Finn Factor Baseball Power Ratings: MLB Week 14

MLB Power Ratings

With one week remaining before the MLB All-Star Break, WagerTalk handicapper Tony Finn offers his Week 14 MLB Power Ratings. Which teams have over-achieved through the first three months of the season? Which ones are still trying to find their footing? Tony offers his thoughts on how the season has played out thus far.

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MLB State of the Union

I officially made the 93rd “X” on my 2021 calendar on Friday. Yesterday, the aforementioned Friday, was the 93rd day of this year’s MLB 186-day schedule. With the All-Star game and Mid-Summer Classic break upon us followed by the late July trade deadline, there are a hundred-and-one issues about baseball to contemplate.

The spring of 2021 has allowed us a return to Major League Baseball in full. That hardball endowment requires a critique of the good, bad, and ugly of MLB. A quick review of what MLB was in March, across the first three months of the regular season, and what it will become has compelled me to outline the applause that is due Major League Baseball. With the thunder of clapping also come my list of appalling and what we should be waving adios to in this and future Boys of Summer action.

Applause
In the first week of the 2021 Major League Baseball season, a decision was made by the league, the teams, ownership, former and current players in cooperation with the Players Association and the Alliance that S.B 202, a Georgia law placing restrictions on the ballot box, the company would not be endorsing, but rather signaling to North America, the world for that matter, heartfelt regret and disappointment.

Without morphing this baseball column into a political opt-ed that leans or stands on one side of the aisle, I am simply going to enthusiastically bang my hands together, forming the uniform sound of clapping for the hard work the good people of our democracy performed to keep our fragile system from breaking.

Though Major League Baseball will not hold the All-Star game in Atlanta, the 2021 Midsummer Classic — scheduled for Tuesday, July 13 — the company will still celebrate the memory of the late Hank Aaron, an Atlanta icon who passed away on Jan. 22. Furthermore, MLB will also move forward with planned investments to support local communities in Atlanta as part of the All-Star Legacy Projects.

Major League Baseball has issues that won’t or can’t be solved by taking political sides in a country that is as divided as its been since the 1960s. Believe me, when I write that statement, it is something I passionately believe, for I was an integral part of the backdrop of the “Make Love, not War” and “Long Haired Hippy 60s”.

I was fed and therefore consumed baseball every summer of my youth. From my first Major League Baseball game in the mid-60s until my high school summers in the late 70s, baseball was my world. I ate, drank, sniffed, and lived baseball from March through the early part of October. I grew tall and strong on the back of a sturdy family and that summer friend, baseball, that was kith and kin.

My first serving of baseball, Charley Finley’s brand as owner of the Kansas City A’s, rarely made an entry into my life, my room via a transistor radio, or the family living room without a side dish of warm Civil-Rights news.

The rightfield bleachers of Municipal Stadium were a stone’s throw from one of my family’s homes. That family dwelling was on the Kansas side of the Missouri River in an aging development. One of the oldest subdivisions in Kansas City proper was adorned by 100-year-old homes of brick. The housing division, the neighborhood, was occupied by a large percentage, call it 90 percent, immigrant population. The life-long Kansas City local clan labeled our hood Strawberry Hill.

The refuge of Municipal Stadium at the crossing of 18th and Vine was a sanctuary. It was sheltered from my neighborhood curfews, protests, and riots. It allowed me to reflect on my heroes rather than the brothers of my friends who were being beaten in the streets we lived on or those coming home twisted, or worse, in a box from Vietnam.

The reality of my life in the late 70’s made it quite clear to a boy not quite yet 10-years old that the world wasn’t right. Martial law regulations like those that made it illegal to purchase gasoline in a can and others were constant reminders that we were a nation at war, across the pond, and inside our own borders.

The courage and sacrifice of Major League Baseball’s decision to keep the mid-summer classic from landing in Atlanta deserve a majestic salute. I give you permission to expand your mind and imagine the brand of salute Initially issued Peaches.

