Just prior to heading out the door for my longest trip of the summer — two nights in Seattle, three in the San Juan Islands, and four more in Los Angeles (including a trip to Dodger Stadium to see them play the Nationals next Saturday) — I published one of my annual favorite columns, the Prospectus Hit List Remix. It’s a chance to step back from the grind of churning out 30 team capsules in a day to examine some of the season’s underlying trends.
For example, the Hit List helps to track the relative strength of the two leagues and the six divisions using the Hit List Factor, the average of a team’s actual and projected winning percentages which I use to compile the weekly rankings:
With the Cubs ranked second and the Phillies, Mets and Cardinals all cracking the top 10, the upper reaches of the Hit List don’t look so completely tilted towards the American League as in years past. However, the composite numbers show that the Junior Circuit remains the superior one:AL Avg RK HLF
2008 12.9 .520
2007 14.9 .506
2006 12.6 .513
2005 13.4 .509
NL Avg RK HLF
2008 17.8 .483
2007 16.0 .495
2006 18.1 .488
2005 17.3 .492
The 2005-2007 numbers are year-end numbers, whereas the 2008 ones are obviously mid-season numbers, but if the current trend holds, the gap between the two leagues will be the widest it’s been since I started doing the Hit List. The average AL team has a Hit List Factor 37 points better than the average NL team, equivalent to a whopping six games in the standings (.037 * 162 = 5.994). Most of that has to do with the 149-103 advantage the AL enjoyed in interleague play this year, a 12-game improvement over last year’s results (137-115) but still five games behind the 2005 numbers (154-98).
…Turning to the division-by-division breakdowns, this year one division is running away with the Hit List Factor crown:--------2008-------------- --------2007------- HLF
Division Avg RK WPct HLF D3 Avg RK WPct HLF +/-
AL East 7.4 .536 .550 -15.6 13.0 .504 .525 .025
AL West 12.8 .512 .503 3.1 14.8 .514 .502 .001
AL Central 12.4 .503 .503 0.7 17.0 .499 .490 .012
NL East 18.0 .491 .496 0.7 14.4 .500 .504 -.008
NL Central 14.5 .518 .494 24.1 20.5 .472 .469 .025
NL West 22.6 .439 .457 -13.0 12.2 .520 .516 -.059
The American League East features two teams that have topped this year’s Hit List, the Red Sox and Rays, and has at times seen all five teams with winning records, though lately both the Orioles and Blue Jays have fallen below .500. Collectively, the division has outscored opponents by 182 runs, though if anything, they’re lagging behind where they should be. All five teams have fallen short of their third-order projections, by anywhere from 0.6 games (Baltimore) to 5.7 games (Toronto).
From there I go on to compare each team’s current Hit List Factor to their final 2007 numbers and their 2008 PECOTA-derived preseason numbers. The Rays lead the former category, but since BP’s projections had them winning 88 games, they’re not the big gainer relative to the latter. Instead the honor of confounding Nate Silver’s projections the most belongs to the White Sox, the team Silver pegged exactly at 72-90 a year ago, much to the chagrin of vocally indignant Southside supporters.
The Yankees, who finished second in last year’s rankings and topped the Preseason Hit List, are sixth from the bottom relative to season’s end, fifth from bottom relative to PECOTA, performing at a clip that’s 66 points of winning percentage lower than expected:
Meanwhile, the Angels, Dodgers and Tigers find themselves in the hunt for postseason berths despite considerable falloffs since the end of last year. The same could be said about the Yankees, at least if you have faith that they’ll overcome the potentially season-ending injury to Hideki Matsui on top of the injuries of Chien-Ming Wang, Philip Hughes, and the lost-at-sea batting approaches of Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano. If you’re scoring at home, count this Yankee fan among the nonbelievers.
I’ve counted the Yankees out before only to watch them storm back into the postseason, but with an extra team between them and the top of the AL East this time around, they’ve got an especially steep hill to climb.