Sunday, May 13, 2012


As much as we'd prefer to avoid discussing the AL East, what with the over-emphasis on the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry that continues to plague baseball the way bimbos dominate the nightly news cycle, the point has to be conceded: the damn division is shaping up to be extremely interesting in '12.

What with the Orioles staying aloft into the middle of May (though we can't help but expect some serious retrenchment any day now) and the Blue Jays riding their starting pitching to something a little closer to mid-gray in terms of dark horse contender status, all five teams are generating interest. (And, no, we don't think the Red Sox are out of the race in any way, even though their struggles have been bloody over the first six weeks of the season.)

At right is a quick summary of the teams thus far (most through Saturday's games). As you can see, the O's have gotten the jump inside the division, winning 12 out their first 18 contests against division rivals [NOTE: they lost earlier today to the Rays, 9-8, so they are now 2-1 against Tampa Bay].

The data also shows that the Red Sox' starting pitching, despite a recent uptick over the weekend, is still struggling in the wake of last September's epic collapse.

Ryan Sweeney has turned into
a doubling fool for the Sox...
There's little trouble with the Boston offense, however, As a matter of fact, the Red Sox have already hit 100 doubles in only 34 games thus far in '12, which puts them on a pace to shatter the major league record for most doubles by a team (currently held by the Texas Rangers, who hit 376 in 2008). At their current pace, the Red Sox project to hit 476 doubles--an absolutely surreal number. The team's HR totals are down from previous years, but with four players (David Ortiz, Ryan Sweeney, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez) on pace for 50+ doubles, the Sox might just make a run at this record.

Brandon Morrow: leading the charge
on the mound for Toronto...
At the bottom of the chart we have breakouts for starter and reliever ERA by the teams, and we can see that the O's have gotten stellar work out of the pen thus far in '12 (that 2.07 ERA is currently second in the AL behind Texas). The Yankees' pen has thus far survived the loss of Mariano Rivera and is in the process of turning in another solid performance.

The big surprise thus far is the performance of the Blue Jays' starters. Four of the five have been at least solid, and the Jays hold out hopes for 21-year old righty Drew Hutchison, who has defied his draft pedigree (15th) by racing up the farm system.

The Rays have won a lot of one-run games thus far in '12, but they too have had solid starting pitching (despite mega-hyped rookie Matt Moore's early struggles) and they figure to keep on winning at home.

We'll close this quick post with a chart that we hope to convince the head honcho at Forman et fil to automate some time soon. What is that, you say? It's a chart showing monthly ERA breakouts for team starting pitching. (We want that same thing for relievers, too, but we're too lazy to break that one out by hand, at least right now.)

Yes, we know that ERA is no longer considered to be such a spiffy stat by those on an endless vision quest, but we still like it's interesting to see how consistent teams are from month to month.

For example, in 2011 the Rays were the only team in the AL to have its starting pitchers post a sub-4.00 ERA in all six months of the season. (All sub-4.00 monthly ERAs are shown in bold type.) That consistency clearly served them in good stead as they were able to stay within range of the playoffs (though we all know that the Red Sox, with their 7.08 starting pitcher September ERA, were more responsible for the Rays making the post-season than Joe Maddon's team was).

The monthly breakouts show that AL starting pitching had a solid first half in 2011, then took a nosedive after the All-Star break. This year, the starters had a solid April, but have been giving ground in May. At the moment (remember, we're only halfway through the month...) the Yankees seem to have turned things around with their starters, while the Red Sox (despite some uptick over this past weekend) are still struggling. The month-by-month breakout also explains why the Royals and Twins have been having so many problems in the early going.

We'll do similar snapshots for the other divisions as the spirit moves us (though it just might be the bowels that do the trick, which was more like what was the case whenever we contemplate the AL East).