# of teams in top 3 (including teams tied for 3rd) in W-L% on April 18 to make playoffs
2008: 3/5 (Cubs, Brewers, White Sox)
2009: 1/3 (Dodgers)
2010: 3/3 (Yankees, Rays, Twins)
2011: 1/3 (Rangers)
2012: 4/5 (Rangers, Nationals, Tigers, Cardinals)
2013: 3/4 (Braves, A's, Red Sox)
Over the past 6 seasons, 15/23 teams made the playoffs, including 7 out of 9 in the last two years. That's probably a trend that will continue because of the additional wild card teams added in 2012. In 2012, two of the four teams were wild card teams, and the Cardinals (who nearly made the World Series) were the 2nd WC team with 88 wins.
The top 3 teams today are the Brewers, A's and Braves. The Brewers are the only surprise, and are actually the only real surprise in the top 10 (4-10: Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Cardinals, Tigers, Rangers). The team with the #1 record on April 18 has made the playoffs each of the last 2 years (Braves, Rangers) and 3 of the last 4 (Rays, Yankees tied for 1st in 2010).
A team's record on April 18th seems to be a good predictor of whether they'll make the playoffs, especially with an extra wild card slot in each league. I don't think the Brewers will end up with the best record or even in the top 3, but I think they will at least be competitive for a wild card spot.
# of teams with 10+ K/9, 7th Inning and later
# of teams with 1.10 WHIP or lower, 7th Inning and later
K/9, 7th Inning and later
WHIP, 7th Inning and later
The strikeouts keep going up, but the WHIP has stayed very consistent despite a growing number of teams with extremely low WHIP totals. This can be explained because there are more teams with terrible numbers at the end of the game. In 2013, the only team at 1.50 or above was Houston.
In 2014, there are 7 teams at 1.50 or above (Tigers, Royals, D-backs, Cubs, White Sox, Mets, Astros). It's very early in the season, so a couple of bad games can drag down a team's numbers. If the bad teams can get their numbers, the league numbers should improve substantially over previous years.
One of the biggest reasons why the Pirates were able to make the playoffs last year was that their pitching staff gave up very few home runs (#1 in fewest allowed with 101). Even in the 2nd half when they became hittable (falling from 1st in batting average against to 17th), they still managed to lead the league in fewest home runs allowed.
In 2014, they're pitching very well so far, with the 7th best ERA in the ML (2.66). It's early, but they are allowed more home runs than at the end of last year, ranking only 19th in fewest HR allowed.
It might be nothing to worry about even if it persists because they didn't become really stingy until after April last year.
The predictions for 2014 are starting to roll out and the Dodgers are the overwhelming favorite to win the World Series. I expect they'll be picked by many of ESPN's experts when their predictions come out soon. While it makes sense that everyone thinks they'll be really good, I think they're being overhyped. We saw it last year with the Nationals and Tigers, and we know how that turned out.
One prediction I'm sure will be true is that they'll have excellent pitching. They always have great pitching, having been ranked in the top 5 in team ERA each of the last 3 years. What about offense? I doubt the numbers will be overwhelming. That's fine, because they can still win 95 games without a great offense, but it is clearly a factor.
Since 2011, they've been ranked 21st, 26th and 17th in runs scored. Even in the 2nd half of 2013 (when they had the best record in baseball), they only were ranked 9th in runs scored. Their lineup is solid and they can score a lot of runs if several players have career years, but that's highly uncertain.
There are some huge question marks that will help determine whether they'll be truly great. One is obviously Yasiel Puig. Over his 4 months in the big leagues last year, he hit .436, .287, .320 and .214. He hit .333 in the postseason, but only had 2 extra base hits in 39 AB (and 0 HR). Another big question is what they'll get out of Matt Kemp. If he comes back and plays like he did a few years ago, it will give them a huge boost. Considering all of the injuries he's sustained, that doesn't seem very likely.
The Dodgers probably won't hit many home runs this year. Teams can certainly win without a lot of power (Giants won in 2012 being ranked last in HR), but it will make it more difficult to score runs.
They also had kind of a quiet offseason. On the other hand, they'll probably have plenty of money to acquire players through trades if they have to. There are still plenty of questions about whether their manager is ready to take them to the next level.
None of this means that they shouldn't be favored to win the NL West or even the pennant. It just means that they've become a trendy pick this year and the hype they're getting doesn't match up with reality. I wouldn't be surprised to see a rematch in the NLCS this year, and the Cardinals will still probably find a way to win. They're going to be very good, but I'm not buying into the idea that they're the overwhelming favorite to win the World Series.
Yes, the 2014 numbers include all of 2 games, but they fit in with the trend. No, the strikeout rate won't jump up to 9 this year, but I wouldn't be surprised if it went much closer to 8. Obviously, it will become more clear after a few weeks of games, but this could be a sign of things to come.
# of teams that allowed a Slugging % at .370 or below (Pre/Post All Star Break)
If this trend holds and teams are able to carry dominance like this in both halves of the season, 2014 is going to be an extraordinary year for pitching. Maybe the 2nd half of 2013 was like the first half of 2011 and that number will be a fluke.
From 2000-2008, there was only 1 team (2003 Dodgers) that allowed a slugging % of .370 or lower for the full season. Since 2008, it has happened 12 times, including 4 times in 2013 (Pirates, Dodgers, Braves, Cardinals). Along with the skyrocketing strikeout numbers, it will be fascinating to see if these numbers hold steady, go down or keep going up. My guess is that they hold steady, but it is difficult to predict anything right now.
What's going on here? Obviously this doesn't include every season since 2000, but the trend it pretty clear. Over the past few years, the number of teams that were in the top five in strikeouts and scored a respectable number of runs plummeted. One of the most obvious answers is that home runs have also gone way down and it is more difficult for teams to make up for striking out a lot with a lot of power.
Most of the teams that had a lot of strikeouts and runs (2000 A's, 2000 Cardinals, 2005 Reds, 2005 Rangers) hit well over 200 home runs. That's just not happening anymore. In 2013, only 1 team (Orioles) hit over 188 home runs, and that's probably going to continue. The days of an entire team leading the league in strikeouts and being near the top in runs scored appear to be over for the time being.
Until 2010, there had never been a pitcher that had more than 25 innings and averaged more than 15 strikeouts per nine innings. Since then, it has happened 5 times in 4 seasons. Last year, Kimbrel's strikeout rate went down (13.3), while Marmol and Jansen don't seem to be threats to repeat either. It wouldn't be a surprise, though, to see several pitchers with 15+ SO/9 in 2014 considering the huge increase in strikeouts that we've seen recently.