Friday, April 21, 2006

That was Ball Freakin' Four

Orioles Up Next

The Orioles have always been an enigma, and that came to a head during the 2005 campaign. A sexy pick for the AL Wild Card last year, they got off to a steaming start, only to stutter and eventually fall – as predicted by most people who don’t get paid to write about baseball. The reason was obvious to most of us: their pitching simply wouldn’t hold up over 162 games. And you know what? It didn’t.

Obviously, this was the No. 1 concern for Peter Anglos and Co. heading into the off-season. The only problem was that there was a shortage on available arms. The main way any team could improve their pitching was overpaying for A.J. Burnett, and the Blue Jays adequately filled that role. So who else? Who was left for the pickings? There were a few left – I even heard Kevin Brown’s name tossed out there, but I’m sure that was more a joke than anything – but none represented a significant upgrade over the potential-filled but thus far unimpressive group of Bruce Chen, Daniel Cabrera, Rodrigo Lopez, and Erik Bedard. But then, lightning struck.

Omar Minaya, obviously peeved about the number of whities on the Mets roster, decided that Kris Benson was expendable. With Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Steve Trachsel, and Rarely the Victor Zambrano (credit: Peter Abraham) in tow, and with Aaron Heilman and Brian Bannister ready to go, it only made sense to oust Benson, mainly because not even Jim Bowden would have traded for Zambrano.

[MORE]Enter Angelos, who used some of his cunning – no, all of his cunning – to obtain the inning-eating Benson (probably a cliché at this point). His offer: Jorge Julio. Now, most teams would have laughed in his face at this insulting offer, but Angelos knows the score. Minaya makes no secret of coveting his Latino players, and found the fireballing Julio irresistible. Angelos 1, Minaya 0.

Minaya couldn’t have done any research on this deal, because if he had, it would have been painfully obvious that hitters have simple figured Julio out. He’s consistently been around the 65 innings mark since 2002, and his ERA has steadily risen over that time, going from 1.99 in 2002 to 4.38, 4.59, and 5.90. Sure, a switch to the NL could have been the solution – a new crop of hitters would have to figure him out. But, as proven in 2003, it doesn’t take long for these guys to catch on. And, as most of us figured, he’s sucked this year, plating eight earned runs (and three unearned) in a mere 6.2 innings of work.

Benson, on the other hand, was a steal. If there is any aspect of the Orioles weaker than their starting pitching, it’s their bullpen, which was further decimated by the loss of B.J. Ryan. So, trading Julio for Benson was a complete and total upgrade for the team’s pitching. It 1) gave them a guy who can consistently work into the 7th inning, meaning less work for the bullpen and 2) rid them of Julio, who was one of the perpetrators out there. Looking back, this was possibly the most underrated move of the winter.

Otherwise, the Birds had a typical off-season, signing bats to compensate for their lack of defense. Possibly the strangest move of their hot stove season was inking Padres catcher Roberto Hernandez, with Javy Lopez still under contract. Lopez is getting on in years, but 1) he is consistently one of the Orioles top producers and 2) he has stated his desire to remain at the catcher position. With Miguel Tejada already disgruntled, you’d think Angelos and Co. would want to avoid ruffling more feathers. But, they did it anyway, and it has paid off, with Hernandez hitting .407/.450/.611 to this point. Of course, I expect these numbers to even out as the season progresses, just like I expect Lopez to improve upon his .261/.333/.478 start.

Corey Patterson should be a regular for the next few weeks, as Luis “Show ‘Em My” Matos will be DLed. This shouldn’t be much of a concern, considering Matos’s putrid start. They picked up Patterson on a flier, and now it’s time to see if he can prove that 2004 wasn’t a fluke. But here’s the thing with flier that most of us know: they rarely work out. As long as Perlozzo keeps him buried in the bottom of the order, there shouldn’t be a noticeable difference between him and Matos.

On tap for the weekend: Wang vs. Benson tonight, Chacon vs. Cabrera tomorrow, and the Sunday cap, Randy vs. Bruce Chen. I gotta say, I’m glad we’re not facing Erik Bedard at this point (and equally pissed that I had him on the bench in my fantasy league).

