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Caught Looking -- Midseason Edition

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By Grant Larson, AngelsWin.com Baseball Columnist - 

A Tale of Happenings From Around the League

Here we are at the unofficialhalfway point of the season. The midsummer classic has come and gone. Some teams had surprises while others faced bumps and bruises.Baltimore’s sensational season wasn’t a fluke and neither wasOakland’s. Money doesn’t buy happiness; we can thank the Dodgers and theYankees for proving that theory. The Blue Jays have been painfully bad, thenexceptionally good, and now just average. Washington doesn’t seem like the 100win team many thought they were, while the Red Sox look like the 100 win teammany thought they weren’t.

I set to identify how teams have fared this year in terms of production, payroll, and against expectations. I broke down teams into 3categories: starting pitching, relief pitching, and hitters. I used WAR fromfangraphs.com to determine the average performance of players from eachcategory for each team. I used WAR because it is an attempt to quantify all ofthe contributions a player provides his team into a single value. If you areinterested in learning more about WAR click here. To simplify theinformation I limited those players included in this analysis so the averageswere more accurate. Hitters needed to have at least 80 AB, relief pitchersneeded more than 10 IP, and starting pitchers needed to have pitched in excessof 40 IP. I made my graphs available at the bottom of this article.

Before I get into theindividual teams I want to point out one thing I found while doing thisanalysis because it effectively adds credence to a theory I have. The theory has to do with paying large sums of money to player in their late 20's and early 30's, but that is for another time. Of the top15 hitters with the highest WAR, 10 of them cumulatively made less than whatAlex Rodriguez is making this year. Let me repeat that for those of you notlistening! Alex Rodriguez is making $29 million dollars to lick his wounds thisyear, meanwhile there are 10everyday players around the league ranked in the top 15 in the WAR category forhitters that are making just over $25 million COMBINED! That blows me away!

Now on to the teams:

AL East:

Boston Red Sox (Wins: 58, Cost per Win: $2.6Million) - Oh my,what a difference a year makes. Many people, myself included, were convincedthat overpaying a bunch of role players didn’t seem to be the best formula forsuccess. Many were wrong. And they remained financially flexible movingforward. They are near the top in all categories of WAR, which is astoundingconsider where they were less than a year ago. The pitching has been revived,obviously by strong performances by Buchholz and Lackey. Lester is still a bit ofa question mark. He started the season off really well and then sloweddramatically. The bullpen has gone through many drastic transformations butseems to be holding itself together. The hitting has been amazing. Papi seemsto refuse to age, Ellsbury is burning up the base paths, and Daniel Nava hasbeen a nice surprise. Dustin Pedroia has been a gutsy, hard workingcontributor and seems to personify the team as a whole.

New York Yankees (Wins: 51, Cost per Win: $4.5Million) – There isonly one statistic that can explain what has happened to the Yankees this yearand it’s obvious it has to do with injuries. To quantify it the Yankees (ifDerek Jeter is counted) have more than $90 million dollars on the disabledlist. I fear this is what happens when a team locks themselves into too many expensivelong-term contracts that run parallel courses. Theywant to be under the luxury tax number before next year and have a chanceat doing it but that will limit their flexibility in freeagency during the offseason. The one thing I can assume that they are hopingfor is that A-Rod either gets banned for life or he gives up and calls it quitsif his suspension is too long. Without their top hitters they have fallen tothe bottom half of the league in WAR. Meanwhile, they have produced very wellin each of the pitching categories telling me they may be posed to make a runwith Jeter, Granderson, Texeira, and possibly A-Rod returning soon. If everyonecan manage to get healthy it will be interesting to see how they juggle alineup that has been built based on pressure. The pressure to win in the Bronxhas forced the Yanks into taking on bad contracts (e.g. Vernon Wells),overpaying veterans (e.g. Youkilis), and taking on struggling youths (e.g.Boesch).

