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.

Twenty Day Season

Posted by Baseball Bob at 10:35
Jun 122015

The Yankees had their season-high 7 game win streak snapped on Wednesday in unfortunate fashion: holding a 4-2 lead after 7 innings they did not pitch either Dellen Betances or Andrew Miller, and lost in 11. After an oddity (two days off in a 4 game stretch) they now embark on a 20 games in 20 days stretch, which I think will determine their season. I plan to spend more time than you are interested in talking about why, what their prospects are, etc.

Where we are now:

The Yankees stand at 33-26, in first place by 2 games in the AL East, and tied for the second-best record in the AL (with the Twins!). FanGraphs, which updates its rest-of-season projections daily, based on estimated true talent, depth chart playing time estimates, strength of schedule, etc. now projects them to have the most wins in the AL with the Royals at 85, and the Astros, Indians, Tigers, Blue Jays, and Angels at 83. They are exactly at their Pythagorean projection, and actually slightly BEHIND their base-runs projection, which would have them winning a couple more games than they have. To say that Yankee watchers are surprised is kind of like saying that Barbara Streisand can sing: pretty obvious.

But they are going to play those 20 games in 20 days, and they are going to do it without Jacoby Ellbury, their best offensive player, and Andrew Miller, their lights-out closer (doesn’t it seem like the Yankees SHOULD have a lights out closer?) who are both on the DL. Neither is done for the year, but neither is likely to be back before the all-star game, let alone within the 20 days. I know the argument: Miller is at best a 4-win player for the year, so even if you replace him with a replacement-level pitcher, 1/8 of a season should cost you a half a win. Ellsbury compiled 1.4 bWAR in 37 games, and 20/37 of 1.4 is only 0.75 bWAR or another 3/4 of a game. But the impact FEELS larger than that. Let me see if I can make it clear:

Ellsbury is their leadoff hitter and a good one. His defense in center is excellent, but can be mostly replaced by Gardner (or Young, actually) but his absence messes up the lineup – Gardner can lead off, though you lose about 50 points of OBP, but they don’t have a good #2 – they have been using Headley (and his .293 OBP). And this is a problem, because the Yankees have actually been a terror in the first inning this season: 57 of their 275 runs have been scored in the first inning which is 21%! And this number was larger (about 33% if I recall) before Ellsbury got hurt. So I bet it is back to ordinary since the lineup shakeup. Another way to look at this: while his bWAR is “only” 1.4, his fWAR is 2.6, which nearly doubles the analytical number: his loss would be 1.4 WAR in those 20 days. Two extra losses (adding Miller and Ellsbury) make a 12-8 twenty games into 10-10.

Add to that the domino effect of Miller: instead of being lights-out 8th AND 9th it may be 9th only. Wednesday night they used Capuano (!) in the 10th and 11th, and lost (he didn’t pitch badly, really) – when you lose a dominant reliever, everyone moves up and it really is, in effect, replacing him with a replacement-level pitcher. And since those are high-leverage innings, they have a disproportionate impact on wins and losses.

Add to THAT the fact that playing 20 straight days takes its toll, especially on older players. And since the Yankees’ most effective OFFENSIVE players have been Ellsbury (hurt), Teixeira (age 35) and A-Rod (age 39) and the offense might well struggle. The Yankees this season have scored 2 or fewer runs 17 times in 57 games (they are 1-16 in those contests). I don’t know if this is an unusual number (they have held the opposition to 2 or fewer in 19 of those games) but it seems that this percentage (30%) might well increase as this stretch looms. And if Girardi rests his regulars more often, due to off-days, the replacements don’t hit much (Murphyand Ryan are kind of zeroes, Garrett Jones and random outfielder (Heathcott (DL), Flores and now Tracy) are not much better.

Every team has this problem, that they take a big hit when you remove a regular for a bench/role player: what makes the Yankee issue bigger is that they have a couple of zeroes in their everyday lineup: Gregorius and Drew. So when, as in the 10th inning Wednesday night, you pinch-run for Teixeira, you wind up with Brendan Ryan at first base (!!) and THREE holes in the lineup. And that happens whenever you sit Headley or Teixeira and (to a lesser extend) an outfielder. And we know that offense, despite widespread use of linear weights, is not linear: there is a multiplier effect when you have consecutive good or bad hitters. This is why they score so often in the first inning: their good players are very good, and their bad players very bad. So replacing Ellbury with Young takes a hit, and Young being absent from the bench is ANOTHER hit, etc.