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Yanks 3, Blue Jays 1

That was the win we were looking for, baby! Finally, a winning contest decided without piling up nine or more runs. As much as I hate riffing on the same idea that anyone in the YES booth brings up, it really was the focal point of the game. Well, that and another No. 2 starter caliber performance by Moose.

Here’s why I’m beginning to have a bit more faith in Mussina. It’s his walk year. He’s 37 years old. The guy more than likely wants to be around for at least one more year. So he, being the intelligent Stanford guy he is, is bearing down this year, focusing to an unprecedented level, and really getting into the heads of hitters. Guy can barely hit 90 on the gun and still manages seven strikeouts over seven and a third innings.

I’m sure the Yanks won’t pick up his $17 mil option for 2007, but there is surely a place for him in the rotation at a salary of maybe $11 million if he continues to perform like this.

Unfortunately, that’s all I’m gonna have today. I’m at a friend’s house, and like the dumbass I am, left the WE charts and all my game notes at home. I’ve got something I wrote a while back to put up tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Right Field and DH Issues

Anyone who read the previous game recap knows my ire is currently focused on Gary Sheffield, who dropped a routine fly ball last night. It was an all out lazy effort by Sheffield, and it brought a simple fact to light: he shouldn’t be trotted out to right on a daily basis. This isn’t a new notion by any means; in fact, one of the major discussions among Internet Yankees Fans this winter was finding an adequate replacement for him in right field so he can spend all of his time wiggling his bat in pitchers faces.

My desire to see Sheff at DH fits will with the other glaring problem with the Yankees lineup: Bernie Williams. The man has been there through thick and thin, won a batting title, holds multiple postseason records, and was an integral part of the four championships in the late 20th century. But his time has come; he simply lacks the ability to continue as a Major Leaguer. He’s 11 for 42 on the year with exactly one extra base hit – a double. It’s not only that, though. Of his 11 hits, I would guess (from having watched the bulk of his plate appearances) that five or six were bloops that barely dunked in for hits. He’s just not making solid contact, and worse yet has walked only twice.

[MORE]The first course of action should have been enacted a year ago: he should only be batting right-handed. He’s a natural righty, and with his diminished bat speed, his left-handed cut just won’t suffice. However, I don’t believe this will raise his level of play from atrocious to acceptable. He’s done, and I’m hoping that people within the organization are beginning to realize this.

Obviously, I’d like to see Bernie banished to pinch-hitting situations (there are far worse guys off the bench on teams comparable to the Yanks) and Sheffield plugged in as the DH four or five days a week. That leaves a hole in right field, one which the Yanks are going to have trouble filling at first. But, before everyone starts in on trade speculation, let’s have a looksee down at the farm:

Melky Cabrera50.380.448.160
Mitch Jones.360.439.300
Kevin Thompson54.296.371.148

Why not give one of these guys an extended shot? Jones is 28 and probably at the peak of his game. Why not bring him up now and give him a shot to play right and DH? I find it hard to think he’d be worse than Bernie. Of course, this would mean the ouster of Bubba Crosby, which doesn’t seem like a horrific idea at this point. The hope is that Jones would provide a stopgap so that Melky can be given more time in Triple A to develop his power game.

In short, the plan would be to DH Sheff four days a week and give the remaining two to Giambi. Playing seven games in a week? Throw Bernie a bone and let him DH for the seventh game. So now Mitch Jones has the opportunity to play four times a week, and Andy Phillips twice.

Ultimately, I’d like to see Cabrera get another shot, but would be content to see him finish out the year with Columbus and take his September call-up. He still needs some power development, as he has only four extra base hits this season (19 total). A promising sign is that he has walked seven times, compared to a single strikeout.

For more on Cabrera, check out James on Yanks Blog. He’s got a few ideas on the youngster, as well as a Phil Hughes update – 6 IP, 1 ER, 8 K in a 1-0 loss last night. For his full season stats, check out the sidebar at In George We Trust. Trenton by May?

All right, time to dig in and enjoy this day game. The only question is: why can’t we just get another game on ESPN rather than three hours of ESPNNews. Lord, I hate that freakin’ network.

Sucks to Be Bonds

Steve Finley has hit a home run this season before Mr. Bonds. Yes, THAT Steve Finley.

