January 07, 2014

D/FW Media Hall of Fame Ballots

All four had full ballots. You might disagree with some selections, but all recognized the surfeit of qualified candidates, and none made a "statement." An excellent showing.

Player
TR
Fraley
Grant
Cowlishaw
TOTAL
Bagwell
X
X
X
X
4
Biggio
X
X
X
X
4
Maddux
X
X
X
X
4
Bonds
X
X
X
3
Clemens
X
X
X
3
Glavine
X
X
X
3
Mussina
X
X
X
3
Piazza
X
X
X
3
Thomas
X
X
X
3
E Martinez
X
X
2
Morris
X
X
2
Raines
X
X
2
Walker
X
X
2
Palmeiro
X
1
Trammell
X
1

Best players omitted from all ballots (by rWAR): Schilling, McGwire, Sosa, Kent

Posted by Lucas at 12:49 PM

March 07, 2013

Cactus League Map

Google Earth KMZ of all Cactus League complexes.

Posted by Lucas at 02:04 PM

November 20, 2009

Adventures In Righteousness

Headline:

Wainwright Got Jobbed In Cy Young Voting by Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Assertion:

"Many baseball writers downplayed the value of actually winning games, since [Tim] Lincecum won just 15 times with a decent supporting team."

Facts:

Run Support Per Game:
Lincecum: 4.57
Wainwright: 5.52

Assertion:

"Personally, I was in the Wainwright camp. He went the distance for the Cardinals last season. He was their horse. He shouldered large pitch counts and worked deep into games."

Facts:

Innings and Pitches per Start:
Lincecum: 7.0 IP, 107 pitches
Wainwright: 6.9 IP, 106 pitches

I should note that Gordon’s assertion in this case wasn’t intended to promote Wainwright over Lincecum but rather Chris Carpenter. Wainwright did make two more starts than Lincecum (not a trivial matter since both teams were in the playoff hunt) but pitched only eight more innings.

Assertion:

"Lincecum pitched at Carpenter’s pace, with many more strikeouts, over the long haul. But he faded, going 1-3 with a 3.50 ERA in September. Wainwright went wire to wire for his team."

Facts:

--
Lincecum
Wainwright
Starts
5
6
IP/Start
7.4
6.7
RA
3.38
3.83
ERA
3.38
3.38
Oppo. Line
.195/.295/.301
.259/.298/.373
WHIP
1.19
1.2
SO Rate
30%
28%
Personal Record
2-3
3-1
Team Record
2-3
3-3
Run Support / Game
3.8
5.8

Actually, Lincecum and Wainwright were remarkably similar down the stretch. Also, Lincecum’s K rate of 30% during September/October was slightly higher than during April through August.

Assertion:

"Had the Cardinals not spit up Wainwright’s 20th victory -– blowing a five-run lead in the process -- perhaps the voting would have gone much differently. Perhaps that would have earned Adam some additional first-place votes and some more seconds as well."

Facts:

Well, there's nothing factual to discuss, but I agree with him. 20 wins probably would have swayed enough voters to hand Wainwright the Cy Young. However, and this is critical, the bullpen's inability to hold the lead is irrelevant to Wainwright's performance that day. He's not any better or worse because his teammates spit the bit.

Conclusion:

Lincecum and Wainwright were very evenly matched. (I’d rank Carpenter a hair below them because of his lower innings.) The vote reflected this. Nobody got jobbed.

Posted by Lucas at 02:54 PM

September 30, 2008

Hindsight Is Depressing

Not that I saw THIS coming, but still...


Source: mlb.com

Posted by Lucas at 11:59 PM

August 31, 2008

Patience Is A Virtue

On August 22, 2008, Laynce Nix broke a streak of 125 plate appearances without a walk. His previous walk occurred September 24, 2004, as a Ranger.

Since walking in his first MLB plate appearance on September 13, 2006, Joaquin Arias has 51 appearances without one.

Baltimore's Corey Patterson had a streak of 153 walkless appearances, during which he batted .180/.185/.260.

Posted by Lucas at 01:32 AM

May 04, 2008

Not Dead Yet



I thought I’d driven a stake through the heart of the “team record with player in lineup? thesis (see here and here) , but no such luck:

[Ramon] Vazquez is common thread as Texas Rangers win 4th straight:

[Vazquez] is a .251 career hitter. He has below-average power. When the Rangers found him last year, he hadn't played in more than 52 major league games in three seasons. He was supposed to be the extra infielder on a team where the infielders played every day.

Be that as it may, facts can't dispute this: When Ramon Vazquez is in the Rangers' lineup, they are a winning team… Since he joined the Rangers last May when Hank Blalock needed surgery to improve blood flow to his right arm last season, the club is 63-54 when Vazquez plays; 52-44 when he starts.

Indisputable. And meaningless. To reiterate:

For a statistic to have meaning and value, it must have uniform applicability. For example, one can calculate batting averages for all hitters, compare them, and learn something meaningful about the players. Thus, for the difference in the team’s record with and without [Vazquez] to have meaning, the difference must also apply logically to other players.

Since the beginning of 2007, Texas has a record of 52-44 (.541) when Vazquez starts and 36-61 (.371) when he doesn’t. That’s a huge difference, obviously. Notably, Vazquez has replaced oft-injured Hank Blalock in most of his starts. Here’s where you end up when you apply the “team-record theory of value? to Blalock:

Blalock is common thread as Texas loses 7th straight:

Blalock seems to have recovered from the off-years of 2005-2006. He batted .293 with ten homers in 58 games last year, and .299 with three homers in 22 games this year before pulling up lame.

Be that as it may, facts can’t dispute this: When Hank Blalock is in the Rangers’ lineup, they are a losing team… Since the beginning of 2007, the club is 31-49 when Blalock plays, 30-48 when he starts.
If you believe the 63-54 team record with Vazquez is meaningful, you also must believe that the 31-49 with Blalock is meaningful (assuming you’re a fan of logical consistency).

The team record with versus without Vazquez is nothing but luck. During the last two years, the Rangers have allowed 4.86 runs per game in Vazquez’s starts and 5.78 in his off days. Vazquez wasn’t around when Texas began 2007 with a 15-26 record. This year, Blalock, not Vazquez, took the field in each of three starts by Luis Mendoza (9.31 ERA). In Jason Jennings’s six starts (8.56 ERA), Vazquez has appeared twice, Blalock four times. Vazquez didn’t play during the seven-game meltdown at Boston and Detroit.

Michael Young says that Vazquez " is one of the smartest guys I've ever played with. He does all the little things well. He knows how to handle every situation." Even stipulating that Vazquez might be more valuable than his hitting and fielding stats indicate, he’s not the difference between a .541 team and a .371 team (about 28 games per season).

If a player hangs around long enough, the team record in his games will converge with the team record in all games. Some players are worth more than others, of course, but even the difference between an MVP-level player and a backup infielder is only 10-12 games per year. The variance in “Team Record with Player X? is so high that comparisons among players are meaningless. Accepting such comparisons can lead to bizarre conclusions; for example, Ramon Vazquez is more valuable than Hank Blalock.

Incidentally, Jason Botts is (was) a career .230/.325/.344 hitter with Texas, but the Rangers had a 44-33 record when he started. Look at those intangibles! I can’t believe Texas let him go.

Posted by Lucas at 03:15 PM

March 31, 2008

Predictions

AL West:

LAA: 84-78
OAK: 81-81
SEA: 77-85
TEX: 77-85

I originally pegged LA for 87-88 wins, champions by default, but the injuries to Escobar and Lackey make the division competitive. Torii Hunter’s a long-term liability, but for now he’s a huge addition to an offense that suddenly has more responsibility for LA’s fortune.

Despite the housecleaning, I think Oakland can compete. Last year’s squad was hindered by injuries and dubious allotments of playing time (900+ plate appearances by Jason Kendall and Shannon Stewart).

Seattle will score and allow 50 fewer runs, and Pythagoras won’t permit a repeat of last year’s fluky 89 wins. The offense was last in walks, 12th in doubles, 10th in homers, and the offseason consisted of replacing Jose Guillen and Adam Jones with Brad Wilkerson.

My computer says Texas will score 812 runs and allow 869; that’s a gain of two runs on offense and a loss of 25 runs on pitching/defense compared to last year. (That indicates only 76 wins, but I think the computer’s being a little hard on Michael Young and Vicente Padilla.)

Part of the increase in runs allowed is park-related; The Ballpark was weirdly pitcher-friendly last year and I’m assuming a return to normalcy. The other part is the million questions surrounding the staff. Can Millwood and Padilla rebound? Can Jennings? Is Gabbard better than the batting-practice pitcher he often resembled this spring? Can Luis Mendoza pull off a 2004 Ryan Drese imitation? If needed, do Patterson or Ponson bring anything to the table? Might Hurley (or Murray or Harrison) announce his presence with authority? Can Wilson retire righties? Does Guardado offer anything? Will Fukumori translate to the U.S.? Etc.

The offense is respectable when it contains both Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley. How often will that be? If they’re both out, Texas has an outfield of Catalanotto/Botts, Murphy and Byrd, and a dicey middle of the order. The pivotal season belongs to Hank Blalock. Texas badly needs his bat and to find out whether he’s worth extending. As I’ve mentioned, for his career Blalock has hit lefties considerably worse than Ben Broussard. Without improvement, he’s just not an everyday player. If that’s the case, would the Rangers offer, and would he accept, a discounted extension and a platoon role? Probably not. If not, does German Duran have the arm and bat to man third on a regular basis?

Last year I calculated the Rangers would score 800 runs and allow 834. They actually scored 816 and allowed 844. Yay, me. Unfortunately, being the hopeful sort, I picked them to win 81 games despite the run deficit. Boo.

AL Central: Cleveland

Detroit has a bunch of hitters on the ugly side of 30 and some questions in its rotation and bullpen. Cleveland won’t win 96 games again, but they’ll hold off the Tigers.

AL East: New York
AL Wild Card: Boston

My computer shows the Yankees winning comfortably over the Sox. I don’t believe it. It shows good seasons from Chamberlain, Hughes and Kennedy, but one (or two) of them ought to suffer an injury or be terrible. In an case, Boston and New York should both play in October, and Detroit again will fall just short.

NL West: San Diego

Really? I’ve got the Pads with 86 wins, barely above LA and Arizona. A wide open division.

NL Central: Milwaukee

What a great offense. What an ugly defense. They won’t collapse this time and will barely hold off the Cubbies.

NL East: New York

Atlanta and Philadephia will challenge but fall short.

NL Wild Card: Chicago

Again, Atlanta and Philadephia will challenge but fall short.

World Series: Yankees over Mets

I really hope I’m wrong about this.

I don’t have anyone winning or losing 100 games. If anyone’s a 100-game loser, it’s the Giants. I see the Orioles as just bad, not epically bad.

Posted by Lucas at 05:30 PM

Solace

No matter how the Rangers perform this year, at least they won't be using Brett Tomko to hold a one-run lead in the 8th inning.

Posted by Lucas at 02:43 PM

November 11, 2007

Meh!

T.R. Sullivan notes that Texas hasn’t “had a Rookie of the Year since 1974? (Mike Hargrove).

To which I say: “meh.?

