Monday, August 31, 2009

Better Luck Next Year: Cincinnati Reds

You could say that a deficit of 19.5 games (that's how far the Reds are behind the Cardinals as of this morning) isn't likely to be made up in a year--especially not when there are three more teams between you and first place--and you'd be right. But the Reds have some intriguing young players and have been dragged down by some pretty devastating injuries, so it's worth taking a look.

2010 Reds now under contract, with 2009 WAR
C Ryan Hanigan (0.9)
1B Joey Votto (2.7)
2B Brandon Phillips (2.3)
3B Scott Rolen (3.0)
SS Paul Janish (0.6)
LF Chris Dickerson (1.8)
CF Drew Stubbs (Rookie)
RF Jay Bruce (1.0)

Pitchers, with 2009 FIPs:
Aaron Harang (4.18)
Bronson Arroyo (5.10)
Johnny Cueto (4.75)
Homer Bailey (5.23)
Micah Owings (5.75)
Bullpen: Francisco Cordero (3.18), Nick Masset (3.84), Danny Herrera (4.05)

Bad, but filled with promise. Stubbs should be a hell of a player. Bruce is having a nightmare of a season, but was the top prospect in the game not two years ago, and he's been terrific in right field. Phillips plays good D and can hit better than the league-average line he's put up so far. Votto is a stud who missed a bunch of games this year, and his defense (by UZR) looks pretty bad for 2009, but was +10 runs (roughly +1 win) in 2008; a rebound by him should be expected and will make a huge difference.

Harang has taken a bit of a step back from his "unheralded ace" status of a couple years ago, but is still a solid pitcher, and all of the other four starters have shown signs that they can be very good pitchers (some more likely to be than others, but it's all possible). This is a team, however, that will badly miss Edinson Volquez, who is expected to miss most of the 2010 season. Their bullpen is full of guys with pretty ERAs; most bullpen ERAs can't be trusted, but given the sheer number of them, you have to figure they can find three or four talents in there that can anchor their 2010 'pen in front of Cordero.

Then again, they could just decide to blow the whole thing up any day now. Their odds are long, and Harang, Arroyo and Cordero are all pretty expensive. But let's just say they decide to go for it. And anyway, why would they have picked up the last year and a half of Rolen's contract if they weren't going to go for it?

What They Need to MAKE Happen
1. Get an impact player at catcher or shortstop. Impact catchers are hard (okay, impossible) to find on the open market. Bengie Molina wouldn't be a bad gamble at the right price (decent defensive skills and an OPS close to average qualifies as "impact" by catcher standards), but I'm sure someone (very likely his current club, the Giants) will overvalue his veteran leadership and RBIs and drive him well out of reasonable range.
At shortstop, I'm sure they can get the recently departed Alex Gonzalez back for a song, but that's approximately one song more than he's worth at this point. His defense has been good, but his bat has completely vanished, and comebacks by middling shortstops at age 33 aren't good bets (even if the bat comes back, the defense slips--see Guzman, Cristian).
So unless someone like Molina falls into their laps or they can swing an improbable trade for an underutilized catcher on someone else's team (I'm looking at you, Chris Iannetta), the focus should be on getting a better shortstop. The best of the free agent class is likely to be Marco Scutaro, though Miguel Tejada is out there too, and there are several likely to be available in fairly minor trades who could give you a +2.5-win-or-so performance.

2. Separate Dusty Baker from Willy Taveras and Everyone Like Him. I'd be all for firing Dusty Baker--the man just doesn't know what he's doing--but if you can't do that, you've got to purge your team of all possible gutsy, toolsy players so that Dusty can't be tempted to actually use them. Taveras is a blindingly fast runner, an excellent defensive center fielder, and an overall crap player because he can't hit to save his life. He'd be a fine pinch runner/defensive replacement, but Dusty would use him way more than that. Drew Stubbs needs to be the center fielder of both the future and the present for this team. No more Taverases and Corey Pattersons, anywhere, ever. Unfortunately, Taveras is owed $4 million for 2010 for some reason, so if he's healthy, he'll likely be given every opportunity to win a spot on the team. So come to think of it, just fire Dusty already.

3. Find a platoon partner for Chris Dickerson. The Reds have two reasonable options for left field: Dickerson and Laynce Nix. Nix has shown some nice power and both have played good D, but Dickerson is the better player, and both are lefties who can't hit lefties. It would be ideal if the Reds could move Nix for a similar bit player who bats right-handed. Dickerson is a career .289/.388/.460 hitter against righties. If they were able to pair someone like the Tigers' Ryan Raburn (.242/.355/.516 vs. LHP this season) with that, they could have the equivalent of something like a $10-12 million player for the cost of essentially two minimum salaries. (I have no particular reason to believe that Raburn would be available, but guys like him certainly will be--many are likely hidden away in AAA because of their inability to hit righty pitching.)

What They Need to HAVE Happen
1. Jay Bruce needs to get good fast. This was a guy that was projected as something like a .300/.350/.550, 40-HR hitter with good D in the outfield corners, and quickly. The defense has been there in '09, but the offense has been offensive, with 18 homers but a .207 batting average and a .287 OBP through Saturday. On one hand, there are all kinds of reasons to expect him to bounce back; he's very young, he's walking more and striking out less than in 2008, and he's been victimized by an almost unbelievably low .202 BABIP, so there's no question that a lot of it is bad luck. On the other hand, though, his line drive and ground ball rates have plummeted while his fly ball rate has shot through the roof (35.2% in 2008, 49.6% in 2009), which isn't conducive to getting a lot of hits. He's very likely to be a productive player in 2010 regardless, but getting back to hitting the top half of the ball every now and then would probably help a lot.

2. Scott Rolen needs to stay healthy. It's hard to believe Rolen will be just 35 years old in 2010; in some ways, he's seemed old since pretty much the day he arrived with the Phillies 13 years ago. From 2004-2008 he played 142, 56, 142, 112 and 115 games, and if he plays every remaining game in 2009 he'll still end up in only 132 for the year. But when he's on the field, he's still a star. He plays excellent defense -- if not as excellent as five or six years ago when he was the best-fielding 3B anyone who missed Mike Schmidt's prime had ever seen -- and is currently hitting .312/.368/.466. Much of that was in the tougher American League, and there aren't a lot of markers to suggest that he's benefiting from a lot of luck, so .300/.370/.480 or so would be a reasonable expectation from a healthy Rolen in 2010. This is a team, as I've said, whose status as a contender kind of on the brink as it is, so they badly need every game they can possibly squeeze out of Rolen.

3. Either Johnny Cueto or Homer Bailey needs to fulfill his potential. A year or two ago, they were two of the better pitching prospects in the game, and while Cueto has been much better than Bailey in the majors, neither one has come close to doing what people thought he could do. One of those two guys needs to take the leap and form a strong 1-2 with Harang. The good news is that in his last two starts, Bailey is 2-0 with 11 hits, 5 walks, 11 strikeouts and an 0.60 ERA in 15 innings; the bad newses are that (a) Cueto has seemed to get worse every month he's been in the majors, and (b) those performances dropped Bailey's ERA all the way from 7.53 to 6.04.

The Reds are going to have a tough time avoiding the 90-loss mark this year, and they're not going to emerge from Spring Training '10 as anything like favorites. But if all these things happen and they get a couple more little breaks here and there, I can see them winning something between 85 and 90. And is it really that hard to see 87 wins or so being enough to win the Central?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hanley being Hanley

I know you've probably all seen this, but Rob Neyer thinks Albert Pujols might not be the MVP.

And I'm going to go one further: right now, right this very second, Pujols is not the MVP. Hanley Ramirez is.

It was barely two weeks ago when I said this: "it's impossible to make an argument against Albert." And it was. But since I wrote those words, late on the evening of August 11, here's what's happened:

Pujols: .261/.404/.522
Hanley: .481/.542/.731
and just for fun, Utley: .296/.500/.729

Well, that changes things, doesn't it? I don't think Albert's getting that triple crown after all (sorry, lar).

