Saturday, April 30, 2005

National League April All-Stars

Without further ado, the NL VORP-masters (that definitely sounds like something from Dungeons and Dragons).

C Paul Lo Duca, Florida
.344 AVG/.420 OBP/.426 SLG/1 HR/8 RBI

Where are the good NL catchers? Lo Duca's line is nice enough, but he's totally punchless. The NL is devoid of slugging catchers. Piazza needs to be put out to pasture, and Johnny Estrada and Michael Barrett seem to be regressing after career years in 2004.

1B Derrek Lee, Chicago
.430 AVG/.511 OBP/.797 SLG/7 HR/27 RBI

Lee is otherworldy, but we'll see how he handles the Astros. He's mostly feasted on Cincinnati's pitching staff. Still, this is impressive if only because Lee is usually around a .230 hitter in April. He's already the front-runner for NL MVP, and while he'll regress, look for him to finally have that 40 HR/100 RBI season to go along with the Gold Glove.

2B Jeff Kent, Los Angeles
.342 AVG/.458 OBP/.671 SLG/6 HR/18 RBI

Another year, another solid season for Kent, at least that's how it's shaping up. He'll be a classic borderline Hall-of-Fame candidate. He and Sandberg will end up with virtually identical numbers, but Kent is playing in a hitter's era and has never been the star on his team, both of which will count against him. That, and the porn 'stache. Anyway, he's drawing lots of walks this year, which bodes well for his chances to remain the best 2B in the NL.

3B Chipper Jones, Atlanta
.381 AVG/.512 OBP/.698 SLG/4 HR/13 RBI

Chip-Chip is rebounding nicely from his worst season ever, and is making that .248 AVG in '04 look like a fluke. Edgardo Alfonzo and Vinny Castilla are also off to fast starts, seemingly eager to prove to legions of statheads that they are not washed up. Troy Glaus and the young Met-ster David Wright are also off to good starts--this is a very deep position in the NL.

SS Clint Barmes, Colorado
.421 AVG/.476 OBP/.658 SLG/4 HR/14 RBI

Here we have the Brian Roberts of the NL--the poor man's Brian Roberts (does that make Neifi Perez the poor man's Clint Barmes?). This guy's a rookie, so there's no telling what he might do. His minor league career certainly gave no indication this would happen. He's 26, so he may just be entering his peak. Drawing only 4 walks in a month is not a good sign, however. With the injury to Nomar, this is a position that lacks star power in the NL.

LF Adam Dunn, Cincinnati
.312 AVG/.450 OBP/.766 SLG/6 HR/15 RBI

16 of his 20 hits have gone for extra bases this year. He's not striking out nearly as much as last year, and his walk rate continues to be stellar. This donkey will be kicking in Cincinnati for a long time. Along with other young stars like Miguel Cabrera and Jason Bay, Dunn will make this one of the premier NL positions for years to come.

CF Brad Wilkerson, Washington
.348 AVG/.414 OBP/.596 SLG

He needs to cut down on the strikeouts and raise the walks, but the Last Expo is doing quite nicely in Washington. He's going to do very well for them over the next few years, and his gritty style will make him a fan favorite. Milton Bradley has also started off well. For all the hype about Andruw Jones's spring numbers, his regular season has flopped--even though he's regarded by many as the best defensive centerfielder ever, even that characterization is a bit undeserved. He needs to rebound in May if he's ever to shake the underachiever label.

RF Jason Lane, Houston
.312 AVG/.353 OBP/.587 SLG/4 HR/12 RBI

Jason Lane finally gets playing time, and he finally produces, although who knows what will happen when Lance Berkman returns. Victor Diaz of the Mets has been equally good, so good that he may force the Mets to trade Mike Cameron (possibly to the Yankees, who are making a case to be the least effective defense of all time). Bobby Abreu and J.D. Drew got off to slow starts, but expect one of them to top the list at the end of May. And props to Wily Mo Pena, who put up an unreal .814 SLG in limited at bats.

Starting Pitchers

1. Roger Clemens, Houston
1-0/0.32 ERA/32 K/6 BB


The ageless wonder. Most people guessed that Randy Johnson would be the 40+ pitcher to dominate this season, but he's struggled in New York. The Rocket continues to destroy NL hitters with his splitter. I didn't take Friday's loss to Maddux into account, but if he keeps this up, he'll solidify his case for best right-handed pitcher of all time.

2. Mike Hampton, Atlanta
3-0/1.67 ERA/14 K/10 BB


Mike friggin Hampton? No one saw this one coming. And looking at that K:BB rate, it probably won't continue either. Hampton is also allowing more hits per 9 innings than any other starter that you'll see on this list. Nevertheless, the Braves are happy to be getting some return on his ridiculous $15 million per year contract.

3. Tim Hudson, Atlanta
2-0/0.96 ERA/19 K/8 BB


Hudson's K rates have been declining for the past 3 seasons, but so far in Atlanta, they've leveled off. This is a good sign for the Braves, as Hudson is proving that he can pitch successfully without striking out a huge number of batters. It's not as if Hudson is punchless, but his K rate is about the only thing average about him. Hudson should be a Cy Young contender by the end of the year.