2003 ROY: Angel Berroa
5th Place: Mark Teixeira

2002 ROY: Eric Hinske
4th Place: John Lackey

1998 ROY: Ben Grieve
5th Place: Magglio Ordonez

1995 ROY: Marty Cordova
2nd through 6th: Garret Anderson, Andy Pettitte, Troy Percival, Shawn Green, Ray Durham

1994 ROY: Bob Hamelin
2nd Place: Manny Ramirez
3rd Place: Rusty Greer

1992 ROY: Pat Listach
2nd Place: Kenny Lofton

1984 ROY: Alvin Davis
6th Place: Roger Clemens

(though Davis had a solid, if not lengthy, career)

1982 ROY: Cal Ripken, Jr.
6th Place: Dave Hostetler

(just kidding)

Posted by Lucas at 01:14 AM

August 17, 2007

Arlington > Houston

Drafts picks signed in the first four rounds:

Texas Houston
P Blake Beavan
P Michael Main
OF Julio Borbon
P Tommy Hunter
P Neil Ramirez
SS Matt West
P Evan Reed
-

Posted by Lucas at 11:57 AM

May 28, 2007

A Brief History Of 18-32 Teams

With Sunday’s loss, Texas’s 18-32 record ties the second worst 50-game start in team history (the worst being 1982’s 17-33). From 1900-2006, 57 teams began their seasons with a record of 18-32, including the ’73 Rangers. What hope did these teams have?

Not much. On the whole, they played as you’d expect: better than their .360 winning percentages coming in, but still poorly. The average team finished the season at 67-95 and played .436 ball in its final 112 games (all numbers scaled to a 162-game season). Only twelve teams (21%) declined to a sub-.360 win rate, including, ahem, the ’73 Rangers.

Four teams finished with winning records, two of which are recent:

Team
Year
First 50 Division Status Last 112 Final Record Division Status / Postseason
Pittsburgh
1974
18-32 6th, 9.0 GB 70-42 88-74 1st, +1.5, lost div series to LA
San Diego
1988
18-32 5th, -10.5 65-46 83-78 3rd, -11.0
Oakland
2005
18-32 4th, -11.5 70-42 88-74 2nd, -7.0
Houston
2005
18-32 6th, -15.0 71-41 89-73 2nd, -11.0, Wild Card, lost World Series to Chicago

Coming soon: A Brief History of 18-33 Teams.

Posted by Lucas at 12:44 PM

April 21, 2007

A Deservedly Brief Recent History Of Fantastic #9 Batters

Rangers’ manager Ron Washington appears to have foregone the experiment of Ian Kinsler batting ninth. Kinsler hasn’t batted lower than seventh since April 14th.

I was never particularly distraught about Kinsler batting ninth in the short term. A few weeks or so of it won’t do much harm. However, what did distress me was the post-hoc explanations of how batting him ninth was not only defensible, but clever. Some examples:

From the Startlegram:

Despite his recent hitting prowess, Kinsler has batted ninth in the order in seven of his 11 games this season. Washington prefers to have Kinsler hit second against lefties, but said he wants to do everything possible to help the 24-year-old succeed in his second season.

"Sometimes when you're hitting in the ninth spot, people forget who's there and he gets to see better pitches," Washington said.

"Since you get through the lineup one time, it doesn't matter where you are in the lineup now.... We're only in the first month of the season, and I'm going to let him be where he's most comfortable."

And MLB.com:

Manager Ron Washington cited Kinsler's production from the No. 9 spot the Rangers lineup as particularly helpful. In a lineup that seems never to run short of firepower, Kinsler's presence adds more punch.

Washington doesn't intend to move Kinsler from the No. 9 spot anytime soon.

And why should Washington move him? How many Major League teams have a No. 9 hitter with Kinsler's numbers?

At this point, it seems to be just Washington's Rangers.

At least Washington’s “comfort” argument is supportable. Kinsler hit much better from the nine spot than anywhere else last year. That he did so is only a coincidence; he started the season batting ninth on a hot streak, then mostly batted elsewhere and hit worse after returning from a broken thumb. Still, I’ll give Washington the benefit of the doubt. A tangible record exists of Kinsler’s prowess at the bottom of the order.

Washington’s other argument doesn’t hold up. Does he honestly believe that opposing pitchers will forget about Kinsler, or anyone else? In a DH league, and in a high-offense era in which middle infielders are expected to provide more than gloves, no spot in the order is safe for a pitcher. Everyone knows this -- saying so has descended to a cliché.

The second excerpt is downright painful to read. The argument collapses on the flimsiest of rebuttals: if having a top-notch #9 hitter is so wonderful, why not bat David Ortiz there? Or David Wright? Or Albert Pujols?

Why not? Because it would be stupid. Batting lower in the order reduces a players plate appearances, and a manager should maximize (or, more accurately, optimize) the appearances of his best hitters. This is not some arcane statistical theory.

Over a full season, a particular spot in the batting order receives about 18 fewer appearances than the spot directly above it. The exact number depends of the batters and the results of their at-bats, but 18 is good for discussion purposes. At the extremes, a team’s #1 hitters may have over 140 more appearances than its #9 hitters during the season.

In Kinsler’s case, assume he starts 120 games against a righthander in 2007 (he’s already batting 2nd against lefties, so we can ignore those games). The difference between batting ninth and batting sixth is about 40 appearances ( [ 18 x 3 ] * [ 120 / 162 ] ). 40 may not seems like much, but it’s equivalent to about nine full games. 40 appearances take on added importance when the batters ahead of him include one (Sosa) who couldn’t achieve gainful employment in 2006 and two (Cruz and Laird) who have yet to establish a track record of solid hitting as everyday players.

Has a team ever consciously persisted with a better-than-average hitter in the nine hole? Since 2000, four AL teams have had their #9 hitters finish with a higher OPS than their team as a whole: Detroit in 2002, and Cleveland, Oakland, Toronto in 2005.

Detroit, 2002:
Team Batting: .248/.300/.379 (86 OPS+)
#9 Batters: .261/.307/.391

Player
GP
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
B Inge 40 .211 .268 .320 .588
C Truby 28 .225 .255 .337 .592
R Santiago 24 .286 .349 .403 .751
J Macias 19 .233 .292 .267 .559
M Walbeck 14 .289 .298 .311 .609
D Jackson 10 .450 .520 .700 1.220
Others 56 .300 .336 .555 .891
Team 161 .261 .307 .391 .698

Jose Macias began the year as the primary #9 hitter and played himself out of a job by May. Brandon Inge spent a plurality of the season’s remainder at the bottom of the order and was no better. Two factors contributed to Detroit’s “excellence” from the nine spot: 1) Damian Jackson and “Others” hit absurdly well at #9, but only at #9, 2) The Tigers had a terrible offense, with other spots in the lineup occupied by the likes of Shane Halter and Wendell Magee.

Cleveland, 2005:
Team Batting: .271/.334/.453 (114 OPS+)
#9 Batters: .282/.338/.483

Player
GP
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
C Blake 54 .264 .328 .511 .839
J Peralta 50 .305 .348 .527 .875
A Boone 16 .412 .434 .529 .963
J Dubois 11 .265 .359 .441 .800
R Belliard 12 .333 .355 .500 .855
Others 73 .204 .281 .350 .630
Team 162 .282 .338 .483 .821

Cleveland is the only team on the list with a good offense, and the fantastic #9 hitting was a group effort. Jhonny Peralta hadn’t hit at all as a Major Leaguer and was understandably slotted at the bottom of the order to begin the season. His startling performance earned a promotion by early July and he spent most of the second half batting third.

Aaron Boone, batting .193/.250/.340 in early July, took Peralta’s place. He promptly began hitting the cover off the ball and was moved to the #6-#8 region. Casey Blake, himself hitting under .200, replaced Boone and also performed miraculously well through the end of the season. He never moved back up, even though Boone had reverted to his typical putrescence.

Oakland, 2005:
Team Batting: .262/.330/.407 (93 OPS+)
#9 Batters: .269/.334/.420

Player
GP
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
M Scutaro 81 .249 .309 .383 .692
M Ellis 34 .291 .350 .455 .805
A Melhuse 18 .304 .350 .500 .850
N Swisher 17 .255 .368 .468 .837
Others 54 .292 .354 .417 .771
Team 162 .269 .334 .420 .754

Marco Scutaro is a rare case of a player spending half of a season or longer batting ninth. It’s almost by definition a transitory position – good hitters move up, bad hitters move to the bench or the minors. Oakland’s #9 hitters surpassed their counterparts despite Scutaro, who hit .249/.309/.383. A mediocre hitter enjoying a career year (Ellis), a backup catcher on a hot streak (Melhuse) and a promising rookie (Swisher) provided the heft.

Toronto, 2005:
Team Batting: .265/.331/.407 (95 OPS+)
#9 Batters: .281/.330/.419

Player
GP
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
O Hudson 48 .323 .345 .472 .817
R Adams 42 .274 .324 .532 .856
K Huckaby 25 .219 .269 .274 .543
J McDonald 26 .328 .369 .362 .731
A Hill 11 .387 .412 .452 .863
F Menechino 14 .280 .419 .480 .899
Others 57 .198 .263 .297 .559
Team 162 .281 .330 .419 .749

Russ Adams spent about 60% of the season’s first 70 games batting ninth and slugged .532. Elsewhere, he was terrible. On June 22, he became the Blue Jays’ primary leadoff hitter despite an overall line of .241/.291/.434. Three players who’d spent time batting first before him – Frank Catalanotto, Orlando Hudson, and Reed Johnson – all had superior on-base percentages. Beats the heck out of me.

Orlando Hudson occupied the bottom spot during much of the second half and recovered nicely from a rough start that included a dire .236/.262/.341 line batting second. Some occasional greatness from Aaron Hill and Frank Menechino bolstered the position.

In no case was superior performance by the #9 hitters a result of design. Mostly, players simply entered a hot streak that coincided with their tenure at the bottom of the order. Arguably, only in the instance of Casey Blake did a manager maintain a lineup with an extraordinarily successful hitter batting last, and it did not take place at the beginning of the season.

On a team level, some fluky performances can result in the #9 hitters surpassing the rest of the team at the plate. At the player level, however, the “good #9 hitter” does not exist, nor should he. The best hitters deserve the most plate appearances. The argument that a good hitter should remain at the bottom of the order because he’s a good hitter is preposterous, and a manager who persistently writes a good hitter’s name at the bottom of the order deserves scorn. Washington’s not there yet, but if Kinsler’s still batting ninth and raking in mid-May, we’ll have a problem.

