MLB Power Rankings: End of Season Edition
At last, we are at the conclusion of the regular season. We may not be getting the zany divisional and Wild Card end-of-season races that we wanted, but we’ve still enjoyed plenty of twists and turns to get to where we are now. From Aaron Judge’s incredible roller coaster season, to the Indians’ historic win streak, to the Dodgers’ mind-bending losing streak, it’s been a typically interesting year. Now, we have our last ranking, with all 30 teams at the precipice of completing their 162-game journey.
As always these rankings try to synthesize past performance with future expectations. Of course, the season’s over, so consider this final edition an appraisal of each teams’ performance as well as an appraisal of how they would project going forward should their season continue (though the season will continue for only a lucky 10).
For the last time this year, let’s rundown the 30 teams:
At least the draft pick will be high
30. Philadelphia Phillies
29. San Francisco Giants
28. San Diego Padres
27. Chicago White Sox
26. Detroit Tigers
Most of the teams down here were expected to be. No one thought the Padres, Phillies, or Reds would excel in 2017. There are also the requisite surprises, like the pitiful Giants and the injury-riddled Mets. There’s also the lost dynasty of the past decade: the Tigers.
This season put to rest one of the stronger runs in recent memory that didn’t result in a championship. No, these Tigers never won the World Series, with their only trip to the fall classic ending in a sweep at the hands of San Francisco. But It’s still time to pour one out for those Detroit teams, as their window has officially closed.
The trade of Justin Verlander mere seconds before the waiver trade deadline signified the complete end of this era of Tigers baseball. He was the one player whom it was near-impossible to envision in any other uniform, and the one player, along with Miguel Cabrera, that was most responsible for Detroit’s success. Verlander brought back a nice haul of prospects and salary relief for Detroit, and has dominated as a member of the Astros.
The Tigers also dealt Justin Upton in August, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila in July, and are rumored to be putting Michael Fulmer’s name on the table. Anything that isn’t tied down is liable to move. A rebuild that was looming for years, as the Tigers aged and as late owner Mike Illitch handed out one expensive free agent deal after another, has arrived in full.
As the Phillies of recent years have demonstrated, the fall from grace from perennial contender to rebuilder can be harsh. These next few years will be lean years in Detroit in all likelihood. That shouldn’t diminish the run of success that preceded the rebuild.
The Tigers fell below .500 just once between 2006 and 2014. They won four consecutive division titles between 2011 and 2014, and won a pair of pennants, in 2006 and 2012. Some of those teams were particularly stacked: the 2013 squad featured a rotation of Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Rick Porcello all at or near the peaks of their careers. The 2007 team trotted out a deep lineup of terrifying hitters, ranging from Cabrera to Gary Sheffield to Magglio Ordonez to Curtis Granderson.
Some might say that the Tigers’ run wasn’t worth the pain that may come in the next several seasons because of the lack of a title. That isn’t fair. Winning the World Series is the ultimate goal, but a season doesn’t have to end with a trophy for the journey to have been worth it. The Tigers may have never quite gotten to the summit, but they should be remembered as one of the best teams of this era to try climbing the mountain.
25. Cincinnati Reds
24. Atlanta Braves
23. New York Mets
Looking to regroup next year
22. Pittsburgh Pirates
21. Toronto Blue Jays
20. Kansas City Royals
19. Miami Marlins
18. Oakland Athletics
There are a lot of teams in the middle here that can go a lot of different directions. Will the Blue Jays regroup and contend once more with their core in 2018? Is the Pirates’ window closing, or about to reopen? How many more trades can Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners make?
For those who weren’t paying attention, one of the most interesting teams in this tier looking ahead is the A’s. Under the radar as always, the Athletics look exciting heading into 2018 as some of their young talent flourishes.
It all comes down to the Matts: Chapman and Olson. The emergence of this pair has livened up anomyous A’s games over the past several weeks, and has given Oakland a reason to hope heading into the future, if these two can prove to be franchise cornerstones.
The A’s took Chapman in the first round of the 2014 draft, and entered 2017 as a back-end Top 100 prospect. He came to the majors mid-summer and has had the look of a legit big leaguer the whole way. In 298 plate appearances, Chapman’s hit a cogent .230/.309/.472 with 13 homers. His defense is where he’s really shined: at third base, Defensive Runs Saved has rated him as a ridiculous 20 runs above average in the field, leading Chapman to accumulate WAR at a 7+ win pace per Baseball Reference this year.
Olson, on the other hand, has been a power-hitting sensation. He’s added his name to the list of young sluggers that has raked immediately, along with the likes of Gary Sanchez, Rhys Hoskins, and Cody Bellinger. Olson wasn’t listed on any major Top 100 prospect lists before the year, but he’s hit 24 bombs in just 59 games. His .259/.352/.651 line rivals that of any in the game. Olson has mashed in relative obscurity in Oakland, compared to the feats of Bellinger in LA and Aaron Judge in New York, but his relative anonymity makes his performance no less impressive.