Question: does anyone think he was juicing? I always thought it was obvious, but I never bothered to ask anyone else about it.

Blue Jays 10, Yanks 5


Look, when you score four runs in the first inning and have Randy Johnson on the mound, you expect a win – especially when you are averaging 6 2/3 runs per game. But Randy proved that he hasn’t shaken the demons of yesteryear, and proceeded to yield 7 runs (two dongs) over a pathetic 3.1 innings. I don’t even know where to begin venting my frustration.

Here’s the thing with Randy. He pitched damn well last year, and was downright dominant at times; the numbers showed that he was among the best pitchers in the American League. But every once in a while, Caroll Spinney (that’s the person who played Big Bird on Sesame Street; yes, I looked that up on Wikipedia) would show up, fork up a few bombs, and in general look like a struggling 41-year-old. The hope this year wasn’t so much for more good games than for fewer Spinney games. Last night, we got No. 1 for 2006.

[MORE]Thankfully, the bullpen adequately stepped in, tallying just two earned runs (a third run added because Sheff is an idiot) in the game’s final 4 2/3 innings. Scotty Proctor continued to pitch well, and it seems he’s earned the Joe’s coveted confidence. This, of course, is a damning in disguise. I think Sturtze was the last one to win Joe’s confidence, and that misplaced trust cost us at least five games since last June. So once Proctor inevitably combusts sometime in May, we’ll still be seeing him in crunch-time innings until at least August.

Having scored five runs, I can’t complain too much about the offense, though Jorge pissed me off something fierce. I’m curious as to the thought process behind swinging at the very first pitch you’re thrown, from a new pitcher no less. He must have been looking down and thought, “wow, my legs are really disproportionate to the rest of my body. Oh shit, swing!” But, uh, coulda used that base runner you doubled out, Jorge.

Damon owned the lowest WE among hitters, but his game wasn’t particularly troubling. Everyone puts up blanks, and none of Damon’s five outs came at particularly crucial times. Maybe you count grounding out with Stinnett on second and one out in the second. But he did advance the runner, so he could have done worse.

It’s A-Rod and Sheffield (yeah, and Posada, too) who pissed me off in this game. Mr. Rodriguez, who finally hit a home run that mattered, botched his encore by grounding into a double play, negating a leadoff walk. Sheffield, the man whom A-Rod doubled up, blundered a routine pop up, confirming that he’s an idiot. He should have been under the damn ball, anyway. Instead, he slowly pranced towards the fly, allowing it to nearly miss his mitt completely. I made the following comment after that beauty:

“If I’m Sheff’s manager, I’m yanking him immediately. Take a shower, Gary. You suck.”

My idiocy was quickly pointed out: “That cost Billy Martin his job. He did that to Reggie.” So, by my doing, I was compared to Billy Martin. I feel shame.

Day game tomorrow, with a rare 12:30 start at Rogers Centre, Mussina vs. old buddy Ted Lilly. I’m betting the bats shell Lilly, but how Moose fares is a coin flip. Heads he pitched decent, tails he picks an inning and decides to do his impression of Jaret Wright. I hear the guys get a kick out of it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Win Expectancy: Pitchers, Week 2

The underlying question with pitchers and Win Expectancy is how much of the game action is the fault of the pitcher? Over the past few years, plenty of baseball theorists have come to the conclusion that much of what goes on in the game is dependent on defense and not necessarily the pitcher. This is mainly because a pitcher has little or no control over what happens to balls put in play. To this point, many people following the WE statistic believe that pitchers should only be credited and debited for strikeouts, walks, and home runs (fielding independent statistics). However, this view is also skewed, as it clearly favors power pitchers over finesse pitchers.

It is difficult to objectively determine which outcomes are the fault of the pitcher and which should be credited (or debited) to the fielder. As a rule of thumb, when running game logs through the WE calculator, I was very scrutinizing when it came to pitching and fielding. An error was immediately charged in full to the perpetrator. If it was a single and an error causing a runner to reach second, the single was debited to the pitcher and the advancement to second was debited to the fielder. In the case of stolen bases, it was a 50-50 split between the catcher and the pitcher. This is quite an endeavor, since every runner advancement is up for grabs between the pitcher and the fielder. Thankfully, it has been cut quite clear to this point (eg: in Saturday’s game, I debited Mariano for Mauer’s single and Castillo’s advancement to third, but debited Matsui for Mauer reaching second).

