Grading Each MLB Team Heading into All-Star Break
For Pablo Sandoval and the defending World Series champions, the midseason evaluation is anything but auspicious.
Whether you were a "straight A" student or a high school dropout in the making—if you had to look up the meaning of "auspicious" in the previous sentence, it's safe to assume which of those camps you reside in—there were few days in your formative years that were more nerve-wracking than the ones in which you got your midterm report card.
If your grades were lower than expected, your parents were disappointed. If your grades were better than expected, then that became the new level of expectation. It was a vicious cycle that no child could possibly escape.
Following in that line of thought, I ask the following question:
I've assigned a mathematically unbiased letter grade to every team's first half of the season following the criteria on the ensuing slide.
No promises will be made on whether the commentary on the rest of the slides is equally impartial.
*All statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.com and ESPN.com and are accurate through the start of play on Sunday, July 7.
Criteria for Grading
Rather than simply giving an A to all the first-place teams and a failing grade to the bottom-feeders, let's apply some mathematics to combine each team's in-season production with its preseason expectations.
The first half of the equation for each team is the variance between their preseason over/under line (which can be found here) and their current projected win total. For example, the Cardinals had a preseason over/under line of 85.5 wins, but their current winning percentage projects to 98 wins. Therefore, the first half of their score is a 12.5.
The second half is simply one-fifth of the team's current run differential. Prior to applying this factor, the Astros were in the middle of the pack with a score of -0.5. Adding in their run differential of -132 puts them in last place where they belong.
The two halves were added together to come up with a final score.
Scores ranged from 37.2 to -26.9 and grades were applied accordingly.
Arizona Diamondbacks (Grade: B)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 4.2
One-fifth of run differential: 3.2
Total score: 7.4
By a considerable margin, the Diamondbacks have the lowest score of any team currently leading a division. The other five division leaders have an average score of 26.2, with Detroit's 19.0 being the lowest of the five.
Despite a 4.5 game lead in the NL West, the Diamondbacks only have a run differential of 16 runs on the season.
Patrick Corbin is doing his best to help out, posting a 2.49 ERA through 17 starts. Unfortunately, the rest of the rotation has been relatively dreadful.
Wade Miley has lowered his ERA nearly a full run since the end of May, but it's still north of 4.00. Both Brandon McCarthy and Ian Kennedy are worse than 5.00.
Atlanta Braves (Grade: A)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 7.15
One-fifth of run differential: 16.0
Total score: 23.15
It's pretty amazing that the Braves have the third-best run differential in the National League.
Jonny Venters was one of the best setup men in the league in 2012, but he didn't throw a single pitch during the 2013 regular season before needing a second Tommy John surgery. Eric O'Flaherty was one of the best seventh inning guys in 2012, but lasted just 18 innings into 2013 before requiring the same procedure.
Paul Maholm has a 3.81 ERA since starting the season with 20.1 scoreless innings.
On the offensive side of things, Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton are collectively batting .202 on the season, and Justin Upton has a grand total of three home runs since April 28.
With all those things working against them and Craig Kimbrel being the only Brave named to the All-Star Game, you'd think they would have a negative run differential and a sub-.500 record. Yet they receive an A at the halfway point and should only get better when those struggling bats start to heat up.
Baltimore Orioles (Grade: A-)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 11.8
One-fifth of run differential: 4.8
Total score: 16.6
Despite 93 wins and a playoff appearance in 2012, the Orioles were only projected for 76.5 wins this season.
For a second straight year, they're defying both odds and expectations and are currently on pace for about 88 wins. They are a half game away from the second wild card in the American League.
If their pitching staff was even remotely competent, they would have a much higher score in these rankings. They're fifth in the majors in runs scored, but 22nd in runs allowed.
Boston Red Sox (Grade: A+)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 18.8
One-fifth of run differential: 18.4
Total score: 37.2
The Red Sox have the third-best run differential and the second-best variance from the preseason over/under, giving them the highest score of the 30 teams.
