PTBPR: MLB Power Rankings – April 2014

This is the first installment of my PTBPR — Place to Be MLB Power Rankings.

Each month during the 2014 season, I’ll be reviewing each division in brief, although with a few comments about the factors for each team’s ranking.

For the division rankings, I’m primarily looking at overall records, intra-division records, and team winning streaks.

For the team rankings, I’ll be considering the records, but also looking at a few statistics, with a main focus on rate stats like ERA, OPS, DER* and a few others if anything stands out.

*DER = A measure of a team’s ability to turn batted balls into outs.

All statistics and records are thru games played as of May 2, 2014.

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Division Rankings:

1. NL East: Four of five teams over .500 and all five within 3.5 games of each other make this baseball’s most competitive division in the first month.

2. AL West: The top dog in this division, the Oakland A’s, currently own the best record in the American League with an 18-11 mark, with Texas (16-13) and Anaheim (14-14) both within hailing distance. Seattle is also hanging tough (12-15, 5 GB) and could be a factor once all its pitchers get healthy.

3. NL West: San Francisco is atop the division at the moment with an 18-11 record, but Colorado (18-13) is riding its offense to a strong start, while the Dodgers (17-13) have played well away from Chavez Ravine (11-4 on the road) to stay close in the early going.

4. AL East: Just two teams over .500 here, as Baltimore (15-12) and New York (15-13) claim the top two posts. The division has beaten up on itself, with the five teams combining to face divisional foes 43 times thus far and no one team doing better than the Orioles’ and Yankees’ 10-8 intra-division marks.

5. NL Central: Despite boasting the team with the best record in the sport (Milwaukee at 21-9), this division’s pretty weak sauce otherwise. St. Louis is at .500 (15-15), while Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are treading water at 13-16 and 11-18, hoping for better second months.

6. AL Central: It’s a weather-worn Detroit at the top (15-9) and then not much else. The Tigers have played the fewest games (24) of any division leader to this point, but with the other teams all at or under .500 (Kansas City is in 2nd at 14-14) this division is the overall doormat of MLB at the moment.

Team Rankings:

