The very flawed and wide open AL East

Yankees will retire Joe Torre's No. 6, add plaques to Monument Park for Gossage, O'Neill, Tino
Update: Yankees agree to re-sign Nik Turley

In case you haven’t noticed, the AL East is a dumpster fire this season. Here are the standings before we go any further:

AL East standings 050814

Yuck. All five teams are clustered together in mediocrity. Dan Syzmborski posted his updated ZiPS division projections yesterday based on what has already happened this year, and the system has the Blue Jays in last place at 80-82. It also has the other four AL East teams tied for first at 83-79. Keep in mind that’s not a prediction of what will happen, it’s just an estimate of each team’s talent level. Point is, the division is crazy close.

As we’ve seen the last few weeks, the Yankees are no doubt a flawed team. They need another starting pitcher and another infielder, and another bullpen arm wouldn’t hurt either. Playing better defense would help too. More than anything, they need players like Carlos Beltran, Derek Jeter, Brian McCann, and CC Sabathia to improve their performance going forward.

The Yankees are a flawed team and that’s okay because the other four AL East teams are flawed too. We’ve learned a lot these last five weeks. Here’s what we know about the division a little more than one month into the season.

Overall Batting: 94 wRC+ (17th in MLB) and 4.32 R/G (9th)
Overall Rotation: 4.42 ERA (24th) and 4.32 FIP (25th)
Overall Bullpen: 3.81 ERA (16th) and 4.38 FIP (27th)
Defensive Efficiency: .683 (29th)

Machado. (Presswire)
Machado. (Presswire)

The O’s went into the offseason needing a starter and they still need a starter. Ubaldo Jimenez (5.19 ERA and 4.83 FIP) has not worked out so far — turns out making a bunch of starts against the Astros, White Sox, and Twins late last year didn’t mean he had turned his career around — and the Miguel Gonzalez (5.28 ERA and 4.86 FIP) magic has finally worn off. Bud Norris, Chris Tillman, and Wei-Yin Chen are solid but nothing more. The middle relief unit is also a mess, though the trio of Tommy Hunter, Zach Britton, and Darren O’Day have been outstanding. The other four guys are the problem. Now that Manny Machado is back and Chris Davis (oblique) will soon come off the DL, Baltimore will out-hit many of their pitching problems this summer. That strategy can work, we saw the Yankees do it from 2005-07. They do lack high on-base players to fully capitalize on their power, however.

Overall Batting: 100 wRC+ (13th) and 4.15 R/G (16th)
Overall Rotation: 3.85 ERA (15th) and 3.83 FIP (14th)
Overall Bullpen: 3.14 ERA (9th) and 2.91 FIP (3rd)
Defensive Efficiency: .693 (22nd)

On paper, the Red Sox are the most complete team in the division. They’re average or better in every phase of the game, including defensively now that Shane Victorino (hamstring) is off the DL and Jackie Bradley Jr. has replaced Grady Sizemore as the regular center fielder. Bradley and A.J. Pierzynski are the lineup weak spots, Edward Mujica and Craig Breslow the bullpen laggers, and Felix Doubront the rotation drain. Jake Peavy’s walk and homer problems suggest he might perform worse going forward as well (3.09 ERA and 5.07 FIP). Otherwise Boston has productive players in just about every roster spot, a deep farm system, and a pretty big wallet. If they need help, they can go out and get almost anyone they want. The Red Sox are not as good as they were last year, nor are they as bad as they were for the first few weeks of this season.

New York Yankees
Overall Batting: 101 wRC+ (12th) and 4.27 R/G (10th)
Overall Rotation: 4.27 ERA (22th) and 3.88 FIP (16th)
Overall Bullpen: 3.91 ERA (19th) and 3.52 FIP (12th)
Defensive Efficiency: .690 (25th)

Outside of Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees have not had another reliable starter all season. Maybe Hiroki Kuroda will be that guy after his very good start against the Angels earlier this week and maybe Michael Pineda will be another one when he returns from his shoulder muscle problem. The back of the bullpen has been excellent. The lineup is being held back because of several underperformers, specifically Beltran and McCann. The Yankees have a ton of money, it’s just a question of how willing ownership is to use it to add players at midseason. The farm system is improving but it still remains to be seen whether other teams want some of their prospects in trades. But you knew all that already.

