Friday, September 08, 2006

Are You Trying To Say That Jesus Christ Couldn't Hit A Curveball?

Apparently these are nothing new, but odl reliable James pointed me in their direction, and I simply must share.

All the credit goes to Alien Loves Predator. Masterful, brilliant job.

Yes, Pedro Martinez would totally have beaned Jesus in the head. Also accurately portrayed in this strip is Stu Scott. I do wonder, though, if Steinbrenner would allow Jesus Christ himself to sport the full beard. It's against team policy, yes, but I think Mr. Christ can present a compelling argument.

There is one egregious inaccuracy here. The profile of Jesus shows him batting right-handed against Pedro Martinez. Are you telling me that Jesus Christ, the son of God, wouldn't be a switch hitter? If you can turn water into wine, walk on water, and heal the wounded, it stands to reason that hitting from the left side of the plate would just come naturally.

Of course, speaking of Jesus in such tones probably makes me a Godless Sodomite.

As If I Even Need To Point You In That Direction

SG is his usual analytical self over at Replacement Level, as he breaks down the possible playoff combinations of Giambi, Matsui, Melky, Sheffield, and Wilson. Best Yankees read all week.

Around the League

There's not too much to say about the Yanks in the wake of an off-day. They're playing well, the Red Sox are not, and the division looks to be a lock at this point. So, let's take a look around the league.

Dmitri Young was released by the Tigers on Wednesday night. This would have been a controversial move if Dmitri was actually, you know, good. Paul Hagan of the Philadelphia Daily News disagrees:

Now, these are smart baseball guys who have won before. Still, you have to wonder. It's a curious move at best.

The Tigers' biggest problem is that they haven't been scoring enough runs. So instead of adding a hitter, they deleted one. Not just any hitter, either. Their designated hitter, a guy who hours earlier had started and batted third, the spot usually reserved for the most accomplished bat in the lineup.

First, the third spot is not reserved for the best bat in the lineup. But why look at his position, status, or spot in the order when you can call up some simple statistics: .250/.293/.405/.698. Those are not the numbers of a DH on any team not named the Royals. It's not a curious move at all; it's cutting bait on a player who wasn't at all working out. Also from Hagan:

Adding to the intrigue was the fact that both Dombrowski and Leyland insisted that the move was based strictly on Young's lack of performance.

This is coming from a Philly columnist. From Detroit News columnist Tom Gage (who is definitely closer to the situation than Hagan):

"To put it bluntly," said a source within the organization, "he was a growing cancer, someone who cared too much about himself, and not enough about the team.
"I thought this was going to happen. You could see it building. People will say all the right things, but the truth is he won't be missed by many of us."

A schmuck who can't hit? Yeah, that warrants a release any day.

Baltimore Sun columnist Rick Maese is a smart, smart, smart man:

You know the plan, right? It goes like this:

Peter Angelos sells the team.

Someone else buys it.

Wait-till-next-year doesn't mean a whole lot for the Orioles. (Don't we always know what next year brings? Fourth place in the American League East.)

With three weeks still remaining before the Orioles' ninth straight losing season is official, Angelos' time as a baseball owner has been a failure. He has become emblematic of the Orioles' bigger problem. There's a culture of losing that's so pervasive that it completely chokes any progress this franchise attempts to make.

As we say in the land of Deadspin, Stupid Angelos.

Bob Elliot of the Toronto Sun gives me some ammo for my drubbing of J.P. Ricciardi:

The Blue Jays have drafted 248 players since June 2002.
We’re going to go with second baseman Aaron Hill, former No. 1 pick out of LSU in 2003, as the best homegrown prospect the organization has produced since then.

He then goes on to talk about newly recalled Adam Lind and Russ Adams as the next best homegrown players. Gee, I wonder if the Blue Jay's lack of talent evaluation could be part of the reason they're doing diddly squat in the AL East. Just a thought, you know, because Ricciardi's mentor, Billy Beane, could not have done what he did in Oakland without impeccable scouting and statistical interpretation.

Finally, Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle talks about the Astros failures this year and compares them to the relative success of the Florida Marlins. It seems he wants to blame GM Tim Purpura for the mess, but realizes that he's constrained by owner Drayton McClane and Jeff Bagwell's contract.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

What I Learned While Beating the Royals

It seems kind of boring to recap an 8-0 win, no? I mean, I could, but it would look something like:

Jorge hit two three-run blasts and Randy Johnson threw seven innings of shutout ball, and over the first six allowed zero hits. Kyle Farnsworth sucks. The end.