As I write this, Fangraphs has the three top NL WARs as 6.9 for Ramirez, 6.8 for Utley, and 6.4 for Pujols. That half-win difference isn't big, but it isn't too close to call, either. Say you don't think they've got defense right at all, and you want to go with plus-minus instead of UZR? That bumps them about four runs closer together. Narrows the gap a lot, but doesn't close it. Hanley still wins.

Look, Pujols is going to win the MVP. No question about it. And that's certainly not any kind of a tragedy; he's still having an incredible season. But imagine you're at the beginning of the 2009 season and building a brand-new team. You can get an average defensive shortstop (and Hanley is that, despite his bad reputation) who you know is going to hit .365/.428/.575, or you can get an average defensive first baseman (and Pujols has been that in '09, despite his good reputation) who you know is going to hit .313/.441/.666. Knowing what you do about what most shortstops are like and what most first basemen are like, don't you grab the SS and hope to pick up a 1B who can hit a little later on? I know I do. And that (well, the stats, but that in a nutshell), to me, is why Hanley Ramirez is the NL MVP right now.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happy Birthday...

Jim Thome!

I can't think of a hitter in the last 10 or so years that has been more fun for me to watch than Thome, #1 on my now-two-man list of tolerable White Sox. He turns 39 today, and is in his nineteenth season in the major leagues. (Incidentally, his 20th seems at least somewhat likely to come with his fourth different ballclub. Maybe the Mariners?)

Three quick things about Thome:

(1) If he wants to, he's now almost a lock to top 600 homers. He's not the hitter he once was, with a 124 OPS+ in 2008-09 after a 154 OPS+ from 1995-2007, and he has to rest or miss games to injury a lot more than he used to, but there has got to be at least one AL team (like, say, the Mariners) who can use 120 games of a .250/.370/.500 DH. He'll come close to 30 homers again this year, but even if he doesn't hit another one this year and falls off precipitously after that, all he needs is 18 homers a year for two more years. If he's healthy and wants to play, it's almost impossible to see him not managing that. Maybe once he's the eighth to hit #600 (only six right now, but A-Rod will almost certainly get there first), people will start noticing him a little.

(2) He's got close to the most extreme splits of any Hall of Fame hitter ever. He's hit a Bondsian .294/.430/.616 (1.046 OPS) vs. RHP, and a Todd Zeilean .239/.342/.423 vs. LHP. In fact, there's little doubt that, just as is the case with Ryan Howard (more on that in the coming weeks, probably), for most of his career it would've made sense to platoon him, if not for the fact that his performance against righties (who are, after all, something like 70% of MLB pitchers) is so great that his overall line gives him a reputation that prohibits it.

Thome's OPS against lefties is just 60% of his overall OPS. That's kind of amazing (though since I brought him up, Howard's is 58%). Obviously most lefties have a hard time hitting lefties, but consider some of the other all-time elite lefty hitters of the retrosheet era: McCovey, 75%; Reggie, 83%; Helton, 75%; Mathews, 70%; Bonds, 87%; Yastrzemski, 65%; Griffey, 85%; Mauer (couldn't resist), 72%. Yaz was actually pretty dreadful against lefties, too, but even he had less extreme splits than Thome, and none of these other guys is anywhere close. Which kind of draws attention to how incredibly awesome he's been in those other 70% of his PAs.

(3) He's really quite funny in fictional, all-caps chatroom form.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Better Luck Next Year: Seattle Mariners

Today begins a series that will be in an unspecified number of parts over an indeterminate number of weeks in which I look at a team that is out of the 2009 playoff picture, but that might have designs on 2010.

I've been planning for a couple days now to do this starting with the Mariners, a team I already know pretty well, but then yesterday Rob Neyer had to come in and rain all over my parade, concluding that the Ms' "long-term prognosis doesn't look so bad. But the growing pains might be a bit ugly. Perhaps the only bright note at the moment is that there's nowhere to go but up."

First of all, what? Did he write that last year (when the Mariners were 61-101) and forget to post it until this year? Because right now the Mariners are better than a .500 team, and when you're a .500 team there's about as far to go down as there is up. I know what he meant, though: most of the article was about hitting, and the Mariners' offense has been truly dreadful. And it's true that you have to score runs to win baseball games.

But here's the thing: you don't have to score a lot of runs as long as you give up even fewer runs. And that's been the Mariners' mantra this year, due mostly to the most vastly improved defense in the entire history of sports that use the term "defense." I think they're in a pretty good position to keep doing it next year, too...with a few tweaks here and there.

Here are the Mariners' best position players currently under contract for 2010, with their current 2009 WAR in parentheses:
C: Johnson(0.5)/Johjima (0.3)
1B: Brad Nelson? (rookie)
2B: Jose Lopez (1.7)
3B: Jack Hannahan (1.1)/Bill Hall (0.2)
SS: Jack Wilson (1.9)
LF: Michael Saunders (rookie)
CF: Franklin Gutierrez (4.2)
RF: Ichiro! (4.2)
DH: Mike Carp (rookie)

Pitchers, with 2009 FIPs:
Felix Hernandez (3.11)
Carlos Silva? (5.91)
Ryan Rowland-Smith? (5.27)
Brandon Morrow (5.70)
Jason Vargas? (5.26)
Bullpen: Aardsma (3.14), Lowe (3.56), White (3.86)

It looks bad, but it's not, at least for a starting point. Ichiro seems to go from overrated to underrated and back again just about every other year, and currently he's underrated again, and having what might be his finest offensive season while still playing great D. Gutierrez has continued to be the best defensive outfielder in the game while blossoming into an average-hitting outfielder, which makes him on balance one of the better players in the league. King Felix will be my recurring pre-season pick for Cy Young every year from 2010 until further notice (perhaps 2019 or so). The bullpen is good.

What they need to MAKE happen:
1. Re-sign Russ Branyan. He won't be as cheap as he was this year ($1.4 million), but it shouldn't be all that tough to convince him to stay, either. The Mariners will have ended up giving him something like 100 more PA in a season than any of his seven other teams ever have, and Safeco Field--a pitcher's park in general but a friendly place for lefty home run hitters--is a great place for him. Brad Nelson is 26 and has put up just an .811 OPS in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League; that's not going to do it for this team. Branyan provides badly needed power, can get on base, and actually holds his own at first. Unless somebody wants to go crazy and give him a ridiculous contract based on one surprising performance, he's a no-brainer for them.

2. Sign one pretty good starting pitcher. Erik Bedard and the Mariners were a match made in that place that also brought you Ike and Tina Turner. He's gone. That starting rotation after Felix looks awful, but remember, they're a better-than-.500 team with a rotation that's no better than that right now, plus a fluky performance by Jarrod Washburn. One good pitcher would make a big difference. No telling who will really be available at this point (Rich Harden? John Lackey? Bring back Joel Pineiro? Randy Wolf? The reanimated Ben Sheets?), but they'll be out there.

3. Re-sign Adrian Beltre. Among the many brilliant things he's done, rookie GM Jack Zduriencik actually did a fantastic job making arrangements in the event of a Beltre departure in free agency. Bill Hall hits lefties well, Jack Hannahan hits righties...well enough to spell Hall when he's flailing, and they both play very good defense while costing relatively little. But put them together, and they're no better than an average player. As Dave Cameron wrote on USS Mariner yesterday (bad day for me to try to talk M's, come to think of it), they badly need another core player, and as awesome as the Gutierrez trade was for them, they had to give up real major-league value for that--value that they can't afford to part with this year. A healthy Beltre is that kind of player. He might be a hard sign--he's a Boras client, and a lot of teams understand how huge his defense is now--but then again he's coming off a horrible, injury-plagued season, and maybe he likes Seattle. Who knows? If not that, they need another core player. But who? They should have a ton of money--pretty much everyone save Ichiro is pretty cheap right now--but there just aren't that many free-agents-to-be out there who would fit, and they don't have the kind of prospects that would being in a superstar.

