May 232016

Life at our house is complicated at the moment, and blogging about baseball is not high on the priority list. It may change; it may not. I really don’t at the moment have time for baseball analysis, which is where my interest lies and where my three (or so) loyal readers expect me to go. Comments about yesterday, while interesting, are available from a myriad of sources.

BUT: the Yankees completed a 4-game sweep of the awful A’s, and their 5-in-a-row streak is their best since early June of last year. And all of this puts them still BELOW .500 (21-22). I fear that .500 is likely a viable aspiration, and a wild-card berth likely out of reach. One thing, though, makes better a possibility: all 5 starters pitched well in this stretch, each going 6 innings, and none allowing more than 3 runs – thus, a “quality start”. And four of the five (all but Pineda) allowed only a single run.

Actually the above statement is true, but misleading: Luis Severino, one of their season-opening starters, is on the DL and hasn’t come close to a quality start all year. Ivan Nova, who replaced Sabathia and then Sabathia, replacing Severino, are among the 5 mentioned above. Not clear if Severino will get his job back, or if Nova is now the 5th starter.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are 5 over .500, and have improved their postseason chances from 0.1% to 0.4%. Go Phillies! Maybe more on that another day; today i have non-baseball stuff to do. Again.

Horror Show

Posted by Baseball Bob at 12:03
May 052016

Hi friends! I am just back from a quick trip to Los Angeles, and while I was away, the Yankees lost 5 straight, and the Dodgers lost SIX straight. And while NY’s losses were to contenders Texas and Boston, the Dodgers managed to be swept, IN LA, by the Marlins and then lost a pair to the Padres. Of course, the Yankees are in last place, while the Dodgers are still in first! Life is weird.

A-Rod broke out in Boston (not that it saved them) so naturally he injured himself in the first Baltimore game (also a loss, six straight) and was replaced in the lineup by Aaron Hicks, he of the 2 for 28 season-to-date. It just keeps getting better. The two minor league pitchers expected to help this year are both on the DL (Kaprelian the 15-day, Lingren out for the year) and the Yankees’ team ERA over 5 is a bottom feeder. And they have scored the fewest runs of any major league team (take THAT DH-less NL!) . And worse: through Tuesday they had scored just 82 runs in 24 games, and THIRTY-TWO of them came in a 4-game stretch from games 2-5. In the last 19 games they have scored only 47 runs (spoiler alert: they won 7-0 last night, which altered this stat a bit).

By my metric, then, the Yankee offense through 25 games (including last night) deserves a record of 7-18 with an average pitching staff. Since THEY have been awful, as well, the Bombers (so to speak) are actually LUCKY to be 9-16!

Ugh.

Last night the Yankees were on, but i watched the Mets instead (Good choice: Matz was terrific (Game Score 83) and the Mets won 8-0).

I still love this game, but the Yankees are at present a hard team to love. I root for them, though, because Baseball. I rooted for the 1965 Yankees – I can root for ANY Yankee team.

Bring up Nick Swisher!

Still Here

Posted by Baseball Bob at 09:00
Apr 232016

Hi friends,

Contrary to appearances, I have not gone back into hibernation: my grandchildren have been here this week, and I have concentrated my efforts on them. Since two were sleeping in the basement, when they were awake I was busy with them, and when they were asleep my computer was unavailable. And this coming week I will be in California with my son, so once again there may be no posts (I may post on his machine if I get up before him (likely) and feel like getting on his system (less likely). In any event, I should be back the first week in May.

I deny emphatically that the Yankees’ recent suckage (they lost 7 of 8, never exceeding 3 runs in a game) had anything to do with the silence (I am, after all, not usually one to suffer in silence!). The Yankees are going to be awful if A-Rod, Teixeira, Headley and Ellsbury are really done, as they appear so far this year. And the relief pitching has been awesome, but the starters are among the worst in baseball. Ugh.

Go Phillies!

Apr 132016

The Yankees finally played again (yay!) and they actually won (yay!) and they did it in the planned manner: the hitters got barely enough runs, the starter kept them in the game through five (down 2-1), the hitters got a bloop and a blast for 2 more runs, and the bullpen pitched 4 hitless innings. It is a formula that works, I guess, but with little room for error. Tanaka, their ace, is the only one with a GS over 50 (he has two) but they are 4-2 on the young season.

