Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A few days off

Hi everyone,
Letting you know that I'll be taking a couple of days off blogging. I'm right smack in the middle of exams, so I'm really crunched for time right now, but should be back on track by the beginning of next week.
Thanks for bearing with me,

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

David Price and Evan Longoria are Mighty Lonely

As many of you may have heard, David Price has been taking a lot of flak for some postgame comments he made on his Twitter (@davidprice14). Price tweeted, “Had a chance to clinch a post season spot tonight with about 10,000 fans in the stands... embarrassing.” Evan Longoria echoed Price’s sentiments in his postgame interview, saying “It’s kind of like, What else do you have to do to draw fans in this place? It’s actually embarrassing for us.” Longoria went on to say, “It’s disheartening. It’s something I’ve been wanting to say for a long time. It’s not a jab at the fans. It’s not a kick below the belt. Obviously, you want to bring a championship to Tampa and we’d like for more than [12,000] to 15,000 to know about it.” 

To be certain, these are athletes, and they make large amounts of money. Not as much as many others in baseball, but to the average American, a couple million dollars per year isn’t exactly chump change. As Buster Olney pointed out on ESPN today, they shouldn’t be telling fans, who may be hurting financially, especially in light of the financial crisis that has cost many Americans their jobs and homes over the past couple years, how to spend their money. That said, Tampa only drew 12,446 fans to a stadium that holds 36,973.

The Rays are currently the best team in baseball, a half-game ahead of the Yankees and a full game up on the Twins. They’re essentially a playoff lock (magic number is 1), and they still barely draw enough fans to fill a third of their (relatively small) park. They’ve drawn an average attendance of 22,913 in home games this season, 22nd in baseball.

The Tampa-St. Petersburg metro area is home to 2,785,301 people, as estimated by the US Census Bureau. For comparison, the Census Bureau estimates Milwaukee’s population as 1,739,497, roughly 1 million less than the Tampa area. However, Milwaukee’s drawing an average of 34,278 to their games. San Diego has a population of 2,880,000, roughly equal to Tampa, but the Padres have drawn 26,233 per game, more than 3,000 more than the Rays’ average. Minneapolis and the surrounding areas are home to a population of 3,275,041, but the Twins’ division winning ballclub has drawn 39,783 fans per game to their new ballpark, more than 10,000 more than they drew last year and nearly double the fans that have attended the average Tampa home game. 

So how can this be? How can the best team in baseball not even cause a stir in their home fanbase? How is it possible that the Rays have drawn fewer fans in 2010, with the best team in baseball, than they did with a non-playoff ballclub in 2009? That may be the most amazing part… after showing 23,147 fans through the gates on an average gameday last year, the ballpark that now houses the best team in baseball has had a slightly lower attendance during this campaign. 

It’s honestly quite baffling. This is one hell of a franchise, and a front office that both I and most people in baseball (especially those who view the field of sabermetrics favorably) respect immensely. Andrew Friedman, the GM of the Rays, is one of the best minds in the game today, and I’m sure that he’s as frustrated as Price and Longoria. Despite his success in putting together a team with as good a shot at the World Series as anybody, they can’t even come close to filling their park on a regular basis. The amount of hard work and dedication that goes into competing with teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, with payrolls many times larger than theirs, is unfathomable, and yet Friedman’s managed to put together a team that’s as good as or better than their AL East counterparts with less than half the money… and still, no one in Tampa seems to care.

As much as I hate to say this, Tampa may simply not be a baseball town. After nearly 15 years in the Tampa area, the honeymoon is over. If Tampa fans can’t fill their stadium to see the best team in baseball, what’s going to happen when Carl Crawford and Carlos Peña leave this offseason? Though they probably shouldn’t have said what they said, Price and Longoria have a right to be fairly irritated. They deserve better than this. If Tampa’s not going to give it to them, it’s only a matter of time before the franchise moves somewhere that will. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Wait Til Next Year- Colorado Rockies

This one’s been a long time coming, but with seven games left, we can put the Rockies to rest. They’re four and a half games back of the Giants, so the division title is essentially a done deal, especially considering that they would also need to jump the Padres, who have four games on them. The Padres also lead the Wild Card, with the Braves half a game back. The idea that they’d hop two of these three teams is essentially a mathematical impossibility. PECOTA gives them a 0.7% shot at October, but after 155 games, I’m ready to call the Rockies' season. The Rockies love their September and October magic, but their 4-6 record in their last 10 games is the end of their potential comeback.

Although the Rockies came up just short, there’s a lot that they can take from this season. Ubaldo Jimenez blossomed into a true ace, and although he’s been well-documented as one of the luckiest players in baseball this season, his FIP of 3.17 is obviously nothing to scoff at. Jason Hammel and Jhoulys Chacin proved that they’re great candidates to back up Jimenez, with Hammel quietly putting up a strong 3.7 WAR and Chacin logging 3.0 WAR in just 132.1 innings. However, the biggest steps Rockies fans can look forward to are two true stars and potential MVP contenders providing strong up-the-middle defense, leadership in the clubhouse, and making strong contributions with the lumber (as regular readers know, these are the main characteristics I look for in an MVP). Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki have both exhibited these traits throughout the season, and at 25 and 26, Rockies fans should be pumped about their strong offensive core that will be led by Gonzalez and Tulowitzki for the foreseeable future. 

Gonzalez, only 25, has moved around the outfield for the Rockies this season, starting 55 games in center, 49 in right, and 32 in left. Wherever he’s been defensively, he’s been slightly below average, but slightly below average centerfield is still quite valuable defensively, especially when you consider Gonzalez’ incredible offensive contributions. Add in the fact that UZR has had him as a plus defender in each of the last two years, and I think it’s safe to say that Gonzalez is a decent defensive outfielder. However, decent doesn’t even come close to describing Gonzalez’ offensive contributions. CarGo (Nicknames are really dead. It’s pretty sad.) has provided 43.7 RAA with the bat, after only adding 9.8 last season. Gonzalez is hitting .341 this season, a huge improvement on his .284 last year. Much of the improvement is due to Gonzalez’s .391 BABIP, but considering his .358 career BABIP and his LD rate of 21.5% (9th in the NL), don’t expect a regression to anything near league average. As a speedy line-drive hitter, Gonzalez profiles as exactly the type of hitter who may be able to consistently produce high BABIPs and the high averages they bring with them. Gonzalez put up 2.1 WAR in 2009, but his 5.8 in 2010 cements him as a true star and a potential future MVP.

Hard as it is to believe, Tulo’s been even better than Gonzalez, at least from a rate perspective. Tulowitzki’s 6.2 WAR in 2010 may not seem like a huge improvement over his 5.7 last season, but when you consider that he missed six weeks and has only participated in 116 games this season. Without the wrist injury that kept him out from the middle of June until the end of July, Tulowitzki could conceivably be in the midst of a 9+ win season. Though we obviously can’t just extrapolate his pace over the entire season, Tulo has been incredible in the time he has seen, even putting together a streak of 14 home runs in 15 games that ended just 10 days ago. With a BABIP of .331 (only .012 points above his career .319) and an HR/FB lower than he pur up last year, Tulo could potentially keep putting up seasons not unlike this one throughout the prime of his career. 

So there you have it. Despite Matt Cain’s brilliant performance taking them out of playoff contention, the Rockies could be a problem for Cain and the rest of the NL West for years to come. Gone are the days of 2002-2006, when the Rockies finished in fourth or fifth place in the West each season. The Rockies are a true contender, as they proved in 2007 with their NL pennant. Expect them to stay in the mix.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Matt Cain's Huge Start

Matt Cain has been one of the most consistently underrated and effective pitchers in baseball over the last five years. Never has that been more true than today, when Cain pitched a complete game 3-hitter in one of the most important starts of his career, moving the Giants into first place, half a game ahead of the Padres, and grabbing a crucial series win over Colorado. The win also puts the Giants one game up of Atlanta, their main competitor for the wild card should the Padres wind up taking the west. Cain’s consistently been among the pitchers getting the least run support in baseball, resulting in mediocre records and probably less hype than he’s deserved. He’s been above 3.5 WAR in each of the last five years, and in 2010 has put up his best season yet, at 4.1 WAR (before today’s start). Cain, in his sixth year, is now the longest-tenured Giant. The 26 year old received a 3 year, 27.25 million dollar extension, and has been doing all he can since to prove he’s worth the money. Cain’s now in the top 10 in WAR among NL pitchers, and his 3.54 FIP ranks him in the top 15 in the NL. 

