Thursday, October 21, 2004


They're the most exciting games to watch but, from my perspective, offer the least amount of analytic fodder since rehashing debates over managerial decision gets really, really boring pretty quickly. I mean, what can one write about the ALCS game seven? You've got plenty of other people to read if you want that analysis, so I won't go into it. My external time commitments are becoming greater, so this blog probably won't see more than two or three posts a week for the near-term future. In the meantime, I'm working on a few player pieces like my Adrian Beltre piece for more enigmatic players. Until then, enjoy the season's conclusion.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Fire Jim Tracy?

Checking out the comments over at Dodger Thoughts, I discovered a new baseball blog, Steve Haskins' Fire Jim Tracy. I don't like to do hit pieces, but in this case it's fairly warranted and I hope this post is taken in the spirit of thoughtful debate.

Haskins' first entry criticizes Tracy's decision to let Wilson Alvarez face Albert Pujols with two out and two on in yesterday's game, a decision which resulted in Pujols launching the go-ahead 3-run home run. Haskins writes:
Why is Wilson Alvarez pitching to Albert Pujols? Since I can already guess at your answers, I'll take them ahead of time.
He then proceeds to list four potential reasons: because Alvarez is attempting to walk Pujols, because Alvarez is superior to Duaner Sanchez, because loading the bases by issuing a walk is disadvantageous, and because the bullpen couldn't be overtaxed because of game 5, and to each potential response Haskins presents a rebuttal. I agree with him on his fourth point, but his other arguments don't quite work.

First, Alvarez was pitching pretty carefully to Pujols. Alvarez was behind 3-1 and Mayne set up pretty far inside on the fifth pitch. Alvarez missed his location on the pitch and left the ball out over the plate, causing the home run. Alvarez certainly wan't being overly aggressive, and the pitch that Mayne set up for was not "very little reward and a lot of risk."

Second, Alvarez was a good option at this point. Haskins asserts that the stats say Duaner Sanchez is better; I'd have to disagree. Sanchez has a better ERA, but that's not a very good indicator of performance. Duaner Sanchez' fair run average using the BPro reliever reports is 3.82. Alvarez' is 2.61. Alvarez' ERA just as a reliever was 2.44 and his opponents average as a reliever was .201 with 8.57 K/9, far superior to Sanchez' 3.38/.266/4.95. If you use Alvarez' overall numbers, it's closer but Alvarez still comes out on top: 7.61 K/9, 2.31 BB/9, 0.90 HR/9, for Alvarez; 4.95, 3.04, 1.01 for Sanchez, all of which translates to a 3.57 to 4.58 edge for Alvarez in Fielding Independent Pitching ERA. If it's splits you're after, Sanchez' line vs. RHB is .260/.333/.370; Alvarez' is .222/.269/.315. This one's pretty open and shut. Haskins also makes the argument that Yhency Brazoban could have been brought in. That just doesn't seem like a very good idea. For one, There were still another 5 innings in the game, and counting on Gagne and Brazoban to get through all of them is unrealistic. Alvarez is probably a better option than anyone besides Gagne and Brazoban; there could be an argument for Carrara, but his performance against right-handed hitters this year hasn't been close to Alvarez'. Bringing in one of the relief aces in Brazoban or Gagne is a bad idea in this spot since the pitcher's spot was due up fourth in the bottom of the inning, meaning that if Bradley and Cora got on the Dodgers would likely have to waste an out on Brazoban (or end up utilizing him for only one out as a pitcher). This is a situation where any value added by turning to a reliever is nullified by the likelihood that that reliever won't be available in the fifth inning, so it only makes sense to replace Alvarez if a less valuable pitcher (Dessens or Sanchez, in this case) is more likely to retire Pujols.