How happily humdrum that was. But instead of leaving it like that, let's move to a list of things I learned last night while watching the game:

  • Exciting as no-hitters are, I'd prefer Randy Johnson never again flirt with one. It obviously gets in his head – Jorge had to go out to the mound in the sixth and tell him to get it off his mind – and it has some kind of tryptophan-esque effect on him. I guess the nerves get to him, making him unable to finish what he started, despite the fact that he still hadn't given up a run at the end of seven and had only tossed 81 pitches. At that pace, he would have finished the game with just over 100 pitches, which doesn't seem to be much an issue for RJ. And while I'm very pleased with his performances of late, everyone has to understand that he's going to throw garbage at least one more time this season. And as long as it doesn't come at a critical time (i.e. the Red Sox series), I'll be fine with it. That is, just so long as he handles his biz in the playoffs. All in favor of making sure he starts on the road, say “eye!”

  • Apparently, Joe Torre doesn't think Scott Proctor could use a few days off. Nevermind that he leads the league in appearances. No, that doesn't matter to Torre. What matters is keeping him sharp, sharp for the Orioles series. Because, you know, there are going to be some hard-fought battles with the orange-birds, and Proctor will need to be sharp for some tough seventh- and eighth-inning situations.

    In a more serious tone, I would much rather give him an extended break now and worry about re-acclimating him at a later point in the season. Remember, we're not done until October 1.

  • Riddle me this: if Kyle Farnsworth is surrendering ninth-inning home runs to the Royals in 8-1 games, how is he going to fare against White Sox hitters in a 2-1 game in the playoffs? On second thought, that's not a riddle, it's a rhetorical question. Please do not answer, for I fear what you all might say.

  • Every time Bobby Abreu does something good, I like him more. Every time he does something bad, I mutter to myself, “three out of ten is a Hall of Famer, three out of ten is a Hall of Famer.” And then I look up the stats and realize that yes, Bobby Abreu is kicking some mighty fine ass. Idiot Chicago newspaper columnist Phil Rogers (doesn't even get the dignity of a link) claims that the Dodger's acquisition of Greg Maddux was the best deadline deal. I ask him: have you watched a single Yankees game since the trade? Do you not realize that the trade filled two significant holes in the Yankees lineup? The Dodgers acquired a good pitcher in Greg Maddux (and that's all he is at this point in his career, though he likely doubles as a pitching coach), but the Yanks acquired a player perfectly fit for their scheme in Abreu and a serviceable starter in Lidle. Call me biased, but I don't think there's much of an argument against this being the deal of the deadline.

  • Areas where the Red Sox are terrible: shortstop, starting pitching. What they gave up this winter: Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez, a shortstop and starter. And a starter who (as you know, unless you avoid any non-Yankees news) pitched a no-no last nigh, and on the whole looks promising. Good thing they got that good starter Beckett in return. Oh, wait...

    If you don't think I'm working on a diatribe about Theo's blunders, you don't know me well at all (and in which case I invite you to read some of the archives). Theo and Ricciardi have made far too many mistakes in their attempt to catch the Yankees, and it's all starting to manifest now. It will be interesting to see who makes the more batshit insane move during the Winter Meetings. I'm a betting man, so my money is on Ricciardi, if he even has his job at that point (which, if I'm Ted Rogers, he doesn't).

  • Today is September 7. The season ends on October 1. The Yankees Magic Number is 15. Yeah, I think that's do-able, don't you?

  • Lest we forget the Trenton Thunder, who began their Eastern League playoff run last night by defeating the Portland Sea Dogs 3-1. Phil Hughes was his usual brilliant self, tossing six innings of one-run ball, over which time he walked just one and struck out THIRTEEN. Hideki Matsui took his first live swings, and struck out in the bottom of the first. He recovered, though, lining a ball to right in his next at-bat, followed by an intentional walk and finally an RBI single in the seventh. He'll have another go at it tonight, as Tyler Clippard takes the mound for the Thunder. In a few short years, these two men (Hughes and Clippard) could be pitching back-to-back in the Yankees rotation.

  • From the reliable, interesting, and informative Pete Abraham:

    Back in the spring, when he was struggling, Johnson was unusually talkative after games. He would smile, crack jokes about his age and expound on what he was trying to accomplish and the difficulties he was facing.