As I mentioned, Cain’s gotten ridiculously unlucky in terms of the support he’s received from Giants pitchers. In each of the last four years, he’s been in the bottom 20 in overall run support. He had the second least runs put up for him of any pitcher in both 2007 and 2008, getting 3.51 and then a ludicrous 3.14 runs scored for him per game. Recently, he’s been getting a bit more help, but his 4.18 runs per game in 2009 and 4.11 in 2010 were both in the bottom 20 as well. As a result, he’s compiled an overall record of 41-48 in the last 4 seasons, with a FIP under 4 in each of those years. 

So consider this my post to highlight Matt Cain, one of the best pitchers in baseball, and one who has flown under the radar to some extent. With Cain and Lincecum, the Giants have one of the best young one-two punches in baseball. Expect the two young Giants to front the rotation for some years to come, and Cain to keep twirling gems like the one he put together today in one of the biggest starts of his career.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The AL ROY: What It Should Be, What It Will Be

The AL Rookie of the Year race is slightly more straightforward, but the junior circuit has still produced several viable candidates for voters to decide from. The way I see it, the lack of strong position player candidates could open the door for a closer who’s been fantastic in 2010.

Among the strongest hitters, Danny Valencia of Minnesota hasn’t gotten much talk, but he may be the best of this year’s crop. Valencia’s put up 2.8 WAR in 76 games, aided by a UZR of 5.8. Valencia has manned the hot corner effectively and gotten himself on base relatively frequently, as his .370 OBP will attest.

Tampa catcher John Jaso has also been underhyped, but he’s done a fantastic job for Joe Maddon. Jaso has led off and walked a ton, putting up a .383 OBP, winning him many supporters among the saber-inclined. However, he really hasn’t done much else, only mustering a .378 SLG. Cleveland’s catcher, Carlos Santana, could have been a factor as well, but Santana was shut down with a leg injury on August 2nd.

Jaso’s teammate, Reid Brignac, was a fairly hyped prospect entering the year. A shortstop with a good dose of power and overall hitting ability, Brignac could end up as the most valuable hitter to come out of this class, but he’s gone through a slight adjustment period and likely will not factor heavily into ROY voting. He’s only managed a WAR of 1.3 and a wRC+ of 95 through 105 games in his rookie campaign. However, he has shown flashes of brilliance, including his 11th-inning bomb to walk off against the Yankees on September 12th and put the Rays into first place, a position that they’ve since been trading with the Bronx Bombers.

Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch, two Detroit outfielders, are the last truly viable candidates. Jackson’s ROY argument was based largely on his batting average that led the league for much of the season, but his ridiculous BABIP has regressed and Jackson’s fallen below .300. However, he’s still played decent defense in center and put up a reasonably strong 3.3 WAR in 143 games. Boesch has been strong in the counting stats, putting up 14 HRs and 66 ribeyes. However, 1.2 WAR in 126 games and a UZR of –13.5 in right is not going to cut it.

The best candidate may toe the rubber for the Rangers. Neftali Feliz’s 37 saves place him third in the AL, and he’s put up a 3.05 FIP with 67 K’s in 65 innings, so it’s been a strong campaign. It’s tough to win many awards as a reliever, but in this year’s relatively weak AL class, Feliz has a shot.

I’m going to say the deserving winner is Valencia, who’s been strong offensively and defensively and is a fixture for what could be the best team in the AL. Feliz is a close second for me, but I have trouble giving the award to a guy who pitches only 65 innings, even though those innings have been extremely strong. He simply hasn’t had enough impact to beat out Valencia.

However, I’m guessing Feliz takes home the trophy. Voters love their counting stats, and Feliz has piled up the saves. The strong strikeout totals help, as well. This will, however, be an interesting vote to watch.

Thanks for reading and Go Blue!

Friday, September 24, 2010

NL Rookie of the Year: What It Should Be, What It Will Be

The NL ROY is going to be as close as any we’ve seen in a while. The way I see it, there are at least 5, and probably more, good candidates all around the league. First of all, a few honorable mentions. Mike Leake, the early leader for the award after a 7-1 start, is now 8-4 with a 4.23 ERA and a FIP of 4.69. Though his June, July, and August have been quite mediocre, he put up a 2.89 through the end of May. Expect him to be a fixture in the Cincy rotation for quite some time. 

Jonny Venters has flown somewhat under the radar, but he’s been fantastic in the Braves’ bullpen. Without picking up wins or saves in bunches, it’s nearly impossible to figure in an award race, but Venters has certainly given it his best shot, putting up a (luck-aided) 1.83 ERA. Though his 2.74 FIP presents a more reasonable expectation for his future performance, Venters has been an unheralded but very important part of the Braves’ pen.

Logan Morrison, a favorite of myself and other sabermetrically inclined fans for his high OBP (his .420 leads all rookies), won’t get a shot at the ROY, but he’s been fantastic and should be mentioned. Morrison has contributed 1.7 WAR in only 52 games, but with only 2 HR and 16 RBI, his counting stats simply aren’t good enough to stack up with the other fantastic rookies in the NL. When you take into account the fact that he’s played all of his games in leftfield (he’s a natural first baseman), his numbers become even more impressive. 

Morrison has been displaced from first base by Gaby Sanchez, who may have a shot at being a fringe contender for the award. Sanchez has put up 2.8 WAR in 141 games, so while his pace might not stack up with some of the midseason callups, the fact that he’s played essentially an entire season could help him with voters.

Another Marlin is a fringe contender, as well. Mike Stanton is tied with Chicago’s Tyler Colvin for the HR lead among all rookies, at 20. That’s not where the similarities end, either. The outfielders have put up essentially the same triple-slash, with Stanton compiling a .244/.319/.500 for the Fish and Colvin putting up a .254/.316/.500 for the North Siders. Their low OBPs and averages will likely keep them out of the discussion. Stanton’s numbers are more impressive, as he’s put up his stats in 90 games while Colvin has played in 135, but expect both to develop into prolific power hitters. Stanton, only 20, still has a lot of polishing to go, and could develop into one of the best home run hitters in the league. Don’t be surprised if Stanton is near the top of the league in bombs in the very near future.

Starlin Castro is the last fringe contender for the award. He might have been the frontrunner for the award a month or so back, but his .240 average in September has really killed the biggest thing he had going for him. Castro was at or near the top of the leaderboard for average in the NL for much of the season, and it’d be pretty hard to keep the ROY away from any rookie who takes down the batting title. However, he’s now at a fairly empty .306, as he doesn’t walk or hit for much power. He does play short, so his hitting is helped by the fact that he mans a premium position, but he does so somewhat poorly, as UZR has him at –1.5 runs so far this season.

The way I see it, there are three true contenders for the award. Jason Heyward has spent pretty much the entire season in the bigs, with 133 games under his belt. He leads all rookies in WAR, at 4.6. He’s played only slightly above average defense in right, so he doesn’t provide a ton of value in the field, but his .285/.400/.472 is certainly impressive.

Though pitchers rarely factor into the ROY conversation (the last ROY hurler was Dontrelle Willis in 2003), Jaime Garcia is making one hell of an effort to change that. In 28 starts, Garcia has put up a record of 13-8 and 3.2 WAR. Though his ERA of 2.70 is helped by a little bit of luck in the HR/FB% and strand rate departments, his 3.42 is still very impressive. Garcia doesn’t exactly pile up the strikeouts, but his groundball rate is third in the NL, a huge reason for his success. If Garcia can continue to burn worms at a 55.9% rate and pick up his strikeouts, he could end up challenging Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter for supremacy in a world-class St. Louis rotation.