Toronto Blue Jays (Wins: 45, Cost per Win: $2.6Million) - The way to win quicklyis not by taking on a bunch of players from one team that underperformed the year before. It is easy to say that the Blue Jays offseasonhad similarities to the Marlins offseason from a year ago. Their expensive starting pitchers have producedan average WAR that is very underwhelming. Josh Johnson has lost his stuff andit seems RA Dickey might have been a one-year wonder. What’s worse is Dickeygets much more expensive starting next year. Their relief pitchers haveperformed well because of strong performances from Delabar, Janssen, and a re-bornBrett Cecil. Hitters have been about what was expected for the most part. OverpayingMelkey Cabrera was a bad idea, but I think they knew that. His numbers havebeen flat and uneven. Brett Lawrie’s energy has been missed. I won’t say theycan’t turn it around, but I doubt it. Biggesttakeaway from the Blue Jays is payroll went up performance stayed flat. I’m notimpressed.

Baltimore Orioles (Wins: 53, Cost per Win: $1.7Million) – TheOrioles are winning again, and they are winning without pitching.  More importantly they are winning with apayroll that sits right in the middle of the pack. Chris Tillman has the winsbut the stats accompanying them are just alright. Wei-Yin Chen has been hurt agood portion of the year and I think there is a case that can be made that heis there best pitcher. They don’t aggressively pursue free agent pitching andthat is probably because they are waiting for some of their young talentedprospects (they have two that could be front of the rotation starters). Theirbullpen, one of their greatest strengths last year, has been just above averagethis year and Jim Johnson has blown 6 saves already this year after blowing only 3 lastyear. Their hitting has been their strength and has managed to keep them ingames all year. Trading for Davis (a couple of years ago), signing Adam Jonesthrough only his 32/33 age season, and drafting Machado have given themflexibility and made them competitive for years (if their pitching develops).

Tampa Bay Rays (Wins: 55, Cost per Win: $1.1Million) - The Raysare known for defying the odds and had a great degree of responsibility forskewing my results; I am sure of that. The combination of player development andfinding journeymen who break out as a Ray have made them great. I love what theydo. Instead of spending otherworldly amounts of money to bring free agents,they spend their resources creating dynamic rising stars. They develop armslike the Dodger’s spend money and they do it more effectively. Enough saidabout their pitching. Their hitting has been a nice surprise based on WAR; theyrank in the top 5. A lot of that is attributed to a healthy Evan Longoria butlet’s not discount their offseason additions. The $2 million they gave Loneylooks like a steal, trading two of their arms for Meyers seems like the rightmove (he’s the real deal), and Escobar has behaved himself and produced on thefield. Again, another efficient and successful season so far.

AL Central:

Detroit Tigers (Wins: 52, Cost per Win: $2.9Million) – Tiger’sstarting pitching has been nothing short of spectacular by producing lots ofstrikeouts, minimizing walks, and accumulating wins. That being said they havecertainly paid for it but in an effective way. Their bullpen has beenserviceable, with the exception of the closer role. I know they were hopingRondon would be ready but considering their win now approach, I believe theyshould have been more involved in the closer market in the offseason. They maybe involved going into the trade deadline though. Their hitters have beenbetter than average. There is no question they will be a major player come October.

Cleveland Indians (Wins: 51, Cost per Win: $1.5Million) – TheIndians did an effective job upgrading their offense in the offseason while only spending about$47 million. Contributions from new additionssuch as Swisher and Bourn have been nice but the bright spot has been Kipnis.He’s young, affordable, and an underrated 5 tool player at a limited position.Their starting pitching has improved from last year mainly due to improvementsmade by Masterson. After watching Danny Salazar pitch in his major league debutlast week I believe they may have a stud in the making. Their bullpen has beentheir Achilles’ heel and they absolutely need to be in the market for somehelp.

Chicago White Sox (Wins: 37, Cost per Win: $3.2Million) – What amess. They have a young superstar pitcher that is plagued by a poor win-lossrecord because run support is apparently hard for him to come by. And becauseof him the pitching for Chicago seems to be doing alright. The back end oftheir bullpen has been nothing short of spectacular thanks to set-up man JesseCrain (who may be on the move) and closer Addison Reed. Hitting is a majorproblem for the White Sox. The big concern is that Paul Konerko seems to be afraction of his former self, Tyler Flowers hasn’t been good, Adam Dunn loves toswing at everything (30% of his at-bats result in strikeouts), and GordonBeckham refuses to turn the corner. It seems to me they have a long rebuildingprocess ahead of them and they are spending a lot of money doing it.

