I always look forward to the short schedule surrounding the All-Star week, as it provides me with a golden opportunity to take a breather from the weekly Hit List format. Instead I turn to what I call the Hit List Remix to examine some of the season’s underlying trends. With the interleague slate now a memory—a warm fuzzy one for most AL teams, a nightmare for most NL ones—and each team having played about 95 games, we’ve got a decent sample size at hand to examine the relative strength of the leagues and divisions.

First, a quick refresher course for those of you who have stumbled in here glassy-eyed and still reeling from Tuesday’s 15-inning affair. The Hit List is BP’s version of the power rankings, and it’s based not on subjective criteria but on an objective formula which averages a team’s actual, first-, second- and third-order winning percentages via the Adjusted Standings. To go into a bit more detail:

  • First-order winning percentage is computed (via Pythagenpat, Pythagoras’ slightly more sophisticated sibling) using actual runs scored and allowed
  • Second-order winning percentage uses equivalent runs scored and allowed, based on run elements (hits, walks, total bases, etc.) and the scoring environment (park and league adjustments).
  • Third-order winning percentage adjusts for the quality of the opponent’s hitting and pitching via Equivalent Average (EqA) allowed and opponents’ EqA.

By using the four percentages, we’re correcting for teams that over- or underperform relative to how many runs they’ve scored and allowed, how many runs they should have scored and allowed given the number and type of hits, walks and other events, their ballpark environment, and the quality of the competition. There’s nothing written in stone about this formula, whose average is called the Hit List Factor (HLF), but there’s no hidden agenda, either. It’s simply a way of looking at the question, “How good is each team?” and giving weight to various categories of performance without overcompensating for any of them.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here are the official rankings up to the All-Star break:

                 Overall  Week
Rank Team           W-L    W-L    HLF  trend
 1   Red Sox       57-40   2-1   .616    0
 2   Cubs          57-38   2-1   .596    0
 3   Rays          55-39   0-3   .585   -1
 4   White Sox     54-40   1-2   .578   -1
 5   Athletics     51-44   1-2   .563    0
 6   Phillies      52-44   2-1   .554    0
 7   Mets          51-44   3-0   .548    1
 8   Yankees       50-45   1-2   .533   -1
 9   Blue Jays     47-48   2-1   .530    1
10   Cardinals     53-43   2-1   .530    1
11   Angels        57-38   2-1   .529    0
12   Braves        45-50   2-1   .525    1
13   Brewers       52-43   1-2   .525   -1
14   Twins         53-42   2-1   .508    1
15   Tigers        47-47   1-2   .507    0
16   Diamondbacks  47-48   1-2   .506    0
17   Dodgers       46-49   1-2   .504    0
18   Rangers       50-46   2-1   .497    0
19   Marlins       50-45   2-1   .485    0
20   Orioles       45-48   1-2   .483   -1
21   Indians       41-53   3-0   .477    1
22   Reds          46-50   2-1   .452    1
23   Astros        44-51   2-1   .447    0
24   Royals        43-53   2-1   .444    0
25   Giants        40-55   1-2   .438    0
26   Rockies       39-57   0-3   .430   -1
27   Mariners      37-58   1-2   .421    0
28   Pirates       44-50   1-2   .414   -1
29   Padres        37-58   1-2   .407    0
30   Nationals     36-60   1-2   .369    1

With the Cubs ranked second and the Phillies, Mets, and Cardinals all cracking the top 10, the upper reaches of the Hit List don’t lean completely towards the American League as much as in years past. However, the composite numbers show that the junior circuit remains the superior one:

 AL   Avg Rank  HLF
2008    12.9   .520
2007    14.9   .506
2006    12.6   .513
2005    13.4   .509

 NL   Avg Rank  HLF
2008    17.8   .483
2007    16.0   .495
2006    18.1   .488
2005    17.3   .492

The 2005-07 numbers are year-end numbers, whereas 2008 obviously involves mid-season numbers, but if the current trend holds, the gap between the two leagues will be the widest it has been since I started doing the Hit List. The average AL team has a Hit List Factor 37 points better than the average NL team, equivalent to a whopping six games in the standings (.037 * 162 = 5.994). Most of that has to do with the 149-103 advantage the AL enjoyed in interleague play this year, a 12-game improvement over last year’s results (137-115) but still five games behind 2005 (154-98). It’s worth noting, however, that the gap between the two leagues may narrow by the end of the year. Last year’s midsummer gap of 24 points shrank to 11 by year’s end (m denotes midsummer, f denotes final):

League    Avg Rank  HLF
AL 2007f    14.9   .506
AL 2007m    13.9   .513
NL 2007f    16.0   .495
NL 2007m    16.9   .489

