Friday, December 03, 2004
NL East: Pythagorean Wins (Actual Win variance)
Atlanta: 96 (0)
Philadelphia: 87 (-1)
Florida: 83 (0)
New York Mets: 76 (-5)
Montreal: 65 (+2)
The Marlins and Braves did what was expected, the Phillies and Mets actually over-performed, and the Expos should have been a little better.
Curious, I ran the numbers for a few other teams and here is what I found: the Cardinals and Dodgers slightly out performed their Pythagorean record by three games, and the Houston Astros got exactly what they were projected to get: 92 wins. The Cubs under-performed their Pythagorean record by five games. (They should have beaten the Astros by two games.) I think the Cubs, if they can resolve the Sammy Sosa situation, have a chance to make the playoffs in ’05 and be a pretty good team.
Over in the AL, the Oakland A’s have some cause for concern in 2005: they over-performed their Pythagorean record by five games. They should have finished the season with 86 wins, instead of 91. The Twins also over-performed by four games. I wonder if these teams are due for a let-down in ’05 … as for the battle of the titans between the Red Sox and Yankees, while the Yankees won the AL East by three games the Red Sox were clearly superior:
Red Sox: 98-64
Red Sox: 98-64
The Yankees twelve game variance is, incidentally, the biggest in history, the previous record being 11 games by one of the Reds teams of the ‘70s. (1976 Reds, but don’t quote me.)
It will be interesting to see what changes are made in the Bronx in the off-season, because this team was clearly out-gunned by the Red Sox last year and won’t win against them in 2005.
Thursday, December 02, 2004
Studes begins by noting what is probably obvious to us all: if you have a man on first with no outs it is much easier to score than having a guy on first with two outs. (Specifically, the former situation typically yields .953 runs an inning, as compared with .251 runs per inning.*) So OBP is important, but lead-off OBP is vital.
*(If you are curious, I looked up Tangotiger's Run Expectancy Matrix and found that the middle scenario of a runner on first with one out yielded .573 runs per inning.)
The Phillies, as we all know, are a great OBP team (.345, 2nd in the NL). However, the Phils had little success getting guys on base at the start of the inning: .318. The Phillies -.027 variance OBP / Leadoff OBP was worse than any other MLB team except the Rangers and Expos (er, Nationals). In other words: the Phillies terrific OBP is being wasted. Why?
Studes notes that the Phillies have an OBP machine batting third (Abreu) and batters hitting third are the least likely to leadoff an inning. A big reason I found for the decline in leadoff OBP for the Phillies was the performance of Marlon Byrd, the Phillies former centerfielder:
Byrd was the Phillies leadoff hitter for a good portion of the season. He had not fare well in the role, hitting .215 BA / .293 OBP batting in the #1 slot. I looked more closely and found that Byrd had 117 AB's in 2004 leading off an inning for the Phillies: he hit .248 BA / .285 OBP. (Check out Byrd's stats here.)
So Byrd was a big factor in the Phillies miserable lead-off OBP, but check out how most of the Phillies starters did:
Season OBP / Leadoff OBP / Variance
Byrd: .287 / .285 / -.002
Rollins: .348 / .319 / -.029
Polanco: .345 / .363 / +.018
Abreu: .428 / .372 / -.056
Thome: .396 / .420 / +.024
Burrell: .365 / .319 / -.046
Bell: .363 / .272 / -.091
Lieberthal: .335 / .405 / +.070
Michaels: .364 / .313 / -.051
Utley: .308 / .267 / -.041
A few thoughts on the data:
1. Please trade Bell.
2. Unfortunately I didn’t write down how many plate appearances each player had in the role. Byrd, I counted, had 117 AB’s and 3 BB’s leading off innings for the Phillies (no data on sacrifice hits). So he had 120 plate appearances leading off an inning. By my count that’s over 13 games of leading off an inning. No wonder the Phils overall leadoff OBP numbers are so low: Byrd’s .285 is a massive drain.
3. The number that jumped out at me was Bell’s .272 in the six hole. That is a .091 difference from his regular OBP. That certainly made life difficult for Lieberthal, who typically hit behind him in the seven slot and probably didn't have that many RBI chances. Lieberthal, by the way, turned out to be a decent threat to leadoff an inning with. I wonder if the Phillies should maybe flip him and Bell in the batting order.
4. Studes mentioned that three hole hitters get the fewest lead-off AB’s, so I wonder if Abreu’s fifty-six point variance is simply a small sample size. Either way, it certainly looks like Burrell and Abreu should be flipped in the batting order: Burrell was awful leading off an inning (.319 OBP), and Abreu’s skills might be better served in the five slot where he can hit leadoff in the second inning (assuming one of the first four Phillies gets on) and set the table for Bell and Lieberthal.
