Which non-contenders are closest to contending again?

Arizona Diamondbacks v Washington Nationals

By Derek Helling

While most fans are watching the playoff races in all six Major League Baseball divisions and wild card contests, there is a contingent of other teams which are playing out their 2015 schedules. While the games may be meaningless for these teams as far as postseason contention for this season goes, the results of these games are telling as to which of these teams may be ready to contend in 2016.

Several statistical measures are relevant when trying to determine which teams are closest to becoming playoff contenders next season. These statistics are run differential, team earned run average (ERA), team fielding percentage, blown saves and number of close games engaged in.

The teams up for consideration here are those which are at least five games out of wild card position going into play on Sunday, Aug. 9. These 13 squads – eight National League and five American League – fall all over the spectrum in these statistical categories. Telling which squads are closest to being postseason relevant is as simple as identifying those which are consistently best in the stat categories.

The best run differential in this group of teams belongs to the Oakland Athletics, which through games played on Saturday, Aug. 8, have outscored their opponents by a total of 33 runs. The next-best team in this category by run differential is the Arizona Diamondbacks, with a +8 run differential. All the other teams up for consideration have a negative run differential so far this season.

Moving on to team ERA, the lowest also belongs to Oakland at 3.41. The best of the NL teams out of the group is credited to the Cincinnati Reds at 4.01. Arizona also owns the best fielding percentage out of all these teams at .988, while the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners both hold the highest fielding percentage out of the AL teams at .986.

Blown saves are one of the best measurements at telling us which teams are effective at being able to establish a lead, obviously vital to winning games, but have been bad at holding onto those leads. Theoretically, perhaps too simply, improved defense and relief pitching will enable these teams to keep more of those leads. The Atlanta Braves currently lead these teams with 18 blown saves. The A’s take the lead among AL teams at 16 blown saves so far this season.

Seattle leads this group of teams in engagement in close games, having been part of a total of 58 one-run and extra-inning games. Their record in such games is solid as well, with a winning percentage of .517 in those contests. Cincinnati leads the NL teams in close games total at 50, but their winning percentage is just .460. The best winning percentage in close games among NL teams belongs to the San Diego Padres, who are at .524 through 42 games. The AL team’s best winning percentage is owned by the Chicago White Sox at .566 through 53 close games.

From here it’s simple math, adding up the rankings in each statistical category and dividing by the number of categories to create a power ranking of these 13 teams. Obviously, the lower the number, the better in this equation.

  • Arizona Diamondbacks – 4
  • Philadelphia Phillies – 4.33
  • Atlanta Braves – 5.33
  • Boston Red Sox – 5.83
  • Chicago White Sox – 6.33
  • Seattle Mariners – 6.33
  • Miami Marlins – 6.5
  • Colorado Rockies – 6.83
  • Oakland Athletics – 6.83
  • Cincinnati Reds – 8
  • San Diego Padres – 9.5
  • Cleveland Indians – 10

So there you have it. Among the teams who aren’t in contention right now, Arizona is closest to becoming playoff relevant again, while the Indians are furthest away by this statistical measurement. Given the young core of players developing for the Diamondbacks and the fact that the organization has control over them for several years to come, there is reason for optimism in Arizona.

You can find Derek on Twitter @dhellingsports and join in the discussion @CTBPod or on our Facebook page.

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