Third, it is not particularly logical to walk Pujols to get to Rolen. With runners on first and third and two out, a team has .5219 expected runs. That jumps to .8082 with the bases loaded and two out. While Rolen might not have had a hot hand, there's not sufficient evidence to suggest that his injury made it impossible or unlikely for him to deliver a hit. Let's break this down statistically. Albert Pujols hit a home run every 12.9 at bats this year, got a single every 6.1 at bats, and got a double or triple every 11.2 at bats, and he was retired once every 1.49 at bats. Let's assert that Alvarez is roughly equal to the competition that Pujols accumulated those numbers against (which is being generous to Pujols when you look at the opponents quality figures at Baseball Prospectus-- Pujols' opposition yields .252/.332/.408 whil Alvarez has yielded .244/.291/.367, which might be artificially low because of Dodger Stadium but since this game is at Chavez Ravine that's irrelevant). If this is the case, walking Pujols to get at Rolen is a bad idea. Using run expectancy data from this year as well as each player's outcome rates for this year, I made a chart of how many runs to expect facing Pujols with runners at the corners versus Rolen with the bases loaded with two out:

Total RE Prob

Pujols Rolen Pujols Rolen Pujols Rolen Rolen 80% Rolen 65%
Out 0 0 0.6689 0.596 0 0 0 0
1B 1.4605 2.461 0.1639 0.148 0.2393 0.365 0.291739 0.237038
2B 2.3359 3.336 0.0895 0.061 0.2091 0.205 0.1636694 0.132981
HR 3.1135 4.114 0.0777 0.058 0.2419 0.238 0.1906085 0.154869
0.246 0.1971462 0.160181

0.6904 1.054 0.8431631 0.68507

WRE is the weighted run expectancy, or expected runs times the probability of the event. Walking Pujols to get at Rolen is a pretty bad move unless there's reason to believe Rolen is hitting at a level below 2/3 of his regular season performance. His hitless performance in ten at bats to that point in the series is not sufficient evidence, especially since he'd already drawn 5 walks in the series. Walking Pujols is not intelligent strategy unless you believe that the Dodgers goal should have been to prioritize not allowing any runs to score rather than minimizing the amount of runs scored-- in other words, if it's believed that each additional run allowed provides very diminishing returns. With Suppan having issued three walks and allowing a home run in only three innings while only registering one strike out, that's a pretty inane argument; the Dodgers were not, at that point, in a position where preventing one particular run was more important than minimizing the Cardinals' overall run total.

All in all, I think the evidence supports Tracy's decision here.

Haskins then criticizes Glenn Hoffman for waving Alex Cora into third on a play on Saturday. That's a bit of a reach for the "Fire Tracy" campaign. Regardless, Haskins argues that this added no potential battle since Lima was due up next and would bunt. This isn't quite true: a runner on third nullifies the force play at third if the bunt is bad; a runner on third makes whoever fields the bunt hold the runner back, making a successful throw to second less likely; a runner on third creates more options so that the pitcher can swing away since a double play would still score him, as would a sac fly; and a runner on third can score on an Izturis sac fly if Lima strikes out. Is this a tremendous play? No. But it's not exactly evidence that the Dodgers are being overaggressive because of the current field management.

In his second post, Haskins criticizes Tracy for starting Alex Cora in every game of the series. I don't know how familiar Mr. Haskins is with the concept of platoon splits, but all of the Cardinals starters have been right handed. Against RHP, Cora has hit .267/.367/.376 while Hernandez has hit .259/.351/.412. If we use Gross Production Average to evaluate those two lines, Hernandez leads, .261 to .259, a difference which is statistically insignificant. Since there's no dispute that Cora has the better defense, I see no point in this criticism. I might listen to an argument that Cora's production has tailed off recently and that his expected contribution should be lower than his overall line, but that's a nit that's not worthy of picking.

In his third post, Haskins provides a great deal of anecdotal evidence about Tracy not getting optimal performance out of his players. I won't make the argument that Tracy is making his players perform better; he seems to be about average and I think managers tend to have very little effect on individual performances.