Posted by Lucas at 04:48 PM

January 28, 2007

Loaded

Batting with the bases loaded, 2006:

Team
AVG / OBP / SLG
-- OPS
AVG+ / OBP+ / SLG+
-- OPS+
Plate
Apps.
Runs
Runs per PA
Runs as % of Total
CLE
.382 / .385 / .737
-- 1.122
128 / 116 / 154
-- 170
187
176
94%
20%
TEX
.358 / .392 / .623
-- 1.015
118 / 116 / 125
-- 141
171
153
89%
18%
CHW
.336 / .363 / .656
-- 1.019
111 / 107 / 131
-- 138
157
144
92%
17%
MIN
.333 / .359 / .570
-- .929
111 / 109 / 118
-- 127
167
149
89%
19%
DET
.330 / .358 / .487
-- .845
108 / 107 / 101
-- 108
134
110
82%
13%
NYY
.303 / .363 / .473
-- .836
100 / 109 / 96
-- 105
245
184
75%
20%
OAK
.297 / .350 / .481
-- .831
98 / 105 / 99
-- 104
203
156
77%
20%
LAA
.313 / .333 / .475
-- .808
103 / 100 / 99
-- 99
114
88
77%
11%
SEA
.285 / .313 / .462
-- .775
96 / 94 / 97
-- 91
150
115
77%
15%
KAN
.301 / .324 / .374
-- .698
97 / 95 / 75
-- 70
142
106
75%
14%
TOR
.236 / .287 / .417
-- .704
77 / 86 / 82
-- 68
167
113
68%
14%
TAM
.273 / .290 / .386
-- .676
91 / 87 / 79
-- 66
100
74
74%
11%
BOS
.236 / .280 / .388
-- .668
77 / 83 / 79
-- 62
211
136
64%
17%
BAL
.262 / .298 / .333
-- .631
86 / 89 / 68
-- 57
171
116
68%
15%
AL Avg
.303 / .335 / .490
-- .826
--
166
130
79%
16%

The “+? numbers are relative to the park-adjusted AL line with the bases loaded. As you can see, it’s deluxe hitting territory. The last column represents the percentage of the team’s total runs scored in bases-loaded appearances.

This chart partially explains how Oakland manage to finish near the league average in (park-adjusted) run scored despite finishing next-to-last in average and slugging. Notice the 203 bases-loaded plate appearances, third behind New York and Boston. How did the Athletics do it? Perhaps some luck, but also 650 walks, 133 more than the league average. Yes, contrary to the opinion of some, clogging up the basepaths really does help.

Also, woe is Tampa Bay.

Posted by Lucas at 11:17 PM

January 25, 2007

Why Sosa Will Rock

Have you seen the lineup for this year’s Coachella Festival? It includes:

Rage Against The Machine
Happy Mondays
Jesus and Mary Chain
Crowded House

Comebacks are in! Old is the new young!

Posted by Lucas at 06:31 PM

January 16, 2007

Spot The Trend

I'm not going to outright reject the idea that Sammy Sosa can still play Major League Baseball capably. But I do see a trend:

Year
Age
Plate Apps.
Home Run Rate
Walk Rate
Intentional Walks
2001
32
711
9.0%
16.3%
37
2002
33
666
7.4%
15.5%
15
2003
34
589
6.8%
10.5%
9
2004
35
539
6.5%
10.4%
4
2005
36
424
3.3%
9.2%
3
2006
37
0
0.0%
0.0%
0

Posted by Lucas at 09:12 PM

January 10, 2007

Thoughts On The Steroid Era

Today, Ken Rosenthal defended Paul Ladewski’s blank Hall Of Fame ballot:

As for the Ripken and Gwynn snubs, without question, they're difficult to fathom. But I've got no problem with Paul Ladewski of the Daily Southtown in suburban Chicago submitting a blank ballot because of his reluctance to vote for any player from the Steroid Era.

Notice the phrasing. Rosenthal didn’t place Steroid Era in quotes or call it the “so-called Steroid Era.” The appellation is apparently uncontroversial and beyond dispute, no different than, say, the Cretaceous Period. Rosenthal didn’t invent the term, of course. Writers and fans have used it freely for years.

I think such blanket classifications are wonderful. In fact, I would like to contribute to our collective baseball edification by categorizing most of baseball’s history into Eras.

  • 1887-1946: The Racial Purity Era
  • 1946-1978: The Amphetamine Era
    (Except for June 12, 1970, when Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter under the influence of LSD.)
  • 1979-1992: The Cocaine Era
    (Okay, coke use tapered off by the late 80s, but I doubt players were heavy into Ecstasy. Not on the field, anyway.)
  • 1993-2004: The Steroid Era
  • 2005-Present: The Moral Purity Era
As mentioned by Rosenthal in his previous Hall-ballot column, “Voters can’t correct past mistakes.” He’s right, but in all seriousness, why not? The Hall rules weren’t carried down from Mount Sinai on a stone tablet. If the voters are truly adamant about upholding the sanctity of the Hall, amend the rules and cast out the folks who helped institute the “color line” (Cap Anson, A.G. Spalding), commissioned a fabricated history to make baseball “more American” (Spalding again), admitted distributing illegal drugs to teammates (Willie Stargell), or cheated on the field (Gaylord Perry). Then, they’ll have a Hall that befits their sense of righteousness.

I’m not trying to be an apologist for Mark McGwire. He wiggled like a worm in front of Congress. Maybe he drank “cream” and “clear” smoothies for breakfast every morning. But forget maybes. Here are some facts:

  • Mark McGwire admitted to using the steroid androstenedione.
  • McGwire retired after 2001.
  • Major League Baseball had no policy regarding andro or other steroids until 2003. No rules, no testing, no suspensions, no nothing.
  • The United States did not illegalize andro until 2003.

Absent proof of ingestion of other substances, the voters have punished McGwire for legal activity. Paul Ladewski’s blank-ballot assertion is that he can’t determine who used and who didn’t, so everyone’s guilty until proven innocent. That sounds more like cycnicism than a moral stand. I would love to know his voting history, and whether he investigated steroid use during the 1990s, and if he has any record of ferreting out plagiarism and other journalistic malpractices at the Daily Southtown. Also, what prevented him from voting for pre-Steroid Era players like Jim Rice or Alan Trammell, if he felt they were worthy?

Finally , I usually enjoy Rosenthal, but his opener is painful:

First of all, don't rip the eight voters who failed to vote for Cal Ripken and the 13 who failed to vote for Tony Gwynn. It's a free country, last time anyone checked.

You shouldn’t criticize people with whom you disagree because it’s a free country? I didn’t take civics in college, but that sure sounds backwards to me.

Posted by Lucas at 06:37 PM

December 07, 2006

Mighty Funny!

Kansas City has signed Gil Meche to a five-year contract for $55-60 million.

Statistically, Meche compares very (un)favorably to Adam Eaton. He has only two seasons of thirty-plus starts and has never exceeded 187 innings. Outside of Seattle pitcher-friendly environs, he’s pretty hopeless:

Category
Seattle
Elsewhere
ERA 3.91 5.34
RA 4.14 5.85
WHIP 1.29 1.58
HR% 2.9% 3.2%
BB% 9.2% 11.2%
SO% 18.4% 14.3%
SO/BB
2.0
1.3

Posted by Lucas at 12:40 PM

November 27, 2006

Ex-Rangers Strike Gold

Teams have already guaranteed almost $200 million to five Ranger free agents. The contracts of these five and the unsigned Vicente Padilla should approximate what Texas dropped on Alex Rodriguez before 2001. Numbers in italics are guesstimates on my part.

Player Team
Bonus
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
Total
Guaranteed
Cumulative
Incentives
/Options
R. Barajas TOR
-
3.000
3.000
-
-
-
-
6.000
-
M. DeRosa CHC
-
3.750
3.750
5.500
-
-
-
13.000
-
A. Eaton PHI
1.000
6.875
7.635
8.500
0.500
-
-
24.510
8.500
C. Lee HOU
3.000
11.000
12.000
18.500
18.500
18.500
18.500
100.000
-
G. Matthews LAA
-
10.000
10.000
10.000
10.000
10.000
-
50.000
-
ALL -
4.000
34.625
36.385
42.500
29.000
28.500
18.500
193.510
8.500

Even in light of the New Baseball Economy (Nov 2006 - ?), none of these contracts appeals to me.

Posted by Lucas at 06:52 PM

September 29, 2006

Collapsible

What you may not have known about Philadelphia’s epic collapse in 1964:

After September 20th, the Phillies lost their 6.5-game lead in seven days flat and never regained it. In fact, by the end of Wednesday, September 30, their magic number for elimination was down to one.

Cincinnati blew it almost as badly as Philadelphia. The Reds, not St. Louis, initially overtook the Phillies, and for six of the last eight days they held all or a piece of the NL lead. They proceeded to lose four of their last five, including their final two at home against Philadelphia, and dropped into a second place.

The Giants finished only three games out of first but never really contended. A doubleheader sweep by the Cubs reduced their magic number for elimination to two with a full week yet to play.

As noted by Jim Baker in today’s Baseball Prospectus, St. Louis can’t surpass the ’64 Phillies in terms of worst collapses. The Phils were a fine team, St. Louis thoroughly average. Average teams don’t collapse, they just plain lose.

Go Astros.

Posted by Lucas at 05:18 PM

September 11, 2006

June 30, 2005

That was the last day in which Laynce Nix drew an unintentional walk. Since then:

106 plate appearances
11 singles
5 doubles
2 homers
1 walk (intentional)
32 strikeouts

Line: .178/.198/.287

Nix will miss the rest of the season after having surgery for turf toe.

Posted by Lucas at 04:26 PM

September 04, 2006

John Hart, Destroyer of Worlds: The Giles and Hafner Trades

In which instance did John Hart cause more harm to his team: trading Brian Giles or Travis Hafner?

On November 18, 1998, Cleveland GM John Hart shipped 27-year-old outfielder Brian Giles to Pittsburgh for 28-year-old lefty reliever Ricardo Rincon. Cleveland’s bullpen had performed admirably in a six-game ALCS loss against the Yankees (seven runs in 28 innings), but the Tribe had only one lefty of note, 38-year-old Paul Assenmacher. With an abundance of fine OF/DH-types (Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, David Justice, Richie Sexson), Hart decided he could tolerate Giles’s absence. Giles had started only four of the six ALCS games and had begun the season in a platoon with Geromino Berroa.

Rincon pitched reasonably well for Cleveland, allowing just under four runs per nine innings in relief. On the other hand, injuries limited him to only 154 innings in three-plus years. At the 2002 trading deadline, the Indians traded him to Oakland for future Ranger Marshall McDougall, who did nothing from them.

Giles, on the other hand, became an elite player the moment he left Ohio, batting .315/.418/.614 and belting 39 homers in his inaugural Pirate campaign. Giles received modest consideration for the MVP award in four consecutive years, and he certainly would have earned more votes had the Pirates not been so exquisitely awful during his tenure.

Fast forward to December 2002, when Texas GM John Hart sent 1B/DH Travis Hafner and struggling pitching prospect Aaron Myette to his former employer for catcher Einar Diaz and similarly struggling pitcher Ryan Drese. Texas badly needed a catcher after management decided not to break the bank for Ivan Rodriguez, still an elite catcher but on the wrong side of 30 and seemingly injury-prone after missing significant portions of three consecutive seasons. Internal solutions consisted of Todd Greene, various organizational fodder, prospects who weren’t quite ready (Gerald Laird) and prospects who never would be (Scott Heard). Again, presumably dealing from a position of strength, Hart relinquished the promising but largely untested Hafner for what appeared to be a solid Major League catcher (to Hart, if not his observers). The pitchers involved were little more than throw-ins.

From 1999-2001, Diaz was a superior defensive catcher, and while by no means a good hitter, he could hit for a decent average and smack the occasional double. Injuries wrecked his 2002 (.206/.258/.284), and though may have fully healed by the time he joined Texas, he never recovered on the field. Diaz hit .257, walked a dismal 2.5% of his plate appearances, and provided only average defense. By season’s end, Greene and Laird had usurped most of his playing time. As for the throw-in pitcher, Ryan Drese suffered through another desultory season, then pitched remarkably well for the surprising ’04 club. Success proved fleeting, and only two months into 2005 Texas stunningly waived him. The Senators generously claimed him and his glistening-new two-year contract.