Last but certainly not least, it should be no surprise to regular readers that my pick for the deserving winner of the NL Rookie of the Year is none other than my hometown hero, Gerald Demp Posey III. Posey’s triple-slash currently sits at .323/.370/.524. Posey leads all NL rookies in average and slugging percentage, and is fourth in OBP. His 4.0 WAR puts him right behind Heyward, but he’s put that up in only 99 games. Throw in the fact that he’s a fantastic defensive catcher (Yadier Molina, often cited as one of the best wielders of the tools of ignorance in baseball, has prevented only one more run with his arm than has Posey, despite catching nearly twice as many innings), and this decision is a lot easier than I thought. I think the voters will get this one right and Posey will take home the hardware, adding an NL ROY to his 2008 Golden Spikes Award. Don’t expect that to be his last trophy, either. He’s got a long career ahead of him, and I look forward to watching Posey as a centerpiece in the Giants’ lineup for years to come.

Check back tomorrow, when we’ll take a look at a slightly less crowded AL ROY picture.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The NL Cy- What It Should Be, What It Will Be

It’s been a strange year for the NL Cy Young. For the first two months, Ubaldo Jimenez seemed like a lock to make an uncontested run at the trophy. On the strength of an April and May in which he went 10-1 with a 0.78 ERA, Ubaldo jumped out to the early lead. However, his numbers weren’t as good as he looked. With a miniscule BABIP, an inflated strand rate, and a home run rate at essentially zero, Ubaldo had two of the luckiest months we’ve seen from a pitcher in recent history. As expected, Jimenez regressed toward the league average, and has put up a 4.43 ERA since the beginning of June.

Josh Johnson received a four-year, $39 million extension from the usually stingy Marlins this offseason, and has spent the 2010 campaign proving he was worth the investment and more. However, his August removed him from the race as well. After spending May, June, and July putting up ERAs of 1.38, 1.18, and 1.35, Johnson’s ERA jumped to a 4.46 in August. After making one start in September, Johnson was shut down for the season with shoulder inflammation. His injury is likely not serious, but the Marlins are obviously interested in protected their investment, and with no chance of playoff baseball, there’s no reason for them to risk it. Johnson’s big extension includes a $0.5 million performance bonus should he win a Cy Young over the course of the contract. I won’t be surprised at all if he earns in within the next 3 years.

Roy Halladay was the next leader in the Cy Young race, and still finds himself in the thick of the race for the award. Though his FIP of 3.07 isn’t quite as incredible as his 2.53 ERA, Halladay is still a strong contender for the Cy. His September, however, could derail his push for an NL Cy Young to match the AL trophy he won in 2003. In 27.2 innings, Halladay has allowed a 4.55 ERA, his K rate dropping from 8.6 in August to only 7.5 per 9 innings this month. 

The best candidate, in my mind, is the two man who has stayed steadiest all season. Adam Wainwright has seen a slight upward blip in his ERA in September, but his still-stellar 3.41 marks the first time he’s been over a 2.60 in any month this season. Wainwright has learned to use his fastball more effectively, as his heater has jumped from 13.4 runs below average last season to 15 above in this campaign. Pair that with a curve that, at 20.2 runs above average, is second only to Gio Gonzalez’s deuce for the best hook in baseball (Gonzalez is a mere tenth of a run ahead), and you’ve got a dominant pitcher who stands out in a rotation with a former Cy Young winner and a guy with a chance to become the first pitcher to win the NL Rookie of the Year since Dontrelle Willis in 2003. His 6.1 WAR trails Halladay (6.4) and Johnson (6.2), and his ERA (2.45) and FIP (2.86) are both second to Johnson in the NL, but he’s thrown 224.1 innings, as compared to Johnson’s 183.1. For me, Wainwright’s consistency makes him my Cy Young pick.

However, the voters may see it differently. Roy Halladay’s 2.53 ERA puts him just behind Wainwright, although his 3.07 FIP sits him fifth in the league. Halladay, as per usual, has been an absolute horse, his 241.2 innings leading all of baseball and marking the fifth straight season he’s hurled more than 220 frames. Halladay’s 213 strikeouts also lead the league, with Wainwright’s 206 placing him fourth. His strong “baseball card” stats, along with the fact that he’ll be leading his Phillies into October as a staff ace while Wainwright will be hanging up his cleats after the 162nd game, might be enough to sway voters in Halladay’s direction. Expect Halladay to add a second Cy to his collection, with Wainwright taking a step forward from his 3rd-place Cy finish in 2009 to runner-up in 2010.

And yes, there's been a lot of support for Tim Hudson as a possible Cy Young competitor over the last few weeks. Yes, his ERA is 2.61, good for fourth in the league. His 3.87 FIP, however, places him squarely in the middle of the pack in terms of fairly decent pitchers in the NL. Is he a good pitcher? Certainly. Should he even factor into the Cy Young discussion? No way.

Check back tomorrow, when we’ll start looking at Rookie of the Year candidates, including one of Wainwright’s rotation-mates.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The AL MVP- What It Should Be, What It Will Be

So you know all about what I look for in an MVP. Strong defense up the middle or at a premium position, a middle of the order threat, and a true leader in the clubhouse. The AL race provides several strong candidates, both for my criteria and for that of the guys with the real votes: members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

The AL WAR leaderboard for position players reveals that Josh Hamilton has really broken away from the pack with his ridiculous offensive production and somewhat underrated defense. Hamilton leads all hitters with 8.0 WAR, followed by Adrian Beltre (7.1), Robinson Cano (6.6), Carl Crawford (6.6), and Jose Bautista (6.5). Though Hamilton has spent most of his time in leftfield this season, he’s played 39 games in center and produced a 7.9 UZR. This, along with the fact that he’s ahead of everyone else offensively (55.4 batting runs above average), allows him to compete in my mind with guys like Cano and Beltre, who play much tougher defensive positions and do so well (especially in Beltre’s case), as well as Crawford’s league-best 22 fielding runs above average, which he’s produced entirely as a leftfielder. I probably would have called this race a lock for Hamilton just a few weeks ago, but with the news that Hamilton will miss some time (possibly putting his postseason in jeopardy) with small fractures in two of his ribs sustained running into the wall at Minnesota’s Target Field, this race may open up to the other contenders. 

Adrian Beltre has always been a great glove-man at the hot corner, as evidenced by his two Gold Gloves (unlike many other Gold Gloves awarded to prolific hitters with decent defensive qualities, these ones were definitely earned), and this year is no exception. For the first time since 2004, Beltre has really put it all together, producing his usual 10+ UZR, but also managing to pair it with 34.2 batting runs above replacement, his best mark since the ridiculous 55.3 he put up in ’04.  Cano has been one of the biggest surprises of the season, finally making the transition from a strong, young everyday second baseman to a true superstar who stands out in a lineup full of some of the best and most well-recognized players in baseball. Adding to his value, he’s an absolute ironman. The Yankees have played a total of 150 games up to this point in the season. Cano has played in 149, starting 147 at second base. The Yankees know they can trust Cano to both show up every day, and produce when he does. Cano’s been a strong defender at one of the most challenging spots on the diamond, and put up a 150 wRC+ to boot. Crawford has provided immense value defensively, but he’s also been strong on offense. His 27.2 batting RAA doesn’t stack up with the rest of the hitters here, but his defense comes close to making up for it. 

At the end of the day, it’s going to take a massive effort on the part of one of those three in order for me to think about making someone other than Hamilton my AL MVP. The Hammer’s just been so far ahead of pretty much everyone else offensively that, when you throw in his above-average defense, it’s tough to argue against him. That said, a massive effort by Crawford or Cano that results in their team winning the East and beating out Minnesota for the best record in baseball could potentially sway my vote. 

I think that the voters will see it differently. From our voter’s criteria discussed yesterday, we can throw out Beltre, as his team will not be playing October baseball. I don’t think Crawford will get much consideration either, as he plays left and has been good but not close to the best in the league with the bat. So for the writers it will likely come down to Hamilton and Cano. Cano’s every day efforts will likely impress the writers, especially when juxtaposed against Hamilton’s recent injury. The end of the season is fresh in writers’ minds, and Hamilton missing time will hurt him, despite the fact that Texas is essentially a mathematical lock for October baseball already. Add that to the fact that Cano plays in the biggest media market in the league, and his 2010 résumé will likely be enough to bring home some silverware. It could be close, but in the end I think the writers will recognize Cano as the AL MVP, especially if the Yankees can lock in home field advantage throughout the AL postseason.