What they need to HAVE happen:
1. Those few core players they do have--Ichiro, Felix, Gutierrez, and hopefully Beltre or a reasonable facsimile--need to stay healthy. You always hear that, but this is an especially thin team at the top, making it especially true.

2. Brandon Morrow needs to make a big comeback. No, he'll never be the guy who was drafted five picks later, but he's still got basically unhittable stuff. A little control would go along way.

3. One of those rookies, Saunders or Carp, needs to show something. I'm sure Zduriencik can (and will) replace one of those guys, but not both, and there's really nothing else on the way up.

I don't know. Maybe it's because I like the team and really want this to be true, but seeing how they're doing this year, I think with a few tweaks and a little luck, this team could win 90-93 games in 2010 and make a really good run at the division.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Figuring Out the AL Central, or: I Have Hope Again

About a week ago, everybody was writing off the 2009 Twins. I certainly did. Most Twins bloggers did. The folks on the wrong side of the MVP debate were arguing that Joe Mauer couldn't win it because he was playing for a team that wasn't going to make the playoffs, and the argument against them wasn't that the Twins were a contender after all (they weren't), but that the whole idea that the MVP and the playoffs were somehow linked was absurd (it is). And yeah, the 2006 team overcame a bigger deficit in a short amount of time, but as Aaron Gleeman reminded everybody, that team was good; this one is not. The Twins had the easiest schedule of any contender post-All-Star Break, and they came out looking terrible.

Well, there's another difference from 2006, too: Detroit and Chicago were good back then, too, and now they're fundamentally no better than the Twins are. Coming into play yesterday, all three of those teams had Pythagorean records of within a game of each other (right around 63-61). And the actual standings, the Twins having won six of their last seven games while the other two have scuffled a bit, now look like this:
Tigers 66 58 --
Wh.Sox 63 62 3.5
Twins 62 63 4.5

The Tigers are still in control, but it's far from decided. Now take a look at the teams' remaining games against opponents that aren't each other:
Det (24): LAA-2, TB-6, CLE-6, KC-6, TOR-4
Chi (25): BOS-7, NYY-3, OAK-2, LAA-3, SEA-3, KC-3, CLE-3, CHC-1
Min (23): BAL-2, TEX-3, CLE-6, TOR-3, OAK-3, KC-6

The Tigers have 8 games against very good teams, the Twins just 3. The White Sox have 13, and then 4 more against the M's and Cubs, against whom they're about equally matched. The Twins' five opponents other than Texas (who they handled pretty well on the road last week) are the five teams with the most losses in the American League. I think it's fair to expect the Twins to pick up 1 game on the Tigers and 2 on the White Sox based on that schedule, and if they don't, either they're tanking or one of those two teams is playing out of its head. That would leave the Tigers 3.5 up on the Twins and 5.5 up on the White Sox. Then you've got this:

Det vs. Min: 7 games
Det vs. Chi: 6 games
Min vs. Chi: 6 games

It's easy to say it'll all come down to that, but realistically, it'll all come down to Detroit. If the Tigers can win 3 of those games against the Twins and 3 of those games against the White Sox, it's hard to see them falling apart so badly in their other games that they give up the lead. But if the Tigers drop 4 or 5 games against either or both, it should be a pretty good fight.

More interestingly, all six of those games between the Tigers and White Sox come in Detroit's last 10 games, and the other four of the last ten are all against the Twins. As I said, the Tigers are still in control: the various playoff odds sites seem generally to have the Tigers at about 50-55% and the Twins and Sox at 20-25% each, and that seems about right (though I'd put the Twins closer to 25% and Sox closer to 20% based on the remaining schedules). What that means, though, is that there's almost a 50% chance that the Tigers won't win the Central. Which, if nothing else, should once again make for some very exciting baseball in those last ten games in the least exciting division in baseball.

Monday, August 24, 2009

How is this possible?

I mean, how is THIS possible?

I mean, from a job performance standpoint, I'd be one of Minaya's strongest defenders. He fleeced the Twins in the Santana deal. He's spent a ton of money without wasting a ton of money. Sure, he gave $13 million a year to a highly overrated and declining 70-innings-a-year pitcher, but everybody makes mistakes, and in New York that's hardly the kind of thing that ruins seasons. Their season was ruined by injuries, not any failure of Minaya's.

At the same time, though, is he irreplaceable? Consider for a moment how many brilliant baseball people would love to take the Mets' GM job tomorrow. If you put all of those people in a line, would Minaya stand out? And if you put all those people in a line and knew that one of them had waited way too long to fire a good friend who totally messed up and then tried to blame it all a reporter who was just doing his job, wouldn't you eliminate that one from consideration?

I don't know. I just don't get it. I mean, Minaya is under contract for at least three more years, but even to the cash-strapped Wilpons, Minaya's salary isn't the kind of thing that will be missed (he's making about 1/3 of what they're paying J.J. Putz. I gotta think Kim Ng and Paul DePodesta are wondering what a body has to do to lose a job around there about now...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Frivolous Friday

Bit of a cop-out today. Again. But a fun one this time, I think.

First things first, though: it's 2009, and ya gots ta do what ya gots ta do.

Ergo, you can now become a fan of the blog on Facebook or follow the blog (-slash-me) on Twitter. I hope you'll do both. Not much going on in either place yet, but stuff will happen eventually.

Also, this blog now has an e-mail: BillDailySomething (at) gmail dot com. So if you've got something to say that you don't want to share with (a tiny, tiny portion of) the world, send it there. Sometime soon I'll have a box where you can access all that stuff. In the meantime, join the FB page and follow me on Twitter anyway.

Second: so I've been a fan of The Onion for something like thirteen years now. Just brilliant, funny stuff. And they were all over the baseball today.

First: I actually think their written stuff has declined a bit in the last few years, but this little number is pretty perfect. That's baseball.

And where they've fallen behind in the written content, they've made up for with their marvelous fake-tv stuff. At least as amusing as the bit itself is how perfectly they've mimicked the ludicrous excess of Sportscenter:

Baseball Superstar Accused of Performance-Enhancing Genie Use

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Few Observations on Andruw

When will this guy stop talking about the Rangers? It's all Rangers all the time at this blog allasudden!

I don't have a ton to say today, but I've been thinking about Andruw Jones.

First, the Dave Cameron article
Away back on May 1, I linked to an article that Cameron, one of my favorite baseball writers, wrote on April 28 called Welcome Back, Andruw (and then responded to criticism over that, Cameron did, with this piece on the usefulness of small sample sizes). My feelings on it were only insinuated in this space, but you could pretty much tell (or tell for sure if you read my comments below the initial article) that I was really skeptical about basing anything on 35 plate appearances by anybody, no matter how great those 35 were.

Since April 28? Jones has gone on being a part-time player, batting .204/.312/.463 in 253 PA to drive his season batting average from .370 to .222, his OBP from .514 to .337. He's still got tons of HR power (a rate of 39 per 162 starts). but not a lot else.

I doubt Dave will say it--after all, Jones is better than he was in 2008 (it would be hard to be worse), and, for the year as a whole, better than 2007--but he got one wrong for once. Not just with Andruw--a guy with a .300ish OBP (as he's been since the 28th) who is mostly a DH and LF just isn't a particularly useful player--but with his ruminations on small sample sizes. Line drive rates and contact rates and all that fun FanGraphs stuff are approximately as susceptible to sample size fluctuations as batting average and homers. As I pointed out in the comments to Dave's initial article, Andruw Jones had almost the exact same stretch in 2007 as he did to start 2009--but in July, not April, so nobody even noticed. Small samples are interesting, not useful. A great month should adjust our expectations for what we expect a guy's final line to look like (as I tried to do a few times very early on), but we should wait a bit more than 35 PA before we start adjusting our expectations for the rest of the season.