Meanwhile, the AL is averaging 4.0 R/G, while the NL is at 4.57. So I guess having the pitcher bat instead of a washed-up DH is worth about 1/2 run per game. For example, no hitter has a HR against Kershaw, but Bumgarner DOES have one (he’s a pitcher, in case you didn’t know)!

The most intriguing story line of the young season is undoubtedly the also-ran Orioles, projected by almost everyone as last place in the loaded AL East, who are the last undefeated ML team at 7-0. FanGraphs commented on it here. I remember an article DECADES ago, in the 1986 Bill James Abstract, which commented on “signature significance” which suggested that a 4-1 start or a 3-2 start or a 2-3 start or a 1-4 start were all basically equivalent – they really say nothing about the quality of the team. But a 5-0 start suggests that the team is likely to be good – it has signature significance. I’m too lazy to look up the details (i know he was talking about the 1985 Tigers, who started 35-5 (!) and no one ever came close to them all year. James doesn’t say that it is guaranteed that a 7-0 team will be really good, but that at some point the early winning by a team not considered good does two things: it indicates that the team is likely better than we originally thought, and also the wins count! In simplest terms, a team projected to .500 which goes 8-0 to start the year, would go 85-77 even if the original projection were true talent, and they played .500 the rest of the way.

For the record, i’m not on the Orioles bandwagon just yet, but I AM on board with projecting the Twins and Braves to be truly awful, based on THEIR 0-7 starts, so I guess I have to be at least mildly inclined to the Orioles. They are doing it on both sides of the ball: scoring 5.72 R/G and allowing 3.14. Pythag suggests they should be “only” 5-2, and the Cubs (RS 47, RA 18) project clearly better (they deserve their 6-1 record) but still, there you have it.

Red Sox fans are already panicking, based on a 3-4 start – it is FUNNY to listen to talk sports radio.

This game is FUN!

Apr 122016

The Yankees haven’t played in two days; I may be experiencing withdrawal.

Fun weird stuff still seems to happen in baseball, of course. The Phillies, widely projected to be the worst team in baseball, found a truly weird way to lose yesterday. Trailing 3-2 in the sixth inning, they loaded the bases with no outs and sent up pinch-hitter Daren Ruf. He lifted a high fly ball to short left field, in kind of no-man’s land between the left fielder and the shortstop. The left fielder immediately signaled that he couldn’t see it (lost in the sun/lights not sure which) and so the shortstop ran out to try to get to it, but it dropped untouched behind him. The runner on third scored, the runner on second tried to advance to third halfheartedly, because he was a force at third, though the third baseman did tag him as he loafted into third. THEN it turns out that the umpire, misjudging the depth of the fly ball, had ruled it an infield fly (with a hand gesture but no vocal call) and none of the players, runners, coaches, or anyone really had noticed. So Ruf is out, runner going to third is out, and the run scores, tying the game. Without the infield fly, you have two on with one out, but instead you have one on with two out. If the players KNEW about the infield fly, you have bases loaded with one out and no run. Still, weird indeed.

A call from a valued baseball friend got me thinking about lineup selection, though not with the usual spin. The traditional lineup selection (basestealer first, bunter second, high average third, sluggers fourth and fifth) has largely been debunked, and pretty much ANY selection has been attacked by the analyst types, claiming it has minimal impact on run scoring. The Cubs batted the pitcher eighth last year, and Addison Russell ninth, Joe Madden being an innovator (actually copying Tony LaRussa). The Yankees batted Maris third and Mantle fourth, resulting in 61 HRs and NO IBB for Maris, which is a VERY bizarre line, and earlier Yankee teams batted Ruth third and Gehrig fourth, resulting in Gehrig driving in 175 runs or so every year.

My question is this: if you are designing a baseball computer game, and one element of the game will be computer versus human individual games, how do you program the computer manager to create a plausible lineup? That is, if you choose the lineup by formula, rather than eye/brain combo, what is the formula? Let’s assume that the computer manager has, at its disposal, the following stats: BA, OBP, SLG, SB, CS, S, D, T, H, K, BB, IBB, HBP, wOBA. How do you choose a lineup? Remember, the goal is not really to generate the most runs (which is where most analysis goes) but rather to avoid having the human player say “my, what an odd lineup”. Thus, even if it makes sense to a manager, you don’t want the pitcher to bat eighth, because it will seem odd. Your catcher may indeed have the best OBP on the team, but if you bat him leadoff people will question the quality of the AI. So where do you go?