Turning to the division-by-division breakdowns, this year one division is running away with the Hit List Factor crown:

            --------2008--------------   --------2007-------    HLF
Division    Avg RK  WPct    HLF    D3    Avg RK  WPct    HLF    +/-
AL East       7.4   .536   .550  -15.6    13.0   .504   .525   .025
AL West      12.8   .512   .503    3.1    14.8   .514   .502   .001
AL Central   12.4   .503   .503    0.7    17.0   .499   .490   .012
NL East      18.0   .491   .496    0.7    14.4   .500   .504  -.008
NL Central   14.5   .518   .494   24.1    20.5   .472   .469   .025
NL West      22.6   .439   .457  -13.0    12.2   .520   .516  -.059

The American League East features two teams that have topped this year’s Hit List, the Red Sox and Rays, and has at times seen all five teams with winning records, though lately both the Orioles and Blue Jays have fallen below .500. Collectively, the division has outscored opponents by 182 runs, though if anything, they’re lagging behind where they should be, because all five teams have fallen short of their third-order projections, by anywhere from 0.6 games (Baltimore) to 5.7 games (Toronto).

Beyond the AL East, things get a little strange. The NL Central has the majors’ second-best winning percentage, but their collective Hit List Factor lags behind by 24 points. The division as a whole has a case of what we might call Diamondback-itis: they’ve been outscored by 22 runs but are 19 games above .500 and 24.1 games above their third-order projection (D3). Even with that shortfall, they’re in a dead heat with the AL East for the most improved division since the end of last year. The gap between their actual and expected winning percentages suggests that there’s some regression to the mean ahead, however.

The AL’s two other divisions are in a virtual tie for second place in Hit List Factor, while the NL West has surprisingly fallen on hard times. At the end of last year it ranked first in winning percentage and average Hit List rank, and second in Hit List factor. This year, the division has been collectively outscored by 223 runs, and none of its teams has a record above .500. Three of the five teams are among the bottom six on the Hit List, including the defending NL champion Rockies and the team they beat out for the Wild Card in a Game 163 playoff, the Padres. Which brings us to the next chart, comparing this year’s Hit List Factors with the 2007 year-end figures:

Team          2008   2007     +/-
Rays          .585   .430    .155
White Sox     .578   .427    .151
Cardinals     .530   .459    .071
Athletics     .563   .496    .067
Cubs          .596   .529    .067
Marlins       .485   .452    .033
Rangers       .497   .464    .033
Orioles       .483   .453    .030
Twins         .508   .487    .021
Royals        .444   .426    .018
Phillies      .554   .544    .010
Brewers       .525   .516    .009
Astros        .447   .439    .008
Diamondbacks  .506   .500    .006
BlueJays      .530   .528    .002
Pirates       .414   .415   -.001
Mets          .548   .551   -.003
Reds          .452   .459   -.007
Red Sox       .616   .624   -.008
Braves        .525   .536   -.011
Dodgers       .504   .522   -.018
Angels        .529   .550   -.021
Giants        .438   .467   -.029
Tigers        .507   .548   -.041
Yankees       .533   .591   -.058
Nationals     .369   .436   -.067
Mariners      .421   .498   -.077
Indians       .477   .566   -.089
Padres        .407   .533   -.126
Rockies       .430   .556   -.126

The Rays have a slight lead over the White Sox for most improved team; recall that the Sox actually finished one spot below them on the final 2007 Hit List. Evan Longoria, Matt Garza, a functional bullpen, and a real-live infield that plays defense have done wonders to elevate the Rays, a club that had known nothing but futility and the promise of a better tomorrow for a decade. As for the White Sox, their offense, rotation and bullpen have all been middle-of-the-pack, and they’ve exactly hit their third-order projection; being a club without a glaring weakness may be enough in that division this year.

The A’s are among the most improved clubs this season, a sign that despite the head-scratchiness of the Rich Harden deal, Billy Beane does seem to know what he’s doing when it comes to rebuilding (paging Mr. Mulder and Mr. Zito…). For a further case in point, there’s now also yesterday’s trade of Joe Blanton (5-12 with a 4.96 ERA) to the Phillies for three prospects. Elsewhere among AL clubs, the Rangers and Twins have shown modest improvements that have put them in a position to challenge for a playoff spot.

Among NL teams, the Cardinals have leapt back into contention despite a plethora of injuries to the league’s most effective rotation, and the Marlins have crept into contention as well. That pair of results is even more surprising given that last year’s NL East and Central winners, the Phillies and Cubs, are stronger teams this time around. Even the Diamondbacks, who’ve gone 27-40 since the beginning of May, are actually six points ahead of where they finished last year.