Check back tomorrow, when we’ll be taking a look at the crowded NL Cy Young picture. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The NL MVP Race- What It Should Be, What It Will Be

I suppose in order to choose an MVP, I first have to set out a series of guidelines that will determine how these players are rated. As we established yesterday, having a reasonable image of WAR helps, but I don’t think that’s all a player needs. First of all, I look for players who provide their value in a multitude of situations, both offensive and defensive. I generally don’t like to call a 40 home run guy an MVP candidate if he’s not OBPing well along with it, and even then a first baseman or a mediocre defensive player probably won’t get my vote. My MVPs are guys who provide large amounts value with both the glove and bat, while playing premium defensive positions. However, this player must also be an asset to the team in the clubhouse and in the dugout. I’m never going to give Manny an MVP, no matter what he does on the field, because I think his presence as an off-field distraction detracts from his value to his ballclub. So that’s the criteria: a good hitter, a good defender (likely at a premium position, or if not, a gold glove-caliber fielder at first or an outfield corner), and a good guy who seems to bring out the best in his teammates. Of course it’s a bit subjective, but considering it’s a voting process, I believe it’s meant to be up to the voters how they determine which player provided the most value to his team. So with that, let’s get to pickin’.

The NL (Fangraphs) WAR leaderboard, which we looked at yesterday, now reads Zimmerman (7.2), Votto (7.1), Holliday (6.5), Pujols (6.3), and Tulowitzki (6.1). Just behind are both Gonzalezes and then a pair of Giants: Andres Torres and Aubrey Huff. Zimmerman and Tulo, as well as Carlos Gonzalez and Andres Torres, all play premium defensive positions. Zimmerman and Torres play theirs extremely well, while Tulo is a slightly above average fielder and Gonzalez is slightly below. I’m going to scrap Gonzalez because of the defense, and Torres because he’s missed time (he didn’t start the year as an everyday player, and he’s been absent for the last few games because of injury). In the non-premium positions, each of the remaining players on the board have been above average at their position, but lose points because their defense isn’t nearly as valuable as the leather Zimmerman provides at the hot corner or Torres does in center. However, as was touched on yesterday, UZR isn’t an infallible statistic by any means, so I’m willing to cut Pujols some slack, as he’s proven to be a fantastic fielder throughout his career. Votto’s probably about in line with his UZR, potentially slightly above average but probably not a world-class fielder. However, he has been better with the bat than any other player in the league. For me, that’s not quite enough, though Votto does have quite a strong argument. So between Pujols, Tulo, and Zimmerman, I think I’m going to go with WAR on this one and say Zimmerman should be the recipient of the NL MVP. He’s a true leader on a young team, and he’s been extremely valuable both with the bat (32.1 batting RAA) and with the glove (15.9 fielding RAA). Throw in the fact that he plays third, and it’s enough to put him over Pujols’ otherworldly bat (48.2 batting RAA) and Tulo’s up-the-middle defense and late-season contributions in a playoff race.

However, who I think should win is a completely different question than who will win. For voters, there’s a completely different set of criteria. First of all, it’s pretty much a given that your team must be headed to the playoffs. That means sayonara to Zimmerman, Holliday, and Pujols. Second, a premium defensive position helps, but the skill with which that position is played is usually not a huge factor (outside of, potentially, fielding percentage). Third, it seems like they’re looking for “good guys,” much like I am. The true contenders, in that case, are Votto, Tulo, and potentially one of the Gonzalez or Giants pairs. Votto and Tulowitzki will likely end up one-two, and unless Tulowitzki can propel the Rockies into the playoffs while continuing to hit like a man possessed, I don’t even know that he’s got a shot. Sure, he’s been great lately, but he’s missed a ton of baseball (he’s played 110 games, whereas Vottomatic played his 142nd last night). I don’t think he can overcome that. The Reds have been the most surprising team in baseball,  (Well, surprisingly good. The Mariners surprised me the most.) and their star Canuck will take home the MVP trophy for his part in that. The voters won't be wrong, either. Votto's had a fantastic season, and as good as Zimmerman's been, Votto's neck and neck with him on my ballot. Remove Zimmerman because he's going to be golfing his way through October, and there hasn't been a better player in the NL, in my mind.

Check back tomorrow, when we’ll be taking a (hopefully equally detailed) look at the AL MVP race. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

WAR and MVP Races

The NL MVP race has heated up lately, and I think that provides as good an opportunity as any for me to explain where I feel WAR fits on the scale of useful baseball statistics. Additionally, my father managed to write me into his healthcare blog (Yes, that picture is me. No, my dad isn't tasing me with a foam football, despite appearances), looking at how statistics like WAR can be used in other fields (teachers are already being looked at by a system called “value-added modeling,” which isn’t unlike WAR in that it compares each teacher to a baseline replacement). Every stat falls somewhere on the continuum between statistics that are completely useless (some more traditional statistics fall closer to this end than you might think) and what I’ve heard referred to as “The Truth,” a mythical statistic that will truly describe a player’s contribution to his team exactly and perfectly. The development of sabermetrics is far from over. Innovative sabermetricians across the world are undertaking pioneering research, arguments are being debated and discussed, and entirely new lenses through which we can view the game of baseball are being formed. Advances in the past few years, such as hit and pitch f/x, have brought new tools for sabermetricians to analyze the world of baseball, and upcoming field f/x (that picture is awesome) and other techniques promise to do the same, especially in the area of fielding statistics.

WAR isn’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. First of all, there are two different kinds. One, which you can find on Fangraphs, uses UZR as its fielding component, Weighted Runs Above Average for hitting, and a ballpark-adjusted version of FIP for pitching. For more information, check out Dave Cameron’s series on Win Values (scroll down toward the bottom). Baseball Prospectus’ metric (known as WARP-1), however, uses Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs statistic for fielding. Hitting is based on Equivalent Average, and pitching on Defense-Adjusted ERA. Though good players will score well on both systems and bad players are always going to look bad, these systems can result in different scores and some changes in the leaderboards for the season. For example, Fangraphs’ WAR has the NL position-player leaderboard as Zimmerman (7.1), Votto (7.0), Holliday (6.4), Pujols (6.3), and Tulowitzki (6.1). Baseball Prospectus, however, sees the race as Pujols (7.0), Holliday  (7.0), Adrian Gonzalez (6.6), Carlos Gonzalez (6.4), and Votto (6.4). Zimmerman scores comparatively poorly on Prospectus’ WARP, largely because Fielding Runs has him at 7 runs below average, while UZR scores him as a brilliant fielder, at 15.9 runs above average.

I generally believe Fangraphs’ WAR is a better indicator of overall value, so that’s what I’m going to be using on this site. However, future research could certainly prove Prospectus’ WARP to be a more effective overall value indicator, or cause us to move toward another measure. In sabermetrics, much like any academic science, we need to be ready to accept the latest research and data and base our conclusions on the best tools we’ve got. As the Zimmerman case illustrates, fielding statistics still lag behind hitting and pitching in terms of their effectiveness and preciseness, and the development and widespread use of field f/x will likely change this in the future. When it does, we have to be ready to accept that the statistics we’ve been using are no longer current. The faster these advances come, the quicker our statistics become outdated, so in a few years we may perceive people using WAR and WARP much the way many in the sabermetric community see old-school evaluators still using pitcher wins, batting average, and RBI as their main statistical tools.

So that’s where WAR and WARP stand. They’re not perfect, but they seem to be some of the best tools we have, so we have to use them until we’ve got something better. Check back tomorrow, when I’ll be using our newfound image of WAR to take a look at the race for the MVP award.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Handicapping the NL West and Wild Card

In the AL, we know our four playoff teams. In the NL, the Reds and Phillies are locks. However, that leaves two playoff spots and four teams: the Braves, the Giants, the Padres, and the Rockies. The three NL West teams will all attempt to take the only division in baseball that isn’t locked down, with the two teams that lose out attempting to overtake Atlanta for the Wild Card. 

Atlanta’s currently got a 2.5 game lead on the Padres and Giants, while the Rockies sit a half-game back in the West and 3 back in the Wild Card. PECOTA currently gives the Braves a 75% chance of October baseball, with the Giants, Padres, and Rockies at 46%, 39%, and 39% respectively. 

