Wow

Posted by Baseball Bob at 16:10
Dec 112014

The title of this post applies to two very separate things: how long it’s been since I last posted, and what the Dodgers have done in the past few days.

First, my absence. No real excuses: the season got depressing, and then I got busy, and then baseball was over, and then I got busier, and then I had surgery – none of that really kept me from posting. I am actually SHOCKED to see that it has been since mid-August since I was on this site! Wow, indeed. I don’t promise to do better, but I HAVE thought a lot about baseball, and have followed it closely, I just didn’t get around to writing about it. in fact, the reason I was so surprised is that I formulated several posts over this time, and I hadn’t actually realized that I didn’t post ANY of them.

The actual topic, though, is the Dodgers. A couple of years ago, the new owners of the Dodgers gave Ned Coletti a blank check, and he did (sort of) turn them into instant contenders, by spending a true boatload of money. What he actually did, of course, was marginally upgrade the Dodgers while (among other things) rebooting the Red Sox from worst to first to a World Series championship, and set an all-time record for bloated contracts on a single team, eclipsing about ten Yankees teams.

Now, however, Coletti is gone, replaced by Andrew Friedman from the Rays, and what (apparently) you get is the savvy of the Rays with the money of the Dodgers – bad news indeed for the rest of baseball! Friedman will undoubtedly make mistakes (see: Billy Beane) but he has the money to eat those mistakes, and he SEEMS to have his head on very straight indeed.

Let’s consider a few things which have happened just in the past few days:

Trade with Padres – The Dodgers sent Matt Kemp and backup catcher Tim Federowicz (plus $31M) to the Padres for catcher Yasmani Grandahl, and pitchers Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin.

Trade with Phillies – The Dodgers acquired shortstop Jimmy Rollins (and cash IN) for two as yet unnamed minor leaguers.

Trade with Marlins – The Dodgers sent 2B/SS Dee Gordon to Florida, along with infielder Matt Rojas, pitcher Dan Haren (and $12.5M) to acquire four players/prospects: Andrew Heaney, Enrique Hernandez, Austin Barnes, and Chris Hatcher.

Trade with Angels- The Dodgers sent Andrew Heaney (just acquired from Florida) to Anaheim for 2B Howie Kendrick.

Free Agent: The Dodgers signed starter Brandon McCarthy for 4 years and $48M.

In case you can’t follow all this at home, the Dodgers got rid of one of their outfield glut (Kemp) and in the process shed about $70M of future money. They acquired one year of a solid ML shortstop (Rollins) and one year of an excellent ML second baseman (Kendrick) plus, of course, a year of exclusive negotiating rights to both, if they care (prediction: they won’t try to negotiate with Rollins, but they will try and likely succeed with the much younger Kendrick). The tandem of Rollins/Kendrick will provide as much offense from the middle infield as last year’s tandem of Henley Ramirez/Dee Gordon, while providing MUCH better defense. And since Kershaw, Greinke and McCarthy are all among the highest ground-ball producers in baseball, that will make these pitchers that much better (scary thought: Kershaw will be BETTER???).

Grandahl has a reputation as a defense-first catcher, and might well be on the ML roster as well.

And in the process of all this, they ACQUIRED more and better prospects than they dealt!

They are likely not yet done. They still would like to play an outfield of Puig, Van Slyke and Pedersen, which leaves them Crawford and Ethier extra (the two most expensive bench players in the game today??). There is little interest in either one, and both are owed boatloads of money (but not as much as Kemp was). Kemp, of course, is a much better player, which is why the Dodgers managed to get something for him without paying most of his salary.

There have been excellent analyses of these trades for those who are interest. I will just say this:

I get why the Phillies did what they did, and they are likely to dump some or all of Hamels, Utley, Papelbon, Ruiz and Howard (if possible) to truly begin a rebuild. They saved a little money, opened up a spot for a youngster to see what he can do, and signaled their intentions to the world.

I kind of get why the Angels did what they did: they traded a cost-controlled year of an excellent second baseman for six years of a top-50 prospect. It made them worse, but was probably a value-for-value trade. I guess they think they are good enough to win despite this short-term downgrade?

I don’t AT ALL get what the Marlins were thinking: Gordon is not that good, is coming off a career year and likely to regress, and Heaney (that same top-50 prospect) might be as good as Gordon right now, and with a bigger upside. AND they threw in 3 other prospects, none of which are truly fillers. AND Haren has publicly stated that he will retire rather than play anywhere but LA (Dodgers or Angels). Perhaps the deal is that if Haren retires, the Marlins get to keep the money sent to pay his salary. (NOTE: Wouldn’t it be a kick if the Marlins traded Haren back to the Angles for Heaney, keeping the money? THEN the trade makes some sense: Gordon for 3 prospects and $12.5M – a classic Marlins trade!).

And even less do I understand the Padres: Matt Kemp can play, and I love him. He isn’t worth, at least at this moment, the $100M+ still owed to him, and possibly not even the $70M or so SD is on the hook for. AND if he IS worth it, it would only be for a team in win-now mode: he will in all probability be good in 2015, and perhaps 2016, and then become an anchor in 2017-2019 (yes, he is signed for FIVE more years), so a team like the Yankees might see him as a costly but worthwhile acquisition. But the Padres? They project, at this moment, to win about 73 games, and Kemp might move that (optimistically) up to 76 or 77. This is worth it how? By the time, if ever, that they turn things around and begin to contend, he will be IN THE WAY. PLUS he is a bad outfielder – shouldn’t he be on an AL team that at least could hide him at DH? If Ortiz were hurt or done, he would be a perfect fit in Fenway Park.

But WOW! in just a few days the Dodgers shed millions in payroll, got clearly better, AND acquired a number of useful prospects, as well as solidifying an already rock-solid rotation. And, likely, they are not yet done!

Four games

Posted by Baseball Bob at 21:12
Aug 142014

What a difference a few games can make!

