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The Best Division in the American League

Have you ever wondered what the best division in baseball was? Probably. But you probably dismissed it in five seconds, picking the AL East because it had two 100-win teams, three playoff teams, and the World Series Champions, or the NL West because that’s where the Dodgers play. But have you ever wondered it enough to put data to the actual division as a whole? No? Well, I did. AND, even better, I made it into a two-part article. Part one will determine the best division in the American League and part two, you guessed it, the best division in the National League.

I found there are two possible ways to measure this data. One way would be to select the 25 best players from each division to fill out a roster. That would produce superstar teams with Altuve, Bregman, Springer, Cole, and Verlander all on one team, WITH Mike Trout. Or it would basically be like combining the Yankees and the Red Sox with a few Rays and Blue Jays sprinkled in. With this data, we would analyze the best possible team made up of division players and compare the three teams. I did not select this way for two reasons.   

The first reason is justification. It would be difficult to justify why I selected certain players, like why I selected Andrew Heaney over Tyler Skaggs, there is no real reason besides Heaney had a higher WAR. The other reason is there would be little to no players selected from cellar teams such as the Orioles, Tigers, Rangers, Royals, and White Sox, and that would defeat the purpose of determining the best division if players from 2-3 teams were omitted. That would seem too much like an All-Star game within divisions. Instead, I decided to assume everything was average and base my analysis on team rankings and team projections. I add up data from each team within the division and average it out to get a total average of the division as one team. This evens the playing field to prevent outlier players and super teams.   

The only addition I made was if a division had a significant WAR provider, like a Mike Trout. I assumed Mike Trout was divided into five players, one for each team on the division, and placed on top of the existing Mike Trout, and his WAR was averaged out for the division. For example, Mike Trout adds about 10 wins to the Angels based on his WAR, which does not change the normal record calculations, but when average Mike Trout is added to each team in the division the 10 wins are divided five ways providing an extra two wins for the division. This increase in wins for the division assumes that if a player in the division, such as Mike Trout, were added to a better overall team then he would increase the value of that better team by X amount in addition to his overall performance increase, in the case of a pitcher like Jacob DeGrom, from actually having support from others. If any division has a player or players with a WAR of 5 or greater (4.4 > will be calculated), that value will be averaged out amongst the division and added to the overall division analysis. Another example, based on 2018 data, Aaron Judge had a 5.5 WAR in 2018. If five Aaron Judges were placed on each team in the AL East and their value was averaged out, they would add 1.1 total wins to the entire AL East.

Notes: In this scenario, we are projecting teams as they stand currently. That means no Bryce Harper and no Manny Machado. The addition of either would add about 5 wins to any team and about 1.5 wins to any division and would drastically sway the results. 

Team WRC+ values will be based on 2018 totals and used to justify total offense. For example, the Dodgers and Yankees led the league with a 111 WRC+. Based on this, we assume the Yankees and the Dodgers had the best offense in baseball. The league average for WRC+ in the AL is 99. Team Defensive values and pitching statistics will also be based on the 2018 values. All data is from FanGraphs, Depth Chart, and Steamer projections. 

Prediction: AL EAST 

I predict that the AL East will be the best division by far. They have two 100-win teams and those teams are only improving. The Rays are good for 82-88 wins at worst, and the Orioles have to improve from last year, right? You can’t get better than a division having three playoff teams. The Central does not come close as they did not even deserve to have one playoff team. The West is due for regression in my opinion as two teams are rebuilding, and the others are always a surprise. I believe the Yankees and Red Sox alone are strong enough to boost the East to the best division in the American League.

THE DATA-

AL EAST: The AL East is projected to be a two-and-a-half-team race this year. According to FanGraphs, the Red Sox are projected to go 97-65, and the Yankees are projected to finish two games back at 95-67, which would get them the first wildcard. The Rays are projected to occupy the second wildcard spot with an 86-76 record. Rounding out the division we have the Blue Jays projected at 77-85 and the Orioles, once again finishing as the worst team in baseball, but somehow improving, at 62-100. This brings the total record of the AL East to 417-393, good for a 0.5148 winning percentage. Their 162-average record is 83-79, clearly hindered by the Orioles. The leagues total runs scored per game is 23.36, with the average treating the division like one team at 4.62 runs per game. The total runs allowed is 22.62, and the average runs allowed per game is 4.532. This makes for a 0.088 run differential on average or a 0.74 run differential all together. Meaning that less than a run separates their games.  

