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Playoff Profiles: Statistical Break Down of the Likely AL Post Season Contenders.

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Statistical comparisons of the likely AL playoff teams.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros
The A’s Matt Chapman , 6th in MLB with 6.5 fWAR, tagging George Springer.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The following is a compilation of relevant statistics to help you, the reader, evaluate the teams likely to compete in the AL Playoffs.

Season Records

(Before 9-14-2018 games)

AL Records and Standings Before 9-14 games

AL W L GB Div
AL W L GB Div
Bos 101 46 +12 E
Hou 92 54 +3.5 W
NYY 90 56 +1.5 E
Oak 89 58 .. W
Cle 82 64 6.5 C
TBR 80 65 8.0 E
Sea 80 66 8.5 W

The following is the Pythagorean Record and the Team Records Since the All Star Break.

Pythagorean Records, Run Differential, and Actual Records Since the All Star Break

Team Pythagorean Record Run Differential Record since All Star Break
Team Pythagorean Record Run Differential Record since All Star Break
Astros 99-47 242 28-19
Red Sox 95-52 226 33-16
Yankees 88-58 148 28-23
Indians 87-59 140 30-21
A's 85-62 110 34-16
Mariners 68-78 -48 22-27

Here are the major takeaways. As most everyone knows, the Red Sox have the best record in the American league, and the Astros are currently second. However the Astros have the highest run differential, with the Red Sox second in that category.

Since the All Star break the A’s have the best record, one half game ahead of the Red Sox during that time. Among these teams the Astros record is right in the middle. The A’s have gained 4.5 games on the Astros since the All Star Game.

Hitting Statistics

AL Playoff Contenders Batting Stats and League Rank

Team runs/rank (AL) slash line HR's/rank ISO/rank wRC+/rank fWAR/rank
Team runs/rank (AL) slash line HR's/rank ISO/rank wRC+/rank fWAR/rank
A's 715/5th .251/.324/.438 201/2nd .186/2nd 110/2nd 27.7/1st
Red Sox 790/1st .268/.338/.453 188/6th .185/3rd 110/2nd 26.7/2nd
Yankees 743/2nd .248/.327/.445 234/1st .197/1st 109/4th 25.0/3rd
Indians 729/3rd .256//328/.432 196/3rd .176/5th 103/6th 23.7/4th
Astros 724/4th .256/329/.430 188/7th .174/6th 112/1st 23.5/5th
Rays 630/10th .258/.330/.403 133/14th .145/14th 104/5th 20.1/7th

Here are the main takeaways from the above data. The A’s have the highest fWAR in the league, boosted by a high defensive WAR rating. The Astros’ 5th rating was due in part to a negative defensive WAR rating.

For the year the Astros lead the league in wRC+, just ahead of the Red Sox and A’s. However, they are only fourth in runs scored, the Red Sox leading in that category, but just ahead of the Yankees.

The Yankees lead in power numbers, with the most home runs and the highest ISO, although the Red Sox have the highest slugging percentage.

Here are second half hitting numbers for the main contenders.

Hitting statistics for contending AL teams, second half

Team runs/rank (AL) slash line HR's/rank ISO/rank wRC+/rank fWAR/rank
Team runs/rank (AL) slash line HR's/rank ISO/rank wRC+/rank fWAR/rank
A's 266/1st .262/.339/.468 74/1st .206/1st 122/1st 13.1/1st
Red Sox 260/3rd .261/.336/.434 54/11th .173/5th 105/5th 7.7/5th
Yankees 250/4th .242/.321/.412 73/2nd .170/7th 99/10th 6.4/ 8th
Indians 242/5th .258/..331/.422 64/5th .164/10th 102/8th 7.3/6th
Astros 224/8th .244/.318/.424 62/7th .179/4th 106/4th 5.8/9th
Rays 229/7th .262/.336/.418 45/14th .157/11th 109/2nd 8.5/3rd

Since the All Star break the A’s are the best hitting team in baseball...in every listed category. By the best measure available, wRC+, they have an almost intimidating advantage, hitting 20% above league average, (120) the next best team the Rays hitting only 109. The Astros are only fourth on this list at 106.

Pitching Statistics

The following chart compares the season statistics of the contending teams pitching stats for the whole season.