The Braves will end the season with four series against NL East opponents. Their upcoming series against division leaders Philadelphia will provide a tough test, as will Philly’s visit to Atlanta to end the season. However, these series bracket a series in Washington and one in which the Marlins will visit Turner Field. 

The Giants will head out for a six-game road trip against the Cubs and Rockies. They will then finish their season with six games at home against the Diamondbacks and Padres. To an extent, they control their own destiny, as the results of their series in Colorado and against San Diego will likely decide this race. A series win at home against the Padres to close out the season could be what it takes to book the Giants’ tickets to October baseball. 

The Pads will play a three-game series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers this week before starting a seven-game homestand against the NL Central. The division-leading Reds will come to Chavez Ravine for three games, and then they’ll play four against the Cubs. Finally, they’ll end the series with the aforementioned set in San Francisco.

The Rockies will take on the DBacks in Arizona. They’ll then play six games at home, with San Francisco and Los Angeles coming to town. Finally, they’ll go to St. Louis to close the season out with four games against a very strong Cardinals’ squad.

I’m going to take the Giants to win the West (predictable, eh?). Despite their early-season struggles against the NL West, they’re still at the top of the division, and have been much better against their division rivals of late. Tim Lincecum is back to form and Matt Cain has been as good as any pitcher in the big leagues since the all-star break. The pitching will carry them into the postseason.

I think the Rockies overtake the Padres and Braves to win the Wild Card and take the second remaining playoff spot. Colorado has gone 13-5 in September, including a 10-game win streak in which they swept the Padres, Reds, and DBacks. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki have been the hottest baseball players on earth this month, and I think they’ll stay strong and carry the Rox to a Wild Card berth.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Handicapping the AL Cy Young

A couple weeks ago, I would’ve given the AL Cy Young to Cliff Lee, no question. He’d been by far the most dominant pitcher in the league, even putting up historic rates in K/BB (mostly because his control borders on legendary). Lee has given up 15 walks total this season, and hadn’t allowed 3 in a game until his most recent start on September 12 against the Yankees. He’s been shaky lately, however, and has been skipped in a few starts because of a lingering back injury. That’s opened the door for other pitchers to make their Cy Young cases, and I believe that in a race this close, it may be enough to keep Lee from his second Cy Young Award. Lee’s currently produced 6.3 WAR and a 2.63 FIP in 192.1 innings.

Two pitchers in particular have taken advantage of Lee’s injury and ineffectiveness of late. Francisco Liriano has been dominant for the Twins all year, and can certainly make a claim to the title. Liriano’s 6.3 WAR puts him neck and neck with Lee, and his 2.36 FIP has been the best in the AL among starters by a pretty wide margin (Lee is second). The problem with Liriano’s Cy Young candidacy is simply that he hasn’t thrown enough. At 178.1 innings, he’s thrown the least total frames of any pitcher making a serious case for the award. Though it’s impressive that he’s been so productive in limited innings, Cy Young voters may want to see a true workhorse who’s led his time by pitching effectively as well as eating up a ton of innings.

That brings me to the third possible candidate. Felix Hernandez has thrown 233.2 innings, most of any pitcher in the league. At 6.1 WAR, he’s in a virtual deadlock with both Lee and Liriano. Hernandez’s 2.35 ERA leads the AL, which may also help him with voters, although his 3.01 FIP is third in the league to Lee and Liriano. King Felix’s main problem is his teammates; he’s simply on the worst team in the AL.  As such, he’ll bring a 12-11 record into his start against the Blue Jays on Wednesday. Liriano’s 14-7 and Lee’s 11-8 marks are both significantly better, and CC Sabathia and David Price have 19 and 17 wins respectively, largely due to the fact that they play for two of the top teams in the league. 

So the question is this; will voters be able to look past Hernandez’s record and see a fantastic pitcher leading the league in K’s and ERA (traditionally two of the most important statistics for Cy Young winners), as well as in innings thrown? Will Liriano and his limited but fantastic innings prevail? Will Lee’s seasonlong dominance outshine his recent mediocrity? We’ll find out soon enough.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The AL Playoff Picture

To the mainstream media (read: ESPN) Yankees-Rays is the new Yankees-Red Sox. I swear, all I heard this weekend was how we were watching the two best teams in baseball squaring off for AL East supremacy. It seemed like every game was nationally televised. Half of SportsCenter was spent going over every non-routine play that happened in Tampa. When the dust settled, the Rays took two of three in a hard-fought series in which each game was decided by a single run.

However, while the whole world was focused on the Yankees and Rays, the Twins took advantage. After sweeping the White Sox, the Twins find themselves with an 88-58 record identical to that of the Bronx Bombers, just a half-game back of the Rays’ AL-leading 88-57. The Twins have vaulted themselves back into contention on the strength of a 12-2 record since the beginning of September. The rest of their schedule sets up quite nicely as well, with 10 of their final 16 games at home, and not one game remaining against a team above .500 (though they have 4 to end the season against the currently-.500 Blue Jays).

The Yankees, on the other hand, have 9 of their final 16 on the road, and are playing four games against the currently AL-best Rays, in addition to six games against a Red Sox team that would love to spoil the Yankees’ hopes for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In all, they Yanks play 10 of their last 16 against teams above .500, and 3 more against the Jays. The only “bad” team left on their schedule is their upcoming three-game series in Baltimore, but the Orioles are 26-15 since Buck Showalter took the reins, so that won’t be a pushover either.

The Rays, like the Twins, will be facing a relatively simple stretch, but in a three-team race in the last throes of the season, nothing’s ever that simple. They have 9 of 17 at home, and their only opponent above .500 is their remaining 4-game series at Yankee Stadium. They should be able to win series against the Mariners at home and their four-gamer to close out the season in Kansas City, and the Angels and Orioles in Tampa will give them opportunities to distance themselves from the Yankees and Twins as the season enters its final stage. 

I’m going to guess the red-hot Twins keep it up and end up with the best record in the AL, with the Rays beating out the Yankees for the division title. That would set up a divisional round pitting the Twins against the Yankees and the Rays and the Rangers. Watching David Price and Cliff Lee square off twice in a five-game series would be incredible, though Sabathia-Liriano isn’t exactly a lousy matchup. However the AL’s four playoff teams end up, the AL divisional and championship series should be some playoff baseball for the ages.

Check back tomorrow, when we’ll be starting to look at some of the postseason award races and decide how strong Felix Hernandez’s Cy Young candidacy can possibly be given that he plays for a Mariners club with the worst record in the AL. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Handicapping the NL Triple Crown Race

There’s been a lot of chatter lately on the fact that there are three (somewhat) legitimate NL Triple Crown contenders this season. Carlos Gonzalez currently leads the league in batting average and RBI, with .341 and 106, and is fourth in the league with 32 home runs. Albert Pujols leads the league in home runs, with 39, and isn’t far back in RBI, with 104. His batting average sits at .307, which is very good, but he’s probably not close enough to Gonzalez to make a serious Triple Crown run. Joey Votto also has 104 RBI, and pairs this total with a .320 average (third in the league) and 34 home runs (also third). 

Many baseball fans can tell you that the last Triple Crown was Carl Yastrzemski’s in 1967. Less well-known is the last NL Triple Crown. For that, you’d have to go back to Joe "Ducky" Medwick’s 1937 season with the St. Louis Cardinals. Each of the last 5 Triple Crowns has been achieved in the AL, and 3 of those 5 belong to the Boston Red Sox (Yaz’s and Ted Williams in 1942 and ’47). 

So do any of these batsmen have a chance to come away with the first Triple Crown in the senior circuit since before World War II? I’m going to say the least likely is Prince Albert. While he could certainly come away with the best home run and RBI totals in baseball, gaining .034 points on Gonzalez in the last two weeks of the season is pretty much impossible, even for Pujols. With plate appearance totals so high by this point in the season, making any sort of ground up takes an otherworldly effort. If Pujols went 3 for 5 in every single game for the rest of the season, he’d end up hitting .348. You don’t need me to tell you that Pujols, as good as he is, will not hit .600 for the balance of the season. Additionally, the Cardinals are now pretty much dead money, with a  PECOTA playoff probability of about a third of a percent. I’m not saying Pujols will dog the rest of the season, but he might not have as much focus as he would with the Cardinals in the thick of a division race.

