Who Will Come Out Of The AL East?

Among the remarkable story lines of 2012, which already include both a perfect game and a four home run performance, has been the unexpected success of the Baltimore Orioles in what many believe to be baseball’s toughest division.

The Orioles have gotten off to a great start and despite losing their last two games, currently sit atop the American League East with a 29-19 record, tied with the Tampa Bay Rays. While it’s not terribly surprising that Baltimore’s offense would rank as highly as it does with Adam Jones on pace for a 30 plus home runs season and J.J. Hardy playing like J.J. Hardy, the team’s pitching seems to be performing beyond its ability with the staff accomplishing more than all of its division rivals in terms of runs above replacement.

While no one expects the Orioles to play .600 baseball for the entire season, they’re certainly a better team than their preseason ZiPS projection of 67-95 suggested. However, their more recent adjusted projection through ZiPS doesn’t think that much more highly of them, predicting that the team will still finish last in the AL East with a .500 record. In order to do so, the Orioles would have to go 52-62 the rest of the way, or play with a .456 winning percentage.

Under such a scenario, the Toronto Blue Jays would have to go 58-56 in their remaining games to finish ahead of the Orioles. In order to meet their adjusted ZiPS projection of a .525 winning percentage though, the team would have to go 61-53, or play .535 baseball the rest of the way. That’s not a completely unrealistic goal, but it would only be good enough for fourth place according to ZiPS, who projects the Rays to win the division followed by the New York Yankees in second and the Boston Red Sox, despite being the only AL East team to currently have a sub .500 record, to finish in third place.

CoolStandings.com sees things a little bit differently, projecting that the Orioles will finish the season with an 87-75 record, going 58-56 through the remaining schedule. In order to do better than that, the Blue Jays would have to go 64-50 in their next 114 games, which would equal a .561 winning percentage. The website doesn’t imagine Toronto playing any better than it foresees the Orioles, projecting the Blue Jays to finish last, as Tampa Bay wins the division with New York and Boston finishing third and fourth, respectively.

Late last week, I noted that if the Los Angeles Dodgers play .500 baseball the rest of the season, the San Francisco Giants would have to play .565 baseball to get ahead of them in the standings. That seems unlikely because, well, the Giants probably aren’t good enough to do that.

As much as we might dismiss good starts with eye rolls accompanying the explanatory phrase “small sample size,” the truth is that winning more games than you’re expected to doesn’t mean that you’ll lose more games than expected later in the season. It means that when regression occurs, you’re most likely to lose as many games as was originally expected. Good starts shouldn’t be dismissed, especially in generally weaker divisions like the National League West and generally stronger divisions like the American League East.

While the talent level in the AL East is far more impressive than what the NL West offers, AL East teams have a habit of beating themselves up over the 72 games that each team in the division has to play against one another. Typically, and not surprisingly, the teams with the best inter-divisional records are the teams with the best overall records. So far this year, that remains true. However, it’s worth noting that the top two teams in the division are also the teams that have faced the most AL East competition to this point.

In other words, we’re unlikely to see the Blue Jays, Red Sox or Yankees reel off the type of success that Boston put together last year when they went 42-17 between June 3rd and August 9th.

I mentioned the differences between ZiPS and CoolStandings.com’s projections, but both systems agree that it will take 86 wins in the American League to make the play in game between the two Wild Card teams. In order to get to 86 wins on the season, here’s how the teams of the AL East have to play over their remaining games:

  • Tampa Bay Rays: 57-57; .500 WP;
  • Baltimore Orioles: 57-57; .500 WP;
  • New York Yankees: 60-55; .522 WP;
  • Toronto Blue Jays: 62-52; .544 WP;
  • Boston Red Sox: 63-52; .548 WP.

Comments (22)

  1. Clearly my Toronto Blue Jays will come out on top.

    Once I start hitting the goddamned baseball.

  2. Blue Jays finsih fifth inmmy opnion but no one should have expected playoffs or winggin more then 85 games, I predict the Jays finsih with 78 wins, 84 loses good for fifth in the divison with Baltimore finishing fourth with 85 wins.

