2009 AL Contenders at a glance


Here we come down the stretch, and things are starting to look settled in the American League. It looks like it’ll be the Yankees, Tigers and Angels with the Red Sox taking the wild card. Here’s a sabermetric comparison of the teams as they stand now, in terms of runs above replacement (RAR).

Team     W-L   Offense Defense Pitching Rotation Bullpen TOTAL (Pos Adjusted)
Yankees  94-53 +184.2  -13.6   +167.9   +135.7   +32.1   +516.1
Angels   87-59  +88.9   +5.9   +135.3   +111.3   +24.1   +401.1
Red Sox  86-59  +79.7  -22.3   +234.6   +180.1   +54.5   +463.4
Tigers   78-67   -5.7  +39.9   +136.6   +119.1   +17.4   +332.3

The Yankees have the best offense by far (they really don’t have a hole top to bottom, and have the depth to take advantage of matchups), while the Red Sox have the best staff (rotation AND bullpen). The totals suggest a three horse race for the pennant, with the Angels a distant third; however, Mike Scioscia’s team has consistently outplayed sabermetric predictions in recent years, so I wouldn’t count them out. As Detroit’s record suggests, these guys are pretty much paper Tigers this season, and would face a momentous climb if they want to get to the ALCS, regardless of who they play.

These are season-long numbers, however, and don’t account for additions and subtractions made at the trade deadline. Looking at just the second half, the Yankees are still the best offense in the AL with 348 runs scored, but Boston has closed the gap and is 4rd with 301 runs. The addition of Victor Martinez has aided in production from the catcher position as well as allowing Mike Lowell the rest he needs to flourish. The Angels have scored the 2nd most runs this half, while Detroit has managed only 250, only ahead of three other teams.

On the other hand, New York’s staff has posted a 4.11 ERA in the second half, tops in the league, while Boston sits at 4.46, 7th best in the second half. Los Angeles boasts a 4.27 ERA this half, and Detroit is at 4.56. I think the Angels’ rotation moves slightly ahead of Detroit’s with the addition of Scott Kazmir. In a short series, you compare only the top four starters:

Yankees: Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, Chamberlain (+129.2 RAR, +36.0 RAR/200 IP)
Red Sox: Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Matsuzaka (+120.4 RAR, +48.71 RAR/200 IP)
Angels: Lackey, Weaver, Kazmir, Saunders/Santana (+100.1 RAR, +31.90 RAR/200 IP)
Tigers: Verlander, Jackson, Porcello, Washburn (+133.1 RAR, +36.8 RAR/200 IP)

The Red Sox rotation is clearly the best when you consider that their runs above average rate is much higher per 200 innings. Clay Buchholz has 71.1 IP, and Daisuke Matsuzaka has only 41 IP; that tells you how good Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have been. Detroit looks good on paper, but Jarrod Washburn has been a train wreck since coming over from Seattle, a team which boasts the best defense in the league this season.

It’s going to be a struggle, but I do like our chances to compete this year. Expectation-wise the Yankees should win; you don’t sign three top free agents to an already strong team and then not be really, really good. But our pitching is the best in the league, our hitting is improved over the first half, and even our defense has picked up some. If we go in rested and ready, we’ve got the best chance of defeating New York there is. It’ll be a fun playoffs.

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