Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings

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The Rays and Yankees have been the default top pick all year, primarily on the strength of having the best record. But that’s only part of what goes into my Power Rankings special sauce, even if it’s an important part. For this week at least, it ain’t enough.

1. Twins (3): Closer out with Tommy John? No problem. First baseman — who was having an MVP caliber season — goes out with a concussion? No problem. The White Sox go on a couple of tears? No problem. You can find faults if you look hard enough, but in my opinion the Minnesota Twins are the best team in baseball right now.

2. Yankees (1): Derek Jeter hasn’t had a multi-hit game since August 21st, but I still have this feeling that he’ll activate that little chip in the back of his head and that he’ll hit .400 against the Rays this week and next week and get a bunch of annoyingly well-timed hits in October.

3. Rays (2): Seven of their next ten come against the Yankees. What’s the more important thing to play for right now: winning the AL East for its own sake, or winning the AL East so they don’t have to face the Twins in the first round?

4. Phillies (5): The Halladay-Oswalt-Hamels attack is working exactly as planned. Woe be to whomever has to face those three in the playoffs.

5. Giants (8): Just as they take three of four from the Padres they lose Andres Torres for the season. Talk about a bummer.

6. Rockies (10): En Fuego. They may be 1.5 behind the Padres and Giants, but they are probably the best bet to win the division right now. My best bet anyway. Series against the Padres begins tonight. They’ve played very well against San Diego this year.

7. Braves (6): Hitting the wall, it seems. Hudson is tired. Jurrjens hasn’t looked right and Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami just aren’t that good. I’m not going to write them off, obviously, as a one game deficit is meaningless when you still have six games left against the team you’re chasing. But no, my confidence is not high at the moment.

8. Padres (9): Also hitting the wall. Mat Latos is at 166 IP right now. I can’t imagine the plan was for him to pitch that many, let alone the four more starts’ worth he’s scheduled for if he stays on regular rest.

9. Rangers (11): Jeff Francoeur: the secret weapon. He’s 5 for 13 with three RBIs and a .400 OBP since coming over to Texas. Then again, he always makes a good first impression, doesn’t he?

10. Reds (4): That black and purple buzzsaw they ran into last week was no fun, but a lot of teams are experiencing that these days. Two of three from the Pirates is better, and a six game cushion still seems comfy enough. I’d feel confident buying playoff tickets for these guys right now.

11. Red Sox (11): Reading the Boston papers and all the Martinez/Ortiz/Papelbon talk and you’d think it was December and this was hot stove season already. At some point it’s going to dawn on everyone that this was a pretty good team that sadly (a) had a metric ass-ton of injuries this year; and (b) looked way worse than they really were by virtue of playing the AL East.

12. White Sox (7): A friend emailed me this morning to tell me that he saw Mark Buehrle getting a pumpkin spice latte at a Chicagoland Starbucks. Then — just as he was sprinkling on his extra cinnamon — Joe West jumped out and called a balk on him. True story.

13. Cardinals (13): Dropping two of three (Brewers) and splitting a four game series (Braves) is not going to get the job done. They needed a Rockies-like run, and they’re not getting it.

14. Marlins (15): I like watching Mike Stanton hit home runs. But as an NL East partisan, I won’t particularly mind if he doesn’t cut down on his strikeouts and up his OBP until he’s playing somewhere else. In the meantime, I think I’ll enjoy the Dave Kingman act.

15. Athletics (16): Question: will the Silicon Valley CEOs who want the A’s in San Jose help pony up for the parking and utility improvements and all of that side stuff that will end up costing San Jose taxpayers tens of millions even if the stadium is “privately built?”

16. Blue Jays (14): We hear a bunch about the Mets and Cubs, but does anyone have any idea who’s going to manage the Blue Jays next year? I don’t think I’ve heard any real speculation about it. Let’s create some: Bobby Valentine is a perfect fit for the job because he has extensive non-United States managing experience. Really, there’s nothing easier than creating your own Bobby Valentine rumor. You should try it at home!

17. Tigers (18): Back to .500, thanks in part to taking three of four from the White Sox. Give Jim Leyland — a man who has taken some lumps for late season fades in recent years — for not letting his team quit.

18. Mets (20): They probably didn’t deserve a two-spot bump for taking two of three from the Nats, but at this point I’m just feeling sorry for them. Speaking of New York, this may be the best thing the Onion has written in years.

19. Dodgers (17)/Astros (19): The mood among Dodgers fans is impossibly grim right now. The mood among Astros fans is pretty damn good. Easy to forget, then, that the Dodgers are almost certain to play much better than they are right now next year and the Astros to play much worse.

21. Angels (21): I’ll admit: Mike Scioscia worrying about where the playoffs are being held this year gave me a chuckle this morning.

