The All-Star Game gave 68 of the game’s brightest stars a chance to enjoy the accolades of the crowd in San Diego, and to acknowledge the respect of the fans and managers who tapped them to play. But we have far more than 68 players making an impact this year in the big leagues, many of those not receiving much attention for their excellence.
The halfway point of the season is upon us, and with it comes self-reflection. All 30 teams (and their general managers) must consider where they are in the standings and ask themselves if the first 80-plus games worth of results constitute a fluke or a true reflection of their talent.
Consistency. Managers and players talk about it all the time, especially as it relates to the long, long baseball season. Put up consistent results over the grind of 162 games, and you’ll get rewarded for it.
But consistency by itself doesn’t necessarily lead to success—especially if the level at which a team is consistently playing isn’t all that great.
You can find all sorts of reasons to explain home field advantage in baseball: A forgiving marine layer, rabid fan support, umpire bias, dumb luck.
This week’s featured teams all own some of the biggest home/road splits in the game. The Reds will keep a close eye on Great American Ball Park’s impact on their rising young starting pitchers.
Pitch framing, route efficiency, Defensive Runs Saved (by shifts and otherwise): Never in baseball history have we been better able to quantify the impact of a team’s ball-catching ability.
Yet despite all these detailed metrics and teams’ keen awareness of them, vast gaps in defensive performance have dramatically influenced this year’s standings.
You hear it every summer. A probing reporter asks the manager how his team’s frequent trips to the disabled list have affected the roster. Every team has injuries, the skipper will reply without missing a beat; we can’t use them as an excuse.
While there’s certainly truth and honor in not using injuries as a crutch, it’s also true that some teams get hit harder than others, leaving those clubs searching for answers.
Baseball is, for the most part, a young man’s game. The age curve has shifted, such that players now peak closer to their mid-20s than their late-20s. Younger still was last year’s rookie class, one that ushered in a dominant new batch of players and set an all-time record for best group of rookies by Wins Above Replacement.
“You are what your record says you are.” That old Bill Parcells quote is meant to be a pragmatic way to understand sports. Seasons are made, jobs are decided, and fans are either rewarded or let down by a team’s wins and losses. Parcells’s quote doesn’t tell the whole story, though.
The most unpredictable commodity in baseball, this season and every season, is pitching. Between the huge possibility of injuries and the year-to-year variance in results (which often have more to do with defense or luck than with the pitcher himself), the whole enterprise can feel like a crapshoot for almost anyone not named Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta or Chris Sale.
Whether your interest lies with real teams or your fantasy team, the first few weeks of the season keep circling back to one key question: Is what we’re seeing real, or is it a mirage that’s bound to disappear as we get deeper into the season?
One tool that can help us separate fact from fiction is a look at each team’s strength of schedule.