In his fifth post, Haskins argues that a closer should always be used in the seventh inning of a tight elimination game if he's available for three innings. I think that's overstated; just because someone is hypothetically available for three innings doesn't mean they'll be able to do that. In this case, however, Gagne would be a good choice since Walker-Pujols-Rolen was due up, and using one's relief ace against this core is a very wise thing to do. However, the pitcher's spot was was due up third in the ensuing inning, and trailing three runs you can't have a relief pitcher hitting. Absent a double switch that puts Gagne in the #5 slot and Choi/Ventura/Grabowski/Hernandez in the #9 slot at first base, I can't think of any way to pull that off, and that means that in the eighth or ninth the Dodgers would have to replace what would be Shawn Green's spot with a pinch hitter, and that simply doesn't make much sense given his production in the series. Considering that Brazoban entered the inning doing well with only 19 pitches under his belt, as Haskins had pointed out in his previous post, I think Tracy made the right move.

Do I think Tracy is a great manager? Hell no. I do think, considered in the context of the set of major league managers, that Tracy is a pretty good manager. I was tearing out my hair about his handling of Hee Seop Choi, but I don't think that was a fireable offense. Choi was struggling and Jayson Werth wasn't. When Choi did play, he was always in a wall of left-handed hitters, meaning his removal from the game in the sixth or seventh against a lefty was nearly inevitable. These are problems. But Tracy seems much, much more receptive to constructive criticism than most managers, and going forward I think having an offseason to talk to Paul DePodesta will make him an improved manager. And do you have any idea who the other candidates are? Check out whose available for the Mariners job. Earl Weaver isn't coming out of retirement, and the only one I think would be an upgrade from Tracy is Larry Dierker. It's easy to be angered by a few managerial decisions. But guess what? Everybody is. Sure, Mike Scioscia, Jack McKeon, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre get a lot of free passes, but a lot of that has to do with the talent they're given. With a choice between Tracy, Felipe Alou, Bruce Bochy, Clint Hurdle, Al Pedrique, Art Howe, Frank Robinson, Larry Bowa, Dusty Baker, Phil Garner, Tony La Russa, Lloyd McClendon, Dave Miley, and Ned Yost, Tracy's at least in the top three or four. It's possible to do better than Tracy, but not probable.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

More Inane Brad Lidge Usage Arguments

After my attempt at satire on Thursday failed to garner any positive feedback, I'll go back to dry, boring analysis today. I've thrown around some ideas about Jose Lima's magnificent performance last night, but I'm too terrified about jinxing the Dodgers to seriously analyze that game. How about some more Phil Garner talk instead?

In the seventh inning with a 5-5 tie, Phil Garner put Mike Qualls into the game. Garner went with a double switch since Craig Biggio had been retired to end the sixth, inserting Jason Lane at left field and into the lineup at #9, putting the pitcher's spot at #1. In the eighth, after Dan Miceli walked Johnny Estrada, Garner put Brad Lidge into the game with one out and the #6 spot due up in the bottom of the eighth. I don't know what Joe Morgan said at the time since someone was vacuuming, but he later said he'd argued that Garner should have used a double switch here. Lidge retired both batters he faced and sure enough Lidge was pulled for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the inning with two outs and runners at the corners. The pinch-hitter, Orlando Palmeiro, grounded out on a close play to the right side. In the ninth, Russ Springer struck out Eddie Perez and Charles Thomas before yielding a single and a stolen base to Rafael Furcal and the game-winning hit by J.D. Drew. The Astros came up short when Jeff Kent grounded into a double play to end the ninth.

Throughout the final portion of the game, Morgan continually criticized Garner's initial double switch and then his decision not to double switch when Lidge entered the game. I wanted to throw something at the TV. The original double switch made a good deal of sense since Craig Biggio has been a pretty terrible left fielder this season whil Jason Lane is a substantially better. In fact, Lane is arguably the better offensive player at this point, with a .275 EqA vs. Biggio's .270. Now, Lane only had 156 plate appearances so that's not overwhelming evidence, but this move looks pretty good since the odds that the Astros would need a key at bat from the #9 hitter before the 9th were better than the odds that they'd need one from the #1 hitter.

