Friday, July 04, 2003

Happy Fourth

I was going to try and do my midseason review of the Atlanta Braves today and then do the AL teams next week, but I'm too into watching the Red Sox/Yankees game now and then I have to go to work later. So, I'm going to do the Braves and then the AL teams next week when I get back.

In case I forgot to mention it (or you don't remember), I'm going to visit my best friend on Long Island tomorrow. We're going to the game on Sunday (his family has four tickets to every Sunday home game for the Yankees and his parents have a wedding to go to) and just today we managed to get tickets to see Monday's game between Pedro Martinez and Mike Mussina (thank you Michael Kay, for announcing that the game was not sold out yet).

I've seen Red Sox/Yankees games in person and I've seen a game in Yankee Stadium, but I've never seen the Red Sox play in Yankee Stadium. I've also never seen a Pedro Martinez start, and now my first chance to see one will be against another Cy Young contender in Yankee Stadium.

Needless to say, I'm very excited. I plan on having fun the rest of the weekend (stickball, cookouts and walking around New York City are currently on the agenda), but the quality of my trip will be greatly improved by wins in both of those games. Come to think of it, a sweep that pulls the Red Sox into a tie for first place would be just fine by me.

At any rate, I probably won't be able to make any posts while I'm down there. So, enjoy your Fourth of July celebrations, enjoy your weekend and I'll be back on Tuesday, hopefully with a big grin on my face and happy stories to tell.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies are the 11th team in my 21-team midseason review (click here to find out why I’m doing this). Philadelphia is 47-35, leading the wild card race by 1.5 games and 4.5 games back in the NL East.

The Phillies have scored 390 runs (eighth in the NL with 4.76 runs per game) and allowed 311 (second in the NL with 3.79 runs allowed per game), but most of that run differential has come recently as the Phillies had a 34-32 record after losing on Friday, June 13. Since then, they’ve won 13 of their 16 games while scoring 88 runs and allowing 45.

Offense was supposed to be the strong suit for the Phillies this year, but the offense has surprisingly gotten slightly worse as Philadelphia has gone 18-10 in June and July so far. In those 28 games, the Phillies are scoring just 4.61 runs per game, about three percent worse than their average for the season. Some of the Philadelphia hitters who were struggling are starting to come around, but others are getting even worse.

Jim Thome was obviously the main reason for the optimism about Philadelphia’s offense, and he’s now hitting .267/.386/.540 (.926) after posting a .964 OPS in June. I expect his OPS to keep climbing before settling somewhere in the .950-1.050 range.

Bobby Abreu also got off to a somewhat slow start, but after a .914 OPS in June he’s now hitting .275/.394/.454 (.848) for the season. He’s had an OPS above .900 each of the last five years and I see no reason why he won’t get back to that level this season.

Mike Lieberthal is about the only Phillies hitter who started the season on fire (1.006 OPS after May 1st), but he slumped in May (.709 OPS). After a solid June (.827 OPS), he’s now hitting .322/.388/.443 (.831) for the season. He may never be quite as good as he was in 1999, but a catcher with an OPS above .800 is always valuable.

Marlon Byrd was supposed to take care of all of Philadelphia’s problems in center field for the foreseeable future, but he got off to a terrible start in 11 games (.574 OPS), then got hurt and was even worse when he came back (.501 OPS in May). After a .918 OPS in June and a 3-for-3 game with two walks yesterday, however, he’s now hitting .279/.365/.377 (.742) for the season. He only has one home run this year, but if he can keep his OBP up he could solve Philadelphia’s leadoff problems.

And then there are the hitters who have been bad and are getting worse.

Pat Burrell is hitting .199/.310/.397 (.707) and is showing no signs of turning things around after posting a .606 OPS in June. He’s still walking (44) and hitting for power (21 doubles and 11 home runs), but he only has 23 singles and is below the Mendoza line for the year. Batting average isn’t a very important stat, but it’s very hard to be a productive hitter if you’re hitting below .200.

After two solid seasons as a young hitter (.822 OPS in 2000 and .815 OPS in 2001), Burrell broke out with a .920 OPS last year. I find it very hard to believe that he won’t at least get his OPS back up above .800 this season.

Jimmy Rollins is hitting .264/.315/.381 (.695) after posting a .636 OPS in June. Rollins’ rookie season, when he hit .274/.323/.419 (.742), was impressive for a 22-year-old shortstop, but you knew he would have to improve on that OBP. Instead, he regressed to a .686 OPS and .306 OBP last year and he’s not showing any sign of rebounding this year. It may be time to just say that Rollins isn’t a good hitter and if you plan on playing him, you shouldn’t put him anywhere near the top of the order.

David Bell was brought in during the offseason to replace Scott Rolen and has done anything but. After posting a .548 OPS in June, he’s hitting .207/.297/.290 (.587) for the season. I don’t really know why the Phillies keep using him. The thought is probably that he just can’t continue to be this bad, but you only have to look at his resume to see that in 1996 (.544 OPS) and 1997 (.571 OPS) he showed that he can be this bad for a whole year or even two whole years.

Placido Polanco was actually helping the offense with an .801 OPS at the end of May, but a .643 OPS in June has him hitting .261/.331/.414 (.745) for the season. He’ll probably finish the season somewhere around that mark, which is fine from your second baseman.

I’d say the Phillies offense will be better over the second half of the season. Thome and Abreu should continue to heat up and Byrd should have a better second half than first half. Burrell has to start hitting at least a little bit better at some point and the Phillies will have to replace Bell at some point (unless he gets better, which would also help the offense). If Philadelphia’s offense does get better, it will be scary because the pitching has been so good.

Kevin Millwood was the big offseason acquisition, but he has just been Philadelphia’s fourth-best starter with a 4.03 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 7.50 K/9IP in 111.2 innings. He had a 2.94 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with 70 strikeouts in 76.2 innings at the end of May, but he slumped horribly in June with a 6.43 ERA and 1.57 WHIP with 23 strikeouts in 35 innings.

Randy Wolf (3.23 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.28 K/9IP in 108.2 innings) has quietly turned into an excellent pitcher in the last year and a half, Brett Myers (3.57 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 6.23 K/9IP in 108.1 innings) is pitching as well as you can ask a 22-year-old to and Vicente Padilla (3.68 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 5.96 K/9IP in 102.2 innings) is showing that last year wasn’t exactly a fluke. Even Brandon Duckworth (4.47 ERA, 1.49 ERA, 6.79 K/9IP in 50.1 innings) has been good as far as fifth starters are concerned.

As good as the Philadelphia rotation has been, the bullpen has been even better. The Phillies bullpen has a 3.07 ERA (second in the NL) thanks mainly to Turk Wendell (0.93 ERA, 0.93 WHIP in 29 innings), Rheal Cormier (1.49 ERA, 0.97 WHIP in 42.1 innings) and Terry Adams (2.76 ERA, 1.30 WHIP in 42.1 innings).

So, since I expect the offense to get better and I don’t really expect the pitching to get worse, I’d obviously expect the Phillies to be a much better team over the second half of the season. I’d definitely give Philadelphia a better-than-even chance of making the playoffs, probably 55-60 percent. They’re still very much alive in the NL East and they’re in the driver’s seat in the wild card race because they have the lead already and I think they have the best team.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Montreal Expos

The Expos are the 10th team in my 21-team midseason review (click here to find out why I’m doing this). Montreal is 46-38, seven games back in the NL East and 1.5 games back in the wild card race.

The Expos have scored 380 runs (11th in the NL with 4.52 runs per game) and allowed 361 runs (sixth in the NL with 4.30 runs allowed per game).

There are two major questions you have to ask when considering Montreal’s chances the rest of the season.

First, when will Vladimir Guerrero be back?