Here is a simple example, to get the discussion started (PLEASE feel free to weigh in):

Choose your two best hitters (by wOBA). Put the one with the highest ISO (SLG – BA) fourth, and the other one third, unless the difference in wOBA is more than .025, in which case put the higher one third.

Choose your two remaining players with the highest OBP. Put the one with the most SB first, the other second, unless both stole more than 20 bases, in which case put the one with the better stolen base percentage first.

Align hitters 5-9 by wOBA, best to worst. Once aligned, adjust to try to alternate LHB with RHB, as long as no one moves more than one spot.

Taking the 2015 Yankees as my sample, here is my team (listed C to RF, follwed by DH): McCann, Teixeira, Drew, Gregorius, Headley, Gardner, Ellsbury, Beltran, ARod. Teixeira, Headley and Betran are switch-hitters, A-Rod hits righty, the rest lefty (not typical, I’ll admit).

1. Two best wOBA are Teixeira and ARod. Tex has better ISO. So 3. Teixeira 4. ARod

2. Best remaining OBP are Gardner and Headley. Gardner had more SB, so 1. Gardner, 2. Headley

3. Ranking the rest by wOBA you get 5. McCann, 6. Beltran, 7. Ellsbury, 8. Gregorius, 9. Drew

This lineup is L, S, S, R, L, S, L, L, L so no further adjustment is needed.

Gardner, Headley, Teixeira, ARod, McCann, Beltran, Ellsbury, Gregorius, Drew

Note that Headley leads Ellsbury by .004 in wOBA, if these were flipped, you would get about the most common lineup they used (Typically Gregorius batted ninth, but Drew was CLEARLY worse).

That’s kind of cool.

What do you think?

Apr 102016

CC Sabathia was not horrible: he wasn’t really even bad. After 6 IP he had allowed just two runs, and had only one bad inning (the fourth, in which he walked the bases loaded and then gave up his first hit, a 2-run single). He allowed a single in the seventh and was pulled, and the vaunted bullpen allowed that run (and another) to score, so he officially gave up 3 ER in 6+ IP (ERA 4.50) but he was really better than that. Meanwhile, Chase Headly, off to a .143 start, was given a day off and Ronald Torreyes, he of the 2-RBI triple a couple of days ago, played third and batted ninth. Torreyes had 3 singles in 4 trips, reducing his batting average for the season from 1.000 to .800, his OBP from 1.000 to .800, and his slugging from 3.000 to 1.200. His 2.000 OPS is cut in half from the 4.000 he used to have. How the mighty have fallen!

Meanwhile the Yankees won 8-4 (I guess if your #9 hitter gets 3 hits, it is a good sign) and the 5-game stats have some other fun stuff – Brett Gardner has more walks than hits, for example, leading to a .278/.500/.278 line. A-Rod hit a HR and has been walking himself, so his .214 BA is counterbalanced by an OPS over .800.

Clayton Kershaw started against Madison Bumgarner, and Bumbarner hit a home run off of him, but Kershaw and the Dodgers won the game 3-2. He IS amazing.

Speaking of amazing, what would you think of a team which had scored 29 runs in their first 5 games? Pretty good offense, right? Well, welcome to the SD Padres, who were the first team in MLB history to be shut out in the first three games of the season! Leaving LA, they went to Colorado, where they scored 13 on Friday and 16 yesterday, enjoying the dizzying heights of Coors’ as well as the Rockies second-line starters. By the way, astoundingly, those 29 runs scored puts the Padres LAST in the NL West in that category: a hitting division, do you think? The Rockies have ALLOWED 48 runs in their 5 games, while scoring 30. That they are 2-3 has to be considered a win, right?

I LOVE this game!

Apr 082016

Can the Yankees keep it up? No, of course not. They have scored 27 runs in 3 games, after last night’s 8-5 win. Castro is batting over .583, Gregorius and McCann .455. Ronald Torreyes (who?) in his only appearance this season, hit a triple. Amazingly, this raises his career line to .429/.500/.857 as he had all of 7 prior plate appearances. He also tripled his career RBI with that at bat.