4. John Patterson, Washington
2-1/0.98 ERA/23 K/8 BB


This could be the case of a young pitcher finally putting it together, which would give Washington two pretty strong horses at the front end of their staff (along with Livan Hernandez). Patterson has cut down on his walks and maintained a high K rate, which means he's learning how to harness his stuff. He probably won't continue at this rate for the whole season, but his drop off won't be very steep if he keeps his control.

5. Brett Myers, Philadelphia
1-1/1.35 ERA/34 K/9 BB


Myers is starting to live up to the hype that had people talking about him in the same breath as Mark Prior. Unlike Prior, however, Myers could never translate his nasty repertoire into success until this season. Myers's 9.2 strikeouts per 9 innings is a testament to that; his walk rate is also the lowest it's ever been. The Phillies desperately need an ace to compete in the division with the best pitching in the majors (Willis, Beckett, and Martinez are in the top 10 in VORP), and this could be the year Myers fulfills that role.

Relievers

1. Billy Wagner, Philadelphia
0-0/5 SV/0.00 ERA/10 K/1 BB


Nathan has been virtually perfect in the AL, Wagner is right behind him. Making his comeback from injuries last year in a big way so far. Phils need him to stay healthy this year.

2. Jason Isringhausen, St. Louis
0-0/7 SV/1.08 ERA/6 K/6 BB


The K:BB ratio isn't pretty, but Isringhausen has gotten the job done...until he got injured. Julian Tavarez and Al Reyes will take over the closing duties. The Cards will have to hope they don't lose too much ground with Izzy on the shelf.

3. Jose Mesa, Pittsburgh
0-0/1.12 ERA/10 K/2 BB


Statheads everywhere predicted the demise of Mesa, but all he's done so far in Pittsburgh is close games. His K:BB ratio was dismal last year, but he's turned it around, and just saved his 300th game. A free fall is still possible with someone his age, but it's looking like Mesa will stave off the inevitable for another year.

All-Ignominy Team: The worst NL position players, starters, and relievers (min 50 PA, worst pitcher is at the top)

C: Yadier Molina, St. Louis
1B: Jim Thome, Philadelphia
2B: Ray Durham, San Francisco
3B: Ty Wigginton, Pittsburgh
SS: Jack Wilson, Pittsburgh
LF: Brian Jordan, Atlanta
CF: Marquis Grissom, San Francisco
RF: Raul Mondesi, Atlanta

SP: Gavin Floyd, Philadelphia
SP: Tim Redding, San Diego
SP: Vicente Padilla, Philadelphia
SP: Brandon Duckworth, Houston
SP: Joe Kennedy, Colorado

RP: Scott Dohmann, Colorado
RP: Byung-Hyun Kim, Colorado
RP: Ryan Speier, Colorado

Friday, April 29, 2005

American League April All-Stars

At the end of each month, I'm going to take a look at the best players in each league, creating ongoing All-Star teams. I'll use VORP early on in the season, but as the season wears on and defensive data accumulate, I'll start factoring in FRAA, or Fielding Runs above average. At this point, just about every fielder is hovering around average. I'll start to consider that in June. I'll pick out one player at each position (including DH for the AL), 5 starting pitchers using VORP, and 3 relievers using Baseball Prospectus's stat reliever expected wins added. It's impractical to use VORP for relievers, since relievers always have lower VORP than starters, because they throw fewer innings. American League tonight, National League coming this weekend.

C: Javy Lopez, Baltimore
.356 AVG/.405 OBP/.575/SLG/3 HR/11 RBI

Lopez, Pudge Rodriguez, Jason Varitek, and Joe Mauer are all off to good start. Not surprising. Surprise? Toronto's Gregg Zaun is hanging right there with them. Expect Victor Martinez to break out of his slump and push his way into the top 5 soon. A very deep position in the AL--haven't even mentioned Posada and Kendall yet.

1B: Paul Konerko, Chicago
.241 AVG/.333 OBP/.544 SLG/7 HR/17 RBI

Not overly impressive numbers by Konerko, yet the AL is so weak at this position, even mediocre numbers will put you on top. Expect Mark Teixeira and Justin Morneau to be up here in the coming months. Morneau probably would be had he not spent time on the DL already.

2B: Brian Roberts, Baltimore
.368 AVG/.446 OBP/.713 SLG/7 HR/23 RBI

Quite simply, one of the most improbable breakouts in recent memory. The guy almost doubled his 2004 home run total in one month. This can't last forever, but at a weak position, expect him to stay on top for awhile. O's fans better hope he's not another Brady Anderson.

3B: Alex Rodriguez, New York
.319 AVG/.381 OBP/.713 SLG/8 HR/26 RBI

One caveat here: almost half of his production came on one ridiculous night. That doesn't make the production count any less, but the most consistent performer at third base in the AL so far has been Detroit's Brandon Inge, showing that last year was no fluke. Expect A-Rod to stay on top for the rest of the year, however.

SS: Carlos Guillen, Detroit
.406 AVG/.468 OBP/.565 SLG/1 HR/8 RBI

Another caveat here: Guillen has far fewer plate appearances than either Miguel Tejada or Derek Jeter. Despite only the one homer, Guillen has produced enough in his limited plate appearances to come out on top so far. Tejada will be the best when the season is done, but keep in mind that Jeter is off to the best start of his career.

