FanGraphs Power Rankings – Week 1

Welcome to the first week of the FanGraphs Power Rankings. Nearly every major sports site has some form of power rankings; It’s a fun way to think about all 30 teams in baseball and stack them up against each other outside of the rigid structures of leagues and divisions. But where most sites use a panel of experts to build their power rankings — experts who may or may not be simply using their gut feeling to rank teams — I wanted to build an approach to power rankings that was a little more data driven.

My approach basically boils down to taking the three most important components of a team — their offense (wRC+), their starting rotation (SP FIP-), and their bullpen (RP FIP-) — and weighting and adjusting to create an overall team quality metric. I played around with trying to include defense in some form, but adding UZR or DRS or defensive efficiency never really made the team quality metric any more accurate. To test my comprehensive team metric, I used 2020 data to see how it correlated with each team’s win percentage at the halfway mark and their final record. The correlation coefficient at the middle of the season was .68 with an r-squared of .47, and at the end of the season, those marks improved to .80 and .63, respectively.

The final piece of the puzzle was to add in a factor for recent performance while also adjusting for “luck.” Teams with good records should be rewarded, but if they came by those wins in an unsustainable fashion, they shouldn’t receive the full weight of them. Likewise for teams who lost games they might have been expected to win. Put this overall team quality metric together with a team’s adjusted win percentage and you get a solid power ranking formula. And unlike most other sites, I’ll present these power rankings in tiers because the differences between many of these teams, particularly in the middle, isn’t that big.

With all that preamble out of the way, let’s get to it.

Tier 1 – The Best

Team Record “Luck” wRC+ SP FIP- RP FIP- Team Quality Playoff Odds
Dodgers 13-3 1 121 69 100 176 99.8%
Red Sox 10-6 0 117 94 72 167 52.8%

These two teams are the cream of the crop in their respective leagues, and only one of them is a surprise. The Dodgers are easily the best in baseball and their team quality certainly reflects that. They pair the best offense in baseball with the second-best starting rotation to form a juggernaut that’s won 13 of their first 16 games this season. And they’ve done most of it without Cody Bellinger, who is probably out for a couple of months with a hairline fracture in his leg. But their roster is so deep, and their lineup so potent, they’ve barely skipped a beat with one of their best hitters sidelined.

The Red Sox had the best record in the American League until they dropped two games to the White Sox in a Sunday afternoon doubleheader. After an incredibly disappointing 2020, Boston looks ready to prove that they belong in the playoff conversation in the AL East. J.D. Martinez looks revitalized and their rotation seems much stronger with both Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi looking healthy. But their true strength has been their bullpen and surprise contributor Garrett Whitlock. The Rule 5 pick from the Yankees has yet to allow a run in 6.1 innings and has struck out 40.9% of the batters he’s faced. That’ll play.

Tier 2 – Solid Contenders

Team Record “Luck” wRC+ SP FIP- RP FIP- Team Quality Playoff Odds
Angels 8-5 1 114 85 86 163 56.7%
Mets 7-4 1 96 67 74 160 91.4%
Padres 10-7 0 103 79 74 162 95.8%
White Sox 8-8 -2 107 70 79 172 55.8%
Reds 9-6 -1 114 104 114 101 34.2%
Royals 9-5 2 98 98 102 114 17.8%

Heading into the season, three of these teams were expected to be among the best in their respective leagues. The other three have shot out of the gate with extremely hot starts to their seasons. An injury scare with Fernando Tatis Jr. could have spelled doom for the Padres’ season, but they seemingly dodged a bullet with his shoulder. Their pitching staff has carried the load for these first few weeks and their offense looks like it’s coming around. Finishing their much-hyped weekend series against the Dodgers with a win allows them to take a deep breath after these tough opening weeks.

With their doubleheader sweep on Sunday, the White Sox pushed themselves back to .500. They’ve been pretty unlucky to start the season, including a dramatic loss to the Angels on national TV back on April 4 and a pair of extra-inning losses last week. Their overall team quality is second in baseball behind a powerful offense and a fantastic pitching staff. They’ll get their record right soon enough with series against the Rangers and Tigers on the horizon.

Both the Angels and Mets have perennially disappointed their fans despite plenty of talent on their rosters. Both teams have started off the year playing well, but there’s still plenty of season left. The true surprise inclusions in this tier are the Reds and Royals. Kansas City owns the best record in the American League and they’re the only team in the AL who hasn’t lost a series this year. The individual components of their team are thoroughly average, but because of the weighting and adjustments, their overall team quality is higher than you’d expect. The Reds have gotten off to a good start by mercilessly beating their opponents while playing at home. In nine games played at the Great American Ball Park, they’ve outscored their opponents by 36 runs. In six games away from home, their run differential drops to -12.

