Despite the fact that the All-Star break doesn't actually divide the season in halves, now is the perfect time to reflect on the first "half" of the season. After combing through the leaderboards of various stats, I'd like to present you with 10 facts that I found most interesting. However, just listing them would be no fun, so I decided to give them to you as trivia. There are 10 questions, and if you get more than two of them right, I will present you with an award at the end of the article. Does that sound like a deal? Awesome! [Note: These are meant to be real, legitimate rankings, so unless stated otherwise, assume every statement is among qualifiers only. Otherwise, this would turn into: "What?!? You didn't know the pitcher with the highest groundball rate this year is Alexi Amarista at 100%? HAHA! Ha. Do you even watch baseball?"]
1. The _____ have the best run differential in the AL West.
2. _____ and _____ are 1st and 2nd among NL second basemen in OBP. (This doesn't count Matt Carpenter, who has spent twice as many innings at third base this season.)
3. The _____' bullpen leads the MLB in ERA, WHIP, AVG allowed, OBP allowed, and SLG allowed.
4. The MLB SP leaders in xFIP, in order: Clayton Kershaw, Jose Fernandez, Noah Syndergaard, _____, and Stephen Strasburg.
5. The best UZR/150 among AL first basemen with enough innings to qualify belongs to _____.
6. _____ leads the MLB in wRC+, among players whose last name is Seager.
7. _____ owns the highest batting average from the leadoff spot in the MLB (min. 100 PA batting 1st).
8. The MLB leaders in HR/FB%, in order: Jake Lamb, _____, Yoenis Cespedes, Giancarlo Stanton, Mark Trumbo.
9. The NL leader in K%, among qualified relievers, is _____, followed by _____.
10. Using pitch type linear weights on a per-pitch basis, the most effective fastballs among MLB starters, in order: Jake Arrieta, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Martinez, _____, and Stephen Strasburg.
1. The Seattle Mariners have the highest run differential in the AL West at +51. This is probably one of the questions that you were more likely to get, because you had a 20% chance unless you either A) didn't know all of the teams in the AL West, or B) knew all of the teams in the AL West and decided to guess a non-AL West team anyways. Either way, you didn't deserve to get this question right. All joking aside, it was reasonable to narrow this down to one of two answers. If you've read the various pieces on the Internet about how lucky the Rangers have been, and because this is an article about interesting facts, you probably knew it wasn't the first-place team. And it probably wasn't the Angels or the A's. However, if I didn't already know the answer to this, I would've guessed the Astros, who also happen to rank ahead of the Rangers at +30. (The Rangers are a surprisingly mediocre +16 on the season.)
2. Ben Zobrist (.388 OBP) and Daniel Murphy (.387 OBP). Dang it; that one was too easy if you watched the All-Star Game or paid any attention to baseball over the first half of the season.
...just kidding. Would you believe that neither Zobrist nor Murphy rank in the top two in the NL? The top spot goes to DJ LeMahieu (.398 OBP), followed by Derek Dietrich at .396. There was a slight chance many of you may have thought of LeMahieu, as he's also boasting a gaudy .335 average. However, I'm willing to wager that Dietrich was much tougher, considering his 7.7 percent walk rate on the season and career .253 average. So how exactly does he get on base 39.6 percent of the time? It helps to get hit by a pitch 39.599 percent of the time. (I'm joking, but only barely.) He leads the NL in plunks with 17, and it's clear that it's no fluke. Rather, it's a "skill" of his. Last season, he was hit 13 times in under 300 PAs in the majors, and he was hit 15 more times in the minor leagues. In fact, over the last three seasons between the majors and the minors, Dietrich has been hit by a pitch in a whopping 5.7 percent of his plate appearances, which is higher than many hitters' walk rates.
3. The Dodgers' bullpen leads in all of those categories. If you're a Dodgers fan and have been watching them on their recent hot streak, then you may have noticed the bullpen has been dominant, but the run of effectiveness has actually been going on for a lot longer than that. There are two reasons why this fact may be surprising.
1) The bullpen started out the season pretty mediocre, and because bullpen ERAs are made of small sample sizes, those inflated ERAs stayed on people's television screens for a long time. However, since May 21, Dodger relievers have posted a combined 2.01 ERA, which blows away the competition. (The Astros are second over that time period at 2.63, and no other team is below 3.00.)
2) Other than Kenley Jansen, there are no established or big-name relievers here. JP Howell and Chris Hatcher are the two with the most established track record, but they've been arguably the two worst. Adam Liberatore and his 0.61 ERA just set a franchise record for consecutive scoreless appearances, and it's still active. Joe Blanton has emerged as a surprising set-up man, while Pedro Baez and Casey Fien have also turned in quality work.
However, the Dodgers' relief corps is probably due for some regression. It has benefited from a league-best .237 BABIP, which makes a little bit of sense because of the large number of fly balls it generates. However, as our own Kevin Ruprecht noted recently, the Dodgers have also been fortunate that those fly balls haven't turned into home runs yet.
4. Aaron Nola ranks fourth among MLB starters with a 2.98 xFIP. His obscurity this season is likely due to a combination of the Philiies' irrelevance and his own bloated 4.69 ERA, but his underlying numbers suggest that he's actually been quite awesome this year.