On the pitching side, the rotation of Pineda, Tanaka, Sabathia, Eovaldi and Warren has been quite good – Sabathia is the weak link. Tanaka is only 2 starts removed from the DL (two VERY good starts, though) and Girardi felt the need to skip Pineda this week, which may be routine but with 2 off-days they could have just given everyone an extra days’ rest, but instead they kept the rotation on (mostly) normal rest and skipped their best pitcher. I hope it is what Girardi said it was, just a routine effort to hold down his total innings, but if it indicates a problem with big Mike (fatigue, for example) that could doom them: they NEED that young rotation to perform if they are to stay in it. Ivan Nova may join them soon, and if he is good it will tilt things back positive (you could use Warren as a strong righty bullpen arm, for example) but I have never been too high on him – he is pretty inconsistent.

So, to sum up, the high-flying Yankees face an interesting challenge of 20 games in 20 days, without their most productive hitter and their lights-out closer. What they do in these 20 games may well determine what kind of season they ultimately have – I think the over/under for these 20 games may well be 9.5.

Hi! Suddenly the worst division in baseball (AL East) seems to be winning every game. The Yankees are on a 6-game win streak, the Blue Jays 5, the Red Sox 3, the Rays 7 of 9. Just a couple of days ago I had noticed (I don’t think I commented on it) that the division overall was 20 games below .500 – it is now one OVER. The AL once again has a slight plus in interleague contests. Talk radio 3 days ago was declaring the Red Sox dead; they have now won 3 straight, and though they didn’t gain a single game in the standings, the announcers are now claiming this is the start of their playoff run. We shall see.

The Mets are back atop what is NOW the weakest division, by 1/2 game over the reeling Nats, with no team in the division (the Marlins 6-4 is the only positive record over the past 10 games in the division) as the division is now 17 games below .500. The Brewers have shown signs of life, taking 2 of 3 from the over-hyped Twins, but the Royals and Tigers have been losing so much that the Twins now lead the Central! Talk about weird: if the season ended today, the division winners would be the Yankees, Twins and Astros, and the wild cards would be the Royals and Rays. Only KC of that list was a consensus playoff team preseason. And I think the Astros and Royals are for real, and the Yankees have as good a shot as anyone in the East.

I still watch a lot of baseball, I just haven’t been taking the time for real analysis. maybe that will change, but don’t hold your breath.

Coming Back

Posted by Baseball Bob at 09:31
Jun 042015

Hi, I’m back, and maybe the Yankees are too. I think an article I read on the Yankees had it right: they are going to be in it all summer, NOT because they are good, but because they are mediocre, and mediocre is as good as it gets in the AL East. As I write this they are 29-25, having just finished a 3-game sweep of the Mariners, making them 7-3 over the last 10 games, after going 1-10 over the previous 11. But that .537 winning percentage (projecting to 87 wins) leads the division by 1 game over the Rays and by 4 1/2 or 5 games over the other three pretenders. Could you say that the Yankees are streaky? This year they started by losing 2 of 3 in each of their first three series, then going on an 18-6 tear, followed by the two streaks mentioned above.

And the breakdown doesn’t make any sense: they are 3-1 against Detroit, 4-2 against Kansas City, 2-1 against the Mets but 1-3 against the A’s and 0-3 against the Rangers. Go figure.

And speaking of Coming Back, Tanaka made his first start since mid-April and pitched 7 brilliant innings in the Yankees 3-1 win last night. If he is actually back and can stay healthy, then the Yankees probably ARE the class of the classless AL East.

More interesting than the Yankees, though, are the surprise teams of 2015: the Astros, the Twins, the A’s, and the Mariners. Let me take a minute to remind us of what we expected, what we are getting, and where things might go for the rest of the year:

Astros – what we expected was a team that would begin to rebound from awful to merely bad. After losing 106+ games three straight years 2011-2013, they surged to a 70-92 record last year, escaping the cellar and finishing only 28 games back (they were 40+ back each of the prior 3 years). They have some young players on the way, and we expected further modest gains, consolidating their jump from truly awful to merely below average. The consensus finish for them was about 75-87 and another fourth place finish. But they have been winning all year, and their 34-20 record is the best in the AL (next is KC at 30-20) and second in all of baseball. And while they do appear to have been blessed by the sequencing gods, it is not by a lot: FanGraphs thinks they deserve a 32-22 record. Predicting a regression to the mean, FanGraphs predicts a 53-55 record the rest of the way, which would give them an 87-75 record, which, by their projections would be (wait for it) the best record in the AL! I expect about that from these Astros – an 88-74 record would result from .500 going forward, and I think that is well within their grasp. At this point I fully expect them in the postseason, though I still think that one of the West teams will put together a streak and make a race of it.