Kansas City Royals (Wins: 43, Cost per Win:$1.9 Million) – Theoffense has been a bit of an anomaly. It just refuses to develop like we allthought it would. Francouer got really bad and shipped out, Billy Butler hasn’tbeen close to what we have come to expect, and they don’t have a single playerwith more than 10 HR’s. Chris Davis has more HR’s than Gordon, Moustakas,Hosmer, Butler, and Cain combined.Pitching has been ok and that is only because they managed to get Shields andErvin Santana, who have been their two best players. I just don’t understandthis team.

Minnesota Twins (Wins: 39, Cost per Win: $2.1Million) – TheTwins seem to be torn between trying to win and trying to rebuild. Their hitting andstarting pitching were incredibly bad. Joe Mauer provided one of the few brightspots in their lineup. A few young guys (Florimon and at times Hicks) showedsome glimpses of being pretty good players. Starting pitching has been as badas any team and they don’t have a starter with a WAR greater than 1. Thebullpen is been borderline great. Perkins has worked himself into being apretty reliable closer. They have some really nice looking players on the wayup. Patience is needed if you are a Twins fan.

AL West:

Texas Rangers (Wins: 54, Cost per Win: $2.3 Million) – I truly thought the Rangers would struggle thisyear without Hamilton, Napoli, and many unhealthy pitchers. They have pieced areally nice team together and have one of the best starting rotations inbaseball through the first half. All the money they gave to Yu Darvish seems tobe money well spent, Derek Holland has fulfilled some of his promise, and acouple of their young prospects including Martin Perez have been contributors.Adrian Beltre has led an offense that is above average and includes: a toolsyLeonys Martin, power hitting Cruz, and many other top hitters. The bullpenhas been one of the best in the league and Joe Nathan has done an exceptionaljob closing out games.

Oakland A’s (Wins: 56, Cost per Win: $1.1Million) – I lovewhat Billy Beane does and I think he may be there until the end of time. Hejust keeps digging into the farm and finding players to produce. It’s amazing.Josh Donaldson has a midseason MVP claim and he didn’t even make the all-stargame. I want to clarify that I have a major issue with that. They have managedWARs above average in each of the categories and there aren’t a lot ofhousehold names. Everyone seems to contribute and there is a different heroeach night. I loved the Bernie lean last year and this team has the same typeof mojo.

Los Angeles Angels (Wins: 44, Cost per Win:$3.2 Million) - Is ittoo early to be concerned about whether the organization is going to be able tosurvive under the weight of some of their lofty contracts. I get that ArteMoreno seems to find bundles of cash when the people around baseball leastexpect it. Maybe it was that he wanted to hide it until Torii Hunter signedelsewhere thinking it wouldn’t offend him after he signed. I don’t get it.Spending money for a need is one thing, but throwing cash at players over 30because they are simply household names is straining. Josh Hamilton has beendreadful and that has carried over from the second half of last year, whilePujols (even though he has been injured) hasn’t been the Pujols the Angelsthought they were going to get when they signed him. These two guys are makingclose to $45 million dollars more than Mike Trout, who is probably the bestoverall player on the planet. Another big problem is their pitching.

Seattle Mariners (Wins: 43, Cost per Win: $1.9Million) - Thisyouth movement has been atrociously disappointing. Player development, with theexception of Kyle Seager, has disappointed fans. Highly regarded prospectsincluding Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero have had to be optioned to refinetheir swings and change positions. That being said, Nick Franklin looks like thereal deal and may turn into a top tier 2nd baseman very soon. It’snot happening this year though and they have some nice pieces to trade, namelyMorales and Ibanez. I say do it and try to get a young major league readyplayer or two and pray to the baseball Gods that some of their young playersdevelop and break out. Their closer got demoted for underperforming but thebullpen overall has performed nicely. Pitching has been good and it usually isin the thick air at Safeco. I’m glad for the fan base that they signed Felix toan extension to keep fans energized. This team could be on the brink ofbreaking out or they could be years away.