He performs spectacularly in the three tenets of pitching -- strikeouts (9.94 K/9), walks (2.16 BB/9), and groundballs (55.1 GB%). His poor ERA can be explained away by the fact that he's suffered just about every form of bad luck that a pitcher can receive. He's allowed a .331 BABIP, 60.5 percent strand rate, and 15.4 percent HR/FB rate, all of which are likely destined to take a turn for the better and move his ERA closer to his gaudy xFIP.
5. Number one is Miguel Cabrera. I'm not really going to go into explaining this one. UZR is a poor stat to analyze over one season, much less one portion of a season. Also, saying you're the best defensive first baseman is an oxymoron. It's kind of like saying you're the fastest out of all the glaciers, or that you're the best guard on the 76ers – it just doesn't mean much.
I still wanted to include this fact, though, as an interesting nugget, and you can choose what you want to get out of it. Cabrera is generally regarded as a defensive liability, and he has consistently moved down the defensive spectrum over his career, from left field to third base to first base.
6. Kyle. This is probably the easiest question in the quiz, not because it was obvious, but because you have a coin flip's chance of getting it right...unless, of course, you guessed a random name like Adalberto Seager, but you're probably the same hooligan that guessed the Washington Nationals for question 1.
As for the fact itself, I found it to be more than a bit surprising. It shouldn't be, because Kyle is an established MLB star, and also happens to have a higher OPS on the season than Corey. Maybe it's just me, as an unabashed Dodgers fan, but I've seen and heard much more hoopla surrounding Corey this season, and whether that's due to the bigger market, his position, or his rookie status, it's easy to forget that his older brother is pretty good, too. (That also reminds me that you could've guessed their middle brother Justin, but he just made his first appearance at the AA level, and that guess would've been just as silly as Adalberto.)
7. Ichiro! As you may have witnessed from our very own Ichiro Day on this website not too long ago, we at Beyond the Box Score like us some Ichiro Suzuki. And not only does he lead all hitters in batting average from the leadoff spot, it isn't particularly close, either. Ichiro is hitting .358 on the season when batting first in the lineup, while the next closest with at least 100 PAs is Eduardo Nunez(!) at .331.
8. It may actually have been pretty surprising to some of you that number one in this category is Jake Lamb, but much virtual ink has already been spilled on various baseball sites about how awesome Lamb has been this year.
Number two, however, has been David Freese. He's a surprising presence on the list because he pounds the ball into the ground over 60 percent of the time, so despite a high HR/FB rate, he only has 10 round-trippers on the season. Freese has been a pleasant surprise for the Pirates so far, boasting a .291/.373/.472 slash line with a 131 wRC+. However, Freese has been incredibly lucky on both his balls in play (.383 BABIP) and balls leaving the yard (27.8 HR/FB percent), and he's one of the strongest candidates in the majors for a heavy regression in the second half.
9. Number one in the NL is Shawn Kelley, followed by Kyle Barraclough. If you're not an avid fan of all things baseball, or even if you are, there's a decent chance that you can't name the teams that either of these pitchers suit up for. Kelley is an established pitcher, but the Nationals also represent the fourth team he's played for in the past five seasons. He's always posted high strikeout rates, and he's one of those names that probably doesn't immediately come to mind but also doesn't surprise you. Barraclough, or "Bearclaw", probably is an obvious guess if you've heard of him; however, you also may not have heard of him. Here's a synopsis -- he will either strike you out or walk you. No, seriously...his 15.00 K/9 and 6.25 BB/9 contribute to the fact that he either walks or strikes out over half of the hitters he faces.
10. I can't say this one without laughing, but the fourth-best SP fastball in the MLB this season has belonged to Colby Lewis. Colby. Lewis. Colby...Lewis...Don't be surprised if I start going into convulsions, almost inaudibly whispering "Colby" and "Lewis" over and over again. He strikes out 5.60 batters per nine inning, and his fastball averages 87.4 mph with little to no movement. Colby Lewis has a good fastball now, apparently, and I have a couple of theories why.
1) He doesn't throw it a lot. Steven Wright ranked sixth on this list, and knuckleballers' fastballs always rate very effectively because it's no longer the hurler's primary pitch. This isn't quite the same as with Lewis, but the idea is similar. Lewis throws one of his two breaking balls over 40 percent of the time, and when also accounting for his changeup, it makes his fastball an offering not seen too frequently by the opposition.
2) Pitch type linear weights may indicate how effective the results of a pitch are, but they don't really encapsulate or isolate the whole scope of a pitch, and there isn't really a single stat that can do that yet. Much about pitching is due to sequencing. Lewis has been really effective this year overall, and his slider is always regarded as a great pitch. Because he's been better, and because his slider is always good, the secondary stuff is likely helping the heater "play up".
So, how'd you do? I profess that this wasn't really fair trivia with legitimately-guessable answers. Hell, as someone who writes on this website, I profess to know an above-average amount about this sport, and if you had given me this quiz without the answers, I would have gotten one out of ten (question 3, and only because I'm a Dodgers fan).
However, fair is fair, and to those of you that got at least three questions right, here is the award I promised you. It's called the "Either You're a Nerd or a Cheater......or a Liar!" Award. This prestigious award will grant you lucky winners a lifetime* supply of unlimited free access to all articles on Beyond the Box Score! Congratulations!
*until and unless the higher-ups change the format of this site, in which case I never had the rights to hand out these privileges anyways
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Austin Yamada is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score.