The hypothetical second double switch is quite obviously a bad idea. With 6-7-8 due up, the odds of needing a big at bat from the #1 hitter would be pretty low, so there's not a huge amount of marginal value to be added. It obviously makes no sense to make a switch that puts Lidge up to hit earlier, so the 6-9 hitters can't be removed. That means that Morgan is arguing that Garner should have taken out one from Carlos Beltran, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, and Jeff Kent. Uh, 'fraid not, Joe. Not only are those the Astros best hitters by a long shot, but they're also all good fielders. It makes no sense for the Astros to play for the possibility of a marginally better eighth inning at the expense of a big ninth inning when their best hitters will be due up.

There are decisions Garner made that are bit more ripe for questioning. Why Dan Miceli was brought in in the seventh is a question I don't know how to answer; had Qualls finished the seventh and Lidge started the eighth, Miceli could have pitched the ninth and arguably is a better person for the job than Springer. But that's pretty marginal, and I think Garner has a better idea about the differences among his pitchers than I do. The other issue is that Garner perhaps should have let Lidge hit for himself in the eighth. This would no doubt be extraordinarily controversial, and Garner would be in deep trouble if he'd done it and the Astros lost. Let's use win expectancy to examine the possibilities.

The Astros had runners on first and third and two out in the eighth. If the inning ends without a run scoring, the Astros win expectancy goes to .506. If one run scores before the inning ends, it goes up to .857. If they score two runs, it goes to .938. Let's assert, for the sake of argument, that Lidge could be expected to retire all three batters in the ninth and perhaps be effective in a possible tenth inning. Had Lidge hit for himself, been retired, and breezed through the ninth the Astros win expectancy entering the bottom of the ninth would be .649. Had the Astros failed to then score in the ninth and Lidge shut down Atlanta in the tenth, the Astros' would have a .662 win expectancy.

With Eddie Perez, Charles Thomas, and Rafael Furcal coming up, let's say that Russ Springer has a 50% chance of not allowing a run since his fair run average using the new Baseball Prospectus reliever reports is a whopping 5.49 (= .61 R/IP) and he's done that against competition that closely resembles the collective line of that trio. We'll give him a 40% chance of giving up one run, 6% chance of giving up 2, and 3% chance of yielding 3, which average out to .61 R/IP. I know that's fairly arbitrary, but seems reasonably close. So if the Astros fail to score in the eighth, they have a 50% chance of entering the bottom of the ninth with the aforementioned .649 win expectancy. If we use my guesses at Springer's expected runs allowed to weight the Astros' win expectancy, we get a .398 win expectancy. That's a little low, however, due to the Astros having their best hitters up. Those hitters average a .303 EqA, so we could roughly expect them to do 1.166 times better than average using the crude (EqA/lgEqA) method, raising their win expectancy to .464. We can bring that down a bit to, say, .440 to adjust for the fact that John Smoltz is better than the average 9th inning reliever.

So how much value does pinch-hitting for Lidge add? Let's readjust the win expectancy of leaving Lidge in the game to account for the possibility he might give up a run, using his 1.34 Fair Run Average as our guide. If Lidge enters the ninth after failing to plate a runner in the eighth, the Astros can expect to win .588 times. If Lidge manages to score the runner from third, that becomes .946 or .952 if we adjust for the Astros' batters in the ninth. If we assign a 5% chance to Lidge scoring the runner, the weighted win expectancy for Lidge becomes .606.

So how much value does Orlando Palmeiro add? Well, Palmeiro's not a great hitter. His line this year is .241/.344/.346, which seems about right for a 35-year-old with a career .277/.356/.348 line. Since he's facing Smoltz, let's say Palmeiro's got a 22% chance of driving in the runner from third and a 10% chance of drawing a walk, with Carlos Beltran then having a 40% chance of driving in the run, so we'll assign Palmeiro a 16% chance of causing exactly one run to score and a 10% chance of causing 2 runs to eventually score in the inning. I'm fairly certain Springer would still pitch the ninth with the Astros ahead; the other option would have been Dan Wheeler, whose numbers with the Astros are better but who had a pretty poor season with the Mets, so let's use Springer's numbers again. With a one run lead, the Astros can expect .772 wins with Springer pitching. With a two run lead, that's .944. If we weight those based on Palmeiro's expected contribution and brng back that .440 from above for if Palmeiro fails to score the runner, our final win expectancy once Garner brings Palmeiro in becomes .544.