Save for some closer woes over the first two months of the season, just about everything has been going right for the Red Sox.
The Jackie Bradley Jr. experiment didn't pan out, but Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Nava and Shane Victorino have amounted to one of the most complete outfield trios in the majors. Will Middlebrooks struggled mightily to get on base, but midseason call-up Jose Iglesias has a .446 on-base percentage in his 45 big league games.
Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara create arguably the most valuable back end of any bullpen in baseball.
If Jon Lester can lower his ERA and get back to being a middle-of-the-rotation starter, the Red Sox might be the favorite to represent the American League in the World Series.
Chicago Cubs (Grade: C)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -1.5
One-fifth of run differential: -2.2
Total score: -3.7
This was easily the most surprising grade of all.
The Cubs are 10 games below .500, but their run differential is only -10.
Though the wins haven't been there this season, the starting pitching has been relatively respectable. Scott Feldman has already been traded and Matt Garza won't be far behind him. But to this point in the season, Edwin Jackson has been the only starter for the Cubs with an ERA worse than 4.00.
They would have an even higher grade if any of the regulars had so much as a .275 batting average.
Chicago White Sox (Grade: F)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -14.9
One-fifth of run differential: -11.6
Total score: -26.5
If not for the Astros, the White Sox would be the most disappointing team in 2013. You could really argue that the White Sox have been even more of a letdown, because nobody in their right mind was expecting the Astros to do anything this season.
Once upon a time, the White Sox were projected to win 80.5 games and finish in second place in the AL Central. They're currently projecting for 65.6 wins, and that's assuming they don't sell off every marketable piece of their roster. They've already said that everyone other than Chris Sale and Paul Konerko is available.
Cincinnati Reds (Grade: A-)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 4.65
One-fifth of run differential: 12.4
Total score: 17.05
It's not a great year to play in the NL Central.
The Reds would be tied for first place in the NL East or would have a three-game lead in the NL West. Instead, they're 3.5 games behind both the Pirates and the Cardinals and only have a four-game lead over the Nationals in the race for the second wild card.
They have the exact same record as the Braves, but according to ESPN's standings page, they have a 74.2 percent chance of making the playoffs while the Braves currently sit at 92 percent.
If the Reds are planning on hanging on to a playoff spot, or perhaps even winning their division, they'll need someone other than Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo to start getting on base. Among MLB batters with at least 100 plate appearances, Votto and Choo rank fifth and sixth in on-base percentage at .433 and .419, respectively.
You have to travel all the way down to number 122 to find the next member of the Reds on that list—Todd Frazier at .335.
Cleveland Indians (Grade: B)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 6.25
One-fifth of run differential: 2.6
Total score: 8.85
The Indians have quietly put together a solid season.
Justin Masterson has had himself a bounce-back year after a brutal 2012 campaign, and Jason Kipnis has recovered admirably from a fairly miserable April. Both guys will represent the Indians at the All-Star Game next Tuesday, and you could reasonably argue that at least another two or three Indians deserve to go with them.
In his handful of appearances since coming off the disabled list, Chris Perez appears capable of restoring some order and effectiveness to a bullpen that desperately needs it. If they can figure out their late-inning woes before the Tigers can, it might be the difference that determines who wins the AL Central.
Colorado Rockies (Grade: B-)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 5.8
One-fifth of run differential: 1.0
Total score: 6.8
The Rockies have allowed more earned runs to score than any other team in the National League.
They're finding out along with the Angels that dream lineups can only carry a terrible pitching staff so far.
Especially once that dream lineup starts to fall apart. The Rockies were three games over .500 when Troy Tulowitzki went on the disabled list with a fractured rib. In less than two weeks, they had already dropped to .500 and lost Dexter Fowler to the disabled list with a sore wrist.
Now, they're five games below .500 and stumbling out of the playoff picture.
