Reality Check :: Return of the King?

Gagne had a rocky start to his season and if his numbers were to stay at this level for the rest of the season (which they won't) his ERA would be an astronomical 18.00. However, his strikeouts per nine would be even higher, 27. The current record, set by Gagne in 2003 is a hair less than fifteen. Even though I am a Giant fan from wayback, it's nice to see that some of the players in the West (both AL and NL) are returning from the DL and ready to help their teams. Ginter was back for the A's, and was on Sports Center's top plays this morning, though he was hitless.

And now, I turn my full attention to the (inexplicably) third place Dodgers. I say inexplicable not because of their blistering start to the season, but because they have simply outplayed the Diamondbacks in absolute terms. The Padres have come on strong, though, and are a different story altogether. While the Dodgers are 22nd in ERA, they are sixth in runs scored, behind the Cardinals. The real problem for the Dodgers has been that their 4.06 ERA in April has jumped up to 5.43 for May.

Choi still can't touch lefties (.222/.417/.333), but with and OBP over .400, it's no wonder why he keeps getting into the lineup, especially on a team run by a sabermetric devotee like DePodesta. Ricky Ledee (315/.396/.467) and Jason Phillips (.290/.328/.411) are hitting well in limited playing time as well, Kent and Bradley have OPS' over .920, and Mr. Injury Risk himself has made it into 35 games with a .254/.385/.421 line to show for it. Kent and Drew have cooled in May so far, with averages in the low .200s. I know that batting average is considered stata non grata but when batters are hitting .212 and .244, it provides meaningful information. Futhermore, in May in 12 starts, Lowe, Penny, Erickson and Perez are 2-8 with an ERA of 5.46. Jeff Weaver (2-0, 3.54 ERA) has been the bright spot in the rotation. These difficulties have put the seemingly invincible Ddogers behind two other teams in the NL West.

Two weeks ago I used a formula derived by Bill James to attempt to isolate luck and remove it from the measure of a team. I'm going to provide a frame of reference before we look at the NL West. For 2004, I've taken the divisional champs, the wild card winners and teams that were in the running the last week of the season for a playoff spot, listed their Runs Scored (RS), Runs Allowed (RA), their winning percentage for the year (WP), their record (W-L), their winning percentage predicted by their RS and RA (PWP), and then their records with that WP (PW-L). I've also listed the Diamondbacks.

Yankees 897 808 .623 101-61 .552 89-73
Twins 780 715 .568 92-70 .543 88-74
Angels 836 734 .568 92-70 .564 91-71
Red Sox 949 786 .605 98-64 .593 96-66
Athletics 793 742 .562 91-71 .533 86-76

Braves 803 688 .593 96-66 .578 94-68
Cardinals 855 659 .648 105-57 .627 102-60
Dodgers 761 684 .574 93-69 .553 90-72
Astros 803 698 .568 92-70 .570 92-70
Giants 850 770 .574 91-71 .549 89-73

D'backs 615 899 .315 51-111 .319 52-110

Some teams overachieved by quite a few wins, most notably the A's and Yankees. I checked the numbers three times for the Yankees; they did indeed outperform their predicted number of wins by 12. None of these teams picked up wins, which is to be expected. Few winning teams get unlucky, because luck is a good part of the reason they win. If we extend this measure to the rest of the league, there is only one major change

Cubs 789 655 .549 89-73 .585 95-67

That's right, sports fans, the Cubs would have made the playoffs in front of the Astros. The point of all this information is to show that while pythagorean wins occasionally incorrectly predict how one good team will finish compared to another good team, it will always predict how a good team will fare against a poor team. I've gone though all this trouble to set up the NL West race.

