Each week, Bryan Lienesch puts together his Power Rankings, and this week I got a chance to sit and discuss how he came up with the rankings – from a philosophical standpoint and talking specifics on some of the top teams from this week’s list released this morning.
Rob: When you come up with your Power Rankings, what are the top two factors you look at each week?
Bryan Lienesch (@bclienesch): Well I think the top two factors have to be a teams record juxtaposed with their strength of schedule and how they’ve fared specifically since the last rankings
How about individual players? When someone is added to a team through a trade, or a batter goes into a slump or someone is sidelined by injury, is that taken into account?
Lienesch (@bclienesch): Sure. These past rankings were especially difficult because the trade deadline has just occurred and we really don’t have a large enough sample size to see how teams will respond. Injuries also are factored in but we’ve seen team react differently to impact players hitting the DL. Washington shined with a pile of stars sidelined while the Dodgers seemed to struggle the second Matt Kemp went down.
Slumps don’t weigh in so much as they’re fairly hard to predict when they will begin and end.
Your strength of schedule factor seems to have weighed in considerably this week. I’m not sure of any other way you can justify the Yankees being ahead of the Nationals.
Lienesch (@bclienesch): Yes, absolutely. New York and Washington are within just a couple games of one another but the Yankees have the toughest strength of schedule in the league. A part of that is from playing in the AL East, but that doesn’t explain it all. If it did, Toronto and Boston would have tougher schedules because, of course, they have to play the Yankees regularly.
When the two play their division’s worst teams, I think there is a striking difference between Toronto and Miami.
So it’s an overall strength of schedule, then? Because when I’m seeing that the Yankees only took ONE win against the Orioles in New York last week, and lost a game to the lowly Mariners this past weekend, I’m not seeing a lot of strength there.
Lienesch (@bclienesch): Yes. What you’re referring to definitely factors in but every team goes through highs and lows. If we judged solely based on every two weeks, Cleveland would have easily been the worst team this week and I think it’s fair to say that’s just not true. For teams to really fall down in the rankings, especially when they’ve had as good a season as New York or Washington has had, you really need to see a consistent downturn in their play. People probably forget back in June the Yankees swept the Nationals IN D.C. Was that a statement? Absolutely. But that wasn’t an accurate reflection of those two teams, either.
Safe to say that losing two-of-three to the Phillies is not as impressive as the Yankees doing the same against the Orioles, given that the Fightin’ Phils are in the position people expected from Baltimore this year – ten games under .500 and not even sniffing the Wild Card?
Lienesch (@bclienesch): That is true, and record in contrast to how they’ve done recently is an interesting debate. Baltimore is 6-4 in their last ten games and Philly is now 5-5. For Baltimore, that’s sort of on par with their season so far whereas Philly, whose record you see is worse in the same span, has shown marked improvement in relation to their season so far.
Again, not all teams are created the same at the same time. Philadelphia and Miami are within a half game of one another and the Nationals lost 2 of 3 to one and took 3 of 4 from another. How do you explain that? The answer is you can’t, really. All you can do is interpret results with an informed point of view
What do you see from the New York Yankees specifically that you like this week? Any good match ups? Anyone hot at the plate?
Lienesch (@bclienesch): Actually what’s interesting about New York is that they’re just the opposite. No one player is ever carrying the team. Their hottest hitter right now is probably Robinson Cano and he’s just coming out of a brief slump. They’re are just too many veteran players on their roster. It’s like every single person is a load-baring wall that ensures the house never collapses.
But it also helps that CC Sebathia is back to being lights out as always.
Other than CC, who should the Yankees faithful be excited about seeing in the rotation?
Lienesch (@bclienesch): Hiroki Kuroda has really put together a nice year, one that even the most diehard Yankees fans probably didn’t see coming. He’s really been the player to step up and cushion the loss of Michael Pineda just as Dave Robertson and Rafael Soriano have helped fill the big shoes left by Mariano.
With no days off and a road trip starting with 4 in Detroit, will the Yankees be atop your Power Rankings next week?
Lienesch (@bclienesch): I think it’s too early to tell. Certainly, if they struggle, a tougher schedule will ease any slide they take in the next Power Rankings. I wouldn’t be surprised if Detroit took three of four from New York, but it’s not just about wins and losses but HOW these teams are winning and losing games. These next couple weeks will be tough for the Yankees but, remember, tough is what they’ve been used to this season.