Michael Cuddyer has a good batting average and Carlos Gonzalez is a great player. However—with all due respect to Rex Brothers, Tyler Chatwood and Jorge De La Rosa, who are doing their best to carry the pitching staff—you're going to lose more baseball games than you win when you only have two guys on the team worth mentioning.
Detroit Tigers (Grade: A-)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 0.4
One-fifth of run differential: 18.6
Total score: 19.0
The Tigers are only 19-19 since May 27, but they're still slightly exceeding what amounted to preseason expectations of making it back to the World Series.
Their pitching staff not only has the highest WAR, but they have more than a 25 percent cushion over the second-best team.
Miguel Cabrera has been incredible, and two-thirds of their regular batting order has an on-base percentage of at least .340.
As good as the Red Sox have been, the smart money is still on Detroit to win the 2013 ALCS.
Houston Astros (Grade: F)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -0.5
One-fifth of run differential: -26.4
Total score: -26.9
Were you really expecting something different?
The Astros have the worst winning percentage in the majors and the worst run differential by nearly 50 runs. Their batters are striking out way more than any other team, and only the Marlins are worse at getting on base.
Let's not even talk about the pitching staff.
It's not 100 percent bad news, though. Jason Castro has shown some serious promise and could finally be a second player that the team can build around for the future. And for all of the times that he strikes out, at least Chris Carter is on pace for about 30 home runs.
Maybe the 2013 season hasn't been a complete and utter failure for the Astros, but inching closer toward a passing grade in 2015 doesn't do you any favors in these evaluations.
Kansas City Royals (Grade: C+)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 0.05
One-fifth of run differential: 2.0
Total score: 2.05
This grade feels perfect for the Royals. Try as they might, you'd be hard-pressed to consider them anything better than just barely above-average.
The pitching staff has been pretty solid. As a team, the Royals have allowed fewer runs to score than any other team in the American League.
Unfortunately, that only enhances how frustrating their offense has been.
The Royals have hit less home runs than any other American League team, and it's not even close. They could hit 20 home runs tomorrow and would still be looking up from the basement at the Twins and White Sox.
Only two guys on the team have more than six home runs, and neither Eric Hosmer nor Alex Gordon has reached double digits in doing so.
They can't seem to figure out whether Chris Getz or Elliot Johnson is a worse long-term option at second base, and they've already (mercifully) cut ties with right fielder Jeff Francoeur.
Los Angeles Angels (Grade: D+)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -11.3
One-fifth of run differential: -0.2
Total score: -11.5
The Angels might have finally turned a corner. Entering play on Sunday, they've won nine of their last 11 games—a stretch during which Josh Hamilton is batting .366 with 10 runs, nine RBI and two home runs.
They're still three games under .500 and a far cry from where everyone expected them to be.
Credit the pitching staff for the bulk of their disappointment. The Angels have the sixth-worst ERA in the majors—and that's with five of the six primary starting pitchers sporting a FIP that is worse than their ERA.
If they don't go out and get a Matt Garza or two at the trading deadline, Mike Trout's second consecutive season in the discussion for an MVP could be going to waste.
Los Angeles Dodgers (Grade: D)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -12.7
One-fifth of run differential: -6.8
Total score: -19.5
The Dodgers have been overwhelmed with injuries all season.
Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu have pitched admirably, but they're the only Dodgers that have made more than a dozen starts this year. Matt Kemp has missed more than three weeks of baseball between hamstring and shoulder ailments, and he's still third on the team in plate appearances.
They've been disappointing thus far, but just imagine if the Dodgers could get healthy and stay healthy.
In an injury-free world, they would have a starting outfield of Kemp, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig to go along with an infield made up of Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Juan Uribe and Mark Ellis.
I won't necessarily condone gambling, but with the NL West as winnable as it is, if you can still get the Dodgers at 22/1 to win the World Series, let's just say there are worse ways to throw away your money.
