MLB - 3 Up 3 Down (08/02/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
Three Up, Three Down – reviewing baseball from the month of July.

A look at the notable and disappointing teams from the month of July with updated rest of season projections and playoff probabilities for each team.

Three Up

Kansas City Royals
Season: 62 wins – 41 losses, 1st in the AL Central
Month of July: 17 wins – 11 losses

KC made two big upgrades before the trade deadline. First, the Royals acquired ace Johnny Cueto from Cincinnati. Before the deal, starting pitching was an issue in Kansas City, the rotation ranked 24th out of 30 teams in pitching efficiency. The Royals starters averaged 5.5 innings pitched per appearance (last in AL), had an ERA of 4.30 (11th in AL) and a K/9 of 6.1 (13th in AL).

Adding Cueto, a 20 game winner from a year ago with a 2.70 ERA this season, made Kansas City near locks to make the playoffs (99.1 percent). More importantly, the addition of a front of the rotation starter increased the Royals' World Series odds from 7.8 percent to 11.6 percent (3rd most likely champion at the time of the trade). Most teams would have been content with that improvement but KC wasn't done.

Less than 48 hours after trading for Cueto, the Royals obtained Ben Zobrist from the Oakland Athletics. Zobrist is a sabermetrics darling. From 2009 to 2012, he led all major league position players in wins above replacement. Zobrist is a well-rounded player (hitting, base-running, defense at multiple positions) that gives Kansas City versatility. Adding the two-time All-Star increased KC's World Series odds from 11.6 percent to 14.3 percent.

Of course Kansas City wasn't the only team making moves before the deadline. Houston and Toronto both made waves and as a result the Royals' World Series odds took a hit. KC is 22.9 percent likely to return to the World Series and 9.5 percent likely to win the title – the second best odds in the American League.

Houston Astros
Season: 59 wins – 46 losses, 1st in the AL West
Month of July: 12 wins – 12 losses

After three straight seasons of losing more than 100 games in each, Houston is committed to winning. The Astros are in the thick of a pennant race and have been one of the best teams in baseball all season, but there were opportunities for improvement and the team made them before the trade deadline.

First, the ‘Stros got Scott Kazmir from the Oakland Athletics. The hometown kid gave the team a true number two starter behind ace Dallas Keuchel. In two starts for his new club, Kazmir has not allowed a run in 14 2/3 innings. At the time of the trade, Houston's World Series odds increased from 5.5 percent to 9.3 percent with the addition of a front line starter.

A few days later the club traded with Milwaukee for Carlos Gomez and pitcher Mike Fiers. Gomez, is a two-time All-Star in center field and the 2013 National League Gold Glove winner. Since 2013, Gomez has had the fourth-highest wins above replacement (15.2) among National League players trailing Paul Goldschmidt (18.3), Andrew McCutchen (17.4) and Buster Posey (15.7). Gomez is talented both offensively and defensively – he has the most defensive runs saved of any center fielder since he made his debut in 2007 (per ESPN's Stats & Info).

Houston is the most likely team to reach the World Series from the American League (28.4 percent) and the Astros are the second most likely champions (13.4 percent) behind the Los Angeles Dodgers (20.6 percent).

Toronto Blue Jays
Season: 53 wins – 52 losses, 3rd in the AL East
Month of July: 12 wins – 13 losses

The Blue Jays made a splash when they traded for the two best players available on the market. The Jays already had one of the best offenses in the majors before adding five-time All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Toronto's offense has scored an MLB-best 556 runs. The Yankees, the second-highest scoring team, is closer to Kansas City, who are 10th in run production, than the Blue Jays. Tulo is third among shortstops in average (.302), third in home runs (13) and second in runs batted in (56). Scoring won't be a problem for Toronto.

The Blue Jays have not reached the playoffs since winning the 1993 World Series, the longest postseason drought of any major league team. The starting rotation has a 4.01 ERA, fifth worst in the American League. Many questioned whether the team should have gone after a pitcher instead of trading for Tulo. As it turns out, they intended to do both.

