MLB Power Rankings: June Edition
We’re now a third through the season, and things are starting to take more definite shape. Some presumed contenders that struggled out of the gate have either righted the ship or descended even further. Some hot starts have cooled off, while some surprises have continued. Most notably, it seems we have a new favorite. There’s still a long way to go, but teams that are currently buried in the standings have to be worried now, and the teams at the top have built up meaningful records of performance. Like last month’s rankings, these will try to synthesize that performance thus far, while also keeping in mind things like projections, or what we expect teams to do from here on out. This month’s version feels packed in the middle and heavy at the top, with a handful of superlative teams shoving a bunch of clubs down into the pack. Without further ado, let’s get to the June edition of our power rankings.
A Dense Bottom Tier
30. Philadelphia Phillies
29. San Diego Padres
28. Kansas City Royals
27. San Francisco Giants
26. New York Mets
25. Pittsburgh Pirates
24. Chicago White Sox
23. Miami Marlins
22. Atlanta Braves
21. Cincinnati Reds
20. Oakland Athletics
Among the bottom-tier teams, Oakland might have some of the more intriguing talent. The A’s have come upon hard times in recent years, with their 2012-2014 run of success ending abruptly and giving way to consecutive 90+ loss seasons. The road back to contention is still fraught, but at least a number of interesting young names have popped up in the rotation.
The A’s have had six pitchers make seven or more starts for them this year. All of them have been between the ages of 24 and 28, and all have at least three years of team control remaining. If Billy Beane and the A’s are to pull out of this rut soon, it might have to be on the strength of young pitching.
The starter that’s struggled the most is probably Sonny Gray, as he’s run an 88 ERA+ so far. But Gray has looked better as of late as he continues to work back from an injury-riddled 2016, and his 3.78 FIP may portend better times to come. Unable to become a free agent until 2020, Gray still looks like a major part of Oakland’s future, either as a player or a trade chip.
Better performances have come from the likes of Andrew Triggs. Triggs sits below 90 mph on his fastball, but solid command and secondaries with loads of movement have helped him post Oakland’s best ERA+ at 119 across 61.2 innings.
Sean Maneaa has also pitched well, to the tune of a 105 ERA+, but that might sell him short. He owns a 3.20 FIP, and his 95 mph fastball and whiff-inducing secondaries, a biting slider and changeup, make him a candidate to be a No. 2 starter. Kendall Graveman also had a 105 ERA+ before hitting the DL, managing to get hitters out while conducting an experiment that saw him throwing fastballs over 80% of the time.
As teams like the Mets have shown, relying heavily on young pitching can be a volatile strategy. And this isn’t to shunt Oakland’s offense, which has run a solid 101 OPS+ thus far. But given the age and play of their staff, their young pitchers are the most interesting part of the team, and the part that has the best chance of making the A’s a competitive team in the coming years.
The Just As Dense Middle
19. Texas Rangers
18. Los Angeles Angels
17. Detroit Tigers
16. Seattle Mariners
15. Milwaukee Brewers
14. Tampa Bay Rays
13. Toronto Blue Jays
In the season’s early-goings, the awful play of a handful of assumed playoff contenders, the Blue Jays, Giants, and Mets, was scrutinized. All three teams made the playoffs in 2016, were expected to do so again in 2017, but came out of the gates shockingly flat.
The Blue Jays are the team that has best overcome their early struggles to legitimately put themselves back in the mix. While the Giants and Mets are still stuck in the mud, Toronto got hot and thrust themselves right back into Wild Card contention. At 28-30, there’s certainly more work to be done, but they stand just 2.5 games back of a Wild Card in spite of their nightmarish start.
Not coincidentally, the Blue Jays have righted the ship as their top players have returned to full strength. After missing a chunk of the season, all-world third baseman Josh Donaldson is back, and the owner of a .277/.365/.631 slash line. Jose Bautista, after looking washed to begin the season, is on fire, having posted a 179 wRC+ in the month of May.
But a big reason Toronto has hung in there has been the pitching staff. Marco Estrada has managed an 111 ERA+ in 72 innings. Marcus Stroman appears to finally be breaking out, with a 132 ERA+ in 74 innings. The bullpen ranks 7th in baseball in fWAR, thanks to another superlative season from 22-year-old closer Roberto Osuna, along with surprising contributions from Aaron Loup, Joe Smith and Ryan Tepera. Perhaps most surprisingly, Joe Biagini has transition from relief to the rotation in a pinch, and has a 130 ERA+ on the year.
With Baustista and Donaldson back and mashing, along with, shockingly, Justin Smoak, the Blue Jays look like a team that could be above average on both sides of the ball from here on out. If they can pull that off, they will contend for the playoffs down to the wire. FanGraphs currently projects this group to finish at 84-78. In a top-heavy AL, where uninspiring teams like the Tigers, Angels, and Mariners are duking it out in the middle for a Wild Card spot, that might just be enough.