LF: Manny Ramirez, Boston
.273 AVG/.385 OBP/.623 SLG/7 HR/25 RBI

A man amongst boys at a pretty weak position in the AL. And that's including his 2 week slump to start the season. He's almost worth the money they pay him.

CF: Johnny Damon, Boston
.360 AVG/.409 OBP/.442 SLG/0 HR/11 RBI

Jesus hits lots of singles. If Torii Hunter didn't have such a dreadful OBP, he'd probably be tops here. Luis Matos on Baltimore is also off to a nice start with a .419 OBP. He's a good table-setter for the O's big boppers.

RF: Jacque Jones, Minnesota
.390 AVG/.507 OBP/.678 SLG/3 HR/13 RBI

The former free swinger improved his plate discipline and is on a blistering pace. He'll recede somewhat, but that improved walk rate means Jones could have a career year and push his trade value through the roof. Neck and neck with Jones is Vlad Guererro, who will make a serious run for a back-to-back MVP campaign. Ichiro and Gary Sheffield are also off to great starts.

DH: Shea Hillenbrand, Toronto
.398 AVG/.436 OBP/.545 SLG/2 HR/9 RBI

This is a VORP built largely on singles, and Shea still can't draw a walk to save his life. David Delluci is off to a ridiculous start, and only lack of at bats are keeping him out of the top spot. Dmitri Young has hit well even factoring out opening day. Papi Ortizzle looms in 5th place, ready to pounce.

Starting Pitchers

1. Jon Garland, Chicago
4-0/1.80 ERA/11 K/5 BB

This can't last, can it? The miniscule K rate says no but the miniscule BB rate could counteract that. Stranger things have happened. Garland is only 25, and while his ERA should balloon a bit, this could be the start of an upward arc that will keep the White Sox happy for a long time.

2. Gustavo Chacin, Toronto
4-1/2.48 ERA/18 K/8 BB

Definitely rookie of the month in the AL, and you gotta love the glasses. Pretty much in the same boat as Garland. You know he'll have a few bad starts, and he doesn't strike out nearly enough batters. But his control is good, and that means he should be above average for the rest of the year.

3. Freddy Garcia, Chicago
2-1/2.83 ERA/19 K/9 BB

Garcia is taking the right step back toward the pitcher he was in 2001. Still only 29 years old, he is still capable of a rebirth. He'd better raise that K rate though (I know, broken record).

4. Jamie Moyer, Seattle
4-0/2.53 ERA/23 K/7 BB

Finally, a pitcher with a decent K:BB ratio! And it's ageless wonder Jamie Moyer! Proving you don't have to throw hard to dominate, Moyer is still flummoxing hitters with his lethal changeup. Having Ichiro, Jeremy Reed, and Randy Winn patrolling spacious Safeco Field can't hurt either.

5. Joe Blanton, Oakland
2-0/1.75 ERA/7 K/6 BB

Red flag warning on this one. His tiny batting average on balls in play seems to indicate that he's lucky to have gotten such good results so far. Only 7 strikeouts? Seems a bit ridiculous. He's averaging around 6 1/2 innings per start; the A's need to make sure they don't overtax his arm and make strikeouts even less likely.

Relievers

1. Joe Nathan, Minnesota
1-0/6 SV/.00 ERA/11 K/0 BB

Still hasn't walked anyone. That's impressive. He's not striking as many people out now as he will later, but no walks? No wonder he's on top.

2. Francisco Cordero, Texas
0-0/8 SV/3.48 ERA/14 K/3 BB

Basically one bad game on top of 8 or 9 amazing games. His season should continue in a similar fashion.

3. B.J. Ryan, Baltimore
0-0/3 SV/2.53 ERA/17 K/4 BB

He's emphatically claimed the closer role as his. Can't argue with all those strikeouts--he should be an elite reliever for some time to come. One of the best sliders in baseball.

All-Ignominy team: a quick roundup of the worst AL players so far (min 50 PA). Stats have been hidden to protect your innocent eyes.

C: Miguel Olivo, Seattle
1B: Eli Marrero, Kansas City
2B: Luis Rivas, Minnesota
3B: Mike Cuddyer, Minnesota
SS: Wilson Valdez, Seattle
LF: Eric Byrnes, Oakland
CF: Gary Matthews Jr, Texas
RF: Jermaine Dye, Chicago

Starting pitchers (worst at top)

Jaret Wright, New York
Rob Bell, Tampa Bay
Barry Zito, Oakland
Brian Anderson, Kansas City
Daniel Cabrera, Baltimore

Relivers (worst at top)

Steve Kline, Baltimore
Justin Speier, Toronto
Ugueth Urbina, Detroit

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

+/- in baseball?