    1. Milwaukee Brewers (21-9) — The best record in baseball is pitching well (2nd in MLB with a 2.90 team ERA) and playing good enough defense (3rd with a .721 DER) to overcome some injuries (Segura, Braun) and subpar performances (Segura, Davis) to the offense (tied for 17th with a .704 team OPS).
    2. Oakland A’s (18-11) — The A’s are doing everything well right now. As a team, they rank in the MLB top six in offense (.754 OPS is 4th), defense (.704 DER is 6th), and pitching (2.94 ERA is 3rd). Billy Beane = still a genius!
    3. Atlanta Braves (17-11) — Despite losing starters Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor to injuries, Atlanta still has the best team ERA in all of baseball at 2.66. Getting Minor back this past week only helps. Which is good, since the offense (.688 OPS) is still performing at BJ Uptonian/Dan Ugglaesque levels. Seriously, when the Braves bat, send the kids to bed, folks.
    4. Washington Nationals (17-12) — Despite some early bad luck, questions about new manager Matt Williams’ ability to lead, and *ahem* “Hustlegate” sending Harper to the DL, the team has come alive lately, winning three in a row while the Braves have dropped four straight.
    5. Texas Rangers (16-13) — Big offseason Cracker Jack prizes Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo haven’t produced as anticipated, and Adrian Beltre has missed time already. But the offense has been okay (16th with a 708 OPS) despite the dents. It’s the patchwork pitching staff (21st with a 4.20 ERA) and defense (tied 20th at .679 DER) could really hold this team back as the weather warms.
    6. San Francisco Giants (18-11) — The Giants, as expected, have been catching the ball (.703 DER, 7th) and the pitching has been good, despite a few hiccups here and there. To maintain this ranking, the team will need to improve its offense (14th with a .718 OPS).
    7. Detroit Tigers (15-9) — The offense has clicked well, despite the loss of Fielder and Miguel Cabrera’s slow start. The team ranks third in the AL with a .744 OPS and the starting pitching has been excellent (2.96 ERA, 2nd in AL) while the bullpen has been a hot diaper fire on a summer day (5.23 ERA, 14th in AL). The signing of Joel Hanrahan could help this team, but they need to figure things out before his slated June return regardless.
    8. Los Angeles Dodgers (17-13) — The team continues to hit (4th in NL with a .732 OPS) and pitch well (3.14 ERA is 6th in MLB) despite missing Clayton Kershaw for the first month, and a porous defense (19th in MLB with a .679 DER). Kershaw’s return should help the Dodgers leap past the Giants shortly.
    9. Baltimore Orioles (15-12) — The defense that was so good in 2013 (just 54 errors all year) has already made 12 this year, but it’s still the top figure in the AL, despite the team’s subpar DER (.670) being 12th in the league. The pitching has been middle-of-the-road (4.19 ERA, 20th in MLB) while the offense inspires a mighty *meh* with its .721 OPS with is 9th in the AL/13th in MLB.
    10. New York Yankees (15-12) — An infield older than dirt has helped to contribute to the 2nd-worst defense in MLB (.651 DER), which hasn’t helped the pitching staff (4.32 ERA is 25th). The offense (.731 OPS ranks 6th in AL), along with Masahiro Tanaka’s great start, is all that’s keeping this ship afloat at the moment.
    11. St. Louis Cardinals (15-15) — Pitching’s been great (team 2.99 ERA is fourth in MLB), while the defense has been okay (.699 DER is 11th). But the offense has been Butt City thus far, with a .675 OPS (22nd in MLB). The team needs the bats to pick up in order to displace the Brew Crew.
    12. New York Mets (15-13) — The team is pitching just fine, with a team ERA of 3.91, but the offense is barely alive with a .622 OPS that trails just the Padres for the worst in all of baseball.
    13. Colorado Rockies (18-13) — If not for Milwaukee, these guys would be the surprise team thus far. And I probably have them a bit low based on their first month. As per usual, the Rockies are hitting (tops in MLB with an .830 OPS — no other team is within .065 of that figure) and playing sharp defense (third in the NL, sixth in MLB, with a .707 DER), while the pitching (19th-best team ERA of 4.14) has kept them in most games.
    14. Boston Red Sox (14-16) — The reigning World Champs are not hitting quite as expected (721 OPS is tied with Baltimore for 9th in AL). The pitching has been alright (3.88 ERA is sixth in AL), but the defense (11th in AL at .671) has been a letdown. Strong on-base numbers up-and-down the lineup should keep this team in it all year.
    15. Los Angeles Angels (14-14) — They are hitting (.759 OPS, 3rd in MLB) despite losing ⅔ of their starting outfield and a really subpar lineup with five regulars hitting under .250. The pitching’s done okay, but that’s mostly due to the rotation (3.60 ERA) and not the bullpen (4.20). Pujols has not homered since hitting No. 500 on April 22, but he has hit .343 (12/35), with nine singles and three doubles during that stretch.
    16. Miami Marlins (15-14) — Jose Fernandez has been amazing, helping the team post a 3.38 ERA. Giancarlo Stanton has injured multiple baseballs in April (3rd in MLB with 8 HR and tied for 1st with 33 RBIs). The rest of the team has been solid, if unspectacular. Still a surprising start for a team many thought would rival Houston as the worst in baseball this year.
    17. Tampa Bay Rays (14-16) — Uncharacteristically weak pitching, evidenced by a staff ERA of 4.43, which is 25th in MLB, has led to a so-so record overall. The offense has been solid, if unspectacular, with 12th-best .723 OPS, with the team’s top sluggers being James Loney (.887 OPS), Desmond Jennings (.860), and Matt Joyce (.854). All three are known for being streaky, so the sooner the Rays get the pitching under control, the better.
    18. Kansas City Royals (14-14) — A subpar offense (MLB-worst 12 HR, 25th with a .671 OPS) cannot be helped much by mediocre pitching (11th-best 3.48 ERA) and defense (15th at .691 DER). A classic recipe for a disappointing season if there was one.
    19. Seattle Mariners (12-15) — Horrible offense (27th-ranked .651 OPS) in a life-sucking pitchers’ park makes the first month of the Cano era a rather depressing one. But the pitching has been alright (3.57 ERA) despite the spate of early-season injuries to Iwakuma, Paxton, Walker, et al.
    20. Cincinnati Reds (13-16) — They are play great defense with a best-in-baseball .723 DER, and it shows up in the pitching (3.36 ERA, 9th in MLB). But the offense (.704 OPS) has not clicked yet. I blame Joey Votto!
    21. Philadelphia Phillies (13-14) — Baseball’s oldest team (average age of 31.2) has been woeful in every facet so far: 19th in MLB with a .689 OPS, 24th with a 4.30 ERA, and 26th with a .668 DER. Only Chase Utley and Cliff Lee stand out as highlights right now.
    22. Chicago White Sox (14-16) — A slow-pitch softball team if there ever was one. Jose Abreu has been amazing during this first month in The Show, as he’s helped the offense register the second-best OPS in MLB (and tops in the AL) at .763. However, the pitching (5.00 ERA) and defense (.670 DER) have been lacking. As Abreu goes, so go the North Siders.
    23. San Diego Padres (13-17) — They continue to pitch well, thanks to a cavernous home park, a great bullpen (1.73 relief ERA is best in MLB), and DAT CASHNER! The Pads are playing okay defense (10th in MLB DER at .701), but they are absolutely awful at the plate (MLB-worst .585 team OPS).
    24. Pittsburgh Pirates (11-18) — Last year’s darlings are off to a rough start. The pitching has been alright, with a 15th in MLB 3.77 team mark, and the defense is sharp, coming in 8th with a .703 DER, but the offense has struggled mightily, with a .674 OPS that puts them 24th in MLB. If the bats wake up, this is a team that can challenge for a higher rank down the road.
    25. Toronto Blue Jays (13-16) — The Jays are hitting well, popping a .743 OPS that is eighth in MLB. But the pitching is still suspect with no help from the defense, as the Jays rank 22nd in DER (.678) and 26th in ERA (4.61).
    26. Minnesota Twins (12-15) — Chris Colabello started off red-hot, but has hit just .063/.211/.063 over the last week. Much like his hot start, the Twins current offense (.709 OPS) is probably not sustainable. The team ranks 29th with a 5.01 ERA and is so-so with the glove. Another sub .500 finish looks likely.
    27. Cleveland Indians (12-17) — Another surprise team in 2013 seemed to have fallen back, perhaps more than expected. The team can’t pitch (22nd with a 4.23 ERA), can’t catch (.651 DER, dead last) and can’t hit (.683 OPS is 21st). Making them nothing but a bunch of …? Lollygaggers.
    28. Chicago Cubs (10-17) — A middle-of-the-road pitching staff (3.76 ERA) and defense (.696 DER)  cannot do much with such a weak offense (.666 team OPS). Anthony Rizzo is one of the few bright spots in the lineup.
    29. Houston Astros (10-19) — The rebuild continues, with the call-up of outfield prospect George Springer, who has struggled thus far, but should get a bit more rope with this go-nowhere team. The ‘Stros play some okay defense, but the pitching is lousy (4.73 ERA) and the hitting is no better (.640 OPS).
    30. Arizona Diamondbacks (10-22) — A major surprise at just bad it can get for some teams. The D’Backs haven’t made friends with their comments and criticism of the opposition in the past, and now they seem (pardon the pun) snakebitten. The offense is bad (.673 OPS), the DER is bad (.671 DER) and the pitching (5.03 ERA) violates federal decency laws.

That’s it for the first month of the 2014 season! Let’s see what May has in store!

Author: Joel Barnhart

A big-time baseball nerd, Joel is currently teaching English as a Second Language in San Antonio, Texas. In addition to his MLB passion, he enjoys good whiskey, good music, good movies, and good friends. He is currently engaged in an ongoing 12-year online debate over the merits of bubble wrap.