Houston Astros (Wins: 33, Cost per Win: $.8Million) – If ateam is going to go through a rebuilding process they should look at the Astros as a template on how to do it. They have stripped down to nothing and are rebuilding from the farm on up. And I’ll tell you what I see: a very bright future. I could spend pages talking about the depth and talent they have on theway up instead I am going to keep it simple. They have at least 5 top tier prospectsthat any team would be lucky to have. One of my favorite moves for them issaving money long-term by signing Jose Altuve to a team friendly contract thatextends beyond his arbitration years. Well done Astros and while it is painfulfor fans now the future is bright.

NL East:

Atlanta Braves (Wins: 54, Cost per Win: $1.7Million) – TheBraves started out the season really well, built up a huge lead, and are justcoasting now. They are at or just slightly above average in all WAR categoriesand they are doing it with a relatively low payroll considering the highprofile names on their team. I think it is easy to admit that the B.J. Uptonsigning was painfully bad and might haunt them for the next four and a halfyears. Freddie Freeman continues to be one of my favorite players. He hasproduced every year since he has come up and in my opinion is the best playeron that team and gets none of the prestige. I want to talk a lot about J.Up butI don’t think this is the place for it. He has been really disappointing aftera great start. I will leave it at that for now. The pitching has beenserviceable. Julio Teheren has finally developed into a decent option,Medlen has been sporadic (not the same Medlen from last year) but stillpretty good, and Beachy could elevate this staff upon his return from TommyJohn surgery. 

Washington Nationals (Wins: 48, Cost per Win:$2.5 Million) – It ishard for me to say that a team spending only $2.5 million per win has been adisappointment, but they have. The starting pitching has been above average andJordan Zimmerman can be thanked for that. It’s unfortunate he doesn’t get morecredit. The bullpen has been solid but not the unstoppable force we thoughtthey would be and they have a ton of money tied up in that category. Theirhitting always seems to be blah to me and their average WAR backs that up. IanDesmond is putting up monster numbers for a short stop and Bryce Harper is aspark plug and I love the way he plays the game. Anthony Rendon seems to be onthe brink of contributing big time. The rest of the team has kind ofunderperformed. They will still make the playoffs, maybe win the division, andmaybe even win a championship but a few people need to step up and now.

Philadelphia Phillies (Wins: 48, Cost per Win:$3.3 Million) – Holy oldfolks home! They have more than $80 million tied up into 3 pitchers: one has lookedgreat, one loves racking up loses, and one was really bad before going onto theDL. That being said they are still managing to compete. There have been a lotof questions about the direction they will take leading into the tradingdeadline. They are only 5 ½ out of a wild card spot and 6 ½ out of first in thedivision. It’s amazing how they have been able to stay afloat with so many DLstints but they have. They have a long rebuilding process ahead of them; I’mjust thinking they are trying to get one last push from their aging stars. Idon’t see it happening; I say break it up and start building while you can.

New York Mets (Wins: 41, Cost per Win: $2.3Million) – I havebeen waiting to get to this team because of their payroll. The New York Metshave nearly half of their payroll tied up into players that haven’t played asingle game for them this year. Johan Santana has been one of the worstsignings in recent memory but the contract will likely end following the 2013season, Jason Bay is playing for the Mariners while the Mets pay him (some ofit has been deferred), and I just learned recently they are paying BobbyBonilla more than $1 million a year from a contract that had been deferred. Nowonder they are struggling to be a competitor. That being said they are close.Zach Wheeler and Matt Harvey are providing affordable innings and theyhave a 3rd highly regarded prospect Noah Syndergaard on the way. DavidWright is in the top 5 in WAR and has stayed healthy the last two years, while therest of the offense has really struggled. Their bullpen has a few bright spotsbut has been merely average. When they can shed these bad contracts they canfinally start building up their offense

Miami Marlins (Wins: 35, Cost per Win: $1.1Million) – I am really disappointed with the Marlins. I don’t agree with the deceitfulness they exhibited inthe past two off-seasons. They have two of the best young players in baseballin Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton but they don’t seem to have a desire towin. It seems to me that they simply want to turn profits and don’t really careabout competing and thrilling their fan-base. And maybe they did the smartthing and broke it up when they realized it wouldn't work out but it certainly doesn’t look thatway to me. They’ll have to prove me wrong.