Miami Marlins (Grade: D-)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -4.2
One-fifth of run differential: -17.4
Total score: -21.6
If you completely wrote them off at the end of May, it might seem crazy to see anything other than an F next to the Marlins.
However, did you know that the Pittsburgh Pirates were the only National League team that had a better winning percentage in the month of June than the Marlins?
Well, young guns Jose Fernandez and Jacob Turner have been pitching incredibly, and closer Steve Cishek has given up just four hits and one walk in 12.1 innings of scoreless work since his last blown save on June 4.
Also, Logan Morrison and Giancarlo Stanton have been seeing the ball pretty well since coming back from extended stays on the disabled list.
This season is over for them. Maybe they'll beat out the Mets for fourth place in the NL East, but it's way too late to make any sort of run at the postseason. But there's already plenty of reason to start getting excited about the 2014 season in Miami.
Milwaukee Brewers (Grade: F)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -13.6
One-fifth of run differential: -12.6
Total score: -26.2
Carlos Gomez has been the most irreplaceable player in the National League. Jean Segura also ranks in the top 10.
Yet the Brewers have had the most disappointing season in the NL, because the pitching staff has just been a colossal disaster. Kyle Lohse is tied for 110th in WAR among all pitchers, and he's the best they have to offer.
Really, the only way things could get worse is if the Biogenesis scandal results in a suspension for Ryan Braun that lasts into (or through the entirety of?) the 2014 season.
At this rate, I'm starting to wonder if Bernie Brewer will demand a trade before the deadline.
Minnesota Twins (Grade: C)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 6.8
One-fifth of run differential: -8.2
Total score: -1.4
The Twins actually had the same preseason over/under (64.5) as the Marlins, so even though they're 10 games back in the AL Central, things are going better than expected.
The offense hasn't been great and currently has the seventh-worst WAR in the majors. The starting pitching has been even worse—tied with the Orioles for third-worst WAR in the majors and worst in the AL.
But hey, at least the relief pitchers have been solid.
Considering no one was expecting the team to do anything this season, that has to at least be a minor victory. Also, the offensive output of Brian Dozier and Oswaldo Arcia over the past 30 days provides some hope for the future.
New York Yankees (Grade: C+)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 2.9
One-fifth of run differential: 0.2
Total score: 3.1
It's a bit harsh to give an average grade to a team in the thick of the playoff picture, but the Yankees haven't exactly been killing it since their hot start to the season.
The smoke and mirrors effect of winning games with Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner seems to have finally worn off.
Will the returns of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter restore some order?
Who knows? But as of now, it's hard to argue that the Yankees have been anything better than average. Their expected record is a perfectly average .500. That four-game negative swing from their actual record puts them in a four-way tie with the Rangers, Phillies and Pirates as the biggest overachievers in the majors.
New York Mets (Grade: D+)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -4.5
One-fifth of run differential: -7.4
Total score: -11.9
The good news: David Wright and Matt Harvey are two of the best players in all of baseball.
The bad news: You're required to have 25 active players on your roster.
That might be a little disrespectful to Daniel Murphy, but if the Mets were actively shopping a grab bag of "whichever four players you want aside from Wright and Harvey" in exchange for one established above-average player, would Mets fans really complain?
For example, let's pretend the Mets proposed to get Jay Bruce in exchange for Murphy, Marlon Byrd, John Buck and Shaun Marcum. Even if we could completely disregard player salaries, that's the fifth-most valuable Reds batter for four of the seven best players on the Mets, and the Reds are obviously the ones that wouldn't do the trade, right?
It's no wonder they're so helplessly optimistic about Zack Wheeler. He literally doesn't have to do much in order to become the third-best player on the Mets roster.
Oakland Athletics (Grade: A)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 11
One-fifth of run differential: 11.4
Total score: 22.4
Maybe next year we'll all just believe in Oakland from the beginning.
The A's have the best record over the past calendar year, yet it seems like they never come up in the discussions about the best teams in baseball.