The reason I like WE for pitchers is that they’re usually not credited a ton for winning performances. Conversely, they are debited a ton for blowing games wide open. This is useful, because it can take them quite some time to recover from such a game, and that’s especially true for relievers. You’ll see what I mean in a minute.

2Oakland 0.031   -0.358 0.0010.109 
3Oakland  -0.214 -0.185 0.0010.013-0.046 
4Anaheim   -0.204  0.0460.016  
6Anaheim 0.1 0.001 0.001
7Royals  -0.214  0.016 0.022 0.076
8Royals   -0.164  0.0010.0560.004 
9Royals0.162    0.0470.0010.051  
10Twins -0.036      -0.052 
11Twins    -0.1780.135 0.0370.018-0.563
12Twins  0.192-0.003  0.0040.006  

Scott Proctor is the prime example of what I was talking about before the table. In the second game of the season, he was debited with the bulk of the 5-4 loss to the A’s (which is accurate, because it was his ninth inning series of blunders that cost them the game). That was 36 percent in the negative column. After that game, Proctor was faced with the challenge of bringing his percentage back to zero, but as a reliever he isn’t presented with many opportunities to add points to his score. He caused a biting loss, and now must work long and hard to make up for it.

Wang is another example of how this statistic works well. In his first two starts, he was debited 22 percent, for a total of 44 in the hole. He came out in rare form on Sunday, dominating the Twins and adding 19.2 percent to his score. But notice how his dominating performance didn’t equal even one of his two previous failures. He needs two more outings similar to that of Sunday to get out of the hole, and I think that’s fairly accurate. About one and a half wins for every loss should break you even, which is where a third or fourth starter should be.

The Yankees hold the AL’s lowest team ERA to this point, but a look at this Win Expectancy chart tells us something’s afoot. Half of the pitchers are in the negative. However, of the 46 recorded appearances, only 13 are in the negative, eight of which are more than 10 percent in the hole. What this tells me is that the team is getting consistent performances from most, and a handful of poor performances have killed them.

Mike Myers is proving his value, posting positive performances each time out thus far. I still have reservations, since I’m all to familiar with the volatility of bullpens, but if he can keep this up, he’ll be the answer the team has been looking for out of the ‘pen.

Also posting positives in each appearance has been Ron Villone, though I’m much less impressed with him, considering his garbage time innings. Has he pitched in a meaningful situation all year? Furthermore, do you really trust him in those situations, considering his garbage-time struggles (though he seems to get out of trouble each time)? Honestly, I’m much more impressed with Proctor than with Villone thus far, despite their WE numbers.

So all in all, the pitching staff looks so-so to this point. What I’d like to see in the coming weeks is the fruition of a solid rotation. Johnson should be racking up the highest WE, with Mussina tailing, Chacon and Wang hovering around the break-even point, and the bullpen staying relatively even. Mo will undoubtedly recover from Saturday’s game, and should be posting a positive WE in no time. It’s all going to be a matter of Myers and Farnsworth keeping in the positive, and the rest of the guys hovering around zero or slightly negative.

We’re dealing with a small sample size for now, and I hope to have a more detailed analysis in two more weeks. Until then, have fun with the graphs and the daily player logs.

Win Expctancy: Hitters, Week 2

I’ve posted this link before, but for a basic understanding of Win Expectancy, check out this article at The Hardball Times. It gives an in-depth look to an increasingly valuable statistic. But, here’s the basic gist of it: at any given point in the game, each team has a certain probability – as measured by 20 years of historical research – of winning the game. Win Expectancy is best used to measure how a team performs over the course of nine innings, as exemplified by the chart I post after most games (and I’m working on the appearance of said graphs. I’m not exactly adept with the nuances of Excel yet).

