Change-UpAugust 19, 2009
Your One Stop American League Round-Up
By Patrick Sullivan

In the throes of the dog days of August, it's easy to lose sight of the importance of the baseball games being played night-to-night. In baseball there's the season's beginning, the excitement around the trade deadline and the September pennant races that seem to garner the most attention. But these are interesting times in Major League Baseball, and I thought it might be useful to stop and take stock of where we are at the moment. We'll start with the American Legaue.

In the AL East, the New York Yankees seem to be on cruise control, bashing their way to their first division crown since 2006. Their team OPS+ is 116 and with only one regular OPS'ing under .800, this is the finest edition of the Yankees in a number of years. They are getting hot at the right time, too, having gone 24-8 since the All-Star Break. Of the top-22 in OPS since the break, five are Yankees. One through nine, it's easily baseball's scariest lineup.

Elsewhere in the division, the Boston Red Sox are tied with the Texas Rangers for the American League Wild Card lead but it's been a tough slog for Boston of late. Just 13-17 since the All-Star Break, it's hard to envision these Red Sox qualifying for post-season play without really catching fire. Fear not, Sox fans. Paul Byrd goes tonight in Pawtucket. Help is on the way!

Three games back of the Red Sox and Rangers in the AL Wild Card race are the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays field four legitimate MVP vote-getters every night, have a great front end of the rotation and an overachieving bullpen. And yet, they can't seem to string wins together consistently. Should they miss the playoffs this season, you can point to four players. Scott Kazmir and his 6.61 ERA is one, and here are the three others:

          AVG   OBP   SLG
Upton    .240  .316  .370
Burrell  .224  .326  .388
Navarro  .220  .252  .336

In the Central, the Detroit Tigers are three games clear of the Chicago White Sox. Detroit has added Jarrod Washburn and now Aubrey Huff, and despite a negative run differential for the month, are 10-7 in August. They don't really hit much, though, and while Justin Verlander continues to dazzle, Edwin Jackson has yielded a .896 OPS since the All-Star Break. If Washburn and Jackson struggle and the offense limps to the finish line, this division is there for the taking should Chicago or even Minnesota step up.

Kenny Williams has grown tired of his team's underachieving ways but don't blame 22 year-old rookie third baseman, Gordon Becham. He's been Chicago's best player of late, hitting .322/.415/.517 since the Break. The problem with the White Sox has been that Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko are doing what old people do, slowing down. Meanwhile for 40% of their games Chicago pretends Jose Contreras and Freddy Garcia are still Major League starters. Get healthy, Mr. Peavy.

For Minnesota's part, their catcher's having a pretty good season, huh? I don't really feel compelled to jump into the absurd Joe Mauer vs. Mark Teixeira MVP debate, but a few things I have read especially resonated with me. There is this article from Dayn Perry at Fox Sports which reminds the BBWAA of the voting criteria, and that their job is not to award the hardware to "the player with the most RBI or most home runs or dirtiest uniform on a team bound for the playoffs."

There was also this tweet (hate that word but it is what it is) from Ken Tremendous, formerly of Fire Joe Morgan fame and writer for NBC's The Office and Parks and Recreation.

Joe Mauer is hitting .383/.448/.653/1.101. He has a 10.6 WARP3, and it's mid-August. If he doesn't win the MVP, I quit America.

But maybe David Cameron has it right over at FanGraphs. I tend to feel the same way these days about the Hall of Fame vote. In a piece he titles "Why Do We Care?". he writes...

If they want to think that Teixeira was the most important player to his team in the league this year, that’s fine. Most of us probably disagree, and we’re under no obligation to report that as any kind of factual statement. I’ll be telling people that Mauer was the most valuable player in the American League for 2009, and I’ve got a mountain of information to back it up. How other people view the definition of the word value has no real world impact on me.

As for Minnesota's team hopes, they sit 6.5 games back. Switch out Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla and anyone else who has manned second base for the Twins for Robinson Cano and the Twins are in the thick of a division race and there is no question at all about whether the guy putting up the best season ever for a catcher should capture a long overdue first MVP award. Also of note in the AL Central, Billy Butler is raking to the tune of a .331/.393/.589 line in the second half for the Kansas City Royals.

Out west we have witnessed quite a role reversal in 2009. The Texas Rangers lead baseball in Runs Saved Above Average while the Los Angeles Angels lead the Big Leagues in runs per game and batting average. Seven Angels regulars are OPS'ing over .800 on the season while the two that are not, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar have posted a .986 and .878 mark respectively in the second half. I wonder if Mike Scioscia has reconsidered some of his philosophies regarding how runs are plated.

The Rangers improved run prevention can be attributed in large part to their defense. Led by Elvis Andrus, Texas is second in the American League in Defensive Efficiency Rating. Texas has a tough road the rest of the way, with seven remaining against the Angels, six against the Rays and three against New York. Their last seven games of the season will be away from Arlington. They look strong - they might even be the favorites for the Wild Card - but let's see them close. It's been a while.


I'll be back next Wednesday with a similar look at the National League.


Regarding the Mauer MVP debate, JoePos has the BEST answer for "why should we care". He writes, "Answer: Dude, OF COURSE we’re overreacting. That’s what is fun about it! The idea is not to prove that Joe Mauer should be MVP over Mark Texeira. The idea is to CRUSH that goofiness and leave no trace of it on the pages of human history. Of course, I’m not the one doing the crushing. Mauer is."


I will quibble over two points you made regarding the Rays.
1. I don't think they have a "great front end of the rotation". Shields and Garza are talented pitchers, and I think Garza can be something special, but both have been somewhat erratic this year. They are good, but not comparable in my mind to Beckett/Lester or Sabathia/Burnett.

2. I suppose there may be stats that demonstrate the Rays bullpen is "overachieving", for the second straight year incidentally, but I doubt they are conclusive, and it is a solid and deep bullpen. I think Howell is for real, and both Balfour and Wheeler are good as well. In a sense, almost any group of relievers that are doing well are overachieving if one considers their usually checkered past, but just about every pitcher in the Rays' bullpen has some real talent and some history of good pitching.