NOTE: shockingly, the Fan Graphs model has the YANKEES at 86-76 and the next best team in the AL, followed by the Royals (85-77), Angels and Indians (84-78) with the Tigers (83-79) and Mariners (82-80) the only other teams over .500 in the AL). If this were to actually happen, the Yankees, Royals and Astros would win their divisions, with the wild card teams being the Angels and Indians. Weird, huh?

Twins. Even more shocking than the Astros is the recent surge of the Twins, who currently stand at 31-21 and 1/2 game out in the central. Unlike the Astros, though, this is all smoke and mirrors – they are not a good team, and haven’t even PLAYED like a good team. They have just had GREAT sequencing, stranding an unsustainable number of runner, winning all their 1-run games, losing their blowouts, while reserving their occasional 8-run outbursts for games when the other team scores 6. That 31-21 record translates to a base-runs projected record of 20-32 (!!) and FanGraphs has them going 50-60 the rest of the year to finish 81-81. And I think that is optimistic. Projected for about 70 total wins before the season started, I still expect them to fall apart (it has sort of started already) and finish below .500. But it has been a fun ride for Twins fans while it goes on. And luck (oops, we now call it sequencing) does NOT even out over the course of the season – you would expect NORMAL sequencing going forward, NOT bad sequencing to even things out.

A’s – these are the flip side of the Twins. they currently stand at 22-33 (even though they beat the Yankees 3 of 4 this week) but THEIR base-runs record should be 32-23 (!!!). FanGraphs of course recognizes that the losses are already on the books, but still has them going 55-52 the rest of the year. Too little, too late of course. This is a good team, which has played decently but had crummy results, and they are not good ENOUGH to dig out of the hole.

Mariners – they were supposed to be the class of the AL West, and I suppose they still could be, but their record is 24-29, despite having an MVP candidate in Nelson Cruz. Their problem, surprisingly, is offense: they don’t get enough men on base. So they made a big move: they traded futures for Mark Trumbo and his (wait for it) .297 OBP. Way to think things through! Robinson Cano (OPS 616) WILL get better, but that 9 1/2 game deficit behind the Astros is real, and the Astros show no signs of truly folding.

I realize that all four teams I highlighted were AL teams, and I guess my AL biases are showing. But in fact if I were to highlight a fifth surprise it would probably be the Rangers, who were supposed to be awful and haven’t been, either. Meanwhile for the most part the NL teams have not really surprised us: the Mets are a little better than we thought, and the Padres are not as good as some thought (not me, though) but mostly the first third of the season has shaken out about where we expected: the Nationals started slowly, then were dominant, then struggled but still lead the division. The Dodgers can’t score against the Giants but can beat everyone else, the Giants threw NINE shutouts in May (!!) but don’t score enough to pull away, and the other early surprises (hot starts by the Braves and Rockies) have come back to earth with a thud.

Not that the NL isn’t entertaining: the Cubs are still hanging in there, the Pirates are still fun, the Mets might still make the postseason (I am rooting for them and the Cubs) but the true shockers are all in the AL at least to this point.

I love this game!


Posted by Baseball Bob at 13:49
May 202015

What a difference a week can make! Last Sunday the Mets had a 5-game lead over the Nationals. Last Monday the Yankees had the best record in the American League. Last Tuesday the party seemed over for the Astros, who had dropped 6 of 8 after the amazing 18-7 start.

The Yankees have now lost 6 of 7, and last night the Rays caught them and are now tied atop the AL East with identical 22-18 records. The Mets were swept in a 4-game set by the Cubs, and last night the Nationals caught them and are now tied atop the NL East with identical 23-17 record. And last night the Astros won their 6th in 7 games, and still lead the AL West by 5 1/2 games.