Furthering the utility of WE, a value is assigned to each player after a given plate appearance, dependent upon the outcome and how it effects the overall WE. Take this as an example: Team A is at a situation in a game where they have a 53 percent chance of winning (according to WE). Hitter X is at the plate, and he walks. Given the current situation, the team now has a 55 percent chance of winning, and Hitter X is credited .02. However, if Hitter X made an out in that situation, Team A’s probability of winning would have been reduced to 52 percent, and Hitter X would have been debited .01.

The reason I’m enamored with this stat is its relevance to winning. The guy who puts his team up 3-0 with a homer in the fourth is credited handsomely, and the guy who homers to increase a lead from 8-0 to 9-0 is credited, but not nearly to the same degree. All runs are not created equal, and WE attempts to dole out credit accordingly. So, when A-Rod hit that meaningless dinger Sunday against the Twins, he was not credited to the degree Cano and Giambi were for their respective homers. Baseball is all about situational strategy, and this is what WE is attempting to quantify.

1OaklandW 15-20.045-0.0380.0570.1430.0250.0560.033-0.0190.086
2OaklandL 4-30.0370.0330-0.2390.0280.0250.161-0.042-0.109
3OaklandL 9-4-0.032-0.116-0.05-0.142-0.1110.0640.0060.22-0.07
4AnaheimL 4-1-0.055-0.093-0.081-0.0280.081-0.0450.105-0.270.024
5AnaheimL 3-2-0.138-0.034-0.015-0.1230.122-0.085-0.11-0.054-0.114
6AnaheimW 10-10.1980.0420.0230.0840.0420.061-0.015-0.037
7RoyalsW 9-7 0.0780.335-0.118-0.0240.5550.117-0.06-0.151-0.015
8RoyalsW 12-50.1790.041 0.0140.089-0.0260.0630.25-0.081
9RoyalsW 9-3 0.0570.04-0.003-0.0450.045-0.0150.0830.08
10TwinsL 5-10.123-0.0270.123-0.098-0.051-0.064-0.014-0.065-0.369
11TwinsL 6-5-0.156 0.0350.0430.322-0.2640.1230.086 
12TwinsW 9-3-0.0210.2030.0820.039-0.0670.0210.020.046-0.032
 Totals 0.2580.4030.096-0.3340.99-0.0950.2970.047-0.6

We begin with the starting nine, since they have the greatest impact upon a game. As we may have expected, A-Rod stands out from the crowd, however, not for the same reasons we would have thought. His inconsistent stick over the season’s first two weeks has concerned the Yankees Faithful, but I don’t think anyone is harsher on him than Win Expectancy (okay, maybe my Dad is a bit harsher). After netting the Yanks 14 percent towards victory (I guess those are the best terms to put this in), he turned in four suckfests, including one in the very next game. It’s no coincidence that the Yankees are 0-4 in games where his contribution was negative 10 percent or worse. When one of your main anticipated contributors batting in the heart of the order is tossing duds, your team is going to have issues. Thankfully, there have been others around to pick up for A-Rod.

The main contributor: Derek Jeter. Not only does he have the single highest single-game WE – the 3-run shot against the Royals – but he has consistently been on the positive end. He only has one game under 10 percent, the second game of the season, and otherwise has been spectacular. He’s even turned in superb performances in losses. While these percentages may not be as meaningful since the Yankees didn’t end up winning, it proves that he’s the workhorse out there, getting his act together when no one else will. But as I stated after the Royals game, I’m not sure how much I’d trust his gross total. He deserved the 55 percent credit for the 9-7 victory, but I don’t think that should give him a free pass. He could ground into rally killing double plays for two straight games and still end up in the black. Therefore, take the running totals with a grain of salt. The real important numbers are those for individual games. Pitchers are slightly different, however, and I’ll get to that in their respective section.

This chart helps prove what we already know: Bernie is killing the team in the DH hole. He’s turned in three games under 10 percent, including an absolutely horrid performance in the 5-1 loss to the Twins Friday night. His positive contributions have been in the form of singles, meaning single runs at the most. Plus, few of his singles have come in opportune situations. I know that the Yankees have a lineup filled with studs and that they don’t need another big numbers guy at the bottom of the order. However, there’s a difference between Bernie and someone who doesn’t kill the team. I mean, we’re in the realm of Replacement Level for Bernie, and it’s only looking to get worse from here. Carlos Pena, where art thou?

