2015 Regular Season Review – AL Edition

With a few days before the “real” post-season begins (somehow, the wild card games still seem like game 163 to me), here’s a look back at the season that was, team by team. I’m guessing there may be a few surprises along the way.

More after the jump.

AL East

The Blue Jays had two players (Jose BautistaJosh Donaldson) with 40 home runs, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored to become the second Toronto team and 21st for any franchise with such a tandem. Bautista became the 11th player with four or more seasons of 35 home runs and triple-digit runs, walks and RBI, but only the second (after Jeff Bagwell) with all of those seasons aged 29 or older.  Bautista leads the majors in home runs, runs and walks since 2010, and is second in RBI and OPS.

Notwithstanding my poke at the wild-card game, the Yankees did indeed make the playoffs and did so despite only a 10-16 finish, better only than the 9-17 close for the 2010 squad (wild-card qualifier, lost in ALCS) and the 2000 team (AL East and WS champs), among Yankee post-season qualifiers. This year’s team was the first in franchise history with 30 home runs from two players (Alex RodriguezMark Teixeira) aged 35 or older.

The Orioles had two players (Chris DavisManny Machado) with 100 runs scored from 30 doubles and 35 home runs, matching the 1996 squad for the franchise high. Two players is also the record for any team, as Baltimore becomes the 26th club (20th since 1993) with such a duo, a tandem first achieved by the 1929 Cubs with Rogers Hornsby and Hack Wilson.

The Rays‘ center-fielder Kevin Kiermaier produced 42 WAR Fielding Runs, the most ever at any position (if you haven’t seen Kiermaier play, you should). Ben Zobrist is the only other Ray with even 25 WAR Fielding Runs in a season. This was the first Tampa Bay team without a 75 RBI player, and only the second with nobody scoring 75 runs.

Red Sox DH David Ortiz became the 27th member of the 500 home run club, joining Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams and Manny Ramirez as players to reach that milestone with Boston. Ortiz also became the 17th player to have nine seasons of 30 HR and 100 RBI, but the first with three such seasons aged 37 or older.

AL Central

The Royals had four regulars (Lorenzo CainEric HosmerKendrys MoralesMike Moustakas) with a qualified 120 OPS+ and fewer than 25 home runs, the most in franchise history. Only the 2013 NL champion Cardinals and 1964 Braves (who finished 5th) had five such players (with the modern qualifying standard) among live ball era teams.

The Twins were in the playoff hunt until the final weekend, despite no pitchers with 12 wins, nor with 15 starts and a 110 ERA+, matching the 2013 squad (that lost 96 games) as the only such Twin/Senators teams. Rookie Tyler Duffey became only the second pitcher (the first was Bert Blyleven) to start for the Twins in each of his first 10 career games and allow no more than 20 total runs over that stretch (not bad for someone who was lit up for 6 tallies in his debut outing).

The IndiansCorey Kluber became the first Tribe hurler to post a W-L% under .400 in a 200 strikeout season. Kluber is only the ninth such pitcher since 1901, but the fourth in the past three seasons. He’s also only the second pitcher (after Steve Carlton in 1973) to lead his league in either losses or complete games in such a season. Cleveland also had two players (Yan GomesBrandon Moss) with 100 strikeouts in fewer than 400 PA, joining Houston as the 8th and 9th such teams since 1901, all but one since 2012.

The Tigers had two pitchers (Anibal SanchezAlfredo Simon) with 25 starts and ERA+ below 80, the fourth time for Detroit (all since 1990), tied with the Senators/Twins (all before 1961) for the most for any franchise. Detroit also had ten players with 15 doubles, tied with four other Bengal teams (all since 1999) for the most in franchise history.

The White Sox had four players (Jose AbreuAdam EatonAvisail GarciaAdam LaRoche) with 130 strikeouts, breaking the franchise record of three players set … last season. Abreu joins Albert Pujols as the only players with 30 home runs and 100 RBI in each of the first two seasons of a career.

AL West

The Rangers‘ 35 year-old Colby Lewis posted career best results for Wins, W-L% and IP as he and the Padres’ James Shields became the 11th and 12th live ball era pitchers to record a .650 W-L% in a 200 IP season with ERA+ below 95. For the first time since 1976, Texas had two pitchers (Chi Chi GonzalezDerek Holland) with a CG and shutout in no more than 10 starts (the pitchers making the other 142 starts this season managed a collective 3 CGs and one shutout).

The Astros had 13 players with 9 home runs, the most on one team in major league history. Jose Altuve collected 200 hits and 35 stolen bases to join Rod Carew as the only middle infielders to do so in back-to-back seasons. Houston had two 19-game winners (Dallas KeuchelCollin McHugh) with a .700 W-L%, the 24th such team of the live ball era (including the 1927 Yankees, the only post-1920 team with three such hurlers). In the Astros’ version of “Spahn and Sain, and pray for rain”, their next highest win total was the 7 W’s by closer Luke Gregerson (not a good sign, for your starters or your closer).