Last Friday night the Yankees beat the Cleveland Indians: they built up a 10-2 lead, and the bullpen gave some of it back, but they won 10-6. This followed them taking 3 of 4 from the Tigers (and leading David Price 3-1 in the one that got away!), and put them 7 games over .500, 5 back in the divisional race, and in the lead for the second wild-card spot by 1/2 game. They had 2 more games with the mediocre Indians, and then they were to head to Baltimore for a 3-game showdown with the 1st place Orioles. Michael Pineda was rehabbing so well at triple-A that it was determined to skip his last rehab start and let him face the Orioles on Wednesday. Carlos Beltran was (finally!) rounding into form at the plate, and the 20% playoff chance ESPN was willing to admit seemed low. Optimism reigned supreme.

Yes, there were clouds. The team hadn’t scored much against Detroit (11 runs in 4 games) but they faced the 3 most recent AL Cy Young award winners (Scherzer, Price, Verlander) so that is understandable. Until they beat the Tiger’s bullpen 5-1 they had played 16 (!) consecutive games decided by 1 or 2 runs, a franchise record and only 2 off the longest streak of all-time. And they were leading THAT game 2-1 until they got 3 largely-undeserved runs in the 8th inning due to sloppy Tiger defense (is there any other kind?). Chris Capuano (!!) had pitched 6 scoreless innings, Esmil Rogers (!!!!) had thrown 5 against the Indians, Brandon McCarthy was unbeaten in 4 starts.

But a funny thing happened on the march to the postseason. Cleveland shut them out on Saturday, and would have again on Sunday except Ellsbury hit a HR in the bottom of the 9th to lose by 1-4 instead. By the way, the Yankees are currently on a 2500+ game streak (!!) of not being shut out in consecutive games, just over 15 seasons worth – the longest such streak in the history of the major leagues. Odd, that, considering that this year’s team AND last year’s have long stretches of not scoring much at all.

Then the Orioles POUNDED them on Monday, gave them Tuesday off for rain, and hooked up again last night. Pineda did indeed start and was brilliant, retiring the first 12 Orioles in order. The Yankees got a 2-run HR from Francisco Cervelli (one of the few Yankees hitting at the moment) and they took a 2-1 lead into the 8th, when the Orioles scored 3 times to ice the game. The Yankees playoff odds went from 20% to 7% in four games (the Orioles won all four, and of course the Royals and Mariners were winning as well. The 20% seemed low at the time, but now the 7% seems high.

Meanwhile, the Royals have won 12 of 14 and taken over first place in the Central. Who knows if they will hang in there (they did this last year, too, if you recall) but they sure LOOK like they and the Tigers will both be playing in October.

I want to point out, just for the record, that I predicted before the season that the Orioles and Royals would be division winners. Lest I get TOO cocky, though, I also predicted the Rangers who have the worst record in baseball, and will be the first team mathematically eliminated (their max win total is 89, and to get there they would have to win 42 straight games). And the Royals are hardly a lock at this point, though they are playing pretty well.

The Yankees at the deadline seriously revamped their roster, picking up Brandon McCarthy, Chris Capuano and Esmil Rogers, Chase Headley, Steven Drew, and Martin Prado. They immediately put the first three in the rotation, and began playing the last three every day. And, surprise (!), the guys that weren’t hitting for San Diego, Boston and Arizona aren’t hitting for the Yankees, either. The starters have been surprisingly good, so far, but it is hard to believe that a rotation of Kuroda, McCarthy, Capuano, Shane Greene and Rogers is a playoff-caliber rotation. Kuroda has collapsed in the second half of both of the last two years, Greene is a rookie who was not in the Yankee’s top 30 prospects at the start of the season, and the others are essentially rejects from other teams (Rogers was released by the Blue Jays TWICE just this season! Capuano was released by the last-place Red Sox and McCarthy was 1-10 in San Diego).

My team is toast. They should really have been considered such months ago.

Oh my Goodness!

Posted by Baseball Bob at 09:11
Aug 012014

Trade deadline day is always fun; something worth musing about happens every year. But THIS year, the rumors were pale compared to the reality. Now, I understand that every blockbuster is not really a blockbuster (see: Pineda and Campos for Montero and Noesi) and that every deadline deal is not a blockbuster. But, really, there were LOTS of trades, and some big names moved. I would really like to do this trade-by-trade, but that would take MUCH more time than I have, so instead I want to do it a bit team-by-team.

First (of course) the Yankees. One of the more active participants in the market, the Yankees were basically dumpster-diving while other teams dined on steak. It is POSSIBLE that the Yankees got better, and mostly they didn’t give up anything they were counting on (Unless you count Nova, and I think they were giving up on him): they acquired four players, about as many as the most anyone got, but:

Brandon McCarthy Starter 30 years old, 3-10 5.01 with Arizona
Chase Headley Third Base 30 years old, .229/.296/.355 with San Diego
Steven Drew Infield 31 years old, .176/.255/.328 with Boston (!)
Martin Prado Second Base 30 years old, .270/.317/.370 with Arizona

The Yankees were trading for names (guys who have done it in the past, though not doing it now) and change-of-scenery upsides. With Jeter settled at short (the only place Drew has value) it looks like Prado will start at second (in place of the useless Brian Roberts) and Drew will be the utility guy (replacing Brendan Ryan?). In their defense, both McCarthy and Headley have been miles better than they were before the trade, in very small samples. If Drew and/or Prado is the same, and the other two don’t tail off, then they have turned zeros into mediocrity, which has value. And if Pineda and Tanaka both return before NY is out of the race, well, it could work. That’s a lot of ifs, though.

Red Sox: they are the real story here. After insisting for weeks that they expected to climb back into the race, they did a 180 of a sort, and unloaded (are you ready for this): Lester, Lackey, Doubront, Drew, Peavey, Miller and Gomes. Don’t look now, but that is 4/5 of their rotation and (recently) their starting shortstop. Another way to look at it: the Sox have played 108 games this year, and 77 of them were started by guys no longer on the team. And they say they are NOT rebuilding – they expect to compete next year.