That the Expos are even 11th in runs per game with him having missed 34 games is a testament to Jose Vidro, Brad Wilkerson and Orlando Cabrera. Vidro is hitting .325/.414/.516 (.930), Wilkerson is hitting .292/.413/.500 (.913), Cabrera is hitting .296/.352/.474 (.825) and the only other hitter (besides Guerrero) who has helped the offense at all is catcher Brian Schneider (hitting .248/.351/.436 in 50 games).

The second question is who will Omar Minaya be able to get via trade to help the offense?

Guerrero’s return alone won’t help the Expos become even an average offensive team. Minaya has already tried once, but he needs to keep trying if he wants the Expos to make the playoffs.

I would suggest trying the same team, but a different player. Rafael Palmeiro is hitting .255/.369/.505 (.874) and would certainly be an improvement at first base for the Expos. Palmeiro joined the Rangers for the 1999 season, so he’s not a 10-and-5 guy (10 years in the majors, five with the same team) until the end of this season, but I don’t know if he has a no-trade clause in his contract.

So, to answer the questions as best I can. I’ve seen reports that Guerrero could be back by the All-Star break or right after the break, which would certainly be nice for the Expos. If his back starts acting up again and he’s still out come August, the Expos could be out of it by then.

As for trade possibilities, I don’t have any actual insight into who the Expos may be going after. They definitely need to get somebody though, because this offense isn’t good enough. The offense wasn’t as big a problem when Montreal’s pitching was stellar, but that pitching has dropped off a bit.

Claudio Vargas has been impressive with a 2.74 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 75.2 innings, but the man who was supposed to be the ace of the staff has been slumping. Javier Vazquez now has the same ERA (4.05) as Livan Hernandez.

Vazquez is still striking people out (10.09 K/9IP) and his WHIP is just 1.19, but he’s allowed 20 home runs in 113.1 innings. That’s 1.59 homers allowed per nine innings. The last three seasons, he’s allowed an average of 1.02 homers per nine innings, so this is a huge spike for him.

If he wants to get back to being an All-Star caliber pitcher, he needs to figure out how to cut back on the home runs. And if the Expos want to keep their pitching where it is, they probably need him to get back to being an All-Star caliber pitcher, because Vargas is almost definitely pitching over his head right now and there’s not a lot to be excited about on the rest of the staff.

The Expos are a hard team to figure out because they have two big question marks right now: How will their injuries play out? Who will they be able to trade for?

I’d give them a 10-15 percent chance of making the playoffs. They still have an outside shot at winning the division, but they’re more likely to make a run at the wild card. The problem is, I don’t think their team right now is as good as the other teams in position to make a run at the wild card.

Omar Minaya, you’re on the clock. Every day counts.

Other midseason posts

Midseason Baseball Report

Colorado Rockies

Arizona Diamondbacks

Los Angeles Dodgers

San Francisco Giants

Cincinnati Reds

St. Louis Cardinals

Houston Astros

Chicago Cubs

Florida Marlins

Florida Marlins

The Marlins are the ninth team in my 21-team midseason review (click here to find out why I’m doing this). Florida is 43-43, 5.5 games back in the wild card race.

The Marlins have scored 414 runs (fifth in the NL with 5.81 runs per game) and allowed 396 runs (eighth in the NL with 4.60 runs allowed per game). Their expected record of 45-41 doesn’t differ greatly from their actual record.

The Marlins, and whatever fans they have, have many reasons to be happy.

First, they decided not to trade Mike Lowell, who is hitting .292/.362/.612 (.974) and leads the NL with 26 home runs. I agree with this decision completely as Lowell has flashed the potential to hit very well before and I don’t think this is a fluke for him. His career was delayed by his battle with cancer and maybe he’s just now hitting his peak at age 29.

Second, Ivan Rodriguez is starting to mash the ball. After hitting posting a 1.059 OPS in June, Rodriguez is hitting .298/.383/.492 (.852) for the season. I smell an MVP-caliber second half out of him.

Third, Dontrelle Willis is becoming a phenomenon with his amazing success (8-1, 2.13 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.54 K/9IP in 71.2 innings) and funky delivery. I have a feeling Willis is going to continue to dominate all season. He may never be quite this good again after this year, but this just feels like one of those special seasons.

Fourth, Mark Redman is turning into a very good pitcher (2.78 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in 87.1 innings). He was off to a phenomenal start before he broke his thumb at the end of April. Now he’s made five great starts in his seven trips to the mound since coming back. He doesn’t strike out a lot of people (6.6 K/9IP), but he doesn’t allow a lot of walks (2.67 K/BB) or home runs (three home runs allowed) either.

Fifth, Josh Beckett came back from his elbow injury by allowing one unearned run on three hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in six innings. His ERA is now 3.28 and at age 23 he could be in for a monster second half.

Of course, there are also plenty of reasons to worry about the Marlins.

First is their outfield. Miguel Cabrera is hitting for power (.542 SLG), but that’s all (.229 average, .275 OBP). He’ll probably become a good hitter eventually, but the rest of their outfielders are mostly worthless.

Second is the rest of their pitching staff. The rotation isn’t very deep and the bullpen isn’t very good aside from Braden Looper (2.17 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in 45.2 innings).

Third is their owner. He probably doesn’t want to lose money this year, which means that keeping Lowell probably does not mean he’s keeping the entire team intact. When other good players start getting traded, it certainly won’t help.

As fun as I think the Marlins are, they have almost no chance of making the playoffs. There are three teams ahead of them in their division (with the best of those teams 11 games ahead) and even more teams ahead of them in the wild card race. I’ll be rooting for them, but I don’t see them doing anything more than playing spoiler (a role they may play very well).

Other midseason posts

Midseason Baseball Report

Colorado Rockies

Arizona Diamondbacks

Los Angeles Dodgers

San Francisco Giants

Cincinnati Reds

St. Louis Cardinals

Houston Astros

Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are the eighth team in my 21-team midseason review (click here to find out why I’m doing this). Chicago is 43-40, tied for the lead in the NL Central and four games back in the wild card race.

The Cubs have scored 369 runs and allowed 347 runs, which gives them an expected record (44-39) that’s not significantly different than their actual record.

As you can probably tell by their runs scored and runs allowed numbers, the Cubs have a bad offense (13th in the NL with 4.45 runs per game) and good pitching (fourth in the NL with 4.18 runs allowed per game).

Chicago’s offense is bad partly because they don’t have many good hitters and partly because they’ve wasted a lot of at-bats on extraordinarily bad hitters. The Cubs have given 778 at-bats to players (nine of them) who currently have an OPS below .670, and that doesn’t count the pitchers. The wasted at-bat total climbs to 940 if you add in the pitchers, but it’s not really Chicago’s fault that pitchers can’t hit.

Aside from throwing away all those at-bats, the Cubs have only gotten about average production out of their starters in the middle infield and left field. Basically, only three positions have given the Cubs positive offense.

In right field, Sammy Sosa is hitting .296/.408/.516 (.924) and has been their best hitter. Still, he’s kind of hurting the offense because he’s been nowhere near as good as they expected him to be, although he has been hitting a little bit better recently.

In center field, Corey Patterson has an .851 OPS, but that’s a bit misleading because his .332 OBP limits his offensive value.

At first base, Eric Karros is hitting .318/.382/.503 (.885) and Hee Seop Choi is hitting .245/.386/.496 (.882).

If you had told me during the offseason that Karros would be the second-best hitter on the Cubs by July 3, I’d have said the Cubs would be in big trouble. Chicago’s offense has been in big trouble, but the pitching staff has prevented the team from being bad as a whole.

The Cubs have two legitimately great starting pitchers and one very good starting pitcher, to go along with one below average starting pitcher and one awful starting pitcher.

Mark Prior has a 2.54 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 10.31 K/9IP in 117 innings and Kerry Wood has a 2.90 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 11.19 K/9IP in 115 innings. Most of the credit for Chicago’s winning record should be aimed in their direction.