Just before Opening Day 2004, Texas dumped Diaz for yet another struggling pitching prospect, Chris Young. The deal also involved two minor-league pitchers of no consequence. After throwing 36 promising innings as a rookie, Texas signed him to a three-year contract rather than risk his departure to the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. Young pitched 165 above-average innings in 2005, but a late-summer slump raised questions about his endurance and long-term potential. Hart’s replacement, Jon Daniels, traded him, Adrian Gonzalez and Terrmel Sledge to San Diego last winter for pitchers Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka and a minor-league catcher.

Unlike Giles, Hafner didn’t immediately explode into brilliance after the trade, instead slowly developing into arguably the best hitter in the American League. Hafner presently leads the AL in both walks and slugging percentage and ranks second in homers and on-base percentage.

Back to the question at hand: Which trade caused more damage, Giles or Hafner?

Methods of comparing the value difference of the players in each trade include measuring by Win Shares and by Wins Above Replacement Player (the uninitiated can click the links for a description). For a uniform comparison, I’ll only used the first four years after the trade (actually three years and five months for the Hafner trade.).

Giles vs Rincon

WIN SHARES 1999 2000 2001 2002
TOTAL
Giles 27 27 29 32 115
Rincon 3 3 6 2 14
DIFFERENCE 101

Deficit in Win Shares: 101

WARP 1999 2000 2001 2002
TOTAL
Giles
10.2
10.7
9.0
11.3
41.2
Rincon
1.8
1.0
2.2
1.1
6.1
DIFFERENCE 35.1

Deficit in Wins Above Replacement Player: 35.1

A Win Share equals one-third of a win, so the deficit in wins equals approximately 34, nearly the same as the WARP deficit. The trade cost the Indians about 8.5 wins annually during the next four years. An epochal disaster.

Hafner vs. Diaz

Analyzing this trade requires more work. Texas traded Diaz and a fringy prospect for Chris Young and another weak prospect before 2004 and then traded Young with Gonzalez and Sledge for Eaton, Otsuka and Killian two years later. It’s safe to argue that prospects in the first Young deal contributed negligible value, but in the second trade Young was but one of three valuable players. For this analysis, I’m assuming Young comprised 45% of the value acquired by San Diego, with Gonzalez receiving 45% and Sledge 10%. From this estimates, I’ll use only 45% of the value of Eaton, Otsuka and Killian as part of the analysis. Perhaps you disagree with those estimates, but changing them doesn’t affect the results much, so don’t sweat it.

WIN SHARES 2003 2004 2005 2006
TOTAL
Hafner 7 21 27 23 78
Myette 0 - - - 0
CLE TOTAL 78
Diaz 5 - - - 5
Drese 0 17 1 - 18
Young - 2 11
-
13
Eaton
-
-
-
1 1
Otsuka
-
-
-
5 5
TEX TOTAL 42
DIFFERENCE 36

Deficit in Win Shares: 36

WARP 2003 2004 2005 2006
TOTAL
Hafner
1.9
7.3
8.0
10.0
27.2
Myette
(0.2)
-
-
-
-0.2
CLE TOTAL
27.0
Diaz
1.9
-
-
-
1.9
Drese
(0.1)
6.5
0.3
-
6.7
Young
-
1.1
4.8
-
5.9
Eaton
-
-
-
0.5
0.5
Otsuka
-
-
-
2.8
2.8
TEX TOTAL
17.8
DIFFERENCE
9.2

Deficit in Wins Above Replacement Player: 9.2

So far, the Hafner trade has cost the Rangers between two and three wins per season. Certainly those three wins would have come in handy in 2004, but the trade doesn’t rate as badly as I’d expect. Yes, Hart lucked into Drese’s 2004, and his belated implication that he traded Hafner for Drese was an obvious and embarrassing lie. Still, however improbably, Drese nearly equaled Hafner in value in 2004, a fact that can’t be ignored. Hart (or at least he and his staff) also consummated the Diaz-for-Young trade that has paid off wonderfully (even though I hated the second Young trade). Thanks to both serendipity and skill, the Hafner trade only rates as a severe fleecing, not a catastrophe.

Did either trade have any mitigating factors?

Notwithstanding the minimal return, trading Brian Giles actually made sense. Cleveland already had several powerful outfielders and designated hitters and received good-to-excellent production for them for the first three years after the trade. Not until 2002, when Russell Branyan, Milton Bradley and Matt Lawson all batted poorly, did Cleveland field an inadequate outfield. Again, trading Giles in and of itself wasn’t the problem. Settling on a situational lefty reliever for him resulted in a miserably lopsided trade.

Texas had a similar situation, if not so clear-cut. Texas had Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez signed for 2003; certainly their aged bodies would spend significant time at DH. Mark Teixeira had stormed through the minor leagues and was a strong candidate to break camp with the Rangers the next spring. With Hank Blalock likely playing third most of the time, Teixeira would crowd the field of 1B/DH/COFs of which Hafner was part. As with Giles, trading Hafner was understandable. The return was decidedly not.

Unlike Cleveland’s outfield minus Giles, Texas’s DH production suffered greatly. David Dellucci performed well in 2005, but the other DH “solutions” – Brad Fullmer and Phil Nevin – were replacement-level flops.

How did Giles and Hafner compare?

Giles would turn 28 before playing for Pittsburgh and had just over 1,000 MLB plate appearances when traded. Though rarely a regular and considered slightly dubious against lefties, he had established himself as a very good, if not elite, hitter with excellent on-base skills.

As a 25-year-old, Hafner had only 70 late-season appearances in 2002 to his credit when shipped to Cleveland. The results were uninspiring. However, he had dominated AA and AAA during 2001-2002 and was still considered an excellent prospect.

Player
Brian Giles,
MLB
Travis Hafner,
MLB
Travis Hafner,
AA-AAA
Position
Mostly LF
Mostly DH
Mostly 1B
Age 27.8 25.4
24-25
PAs
1,033
70
877
AVG .284 .242
.315
AVG+ 103 87
--
OBP .391 .329
.431
OBP+ 113 95
--
SLG .485 .387
.552
SLG+ 111 87
--
OPS .876 .716
.983
OPS+ 124 82
--
HR Rate 3.7% 1.7%
4.7%
BB Rate 15.0% 8.7%
15.7%

Posted by Lucas at 10:36 PM

August 28, 2006

The Mench Who Sat On The Bench

If Kevin Mench was frustrated by his never-quite-everyday status in Texas, imagine how he feels in Milwaukee. Did anyone notice that he went six games between starts and seven between full games?

August 19 – started in left field, played entire game
August 20 – did not play
August 21 – no game
August 22 – pinch-hit for Gabe Gross in 7th, played left field
August 23 – did not play
August 24 – did not play
August 25 – did not play
August 26 – started in left field , pulled as part of double-switch after five innings
August 27 – started in left field, played entire game

Plate Appearances by Milwaukee outfielders from the 20th through 26th:

Laynce Nix – 20 (.263/.300/.316 in 20 plate appearances as a Brewer)
Gabe Gross – 20
Corey Hart – 17
Geoff Jenkins – 10
Brady Clark – 8
Kevin Mench – 3 (.240/.263/.307 in 80 PAs as a Brewer)

Mench makes $2.8 million and will be arbitration-eligible this winter. I wonder if Milwaukee will offer him a contract.

Posted by Lucas at 01:38 AM

May 28, 2006

Gerry Fraley Makes Me Angry. Angry and Tired.

The Dallas Morning News’s Gerry Fraley had this to say Sunday morning:

In the Best Interest Of The Game

The rise of St. Louis' multi-talented Albert Pujols should make every organization reconsider the value of scouts.

The Cardinals found Pujols because a scout, Dave Karaff, pictured a power hitter where others saw only a pudgy junior-college catcher. Karaff fought to have Pujols taken in the 13th round of the 1999 draft and given enough of a bonus ($60,000) to sign.

St. Louis ownership forgot about that. It is obsessed with drafting collegiate players based on their statistics. The Cardinals' first 26 picks in the 2004 draft were collegiate players. In moving to this philosophy, the Cardinals let Karaff go in a purge of scouts.

Where to begin…

As Fraley notes, St. Louis selected 26 consecutive college players in the 2004 draft, though, like Pujols, three were from community or junior colleges. The Cardinals selected only four high schoolers in 47 picks and signed none.

What did the college-obsessed Cardinals do the 2005 draft? With their first pick, they selected high-school outfielder Colby Rasmus. In fact, they selected six high schoolers with their first ten picks and fifteen overall along with five JuCo/Community College players.

Why would Fraley ignore the St. Louis’s most recent draft? Perhaps because it makes his argument incredibly lame.

When St. Louis overhauled its scouting organization after the 2003 season, its farm system had ranked among the worst in baseball for several years. In 2001, Baseball America ranked the Cardinal farm system 23rd of 30 teams. In 2002 it fell to dead last, and in 2003 it rocketed to 28 th. Here’s what Baseball America had to say about them in February 2005:

Aside from Albert Pujols, St. Louis had few significant contributors to their pennant run who were produced by the farm system. Pujols and So Taguchi--a veteran player who was signed after playing several years in Japan--were the only everyday players originally signed by the organization. On the pitching staff, Dan Haren and Matt Morris were the only players with at least 45 innings who started their careers with the Cardinals.

Most anti-stathead rants like Fraley’s revolve around straw men and simplistic either-or arguments. What evidence suggests that St. Louis -- with the same ownership, general manager and manager in place since 1996 and six consecutive winning seasons – embraced the all-stats, no-scouts approach derided by Fraley? Practically none, unless the purpose is to find thin slivers of facts supporting a premeditated conclusion. Per Baseball America’s Will Lingo in late 2003:

In a nod to… the best-selling book “Moneyball,” the Cardinals restructured their scouting department this offseason to try to get more out of the draft. Scouting director Marty Maier was reassigned to special-assignment scout, and assistant general manager John Mozeliak took over the scouting department in addition to his duties as director of baseball operations. The Cardinals also hired Jeff Luhnow as an assistant vice president of baseball development to compile databases and try to improve the team’s efficiency with the draft. Mozeliak said his ultimate goal is to rely more on the decisions of individual scouts when drafting players, rather than giving more credence to crosschecking. “The restructuring we’re going through will ultimately empower our scouts,” he said. [emphasis added]

Well, the article did mention Moneyball. Perhaps Fraley stopped reading at that point.

Regarding the college-heavy 2004 draft, Lingo noted dissatisfaction with previous drafts and the thin farm system, further saying “the Cardinals didn't exclude high school players from their scouting, but rather wanted advanced players who could add immediate depth.” Lingo reiterated St. Louis’s new multidiscipline approach in late 2005, after the franchise reverted to its traditional draft-day mix of high schools and college players:

The Cardinals’ 2005 draft showed their willingness to look at all types of players. There were sleepers who were picked based on their college performance, such as outfielder Nick Stavinoha (seventh round). But there were also college players whose performance has never seemed to quite measure up to their tools, such as righthander Mark McCormick (supplemental first). There were toolsy high school players whose projection is based on the judgments of scouts much more than their statistics, such as outfielder Daryl Jones (third). St. Louis even spent a couple of early picks on Tyler Herron (supplemental first) and Josh Wilson (second), a pair of prep righthanders—considered the riskiest demographic in the draft.

