Here’s the no. 1 thing I’ve learned so far during the 2017 season: When you write Hit List twice a week, you start to understand every team’s strengths and weaknesses pretty intimately.
Every three or four days, I get to check in on all 30 franchises. This means that every three or four days, I read about their successes, their failures, their injuries, and their hot streaks. Did Seattle blow another late-inning lead? Great, I can make a Marine(r) Le Pen joke. Did a Met wake up with every body part intact? Wow, it’s a miracle. Such are the thoughts that now constantly run through my mind.
A side effect of this weekly need to produce jokes/seek validation from people who follow me on Twitter? I’ve gained what I believe is a decent grasp of how fan bases feel about their teams. And that’s where the idea for the Panic Index came from.
At the top of every month, I’ll be rolling out the Panic Index. Rather than a pure power ranking, this list will try to group teams based on their records, their health, the expectations we had for them (and they had for themselves) coming into the season, and the general mental state of their fan bases.
Is it subjective? Yes. Meaningful? No. Has that ever stopped me before? No, and it never will.
And if you really hate where I’ve placed a team? Odds are it will change in a month, so there’s no reason to panic.
(Records as of 5/4/2017.)
PANIC LEVEL 0: LIFE IS GOOD
Houston Astros (19-9)
Washington Nationals (18-9)
Baltimore Orioles (16-10)
New York Yankees (17-9)
Arizona Diamondbacks (17-12)
Colorado Rockies (17-11)
Chicago White Sox (14-12)
Minnesota Twins (14-11)
There are really two groups of teams here; those who thought they were going to be good and look pretty damn good, and those who have been surprisingly competent so far this season.
The Astros, Orioles, and Nationals make up the first tier. We knew they’d be competitive and they’re all off to very hot starts. Houston is bludgeoning teams into submission. The O’s have overcome pitching injuries, beanball wars, and the most premature ejection since American Pie to hang around in the tough AL East. The Nationals look like world-beaters, despite the injury to Adam Eaton. For the most part, life is good for these guys right now. It must be nice.
As for the Rockies, Twins, White Sox, Diamondbacks, and Yankees? They’re playing with found money. The two NL West teams are benefiting from the slowish-starting Dodgers and what looks to be two truly bad teams in the Padres and Giants. It’s too early to make much of their records to date, but we’re getting close to the point where we have to pay attention.
The Yankees are seeing great success thanks to their “let’s build a good bullpen and oh yeah, let’s have every prospect who comes up turn into an All-Star masher” strategy, with Aaron Judge one-upping Gary Sanchez this season. Makes you wonder why other teams don’t do this, tbh.
The Twins and White Sox won’t be here for long, but let’s not be mean. Let’s let them have this.
PANIC LEVEL 1: COMFORTABLY NUMB
Cincinnati Reds (13-14)
Atlanta Braves (11-15)
San Diego Padres (12-17)
Milwaukee Brewers (14-14)
Tampa Bay Rays (14-15)
Philadelphia Phillies (12-14)
It’s hard to be panicked when the stakes are low. That’s what the first tier here is all about. The Reds, Braves, and Padres all knew they’d be bad in 2017 as they look to rebuild, and, well, mission accomplished. Braves fans probably don’t like that Dansby Swanson inherited Erick Aybar’s bat, Reds fans probably don’t like that their rookie arms could moonlight as pitching machines, and Padres fans probably don’t like, well, anything. But overall, 2017 is going according to plan for these three teams, even if the plan is uninspired.
As for the Brewers, Rays, and Phillies? These three probably should’ve anticipated finishing around .500 in 2017, and they’re all right around .500. PECOTA liked the Rays a bit more heading into the year, but PECOTA can be just as dumb and bad and wrong as the rest of us. Breaking even might be seen as a bit of a win for the Brewers, who can mash but who have the collective starting rotation talent of a Northeast high school. The Phillies are just sort of across-the-board mediocre as they wait for more of their prospects to graduate to the majors, and their fans have pushed through the denial and anger phases and onto acceptance. You could bump them to the next level in lieu of the Aaron Nola news, but hey, pitchers exist to get hurt. It’s par for the course.
PANIC LEVEL 2: ONLY MILD DISCOMFORT
Chicago Cubs (15-12)
Cleveland Indians (15-12)
Boston Red Sox (15-12)
Los Angeles Dodgers (15-14)
Los Angeles Angels (15-14)
Detroit Tigers (14-12)
Ah yes, the 15-win club. And the Tigers. The Cubs, Indians, and Red Sox are only off to decent starts, not great starts, which has caused some hysteria in Chicago and Boston, at least. The Cubs are learning what life is like when you can’t be labeled the lovable underdogs anymore, and they should be docked a win for every David Ross reference. The Red Sox have enjoyed the health of a 12th century English hamlet and have nearly as many racist fan incidents as they have team home runs. The Indians just put Corey Kluber on the disabled list and don’t have a center fielder. But all of these teams are within striking distance of their preseason projections. They’ll be fine. Probably.
