July 12, 2017
This is Really All We Know: The Easts
A few years ago, I tried a thing for a month or so where I wrote up power rankings of teams using only as many words as they each had games played. I did this once a week for, I don’t know, maybe a month. It was fun the first time, but not the fifth. The point, which I thought cut cleanly and sharply through the piece in the first installment but eventually went a little dull, was that we really learn about teams very slowly.
Players’ skill levels change faster than ever before, I think, relative to the rest of the league. Guys get hurt and rookies get promoted. There’s all of this data flowing past us all the time, but often our best estimate of a team’s true talent remains the one we made before the season, when we were looking at all of those things—all the possible injuries, improvements, adjustment periods, the big picture—and the data was standing still.
I’m not going to resurrect that series, but since we have a little time right now, I’m going to bring it back as a one-time feature. In three parts, I’ll give a state-of-the-team statement on each club, using as many words as that team has games played this year. There won’t be much detail; there won’t be definitive statements. The point here is that, even by the All-Star break, we have maybe two paragraphs worth of new and actionable information. We just don’t know baseball as well as we think we do, and I think that’s truer in mid-July than at any other time of the year.
Atlanta Braves (42-45)
Freddie Freeman has found ways to keep improving, and might be the best left-handed hitter in baseball. Tyler Flowers fell into Atlanta’s lap because of another team’s incompetence (sound familiar?). He’s matured brilliantly, close to home. Beyond those two players, there’s little about which to be happy in Atlanta. They’re a year deeper into their rebuild, but not necessarily a year closer to its payoff. Dansby Swanson’s only encouraging offensive stat—his 10 percent walk rate—is a lie, as a quarter of his free passes have been intentional.
Baltimore Orioles (42-46)