The Cardinals have shown a willingness to blend all these approaches, which could pay quick dividends for the farm system. [emphasis added]

The Cardinals are attempting to augment their scouting department, not replace it. They have no obsession with college players, and they have not abandoned their scouts as a group. Fraley is making unsupported arguments to criticize something that does not exist.

Finally, what did the fired scout in question have to say in retrospect about Pujols? Nothing but effusive praise, yes? No:

I felt he was going to be successful, but I didn't know how successful. I don't think there's any way we could have seen all these things. My one fear was whether he was going to hit, if you can believe that. If we all felt he could hit consistently, he would have been a first rounder and got his $3 million bonus. He still does some of the things that I feared, but he has the ability to make adjustments, and that's something I never saw.

Dave Karaff saw more in Pujols than his peers, and for that he deserves immense credit. However, nobody on the planet (except perhaps Pujols himself and maybe his mother) foresaw him arriving fully developed as a once-in-a-generation player. Somehow, Gerry Fraley has turned this anecdote into an indictment of statistical analysis. I suppose you go where your imagination takes you.

Posted by Lucas at 09:19 PM

April 07, 2006

Predictions

Forgot to post my predictions. I made them before the season started. Scout’s honor.

OAK   91-71
LAA   84-78
TEX   83-79
SEA   76-86

AL Central: Cleveland
AL East: Boston
AL Wild Card: New York
Worst Record: Kansas City

NL West: Los Angeles
NL Central: St. Louis
NL East: Atlanta
NL Wild Card: Philadelphia
Worst Record: Colorado

World Series: Oakland over Los Angeles

Posted by Lucas at 06:35 PM

March 10, 2006

2006 Colorado Rockies Preview

Originally appeared at The Batters Box:

Colorado may not be the worst team in the National League, but they may be the dullest. Florida’s incendiary brand of roster management at least has a macabre entertainment value. In contrast, the Rockies lethargically trudge toward utter pointlessness.

This team is bad. So, instead of prattling on about whether Cory Sullivan can “take it to the next level,” I’d like to discuss what Colorado can do, if anything, to win in the future. I also have a picture of two adorable cats.

You may remember them from last year:

How Bad Are The Rockies?

For much of the season, Colorado played much worse than their grim total of 67 wins would suggest. The Rockies lost 21 of their first 27 games. Only nine teams in MLB history have started worse. They batted .232/.299/.359 on the road and lost forty of their first fifty games away from Coors. On August 19th they had a record of 45-77, on pace to lose 103. Some respectable late-season play salvaged a tie with the inaugural squad of 1993 for the worst record in franchise history.

Colorado performed one task well: they held opponents to a reasonable 5.5 runs per game at Coors Field (an average team would allow about 5.9). Unfortunately, they only scored 5.6 runs per game at home. Outside of Denver, they managed 27 wins, awful and yet par for the course. The Rockies haven’t exceeded thirty road wins since 2000.

An Offensive Lineup

Player 		Pos 	Age 	Bat 	OBP 	OBP+ 	SLG 	SLG+
C Barmes 	SS 	27 	R 	.330 	93 	.434 	98
C Sullivan 	CF 	26 	L 	.343 	97 	.386 	87
T Helton 	1B 	32 	L 	.445 	126 	.534 	120 
M Holliday 	LF 	26 	R 	.361 	102 	.505 	114
G Atkins 	3B 	26 	R 	.347 	98 	.426 	96
B Hawpe 	RF 	27 	L 	.350 	99 	.403 	91
L Gonzalez 	2B 	27 	R 	.333 	94 	.421 	95
Y Torrealba 	C 	27 	R 	.297 	89 	.338 	80

Excluding strike-ruined 1994, the Rockies scored a franchise-worst 740 runs per game last season. An average-hitting team Denver would have scored about 835. Only two of the Colorado’s eight projected starters reached base or slugged better than a league-average level last year. All but Helton are either 26 or 27 years old, and a lingering back injury marred Helton’s 2005, so they do have room for improvement. Still, they project to have a below-average offense. At least half of the players listed above won’t be regulars within two years.

Given their current pitching, how many runs does Colorado need to score to compete for the postseason? Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus suggested as many as 1,250 in a chat session in February of 2005. He later amended his answer to 1,150, then said that “if the Rockies aren’t scoring a thousand runs, they can’t win.” He recommended a scorched-earth policy of roster construction consisting of a “ridiculous offense” and “treat[ing] their pitchers as fungible.”

Let’s try to answer the question with more precision. Colorado has allowed about 5% more runs than an average team (league and park-adjusted) during the past first years. Using last year’s league and park factor, that’s about 875 runs. Also assume the Rockies need ninety wins to have a respectable chance at the postseason. Plugging the numbers into the theorem developed by noted baseball fanatic Pythagoras reveals that the Rockies need to score about 980 runs to win ninety games, given 875 runs allowed. 980 runs is below what Sheehan recommended, but league-wide offense declined in 2005 and Coors Field no longer inflates offense as much as in years past. Ninety wins don’t guarantee October baseball, of course, but they do give fans a reason to show up. Attendance has declined 50% over the last seven years.

980 runs. Colorado plated 968 in 2000 and 961 in 1996, when the league and park favored offense much more heavily. Scoring 980 now is a much tougher task, but it’s not an outrageous or even unreasonable number.

What kind of batting line does Colorado need to score 980 runs? In predicting such things, I’ve developed a formula based on regressing a variety of offensive factors such as average, OBP, slugging, and even steals and caught-stealing, which play a small but statistically significant role. I don’t want to put you to sleep with too many numbers, so suffice it to say that the formula works well (email me if you’re interested). Colorado scored 740 runs last year, and my formula predicted 750.

If Colorado hits .280/.360/.490 and doesn’t act stupidly on the basepaths, they could score 984 runs, a smidgen more than they need to wins ninety games with their existing pitching. A .360 OBP would place them among the top 2% in NL history, and a .490 slugging percentage would surpass their own NL record of .483. Still, if any team has the potential to achieve this level of output, it’s Colorado.

Understand that I refer to Colorado’s offensive potential in the abstract sense. Certainly, the present collective won’t attain 980 runs. Colorado scored a meager 740 runs last season and is essentially relying on internal improvement to tally another 240. Good luck with that.

Incidentally, for 1,250 runs Colorado needs a line of about .310/.390/.550. That’s a team OPS+ of 134.

Pitchers and Perseverance

Rotation 	Arm 	Age 	ERA 	ERA+ 	HR% 	BB% 	SO%
J Francis 	L 	25 	5.68 	86 	3.1% 	8% 	14%
A Cook 		R 	27 	3.67 	133 	2.2% 	4% 	7%
J Jennings 	R 	27 	5.02 	97 	2.0% 	11% 	14%
B Kim 		R 	27 	4.86 	100 	2.5% 	11% 	17%
J Fogg 		R 	29 	5.05 	83 	3.6% 	6% 	11% 
Z Day 		R 	28 	6.85 	61 	2.6% 	14% 	10%
S Kim 		R 	28 	4.90 	93 	2.8% 	6% 	15%
Bullpen 	Arm 	Age 	ERA 	ERA+ 	HR% 	BB% 	SO%
B Fuentes 	L 	30 	2.91 	167 	1.9% 	11% 	28%
M DeJean 	R 	35 	3.19 	152 	0.0% 	8% 	23%
R King 		L 	32 	3.38 	132 	2.3% 	9% 	13%
D Cortes 	R 	32 	4.10 	119 	4.2% 	5% 	17%
S Dohmann 	R 	28 	6.10 	80 	4.2% 	13% 	24%
J Acevedo 	R 	28 	6.47 	75 	4.5% 	5% 	11%
K Yabu 		R 	37 	4.50 	99 	2.3% 	10% 	17%
J Mesa 		R 	40 	4.76 	88 	2.7% 	10% 	14%

Predicting the performance of Colorado pitchers assures failure. Rockie hurlers show a total lack of correlation in year-to-year performance, partly because the park invites high variance and partly because most of them haven’t been very good. A review of the ten Colorado pitchers who qualified for the ERA title with the best ERA+ and their follow-up performances:

Joe Kennedy, 2004: 162 IP, 3.66 ERA , 138 ERA+
Next Year: 7.04 ERA in 92 innings (67 ERA+), traded in July to Oakland for Eric Byrnes, Omar Quintanilla and cash.

Kevin Ritz, 1995: 173 IP, 4.21 ERA, 127 ERA+
Next year: 213 innings in 35 starts, ERA up to 5.28, 103 ERA+

Brian Bohanon, 2000: 177 IP, 4.68 ERA, 127 ERA+
Next Year: 97 innings, 7.14 ERA (73 ERA+), did not pitch in the Majors afterwards

Armando Reynoso, 1993: 189 IP, 4.00 ERA, 123 ERA+
Next year: only nine starts and 52 innings pitched, 4.82 ERA, 103 ERA+

Roger Bailey, 1997: 191 innings, 4.29 ERA, 121 ERA+
Next Year: Suffered multiple injuries in an auto wreck and never again pitched in the Majors.

Pedro Astacio, 1999: 232 IP, 5.04 ERA, 114 ERA+
Next Year: 196 IP, 5.27 ERA, 113 ERA+ (see below)

Pedro Astacio, 2000: 196 IP, 5.27 ERA, 113 ERA+
Next Year: 141 IP with Colorado, 5.49 ERA, 95 ERA+, traded to Houston in July for Scott Elarton.

John Thomson, 1997: 166 IP, 4.71 ERA, 110 ERA+
Next Year: essentially identical line of 161 innings, 4.81 ERA, 106 ERA+

Armando Reynoso, 1996: 169 IP, 4.96 ERA, 110 ERA+
Next Year: pitched poorly for the Mets, only sixteen starts

Jason Jennings, 2002: 185 IP, 4.52 ERA, 108 ERA+
Next Year: similar number of innings, 5.11 ERA, 93 ERA+

Next Year In Sum:
Qualified for ERA title, above-average ERA+: 2
Qualified for ERA title, below-average ERA+: 2
Did not qualify for ERA title, above-average ERA+: 2
Did not qualify for ERA title, below-average ERA+: 3
Did not pitch: 1

This analysis is hardly scientific but does reveal the folly of predicting a repeat of a good performance from any Rockie pitcher. Six of the ten didn’t reach 162 innings the following year (though Thomson missed by the slightest of margins), and only four managed better than a 100 ERA+ regardless of innings pitched.

The thin air destroys everyone eventually, in body or spirit. No Colorado pitcher has five consecutive years of 100-plus innings. Jason Jennings will attempt to become the first this season. The Hall Of Fame will waive the five-year rule if he succeeds. Perhaps the Rockies should immediately trade any pitcher who has a good season.

Colorado does have some talent in its rotation. Young Jeff Francis survived his first full season without completely flaming out. Strangely, Coors Field did not stipulate his 5.68 ERA. At home, Francis had a reasonable 4.88 ERA with acceptable peripherals. Conversely, he allowed seventeen of his 26 homers on the road and his ERA ballooned to 6.40. Aaron Cook pitched well after missing nearly a year because of blood clots in his lungs that required removal of a rib. Cook doesn’t strike out anybody and walks too many, but he keeps doubles and homers to a minimum with a terrific grounder-inducing two-seamer. Byung-Hyun Kim revived his career in Colorado, posting a 4.37 ERA with acceptable peripherals as a starter. Jason Jennings may never recapture his Rookie-Of-The-Year performance of 2002, but he can eat innings with nearly a league-average ERA.