Top prospect Franklin Barreto is also now in the majors, and the A’s still have a ton of young pitching that is more potential than performance right now. A lot needs to happen for Olson/Chapman/Barreto to become the faces of the next great A’s team, including but not limited to: Sean Manaea solidifying himself as a front-line starter, Andrew Triggs, Jesse Hahn, and Kendall Graveman staying healthy, and Jharrel Cotton finding a role either as a starter or reliever and succeeding in it. But whereas a few months ago the A’s looked rudderless, their young talent now looks exciting, and 2018 may actually be something to look forward to after all.
17. Baltimore Orioles
16. Seattle Mariners
15. Texas Rangers
14. Los Angeles Angels
13. Tampa Bay Rays
In it with a chance
12. Minnesota Twins
11. Milwaukee Brewers
10. St. Louis Cardinals
9. Colorado Rockies
8. Arizona Diamondbacks
At this moment, every team in this tier still has something to play for. The playoff tournament is all but set, but the winners of the AL East, NL Central and NL Wild Card still have a little bit of uncertainty remaining
Arizona is without uncertainty at this point. They have long been locked into the first NL Wild card. And though they might not be set up for the future the way some of the leauge’s top teams are, while many of us weren’t looking, the Diamondbacks put together a hell of a team.
Even as Arizona struggled through years of inept management at the hands of Dave Stewart and Tony LaRussa, they still managed to produce a number of strong position players. This year, in the first season under competent management, Arizona’s club has coalesced into a talented squad of hitters and a terrific set of pitchers to go along with it.
Seriously, the Dbacks may have assembled one of the scariest pitching staffs in the game. Their starting pitchers rank second in baseball in fWAR, and their K/9 rate of 9.4 is second in the league, behind only Cleveland’s historic rotation.
Zack Greinke heads the group with a 3.18 ERA in 198 innings. Robbie Ray has the look of a front-line starter, with 160 innings, a 12.1 K/9 rate, and a 2.86 ERA. Zack Godley has broken out with a 3.40 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning across 153 frames, Taijuan Walker has made good on his potential with a 3.54 ERA in 152 innings, and Patrick Corbin has been steady with a 4.09 ERA in 187 innings.
Arizona is five deep in quality starters, and four deep in starters with scary strikeout-heavy potential. That would play well in a short series with any team, with the Dbacks sending out a starter every night with a chance to fan double-digit batters.
This is without mentioning a lineup that got a lot deeper with the addition of JD Martinez. Martinez (175 wRC+ with Arizona) and Paul Goldschmidt (147 wRC+) combine to form perhaps the most terrifying one-two punch in the league. Jake Lamb, AJ Pollock, David Peralta, and Chris Ianetta all have run a wRC+ better than average and provide the lineup requistite depth.
Arizona doesn’t have the farm system of the Dodgers, or the resources of the Yankees and Red Sox, so this may be the snakes’ best year for awhile. But they’ve played almost as well as anyone this year, and will not be pushovers come October. Not bad one year removed from a wholesale shakeup at the organization’s top level.
7. Chicago Cubs
6. Boston Red Sox
5. New York Yankees
4. Washington Nationals
3. Houston Astros
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
1. Cleveland Indians
Each of these final four have led their respective divisions seemingly wire to wire. They are the cream of the crop, and they’ve profiled as the league’s best for months now. The World Series Champions are most likely to come out of this group, and for the second straight year, the team with the longest title drought is the favorite to win it all.
Last year it was the Cubs, and now it’s Cleveland, 69 years removed from their last title. The Dodgers looked like they were in pole position for most of the year, but Cleveland, with their 22-game win streak, has demonstratively declared that they are the team to beat heading into October.
When compiling these rankings, we’re looking at how well each team has played and how well their current talent should translate to further success. The Indians rank number 1 in both categories. First, they’ve simply been the best team in 2017. They will win over 100 games, and they will outscore their opponents by over 200 runs. In fact, Baseball prospectus’ third order winning percentage suggests they’ve been even better than that, pegging them for a .668 winning percentage, which equates to a 108-win pace over a full year.
This team is also better equipped to succeed over the coming month than any other. Their rotation has been incredible, posting league-best numbers by a wide margin. They have one of the best starting pitcher combos in baseball in Corey Kluber, and a dominant second option in Carlos Carrasco. They will be difficult to beat in a short series with those two making multiple starts each. Mike Clevinger has established himself as a strong number three, and even Trevor Bauer has gotten things together at the back of the rotation.
Of course, Andrew Miller showed everyone what he was capable of last October, and he and Cody Allen should again profile as a nightmare duo to face late in games. If manager Terry Francona plays his cards right (and he generally does) Cleveland will have top-flight pitchers handling every important inning in the playoffs.
Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Edwin Encarnacion are the position player stars that everyone knows at this point, and form a lineup that can hit and field all at once. Cleveland is stacked, with talent everywhere, and the time is now for them to finish their particular fairy tale and end their World Series drought. There’s no telling if they will succeed, but they are the team to beat at the end of the 2017 regular season.