All in all, I would argue that the Astros had a slightly better chance of winning had Garner let Lidge hit for himself. Obviously, that would have been the most controversial decision of Garner's managerial career had he made it, and had it not paid off he perhaps could have lost his job despite engineering (or at least overseeing) an astounding turnaround after being hired. But if Garner wanted to give his team the best chance of winning, there's a good chance he would have been better off letting Lidge embarass himself at the plate because Lidge is just that good on the mound and because Palmeiro is just that mediocre.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

What A Winning Team Needs

Playoff baseball is different than regular baseball. This is where we determine the individual character of all the players in Major League Baseball. The playoffs take a special kind of person, one that can't be found easily in baseball. Most general managers spend the offseason concerned primarily with figuring out what players to acquire to bolster the team in the regular season, but those few GM's who earn their keep always keep an eye towards acquiring those players with the right moral character to succeed. When you're dealing with the playoffs, you can just throw all of that OPS nonsense out the window because the playoffs are about great players making great plays, not exploiting the weaknesses of the Diamondbacks and Royals.

So who will win in this year's playoffs? Well, an easier way to figure that out is to just look at who can't win.

The Astros will be a chic pick, but they don't have a chance. Let's not forget, folks, that this team has been a perennial bridesmaid and has proven time and again it can't get it done when it counts. This isn't a very well-constructed playoff team, either: every player is either a youngster or a veteran. Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, Jeff Kent, and Craig Biggio are probably getting a little too long in the tooth, and none of them have managed to win a World Series save Clemens, who was only able to pilfer a ring through Steinbrenner's divine intervention. Youngsters Carlos Beltran, Morgan Ensberg, Lance Berkman, and Roy Oswalt haven't proven they can get it done in the playoffs, and that's not likely to change soon. This is also a team with too many questions in the bullpen with the absence of proven closer Billy Wagner, and it's been a long, long time since any team made its mark in October without a dominant bullpen. Veteran leaders like Brad Ausmus and Jose Vizcaino might help keep the Astros close, but Houston just doesn't have what it takes.

The Dodgers had a fine season, but they have no proven winners. Their nucleus of young players-- Eric Gagne, Adrian Beltre, Cesar Izturis, and Odalis Perez-- might cut it in July or August, but this group needs a few more years of playoff experience before they can get going. What's more is that the only Dodger with playoff experience is Jeff Weaver, who has an ERA over 4 and single-handedly brought the World Championship to South Florida last season with his extra-innings gopher ball; not the kind of playoff experience this team needs. The only other Champion the Dodgers have had is Juan Encarnacion-- whoops, he's gone, and he probably took LA's playoff chances with him. Moreover, the Dodgers have major character issues with Milton Bradley that will prove far too distracting for the team to succeed. Factor in their decision to trade away their only veteran leaders in Guillermo Mota and Paul Lo Duca, and you've got a team with no veteran leaders, no experience, no chemistry, and too many character issues to make it out of the first round.

The Red Sox have once again set out to torture their masochistic fan base with a great set-up for another colossal fizzle out. Newsflash: Keith Foulke can't throw a decent fastball, Pedro Martinez has lost his magic and has been proven incapable of leading a team in October, and there are too many egos in that clubhouse for playoff-caliber chemistry. Babe Ruth was a mean guy, and he's still extracting his vengeance on the franchise 120 years later.