What they CAN keep up is their lousy starting pitching. Tanaka was fine (GS 56 in 5.2 IP) but Pineda (32 in 5 IP) and Eovaldi (42 in 5IP) were not. Ironically, Tanaka got a ND (Betances a well-earned loss) while Pineda got a win with the weakest performance of the three.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers scored only 6 runs, but did not quite keep up their 0.00 ERA, as the Giants scored 12 times.

Runs are up all around baseball. Despite the Padres all-time futile start (3 starts, 3 shutouts against) the Yankees 27 runs scored ranks only fourth in the majors, behind the Dodgers (31) and the Cubs and Giants (29 each). If my math is to be trusted (always a dangerous assumption) there have been 194 runs scored in the AL and 223 in the NL. AL teams have played 46 games, so they average 4.22/G while NL teams have played 45 so they average 4.96. We need to make the rules uniform, because it isn’t fair that the NL pitchers get to hit, while the AL has to rely on aging DHs, which clearly suppresses offense!

After 2 games Carlos Correa had 3 HRs, which is a decent pace (243/162 Games) but only left him tied for 3rd among ML players at the time. Bummer!

Yanks on pace for 108 win season. Of course, they would lose out to the 162-0 Orioles, but the wild card could be within reach! Go Yankees.

PS I’m rooting this year for the Yankees (2-1), Dodgers (3-1), Cubs (3-0) and Mets (1-1). Off to a good start, for once.

Baseball is Back

Posted by Baseball Bob at 12:19
Apr 072016

Hi there

Don’t know how many, if any, of my previous readers still get this blog, but the season has started and maybe I have, too. The maybe part is that I have resolved before to post more often, to do more analysis, etc. but have not always followed through, so this time I make no promises – I DO plan to watch and read about baseball, and maybe I’ll talk about it, too.

Some interesting (to me, anyway) early results: The Dodgers have a team ERA (and RA/9) of 0.00, after shutting out the Padres three times in four days. No team prior to the 2016 Padres, in the history of the game played the first three games of the major league season without scoring a run. Way to go, Friars!

Meanwhile, I watched my first game of the season last night, and Colin McHugh managed to set his season ERA at One thirty five. Now, 1.35 is a fine ERA, don’t get me wrong. The trouble is that his is missing the decimal point: he gave up 5 earned runs (and one unearned) in just 1/3 of an inning, for an ERA of 135.00. I expect it to come down during the year. The Yankees were trailing 1-0 (Carlos Correa’s second homer of the season) when the bottom of the first went catcher’s interference (!), walk, walk, single, double, double, pull the pitcher. Relief pitcher Feliz came on and threw 107 (!!!) pitches in relief. The Astros got a grand slam in the top of the second to close to within 6-5 (Pineda was not all that sharp) but the Yankees continued hitting and walking (3 in the 2nd, 3 in the 3rd) so that Pineda was able to hang in until the fifth (and give up ANOTHER home run to Correa) for one of the cheapest wins of the year (GS 31). His GS was barely better than McHugh (21), and Ivan Nova, inheriting a 12-6 lead, pitched 4 scoreless innings for a SAVE in a 16-6 rout.

This Yankee offensive outburst took the top scoring game of the season from the Dodgers, who had scored 14 more runs than they needed to support Kershaw’s opening day gem. They outscored the Padres 25-0 in their 3-game sweep.

Fun stuff from the Yankees first to games:

First homer of the year – Didi Gregorius (!)

First stolen base of the year – Alex Rodriguez (!!!!!!!)

Second stolen base of the year – Chase Headley (he didn’t have any last year)

Second homer of the year – Starlin Castro

AL leader in RBI for the young season – Starlin Castro with 7 (!)

Brett Gardner did not play in the opener, but he had 4 walks by the sixth inning of game 2.

I love this game!

 

Bob

Lightning in a Bottle

Posted by Baseball Bob at 20:29
Aug 042015

I’m not really back; I really don’t see myself doing any serious blogging this season. But I have been working on this for a while, and now that it is done I thought I’d post it.

There is a great debate in Boston this year about Ben Cherington/Larry Luchino: they finished last in 2012, unloaded all of their bad contracts onto the Dodgers, signed a bunch of guys to short-term deals, and won the World Series, then finished last again in 2014 and seem headed there in 2015. So how do we evaluate them overall – are they geniuses who have been unlucky, or blind squirrels who found a golden acorn? My own view, colored by being a Yankee fan I suppose, tends towards the latter: that is, that they did NOT actually do well in 2013 in terms of talent evaluation, but in fact got really lucky. This post is an attempt to take a semi-objective look at the question (are we ever truly objective; I doubt it) and see what falls out. I confess above that I DO have preconceived notions on the topic, but I will try to keep them from coloring the data – they ALWAYS color (at least somewhat) the conclusions.