Likewise, the Rockie bullpen has an adequate front four in Brian Fuentes, Mike DeJean, David Cortes and Ray King. A suspect back end (Jose Mesa, Jose Acevedo, Keiichi Yabu, the batboy, your brother-in-law David) will cause problems. Interestingly, I would have expected Colorado to need many more pitchers than their competitors, but history indicates otherwise. From 2000-2005, the other fifteen NL teams had an average of 18.6 pitchers throw at least ten innings in any given season. Colorado used an average of twenty. That is higher, of course, but inferior pitching and late-season call-ups for meaningless games could be partial reasons in addition to the thin air.

Charles In Charge

Last February, Club CEO Charlie Monfort signed general manager Dan O’Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle through 2007. As repoted by MLB.com’s Thomas Harding, he credited them with “pulling the franchise out of a hole… more serious than being below .500.” The hole appeared when Colorado signed Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle to $172.5 million in contracts but continued to lose on the field and in the stands. Per Monfort, “we lost well over $50 million on contracts that weren’t successful. When you’re losing money and your team is no good, that to me is a crisis… That’s been our loyalty to Dan because he did get us out of those contracts. Dan, I think, did a fantastic job there.”

To answer your question: the GM who signed Hampton and Neagle was Dan O’Dowd.

Monfort proclaimed that the Rockies could win the NL West. He also said the Rockies could win the Powerball lottery and a pony. If you’re going to wish, wish big.

Outlook

Despite all my snark, I believe the Rockies can contend for the NL West as early as 2007. If Ryan Shealy and Jeff Baker progress as hoped and the team signs a couple of big bats to replace the dross in the lineup, Colorado could make some noise. Management acumen will play a large role in this resuscitation, and, well, there you may have a problem.

As for this season? 67 wins again. No pony.

Posted by Lucas at 12:51 AM

March 02, 2006

2006 Houston Astros Preview

Houston Astros? Yes. I occasionally write for a Toronto-fixated website known as the Batters Box. We provide previews of every team, and Houston, Texas and Colorado are mine. What follows was originally published here.

Houston couldn’t best the White Sox in the World Series but had an equally amazing run. Can they do it again minus (for now) Roger Clemens?

2005

On May 24th the Astros sported a record of 15-30, dead last in the NL Central, while future AL champ Chicago was cruising along at 32-14. Yours truly was shaking his head for predicting they would squeak out 83 wins. Minus the injured Lance Berkman and the departed Jeff Kent and Carlos Beltran, they had scored a paltry 2.6 runs per game on the road and 3.6 overall. I watched them on television occasionally. They looked hopeless.

Houston proceeded to win 42 of the next 59, vaulting into the lead for the Wild Card which they eventually captured with 89 wins. They played one of the most memorable games in baseball history, an 18-inning, 7-6 victory over Atlanta to clinch the NLDS. A win in a rematch against St. Louis placed Houston in the World Series for the first time in the franchise’s 45-year existence. They couldn’t manage a single victory against Chicago, but the shutout didn’t leave much bitterness. 2005 was a pinnacle for a well run organization with only one losing season since 1991.

How did Houston win? Pitching and defense. The Astros permitted a league-low 609 runs and also led in defensive efficiency. Offensively, only four teams had more difficulty scoring runs than Houston (after adjusting for park).

Offseason

As with 2004, Houston participated sparingly in the winter market. GM Tim Purpura signed outfielder Preston Wilson to an interesting contract and former Devil Ray Trever Miller. They represent a step up from last year’s one signing of 64-year-old John Franco. Houston aims to follow last year’s strategy of relying on who they already have. Their farm system wants for upper-level talent, and AAA Round Rock teemed with long-in-the-tooth quasi-prospects in 2005.

Will Roger Clemens return from semi-retirement again? His absence places a burden on unproven Wandy Rodriguez and Ezequiel Astacio. Sad to say, the primary issue with Jeff Bagwell is whether an insurance policy will pay his contract. If he does play, he isn’t expected to contribute much.

Astacio should replace Clemens, assuming the Rocket does retire, and Wilson will take over for Chris Burke in the outfield. Elsewhere, Houston will field 2005’s lineup.

Position Players

Player 		Pos     Age     Bat     OBP 	OBP+ 	 SLG 	SLG+
W Taveras CF 24 R .325 98 .341 82
C Biggio 2B 40 R .325 98 .468 112
M Ensberg 3B 30 R .388 117 .537 129
L Berkman 1B 30 S .411 123 .524 126
P Wilson LF 31 R .325 96 .467 112
J Lane RF 29 R .316 95 .499 120
A Everett SS 29 R .290 87 .364 87
B Ausmus C 37 R .351 105 .331 79

Center Fielder Willie Taveras presented a mixed body of work in his rookie season. He batted .291 and stole 34 bases, but that’s about all; he reached base at a substandard .322 pace (98 OBP+) for a leadoff hitter and eked out just twenty extra-base hits in a full season of work. Conversely, Taveras provided stellar defense in center. I doubt Garner will view him as an offensive liability as long as he can hit .280 with plenty of eye-candy bunt singles. Oddly, the greatest impact on his season could be the health of Jeff Bagwell, as shall be discussed.

Second Baseman Craig Biggio continued his bizarre aging pattern. The 39-year-old belted a career-best 26 homers alongside a career-worst 54 walks plus HBP. He even moved back to second after two years roaming the outfield and furnished passable defense. Biggio looked close to finished in 2002 and had faced questions about his status ever since. In 2006, he’s entrenched at second. He’ll collapse at some point, but as for this year I’d place my money on plain vanilla adequacy.

Morgan Ensberg rebounded from his depressing 2004 and gave Houston some badly needed production from the middle of the order. Houston needs him to avoid Saberhagen-like alternating of hot and cold seasons in order to return to the postseason.

Lance Berkman spent much of 2005 at first to ease the stress on his surgically enhanced knee. With Jeff Bagwell possibly out of the picture and the addition of Preston Wilson, Berkman could spend even more time in the infield. He can still defend an outfield corner, but Houston must do what is necessary to keep him in a lineup mostly lacking in plate discipline. Last year, he missed the first six weeks and suffered slight declines in his rate stats, but he still ranked among the NL leaders in OBP and OPS+.

Preston Wilson signed an odd contract to join the Astros: one year at $4 million with a three-year option at $8 million per. Wilson should represent a substantial upgrade over the 2005 version of Chris Burke, who faltered as a rookie (notwithstanding his NLDS Game 4 blast). Having said that, Wilson can’t play center well anymore and hits only slightly better than average for a corner outfielder. Further, he doesn’t provide an antidote for the low-average, low-OBP type Houston carries in surplus.

Right Fielder Jason Lane finally received a starting job at age 28 and performed respectably: .267/.318/.499. He enters 2006 unchallenged in right field, but if he starts the season in a slump and Berkman also plays in the outfield, he might lose at-bats to Taveras.

Adam Everett hasn’t progressed an inch as a hitter in three-plus years. Last year, he bottomed out at .248/.290/.364. Everett and Brad Ausmus partially answer the question of why the low-OBP Taveras leads off. Placing Taveras lower would force either him, Everett or Ausmus into the six-spot, an equally unpalatable option. Everett does defend his position exceptionally well, mitigating a healthy portion of his offensive infirmity.

I’ve badmouthed the hitting of Brad Ausmus in the past because the facts demand it, yet Ausmus didn’t hit all that terribly last year for a catcher. He revived his once considerable patience and drew a walk every nine plate appearances, enough to push his OBP to a nifty .351. He still doesn’t have any power and grounded into seventeen dips, but hey, .351! Alas, the forecast looks bleak for the 37-year-old with one halfway decent hitting performance in his last five years. Astro pitchers swear by his defense, and the stats back them up.

Bench

Houston will employ one of the two worst-hitting catchers on the planet to relieve Ausmus. Raul Chavez (career .215/.256/.292) at least offers defense to rival Ausmus. Humberto Quintero (career .221/.255/.309) is average behind the plate but does have acceptable AAA stats giving a glimmer of hope. Houston also signed former Bucs prospect J.R. House, who missed 2005 with rotator-cuff surgery. He won’t break camp with Houston and might need a move to first.

The Astros finally waived goodbye to Jose Vizcaino, difficult for an organization steeped in loyalty (and inertia). Eric Bruntlett could back up at short and practically everywhere else on the diamond. Bruntlett hasn’t hit much above A-ball; his advantages over Vizcaino consist of a smaller contract and a less dusty birth certificate. 26-year-old 2B/OF Chris Burke has shredded AAA pitching for two years but failed to impress in his first extended trial in the Majors. If he improves, he could usurp the everyday job at second in 2007, or sooner if Biggio falters. Mike Lamb’s OPS+ dropped from 121 to 83 last year. When on, he provides a badly needed lefty bat for a righty-heavy lineup. He serves as a warm body for any corner position.

Speaking of loyalty, Houston bestowed two years and $1.9 million on 37-year-old backup outfielder Orlando Palmeiro. Palmeiro had something of a career year in 2005, batting .284/.341/.431 including .288 as a pinch-hitter. He likely won’t repeat, but with Preston Wilson in the fold Palmeiro probably won’t approach last year’s 231 plate appearances. Too old to be a prospect, Luke Scott hit .286/.363/.603 for Round Rock but could only manage a line of .188/.270/.288 in Houston. Former Tiger Eric Munson signed with Houston in the hope of reviving his career.

On the whole, Houston has a mediocre bench. All have their talents, and Phil Garner doesn’t hesitate to use them. A rebound from Lamb would help immensely. Only Burke, or to be more precise, the player Burke might become, deserves more regular play.

Seventeen Million Dollar Question Mark

Much to the chagrin of owner Drayton McLane, Jeff Bagwell reported to camp. He’s currently spending most of his time in the batting cage. Bagwell won’t ever fully recover from his injured shoulder and has an uphill battle to play first regularly. If he does, he sets off a chain reaction that pushes Berkman to left, Wilson to center, and Taveras to the bench. This scenario unquestionably weakens the defense, and if Bagwell doesn’t hit well the offensive upgrade would be small.

Rotation

Player 		Arm     Age 	ERA 	ERA+ 	HR% 	BB% 	SO% 
R Oswalt R 28 2.94 145 1.8% 5% 18%
A Pettitte L 34 2.39 178 1.9% 5% 20%
B Backe R 28 4.76 89 2.9% 10% 15%
W Rodriguez L 27 5.53 77 3.4% 9% 14%
E Astacio R 26 5.67 75 6.3% 7% 18%

Back in 2000, I witnessed two of Roy Oswalt’s starts as a member of the AA Round Rock Express. It reminded me of the Little League World Series, with Oswalt playing the role of the cheating 16-year-old throwing fireballs past helpless children. Relying mostly on a fastball and curve, he often makes grown men look equally helpless. The six-foot, 170-pound Oswalt entered the league with concerns about his long-term health, and he missed much of 2003.with a groin pull. Since then, he’s started 35 games each year. He can carry a team.

Andy Pettitte rebounded strongly from an injury-plagued 2004, pitching 222 innings with a career-best ERA+ of 174. He compounds that achievement by being a left-handed pitcher in a park that devours them. Pettitte should be good for another 200 innings with an ERA in the mid-threes.