Second, on defense
This is just a passing thought, because I've watched Andruw just twice this year and have no idea what I'm talking about. But: he's just 32 years old. I know he's gained some weight, but has he really fallen so far in two years that he's gone from a (deserving) Gold Glover in 2007 to a DH in 2009?

I just can't believe that. First, even in 2008 when he looked completely lost and useless with the Dodgers, UZR had him as approximately an average center fielder. Second, in his limited time this year (5 games in RF and 12 in LF), his UZR has been great (doesn't mean much, but it doesn't mean nothing, either). Third, he's tried five steals in what was, let's face it, not very many times on first base, and he's only been caught once. I have to believe that he'd at least hold his own if given a chance in left, and, I mean, he's Andruw Jones. How do you not even try him in center, even once?

Now, the Rangers' D has been great (and is probably the biggest part of their success). Consider: UZR thinks Michael Young is as bad at 3B as he used to be at SS, but no one else on the team has been more than 1 run below average at any position. With Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus, they've got two of the best at their positions in the game, and even Josh Hamilton (who looked horrible last year) has put up a good number. But anyway, Hamilton has been hurt, and guys need rest now and then. How has Andruw gotten a total of 17 innings in the OF? Has he really lost that much at 32?

Third, a weird observation about his splits
Putting those crazy first 35 PA back into play, so for the whole season: .224/.302/.552 vs.R, .220/.380/.420 vs.L. 13 of his 17 HR have come against righties, but 20 of his 30 walks have come against lefties.

That's two totally different players. You might think a lot of guys are two different players based on their splits, but all that usually means is that one is a good player and one is a bad player. Andruw is two totally different players--of roughly equal value, but just about as different as they can be. Against righties, he's Dave Kingman; against lefties, Max Bishop.

I'm sure that's not that unusual, especially with less than a full season's worth of PA. But I thought it was kind of funny.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Worst Intentional Walk I've Ever Seen

I watched the Twins game against the Rangers last night. One of those weird games that for a while, nobody seemed to want to win...least of all Rangers manager Ron Washington.

Now, I don't see a lot of the Rangers, but I've always liked Ron Washington. Maybe because he's a former Twin, maybe because he just carries himself like the kind of guy who should be a very good manager (the way I think most non-Twins fans probably see Gardy). But this was...interesting.

Top of the 6th inning. Four runs already in for the Twins, now tied at 5. Nick Punto on first, Delmon Young on third, two outs. Right-handed reliever Jason Jennings is the new pitcher. Before even throwing a pitch, he picks Punto off, but the defense bungles it -- Omar Vizquel throwing to third behind Delmon for no particular reason, and unsuccessfully -- so now there are runners on second and third with two outs. Leadoff hitter and LHB Denard Span at the plate. After Span comes RHB Orlando Cabrera. Washington has Span intentionally walked to get to Cabrera with the bases loaded and two down.

Some numbers for you to consider:
Denard Span vs. RHP, season: .281/.367/.381
Orlando Cabrera vs. RHP, season: .294/.318/.394

Now, granted, Jennings himself has huge platoon splits, and would much rather face a righty than a lefty. But Span is an atypical lefty. He's never had big platoon splits in the majors or minors, he has almost literally no power, and this year, he actually has severe reverse splits (with an .842 OPS against lefties compared to the .748 above). As a right-handed pitcher, the only thing you're worried about against Span that you're not especially concerned about with Cabrera is the possibility of the walk--the very thing you're handing him for free!

And remember, there are two outs, so no double play. The only advantages here are the chance for the 3B or SS to get a closer force out (how often do you think that really makes the difference?) and whatever small advantages you think you get from facing Cabrera rather than Span and from Jennings facing a RHB rather than a LHB. And for that you're loading the bases -- in a tie game in just the 6th inning, remember -- and risking a huge inning, a run scoring on a HBP or unintentional walk, etc.

Ohhhhhhhhh, and I have just one more set of slash stats for you. Consider the guy who comes up after Cabrera:

Joe Mauer, vs. all pitchers, 2009: Seventy million/eleventy billion/Zorbon-X6Qsquared.

That's right. Rather than face slap-hitting, reverse-splitted Denard Span with two outs (a situation in which the most likely negative outcome was a walk anyway), Ron Washington thought it would be a good idea to intentionally load the bases to face what in that situation was a very similar hitter, just one hitter in front of the very best hitter on the planet. Say O-Cab scratches out an infield single? You're looking at a one-run deficit with the bases still juiced and Babe Freaking Ruth coming up. And for what purpose again? Oh yeah...none in particular. I'd much rather have two chances to get the out pre-Mauer than one.

Pretty definitely the worst IBB decision I've ever seen. One of the worst managerial moves I've ever seen, period.

Ah yes, and it "worked." Cabrera hit the ball hard, but Byrd tracked it down in center, and Mauer was left on the on-deck circle (and naturally homered to crazy-deep center to lead off the 7th, his second of the game). No justice, I tell you.

But then, okay, here's a little bit of justice for you: if Jennings pitches to and retires Span to end the inning, and then O-Cab leads off the 7th with the out to center, there are three outs in that inning, rather than two, at the point when Delmon Young comes up and hits the 2-run homer that real-life Delmon hit to give the Twins the lead (and eventually the win). Not nearly as immediately gratifying as my O-Cab-single-plus-Mauer-grand-slam scenario would have been, but a little bit of karmic retribution nonetheless.

Intentional walks are dumb. Intentional walks that load the bases one seeing-eye single in front of the best hitter in the game are unforgivably dumb.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mid-day Update: Ask and You Shall Receive

Often. If you ask the right guys, I guess.

I posed the question of this morning's something to the esteemed David Pinto in a comment at his blog, and this afternoon he took the time to answer it. His approach to the question is more simple sabermetrically than my own attempt (he just took their career averages, no messing with BABIP and stuff) and infinitely more complicated mathematically (he actually understands math)...and is, I'm sure, much, much better overall. Here's where he comes out:

Summing all the individual probabilities results in an overall probablility of .3259 for Albert finishing ahead of Ramirez in the batting race. That doesn’t mean he wins the batting title. Pablo Sandoval is still in the mix, and Bruan and Helton are more than capable of putting on a push of their own. One in three aren’t bad odds, however.
One in three! I mean, figure that if Pujols passes Hanley, there's about a 50/50 chance that Pablo or Braun or Helton end up ahead of Pujols: .163. Then, more realistically than I was this morning, say there's a 40% chance that he ends up ahead in both HR and RBI. .065. The number looks awfully tiny, but that would mean (if my guesses were at all accurate, which they're not, but I figure they're good enough to give us an idea) there's about a 6-7% chance that Albert Pujols will be the first Triple Crown winner in 43 seasons (73 in the NL).

Pretty cool, huh? I mean, I'll confess, I didn't want to guess at the odds this morning because I didn't want to embarrass myself (like I'm about to), but I was thinking something like 1 in 200, 1 in 500, etc. Eh. But 1 in 14 or so? That's something I can get kind of pumped up about.

Prince Albert and the Crown

The other day, I opined in passing that, standing first in HR and RBI and (then) fourth in batting average, Albert Pujols had the best chance to win a Triple Crown that we'd seen in a good long while.

And, well, does he, really? I mean, it's obviously still not likely (it never is), but what are the chances? You probably know by now that I'm not going to sit here and give you precise mathematical odds, but let's look at the English major's version of the question: can we envision it actually happening?

Albert went 1-for-4 on Monday, so this morning is batting .325. Leader Hanley Ramirez's Fish didn't play, and he's been on fire lately and now stands at .356. Already not looking good. Pujols does have the HR lead by one over Mark Reynolds, though (39 to 38 after both hit one yesterday), and is just two behind Prince Fielder for the RBI lead, 105 to 107.