Overall Batting: 108 wRC+ (7th) and 4.24 R/G (11th)
Overall Rotation: 4.44 ERA (25th) and 3.76 FIP (11th)
Overall Bullpen: 4.17 ERA (23rd) and 4.23 FIP (22nd)
Defensive Efficiency: .701 (18th)

For the first time in a long time, the Rays have serious pitching problems. Matt Moore is lost for the year with Tommy John surgery, and both Jeremy Hellickson (elbow) and Alex Cobb (oblique) are still weeks away from returning to the rotation. They’ve been stuck relying on Erik Bedard, Jake Odorizzi, and Cesar Ramos to make starts. Those guys wouldn’t be anywhere near their pitching staff the last couple of seasons. The offense is fine but the bullpen is weak because it’s been worked hard thanks to the shaky rotation, though replacing Heath Bell with Brad Boxberger will help somewhat. Unlike the other teams in the division, Tampa doesn’t really have the financial wherewithal (or the prospects, at this point) to go out and make a trade to improve their weakness. They’re just trying to get by until Hellickson and Cobb return, hoping they’ll be the difference makers.

Imagine Dioner Navarro being your biggest offseason move. (Abelimages/Getty)
Imagine Dioner Navarro being your biggest offseason move. (Abelimages/Getty)

Overall Batting: 111 wRC+ (4th) and 4.88 R/G (5th)
Overall Rotation: 4.04 ERA (19th) and 3.75 FIP (10th)
Overall Bullpen: 4.94 ERA (27th) and 4.23 FIP (23rd)
Defensive Efficiency: .692 (24th)

You didn’t need the updated ZiPS projections to tell you Toronto is the weakest team in the division. They have a top heavy lineup with several black holes (second and third bases, in particular), one and a half starters (Mark Buehrle and Drew Hutchison, maybe R.A. Dickey on a good day), and a disaster of a bullpen. They gutted the farm system last offseason and are reportedly up against their payroll limit. Money is so tight that several players offered to deferred salary this winter if it helped the team sign then-free agent Ervin Santana. That blows my mind. In a division of flawed teams, the Jays have the most and biggest holes. That doesn’t mean they can’t make life miserable this season though. They’re always a pain.

* * *

The AL East has been the best division in baseball over the last 15 years or so, and I don’t even think it was close. At first it was just the Yankees and Red Sox, then the Rays got in on the fun, then two years ago the Orioles started making noise.

Instead of evolving into a division of powerhouses, it’s currently a division of mediocrity. It’s a collection of good but not great teams right now. The opportunity is there for any one of the five clubs to run away with the division but right now no one seems to want it. A blockbuster trade or unexpected development (like, say, a prospect coming up and having immediate impact) could decide the AL East.

Yankees will retire Joe Torre's No. 6, add plaques to Monument Park for Gossage, O'Neill, Tino
Update: Yankees agree to re-sign Nik Turley
  • Jimmy

    Think I’m gonna start referring to you as the King of Hyperbole

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      I don’t think there was a ton of hyperbole there. Every team in the division both has its flaws and is strong enough to be a couple of tweaks away from rising above the pack.

      • Looser trader droids FotD™

        Dumpster fire?

  • Axis of Mike

    I dare to hope Nuno and Phelps will save our bacon, vis a vis starters, while we wait, and that Pineda and Nova will return as good or better than before, that Kuroda will show that his last start was not a fluke, and that CC will either figure it all out or suddenly announce his retirement.

    • Mike HC

      I feel you. We all know the season doesn’t work like that though. When Pineda gets back and starts pitching like an ace again, Tanaka will be going through a “dead arm” period. When CC gets in a groove and carries the rotation for a month, Kuroda will lose his command again. And on and on. Hopefully by the end of it all, it is a strong enough rotation to make the playoffs.

  • Mike HC

    I have to say, a four way tie could be a lot of fun. Mini two round, one game playoff for the AL East only … I like it.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Winning the AL East by ten games would be much more fun. :)

      • Mike HC

        Agreed. I would sign up for the 4 team tie right now though if I could.

    • The Great Gonzo

      That would be a lot more fun in the NL East… Give me outright winning the Division please.

  • vicki

    pythag says we’ve played over our heads, but it’s pretty clear to me we’ve underachieved. it’s been noted before, but a ton of those runs against were given up by guys whose moments in pinstripes have passed, never to return. i confess to panicking about the rotation last week, but i’ve always believed the offense would improve; still do.

    fun fact. by pwarp, dellin has been the second most valuable yankee pitcher (tied with big mike at 0.6), behind only tanaka (0.7).

  • mitch

    You could expand this post to include the entire American League (minus Detroit).