The Twins are a hot pick, but they've once again gutted their team of all its veteran leadership, trading popular veterans Eric Milton and Doug Mientkiewicz and showing extreme reluctance to give the ball to Terry Mulholland when it counts. Sure, Johan Santana and Joe Nathan have put up gawdy ERA's and win-loss totals this season, but if I'd told you that the Twins would be relying on them in the 2004 playoffs last October, you'd be sprinting to Vegas to bet on every other team in baseball while trying to stifle your vomit. Remember, this team started two players who spent most of the season in the minor leagues in game one of the division series.

Another team a lot of people are banking on is St. Louis, but I would advise against optimism in the Midwest. Albert Pujols has hit only .213 in the playoffs before this season and Scott Rolen has only played two playoff games in his career. They have a rotation full of castoffs and only one starter who's won a World Series in Tony Womack. If you'd like to throw away your savings betting on a team led by Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan, I might have a few bridges lying around I could sell you.

The Angels are a compelling pick, full of excellent veterans like Troy Percival, Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, and Darin Erstad. But this team is way too dependant on young players. Chone Figgins is a legitimate MVP candidate, but after him all I see are names that look like Melrose Place characters: Dallas McPherson, Casey Kotchman, Scot Shields, and Jose Guillen. Anyone will tell you that this team is being carried on the fragile back of Vladimir Guerrero; shouldn't those same people also point out that the Impaler has never won a World Championship or even a playoff game?

The Braves are also in the playoffs. Deja vu all over again. I have been adamant about this for years, and Atlanta cares too little about its suffering fans to do anything: Bobby Cox and John Schuerholtz know an awful lot about beating up on ne'er-do-wells in Shea Stadium and Olympic Stadium from April to August, but they couldn't tell a playoff baseball team from a hole in the ground. Please, people, J.D. Drew is your answer? Yeah, right. Oh, how about Jaret Wright, who started crucial game seven of the 1997 World Series... for the team that lost. Uh-huh. I would tell Braves fans not to get their hopes up, but they probably haven't.

The Yankees seem like a logical pick. After all, they win the World Series almost every year. But that was then, and this is now. Why don't you tell me how a team with no good left-handed pitchers is going to do in the playoffs? Better yet, how about one whose 3-4 hitters are newly acquired Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield-- you know, one of the worst clutch hitters in baseball this season and the guy with the career .238 average in the playoffs? Sorry, but if this team pulls it out we probably know that the Apocalypse isn't far off.

Look, every year a bunch of teams think they have what it takes to win in the playoffs. But with few exceptions, they don't. This isn't rocket science; there are clear formulas for what it takes to win a World Series, and none of the teams above seem to have figured them out. Any of these teams would be lucky to make it past the first round, and don't expect to see more than one or two of them in the LCS. History shows teams entering the postseason with the same hubris every year, and they're always slaughtered by the fates. I've been picking eight teams to lose in the playoffs each of the last ten years, and guess what? A whopping seventy of those teams couldn't get the job done, which means I've been right nearly 90% of the time. This isn't rocket science, and until owners start hiring general managers that know how to win in the playoffs they're teams are certain to fail.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Weaving Respect

Terrible pun, yeah, but it's self-consciously terrible. I hate writing titles.

From Aaron Gleeman's preview of the Dodgers-Cardinals series:
I can't in good conscience pick a team to upset the club with the best record in baseball when they figure to start Weaver and Lima three times in five games
As big of a Gleeman fan as I am, that's just either unfair or poorly researched. Since Aaron's column is at his spectacular Hardball Times site, let's use the most highly-touted metric available at THT, Fielding Independent Pitching, to rank the starters in this series:

Weaver, 3.91
Williams, 4.13
Perez, 4.21
Marquis, 4.58
Suppan, 4.80
Morris, 4.90
Lima, 5.12