    Now Johnson is back to pitching like an ace and the snarl is back on the face of the Big Unit. If you're a fan of the Yankees, it's a good sign. If you're a reporter looking for a good quote, it's time to go talk to Jorge Posada.
    For Randy, being happy means being upset. If that makes any sense.

    When we got Randy, I completely expected him to be a sniveling prick who doesn't get along with teammates. That's fine; I can accept that so long as he's dominating the opposition, and would much rather have that than have a cheerful Randy Johnson that gets rocked every other start. If he's gotta be a dick, he's gotta be a dick. No complaints on this end.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Hey, These Guys Did Sweep the Sox

When a control pitcher misses a few starts, he's bound to have issues. Mussina felt those issues last night, though all told it wasn't that bad. I don't like seeing a pitcher give up four runs over five-plus any more than you, but games will be lost. You'd like to not lose those games to the Royals, but hey, at least we're not getting swept here (thank you, thank you Red Sox).

Plenty of negatives manifested themselves over the course of the game. Like the oh-so-typical 11 men left on base which never fails to turn me a certain shade of red. Compounding the issue is that the Yankees managed nine hits and drew four walks (meaning two double plays), but had nothing to show for it. It's a shame, really, but a shame from which they'll surely recover tonight.

Let's talk about those four walks. Normally, I wouldn't sneeze at the team walking four times in a game. But the Yankees lead the league in OBP by a fairly wide margin and are second in walks; four walks should be the norm against a decent pitcher. Two walk just four times against two pitchers who combine for 5.75 - five and three quarters! - walks per nine innings is the sign of the team not exactly running at full capacity. Then again, a glance at the lineup may have suggested that before the game.

There were some positives to be taken from last night, like the fact that Farnsworth didn't blow a save in Mo's absence. For every day Mo is unavailable, we should thank our lucky stars when Farns doesn't blow a game, even if he's never put in a position to do so. Thankfully, Ole Howdy Ho got the night off, along with the rest of his regular bullpen cast. Proctor and Villone sat in the 'pen, probably swapping secrets on how to keep your arm attached to your body in Joe Torre's bullpen.

Sean Henn may have been roughed up a bit, but it's good to see him out there. I've long been a supporter of his switch to the bullpen, as I think he can be a reliable 6th and 7th inning man in 2007. Hopefully his third cup of coffee tastes more like Kona and less like the percolator at work. Even an impressive September probably won't get him on the playoff roster, but the better he looks now the better chance he's going to get to make the team in Spring Training.

Speaking of postseason rosters, how about that Brian Bruney? The guy looked decent when he was first called up, but now he's progressing towards downright filthy. In a bullpen that needs just one more reliable arm, he could be a perfect fit. Much thanks go to ex-Sox assistant GM Josh Byrnes for casting Bruney off back in May. Cashman just may have found the solution to the “Proctor and Villone are pitching waaaaaaaaay too much” problem.

Finally, despite his not allowing a run over an inning pitched, I was not at all impressed with Octavio Dotel. I know the team wants to be cautious because of his surgery and subsequent setbacks. However, if he's going to help the team in the postseason, he's going to need some consistent work down the stretch. He can't just pitch an inning one day, take three off, pitch a game, and then take four off. He's not a starter, so it doesn't work that way. Finding him an inning every other day – and on occasion back to back days – is the only way he's going to work himself back into form.

It's all going to be about balance down the stretch. Proctor and Villone need rest while Bruney and Dotel need work, but none can have too much. To rest Proctor and Villone too much could mean a loss of command; working Bruney and Dotel too much could burn them out right before the team needs them the most. For example, make sure Proctor gets today off, but make sure he gets into the game on Friday. And with Villone, well, maybe he needs a week off. His situation is unlike Proctor's, in that Proctor pitched a lot from the get-go, building his arm strength and getting used to the workload, whereas Villone abruptly went from sparse use to every day use. Get him some rest, and get him on a regular pitching schedule. See, that's the advantage of being eight games up in your division at this point; you can play with your bullpen to make sure it's in optimal shape for the postseason.

All that being said, I think it's a foregone conclusion that not only will Proctor pitch tonight and Friday, but Torre will take him to Pittsburgh on Thursday to throw the football with Ben Roethlisberger. ABT – always be throwing.

AL Playoff Race: The Starters (An Addendum)

Ben Valentine from the newly revamped Sportszilla and the Jabber Jocks weighs in on the AL contending starters.