Two days after picking up Tulowitzki, the Jays dramatically improved their rotation. David Price, 9-4 with a 2.53 ERA this season, will become the team's new ace. Price is 7-0 with a 3.86 ERA in his career at the Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays are six games back of the first place Yankees but the additions of Tulo and Price will help Toronto make a playoff push.

Toronto's playoff probability increased from 45.6 percent to 53.9 percent with the trades. The Jays are currently two games out of the last Wild Card spot but we project Toronto to be part of our most likely playoff.

Three Down

Detroit Tigers
Season: 50 wins – 54 losses, 4th in the AL Central
Month of July: 11 wins – 16 losses

The Tigers began the season as one of the favorites to represent the American League in the World Series. Detroit started hot too; winning 11 of their first 13 games, but since then have been sliding in the standings. As of Wednesday, the team was a season-worst four games under .500, 13.5 games behind Kansas City in the division and 4.5 games out of the wild-card race.

General Manager Dave Dombrowski notified teams that ace David Price, left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, closer Joakim Soria, plus three other prospective free agents (Alex Avila, Alfredo Simon and Rajai Davis) were on the trading block. The Tigers were spinning this decision as a “reboot, but not rebuild”.

Price went packing to Toronto, Cespedes is now with his fourth team (Mets) in two years and Soria is a Pirate. The Tigers run of four straight division titles is about to end, but on the bright side the team is going to avoid paying the luxury tax.

The Tigers are 4.5 games out of the Wild Card. Before the trades Detroit had a 23.9 percent chance of making the playoffs, now the team is a longshot with a 5.2 percent chance of reaching the postseason.

Philadelphia Phillies
Season: 41 wins – 64 losses, Last in the NL East
Month of July: 13 wins – 12 losses

It's the end of an era in Philadelphia. Cole Hamels is off to Texas. One of the game's best left-handed pitchers, Hamels was a centerpiece of the Phillies outstanding run from 2007 to 2011 (five division titles, two pennants and a World Series championship). In nearly ten seasons in the City of Brotherly Love, the three-time All-Star tallied 114 wins with a 3.30 ERA. He has made at least 28 starts in each of the past eight seasons and has five straight seasons with at least 200 innings pitched.

In return for Hamels, the rebuilding Phillies acquired lefty Matt Harrison and five lottery tickets (prospects). The prize acquisition was top catching prospect Jorge Alfaro who Keith Law ranked as the No. 49 best prospect in the majors. Outfielder Nick Williams and pitchers Alec Asher, Jake Thompson and Jerad Eickhoff will also be heading to Philadelphia. A day before the Hamels trade, General Manager Ruben Amaro added to the farm system by trading All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon to Washington for minor-leaguer Nick Pivetta and sent Ben Revere to the Blue Jays for two minor leaguers. In all, the team added eight prospects to their farm system.

The Phillies may be in transition but the team is playing some of its most inspired baseball. Since the All-Star break, Philadelphia is 12-2, the best record in baseball during that span. Despite how bad the team has played for the majority of the season, there has been value in backing them in specific situations. With one day of rest between games, Philadelphia is 8-2 (80%) on the run-line.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Season: 59 wins – 45 losses, 1st in the NL West
Month of July: 14 wins – 10 losses

The Dodgers were part of a 13-player deal. The team acquired Mat Latos from the Miami Marlins along with Alex Wood, Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan from the Atlanta Braves. The Dodgers were in need of some starters having lost Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy to season ending injuries. Latos and Wood should fill the holes in the rotation. The bullpen also got a boast with the additions of Johnson and Avilan.

However, Los Angeles was already the most likely World Series champion winning it all a league best 22.8 percent of the time before the trade deadline. After all the moves were made the Dodgers actually became less likely to win the World Series.

LA is still the most likely champion but the club's title odds are down to 20.6 percent. The Dodgers World Series odds dropped the most of any team in baseball (2.2 percent, a sum greater than 19 other teams title odds), which has more to do with the improvements that Houston and Kansas City (the most likely teams LA would face in the World Series) made.