Carlos Zambrano has a 3.13 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 7.21 K/9IP in 103.2 innings and has been a very nice No. 3 starter. Matt Clement has been disappointing and maddeningly inconsistent with his 4.58 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 7.51 K/9IP in 98.1 innings and Shawn Estes has just been bad (5.38 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, 55 strikeouts and 49 walks in 93.2 innings), but at least he’s the only bad pitcher the Cubs have given significant innings to.

In the bullpen, the Cubs have been anchored by Joe Borowski (2.50 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9.53 K/9IP in 39.2 innings), who has been magnificent since the beginning of last year, and Kyle Farnsworth (2.35 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 10.80 K/9IP in 38.1 innings), who is also apparently one heck of a pugilist.

Can the Cubs make the playoffs without making any changes to this team? Yeah, but it would be difficult.

Aside from Sosa and maybe Clement, there aren’t really any players on this team that you might expect to play better during the second half. And if anything happens to one of those top three starting pitchers (all of whom have been worked pretty hard this year), then the Cubs would really be in trouble.

Unlike the Cubs, the Astros and Cardinals do each have players I would expect to do better in the second half, which gives them a little bit of an advantage as far as how well we can expect the teams to do over the second half.

However, I’ll give the Cubs the same 30-35 percent chance of making the playoffs that I gave Houston and St. Louis. I think Cubs management realizes it will be very hard to make the playoffs with the team in its present form and will go out and get another player or two to help (especially on offense). The big question is whether or not it will be enough.

If you told me that I absolutely have to pick a team that I think will win the NL Central this year, I would have to say the Cardinals. And I don’t think anybody in the Central has a real good shot at winning the wild card.

Other midseason posts

Midseason Baseball Report

Colorado Rockies

Arizona Diamondbacks

Los Angeles Dodgers

San Francisco Giants

Cincinnati Reds

St. Louis Cardinals

Houston Astros

Houston Astros

The Astros are the seventh team in my 21-team midseason review (click here to find out why I’m doing this). Houston is 43-40, tied for the lead in the NL Central and four games back in the wild card race.

The Astros have scored 411 runs and allowed 369 runs. Based on those numbers, Houston’s record is three games worse than the 46-37 record we might expect them to have. Houston ranks fourth in the NL with 4.95 runs scored per game and seventh in the NL with 4.45 runs allowed per game.

The pitching success is obviously due to the bullpen, which I’ll talk about in a little while, but you may be surprised at the reason for the offensive success.

Without looking anything up, name the two best hitters on the Astros so far.

If you said Richard Hidalgo and Morgan Ensberg, then you have way too much time on your hands (I know, who am I to tell anybody they have too much time on their hands?).

Hidalgo is hitting .321/.401/.574 (.975) and showing that maybe his 2000 season wasn’t that big a fluke after all. Ensberg is hitting .313/.419/.644 (1.063) and proving that he really is a very good hitter.

Jeff Kent is hitting .313/.373/.521 (.894), but he’s hurt now. Lance Berkman has overcome his slow start to get his numbers up to .275/.395/.482 (.877) and Jeff Bagwell has overcome his hot start to get his numbers down to .272/.354/.461 (.816).

If the Astros could ever get all five of those players in the lineup and hitting well at the same time, it would be a scary sight.

Houston’s pitching wouldn’t even be average if it wasn’t for the Big Three in the Bullpen.

Octavio Dotel has a 2.06 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 10.50 K/9IP in 48 innings, Billy Wagner has a 2.47 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 11.60 K/9IP in 47.1 innings and Brad Lidge has a 2.72 ERA and 1.19 WHIP 10.33 K/9IP in 49.2 innings.

If the Astros make the playoffs, that’s a scary trio to have waiting in the bullpen. Of course, you need some starting pitching to make the playoffs and Houston’s best starter is hurt right now.

Roy Oswalt has a 3.05 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 8.67 K/9IP, but has been limited to 73.2 innings and has been on the shelf since the Astros no-hit the Yankees. It sounds like he may be coming back soon, which is certainly good news, but I don’t know how much pitching help the Astros can expect elsewhere.

Wade Miller has a 1.29 WHIP and 7.16 K/9IP in 104.1 innings and is probably better than his 4.49 ERA, but Tim Redding has a 1.53 WHIP and 5.68 K/9IP and is probably worse than his 4.07 ERA.

That said, if Oswalt and Miller can put together second halves like they did last year (Miller had a 2.00 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 8.10 K/9IP in 103.1 innings and Oswalt had a 2.63 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 7.82 K/9IP in 109.1 innings), then Houston would be very formidable with two aces, three bullpen aces and a good-if-not-great offense.

I’d put Houston’s chances of making the playoffs right around 30-35 percent, just like St. Louis. The Astros probably won’t make a big splash in the trade market and they have some injury concerns. The potential is definitely there for this to be a much better team, though.

Other midseason posts

Midseason Baseball Report

Colorado Rockies

Arizona Diamondbacks

Los Angeles Dodgers

San Francisco Giants

Cincinnati Reds

St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are the sixth team in my 21-team midseason review (click here to find out why I’m doing this). St. Louis is 43-40, tied for the lead in the NL Central and four games back in the wild card race.

The Cardinals have been somewhat unlucky as their 476 runs scored and 415 runs allowed works out to a .568 expected winning percentage, which would be four games better (47-36) than their actual record. Being 5-14 in one-run games is probably part of the problem.

The Cardinals have a tremendous offense. They lead the league in runs per game at 5.72 (Colorado is second at 5.43) and also lead the league in batting average (.289), OBP (.357) and SLG (.474). They have more hits (862) than any other team in the NL (no other team even has 800), have the most doubles (194), have been hit by the most pitches (45) and have struck out the fewest times (460).

This great offense revolves around four outstanding players, and you probably already know who they are.

Albert Pujols is hitting .379/.439/.695 (1.133). His .368 EqA is second in the NL and his 48.1 runs above replacement at his position (RARP) are the most among NL left fielders.

Jim Edmonds is hitting .305/.399/.677 (1.075). His .342 EqA is third in the NL and his 37.2 RARP are the most among NL center fielders.

Scott Rolen is hitting .288/.397/.537 (.934). His .320 EqA is 10th in the NL and his 31.8 RARP rank second among NL third basemen (his EqA is the best among NL third basemen, however).

Edgar Renteria is hitting .333/.384/.489 (.873). His .308 EqA is 20th in the NL and his 30.0 RARP are the most among NL shortstops.

The Cardinals have gotten nice contributions from some other players and absolutely nothing of value from certain players as well, but their offense basically boils down to these four. I would not be shocked to see them all finish in the top 10 in MVP voting this season.

With such a good offense, it’s easy to see that St. Louis’ problem this season has been pitching. The Cardinals only really have one good starting pitcher and one good relief pitcher based on the first-half stats.

Woody Williams is 10-3 with a 3.18 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP in 119 innings and Kiko Calero had a 2.82 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 11.97 K/9IP in 38.1 innings. Even worse than having just two good pitchers is that Calero is now out for the season.

The main problem is that the Cardinals have not gotten as much as expected out of Matt Morris (3.85 ERA, 1.18 WHIP in 114.2 innings) and Steve Kline (3.58 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 3.31 K/9IP in 32.2 innings).

That could be either good or bad. It’s bad if the two of them are just going to end up having sub par seasons, but it’s good if they’ve simply been slumping and can return to their normal levels for the second half of the season.

The Cardinals already have the great offense and Williams has been a pretty good ace. They now have their closer back (Jason Isringhausen has a 1.08 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 8.1 innings) and their third starter has been serviceable (Garrett Stephenson has a 4.29 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 107 innings).

If the Cardinals can just get good performances out of Morris and Kline over the second half, that could be just the boost they need to pull away from the other teams in the NL Central.

I’d give the Cardinals about a 30-35 percent chance of making the playoffs just because the NL Central really is a crapshoot at this point. The outcome will likely be heavily affected by injuries and trades and I don’t have a crystal ball to see which team is going to do best in those categories.