This was an interesting study and one of the reasons why I read Hardball Times every morning: terrific, insightful writing about the game.
This morning I was watching a little bit of ESPNews (I love digital cable) and I saw their story on Jason Giambi’s testimony that he used BALCO steroids. As a lawyer I know that the first tenant of the criminal justice system is that one is innocent until proven guilty, but I find it difficult to believe that Barry Bonds didn’t use steroids. If so than it certainly calls into question Bonds place in baseball history: specifically his pursuit of Hank Aaron’s home run record, which he seems fated to shatter … It is easy to convict Bonds in the court of public opinion: the guy is an arrogant jerk. He’s a poor ambassador for baseball. But this makes me question the achievements of the recent past, the achievements of men that I admire like Mark McGwire.
I have tremendous admiration for McGwire. During the 1998 season he carried himself like a gentleman: hitting 62 home runs wasn’t just about breaking the record, McGwire made it into an homage to Maris himself. It was touching to see McGwire reach out to the Maris family during the pursuit: his pursuit gave new honor to Maris’ achievement in 1961. McGwire is an easy guy to like: how can you dislike a guy who turned down more money to stay in St. Louis because he liked the city? How can you dislike a guy so active in children’s charities? How can you dislike a guy who flat-out said he’d retire without breaking Aaron’s record before cheapening the record by becoming a full-time DH?
But the use of performance-enhancing drugs is clearly documented in baseball, and it makes me wonder how tremendous McGwire’s achievement in 1998 really was. From Giambi to Ken Caminetti, the best players appear to have been doped up. Does this cheapen the records? Does this call into question the authenticity of the game we watch? Can we really compared the game of 2004 to that of 1964? Or even to 1984?
It is troubling to think about, a hard matter to mull over … I’m reminded of the scene in Eight Men Out where the kid cries out to Shoeless Joe Jackson: “Say it ain’t so, Joe! Say it ain’t so...”
Say it ain't so ...
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
So who are the winners and losers in the Pirates – A’s deal. The conventional wisdom is that both teams came out winners. I suspect that isn’t exactly true: as I said yesterday, I thought that the deal was a good one for the A’s, and less good for the Pirates. Here’s why:
We basically know what the A's are getting. Kendall is an OBP machine: career .387 OBP with 51 fewer career strikeouts than walks. He's had a .399 OBP for the last two years. This guy was made to hit in the two slot for the A's. The A's are getting a fairly young (31), durable (he caught 146 of the Pirates 162 games last year) catcher who hits for a high average. Aside from the money, I can't think of a downside for the A's, aside from the cash.
So what are the Pirates getting? The prize in the deal for the Pirates is Mark Redman. He hurled 191 innings last year and went 11-12. Not bad, but naturally a look inside Redman’s stats reveal a few problems.
Let me begin by pointing out that Redman's 2004 ERA was 4.71, significantly higher than the A's team 4.17 ERA. Redman’s FIP ERA climbs to 5.29 … that's pretty high and a troubling sign when you note that he’s going to a team that ranked last in the NL in ZR in 2004 and 29th of 30 teams in the MLB. The A’s played pretty good defense behind their pitchers in 2004, and Redman is going to a team that isn’t, quite frankly, that good on the field. He could be in for real trouble in 2005 if the Pirates don’t play good defense. Oh, and by the way, Redman's WHIP was 1.50, much worse than the team's 1.37 ...
Redman’s -7 Runs Against Average was worst on the A’s staff. Why? Unlike Hudson and Mulder, groundball pitchers (2.58 and 2.02 G/F ratio, respectively), Redman threw a lot more flyballs in 2004: 1.00. While I don’t think his propensity for flyballs will hurt him much- PNC Park doesn’t strike me as a hitters haven -but the lack of range of the Pirates outfield could be a problem.
His control wasn’t quite what Mulder (even in a serious slump) and Hudson’s was either:
So the Pirates didn’t exactly get a world-class starter from the A’s. Redman is a decent third starter, maybe even a two, but I don’t see him as the compliment to the Pirates pitching they think he is.
As for Arthur Rhodes, I suppose the Pirates will use him as their closer in 2005 or deal him to a team needing bullpen help. If the Pirates keep him I'd say they've made a mistake. If they deal him, then the jury is still out. What did Rhodes do in 2004? Nothing much: his 1.73 WHIP meant he allowed too many baserunners to survive as an effective relief pitcher. Rhodes 4.9 BB/9 was the worst on the A's staff with pitchers having hurled over ten innings. Rhodes 5.12 ERA actually obscures a 6.18 FIP ERA. While it is true that Rhodes suffered from slightly below-average defense, bear in mind that he's going to a team that plays poorly in the field to begin with. I don't see this working out.