An old Sesame Street sketch is my starting point: which of these things is not like the others? On each line, pick out the number that doesn’t seem to match:

1) 0.1 1.6 1.9 3.6 1.3 -0.2

2) 2.0 3.9 2.4 0.5

3) 4.5 5.2 4.2

4) 1.6 -0.2 3.4 -1.0 0.0

5) -0.2 1.0 1.8

6) 1.2 5.7 3.9 1.5

7) 3.0 6.0 0.1 0.5

8) 2.5 3.7 3.0 3.4 2.3 1.2

What these lines represent is the fWAR of 8 of the Red Sox starting position players, skipping 3rd base in which no one had even 400 AB. Exactly TWO of these eight lines have no real “not like the others” number: line 3 – Dustin Pedroia – second base: his 5.2 was a bit higher than the year before and after, but he was MVP in 2011 at 7.8, and very good in the surrounding years. He did a bit better than expected, perhaps, but not lightning in a bottle. And line 8 – David Ortiz – DH: the 2013 number is 3.4 which is near a high for the recent years, but right in context with what you would have expected – he is falling off this year, but was clearly not lightning in a bottle in 2013.

A couple of other clarifications: I was definitely cherry-picking a little for effect, but not TOO much. Napoli at 1B is line 2 and HE was better in 2011 as well, which I left off.

Still, think of things this way: I was able, with little effort, to show the surrounding seasons of the 8 Red Sox with the most playing time (excluding pitchers) such that if you average the seasons shown WITHOUT the 2013 season, you get this:

C Saltalamacchia Other  1.5 2013 3.6

1B Napoli Other 1.6 2013 3.9

2B Pedroia Other 4.4 2013 5.2

3B Middlebrooks et al 2013 0.3

SS Drew Other 0.1 2013 3.4

LF Nava Other 0.3 2013 1.8 (here, too, I cheated in that 2014 was even better. But there was NO history to suggest he was a 2 win player)

CF Ellsbury Other 2.2 2013 5.7 (Ellsbury had great seasons earlier, but also a spotty health record, so I think this is fair, actually)

RF Victorino Other 1.2 2013 6.0

DH Ortiz Other 2.9 2013 3.4 (here I did NOT average in this year’s projected 1.2 – Ortiz was a bit above his own average in 2013, but not much)

The point here is this: you always EXPECT that some players will perform above projections, or above their true talent levels. But you expect that others will perform below them. But in the case of the 2013 Red Sox position players, several players had out-of-context seasons (Saltalamacchia, Drew, Victorino), several others had above-expectations seasons (Napoli, Nava) and the count-on-em-every-year guys (Pedroia, Ellsbury, Ortiz) all were on top of their game.

Adding up the above chart you get: Other 11.3 2013 33.0. The Red Sox of 2013, arguably, played TWENTY WINS better than their true talent level! And remember, it was NOT breakout seasons: the years I show include before AND after years – this is not Jose Bautista “finding himself” or Bryce Harper “coming into his own”. What appears to have happened, on the position player side of the ball at least, is that the Red Sox took a chance on a bunch of guys who were great but injury prone (Pedroia/Ellsbury), aging but solid (Ortiz), once great but struggling (Napoli, Victorino) or good defensively but never a hitter (Saltalamacchia/Drew) and caught lightning in a bottle: they hit on EVERY ONE of them for one year, and won a World Series.

I’m not sure I even have to do the pitchers – if the Sox had won 20 fewer games (21 actually) they would have had a losing record. But let’s see what the pitching shows us.