Since there is already a statistic for scoring pitchers, I'm wondering if I could come up with a similar system for hitters. Pitcher game scores are predicated on an average game being 50 and a perfect game being 100. So what would an average game be for a batter? 1 for 4 with a walk? What's a perfect game? 5 for 5 with 4 home runs and 12 RBI? Hitting is only part of the concern for me. I'd also want to account for fielding and baserunning. The problem is that it would end up being too subjective. For example, I'd want to subtract points not only for errors, but for plays that could/should have been made but didn't count as an error. Strangely enough, baseball does not account for mental errors. Perhaps a 0-100 scale is too complicated, and a +/- system similar to hockey would work better. Of course, the real stat nerds have already come up with BRAR and FRAR, so an easy way to come up with a +/- is to just add those two stats together. That still doesn't account for baserunning, however, and the RAR stats are really only good for looking at many data. I just think it would be neat to come up with one tidy number that told you immediately how good a player's game was. In Tuesday's Reds/Cubs game, for example, Adam Dunn had a good game at the plate, going 2-4 with 1 run scored, an RBI single, a solo homer, and 2 walks. However, he also struck out once, left 3 men on base, was caught stealing, and made a hideous misplay in left that led to a single becoming a triple. So did he have a good game or not? Well, in the pitching game score stat, an each earned run a pitcher allows results in 4 points being subtracted from his score. So I'd have to think that each RBI would be worth 4 points for the batter. Then throw in a point for each total base, a point for a run scored, a point for a walk/HBP, a point for a SB, a point for advancing from 1st to 3rd on a single. Defense would be more subjective--you can't award points for every putout or assist, because that would unfairly favor certain fielders. I think the best way to go would be to award points to difficult defensive plays made with runners in scoring position. So like, robbing someone of a grand slam would be worth 16 points. Robbing someone of an RBI single 4 points. And so on. Now for the negatives: subtract a point for each out made. Subtract two for each out made with a runner in scoring position. Subtract a point for base directly related to a defensive gaffe--and subtract two for every run that scores as a result of the misplay. Subtract one for a caught stealing. Subtract two for each double play. Subtract one for getting thrown out at third as a baserunner (not a base-stealer). Hmm, that's all I can think of for now. Let's see what Dunn's score would be:

+ 8 (RBI x 4)
+ 5 (total bases)
+ 1 (run scored)
+ 1 (walk)
- 2 (outs made)
- 6 (outs made with runner in scoring position x 2)
- 2 (total bases allowed by defensive misplay)
- 1 (caught stealing)

and we get +4. That's not +4 runs--just +4, like in hockey. Let's check out Alex Rodriguez's +/- from Tuesday night, as A-Rod unequivocally had the game of the year so far (from what I could tell on the game log, Rodriguez didn't have a major impact on the game defensively--two runs scored on groundballs to third, but as far as I know, he didn't make any mistakes).

+40 (RBI x 4)
+13 (total bases)
+3 (runs scored)
-1 (outs made)

and we get +55. Now let's look at Kevin Millar from Tuesday night, who did not have a good game.

-5 (outs made)
-4 (outs made with runners in scoring position x 2)
-1 (bases allowed by error)

and we get -10. Hmm. This is starting to make some sense to me. Dunn's negatives are about equal to Millar's but since Dunn did so much more with the bat, he has an above-average game. A-Rod's game is obviously an outlier. I need to do one more--see if I can't get something to add up to zero. Let's try Brian Roberts--from a quick scan of the game log, he didn't even get a play in the field, so let's assume his defensive influence adds up to zero:

+4 (RBI)
+2 (total bases)
-4 (outs made)
-6 (outs made with runners in scoring position)

to arrive at -4. Hmm. Not bad. The interesting thing is that Dunn, Millar, and Roberts all left multiple men on with runners in scoring position. What did they do to make up for it? Dunn homered and drove in another run with a single. Roberts drove home a run with a double. Millar didn't do jack squat. Dunn's score would have been better, but he had a below-average game in the field and on the bases. If Dunn had performed better in those phases of the game, his overall +/- would have been as good as Millar's was bad.

Considering I was just flying off the seat of my pants there for the past hour or so, I'd say this is a pretty good result. Next time I watch a game (which could be tomorrow night's ESPN Wed. night baseball late game), I'm going to keep score using the +/- system as opposed to the traditional method, and I'll see what results I come up with. I'm hoping that all the scores will be evenly distributed around zero.

Stay tuned...

Cubs/Reds report, or Ugly Baseball

Monday's and Tuesday's games in the Cubs/Reds series at Wrigley were not for the baseball purist. Yes, there may have been plenty of homers over these two games, but the pitching and defense in both contests were atrocious, particularly in Tuesday's game. I'm not sure what disgusted me more over these two games--that Dusty Baker ordered a sacrifice bunt with a MAN ON SECOND AND NONE OUT (Neifi Perez saved Baker from his own blunder by popping up the bunt attempt), or that the Reds are actually paying Eric "HR" Milton $8 million a year. When a team catches Carlos Zambrano on an off night like he was on Tuesday, all you ask of your starter is not to give up four homers and eight runs. Sadly, Milton couldn't even do that on a cold night at Wrigley. I can't imagine how horrible he'll be at Great American Ballpark in August, which should be like a launching pad. Many Reds fans were encouraged by Milton's signing--after all, increasing the payroll is a sign of more winning to come, right? Not if the $24 million you spend comes attached to an arm with a 1.47 career HR/9 and a 4.76 ERA.

Quick-hit observations from the games:

-Carlos Zambrano managed to throw 104 pitches...in 4 2/3 innings. I'd be very surprised to see him last through the whole year if he can't increase his efficiency.

-Ken Griffey Jr. played like a...erm...31-year-old? He stroked some beautiful hits over the two games, including two of the most aesthetically pleasing doubles I've ever seen, and he made an amazing tumbling catch on Tuesday, made more amazing by the fact that he didn't hurt himself during the slide.

