When attempting to weed out early-season contenders from pretenders in MLB, run differential is often a good place to start.
When a team with a good record has a poor run differential, it’s often an indication that the team’s success won’t be sustained, and the opposite is true, too.
Let’s take a look at some MLB teams with startling run differentials so far this season.
Startling in a Good Way
San Diego Padres: 30-17, +75
The San Diego Padres are making a strong case to be the best team in the league.
Their +75 run differential is the best in baseball, and so is their 30-17 record.
Aside from quality outfield depth, the Padres lack nothing.
Their rotation is elite, with every one of their five starters boasting an ERA below 4.00.
Their bullpen is seven or eight arms deep when healthy.
Their lineup is lethal to the point where LF Tommy Pham is the only player in the team’s everyday lineup with a below-average OPS+.
The San Diego Padres are currently the best team in the MLB. They have the highest run differential in MLB, have allowed the fewest runs in MLB, their pitchers have the lowest combined ERA (2.50) and the 2nd-lowest opponent batting average (.205). They are the complete package.
— Justin Newell (@JustinJNewell) May 24, 2021
The only thing that might be worth keeping an eye on is the fact that San Diego has the 28th-ranked strength of schedule to this point, meaning that only two teams have had easier paths thus far.
Once their schedule increases in difficulty, it will be interesting to see if the Padres can hold off the Los Angeles Dodgers in an extremely competitive National League West.
Startling in a Bad Way
Oakland Athletics: 28-20, -11
The Oakland Athletics have had a lot of close wins and a handful of lopsided losses, contributing to their negative differential.
The A’s really do feel like a true contender, but a negative differential for a team well over .500 is an alarming sight.
If you were to dig a little deeper, you’d find that Oakland is really a middle-of-the-pack team offensively, ranking 17th in runs per game at 4.27.
You’d find the same on the other end of the ball—they’re 19th in runs allowed per game at 4.50.
If the Athletics want to address some weak areas, they could start finding a replacement for Elvis Andrus, who has a -1.1 WAR and is batting .177 with a .446 OPS.
New York Mets: 21-19, -13
This one shouldn’t come as a major surprise.
New York is the first-place team in the National League East, but it’s a very weak division.
The Mets are roughly a .500 team, and their run differential is in the same ballpark. Strangely, the third-place and fourth-place teams—the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins—are the only teams in the division with positive run differentials.
It’s an odd division with no clear favorite, and there are just 2.5 games of separation from top to bottom.
— John S. Gibb (@JohnSGibb) May 22, 2021
The Mets are extremely banged up, with 11 players currently on the 10-day IL.
However, when healthy, if you take the players who have started the majority of the games for the Mets at each position, none of them have an OPS over .800.
In a nutshell, that’s the root of the problem for New York.
The pitching staff has carried its weight, ranking fourth in all of MLB with a 3.30 team ERA, but the offense has not.