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Posted: Monday May 21, 2012 4:42PM ; Updated: Monday May 21, 2012 5:15PM

Power Rankings: Rangers reclaim top spot; Nats surge into second

Story Highlights

The strong play of shortstop Elvis Andrus helped push the Rangers back to No. 1

Washington jumps up to No. 2 behind pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson

The marked increase in defensive shifts has altered the metric for run prevention

One of the emerging themes of the 2012 season is the increased emphasis on defensive shifts by many Major League teams. When the WAR framework was originally developed, shifting was not as common, and the defensive metric included in WAR was not built to account for these kinds of shifts. So we've made an adjustment to the way we're crediting teams for their defensive contributions: the runs saved measure is now based on the rate at which teams turn balls in play into outs. We've included park factors to adjust for environments that inflate batting average on balls in play, and this way of measuring defensive contribution allows for a better reflection of a team's overall run prevention. You will note a few teams moved in the rankings this week due in part to this change. The Blue Jays -- jumping from No. 28 to No. 16 -- are the biggest beneficiaries of the adjustment.

The Rangers end up back atop the rankings, and for the first time all season, the Cardinals fell out of the top two. They've been displaced by the Washington Nationals, a club that even received a home run from pitcher Stephen Strasburg in Sunday's victory over the upstart Orioles. Given how many injuries the Nats have suffered, their early-season success is remarkable. It might not be a stretch: If guys like Mike Morse and Jayson Werth are healthy for the second half of the season, the nation's capital could have a legitimate World Series contender to root for in October.

NOTE: All stats are through Sunday, May 20.

Rankings written by Ben Duronio of Fangraphs.com. The system used to rank the teams is based not on the current standings or a gut feeling about team quality, but on how well they've performed at the underlying traits that predict future performance better than wins and losses.

wRC+ is an offensive index where 100 is league average and every point above or below that denotes how far from league average a player's performance has been up to that point. It is adjusted for park and league, so it takes into account the context of a player's surroundings, and allows for comparison of performance from players in different situations and in different times.

MLB Power Rankings
1Texas Rangers
Last Week: 2
WAR Winning Percentage: .728; Current Winning Percentage: .619; WAR Wins: 31; Current Wins: 26

The Rangers' offense boasts the second most home runs in baseball, a stat that's somewhat stunning given their second-best position player has just one homer all season. But Elvis Andrus has been tremendous. He has a .400 on base percentage with eight steals in nine chances, and no shortstop in baseball has a higher WAR. He -- by a significant margin -- has been the best all-around shortstop in the American League to this point.
 
2Washington Nationals
Last Week: 6
WAR Winning Percentage: .667; Current Winning Percentage: .585; WAR Wins: 27; Current Wins: 24

New acquisitions Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson have been integral parts of the Nationals' rotation, which has been the best in the league in nearly every pitching category. Gonzalez has the highest strikeout rate of any qualified starter in the majors (11.10), and Jackson's 4.60 K/BB rate ranks 10th in the league. The latter is a reflection of Jackson's ongoing progression. He has managed to cut his walk rate to half of his career average.
 
3St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 1
WAR Winning Percentage: .657; Current Winning Percentage: .537; WAR Wins: 27; Current Wins: 22

The injuries are really starting to pile up in St. Louis, as Allen Craig, Lance Berkman, and John Jay were all placed on the disabled list this week. Along with those three, Carlos Beltran missed a few games with an ailing knee. The Cardinals have a good amount of depth in the corner spots, but with David Freese struggling of late (.170/.231/.340 in the past 14 games), the offense has not been as nearly as effective as it was earlier in the year.
 
4Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 3
WAR Winning Percentage: .642; Current Winning Percentage: .683; WAR Wins: 26; Current Wins: 28

The Dodgers just completed a sweep of the Cardinals without Matt Kemp, so why are they still ranked behind St. Louis? It's simple: though they've played well, their record is inflated by a 12-6 mark in one-run games, while the Cardinals are just 1-7 in such contests. Winning games by one run is nice, but such victories are often one bounce or call away from going the other direction; they don't have much predictive value. While the Dodgers are a quality team and a legitimate contender in the NL West, their luck is likely to run out. They aren't likely to keep winning 67 percent of one-run games.
 
5Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 8
WAR Winning Percentage: .554; Current Winning Percentage: .500; WAR Wins: 23; Current Wins: 21

Carlos Ruiz has been one of the best catchers in the game so far, with seven home runs and a .407 on-base percentage. Ruiz and Hunter Pence (10 home runs) have carried a struggling Philadelphia lineup that has gotten extremely little production from its infield. Vance Worley's elbow injury puts Kyle Kendrick back into the rotation, which is bad news for the Phillies. Kendrick's 5.03 FIP and -0.1 WAR are considerable drop-offs from Worley's 3.07 ERA and 0.4 WAR.
 
6Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 9
WAR Winning Percentage: .552; Current Winning Percentage: .643; WAR Wins: 23; Current Wins: 27

Only two players have been better than Baltimore's Adam Jones this season: David Wright and Josh Hamilton. Jones is on pace to smash his career highs in home runs and stolen bases, and his 2.8 WAR is only slightly behind last year's 2.9 mark. The fact that he has been as productive as in any other previous season just 41 games into the year is astonishing, particularly considering that he hit 19 home runs every year since 2009 as a centerfielder.
 
7San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 13
WAR Winning Percentage: .552; Current Winning Percentage: .512; WAR Wins: 23; Current Wins: 21

New outfielders Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco have paced an otherwise very poor Giant offense. Each of the three has a wRC+ above 130, and though the group has not collectively hit for much power -- they've smacked just seven home runs between them -- they've gotten on base at a high rate and stolen 18 bags in 23 chances. While they're unlikely to sustain that pace, their base-stealing success has managed to keep the team afloat while Pablo Sandoval is on the DL. His eventual return will take much of the pressure off the overachieving outfielders.
 
8Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 5
WAR Winning Percentage: .551; Current Winning Percentage: .619; WAR Wins: 23; Current Wins: 26

Martin Prado's bounce back year has helped the Braves score more runs than any other NL team. Prado has a line of .323/.395/.490 after posting a .260/.302/.385 line last year, and he has the best walk-to-strikeout ratio of his career, averaging nearly one walk for every strikeout. Add in very good outfield defense and baserunning, and Prado has been very effective at every facet of the game -- and one of the keys to the Braves' strong start to the season.
 
9Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 11
WAR Winning Percentage: .550; Current Winning Percentage: .595; WAR Wins: 23; Current Wins: 25

Though his .214 batting average would make him appear ineffective, Tampa's Ben Zobrist has arguably been the team's top position player this year. With a 17.5 percent walk rate, he still maintains a .352 on-base percentage, and his 18 extra base hits give him an impressive .231 Isolated Slugging. Don't let the numbers deceive you: Zobrist is getting on base at a solid rate, is hitting for good power and is playing great defense at both second base and right field.
 
10Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 7
WAR Winning Percentage: .542; Current Winning Percentage: .488; WAR Wins: 22; Current Wins: 20

Mike Aviles has not gotten on base at a high rate to date (he has just a .303 OBP), but he has nine home runs and five stolen bases in addition to serving as one of the top defensive shortstops in the game. Aviles posted a 4.4 win season for the Royals in 2008. If he could replicate that type of production for the rest of the season, the Red Sox will have one of the game's most surprisingly productive shortstops for the second year in a row.
 
11New York Yankees
Last Week: 4
WAR Winning Percentage: .531; Current Winning Percentage: .523; WAR Wins: 21; Current Wins: 21

Mark Teixeira's struggles are beginning to become a concern. After posting the second lowest walk rate and wRC+ of his career in 2011, Teixeira has seen those numbers drop even further this year (6.9% walk rate and 78 wRC+). And that's not all. Teixeira's power seems to have evaporated, with an ISO of just .159 compared to his career mark of .248. The fact that the Yankees have been able to stay afloat without any contributions from their first baseman speak volumes to their depth, but it likely can't continue. New York will need him before the year is over.
 
12Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 24
WAR Winning Percentage: .521; Current Winning Percentage: .488; WAR Wins: 21; Current Wins: 20

You know your No. 3 and No. 4 hitters are great when they maintain a matching 130 wRC+, and are both considered to be underperforming. Last year, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder posted 177 and 162 marks, respectively, and the Tigers will need both to get closer to their career averages to improve an offense that has displayed some significant shortcomings. Outfielder Andy Dirks has been a revelation, but as he cools down, the onus will be on Fielder and Cabrera to pick up the slack.
 
13Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 23
WAR Winning Percentage: .508; Current Winning Percentage: .561; WAR Wins: 21; Current Wins: 23

Asdrubal Cabrera's game really seems to have improved. His .404 on-base percentage seems sustainable given his AL-leading 1.50 BB/K ratio. He may not hit 25 home runs as he did last season, but his batting average and on-base percentage have increased and his strikeout rate has dipped below 8.0 percent, less than half the rate he posted a year ago. Cabrera's emergence has solidified a lineup in dire need of a boost. The Indians will have to hope that his breakout campaign continues.
 
14Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 15
WAR Winning Percentage: .519; Current Winning Percentage: .500; WAR Wins: 22; Current Wins: 21

The White Sox are the third straight AL Central team on this list, as the top of the division seems completely evenly matched. Adam Dunn's resurgence has a lot to do with Chicago's success, as he has belted 13 home runs and has seen his on-base percentage jump up to .390. Last year, he finished with a lackluster .292 rate.
 
15Miami Marlins
Last Week: 14
WAR Winning Percentage: .506; Current Winning Percentage: .537; WAR Wins: 21; Current Wins: 22

It's actually a bit surprising that the Marlins have played as well as they have. Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison have combined for -0.7 WAR. Sanchez was recently demoted to Triple-A, and although Morrison's on-base percentage of .346 is adequate, his power seems to have gone by the wayside: his ISO is just .102. Omar Infante and Austin Kearns have compensated so far, but as career role players, their production likely won't remain as solid as it has been.
 
16Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 28
WAR Winning Percentage: .488; Current Winning Percentage: .548; WAR Wins: 20; Current Wins: 23

Edwin Encarnacion's new swing, in which he keeps two hands on his bat throughout the entirety of his stroke, has proven to be a huge success early in the season. Encarnacion already has 13 home runs after hitting 17 all of last year, and he has been a force in the middle of the Blue Jays lineup since the start of the year. But Adam Lind has been every bit as bad as Encarnacion has been good. The other Blue Jay 1B/DH, Lind has been designated for assignment after posting a .273 on-base percentage in 132 plate appearances.
 
17Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 19
WAR Winning Percentage: .485; Current Winning Percentage: .429; WAR Wins: 20; Current Wins: 18

Mike Trout has been just as promising as the Angels could have hoped. He has a .355 average, four home runs and six stolen bases in a mere 20 games played. The young outfielder has made a difference since joining the club, but the Angels are slipping further and further behind the Rangers in the West. Dan Haren (4.37 ERA) and Ervin Santana (4.22 ERA) need to improve for the Angels to start catching the two-time defending AL champs.
 
18Houston Astros
Last Week: 22
WAR Winning Percentage: .462; Current Winning Percentage: .439; WAR Wins: 19; Current Wins: 18

Jed Lowrie and Jose Altuve have been one of the best middle infield combos in baseball this year, with a 129 and 135 wRC+, respectively. Lowrie's 1.6 WAR ranks fourth in the bigs among shortstops, while Altuve's 1.5 WAR ranks third among second baseman. But the Astros need better production from J.D. Martinez, .149/.264/.176 over the past 30 days, in order to bolster the offense behind their two impressive middle infielders.
 
19Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 10
WAR Winning Percentage: .462; Current Winning Percentage: .415; WAR Wins: 19; Current Wins: 17

Rickie Weeks has struck out 53 times in 38 games, trailing only the notoriously hit-or-miss Adam Dunn in strikeouts. After posting seasons with a 128 and 127 wRC+, Weeks' 67 mark becomes that much more disappointing. The Brewers need to find a way to get Weeks back on track, as injuries at shortstop and first base coupled with a slow start from Aramis Ramirez have made the Brewer infield one of the least productive in the league.
 
20Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 12
WAR Winning Percentage: .454; Current Winning Percentage: .452; WAR Wins: 19; Current Wins: 19

The long-awaited return of Chris Young from the disabled list could not have come at a better time for the Diamondbacks. Young is still the team leader in WAR (1.5) despite playing in only 14 games, and he remains tied for the team lead in home runs with five. Better yet: Justin Upton seems to be getting hot, as he is hitting .304/.452/.435 over the past seven days, including a ninth-inning home run against Rockies' closer Rafael Betancourt.
 
21Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 18
WAR Winning Percentage: .452; Current Winning Percentage: .525; WAR Wins: 18; Current Wins: 21

The Reds have really struggled at the plate, as only Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Ryan Hanigan, and Todd Frazier have a wRC+ above 100. Votto and Bruce have combined for 17 home runs, while the rest of the team has just 19 in total. Drew Stubbs and Brandon Phillips have been the biggest disappointments. Both have on-base percentages at or below .300 and have combined for just five home runs after belting 33 last year.
 
22Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 16
WAR Winning Percentage: .450; Current Winning Percentage: .366; WAR Wins: 18; Current Wins: 15

Kerry Wood retired this week after posting a 8.31 ERA in 8.2 innings of work out of the bullpen. The former top prospect, famous for striking out 20 batters in a game as a youngster, ends his career with a 10.34 K/9 rate, behind only Randy Johnson for any pitcher with a minimum of 1,000 innings pitched. Not much has gone well for the Cubs this year, but it was nice to see Wood's career end with a strikeout.
 
23New York Mets
Last Week: 17
WAR Winning Percentage: .440; Current Winning Percentage: .537; WAR Wins: 18; Current Wins: 22

Fellow NL East players Jair Jurrjens and Gaby Sanchez are already in Triple-A, and Ike Davis may be joining them soon. He maintains just a 40 wRC+ after posting marks of 115 and 152 in each of the past two years, respectively, and his walk rate has plummeted to 6.9 percent from a career rate of 11.1 percent. His strikeout rate has also skyrocketed: It's at 26.9 percent, a sizable jump from his career 23.2 percent rate.
 
24Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 21
WAR Winning Percentage: .437; Current Winning Percentage: .375; WAR Wins: 17; Current Wins: 15

Troy Tulowitzki is second on the team in WAR at 0.6, but his performance has left plenty to be desired. With just four home runs and a .341 on-base percentage, something needs to get the shortstop on track. Tulowitzki is one of the top players in all of baseball, so his performance will likely improve. But the Rockies need it to happen sooner than later. They're already a staggering 12.5 games back of the Dodgers for the NL West division lead.
 
25Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 20
WAR Winning Percentage: .429; Current Winning Percentage: .400; WAR Wins: 17; Current Wins: 16

While Eric Hosmer is enduring what many would call a sophomore slump, fellow sophomore Mike Moustakas has had a sensational start to the year. Hosmer has hit five home runs with a .172 average, but his .165 batting average on balls in play suggests that his average should rise significantly once he gets a few lucky bounces. Moustakas, on the other hand, has a .296 average and 17 extra base hits, and has been worth more in terms of WAR (1.9) than Hosmer was (1.7) during his impressive rookie season.
 
26Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 25
WAR Winning Percentage: .427; Current Winning Percentage: .442; WAR Wins: 18; Current Wins: 19

Kyle Seager has been a rare bright spot for a weak Mariner offense, as he is one of only two hitters with more than 100 plate appearances and a wRC+ above 100. Even Seager and his 122 wRC+ have had some issues, though, as he has walked in just 3.4 percent of his plate appearances. The Mariners have received some surprisingly sturdy performances from Kevin Millwood and Jason Vargas, but need better hitting and back-end starting pitching to get back into the race.
 
27San Diego Padres
Last Week: 26
WAR Winning Percentage: .407; Current Winning Percentage: .381; WAR Wins: 17; Current Wins: 16

Star pitcher Cory Luebke is leaning towards season ending surgery, and the Padres have hit just 16 home runs all season. Neither of those are positive developments. San Diego is built around pitching and defense, but even in that mold, a team must hit better than the Padres are to stay competitive. This much is telling: Chase Headley is the only member of the roster with more than two home runs.
 
28Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 29
WAR Winning Percentage: .372; Current Winning Percentage: .463; WAR Wins: 15; Current Wins: 19

The Pirates were two outs away from being no hit by Justin Verlander, which, given Verlander's no-hit history and the anemic Pirates' offense, would have been one of the least surprising no hitters of all time. Even with the team's offensive struggles, Andrew McCutchen has shined. In the past two weeks, McCutchen has hit seven home runs and recorded a 264 wRC+.
 
29Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 27
WAR Winning Percentage: .364; Current Winning Percentage: .500; WAR Wins: 15; Current Wins: 21

The Athletics offense has been shaky to say the least, but through a month and a half Josh Reddick has performed at an all-star level. The rightfielder has five outfield assists to go with 11 home runs and four stolen bases. Oakland lost staff ace Brandon McCarthy to a shoulder injury, but he is expected to return when eligible, and he was able to overcome this same issue last year. The rotation is decent, but they need a healthy McCarthy to keep the team near the top of the standings.
 
30Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 30
WAR Winning Percentage: .303; Current Winning Percentage: .341; WAR Wins: 12; Current Wins: 14

The Twins have the worst record in baseball, but according to their underlying performances, they've actually been even worse than their record suggests. Their pitching has been atrocious, with Jason Marquis (-0.7 WAR) the chief offender, and his rotation mates haven't exactly been fantastic, either. The offense is below average, and that's supposed to be the strength of the team. There are just no signs that things are going to get better in Minnesota. This team, by all indications, is just awful.

 
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