    The Jays are bette rthen last year on paper, but I’v ehtought all 2011,2012 that AA needed to get a starter and a consistent bat.
    They will finsih worse this year than last, due to steps back for Jose, Yunel whcih they couldnt have predicted and Lawrie, Thames and Alvarez they should have known would step back same as Romero.
    On the plus side, EE and Jp have exceeded predictions so far and Johnson is Johnson of every but outside of 2010, 2011.
    Its still early but this is what I think will continue for the rest of the year.
    Everyone in Toronto and out knew Lind would be a disaster one good year his whole career.

    Need to be Patient chances are when the Jays are contending guys like EE, Yunel, Jose, Rasmus, Romero and Morrow wont be with the team.

    • Dude, I think your keyboard is broken. Or is the drool just hitting the keys at inopportune times?

  3. I hate this division.

  4. My prediction:

    Red Sox

  5. Interestingly enough, just 7 days ago, the Jays had a 60% chance of making the playoffs according to coolstandings:


    Pretty poor time to hit a losing skid.

  6. Has anyone seen the completely devoid of thought power rankings at SI.com? Ranking the Cubs 22nd? And the Royals ahead of the Blue Jays? I actually kind of think that they’re some kind of joke to discredit WAR.
    What do you think of WAR as an evaluative tool for an entire team (rather than individual players)?

    • For this very reason I don’t think it works.

      I’m sure this exists (and I’m just too lazy to go looking for it), but I’d love to see an evaluation of “team WAR” vs “actual team results” over a period of time to see if there is some correlative effect.

  7. how the fuck are the cubs ahead of the jays in the si power rankings

    • Right?!? And two NL West teams before the first AL East team! What’s even the point of writing a list like that? I wish those guys set the Vegas lines: I could quit my job.

    • i think the rankings are pretty bang on.

      • I think you need new drugs.

      • The Cubs have lost 12 in a row and 14 of 16. No matter what you think of the Jays current slide, there is no way that the Cubs should be ahead of anyone in a “Power Ranking”.

        • Especially when they say the following:

          “The gap between the Blue Jays ranking here and their place in the standings has been a source of some controversy, but their recent performance shows why we’ve never been overly excited about how they were winning games”

          recent performance = better than losing 12 in a row.

          I know its retarded to argue/worry about such things…. but it’s stupid.

          • SI should stick to power ranking the swimsuit models. Baseball coverage (includes amateur and college stuff) is fucking awful.

      • Lets say you ran an MLB power rankings. You’ve ranked the Cubs at number 22 despite the fact that they’re clearly a terrible terrible team. The next week, they proceed to lose every single one of their games, so in response you… leave them at number 22!
        But, maybe you’re trying to ignore current streaks and focus on underlying ability! That would explain why the Chicago White Sox are higher than every AL East team…
        Bang on. Bang on indeed.

  8. The key to any race will come down to pitching. At this point, the Yankees starting rotation has started to take shape as Andy Petitte has returned to his old form. This will be a huge help following behind C.C and Nova. The trouble in New York has been the slow start with the bats. Jeter is off to an All-Star start and Granderson has 16 homeruns (amazingly on in 4 ballparks). Once the Yankees get the sticks going, they will be back on pace for 88-90 wins. Tampa Bay has a great 1-2 punch with Shields and Price, but can Joe Maddon pull out another playoff run with a lineup that is patched with AAA talent? They bolster a great bullpen, but will have major issues behind the plate (for the third straight year). Projection- 85 wins. The Red Sox have rounded back into form and will always be tough with Lester and Becket (when he isn’t golfing). The back end of the rotation is suspect and until Bailey returns, the pen is not a sure thing either. The thing about Boston is they can hit and when Ellsbury returns, they will only get better. Projection 82 Wins You can rest assure the Yankees and Red Sox will be dealing by July 31st. The Orioles and Blue Jays are both great stories. The Blue Jays have more depth than in the past and Drabek looks very promising. They have a great middle of the order, but will the youth and inexperience hurt them in the long run? Projection 83 wins. Finally, the Orioles. Once again, they are off to a great start, but I do not foresee Chen and Matusz being able to maintain the pace they are on. The offense will hold steady, but the rotation will bring them down.m Projection 77 wins. I predict the Yankees will edge the Rays for the division with the Blue Jays in third, the Red Sox in fourth and the Orioles returning to their common place of last.

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