I listed the starters FIP (fielding independent pitching) and xFIP (FIP with homer rates normalized) courtesy of Hardball Times
Bonderman- 3.04 3.44
Verlander- 4.09 4.50
Rogers- 4.86 4.76
Roberston 4.68 4.45

Mussina- 3.49 3.84
Wang- 3.97 4.30
Johnson- 4.47 4.52

Haren: 3.86 3.93
Blanton: 3.95 5.01
Zito: 4.86 5.34

White Sox-
Contrares- 4.12 4.76
Vasquez- 4.21 4.63
Garland- 4.52 4.84
Garcia- 4.87 4.73
Buerhle- 4.93 4.87

Santana: 3.19 3.36
Radke: 4.64 4.74

The most underrated guy on here is Jeremy Bonderman. After Santana and Liriano, he should be the best pitcher in the postseason. His VORP rating and RA+ aren't as good as the others, but that's likely because of his high BABIP. Over at Hardball Times they have his FIP at a whopping 3.04! Even if you normalize his homer rate with xFIP, it's still just 3.44. His FIP is 1st in the A.L. and his xFIP is second to Santana. Mussina is a good pitcher, but I'd rather have Bonderman. Unfortunately, Leyland will probably pitch him #3 in the series, unless they're really worried about Verlander's arm.

The A's are interesting. Dan Haren is actually their ace as his 3.86 FIP would indicate. However the A's will probably pitch him #2 and as a result will have the edge against any team that doesn't have Liriano. Zito I really don't like with his 4.86 FIP and his even higher xFIP, though that's somewhat mediated by ballpark I'd imagine. Blanton actually should be more effective, so he's capable of matching up with anyone's third in October. Of course this doesn't account for the wild card which is Rich Harden.

The Yankees ace is Mike Mussina, not Wang. That being said, Wang gives the Yankees the best second starter outside of Liriano, as he's better than Verlander, Blanton or any Chi Sox starter. Johnson is a third at this point and while he's not as bad as his actual ERA indicates, he's at best a wash with these teams #3 (even the White Sox) and potentially worse (A's)

You're dead on with the Sox. They're a rotation of third and fourth starters.

Finally, I think the Twins numbers are misleading. For starters, it looks as though they'll have Liriano back. Secondly, the young pitchers are unproven, but unless they tank, Silva will probably not see a postseason start (which is why I didn't list him). Remember, they'll have to pitch well if the Twins are going to get in, so I expect either Garza or Bonser to find their way into the postseason rotation especially if Radke can't make it back. They will be unpredictable; no Yankee fan should want to see them come October. You could pull off a sweep or get swept.

The Yankees rotation would probably rank fourth if the Twins make it. But the key with the Yankees is that their offense is by far the best, so they still end up being the best team.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

AL Playoff Race: The Starters

Starting Pitching

White Sox6.444.725.452.

Lots of numbers here, and without breaking them down further, it's tough to get a grasp of what they really mean. But, generally, it looks like the Tigers and Twins have the best pitching staffs of the group. The White Sox look the worst, while the Yanks look lucky and the A's look solid.

As with offense and defense, I’m going to break the pitchers down on an individual basis. I’ve chosen RA+ and VORP because they compare the pitcher to the rest of the league; BABIP is there to account for any amount of luck being bestowed upon a pitcher (between .280 and .290 is average). This list requires a minimum of 130 innings pitched.

No. 1 PitcherIP/SRA+ (rank)VORP (rank)BABIP
Johan Santana6.831.58 (1)65.7 (1).276
Justin Verlander6.351.41 (3)47.8 (4).288
Barry Zito6.521.30 (5)48.6 (3).282
Chien-Ming Wang6.641.28 (6)46.5 (5).285
Jon Garland6.651.10 (15)30.7 (16).305

A huge hole for the White Sox manifests itself right at the start. You know you have problems when Jon Garland is leading your starters in RA+ and VORP – by a wide margin. As you'll see later, the back of their rotation is superior to their foes, but that's not going to help them down the stretch and in the playoffs. I know hindsight is 20/20, but it looks like Brandon McCarthy would have been a better option to start the year in the rotation.