The AL East had 2 teams in the top 3 for team WRC+ and 4 in the top 10. The Yankees finished tied for first with 111 and the Red Sox finished in third with 110. The Rays finished in fifth with a 105 WRC+. The Blue Jays finished 10th with 101. The Orioles had an 84 WRC+ for the season. The total average WRC+ results in 102, this would be 8th in the MLB. The AL East was not good on the defensive side. The Red Sox are the first ranked team in the division on team defense in 18th place with an 8.1 defensive value.  The Rays had a -11.6, the Yankees had a -14.7, the Blue Jays and Orioles were a league-worst -65. Their average has them at -30 or 28th in the MLB. The division had an average ERA or 4.26, which was 20th in the MLB. They also had a FIP of 4.22, which ranked 20th. The division gets a total of 7.3 extra wins from Mookie Betts, Vlad Jr., Aaron Judge, Chris Sale, James Paxton, Luis Severino, and Blake Snell’s 2019 WAR projections. This brings the total win projection for the AL East to 90. Even with the Orioles weighing them down, the top half is too strong. The AL East would finish tied for first in the NL East with the same record as the Atlanta Braves, or within their own division, third place, with the same record as the Rays. 

AL CENTRAL: The AL Central is, in my opinion, the worst division in baseball, but let’s see if the data backs it up. The Indians lead the pack with a 93-69 projection, followed, but not closely, by the Twins at 82-80. The Royals, White Sox, and Tigers all finish in that order and are projected to be the 3rd, 4th and 5th worst teams in baseball. They finish 71-91, 70-92, and 69-93 respectively.  The division’s total record is 385-425, a .475 win-percentage. Their 162-game average record is 77-85, or not good. The division is projected 22.41 runs per game or 4.482 normalized. They are projected to allow 23.66 runs per game or 4.732 normalized runs.   

The Indians finished with the highest WRC+ in the division with 104, just slightly better than the whole AL East. The Twins had a 95 WRC+, the White Sox had a 92 WRC+, the Royals had an 88, and the Tigers had 84. The average WRC+ for the division was 92.6, the same as the White Sox, and 20th in the MLB.  This is 6.4 points below the league average. Defensive ratings for the division = -6.66, which is 20th in the MLB.  The division’s ERA and FIP were 4.53 and 4.428, which are 23rd in the MLB. The division gets a total of 4.92 (rounded to 5) wins from Lindor, Ramirez, Kluber, Carrasco, and Bauer, all from the Indians. The division’s win total is now adjusted to 82 wins. Even when averaging out the best from the division they still finish barely above .500, the equivalent of the Washington Nationals or the Arizona Diamondbacks. 

AL WEST: Here is where things could have gotten interesting in the AL if the Mariners didn’t sell off their whole franchise. The Astros are projected to win the division again, to no surprise, but are projected to finish worse than last season. They take first with a 95-67 record. Second place is now the Angels with an 84-78 record, but still not good enough to get Mike Trout in the playoffs.  They need to add about 3 more wins somewhere to surpass the Rays. Dropping drastically from last season is the A’s in third. They are projected to lose 15 wins and finish 82-80, but Billy Beane has defied projections before. Fourth finds the Mariners dropping by 15 wins after entering a total rebuild. The Rangers round out the division as their rebuild is not quite ready yet at 72-90. Total record = 407-403. Win percentage = 0.502. 162 record = 81-81 (rounded down). Total runs per game = 23.16 and 4.632 normalized. Total runs allowed per game 23.07 and 4.614 normalized.    

The average division WRC+ is 102.2, 8th in the MLB, but 0.2 better than the AL East. Their 3.02 average defense, the only positive value in the AL, is good for 20th. The Astros had the best team ERA and team FIP in baseball with 3.11 and 3.22. The division itself had a 4.02 ERA, good for 15th, and a 4.10 FIP, the equivalent of the Padres at 17th. The division gets +2 wins from Mike Trout alone, though they probably deserve more. From Bregman, Altuve, Chapman, Verlander, and Cole they get 5.74 extra wins. The AL West division finishes with 89 total adjusted wins, one behind the AL East. The AL West would finish with the same record as the team that finished third in the West, the Mariners. 

THE WINNER: 

The AL Central is the clear worst team in the division based on the data. To determine which division is better between the AL East and the AL West, one win is too close to decide outright, I have put them in a simulated 7 game championship series. The offenses are virtually equal with 0.2 separating their team WRC+. The East averaged about 206 HR during the season and the West averaged 203.2. The East projects at 4.62 runs per game and 4.53 runs allowed per game. The West projects 4.63 runs per game and projects to allow 4.61 runs per game. Both divisions score the same runs, but the West allows almost 0.1 more runs per game. Again, this really tells us nothing to separate one or the other as the values are so similar for the offense.   

The defense in the AL West is far superior to the AL East by 22. The pitching in the AL West is also better than the AL East, even though the East had CY Young winner Blake Snell. The AL East would likely bring forward Blake Snell, Sale, Severino, Paxton, and Price, based on best pitcher WAR. The West would bring Verlander, Cole, Heaney, Marco Gonzales, and Tyler Skaggs. There is a HUGE difference in these two rotations, one rotation is an all-star rotation and one is a normal team rotation.   

In a 7-game series with specific players chosen from each team in the division, I would give the edge to the AL East, however, in this analysis, we are just averaging out the teams and not choosing specific players. Based on the data above, the AL West is the best division in the American League by a very slim margin. I figured if placed in a simulated seven-game series with the East, with the division averages as the statistics the West would win the series 4 games to 3.

Featured Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan, USA TODAY Sports

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