Catching Up In MLB On An Off-Day In The NBA
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
CATCHING UP IN MLB ON AN OFF-DAY IN THE NBA
Thanks to the slew of SWEEPS in the second round of the NBA playoffs, we're going to have a few off nights in the baskets this week. Phoenix and the Los Angeles Lakers don't even start their Western Conference championship round until next Monday! Maybe Cleveland and Boston will provide compelling fare for us Thursday Night and in a possible seventh game over the weekend.
The good news is that this will allow us to get caught up with our Major League Baseball coverage. We did a bit of that last week with our review of WINS MINUS HOME GAMES PLAYED, a stat you should be doing in your head whenever you sit down with your morning newspaper (do you know which disappointing AL East team has played 10 more home games than road games, suggesting even BIGGER troubles ahead?!). Today, we're going to look at probably the single best ranking stat of all in the bases, RUN DIFFERENTIAL.
Multiple studies over the years have shown that run differential is a better indicator for quality and future success than won-lost record is. Records can get misleading because of good luck or bad luck in one-run games. If you're playing a lot of one-run games, you're probably close to mediocre. Results can skew in a way that creates illusions if you're not careful. RUN DIFFERENTIAL takes that out of the mix and looks at the big picture. Are you outscoring your opponents over the long haul? Only the best teams do that. Only the worst teams get buried.
Let's take everyone division by division, and you'll see how well this stat lines up with your own perceptions of the teams. Newspaper standings always have holes in them. Handicappers have to use stats without holes!
AL EAST (through Monday Night's games)
Tampa Bay +79
NY Yankees +66
NOTEBOOK: Dominating starts for the Rays and Yankees. Even though Tampa is in a bit of a funk on their Western swing, they're clearly playing at a very high level this year. Nobody else in the majors is at +50 or better through Monday...so the Rays and Yanks are clearly the class of the sport. Remember that they play in the tougher American League too. Quite a race!
Boston, by the way, was the team we referenced above that's played 10 more home games than road games. Things are MUCH worse than they appear in your newspaper standings right now for Red Sox Nation. They've been outscored by 11 runs despite that home friendly schedule. What's going to happen when things even out? They haven't even played at Tampa Bay or at New York yet!
Toronto has been an extremely pleasant surprise. They were supposed to be the new Baltimore. Baltimore is still the old Baltimore, and Toronto looks just like they did last year...a nice team with the misfortune of playing in a killer division.
Chicago White Sox -24
Kansas City -42
NOTEBOOK: The surprise here is how spread out everyone is. Minnesota was supposed to fall back to earth with the loss of Joe Nathan. Various pundits everywhere were picking either the White Sox or the Indians as potential surprise contenders. The pre-summer "regular season win totals" in Vegas pegged this as a tight group. It's far from tight. Minnesota isn't far off the pace of the Yankees (vs. a softer schedule though), while the bottom three teams have been disappointments.
How much longer can Ozzie Guillen survive as manager of the Chisox? We've been asking that off and on for years. He always finds a way to get hot just when things look the bleakest. But, then, things get bleak again and it all feels like a roller coaster to nowhere.
Only one team will make the playoffs from this division unless Tampa Bay or the Yankees collapse. Minnesota's made it very clear they plan on being that team.
LA Angels -45
NOTEBOOK: The Angels just jump off the page. How did THEY become Baltimore! There was some offseason personnel issues...and pitching has been extremely inconsistent. The good news is that they're only four games behind Texas in the newspaper standings. If they get their heads on straight, there's still plenty of time to rally. The bad news is, RUN DIFFERENTIAL suggests this team is much worse than you had realized. They're playing at the level of Kansas City and Baltimore, which is a stunner for a perennial playoff team.
Texas and Oakland have some highlight reels to be proud of. One will reach the playoffs before getting waxed by an AL East team most likely. Neither would be seen as a power if they had to play in that better division.
Seattle fired their hitting coach over the weekend, and may have to fire the manager if things don't get into gear on their current Eastern swing. This was supposed to be the year the Mariners got back into the mix. A poor record against a home-friendly schedule is a disastrous way to start your season.
NY Mets +16
NOTEBOOK: This is probably the most important division in the discussion today. All sorts of illusions have been created early on because of schedule imbalances and fortune in close games. What you see above is pretty close to the perceptions everyone had coming into the season. Philadelphia is dominant...much better than everyone else. The big market Mets have the talent to compete for a Wildcard, but aren't as good as the Phils. Washington's the worst team in the group.
Now, your newspaper standings aren't saying that! Washington is up in second place thanks to a 19-14 split in the home/road ratio and some good fortune. New York was neck and neck with Philly for awhile, and currently enjoys a 21-12 split. Once the schedules and luck even out, the standings are likely to match the RUN DIFFERENTIAL above.
Atlanta's a disappointment. They were supposed to make a run at the top this year thanks to pitching depth and a hot young star. The hot young star lived up to his billing, but the team is still underachieving! Count on Florida to be better than expectations almost every single year.
St. Louis +40
Chicago Cubs -10
NOTEBOOK: Here's another division where RUN DIFFERENTIAL is matching what analysts were expecting coming in...and reasonable perceptions of the teams. St. Louis is best by a good bit. Milwaukee's the "best of the rest" thanks to their offensive pop. Houston and Pittsburgh are abysmal. What's interesting is that Pittsburgh's managed a decent record anyway. That seems very unlikely to hold up given the history of the math in this stat, and the team history of the Pirates.
Clearly the weakest division in baseball, by a mile. The worst division in the lesser league, and -121 runs for the season as a group. It will be interesting to see if Milwaukee can make a run at the Wildcard thanks to having so many games versus bad teams thanks to unbalanced schedules.
San Francisco +43
San Diego +40
LA Dodgers -12
NOTEBOOK: Here you go. Three quality teams at the top (though Colorado is having trouble playing to their stats so far). It's great to see some new blood in the pennant picture. Both San Francisco and San Diego are young teams that are fun to watch. It would be great to see Tim Lincecum pitching in October.
The Dodgers have fallen on hard times quickly. That's not too big a surprise given all the off-field turmoil prior to the season...and the tendency for everything Manny Ramirez touches to turn to gold at first, before crumbling to dust surprisingly quickly.
The big surprise to us is Arizona on the low end of the spectrum. They were supposed to be in the mix, but it looks like a replay of last year is at hand.
We'll check in on this stat periodically through the summer. You regulars know we have a variety of indicator stats that we trust. No one stat is the be-all and end-all by itself. But, if you study a variety of meaningful data, you develop a very good sense of where everyone really stands in the big picture. And, we think today's study actually paints a very accurate picture all by itself. If you're getting a late start on evaluating teams, use THESE numbers rather than your newspaper standings!
JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK has earned its place in the industry by having a better read on REALITY than anyone else. We use statistical indicators, computer simulation software, inside access from scouts and sources, connections to Wise Guy information in Las Vegas and offshore...and, the decades of experience from the man in the middle of the information hurricane, JIM HURLEY!
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