The NBA moved the location of the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans in objection to the North Carolina House Bill 2 (limited anti-discrimination protections in the state). As far back as 1993, NFL ownership combined their petty cash and took the February Super Bowl from the Valley of the Sun and shipped it to Pasadena, California. This after Arizona decided to allow the state’s voters to determine whether Martin Luther King Jr. Day should be a paid holiday.

Note that Arizona saw the error of their ballot-driven ways, recognized King Jr., and shortly thereafter was awarded a Super Sunday celebration not once – but twice since, in ’96 and ’08.

What Major League Baseball sacrificed to move the All-Star Game was monumental. Unlike most All-Star bashes, baseball’s gala is a process that takes as much as two-to-three years to plan. The league made a move and alerted Georgia just three months before the July event. The risk of alienating a portion of the fan base and losing a boat-load of money didn’t deter the company from doing what they, in cooperation with their partners, was the right thing.

So applause goes to Major League Baseball and those that help them make summer fun and memorable. That applause is also directed to the message MLB delivered to the great state of Georgia. The messenger spoke loud and clear. The confident and passionate voice of the baseball world spoke to the government of Georgia and to future states who are still twisting in the wind attempting to decide how they want to be viewed in the coming years and their connection with our countries history, slavery, and the Civil unrighteousness our grandfathers inflicted in the lives of so many innocents.

Those of us who lived that epoch of the ’60s and watched those we loved to die for country will not simply stand by and watch state legislatures denigrate the good work and the names of those great men and women during the Civil Right’s movement.

Appalled
Major League Baseball isn’t the devil. However, it damn certainly behaves as such at times. Being completely transparent isn’t baseball’s best foot forward. Also, accountability has been an issue for the league. The current soapbox that baseball is standing on is as soft and breakable as a peach crate.

What Major League Baseball believed was a soapbox is more fragile than the company assumed. If June’s metrics transfer into July’s numbers consistent with those from April to May and then into June, then baseball will most likely be requested, supeniad to be completely transparent. That transparency will demand that Major League Baseball reveal what dynamic changes were made from last year’s baseball to the one being used this season.

The Associated Press published an article that outlined the league’s batting average, spin rates, velocity, and more on July 1st. A portion of that article is viewable below.

“The major league batting average jumped to .246 in June amid a crackdown by the commissioner’s office on foreign substances utilized by pitchers, raising the season average to .239. The season average is the lowest through June since .233 in 1968, the Elias Sports Bureau said Thursday. That was the last season before the pitcher’s mound was lowered.”

“Hitters batted .232 in April and .239 in May. The June average was closer to recent levels, down from .245 in 2018. Major League Baseball officials began saying on June 3 that they intended to start stricter enforcement against the use of sticky substances used by pitchers to improve grips and spin rates, and umpires started checking all pitchers on June 21.”

“The average fastball spin rate in June was 2,257 revolutions per minute, according to MLB Statcast, down from 2,323 in May and 2,313 in April. That left the season average at 2,298. Velocity was basically unchanged, with fastballs averaging 93.8 mph in June, up from 93.7 mph in May and 93.6 mph in April for a season average of 93.7 mph.”

The first scapegoat in Major League Baseball’s foreign substance policy was Seattle Mariner’s bullpen contributor Hector Santiago.

Santiago has been suspended for 10 games and fined an undisclosed amount for a foreign substance found on his glove in a game versus the White Sox in Chicago. Santiago will appeal the ruling, and he will be allowed to play until the appeal process is complete. Everyone I know and contacted that is close to the Santiago situation has essentially said the same thing. That “thing” is that all, every individual, verbalized that they believe Santiago’s penalty will be overturned.

For those who have watched and studied baseball for as long as I have, what has transpired since the league began examining pitchers’ person and their possessions have been laughed at by many. Personally, I am genuinely embarrassed for the league. It isn’t a stretch to state the timing. The directives issued to the league’s umpires won’t muffle or assist in making the questions about the dramatic reduction of offense go away. Instead, bring the questions and demands for answers front and center.

