June 2014

What June 30 Standings Tell Us About Postseason Odds, A Look Back at 1997, 2003 and 2008

As we awake this morning on June 30, we are now in terms of the calendar at the midpoint on the baseball schedule or very close to that point for all teams. So for fun, let’s look at the standings on this very calendar day of Monday June 30 from the three prior seasons that also were at this same point on the schedule for this very date and examine how predictive those standings were in identifying those teams that would go to postseason. The three seasons which are identical in terms of the baseball schedule and yes to the calendar are 1997, 2003, and 2008. Interestingly, the Marlins had success in all three of those seasons and they have been a mild surprise this season as they were in 2008 and 2003. It is not so likely though that a Florida team will be in a World Series this season unlike the Marlins of 1997 and 2003 and the 2008 Rays.

In 1997, the Orioles, Indians, Mariners, Braves, Astros and Giants claimed the division titles, while the Yankees and marlins were the Wild Card teams. Had a second Wild Card been added in ’97, the 84-78 Angels would have played at New York against the 96-66 Yankees, while the 86-75 Indians rested as AL Central champs. The NL would have been even wilder as the Mets and Dodgers were both 88-74 and they would have had to play a game to decide who would then play another elimination game at the 92-70 Marlins, all teams with better marks than the 84-78 Astros that claimed the NL Central crown.

As for the standings on the morning of June 30, the Orioles lead the Yankees by 5.5 in the AL East, they ultimately would go wire-to-wire but only win the division by 2 games over New York. The Indians held a 1 game lead on the White Sox in the AL Central and the Brewers were 3 back at 37-39. It would be September before Cleveland had enough separation and they ultimately won the division by 6. The Mariners lead the angels by 5.5 in the Al West and they ultimately won the division by 6. The NL East was very competitive, the Braves lead the Marlins by 4.5, the Mets by 6.5 and the Expos by 7.5. Montreal would fall back after the All Star break and though the Mets and Marlins would eventually lose ground with Atlanta winning by 9 games over Florida, those teams along with the Dodgers would contend for a Wild Card into September before the marlins pulled far enough away. The NL Central was the joke of the league, Houston at 40-41 had a 1 game lead on the Cardinals and 3 on the Pirates. Houston’s struggles and Pittsburgh hanging near .500 most of the season would ultimately make the Pirates the largest threat to the Astros who would finally claim a weak division the season’s final Thursday. Meanwhile, the Giants had a 4.5 game lead on the Rockies in the NL West and the Dodgers trailed by 7. Ultimately Los Angeles would get to within 2 by seasons end, the Rockies would finish 7 back. As for the Wild Card races, the Yankees had a 4.5 game lead on the Angels which would end up at 12 by seasons end while the Marlins had a lead of 2 over the Mets and 3 over Montreal, ultimately they would finish 4 ahead of the Mets and Dodgers, the Expos would slip 11 games further behind the Marlins over the second half. IN 1997 as it would turn out, the 8 teams in the lead all would end the season that way and in fact, the only change would have been for the second Wild Card berth in the NL if it existed, as the Dodgers would have pulled even with the Mets, overcoming the Expos by a wide margin.

Moving forward six years to 2003, the ultimate division winners that season were the Yankees, Twins, Athletics, Braves, Cubs and Giants. The Red Sox and Marlins would claim wild Card births. Had second Wild Card teams existed in ’03, the Red Sox heart break in game 7 against the Yankees may have not even occurred because they would have hosted the Mariners at Fenway, Seattle was 93-69 and just a pair of games behind Boston. Meanwhile in the NL, the Marlins at 91-71 would have hosted the 87-75 Astros and the Phillies at 86-76 would have missed that second spot by a single game in their final season at the Vet.

As for the standings on the morning of June 30, the Yankees held a 3.5 game lead over the Red Sox that would end up at 6 in the AL East. IN the Al Central, the Twins and Royals were in a tie six games over .500, Minnesota had two more games played and thus on percentage points they were listed as the first place team. The White sox were 4.5 back and ultimately Minnesota would edge Chicago by 4 and KC which stayed in the race would finished 7 games out. The AL West was a different story as the Mariners held a 6 game lead on the Athletics on this date. Seattle was 52-28, they would play exactly .500 the rest of the way and ultimately finish 3 behind Oakland in the division and 2 behind Boston in the Wild Card. Seattle in fact on this date had the best record in baseball, though the Yankees, Red Sox, Athletics, Braves and Giants would all end up better than Seattle three months later. The Braves would hold a 6.5 game lead over the Phillies in the NL East, the Expos were 7 back and the marlins were 12 back and a game under .500. Ultimately Atlanta won the division by 10 over the Marlins, the team with the second best second half in baseball. The Cardinals would hold the NL Central lead at 43-37, they would end up finishing in third 3 behind the Cubs. The Cubs on June 30 were a game behind St. Louis and the Houston Astros trailed by 1.5, all would hold the division lead at various points into September before the Cubs won out. The Giants held a 3 game lead on the Dodgers in the NL West, San Francisco would ultimately get on a second half roll and cruise to a 15.5 game lead.

