Major League Baseball in the month of July was incredibly insane. It kicked off with the Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics performing the first blockbuster trade of the season as Jeff Samardzija was shipped to the Bay Area for top prospect Addison Russell. Then the New York Yankees were hit with bad news as their ace pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka would be out with an elbow injury. A much needed break was in need when baseball went on a mini-hiatus for their annual All-Star Game, but that did not halt the Derek Jeter Farewell Tour and many baseball fans were able to satisfy their taste for nostalgia. XN Sports also announced their mid-season awards. Meanwhile, a ghost from baseball’s dark past came back to haunt as Jose Canseco “apologized” for releasing his book about steroids. In Boston, David Ortiz passed legendary Boston Red Sox player Carl Yastrzemski on the all-time home run list.
But the big news in the month of July was the high volume of activity performed by teams at the trade deadline. As the trade deadline neared, David Price‘s name kept appearing in trade rumors. Another lefty, Jon Lester also was gaining interest from teams. Eventually, Lester would be shipped to Oakland for exciting player Yoenis Cespedes in a deal that had Oakland as the clear winners at the trading deadline. Well, they were the winners until the Detroit Tigers rocked the baseball world when they acquired David Price at the 11th hour of the trade deadline.
Besides all the drama off the field, the month of July did nothing to erase the major theme of the 2014 MLB season: its newfound parity. There are good teams, but not what one would consider elite teams. Currently in the XN Power Rankings, the Detroit Tigers are ranked fifth, but finished the month with a 13-13 record. The Milwaukee Brewers, the sixth-ranked team, finished July with a 9-16 record. And that’s just a couple of examples.
Best Hitting Prowess
- Toronto Blue Jays: A team full of big boppers like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but it was Melky Cabrera that led the team in Weighted On-Base Average (or wOBA for short).
- Cleveland Indians: We’ve mentioned the career year that Michael Brantley is having, but it was their catching duo of Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes that powered the offense.
- Detroit Tigers: J.D. Martinez once again helped the Tigers in the month of July, but Torii Hunter led the team in wOBA.
Worst Hitting Prowess: Finally, we can leave the San Diego Padres’ offense alone.
- San Francisco Giants: They had a run-differential of -23 in June and -7 in July. They are being described as “San Diego Padres’ North” by the locals.
- Cincinnati Reds: A slew of injuries to their best hitters has crippled this team’s offense.
Best Base Running
- Milwaukee Brewers: Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura led the way for the Brew Crew as they struggled everywhere else on offense.
- Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays’ offense exploded in July as the team’s base running took advantage of the fourth best-hitting team in baseball.
Worst Base Running
- Los Angeles Angels: Very surprising to see the Angels among the worst as they have been among the best in this category. Only eight stolen bases in the month of July.
- Atlanta Braves: Same story with the Braves as their base running was the only thing they had going on offense. Yes, they were in the top five in stolen bases, but their overall base running metrics were simply not up to par.
Best Plate Discipline
- Tampa Bay Rays: Their reputation as being one of the most patient ball clubs in baseball lived up to the hype last month. Ben Zobrist was flirting with finishing with a Walk:Strikeout Ratio (BB:K) of 2:1.
- Pittsburgh Pirates: Another surprise team on this list as they have a few free-swingers and inexperienced hitters in their lineup.
Worst Plate Discipline
- Milwaukee Brewers: Just like Carlos Gomez is helping the team in the base running department, he is also hurting the team with his poor approach at the plate.
- Three teams are tied for the penultimate spot in this category: Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners, and Baltimore Orioles.
Best Overall Offense
- Tampa Rays: Finished with a run-differential of +32, second in the month of July.
- Pittsburgh Pirates: Aided by a strong plate discipline, the Pirates also did a great job getting on base and displaying power as well.
Worst Overall Offense
- Cincinnati Reds: As mentioned before, the injuries have taken a toll on this club. Devin Mesoraco led the team in home runs with four.
- Seattle Mariners: Despite having guys that can produce, the Mariners’ simply lack depth on offense to help them consistently score runs.
Best Starting Rotation
- Tied at the Top: the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Washington Nationals had the two best rotations in baseball. Both clubs placed five players in the top 30 in Field Independent Pitching (FIP–basically takes into account a pitcher’s ability to strikeout hitters, limit walks and home runs).
- Seattle Mariners: What they lack in hitting, they make up with a strong rotation, thanks in large part to the efforts of Hisashi Iwakuma.
Worst Starting Rotation
Both of the Texas teams had a tough go in July. The Houston Astros’ had a bright spot in Dallas Keuchel, but all of their other starters finished with a FIP over 4.00. Likewise, in Arlington, the Texas Rangers got a decent effort from Yu Darvish, but the rest of the rotation was simply terrible.
- Tampa Rays: we’re beginning to see a pattern here. There was strong talks that the Rays would not trade Price after all due to the team’s success in July. However, as mentioned before, Price wound up getting dealt to Detroit.
- Baltimore Orioles: Many are asking if the O’s have what it takes to win the American League East. If their bullpen continues to pitch this well, they may just surprise a few people.
Here’s how the rest of the baseball world looked like in the month of July:
FUBAR IN JULY
The biggest rise in the rankings from one month to the next was by the Orioles, going from 21st in June, to ninth in the month of July. Their offense still struggled last month and their rotation is mediocre at best, but the bullpen and defense are elite level and that may be enough to carry them in a lackluster AL East.
Also worth pointing out are the New York Mets. The team from Queens finished with a winning record. How did they improve their play from June to July? An improved offense combined with a strong rotation, and a decent defense.
Why are the Red Sox still ranked so high? They still have a pretty good offense and their relief corp, led by Koji Uehara, is still in the top 10. Also, the BoSox have an unheralded, but effective defense. Ironically enough, it was their starting pitching that held them back, even though they were able to find buyers for Lester, John Lackey, and Jake Peavy.
FUBAR IN JULY
Despite their winning records, the Dodgers and Cardinals dropped the most in these monthly rankings. The Dodgers’ bullpen had let them down and their defense is barely average. Though the Cards have a superb defense, they have been terrible everywhere else. Judging by their -16 run differential, they should be lucky to escape July two games over .500.
The most improved team on this table were the Cleveland Indians, going up 13 spots. What holds them back from being a sure-thing in baseball is their defense, still ranked as the worst in the majors.
FUBAR IN JULY
The Royals and Pirates fell hard in these rankings. It’s understandable to see why the Royals fell so low as their poor record and run differential tells a basic story. But the Pirates’ July summary is a bit more complex. As we’ve mentioned, the Pirates were on an offensive tear in the month of July. But their pitching, which was the team’s backbone last season, was atrocious. So the Pirates had to adapt and did a good job out-slugging their opponents. It is highly doubtful that the Bucs can continue to win in this manner as the season winds down.
Two AL playoff contenders, the Blue Jays and Tigers are once again in the bottom third of these rankings. The Jays were a poor base running team in July, but the rest of the offense was efficient. Even the rotation performed better than anticipated. But once again, bullpen and defensive woes continue to hold this team back. On the other hand, the Tigers’ base running drops and average plate discipline figures, drops their offense outside of the top 10. Pitching and defense could use dramatic improvements if this club wants to move up in rankings.
All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com.