Brandon Backe quietly moves up the ladder to #3, and here the ladder starts to wobble. Backe has pitched astoundingly well in the postseason but has yet to prove himself over the course of 162 games. Last year, his first as a full-timer, he missed several weeks with an oblique pull and also struggled with a sore elbow. He’s homer-prone and has an ERA of 4.62 as an Astro.

Wandy Rodriguez (given name: Wandy) survived a rugged inaugural season. He posted numerous six-inning, four-run starts that at least gave the Astros a chance to win. Houston went 12-10 when he took the mound. Rodriguez had good but not exceptional minor-league stats, and Houston needs him to progress to league-average status. Shaving his walks (3.7 per nine) will help.

Ezequiel Astacio is one year younger than Rodriguez and has a more impressive minor-league resume. He shuffled between Houston and Round Rock last season. Astacio offered a solid BB/K ratio of 2.6 but in 81 innings allowed an unsightly100 hits including 23 homers.

Should either Rodriguez or Astacio require more AAA seasoning, others who might receive a few starts include Fernando Nieve and Jason Hirsh, who dominated the Texas League last year. Houston also has former top prospect Carlos Hernandez, Taylor Buchholz, and Steve Sparks in camp.

Bullpen

Player		Arm     Age 	ERA 	ERA+ 	HR% 	BB% 	SO%
B Lidge R 29 2.29 186 1.7% 8% 35%
D Wheeler R 28 2.21 192 2.4% 7% 24%
C Qualls R 27 3.28 130 2.1% 7% 18%
R Springer R 37 4.73 90 3.7% 9% 22%
M Gallo L 29 2.66 160 1.1% 11% 14%
T Miller L 33 4.06 106 1.9% 14% 17%

In 2006 Houston fans learn about Brad Lidge’s resiliency. Lidge supplied another wildly successful regular season, barely allowing one baserunner per inning and striking out 35% of the batters he faced. His slider makes hitters weep in despair. Ah, but that postseason. Making his fourth appearance in five days, Lidge allowed Albert Pujols’s titanic ninth-inning blast in Game 5 of the NLCS. (My wife and I were watching the game at home with the windows open and could hear people shouting at their televisions down the street.) In his next appearance, he allowed a ninth-inning, game-losing homer to Scott Podsednik. Three days later, he permitted the only run in the Series clincher. Lidge should be fine, but fans will keep a nervous eye on him for a while.

Setup Man Dan Wheeler’s undistinguished career blossomed immediately upon arrival in Houston late in 2004. Last year he provided a closer-worthy performance of one baserunner and one strikeout per inning. Fellow reliever Chad Qualls originally bristled at having to pitch in relief though the results indicate he’s suited there. Russ Springer unretired in 2004 to pitch in Houston. He strikes out hitters comparably to Qualls and Wheeler but also allows more baserunners and homers. Mike Gallo joined the club in July and posted a 2.66 ERA with some dubious peripherals. He doesn’t strike out enough hitters to cover his high walk rate. Trever Miller is a garden-variety reliever who spent two years in Tampa Bay.

Outlook

St. Louis weakened themselves by entrusting vital roles to Juan Encarnacion, Larry Bigbie, Junior Spivey and Braden Looper. Milwaukee has potential but hasn’t arrived yet. The Cubs did their usual flashy brand of water-treading in the offseason. Cincinnati could make some noise if their pitching improves from utter wretchedness to humdrum mediocrity. Pittsburgh… don’t make me write about Pittsburgh.

Houston could win the division outright after settling for the Wild Card the last two seasons. They’ll need two among Backe, Rodriguez and Astacio to pitch well, a similar bullpen performance, more age defiance from Biggio, and heroic, offense-carrying efforts from Berkman and Ensberg. Oh, and Roger Clemens would help. This outcome isn’t likely, but it’s also not a pipe dream.

The more likely scenario has St. Louis holding on for another year and the Wild Card emerging from a stratified NL East. Houston retained its excellent defense but doesn’t quite have the pitching depth or hitting to reach the postseason again. I’m ignoring another late-season resurgence at my peril and predicting a middle-of-the-pack finish with 83 Clemens-free wins.

Posted by Lucas at 06:24 PM

December 24, 2005

Reviewing AL Lineups by Position

Note: "P-OPS+" and similar stats measure batters against their positional peers instead of the entire league.

Best AL Team Offense by Position

Pos Team OPS P-OPS+ BA OBP P-OBP+ SLG P-SLG+ R HR RBI BB SO Players
C Cleveland .815 135 .292 .365 117 .450 118 78 20 86 70 86 V Martinez, J Bard
1B NY Yankees .926 129 .275 .389 113 .537 116 95 42 118 96 122 T Martinez, J Giambi, A Phillips
2B Baltimore .861 136 .306 .379 116 .482 120 108 18 77 76 91 B Roberts, C Gomez, B Castro
3B NY Yankees 1.011 163 .317 .414 125 .597 138 122 47 129 88 140 A Rodriguez
SS Texas .891 133 .328 .380 113 .510 119 114 24 95 56 95 M Young
LF Boston .943 141 .286 .377 112 .566 129 122 46 153 86 134 M Ramirez, K Millar, J Payton
CF Cleveland .823 129 .287 .345 108 .478 121 115 23 83 54 139 G Sizemore, C Crisp
RF LA Angels .901 132 .297 .368 112 .534 120 110 35 122 64 60 V Guerrero, J Rivera, J Davanon, C Figgins
DH Boston .991 150 .295 .396 117 .595 133 114 44 146 102 123 D Ortiz

Worst AL Team Offense by Position

Pos Team OPS P-OPS+ BA OBP P-OBP+ SLG P-SLG+ R HR RBI BB SO Players
C Seattle .566 64 .216 .253 81 .313 82 54 10 46 24 123 M Olivo, P Borders, Y Torrealba, R Rivera, M Ojeda, D Wilson
1B LA Angels .703 79 .271 .324 95 .379 84 92 11 79 52 113 D Erstad, C Kotchmann
2B Kansas City .627 73 .235 .293 90 .334 83 66 9 55 44 100 R Gotay, T Graffanino, A Blanco, D Murphy, D Hocking, J McEwing
3B Cleveland .630 70 .229 .286 88 .344 83 63 15 64 40 116 A Boone, J Hernandez
SS Minnesota .608 66 .235 .283 86 .325 80 61 7 47 36 96 J Bartlett, J Castro, N Punto
LF Baltimore .671 75 .239 .289 86 .381 89 73 17 60 42 114 L Bigbie, E Byrnes, B Surhoff, D Newhan, E Marrero
CF NY Yankees .629 73 .243 .297 92 .333 81 68 7 60 50 99 B Williams, H Matsui, T Womack, B Crosby
RF Toronto .704 77 .261 .308 92 .397 85 91 12 76 35 133 A Rios, R Johnson, G Gross
DH Baltimore .639 65 .210 .277 82 .362 83 62 18 70 54 100 J Gibbons, S Sosa, J Lopez, R Pameiro, B Castro, B Surhoff, A Friere, C Gomez

Boston and Cleveland had a P-OPS+ of 110 or better at five positions. Chicago and Toronto had none.

Kansas City, Minnesota, Seattle and Toronto had a P-OPS+ of 90 or worse at five positions. Boston had none.

New York's third basemen (i.e., Alex Rodriguez) were the best hitters in the American League relative to position, followed by Boston's and Cleveland's designated hitters (i.e., Travis Hafner), Boston's left fielders, and Cleveland's catchers. That revisionist history circa July 2004 about Ryan Drese justifying the Hafner trade? It needs further revision.

Seattle's catchers led the league in ineptitude at the plate, followed by Baltimore's designated hitters, Minnesota's shortstops, Cleveland's third basemen, and Baltimore's left fielders.

As bad as Minnesota's shortstops were, Christian Guzman was worse.

How in the world could a team's DHs hit .210/.277/.362 as Baltimore's did? No qualifying individual player in the AL finished with an OBP under .290 (whoops, Ivan Rodriguez!). They at least provided a valuable educational service to the nation's children by simulating the hitting environment on Neptune (poisonous atmosphere, gravitational pull 11x Earth's, temperature of -170C).

The group of best hitters combined for 692 walks and 990 strikeouts. The worst drew 315 fewer walks but only struck out four more times.

A team consisting of the best hitters by position would score about 1,075 runs (6.6 per game) in a season. The worst hitters would reach only about 560 runs (3.5 per game).

Posted by Lucas at 11:33 AM

October 27, 2005

Congrats

Congratulations to the Chicago White Sox, who captured a World Series title for the first time since 1917. The Sox won sixteen of their last seventeen games including eleven of twelve in the postseason. All told, they won 110 games and lost only 64, leaving no doubt as to who was the best team in baseball in 2005.

Congratulations also to the Houston Astros. It’s easy for me to be philosophical about their goose egg in the Series because my affection for them is only casual, but they really did have a fantastic season. Remember, they lost both Jeff Kent and Carlos Beltran over the offseason and spent several weeks without Lance Berkman, who shredded his knee playing flag football. They signed exactly one Major-League free agent, the long-departed John Franco. Over at the Batter’s Box in March, I predicted they’d just barely surpass .500, and frankly I wouldn’t have been surprised if they didn’t achieve even that modest goal.

On May 24, the Astros had a record of 15-30, worse than every team in the National League except the miserable Colorado Rockies. They were 2-21 on the road. Two and twenty-one. Texas had recently swept them in Arlington by scores of 7-3, 18-3 and 2-0. Writers, talk-show hosts and fans speculated on whether Texas might acquire Roger Clemens to assist in their division run.

Houston finished the season 74-43 (including a 34-24 road record) and then defeated the best two teams in the NL to reach the World Series. They lost their four games to the Sox by a total of six runs. Twenty years from now, people will still talk about Game Four against Atlanta and Game Three against Chicago. The Astros and their fans have reason to be proud once the pain of losing dissipates.

Posted by Lucas at 08:39 AM

October 21, 2005

Some World Series Indices

For those who say baseball is 90% pitching, here is your series. Both teams had the best pitching staffs and among the worst three offenses in their respective leagues.

Category
Chicago
Houston
RS+ (index of runs scored relative to league and adjusted for park)
92 (13th in AL)
94 (14th in NL)
OPS+
92 (12th)
95 (13th)
OBP+
96
97
SLUG+
96
98
RA+ (index of runs allowed relative to league and adjusted for park)
122 (1st)
123 (1st)
ERA+
125 (1st)
123 (1st)
ERA+ of rotation
121 (1st)
125 (1st)
ERA+ of bullpen
139 (3rd)
118 (2nd)
OPS+ Allowed
84 (1st)
85 (1st)
Actual Record
99-63 (1st)
89-73 (3rd)
"Pythagorean" Record (based on runs scored and allowed)
92-70 (4th)
91-71 (2nd)
"Peripheral" Record (based on hitting and pitching stats)
89-73 (4th)
91-71 (2nd)

Posted by Lucas at 08:12 PM

October 04, 2005

Alex Rodriguez and the “Code of Honor?

Originally published at the Batter's Box.

In L.A. Confidential, Captain Dudley Smith tells Sergeant Jack Vincennes, “I doubt you’ve ever taken a stupid breath.? Most of the time, Alex Rodriguez is like Vincennes, if far less interesting. A perfect corporate ballplayer, seemingly incapable of an extemporaneous word, definitely incapable of adding excitement to the fine array of electronics sold by Radio Shack.