No. 2 PitcherIP/SRA+ (rank)VORP (rank)BABIP
Mike Mussina6.261.24 (8)39.9 (8).282
Dan Haren6.621.22 (9)43.7 (6).289
Jeremy Bonderman6.501.15 (11)36.8 (11).317
Jose Contreras6.621.08 (17)29.4 (17).283
Brad Radke*5.811.01 (25)20.9 (25).327

* likely done for season

You could reasonably slide Francisco Liriano into this slot, though there are far too many question marks surrounding his injury and return to bank on anything at this point. The A's and Yankees No. 2 starters trump those of the Twins and Tigers, evening out the pack a bit. This will become especially important in a short series.

No. 3 PitcherIP/SRA+ (rank)VORP (rank)BABIP
Kenny Rogers6.071.13 (14)33.1 (13).257
Joe Blanton6.221.02 (22)23.7 (23).332
Mark Buehrle6.500.96 (30)18.9 (28).304
Randy Johnson6.210.90 (35)11.8 (35).279
Carlos Silva5.520.68 (42)-17.9 (42).338

And the Twins fall right off the table. They have a few youngsters that are giving them quality innings, but Silva is the final pitcher on their staff who qualifies for the ERA title. And, of the 42 AL pitchers who qualify, Silva ranks dead last. I've pointed out some errors in numbers in regards to Yankees players, since I'm more familiar with them. Having selected Silva in fantasy baseball – and dropping him within a month – I'm kind of familiar with his horrible start, from which he's recovered decently. Since his decrepit start, Silva has been much better than his 0.68 RA+ indicates. Same goes for Randy Johnson. The problem is that Randy can be good at times, but simply cannot be defined as consistent. I'm going to be biting my nails during Game Three of the ALDS.

Other Ranking PitchersIP/SRA+ (rank)VORP (rank)BABIP
Nate Robertson6.521.09 (16)31.0 (15).278
Javy Vazquez6.190.95 (31)16.0 (31).308
Freddie Garcia6.410.93 (33)14.9 (32).300

While their RA+ figures are below league-average, Vazquez and Garcia aren't horrible. The problem is, their numbers are very close to those of their No. 3 starter, Mark Buehrle. So, in essence, the White Sox have a No. 2 starter, a No. 3 starter, and three guys you could fit into the No. 3 or No. 4 roles. Where have I seen that before? Oh yeah, the Yankees of recent years past. We all saw how far that formula took them.

Nate Robertson's presence here means that the Tigers have four starters – four of 'em – with an RA+ over 1.00. Crazy, huh? I think I saw that formula before, too. Yep, the 2005 White Sox.

Notable Non-RankingIP/SRA+ (rank)VORP rank)BABIP
Esteban Loaiza5.900.9410.9.315
Jaret Wright4.910.9713.0.335
Francisco Liriano6.472.1049.7.286
Kirk Saarloos5.921.0013.7.292
Cory Lidle5.950.9512.4.305

This breakdown makes the Tigers dominance in the starting pitching department most evident. It also shows you the dramatic drop-off of the White Sox staff, whose top starter is only 15th best in the league. With the AL Wild Card race so tight between the Twins and White Sox, I’d normally say that the Twins have a huge edge here. However, there’s an egregious snag there, as the Twins second best qualified pitcher is done for the season, and their third best starter ranks last among those qualified. They do have Liriano readying for a return, but there’s no guarantee as to his effectiveness. Having that 1-2 punch is great, but it is a significant drop-off from there. It looks like this race will be decided over the course of the season’s final series.

Pitching is how the A’s have kept ahead of the pack in the AL West. They have solid Nos. 1 through 3 pitchers, and serviceable options at four and five with Loaiza and Saarloos. They’d be a ton better with a healthy Rich Harden, but they can’t be dwelling on that right now. For the ALDS, they should be a formidable opponent, though their offense may hamper them to the point of elimination rather quickly. Having three great starters with that offense gives you a fighting chance; having three reliable but not great starters with that offense is a ticket to a first-round exit.

And out come the biases. The Yankees may not look particularly strong, as judged by these breakdowns. However, Randy’s numbers are horribly skewed by those six terrible starts back in April and May. He’s since recovered, and is much better than his 0.90 RA+ indicates. This, however, brings up that point for every pitcher on this list. Are his numbers loaded in the front of the season and he’s faltering now? Vice versa? As I Yankees fan, I know that Randy is more at the level of Kenny Rogers and Jose Contreras than at the level of Carlos Silva and Mark Buehrle. And that’s being generous to Contreras, whose numbers were loaded in the first half; he posted a crippling 7.50 ERA in August.