Other midseason posts

Midseason Baseball Report

Colorado Rockies

Arizona Diamondbacks

Los Angeles Dodgers

San Francisco Giants

Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds are the fifth team in my 21-team midseason review (click here to find out why I’m doing this). Cincinnati is 40-42, 2.5 games back in the NL Central and 6.5 games back in the wild card race.

The Reds have been very, very lucky and that may be an understatement. Cincinnati has scored 389 runs and allowed 472, which works out to an expected winning percentage of .404. For 82 games, that would yield a record of 33-49, which is seven games worse than Cincinnati’s actual record.

Last year, the luckiest team in baseball (Minnesota) finished seven games better than expected for the whole season. So to already be seven games better than expected at the midway point of the season is saying something (strangely, another NL team has been nearly as lucky as the Reds, but we’ll get to them later).

Cincinnati is 18-9 in one-run games and 9-2 in extra innings. It’s amazing that they’ve played 27 one-run games and 11 extra-inning games, but it’s even more amazing that they’ve won so many of them.

When thinking about the Reds you probably assume that the have a really good offense and a really bad pitching staff. Well, they certainly do have a really bad pitching staff (its 5.35 ERA is the worst in the NL), but their offense isn’t really as good as it seems.

The Reds score 4.74 runs per game, which is sixth in the NL. Sixth isn’t bad, but it’s probably not as high as you would have guessed.

The Reds hit a lot of home runs (second in the NL with 108) and draw a decent number of walks (tied for ninth in the NL with 279), but their low batting average (.251) limits them to eighth in SLG (.421) and 14th in OBP (.326).

How are they sixth in runs per game if they only rank eighth in SLG and 14th in OBP? Good question.

The Reds have only grounded into 58 double plays (fourth-fewest in the NL) and have a 73-percent success rate on steals (third-best in the NL), which certainly helps maximize their low OBP. On the other hand, they lead the NL with 41 sacrifice bunts, which probably doesn’t help.

In the end, it probably comes down to luck again. Cincinnati’s .747 OPS is eighth (and closer to 12th than seventh). However, the Reds have a .774 OPS with runners on base (sixth in the league), a .762 OPS with runners in scoring position and two outs (also sixth) and a .759 OPS in "close and late" situations (fourth in the NL).

So, not only have the Reds been lucky to win as many games as they have given their runs scored and runs allowed, they’ve also probably been lucky to score as many runs as they have.

The Reds have some good hitters, but they don’t have a single hitter who (at least for the first half of the season) excels at getting hits, drawing walks AND hitting for power. They’ve got a bunch of guys who can do one and some who can even do two, but they don’t really have any star hitters who can be expected to maintain their offense (Jose Guillen has a 1.046 OPS, but he doesn’t walk much and his season looks very fluky).

On the other side, the Reds only have six pitchers with an ERA better than 4.50 and none of them have thrown more than 50 innings. Every single pitcher who has started at least one game for the Reds this season has an ERA over 4.50.

That, obviously, is not a recipe for success. In fact, it’s pretty much the exact recipe for having the highest ERA in the league, which is what the Reds have.

Basically, the Reds either need to trade for some serious pitching help, hope that some of the pitchers they already have start pitching much better, or hope that their hitters get a lot better and/or even luckier.

There are three teams in the NL Central with better records than Cincinnati and all of them are fundamentally better teams than the Reds. The odds of Cincinnati finishing ahead of even one of them are not good. The odds of the Reds finishing ahead of all three are between slim and none.

I’d say they’re about as likely to make the playoffs as the Rockies are, which is not really good.

Other midseason posts

Midseason Baseball Report

Colorado Rockies

Arizona Diamondbacks

Los Angeles Dodgers

San Francisco Giants

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

San Francisco Giants

The Giants are the fourth team in my 21-team midseason review (click here to see why I’m doing this). San Francisco is 50-32 and leads the NL West by 4.5 games (prior to Wednesday’s games).

Last year, one of the teams by the bay had both the MVP and the Cy Young Award winners. This year, the other team by the bay may actually deserve to have both of them.

As you know if you read my Midseason Baseball Report, I think Barry Bonds is currently second in the MVP race and Jason Schmidt is leading the Cy Young race.

Bonds has probably been the best offensive force in the NL on a per game basis, but Albert Pujols gets the nod overall because he’s played more games. Schmidt has just been ridiculous – he threw a complete game for the fifth time this season (and going nine innings for the sixth time) in his last start – leading the NL in too many categories for me to list here.

So the main reason the Giants are leading the NL West is that they have the best player in the NL on a per appearance basis on both sides of the ball. Another reason is that they’ve gotten tremendous performances from two other players.

Ray Durham is doing exactly what the Giants were hoping he would when they signed him. He’s getting hits (.318 average), getting on base (.410 OBP) and providing some pop (.446 SLG) for an .857 OPS. Because of the high OBP though, he’s been even better than that. His .309 EqA is 19th in the NL and second among NL second basemen. The only thing you could complain about is that he missed some time with an injury.

In the bullpen, Tim Worrell is doing his best to make sure that Robb Nen isn’t missed too badly. Worrell has 17 saves with a 1.67 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. He has blown four saves, but the Giants have come back to win two of those games. Obviously, it would be better to have Nen in the bullpen along with Worrell, but at least they still have a reliable arm to turn to.

The Giants have also received solid contributions from Jose Cruz (up-and-down, but good overall), Marquis Grissom (I’m as surprised as you are), Benito Santiago (at age 87), J.T. Snow (good OBP and good defense balances out lack of power), Andres Galarraga (looks ancient, but still helping part-time), Kirk Rueter (succeeding with smoke and mirrors, but still succeeding), Kurt Ainsworth (could be done for the season, unfortunately), Jim Brower (impressive first start Tuesday), Joe Nathan (solid inning-eating reliever), Felix Rodriguez (may never regain 2000-2001 dominance, but still good enough to help) and Jerome Williams (may be the best of the trio of rookie pitchers).

Of course, the Giants have been carrying around some dead (or less alive than they hoped) weight.

Rich Aurilia is continuing to make his 2001 season look like a complete and utter fluke. Here is his OPS for each season since 1998: .726, .780, .783, .941, .718. This year, he is hitting .258/.316/.396 (.712). Which of those OPS numbers looks out of place to you?

One of San Francisco’s offseason moves that didn’t work out was signing Edgardo Alfonzo. He’s hitting .229/.308/.333 (.641), and that’s after going 6-for-10 with a double and three walks in the last four games.

Of course, the Giants also continue to waste at-bats on Neifi Perez, who is hitting .280/.301/.371 (.671). They signed him in the offseason too, so I guess he’s another offseason move that didn’t work out, but it’s not like he’d slumping or underperforming. He’s just bad.

On the pitching side, Damian Moss has a 4.92 ERA and a 1.66 WHIP in 89.2 innings. If the Giants had looked more closely at his performance last season, they might have noticed that he only struck out 111 batters in 179 innings (5.58 K/9IP) and walked 89 batters (1.25 K/BB). So it’s no surprise he’s struggling.

As I wrote here Monday, it’s also not a tremendous surprise that Jesse Foppert is struggling. The 22-year-old rookie has a 4.94 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in 71 innings, but at least has the potential to be very good (unlike Moss).

So, that’s a look at the individuals who make up the Giants, but how about a look at the Giants as a whole.

San Francisco has scored 379 runs and allowed 336 runs, for an expected winning percentage of .560 (which works out to 46-36). San Francisco’s actual winning percentage is .610 (which works out to them being four games better than expected). The Giants are a ridiculously good 15-5 in one-run games and an almost-as-ridiculously-good 5-1 in extra innings.

So, the Giants have not fundamentally been much better than the Dodgers or Diamondbacks (their expected winning percentage is half a game better than LA’s and one game better than Arizona’s), but the fact remains that their record is better. So while we wouldn’t expect San Francisco to be better than Los Angeles and Arizona over the second half if all three teams played the same as they did in the first half, neither would we expect them to be worse.