I kind of predicted all this, but still, it is sad. I see no reason to change my prediction:

I still see the AL East race being a 5-team affair, with the team with the fewest injuries winning it. This is probably not the Yankees, who have already lost Tanaka and now Ellsbury. From the Yankees to the Orioles is only a 3-game spread, truly anyone’s division (the Blue Jays, with the AL’s best offense, are dead last).

I still think the Astros and Mets will make the wild card game in their respective leagues. I still think one team will emerge to overtake Houston in the west: indications are that it will be the Angels. I still think that the Cardinals and Dodgers will win in a walk, that the Tigers and Royals will battle all year and both make the postseason, and I still think the second NL wild card will be between the Cubs and the Giants, and both are playing better and making that silly prediction look better.

The title of this post is also a warning that I leave Friday for England for two weeks, and there will be NO posts (not that there have been many, even so).

Go Yankees! And Dodgers, and Mets, and Astros, and Cubs. Too many teams to root for, but not too many to watch!

May 072015

One day since I posted my predictions for the future, and clearly MLB is reading my blog: EVERY team I predicted for the postseason lost, and the disappointments I said were toast all won. Goes to show you!

Yankees looked bad in losing 2 of 3 in Toronto, scoring only 1 each in the two losses. Indians and White Sox beat Royals and Tigers to slightly tighten AL Central race. Astros looked like past editions with 11-3 pasting at the hands of the usually hapless Rangers. Mets, Cardinals and Dodgers all fell. Only Washington, with the worst record of any team I thought post-season bound, managed a win. Of course I wisely made no call in the AL East & West, making it hard to be wrong.

Yankees still have a 2-game lead, and the Red Sox fell to last place in the East, 4 games back. One oddity: the longest current winning streak in MLB is only 3 games, improbably by the Rangers, with every other streak 2 games or fewer, except that the Pirates have lost 5 straight and the Rockies 7 straight.

I love this game, even when EVERYTHING goes wrong.

Early Returns

Posted by Baseball Bob at 11:10
May 062015

I am really never going to get into a daily blogging habit again, I’m afraid. It is not, I believe, the change in medium (from email group to blog) nor the lack of feedback (I often got no response from the email group, but still did it almost daily) but rather my evolving life: I get focused on other things and don’t write. I am still watching a lot of baseball (I have probably seen half of the Yankee games in their entirety, and parts of almost all the others, plus numerous other games) and I watch summaries every morning on, but I am not doing that much research, and there are so many sources who write about events daily that I don’t feel I have much to contribute.

Today, though, I was thinking about fast and slow starts, triggered by a Red Sox fan who yesterday asked me if I think the Sox are toast. Answering that question made me ask myself the broader one: which are the teams whose outlook has changed in the first month? How do we view the fast and slow starts around baseball. So I thought I would take a minute and write my opinions about that.

AL East – as my (few) faithful readers know, I never bought into the Red Sox dominance, and feel that their excellent lineup is balanced by a mediocre-to-awful rotation. This has been born out in the early returns, though the past couple of days are a bit encouraging for them in that regard (Porcello looked good yesterday, but then again the offense managed only 3 hits). And I don’t buy into the Yankee resurgence, though I am loving it: can you really rely on Ellsbury hitting .350 and both he and Gardner having OBPs north of .400? Can you expect Chris Young to rake and Chase Whitley to be dominant all season? I doubt it. Of course, Drew could hit (currently .150) better, McCann could find his stroke and Headley could justify the contract with the bat instead of only the glove, but then again Sabathia and Pineda could join Tanaka on the DL, Nova and Capuano could be busts in their returns, and the above named players could turn into pumpkins.

So what I really think is that this division will come down to health: you have FIVE pretty even teams, and which one will get hot and take the division (I expect the wild cards to come from elsewhere) comes down to who has the fewest debilitating injuries. In this regard, we know there is a relationship between age and injuries (even more between injury history and injuries, but not so easy to quantify) so I did a little exercise, which went like this: count the 9 “starters” at 1, the bench position players at 0.5, the 5 rotation pieces at 1, the closer at 1, the next two relievers with the most appearances at 1, the rest of the pen at 0.5 and calculate the “team age” I used Baseball Reference and didn’t use anyone on the DL all year, even if due back soon (too much trouble). Here are the results:

Yankees 28.65 Rays 27.95 Orioles 27.90 Red Sox 30.15 Blue Jays 28.73

So based on this, the team least likely to be injured is the Orioles, followed by the Rays, Jays, Yanks and Red Sox. Almost sounds like last year’s standings: maybe the mystery of the Orioles is simply that they are a bit younger, and less injury prone as a result.