These numbers also don’t tell that Jaret Wright’s stay in the rotation may be close to an end, as Darrell Rasner was impressive against the Twins on Sunday. So yes, while these tables should be telling, there are obvious biases involved. If you notice an inconsistency here – that is, someone whose numbers don’t do justice to their impact -- e-mail me with your argument, and I’ll analyze and post it.

The Hitters

Monday, September 04, 2006

AL PLayoff Race: Defense

Team Defensive Efficiency

TeamDERAL Rank
White Sox.7034th

There are differing schools of thought on the use of DER, as it’s indicative not only of defense, but of pitching. However you choose to interpret it, there is no coincidence in the Yankees and Tigers being 1-2 in DER and 1-2 in the AL.

Two playoff teams last year had a DER in the range of Minnesota – Boston and New York. Judging by their results, the Twins don’t look to be in a favorable position right now. However, their overall DER number may be skewed because of the inconsistencies they’ve had across the diamond this year. Their individual breakdowns may prove more favorable.

It’s kind of pointless to do ZR for catchers, since they’re mostly at 1.000. However, Joe Mauer is at .875, second to last among qualified AL catchers.

Number in parenthesis represents number of qualified players.

SS (11)ZRAL Rank
Juan Uribe.8751
Bobby Crosby.8552
Carlos Guillen.8285
Derek Jeter.8119
Jason Bartlett.857n/a

Bartlett has been with the Twins for quite some time now, and although he doesn’t have the numbers to qualify, his Zone Rating is right up there. Note to Jeter fans: he’s ranked 9th of 11 in the AL in Zone Rating. And when you add in guys like Bartlett who are close to qualifying, he’s closer to the cellar in the AL. For reference, he was at .830 last year, which put him fifth out of 10 qualifiers. If there’s any justice, there will be no Gold Golve at shortstop in Yankeeland this year.

2B (13)ZRAL Rank
Placido Polanco.8872
Mark Ellis.8663
Robinson Cano.8257
Tad Iguchi.8188
Luis Castillo.80411

You know, I always thought Ted Iguchi was a good fielder, at least better than Cano. And when I looked at the ZR from 2005, it does appear that Iguchi was better than Cano by a decently wide margin (.834 to .818). But Iguchi was still in the bottom half of second basemen, and it appears that he’s regressed a bit in his second Major League season, while Cano has flourished just a little bit. The Tigers won’t be missing Polanco’s defense as much as you’d think; Neifi Perez has quite the glove. He’s just an abomination at the plate.

CF (10)ZRAL Rank
Brian Anderson.8893
Torii Hunter.8855
Curtis Granderson.8836
Johnny Damon.8747
Mark Kotsay.8579

Remember last year, when the Yanks were kinda sorta interested in acquiring Mark Kotsay? Yeah, totally glad that didn’t happen. Damon may rank in the lower half of AL center fielders, but having watched the majority of the games this year, I haven’t seen many that he would have caught with the speed of Torii Hunter. It’s good to see Brian Anderson holding his weight defensively, because he sure as shit ain’t handling himself at the plate. I wonder what Kenny Williams has in store for him this off-season, whether he’s still thought of highly as the future center fielder, or if his shaky 2006 has the White Sox reconsidering.

3B (11)ZRAL Rank
Brandon Inge.8321
Joe Crede.7864
Eric Chaves.7765
Alex Rodriguez.73610
Nick Punto.767n/a

Yes, it’s sad but true: Alex ranks second to last among qualified AL third basemen. He’s been better lately, though, especially since he ceased using his teeny shortstop glove. That could have made a difference, though his mental state seems to have taken a turn for the better lately (look at all those home runs last weekend!). Nick Punto may have a decent ZR as a third baseman, but he’s been seeing much more time at second this year. I’m not sure how ZR translates from one position to another, but he’ll have to improve on his current mark to hack it at second.

LF (6)ZRAL Rank
Scott Podsednik.8822
Melky Cabrera.8245
Nick Swisher.879n/a
Craig Monroe.854n/a

Podsednik’s glove = stellar. Podsednik’s bat = vomit-inducing. My questions actually surround Melky’s ranking of fifth out of six. Are his numbers skewed by his shaky start following his call-up? Are not as many balls hit to him as should be? You do n’t see him miss balls he’s close to very much, which leaves me very curious. Looking at other outfielders, it appears that he should have a higher rating if he is, in fact, a good left fielder. This may be grounds for further analysis.