Since the Giants already have a not-insignificant lead, that gives them the advantage. I’d say they’ve got about a 75-80 percent chance of making the playoffs. If either Los Angeles or Arizona goes on a magnificent winning streak, San Francisco can always fall back on the wild card.

The only thing San Francisco fans have to really fear is a prolonged slump from the Giants, and Bonds and Schmidt should help make sure that doesn’t happen.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are the third team in my 21-team midseason review (click here to see why I’m doing this). Los Angeles is 45-36, 4.5 games back in the NL West and 1.5 games back in the wild card race.

The Dodgers are pretty much the opposite of the Rockies, scoring very few runs and allowing even fewer. The difference is that the Dodgers aren’t really affected by their home park.

Los Angeles scores 3.43 runs per game, which is last in the NL, and allows 3.07 runs per game, which is the best in the NL. On the road, the Dodgers score 3.4 runs per game, which is last in the NL, and allow 3 runs per game, which is the best in the NL.

It’s easy to see why the Dodgers aren’t allowing many runs. They have three starters having excellent seasons (each with an ERA under 3.00) and four relievers having excellent seasons (each with an ERA under 2.10).

In the rotation, it starts with Kevin Brown’s 2.24 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 7.77 K/9IP in 112.1 innings. Hideo Nomo has a 2.71 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 7.79 K/9IP in 129.1 innings and Kaz Ishii has a 2.91 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and 8.45 K/9IP in 92.2 innings.

In the bullpen, it starts with Eric Gagne and his 2.06 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and 15.79 K/9IP in 39.1 innings. Guillermo Mota has a 1.89 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 8.31 K/9IP in 47.2 innings, Paul Quantrill has a 1.57 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 5.24 K/9IP in 34.1 innings and Paul Shuey has a 1.15 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 7.76 K/9IP in 31.1 innings.

Obviously there are no guarantees that they will all keep pitching this well (Ishii’s WHIP is certainly a concern), but it’s a good bet that the Dodgers will continue to allow the fewest runs in the NL by a decent margin.

The area we need to look at, then, is the offense. There are three main reasons why the Dodgers aren’t scoring runs.

First, they don’t have many good hitters. This may seem like an obvious thing to say, but sometimes a team just has a lot of players slumping at once. The Dodgers, however, simply don’t have many players on their roster who have ever been considered good hitters in the major leagues. By all accounts, the Dodgers are trying really hard to trade for somebody who has been (and hopefully still is) considered a good hitters in the major leagues. If they are able to do that, their problems could be solved.

Second, the best hitter they do have isn’t hitting nearly as well as he should be. Shawn Green is hitting .248/.309/.414 (.723) this season after hitting .285/.358/.521 (.878) for his career before this season and putting up OPS’s of .970 and .944 the last two years. He’s on pace for just 16 home runs after hitting at least 40 each of the last two years and averaging 38.4 the last five years.

It looked like Green might have just been taking some time to warm up as he hit .270/.328/.423 (751) in April and then .284/.342/.471 (.813) in May. But then he completely stunk in June, hitting .181/.243/.330 (.523). I don’t know what’s wrong with him, but the Dodgers had better hope that he figures it out really soon.

The third reason the Dodgers aren’t scoring enough runs is that they’re not utilizing the players they do have as well as they could be. What I mean (and by no means am I the first to say this) is that they should be platooning Fred McGriff and Mike Kinkade at first base.

This season, McGriff is hitting .192/.224/.370 (.594) against lefties and .272/.358/.462 (.820) against righties while Kinkade is hitting .455/.550/.758 (1.308) against lefties and .159/.293/.270 (.563) against righties. I know those are small sample sizes, but from 2000-2002 McGriff hit .262/.339/.457 (.796) against lefties and .295/.383/.575 (.898) against righties while Kinkade hit .308/.390/.500 (.890) against lefties and .293/.369/.354 (.723) against righties. It’s pretty obvious that McGriff is just a better hitter against righties and Kinkade is just a better hitter against lefties.

For some reason, though, the Dodgers have given McGriff 76 plate appearances against lefties and they’ve given Kinkade 75 plate appearances against righties. How many more runs could the Dodgers have scored this season if Kinkade had taken all of McGriff’s PA’s against lefties and anybody had taken all of Kinkade’s PA’s against righties? I’m not sure, but does 20 sound unreasonable? I don’t think it does.

You might think that an extra 20 runs (just a quarter of a run per game) wouldn’t make much of a difference and for a lot of teams you would be right. For an example, let’s take a look at two teams that both outscore their opponents by half a run per game.

Team A scores 3.5 runs per game and allows 3 runs per game (outscoring their opponents by 16.7 percent) and Team B scores 5.5 runs per game and allows 5 runs per game (outscoring their opponents by 10 percent). Now, let’s give each team an extra quarter of a run per game. Team A now outscores its opponents by 25 percent and Team B now outscores its opponents by 15 percent. You see how much more the quarter of a run means to the team that plays low-scoring games?

Let’s take a look specifically at this year’s Dodgers. They have scored 278 runs and allowed 250 runs for an expected winning percentage of .553 (their actual winning percentage is .556, which is pretty close). If we give them those 20 runs over their first 81 games, their expected winning percentage jumps up to .587, which would give them 2.5 more wins.

As that would put them in first place in the wild card race by a game, I’m sure you can understand how important it is for the Dodgers, especially, to maximize their offense in every way possible.

If they can fix any of their three problems – trade for a good hitter, get more offense from Green or start platooning McGriff and Kinkade – it could make all the difference in the world. If they fix two or all three of the problems, there’s no telling how good they could be.

Of course, if they don’t fix any of the problems and their pitching stops being as much of a strength, then they would be very hard-pressed to even come close to the playoffs. Right now, I’d give them about a 25 percent chance of making the playoffs, because I think they’ll have a hard time trading for an impact player, I don’t know how much Green will be able to rebound and I don’t see why they’d start platooning at first base if they haven’t done it yet.

Other midseason posts

Midseason Baseball Report

Colorado Rockies

Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks are the second team in my 21-team midseason review (click here to find out why I’m doing this). Arizona is 45-37, five games back in the NL West and two games back in the wild card race.

This segment isn’t going to be really long, for two reasons. Firstly, I wrote about Arizona’s impressive turnaround last Friday. Secondly, Rob Neyer has a nice column today about how Arizona is winning.

What I want to do is play make believe. Let’s pretend Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling rejoin the Diamondbacks after the All-Star break and both pitch at the level they were at the last two years. Let’s say they combine to make 28 starts the rest of the season, and the Diamondbacks win 21 of them.

That means that Arizona would just need to play .500 baseball in their other 52 games this season to finish with 92 wins. I don’t know if 92 wins would be enough to make the playoffs, but I’d certainly take my chances.

Whether or not they can do that will depend largely on Jonhson and Schilling and largely on whether or not Neyer’s correct about their luck. If all those rookies have indeed been getting lucky, as one might expect, then at least some of them will come back to normal over the second half of the season. If that happens Arizona may have trouble winning half of the games in which Johnson and Schilling do not pitch. After all, they didn’t win half of their games in April and May, before the rookies started coming up and helping out.

If, however, all of these rookies really are this good (or at least continue to play this well for the rest of the season), then I’d say there’s no way Arizona misses the playoffs (provided the two aces come back strong). Unless Bob Brenly does something stupid like put the bad veterans back into the lineup when they get healthy and send the good rookies back to Triple-A Tucson.

So, let’s review what the Diamondbacks need to do. First, they need Johnson and Schilling to come back and pitch as well as they did the last two years. Second, they need their rookies to continue to play as well as they have been playing. Third, they need Brenly to continue to use the rookies even after all the "Proven Veterans" are healthy.

That’s a lot of stuff to be relying on, but I actually think there’s a chance that it could happen. I’d give Arizona a 35-40 percent chance of making the playoffs this season. They’re probably the second most likely team to win the NL West (sorry Dodgers fans) and they’re one of the four or five most likely teams to win the wild card.