So chalk this up as a victory for Billy Beane. I don't think this is a terrible deal for the Pirates though: losing Kendall's salary is victory enough. The Pirates now have some room to maneuver and build for the future: they have a young, talented core of players and I think they could make a run at .500 or better next year. Still, I think the Pirates got the short end of the stick, while the A's got an OBP machine for expendable arms. To me it just highlights how franchises mired in conventional thinking don't stand a chance against the Billy Beanes and Theo Epsteins of the MLB world.
But hey, I could be wrong.
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
I tried to track the decline of the Phillies defense between the 2003 & 2004 seasons and here is what I got…
Team ZR by position: (2004 / 2003 / Difference)
1B: .821 / .853 (-.032)
2B: .832 / .850 (-.018)
3B: .783 / .787 (-.004)
SS: .860 / .843 (+.017)
RF: .877 / .897 (-.020)
LF: .869 / .871 (-.002)
CF: .857 / .883 (-.026)
Team: .851 (6th) / .859 (2nd) (-.008)
Aside from the improved play of Jimmy Rollins at short, there was an across-the-board decline on every front for the Phillies defense. The decline at first base, where Thome is more of a liability than an asset, was especially striking to me. When Thome took over the job in 2003, he was a downgrade compared with Travis Lee, but he more than made up for the loss of Lee’s glove by his bat (and then some). In 2004 Thome seemed to really decline at the plate (.294 Post-All Star GPA, .346 Pre-All Star), but he also seemed to decline on the field:
2001: Travis Lee, .896
2002: Travis Lee, .864
2003: Jim Thome, .852
2004: Jim Thome, .817 (-.035 from ‘03)
It is a pity that ESPN doesn’t have month-by-month ZR stats so I could confirm my suspicion that Thome played worse defensively as the season wore on … Given that Thome seemed to decline so badly at the end of the ’04 campaign, I think there is troubling evidence that Thome might be arriving at the twilight of his career a little faster than anticipated.
Even though the Phillies had been second in the NL in ZR in ’03, they actually played better defense in 2002 & 2001. Check out the Phillies stats from those years:
Team ZR by position: (2002 / 2001)
1B: .862 / .888
2B: .826 / .862
3B: .814 / .821
SS: .857 / .853
RF: .925 / .876
LF: .887 / .870
CF: .851 / .884*
Team: .863 (4th) / .869 (1st)
Despite the declining to fourth in the NL, the ’02 Phillies played better defense than the ’03 team …
2002: .863 (-.006)
2003: .859 (-.004)
2004: .851 (-.008)
* If I could frighten everyone for a moment … the Phillies sterling .884 ZR in center in ’01 is courtesy of our friend Doug Glanville. Glanville played 1,310 & 2/3 innings for the Phillies in centerfield (about 91% of the Phillies centerfield innings). He may have been a black hole at the plate (a laughable .285 OBP in 2001), but he did have a good glove, way back when…
Curious about what the strengths of the Phillies were during those years (2001-2004), I broke ZR down by infield or outfield (ESPN.com’s ZR numbers allow you to do that for 2002-2004, but strangely not for 2001). The Phillies outfield has always been so-so:
2002: .884 (6th)
2003: .884 (5th)
2004: .867 (8th)
’04 vs. ’02: -.017
Nothing too impressive there. But check out the Phillies infield…
2002: .838 (1st)
2003: .832 (2nd)
2004: .824 (5th)
’04 vs. ’02: -.014
Remember, 2002 was a year in which they finished fourth in ZR, but they had the best infield defense in the NL that year.
Conclusions: I think the infield defense is the key for the Phillies because they need to bring in as many groundball pitchers as possible. So getting those 4-3, 6-3 and 5-3 groundouts is vital and I think that was a big reason why the Phillies pitching had trouble in ’04.
I’ll reiterate my argument that the Phillies need to deal Bell and install Utley at third. Last year Bell and Thome played most games for the Phillies and I think that the decline in the quality of the Phillies infield is obvious. I wouldn’t dream of advocating the Phillies deal Thome, but Bell had a career year in ’04 and I see him as a major defensive liability at third. I think Utley would be a defensive upgrade and just as good, if not a better, bat than Bell.
I’m doing some more work on the subject, so stay tuned … I also have some other logs on the fire ...
Monday, November 29, 2004
My parents took us to see Cats at the Walnut Street Theater on Wednesday night: I was pretty impressed by the performance. I had never seen it before, so I knew nothing of the story, but I liked what I saw. My wife & I are cat people, so the performance (based on a collection of short stories by T.S. Eliot) was a lot of fun … on our way there we drove by the stadiums. Remarkably I hadn’t seen them in their finished glory, so, much to my wife’s amusement, I was craning my neck as we drove on I-95 to scope them out … they loomed out of the night mist like ghostly apparitions … I remember when my father took me to games at the Vet I used to stare at the ships moored in the Philadelphia Naval Yard. I haven’t changed much in 20+ years.