-Derrek Lee has got to be hitting as well as anyone in baseball right now. If the Cubs can somehow scrap together a Wild Card spot, he will have to merit MVP consideration. He's already the most complete first baseman in the bigs thanks to his glove and his speed on the basepaths; if he can elevate his offense to around .400 OBP and .600 SLG, I'd take him over Pujols and Helton as the best. Such numbers would be a bit of a stretch given his past performance, but increasing walks and decreasing strikeouts almost always leads to power surges, because the more a batter gets ahead in the count, the more good pitches he will see.

-A general observation: bullpens around the majors stink. I mean, they really stink. I noticed that when Keith Foulke blew it on Tuesday against the Orioles, his fastball was around 85 MPH. Danny Graves, who's given up a run in 8 of 9 outings for the Reds, topped out at 87 MPH. Armando Benitez's velocity is way down out in San Francisco. I could go on, but I promised these would be brief (oops).

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

UEFA Champion's League Semifinals

Dutch underdogs PSV Eindhoven should have pulled off the upset tonight in Milan. For an American sports analogue, that would've been like Temple beating Duke or North Carolina in the Final Four--PSV is successful on a small scale, but Milan's history dwarfs them. Milan looked like they would be able to waltz off with an easy victory after bombarding the PSV goal in the first 15 minutes, but were denied. PSV's defense stiffened for most of the rest of the first half, but a team cannot afford to lapse even for an instant against futbol genius Andriy Shevchenko, and Sheva made them pay. PSV played the second half a blistering pace, and the first half hour of the second half was one of the more exciting stretches of scoreless soccer I've experienced. Milan then snatched an undeserved goal at the very end of the game to take a 2-0 advantage into the second leg. PSV will have to win 3-0 at home to advance--Milan will pretty much seal the deal if they score even one away goal. Given that two of PSV's starters will be suspended for the next leg, I doubt 3-0 can happen for them. It's really a shame, because Sheva aside, PSV are one of the most entertaining teams in Europe, with their assorted collection of blazing attackers with catchy names: Peruvian Jefferson Farfán, Korean Ji-Sung Park, American DaMarcus Beasley, and Dutchmen Mark van Bommel and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. Seriously, who wouldn't want to see all those names advance? Unfortunately, none of these players could finish tonight, directing all their shots directly into the arms of the keeper or blasting over the bar. Who knows--if they regain their touch in Eindhoven, they could move on, but with Milan's stout defense, 3 goals may be asking for too much. If PSV had scored just 1 to make the final 2-1, they would have only needed a 1-0 or 2-1 victory next week, a far more likely result. Unfortunately, they can only wonder at what might have been.

Chelsea v. Liverpool tomorrow, which is the biggest match in British soccer this year (and that's saying a lot). Liverpool is hoping the 4th time will be the charm, but their defense is just too shaky. Chelsea is too balanced to lose this game.

Friday, April 22, 2005

White Sox/Twins series report, aka DIPS baby DIPS

I managed to attend both games of the 2-game series between the White Sox and Twins on Monday and Tuesday. The White Sox won both games, meaning that I still have not seen them lose a game in person. The streak has to be around 15 games by now. If it ever reaches 20, I will prepare my resume and apply to be General Manager, or failing that, clubhouse good luck charm. The White Sox contradicted their new "small ball" marketing ploy by clubbing 3 homers in the first game. They scored a couple of scrappy runs on Tuesday, but still benefitted from Paul Konerko's major league leading 7th gopher ball. The Chicago papers have already written about the Sox continued reliance on homers, so I won't repeat them. I will say that the Sox had better start changing something, because they have drawn the fewest walks in the majors so far. Needless to say, it's hard to play small ball with no one on base, and solo homers are not the foundation of a high-powered offense.

Chicago's pitching was plain unimpressive, even in victory. Their two Cuban ex-Yankee starters labored through their innings, with Jose Contreras particularly struggling. Both gave up double digit hits and got behind in the count and...well...sucked. They managed to win these games because the Twins left an astounding 44 men on base over the two games--20 on Monday, and 24 on Tuesday. This works out to about 2.5 per inning. The Twins also grounded into 6 double plays--3 in each night. While the Twins certainly miss Justin Morneau in the middle of their lineup (he returns from the DL Friday), I would have to guess that the extraordinary number of LOB is more attributable to chance than anything else. A high LOB in a given game is 10-12...having 20+ in consecutive games like that is reminiscent of that Twilighty show about that Zone thing.

On the flip side, the Twins starters, Kyle Lohse and Brad Radke, were decent enough. Neither pitcher walked a batter--in fact, the Twins didn't issue a walk the entire series. While some of this may have to do with the Sox impatience, credit has to go to the Twins entire staff. So far this year, their K:BB ratio is around 6:1, which is utterly absurd, considering the all-time record for a team is around 3.5:1, set by the Unit/Schill Diamondbacks of 2002. Obviously, the Twins can't keep up the 6:1 pace, but Minny fans (ie, half the people who read this site) should take heart--the Twins are putting themselves on base, and keeping their opponents off base. I don't expect them to leave 20 men on base very often (especially with Morneau back), so look for them to reverse their early deficit to the White Sox in short order.