The Angels had two players (Albert PujolsMike Trout) bat under .300 with 40 home runs and 90 RBI, to join the Blue Jays and Rockies as the fourth, fifth and sixth teams since 1901 (all since 1969) with such a duo. Trout turned in his fourth season with 8 oWAR, twice as many as any other player thru age 23. Trout’s career totals of 37.6 WAR and 647 strikeouts are both the most for any any player through age 23, edging out Ty Cobb‘s 36.0 WAR and easily surpassing Justin Upton‘s 573 whiffs.

The Mariners‘ Nelson Cruz became the 10th player (and first Mariner) aged 34 or older to bat .300 with 40 home runs and 90 RBI, and the second (after Andres Galarraga) to do so in his first season with a new team (surprisingly, half of those ten players, including Cruz, had not posted such a season before age 34). Felix Hernandez became the fifth pitcher since 1893 to record ten 190 IP seasons aged 20-29. His 143 career wins thru age 29 are second only to Milt Pappas‘s total of 150 W’s, among pitchers without a 20 win season over that period of their careers.

The Athletics had two players (Billy BurnsBrett Lawrie) with fewer than 30 walks in a qualified season, tied for the most by an A’s team in a full-length season since 1946 (the other time, in 2010, that that happened in the Billy Beane era again involved two players who had not been brought up in the A’s organization). Burns is also the first A’s rookie to record 25+ walks and not exceed his stolen base total.

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e pluribus munu
e pluribus munu
5 years ago

Thanks for this selection, Doug. I’m looking forward to the NL. I don’t keep up with current seasons as I used to, and there are lots of new players who escape my radar, such as it is. Kiermaier is one of them. I’m not very strong on dWAR: how does an outfielder pile up 5.0 dWAR? It seems to me it may never have been done before. Breaking down his stats, I see good quality everywhere, but nothing really jumps out as extraordinary besides his 9 runners thrown out at the plate (and, I suppose, his arm speed, but that’s… Read more »

Doug
Doug
5 years ago

Think young Andruw Jones. Even the most difficult plays are accomplished almost effortlessly. The Blue Jays’ Kevin Pillar makes most of the same plays, but without quite the same polish. As someone who sees a lot of the AL, those two really stand out to me.

Artie Z.
Artie Z.
5 years ago
Reply to  Doug

Not to downplay Kiermaier, because I think he is fantastic, but shouldn’t there be a caveat for his 42 Rfield? Prior to 2003 Rtot was being used instead of Rdrs as the Rfield number. I think that Rdrs is more variable than Rtot in that it picks up outliers better (really bad or really good defensive players). Kiermaier’s Rtot is still an incredibly good (great?) 24 as CF. Mays topped out at 21 Rtot, Paul Blair and Maddox at 26, and Andruw had back-to-back 35 and 36 seasons (with another season at 28). The single season leader (since 1954) for… Read more »

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
5 years ago
Reply to  Artie Z.

Bill James just wrote about this yesterday in the “Hey Bill!” section of his website. He posits that the mix of two different systems, one based on “traditional” statistics and one based on modern analysis, will inherently come up with wildly different answers. The caveat I would note, though, is that it doesn’t mean the current way of doing things is wrong, though. It may be that Willie Mays or Andruw Jones or Roberto Clemente are being shortchanged. But that doesn’t mean that Kiermaier is being estimated inaccurately. It’s entirely plausible that Kiermaier is having that great of a season;… Read more »

David P
David P
5 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

So a few notes on Kiermaier and fielding: 1) He is, by all accounts, a fantastic fielder. 2) That being said, the +42 Rfield is the most ever for a CFer, which should raise some eyebrows. And he did it in only 151 games. 3) Part of his success may be the result of defensive positioning, something the Rays have generally been quite good at. 4) Fangraphs has him at only +29 runs which shows the challenge of defensive measurement. Hard to imagine a similar discrepancy hitting stats. 5) Everyone knows this but it bears repeating – one year defensive… Read more »

Artie Z.
Artie Z.
5 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

For Doom: Didn’t mean to suggest that we go back to the old ways to measure defense. I think the newer numbers better reflect actual value, but it’s unfair to compare the players prior to 2003 because they are using the old system (even though it is the best we have). And there’s enough data (I think) to show that the new and old systems differ by quite a bit. For David: 1) Agreed 2) It doesn’t bother me so much that a player could hold a single-season record who is not necessarily a great player. Hack Wilson holds the… Read more »