RF (7)ZRAL Rank
Magglio Ordinez.8604
Michael Cuddyer.8565
Jermaine Dye.8497
Bobby Abreu.873n/a
Milton Bradley.906n/a

I’m not so much concerned about a right fielder’s range as I am his arm. Dye can cut it with his throwing, so I don’t think his Zone Rating hurts the ChiSox that much. But that’s just an opinion; for all I know he could be pulling a Bernie and missing routine fly balls.

A sure sign defensive stats are still in their infancy: when you look at the Zone Ratings and compare them to the team DER, the results don’t seem right. The Yankees have players who are near the middle of the pack or the bottom of the league, and the Twins seem league-average on a player-by-player basis. However, the Twins look terrible in team DER while the Yanks look to be flourishing. This leads me to believe that DER has more to do with pitching than many currently think. I do think we’ll get a better idea of defense when the numbers are compiled at year’s end, when guys like David Pinto, John Dewan, and Mitchel Licthman come out with their defensive stats.

For further reference: The Hardball Times. Thanks to Studes for the update.

The Hitters
The Starters

Sunday, September 03, 2006

AL Playoff Race: The Hitters

I had this idea to compare the five teams currently vying for four American League playoff spots in the three basic categories: offense, defense, and pitching. Originally, I was going to simply post the teams stats, offer a bit of interpretation, and leave it at that. But then I got on a roll over at Baseball Prospectus, and started breaking down the players by position, which came with more interpretation and commentary. It all kind of snowballed from there, leaving me with the easy decision to cut this into three separate posts.

I apologize in advance for using BP’s advanced metrics. Some may not believe in them, but I truly believe that the ones I selected are the most indicative of a player’s worth. For instance, I used EqA for hitters because it takes into consideration all production on the offensive side: total bases, walks, strikeouts, stolen bases, etc. VORP is there because it compares players at their respective position.

I’ll be coming back to this at the end of the season to see how everything worked out, and to see what we can expect come playoff time.

Team Batting Stats
White Sox.285.346.470.8175.59

It should come as no surprise that the team with the highest OBP has scored the most runs per game. The Yankees are making outs at a lesser rate than the rest of the contenders and are scoring runs at a greater rate. The White Sox are right behind, aided by their .013 advantage in Slugging. And for those out there who want to discount OPS, keep this chart in mind. OPS from greatest to least: Yankees, White Sox, Tigers, Twins, A’s; Runs per game from greatest to least: Yankees, White Sox, Tigers, Twins, A’s.

For some more numbers to digest, here are the five playoff contending teams broken down by position. I’ve chosen EqA and VORP, not for their sheer complexity, but because they are the most encompassing stats available. The parenthesis indicates the number of qualified players in VORP for each position.

Catcher (12)EqAVORPAL Rank
Joe Mauer.31856.71
Jorge Posada.28824.53
A.J. Pierzynski.26616.96
Ivan Rodriguez.25813.68
Jason Kendall.2599.411

You can point to Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano all you want as the reasons why the Twins have rebounded. And, by all indications, you’d be right. But while it’s tough to underrate Joe Mauer at this point, I believe that may be the case. The offensive output by a catcher is one of the most valuable commodities in baseball, because of the general lack of hitting at that position across the league. Mauer is so far ahead of the catching pack that he makes up for holes at other positions on the diamond (as you’ll shortly see, left field and DH for the Twins). They could trot out league-average hitters at every other position and still have a reasonably above-average hitting team.

The A’s and Tigers are hampered by below-average catchers. Thankfully for them, plenty of teams survive just fine with below average catchers.

Derek Jeter.31668.41
Carlos Guillen.30352.23
Jason Bartlett.29020.8n/a
Juan Uribe.2411.29
Bobby Crosby.233-4.810

While Mauer provides astonishing value at catcher for the Twins, Jeter provides even more value at shortstop for the Yankees. His value is more than double that of Michael Young, who is the fourth ranked shortstop in the AL. This speaks volumes for Carlos Guillen as well, which is especially important because of the hole Pudge creates at catcher. If qualified, Jason Bartlett would be near the top of the shortstop heap, which gives the Twins quite an advantage. Not quite the advantage of the Yankees, however, who have excellent production from the two most defensively demanding positions. Oh, but it doesn’t end there.