12. St. Louis Cardinals
11. Minnesota Twins
10. Baltimore Orioles
The Stalwarts And The Upstarts
9. Arizona Diamondbacks
8. Boston Red Sox
This is a fun little tier, one that mixes a pair of powerhouse preseason favorites with two of the year’s biggest upstarts. The upstarts have outplayed the favorites so far, much to the surprise of most around the game. Who will prevail going forward? The smart money’s probably on the big market teams, but at this point in the year, the performance of teams like Colorado and Arizona has to be lauded.
Even so, the Red Sox might be the scariest group in the bunch, as they are in fine position despite having yet to hit their stride. Boston so far has been dragged down by holes at a few positions, notably catcher and third base. Those weaknesses are unlikely to ever become strengths, but the Red Sox might at least be able to paper over them enough to allow the rest of the roster to flourish.
Pablo Sandoval and Sandy Leon have so far been replacement level players. Top third base prospect Rafael Devers has a 151 wRC+ at Double-A at age-20. That he could play well in the majors at that age is no guarantee, but the Red Sox have been aggressive about promoting young prospects before, so he might just have the chance to prove he’s an upgrade. Leon has yielded time to Christian Vazquez, who certainly can’t keep up his current .344/.373/.458 line, but has a reputation as a great framer, and should outperform Leon going forward.
The rest of the team looks as stacked as it was last year. Chris Sale is a world-beater, and with David Price back from injury, Boston has the most terrifying one-two punch in the league. Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr both had strong Mays to boost an offense that posted a 90 wRC+ in April but a 108 wRC+ in May.
The Red Sox might not reach 95+ wins like many expected, but the pieces are beginning to fall in place. They’re just one game back of the Yankees, which should set up a very fun division race for the rest of the year. FanGraphs projections actually peg the Red Sox as the favorites to win that race, with 58% odds to take the AL East. Even as Boston has yet to set the world on fire, they are still right in the thick of things, and appear ready to return to October when all is said and done.
7. Chicago Cubs
6. Colorado Rockies
The Cream of the Crop
5. Cleveland Indians
4. New York Yankees
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Washington Nationals
1. Houston Astros
Championships aren’t won in June. Last year’s Cubs can attest to that: after a blistering, historic start to the season, the Cubs fell off pace a tad in the second half, and were eventually reduced to holding on for dear life when trailing three games to one in the World Series, before coming back against all odds to end their drought. Houston is off to just as outstanding a start as those Cubs, and they too have a title-drought to reckon with, but there’s nothing they can do now that will guarantee they won’t be on the ropes just like the Cubs were last October.
And even having said that, dang, the Astros are making it look easy, and making it hard to envision anyone else taking the AL pennant. They just won 11 games in a row, and are nearly on pace to set the all-time record for wins in a season. Playing in what looked like it could be a competitive AL West, the Astros have opened up a staggering 14-game lead.
It all starts with… well, everything. The Astros’ hitters are running a stunning collective line of .276/.345/.472, good for what would be a record 122 wRC+. Their pitchers rank third by fWAR and first by RA-9 WAR. Turns out, being the best at hitting and pitching is a good way to put a team on an historic win pace.
On the pitching side, Houston is anchored by aces (plural) at every level. Dallas Keuchel’s sinker has been dropping off the board all year, but hitters are still going after it, finding only weak contact, and giving Keuchel a 1.67 ERA. Lance McCullers, he of the devastating curveball that he uses liberally, has given the Astros a second front-end rotation arm. He is striking out more than 10 batters per nine, and has a 2.71 ERA.
In the bullpen, Chris Devenski has been a revelation, as he’s striking out nearly 40% of the batters he faces while maintaining a 2.71 ERA across 33 innings. That’s not to mention Brad Peacock or closer Ken Giles, each of whom are whiffing double-digit batters per nine.
The lineup is simply the deepest in the game, balanced by elite hitters at the top and steady hitters all around. Jose Altuve has a 148 wRC+. Carlos Correa caught fire in May and is up to a 149 wRC+. George Springer is at 140, Jake Marisnick is at 131, and Marwin Gonzalez is at 180(!!). But what makes the Houston lineup really tick is the lack of weaknesses. Guys like Yulieski Gurriel (99 wRC+) and Carlos Beltran (95 wRC+) have yet to live up to expectations, but when those guys are the worst players in your lineup, you have a lineup that will score runs by the bushel.
An incredible hot streak in May is no guarantee of postseason success. We’ve seen 100+ win juggernauts flame out prior to the World Series before, and we will see it again. But this Astros team has made it known that they are as talented as any and are currently the hands-down favorite to take the title. The road ahead is still long and winding, but Houston is clearly the team that looks most equipped to navigate it.