D'backs 173 193 .590 23-16 .446 17-22
Padres 182 171 .590 23-16 .531 21-18
Dodgers 190 184 .553 21-17 .516 20-18
Giants 170 190 .486 18-19 .445 16-21
Rockies 174 212 .286 10-25 .402 14-21
This is a small sample size, but even in the month of May when they've 'overtaken' the Dodgers, they still have scored less runs then they allowed, and anyone who has the most basic understanding of the game knows that scoring less runs than your opponents is a bad thing. The Giants have virtually identical runs scored and allowed numbers and are four games back. So with all due respect to Tim Kurkjian and Eric Neel the Diamondbacks are not a worst-to-first scenario, and aren't even a good team. If they make it to .500 this year, they need to view that as a monumental accomplishment, because improving by thirty wins is. But if they pin their hopes on winning the West, come September they are going to be sorely dissapointed. The Dodgers are scuffling right now, and once they pull their pitching back together (a rotation that I have infintely more confidence in than in Arizona's) and get Gagne pouring blinding strikes across the plate in the ninth, they will be leading the division. Their lineup is slumping a bit, but they should bounce back, especially with a guy like Kent in the mix. The Padres will be close, and if their young starters stay strong all season the could unseat the Dodgers. It's an outside shot, but the Giants could be, could be in the race if Bonds comes back at a hundred percent. Michael Tucker is hitting .213/.323/.363. For those of you who don't remember, last year Bonds was .362/.609/.812, which indicates that he was on base almost twice as often as Tucker, and Bonds would have legitimate protection from Alou, something he has needed since Jeff Kent left for Houston.

Even with all of that, this is LA's race to lose. The Giants are old and lack real power without Bonds. The Padres are still trying to figure out how to play in PETCO, and how to fit together as a team. The Rockies are a joke, and unless they magically improve their hitting or pitching, the Diamondbacks will drop in the standings.

Remember readers, statistics only lie to you if you let them. We'll give the Beane Boys and the DePodesta Dodgers a week or so before we look in on them again in the next exciting installment of ... Reality Check.


New Blood :: Willy Taveras

Last week the Giants were in Houston for a three game set, and thanks to MLB TV I was able to watch parts of all three. It was nice to get a chance to see my old hometown team, even if I had to listen to the Houston broadcast crew. I saw all of the Thursday game and the most interesting thing I saw wasn't the adequate start from Hennessey, or the loss from Petite. Willy Taveras came up in the third with one out. I hadn't really heard much about Taveras, although I knew that the Astros were using him in their starting lineup. He bunted to the left side of the infield, Hennessey fielded the ball cleanly and threw in what I thought would be more than enough time to get him at first. Taveras beat the throw by at least a half step. A few pitches into Morgan Ensberg's at bat, Taveras took off for second. Metheney is a good fielding catcher (35% CS for his career) and I thought there would be a good chance to get Taveras. I was wrong, as he was in with time to spare. The Ensberg at bat wore on, and as Ensberg took ball four, Taveras took off for third. Again, Taveras was clearly in before the throw. Hennessy pitched out of the inning without surrendering a run, but I realized that Taveras created a first and third one out scenario base solely on his speed. Watching him, it was clear he is blindingly fast, and the impotant thing to realize about his bunt single is that Taveras is right handed, which costs him two steps. The play at first would have been laughable if he was a lefty.

I was curious to compare Willy's first major league season to a few other well known speedsters. The first two lines are for Ricky Henderson, in his rookie year and the year he was 23, the same age as Taveras. Lou Brock at 23 in his first full season is next, then Joe Morgan's first full season and his season at age 23, and finally, Taveras' projected numbers for the year.

R('79) 89 351 49 96 13 3 1 26 33 11 34 39 .274 .338 .336
R('82) 149 536 119 143 24 4 10 51 130 42 116 94 .267 .398 .382
B('62) 123 434 73 114 24 7 9 35 16 7 35 96 .263 .319 .412
M('65) 157 601 100 163 22 12 14 40 20 9 97 77 .271 .373 .418
M('67) 133 494 73 136 27 11 6 42 29 5 81 51 .275 .378 .411
T('05) 162 590 90 149 9 9 9 41 59 9 45 122 .252 .313 .344
So while Taveras' numbers aren't mindblowing, they match up fairly well with some of the best basestealers / early-in-the-order hitters of the modern era, and if hitting is indeed contagious, then Taveras is playing on a team that is dragging him down. The Astros are hitting .244, 26th in the majors. The only disturbing stat is that his strikeouts are so high. His minor league numbers also show increases at each level. These may be due to adjustment, and they might be signs of what is to come for this young man. Only time will tell, but for the time being, he is entertaining to watch, and may prove to be a player of note in a few years. Keep your eye on this kid.