Now, of course, the Sox didn’t get nothing for these guys. Lots of deadline deals (see: Cubs) are about getting guys 2-4 years out in exchange for punting this year and next. But the Sox landed Yoenis Cespedes (flawed but talented outfielder), starter Edwin Escobar (hot AAA prospect, and probably MLB-ready), starter Joe Kelly (26-year-old “veteran”, good last year and mostly hurt this year), Allen Craig (29-year-old OF/1B good for 3 years, struggling this year. They picked up a couple of solid minor league prospects as well (OK, they also got the worthless Kelly Johnson from the Yankees – he is not only worthless, but also ON THE DL so I don’t think that really counts).

The Yankees will start their playoff run with a 3-game set against Boston: what do you bet that the new Pawtucket Sox sweep the set?

Meanwhile, the Oakland A’s had the most amazing off-season, in my opinion: in a mirror image of Boston, they ACQUIRED 3/5 of a rotation: Lester, Samardzija, and Hammel, trading down in left field (losing Cespedes and gaining Gomes) plus giving up a number of futures. Oakland, who has been good for years but can’t get out of the division series, is putting all their chips into the pot in an attempt to win it all this year. Good luck with that.
They had the best record in baseball before making these trades.

The Tigers won the David Price sweepstakes, giving up centerfielder Austin Jackson, starter Drew Smyly and 18-year-old shortstop prospect Willy Adames. Jackson went to Seattle who gave up infielder Nick Franklin to Tampa in the 3-team swap. Amazingly, if you believe the numbers, this trade drops Justin Verlander from the Tigers’ postseason rotation (!!). It also gives the Tigers the last THREE AL Cy Young winners (Price, Verlander, Scherzer). But on paper at least, the A’s rotation is better.

Who won the trade deadline wars? Who knows? The Cubs got the best prospects. The Red Sox dumped the most salary. The A’s got the best rotation. The Tigers got the best starter. And we got the most entertaining trade deadline in years.

Jul 212014

Of course they CAN. Will they? Probably not. Let’s take a look at the Yankees’ chances to make the postseason.

The all-star break Yankees were 47-47, and as my previous post claimed, deserved this record. Of course, the RS/RS analysis normally done suggests they were over their head at .500 (-40 run differential) which makes a playoff run even more improbable. Their problem is that the players they most expected to come through for them are mostly older, and that 4/5 of their opening day rotation is on the disabled list. By my metric, the ONLY pitchers to have started a game for NY and who deserved a winning record at the break were Tanaka (on the DL) and Pineda (on the DL) plus Shane Greene who started a total of 2 games. So the starting pitching is a major problem.

But they traded for Brandon McCarthy, and in 3 starts for NY he has posted game scores of 67 and 71, thus deserving a 2-0 record. His fWAR after 2 starts is 0.3, as compared to -0.5 in 18 starts for Arizona. So it’s a fluke you say, and you’re probably right. BUT fWAR has him at 1.5 – he had badly underperformed his peripherals in Arizona, which could be luck. IF he is really a 3.69 FIP or (even better) a 2.87 xFIP then he might help the Yankees. A lot.

Meanwhile, since the break the Yankees hosted the red-hot Reds for a 3-game set. The Reds have 3 quality starters, two of them all-stars, and of course with 4 days off all three were good to go. The Yankees countered with Phelps (3-4 3.96), McCarthy (4-10 4.90) and Kuroda (6-6 4.10). The offense had one deserved win (7 runs), one deserved break-even (4 runs) and one deserved loss (3 runs) but Phelps threw a GS 57 (0.65 wins), Betances and Robertson were effective, and they won. Then McCarthy threw a GS 71 (win) and they won easily. Then Kuroda threw a GS 70 (win) but the offense struggled (well, it WAS Cueto) and the bullpen was one effective and one ineffective, but the combination was a lucky win. Thus they swept the Reds, upped their record to 50-47, and gave us hope.

What needs to happen going forward? Well, for one thing, the other AL East teams need to not get hot. The 5 teams were all playing out-of-division, and their collective record for those 3 days was 12-3, so NY didn’t gain too much ground. On the other hand, the 3 losses were all by teams ahead of them (Baltimore 2, Toronto 1) so in fact they closed to within 3 of the division lead, and tied for second. Still, if the Yankees are to have a chance, it is likely to be the division: the wild card teams figure to win 90 games, and the Yankees would need to go 40-25 to achieve that, a .615 pace, which seems most unlikely. on the other hand, the division could very possibly be won with about 87 wins, which doesn’t seem like a lot fewer but 37-28 is only .569 which seems a lot more doable.

To accomplish this, the Yankees need more offense out of Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. They need Gardner and Ellsbury and Teixeira to continue about where they have been, and Jeter to keep getting enough singles and walks to not be an anchor in the 2-slot (in a table game, he should probably bat 9th, but that is just NOT going to happen). A .275 hitter with a .330 OBP and no power is not an ideal #2, but it will play. But if he slips to .250/.300 he will drag them down for sure. The Yankees are 8-7 in games in which they scored only 3 runs, which is pretty lucky. But they are 6-7 in games which they score 5 runs, which is pretty unlucky. Their offense is average, and it needs to move a little above average.

Meanwhile, the rotation. Kuroda has faded badly in the second half of each of the last 3 seasons, and the Yankees need him not to do that, as he is kind of the ace of this rotation. McCarthy needs to pitch like his FIP or xFIP instead of his ERA, which history suggests is reasonable. Phelps, Whitley and Greene need to hang in there and give the Yankees a chance to win some of the time. Doesn’t sound like a championship rotation, does it? But actually, none of them has been so bad by my metrics. Phelps deserves a .500 record, Whitley 4-6 and Greene of course is 2-0. And sometime in August they should get both Tanaka and Pineda back. If both are effective (as they were before going down) and if NY is still in the race when they return, then a Rotation of Tanaka, Kuroda, Pineda, Phelps and McCarthy sounds a WHOLE lot better.

then there is the Jekyll and Hyde bullpen. The Yankees had 2 all-stars: the sentimental but not by-the-stats-deserving Jeter, and a reliever: the electric Dellin Betances. And Robertson has been just as good as Betances in the closer role. In terms of fWAR Betances is at 2.1 and Robertson at 1.6. They are better than all the starters except Tanaka (3.2) and Kuroda (2.0). Supporting the two rock stars are two other effective relievers: Adam Warren and Shawn Kelley. If the game is close, this quartet can usually keep it that way. The rest of the bullpen is pretty awful, and all four of these guys is right-handed (as are all 5 starters) so the Yankees are certainly vulnerable to left-handed hitting.