Since FIP is pretty much the best way to predict a pitcher's future performance, I don't at all see why Jeff Weaver is the object of ridicule. Sure, he had a terrible season with the Yankees last year, but this year he plays for a team that has, you know, a pitching coach. Sure, handing one start to Lima doesn't bode well for the Dodgers, but he's scheduled to face Matt Morris, which is pretty even-looking to me. The Cardinals have a better offense and the two teams have more or less equal defenses and bullpens, so I'd give the edge to the Cardinals if the teams were to play each other thirty or forty times with the same format. But they only play five times and there's just no reason to be dumping on Jeff Weaver like that, especially since by most advaned metrics he's the best starter in the series. It's true Weaver gave up nine runs in thirteen innings against the Cardinals this year, but, well, let's just say I have trouble getting through any blog entry without writing "sample size." Arguably, Jeff Weaver should be among the least of the Dodgers' concerns, with Beltre several days removed from his last hit, Gagne possibly sub-optimal, Green banged up, Brazoban inexperienced, and a pair of catchers that are no doubt inspiring Stephen Hawking's next big idea.

Baseball is so fun for months and months because everything can be seen in long view until all of a sudden October strikes and every day requires prediction upon prediction about who will win each individual game. Forget all the races the wild card ruins and all the logistical problems it creates; the real reason I'm against it is that the postseason should be the shortest part of the year, forgotten by the losers and cherished by the victors.

Song of the Day: "Wait Until Tomorrow," Jimi Hendrix

Monday, October 04, 2004

2004 All-Stars

Mid-season all-star selections are a little silly for some reasons, although they have obvious practical advantages. So why does it seem no one ever chooses All-Stars after the season? Well, this year, I will.

In the AL, Johan Santana is the obvious choice to pitch. Ivan Rodriguez edges Jorge Posada and Jason Varitek narrowly (by defense with the former and offense with the latter) to catch. Mark Teixeira beats a relatively weak field at first base. Orlando Hudson would probably be the most controversial of my picks; he's been, by my reckoning, the most valuable second baseman in the AL by a narrow margin over lesser fielders Mark Bellhorn, Ronnie Belliard, and Alfonso Soriano. Alex Rodriguez' defensive competency and health edge out Melvin Mora and Eric Chavez, respectively. Miguel Tejada edges Carlos Guillen at short because of Guillen's time lost to injury. Carlos Lee's defense propels him just pass Manny Ramirez and Hideki Matsui. Mark Kotsay's defense gives him a very narrow win over Aaron Rowand and Johnny Damon, though had Carlos Beltran stuck around he'd have this spot. Vlad Guerrero beats Ichiro! and Gary Sheffield by a comfortable margin in right. Travis Hafner blows away the competition at DH.

Randy Johnson pitches for the NL, edging out Ben Sheets by a solid margin. Jason Kendall's superb defense separates him from Johnny Estrada to catch. Albert Pujols beats out Todd Helton by a hair, but we'll move him over to DH in a moment and keep Helton around at first. Mark Loretta was without question baseball's best second baseman in 2004. Adrian Beltre's edge in playing time breaks the tie with Scott Rolen. Jack Wilson's defense at shortstop nudges him past Jimmy Rollins and Khalil Greene. Adam Dunn's fine season in left field couldn't match some other guy's season, but his name escapes me. Jim Edmonds waltzes past Carlos Beltran in center. Bobby Abreu barely holds off J.D. Drew in right field, with Lance Berkman right behind.

So, how would these teams do against each other? I compiled each players MLVr (marginal lineup value per game; essentially, runs per game above average) and Defensive Rate (defensive runs saved per 100 games with 100 being average) as well as each pitcher's defense-independent ERA. The resulting chart:
Santana 2.54 92 P Johnson 2.7 92
Rodriguez 0.267 98 C Kendall 0.118 108
Teixeira 0.208 105
1B Helton 0.507 110
Hudson -0.006 113 2B Loretta 0.289 113
Rodriguez 0.205 104 3B Beltre 0.467 109
Tejada 0.24 113 SS Wilson 0.092 111
Lee 0.211 110 LF Bonds 0.947 100
Kotsay 0.157 112 CF Edmonds 0.475 109
Guerrero 0.421 101 RF Abreu 0.365 103
Hafner 0.398
DH Pujols 0.526

