One of my favorite Twitter follows this baseball season has been @cantpredictball — The feed points out strange happenings during the course of any game day, like when a pitcher hits a home run or if a big, slow guy gets a triple.
This has been the perfect year for such an idea, especially at the plate, where batting numbers continue to drop. Defenses are smarter than ever before, and pitching is enjoying its greatest crop of aces since the 1968 heyday, with widespread pitching depth making the largest impact on a team-by-team basis.
While there is never a guaranteed corollary between gaudy individual batting seasons and team success, the gap between the game’s best hitters and their respective teams wins is particularly ridiculous.
Miguel Cabrera’s Power Dip
Miguel Cabrera, two-time reigning American League MVP, recipient of a $292 million contract this spring, has been downright ordinary — for his standards — this year.
Cabrera was hitting .308 with 44 doubles through Sept. 5. But his slugging has dropped from .636 to .502 while his OPS has dropped nearly 200 points, from 1.078 to .870. That would be the lowest he has ever posted in a full season.
However, in a down year for offense, he’s still one of the better hitters in the American League.
So, it’s not as if he’s a drag on Detroit’s offense. It’s just that he appears to be aging, while still a full season away from starting a contract that will pay him nearly $30 million per year through at least 2023.
The 31-year-old Venezuela native suffered a groin injury late last season and had surgery in the offseason. He has admitted to not being fully recovered, so perhaps that’s his issue. But, with well over $250 million still owed to him by the Tigers, one can’t help but wonder if Cabrera is headed for the same cliff Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols hit in their 30’s.
A Dearth of Power
For starters, Nelson Cruz leads Major League Baseball with 37 home runs. It’s September. Cruz is on pace for 42 home runs. That would be the lowest number for the league-leader since Jesse Barfield led the MLB with 40 in 1986.
It’s not just that power numbers continue to drop on the heels of the Steroid Era. It’s who’s posting the best numbers now.
Cruz was suspended for the final 50 games of last season for his affiliation with Tony Bosch and Biogenesis. He had been declining for the past couple seasons and was thought to be done. Baltimore scooped him up on a one-year deal and he’s been mashing all season.
Second in the American League? Chris Carter with 36. Carter, who entered the season as a 27-year-old with 45 career dingers, has hit 23 home runs since the Fourth of July – a 70 home run pace over a full season.
Behind Carter is Cuban sensation Jose Abreu, who has 33 home runs despite missing 20+ games in June.
No one should be surprised Giancarlo Stanton is leading the National League with 36 home runs. But Anthony Rizzo and Lucas Duda at second and third, respectively? That’s new.
National League Batting Title “Race”
Without looking it up, who was last year’s NL batting champion? If you guessed anyone but Michael Cuddyer, you are (understandably) wrong.
This year might be even more random. While Buster Posey (.306) and Andrew McCutchen (.303) are lurking at fourth and fifth, respectively, the top three reads like three names taken out of a random baseball name generator.
In one corner, you have Josh Harrison of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Harrison hadn’t been able to stick at the Major League level until this season (his age-27 season). He’s done more than stick as he’s second in the National League with a .314 batting average for team still fighting desperately to stay in the playoff race.
In another corner, you have Justin Morneau. The 33-year old suffered through major injury issues in his last two years with Minnesota. His resurgence is especially surprising considering his age and the fact that he really hasn’t been good since 2010. (Fun fact: Morneau would become the ninth Colorado batting title in 22 years, accomplished by seven different players.)
Finally, you have the current leader. The player with the highest batting average in the National League. Ben Revere. At .316. After well over 1000 at bats, Revere hit his first home run this year. He liked it so much, he hit a second Friday.
Revere may be the worst player to ever win the batting title. He hits for no power, almost never walks and isn’t a particularly adept fielder. His .316 would be the worst batting average to win the NL title since Tony Gwynn in 1988.
The Orioles didn’t enter the season as a laughing stock, 2012 put an end to that. So, it wouldn’t have been too hard to believe Baltimore would walk away from the season as AL East Champions.