I actually expect a 5-team scrum all year, which should at least be entertaining. Actually, actually, I expect someone to drop out due to injuries, I just really don’t know who.

AL Central – So far this has been a 2-team race, with the Royals and Tigers hot, the Indians and White Sox not, and the Twins in the middle. I expect this trend to last, with the White Sox and Indians big sellers at the deadline if not before. The White Sox, in particular, tried to “go for it” this offseason, and evidence is that it didn’t work. Anything can happen, of course, but I don’t expect any turnaround by the lower clubs, I don’t expect the Twins to stay at .500, and I don’t expect a collapse by either the Tigers or the Royals. I predict the Royals take the division, with the Tigers the top wild card team.

AL West – Can the Astros keep it up? I doubt it. But the games count in April, too, and the big lead they have built is real. If they were to play .500 ball for the rest of the year (a stretch, given the preseason predictions, but hardly impossible) they win 95 games and almost certainly take the division, as (for example) the Angels would have to play .622 ball for five months to overtake them. None of the three presumed contenders (Mariners, Angels, A’s) have shown any sign yet of recovery, and it is like the East: ONE of them will play better, and Houston will play worse, but which one is anyone’s guess. I would say Seattle, but I boldly predict that Houston will be in the postseason, either hanging on as division champ or claiming the second wild card. Fun times.

NL East – Can the Mets keep it up? Well, Bartolo Colon winning his age (42-0 at 42) seems a bit unlikely. Their lead over the Nationals is 4.5 games and the Nats have shown a little life of late (though they may have lost Strasburg last night). I plan to root hard for the Mets all year, as they are exciting and fun, but in the end I think a wild card is their highest possible apex, and I fully expect the Nats to be there in the end. Major injuries could derail that, of course (like if they lost 4/5 of that rotation, as the Yankees did last season). I do expect the Mets to win about 86-88 games, which should put them in the wild card game. None of the other teams in the division impress me as having a real chance.

NL Central – Can the Cardinals keep it up? Yes, they are probably the class of the NL. Will the other wild card (besides the Mets) come from this division? Possibly. I hope it is the Cubs, and I think the competition is the Pirates and the Giants, and I suppose possibly the Padres.

NL West – Can the Dodgers keep it up? Again, probably. Their presumed pitching depth is gone (they lead MLB in starters used, with 8) but they still have Kershaw and Greinke, plus they lead baseball in HRs in a pitcher’s park – these guys can flat out hit. They traded longer-term wins for current wins, and they will get them. My personal prediction for the second wild card is the Giants: I don’t think San Diego has the staying power, nor am I truly bullish on the Cubs or Pirates, though either could surprise.

SO: my unscientific analysis of the playoff picture, one month in:

AL East: pick a team out of a hat. I pick Baltimore

AL Central: Tigers or Royals. I pick Kansas City

AL West: one of Angels, Mariners, A’s will emerge. I pick Seattle

Wild Cards: Detroit and Houston

NL East: I still pick the Nationals

NL Central: Cardinals an easy pick

NL West: Dodgers an easy pick

NL wild card: Mets and Giants

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Here It Comes

Posted by Baseball Bob at 09:10
Apr 292015

With that title, you will surely think I am talking about the inevitable Yankee injuries, and you are partly right: they put Tanaka on the DL last night, and started Chase Whitley in his place. Whitley had a solid start (5 IP, 1 ER, 55 GS) and the Yankees’ shut-down bullpen pitched 4 innings allowing 1 run, so they won 4-2. And they had always planned to pitch Whitley, giving each starter an extra day, so it doesn’t actually disturb things: they’ll just rescind the extra day, and everyone else will go on normal rest, with Whitley taking Tanaka’s place. AND they increased their AL East lead. Tanaka is not complaining of elbow pain, but rather wrist/forearm, and they are saying, at this point, a month or so. We’ll see.

But what I really want to talk about is the Cubs kids. Kris Bryant we know about: he was in the news all spring, is now with the big club, and his 1 for 4 with only a single last night brought his season line down to .341/.471/.439/810. And we KNOW he has power, so that 098 ISO will surely rise. Then last week they brought up Addison Russell, and he has yet to hit (.179/.207/.286) but has been brilliant in the field at second base, and last night hit a key double, his fifth of his very young season (fun note: HIS ISO is .107, BETTER than Bryant). NOW they bring up a third kid: Junior Lake. He started in left field, went 2 for 5 with an RBI double. Lake was not a debut (he played 108 games last year) but adds to the youth movement.