Votto’s got a shot, but he’s going to need to finish the season on an incredible tear. Pujols is on pace for about 44.5 home runs. If we give him 44, Votto would need to hit 10 home runs in his last 16 games to tie Pujols. If he can get on a hot streak like that, I’m guessing the RBIs would catch up, as you’re gonna pick up a few ribeyes bombing a home run more than every two games. It’s not often that you see a guy hit 10 home runs in 16 games, but I suppose Votto could pull it off. Even if he does, however, he’d have to make up .021 points in batting average. Assuming he gets 5 at-bats per game, he’d need 38 hits in his last 16 games, or a .475 average. The Cincinnati Red would have to channel the ghost of Charlie Hustle, but if we’re going to give him a chance at hitting 10 home runs before the end of the season (and I don’t think we are), catching CarGo in average is probably no less likely.

Gonzalez is an intriguing case. A young, budding superstar, the only discernible weakness in Gonzalez’s five-tool game is his tendency to chase balls outside the strike zone, and his resulting high strikeout rate. His 37.8% O-Swing percentage is third highest in the NL, besides Alfonso Soriano and a Panda with a certain fondness for fastballs at brim-level. Average and RBIs are not an issue in Gonzalez's Triple Crown chase, as he leads the NL in both categories. The fly in the ointment is his home-run total, where he sits seven back of Albert. Again assuming Pujols’ home run pace stays roughly stable, Gonzalez would need 12 home runs in his next 16 games to take down the Triple Crown. He’s at Coors Field, and the Rockies have a penchant for strange Septembers, but I still don’t see that happening. 

So there you have it. The takeaway isn’t so much that, for the 73rd straight season, the NL will not have a Triple Crown winner. What should amaze baseball fans is that, although there hasn’t been a Triple Crown on the Senior Circuit since 1937, three players are within spitting distance in 2010. This suggests to me that it’s not impossible we’ll see the first Triple Crown since Yaz in the relatively near future. While the Triple Crown stats are, for the most part, useless in terms of player evaluation (BA and RBI more so than Home Runs, as BA discounts the ability to take walks entirely and fluctuates a ton based on BABIP and other factors, and RBIs are almost entirely dependent on batting order and the skill of other hitters higher in the lineup), watching these players take their shots at the title certainly has been entertaining. 

Will we ever see another Triple Crown? I think so, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens within the decade. I’m hesitant to even consider making a prediction, but Votto may have as good a chance as anyone. Pujols isn’t over the hill by any stretch, but at 30, he’s not getting any younger. Gonzalez’s strikeout rate will probably keep his batting average down in the future. His .389 BABIP this year is unsustainable, even for a player with his speed, so I think he settles in as a consistent .310-.320 hitter. I’d be surprised if he was over .340 in any year for the rest of his career, even if he can top that mark this season. “Vottomatic," (really hoping that'll catch on) however, could potentially pull it off. At 26, the Toronto native is just hitting his prime years, and has the power-contact combination it would take to complete this rare feat. The fact that he plays half his games in one of the best hitter’s parks in baseball doesn’t hurt either.

Check back tomorrow, when we’ll be taking a look at the race for the best record in the AL. Don’t look now, Rays and Yankees fans, but Minnesota turned this into a three-horse race while you were busy beating up on each other.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Navigating the Waters

By now, it seems like I’ve got a decent bunch of daily readers. I really appreciate you coming back here and checking in every day… good to know my opinions have value to someone other than myself.

For those of you that are just finding your way around, I thought it might be helpful to put together a post on how you can best use my website, to enhance the way you experience this blog and baseball in general. So, consider this post your roadmap for Saber By The Bay.

First of all, I’m glad to be able to write for an audience composed of people who both are just getting interested in sabermetrics, as well as fans who have been on the bandwagon for years and are as saber-savvy (or even more so) as I am. For those of you who are beginning to find your way in analytical baseball fandom, I’ve included a few tools to help you with that.

First of all, I’ve been trying to link to definitions and descriptions of the more advanced statistics I’ve been using. Every time you see WAR, FIP, UZR, wRC+, or the like, click that stat and it will send you to an explanation of what that stat means and how it can be used.

At the bottom of each post, there’s a comment link. I love to hear your feedback on my posts. Your comments help me write better and more engaging posts, and if you’ve got any questions, further points, or just plain disagreements with what I’ve written, I’d love to make it into a conversation. Throw up a comment and start a discussion of your own.

Many of the statistical definitions come from The Hardball Times’ stat glossary, which is a fantastic resource for fans with any level of sabermetric knowledge. I’ve linked that in my website sidebar, and I highly suggest reading through it a few times. Also in the sidebar are a few of my favorite baseball websites. Fangraphs is a great page, both for the multitude of advanced statistics it tracks and the fantastic analytical pieces from their staff writers that come out several times a day. MLBTradeRumors is another superb site, with news and updates and the latest whisperings from around the league. If there’s anything brewing anywhere in baseball, you can bet it’ll show up on MLBTR.  Though I’ve linked THT’s stat glossary, I think you’ll also enjoy The Hardball Times itself. They’ve got a lot of great analysis and some really good writers. THT is always a fun read. Finally, McCovey Chronicles is my favorite Giants blog on the web. The writing’s extremely entertaining as well as insightful and thoughtful, and the McC community is chock-full of educated baseball fans ready for a heated discussion on just about anything baseball (or anything else).

In addition to these links, I’ve put up a few books that I think you might be interested in.  Beyond Batting Average is a book put out recently by Lee Panas that is a great introductory read for anyone just getting into sabermetrics, though it also has a ton of historical and contextual information that would benefit any fan of baseball at any level of sabermetric knowledge. Baseball Between the Numbers is a little more advanced, as is The Book, and both are fantastic reads for fans looking to delve deeper into sabermetrics and how the use of advanced statistics can change the way we play and manage the game. Among other things, the authors look at run expectancies based on the decisions made by managers, showing that certain choices we take for granted as the way baseball is played are simply wrong, and hurt a team’s chances of scoring runs and winning games.

The blog archive is fairly self-explanatory. Click on the month to expand the posts for that month, and click on a page to check it out.

Finally, scroll down just a bit more and you’ll see my twitter account. Subscibe and I promise I won’t spam you… I’ll tweet to let you know when that day’s post is up, as I can’t post at the same time every day (a full class schedule and my other responsibilities make it tough for me to be consistent in what time these posts go up). I’ll give you a brief description of the post and throw in a link to boot. Additionally, you can subscribe to my RSS feed, a few boxes up.

That’s pretty much it. The only other thing of note is that if you scroll down a bit more, you’ll see that this young site has just hit its 2000th pageload. Hitting 2000 in just over a month is a great milestone, and I couldn’t have done it without all of you, my loyal readers. It feels great to be able to entertain and teach through my writing, and I hope you continue to enjoy the site. Thanks!


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wait Til Next Year- Chicago White Sox

Kenny Williams has always been one of the most interesting GMs in all of sports. Between his midseason trades that seem to come together in a matter of minutes, his heated disputes with manager Ozzie Guillen, and his under the radar acquisitions that materialize out of nothing, Williams will never cease to make it interesting to be a White Sox fan.

The 2010/11 offseason could be particularly exciting for Sox fans, as Williams will likely have some payroll room to play with. Between the free agency of Paul Konerko, AJ Pierzynski, and JJ Putz, the White Sox will have $21.25 million coming off the books. Several players will receive small salary bumps in arbitration or through back-loaded contracts, including Alex Rios, Jake Peavy, Edwin Jackson, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, and Carlos Quentin. However, Williams should still have $10 million+ to work with. A payroll expansion isn’t necessarily out of the question either, as the Sox' payroll currently sits at roughly $103 million after being as high as $121 million just two years ago. 

This means Kenny Williams could take his antics to the market and attempt to make a splash in free agency. There are several players Williams could go after, but to me three main ones make the most sense. 

With Konerko coming off the books, the White Sox will need a first baseman. Pierzynski can probably be replaced immediately by top prospect Tyler Flowers, and Putz’s presence likely will not be missed terribly. Bobby Jenks and especially Matt Thornton (who I count among the top few relievers in the league) can deal with late-game relief situations, and rookie Chris Sale has come out and proven his worth to one of the strongest pens in the league (4th in overall FIP).

