MLB Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers (5/15/18)
MLB Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers
Welcome to the sixth edition of this year's MLB Risers and Fallers article! Each week I'll be here with you to discuss the three biggest Risers and Fallers in our MLB Power Rankings, regardless of initial position. Our Power Rankings are developed using current team performance and players on the active depth chart, which causes fluctuation week-to-week based on injuries and who is in and out of the lineup. To see a full description of how our Power Rankings are created, as well as this week's full list of rankings, please visit MLB Power Rankings - 5/14/18.
The Houston Astros remain in our top spot for the fourth consecutive week, as their pitching remains the most dominant force in baseball this season. Houston's team ERA of 2.48 is nearly a run better than the next closest team (ARI at 3.25), and is more than 1.5 runs better than the league average of 4.13. Their starting rotation has been untouchable, with three starters holding ERAs under 2.05 while all five boast xFIPs under 3.70, putting them all in the top 32 starting pitchers when looking at xFIP. Four of their starters also own K/9s above 10, which is remarkable considering only 22 qualified starters in the majors are above that mark, making Houston responsible for nearly one 1/5th of those starters. Coming in a close second are the streaking Yankees. Aaron Boone's club has won 19 of 22 and now have a half-game lead over the Red Sox for first place in the division. Giancarlo Stanton has found his groove at the plate during that span, slashing .311/.388/.635 with six home runs over his last 20 games. The Chicago Cubs move back up into third after a brief stint in fifth, as they've won five of seven while averaging 8.23 runs in those seven games. They're currently fourth in the majors with 5.39 runs per game. Boston and Washington round out our top five this week, as the Sox have cooled off from their 21-7 start by dropping four of their last seven, while the Nationals have rebounded from their slow start and rattled off wins in 13 of their last 15 games. Let's start our Risers section this week talking about the New York Yankees, who moved up two spots to land as our second overall team in this week's rankings.
The Yankees have taken over the top spot in the AL East thanks to a torrid stretch that's lasted nearly a month. New York is 19-3 in their last 22 games, and they've handled some of the toughest teams the AL has to offer. They swept Minnesota, Cleveland, and the Angels, and won three of four from the Astros and two of three from the Red Sox. New York's offense has been the main driver of their success, as they lead the majors in runs per game with 5.78, and have scored fewer than four runs just once in their 12 May games. Their 2-5 hitters have each produced 10+ home runs, an ISO of .265 or better, and 25+ runs and RBIs, while their 1-4 hitters all boast an OBP of .339 or higher. Those five players (Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez) have accumulated 7.3 of the 7.8 WAR produced by Yankees' position players, ranking them fourth overall among all teams in WAR. The Yankees' patience has been top notch this season, as they lead the league with an 11.4% walk rate and a .339 OBP. Luis Severino and the bullpen have been the story on the mound. Severino is currently third among all pitchers with 2.4 WAR, and is in the top 10 in both ERA and xFIP. The 24-year old has done an amazing job limiting home runs, having allowed just two in his 59 innings, making his 0.31 HR/9 the third-best mark among starting pitchers. In the pen, Aroldis Chapman leads the AL with 1.1 WAR and a 17.50 K/9. He's yet to allow a home run in his 18 innings of work and has been truly dominant, sporting a mere 1.93 xFIP through 18 games. Chapman has just nine saves in his 18 appearances, however, thanks to New York blowing out so many of their opponents. Their +65-run differential is third-best in the majors and just one run behind the Red Sox for the division lead.
We have our first three-peat of the young season, as Atlanta makes their way into our Risers section for the third consecutive week! The Braves have won six of seven and currently boast the best record in the NL at 25-15. Much like the Yankees, the offense has led the way for this young club in the early going. They lead the league with a .269 team average and are second in runs per game (5.47), OBP (.339), SLG (.445), wOBA (.337) and stolen bases (32). Veteran Nick Markakis has had a revival in the first six weeks, leading the majors in hits with 56 and sitting second in the NL with a .346 batting average. 21-year old Ozzie Albies has been amazing for them as well, leading the team with 38 runs and 31 RBIs while currently sitting tied atop the majors with 13 home runs. Freddie Freeman has had the best overall offensive season thus far, however, as he's slashing .325/.432/.576. His .432 OBP is fourth in the majors, while his overall WAR of 1.9 puts him 10th in the majors. Sean Newcomb continues to lead the pitching staff in his first full MLB season. He's posting a starters-best 3.65 xFIP and 2.51 ERA, along with his 10.41 K/9 which puts him second-overall on the team when also including the bullpen. He's had three consecutive outings of 6+ innings and 0 earned runs, showing the world he's settling into his role with the big league club. Rookie Shane Carle has been their most valuable arm out of the bullpen, leading them with 24 innings and a sparkling 0.75 ERA. His 0.8 WAR actually puts him fifth overall in WAR among all major league relievers. Atlanta is looking like baseball's version of the Philadelphia 76ers, as their rebuild is having success a year sooner than everyone expected with this massive infiltration of young talent. Even if this isn't the Braves' year to win the World Series, they're well on their way to exceeding expectations and making the playoffs sooner than anyone could've imagined.
