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Tuesday, August 2, 2011
NL East narrows gap in power rankings

By Sharon Katz

The American League East remains at the top of the ESPN Stats & Information Divisional Power Rankings for the third straight month, with the National League East close behind.

Over the past three months, the AL East and NL East have been the top two divisions by a large margin. The two east divisions have separated themselves from the pack, so let’s take a closer look at how they compare.

The NL East has a slightly higher win percentage in games outside its division. The NL East has won 56.1 percent of its games outside the division, one percent higher than the AL East. In July, the NL East outperformed its American League counterpart with a .609 win percentage outside the division, compared to .585 for the AL East. The two divisions also produced the two best teams in the league last month: the Boston Red Sox (10-3) and Philadelphia Phillies (11-5) had the two best win percentages against non-divisional opponents in July.

The NL East also outperformed the AL East in the category that measures strength of schedule. The two divisions have the top four teams in the MLB Relative Power Index, a metric that combines win percentage and strength of schedule. The Baltimore Orioles’ extremely low RPI hurt the AL East. The NL East did not have one team in the bottom third of the index.

The AL East and NL East had exactly the same score when it came to the ESPN.com Power Rankings. Four of the top six teams in the most recent ratings are from the east divisions, and resurgence of the Florida Marlins in July (17-10) helped in July’s rankings.

The greatest difference between the two divisions is in the category that measures player performances. The NL East has two more top-30 pitchers than the AL East, but its lack of power hitters hurt its ranking. As of August 1, the AL East has 10 position players ranked in the top 30 of ESPN’s MLB Player Ratings, including eight from the Red Sox and New York Yankees. Only Jose Reyes and Ryan Howard from the NL East ranked in the top 30. An injury to the Atlanta Braves’ Brian McCann and trade of Carlos Beltran hurt the NL East’s player ratings. (Both players appeared in last month’s top 30 batters.)

The trades of Michael Bourn to Atlanta and Hunter Pence to Philadelphia have the potential to increase the NL East’s player rating scores if these players can perform as expected. Other trades, such as Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians, have the potential to help one division and hurt another in the next edition.

Look for the NL Central, which lost more impact players to trades than any other division, to fall even further into last place. Both the NL West and NL East had teams involved in major deals, so expect them to reap the benefits in the ratings.