22. Brewers (23): Ken Macha is almost certainly gone, I would imagine. Does Willie Randolph have a shot at that job, or do they clean house entirely? Seems to me that Randoph deserves another shot at the top job someplace.

23. Cubs (22): Seven of their final 19 games are against the Padres and Giants. So I guess they Cubs could claim they’re involved in a pennant race if they really want to.

24. Orioles (25): Baltimore has to close things out at 8-11 or better to avoid 100 losses. With the way the season started, the fact that they really could do it is amazing.

25. Indians (28): Things you did not know because you spend almost zero time paying attention to the Indians: Travis Hafner has been pretty darn good this year.

26. Royals (27): There’s nothing more frightening than being threatened by a guy named Ned. Well, except for everything.

27. Nationals (24): I swear, I’ve seen at least three D.C. reporters write some variation of “Nyjer Morgan is not likely to stick with Nationals after this year” in the past week or so. Do the weather reports there include percent chance that the sun rises too?

28. Diamondbacks (26): Kevin Towers may or may not come to run this team, but I know two things: (1) the Padres under Towers always managed to put together nice bullpens on the cheap; and (2) if the Diamondbacks had a halfway decent bullpen this year they would have been a far more dangerous team than they ended up being.

29. Mariners (29): Every
thing going on in Seattle right now is a disgrace
. I can’t wait to read the translation of Ichiro’s autobiography someday.

30. Pirates (30): After all of this season’s ugliness, it’s pretty shocking to see that they’re on pace to outdraw last year’s attendance totals.

Astros exemplify the player-unfriendly bent of analytics

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Even as recently as a decade ago, Sabermetrics was a niche interest among baseball fans. As various concepts began to gain acceptance in the mainstream, players slowly began to accept them as well. Players like Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke were hailed as examples of a new breed of player — one who marries his athleticism with the utilization of analytics. This year, much was made of certain players’ data-driven adjustments, including Daniel Murphy and J.D. Martinez. Both had great seasons as a result of focusing more on hitting more fly balls instead of ground balls and line drives.

Statistics can clearly benefit players. They can also be used against them, and not just by opposing players. The Astros, who are in the World Series for the first time since 2005, are a great example of this. The Astros spent a few years rebuilding after a complete overhaul of the front office, which included bringing in analytically-fluent Jeff Luhnow as GM after the 2011 season. That overhaul instilled so much confidence that, in 2014, Sports Illustrated writer Ben Reiter predicted that the Astros would win the 2017 World Series. He’s only four Astros wins away from being proven correct.

The Astros’ front office, though, took advantage of its players at various times throughout the process. Their success is owed, in part, to exploiting its players. On Twitter, user @chicken__puppet chained a few tweets together exemplifying this:

At its core, analytics is about optimization: getting the most bang for your buck. If you read Moneyball, you know this. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) quickly became synonymous with the field and $/WAR was a natural next step. Sabermetrics defaulted to ownership’s perspective, so highly-paid players who performed poorly were scorned. Cheap players who performed well were lauded.

It is no mere coincidence that once most front offices installed analytics departments, teams stopped handing out so many outrageous contracts to free agent first baseman/DH types. Instead, teams focused on signing their young players to long-term contract extensions to buy out their arbitration years ahead of time, ostensibly saving ownership and the team boatloads of money. Teams began to pay close attention to service time as well. Service time determines when a player becomes eligible for arbitration and free agency, so teams that are able to finagle their players’ service time can potentially delay that player’s free agency by a year. The Cubs tried to do this with third baseman Kris Bryant in 2015, as Craig wrote about.

There is a very real ethical component to covering and being a fan of Major League Baseball, despite the common plea to separate sports from politics. The Astros and Cubs aren’t the only ones exploiting their players; the Angels, for example, made some odd personnel choices earlier this season that happened to allow them to avoid paying some players incentive bonuses. Every front office, in one way or another, games the system because the system is set up to benefit ownership first and players second. And if the likes of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa can be taken advantage of so freely and openly, what hope does anyone else have?

Fans have been conditioned to group players and owners together as one group of rich people. In reality, the player earning $30 million has more in common with the office worker making $35,000 a year than with team owners. When fans hear about Correa making $507,500 instead of $550,000, or about free agent who wants a nine-figure contract, they wonder why he had the nerve to ask for so much money in the first place. We praise players, like Cliff Lee, who “leave money on the table.” Both the player and that fan, by virtue of existing and participating in this system, are locked in an eternal battle with those who cut their paychecks. Regardless of salary differences, the player deserves to benefit from the fruits of his labor as much as the office worker. Part of being a baseball fan should also include rooting for the players’ financial success and not just the owners’.

Praising the Astros for being smart and savvy will only create more incentive for other front offices to mimic these unethical behaviors. The whole theme of the World Series shouldn’t be about smart, analytically-inclined teams reaching the summit; it should in part be about teams getting ahead with a multitude of exploitative practices against their players.