NL Central:

Cincinnati Reds (Wins: 53, Cost per Win: $2.1Million) – The Redsare another team with a lot of contributors. Their pitching has some holes init but a lot of that has to do with the injury to Cueto and uneven performancesby Homer Bailey. Mike Leake was forced to fight hard to maintain his rotationspot and has in the process become one of their best pitchers. Matt Latos is ayoung stud at only 25 and has performed better in hitter friendly GreatAmerican Ballpark than expected. The bullpen has been below average, which is a surprise butAroldis Chapman hasn't been quite as effective as last year. To be fair, thatwould have been hard to do. We knew they would hit and they have done exactlythat and Brandon Phillips have fared well producing from the cleanup spot. Theywill be around come October.

St Louis Cardinals (Wins: 57, Cost per Win: $2Million) – TheCardinals, in my opinion, are the best team in baseball in staying relevant yearafter year while managing to maintain a payroll in the middle of the pack. Likethe Rays they seem to have pitchers stock piled. Shelby Miller has been one ofthe best rookies this year and they have guys like Michael Wacha and CarlosMartinez waiting in the wings. That combined with the Cy Young caliber seasonthat Adam Wainwright has had has led them to the second highest WAR in baseball. Theirhitting has been equally good and that is because they are loaded with greatplayers including: the best catcher in the game, an established veteran in Beltran who isplaying as well as he ever has, and Allen Craig is an RBI magnet. Their onlyweakness is their bullpen but that has a lot to do with the injury to JasonMotte. Overall, might be the best team in baseball.

Pittsburgh Pirates (Wins: 56, Cost per Win:$1.2 Million) - To me itseems that the Pirates have been rebuilding for years. And the organization hasbeen patient doing it. The two previous years' terrible second halves derailedtheir dream of a winning record but the front office stuck with coach ClintHurdle, and it seems to be paying off. They have been flirting with the bestrecord in baseball all year and they are doing it with a minimal payroll thatranks in the bottom 5. McCutchen is a star, it seems Starling Marte may be too,Pedro Alvarez has incredible power, and they have a plethora of role playersthat have contributed. The pitching has been good with some veterans leadingthe way and young Jeff Locke looks like a future star if he isn’t therealready. Taking a chance on Grilli as a closer has proven brilliant. This istheir year.

Milwaukee Brewers (Wins: 38, Cost per Win: $2.3Million) – TheBrewers have been flat out bad. Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura are maybe the onlybright spots on this team and they have been spectacular sporting WARs above 3.Two great building blocks if you ask me. Braun has not been very good but I’msure his impending suspension has affected his mentality. Taking into accountthe whole pitching staff, they are the only team without a pitcher with a WARnorth of 1. Thankfully there payroll doesn’t have much allotted to pitchersotherwise this would look really bad. Having some nice young offensive piecesis promising but winning seems a ways away.

Chicago Cubs (Wins: 42, Cost per Win: $2.5Million) – TheCubbies just keep peeling back the layers. The problem is they are still beingweighed down but one contract that I am sure has haunted them for years andthat is the perennial $22 million check they write to Alfonso Soriano. They seemedto be moving in the right direction and then they dumped $52 million into EdwinJackson’s lap spread over 4 years. Garza has looked good but he is likely to beshipped out. Their bullpen averages a WAR below zero. On the offensive side ofthe ball Rizzo has taking a very small step back in terms of batting averageand Starlin Castro has taken a large step back and sports a negative WAR.Thankfully they have a farm system that is becoming well stocked. The future isnot now and might not be in the immediate future.