The Wild Card races would look completely different from June 30 to the end of the season. The Red Sox lead the Athletics by a game and the Blue Jays by 2 on June 30, Toronto would finish 9 games behind Boston and Oakland would actually finish a game ahead of the Red Sox and take a division title, Boston would get in because of the Seattle clubs going cold. The Phillies would have the NL Wild Card lead on June 30 which they shared with the Dodgers and the surprising Expos in their second to last season in Montreal were only a half game off the pace. The Marlins of course would ultimately come from nowhere to claim that spot, they were in the bottom half of the race among all NL teams on June 30 5.5 games out, but went 50-29 the rest of the way and ultimately took the World Series as they had six years before.

Unlike in 1997, 2003 would not be as predictive as on June 30, teams leading the AL West and NL Central would miss postseason all together, the AL Central which was tied would see the Twins outperform the Royals in the second half and the NL Wild Card race would look completely different when the ’03 season had concluded.

We now move forward another five years to 2008, a season that saw a lot of change from what had been the norm. The Rays came out of nowhere to claim the first franchises division title, joining the white Sox who won in a division playoff game with the Twins, as well as the Angels, Phillies, Cubs and Dodgers as division champions. The Red Sox and Brewers would be wild card teams and it would mark Milwaukee’s first postseason visit since 1982. The Brewers would hold off the Mets who had a legendary fall the final two weeks of the season and it marked a great collapse the final weeks of the season for a second straight year in New York. If a second Wild Card existed, the Mets would have claimed it in the NL and yes the Yankees would have done so in the AL and in Yankee Stadium II’s final season, the Wild Card game would have been Yankees at Red Sox, while the Mets would have played the Brewers and the Twins and White Sox had that AL Central playoff as both finished game 162 a single game behind New York.
As for those June 30 standings in 2008, the Rays held a half game lead on the Red Sox in the AL East. Tampa would win by 2 though they had the lead as high as 7 games and they would clinch the division with 8 days to go in the 2008 season. The Yankees who were 5.5 out would close to within 3 but ultimately they would finish 8 back. Baltimore which was 42-39 and just 7 out on June 30 would have a horrible second half and not even win 70 games while Toronto at just 40-43 would have a good second half and if additional wild card births existed, the Jays would have been in a battle with the Yankees as the season concluded along with the Twins and White Sox for that slot. IN the AL Central, the White Sox lead the Twins by a game and unlike in 2003, the very tight standings would in deed hold true to the very end. The Tigers were just 4.5 back but they had a rough second half and finished 14 back and in last place. The Angels lead the AL West by 4.5 over Oakland, the Athletics would have a horrible second half and the Angels would cruise to a 21 game lead over second place Texas when it was all said and done. The Rangers were already sliding and 7.5 out on June 30.

For all the struggles of the Mets in 2008 in closing out the season on a good note, they were just a very average team on June 30. The Phillies in fact had the division lead at 44-39 and a game back at 42-39 were the surprising Marlins. The Mets at 40-41 were in third 3 off the lead and the Braves were only 4 games out. The Cubs were showing they were one of the best teams in baseball as they were 49-33 and well on their way in the NL Central. The Cardinals and Brewers were in the race, St. Louis second 2.5 back and Milwaukee third 4.5 out. The Brewers would stay hot the second half, but the Cardinals would slide and the Astros would come from nowhere to make a very interesting contender for the wild Card. Houston was just 39-43, they would get very hot in August and early September before things came apart when hurricane Ike arrived. The Diamondbacks at just 41-41 lead the NL West, the Dodgers 2.5 back were the only contender, though the Rockies who were just 32-50 would play better in the second half and begin to make some wonder if an even more amazing repeat of 2007 was in order.

The Wild Card races on June 30 saw the Red Sox leading the Twins by 4, Athletics by 4.5 and Yankees by 5 games in the AL, while in the NL the Cardinals lead the way, Milwaukee at 2 and Philadelphia at 3 out were next, while the Marlins at 4 back, Mets 6 and Astros 8.5 would all become second half factors.

Ultimately, the teams that had division leads on June 30 accept the Diamondbacks would end up advancing to post season, though for the White Sox and Phillies, a lot of doubt existed along the second half route. Boston would get the Wild Card which it lead, but the Cardinals would be the team ultimately let down in the NL. The Dodgers played well enough in the second half to overtake Arizona by two, though the NL Wild Card contenders all had better records. Just how different was the NL in the second half you ask? The Cardinals were just 39-40 and the Brewers at 45-36 were good enough to get the wild Card berth, though the 49-32 Mets and 47-32 Astros certainly made things very interesting.