Once again, the lack of accountability on the league’s part is, yes, appalling. Players have and always will push the envelope in an attempt to gain an advantage over professional hitters. Players have broken the rules by doctoring baseballs for … not years, or decades but … forever.

The powers that are in Major League Baseball’s offices have every right to enforce the written rules of their game. However, the process the league has outlined is poorly contrived. As has been the case for MLB in years, decades past believes that those running the company are smarter and more important than the product, the game. As a result, Major League Baseball’s problems are not the ingenuity of players and coaches but the companies’ inevitable product defects that will present themselves depending on the time, space, and situation.

MLB has tested the limits of common sense, fate, and the fan base for … yes … forever. All things equal, the company that owns baseball has ignored its way into a corner once again. Major League Baseball has filed itself away in the “insane” folder. What is the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

The league’s avoidance eventually morphs into denial. Deny, deny and deny again. That denial is that baseball is accountable for any of the processes or assumed directives that breaking the rules is acceptable.

The current issue of sticky substances has been one that has flirted itself to the forefront of any sport in which a sticky substance would offer an advantage. More important and revealing of the character of Major League Baseball is their disobedience to being proactive in matters that will obviously damage the game, their product, and scar the brand.

Santiago, 33, was the first player to be ejected for pitch doctoring since MLB began enforcing the new rules against foreign substances. And Santiago is when this power poll piece went to press, the one and only.

The new rules include umpires doing a check and balance on pitchers every few innings. Change is the one variable that we cannot avoid. It is the one constant in life. Changing the rules of the game shouldn’t require a change in how the game is played, however. What is happening in baseball now, yesterday and today, has, in fact, changed how the game is played. That change is not for the better.

Adios
I am a baseball traditionalist. However, there are certain principles in the game; I am passionate about. The standards of records are one of the game’s most precious principles. There is a ridiculously significant value on, and a need, for unwritten rules. An extreme example is the necessity of a pitcher throwing the ball at a batter. There is a rule against this practice for a good reason. There is, however, an unwritten rule that this happens, it should happen, and it always will happen. Why? It keeps a player’s ego and ethics in check.

Math is entangled with everything we do in life. Math is the creator of all things. Sabermetrics has assisted in growing the game. The same can be said about the fantasy realm and the gaming aspects surrounding the Great American Pastime. But it is time to take what has introduced roughly 100-years ago and put it to rest. This “what” is the RBI (run batted in).

From the first organized baseball game we played in as kids, an emphasis has been put on the RBI. On the surface, it even makes sense. Baseball, or winning a baseball game, goes to the team that scores the most runs. Players who have been selected to the Hall of Fame were, for the most part, big-time RBI guys.

The current count finds 13 of the 15 players with the most RBI in the game’s history were inducted into the Hall of Fame. The two that have yet to be inducted? Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. Bonds will be in the Hall of Fame when the voters get over themselves and realize that Bonds was a Hall of Fame player before his assumed PED use. Rodriguez will be eligible for a vote in the Year 2022.

The argument of a player’s value is, for the most part, more about who the player was surrounded by in his career. This especially applies to the RBI stat. The RBI itself is more to do with teams than any of baseball’s individual metrics.

The truth is that a player who hits .275 and has 120 RBI in the process is not necessarily a better player than the one who hits .275 and has just 70 RBI. The player with the 120 RBI had more opportunities. They had more teammates on base and, in turn, more opportunities to drive in runs. And this because of the players around him. This is bottom-line common sense, and changing the measurement of the RBI and what we label it is long overdue.

Baseball has a long history of placing a value on certain numbers that convolute what is important in and to the game. Time changes everything in some form and fashion. The importance of the bunt has taken a back seat to not giving away an out. Situational hitting is obsolete for the new coach and his manual.

Coaches no longer teach or ask players at the plate, at-bat, to move runners. I never understood a player being considered a great hitter if that individual was a poor bunter. After all, bunting is hitting, and the two can’t be separated.

What can be separated is the good and the not-so-good in today’s baseball. The good being the teams that have positioned themselves for relevance as we enter the second stanza of the 2021 campaign.

