The MLB Trade Deadline has passed, and we’re now left with the stretch run. The player movement from last month has served to shake things up a bit, and change the complexion of the league as teams ready themselves for the season’s final stages.
Let’s get right to our first post-deadline edition Power Rankings. The contours of the season have now fully formed, and the storylines we’re all following have defined themselves. Where do the teams stand now as the season nears crunch time?
Bring on Next Year
30. San Francisco Giants
29. Philadelphia Phillies
28. Chicago White Sox
27. San Diego Padres
26. Cincinnati Reds
25. Atlanta Braves
24. Oakland Athletics
23. New York Mets
The Mets’ season is essentially fried, just like every other team below them in this tier. In retrospect, their season may have been finished the day Noah Syndergaard went down, leaving a once talented rotation in tatters. Injuries have wreaked havoc on the roster, leaving a dismal and quintessentially-Mets campaign in its wake.
That being said, let’s take a more optimistic tone with regard to the Mets. With the long-awaited promotion of uber-prospect Amed Rosario, and the impending graduation of first base prospect Dominic Smith, the Mets may finally start to see the position players that will make up the next good team in Queens. With Rosario and Smith, coupled with outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto, and possibly also catcher Travis D’Arnaud, Mets fans can get a glimpse of the talent that will decide the success of the Mets’ coming years.
Is there reason to believe those coming years will be brighter than this current one? There just might be. Peering up and down FanGraphs’ depth chart projections, one team sticks out higher than expected: the Mets. New York ranks 10th in baseball in rest-of-season WAR, even in spite of the injuries that have ruined their staff.
Promisingly, a good chunk of the players responsible for that optimistic rest-of-season projection should be around next year. The only impending free agents that almost certainly won’t be a part of the 2018 Mets are Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, and Neil Walker, who account for 1.6 projected WAR the rest of the way.
In Cespedes, Conforto, and Rosario, the Mets do have the start of a competitive roster. In Jacob DeGrom and Steven Matz, they have the outline of a decent rotation. With some combination of health from Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, and Zack Wheeler, the Mets, of course, have a potentially devastating rotation.
As 2017 has shown, there’s no guarantee those arms will stay healthy in 2018. But the odds are they will be more healthy than they’ve been this year, and better health and good play from their newly promoted prospects may be enough to get the Mets back on track. It may be difficult to see now, amidst the wreckage of a lost season, but Queens still has reason to hope.
The Not Quite Dead Yet
22. Detroit Tigers
21. Miami Marlins
20. Minnesota Twins
19. Toronto Blue Jays
18. Pittsburgh Pirates
17. Texas Rangers
16. Baltimore Orioles
15. Los Angeles Angels
None of these teams are entirely dead, but none of them are really living either. They’re stuck in no man’s land: none of them tore down and committed to rebuilding at the trade deadline, yet none of them have clear paths forward to contending this year. Still, the Angels might have the best remaining shot of them all.
And most of that comes down to Mike Trout, always and forever the best player in the game. He was on his way to having a career-best season in a career in which he has exclusively been the best. A hand injury derailed that pace, but he’s picked up exactly where he left off since returning. Prior to getting hurt, Trout hit .337/.461/.742, and he’s posted a line .363/.469/.663 post-injury.
The questions now are; will he be enough to sneak the Angels into a wild card spot? And can Trout will his way to another MVP award, even if he only plays 115 games? The answers to those questions are in all likelihood connected pretty strongly.
It was a little surprising when Trout won his second MVP last season. Despite his status as hands-down the best player on the planet, Mookie Betts was considered the favorite for MVP, since Betts’ superlative contributions helped fuel a division winner. Was Trout’s victory, in spite of his team’s mediocre finish, a sign that voters were breaking free of the stigma that MVP’s must have good teammates? Or was it just a fluke, a lucky coincidence that the slice of writers chosen to vote for AL MVP as opposed to, say, NL Rookie of the Year, happened to be more inclined to vote for the best player.
If we err towards the latter, then Trout’s odds of securing another MVP, no matter his incredible feats, are slim, because his team’s chances aren’t great either. The Angels are only three games back of a Wild Card, but FanGraphs puts their playoff odds at just 10%.