If they do make the playoffs, then I’d be very worried about playing them. If the Diamondbacks are in the playoffs in October, it’s probably because Johnson and Schilling came back as good as ever. And everybody remembers what Arizona can do when riding those two healthy horses.

Other midseason posts

Midseason Baseball Report

Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies are the first team in my 21-team midseason review (click here to find out why I’m doing this). Colorado is 43-42, 5.5 games out in the wild card race.

It seems strange to look at a team that’s second in the league with 5.4 runs scored per game and 13th in the league with 5.2 runs allowed per game and say that offense is that team’s problem, but that’s the case with the Rockies.

Colorado is 14th in scoring on the road with just 3.95 runs per game. Since their pitchers don’t improve that much on the road (the Rockies allow 5.3 runs per game on the road, 12th in the league), it’s very difficult for them to win on the road. Indeed, the Rockies are 13-28 on the road and are only above .500 overall because they win more than two-thirds of their games (30-14) at home.

The Rockies have a player in the top three in OPS at four of the eight positions, but that’s not really as impressive as it sounds.

Todd Helton leads all first basemen with a 1.009 OPS. On the road, however, he’s hitting just .264/.371/.382 (.753). At home, he’s smashing the ball to the tune of .399/.485/.744 (1.229) and 12 of his 14 home runs have come at Coors.

Chris Stynes is third among NL third basemen with an .840 OPS, but he also has a big home/road split. He’s hitting .328/.396/.605 (1.001) at home and .224/.336/.327 (.663) on the road.

Preston Wilson is third among center fielders with a .915 OPS. His splits aren’t as extreme, but that means he’s not taking as much advantage of Coors Field. He’s hitting .316/.383/.615 (.998) at home and .283/.333/.487 (.820) on the road.

Larry Walker is third among right fielders with a .955 OPS. He’s hitting .351/.488/.565 (1.053) at home and .250/.388/.458 (.846) on the road.

So if their four good hitters aren’t quite as good as they look, how bad are their other main hitters? Exactly, it’s not really pretty.

Even worse than the fact that the offense isn’t putting up quite as many runs as necessary is the fact that Colorado’s best pitcher is now hurt. Shawn Chacon is apparently having elbow problems, and that’s never a good sign for a young pitcher. Without him, the team ERA that has been hovering around 5.00 will probably go up significantly.

Do the Rockies have a chance to make the playoffs this year? Yeah, but I’d say it’s only one percent or so. They’re within 5.5 games of the wild card, but there are 11 NL teams more likely to make the playoffs than them.

Want a radical idea for how to help the Rockies? Only use Stynes at third in home games and only use Mark Bellhorn at third in road games. Stynes has been awful on the road and Bellhorn has been awful in general. But Bellhorn has shown in the past that he can hit in the majors. Maybe if he never gets to play at Coors, he won’t develop the terrible home/road splits the rest of the team has. At any rate, it couldn’t hurt, but even if it did work perfectly it probably wouldn’t vault them straight into the playoffs.

To get back to October, they’re going to need to continue to try and figure out what the formula is for winning in Colorado.


You may have noticed this already, but 21 of the 30 teams in the major leagues are within six games of a playoff spot right now and none of the six division leaders has a lead of more than six games.

How rare is it for 70 percent of the teams in baseball to still be this close to making the playoffs this late in the season? Glad you asked. I went back and looked at the standings after July 1 for every season since 1994 (when baseball switched to three divisions and four playoff spots per league). Let's take a look at what I found.

Last year, only 12 of the 30 teams (40 percent) were within six games of a playoff spot. Four of the division leaders had leads of six games or less and three of the division races were within three games.

In 2001, 15 of the 30 teams (50 percent) were within six games of a playoff spot. Five of the division leaders had leads of six games or less and three of the division races were within three games.

In 2000, 17 of the 30 teams (56.7 percent) were within six games of a playoff spot. Four of the division leaders had leads of six games or less and all four of those races were within two games.

In 1999, 15 of the 30 teams (50 percent) were within six games of a playoff spot. Five of the division leaders had leads of six games or less and four of those races were within three games.

You want to know why there was so much interest in the home run race in 1998? It's partly because it was the only race going on. After July 1, only 12 of the 30 teams (40 percent) were within six games of the playoffs. Only two division leaders had leads of six games or less and neither of those races were within three games. By the beginning of August, only one division race (the AL West, where Anaheim led Texas by 2.5 games) was closer than 10 games and the AL wild card had pretty much been locked up (Boston had an eight-game lead).

In 1997, 18 of the 28 teams (64.3 percent) were within six games of a playoff spot. Five of the division leaders had leads of six games or less and two of the races were within three games.

In 1996, 19 of the 28 teams (67.9 percent) were within six games of a playoff spot. All six of the division leaders had leads of six games or less and three of those races were within three games.

In 1995, 19 of the 28 teams (67.9 percent) were within six games of a playoff spot. Five of the division leaders had leads of six games or less and three of the races were within three games.

In 1994, 17 of the 28 teams (60.7 percent) were within six games of a playoff spot. All six of the division leaders had leads of six games or less and four of those races were within three games.

So, this is about as exciting as things have been in early July since baseball added the wild card. Since I just did my Midseason Baseball Report, I thought I'd take a kind of midseason look at all 21 teams who are currently within six games of the playoffs and estimate their chances of actually making the playoffs. I'll try to get all 21 teams done by the end of Friday, since I'm leaving for Long Island on Saturday.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Thank you

I just wanted to thank everybody who stopped by in June to check out my blog. I got 1,850 unique hits, which is the highest total I've gotten in the three months I've been doing this. Hopefully, the interest will continue to build (although I suspect my hits may drop this month as I will be taking a couple vacations). As always, do not hesitate to email me for any reason whatsoever. I love getting emails from people saying they like my blog, I love getting questions from readers and I love hearing from people who just want to say hi. Basically, I just love getting email and I promise I'll respond if you write to me (although it may not be absolutely immediately).

Also, I want to apologize for all the bad links in my Midseason Report. Because of the problems with Blogger, which are really getting to be annoying, I've started writing my posts in Microsoft Word and then copying them into posts piece-by-piece. The problem is that I've been just hitting shift+apostrophe to make the quotation marks for my links as I did when I composed the posts in Blogger, but in Word that makes a different type of quotation mark that doesn't work. I apologize and from now on I will just hit the apostrophe key twice to make my quotation marks.

If you haven't already read my Midseason Report, you can click here or just scroll down. I'm not going to make any other posts tonight because I spent so long on that one yesterday, but I will be back tomorrow.

Monday, June 30, 2003

Midseason Report

When I promised to come back strong today, I didn‘t mean just one little post this morning. It’s the last day of June and most of the teams in baseball have played about half of their games, so it’s time for my Midseason Baseball Report. I’ll give you my top five for AL and NL MVP and Cy Young and top three for AL and NL Rookie of the Year, plus some selections in a bunch of other categories. Unfortunately, blogger still won’t let me post anything really big (I think 1,350 words is the limit), so I’m going to have to break this up into parts. Just keep scrolling down at the end of each part and you’ll eventually get to the end. If you want to link to this, please link to the first part. I’ve been working on this all day (and part of yesterday), so I hope you enjoy it. (Note: all statistics are through Sunday‘s games)

AL Most Valuable Player

5. Corey Koskie, 3B, MIN.

Koskie has been a good player since 1999 -- his first full season -- but his performance this year is much better than the last four years. He is hitting .308 -- ninth in the AL and third among third baseman -- thanks to 86 hits, which puts him on pace to break his career high (155) by 19. He has a .402 OBP -- ninth in the AL and first among third basemen -- thank to 45 walks, which puts him on pace to break his career high (77) by 14. And he has a .505 SLG -- third among AL third basemen -- thanks to 17 doubles and 12 homers, which put him on pace to be right around his career highs of 37 doubles and 26 home runs.