And with the halfway point of the 2021 season being today, it is officially time to award the First-Five trophy to one deserving club. Which club is the 2021 First-Half Season Champions?

July 3 MLB Power Ratings

1. Houston Astros – Record: 49-33 (Previous ranking: 1)

The Astros were money in June. The Astros were winners in 19 of the 28 games they played. That is a .679 winning percentage. The pitching staff was the best of the American League in June. I am not using ERA as a measuring tool but noting that Houston’s staff did have the best pitching June of any American League crew with a 3.39 ERA. The Astros ranked third best in the AL in hits allowed; they ranked second in runs surrendered, topped the AL charts in homers allowed, and ranked No. #1 in batting average against.

I could run down the list of bats at the top of the Astros lineup, but it would be a rinse and repeat of what you have seen year-in and year-out. Altuve, Correa, and Brantly doing their usual damage.

Don’t look now, but the Astros have yet another talent making his way to the Show right around a time when players his age are considered in their prime. Remember the name, Myles Straw. By the time the clock struck midnight on the first day of July, the 26-year old Astro’s centerfielder was slashing .341/.424/.448.

With the 10th overall fWAR in baseball, Straw, and the addition of a bullpen arm, this Houston group is the team to beat in the American League, and with a chip on their shoulder, a bat, Houston is the Finn Factor 2021 First-Five Season Champs.

The pseudo ace of the staff, Framber Valdez, threw 34.1 innings in June, allowed 26 hits and nine earned runs. His wins and losses resulted in a 4-1 mark with a 2.36 ERA.

If the Astros add bullpen help before the trade deadline, they are not just the team to beat on the Junior Circuit — but in all of baseball.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers – Record: 50-31 (Previous ranking: 2)

Major League Baseball placed Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer on paid administrative leave Friday. This means Bauer won’t make his scheduled start with the Dodgers on Sunday in Washington D.C.

Under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse policy, Commissioner Rob Manfred can place Bauer on paid administrative leave for seven days, meaning he’ll be able to return next week. If there will be another seven-day leave, it will have to agree with the players’ union.

Brusdar Graterol, who was with the Dodgers at the White House
Thursday morning will take the roster spot of Bauer.

Expect Sunday’s contest in Landover to be an Opener, a bullpen affair. The Dodgers will move on Saturday night or Sunday morning and add another arm to the pen.

I rank the Dodgers as the best of the National League. That ranking is not a generous slotting. They are the best team in the National League and are so by margin. I do not believe that in a 7-game series, there is a team in the NL that can win four of seven before the Dodgers do.

3. Oakland Athletics – Record: 48-35 (Previous ranking: 9)

Houston didn’t just overtake Oakland this past month. They ran past them in June like the station to station club was standing still. Oakland isn’t expected to be big spenders before the deadline if they spend at all. Top prospect Tyler Soderstrom was one of the best on the farm in June. Labeling Soderstrom as one of the best was directed at the entire minor league system, not just the A’s affiliates.

The A’s were in second place in the AL West for the 10th consecutive day heading into tonight’s July 2nd event. They trail the first-place Astros by ½ game. Don’t be surprised if the A’s hang tough for until August rolls around. At that time, the A’s will have either remained close with what they have or dipped their cup into the trade-deadline waters to confirm they are not only buyers but contenders to win the AL West.

4. San Diego Padres – Record: 49-34 (Previous ranking: 6)

The Padres cannot keep their pitching staff healthy for more than a month at a time. Young-gun Dinelson Lamet has been shut down, and the organization depends on the son of a world-class postseason pitcher in 21-year-old left-hander Ryan Weathers.

A positive note for San Diego faithful the return of bullpen arm Drew Pomeranz following a seemingly forever. Yet, just a seven-week R&R session on the farm makes San Diego a dangerous animal in the second half.

From an offensive standpoint, the Slam Diego Padres are knocking the snot out of the baseball.