Here I choose to do only the lead-in years: 2010, 2011 and 2012. No cheating, I’ll just give the fWAR for the three previous years, and figure the expected WAR as 2010 + 2 x 2011 + 3 x 2012 / 6

Columns listed are 2010 WAR, 2011 WAR, 2012 WAR, expected WAR (based on above formula), 2013 WAR, gain/loss over expected

First, the qualified starters:

Lester 4.8 2.8 2.6 3.0 3.5 +0.5

Lackey 3.3 1.0 0.0 0.9 2.5 +1.6

Doubront 0.2 -0.1 1.4 0.7 2.3 +1.6

Dempster 2.8 2.7 2.9 2.8 0.6 -2.2

Net gain/loss (sum of the 4) +1.5

Even though Dempster was a bust, though reasonably projected to be near 3 wins, overall these four were sparks in a bottle, with the top three nearly 4 wins above expected

The fifth starter was Buchholz who was only able to start 16 games, but in those games was Boston’s best pitcher (same columns):

Buchholz 3.0 0.8 0.9 1.2 2.7 +1.5 So even though they only got a half-season, by himself Buchholz was worth another win and a half

Jake Peavey was brought in from the White Sox and made 10 starts, earning 1.1 WAR with Boston in 10 starts, after 0.9 with Chicago in 13 starts. In other words, better than could have been expected.

So the starting staff contributed about 4 wins over expectations.

Here we have to stop and ask the obvious question: was the Sox management just smarter than everyone else? If that were the case, then the players who exceeded expectations would mostly have continued to do so, or the management would have traded or dumped them anticipating the decline. On the position players, they clearly did not do this: they kept Napoli, Victorino, Nava and Middlebrooks, tried to keep Saltalamacchia, and even resigned Drew because they didn’t see Bogarts as a viable Major League option in 2014. All of these players tanked, and the Sox management that had been so smart to pick them up, was not so smart to keep them around. They did the same with the pitchers, as the 2014 staff started out being the same as 2013. Eventually, of course, they dumped Peavey for sucking, and Lester and Lackey because the TEAM was sucking.

One claimed brilliant move was to pick up Koji Uehara. His fWAR line:

Uehara 1.4 1.2 0.8 1.0 3.1 +2.1  This, too, sort of looks light lightning in a bottle ANOTHER two plus wins, and in fact his 2014 was 1.1 and YTD he is 1.3. So there, too, they got a career year out of their roster move.

The rest of the bullpen was good, but not overwhelming, and many teams have bullpens that look like that.

My conclusion is that my instinct was right: the Sox management was EXTREMELY lucky in 2013, and not particularly clever. They were a last-place club in 2012, 2014 and apparently 2015, and seem to have played 20-25 games OVER TRUE TALENT in 2013. If you take 25 wins away they are 72-90 and in last place. Even taking 20 wins away making them 77-85 they might well be in last place, because those wins have to go somewhere, and the actual last place team was 74-88.

I think the current Red Sox management have a decent ability to develop players (Bogarts, Hold, Swihart, Bradley?) and essentially NO ability to project the future of MLB players. And they are likely to remain near the bottom of the AL East until that either changes, or they once again manage to catch lightning in a bottle.

Taking Stock

Posted by Baseball Bob at 09:59
Jul 022015

Hi friends. Long time no see. Sorry about that.

While most teams are not quite to the 81-game mark (the Yankees have played 79, for example) July 1 SEEMS like the middle of the year, with three months gone and three to go. PLUS the fact that 20 days ago I posted that the next 20 days were crucial for the Yankees season, as they played 20 games in 20 days without Ellsbury and Miller. Well, those games have come and gone, New York went 9-11 and surrendered first place to the Orioles (to the Rays, too, though they have passed them back). So where do we stand?

The Yanks had a rough time in those 20 games. They started off losing 4 of 5, and allowing 9, 11 and 12 runs in three of the losses. They then righted the ship with four straight wins, getting good offense (scored 32 runs in the four wins) and good run prevention (allowed only 10). With Tanaka on the mound for the final game against Detroit, and the woeful Phillies due for three games at the Stadium, the future looked bright. Shows what I know: the Tigers pounded Tanaka 12-4, the Phillies did the same to Pineda 11-8, and then the Phillies got a bunch of runs off Sabathia and FOUR in the ninth off of Betances (!!) [raising his ERA from 0.25 to 1.25] to beat NY 11-6. Fun note: the Phillies hadn’t scored more than 8 runs in a game all year, then scored 11 back-to-back against New York. 5-7 through 12 games. But the Yanks took the final game against the Phillies (and Cole Hamels) and two of the first three against Houston to even their record at 8-8 after 16 games. In those 4 games they scored 10, 0, 9 and 3. Who knew that the 0 and 3 were indicators that they had decided to stop scoring! In the final Astros game and the first two Angels games they scored one run in each game. They got good pitching, allowing 3, 4 and 2 runs, but could not score any runs. Last night they still didn’t score much (3 runs) but the run prevention muddled through, with the Angels going 0 for 9 with RISP. (Fun note: the Yankees with RISP in their last four games: 1 for 2, 0 for 10, 0 for 0 (!) and 3 for 11. In two of three games, they got 2 and 0 chances with a runner on second or third!).