Now I'd like to share a specific observation from Tuesday night's game that illustrates one of the more obscure statistical concepts in baseball, DIPS (Defense Independent Pitching Statistics). DIPS theory, in essence, is that the best way to evaluate pitchers is to look at the statistics that do not depend on defense--strikeout rates, walk rates, HBP rates, home run rates (the number of inside-the-park homers is statistically insignificant), and intentional walks. Voros McCracken's 2001 article posited that pitchers have no control over balls put in play--in other words, hits allowed tells you nothing about a pitcher's performance. It turned out that McCracken's study was flawed--here is Tom Tippett's excellent rebuttal. For those of you who don't feel like reading the two articles (you should, though), the conclusion is that pitchers do have some form of control over hit prevention--in other words, good pitchers prevent hits to a greater rate than bad pitchers--but it is a tenuous control at best. The bottom of the 1st inning of Tuesday night's Twins/Sox game perfectly illustrated this idea. With none out and two men on, Carl Everett lofted a potential sac fly to centerfield. After making a routine catch, R&B superstar/centerfielder Torii Hunter made the best throw I have seen in person--a 310 foot one-hopper that would have been called a strike had he been pitching--to erase Scott Podsednik, one of the fastest and smartest baserunners in the majors. Podsednik might have even been safe if Joe Mauer hadn't done such an excellent job blocking the plate. Pods beat the throw, but never touched home, a fact that the 18,000+ Sox fans conveniently overlooked when they started abusing the umpire. As if that play weren't enough, Jacque Jones plucked a sinking drive from Konerko off the tips of the outfield grass, saving another run (Iguchi was on 2nd and running on contact) and ending the inning.

This sequence of events is crucial to understanding the idea of DIPS. Radke got credit for pitching a scoreless inning even though that he didn't do all that much to prevent runs--in fact, his pitches probably should have cost him runs. I have no doubt that if Radke had almost any other major league outfields behind him (I can't think of any centerfielder with Hunter's arm, and only Ichiro has more range in right than Jones), at least 2 runs would have scored in that inning. The idea of DIPS is that we shouldn't give credit to the pitcher when credit is due to the defense. I didn't quite get this until I saw it in action on Tuesday. My advice to everyone? Don't look at wins and losses, and don't look at hits allowed. Hell, don't even look at ERA. Check the strikeouts and walks and homers, and you'll have a better idea of how well a pitcher has performed.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Yep, I'm writing about the Yankees

The Yankees slow start is splattered all over the mainstream sports media--not too surprising I guess, because most of the major media outlets picked the Yankees to win their division. George Steinbrenner revealed the real reason behind all the hubbub--the ridiculous amount of money the Boss shelled out for this squad. Two weeks is a small sample size to be sure, but looking at the sabermetric RAP, which essentially compares a player's performance to the league average by position, can show us that some of the Yankees highest paid position players aren't earning their money. The following list has the Yankee starting lineup, with 2005 salary and their 2005 RAP (note, this is RAP through the first 2 weeks of the season, not their projected RAP).

C Jorge Posada, $11.0 m, -1.5
1B Tino Martinez, $2.75 m, -0.9
2B Tony Womack, $2.00 m, -2.7
SS Derek Jeter, $19.6 m, 5.11
3B Alex Rodriguez, $25.7 m, -2.5
LF Hideki Matsui, $8.00 m, 3.6
CF Bernie Williams, $12.4 m, -0.7
RF Gary Sheffield, $11.5 m, 4.0
DH Jason Giambi, $13.4 m, 0.1

When you consider that the average salary in 2005 is $2.60 m, it's easy to see that the Boss has not been getting his money's worth so far. It's far too early to start calculating "dollars spent per run above average," but you can see which players need to start picking up the pace: A-Rod and Posada. I single out these two players mostly because I still consider them capable of picking up the pace. All indications are that Williams and Giambi are in the decline phases of their career and that league average performances are the most one can expect. That would be fine if they were getting Tino Martinez or Tony Womack money, but that kind of production for a 7 figure salary just doesn't cut it. The Yankees are (over)paying for their loyalty and reverence to players from championships past.

At such an early stage, it is impossible to properly analyze pitching performance, but when you look at the Yankee rotation's salary and projected VORP for 2005, you can see a similar story. Keep in mind that VORP calculates value over replacement, ie a AAA player called up to the majors, not value over the average major leaguer. The median VORP for pitchers was about 5.5 last year. But starters are worth more to teams than relievers, because starters pitch more innings. The bare minimum VORP you'd want from a starter is 15.0, while the average starter is more in the neighborhood of 20.0.

Randy Johnson, $15.4 m, 61.8
Mike Mussina, $19.0 m, 36.9
Carl Pavano, $9.00 m, 23.2
Jaret Wright, $5.67 m, 18.8
Kevin Brown, $15.7 m, 27.4

Don't get me wrong, that's a solid starting staff. You can see that Yanks got Johnson at a bargain rate comparing what they're paying to the rest of their pitchers. Mussina and Brown stand out in particular as high risks to produce not a lot of bang for their buck. The Pavano and Wright signings aren't horrible as long as they don't expect them to be anything more than slightly above average pitchers. They overpaid for them both, but that's more a reflection of the market than anything else. Pavano and Wright are pitchers that any team would want at the back of their rotation. But in a year or two, Pavano and Wright could be the only two pitchers left. The future of the Yankees will depend on how they deal with pitching in the next couple of offseasons. Last year, maybe they could have said "we're just waiting for Ben Sheets or Johan Santana." But the trend appears to be that smaller-market teams are going to lock up their young pitching talent long term, and if they don't, will expect a buttload of talent in return. The Yanks farm system is almost devoid of pitching talent.