If anything, this chart reminds us that Jorge continues to produce. He’s getting timely hits, and all in all looks like an improvement over last year’s incarnation. I’m not expecting him to put up monster numbers, but I think we’ll see his Win Expectancy gradually rise. At this point, he’s not killing the team, and all indications point towards a mild contribution. That’s exactly what this teams needs from their catcher. Let the big boys do the big smashing and let Jorge sit in the shadows and collect timely hits.

Next up: the Pitchers.

Notes & A-Rod

Haven’t had a chance to update the sidebar this weekend or yesterday, so that will be done today. Sorry for the double standings; had to run out and didn’t have a chance to proof the site on Thursday.

After a few days of quietude, I make my triumphant return to The Sporting Brews. Despite my various weekend activities, I still managed to catch most of the three games against the Twins, and most of me was pretty pissed off. Saturday was especially damning. I was watching the game with a few buddies, but had to leve after the fifth, angry at the cold bats and the 4-2 score. Now, our other friends aren’t exactly baseball aficionados, but we figured we could wrest the TV from them for the rest of the game. What we didn’t count on was Al’s parents dumping his 5-year-old cousin off on us while they went out. Yes, they entrusted a 5-year-old to eight 24-year-old drunks.

Thankfully, our buddy Sam is an uber-nerd and carries around one of those PDA phones with the Internet. It wasn’t long after 9:00 that I heard someone instructing Sam.

Andy: Yeah, Now click on MLB, and now on Scoreboard.
Sam: Yankees…lose. Ooh, the Twins scored two in the bottom of the ninth.

[MORE]Of course, we didn’t know the gritty details behind the affair, so it was easy to blame the charade on the Great One. And that, my friends, is the disadvantage of looking up scores on the Internet.

Sunday was another must-win, and for two reasons. First off, you never want to go out and get swept following a sweep of your own. Second, it was Easter Sunday, meaning my Mets-loving extended family was over to watch Carlos Delgado park one in the bottom of the eighth to seal the deal. We just needed a Yankees win following that. Thankfully, Wang and Giambi got the memo.

I’ve been studying this Win Expectancy measure over the past two weeks, and have come up with some early conclusions, which I’ll get to later today. It’s quite interesting how everything works, and it’s simple enough a concept that I can list the numbers and explain them without my readers scratching their heads (or balls). But I’d like to take a second to address an article I saw in the mainstream.

I actually found this article in a hard copy of the Star Ledger, and read most of it. Here’s the quote that I’m mulling over:

High standards are the Yankees way. But manager Joe Torre isn't sure he wants a perfectionist as a cleanup hitter.

"Alex is very tough on himself because he doesn't think he should do anything wrong, ever," Torre said. "I don't think we can live our lives that way."

Yet Rodriguez does.

You have to be kidding me. As much as I try to defend A-Rod at every turn against his flurry of haters, this is just a false statement. A-Rod does not have that mentality. Paul O’Neill had that mentality, and there is an obvious difference between the two. O’Neill wouldn’t accept a soft grounder in a tight situation. If he hit one of those, the water cooler would hit the 15-day DL. A-Rod knows nothing of this passion; after a futile grounder or a strikeout, all he can do is pucker his blue lips and look at the big screen. I’m not saying that he needs to vent his frustrations on an inanimate object. But, I’m also saying that he does nothing that would indicate a perfectionist mindset.

He does work hard, possibly harder than anyone else on the Yankees. But that doesn’t mean he’s the most passionate about perfection. Paul O’Neill got upset with himself 66 percent of his at-bats. A-Rod makes outs at about that rate, and when he hits a slump, he watches video and takes extra swings. Those are all great things, but they don’t necessarily translate into a transcendent passion.

If A-Rod was a perfectionist, if he wasn’t satisfied with striking out or hitting dinky grounders in key situations, a vein in his head would have burst by now. As we’ll discuss later, he’s been most responsible for the Yankees losses and least helpful in their wins thus far. O’Neill would have been stringing up the noose at this point. But A-Rod continues to be A-Rod, always working hard, but always me-first.

Talk to me about his perfectionist attitude when he shatters a bat over his knee.