Reality Check :: No Joy in Oakland

The A's have continued their dismal hitting, with an ice cold .235 BA and .338 SLG. Worst of all, they're hitting .210 with runners in scoring position, and slugging .265. Like I said last time, these dismal numbers have nowhere to go but up, although I expected that an improvement wouldn't take so long. Injecting Swisher back into the lineup should also help (or at a bare minimum, could hardly make things worse). The Hardball Times recently brought me a ray of sunshine, in the form of Projected OPS(PrOPS). The idea is to eliminate luck in an evaluation of a player's hitting. With that said, here are the numbers for the A's

Bobby Kielty 0.724 0.844 -0.120 -16.56% 69
Keith Ginter 0.554 0.842 -0.288 -51.96% 52
Eric Byrnes 0.633 0.803 -0.170 -26.82% 86
Erubiel Durazo 0.734 0.799 -0.065 -8.88% 121
Mark Kotsay 0.755 0.795 -0.040 -5.27% 137
Charles Thomas 0.350 0.759 -0.409 -116.80% 39
Jason Kendall 0.573 0.754 -0.180 -31.48% 125
Scott Hatteberg 0.694 0.752 -0.059 -8.46% 123
Marco Scutaro 0.722 0.744 -0.021 -2.97% 106
Nick Swisher 0.646 0.739 -0.094 -14.52% 84
Mark Ellis 0.684 0.702 -0.018 -2.57% 87
Eric Chavez 0.553 0.691 -0.138 -25.01% 136
Adam Melhuse 0.250 0.556 -0.306 -122.21% 12
(for some reason Bobby Crosby wasn't included)

It's tough to know exactly what to make of this stat, and I intend to contact the author for the full PrOPS (I love that acronym) formula , but all those negative numbers mean that all the A's are getting unlucky at the plate, which, of course, bodes well for a comeback. Keep in mind too that if the A's had held both leads against the Red Sox this weekend, they would be 16-18 and only three back of the Angels. Getting Calero back from the DL should help with these late game collapses. Remember, one of the reasons that Beane traded the people he did was to reinforce the bullpen that was so shaky last year. Another very impotant point I would make is that Barry Zito may be starting to return to form, or at least may be working his way back to above average. He was electric against the Yankees last Friday and missed out on the win due to bad defense. Until the eighth inning he'd only given up one run and his curveball was moving enough to warp the space-time continuum. Billy Beane and Ken Macha need to start reading this blog if they want Zito to turn around; throw him seven and put him on the shelf. A few solid wins could put him back on track. But, I must admit, if I'm still writing like this in two weeks, I might just have to declare this season what it really is, a rebuilding year.



Here's the thing. For the longest time I've wanted to like the Mets, not wanting my contempt for the Yankees to color the whole city of New York. The problem is that for me to like a team, I have to respect them, and the Mets prove year after year all the reasons I shouldn't. The monstrously large contract to Beltran; fine, I'll live with that, he's a good player. Four years to Pedro Martinez; why not, after he throws out his arm you can make him wear the Mr. Met costume. But yesterday's game against the Cubs showed me exactly why I look at the Mets as a traveling circus more than I do a baseball team. Everyone focused on Dempster blowing the save and the walkoff homerun by Derrek Lee, but what interested me most was how the Cubs scored their first three runs.

In the bottom of the second, Jerry Hairston Jr. led off the inning. Victor Zambrano had him in a two strike count when he proceeded to drill Hairston between the numbers with a breaking pitch. No one was worried, because next, in the eight hole was Henry Blanco, or, as we here in Minnesota called him, Henry "The Rally Killer" Blanco. The Confines staff suspects that he generates more than one out per plate appearance, but we still need to go over the data. Blanco hit a low, weak popup that would have been caught by most little league teams under normal weather conditions, and by most major league teams, even with the gusty weather at Wrigley yesterday. Hairston ran the bases brilliantly, giving himself enough time to get back to first if he had to, but was closer to second because he knew what I knew; these are the Mets. The ball dropped in between Beltran and Kaz Matsui and was scored a single.