I'm going to commit a big no-no right off the bat and assume away HR and RBI. ZiPS calculated for the rest of the season thinks Albert ends up with 50 HR and 138 RBI, and that that will best Reynolds by two in the former and drop six behind Fielder in the latter. So even in the two categories he's closest in, he's only a favorite to hold one of them. But I'm going to assume he does get both; it just feels like the more likely result to me, and anyway, the bigger hurdle will obviously be the batting average. Also, if Pujols goes on the kind of hot streak he'll need to in order to win the batting title, odds are he'll be piling up the HR and RBI too. So in reality, I'm sure there's not even a 50% chance that Pujols ends up leading in both HR and RBI, but let's just say he does it.

Now. The Marlins have 44 games left, and Hanley has averaged 3.88 AB per game played. Say he starts every one of those 44 games; at that rate, he's got 170 more AB. This season, he's been BABIPing out of his head, with a .404 batting average on balls in play that's unsustainable by anybody; his pre-'09 career BABIP was approximately .340. So say he reverts back to that, and maintains his current HR and strikeout rates. He strikes out in 18% of his ABs (31 times), homers in 4.2% (7), and gets a hit in 34% of the remaining 132 (45). That makes him 52 for 170, a .305 BA over the rest of the season (seems unrealistically low, doesn't it? Wonder if I'm doing something wrong...oh well, pressing on). That still puts his overall 2009 batting average at a robust .340.

By the same AB/G * Games Remaining formula, Pujols ought to have 147 AB left in his season. He'll need 57 hits in those 147 AB--a .388 batting average the rest of the way--to put him at 192/563 = .341 for the year.

Pujols has been a bit down on BABIP this year (.294), either because he's been unlucky or because he's hitting more flies and fewer liners. But let's assume, again, that he gets back to his career BABIP (.321) and keeps the other rates the same. 11.4% Ks (16), 9.2% HRs (14), and 32.1% of the remaining 117 ABs are hits (38). That makes him 52 for 147 (.354), and puts him at just .332 for the year...but if just five more hits fall in (or leave the yard) somewhere in there, he's right where he needs to be.

Doesn't sound too bad, right? Not likely, sure, but with just five hits' worth of better-than-average luck and with a slide back toward the mean by Hanley, it could happen! And just last year, from July 10 to August 31, Pujols played in 45 games and hit .392. So I'm not sure there's anything Pujols can't do, but if there is, hitting .388 in 43 games ain't it.

So, sure, it can happen. If Hanley slips back to .340 or so (if he stays at .356, Albert has to put up a .450 average the rest of the way to catch him). And if the current #2 in average, Pablo Sandoval at .330, doesn't finish just as strong as Pujols does. And if Pujols holds off Reynolds for the HR title and Prince for the RBI one.

So the odds of this actually happening are probably tiny. Not statistically insignificant, not one in a million, but small enough for most of us lay folk to write it off more or less completely. Still, though, it's absolutely possible (certainly more likely than Mauer hitting .400, which we're still hearing a lot about), and probably the "best" odds at this point in the season that anybody has had in many years. I think it's something we should really keep an eye on for at least the next week or two (though if he goes 0-for-9 in the next two days or something, it's basically all over).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pennant Sniffles

As of the end of play on August 15, 2009, this many games separated the leader from the #2 team in the divisions/wildcard race:

AL East: 7.5
AL Central: 2.5
AL West: 4.5
AL Wildcard: 0.5

NL East: 4.0
NL Central: 4.5
NL West: 4.5
NL Wildcard: 1.0

Only one of the races is essentially over (thuh-uh-uh-uh-uh Yankees win the East), but none of them are particularly close, either. I think the odds are very good that the teams in playoff positions as of August 15 (Yanks, Tigers, Angels, Red Sox, Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers, Rockies) are the same eight teams that make the playoffs. Maybe swap in the Rays and Giants for Sox and Rox, but it's hard to see a lot of movement outside of that.

And it seemed to me that that is unusual. Isn't there usually at least one really great (non-wildcard) race going on right about now?

Well, I decided to check. The average distance between the first and second place teams (not counting the wildcard here) is 4.6, the median is 4.5, and the closest single race is 2.5. How does that compare with the rest of the last ten seasons? Average/median/closest on August 15:

2009: 4.6/4.5/2.5
2008: 4.3/2.25/0
2007: 2.67/3.0/0
2006: 5.67/4.5/2.5
2005: 5.92/4.25/2
2004: 6.83/8.5/2
2003: 5.5/4.5/0.5
2002: 8.58/7/1.5
2001: 5.33/2.75/1
2000: 4.33/4.5/1

Averages: 5.37/4.58/1.3

I think what's leaving me with the impression that the races are less interesting than most (other than the fact that my Twins right now are worse than they've been through August 15 in any of those seasons) is that last column -- no division closer than 2.5 games. The two years before this one, we've had a tie on August 15 (the Dodgers and D'Backs in '08, Cleveland and the Tigers in '07), and 8 of the 9 seasons before this one had a team closer than 2.5.

On the other hand, the greatest difference between any division leader and the #2 is 7.5 games, which is what keeps the average and median from looking out of line. Normally by this time, at least one team would have a lead of 10 or 12 (or 14 or 19.5) games. The fact that nobody's totally running away with it yet is probably even more unusual than the fact that nobody's closer than two and a half.

So that's what it is about this year, I guess: there are no extremes. None of the races are all that close (even the wildcard race seems less wide-open than in years past), but none are complete embarrassments yet, either. Also, the races in 2007 and 2008 were unusually tight by this date, so if you're just thinking of the last year or two (as I probably was) you've been spoiled.

So of those last ten years (well, nine, since 2009 isn't done happening), how many of those August 15 leaders ended up in the playoffs?

2008: 7/8
2007: 5/8
2006: 6/8
2005: 8/8
2004: 6/8
2003: 5/8
2002: 6/8
2001: 5/8
2000: 8/8

No correlation, really, is there? 2000 was one of the closer years by my dumb little average/median/closest measure, and yet all the teams at the top of the standings stayed there (there wasn't even a division leader swapping places with a wildcard, as there were in some of the others). 2008 was probably the closest season, and yet the only ones to swap places were the Sox and Twins (and it took a 163rd game for that to happen).

So if all this tells you anything, it's that the standings right now don't really tell you much. Yet, I can't shake the feeling that there isn't all that much that's likely to change. I think the Rays might overtake the Red Sox for the wildcard, and I suppose it's possible that the White Sox make up the 2.5 games on the Tigers, but it just seems like the safe bet is everything staying the way it is. Maybe it's just that the teams that are in place right now seem like they're acutally the best teams. In 2003, the Royals(!) were leading the AL Central by 2 games on August 15, and I bet even they were pretty sure that wasn't gonna last. I don't see anything like that here; if you're leading your division right now, you really do look like the best team in that division.

But then, is it just dumb to call anything a "safe bet"? At this point in 2006, the Twins were .500 and 8.5 games behind the Tigers (and 6.5 behind the White Sox), but won the division. In 2007, the Rockies were 5 games back, falling to 6.5 before winning 14 of their last 15 games and the NL West. So maybe it's dumb to write anybody off (within reason; sorry Nats and Royals). But I just don't think all that much is going to change this year...I promise I'll make fun of this later when the Braves have gone 40-5 and coasted to the playoffs.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Favorite Thing Today: two great Joes collide

Staying very much on the map for this one, because two of my very favorite things in the world came together in a beautiful way yesterday: Joes Posnanski and Mauer.

If you're like me (and let's face it, most of you are), you've probably at least skimmed past that post in your feed already (as much as I love Poz, I find that I just don't have the stamina to always read the 10k or so words he writes every other day or so, much as I try), but it's definitely worth a serious look. You'll read a lot on here for the next three or four months about how great Mauer is, how Mauer is clearly deserving of the MVP award, and then how Mauer got completely screwed out of that same MVP award. But Joe, of course, puts it a lot better than I ever will.

Sigh. Gonna be another frustrating award-announcing season, I think.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Favorite Thing Today: Baseball In-Depth

Dave Pinto at Baseball Musings linked to this blog the other day, and so far I'm digging it. It's a regularly updated, heavily stats-focused baseball blog run by one guy who has a law degree...hmm. Can't quite put my finger on it, but something about that just kind of clicks with me...