Milwaukee has taken over the lead in the NL Central thanks to four wins in their last five games, and they simultaneously moved up three spots in our rankings this week. Craig Counsel's club has found success in a much different fashion than our first two risers, as they're currently 26th in the majors in runs per game (3.98), but own the 6th-best team ERA at 3.83. The starting pitching has been decent but not elite by any means, ranking 16th with a 4.17 ERA and 29th with a 4.78 xFIP. Their starters have obviously been on the good side of luck so far, and have likely been bailed out by their NL-leading bullpen. Milwaukee's bullpen is currently second in the majors in WAR (leading the NL), while boasting the league's second-best ERA (2.62) and third-best xFIP (3.30). Josh Hader continues to be outstanding for them, leading all relievers with 1.4 WAR and an 18.00 K/9 through 25 innings. He's basically taken over the setup and closer role in the bullpen, pitching at least two innings in seven of his last 10 appearances, allowing just five hits in 17.1 innings. Jeremy Jeffress has been a great second option for Counsel, as he's allowed just one run in his 22.1 innings (0.40 ERA), which came over a month ago on April 6th against the Cubs. Jeffress picked up three saves in Cory Knebel's absence, and will continue to be looked upon in the later innings now that he's earned the team's trust. All the Brewers can do is hold ship until their top three starters return from the DL. Chase Anderson and Zach Davies should return before the end of May, while their ace Jimmy Nelson isn't set to return until at least mid-June, if not later.
Boy oh boy, it's hard to believe the Dodgers are struggling this much to begin the season, as they're now 16-24 and 7.5 games back in the NL West. It's been an especially rough 10 days, considering they dropped two of three against the last place Padres and just got swept by a Reds team that came into the series with the worst record in the majors. When looking at the statistics, it's hard to see exactly why LA has lost so many games, as their run differential is just -1 despite them being eight games below .500. They haven't been terrible in one-run games, sitting at 4-6 on the season, and are right around league average in runs scored per game (16th) and runs allowed per game (12th). The main area bringing down the entire team has been the bullpen. LA's -0.1 WAR is third-worst among all bullpens, with their 4.51 ERA ranking 22nd in the majors thus far. They've struggled with two crucial factors when it comes to bullpen effectiveness: walks and home runs. LA has surrendered the most home runs of any bullpen (23) and are 8th-worst with 3.92 BB/9. Their ineffectiveness has left Dave Roberts scrambling, considering they posted a third-best 7.6 WAR in 2017 alongside their fourth-best 3.38 ERA. Now it starts to make a little more sense why LA is struggling, as Clayton Kershaw is currently on the DL and they can't rely on their bullpen to save them like they did last season. Roberts better hope their offense kicks it into high gear or the bullpen finds their footing, otherwise it's going to be a long season for the defending NL Pennant winners.
It's been a tough week for the Redbirds. They lost their All-Star catcher and team leader in Yadier Molina to a groin injury caused from a foul tip, and have since dropped four of six games. St. Louis also had to place their ace Carlos Martinez on the DL due to a lat strain, who has posted a near immaculate 1.62 ERA through eight starts. Losing two All-Stars in a week is a major blow to any team, so you can understand why they dropped six spots in this week's rankings. The Cardinals' 22-16 record mainly stems from the success of their starting rotation, as they boast the third-best ERA in the majors at 3.15. Miles Mikolas is a name all baseball fans should become familiar with, as he's tearing it up in his first season back in the majors after spending the last three in Japan. The 6'5, 220-pound right hander has shown near-perfect control, having only walked three batters in his 46.2 innings, ranking him first among all starters with a 0.58 BB/9. His 3.10 xFIP also puts him 14th among starters, sandwiched between Corey Kluber and Zack Greinke. Things haven't been as smooth sailing at the plate, considering Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, and offseason acquisition Marcell Ozuna have combined to contribute -0.9 WAR through their 35 games played. Carpenter and Fowler must've talked about how not to hit in the offseason, with Carpenter slashing .145/.294/.282 and Fowler posting a near identical line of .146/.257.285. Both players are over 100 points down in all three categories compared to their career numbers, so Mike Matheny is optimistic they'll bust out of this slump eventually. Now would be as good a time as ever considering Molina is out through May and Martinez may miss two or more starts.
Just a week after moving up four spots to 13, the Mariners drop back down to 16th thanks to the injury to Robinson Cano and his now subsequent 80-game suspension for PEDs. Seattle has pulled within 1.5-games of the division leading Astros and Angels, but it's now looking like a much tougher uphill battle with Cano sidelined for three months, and even more-so when you consider Cano won't be able to participate in the postseason even if Seattle qualified. At this point in time, Cano leads the team in WAR (1.4), OBP (.385), and defensive runs saved above average (2.2). The 8-time All-Star had played in at least 150 games in each of his last 11 seasons and never fewer than 122, so this season will really be an anomaly for the 35-year old Cano. The other Mariners making the most impact up until this point have been Mitch Haniger and James Paxton. Haniger has quietly made his presence known, leading the team in home runs (10), RBIs (30), and wOBA (.391) while also reaching base at an impressive .373 clip. Paxton has become more of a household name thanks to his no-hitter in Toronto a week ago today, especially considering the start before that was a 16-K outburst from the Canadian as well. His 1.4 WAR leads the pitching staff by a healthy margin (0.6) and puts him 12th overall in the majors among starters. His 11.91 K/9 is elite amongst starters, putting him 5th overall and up from his 10.32 mark in 2017. The biggest hurdle Paxton now has to overcome is durability, as he's never posted more than 136 innings in a season, with his average sitting at 99.5 over the last four seasons. If Paxton can't stay healthy throughout, it's hard to imagine the Mariners making the playoffs without him and Cano in their lineup for an extended period of time.