The White Sox play at US Cellular Field, one of the biggest bandboxes in the league. The Cell is second in the league this season in HR park factor, at 1.498, or nearly 50% more home runs than the average MLB park. If I were Kenny Williams, I’d look at these factors and determine that a big-power first baseman is the perfect fit. This free agent class has several, but the two who most interest me are Adam Dunn and Carlos Peña. 

Peña’s slash-line looks pretty ugly this year, currently sitting at .200/.328/.417. Although he’s never been a high-average hitter, instead relying on walks to get on base at a reasonable clip, Peña isn’t a Mendoza-line hitter. His BABIP currently sits at a ridiculously low .224 (career .280), so his low average may be a blessing in disguise should Williams go after him, as his down year could depress his value on the free agent market. His career .250 ISO shows that Peña provides a good dose of power, making him a great fit for the Cell. I believe whatever team signs Peña may get a pretty good bargain (although I don’t think that’s ever happened with a Scott Boras client), but the White Sox and Peña could be a perfect fit.

Likewise, Adam Dunn is a slugging first baseman who could feel right at home at US Cellular. Dunn’s been a consistently strong hitter, putting up a wRC+ between 132 and 143 (between 32 and 43% above league average) for each of the last four seasons. Dunn can hit the dinger with the best of them, having put up 40+ 5 years in a row before last year’s 38. He’s got 34 this year, so he could certainly get back to the 40+ plateau with a strong last few weeks. Either Peña or Dunn could play an adequate first base, although Peña’s D is slightly better, so Kenny Williams could take a shot at bringing either player to the South Side.

However, as I mentioned, Kenny Williams likes to get a little crazy. Well, here goes. Carlos Quentin, known for his power at the plate, isn’t much with the leather. In fact, his –28.8 UZR in right in 2010 is as bad as it gets among MLB RFs. The Sox could elect to move Quentin to first, where his glove wouldn’t be as much of an issue, and pursue a free agent outfielder instead. The offensive prize of this free agent class, for me, is current Ray Carl Crawford. A great defender at the corners (and adequate in center), Crawford wouldn’t come cheap. However, if Williams outbids the big boys (the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels will likely all be in on Crawford), Crawford could be a great fit in right (or center, shifting Alex Rios to right), providing an immediate defensive upgrade in the outfield and a spark at the top of the Sox’ lineup.

So wait til next year, Sox fans. But expect a crazy offseason and potentially a big-name signing that Kenny Williams hopes can put his team over the top and into the playoffs.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wait Til Next Year- St. Louis Cardinals

Think back to August 11, just about one month ago. Brandon Phillips had been quoted as having some less than nice things to say about St. Louis, sparking a brawl between the Cards and Phillips’ Reds. The teams then completed a three game series, which the Cardinals swept in Cincy. With all the momentum, St. Louis looked ready to take the upper hand in this close race and cruise to a division title with a strong final month and a half.

Instead, everything went wrong for the Cardinals. Since the end of that series in Cincy, they’ve managed only a 10-18 record, effectively removing themselves from the NL Central race. Meanwhile, the Reds have gone 17-11. Although I predicted that St. Louis would take this division on the strength of their strong rotation, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter will be making October tee times rather than October starts.

However, all’s not lost for the Cardinals. St. Louis fans should look forward to a strong 2011 campaign. There’s a lot for Cardinals fans to be excited about.

First of all, rookie starter Jaime Garcia has come on in a way no one could have expected. Some combination of Cardinal pitching coach Dave Duncan’s magic dust and Garcia’s four above-average pitches have allowed him to become one of the best third starters in the NL (I’d say Matt Cain, but I’m pretty biased), following up the Carpenter-Wainwright one-two punch. Garcia, still only 24, has excelled in this role. His 2.69 ERA is certainly luck-aided, but a 3.45 FIP from a rookie with room to grow is certainly nothing to scoff at. Expect the southpaw to continue as a strong member in what should be one of the best rotations in baseball in 2011.

Second, and probably more importantly, expect a resurgence from Albert Pujols. The best hitter in the game has had an off year, if you can consider 6.2 WAR in the middle of September an off-year. Pujols is a virtual lock to finish with his lowest WAR season since his sophomore campaign in 2002. After a unanimous NL MVP selection in 2009, Pujols is now 5th in the NL in WAR this year. He hasn’t finished lower than 3rd best in the league since 2003. At 30, the three-time MVP winner isn’t getting any younger, but I wouldn’t expect him to stop factoring into MVP discussions anytime soon. Expect a bounce-back year from Pujols in 2011, getting back into the 8+ range and continuing his dominance over NL pitchers.

So wait til next year, Cards fans, but expect your MVP to return to form and the newest product of Dave Duncan’s voodoo magic to form an integral part of a strong rotation. Check back tomorrow, when we can finally put the Chicago White Sox to rest and lock in the playoff teams in the AL (though we still won’t know matchups for a few weeks).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Better Than You Thought (part 4)

We’re going to close out this mini-series by looking at two NL pitchers who have been overshadowed by their teammates Cy Young-level performances. Though they’re not the best pitchers on their respective teams by any stretch, these players deserve more recognition than simply being acknowledged as the second fiddle to the aces fronting their clubs’ rotations.

Josh Johnson has been the most valuable pitcher in baseball in 2010, according to WAR. Though a Cy Young argument can certainly be made for Roy Halladay, Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Wainwright, and any of maybe a dozen pitchers, there’s no question that Johnson is up there with the best of the hurlers in the NL. However, he’s not the only anchor in the Marlins’ rotation. Anibal Sanchez has quite quietly put up a 3.9 WAR season, 9th best among NL pitchers. Sanchez has been on the radar of baseball fans ever since 2006, when he no-hit the DBacks as a rookie. I’m not quite sure why his fantastic season isn’t getting him a little more press, but I have to think pitching on the same mound as Josh Johnson isn’t helping. Sanchez has put up a 3.35 ERA, which becomes even more impressive when you consider his 3.26 FIP, suggesting his season is due to his skill rather than the simple addition of some good luck. Still only 26, Sanchez should be a productive piece of the Marlins' rotation for years to come.

Jason Hammel has found himself in a quite similar situation. Though he’s pitched fantastically, Ubaldo Jimenez had a ridiculous start to the season and has cooled off only slightly since. Hammel’s having a great season in his own right, putting up a 3.9 WAR that equals Sanchez’s up to this point. Though his 4.34 ERA is unimpressive, he’s been quite unlucky, and his FIP of 3.48 ranks him 16th in the NL. Hammel’s high ERA-FIP split is due largely to a .324 BABIP that eclipses the rest of Colorado’s staff. Jimenez’s BABIP currently sits at .274, suggesting his stellar year involved a good bit of luck in addition to Jimenez’s raw pitching ability. Perhaps if Hammel hadn’t been so unlucky and his ERA more accurately reflected the skill he’s shown this season, he’d be getting a bit more ink. Whatever the reason, Hammel’s a name you should know, as the 28-year-old has been one of the best pitchers in the NL in 2010.

Thanks for reading! Check back tomorrow, when we’ll finally call the NL Central race. Sorry, St. Louis, but you’ve got plenty to be excited about in 2011. As if just getting to watch the greatest hitter of our generation isn't enough.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Better Than You Thought (part 3)

We’ve spent the last few days looking at position players who should probably be talked about a little more than they have been. Now, we’re going to switch over and take a look at a few pitchers having campaigns that should be getting more press.

First of all, Brett Myers is reviving his career after a shaky 2009 put into doubt whether he could be effective moving into his 30s. After putting up a 4.84 ERA and a 6.14 FIP in 2009, Myers is now down to a 2.91 and 3.38. His FIP is 20th in the league, ahead of pitchers having much more talked-about seasons than he is, including Jaime Garcia and David Price. The mainstream media just now seems to be beginning to realize how dominant Myers’ has been. The Astros, however realize his value to the club, rewarding him with a two-year extension with a club option for a third he signed at the beginning of last month.  This contract replaces the mutual option for last year and ups his yearly paycheck from this year’s $5.1 mil to $23 mil over the next two years (with a $10 million club option for the 2013 season). Myers has been a great value for Ed Wade and the ‘Stros in 2010, and that shouldn’t be overlooked simply because he’s on a very mediocre team.