After all, the Yankees were old and full of holes, the Blue Jays were coming off a last-place finish, the Rays were deep but not exactly loaded and the Red Sox were certainly due for some regression. The division was destined for a solid race, with each team too talented to be bad, but too flawed to run away with it.
But then the Yankees lost four-fifths of their rotation, Brian McCann started off terrible, Carlos Beltran became a non-factor and Jacoby Ellsbury never regained his 2011 form. Meanwhile, the Red Sox never quite got things going. Clay Buchholz fell apart, Pedroia wasn’t himself and the team missed the luck it had in 2013. Nearly every Tampa Bay player got hurt as the team suffered through a season from hell. The Blue Jays got hot in May and took a six-game lead in the division. But injuries and a lack of depth hit the team hard, leading to a 29-43 stretch from early June to late August.
The division was decided by mid-August. The Orioles ran away with it. While the 2012 run was fun and full of close games, it wasn’t exactly the coming out party the Pirates and Nationals have had when snapping their major playoff droughts.
The 2012 Orioles were lucky. They won nearly every extra innings game they played and had a ridiculous record in close games. While that probably didn’t matter to giddy Baltimore fans, the looming one-game wild card likely did. All that fun could’ve ended in one game. It didn’t, but that was always the concern.
There will be no such concern this year. The Orioles are up 9.5 games on the Yankees and 10 on the Blue Jays. They’re second in the AL in wins and have a +82 run differential. The division’s been decided since August, the Orioles aren’t just going to the playoffs, they’re cruising in.
All this with a major Manny Machado injury and a shell of Chris Davis.
Three of Major League Baseball’s four best run differentials are in the AL West. The Texas Rangers are not included in that list. The Rangers have the worst differential in the league by an extraordinary margin.
The Rangers, who made the World Series in 2010 and 2011 and played in one-game playoffs in 2012 and 2013 are the worst team in baseball by far.
After remaining .500 through June 16, the Rangers have won only 18 of 71 games. This doesn’t seem like a long-term trend. Like Tampa Bay, Texas has suffered though impossibly bad injury luck: Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Jurickson Profar, Martin Perez, Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland…there isn’t room for the rest.
Meanwhile, Seattle is riding the bats of Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager and the arms of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Chris Young and Fernando Rodney to a surprising wild card run. The Mariners are fighting an uphill battle in trying to catch Detroit and Oakland for a Wild Card spot, but they’re very much in the mix. And while 116 wins and Ichiro’s rookie year might seem like yesterday to some, it’s been 13 years since the Mariners have played deep into October.
The Angels, mired in mediocrity for the past four years, have baseball’s best record and an outside shot at 100 wins. How? Mike Trout’s presence is always helpful. As is Albert Pujol’s mini-resurgence. But, the underrated trio Kole Calhoun, Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick have made the difference. (The lone bumber for the Angels: Garrett Richards, who was a nightmare to face before his injury, is gone for the year.)
The A’s, winners of the past two AL West titles, are seemingly incapable of garnering any attention heading in to a season. But the wins started to catch up with their gaudy peripherals early on, and the A’s had the best record by the trade deadline. A baseball season is a series of ups and downs, however, and no one knows that better than Billy Beane and the A’s. Despite acquiring Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija at the deadline, Oakland is mired in a 7-17 stretch.
The team still has the best run differential in baseball and holds the top wild card spot. This is just a blip. While the dreaded one-game wild card now looms, the A’s are still World Series contenders. Think of them like the 2006 Tigers, who started 76-36 before finishing 19-31 and dropping out of a wild card spot. The team still started the playoffs 7-1 en route to a World Series appearance.
Perhaps crazier than three AL West teams having 100+ run differentials is that Texas, in contrast, is so pathetic. Oh, and we shan’t forget the Astros, who need just one more win to avoid losing 100 games for the first time since 2010.
Well, you can’t predict baseball.