Power Rankings

DWPR: The MLB’s Sticky Situation (6/18/2021)

Welcome to the 2nd edition of Darschewski’s Weekly Power Rankings, and this week I feel the absolute need to discuss the biggest story of the season: MLB is addressing the foreign substance issue. For those who are not fully aware, for over a century pitchers have not been allowed to doctor the baseball, starting with the banishment of the spitball after Ray Chapman was struck in the head by a Carl Mays spitball. This rule has not always been enforced at the major league level, allowing for pitchers such as Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, and Whitey Ford to have Hall of Fame careers while altering the baseball in some fashion. Historically, these alterations were done to help the pitcher grip the ball better. More recently, with technology such as TrackMan, PITCHf/x, and Statcast installed in major league ballparks to track spin rate, pitchers have used substances to increase their spin rate. Higher RPMs on pitches allows for more movement on the pitch, making it harder to for the hitter to guess the location of the ball, and thus harder to hit.

This brings us to the big news of the week, which is MLB’s plan to enforce a rule that was on the books but that the league had previously chosen to ignore, as pitchers caught using foreign substances from this point forward will receive a 10-game suspension. While MLB has already fumbled this whole situation in typical fashion, there have been legitimate concerns. The always outspoken Trevor Bauer, who may or may not be the face of this debacle, posted a YouTube video breaking down his take on the new enforcement. Along with Bauer’s comments, Tampa Bay’s ace Tyler Glasnow recently landed on the 60-day IL with a partially torn UCL, which he claims was due to changing his grip on the baseball after Major League Baseball sent a memo stating that they would begin their crackdown. That’s a serious injury for a pitcher in the midst of a Cy Young-caliber season. This may be an unintentional consequence for baseball as many pitchers will have to change the way they pitch in the middle of the season instead of being able to train over the offseason to adjust to the newly enforced rule, which was my biggest takeaway from the news this week. With all that said, let’s get into the rankings!

March to World Series GloryThe five teams that have the best chance at lifting what Rob Manfred lovingly calls a “hunk of metal” at the end of the season: This week will include the best game score (via Baseball-Reference) a starting pitcher has received for each of the top five teams this season as pitchers have been in the news quite a bit lately

1. Chicago White Sox (43-25, +107 run differential, Last Week: 1): Heading into Thursday’s slate, the White Sox have both the best record in the majors and the best run differential. They won an important series at home against the defending AL pennant winners, and proved that they are a legitimate threat to win the World Series. The downside is that Chicago’s primary second baseman Nick Madrigal is out for the year after receiving surgery to repair tendon tears in his right hamstring, a disturbing pattern for a team that has been decimated by injuries this season.

Best Starting Pitcher Performance in 2021: Carlos Rodon’s no-hitter (April 14) This was the best start of Rodon’s career, and he has kept this performance up, with an ERA of 1.89, FIP of 2.41, and bWAR of 2.4 in 11 starts this season. From being non-tendered last offseason by the White Sox to returning to the team that drafted him with a career year has been nothing short of a spectacular story for the organization this season. The cherry on top was Rodon being two outs away from the 24th perfect game in MLB history, settling for the 20th no-hitter in White Sox history instead.

2. Tampa Bay Rays (43-26, +83, Last Week: 3): Arguably the 1a to Chicago’s number 1 status in the American League, the Rays have been rolling, with a Major-League high 30 wins since the calendar flipped to May. However, the biggest blow to the Rays so far in the season came with the Tyler Glasnow news this week, and his absence will be notable for a team that ranks second in AL starter ERA at 3.50. Rich Hill, in response to MLB’s announcement this week, claimed that the player’s union “dropped the ball” for grip-enhancing substances, the second occurrence of a Tampa Bay pitcher being critical of the news about foreign substances since Monday.

