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MLB’s Top 15 Teams: NL Champion Dodgers Rule By A Wide Margin

Each year in this space I roll out my team true-talent rankings, which are based solely on granular batted ball data. Strip away all of the subjectivity, rip the logo from the front of the uniform, and let the numbers light the way. We covered the bottom 15 clubs last week.

How were these rankings derived? In a nutshell, league averages for each exit speed/launch angle “bucket” are applied to each team’s population of batted balls, both for against, to derive the production they “should have” achieved and allowed. Add back the Ks and BBs, and voila, each team receives an offensive and pitching rating, relative to league average of 100. For hitters, the higher number the better, for pitchers, the lower.

Team defense is also measured, in a somewhat unique manner. Clubs’ performance is compared head-to-head versus their opponent; the ratio of actual production versus projected performance for both clubs is compared to each other, resulting in a overall defensive multiplier that can also be spread among the individual batted ball types.

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This year, I added a new wrinkle. I introduced a team extreme ground ball-pulling penalty, similar to a concept I use for individual batters. It does not impact the overall team rating, but it more appropriately punishes a team’s offense rather than its defense for shortcomings in this area.

To qualify for such a penalty, a team had to both A) pull more than 5 times as many grounders as it hit to the opposite field, and B) post actual grounder production lower than the level it “should have” posted based on its exit speed. The penalty is equal to the amount of that difference. Seven teams were subject to this penalty. We’ll discuss most of them today.

Today we’ll look at the top half of the rankings, which include three non-playoff clubs. One finished comfortably in the top ten.

Each team’s actual and projected true-talent records are listed, along with their offensive, pitching and defensive ratings. We talk about players all of the time; this week, it will be more of a macro-type look at the team strengths and weaknesses these players have created. Enjoy.

#15 – New York Mets – Actual Record = 26-34; “Tru” Record = 31-29

Offensive Rtg.= 103.1 (9th), Pitching Rtg.= 101.0 (16th), Defensive Rtg.= 98.2 (13th)

There are some real offensive strengths here. The Mets struck out 76 times fewer than their opponents, and hit the third most line drives in MLB. Despite putting 99 more balls in play than their opponents, they ranked near the bottom in pop ups hit. Their 9.8 degree team offensive launch angle tied for lowest in the majors – there are pros and cons to such a profile. Their team defense, horrendous in 2019, was much improved this time around, thanks to solid outfield defense (84.7 fly ball multiplier), led by Jeff McNeil.

#14 – Los Angeles Angels – Actual = 26-34; “Tru” = 31-29

O Rtg.= 107.5 (7th), P Rtg.= 101.7 (17th), D Rtg.= 101.1 (19th)

Almost a spitting image of the Mets, no? The Angels walked 40 more times and struck out 33 less compared to their opponents, resulting in an above average offense despite an ordinary team batted ball frequency and authority profile. Their offense’s other two most notable characteristics? They hit the most pop ups, and the hardest ground balls (86.9 MPH average) in the game. Their pitching staff was fly ball-oriented (4th most flies allowed), which didn’t mesh well with their subpar outfield defense (110.4 fly ball multiplier), which was due to shoddy work on the corners by Justin Upton, Brian Goodwin and Jo Adell.

#13 – Oakland Athletics – Actual = 36-24; “Tru” = 32-28

O Rtg.= 96.3 (17th), P Rtg.= 91.8 (7th), D Rtg.= 98.3 (14th)

A little lower than you might have guessed? No team pulled more grounders than the A’s – 7.76 times as many as they hit the opposite way. At least they didn’t hit many – the Dodgers and A’s were the only two clubs to hit more flies than grounders. They had by far the highest average offensive launch angle in the game at 17.0 degrees. They hit the third fewest, but third hardest (94.1 MPH average) liners in the game, taking on the personality of their best player, Matt Chapman. Their pitching staff’s most outstanding trait was a good one, a refusal to walk hitters. Their defense was strong in the outfield (77.3 fly ball multiplier), largely thanks to Ramon Laureano.

#12 – St. Louis Cardinals – Actual = 30-28; “Tru” = 31-27

O Rtg.= 96.6 (16th), P Rtg.= 104.6 (21st), D Rtg.= 86.0 (2nd)

A pretty ordinary club, saved by strong across the board team defense (91.0 fly ball, 90.6 line drive, 77.6 ground ball multipliers). C Yadier Molina, 2B Kolten Wong and SS Paul DeJong are among the game’s best defenders at their respective positions. Their offense was particularly nondescript – they were outhomered by 19, and hit the third weakest liners (91.7 MPH) and grounders (82.4 MPH) in the game. Their team pitching performance faded into the game’s lower half, as Jack Flaherty wasn’t quite the same cat as in 2019.