Even if his team’s limited hopes may limit his chances of another MVP, Trout may still end up as the most valuable player. Trout, after missing nearly two months, is already at 5.0 fWAR, putting him in the top five in baseball, and within a win of the leader, Aaron Judge. Trout is playing at the pace of a 12-win player, and if he continues to do so, he may approach or exceed nine WAR in an abbreviated season. Regardless of whether its enough to earn him or his team postseason recognition, the season Trout is having is one for the ages.
Knocking on the Door
14. St. Louis Cardinals
13. Kansas City Royals
We should take a minute to tip our hats to the Royals. Not long ago, it looked like the Royals had to sell, to ease the pain of the coming rebuild. After sputtering in the season’s early stages, though, the Royals have simply played too well to rebuild, expectations be damned.
They certainly are damning expectations. It’s hard to look at their roster and expect greatness. BP’s PECOTA pegs the Royals, even after making a few additions at the deadline, as a .479 winning percentage team. FanGraphs projections put them at .492. BP’s third order winning percentage estimates they “should” actually be 52-60 and on the outer fringes of playoff contention.
Yet here they are, entrenched in a playoff spot at the moment. They will almost certainly be bad next year, with players like Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Lorenzo Cain hitting free agency. Their farm system is nothing special, and has shown no signs of being ready to usher in a new era of talent any time soon. Hell, they didn’t look particularly like playoff contenders before the year. But they’ve won the games, and they’ve committed to trying to give their fans one last thrill before the inevitable fallow period.
It may not pay off in anything other than a Wild Card game, and it may sting in the coming years, but the Royals deserve some sort of credit for giving their fans an honest effort to win as much as they could with this core. With an almost certain rebuild looming, the Royals had every reason to play this season as if a meteor was set to wipe out the planet come mid-November. Credit to them for not taking any half measures and committing to one last ride with the core that brought Kansas City more success than any in decades.
12. Seattle Mariners
11. Milwaukee Brewers
10. Colorado Rockies
9. Tampa Bay Rays
The Cream, and The Dodgers
8. Arizona Diamondbacks
7. Chicago Cubs
6. New York Yankees
5. Boston Red Sox
4. Cleveland Indians
3. Washington Nationals
2. Houston Astros
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
We’ve got a fairly wide upper tier here, but it should be noted that that’s only because we haven’t broken off the Dodgers into their own area all alone. In truth, the Dodgers have created a space unto themselves. There are a bunch of talented teams chasing them, and none of them are close to matching LA’s incredible performance and sparkling outlook.
At this point, with the Dodgers in the midst of a historic run and on the heels of adding Yu Darvish to what may have already been the league’s best pitching staff, the question is; how high can a single team raise its odds? It’s taken as gospel that once the calendar shifts to October, the slate is wiped clean, and what you did before no longer matters. Can a team dominate so much in the regular season, though, that they turn themselves into overwhelming favorites?
The idea of the overwhelming favorite is mostly foreign in playoff baseball. In playoff basketball, odds-on favorites are the norm, and even in football you’ll find teams favored by double digits in playoff games. Not so in baseball. The worst team in baseball can topple the best team on any given night during the regular season. It’s only natural that an underdog can very feasibly pull off an upset over a favorite in the playoffs.
In dominating so thoroughly, and adding significantly at the deadline, the Dodgers are trying to test the upper boundaries of playoff odds, to see if there can actually be a heavy postseason favorite. Ruminating over a playoff rotation that could theoretically trot out Clayton Kershaw and Darvish in five games of a seven game series, with very good starters like Alex Wood and Rich Hill ready to handle the other games, it’s not hard to envision this Dodgers powerhouse steamrolling all the way to their first title in nearly three decades.
It’s impossible to say for certain just how big a favorite LA is, but projections can at least weigh in, and of course, they bring a bit of cold water. BP’s playoff odds currently give the Dodgers about a 1 in 4 chance of winning the World Series, which feels light for a possibly historically good team, but in reality is quite high. In a do-or-die tournament, every divisional round team would theoretically have a 12.5% chance at winning if all things were equal. Even if 25% seems like a low number, it’s twice as large as the odds an average playoff team could expect.
Even so, it still feels like the Dodgers have better than a 25% to win it all, should they stay healthy. As always, it will simply come down to execution when lights are brightest, something the Dodgers haven’t quite nailed yet in bowing out of the playoffs prior to the World Series in each of the past four seasons. With all the talent they’ve accumulated, this season is easily their best shot to get over the hump.