2.101 2.4867

3.786 2.6389



627.1 67.524

741.8 94.476

What are those extra numbers at the bottom? The first row is the average MLVr (2.101 for the AL, 3.786 for the NL) and average runs allowed (each pitcher's DERA minus the runs saved per game above average from the defense). The next row shows the average number of runs each team would score against the other using these figures, and the final row projects that total over a 162-game season and then uses those run totals to find the number of pythagorean wins. The NL team dominates, possessing a record resembling the Dodgers, while the AL flounders, looking like the final edition of Les Expos (speaking of which: if the Brewers and Expos both change hands this offseason, Bud Selig will have lost two 67-win teams in one offseason). The primary reason, of course, is Barry Bonds, but even if the NL ran out a replacement level left fielder (Adam Dunn's glove with Marco Scutaro's bat) they'd still project to 83.6 wins. This doesn't tell us anything whatsoever, but isn't it a lot more fun than all those stale MVP and Cy Young debates?

Song of the Day: "Berkeley is My Baby (And I Want To Kill It)," Blatz

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Jeff Kent Revisited

If you read my blog in the "early days" (which you almost certainly didn't), you'll recall that one of my first entries was about how an A's trade for Jeff Kent would be misguided. Turns out that that was certainly correct for the Astros, but the way the A's season has turned out begs the question from their standpoint. Here's a chart of how they've performed since September 1st along with a projected total for the A's if they'd used McLemore to supplement Kent:


McLemore 48 9 12 20 7.368421

Scutaro 50 2 11 16 4

Total 98 11 23 36 11.36842

Kent 75 10 19 45 15.35294

McLemore 24 3 6 9 3

Total 99 13 25 54 18.35294

RS RA Pyth% PythW
PythL ActW ActL
No Kent 120 169 0.335 10.06 19.94437 12 18
Yes Kent 126.98 169 0.361 10.83 19.17443

I was going to park adjust those figures, but there's not been much difference between Minute Maid and the NAC this season (1.007 versus 1.024). Factor in that Kent has more or less equalled Scutaro and McLemore this season defensively (fewer douple plays and a slightly lower range factor but a substantially better zone rating), and reasonable to argue that the A's turned down six or seven runs, which probably would have been enough to keep the A's in it until today. Of course, the A's did manage to overperform their Pythagorean record in September, so who knows.

In hindsight, the move might have been best since the A's would likely generate more than $1.8m from making the playoffs. But realistically, I think my analysis was right at the time: the A's can't afford to spend that much money on just one win, especially since, at the time, that one win seemed irrelevant because the A's were clearly the better team. What I didn't count on was that Mark Redman would be second in ERA among Oakland starters in that period with a 5.29 ERA, with only Barry Zito being passable (passable, not good) at 4.23. The thing about baseball is that you can do the right thing at every turn and still lose, which is one of those things that makes baseball so fun, sad, and poignant sometimes.

Song of the Day: "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," Wilco

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Gush mode

That, for me, was a great game. For the Giants fans I was watching it with, it wasn't as good, though I did sense some masochistic glee in the way they were declaring the game over after the Choi walk. Hopefully Choi's success this week eliminates Tracy's aversion to him next year. The Giants bullpen continues to be anathema to their success. In the fourth inning, I'd remarked that Rodriguez would have been a more successful closer than Herges or Hermanson, and a Giants fan declared that the trade had been the Giants' best move this season since "he only throws fastballs." Right. I'm not saying he necessarily would have gotten the job done today, but come on, man.

So I guess my prediction last week was technically off by a day; oh well.

I'm guessing LA's rotation will start Perez on Tuesday, Weaver on Thursday, Lima on Saturday, and Perez on Sunday and maybe Weaver on three days rest on Monday (or maybe Robin Ventura?). Not super formidable, but not much worse than what Atlanta or St. Louis will trot out now that Carpenter's injured and Thomson's questionable.

I also heard sighs of relief coming from Anaheim and Philadelphia this afternoon; I don't think there's much original material I could contribute to either of those subjects.

Song of the Day: "1999," Prince

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