  • JGYank

    I think it’s a bit to early to say this is going to be a close race. So far what we’ve seen is a pretty small sample size. Things will be clearer at the end of May. Plenty of time for things to go right or wrong. Injuries, called up prospects, over/under achievers, etc. I do think every team has a good chance to finish over .500 except maybe the Jays. Even they’re not too bad and they’ve shown they can hit. RS have pitched well, the Os can hit for power and are starting to get healthy, and the Rays need to get some of their SP off the DL soon because their pitching needs to improve. As Mike said, the Yanks probably need another starter, infielder, and maybe a reliever if Aceves doesn’t work out. We’ll get Pineda back in a few weeks, but that still leaves either Nuno or Phelps starting and I’m not really too comfortable with that while CC is still struggling and Kuroda is far from his prime and has been inconsistent. The infield is looking better with Roberts and Tex hitting, and it’s hard to bet against Jeter, but it may need a face lift eventually. Solarte’s performance in the next couple of months could be an important factor in determining whether we need to add to the mix or not. The core of the pen is good, but I do think we should add one more good arm just to solidify the group and prevent all the shuffling that happened in April. Not a need though. Fortunately, no team has pulled away from the pack yet and they all have flaws so the Yanks should have no problems staying in the race especially when their lineup starts firing on all cylinders.

  • Yankenstein

    I like this Yankee team. I think they will be up and down all year but in the end will make the playoffs.

  • Preston

    Still the best division in baseball.

    • nycsportzfan

      Without a doubt. I don’t get why them being all grouped together means its a very flawed division. Every team in the majors has issues of some sort. Its not like the AL east is the only division with question marks amongst the teams.

      Yanks are 3-1 in Nuno’s starts. Figured i’d let that stat be known.

  • RetroRob

    Every A.L. East team scores quite low in defensive efficiency. Like, very, very low.

  • Looser trader droids FotD™

    I don’t want to back into a playoff spot. Yeah yeah flags fly forever but I’d rather earn a playoff spot by not being the least bad team in the division.

    • vicki

      any chance you’re a new york football giants fan? people said the 2007 team was the worst super bowl champion ever. until the 2011 team unseated them, that is. i still enjoyed the hell out of those runs.

      if you’re just saying that you’d prefer the yankees straight-up dominate the regular season, a la 2009, i can’t argue with that. but scrappy long-shots can be fun too.

  • OldYanksFan

    I agree with Vicki (although I agree with all gals that like it in the can). I think our final Pitching numbers will be better than our current ones, and baring unusually injuries, I am positive our offense will be better.

    With Solarte maturing at 3rd base and Ryan getting time at SS, our defense might even go from terrible to just bad.

    And it is said that Teix’s wrist won’t be 100% for another year or so. So what we have seen from him has been very positive.

  • Prussian General Jordan Brink

    All those eho had the brewers going HAM on the nl central, please raise your hands…….

    I’ll wait.

    It’s way too early for this hyperbole (dumpster fire?) The nl east has roughly the same composition in the standings. The tigers haven’t run away in the mediocre Al central. The cards are struggling, the dodgers have their UPS and downs.

    Axisa, you do great work, but there are times you veer into Eddardian hyperbole. It’s funny, yet scary.

  • MB923

    Crazy stat, excluding the Astros, every single team in the AL has between 15-20 wins. That’s 13 teams within 5 games of each other

    Yes it’s very early and I surely don’t expect that to last Much longer, but don’t rule out the possibility of a 4 way AL East Race and maybe a 8-10 team Wild Card race for the year

    Heck there’s a good chance that the Tigers will be the only 90 win team in all of the American League this year.

  • Cuso

    If the Orioles had anything close to resembling a quality starting pitcher, they’d be a concern to run away with the division.

    Curious to see what happens with Gausman 2.0 and Bundy when they come back up.

  • jgibs

    The fact that Toronto has the only positive run differential in the division, has scored the most runs and allowed as many runs as a team tied for first place, yet are tied for third is something I just cannot wrap my mind around. Been staring at it for minutes.

    Then again I never was great with math…

  • 461deep

    Orioles look to be best with solid hitting and up the middle defense and 3rd so they have the horses to run and hide. Their pitching not great but no team in ALE has great pitching. Jays better to me than given credit for. Pitching better than last year. Lawrie at 3rd is disliked due to his quirks but he is a good fielder and was hitting much better with power before his hammy soreness. Rasmus may finally be maturing. Red Sox need 1 more good experienced in prime hitter. Youngsters good but don’t hit in clutch much. They will test market for sure. Yankees will go as far as pitching takes them and Ellsbury-Tex must stay healthy. Others will contribute in up-down manner. CC Kuroda must improve.