We have been talking about this for a few years, how the Cubs had a very deep minor league system, and the players might coalesce at the same moment. Consider these players and their ages:

Addison Russell, 2B 21

Jorge Soler RF, Kris Bryant 3B, Arismendy Alcantara IF (currently back in AAA) 23

Anthony Rizzo 1B, Junior Lake LF, Starlin Castro SS 25

That’s SIX of last night’s eight position players at 25 years old or younger. And the Cubs have money: they could conceivably keep this core around for a long time.

Is their pitching good enough to win? Hard to say. Will they be fun to watch? Easy to say, YES!

Meanwhile, on other fronts: I almost feel prescient – I said before the season started that I was NOT on the Red Sox bandwagon, that their starting pitching was worse than people thought and that they would lose a lot of games 11-8. Well, they lost one last night by EXACTLY that score, as Clay Buchholz (preseason anointed ace) and a bunch of relievers melted down so much that even their pounding bats couldn’t keep up. The Red Sox have outscored the Yankees, 109 to 107 in the same number of games (21) which is 5.19 R/G which in today’s run context is outstanding. But the Sox have ALLOWED 118 (5.62 $/G) worst in baseball, while NY has allowed only 81 (3.86 R/G). Unlike previous seasons, this year so far the Yankees deserve a BETTER record (by the Pythagorean rule) than they have, and the Red Sox a worse record. In the case of NY, it is entirely due to 3 blowout wins, which so early in the season tip the RS/RA ratio, but in Boston’s case it is earned. I may do April scorecards on Friday if I get ambitious.

The most fun game of the day yesterday, by far, was the Nats and Braves. Washington scored first, a 2-out RBI double by Harper in the top of the first. AJ Cole made his ML debut for the Nats, and his first inning went single, out, single, sac fly, wild pitch, double for 2 runs and a 2-1 deficit. Sadly, that was his GOOD inning. In the second it went single, single, sac bunt, intentional walk (!!), single, line out. One run in, two outs, bases still loaded, but a chance to escape with minor damage. Another single plated a second run, bases still loaded, now down 4-1. A comebacker to the mound to end the inning, but Cole got excited, threw it away, and suddenly it was 6-1, runners on second and third, and still pitching. A double and a single plated 3 more runs (!) before a grounder ended the inning and his outing: 2 IP, 9 R, 4 ER, 1BB (intentional), 1 K (Game Score 12 – tough debut) . 9-1 Braves. The Nats got one back in the third, the Bravesmatched it in the fourth, to make it 10-2.

In the top of the fifth the Nats scored 4 unearned runs, on double, error, sac fly, strikeout, single, home run to close to 10-6. A Denard Span HR in the sixth made it 10-7 and ended Teheran’s day (GS 33). But single, double, walk added a run for Atlanta, and put two on with no outs. Just like the Red Sox game, the Nats kept scoring, but seemingly couldn’t stop the Braves from scoring, too. But Thornton came on and got out, out, walk (loading the bases), out to reestablish order. 11-7 Braves. Then, in the top of the seventh, the Nats rallied via walk, out, walk, out, triple, double for 3 runs to close to 11-10. NOW it was really a ballgame! AGAIN they couldn’t keep the Braves off the scoreboard, as they parlayed a walk and two singles into another run, to extend the shaky lead to 12-10. But in the top of the ninth the Nats got two on (walk, single) with only one out and Dan Uggla at the plate. Uggla hasn’t hit at all for years (ask Atlanta, his opponent on this day) and was only playing due to injuries, but on this day he already had 2 hits and 2 RBI. 438 feet later he had 3 hits, 5 RBI and a 13-12 Washington win. Wow!

The Dodgers fell to the Giants 2-1 (Kershaw and Bumgarner) for the Giants fourth win in five games against LA. As noted yesterday, they are a sub-.300 team against the rest of baseball. And the Mets couldn’t get it done, either: they gave up 3 in the sixth to trail 3-0, got them all back in the seventh to tie the game at 3, but lost 4-3 on a run in the eighth. Montero (GS 52) and Phelps (54) were both fine but not great, and C Torres allowed a run out of the bullpen (as opposed to A Torres, who threw a scoreless inning). You can’t win them all, I guess.

