As the season has just begun, I thought it was an excellent time to note what I have seen.
First, the rule changes have worked for what they were intended to do. The game is moving at a more enjoyable pace, yet not too fast. There is much less standing around and way more pitching, hitting, and fielding, so the pitch clock is a success. The throw-over rules have made base stealing a weapon again. We have many more attempts this season. The no-shift rules are allowing for more hits. I think having all fielders on the dirt part of the infield is also impacting the game. The more athletic players will succeed, and the strategy will become lessened. So impressions are that the rules have made the game more enjoyable to watch, created more action from the players, and still shortened the game times! Excellent job, and it is being rewarded in tv viewership!
Second, we have a very clearly defined group of teams that cannot compete fairly with every team in the league. It is no surprise that the bottom feeders are bottom feeders, but what is a surprise is how poorly they have played. The group contains Oakland A’s (3-16), Kansas City Royals (4-15), Washington Nationals (5-12), and Colorado Rockies (5-14). It is not just that they have poor records, look at how badly their opponents have beaten them. Run differential measures this, and OAK is -86, KC -51, COL -51, and WSH -21. Washington has been able to get decent pitching which has helped, but all of these teams are way behind, with about 11% of the season completed. Is it possible that we could see a -400? On the opposite spectrum, we see a group of teams that are head and shoulders above the rest of the league. This group contains the Atlanta Braves 14-5, Tampa Bay Rays 16-3, Milwaukee Brewers 14-5, and Texas Rangers 12-6. Again using run differential, ATL (+32) and TB (+83) appear to be the most sustainable of this group. The Rays have yet to be challenged by good teams, so they could still be the best in the American League, but it is clear how good Atlanta is. Their offense may set records, and they have quality pitching.
It is common to see a few teams over-perform expectations or under-perform them to start a season, so we will have to keep an eye on this group of teams. This group includes the Pittsburgh Pirates (12-7), Arizona Diamondbacks (11-8) leading the NL West, and Texas Rangers (12-6) leading the AL West. Conversely, the teams underperforming include Chicago White Sox (7-12), Seattle Mariners (8-11), Philadelphia Phillies (8-11), St. Louis Cardinals (8-11), LA Dodgers (9-10), and SD Padres (9-11). All of these teams are only a handful of games above or below .500, so a streak, one way or the other, could revive or diminish the next few weeks of games.
I have enjoyed the teams who have already understood the value of young, athletic players by calling up some of their prospects. There were three starting pitchers making their MLB debuts today! This is how the game gets fresh and new. I suspect we will see more of this as several pitchers and batters don’t belong and ultimately are hurting their teams. An example of this is ARI Madison Bumgarner. He can’t get enough outs any longer, and with Arizona now in the first place, they cannot continue to be non-competitive when he pitches.
I hope the next few weeks will deliver enjoyable games like the first few weeks have. I suspect we will see some balancing in the standings. A look at them in the middle of May will not define the entire season but will determine who these teams are. By that time, if a team needs to improve to become competitive to make a playoff run, the General Manager will know. Let’s see where things shake out then and formulate some strong opinions on the remaining schedule of games and which teams can impact their futures.