Further hope for the recently downtrodden can be seen all over the upper half of this list, as mediocrities like the Orioles, Royals, and Astros can claim at least some forward progress from the end of last year. Yes, you too, Toronto—by all means, please spare J.P. Ricciardi’s job, as it makes sharpening the Hit List knives something I look forward to every week.

Meanwhile, the Angels, Dodgers, and Tigers find themselves in the hunt for post-season berths despite considerable falloffs since the end of last year. The same could be said about the Yankees, at least if you have faith that they’ll overcome the potentially season-ending injury to Hideki Matsui on top of the injuries of Chien-Ming Wang, Philip Hughes, and the lost-at-sea batting approaches of Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano. If you’re scoring at home, count this Yankee fan among the nonbelievers.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Padres and their play-in partners have both fallen off the furthest, and in rather shocking fashion given the former’s recent competitiveness and the latter’s base of young talent… which may not be all that talented at all, I suppose. They’re not alone in their falls from grace; the Indians were one win away from a trip to the World Series last year, but have taken quite a tumble due to injuries (Victor Martinez, Fausto Carmona, Jake Westbrook) and ineffectiveness (Travis Hafner, Asdrubal Cabrera, both outfield corners), while the ship has sunk for those 2007 overachievers, the Mariners. Remember, kids, when it comes to dishing out Hit List justice, nobody kicks ass like Pythagoras.

Finally, we check in with our PECOTA-derived Preseason Hit List:

Team           HLF  PECOTA    +/-
White Sox     .578   .475    .103
Orioles       .483   .407    .076
Athletics     .563   .494    .069
Cardinals     .530   .463    .067
Twins         .508   .451    .057
Red Sox       .616   .562    .054
Blue Jays     .530   .481    .049
Marlins       .485   .438    .047
Rangers       .497   .451    .046
Rays          .585   .543    .042
Cubs          .596   .562    .034
Phillies      .554   .531    .023
Astros        .447   .444    .003
Braves        .525   .525    .000
Giants        .438   .438    .000
Royals        .444   .444    .000
Angels        .529   .537   -.008
Brewers       .525   .543   -.018
Diamondbacks  .506   .531   -.025
Mets          .548   .580   -.032
Dodgers       .504   .537   -.033
Pirates       .414   .451   -.037
Reds          .452   .494   -.042
Mariners      .421   .463   -.042
Tigers        .507   .562   -.055
Yankees       .533   .599   -.066
Padres        .407   .481   -.074
Nationals     .369   .444   -.075
Rockies       .430   .506   -.076
Indians       .477   .568   -.091

The White Sox are the runaway winners here thus far, while the Rays have merely managed to improve on a turnaround that already promised to be more radical than their name change. Running a surprising second are the Orioles, who ranked dead last on our pre-season Hit List, but have instead managed to maintain the bland mediocrity that’s characterized the organization’s recent patches of… wait, what’s the opposite of shame? The Twins have obviously surpassed expectations considerably, and they might remain a threat in the AL Central if they ever get around to recalling Francisco Liriano, ditching Livan Hernandez, and adding a bat or two. Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew should do nicely.

We’ve already kicked a few of the teams at the other end of the spectrum—no need to tell Hank Steinbrenner that the pre-season list-topping Yankees are among the biggest disappointments around—but we haven’t noted the way the Nationals have fallen so far short or what was a pretty meager projection to begin with. Injuries—Nick Johnson, Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill, Chad Cordero, Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Peña—have weakened an already-weak roster, and to add insult, their new ballpark hasn’t been particularly well-received, though at least attendance is up about 24 percent.

Closer to the center, there’s nothing all that remarkable about the three bullseyes; there were two at this time last year, and six teams within ten points of their projections. What’s more striking is just below center, where the Pirates, Reds and Mariners have significantly underachieved their rather mediocre projections. The Reds, with their coterie of top-flight youngsters such as Edinson Volquez, Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, and Johnny Cueto, have nonetheless offered some hope for the future. The Bucs, with their hyperproductive outfield and dreadful rotation, not so much.

Of course, we can still expect a fair amount of movement in this list. Last year’s Remix came closer to the mid-season point, but 40-point swings in HLF by the end of the year weren’t uncommon. The Angels lost 39 points and still won their division, the Brewers lost 50 and fell short of the postseason. The Yankees stormed back by gaining 47 points and the Rockies rushed to the playoffs with a 75-point gain. Which teams will turn it around this year, for better or worse? Stay tuned.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe