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The AL East had dominant pitching in April

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One month into the season, the AL East has demonstrated that the division’s ceiling on the mound is sky high.

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red Sox Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

After one month of the season, offensive struggles have been one of the main storylines to follow, both in terms of the floundering Yankees lineup and the declining run production throughout the league as a whole. Because of these early trends, I decided to take a look at the pitching staffs within the American League East, in part because it might help shed some light on the Yankees’ offensive struggles (the Yankees’ first 15 games, and 19 of the first 25, came against AL East teams), and in part because I believe that, due to last year’s shortened season, pitching depth will play an even more pivotal role this year than it normally does.

To do so, I compiled a sampling of a variety of statistics — incorporating traditional, sabermetric, and Statcast data — using Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, alongside which I provided each team’s ranking in the American League. (Note: the data was collected yesterday afternoon, and thus does not reflect last night’s games)

AL East pitching stats — April 2021

Team Runs/Game K/9 K/BB K%-BB% ERA FIP WHIP Hard Hit %
Team Runs/Game K/9 K/BB K%-BB% ERA FIP WHIP Hard Hit %
BAL 4.20 (8) 8.6 (12) 2.59 (12) 13.1% (10) 4.10 (10) 4.32 (13) 1.293 (10) 39.5% (T-12)
BOS 4.00 (5) 9.7 (4) 2.78 (11) 11.9% (11) 3.61 (4) 3.23 (1) 1.247 (9) 39.5% (T-12)
NYY 3.68 (1) 10.4 (3) 3.91 (1) 16.9% (4) 3.22 (1) 3.35 (2) 1.086 (1) 37.0% (6)
TB 4.42 (12) 9.0 (8) 3.36 (2) 17.4% (2) 4.02 (9) 3.55 (4) 1.164 (4) 35.1% (2)
TOR 3.70 (2) 8.8 (11) 3.03 (7) 11.9% (12) 3.35 (2) 4.10 (10) 1.193 (5) 36.6% (5)

As a fan of quality pitching, this data is very exciting, as every team in the division has some positives that they can try to build on. Boston fans, for instance, can get excited about the team’s league-leading FIP, a product of their league-best 0.7 HR/9 rate, while Tampa Bay fans can stress the fact that their peripherals are much better than their base stats and that they should expect positive regression at some point. And, in what would be a shock to most Yankees fans before the season started, the Yankees’ pitching staff has been elite by pretty much any measure you want to use, despite the fact that average starting pitching would actually be an improvement for what we saw by every starter not named Gerrit Cole during most of April.

Should we expect this elevated level of performance throughout the division to remain like this? Unfortunately for those who enjoy elite pitching, probably not. Baltimore’s staff has been buoyed by the elite performance of John Means and a quartet of relievers (César Valdez, Adam Plutko, Tanner Scott, and Paul Fry) that have been shutdown in the early going. Even if Matt Harvey can build on his last two starts, continue to reinvent himself, and become a top-of-the-rotation starter again, the Orioles have the pitching depth of a dog’s water bowl.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, have walked a lot of batters and generated a lot of hard contact, but have been able to work around it by striking out a lot of batters and by avoiding fly balls (33.4%, 2nd-best in the AL). They are not exactly generating a ton of groundballs as a team, however, and if opposing hitters are able to start generate more lift, their high HR/FB rate (a league-worst 18.9%) will result in them giving up runs in bunches.

Injuries, meanwhile, have struck the Blue Jays, whose ace Hyun Jin Ryu is on the shelf with a right glute strain; they have also seen injuries to stud prospect Nate Pearson and veteran depth piece Ross Stripling in the early going. Tampa Bay has also seen some injuries — Chris Mazza, Chris Archer, Pete Fairbanks, and Chaz Roe — but the more pressing concern also happens to be the same for the Yankees. Will their bullpen-centric approaches (51% of Tampa Bay’s and 41% of the Yankees’ innings have been thrown by relievers) tax the bullpen too much over the course of the season?

Of course, we’re only one-sixth of the way into the season, give or take a few days, and there’s still an immense amount of opportunity for these narratives to change. The early returns, however, do suggest that the American League East will be filled with good pitching this season. Fortunately, thanks to Cole and the bullpen, the Yankees are in a position to compete with the best of them.