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.

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