But the bottom line is that, in this division in this year, they are not actually far behind: neither in the standings, where they trail Baltimore by a mere 3 games, nor in actual ability. I give them about 1 chance in 3 of the postseason, with most of that being a division leader. And a Yankee team with Tanaka and Pineda, and with offense from about 6 positions, could actually do some damage when they get there.

A man can dream.

Jul 182014

The inability of this blog manager to post a readable table frustrates me (and likely my readers, as well) and I am, for the time being, giving up on trying to outsmart it. Instead, I will post the report cards in a redundant, non-table manner which is at least pretty readable. So, without further ado, here are the scores:

ARI Actual F Hitters D+ Starters F Bullpen C
ATL Actual B Hitters D Starters A- Bullpen B-
BAL Actual B Hitters C+ Starters D- Bullpen B-
BOS Actual D Hitters C Starters C Bullpen B-
CHC Actual D- Hitters D- Starters C Bullpen B
CWS Actual D+ Hitters B Starters D+ Bullpen D+
CLE Actual C Hitters C Starters F Bullpen C
CIN Actual B- Hitters C Starters B Bullpen C
COL Actual F Hitters C+ Starters F Bullpen D
DET Actual A- Hitters B Starters B- Bullpen D+
HOU Actual F Hitters D Starters D Bullpen D
KCR Actual C Hitters C- Starters C Bullpen B-
LAA Actual A Hitters A Starters B Bullpen B-
LAD Actual B Hitters C Starters A- Bullpen C
MIA Actual D+ Hitters C Starters D Bullpen C
MIL Actual B Hitters B Starters C- Bullpen B
MIN Actual D+ Hitters B Starters F Bullpen C+
NYM Actual D+ Hitters C+ Starters B- Bullpen C+
NYY Actual C Hitters C Starters C- Bullpen D+
OAK Actual A+ Hitters B+ Starters B Bullpen B+
PHI Actual D Hitters D Starters D+ Bullpen C+
PIT Actual C+ Hitters C- Starters C- Bullpen C+
SDP Actual D- Hitters F Starters C+ Bullpen A+
SFG Actual B Hitters D Starters C Bullpen A
SEA Actual B- Hitters C Starters B Bullpen A+
STL Actual B Hitters C+ Starters B Bullpen B
TBR Actual D Hitters C Starters C+ Bullpen B-
TEX Actual F Hitters D+ Starters F Bullpen C-
TOR Actual C Hitters B- Starters D Bullpen D-
WSN Actual B Hitters D+ Starters B+ Bullpen A+

A few comments about methodology and meaning, in case I might happen to have a stray new reader: each grade is supposed to be independent, in an “all else being equal” way, though it doesn’t really work. In theory, then a B grade for hitters should produce a B overall if the two pitching categories are C. This actually works fairly well for hitters and starters, but for a bullpen to carry average starters and average hitters to a high number of wins is pretty nearly impossible, so to really rate it this way would result in all the bullpen ratings being between D+ and B-, and what fun is that?

The ratings are derived by esoteric means, and at the moment the MLB rating for hitters is C, as it should be, but starters is C- and Bullpen is C+, so some minor adjustment is required. I normally do this adjustment at season’s end, as the variability of small sample sizes would require constant tweaking.

Hitters: teams are rated on how often the offense puts the team in a position to win. 3 or fewer runs is considered a loss, 4 is a half-win, 5 or more is a win. No adjustment is made for ballpark, for the simple reason that this is a FAN based metric: if a team scores only 3 runs, the fans think they didn’t get the job done, even if the team won. Similarly if they score 5, then a fan blames the pitching if they lose.

Starters: pitchers are rated on Bill James’ game score, explained elsewhere. The league average game score when this was introduced in the mid-80s was about 48.5. But it has been steadily rising, being nearly 54 last season. This year it has (so far) slipped a bit, to just over 53. But I am keeping it at 54 for now. What that means is that a pitcher gets a deserved half-win for a GS of 54. for each point above that he adds .05 until at 64 it is a full deserved win. For each point below that he loses .05, until at 44 it becomes a full deserved loss. This works pretty well.

Relievers: this is based on my own esoteric scale, where each relief outing is rated Effective (+1), Ineffective (-1), yikes (-2) or YIKES! (-3) and these are simply totaled up to get relief value. To get rating, though, you need to know volume, so a ratio of this total to number of relief appearances gives a percentage, and a number is added to that to get a winning percentage. That number is currently .275 if anyone cares. This means that if your ratio of score to outings is .115 you get a grade C. This requires and example, I am sure:

Randall Delgado of the Diamondbacks has appeared in 26 games, a total of 36 IP. His ERA is exactly 4.00, so standard metrics might suggest that he is an average reliever. I have his 26 appearances classified as follows: 17 effective, 7 ineffective, 2 yikes, 0 YIKES! His score then is 17 – 7 – 4 = 6, and 6/26 = .230 so he grades as a .505 reliever, which is a C.

One note about all these metrics – most baseball stats assume that RS/RA are random, but these metrics are based on the assumption that this is slightly flawed. A team that is losing 8-0 will put its worst reliever(s) in, and leave them in, often losing 15-2 in the process. An offense keeps trying to get hits and score, in part because their own stats are effected, even if they are losing or winning big. Thus a starter with a GS of 35 is really not that much better than one with a GS of 5 – both expect to lose. Similarly, a pitcher with a YIKES! hurts the team but often this comes in a game that is already lost. Thus a pitcher that allows nothing in 9 outings, and 6 runs in one outing, will score very well (9 effective, 1 YIKES!) while a pitcher that allows those same 6 runs in those same 10 outings, but allows 1 run in 6 of them is likely to score much more poorly (4 effective 6 ineffective). In effect, these metrics try to answer the question: how OFTEN does this offense, starter, or reliever play well, rather than HOW WELL do the numbers suggest they do overall.