Best Starting Pitcher Performance in 2021: Glasnow’s 14 K’s against Texas (April 12) Two patterns that would emerge this season were present in this game: Glasnow’s dominance this season as Tampa Bay’s new ace and Texas struggling on offense (87 team wRC+, 13% below league average and 26th overall). In this outing, Glasnow struck out 14, while only allowing two hits, no extra-base hits, and one walk. Going deeper, 8 stikeouts came via his curveball (66.7 K%) as the pitch allowed just a .074 wOBA that night. For the season, Glasnow’s curveball has been one of the best pitches in baseball, with a 69.0 K% and .086 wOBA.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers (41-27, +93, Last Week: Not Ranked): The first new team to crack into my top five this year is the Dodgers, the defending World Series champions. Despite being behind the Giants in the standings, the Dodgers have the better run differential this year, the better team wRC+, higher team fWAR, and lower team FIP. This has been accomplished despite losing Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Dustin May for major stretches of the year, along with Mookie Betts slumping to start the year. Time and time again the depth of this organization has proven to be a strength, as Bellinger, Max Muncy, and Corey Seager are all ailing, with Muncy and Bellinger heading to the IL just this week.

Best Starting Pitcher Performance in 2021: Julio Urías gets a career-high 11 strikeouts in Seattle (April 20) In baseball, you have to expect the unexpected, and here we see that with Urías having the highest game score for LA’s pitching staff, one that included 3 former Cy Young winners at one point, and has the reigning NL Cy Young winner in Trevor Bauer. However, Urías was able to notch 11 strikeouts, while only allowing one hit and one walk over seven shutout innings. Also, this game occurred during LA’s 5-15 slump, and the Dodgers narrowly defeated Seattle 1-0 here.

4 (tie). Houston Astros (39-28, +93, Last Week: NR) & Oakland Athletics (43-27, +30, Last Week: NR): So we have our first ever tie not even a month into my power rankings. I chose not to use any tiebreakers simply because this is a two-way tie for fourth, and that gives me the top five teams. San Francisco gets screwed over by this, but I don’t care. It’s my article, and I think they’d rather be in first place in the NL West than in my top five teams for the week. Houston’s offense is mashing again, with the highest batting fWAR and wRC+ in the majors, thanks in part to Carlos Correa slashing .293/.384/.508 with 12 home runs. Oakland, meanwhile, is fifth in wRC+ this year and has been supplemented by Chris Bassitt’s continued breakout. Since 2019, Bassitt has a 3.43 ERA and 3.94 FIP, good for first among A’s pitchers that have thrown at least 200 innings in that span. This season, Bassitt has that same ERA with a career-low 3.30 FIP and career-high 25.6 K%.

Best Starting Pitcher Performance in 2021 (HOU): Zack Greinke shuts down Mariners in Seattle (April 17) A vintage performance from Greinke, who didn’t allow a walk or a run in 8 innings against Seattle. What’s more impressive about this performance was that four of Houston’s starting pitchers were in quarantine at the time, leaving Greinke as the only reliable option. He responded with a classic shutout over 8 innings as an undermanned Houston squeaked past Seattle 1-0.

Best Starting Pitcher Performance in 2021 (OAK): Bassitt’s 2-hit shutout vs. Angels (May 27) Bassitt threw his career shutout against the Angels, with 9 strikeouts, 2 hits, and 1 walk. This has been the peak of Bassitt’s continued breakout, as he threw a season-high 114 pitches in an emotional night for the embattled pitcher. As a result of his dominant night, Bassitt received a golden trident from his teammates, which has been the player of the game award for the A’s this season, and is just awesome. Who wouldn’t want to receive that trident as reward for your hard work? Baseball needs more things like Oakland’s golden trident.

The Race to the Bottom: Bottom Five teams are in order, KCR, TEX, BAL, PIT, ARI

The Race to the Bottom: The five teams that have the best chance at drafting Elijah Green, the best prospect since Bryce Harper came out of the College of Southern Nevada: These teams do not get their pitching performance of the year so far highlighted in the bottom five

26. Kansas City Royals (30-37, -40, Last Week: NR) Bad teams do not deserve nice things, and that’s why they don’t get a highlighted pitching performance. The Royals aren’t an awful team like the other four, but when you go through a 1-9 slump after having an 11 game losing streak earlier in the season, it’s easy to warrant a bottom five spot for KC. This was a team that rushed out of the gates and started 16-9. Since then, Kansas City has gone 14-28, with the aforementioned 11 game losing streak bringing down the Royals after a blazing hot start. At least they have only lost three consecutive road games, which is better than the other teams can say about their performance away from home recently.