Koskie is in the top five among AL third basemen in just about every counting category as well. He’s second in runs (46), second in hits, fourth in doubles, tied for fifth in triples (1), tied for fourth in home runs, second in RBI (50), tied for second in steals (6) and first in walks.

Some of you are probably thinking to yourself, “How can Koskie be the fifth most valuable player in the AL if he’s not even having as good a year as Hank Blalock? The answer, of course, is that he is having a significantly better year than Blalock.

First, you need to realize that Blalock’s 20-point advantage in OPS (.927 to .907) isn’t quite that large because Koskie’s .402 OBP is 14 points higher than Blalock’s .388 OBP. Depending on how much more valuable you think OBP is than SLG, Koskie combined OBP and SLG is anywhere from 13 points lower to eight points higher than Blalock’s.

The next thing you need to look at is the park each one plays in and see how much help they get there. The easiest way is to just look at their home/road splits. Koskie is hitting better at home, .348/.445/.548 (.993), than on the road, .281/.370/.482 (.852). However, that’s nothing compared to Blalock’s home park advantage. He’s hitting .380/.433/.664 (1.097) at home and just .287/.338/.419 (.757) on the road.

In general, Texas’ park is increasing offense more than Minnesota’s. There have been 574 runs scored in 41 Rangers home games (12.54 per game), but just 394 runs scored in 38 Rangers road games (10.37 per game). Minnesota has seen 401 runs scored in its 41 home games (9.78 per game) and 368 runs scored in its 39 road games (9.44 per game).

Finally, you can look at some of the more advanced statistics from Baseball Prospectus. Koskie has a .315 EqA, which is 17th in the AL and first among AL third basemen. Blalock has a .309 EqA, which is not in the top 20 in the AL and is second among AL third basemen. Koskie is worth 29.3 runs above a replacement player at his position (RARP), which is 12th in the AL and first among AL third basemen. Blalock is worth 24.9 RARP, which is tied for 17th in the AL and tied for second among AL third basemen (with Bill Mueller).

So, I think it’s pretty clear that Koskie is significantly more valuable than Blalock. Considering the position he plays and the excellent defensive reputation he has at that position (he has been 10 fielding runs above average each of the last two seasons according to Baseball Prospectus), he gets my vote as the fifth most valuable player in the AL.

4. Melvin Mora, LF, BAL.

Mora has been one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season. He entered this year at age 31, having hit .249/.334/.388 (.722) in 475 career games. His ability to play several positions made him a useful guy to have around, but his age and performance in a significant sample indicated that he was never going to add much to an offense.

Well, so far he’s leading the AL with a .357 batting average (Ichiro Suzuki is second at .344). He’s leading the AL with a .460 OBP (Milton Bradley is second at .444). And he’s fifth in the AL with a .581. His 1.041 OPS is second only to Carlos Delgado (1.085) and they are the only two above .980.

Just Blalock and Koskie, however, Delgado’s edge in OPS is muted by the fact that Mora has a higher OBP, which is the more important component statistic. Depending on how much more important you think it is, Mora’s combined OBP and SLG could be anywhere from 30 points worse to 12 points better than Delgado’s. Indeed, Baseball Prospectus says that Mora has a .363 EqA -- best in the AL -- and Delgado has a .353 EqA -- second in the AL.

So why is Mora only my fourth most valuable AL player if he’s arguably hitting better than anybody else in the league? Because he’s only played in 63 of Baltimore’s 79 games. While he’s been providing excellent offense every time he takes the field, somebody else has taken the field in his place 16 times (20-percent of the Orioles’ games).

As the season has gone on Mora has gotten even better and has missed fewer games. He hit .294/.438/.627 in April (and March) and missed eight games. He his .379/.458/.563 in May and missed three games. And he hit .373/.478/.575 in June and missed five games.

Unfortunately, in his last game he was hit by a pitch in the hand. X-rays were negative, but he is going to a specialist today and could miss even more time if there is a problem with it.

3. Nomar Garciaparra, SS, BOS.

When Garciaparra burst into the league in 1997 and won the Rookie of the Year Award, it looked like it would only be a matter of time before he won an MVP Award. He finished second in the voting in 1998 and, despite having his two best seasons the next two year, seventh in 1999 and ninth in 2000. Then he missed almost all of the 2001 season and was not able to get back to his pre-injury level last year, when he did not finish in the top 10 in MVP voting after playing a full season for the first time in his career.

Garciaparra started slowly this season, hitting .273/.319/.482 (.801) in April. He started to heat up in May, hitting .339/.356/.633 (.989). And he just put the finishing touches on a torrid June, hitting .417/.462/.676 (1.138). He is now back to being a strong horse in the MVP race and is making the question “Who is the best shortstop in baseball?” a legitimate discussion again (remember that when Garciaparra posted back-to-back seasons with an OPS+ above 150 -- 152 in 1999 and 158 in 2000 -- Alex Rodriguez had a 133 OPS+ and then a 167 OPS+. So they were pretty equal over that two-year span, then Garciaparra struggled with injuries and Rodriguez kept being great).

Garciaparra is now hitting .338/.374/.585 (.959) for the season. His batting average is fourth in the AL and first among shortstops, his SLG is fourth in the AL and first among shortstops and his OPS is 10th in the AL and first among shortstops. His OBP is second to Rodriguez’s (.382) among shortstops.

Garciaparra only has 19 walks --which is the main reason his OBP isn’t as good as Rodriguez’s -- but his 114 hits put him on pace for 231 and his 23 doubles, 12 triples and 12 home runs put him on pace for 95 extra-base hits.

According to Baseball Prospectus, Garciaparra has a .326 EqA, which is 14th in the AL and first among shortstops (Rodriguez’s .313 is 19th in the AL). Garciaparra’s 41.4 RARP are third in the AL and first among shortstops (Rodriguez’s 33.1 are seventh in the AL).

Garciaparra has definitely been the most valuable shortstop in the AL so far this season, and that’s been good enough to make him the third most valuable player in the AL.

2. Bret Boone, 2B, SEA.

In 2001, Boone joined the Mariners and had one of the best seasons ever for a second baseman, hitting .331/.372/.578 (.950) with 37 doubles, 37 home runs, 118 runs and 141 RBI to finish third in the MVP voting. He was 31 and had never been anywhere near that good before, so almost everybody assumed it was a fluke. He certainly made it look that way last year, when he hit .278/.339/.462 (.801) with 34 doubles, 24 homers, 88 runs and 107 RBI, still good numbers for a second baseman, but nowhere near his amazing 2001 season.

This year, however, Boone is making it look like last year was the fluke and 2001 was indeed him establishing a new higher level of hitting. In fact, this year he’s putting his 2001 season to shame.

He’s hitting .317/.376/.600 (.976) and is on pace for 47 doubles, 45 home runs, 124 runs and 134 RBI. He’s second in the AL in homers (22), third in RBI (66), sixth in runs (61), second in SLG and sixth in OPS.
The amazing part, however, is how much he’s being hurt by his home ballpark. Boone is hitting just .293/.343/.497 (.840) in Seattle. On the road, he’s hitting .342/.409/.703 (1.112), which is just ridiculous for a second baseman. Boone was hurt at home in 2001 also, but only slightly. He hit .322/.355/.580 (.935) at home and .339/.389/.576 (.965) on the road.

Boone has a .336 EqA, which is ninth in the AL and easily the best among second basemen (Alfonso Soriano is second at .306). His 42 RARP are second in the AL and almost 10 more than the next-best second baseman (Soriano at 32.3).

If he can sustain this level of production the rest of this season, it will constitute one of the most remarkable career turnarounds in history. Before the age of 32, Boone only had one season that was much above average. Now he has a chance to have three straight above average seasons, two of which would be among the 20 or so best seasons ever by a second baseman.