The Dodgers have also suffered a ton of injuries, though the way they court injury-prone players it’s hard to blame that on luck. Still, how scared do you think they are of the D-Backs or Rockies? Probably not that scared. Excavating Adrian Gonzalez’s fossilized remains might be awkward, but how bad can life be when you can just replace someone like him with Cody Bellinger?
As for the Tigers and Angels … I’m kinda stuck. They both sold themselves as contenders and both fan bases were hoping they’d contend, but neither was terribly imposing on paper. And now, after one month of the season, they look like … well, fringe contenders. That said, I only get Tigers news from Matt Sussman’s Twitter feed, so maybe I’m out of touch here.
PANIC LEVEL 3: HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND
Seattle Mariners (12-16)
Texas Rangers (11-17)
Oakland Athletics (11-16)
St. Louis Cardinals (13-13)
Miami Marlins (12-14)
Pittsburgh Pirates (12-15)
Oh look, it’s most of the AL West! The Mariners, Rangers, and A’s all headed into this season calling themselves contenders. It’s not going so great so far. Seattle has had to deal with an ace on the DL, a ton of injuries to position players, and a suspect bullpen. Texas has had to deal with, uh, well, an ace on the DL, a ton of injures to position players, and a suspect bullpen. And then we have Oakland, which, errr, has had to deal with an ace on the DL, some injuries to position players, and a below-average bullpen. Thankfully, fans of all three teams are used to abject disappointment.
As for the three NL teams here, well, it’s not looking great. The Cardinals have some big arms and some decent hitters, but their bullpen and defense have been atrocious, as has been their power output. They’re in real danger of missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, which will astound St. Louis beat writers who don’t understand why Yadier Molina can’t just will and grit them to the postseason. The Pirates’ contention window is closing faster than a Blockbuster franchise, making the half-season suspension to Starling Marte a particularly devastating blow. You could argue they should be in the next panic tier because of how close they might be to blowing it all up. The Marlins don’t really have fans or expectations, but if they did, this is where they’d hypothetically slot.
PANIC LEVEL 4: THIS IS FINE DOG
Kansas City Royals (9-17)
San Francisco Giants (11-18)
Toronto Blue Jays (9-19)
Now for the main event. Remember the 2014 World Series? It happened just a few years ago now, but both of its participants are in pretty rough shape this season. The Royals are last in baseball in runs scored and OPS, have a terrible rotation, and feature several impending free agents. Enjoy the last few days of their World Series-winning core, because this team is going to get blown to hell in June and July.
The Giants? They have the second-fewest runs scored and the second-worst OPS. Their rotation has also been a mess thank in part to Madison Bumgarner’s freak injury, and their bullpen has only been average despite concerted efforts to improve it over the past 18 months. Perhaps this is the price they must pay for even-year magic.
Should being on the Blue Jays be considered a pre-existing condition? The quasi-AL East favorites have had to put their right side of the infield and their ace on the DL, as well as their closer and no. 3 starter. Their bullpen has been bad, their outfield unproductive, and their once-fearsome offense has been bottom-five in the league thus far. With three other legitimate contenders in their division, the Blue Jays may have dug themselves too deep a hole to climb out of, even though it’s early still.
PANIC LEVEL 4B: THIS IS FINE DOG, BUT WITH AN ARM INJURY
New York Mets (12-15)
My oh my, where do we begin? Here’s what the Mets have had to deal with so far:
- David Wright hits DL with partially herniated disk
- Steven Matz hits DL with inflamed elbow
- Seth Lugo hits DL with inflamed elbow
- Lucas Duda hits DL with hyperextended elbow
- Yoenis Cespedes hits DL with left hamstring pull
- Noah Syndergaard hits DL with partially torn lat
I mean, House Stark thinks that's a bit grim. Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker have looked inept. T.J. Rivera is starting games at first base. Robert Gsellman has been awful. And Terry Collins still looks for ways not to play Michael Conforto. It’s a tire fire, and it’s too bad because this was a team with the talent to make a deep playoff push on paper. There’s still a chance that happens, but if you are a Met or a Mets fan, you have every right panic. Just try not to hurt yourself while doing so.