David P
David P
5 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

Thanks Artie Z, appreciate your comments. Here are my responses: 2) And of course it’s entirely possible that Kiermaier did turn in the greatest defensive season ever by a CFer. Doubtful, but possible. 3) That’s a big debate in the advanced stats community…how to handle defensive positioning. It’s possible that’s why Baseball Reference and Fangraphs have such discrepant numbers. 4) I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s a great defensive player. Last year he was +15 runs in 25-30% less playing time than this year. 5) Not following your point so I can’t really respond. 6) Analysis yes. Buy I… Read more »

e pluribus munu
e pluribus munu
5 years ago

Great comments. I did think of Andruw Jones when I first saw Kiermaier’s numbers and watched videos of him, Doug, and I found that Jones never even broke 4.0 dWAR. That led me to look for other rough comps, and there simply weren’t any. I expect that the real answer lies in the discrepancy between Rtot and Rdrs that Artie and others write about, which I was tempted to investigate last night when I wrote, since the B-R site notes that both may be used (the temptation of bed proved greater). Both David and Artie make some very thoughtful points.… Read more »

bstar
bstar
5 years ago

epm: the reason Andruw Jones never approached 5 dWAR in a season is because the scoring environment was higher than it is today, so his defensive runs weren’t worth quite as much as Kiermaier’s are in a lower run context.

2015 Kiermaier’s 45 dRuns (42Rfield + 3Rpos) translates to 5.0 dWAR, so 9 runs = 1 win.

1999 Andruw’s 39 dRuns (his career high, 36 + 3Rpos) translated to 3.8 dWAR, almost exactly 10 runs = 1 win.

Voomo Zanzibar
Voomo Zanzibar
5 years ago

I find it extremely strange and annoying to
be in a Sports Bar
during the baseball playoffs,
and to be the ONLY person actually watching the game.

Of course, the college kids there for the beer pong tournament
were probably equally perplexed by the middle-aged man in their midst, reading a book by an Austrian philosopher while occasionally screaming at the television.
___________________

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
5 years ago

Time for some crazy Mike Trout love: That dude just had another 9-WAR season… and nobody thinks it’s THAT big a deal. 34 men in the history of MLB have posted three 9+ WAR seasons. 9 of those were 19th century pitchers (or 8 of them, plus Cy Young). Another 9 were pitchers at all. That means 16 players have posted three 9+ WAR seasons – Mike Trout is one of those 16. Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Joe Morgan, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins, Carl Yastrzemski, Barry Bonds, Babe… Read more »

David P
David P
5 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

Doom – As great as Trout is, I still hear lots of “regular fans” claiming that Trout is overrated and that he’s just an invention of advanced stats. Before Miguel Cabrera got hurt this year, I saw an online discussion where people were claiming that Cabrera was a better player than Trout. Not a better hitter, mind you, but a better overall player. And about a month ago a friend of mine seriously claimed that Michael Brantley is as good as Trout. And age not withstanding, he’d pick Brantley over Trout to start a baseball team. This is someone with… Read more »

Bryan O'Connor
Editor
5 years ago
Reply to  David P

Is Mike Trout “an invention of advanced stats”? Absolutely not. But there is an argument that WAR overstates his greatness by something like 2 to 3% to-date. Both keepers of WAR go out of their way to strip context out of the offensive component of WAR. We don’t care how many runners were on, we care what the player did. Yet on the defensive side, rob a homer with runners on and you get credit for saving those runs (at least this is my understanding; if anyone knows differently, I’d like to hear about it). In 2012, Trout robbed four… Read more »

bstar
bstar
5 years ago
Reply to  Bryan O'Connor

Bryan Defensive runs saved use the same linear weights that are used in WAR batting runs. There is no situational credit given. It’s just the average value of the event, expressed in runs, across all 24 base-out states, plus the run-value of the out. When a defender reaches over the wall to prevent a HR, he is given run credit for the out (around 0.3 runs) plus the run value of the HR saved (around 1.4 runs). So Trout would get something like 1.7 runs saved for a HR-robbing catch. Here’s an article from 2013 that discusses Trout’s fielding and… Read more »

David P
David P
5 years ago

CC Sabathia led the Yankees in innings pitched with only 167.1 innings. It’s by far the lowest ever for a Yankees team in a non-strike season. The only other years below 200 IP were last year (Kuroda, 199 IP), 2004 (Vazquez, 198 IP) and 1987 (Tommy John, 187.2 IP).

I think that will be one of the Yankees biggest challenges in the coming years. Hard to see anyone on the current staff who can stay healthy and give them big innings. Which means they’ll need to rely a lot on their bullpen and 5th-7th starters.

David P
David P
5 years ago

Mike Aviles is only the second player to have 10+ GIDP and RBIs with more GIDPs than RBIs (18 vs 17). The only other player to pull off this feat was Steve Jeltz in 1987 (13 vs 12).