Mostly, this does not matter. Teams whose hitters grade well are usually the teams that score the most runs, and vice versa. Sometimes, though, they explain anomalies: the 2014 Yankees are 47-47 despite a terrible run differential. The reason, according to these metrics is that the much-maligned hitters score an acceptable number of runs more often than you would expect, but they almost never score a really high number. And similarly, they have a bullpen with four very effective pitchers: Betances A+++, Robertson A++, Warren B- and Kelley B-. Not coincidentally, these are the four pitchers with the most relief innings. But ALL their other pitchers grade out at D+ or worse, and so their overall bullpen rating is not good. What this really means, though, is that when the game is close they use their 4, and when it is not they use the others, and the others get pounded. So they lose bigger than they would if they had some extra mediocre arms, and that explodes their run differential, but does not materially affect their W/L record. The Yankees (as I expect to show in my next post) deserver their average record: they are an average team. Their W/L is a better indicator of how they have played than their RS/RA, even though often the reverse is true.

One last note: many readers will look at the Oakland ratings and say this method doesn’t work. How, they say, can a team with a B+ offense, a B rotation, and a B+ bullpen be an A+ team, with the best record in baseball and an absolutely amazing run differential. My answer is that is EXACTLY what I would expect from a team well above average in all three. Remember, this is supposedly a team that would be B+ (.560) with AVERAGE pitching, and B (.550) with AVERAGE hitting. When both are way above average, this combines to be well above .600 (A+). If anything, the A’s should have MORE wins than they do.

The Silence Breaks

Posted by Baseball Bob at 09:58
Jul 182014

Hi friends!

Long time, no talk to. I have been busy, but that is no excuse. I followed the World Cup closely (what does it say about me that I would rather follow the WBC than March Madness, but the World Cup took me away from the regular season? Nothing good, I’m guessing). I also have had my grandchildren 3-4 days a week for the past few weeks, which cuts into my time (AND my sleep :-)

It is the all-star break, the Yankees are 47-47 but still in it, sort of, and baseball is on my mind. I don’t know how much I will write, but I expect to do some posts today: this one, all-star break report cards, and possibly a Yankees analysis.

Meanwhile, I make no promise about future posts, but I hope to get back to a more regular thing. I miss all of you, and you don’t write if I don’t, so I hope to try.

thanks for your patience.

April Report Cards

Posted by Baseball Bob at 10:22
May 052014

Didn’t get to it on Thursday; life intervened. But I have chosen to cut off the data at April 30 anyway, so if your team is the Giants (won every day so far in May) then these numbers may appear to be a little low. By the way, to have the starters overall come out to .500, I have to consider a GS of 44 to be a whole loss, with 45 worth .05 win, and needing a 64 to garner a whole win. When GS first came out, Bill James reported that the average game score was a little under 50, at 48.85. It is now over 54, so the decade of the pitcher is very real.

MLB Actual Hitters Starters Relievers
Team W L Gr W L Gr W L Gr G Rat Gr
Arizona 9 22 F 18.25 12.75 A- 7.65 23.35 F 103 15 D
Atlanta 17 9 A++ 12.00 14.00 D+ 19.15 6.85 A+++ 73 23 B
Baltimore 12 12 C 9.75 14.25 F 8.50 15.50 F 70 15 C
Boston 13 14 C- 16.50 10.50 A+ 14.05 12.95 C+ 74 19 C
Chic Cubs 9 17 F 12.00 14.00 D+ 13.80 12.20 B- 80 17 C
Chic Sox 14 15 C- 18.00 11.00 A+ 11.90 17.10 F 83 5 F
Cleveland 11 17 F 13.25 13.75 C 9.20 18.80 F 92 18 C-
Cincinnati 12 15 D 11.50 15.50 D- 16.15 10.85 A 63 8 D
Colorado 16 13 B 17.25 11.75 A 11.20 17.80 F 95 21 C
Detroit 14 9 A 13.25 9.75 A- 13.80 9.20 A 72 5 F
Houston 9 19 F 9.75 18.25 F 13.25 14.75 D+ 74 2 F
Kans City 14 12 B- 13.00 13.00 C 15.20 10.80 A- 65 7 D-
LA suburb 14 13 C+ 16.25 10.75 A 15.20 11.80 B+ 87 23 C+
LA real 15 12 B 13.25 13.75 C 17.50 9.50 A++ 104 18 D+
Miami 13 14 C- 13.50 13.50 C 14.40 12.60 B- 70 19 C+
Milwaukee 20 8 A+++ 16.00 12.00 B+ 17.60 10.40 A+ 89 49 A+++
Minnesota 12 12 C 16.00 8.00 A+++ 5.70 18.30 F 74 19 C
NY Mets 15 11 A- 15.25 10.75 A- 15.05 10.95 A- 81 8 D-
NY Yanks 15 11 A- 12.75 13.25 C 13.60 12.40 C+ 75 14 C-
Oakland 17 10 A+ 17.25 10.75 A+ 15.20 11.80 B+ 79 36 A+
Philly 13 13 C 12.00 14.00 D+ 10.95 15.05 F 78 16 C-
Pittsburgh 10 16 F 10.75 15.25 F 12.20 13.80 D+ 66 25 B+
San Diego 13 16 D 8.00 21.00 F 12.65 16.35 D- 80 43 A++
San Fran 17 11 A 11.75 13.25 D+ 12.80 15.20 D 84 40 A+
Seattle 11 14 D 15.00 13.00 B- 13.25 11.75 B- 81 22 C+
St. Louis 15 14 C+ 12.25 16.75 F 18.40 10.60 A+ 80 20 C
Tampa 11 16 F 12.00 15.00 D 11.40 15.60 F 84 20 C
Texas 15 13 B- 13.25 14.75 D+ 11.55 16.45 F 82 16 C-
Toronto 12 15 D 15.50 11.50 B+ 12.50 14.50 D+ 83 2 F
Wash DC 16 12 B+ 13.50 14.50 C- 15.45 12.55 B 83 33 A-

A few observations:
the D-Backs have had an excellent offense, rating at A-, but their starting pitching has been SO bad that an F doesn’t begin to do it justice. I have them as deserving 7.65 wins out of 31 games played, a .246 winning percentage. An F rating is given for any element below .425. So anything below 13.15 wins is an F. Arizona is about HALF of that. Wow! And their bullpen isn’t all that much better.