The past two weeks have seen Tyler Clippard collect six saves for the Nationals. With Drew Storen coming back and getting a save last night, might that upset the balance at Closer in Washington?
Lienesch (@bclienesch): I think yesterday’s ninth inning in Washington was a statement that Storen will be closer if he pitches the way he did last year. The fact is no matter who pitches the eighth and who pitches the ninth, it’s a good problem for the Nats to have. With those two anchoring games, it essentially forces their opponents to play seven-inning ball games. That’s a huge advantage heading towards the fall.
Over that same span, Strasburg had two great outings – 13 innings, 1 earned run, but 17 strikeouts. He also had a drubbing at the hands of the Phillies where he let up 6 runs in 4 innings and allowed more than twice as many hits as he got strikeouts. Is that any reason for panic?
Lienesch (@bclienesch): No, especially because any performances related to Strasburg are going to be moot in a couple of weeks. Going forward though, it’s important to remember that this kid STILL hasn’t played a full baseball season in his career. He’s been so good that the fanbase is leaning on him to perform. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still receiving on-the-job training.
Aside from Saturday’s performance, Jordan Zimmerman seems fairly consistent. He has gone 6 innings in each of the 7 starts prior to that, and he allowed fewer than 2 earned runs in each of those. That type of player, mixed with what Gio Gonzalez is doing, should people be looking at this rotation as one of the top two best in baseball?
Lienesch (@bclienesch): Absolutely. The Angels have the rotation with the big paychecks, but the Nationals have the rotation with the big results, and it’s all about pitching depth. With Strasburg in there, Washington has not one but two full-fledged aces in him and Gio Gonzalez and Zimmermann, who has been sorely underrated his entire career, might be the best number 3 pitcher in baseball. When I say pitching depth let’s remind people of this: The Nationals have a guy with a pair of nineteen-win seasons working middle-inning relief out of the bullpen right now. It’s really an embarrassment of riches.
Sean Burnett hasn’t given up a run in 35 of his 42 appearances this season, Tom Gorzelanny hasn’t given up a run in weeks… with the importance of pitching in the post season, dare we say it… are the Nationals the favorite to win the National League at this point?
Lienesch (@bclienesch): It seems unfathomable, doesn’t it? Could a sub-.500 team one year go to the World Series the next? The way I’ve been looking at it is give me the reasons they AREN’T the favorites. When you pose that question, nine times out of ten you’ll hear crickets chirping. Like any team, they’re prone to their slumps. But when they’re on, they can consistently win games by scoring two or three runs. That’s a tremendous amount of pressure for their opponents.
Is this Atlanta Braves comeback for real?
Lienesch (@bclienesch): It’s tough to say. Everyoneforgets that for as bad as the Red Sox were atthe end of the season last year, the Braves were equally bad. And when they lost Beachy, I honestly thought that was the end for their postseason aspirations. But everyone else has sort of stepped up and Ben Sheets has been the answer to their prayers. But given his history, there are legitimate question marks as to whether or not that can last for another two months.
They’ve been destroying the NL East in the past month. How happy are they for the upcoming road trip that takes them to Philly for 3 and then another three in New York against the Mets – and nowhere near D.C.?
Lienesch (@bclienesch): At this point, not having the two face each other poses this sort of “shoot off” between the clubs as to who can beat up on the rest of major league baseball better. With the way Atlanta has been playing, I think anything less than four wins between their series against New York and Philly has to be considered a failure at this stage in a pennant race.
At no point in the past 15 games has Dan Uggla registered a multi-hit game. His batting average is in the low .200′s. He hasn’t hit a homerun in four weeks. At what point do they shut him down for a while?
Lienesch (@bclienesch): I don’t think they do. Maybe you increase the number of days you give him off, but I don’t think you ever give him more than one day off. He’s just too good. And historically, he’s always been a very hot-and-cold hitter. After flirting with the all-time hit streak record, he turned in a season that was not equally impressive. That’s because there were a number of rough patches along the way. He’s had a tough month, but I don’t believe you ever sit a hitter as proven as he is.
This discussion will be updated throughout the day as the discussion continues.