But on occasion, Rodriguez takes a stupid breath. In 2004, Rodriguez offered his infamous “[me] and 24 kids? remark about the Rangers’ perpetual losing efforts. His comments were startlingly uncharacteristic and factually ignorant, as Texas had signed several other big-name, big dollar free agents during his three-year tenure. Alas, almost all of them were terrible, injury prone, or both.

Rodriguez took Breath Number Two yesterday. On the last day of the regular season, Texas gave Alfonso Soriano his first day off since mid-July. Buck Showalter then pulled Michael Young, Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock in the third inning after all three reached base. The Rangers played the rest of the game with Adrian Gonzalez at first, Esteban German at second, Mark DeRosa at short and Marshall McDougall at third. Texas entered the fourth inning leading 4-1, but Los Angeles immediately tied the game on a Juan Rivera three-run homer and scored singletons in the sixth, seventh and eighth. Meanwhile, Texas completed the last six innings with two singles and no walks. Final score: LA 7, Texas 4.

As a result, LA won home-field advantage over Rodriguez’s Yankees, who had lost 10-1 to Boston hours earlier. Informed of the Rangers’ roster shenanigans, Rodriguez provided these words of wisdom: "I just think there's a code of honor when so much is on the line. You hope people do the right thing but you can't control what people do."

Ah, sweet obliviousness. Let’s explore how the Yankees themselves responded to this “code of honor? thingy with so much on the line.

New York chose Jaret Wright to start the last game of the season against Boston’s Curt Schilling. Wright brought a 5.97 ERA into the game, and opposing batters were hitting .335 against him. In his previous start, Wright allowed seven runs (three earned) on six hits in just one inning. Before that, he allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits in 2.1 innings. He has a career ERA of 5.17 in nine years of play. When Wright couldn’t get through the fourth inning, New York replaced him with Scott Proctor, who had a 5.52 ERA on the season (5.81 career) and had allowed a homer every six innings. He’d given up eleven runs in twelve innings in September. Proctor promptly surrendered a three-run bomb to Manny Ramirez. Boston led 6-0 after four and never looked back.

Watching the entertainment from the bench was a rested Mike Mussina, whom the Yankees were saving for the playoffs. Mussina has 224 career wins and career ERA of 3.64. He’s been rather average this season and missed a couple of weeks with a tender elbow, but no sentient creature would chose Wright over Mussina when “so much is on the line.?

Aggrieved parties only speak of “unwritten rules? and “codes of honor? when the results go against them. Ben Davis’s bunt to break up a Curt Schilling no hitter a few years ago provides another example of a code violation. If Hernandez doesn’t reach base, or if Texas holds on to win, nobody says a word or even remembers the violation the next day. Furthermore, accusations of rule-breaking don't exist when the act might help instead of harm. Rodriguez conspicuously neglected to mention that Los Angeles pulled Sunday starter Jarrod Washburn after only two innings and rested Vlad Guerrero on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

I eagerly await Alex Rodriguez’s next off-the-cuff remarks, which will take place during the All-Star Break in 2007.

Posted by Lucas at 07:39 AM

September 27, 2005

Race To The Bottom

You might remember a few years ago when the Baltimore Orioles lost an unfathomable 32 of 36 games to close the season. They haven’t gotten much better. For four years running, the Orioles have found themselves at or near .500 in August, only to collapse down the stretch:

Year   Start   Finish
2005 60-60 10-26
2004 59-59 19-25
2003 57-59 14-32
2002 63-63 4-36

That’s an aggregate “finish? record of 47-119 (.283).

Posted by Lucas at 04:10 PM

August 29, 2005

It Could Be Worse

When Kansas City played the Yankees on Sunday, their lineup began with David DeJesus, Chip Ambres and Mike Sweeney. Nothing awe-inspiring, but a competent top three; they have a combined line of .294/.352/.474. As for the others…

4. Emil Brown
5. Terrence Long
6. Angel Berroa
7. John Buck
8. Denny Hocking
9. Joe McEwing

Kansas City’s four-through-nine batters have a combined line of .261/.305/.374. Today: two-for-eighteen including a double, with two walks.

The question that answers itself: Why does a team with a 42-87 record have Long, Hocking and McEwing in the same lineup?

UPDATE: DeJesus and Sweeney are both out with injury. Monday's lineup:

1. Aaron Guiel
2. Chip Ambres
3. Terrence Long
4. Emil Brown
5. Mark Teahan
6. Angel Berroa
7. John Buck
8. Denny Hocking
9. Joe McEwing

Posted by Lucas at 01:30 AM

August 12, 2005

Rules of Advancement

(The Rangers’ four-game swan dive has rendered this piece moot as far as Texas is concerned, but in the words of Blake, "I'm going anyway. Let's talk about something important.")

Eliminating a deficit against one team presents a basic problem. When the leading team wins, the laggard can’t gain any ground. When a team sits in third place, its ability to gain ground is further challenged. The question is, how much?

Let’s assume two scenarios: in one, Los Angeles resides in first with a winning percentage of .575, and Texas is in 2 nd at .500. In the other, LA and Oakland are tied at .575 and Texas looks up from third place with a .500 record. Assume that a team’s winning percentage indicates its probability of winning any particular game (except when LA and Oakland square off, then assume each has a 50% chance of winning).

With only LA in front, Texas gains a game in the standings when they win and LA loses. Simple enough. With LA and Oakland ahead, Texas gains on the division lead only if they win and <I>both</I> LA and Oakland lose. Conversely, they lose a game in the standings if they lose and <I>either</I> LA or Oakland wins. Thus, with two teams in front, Texas is more likely to lose a game in the standings than win.

Change in Standings
One team ahead
Two teams ahead
Gain a game
21.0%
9.0%
Stay even
50.0%
50.0%
Lose a game
29.0%
41.0%

Texas has another problem. When LA and Oakland are tied and playing each other, as occurred recently, Texas cannot gain a game in the standings. If Texas wins, they merely stay even. If they lose, by definition they must also lose a game in the standings.

Change in Standings
Two teams ahead
Two teams ahead, playing each other
Gain a game
9.0%
0.0%
Stay even
50.0%
50.0%
Lose a game
41.0%
50.0%

When two leading teams are tied and play a three-game series, the third-place team can do no better than regain one game in the standings during those three games. To do so, Texas must sweep and hope that the LA-Oakland series ends without a sweep. Any other outcome results in stasis or further decline.

Change in Standings during three-game series
Two teams ahead, playing each other
Gain a game
9.4%
Stay even
31.3%
Lose a game
37.5%
Lose two games
18.8%
Lose three games
3.1%

Of course, Texas won’t make up ground on anybody if they continue to hover around the .500 mark. Let’s assume that the one-eyed Norse god Odin grants the Rangers supernatural baseball prowess, raising their winning probability to .750. The probability of gaining ground on two teams in one day increases surprisingly little, from 9% to just over 13%, because of the unlikelihood of both LA and Oakland losing. When LA and Oakland square off, Texas has about a 32% chance of gaining one game in the standings over the course of the series.

Change in Standings, .750 chance of winning
One team ahead
Two teams ahead
Gain a game
31.9%
13.5%
Stay even
53.8%
53.8%
Lose a game
14.4%
32.7%

Change in Standings during three-game series when two teams are ahead and playing each other
Gain a game
31.6%
Stay even
42.2%
Lose a game
21.1%
Lose two games
4.7%
Lose three games
0.4%

Posted by Lucas at 07:14 PM

July 14, 2005

The American League At The Break

American League Offense Indices

Team
Runs / G
RS+
OPS
OPS+
BALTIMORE
4.95
120
0.803
123
BOSTON
5.44
114
0.808
116
TEXAS
5.53
112
0.812
107
NY YANKEES
5.56
106
0.803
103
LA ANGELS
4.77
105
0.745
100
TAMPA BAY
4.48
98
0.736
100
TORONTO
4.86
97
0.750
92
KANSAS CITY
4.32
97
0.714
96
CLEVELAND
4.61
97
0.757
100
CHICAGO SOX
4.80
94
0.743
89
DETROIT
4.50
94
0.740
97
MINNESOTA
4.60
94
0.746
97
SEATTLE
4.33
93
0.711
93
OAKLAND
4.60
90
0.731
94

RS+ measures the team's runs scored in terms of its home park and converts it to an index, 100 equalling a league-average offense. Higher is better.

In terms of this statistic, the worst hitting team in the East (Toronto) has a better offense than the best hitting team in the Central (Kansas City). Imagine what Chicago could accomplish with an offense.

American League Pitching Indices

Team
Runs / G
RA+
ERA
ERA+
Rotation IP/G
Rotation ERA
Rotation ERA+
Bullpen ERA
Bullpen ERA+
CHICAGO SOX
3.94
125
3.62
127
6.55
3.72
124
3.26
141
MINNESOTA
4.19
114
3.78
118
6.36
4.08
109
3.14
142
TORONTO
4.33
112
4.11
110
5.77
4.13
110
4.00
114
CLEVELAND
4.15
112
3.82
113
5.97
4.25
102
2.87
151
OAKLAND
4.44
112
3.95
117
6.01
4.03
115
3.72
124
LA ANGELS
4.03
109
3.79
108
6.22
3.85
107
3.53
116
DETROIT
4.36
106
3.88
111
6.07
4.14
104
3.25
133
NY YANKEES
5.01
102
4.55
104
6.02
4.83
98
3.95
120
SEATTLE
4.46
102
4.24
100
5.90
4.87
87
2.96
143
TEXAS
5.00
96
4.78
94
5.71
4.71
95
4.86
92
BOSTON
4.93
94
4.84
89
6.09
4.51
96
5.64
76
BALTIMORE
4.70
85
4.41
85
5.86
4.66
80
4.00
93
KANSAS CITY
5.57
78
5.39
75
5.36
5.88
69
4.66
87
TAMPA BAY
6.21
71
5.87
70
5.55
5.92
70
5.65
73

How good is Chicago's pitching staff, and how bad is Tampa Bay's? Tampa Bay actually has a better offense (when adjusting for park) but has won 29 fewer games than Chicago.

In the history of divisional play (1969-present), no team has finished with an ERA+ lower than 78 (meet your 2001 Texas Rangers!) and scores below 85 are rare. Tampa Bay has an ERA+ of 70 going into the second half.

The only teams above 100 in RS+ and RA+ are LA and New York.

American League Park Factors (2005 Only)

Team Park Factor (Runs) Park Factor (OPS)
NY YANKEES 1.09 1.09
OAKLAND 1.06 1.00
CHICAGO SOX 1.06 1.08
TORONTO 1.04 1.07
TEXAS 1.03 1.06
MINNESOTA 1.02 1.01
CLEVELAND 0.99 1.00
DETROIT 0.99 0.98
BOSTON 0.99 0.98
SEATTLE 0.97 0.95
TAMPA BAY 0.95 0.95
LA ANGELS 0.94 0.97
KANSAS CITY 0.93 0.93
BALTIMORE 0.86 0.89

Baltimore usually slightly favors pitchers (contrary to what almost every "knowledgeable" announcer will tell you) but has drastically favored them this year. Yankee Stadium also usually favors pitchers but is the best hitter's park in the AL. Texas and Detroit are much closer to neutral than is typical.

Posted by Lucas at 10:37 AM

June 26, 2005

National Champions!

The Texas Longhorns, your 2005 NCAA Baseball Champions.


UPDATE: If you're wondering why I have a picture of Hitler here, please email me.

Posted by Lucas at 04:58 PM