Perhaps it's because they don't particularly excel at any one thing, but rather, seem to be slightly above-average in just about everything imaginable. They're 12th in home runs, eighth in runs scored, 10th in on-base percentage and 11th in offensive WAR.
At the end of the day, they're better than most of their opponents in most facets of the game and have one of the best records in the entire league.
Philadelphia Phillies (Grade: D+)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -4.2
One-fifth of run differential: -10.2
Total score: -14.4
I'm not sure which is more ridiculous: that the preseason gambling line forecasts the Phillies to finish the season above .500, or that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. still thinks they can get there.
They're officially in no man's land. They're close enough in a winnable division to still have hope for the current season while also faced with the reality that they have no hope for the future if they don't blow up their roster in the near-to-immediate future.
If they don't win at least three out of their four home games against the Nationals this week, it should be about time to sell the proverbial car for parts.
Pittsburgh Pirates (Grade: A+)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 20.8
One-fifth of run differential: 8.6
Total score: 29.4
The Pirates haven't been to the playoffs in blah, blah, blah.
The last time Pittsburgh finished a season above .500 was yada, yada, yada.
It's been the same hackneyed expectation of failure in Pittsburgh for far too long. Instead of looking at the past as an indication of why the Pirates will blow it again, let's look to the present to understand why this is their year.
Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon have been the two best relief pitchers in the National League, and that has been the case for several weeks now.
The Pirates have three of the 20 most irreplaceable players in the National League. Only the Cincinnati Reds can also make that claim.
Francisco Liriano is pitching like it's 2006 all over again. Jeff Locke is laughing in the face of expectations of regression. Gerrit Cole is a former No. 1 pick who is only going to get better as he adjusts to life in the big leagues.
The Pirates have the best record in the majors, and it's time to start taking that seriously.
San Diego Padres (Grade: C-)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -0.8
One-fifth of run differential: -8.8
Total score: -9.6
Things were starting to look good in San Diego in mid-June.
The Padres swept the Braves and the Diamondbacks in consecutive series before climbing to within one game of first place in the NL West.
Now that they've lost 13 of their last 15 games, they're 7.5 games out of first place and practically a distant memory in playoff discussions.
Funny how prolonged losing stretches will do that to you.
Now, instead of "Watch out for the Padres," it's "Look how terrible the Padres pitching staff is!"
San Francisco Giants (Grade: D)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -10.7
One-fifth of run differential: -7.6
Total score: -18.3
Nothing says "World Series defense" like flirting with the worst record in your division the following season.
Tim Lincecum has been almost as bad this season as he was in the regular season in 2012.
Rather than building on his postseason success, Barry Zito has just about completely reverted to the player that was responsible for one of the worst contracts in the history of baseball.
Ryan Vogelsong went from a very pleasant surprise in 2011 and 2012 to one of the worst pitchers in the game today.
Most surprising of all, however, has been Matt Cain's inability to do anything right. He was solid as a rock for the previous seven seasons, but now he can't keep the ball in the park or keep baserunners from scoring to save his life.
Kind of hard to do better than a D when 80 percent of your starting rotation has been a complete mess.
Seattle Mariners (Grade: D)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -5.7
One-fifth of run differential: -13.0
Total score: -18.7
The Mariners are one of the most disappointing teams in the league for at least the eighth time in the past 10 seasons.
The good news, though, is that they're showcasing some young talent in the batting order and have a ton of pitching prowess in the pipeline.
If they can take Raul Ibanez's 21 home runs and turn them into a potential everyday outfielder under the age of 30 before the trade deadline, at least all would not be lost on the 2013 season in Seattle.
St. Louis Cardinals (Grade: A+)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 12.5
One-fifth of run differential: 24.2
Total score: 36.7
The run differential that the Cardinals have right now is just downright silly. In 2012, the Nationals and Yankees clinched home-field advantage with run differentials of 137 and 136, respectively. That's for the entire season, mind you.
