We're about six weeks into the 2009 MLB season and, as usual, there are plenty of surprises.
- The Blue Jays have the best record in the American League.
- The Cubs are in a tie for third place with the Reds.
- The Marlins are hanging around, just one win out of first place.
- The Mariners and Rangers are in contention.
- The Pirates are awful. Wait, uh, nevermind, that makes sense.
The question everyone's asking is which teams are for real and which teams will rebound back towards pre-season expectations? Well, in addition to reminding everyone that six weeks doesn't significantly change our expectations of player performance, we can look at which win totals are backed up by context-neutral performances and which are a result of some flukiness.
To do that, I'm going to look at Baseball Prospectus' third-order wins. The third-order wins methodology uses EqA (think OPS or wOBA) to predict runs scored and runs allowed, adjusts them for strength of schedule (this is awesome), and converts to a win-loss record using Pythag.
This first table compares each team's actual win total to their third-order win total, with a negative number representing a team that's won fewer games than third-order wins predicts they should have (aka "unlucky"):
The Indians, Rays, and Athletics are the three main underachievers, with the Indians setting a pace that's hard to believe. Should we be reading anything into the fact that these are three of the most saber-friendly organizations in the American League?
On the lucky side we see the Red Sox and Mariners more than two wins better than they've shown on the field. Between the Rays and Red Sox, there's a 6.7 game shift.
Here are the American League teams sorted by third-order winning percentage, which is a good estimate of the production showcased by each team so far. If you're into power rankings based on context-neutral on-field production, this is your thing:
Looks like the Blue Jays and Royals deserve their spots at the top of their divisions. The Tigers have come to play in 2009 (mostly thanks the rotation seeing gains from Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, and Rick Porcello) and the Rangers look like the more real team so far in the Texas-Seattle debate. Baltimore's really bad.
Here are the NL teams sorted from most unlucky to most lucky:
Yowzers, Nationals. I guess that's what happens when your bullpen turns a lot of leads into one-run losses. On the good end of the NL East (everyone else), the Mets and Braves have been unlucky by about a win, while the Phillies and Marlins have been lucky by 1.5 and 2 wins, respectively. Over in the NL West, those Giants might not be as competitive as they've appeared so far, while the Diamondbacks and Rockies should win more games the rest of the way.
Here are the overall power rankings:
It's no surprise to see the Dodgers leading the field, but who would have expected to see the Mets right behind them, well ahead of the Cardinals. If you think the Nationals will struggle to win 60 games this year, think again. There are a lot more sub-par teams in the NL than in the AL, and the top NL teams could post some very high win totals against that weak competition.