So, how do I feel about all this? Surprisingly optimistic. I have not been a big Yankee bandwagon guy all year, as you all know if you have followed this erratic blog, but somehow I feel they have weathered the worst and are now poised to make a run. Anything can happen, of course, especially with four teams within ONE game of the division lead (!) and a half a season to go, but I feel that good things are about to happen. Ivan Nova is back, and while he is not a star that gives them rotation depth, if (for example) they have to put Sabathia or Pineda or Tanaka on the DL for a sprain of the ERA. Miller should be back after the all-star break, a mere 2 weeks away, and a bullpen of Warren, Shreve, Betances and Miller rivals the Royals famous inning 7-9 trio. Meanwhile, the Yankees have been batting Chase Headley (OBP .305) second but Ellsbury could be back as early as tomorrow, and he and Gardner will again form a formidable top-of-the-order. Beltran may be hurt (and he has been hitting much better after a dreadful start) but a Chris Young/Garrett Jones platoon appears to be more than acceptable and the Yanks have a bunch of outfield prospects: every one of them that has played a few games for NY has contributed (and gotten hurt!).

Will NY win the East? Who knows? I think they have as good a chance as anyone, and better than most. I still think that, oddly, the Orioles are the main competition. But no one can be counted out, except (in my opinion) the Red Sox. Rick Porcello is having the worst season EVER for a pitcher in the first year of a $20M per year long-term deal. Oops.

Meanwhile, around baseball: the Astros, as I called pretty early, are for real. They may not be quite as good as their record (but then again, maybe they are) but they are going to win the west – no one else is likely to catch them, and they are unlikely to collapse. The Royals, whom I picked out of the shoot, are also going to win their division. The Twins and Rangers have surprised and are both in the race (at least for the wild card) but both are very likely to finish under .500. The Tigers can’t seem to get their act together, and I am no longer expecting them to do so. The team with the best chance to catch the Astros is the Angels, but having watched both teams play the Yankees this past week, I don’t think they can do it.

The AL is full of so-so teams, and in my opinion, three teams between the Yankees, Orioles, Blue Jays, Rays and Angels will make the postseason, with no other team really having much of a chance, despite what the standings say. My own prediction is that it will be the Yankees, Orioles and Blue Jays – this reverses an earlier prediction that NO AL East would be in the wild card game, and sets me up to be wrong twice.

In the NL, the best teams are clearly better than the best AL teams: the top teams in baseball in my opinion are the Cardinals, the Dodgers, the Nationals, the Royals, the Pirates, the Cubs, the Astros and the Giants. That’s 6 NL teams, one AL team, and one AL team that was an NL team two years ago (if you’re keeping score at home). The WORST teams in baseball are the Phillies, the Brewers, the Marlins and the Rockies, NL teams all. So the NL is the boom-or-bust, and the AL is parity-land. The worst team in the AL may be the Red Sox (sorry neighbors!) and you would have to think that they have a legitimate (though tiny) chance to win the World Series (they WERE one of the pre-season favorites). By record, the worst teams in the AL are Oakland , Boston and Chicago – preseason contenders/pretenders all. I actually believe that all those teams are better than the Padres (as well as the four NL teams mentioned) and probably better than the Diamondbacks and Braves as well. So it is possible that the NL has the five of the six best teams in baseball AND the seven worst!

One of the altogether possible weird postseason lineups would have three teams from the mediocre AL East making the postseason, and then have the three best records in the NL all be in the NL Central. This requires that the Cubs pass the Dodgers and Nats (they are one behind Washington and two behind Los Angeles): this is not LIKELY, but certainly POSSIBLE. I think it IS likely that the Cubs and Pirates will meet in the wild card game, with only the Giants as likely to supplant one of them (sorry Mets, I did believe but you have succeeded in drumming my belief out of me).

Fun times! Stay tuned.

 

PS I am traveling to Utah this week, and am unlikely to post. Not that I have been all that likely while in New England.

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