Isn’t this fun???

Strength of Schedule

Posted by Baseball Bob at 08:42
Apr 282015

Things baseball-wise, are pretty good in our home these days; it won’t last, but the four (!) teams that I am (sort of) rooting for this year are all playing well: the Dodgers (as expected) are in first place, as (unexpectedly) are the Yankees and the Mets. The Cubs are not in first place, but they are in second, only a game back of a Cardinals team that lost their ace, Wainwright, probably for the season, and two of their best players, Molina and Heyward, at least for a bit.

This got me to wondering, are these fast starts in part due to who these teams have played? The worst record in baseball belongs to the Brewers, for example, and the Cubs have played them NO times – still 19 to go! Many attempts have been made to assess strength of schedule, hereafter abbreviated SoS, and all these studies have concluded that for teams it doesn’t matter very much – perhaps a 2-game swing over 162 games. It matters MUCH more for a starting pitcher:  getting a lot of starts against bad teams can help the W-L, the ERA and even the FIP (that, actually is what xFIP is for, at least a bit). But in a 20-game sample, SoS clearly CAN matter – the Pirates are 11-9, but are 5-1 against Milwaukee, 6-8 against everyone else. So, is there any way to measure SoS so as to be at least interesting (to be useful, it would have to be predictive, and NOTHING about a 20-game sample is all that predictive)?

What I came up with is this: all of baseball, not including the games of your teams, has a .500 record. So, if you take each team you have played, and subtract their record against you, you get a record which can reasonably be compared to .500. That is, this is a measure, not of how good a team is, but of how well they have played (or at least done) so far in the season. Did you catch the team at a good or bad moment? Are your losses to them a part of their overall winning pattern, or were they losing to others but beating you? This is not SO easy to figure, but it is not so hard, either, if you only do a few teams. I haven’t figured out how to automate it, so I can look at 30 teams, so I am only going to do my four teams, for the moment.

Mets 15-5 (best in baseball!) have only played in their division except the 3 interleague games against the Yankees. Not counting the games against the Mets, you get: Atlanta 8-5, Miami 8-7, Philadelphia 7-8 and Washington 6-11, plus New York 10-7. This is +1 overall, so their opposition is about average. You might want to weight this but the number of games played (6 against Atlanta, 5 against Miami, 3 each for the others) but this doesn’t really materially affect the conclusion, though they have played 14 of 20 against teams with winning records when not playing the Mets.

Dodgers 12-7  also have played only within their division except interleague against the Angels. The records when not playing the Dodgers: Arizona 6-10, Colorado 11-5, San Diego 9-6, San Francisco 5-11 (!!), Seattle 8-8. This is -3 and with 5 games against the Giants, and 6 against Arizona, the weighted average would be worse still.

Yankees 12-8. Boston 9-8, Baltimore 7-9, Toronto 7-10, Tampa Bay 11-5, Detroit 13-3 Mets 14-3. So the Yankees have faced VERY GOOD competition, with the bad teams not very bad, and the good teams very, very good. This, of course, is what set me on this road, noting the Mets record, even though they lost their series to NY.

Cubs 11-7. Cincinnati 8-6, Colorado 10-6, Pittsburgh 9-6, San Diego 9-9, San Francisco 7-8. So the Cubs, like the Yankees but not to the same extent, have played teams that have done well when not playing the Cubs.

The flaw in this methodology became obvious, though, early on: the Mets opposition in large part played against each other, so naturally their record will be about .500. Dodgers ditto. The Cubs and Yankees DID have some games outside of their division, and in the case of the Yankees, they played the teams with the two very best records in baseball (when not playing the Yankees) and took both series.

Indicative of nothing, but fun. Note, too, that the Cubs have yet to play the Cardinals (or the Brewers) – a lot of games with both teams will have a huge impact on their season. Are the Brewers as bad as the Cardinals are good? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the most interesting, to me, of all the numbers above, are the Tampa Bay numbers. In recent years the Rays have beaten the Yankees like a drum, but so far THIS season NY is 4-0 against the Rays, who still have a very good record by beating up on everyone else in the division! And the Giants are 3-1 against the Dodgers, 5-11 against the rest of baseball.

I LOVE this game!

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