#11 – Minnesota Twins – Actual = 36-24; “Tru” = 32-28

O Rtg.= 100.1 (11th), P Rtg.= 90.2 (6th), D Rtg.= 102.4 (22nd)

Another ranking that might strike you as low. Their offense was nowhere near the juggernaut it was in 2019. Their fly ball frequency was only in the average range, but only three clubs hit more pop ups than the Twins. Still, they had a big edge over their opponents in average fly ball (91.6 to 89.7 MPH) and liner (93.6 to 91.9 MPH) authority. They outhomered their opponents by 29. This time around, however, it was as much or more due to the efforts of their pitchers, particularly Kenta Maeda. They didn’t walk many, and throttled line drive authority. Infield defense (108.5 ground ball multiplier) was an issue, as there is nowhere to hide Miguel Sano.

#10 – Milwaukee Brewers – Actual = 29-31; “Tru” = 32-28

O Rtg.= 93.9 (19th), P Rtg.= 79.6 (1st), D. Rtg.= 108.8 (28th)

Our first of two NL Central bookend clubs with terrible offense, great pitching and mediocre defense. Both clubs earned extreme grounder-pulling penalties. The Brewers hit .142 AVG-.156 SLG on grounders and earned every bit of it, pulling 6.22 as many as they hit the other way. There were some offensive positives; they hit the fewest pop ups of any club, and hit their flies well harder than average, thanks to Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura. Their pitching was under-the-radar superlative, keyed by Brandon Woodruff, a worthy Cy Young candidate. They finished 3rd in MLB in Ks, yielded the 2nd fewest flies and liners, and their 91.3 MPH average liner authority allowed was the lowest in the game. Outfield defense was an issue (108.8 fly ball, MLB-worst 113.4 liner multiplier), as Yelich had an uncharacteristically poor season with the glove.

#9 – Cleveland Indians – Act.= 35-25; “Tru”= 33-27

O Rtg.= 98.0 (14th), P Rtg.= 84.8 (3rd), D. Rtg.= 104.8 (23rd)

Oh, the power of strikeouts and walks. Without them – on batted balls alone – this was a 27-33 team. The Indians walked 82 more and struck out 104 times less than their opponents, adding an MLB-high seven wins to their true-talent projection. (Their defense cost them one, dropping them to 33-27). Of course, the presence of Shane Bieber on the pitching side drove a big chunk of that differential. Their offense didn’t do much with the 99 additional balls they put in play – 87 of them were hit on the ground. If baseball were played without outfielders, the Indians would be better off. Their outfielders were subpar at the plate and in the field, posting 111.9 and 109.7 fly ball and liner multipliers, respectively. with Tyler Naquin the weakest defensive performer.

#8 – San Francisco Giants – Act.= 29-31, “Tru”= 33-27

O Rtg.= 105.9 (8th), P Rtg.= 102.4 (19th), D Rtg.= 93.6 (4th)

What? A non-playoff team at #8? Hang with me for a moment. All of their hitting/pitching frequency totals – K, BB, pop ups, flies, liners, grounders – were close, but the Giants had a sizeable edge in fly ball (90.8 to 89.8 MPH), liner (93.7 to 92.5 MPH) and grounder (85.2 to 83.5 MPH) authority across all batted ball types. That adds up. They both hit and allowed a lot of fly balls, finishing 2nd in the majors on both counts. Defense was a clear strength, particularly in the infield (79.7 grounder multiplier), as Evan Longoria appeared rejuvenated on both sides of the ball, at least according to batted ball-based metrics.

#7 – Cincinnati Reds – Act.= 31-29, “Tru”= 33-27

O Rtg.= 99.3 (13th), P Rtg.= 81.3 (2nd), D Rtg.= 110.4 (29th)

Same basic concept as the Brewers, but with arguably more compelling extremes. On the positive side, they hit 114 more flies than their opponents…..and 43 FEWER pop ups. Great combo. On the negative side, they hit the fewest line drives and earned an extreme grounder-pulling penalty, hitting 6.59 more to the pull side than the opposite field. Oh, and their average grounder authority was 4th worst in MLB at 82.5 MPH. They hit only .141 AVG-.152 SLG on the ground, worse than even the Brewers. With more liners and more spraying of their grounders, this offense has big potential. The pitching was stellar, largely thanks to free agent Trevor Bauer. Their staff allowed the fewest fly balls (while inducing plenty of pop ups) and the 2nd weakest liners. Defense was an issue across the board (114.6 fly ball, 105.7 line drive, 105.7 grounder multipliers), as outside of C Tucker Barnhart, they lacked a true standout.

#6 – New York Yankees – Act.= 33-27, “Tru”= 34-26

O Rtg.= 115.4 (4th), P Rtg.= 94.0 (9th), D Rtg.= 107.3 (26th)

Only the Indians benefited more from Ks and BBs than the Yankees – their 83 BB and 48 K advantage over their opponents was worth four wins. Their reputation as mashers stood out most in the line drive authority category; their 94.4 MPH team average ranked 3rd behind the Dodgers and Blue Jays. An impressive pitching performance was marred only by loud fly ball authority; only five clubs projected to allow more production in the air. The Yanks were only +11 in the homer department, well less than most of their competition this high on the charts. Defense was an issue across the board (106.7 fly ball, 108.2 line drive, 108.9 grounder multipliers), as 3B Gio Urshela was their only true plus defender.