So overall during those three previous seasons, 15 of 18 division leaders would get to post season, the ’03 Mariners, ’03 Cardinals and ’08 Diamondbacks would not. Among the six Wild Cards, the AL leader advanced to post season each time, but in the NL, only the Marlins of 1997 were so fortunate as the ’03 Phillies and ’08 Cardinals were overtaken. Philadelphia would have been the second Wild Card team in 2003, St. Louis would still have missed all together in 2008.

On this morning of June 30 in 2014, the blue Jays lead the Orioles by 1.5 in the AL East, though both are not playing as well of late. Do the Yankees at 2 back or Red Sox at 6 back come through in the second half? All teams that won division titles on this date in the seasons reviewed were no worse than second in the division, though Oakland was in terms of games played 6 off the pace where the Red Sox are now when they came back in 2003. Amazingly, the Rays are 10 back and they have played a bit better of late. But the odds of a team that is 14 under .500 going 24 to 30 over in the second half and finishing 10 to 16 over are very long. Interestingly, this is the first time since 1993 that the Yankees and Red Sox would both be out of the playoffs on this date. The Tigers lead the Royals by 3.5 in the AL Central. KC has played much better since May 28 and Detroit has been a streaky team in both directions this season. The AL Central has provided several dramatic finishes when teams are 10 or fewer games over .500 at this point, so are we looking at another 2008? If anything is likely a guarantee at this point, it is that the Athletics at 51-30 will win the AL West or at least get into postseason play. The Angels show signs of cooling off a bit and they now trail by 5.5, the mariners continue to hang in at 7.5 off the pace. Does Seattle’s offensive troubles come back to pass in the second half, how about the Angels pitching? The wild Card race in the AL is rather remarkable, the Angels are leading and they are followed by a bunch of teams in play for that second birth that now exists. The Mariners currently claim that position, while the Royals and Orioles are 1.5 back, the Yankees are just 2 out and teams under .500 are very much alive, the Indians the closest at 5.5 out.

Over in the NL, the Braves and Nationals appear to be in place for a great NL East race as the 44-38 Braves and 43-38 Nationals are a half game apart. The Marlins though now under .500 are still just 5 out but they are showing signs of fading. The Brewers just keep on winning in the NL Central and they are now 6.5 games ahead of everyone else and out in the NL West, the Giants and Dodgers are now in a dog fight but the rest of the division is so bad that while these two rivals are just 10 over .500, the closest teams are 10 under .500 and 10 games off the lead. The drama may very well be held in the NL’s second wild Card slot this season. If the Giants and Dodgers keep playing well, one of them will almost for sure get a wild Card and the same could be said of the Braves and nationals, though both are not appearing to be as solid as their western counterparts. This morning, the Nationals, Reds and Cardinals are all tied for that second wild Card slot 5 games over .500, while the Pirates are 1.5 out. The closest team under .500 is the Marlins at 4.5 games off the pace. If this holds, six teams are in play for this slot, three each from the NL Central and NL East.

When we awake September 29 and the season is at its likely conclusion, will these standings look similar to today? Which team stumbles and gives away its position on top? Does a team that is struggling get red hot and become the second half surprise? Stay tuned for what is coming over the next 13 weeks of the season.

Thoughts on Pitching Draft Choices

I am not a baseball scout, being blind does not give you the ability to see the things you need to witness with your own eyes in evaluating a player and potential upside.  That said, if I were a GM, there are certain things that I value in pitchers more than others.


I never look at how quick someone will be in the big leagues, if the better talent and upside is found in a high school arm or in a young junior college freshmen, I believe in going that route.  I have also become a huge believer in looking at pitchers in particular who play other sports, guys who are doing things other than baseball year-round.


Command is another important factor to look at and I believe that command is always more important than being able to throw at 100 MPH.  Greg Maddux and Nolan Ryan were both very accomplished pitchers, but if I were drafting someone in high school or the college ranks in today’s climate, I’ll take the Maddux type as my first choice.  That is not at all a comment against Ryan, who was one of the most durable pitchers baseball ever had, but more Maddux types are likely going to remain durable as opposed to Ryan types who often lose some of their velocity over time due to age and often injury.


After listening to a lot of discussions from various writers who cover amateur prospects and looking at various reports that have been published, here are the top pitchers I would consider taking if I were the GM drafting in just over three minutes from now.


Brady Aiken is the pitcher many think may go with the top pick to Houston.  The left hander from Cathedral Catholic in San Diego is viewed according to some as having great command of all his pitches.  Reports from writers at Baseball America and ESPN have mentioned that some scouts compare Aiken to Clayton Kershaw.  Another aspect of Aiken that will be appreciated is his ability to make adjustments mentally and his intelligence, remind anyone of Greg Maddux?


