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Not so fast: 8 teams with deceiving records

@williamfleitch
May 23, 2019

We are far enough along in the season that checking out the standings is now a daily exercise. If your team is struggling, it doesn’t mean the season’s over by any stretch of the imagination … but it’s maybe time to start kicking matters into gear. Teams have roughly played

We are far enough along in the season that checking out the standings is now a daily exercise. If your team is struggling, it doesn’t mean the season’s over by any stretch of the imagination … but it’s maybe time to start kicking matters into gear. Teams have roughly played 27 percent of their games. We’re in the thick of it now.

But while the standings are enticing at this stage, they can also be deceiving. Bill Parcells might have said “you are what your record says you are,” but teams know that isn’t entirely true; teams generally know where they are, and how realistic their highest hopes are.

So, in what’s now a monthly tradition -- and past the quarter mark of the season -- we take a look at teams whose records may be a bit deceiving at this particular standings snapshot, using both teams’ run differentials and Baseball Reference’s Simple Rating System (SRS), which accounts for strength of schedule, and estimates how many runs per game better or worse you are than the average team. Records, after all, are not always what they seem.

Here are five teams that are probably better than their record, and three that might be worse. (Records and run differentials listed in parentheses.)

BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD

Cardinals (25-24, +21 runs scored)
The Cardinals had the best record in baseball on May 1, but this month has been a nightmare for them; they haven’t won a series all month, and they’re 6-14. Manager Mike Shildt and the team brass insist the team is going to be fine, that they’re hitting the ball as hard as they did in April, that it’ll all come around. The numbers do back them up: A tough schedule will begin to ease up, and they should be able to take advantage if they can get their rotation figured out. The scary part? Their SRS of 0.7 is fifth in the NL … but third in their own division.

D-backs (25-25, +23 runs scored)
The D-backs were one of the feel-good stories of the season’s first month, but a five-game losing streak dropped them all the way back to .500 (and helped give the Dodgers the biggest division lead in the National League). But it’s too early for D-backs fans to give up hope. The schedule has been tough so far, they’ve outscored their opponents by plenty and there’s room for growth from some of their young players. And by the way: That Paul Goldschmidt trade is starting to look sort of nice right now. Luke Weaver has been a terrific starter, and catcher Carson Kelly currently has a higher OPS+ than Goldschmidt does.

Reds (22-27, +25 runs scored)
It’s difficult to outscore opponents as much as the Reds have and be under .500 at all, let alone be five games under and in last place. That’s indicative of the Reds’ buzzard luck, but also of the toughness of this division. The Reds’ SRS (0.6) is actually better than any team’s in the NL East, which is little solace when you’re in last place but nevertheless remains true. The craziest thing about the Reds so far is how lousy their offense is, with Joey Votto, Yasiel Puig, Jose Peraza and Jesse Winker all having seasons far below their career norms.

In the opposite of what usually happens in Cincinnati, it’s the pitching that has kept the team’s head above water. That hitting should come around, but considering they’re already eight games out of first, they best hustle before this team full of impending free agents falls too far behind to catch up.

Rangers (24-23, +14 runs scored)
Both the A’s and the Rangers have run differentials that are better than their records would imply, but SRS is extremely bullish on the Rangers, who are on a hot streak right now against some rather quality teams, and actually lead the Majors in runs per game (5.77). Joey Gallo looks like an MVP candidate, but the Rangers have had some better pitching than you’d think as well (look at what Mike Minor has been up to).

It’s going to be tough for any team in this division to catch up with the Astros and/or hang in with the AL East powerhouses for the Wild Card, but right now, the team with the best chance looks, surprisingly, like Texas.

Rockies (22-26, -6 runs scored)
The participant in last year’s NL postseason who looks the least likely to return has struggled to steady the ship after a rough start, but there’s hope here. SRS says that the Rockies have been having exactly a league-average season so far, and while that might not necessarily be how it has felt to Rockies fans, it’s a sign that there’s plenty of room for improvement moving forward. The NL Wild Card chase is jam-packed right now, and the Rockies haven’t fallen so far behind that a win streak wouldn’t put them right there atop it. It could have been much worse than it has been so far.

WORSE THAN THEIR RECORD

Indians (25-24, -1 runs scored)
It’s time to be seriously worried about the Indians. A top-heavy team that lacked the depth to deal with injuries has already fallen seven games out of first place, but the news gets worse. They’ve had one of the easiest schedules in baseball so far -- as that division will attest -- and are still only barely hanging in, and, more ominously, the Red Sox appear to have awakened from their slumber, making a Wild Card slot that much more difficult to nail down.

The Indians haven’t missed the playoffs since 2015, and it’s going to be an uphill climb to get back.

Padres (26-24, -19 runs scored)
The Padres have been one of baseball’s most fun teams to watch, a bunch of young players bringing excitement to a baseball town that has been in short supply of it for quite a few years now. But the numbers argue that maybe we should pump the brakes a bit. The Padres have navigated a tough schedule to a winning record, but being outscored by that much bodes troubles ahead. There’s plenty of hope for this franchise. But they still may be a year way.

Pirates (25-22, -42 runs scored)
It is a monumental achievement, considering how difficult this division is, that the Pirates are above .500 at all. Look at that run differential. That would put them among the five worst teams in baseball. SRS thinks they’re equivalent to the Royals, who are 15 games under. The Pirates have been a pleasant team to watch when they win this year, especially Josh Bell, who has emerged as an elite slugger. The Cardinals and Reds look like they’re going to make some improvements moving forward, and the Cubs and the Brewers aren’t going anywhere. Someone’s going to have to pay the price there. From this standpoint, it looks most likely to be the Pirates.