NL West:

Los Angeles Dodgers (Wins: 47, Cost per Win:$4.7 Million) - WorldSeries or bust?! I am pretty sure I heard those words come out of someone’smouth. I am going to try really hard to avoid the trade from last year and justlook at this year when it comes to the Dodgers. They are spending more per winthan everyone else in baseball and the results have been uneven. Yasiel Puighas been a spark plug and makes the front office look brilliant for signing himthrough 2018 for only $42 million. Hanley has shown signs of returning to theproduction of years past. However, Kemp has been hurt and not great whenhealthy, Ethier’s $85 million contract seems straining only one year in, andrest of the offense hasn’t been great either. My biggest problem with theDodgers is that they have 6starting pitchers making more than $10 million this year. Clayton Kershaw ismaybe the best pitcher in baseball, Grienke has gotten better, and Hyun-Jin Ryuhas impressed and it not one of those 6. They are flat out throwing money awayand they barely reached .500 before the break. I’m not impressed.

Arizona Diamondbacks (Wins: 50, Cost per Win:$1.8 Million) – PaulGoldshmidt is a rockstar and Arizona made the impressive move to lock him upthrough at least 2018. The rest of the offense has been pretty good. The onlyguy I am really concerned about is Miquel Montero. His numbers are way down andhis slugging is almost .100 points down from the last three years. PatrickCorbin has been spectacular and they have some other young pitchers that haveshown flashes of brilliance. They have a lot of contributors and they arewinning with a limited budget. I like what this team is doing and they arepretty young.

Colorado Rockies (Wins: 46, Cost per Win: $1.6Million) – If allyou had to do was hit the ball Colorado would be a force every year. MichaelCuddyer was a great short-term investment and the positive influence andproduction have been immeasurably important to their first have success. Tuloand Cargo have had predictably good seasons and have managed to stay on thefield for the most part. The bullpen has done a nice job. More importantly, thestarting pitching has been surprisingly competitive. I know Chatwood is strandingrunners at a rate that is probably too high to sustain but he has beenimpressive. And so has Chacin who has looked great the last few weeks. Whether theyare able to keep it up is obviously not known but this division is surprisinglyup for grabs.

San Diego Padres (Wins: 42, Cost per Win: $1.6Million) – There isnot much to say about the Padres. They seem to teeter back and forth betweenbuyers and sellers at this time of the year. They have a lot of potential…… butonly when it comes to swinging the bat. Gyorko is brought positive energy andproduction, Evereth Cabrera can’t be stopped on the base paths, and YonderAlonso seems poised to break out. That being said, they are near the bottom inWAR when it comes to starting pitching and bullpen. I mean really bad. Stults,a journeyman pitcher, has been the lone bright spot in an otherwise depressingrotation. The biggest problem is I don’t see an impending solution (Fried is only 19 and in lo-A). They aregoing to have to get involved in the free agent market if they can’t develop. If theywere really smart the would trade Headley for a large package and move Gyorkoback to third because his bat plays well there. Just my take.

San Francisco Giants (Wins: 43, Cost per Win:$3.2 Million) - Eventhough the Giants are spending way over the league average per win I don’t haveit in me to talk negatively about them. I say that because if they have taught us anything in the last threeyears it is that they know how to win. The Giantshaven’t been overly active in the free agent market over the last few years andI believe I know why: Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum. Zito came to the Giants on amonster contract that the Giants are still choking on and they are payingLincecum $22 million to have a below average WAR. That is pretty much areflection of the starting rotation as a whole. Additionally, Matt Cain hasseemingly fallen apart. In short, the strengths for the Giants in previousyears (pitching) has been quite suspect to put it mildly. Meanwhiletheir offense is performing well above the league average. That has really beena product of a team full of contributors. They desperately need their pitchingto reappear or they may spend October away from the field.

Starting Pitching (Avg. WAR)

The average team WAR in thisanalysis was 1.22.



Relief Pitching (Avg. WAR)

The average team WAR in thisanalysis was .25.


Hitters (Avg. WAR)

The average team WAR for thisanalysis was .93.


Payroll by Category for eachteam



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Hey guys and gals, please join me in welcoming Grant Larson. Our new MLB writer that will provide stats  and info on major league players outside of the Angels, fantasy advice and information on prospects of other teams as well. 

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