Season Pitching Stats for AL Playoff Contending Teams

Team ERA FIP xFIP pitching WAR
Team ERA FIP xFIP pitching WAR
Astros 3.11 3.2 3.33 27.9
Rays 3.64 3.74 4 15.7
Red Sox 3.65 3.75 3.87 19.9
Yankees 3.73 3.61 3.58 24.2
A's 3.74 4.13 4.22 13
Indians 3.81 3.79 3.65 20.7

As expected the Astros have the best pitching for the year by a large measure, and their peripherals largely back that performance up as well. The other teams are closely bunched in terms of ERA, but the Yankees have the strongest peripherals of all the other teams, suggesting possible improvement during the remaining season and playoffs, and the A’s seem to be significantly over performing .

Next, let’s look at second half pitching statistics.

Pitching Stats, Contending Teams, Second Half + Run Differentials

Team ERA FIP xFIP pitching WAR runs allowed runs scored differential
Team ERA FIP xFIP pitching WAR runs allowed runs scored differential
A's 3.24 3.87 4.06 5.5 181 268 87
Indians 3.44 3.51 3.28 8.4 189 246 57
Astros 3.47 3.31 3.39 9 174 226 52
Rays 3.48 3.53 3.75 6.4 188 230 42
Red Sox 3.76 4.06 4.03 5 205 260 55
Yankees 4.19 3.53 3.46 8.9 233 261 28

Since the All Star break the Astros no longer dominate, but are middle of the pack among contenders. The A’s alone stand apart, but as in their season statistics, FIP and xFIP do not support the long term viability of their current success. On the other hand the Astros have been slightly under performing their peripherals. The Eastern Conference behemoths, the Sox and Yanks, take up the bottom of this list, although the Yankees, based on peripherals, stand to improve even more than the Astros.

This chart also includes second half run differential data, and in that category the A’s again lead, with the Astros middle of the pack for the second half.

Next, let’s compare the starting pitching and the bullpens of each of these teams for the season.

Starting Pitchers and Bullpen of Contending Teams, Season and Since All Star Break

Team Starter ERA season Starter ERA 2nd half Reliever ERA season Reliever ERA 2nd half
Team Starter ERA season Starter ERA 2nd half Reliever ERA season Reliever ERA 2nd half
Astros 3.21 3.63 2.91 3.19
Indians 3.43 3.39 4.64 3.53
Rays 3.67 3.34 3.62 3.56
Red Sox 3.72 3.6 3.53 3.97
Yankees 4.05 4.13 3.25 4.28
Athletics 4.16 3.75 3.17 2.61

Among contending teams, the Astros’ starters are fifth among contending teams since the All Star break, falling off almost a half run a game from the season average, which still leads the league. And while they also have the strongest bullpen for the season, they are now behind the A’s in the second half, whose bullpen has surged to an impressive 2.61 ERA for the half season.

Other important takeaways are the declining bullpens of the Red Sox and Yankees in the second half, as well as the improved performance of the Indian bullpen, no longer an obvious weak link as it was in the first half.

Summary

If one assumes that season long performance is the best predictor of late season and playoff success, then the two best teams in the AL are the Red Sox and the Astros; the Red Sox based on record and most hitting statistics, the Astros based on run differential, pitching and wRC+.

However, the Astros’ pitching dominance is based almost entirely on April and May starting performances that were other-worldly and clearly unsustainable in retrospect. Who expects Bob Gibson, 1968 ERA’s from the staff going forward. So clearly the more recent splits deserve some, or perhaps, more weight than the early season statistics, since these are the performances the teams are bringing into the stretch drive and playoffs.

In the second half the A’s are clearly the best team in the AL, in terms of record, run differential, best hitting in nearly every category, and best team ERA. Despite a prolonged run of MLB best baseball starting June 17th, many still can’t believe their success can propel them past the Astros, despite some gaping holes in the Astros lineup, and fairly average starting pitching since the All Star break.

Here’s the biggest problem with the A’s. Simple. Starting pitching. This is a tired group of no name overachievers now missing their one stopper, Sean Manaea. Mike Fiers has pitched like a hoss since coming from Detroit, but we’ve seen that show before here in Houston, and how long can that last?

The A’s are now highly reliant on the “opener” concept, and with the deepest and best bullpen in baseball since the All Star break, this may work. But peripherals indicate that the A’s pitching is vulnerable. If they can march on to a World Championship with their current staff of starters, it might be the biggest miracle since the Mets. And, along with the surprising success of the Tampa Bay Rays, it might also revolutionize the way pitchers are used in Major League Baseball.