The other pitcher I wanted to talk about is in exactly the opposite situation. CJ Wilson hasn’t gotten much ink, and it’s at least in part due to the fact that there are so many other star players and fantastic storylines on the Texas Rangers’ ballclub. Wilson spent all of 2009 coming out of the bullpen, even amassing 14 saves. This year, Wilson has returned to the rotation full-time and performed fantastically. However, with the breakout of Colby Lewis, the acquisition of Cliff Lee, and the pure potential of Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz, Wilson has flown somewhat under the radar. I give a lot of credit to guys like Wilson and Sean Marshall with the Cubs, who have the versatility to help the team however they’re needed. Switching from the rotation to the pen is never easy, so when a guy like Wilson has success in both roles it’s not something that should be taken lightly. Wilson has been extremely successful, posting a 3.25 ERA and a 3.58 FIP as a starter after last year’s 2.81/2.89 as a reliever. After a bad 2008, Wilson’s back, and he could be an integral piece of a Rangers’ rotation that will be a major factor if they hope to compete in the playoffs.

Check back tomorrow, when I’ll be looking at two more pitchers who haven’t gotten the credit they deserve. Also, I’d like to apologize that this post got up so late in the day… Michigan’s victory over Notre Dame was one for the ages. I hope you can forgive me. As we’ll be hearing around campus for the next week at least, it’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Better Than You Thought (part 2)

If you’re beginning to see a bit of a pattern here, you’re not alone. Most of the lesser-known players who score well in statistics like WAR do so based on their high defensive scores in UZR and TZ. These statistics are newer and less well accepted and known in the baseball mainstream. Additionally, it’s pretty easy to tell who’s a good offensive player. It might not be as easy to compare different types of hitters or determine exactly the value a player adds with his bat, but most players whose traditional stats are good will also score well sabermetrically. Since the mainstream statistic for defense, fielding percentage, hasn’t changed for over 100 years and is inherently incredibly flawed, sabermetric defensive statistics often tell us players we thought were good aren’t, and those who didn’t look outstanding on the surface actually provide fairly decent glovework.

Angel Pagan is another such player. In a year in which much of the Mets’ outfield has either underperformed expectations (Jason Bay), dealt with injury (Carlos Beltran), or been just plain bad (Jeff Francoeur), Pagan has been the one bright spot. Pagan has been the most valuable Met this season, his 4.5 WAR outscoring David Wright’s 3.9 and Johan Santana’s 3.7. Much of his value has come from his fantastic outfield defense, where he’s been worth 13.3 fielding runs above replacement. He’s spent roughly half his year in center, making 80 starts so far there this year. In center, he’s put up a UZR/150 of 13.1, which is stellar. However, the Mets seem to not know what they have in Pagan, and have played him in rightfield in 21 games and 17 starts. Playing in right doesn’t give Pagan as much room to roam, so even though his UZR/150 is a ridiculous 48.3 in right, the Mets would be better served letting Pagan play center full time. It seems as though Omar Minaya will be out as GM by the start of next season. Let’s hope, for Pagan’s sake, his successor understands the value Pagan can provide.

As was well documented in sabermetric circles (think Moneyball), OBP is one of the most underrated skills in baseball today. So if you’ve got a guy with a good glove who walks a ton, you can expect him to both be extremely valuable and to not be fully appreciated by traditional baseball people. Daric Barton is perhaps the best example. Barton’s put up 4.3 WAR, buoyed by his 9.7 fielding runs above replacement and his .399 OBP. While old-school people like Shawon Dunston (players who take walks are “cheating the game”) and Dusty Baker (high OBP guys are “clogging up the bases”) may not fully appreciate the value Barton’s .399 OBP provides for the A’s, Billy Beane certainly does. Barton has been the 6th most valuable first baseman in baseball this season, but I’m sure you haven’t heard him in the same conversation as Prince Fielder (4.0 WAR), Adam Dunn (3.9), or Mark Texiera (3.3).

Check back tomorrow, when we’ll be switching to the other side of the ball and taking a look at a few pitchers who should be on baseball fans’ radar.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Better Than You Thought (part 1)

While I wait for the playoff picture to shake out, I’m going to take a look at a few guys who I don’t think are getting the credit they deserve. We’re going to try to use some stats to coax out some of the more underrated players having career years that probably should be getting a bit more press.

Andres Torres is very near and dear to my heart. As the Giants’ most valuable player according to WAR, Torres has arguably been the most critical component of the Giants’ season up to this point and one of the most surprising players in baseball. At 18.4 fielding runs above replacement, Torres has added more value in the field than any other player in baseball besides Tampa star Carl Crawford. Torres has also been an asset with the bat, adding 18.1 RAR on offense. Add in 23 steals and you’ve got a five-tool player having one of the best seasons of any player in baseball. However, the 32-year-old Torres remains a relative unknown, especially considering his 5.4 WAR ties him with Matt Holliday and Adrian Gonzalez for 11th in baseball among hitters. Though Torres didn’t start the season as the Giants’ everyday centerfielder, his fantastic play has entrenched him as an everyday fixture in a possible playoff lineup. 

Like Torres, Brett Gardner derives much of his value from his defense, and the slow-developing nature of defensive statistics causes him to be highly underrated. Though defensive metrics like UZR and Total Zone are not infallible by any stretch, they should not be discounted in favor of using a player’s defensive reputation to evaluate them in the field. Torii Hunter hasn’t been an above-average centerfielder in the last 5 years, and yet he’s won a gold glove in each of those seasons. Gardner has prevented the third most runs of any player in baseball, a driving factor in the 4.9 WAR season he’s currently constructing. With 17.2 batting RAR and 17.1 in the field, Gardner has been the seventh most valuable outfielder in baseball in 2010, eclipsing more celebrated teammate Curtis Granderson.

Check back tomorrow, when I’ll be taking a look at two more players whose seasons should probably be getting a bit more national attention. Look for articles on the 2011 White Sox and Cardinals as well, as with every day their playoff chances are looking slimmer and slimmer.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wait Til Next Year- Boston Red Sox

It’s not tough to understand why the Red Sox currently sit 9 back of the AL East lead, and 6.5 back of the Wild Card, down to a less than one percent chance of making the playoffs per PECOTA. Any team can be bitten by the injury bug at any time, but it’s happened to the Red Sox this year to an extent we don’t see very often.

If you put together a list of players from the Red Sox opening day lineup who haven’t made at least one trip to the DL this season, it would read like this: David Ortiz, JD Drew, Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro. Dustin Pedroia has had two trips to the disabled list this season. Jacoby Ellsbury has made an incredible three, with his nine-day stretch from August 4th to the 13th the longest single period off the DL he’s had this season. That’s it. Nine days. Pedroia, Mike Cameron, and Kevin Youkilis have each been shut down for the season, and Ellsbury seems highly unlikely to play again in this campaign. Clay Buchholz, Victor Martinez, and Mike Lowell have all taken DL stints this season, and Josh Beckett hit the 60-day DL in late May and didn’t make it back to Boston until July 23rd.

Red Sox fans don’t need me to tell them that that’s a heck of a lot of adversity to have to overcome. However, despite all that, the Sox would be second only to the Twins if they were in the AL’s Central division, and their record would put them a game ahead of the division-leading Rangers in the West. The fact that the Sox have been able to manage this, despite playing in the toughest division in baseball and lining up 18 times each against the two toughest clubs in baseball in the Rays and Yankees.

So Red Sox fans, wait til next year, but expect your team to resume its status as a perennial contender if they can stay anything close to healthy. Check back tomorrow, when I might be writing about the Cardinals, but I really might not. It’s kind of borderline. PECOTA still gives the Cards a 4.45% playoff shot, which isn’t great, but isn’t nothing. I’m not gonna call this one quite yet, but without their comeback win yesterday over the division-leading Reds, they might be tomorrow’s blog. We’ll write their entry, as well as those for the rest of the teams clinging to slim playoff hopes (Rockies, I’m looking at you.), as their deficit goes from tough to overcome to insurmountable.