The Brewers hot start is primarily pitching fueled, and with their starters outstanding and their bullpen has been off the charts. Hats off to them!

My Yankees clearly don’t deserve their first-place standing. I justified it in a previous post by saying that the blowouts they suffered didn’t really hurt them, but hurt their ratio of RS to RA. But this analysis says they have an ordinary offense, a slightly above-average rotation, and a slightly below-average bullpen. That makes a .500 team no matter how you cut it.

Boston is the opposite: an outstanding offense coupled with a slightly above-average rotation and an average bullpen should produce an overall A (remember, each rating suggests what the team record would be if all the other aspects were average) but in fact they finished the month under .500.

And who would have placed baseball’s best offense in Minnesota? While they don’t have (quite) the most runs scored, they have 1) played fewer games than anyone else, so their RS/G is high, and 2) have scored consistently, which is what my metric measures. You get ½ win for scoring 4 runs, and a full win for 5 or more. No extra credit for 16.

Finally, the Giants. I don’t see how they are 17-11, unless they have been really lucky. A D+ offense and a D rotation often gives an F record. Yes, their bullpen has been great, but still. Lots of 1-run games and extra-innings wins, I would guess (but am too lazy to check!)

I hope to be more consistent in putting out monthly report cards this season; I’m obviously off to a bad start, as I missed the end of April.

But it is still fun, and at least I find it interesting.

Finally, sorry about the formatting. it looks all right on the editing screen, but it messes up when publishing, and I can’t seem to fix it.

Oddity

Posted by Baseball Bob at 06:23
May 042014

I really want to do April report cards, maybe tomorrow. Meanwhile it is early Sunday morning, and I have about 10 minutes. I have noted a serious oddity, that I wanted to share. This has been true for several days, but this is my first moment to comment.

The mighty AL East, widely recognized as the best division in baseball, is a compressed division: top to bottom only 3.5 games separate the 5 teams. Currently the standings almost exactly reflect my preseason prediction: Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays. But this is not the oddity.

ALL FIVE of these teams have a negative run differential, and in fact the whole division is 3 games BELOW .500. In fact, TWELVE of 15 AL teams have negative run differential! The AL as a whole is 9 games below .500 – for the first time ever, the NL is clearly winning the interleague play.

Further differential oddity: the two BEST teams in run differential in MLB are the A’s and Angels, both in the AL West. But the Rangers, who are -20, are also in the AL West and have a better record than the Angels (at +39).

And in contrast to the AL East, the wimpy NL East has ALL of its teams at or above .500.

Weird, right?

Don't You Love April?

Posted by Baseball Bob at 11:07
Apr 262014

Small sample sizes are the hallmark of April. Career minor-leaguers get a shot and for a few weeks bat .300 or .400 or .500. Weak teams get off to strong starts, strong teams blow up, and sluggers bat .150 with no home runs. Most of this stuff evens out over the course of the season, and the career minor-leaguer winds up at .225 and back in the minors, the slugger slugs .500 and the good teams mostly beat the weak ones. But in April, anything can happen, everyone can dream, and life can be a lot of fun.

Take the Yankees. Please. Well, let’s consider these things: New York is 13-10, in first place. After a 13-1 loss to the woeful Angels last night, they are -10 in run differential, having scored 100 runs in 23 games, 4.35 per game which is near league average. But having allowed 110 (4.78/G) they are near the bottom in that category. Yet recently I said that pitching was their strength, and they would go as far as their pitching, in particular their rotation, would take them.

You remember the stories out of spring training: they had four solid starters: CC Sabathia, Kuroda, Ivan Nova and Tanaka. And they had four candidates for the fifth spot: Pineda, Nuno, Warren and Phelps. All four pitched well in spring training, as did all of the original four except Nova. All eight of these pitchers made the opening roster, and there were stories about how the Yankees were overly deep at starting pitcher, and perhaps should trade one of the also-rans in the 5th starter competition for a better infielder.

Well, after 23 games Sabathia has games scores of 37,48,56,61,63 – he is figuring it out, and deserves a 3-2 record. Kuroda has a clear progression, as well, with GS of 62,53,47,43,18 – last night he looked every inch a 39-year-old has been. Granted it is only 1 game, but he deserves a 2-3 record and seems to be struggling. Nova was bad with GS of 45,16,58, 17. The third start was fine, and it looked like he might be rounding into form: actually, he was blowing out his elbow, and is done for this year and probably next as well, as he is undergoing Tommy John surgery. One down: for the record he deserves a record of 1-3. Tanaka has been pretty spectacular, with GS of 63,60,87,63 – he deserves a record of 4-0, and has been totally dominant, except that he apparently has a tendency to allow home runs: 4 in 4 starts. Still his ERA is great, his FIP is better still, and his xFIP is so low as to approach zero. in case you missed it: in 4 starts he has struck out 35 and walked 2. Yes, TWO. Wow. And Pineda has already earned, in 4 starts, more WAR than all the players involved in the blockbuster 2011 trade combined: he has GS of 36,65,66,39. Oh, yes, and he was suspended for 10 days for using a foreign substance (pine tar) on the ball – that was the 39. So can he pitch? No one yet knows. He deserves a record of 3-1. Vidal Nuno started one game and went 5 innings with 3 hits, no walks and a GS of 65. Adding it up, with average hitting and relief pitching, the starters deserve a record of 14-9, BETTER than the actual record.

