Thursday, June 02, 2005

Back with a vengeance (AL All-Star edition)

Whew. Finally have the internet up and working in my new apartment. Looking forward to posting again on a regular basis. It's useless to cover everything I've missed, although I will say the following:

-Liverpool's comeback in the Champion's League final is the rest of the world's equivalent of the Red Sox coming from 0-3 down against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. What an incredible comeback. Best sports drama of 2005 so far.

-I am very sad to see the Suns out of the playoffs, but they deserved the result. San Antonio put on a ruthless display. Given that the Miami/Detroit series might go 7, the Spurs have to be the prohibitive favorite.

-Props to Danica Patrick, but I'm sure enough has been written about her already.

Onto the baseball...time to check in with the monthly VORP totals, starting with the American League. The following players have been the most valuable at their positions. Stats given are AVG/OBP/SLG, HR, RBI. Starting pitchers are ranked by Pitcher VORP, relievers are ranked by Expected Wins Added.

C Jason Varitek, BOS: .311/.367/.553, 10 HR, 20 RBI
'Tek is doing his best to live up to his hefty contract, and has been the best at his position by far. Almost 40% of his hits have been for extra bases, making his slugging percentage by far the best in the league among regular catchers? On the other end of the spectrum, Victor Martinez is playing at replacement level, suggesting that last year's breakout may have been a fluke.

1B Mike Sweeney, KC: .301/.343/.522, 9 HR, 35 RBI
Start the Mike Sweeney sweepstakes now! Wouldn't be surprised to see him on either New York team by the deadline. Not that his numbers are anything spectacular. Just like in April, this is a relatively weak position--Sweeney wouldn't even crack the Top 5 in the National League.

2B Brian Roberts, BAL: 368/.449/.642 11 HR, 33 RBI
Meet your AL MVP! That's what Roberts would be if the season ended. He's showing that if this is a hot streak, it's at least 2 months long. Buzz around baseball sites is that Roberts has established a new performance level, and will not regress to his past levels of production. That said, much of this OBP boost is due to his batting average, which is a classic warning sign that once the hits stop falling in, he'll not be as valuable. But if he can keep his power, he'll remain far and away the best second baseman in baseball.

3B Alex Rodriguez, NYY: .319/.430/.639, 17 HR, 49 RBI
A-Rod's back. Back to his Texas performance levels, that is. Heck, he could even surpass them. He turns 30 a shade under 2 months from now, at which point he could have 410 career home runs. Given the state of Barry Bonds's knee, he's may have the best shot ever at breaking Aaron's record. Also gotta mention the great season by Brandon Inge in Detroit. .314/.396/.490 is nothing to sneeze at.

SS Miguel Tejada, BAL: .329/.371/.620, 14 HR, 46 RBI
He and Roberts could go combine for the best middle infield numbers of all time. Tejada is right up where he belongs as the best shortstop in baseball. Bar none. Carlos Guillen is still playing well (though not often), but the scary thing about Tejada is that this kind of ridiculous performance was expected of him. Not only that, but he could be the best clubhouse leader in baseball.

LF Kevin Mench, TEX: .303/.369/.605, 10 HR, 27 RBI
He's an extra base machine, and he's becoming known for more than just having the biggest hat size in the majors. This isn't really a surprise, since the power was there last year. This year, the plate discipline has caught up, and he's having a typical "Year 27" peak year. That said, like first base, this is a very weak position in the AL. Mench wouldn't crack the Top 5 in NL left field VORP. Where's Manny?

CF Johnny Damon, BOS: .354/.404/.458, 1 HR, 26 RBI
Hard to believe that line makes for the best centerfielder in baseball, but in the words of Jose Lima, "BELIEVE IT!" WWJDD? He would experience an expected loss of power this season, but make up for it with a higher OBP, that's what he'd do. However, his fielding is dropping off this year-- 98 Rate2 (100 is average) compared with 104 last year.

RF Gary Sheffield, NYY: .324/.424/.541, 9 HR, 36 RBI
Sheff's walk rate is ridiculous this year. No intentional walks in that OBP either. He's working the counts and mashing. I'll be curious to see if Vlad can pick up the slugging and pass Sheffield once he returns for injury, but given the nature of the injury, it's not likely.