The Cardinals are currently at 121, and there are still about three months of baseball yet to be played. The next-best differential is Detroit at 93.
Anything other than an A+ for what they've done so far this season would be blasphemy.
Tampa Bay Rays (Grade: B+)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 2.3
One-fifth of run differential: 9.0
Total score: 11.3
With the way everyone was crying for the promotion of Wil Myers, you would think the Rays would be one of the lowest scoring teams in the league.
Quite the opposite, they're sixth in the majors in runs scored thanks to the ongoing contribution of guys like Evan Longoria, James Loney, Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist.
With David Price back in the fold and pitching one-run complete games like it's no big deal, it would actually be somewhat of a surprise if they failed to reach the playoffs this season.
Texas Rangers (Grade: B+)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 6.15
One-fifth of run differential: 5.2
Total score: 11.35
I'm continually confused/astounded that the Rangers are doing as well as they are this season.
Adrian Beltre is the only batter with a WAR that is somewhat above-average, and even he only ranks 29th among qualified batters in that department. And for as great as Yu Darvish and Derek Holland have been for the pitching staff, you would think they would be offset a bit by the astronomical ERA of Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm.
Yet here they are, perpetually about a dozen games above .500 and constantly a day or two away from reclaiming first place in the AL West from Oakland.
If the Rangers can get back to the playoffs this season, Ron Washington absolutely deserves to be AL Manager of the Year.
Toronto Blue Jays (Grade: C-)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -8.25
One-fifth of run differential: -2.4
Total score: -10.65
You can appreciate the excitement over being the clear short-term winner in an offseason trade that had people wondering if Bud Selig would actually nullify the transaction.
Still, it was clearly a bit presumptuous to think the trade would immediately make the Blue Jays the team to beat in the American League.
Expectations were just too high. Even though they've climbed back to within a stone's throw of .500, it would take an incredible second half for them to actually climb back into the playoff picture.
It should be interesting to see what they do at the trade deadline. My guess is ,they'll stand pat and hope they can re-sign Josh Johnson and Rajai Davis in the offseason and make another run at things in 2014, but it's also borderline impossible to predict what Alex Anthopoulos will do next.
Washington Nationals (Grade: C-)
Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -6.25
One-fifth of run differential: -2.8
Total score: -9.05
They're sneaking back into the playoff picture with their current four-game winning streak, but it's still been a disappointing season in the nation's capital.
Unlike most of the aforementioned teams that have been under-performing, the pitching has been relatively solid for the Nationals—save for Dan Haren.
It's the bats that have been responsible for the letdown. Prior to Sunday's 11-run explosion, they were the fourth-lowest scoring team in the majors.
They're finally getting healthy, though. With Wilson Ramos returning to the lineup on July 4, it was the first time their entire Opening Day lineup was off the disabled list since April 14.
They've averaged eight runs per game since Ramos' return.
Boston Red Sox (37.2), Baltimore Orioles (16.6), Tampa Bay Rays (11.3), New York Yankees (3.1), Toronto Blue Jays (-10.65)
Detroit Tigers (19.0), Cleveland Indians (8.85), Kansas City Royals (2.05), Minnesota Twins (-1.4), Chicago White Sox (-26.5)
Oakland A's (22.4), Texas Rangers (11.35), Los Angeles Angels (-11.45), Seattle Mariners (-18.7), Houston Astros (-26.9)
Atlanta Braves (23.15), Washington Nationals (-9.05), New York Mets (-11.9), Philadelphia Phillies (-14.4), Miami Marlins (-21.6)
St. Louis Cardinals (36.7), Pittsburgh Pirates (29.4), Cincinnati Reds (17.05), Chicago Cubs (-3.7), Milwaukee Brewers (-26.2)
Arizona Diamondbacks (7.4), Colorado Rockies (6.8), San Diego Padres (-9.6), San Francisco Giants (-18.3), Los Angeles Dodgers (-19.5)