Now with runners at first and second with the pitcher coming up so early in the game, most teams would charge the bunt, take the out and get on with the inning. Zambrano allowed himself to get so worked up that he'd pitched Prior to a 2-2 count. Then he made an even bigger mistake: a balk. One would now think that Zambrano would go after Prior for the strikeout, or even a groundball to get an out. Zambrano's 2-2 pitch was so far off the plate, even the stellar defense of Mike Piazza could stop it. Hairston scored from third, Blanco moved to third, and Zambrano walked Prior on the next pitch. Patterson was up next and slapped a grounder to Mientkiewicz (who will henceforth be known as "The Doug") who short-hopped a thrwo back to Piazza after stepping on first. The low throw, combined with Piazza flopping backwards like a fish out of water, looking for the ball in front of him, allowed Blanco (a catcher to score from first). Neifi Perez then came up and ripped a ball up the middle that rolled halfway into right center for a single. Prior scored from second on the play.

So the Cubs scored three runs on: a HBP, a 1B (that should have been a team E), a balk,a WP (to the starting pitcher), a BB (also to the starting pitcher), a G3 (and another team E) and a 1B (with a throw so weak that the pitcher scored from second). Two singles, a hit batsman, a walk, a balk, a wild pitch and a groundout. This inning illustrates so clearly why I cannot respect the Mets. If Willie Randolph is any kind of manager, I know exactly what he said in the locker room after the game.

You guys... you lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. Do you know what that makes you? Larry?


The All-Bust Team

Righty said to me the other night, “If I had a 200 million dollar payroll I wouldn’t just get one team to the World Series, I’d get two.” Fair enough. He’s a very smart guy, but most people could assemble a team that would at least contend for a title with that kind of money. It takes true skill to not only put 100 million dollars (100,971,429 to be exact) on the field and win, but you can also create a team that would run away with the worst record in the league based on their stats.

The following nine players earned their way on to the All-Bust team:

C Jason Kendall, OAK at 10,571,429
30 G, 12 R, 0 HR, 11 RBI, 13 BB, 12 SO, 1 SB, .310 OBP, .254 SLG, .219 AVG

1B Jason Giambi, NYY at 13,428,571
27 G, 10 R, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 18 BB, 29 SO, 0 SB, .386 OBP, .325 SLG, .195 AVG

2B Brett Boone, SEA at 9,000,000
32 G, 12 R, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 8 BB, 21 SO, 2 SB, .282 OBP, .339 SLG, .231 AVG

SS Edgar Renteria, BOS at 8,000,000
30 G, 16 R, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 10 BB, 16 SO, 2 SB, .299 OBP, .342 SLG, .239 AVG

3B Adrian Beltre, SEA at 11,400,000
33 G, 17 R, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 5 BB, 21 SO, 0 SB, .273 OBP, .356 SLG, .242 AVG

OF Preston Wilson, COL at 12,500,000
21 G, 12 R, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 5 BB, 18 SO, 2 SB, .276 OBP, .425 SLG, .225 AVG

OF Hideki Matsui, NYY at 8,000,000
34 G, 15 R, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 17 BB, 23 SO, 0 SB, .315 OBP, .372 SLG, .233 AVG

OF Bernie Williams, NYY at 12,357,143
29 G, 9 R, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 11 BB, 15 SO, 1 SB, .308 OBP, .295 SLG, .238 AVG

SP Kevin Brown, NYY at 15,714,286
1-4, 6.39 ERA, 31 IP, 46 H, 22 ER, 2 HR, 5 BB, 18 SO

And four are Yankees. It reminded me of this article from the Hardball Times, talking about the future of baseball after the Steinbrenner Era. Not a good sign for the Bronx Bombers, but a good one for baseball.


So it's root, root, root for the home team (at Tropicana)

Most of the loyal readers of the Confines know that while we are named for the ballpark on the North side of Chicago, we are actually located in the greater metropolitan area for Minneapolis, and we are all Twins fans. My affection for them is less intense than both Brooks and Aho, who are lifelong Minnesotans. Bearing that in mind, I know that my next statement may draw their criticism; I am desperately hoping that the Twins lose their next series, and even hoping they get swept.