The Boss has a right to be concerned about his team's form, but considering he signed the paychecks, he shouldn't complain about the money. It is the fault of his scouting departments if he expected anything more than slightly above-average performances from guys like Pavano and Wright. Could George's venting be born of desperation? Does he know how abysmal the future looks for the Yankees? I think Steinbrenner knows that this and possibly next season is the last chance for the Yankees before they collapse under the weight of age and bloated salaries. No wonder he's so worried.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Line 'em up, sit 'em down

Sports Illustrated always focuses on a minor aspect of a sport during their season preview issues. In their 2005 baseball preview, they chose to look at the art of selecting a lineup. Most of the article reflects the new emphasis on on-base percentage, and chides teams like Washington who bat low OBP guys like Cristian ".303 Lifetime OBP" Guzman in the 2-spot just because he is speedy. Ultimately, the article isn't much of a revelation, because in the analysis of each spot, the author concludes "you need a guy with high OBP." In a perfect world, every player would have a .400 OBP and slug .500 (numbers that would indicate an elite batter). But even the huge clubs like the Yankees and the Red Sox can only afford to populate half of their lineups with such hitters. Small market teams can barely afford one such hitter. The result is that most teams' lineups have a pocket of 3 or 4 good hitters in the middle surrounded by mediocre to poor hitters. Here's how a traditional lineup would look (assuming the team has players that fit each category):

1. Fastest hitter
2. Best contact hitter/bunter
3. Best overall hitter
4. Best power hitter
5. Power hitter
6. Balanced hitter with speed
7. Balanced hitter
8. Contact hitter
9. Pitcher (NL)/ worst hitter

Baseball Prospectus recently published an article that questioned the merits of this traditional style, based on the fact that as you descend one place in the order, you can expect a decrease of 20-30 plate appearances per year. BP reasoned, "Why deny your best overall hitter 40-60 potential plate appearences by batting him third? Move him up to leadoff and give him the chance to get as many extra base hits as possible." BP suggested moving the 4 and 5 hitters up two spots as well, the logic being that a team's power hitters should come to bat more often than a team's singles hitters. Though traditionalists would clamor that the best hitters on the team would now have no one to drive in, that's technically only true in the 1st inning. The reward of 40-60 more plate appearances (which for most great hitters means at least 3 more homeruns) would outweigh the risk of starting with empty bases. The key to making this kind of lineup work is to put the high OBP low SLG guys (in other words, singles hitters) at the bottom of the order. They would still hit ahead of the best hitters, just not until the middle and late innings--a small price to pay for the extra 50 plate appearances for the big boppers.

This type of lineup would be a snap to pull off in the AL because they play fake (DH) baseball--most smart AL teams already have a "second leadoff hitter" in the 9 spot. It would be trickier in the NL because of the pitcher's stranglehold on the 9 spot. On one hand, batting the pitcher 9th makes sense to me--why give a terrible hitter any extra at bats? Realistically, however, unless they pitch a dominant game, starting pitchers only make 2-3 plate appearances. From around the 6th inning on, pinch hitters take the pitcher's spot. With this in mind, BP suggests batting the pitcher 8th, surrounding him with two high OBP low SLG guys. What a concept, eh? Actually, it's already been done before--during Mark McGwire's 70 HR 1998, Cards manager Tony LaRussa often hit the pitcher 8th, so that he could put three high OBP hitters in front of McGwire.

Obviously, combining the "3-4-5 to 1-2-3" and the "1-2 to 7-9" and the "9 to 8" shifts are very drastic. BP didn't really do much speculation, but I will. I honestly think that such a lineup would be wildly successful. Think of the Cardinals lineup--it'd go something like Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, Walker--that's a lineup that would get you at least a run in the 1st inning more often than not. What starting pitcher doesn't like to start out with a lead? And think of the implications for the end of games as well--how many times has a game ended with the best hitter waiting on deck while some speedy guy who can't hit strikes out? Why not increase the chance that it will be your best hitters at the plate in the bottom of the 9th?

The newfangled lineup also makes sense in this era of baseball, in which the stolen base has become vastly devalued. A guy like Scott Podsednik leads off because he can steal bases. But these days, with home runs flying out at record rates, a stolen base doesn't really gain much. The time when a stolen base is really worth the risk (unless the catcher can't throw), is when there are two outs and a weak hitter is at the plate. Hmm...sounds like the perfect place for Podsednik to hit is in the 7 spot in front of the pitcher in the neo-lineup!

Granted, this is all a pipe dream, because it would take one hell of a gutsy manager to bat Manny Ramirez leadoff. It'd be even more difficult to get a guy to accept batting below the pitcher, especially if it were a leadoff man who's used to getting around 700 plate appearances per year. As much as statsheads treat ballplayers like number lines, they are human beings with multi-million dollar egos. As well as this would seem to work on paper, I have a feeling enough agents would tie up front office phone lines to make any experiment a short one. Oh well. I can always experiment in MVP 2005.