Anyway, I don't know that there's one post I'd recommend above the others. I'd suggest going over there, checking the whole thing out, leaving a few comments and so forth.

Hoping to find time to actually say something tomorrow or Monday. 'Til then!

Friday, August 14, 2009

My Favorite Thing Today: pants

So things are going to be light here for a few days. Real light. And it might be more like ten days. I'm sure I'm overreacting to some degree, but I feel like I could work 48 hours a day for the next week and still not get done everything I need to get done.

So in lieu of my own posts, unless and until I have something I just really need to say, I'm going to link to one thing somewhere in the tangled series of tubes that I really like. And I'm going to go off the map a little bit -- I assume that everyone who reads this blog is also reading Lar, Jason, Mark, Josh, etc. every day (and my other blogger friends whenever they get around to posting) like good little boys and girls.

My favorite thing today isn't even about baseball; I promise I won't make a habit of that. But as it turns out, a guy I was playing a lot of softball with in law school not so very long ago is now freelancing for ESPN's Page 2, and yesterday he posted a story that I thought was really clever and pretty funny: walking a mile in John Daly's pants. It's on the front page of Page 2 as I type this, so it's not "off the map" to most of the sports-loving world, but I kind of doubt I get a lot of overlap with the Page 2 crowd. So, if you haven't checked it out yet, you should.

So that's it! Incidentally, don't ever search for John Daly images at work. I didn't, thankfully, but, well, just don't...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Drastically changing the mound height was a terrible idea. Let's do it again!

Yesterday, Bill Conlin came up with quite the conlin.

In a nutshell (and I really don't think I'm being unfair to his work at all, but you be the judge): with the pitcher's mound higher than it is now, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and Lefty Grove did good things. Therefore, baseball should raise the mound back to where it was in 1968. They lowered the mound after 1968. This was ostensibly to restore the balance between pitching and hitting, but really it was to restore the balance between the AL and NL. Because, see, the NL was more racially diverse, and was better. Rose led the league in batting average at .335 in the NL, while Yastrzemski led the AL at .301. There were a bunch of Hall of Famers in the NL, and only a couple in the AL. Bob Gibson is in the Hall of Fame, while the pitchers who put up great numbers in the AL in 1968 are not. Therefore, the NL was a whole lot better than the AL, and baseball saw this as a problem, so they lowered the mound just to make the AL as good as the NL again, and now they should raise it again. Ruben Amaro, Jr. doesn't think they should do that. Ruben Amaro, Jr. is an idiot.

Have you already figured out how crazy this is? 'Cause, frankly, this is a busy day for me, so I don't have a lot of time to explain it to you. But here, look at this:
1968 AL: .637 OPS, 2.98 ERA, 3.4 R/G
1968 NL: .641 OPS, 2.99 ERA, 3.4 R/G

If Ichiro! were playing in the 1968 AL, Ichiro! would probably hit .350, even while Yaz finished second at .301. And that wouldn't do a thing to change the balance or imbalance between the leagues. Randomly listing facts about the league leaders in certain statistics is just about the worst way you could possibly look at balance between the leagues as a whole. And in fact, Conlin doesn't just list facts, he lies about them: in extolling the NL, he cites the fact that McCovey led the NL with 36 homers as though it shows you how much better the NL was, but doesn't mention that over in the AL, Frank Howard hit 44 and Willie Horton hit 36.

To Conlin, the AL was embarrassingly atrocious; the NL produced "below-average but not anomalous offense." Back in reality, though, the difference between the two leagues was essentially a rounding error (and they were both very, very anomalous). You know how I feel about Conlin generally, but this is poor even for him. In almost any other profession, if you put in the effort and showed the level of competence Conlin does in this piece, you'd be investigated and probably fired.

Here's a big reason why I hate the writing of hopeless hacks like Conlin: they have the ability to take things I really believe in and, just by writing in support of those things, make me start looking for reasons to disagree with those things. I do think that lowering the mound was a short-sighted, kneejerk reaction to a very weird season (and a pretty weird five or six seasons). It was silly. They shouldn't have done it.

Additionally, I don't doubt that, in the beginning, the AL as a whole was slower to integrate than was the NL as a whole. The lag in some AL teams' response to integration was deplorable, and I don't doubt that it hurt competition. For a while.

On the other hand, I don't think that the mound height is to blame for the high ERAs or low inning totals of today. Starting pitchers threw a lot more innings in the 1970s, low mound and all, than they did in the 1950s or 1960s. Pitching ruled, low mound and all, in 1988-1991. It's a cyclical game. These things happen. Also, I'm not totally convinced (without research) that the competitive disadvantage from the AL's collective racism lingered all the way to 1968, the year 22 A.J. (Anno Jackie, The Year of Our Jackie 22). The fact that the NL seemed to have all the great players of color doesn't mean that the AL wasn't trying. Hank Aaron and Willie McCovey were a lot better than Willie Horton or Tony Oliva, but they were all about equally non-white.

And on a third hand, or something like that, I totally agree with Amaro. Changing the mound height back to where it was more than 40 years ago would be exactly as drastic and rash a change as the one Conlin is denouncing for being too drastic and rash. There's just no reason to do that, and there's no reason to believe that doing so would do the things Conlin thinks it would.

Anyway, read the article, have a good laugh. The craziness and all-around logiclessness of the whole thing is really pretty amazing.

But then come back and tell me what you think of the mound height thing (or what you think you would've thought if Conlin's article hadn't turned you instinctively against the idea).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Who wins the awards?

This isn't about who should win; there's still plenty of time for me to rant and rave about that. But based on what we know of those wacky, zany voters and their rationalizing, usually wrong-headed tendencies, if the season ended today, who would win? I think it's a tighter field than normal for at least four of the six main awards, so it's an interesting question right now. Here are my guesses:

NL MVP: Albert Pujols, Cardinals.
Might as well start with the easy one, huh? It's impossible to make an argument against Albert, even one of the silly irrational not-at-all-individual-performance-based arguments people often try to make. As I said yesterday, a competing D-Backs team might throw Mark Reynolds into the mix, and a slide out of contention by the Cards might throw just about everybody into the mix, but for now, this is Al's to lose. He leads the league in games played, runs scored, home runs, RBI, OBP, SLG, and OPS, OPS+. He's fourth in batting average--currently 21 points behind Hanley, but a triple crown is about as much in play right now as it's been in 40 years. I don't believe anybody could screw this one up.

AL MVP: Jason Bartlett, Rays.
And then right away it gets interesting. WAR will tell you it's one of Bartlett's teammates, Longoria or Zobrist. But neither has a high batting average--they're just stellar offensive and defensive players, that's all. Longoria does have the high RBI total (2nd in the league), but he'll have to get that average above .280 to have a real shot. Next on the WAR list is Joe Mauer, and note that WAR doesn't give catchers any credit (or demerits) for defense, because of the difficulty measuring it; Mauer is universally hailed as a very good or great defensive catcher, so that would probably have bumped him up to first. But he missed a month, and might win a batting title but won't hit 35 HR or rack up 100 runs or RBI. His teammate Justin Morneau is hitting well over .300, near the top in HR and RBI, and legitimately the second-best hitter in the league after Mauer, so he probably wins if the Twins win the division...but I'm sitting here watching them get blowed up by the Royals, and I don't think that's likely.

So I'm going with Bartlett (actually the fourth Ray in WAR, also behind Carl Crawford). We know the writers love him; he's one of those scrappy little guys, and the Tampa writers voted him Rays MVP last year, when he was just plain terrible. This year he's hitting .340 with a 142 OPS+, 11 homers and 21 steals, and he's perceived as a great defensive shortstop (though UZR thinks that passed him by two years ago). Dustin Pedroia took the award last year with less (superficially) impressive credentials than that. If the Rays fade, I think the Yanks' Mark Teixeira takes it.

NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, Giants.
This should be another easy one. Lincecum has a 2.20 ERA and also leads in complete games, shutouts and strikeouts. But Adam Wainwright and Johan Santana both have 13 "wins" to Lincecum's 12, and Wainwright has a pretty ERA too. If one of those two somehow gets to 20 wins and Lincecum is at 16 or 17, they'll steal it from him (which would be a kind of poetic justice if it were Santana, since Colon stole one from him in exactly the same fashion in 2005). Luckily, that's not likely at this point. Lincecum's teammate Matt Cain has a shot to take it, too, but probably only if Lincecum falters or is injured.

AL Cy Young: Josh Beckett, Red Sox.
The league's two best pitchers, Halladay and Greinke, pitch for teams that aren't likely to get a lot of wins from here on out, though they're both very much still in the race for this award, especially Halladay. Beckett already leads with 13 "wins," pitches for a pretty good team, and has a solid ERA. If he picks up 5 more "wins" I think he takes it. It's pretty open, though. Verlander, Buehrle and even Sabathia have outside shots.

NL Rookie of the Year: Dexter Fowler, Rockies.
There are some pitchers who have really strong claims to this award, but it takes a lot for them to give it to a pitcher, and none of those guys has been a full-time starter all year. Fowler has been up all year, and he's played almost all of the Rockies' games. He's got a respectable batting average and OBP, and he's stolen 26 bases, including 5 in one game early in the season. I think he takes it, though pitchers J.A. Happ of the Phillies and Tommy Hanson of Atlanta have solid claims.

AL Rookie of the Year: Jeff Niemann, Rays.
The AL has no Dexter Fowler. No rookie has played enough that they would currently qualify for the batting title, and none of the ones who have played significant time have played particularly well. The White Sox' Chris Getz has a .268 average and 18 steals in 20 tries, but...well, ew. The Rangers' Elvis Andrus has been phenomenal, but it's all defense, and the voters don't know from defense. Niemann walks too many and strikes out too few for a guy who looks so much like Randy Johnson, but he has 10 "wins" and a good 3.73 ERA. He and the Jays' Ricky Romero (also 10 and a 3.66, but I feel better about Niemann for some reason) probably have the best shot.

So really, five of the six are pretty much up in the air right now, or so it looks to me. Tell me what I'm missing...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

'Hoos on Third

So I went to the University of Virginia for some degree or other some unspecified number of years ago*, and I loved the school, and the "city" of Charlottesville, more than just about any other non-living thing ever, and so I have a soft spot for baseball players who were Wahoos. And for everyone else who was, too: Tina Fey, Tiki and Ronde Barber, Tina Fey, Katie Couric, Tina Fey, Edgar Allan Poe, Tina Fey...and so on.

*Pozterisk! I act like I'm all anonymous and everything, and yet I get the sense that I've probably put enough personal information in these posts to allow a motivated individual to locate my social security number, annual income, favorite N*Sync member, and home address with just a few simple Googlings. Well, I'll save you the trouble: it's JC, by far.

On the baseball side -- alone, perhaps, among all worthwhile pursuits -- UVA has a fairly short and undistinguished history. Though I suppose most colleges outside of California would have to say the same. There's somewhat questionable Hall of Famer Eppa Rixey, and there was one of my all-time favorite no-names, former Yankee first rounder Brian "Buck" Buchanan (who, at least as a Twin, swung at almost literally every pitch as though it had just spat on his mother in front of him), but that was just about it, until recently.

Now, of course, there's the golden boy, 4th overall 2005 draftee by his sort-of-hometown Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman. For several years now, he's looked for all the world like the next Natural, and we've been waiting for him to break out and be a star, and you had to figure he's already the best position player ever to come out of UVA. And, well, his playing for the Nats has meant that nobody's really noticed since that 30-game hit streak ended, but the breakout is on and in full force. At .306/.372/.537, he's currently putting up career highs in batting average, OBP, SLG and (predictably) OPS and OPS+, and has already tied his career high in homers (24) with a third of the season to play. His always-stellar defense, at least according to UZR, has taken another step up. Thanks in large part to that D, WAR has him as the most valuable mortal in the Major Leagues (second overall to Pujols, of course). As I type this, he's working on another hitting streak -- 13 games, so far -- and has been on fire during the Nats' recent winning streak.

And yet, one could, if one wanted to risk the wrath of the WAR gods, make a pretty strong case that not only is he not the most valuable non-Albert in the NL; not only is he not even looking like the best UVA position player ever right now; but he's not even the best UVA position player currently playing his own position in his own league. That honor, or so the argument would go, is Mark Reynolds'.

Yep, Mark Reynolds, a college teammate of Zim's (Reynolds seems to have played short, at least when the two played together, which fell outside my time there), drafted one year earlier and fifteen rounds later by the D-Backs (he was actually the third Cav selected in that draft). He isn't the fielder Zimmerman is, though he won't hurt you either: his UZR/150 is -0.9 to Zimmerman's staggering +19.2, but his bat has made up for a good chunk of that. Thanks in large part to an otherwordly-hot start to this month (he'd hit .424/.500/1.091 with 7 HR in 8 games through Sunday), he's moved into a tie for the Major League home run lead.
The guy known only (if at all) as the current all-time single-season strikeout leader, a guy who hit just .239 in 2008, with moderate patience and a ho-hum 28 homers (in a home run hitter's ballpark) to go with those 204 Ks, now sits at .290/.377/.613 for 2009 and is on pace for 52 homers, about 110 runs and 115 RBI, and nearly 30 stolen bases at a respectable success rate. If Pujols' Cardinals were the bad team and the Diamondbacks the good one, Reynolds would be a favorite to wrest the MVP award (however undeservedly) from the hands of the demigod himself. He's probably a good bet to finish second or third as it is.

One thing, though: Reynolds' strikeout rate hasn't changed at all. Well, that's not true; it's all the way down to 36.7% from his 2008 high of 37.8%. But he's on pace to accumulate many more plate appearances and thus to shatter his own record, with 218 strikeouts. Put another way (appropos of nothing, but interesting), he's already struck out 107 more times in 2009 than Pujols has, 151 to 44. Used to be 107 was a high number for one guy to put up in a season. Ha!

And not much else underlying those numbers has changed, either. He's swinging at about the same number of pitches both in and out of the zone, and is making contact only slightly more often. He's hitting ground balls at the same rate (35.8%), fewer line drives (17.7%, down from 19.1), and more fly balls (46.5%, up from 45.2). But hitting a fly ball 1.3% more of the time doesn't turn 28 home runs into 52.

The difference, then? Well, there are two. First, there's that pesky BABIP thing again. Guys who strike out almost 40% of the time do not also hit .290 -- not without a ton of luck. Here's another awesome B-R/P-I list: highest batting average by a player with at least 170 strikeouts in a season. Four guys have topped .290: Ryan Howard in 2006 (181 K, 58 HR, .363 BABIP); Sammy Sosa in 1998 (171 K, 66 HR, .325 BABIP); Bobby Bonds in 1970 (189 K, 28 HR, .388 BABIP), and Jim Thome in 2001 (185 K, 49 HR, .356 BABIP). All except Sosa had a BABIP at least 30 points higher than their career BABIP. And Sosa struck out 40 fewer times (nowhere close to 40%) and hit 14 more homers than Reynolds is on pace to. The highest batting average by a player to strike out 200 times, of course, is .239, since Reynolds himself is the only one who has done it. It takes a lot of luck, and to the extent that you don't have that, it takes a ton of home runs.

Reynolds' BABIP right now? .371. He's young enough that that significantly impacts his career number (currently .358), but in his one other full season, 2008, his BABIP was .329, right about what you'd expect from a power hitter who hits it hard.

Second, while he's hit fly balls at almost the same rate as last year, a ridiculous 29.8% of them have left the park. How crazy is that--put the ball in the air, and there's a nearly one-in-three chance that it goes out? This after HR/FB rates of just 16.2% in 2007 and 18.2% in 2008.