5. San Francisco Giants – Record: 50-30 (Previous ranking: 3)

The fifth slot in the rankings was closely contested between the Giants, Red Sox, and Rays.

San Francisco can no longer be considered a fly-by-late-night one-hit-wonder. It is the first week of July and the mid-point of the 2021 season, and the Giants have the best record in all of baseball.

Injuries to Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, and Logan Webb will need to be reckoned with if the Giants are to be at the top of the NL West at the end of July. The Giants are contenders, and the front office, the coaching staff, As a result, and this group of players believe. That in itself is priceless.

Boston swept division rival New York for a second straight series. The return of the Red Sox lefty Chris Sale is a must if Boston is to have a chance to put a three-person rotation together for a run in October.

The lack of his Gerrit Cole’s usual dynamics has the Yankees in a Finn Factor rankings free-fall.

Tampa Bay lost a key piece to their run at a second straight AL East championship in Tyler Glasnow (Elbow – 60-day IL). However, the right-hander was optimistic about being able to come back sooner than later.

Chris Sale feels all the more urgent — the bullpen continues to impress with strong performances from Rule-5 pick Garrett Whitlock, Josh Taylor, Hirokazu Sawamura, Adam Ottavino, and closer Matt Barnes.

6. Tampa Bay Rays – Record: 47-34 (Previous ranking: 5)
7. Boston Red Sox – Record: 51-31 (Previous ranking: 7)
8. Chicago White Sox – Record: 48-32 (Previous ranking: 4)
9. Milwaukee Brewers – Record: 49-33 (Previous ranking: 11)
10. New York Mets – Record: 41-36 (Previous ranking: 8)
11. Toronto Blue Jays – Record: 41-38 (Previous ranking: 12)
12. Chicago Cubs – Record: 42-39 (Previous ranking: 10)
13. Cleveland Indians – Record: 42-36 (Previous ranking: 13)
14. Washington Nationals – Record: 40-39 (Previous ranking: 14)
15. Cincinnati Reds – Record: 40-40 (Previous ranking: 16)
16. New York Yankees – Record: 41-39 (Previous ranking: 15)
17. Atlanta Braves – Record: 39-41 (Previous ranking: 19)
18. Philadelphia Phillies – Record: 37-41 (Previous ranking: 17)
19. Los Angeles Angels – Record: 39-41 (Previous ranking: 20)
20. Seattle Mariners – Record: 43-39 (Previous ranking: 18)
21. St. Louis Cardinals – Record: 40-42 (Previous ranking: 21)
22. Minnesota Twins – Record: 33-46 (Previous ranking: 23)
23. Miami Marlins – Record: 34-45 (Previous ranking: 24)
24. Kansas City Royals – Record: 33-47 (Previous ranking: 22)
25. Detroit Tigers – Record: 36-45 (Previous ranking: 26)
26. Texas Rangers – Record: 32-49 (Previous ranking: 28)
27. Colorado Rockies – Record: 35-47 (Previous ranking: 25)
28. Pittsburgh Pirates – Record: 29-51 (Previous ranking: 27)
29. Baltimore Orioles – Record: 27-54 (Previous ranking: 29)
30. Arizona Diamondbacks – Record: 23-60 (Previous ranking: 30)

MLB First Pitch

Now that the dust has settled from last year’s abbreviated baseball schedule with limited travel, how will teams handle the grind of the 2021 MLB season? Get MLB picks, predictions, and odds every Monday-Friday on WagerTalk TV during First Pitch, hosted by Drew Martin.

The First Pitch Betting Guide

Each day during the MLB regular season, WagerTalk handicapper Ralph Michaels releases his First Pitch betting guide. The PDF download contains home-road splits, righty-lefty splits and a plethora of other useful betting information for that day’s starting pitcher matchup. To access the First Pitch guide, go to Ralph’s page (http://wt.buzz/rm) and find the link on the right side under Downloads. If you are already a WagerTalk user, sign into your account. If you’re not a WagerTalk subscriber, create a free account with just your email address. After you add the item to your cart, it will be available in your downloads.

The First Pitch Betting Guide

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