#5 – Chicago White Sox – Act.= 35-25, “Tru”= 35-25

O Rtg.= 99.8 (12th), P Rtg.= 100.1 (15th), D Rtg.= 84.2 (1st)

The White Sox and Padres made huge jumps in these rankings in 2020, and are poised for greater things in the future. The Sox’ biggest weaknesses are in the K and BB departments – they walked 38 times less and whiffed 48 times more than their opponents. Experience will be a great teacher there. They hit their flies (91.7 to 89.6 MPH) and liners (93.5 to 92.3 MPH) much harder than their opponents, and posted a +25 homer differential. They did so without pulling an extreme percentage of their grounders. On top of it all, their defense was excellent across the board (81.7 fly ball, 90.5 line drive, 74.2 grounder multipliers), as the field is littered with solid to plus defenders.

#4 – Tampa Bay Rays – Act.= 40-20; “Tru”= 36-24

O Rtg.= 97.2 (15th), P Rtg.= 85.1 (5th), D. Rtg.= 94.6 (7th)

Hot take alert. The 2020 AL Champion Rays were not as good as their 2019 counterparts. Relative offensive shortcomings are the main reason. No team struck out as many times as the 2020 Rays. There were some offensive positives; compared to their opponents, they crushed their fly balls (91.9 to 89.1 MPH) and line drives (94.1 to 91.8 MPH), but their -56 K differential mutes that impact. The pitching staff was exceptional at throttling authority, with the 2nd lowest average exit speed allowed (86.8 MPH) and the 2nd lowest average launch angle allowed (9.9 degrees). As usual, defense was a feature, not a bug (96.3 fly ball, 93.5 line drive, 94.6 grounder multipliers), with CF Kevin Kiermaier leading the way.

#3 – San Diego Padres – Act.= 37-23, “Tru”= 37-23

O Rtg.= 120.1 (2nd), P Rtg.= 93.9 (8th), D Rtg.= 102.0 (20th)

Padres, White Sox, White Sox, Padres…..who will own the future? For such a young offense, the Padres have an exceptional sense of the strike zone. They struck out 86 times less and walked 34 times more than their opponents. They will be #1 in that department with a bullet as their nucleus expands and matures. The Padres put 111 more balls in play than their opponents, but only 11 more fly balls, and posted a +25 homer differential anyway. There’s plenty of room for their fly ball total to grow, and oh, when it does. They were 2nd to only the Braves in projected fly ball production on a rate basis. Their pitching staff’s only weakness was harder than average fly ball authority allowed. Despite gaudy numbers in publicly available metrics, infield defense is a concern – their 114.0 grounder multiplier was the worst in MLB.

#2 – Atlanta Braves – Act.= 35-25; “Tru”= 37-23

O Rtg.= 119.6 (3rd), P Rtg.= 96.9 (12th), D Rtg.= 96.8 (11th)

The last of our seven clubs that were assessed an extreme grounder-pulling penalty. They prove the point that pulling it on the ground and striking out a ton (67 more times than their opposition) doesn’t matter much when you absolutely slaughter the baseball. They hit their flies way harder than their opponents (92.3 to 89.1 MPH), and posted a +34 homer differential. On a per fly ball basis, no club projected to do more damage. Their pitching staff had an ordinary K rate, but was a fly ball staff that managed authority in the air well. Outfield defense (92.4 fly ball, 94.5 line drive multipliers) was a key asset, and will only get better with the arrival of Cristian Pache. A high risk, high reward, high launch angle, high exit velocity, pull-oriented offensive juggernaut.

#1 – Los Angeles Dodgers – Act.= 43-17, “Tru”= 43-17

O Rtg.= 130.0 (1st), P Rtg.= 84.9 (4th), D Rtg.= 96.0 (9th)

I’m pretty high on the #2 and #3 clubs, as you see, and the Dodgers have survived them. Now they’re up against #4 in the World Series. These guys are in a class by themselves, true talent-wise. They walked 83 more times and struck out 46 less than their opponents. They hit 110 more fly balls than they allowed, and hit their flies (92.7 to 89.6 MPH) and liners (95.6 to 92.0 MPH) way harder than their opponents. They had a +52 homer differential, best in the game by far. On the pitching side, they walked the fewest batters and yielded the 2nd most grounders, keying a huge positive 3.9 degree launch angle differential compared to their opponents. Their 86.3 grounder multiplier drove a strong team defense. This is a great team at its peak, with multiple outlier-level strengths and no real weaknesses.

Source: Forbes – Business

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