There's only one reason I would wish for such a thing, if the Twins lose this weekend, then the Devil Rays win, and if the Rays win and the Yankees drop two games to the A's, then the Yankees would be in sole possession of last place in the AL East. Think about that. Think of the vindication, the satisfaction, the pure joy that every Yankees hater has waited so long for. My Yankees hatred didn't come to fruition until Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS when Derek jeter made the most improbable play I've ever seen, snapping up a wayward throw to the plate at a full run and flipping over to Posada to tag out Jeremy Giambi at the plate. I've waited for this moment since then. Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold.

I've got my finrgers crossed for this one, so, to the Boys in Oakland, give 'em hell, and to the dear hometown Twins, just take these next few off. The White Sox will implode eventually, and the Twins can handle a couple of losses at this point. They might even be as happy as I would be to see the Yankees in last.


Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?

Last year, through the month of April, the Diamondbacks were 9 and 13 and well on their way to a dismal 111 loss season. This season, after the third day of May, Arizona is 15 and 11, and has at one point in the season actually had the division lead. How did a team that said goodbye to Randy Johnson last year turn themselves from a laughingstock to a contender?

Partly, they've used the New Detroit Tiger theory. This was also recently employed to a lesser extent in Seattle and in New York in the NL. This, simply, is to overpay for (mediocre, in some cases) talent. Even though the Diamondbacks have proved themselves to be a franchise that values winning, they don't have the (healthy) star slugger that powers a lineup (and draws fans). The ridiculous contracts are ridiculous by design. Ownership wanted to pay Ortiz, Glauss, Vazquez and Green far more than they would see elsewhere so that they could lock them in and field a team that might hit .500. The Mets and Mariners could sign better players for the payroll that went to those four players (almost 47 million dollars, take your pick, Beltre, Vazquez or Beltran, all between 11 and 12 for this year) so their strategy looks a bit different.

Now to these new D'backs. Vazquez has been a bust, with and ERA over 5 (but he does have a record of 3 and 2). Ortiz has been "Old-slow-and-steady" with a ERA around 3.5. Green and Glauss have been hitting in the low .270s and Glauss has had some power. Certainly adding Green and Glauss (if they don't get hurt) is a needed power infusion for the lineup, but if everyone in the NL West was healthy, this is probably the least dangerous offense, with the possible exception of the Padres, or the Rockies away from Coors. The staff is, at best, margnially improved. All due respect to Johan Santana (but not to Clemens, who got damn lucky that the Cy Young voters don't know any math more complicated than addition, subtraction, division and multiplication), but Johnson was the best pitcher last year. Somehow everyone overlooked that he threw one of only 17 perfect games ever pitched. He dominated every statistical category but wins. I know that his trade set up the trade for Green, but I think this is a much better team with Johnson and Ortiz as the starting two. While I don't fault the Diamondbacks for trying to get younger, they could have tried to get someone better than Vazquez in return.

Halsey (2-0, 3.21) and Webb (3-0, 3.24) have been the bright spots in the rotation thus far, both young and relatively unknown. Luis Gonzalez has started to get back to his old form and is hitting .298/.376/.479 so far. These numbers don't look great, but I'm sure that Gonzo sees them as an improvement over 2004 when he went .259/.373/.493 in only 105 games. The most dominant player on the team has been Lyon, who has ten saves in eleven chances.

This is a team that is, even with the loss of Johnson, better than they were last year. That having been said, this appears to be a team that has been very lucky. So far the Diamondbacks have scored only 111 runs so far, and have given up 121. Even a glance at these numbers would suggest that the D'backs have been getting fortunate breaks.

Just a little chart for you here

TeamRuns ScoredRuns AllowedRecord

The Dodgers, Twins and Braves are there to illustrate the RS (runs scored) and RA (runs allowed) of teams with similar records, and the Cubs are there to show that teams with worse records have better ratios.

There's a measure known as Pythagorean Win-Loss Records, which is caculated by RS^2 / RA^2 + RS^2 and is designed to measure how good a team is excluding luck.

Here are the predicted winning percentages for those last teams, and the record they would have at this point in the season

TeamEXP W%EXP RecordDif

Why are the Diamond backs even close, then? Well, the Dodgers have seen more streaking lately than a college campus during pledge week, the Padres are hurt and still adjusting to Petco, and the most dangerous man in baseball is still rehabbing his knee. Expect the Diamondback to fade into the desert night, unless they start playing better. You can only outrun the inevitable for so long.