Thursday it was off for a day of football and turkey. This was the first time my wife had come to Thanksgiving in Southeastern PA, and only the second time she had met a lot of people there (the first being our wedding in September). We had a lot of fun catching up with people and hanging out. I typically don’t get to see too much of my extended family, living about 300 miles away. My poor wife had trouble getting into the holiday spirit because she missed the parades on TV. Too me, if I’m watching the Detroit Lions get their behinds whooped, it’s Thanksgiving.
That evening I kept us up until Midnight watching Pitt surprise West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl 16-13. I was surprised by how stout Pitt’s defense was against the Mountaineers rushing attack: time and again they’d run until the line and Pitt tacklers would wrap them up for no gain. Thanks to Syracuse’ surprise upset of Boston College on Saturday (thank you, Orangemen), Pitt has the inside track on the Big East’s BCS bowl bid, provided they defeat South Florida. When I was a sophomore at Pitt I watched them get thumped by Ohio State 72-0. The idea that they are on the cusp of playing in the Fiesta Bowl blows my mind.
Friday we met a friend of ours at the King of Prussia mall for lunch (at the Bamboo Club, by the way: very good food). She’s a doctor in Philly (she was also one of my wife’s bridesmaids) so she has an erratic schedule. After that her and my wife did shopping while I walked around. I love the King of Prussia mall: Nordstrom’s, Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor … we have nothing even roughly comparable in Pittsburgh. There are so many interesting and eclectic stores in King of Prussia. They recently opened a bigger mall in Robinson Township, near the Pittsburgh Airport, but it was your usual mall staples: Hallmark, Abercrombie & Fitch, the Gap, etc. I’d love to have an Organized Living or an Urban Outfitters around here.
I didn’t buy much: an Eagles t-shirt and an Eagles “fan pack” at Model’s… they had Phillies sweatshirts on sale 50% but I didn’t buy it. I really regret not getting a Buffalo Bills Eric Moulds jersey they had on sale for $15 … I always thought my wife was obsessive in shopping on Black Friday, but they have some terrific deals … Saw The Incredibles on Friday night. Great movie, although it was very different from previous Pixar offerings: much more adult and darker. I enjoyed the movie a lot though … Saturday my wife and my mom went to a baby shower while my dad and I bought a tree and watched Syracuse stun BC. We watched the 007 flick Diamonds Are Forever on Spike. I love that Spike runs all of the 007 films and includes Brosnan’s films in the mix. I love the job Brosnan did as 007: he had the right mix of humor and charisma that eluded Lazenby, Moore and Dalton. Diamonds is probably Connery’s best performance as 007 (also his last, unless you count “Never Say Never Again”). Here are my favorite 007 flicks, by actor:
Diamonds Are Forever
From Russia With Love
You Only Live Twice
Die Another Day
The World is Not Enough
Tomorrow Never Dies
Moore / Dalton / Lazenby:
For Your Eyes Only (M)
The Spy Who Loved Me (M)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (L)
Live and Let Die (M)
License to Kill (D)
The Living Daylights (D)
The Man With the Golden Gun (M)
A View to a Kill (M)
The next day my wife & I drove back, getting home just in time to watch a little Desperate Housewives … I know a lot has been happening in the sports world. The Eagles victory over the Giants clinched their fourth consecutive NFC East title and their fifth consecutive playoff berth. Incredible to think that since Andy Reid took over the Birds in 1999 they’ve gone 61-30 in the regular season, and 5-4 in the playoffs … this is a record of unparalleled achievement in the team’s history … speaking of the Eagles, I got mentioned in USA Today a week ago for The Bird Blog. I would have preferred that they focus on my work with the A Citizen’s Blog, but I loved the attention. (Click here for the link.) … Meanwhile, the only big news has been that the Phillies have apparently made a nice offer to David Wells (mercifully, it is a one-year contract). I don’t hate bringing Wells to Philly, but I wonder if their money might be better spent bringing Millwood back or getting a new ace hurler … I don’t see Carl Pavano wearing the red stripes in 2005: he’ll end up in New York with the Yankees … Scarily, I think Pedro might end up in Queens with the Mets. The Mets might be awful at the plate, but it is hard to argue that a Pedro-Leiter-Glavine rotation would be the best in the NL East … The only big deal of the post-season so far has been the A’s – Pirates trade. I’ll try to comment on it a little later, because I think it deserves comment, but I’ll just say that I think the Pirates got the short end of the stick: they’ll be giving the A’s $5 million a year in 2007 for a guy who hasn’t played for them in three seasons, while the A’s are getting an OBP machine … Score one for Billy Beane.
More later, ya’ll…