Meanwhile, the offense deserves a record of 11-11, by my metric, having scored 3 or fewer runs (loss) 9 times, 5 or more runs (win) 9 times, and 4 runs (half a win) 4 times. Exactly an average offense. Six of their nine regulars are over 100 OPS+, with only McCann, Roberts and Gardner on the minus side, and you know McCann and Gardner will hit (Gardner actually has the best bWAR on the team, due to defense and baserunning). And the nine don’t include Teixeira, who returned from the DL to hit a HR and walk 3 times in his first game back. If you replace Roberts with Teixeira and Gardner with Ichiro (I don’t necessarily recommend this, mind) then 8 of 9 starters are over league average, with only McCann lagging. It has been, and figures to be, a league average offense.

Where things come apart, then, is that when the start is bad, it is BAD. And when the bullpen falters, it FALTERS. Nuno had one start, and was great, but his ERA is an unsightly 6.75 (ERA+ of 64). This is because he came in for Nova with the team already down 7-0 (that’s Nova’s GS 16) and he didn’t have it. Not expecting to pitch, he wasn’t really ready, and he gave up a bunch of runs right away. Not wanting to use up more pitchers in a lost cause, Girardi left Nuno out there for 3.1 innings, in which he gave up 8 hits and 7 earned runs, ruining his ERA for the season. But from a bullpen perspective, using my metric, he has 3 outings: 2 effective, one YIKES! That scores to -1, which is of course not good, but it is only one game. So they gave up a LOT of runs, but it is only one loss and one YIKES! And it gets worse, actually: in Nova’s OTHER terrible start, he went 4 innings and allowed 8 runs (and blew out his arm). Matt Daley came in and gave up six runs of his own (4 earned) which is also a YIKES! but this is not someone counted on to pitch important innings, so again this YIKES probably doesn’t matter. And Dean Anna, a rookie utility infielder, pitched the last inning for NY, allowing 3 hits and 2 ER, another YIKES! but clearly irrelevant in evaluating the Yankee runs allowed.

Last night, it was Kuroda who didn’t have it, and he left in the fifth inning with the Yankees trailing 8-0. They used callup Bruce Billings, on the roster for Nova, for 4 innings, essentially “taking one for the team”, and he allowed 4 more runs (yikes) and threw 76 pitches, but THAT is obviously irrelevant to the evaluation of Yankee run production.

These games count, and 3 such games this early in the year can’t really be good, but in the other 20 games the Yankees scored 98 runs and allowed 69. The 13-10 record, while perhaps not deserved on the underlying numbers, is not as ludicrous at it might appear – it is partly dependent on small sample size freakiness.

Meanwhile, that solid starter corps looks a lot less solid. Nova is gone, apparently Nuno gets the nod. Kuroda is spiraling down, he will get a chance to show what he can do. Pineda will miss two starts, I suspect Warren will get to show off. And my claim is still true: the Yankees will go as far as their starting pitching will take them. Whether that is far enough to satisfy them, remains to be seen.

The 10% Report

Posted by Baseball Bob at 10:38
Apr 172014

I just can’t seem to find the time to blog. My INTEREST in baseball has not diminished; I watch most Yankee games, and occasionally other games (mostly Phillies and Dodgers) and I watch the MLB Game Recaps faithfully of all games. I often see things I would like to comment on, but I don’t get to the computer, and when I do I have other things to do. I don’t promise to do better, though I plan to try.

Meanwhile, about 10% of the season is done (most teams have played about 15 games) and I have a few minutes, so here I am. Sadly, I advise that you don’t get used to it.

The universally projected division leaders were Tampa Bay, Detroit, Oakland, Washington, St. Louis and Los Angeles. As of this morning, the actual division leaders are New York, Detroit, Oakland, Atlanta, Milwaukee and San Francisco. And the two which match on both lists are not exactly running away with it: Detroit is 7-6, and therefore leads 8-7 Cleveland by .012 and 0 games. Only Oakland, 2 games up on Texas, is where they were expected to be. Atlanta is no surprise, though they were expected to falter with a weakened pitching staff.

Probably the biggest small-sample-size results of the young season are the Yankees, Brewers and Giants. I plan to take a peek under the hood of these three teams. Remember, though, that it is a 15-game sample – many of the fun stuff is not truly meaningful. It is still fun, though, at least to me.

The Giants at 10-5 lead the Dodgers (9-6) by a single game: before last night’s game between the two they were tied. The Dodgers have played well, not surprisingly, but the Giants HAVE surprised: they have scored 71 runs in 15 games, 4.733 per game which is well above the MLB average, and even more above the NL average. They are third in the NL behind the Nationals and Marlins(?) and fifth in baseball, trailing the AL-leading White Sox(?) and Angels. Using wOBA, they are paced by Michael Morse (.408), Brandon Crawford (.406), Angel Pagan (.406), Brandon Hicks (.405) and Brandon Belt (.397). ASIDE: Is San Francisco trying to corner the market on the name Brandon? The only Giant regulars who HAVEN’T hit, so far, are Pablo Sandoval (.277) and Hunter Pence (.244) who were projected to be among their best hitters.

On the pitching side, the Giants have allowed 59 runs, or 3.933 per game, somewhat below the league average. There are LOTS of teams that have done better, however, since the average is driven up by the Diamondbacks (115 runs allowed 6.389 per game). The Giants run prevention currently ranks 7th of 15 NL teams, middle-of-the-pack as it were. They have gone 3 times through the rotation, with each starter making exactly 3 starts. In ERA they range from Hudson (2.35) to Lincecum (7.20). Their bullpen has been strong. The most fun stat, for me: Lincecum has a 7.20 ERA, and a 5.31 FIP, but a 2.37 xFIP, best on the team. What does this mean? Nothing, I expect. But if you believed the small sample size numbers, Lincecum has not been bad, but merely unlucky (that his fly balls allowed have been home runs too often) and that he will go back to being dominant.

Milwaukee has been the story of the early season. The Brewers reeled off a 9-game winning streak, and at 11-4 own MLB’s best record. They have scored 63 runs (4.2/G) while allowing just 40 (2.667/G) so you can clearly say that they are winning with pitching. The offense is paced by Carlos Gomez (.433 wOBA) and Aramis Ramirez (.398) but also features Ricki Weeks (.146!) among others. It is ordinary, and is likely to stay that way.