27. Texas Rangers (25-43, -63, Last Week: 29) Baseball is an amazing sport, and the weekend series between the Dodgers and Rangers proved it. On Friday night, the Dodgers cranked five home runs, and scored 6 runs in the first inning en route to a 12-1 blowout. The next day, with the reigning NL Cy Young Winner in Trevor Bauer pitching for LA, Texas gave the Dodgers a taste of their own medicine and won 12-1. The back-to-back 12-1 games with both teams winning one had never occurred until last weekend. The win also snapped the longest road losing streak in Rangers/Washington Senators history (matched with the 1961 Senators) at 16, which was also the longest road losing streak since 2010 in the American League, and the longest one within a single AL season since 1970 (at the moment it ended). Baseball is an amazing sport.

28. Baltimore Orioles (22-45, -75, Last Week: 28) Similarly to Texas, Baltimore has been incapable of winning on the road. Unlike Texas, Baltimore has yet to break away from their road woes, as their road losing streak is still active at 19 games. The last road win for the O’s was when John Means threw his no-hitter against Seattle on May 6. After Means threw his no-no, Baltimore was 15-16. Since then, they have gone 7-29. The next chance Baltimore will have at snapping the road losing streak is June 24th in Toronto Buffalo when the Orioles play the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre Sahlen Field.

29. Pittsburgh Pirates (23-44, -100, Last Week: 27) Ke’Bryan Hayes hit a home run against the Milwaukee Brewers, and he touched first base this time. That is probably the highlight of the week for Pittsburgh, as they have lost ten straight games, getting swept by the Dodgers, Brewers, and Nationals in the process. In line with some of the other teams in the bottom 5, Pittsburgh has managed to lose 11 consecutive road games, and will not have the opportunity to win away from PNC Park until they play in St. Louis on June 24th. At least Ke’Bryan Hayes is healthy, slashing .283/.356/.547, and now touching all the bases when he hits a ball out of the park (I’m sorry Pittsburgh fans).

30. Arizona Diamondbacks (20-49, -90, Last Week: 30) Even though I don’t have an official pitching performance of the year for Arizona, I think it’s clear that the best pitching performance that Arizona has seen this year is Madison Bumgarner’s (or should I say Mason Saunders’) notable achievement. It’s also noteworthy because like I stated last week, the Diamondbacks have not won a road game since Bumgarner’s shutout, losing 23 consecutive away from Chase Field since then. This year’s Arizona Diamondbacks are now in sole possession of the record for longest consecutive road losing streak since 1900, breaking their tie with the 1963 New York Mets and the 1943 Philadelphia Athletics. The 1963 Mets went 51-111, and the 1943 Athletics went 49-105-1. Arizona is on pace for a 47-win season currently, which would be the worst record in the majors since the 2003 Tigers went 43-119. Yikes.

I have developed a primitive ranking system via Google Sheets using a team’s record, record from their last 10 games, and run differential. It’s not necessarily bad to not see your favorite team here every week, it just means that they are closer to an average team instead of a great one or a terrible one. Also, I don’t play favorites and I don’t hate your team (at least I don’t hate them enough to rank them lower). These rankings are derived straight from the numbers. Feel free to argue with me about this on Twitter. My username is @jwdblue42, and I will talk about my rankings with anyone who disagrees in a respectful manner only.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, and BaseballSavant, numbers are accurate for games before 6/17/2021

James Darschewski

James Darschewski is an undergraduate student at Purdue University who is the self-appointed "Power Rankings Czar". You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @jwdblue42.

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