Tier 3 – The Hopefuls

Team Record “Luck” wRC+ SP FIP- RP FIP- Team Quality Playoff Odds
Cleveland 8-7 0 87 87 95 117 25.5%
Mariners 10-6 2 100 122 98 101 2.5%
Rays 8-8 1 98 74 109 115 21.1%
Twins 6-8 -2 108 83 100 151 54.0%
Giants 9-6 1 81 77 103 89 9.6%
Astros 7-8 -1 113 103 114 101 60.1%
Braves 7-9 -1 104 120 94 117 49.7%
Athletics 9-7 2 102 112 107 89 35.6%

This tier includes a division leader, a team on an eight-game win streak, and a team that’s won once in their last eight games. They all play in the same division.

Because the Angels were sidelined this weekend because of the Twins’ COVID issues, they didn’t budge in the standings. But the Mariners took two of three from the Astros and the A’s continued to get their season on track after starting off 1-7. Seattle is almost certainly playing over their head — their batters lead all of baseball in clutch hitting — but they do have plenty of talent waiting in the minors. The AL West was always going to be a wide open fight and the results after a few weeks only confirm that thought.

The Twins are a hard team to gauge right now, particularly with all the uncertainty surrounding the health of their roster. They were victims of the Mariners’ clutch hitting and then were swept by the Red Sox during their first homestand of the year. With the White Sox looking really good on paper, Cleveland’s pitching staff as good as ever, and the Royals off to a hot start, the Twins really have their work cut out for them in AL Central.

It’s amazing what a 13-4 victory will do for your team quality, especially when it comes a day after a 13-4 defeat. The Braves and Cubs blasted each other on consecutive days but it was Atlanta that came out looking better on paper. They have some real issues in their rotation with Max Fried and Drew Smyly out with injuries, and Ronald Acuña Jr. can only carry the offense so far. Mike Soroka should return soon and eventually the rest of their lineup should start to hit.

Tier 4 – Disappointments

Team Record “Luck” wRC+ SP FIP- RP FIP- Team Quality Playoff Odds
Brewers 8-7 -1 79 76 119 64 48.8%
Phillies 8-7 1 85 92 109 78 17.1%
Blue Jays 7-9 -2 89 111 100 94 43.2%
Marlins 7-8 -1 96 90 125 78 1.4%
Yankees 5-10 -1 85 109 69 105 73.9%
Cardinals 7-8 0 87 123 102 64 21.4%
Orioles 7-9 0 81 111 102 66 0.0%
Pirates 7-9 1 93 123 102 73 0.4%

What is going on in New York? As soon as the Mets rise, the Yankees fall, as if their destinies are tied together. There’s some ugly baseball being played in the Bronx, and getting swept by the Rays at home was gutting for Yankee fans. They’ve struggled to hit and their rotation hasn’t been great outside of Gerrit Cole. If it’s any consolation, their bullpen has been the best in the majors, but that doesn’t really matter if the offense can’t create a lead or their starters can’t hold one.

The Brewers are sitting right behind the Reds in the NL Central and their starting rotation has been phenomenal, but they’ve struggled to score runs and their bullpen hasn’t been as great as advertised. Luckily, their division continues to look wide open. The Cardinals have played thoroughly mediocre baseball, the Cubs have plenty of issues, and the Pirates have managed to play above expectations but are still the Pirates.

The Blue Jays should have a better record than they do but a 15-1 victory over the Angels is really skewing their run differential right now. They’re still waiting for the debut of George Springer and for their other offseason splash, Marcus Semien, to start hitting. To make matters worse, three members of their bullpen recently went down with potentially serious injuries and the lack of depth in their starting rotation has already caused issues.

Tier 5 – The Jack Leiter Club

Team Record “Luck” wRC+ SP FIP- RP FIP- Team Quality Playoff Odds
Rangers 7-9 0 85 100 115 57 0.4%
Diamondbacks 6-10 -1 90 122 109 60 1.0%
Cubs 6-9 1 82 121 104 50 13.7%
Nationals 5-8 0 96 126 111 48 15.6%
Rockies 4-12 -3 61 101 115 41 0.0%
Tigers 6-10 1 81 116 149 21 0.6%

Nothing has gone right for the Cubs. Prior to this weekend’s series against the Braves, they had the worst offense in the majors. They managed to score 19 runs this weekend — 13 of them on Saturday — and boosted their team wRC+ up to 25th in baseball. Despite that offensive outburst, Kyle Hendricks, Zach Davies, and Trevor Williams each threw absolute stinkers in their last starts. The season is long and their division isn’t led by a juggernaut team, but it’s hard to see any light on the north side of Chicago right now.

The Rockies have been the unluckiest team in baseball so far. They haven’t lost any games in particularly dramatic fashion, they’ve just lost a bunch of really close games at home. Their pitching staff has been fine but their offense just hasn’t been able to support them in any way. Ryan McMahon has been the lone bright spot, but there are disappointing starts up and down the lineup. For most of the other teams in this tier, there’s something to look forward to or something to build off of, but things seem really bleak in Colorado right now.

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