MLB Coverage: The AL East Race

We’re in the final week of play before the All-Star break in major league baseball, and TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage will be focused on an effort to capture each division race in a statistical snapshot. Today we begin with the AL East.

The format will be as follows: We’ll list where each team ranks, within the American League, in the following categories…

*Runs scored
*On-base Percentage
*Slugging Percentage
*Starters’ ERA
*Relievers’ ERA
*Save percentage

I’m including two separate stats for the bullpen, because, while I believe save percentage is the most important, the composite bullpen ERA reflects a team’s ability to keep a game close if the starter is chased early.

Then we’ll include a couple notable individual performances, be they good or bad, and from there offer some comments about what this all might mean going forward.

Boston Red Sox (54-36)
Runs Scored: 1st
OBP: 1st
Slugging: 2nd
Starting Pitching: 1st
Relief Pitching: 11th
Save Percentage: 17/31
Notable: John Lackey (2.80 ERA in 15 starts), David Ortiz (stat line of .399 OPB/.595 slugging and 61 RBIs)

Comments: I felt Lackey was the most notable on the pitching side, because his strong showing has been the key factor in enabling Boston to have the best starting pitching in the American League, in spite of a recent injury to Clay Bucholz and recent struggles by Jon Lester. While I expect Lackey to continue to pitch well, I’m sure few of my fellow Red Sox fans would disagree with the notion that a healthy Bucholz and revitalized Lester are absolutely essential to winning the AL East.

Baltimore Orioles (49-40)
Runs Scored: 4th
OBP: 9th
Slugging: 1st
Starting Pitching: 12th
Relief Pitching:  7th
Save Percentage:  33/50
Notable: Chris Davis (33 home runs, 85 RBIs, .395 OBP), Jason Hammel (5.03 ERA)

Comments: The contrasting years of Davis and Hammel illustrate the Orioles well. They’re relying heavily on power hitting to overcome a lack of a consistent starting pitching. If this basic statistical outline holds up, the Orioles won’t—it’s too tough to outslug people for 162 games. But the flip side is that staff ace Wei-Yin Chen has been out since mid-May and he’s due back this week. The club also acquired Scott Feldman from the Cubs. There are good reasons to expect improved starting pitching in the second half. Just how much improved will settle this team’s ultimate fate.

Tampa Bay Rays (49-40)
Runs Scored: 5th
OBP: 4th
Slugging: 8th
Starting Pitching: 9th
Relief Pitching: 8th
Save Percentage: 21/32
Notable:  David Price (11 starts due to injury, 4.18 ERA), Evan Longoria (.366/.525 stat line, with 17 home runs)

Comments: We went into the Rays in-depth this past weekend, and briefly summarized, the problems Price has had—both injuries and not pitching well early—sum up a rotation that’s been surprisingly mediocre. But Price has been on since his return, and Longoria leads an equally surprising offense that’s kept the team afloat.

New York Yankees (48-40)
Runs Scored:  11th
OBP: 12th
Slugging: 12th
Starting Pitching: 6th
Relief Pitching: 6th
Save Percentage: 31/35
Notable:  David Adams (.190 batting average), Mariano Rivera (29/31 on save chances, 1.89 ERA)

Comments: I cited Adams as the notable offensive number to illustrate this point—regardless of what you think of Alex Rodriguez’ talent at this stage of his career, to suggest he will not be a substantial upgrade at third base is to not be paying attention. It’s hard to imagine an offense being this bad in the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium, so the returns of A-Rod and Jeter—both on rehab assignments right now—are badly needed. The team’s bullpen is just insanely good, and Rivera’s greatness is again underscored by the fact that when he blows a save—like yesterday against Baltimore—it’s literally national news.

Toronto (43-45)
Runs Scored: 8th
OBP: 10th
Slugging: 7th
Starting Pitching: 14th
Relief Pitching:  1st
Save Percentage:  19/28
Notable:  R.A Dickey (19 starts, 4.77 ERA), Casey Janssen (17/18 on save chances, 2.57 ERA)

Comments: Am I the only one who finds it ironic, that after all the resources Toronto poured into the everyday lineup and the rotation, that it’s the bullpen—built on the cheap—that’s the reason they still have a semblance of life left? Toronto opened the season as the betting line favorite to win the AL East. If you’re still a believer today, you can get 30-1 odds (no one else is higher than 5-1). More realistically, the Jays are just hoping for another hot run to get a wild-card shot.


 I mentioned Toronto’s fall from favorite to also-ran. Boston’s 4 ½ game lead has made them a 5-6 favorite to win the division right now. That’s a logical betting number given the team’s lead, but given both the quality and quantity of the teams in hot pursuit, that’s a tough bet to make without at least getting even money. Gamblers didn’t believe in the Orioles at the start of the year, and while that’s changing a little bit, Baltimore still has the least respect among the contenders—they’re 5-1, while Tampa and New York are each 4-1.

TheSportsNotebook picked the Yankees to win the AL East at the start of the year, although at the time it was thought Jeter was coming back at the start of May. I also picked Tampa and Baltimore to complete a division sweep of the wild-card spots and I had all five teams finishing over .500. That’s all in play, although I’m going to revisit the picks next week as part of an All-Star week re-evaluation.