The pitching, on the other hand, has been extraordinary. They have also had 5 starters make exactly 3 starts apiece, and their ERAs range from Gallardo (0.96) to Garza (3.43). Based on this sample, it is arguable that only Hudson from the Giants would crack the Brewers rotation. FIP is not as high on them, of course, ranging from 2.35-4.57, but xFIP has all of them in the tight range of 3.33-3.95. So, for the most part, they have not outpitched their true talent by that much, and are better than we thought. I think the Brewers will have a tough time sticking in the race, because this division has the Cardinals and the Pirates and the Reds (sorry, Cubs fans) but I DO think their pitching staff will be among the best in the game, barring unusual injuries.

The Yankees, of course, are the team I know the best. I have seen all or part of 12 of their 15 games, and I am pretty amazed that they are 9-6. At the season’s start, I worried about the following things: 1) Can a team really compete with a 40-year-old shortstop who was never a good fielder (despite several gold gloves!), has the highest ground-ball rate in the game, and essentially didn’t play at all last year? 2) Can a team really compete with a first baseman who essentially didn’t play at all last year, and with NO backup at all? 3) Can a team really compete if your other infielders consist of the following: Kelly Johnson, a 30-year-old still looking for his first 1+ WAR season, Brian Roberts, a 36-year-old who hasn’t reached 300 PA since 2009, Dean Anna, a 27-year-old without a major-league PA, and Yangervis Solarte, a 26-year-old without a major-league PA, and NINE minor league seasons behind him? 4) Can CC Sabathia redefine himself after a bad 2013 and the loss of about 5 MPH from his fastball? 5) How much of the recent Yankee success can be attributed to the almost automatic ninth-inning magic from the irreplaceable Mariano Rivera?

We have no answers to these questions, obviously, after 15 games. The Yankees have scored 54 runs, just 3.6 per game, and obviously well below the AL average (in total runs, the easy metric, they have outscored only Kansas City (42), Detroit (42), Houston (44), Tampa Bay (45) and Boston (53). Essentially the AL divides neatly into (so far) terrible offenses (Royals, Tigers, Astros, Rays), bad offenses (Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, Mariners, Orioles), average offenses (Blue Jays, Indians, Athletics, Twins), and powerhouse offenses (Angels, White Sox).

And two of the questions above already have consequences: the only First Baseman (Teixeira) is already on the DL, as is the replacement closer (Robertson). And the Yankee offense, such as it is, has been fueled by Carlos Beltran (.432 wOBA) which might have been expected, and Yangervis Solarte (.404) which was certainly not. Solarte is playing every day, first because Kelly Johnson was bad, then because the bad Kelly Johnson moved to first to replace the injured Mark Teixeira. Brian Roberts hasn’t been really hurt, yet (though he already missed several games with a bad back) but he HAS been BAD (wOBA .227) and starting for them yesterday (they played 2 games) were not only Solarte and Anna, but also Scott Sizemore and JR Murphy (replacement catcher for injured backup Cervelli). Not only are they not scoring, they DESERVE not to score, with the lineups they are trotting out. For example, one day last week they faced a good left-handed starter, and their lineup contained the following left-handed hitters: McCann, Johnson, Gardner, Ellsbury, Suzuki and Anna. SIX lefties! They rounded out the lineup with switch-hitting Beltran and Solarte, and righty Soriano. Ugh! Yesterday was a typical day at the office: they managed 5 runs in two games, pounding out 14 singles, 2 doubles and one home run in those 2 games.

But THEN there’s the pitching. The concern about Sabathia is still there, as he has not been dominant or even effective in his three starts: ERA 6.63, FIP 4.73, but his xFIP (oddly) is 2.23 – so he may be all right. He HAS struck out a lot of hitters (10/9 IP) and walked very few (1.42/9) which is actually a characteristic of this staff overall. Nova has been himself, winning 2 of 3 despite an ERA of 5.53, a FIP of 4.90 and an xFIP of 4.77. He is NOT a good pitcher, and there is no sign that he will get better. Kuroda is old, and relies on craftiness, but his numbers are good, and consistent: ERA 3.86, FIP 3.58, xFIP 3.83. For two years running he has been good for 3-4 months, then wore down and was bad at the end of the year. BUT the Yankees are currently sporting two young studs: Michael Pineda, out to prove that the trade was NOT irrelevant, is pitching like he did 3 years ago. After 3 starts he has an ERA of 1.00 (!), with a FIP of 2.60 and an xFIP of 3.89. And Tanaka has become just the 2nd pitcher in HISTORY to post 8+ strikeouts in each of his first three starts (the other: Stephen Strasburg, who did it in his first 4). Tanaka has given up some homers, but has been otherwise completely dominant: ERA 2.05, FIP 1.95, xFIP 1.78. So far this young season, there is an argument that Tanaka is baseball’s best pitcher.

The Yankees have also allowed 54 runs this year, 3.6/G but a much better number than the offense. And it is better/worse than this: the anemic offense plays in hitter’s paradise Yankee Stadium, and the pitchers have to toil there, too.

I said in an earlier post that the Yankees would go only as far as their pitching would take them. So far, that is pretty far indeed. And if Sabathia/Nova continue to struggle, Warren, Phelps and Nuno are all waiting their chance, on the roster but in the bullpen.

Some anecdotal info to close: Solarte and his giant BABIP has been totally lucky. He is not a plus defender (the numbers reflect this) and his hits have been a lot of bloops, dribblers, and seeing-eye grounders. Still, he is having a LOT of fun, and his excitement to just be here, after 9 years of minor-league experience, is infectious. I hope he sticks (I would LOTS rather have him than Brendon Ryan, currently on the DL). And Dean Anna actually looks to me like he can play. He IS a plus defender – a better shortstop than Jeter (easy to do) by a wide margin, a better second baseman than Roberts and a better third baseman than Johnson/Solarte/A-Rod. He will never be a great hitter, but he seems to have a solid approach, and I think he could stick.

Last word: I think the Brewers are a fluke, and will wind up fourth in the NL Central. I think the Giants will challenge for the NL Wild Card, but not the division. But I think the ragtag Yankees have caught lightning in a bottle in their two young starters, and will surprise the AL East.

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