To me, one of the most interesting pitchers is Touki Toussaint from Coral Springs Christian HS in Miami.  The book on this guy is that he has a great secondary pitch already and he is one of the best Athletes in the draft.  John Manual of Baseball America has described the Haitian born Toussaint as one who reminded him of Bob Gibson because of his long arms and easy pitching motion.  Personally from everything I have read about this kid, I’d consider taking him 1-1 if I were drafting tonight and I think he has more upside than the highly discussed Carlos Rodon from North Carolina State who I have concerns about as being too slider happy.  Rodon does not make my list of six pitchers that I am writing about with this blog entry.  The drawback on Toussaint is that he still needs to refine his control.  If he does though, he could be a goldmine of a find.  He also has much less mileage on his arm as he did not discover baseball until his teen age years.


While Aiken could remind some of Kershaw or Maddux and Toussaint reminds some of Gibson, the Nolan Ryan comp in this draft is naturally the 100 MPH fireball express from Shepherd, Texas: Tyler Kolek.  Clearly he has the best fastball of the draft and if his command comes anywhere close to the perceived command of Aiken or if he develops the perceived ability to throw a great second pitch like Toussaint, he becomes the top pick when you redraft 2014 ten years from now.  The question, does he develop the command and secondary pitches that force hitters to fear yet not sit on his first pitch?  Baseball America noted that he is a difficult comp for scouts because of his build, 6-5, 240 pounds.  Like a highly thought of power pitcher named Brien Taylor in 1991, Kopek is pitching against smaller schools that don’t have quite the same level of competition compared to the first two guys mentioned here.  Taylor did get off to a great start as a pro until he injured his sholder in a bar fight and never recovered.  Kolek like Toussaint could be a star if the control becomes more refined.


Three other high school pitching prospects are on my radar and I will be very curious to see how they develop.  I like the potential of spencer Adams because of things I have read that speak of pitch ability to throw to both sides of the plate.  The kid from White county HS in Georgia was also a great athlete having played a lot of basketball in high school.  I mentioned before that I like guys who played other sports, not just baseball and while Adams does not have quite the same upside as Toussaint, both are appealing to me in part because of the lower mileage on the pitching arm.  Adams is also from the same region that produced Kevin Brown.


Another athletic lefty I am interested in is Codi Medeiros from Awakea HS in Hilo, Hawaii.  This is another pitcher with potential pitch ability and his second sport of choice according to Baseball America before he focused exclusively on baseball was none other than judo.  One thing that could help or hinder Medeiros is his unusual almost sidearm delivery.


Finally, a righty who has some concerned about the ability to repeat his delivery but who also has some who believe he could stay in a rotation if things work out is another Texan, Michael Kopech from Mount Pleasant HS.  The key with the ladder three, all have questions about their style of motion and or the ability to consistently repeat the delivery to the plate.  They could all end up long term in the bullpen, but given the right circumstances and if they develop better than expected, they could all be rotation mainstays.  Hawaii though has not been the baseball hotbed when it comes to top talent and in the case of both Adams and Kopech as I noted earlier when discussing Tyler Kolek, the schools they are facing are smaller and thus the competition level is not as great.


So why am I crazier about these pitchers than the top college arms?  Upside and more upside.  Erick Fedde and Jeff Hoffman both have potential to be great or to never pitch in the big leagues just like these other pitchers, but both already have had Tommy John, Brandon Finnegan has some health concerns, and I’ve already mentioned that I am just not sold on Carlos Rodon who profiles like Andrew Miller, another top college pick out of the Tar Heel state that didn’t work out.


Aaron Nola is the safe college pick and yeah he will probably get to the big leagues, but even highly rated college prospects hit bumps in the road, see Mark Apple.  Taking a high school arm, you can get the player into your system three or four years earlier and develop him in a way that promotes your pitching philosophy and habits.  Given the fact that most if not all professional teams now use more data to drive their decisions, one could argue that the pitchers are better served by being in pro organizations that can refine their pitching style and mechanics in a way that will lead to potentially greater success based on actual data from their performances, something that is not as readily available at the college level and in some cases, something that may not even be of concern to colleges who are more focused on winning now at the expense of player development.  I also would prefer to take a guy with less of a checkered health history if I am drafting a pitcher.  If I were focused on position players, I would not worry so much about a Tommy John procedure because if the guy can hit, I’ll find a place to play the kid even if it means a once promising shortstop is now forced to play left field or first base.  Such options do not exist for pitchers unless you are drafting them as two-way players who are going to be intentionally converted to another position.


So to review, the six names I’m watching tonight, Aiken and Kolek who both likely go top 3, Toussaint who could be gone before pick 10, and three guys who I think will go between picks 10-30, Medeiros and Adams in one order or another, soon to be followed by Kopecch.