Why I don't claim to be a soccer expert

Well, I was way off on both counts for Wednesday's games. Liverpool drew Juventus 0-0 in a horrid game that sets up a delicious rematch with Chelsea, who previously defeated the Reds 3-2 in the Carling Cup final. Meanwhile, PSV upset Lyon in a riveting match that went to penalties after ending 1-1. My man DaMarcus Beasley (Run DMB) was the best player on the pitch for PSV until he woofed his shot in the shootout. No matter though--he still leads them in goals scored during Champs League competition.

Ok, baseball post coming later.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Champion's League quarterfinals

Tuesday and Wednesday are the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League. Tuesday featured the two marquee matchups: English leaders Chelsea faced German leaders Bayern München, while Milan played hometown rivals Inter. Chelsea reinforced their position as the top team in the world, by dispatching Bayern 6-5 on aggregate, a score that should have been 6-3 had Chelsea not conceded two injury time goals. Though the final scoreline looked close, for everyone closely observing the match, it was effectively over when Ivorian striker Didier Drogba headed home Chelsea's 6th aggregate goal with only 20 minutes remaining. It wasn't a dominant performance, but Chelsea showed themselves to be the superior team, and staked their claim as the team to beat. They have performed quite well on the road in the latter stages of the Champs league, which bodes well for the semifinals.

For the latter matchup, imagine the Red Sox being only slightly less successful than the Yankees, then imagine the Yanks and Sox being based in the same city, and then imagine them sharing a home stadium. That gives a pretty good idea of the Milan rivalry. Unfortunately, the ugly side of the rivalry emerged on Tuesday when Inter fans rained flares and bottles down on the pitch following the disallowing of a goal by referee Markus Merk. One of the flares struck Milan's star goalkeeper Dida, and the pitch was cleared. Merk tried to restart the match 10 minutes later, but more flares came down, causing the match to be abandoned with Milan winning 3-0 on aggregate. Here are the pics. First of all, that Italian fans are allowed to carry flares into stadiums--which the Bush administration would consider deployment of WMDs--speaks to the vast difference in intensity between European soccer and every sport played in America. Even with Pistons/Pacers, American fans are tame compared to these psychos. Secondly, the debacle obscured the recent dominance of Milan over their rivals. Inter has only lost 3 times in the past 40 or so matches--all 3 times to Milan. Milan is the most consistent and the most balanced team left in the tournament, and should be favored to win in spite of Chelsea's good showings against Barcelona and Bayern. One caveat is that Milan's all-world striker Andriy Shevchenko could face suspension if UEFA reviews his headbutt during the match, which went unseen by officials. Though Milan's other strikers are skilled, Shevchenko is one of the few strikers in the world who can conjure a goal out of thin air, and would be a valuable asset against a strong defensive side like Chelsea.

No use in writing about Milan v. Chelsea yet, because Wednesday's matches have yet to be played. Liverpool heads to Turin up 2-1 on Juventus, but don't expect them to go through. Juventus has a defense as stout as Milan and Chelsea, and Liverpool will be without star striker Fernando Morientes and midfielder Steven Gerrard. Scoring even a single goal at Juve would be a coup for Liverpool. However, their squad is too depleted to expect victory. I predict Juve to go through on a 2-0 result, 3-2 aggregate. The winner of this tie plays Chelsea. The other Wednesday match is Olympique Lyon at PSV Eindhoven. PSV is the Cinderella of the tournament, and despite being outclassed in Lyon, managed to come away from the first leg with a 1-1 draw. I'm pulling for PSV, mostly because American winger DaMarcus Beasley is on the squad and has played very well (unlike Landon Donovan, who bombed out of Bayer Leverkusen). I wouldn't be surprised if PSV rode the wave of their fervent supporters and upset Lyon to make it to the semis against Milan. Then again, it wouldn't be shocking to see Lyon's prolific strikers score 2 or 3 quick goals and extinguish the match prematurely. My guess is that it will fall somewhere in the middle, with Lyon going through on away goals thanks to a 2-2 draw in this match.

Hmm...baseball blog this is not, at least so far. No matter--the Champions League is arguably the most difficult tournament to win in all sports, and undoubtedly has the highest quality of play. Personally, I have found that the drama level matches even the baseball playoffs. It deserves more attention in the States, but probably will not get it unless the US National Team places in at least the semis of World Cup 2006.

Inaugural

Howdy everyone. By "everyone" I mean "people who read my LJ." I've decided to start up a separate blog for writing about sports because I really don't feel like clogging up people's friends pages. So instead, I'm clogging up your bookmarks list. Apologies. But seriously, I'd like this to gain a bit of a larger audience, because I do think I know what I'm talking about, at least when it comes to baseball. Feel free to tell your friends, link to me, etc. I'll be posting quite often--I plan to do periodic analysis of what's going on in major league baseball, and I'll provide commentary about major events from the rest of the sporting world. You can also expect a bit of rooting interest ranting, but hey, this is a blog, not a respectable publication. Finally, I highly encourage people who read to participate. Also, if you're interested, I can set you up so that you can post on here too. Hope you all enjoy it.