Sure, he could've just gotten stronger, be hitting balls farther, and 29.8% isn't unthinkable, but it's out there. Think of the strongest guys you can since 2002. Dunn? 22.6% career, with a high of 24.2. Pujols? 20.3/22.5. Teixeira? 19.1/22.4. Prince? 19.6/23.9. To get close to 29.8%, you have to go to the very strongest meatheads in the game (and I use that term fondly): Jim Thome (28.0/35.4 since 2002), Ryan Howard (31.8/34.9). So, yeah, it's doable, maybe it's legit. But do we really think Reynolds -- a college shortstop, remember, listed at 6'2", 220 -- is the new Ryan Howard (6'5" and a dubious 256)?

I think he's probably not. And sure enough, a quick glance at HitTracker Online shows Reynolds leading the NL with 12 "Just Enough" homers -- HR that would've been long outs with a slightly stiffer breeze or one fewer bite of Wheaties that morning. Now, you usually have to hit with a ton of power just to be on that list at all, and Reynolds also owns the single longest homer in the bigs this year. So this is a strong, strong guy. I just don't think he's 50 homers strong. I'm going to throw out wild guesses because they'd be fun to check on later: from August 10 (since the data I'm using is through August 9) through the end of the season, Reynolds will hit .250 with 9 HR (giving him 45).

So he's a year older, he's been a lot luckier, and in the long run I don't think there's any way on earth that Mark Reynolds is anywhere near the player that Ryan Zimmerman is, but it's clear that, strikeouts and all, he's turned himself into a hell of a player anyway, and I'll sure be rooting for him. And at least right now, in a sport in which most kids get drafted at 18 or pulled out of Central America at 16, the two best third basemen in the National League, and maybe in all of baseball, attended one of the two or three best public institutions in the country. That's... something.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Just a Day: June 10, 1989

Aaaaand we're back! In the last seven days I've been able to follow no baseball at all save watching parts of most of the Nats games with my Beltway-centric extended family (and what were the odds that they'd turn out to be the team of the week?) and checking Twins scores. So while I get caught up, let's talk about stuff that happened 20 years ago.
Oddly enough, the randomizer came up with the same month and day it did the last time we did this, which happened to be one month ago today. That is to say: the two posts were written for July 10th and August 10th, and both times it came up with June 10th. Coincidence? (Yes.)

At the end of play on Saturday, June 10, 1989, your division leaders were Baltimore, Oakland, the Cubs, and the Reds (in a virtual tie with the Astros). The Cubs and A's (the eventual world champs) would hang on; the Orioles and Redlegs, not so much.
  • Once upon a time, the Yankees and Red Sox sometimes played games without completely dominating all sports coverage everywhere, and this was, presumably, one of those games. The Red Sox visit The Stadium and win 14-8, behind a 4-single performance by Wade Boggs and a 3-for-4-with-a-homer by #8 hitter(??!) Nick Esasky. Esasky's HR was his ninth of an eventual 30, good for fifth in what was kind of a sixties-esque American League. Roger Clemens starts for the Sox and picks up the win despite surrendering four earned in seven innings. Kind of a down year for Roger, actually, and in the heart of his otherwise eye-popping prime...though he still finishes fifth in ERA+.

  • There are five shutouts, though only a couple of them are complete games, which is a little surprising to me. In fact, pitchers were pulled early all over the place, many well before 100 pitches. In this game, Storm Davis is pulled after five innings, having permitted a run on two hits and a walk with six strikeouts, having thrown only 72 pitches, and having struck out the last two batters he faced. Injury, maybe (or maybe they just figured it was Storm Davis and they wouldn't push their luck), but Davis certainly wasn't the only one.

  • It's quite a day for future Hall of Fame pitchers. Not a particularly good day, just a voluminous one:
    - Clemens, as mentioned, goes 7 and picks up a cheap win;
    - Bert Blyleven goes six, giving up 4 runs (3 earned)...and being pulled after only 79 pitches (he was 38, but was also having one of his best seasons);
    - Greg Maddux gets knocked around by the Cards for five and a third, and his Cubs can do nothing against Joe Magrane. Maddux, 23, already has an All-Star appearance under his belt and will finish third in the Cy Young voting (Magrane will finish fourth), but I think there's a strong argument that Magrane, 24, looks like the better pitcher, both on this date and at the end of the season;
    - Randy Johnson shines for 7.2 innings (and a more back-in-the-good-old-days-like 122 pitches): 3 hits, 4 walks, 7 Ks, 1 ER in helping the Mariners beat Cleveland, 3-1. It's just his third start for the M's, and he hadn't given up more than 2 earned, struck out fewer than six, or walked fewer than three in any of 'em; and
    - John Smoltz is even better but draws the "loss" because he pitches for a woeful Atlanta team that's headed for 97 of them. Smoltz, having a brilliant season at 22, goes 7 (and again, just 89 pitches! ...He's pinch hit for, but with one out and no one on), strikes out 8 against 0 walks, and surrenders one earned run on just four hits. He and his horrible squad are bested by fearsome Jim Clancy and the Astros, 1-0.

  • It's even a bad day just to be a very good pitcher; David Cone and Jimmy Key combine to give up 8 runs in 7 2/3.

  • It's also bad day for the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev (can't find a full and free article online) defends claims that he's become a despot, denounces rumors of assassination and coup attempts, et cetera. The flailing superpower continues to hang on, if only to provide ready ominous enemy fodder for Tom Clancy novels, for two more years.

  • Tom Browning throws one of those shutouts, beating the Dodgers and another pretty good pitcher, Tim Belcher, 5-0. Browning pitches a nice game, and the Reds keep pace with the Astros in their lingering tie for first place.

    From that point on, the Reds are the second-worst team in baseball (ahead of only the Tigers, who lose 103 on the season), finishing a depressing 17 games back of the eventual NL champion Giants. Some might speculate that there were distractions. Regardless, the Reds' abject failure (after foundering under Pete, they went a much-improved 16-21 under former Red All Star Tommy Helms) ushers in the Lou Piniella era and some pretty hefty housecleaning, which pays off in a pretty big way pretty quickly.

  • No one notable debuted, ended his career, or died on this date (though Alex Sanchez--no, not that one--did make his fourth and final appearance), and no one we know about yet was born (though Freddy Garcia blew out fourteen candles on this day).

  • Not a whole lot else worth noting happens in baseball (or elsewhere) either, though it's worth noting that the Tiananmen Square Massacre had taken place just six days earlier. Also, I found this from just two days earlier (it's from Wikipedia, and I like the story so much I don't have the heart to fact-check it):
    June 8 - At Veterans Stadium, the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates score 10 runs in the top of the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies, three of which come on a Barry Bonds home run. As the Phillies come to bat in the bottom of the first, Pirate broadcaster Jim Rooker says on the air, "If we lose this game, I'll walk home." Both Von Hayes and Steve Jeltz hit two home runs to trigger the comeback for the Phillies, who finally tie the game in the 8th on a wild pitch, then take the lead on Darren Daulton's two-run single and go on to win 15-11. After the season, Rooker conducts a 300-plus-mile charity walk from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.
  • Hitter of the day: probably Esasky for his 3 hits and a homer. Pitcher of the day: probably Browning for his complete-game, five-hit, one-walk shutout. I sure wish that Rob Deer had hit three homers or something, but alas.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Well, dammit.

It's just like I was saying the other day: the one and only thing this team needs is just one more middle infielder who can't hit and can't field his position. Success!

At least they didn't give up much, I guess. I mean, analytically, in pure value terms, this isn't a bad deal at all. It just doesn't help the Twins in any significant way, and I guess I was hoping (despite knowing better) for a little more.

Note: the entire T-D-S editorial staff is off to the beach for a week with his family starting tomorrow. I'll probably post Something every now and then, but I very much doubt that it'll be Daily. Back to regularly scheduled programing on August 10!