2B (15)EqAVORPAL Rank
Robinson Cano.28327.82
Tad Iguchi.26518.34
Luis Castillo.25816.75
Placido Polanco**.2446.512
Mark Ellis.2513.713
** Likely out a considerable amount of time

Losing Placido Polanco (.294/.325/.359/.684) could be detrimental to the Tigers, as he’s being replaced by Omar Infante (.263/.306/.372/.678) and the abysmal Neifi Perez (.254/.266/.343/.609 with Cubs, .156/.206/.156/.362 in 32 AB with Tigers).

The A’s continue their trend of trotting out pure drivel at the tough end of the defensive spectrum, as they rank last among contending teams at the top three positions. The Yankees, on the other hand, add to their dominance of the spectrum with Cano. He’s demonstrably better than any second baseman on this list.

Johnny Damon.29745.23
Torii Hunter.27119.75
Curtis Granderson.26717.28
Mark Kotsay.2525.09
Brian Anderson.238-5.112

More Yankees dominance, and this time by a radical margin. Johnny Damon is more than twice as valuable to his team as Torri Hunter is to the Twins. It’s even worse for the A’s, as it becomes more and more confusing as to how they’re running away with the AL West. As you’ll see soon in the pitching comparisons, they’re not exactly top of the league in that department, and they look to be terrible on the offensive side of the ball. Mark Kotsay (who brings a ninth of Damon’s offensive value to the table) is aided only by the struggling rookie Brian Anderson here.

3B (12)EqAVORPAL Rank
Alex Rodriguez.29934.11
Joe Crede.28928.84
Nick Punto.27715.46
Eric Chavez.2705.010
Brandon Inge.2624.111

What a bum. I mean, really, look how terrible Alex Rodriguez is, with his No. 1 ranking among AL third basemen in VORP (and EqA, for that matter). The worst part of it for the rest of the league: he’s starting to heat up. And by heat up, I mean that he’s looking like MVP A-Rod, the guy who murdered the ball in 2005. If he can find and keep in that groove for two months, the Yanks could easily be looking at No. 27.

More futility here by the A’s, as they’ve been last or second to last among contending teams at each position so far.

Craig Monroe.27213.98
Jay Payton.26310.19
Melky Cabrera.2737.610
Scott Podsednik.253-7.614

And finally, some value for the A’s. And it’s only relative value, because the best left fielders in the league do not play for contending teams. This chart could look more different than any other chart come October 1, as Shannon Stewart may return for the Twins and Hideki Matsui is poised for a return to the Bronx.

Jermaine Dye.32962.11
Bobby Abreu*.30825.4n/a
Michael Cuddyer.29128.54
Magglio Ordonez.27014.310
Milton Bradley.2789.1n/a

Jermaine Dye has it tough here, since he has to carry the non-producers Podsednik and Anderson on his back. But he’s doing a fine job of it, nearly doubling the value of the third man among AL leaders, Ichiro. Bias alert: Bobby Abreu is actually better than his EqA and VORP indicate. He’s been a monster since being traded to the Yanks, and has certainly outperformed his first half in Philadelphia.

Milton Bradley could have helped the A’s out here, but he’s been on the DL a few times this season, forcing the A’s to trot out lesser players in his place.

Justin Morneau.30846.21
Jason Giambi.32443.5n/a
Paul Konerko.30638.92
Nick Swisher.28314.47
Sean Casey*.261-2.3n/a
* New to team, not enough plate appearances to rank in league

In the A’s and Swisher’s defense, he would have ranked much higher as a left fielder. But Dan Johnson lost his touch, and Swish has been forced into action at first, where he does not reach the production of the monsters ahead of him. Baseball Prospectus has Giambi listed as a DH, hence his lack of a ranking. But I think it more accurate to list Giambi as a first baseman and Bernie Williams as the DH, since they both qualify.

Jim Thome.33053.93
Frank Thomas.30833.45
Marus Thames.29922.7n/a
Bernie Williams.27311.8n/a

This is why I’m not high on the White Sox right now: their pitching isn’t nearly what it was last year, and they’re loaded up on the right side of the spectrum. The only problem with that logic is that Thome and Dye are just head and shoulders above everyone else at their position, at least among contenders.

Bernie’s numbers are surprisingly high, and they’ll become even more valuable once he’s relegated to a bench role. That time is only a few weeks away, as Hideki Matsui will return by mid-September. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that he bolsters the DH and LF positions, which are the only two in which the Yankees are lacking.

The Starters