24th-round pick out of Marshall in 2009, and Josh Lindblom, with one spot start.
It was pointed out in the Oakland season win total article that no team besides the Tampa Bay Rays allocated a larger percentage of its payroll to the bullpen than the A’s. Clearly the A’s have a marginal starting rotation, and that was going to be the case with Jarrod Parker and AJ Griffin, had they not had to undergo Tommy John surgery. The A’s bullpen is eighth in WAR, sixth in ERA, and ninth in FIP. Without some early season meltdowns, the A’s could be running away with everything in the American League. Their outstanding run differential puts their Pythagorean Win-Loss record at 48-22, six games better than their actual record. They have outscored opponents by an average of 1.8 runs per game.
In the Senior Circuit, tough times are coming for the Milwaukee Brewers. Read on for more. The Miami Marlins keep on hanging around in the National League East, but that seems unlikely to continue. The Marlins are 15-9 in one-run games even though they have a middle of the road bullpen and the highest walk rate in baseball. Three relievers, AJ Ramos, Mike Dunn, and closer Steve Cishek, are on pace for over 70 appearances each and the next closest is Dan Jennings with 52 projected appearances. The next two closest are in line for 35 appearances. Unless the Marlins find some depth, their key bullpen members will get burned out and the fortunate luck they’ve experienced with take a turn.
The injury bugs swarmed in and made several more appearances this past week. Bronson Arroyo is on the disabled list for the first time in his Major League career as the Diamondbacks are down yet another starter. There’s concern that the UCL might be involved, which would wipe out the rest of this season and at least half of next season. Braves setup man David Carpenter exited Monday night’s game with bicep soreness. He’s been the main bridge to Craig Kimbrel, though he did struggle mightily for a couple weeks recently. Orioles catcher Matt Wieters needs Tommy John surgery, which means he’ll be out for quite a while. Emilio Bonifacio, who cooled off dramatically after a hot start, is out with an oblique strain that may cost him significant time. Occasional Astros closer Josh Fields left with ominous forearm soreness in his last appearance. Tanner Scheppers, who bounced back and forth between the bullpen and the beleaguered Rangers rotation earlier this season, is out with elbow discomfort. There are a lot of day-to-day injuries and it’s that time of year where nagging pains get worse and worse, so keep an eye on the daily lineups and injury news before locking in any wagers.
As promised, let’s take a look at the Kansas City Royals and the run that they’re currently on. Back on May 19, I isolated the Royals as a team that was poised to get hot because of some indicators in their advanced metrics. At that time, Danny Duffy had just been placed in the rotation and the Royals were 4-9 in one-run games. The Royals were 22-22 at that time. They’re 15-10 in the 25 games since, though they are just 3-3 in one-run games. I pointed out their team BABIP of .267, which now sits at .295. The general range for BABIP is between .290 and .310. During their current eight-game winning streak, the Royals have averaged seven runs per game.
The current clip they’re playing at is not sustainable because nobody scores seven runs per game. Nor are the Royals going to post a .600 winning percentage the rest of the way. It would appear that the Royals could be a team to win 84-85 games, and that may be enough the way that the Tigers are trending in the division, but it’s hard to see a sustained run of success.
Jason Vargas is having a career year in a neutral park and his carriage will be turning back into a pumpkin very soon. He will continue to benefit from the defense, but warmer weather in Kansas City makes the ball carry better and that’s true of most of the parks in the AL Central. Expect Vargas to go from a 3.25 ERA to a 3.75 ERA or higher by the All-Star Break. James Shields is still an underrated commodity, but the rest of the rotation has a lot of bust potential. Jeremy Guthrie is a shaky proposition every time he takes the ball. Yordano Ventura had elbow discomfort earlier in the season and the Royals will not sacrifice his arm for the sake of contending this season if problems arise again. Duffy has been an upgrade and will continue to be, but he missed most of 2013 recovering from Tommy John. He has good traditional stats as a starter, but regression appears likely with a 2.96 ERA overshadowed by a 4.18 FIP and a 4.93 xFIP. As teams get a book on him, he’ll regress.
Offensively, the Royals are the top team at making contact, striking out the fewest number of times. With contact hitters comes a lack of power and the Royals have hit just 35 home runs in 69 games. Yes, they hit a home run every other game. In today’s specialized game, runs are scored via walks and extra-base hits, not stringing singles together. The Royals rank 13th in the AL at drawing walks. Contact is great, but offense is luck-based and susceptible to prolonged slumps, like the one the Royals endured earlier this season. If I had stock in the Royals, I would sell it.
Speaking of selling teams, the Milwaukee Brewers are about to get a dose of reality. If your book is still offering division futures, jump on the St. Louis Cardinals bandwagon. The Brewers still lead the pack in that division at 42-29, but they haven’t been able to pull away and the Cardinals are quietly three games back.
On the season, the Brewers have posted a wRC+ of 99. wRC+ has a baseline of 100 and 100 is league average. Park factor adjustments are made and the Brewers do play in one of the better hitter’s parks in baseball. On the season, the Brewers are below league average offensively. Defensively, they are one of the game’s best, which is a big part of why they have had so much success so far. Their starting rotation has one of the lowest walk rates in baseball, so opposing teams have not had many baserunners, thus limiting their run-scoring opportunities.
However, the Brewers have played just 22 of their 71 games against teams with a record of .500 or better. Slow starts by the Reds and Pirates do skew that statistic, but the Brewers are 10-3 against the Pirates with just six games left. They have 13 left with St. Louis and still have to play San Francisco and the Los Angeles Dodgers twice, they have yet to play Washington, and still have 12 more against Cincinnati.
In ERA-FIP, which shows how much defense and luck has affected a pitcher or group of pitchers, the Brewers rank 29th at -0.59. That means that regression from the starting rotation is very likely. The Brewers have also been remarkably healthy in the rotation with five guys making 14 starts already. Marco Estrada has been awful and four of the five regular starters for Milwaukee show regression characteristics.
Sell, sell, sell on the Milwaukee Brewers and buy, buy, buy with the St. Louis Cardinals. There’s a chance that the Pirates or Reds sneak into the hunt, but the Cardinals look like the team to beat.