DH David Ortiz, BOS: .302/.393/.563, 12 HR, 39 RBI
OBEY. He's picked up where he left off last season. No surprise. Bigger surprise is David Dellucci and his astronomical .462 OBP (with an AVG of .286!). That's positively Bondsian. Why are pitchers pitching around him? Maybe because he's slugging .556.

Starting Pitchers

1. Kenny Rogers, TEX
7-2/1.65 ERA/30 K/23 BB

Somehow, the Gambler keeps surviving. He has no business having that ERA with those K/BB numbers, especially pitching in a hitters park. The secret to his success? Only 2 home runs allowed. He's not letting his control problems hurt him. Damage control is the name of the game. We'll see if it lasts through June.

2. Roy Halladay, TOR
8-2/2.54 ERA/59 K/13 BB

Now that is a sweet line. In contrast with Rogers, the only thing that's hurt Doc has been the home run, and even then, 7 in 85 innings ain't bad. He's going to be the best pitcher in the AL for a long time.

3. Erik Bedard, BAL
5-1/2.08 ERA/52 K/12 BB

Another sweet line, this time by a young lefty. No smoke and mirrors here, just a great pitcher. The only question is whether he is durable enough to carry the O's in the pennant race, when they could very well be fending off 4 teams.

4. Mark Buehrle, CWS
7-1/3.07 ERA/48 K/15 BB

Jon Garland has tailed off, but Buehrle is Ol' Faithful on the South Side. He's a lock to pitch over 230 innings again, and those innings aren't too shabby either. His ERA might go up a bit as some hits start falling in on him, but more encouraging is that he hasn't been giving up as many homers this year. Hard to believe he's just 26.

5. Jon Garland, CWS
8-2/3.22 ERA/34 K/12 BB

Garland's medicore strikeout rate started catching up with him over the past few games. It'll never be as good as it was in Garland's first 8 starts, but the White Sox can rest easy knowing they have the best "fifth" starter in baseball.

Relief Pitchers

1. Dustin Hermanson, CWS
0.82 ERA/11 SV/15 K/7 BB

Hadn't given up any earned runs until a couple games ago. Pretty impressive. Hermanson continues the Troy Percival trend of ugly bastards performing quite well as closers. He'd better start striking out more batters if he wants to keep this up.

2. B.J. Ryan, BAL
1.44 ERA/14 SV/41 K/9 BB

What a fantastic line. If he had pitched in some more close games, no doubt he'd be on top. That said, The O's look to have a closer that can take them to the playoffs. We'll see if he can perform once he's there.

3. Francisco Rodriguez, LAA
2.65 ERA/10 SV/26 K/5 BB

K-Rod's in 3rd despite being injured. Of more concern is that his mechanics have been altered so that he no longer throws that devastating slider. He's changed it into a slower, slurve type of pitch. We'll see if he can maintain his effectiveness while learning this new pitch.

Conclusion: One of these things is not like the others....hmmm....Mike Sweeney, come on down! Every other player on this list is on a team in contention. You can also see that the AL East dominates the position players, while the Central's only representatives are the 3 White Sox pitchers (which helps explain their league-best record).

And now, a quick look at the All-Ignominy team (min 110 PA):

C: Miguel Olivo, SEA
1B: Carlos Pena, DET
2B: Omar Infante, DET
3B: Aaron Boone, CLE (GOLD STAR winner as worst player in the AL!)
SS: Wilson Valdez, SEA
LF: Terrence Long, KC
CF: Gary Matthews, Jr, TEX
RF: Casey Blake, CLE
DH: Jeff DaVanon, LAA

Starting Pitchers (worst listed first, min 40 IP)
Jose Lima, KC
Wil Ledezma, DET
Ted Lilly, TOR
Dewon Brazelton, TB
Joe Blanton, OAK (remember when he was in the top 5 at the end of April? ouch)

Relief Pitchers (worst listed first)
Steve Kline, BAL
J.J. Putz, SEA
Scott Schoeneweis, TOR

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