1. Carlos Delgado, 1B, TOR.

After two merely very good seasons, Delgado is now back to being amazingly good. He is hitting .310/.432/.653 (1.085) with 23 doubles, 26 home runs, 68 runs and 89 RBI. He’s first in the AL in homers, first in RBI, second in runs, third in walks (56), fourth in OBP, first in SLG and first in OPS. He is the driving force behind the second-best offense in the AL and is a big part of the reason that Vernon Wells is enjoying such a successful season.

Delgado hit .344/.470/.664 (1.134) with 57 doubles, 41 home runs, 115 runs and 137 RBI in 2000 to finish fourth in the MVP voting. After posting a .948 OPS in 2001 and a .955 OPS last year, Delgado has returned to the rarified heights of his 2000 season.

As I mentioned earlier, his .353 EqA is second in the AL to Mora, but Delgado has only missed one game this season and his EqA is 15 points higher than the next-best first baseman (Jason Giambi at .338). Delgado’s 43.2 RARP lead the AL (Giambi is second among first baseman with 35).

You could argue that Delgado isn’t as valuable as Boone or maybe even Garciaparra because he plays first base and he doesn’t play it all that well. But for my money, his large edge as the best offensive force in the league makes up for that.

Also, I don’t think RBI are a great indicator of offensive value and I don’t believe in the ability to “hit in the clutch,” but you have to give Delgado some credit for hitting .436/.589/.833 (1.422) with runners in scoring position. Delgado has 89 RBI because he’s part of a great offense, but it’s also because he makes the most of his opportunities. He’s had 78 at-bats with runners in scoring position and 60 RBI in those at-bats.

That’s got to make the pitchers think just a little bit harder about trying to make sure there isn’t anybody in scoring position when he gets up to bat. Of course, when pitchers are scared of one hitter, that’s when they make mistakes to the other hitters. And that’s why Delgado’s the first-half AL MVP.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): Milton Bradley, Jason Giambi, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano.

NL Most Valuable Player

5. Gary Sheffield, RF, ATL.

This is what the Braves thought they were getting when they acquired Sheffield last year. After all, he was coming off back-to-back 1.000-plus OPS seasons with the Dodgers, and Los Angeles isn’t exactly the best place to put up big offensive numbers.

Instead of having a third year with an OPS containing four digits, Sheffield struggled with injuries and finished the year hitting .307/.404/.512 (.916) with 26 doubles, 25 homers, 82 runs and 84 RBI.

This year, he’s hitting .327/.416/.629 with 18 doubles, 22 home runs, 66 runs and 64 RBI. He’s seventh in the NL in batting, sixth in homers, fourth in RBI, third in runs, eighth in OBP, fourth in SLG and fourth in OPS.

He has a .341 EqA, which is fourth in the NL. His 64.6 equivalent runs are third in the NL and his 35.4 RARP are fourth in the NL. He ranks first in all three categories among right fielders.

Sheffield has only finished in the top five in MVP voting once -- in 1992, when he hit ..330/.385/.580 (.965) for a 168 OPS+. If he keeps hitting like he’s been hitting this season, he should get his second top-five MVP finish.

4. Javy Lopez, C, ATL.

This offseason, I would have said it’s more likely that Lopez will get released by the Braves than that he’ll be one of the most valuable players in the first half in the NL. Formerly one of the better-hitting catchers in the NL, Lopez hit just .233/.299/.372 (.671) at age 31. Coming off a season in which he had hit .267./322/.425 (.747), it looked like Lopez was in the severe decline phase of his catching career.

Sometime since the end of last year, Lopez must have found the fountain of youth or something. He’s hitting .313/.361/.696 (1.056) with 23 home runs, 40 runs and 48 RBI. Just in case you didn’t notice, his SLG this year is higher than his OPS was last year.

Lopez has missed some time with an injury and, being a catcher, he’s gotten a few days off just to rest, so he only has 233 plate appearances and doesn’t qualify for the leaderboards (since you need 3.1 plate appearances per team game, he’d need 245 PA’s to qualify). If he did qualify, he’d rank second in SLG and fourth in OPS in the NL.

Lopez is sixth in the NL with a .329 EqA and eighth with 28.2 RARP, well ahead of the next-best catcher in both categories (Mike Lieberthal with a .300 EqA and 20.2 RARP).

If he hadn‘t missed so much time so far this year, Lopez would be third on my list. But it‘s incredible that he‘s even this high considering: 1) how bad he was the last two years, and 2) that he was never this good even when he was considered to be good.

3. Jim Edmonds, CF, STL.

Each season that Edmonds has had with the Cardinals has been better than his best season with the Angels. And this season is better than any he’s had with the Cardinals so far.

Edmonds is hitting .314/.408/.690 (1.098) with 23 doubles, 24 home runs, 52 runs and 58 RBI. He ranks second in the NL in home runs, seventh in RBI, ninth in runs, 10th in OBP, second in SLG and third in OPS. His .346 EqA is third, his 63.2 EqR are fourth and his 37.5 RARP are third in the NL.

In his first year with St. Louis, Edmonds had a .322 EqA, .994 OPS and 148 OPS+ and finished fourth in the MVP voting. The next year, he had a .323 EqA, .974 OPS and 150 OPS+. Last year, he had a .329 EqA, .981 OPS and 163 OPS+. This year, he’s going to blow all those numbers away if he stays healthy and doesn’t hit a bad slump.

He also has a pretty good defensive reputation in center field, having won Gold Glove awards five of the last six years. If it weren’t for the top two players on this list, I’d say Edmonds has a shot at winning the NL MVP award this year. Instead, he’ll just have to settle for being my third most valuable player in the NL so far and hope that he can stay there.
2. Barry Bonds, LF, SF.

Just about everybody knows that Bonds is the best position player of his generation. What he did the last two years are just absolutely astounding. His last two seasons were the two best offensive seasons in history if you go by OPS+ and among the top five in history no matter how you look at them.

If he were having another season like those, he would definitely be atop this list, but he’s not quite. He’s slipped back closer to his amazing 2000 season, when he should have won the MVP award but finished second to teammate Jeff Kent.

This year, Bonds is hitting .304/.493/.659 (1.152) with 22 home runs, 54 runs, 46 RBI and 74 walks. He’s seventh in the NL in homers, eighth in runs, first in walks, first in OBP, third in SLG and second in OPS. His .382 EqA leads the NL and his 70 EqR and 46.1 RARP are both second in the league.

It blows my mind that somebody can be as good as Bonds was for all those years and then be so much better after the age of 35, but that’s what he’s doing.

He’s already won five MVP awards, he probably should have already won seven and his performance this year would usually be good enough to win him another one. So far this season, however, he just hasn’t been quite as good as…

1. Albert Pujols, LF, STL.

How can you tell a player is ridiculously good? When there is absolutely no evidence that he is older than he says he is, but people still say, “There’s no way he’s only 23 years old. You can’t hit like this if you’re only 23.”

Pujols took the baseball world by storm in 2001 when he hit .329/.403/.610 (1.013) for a 158 OPS+ and perhaps the greatest rookie season of all-time (definitely one of the top three) at age 21 and with only three games played above Class A.

He followed that up with another season almost as good, hitting .314/.394/.561 (.955) for a 155 OPS+.

This year, he’s just kicked it up to another level, kind of like Ted Williams kicked his performance up to another level in 1941 after his first two incredible seasons (160 OPS+ as a 20-year-old rookie in 1939, 162 OPS+ in 1940 and then 235 OPS+ in 1941).

Pujols is hitting .391/.451/.719 (1.170) with 29 doubles, 23 home runs, 74 runs and 72 RBI. He’s first in the NL in batting, third in homers, first in RBI, first in runs, second in OBP, first in SLG and first in OPS.

In addition to making people start to whisper the phrases “.400 batting average” and “Triple Crown winner,” Pujols is on pace to put up some historic numbers. Let’s take a look at what would happen is Pujols stays on this exact pace for the rest of the season.

He would have the second-highest batting average since Williams hit .406 in 1941 and the 16th-highest batting average since 1900. He would have the 24th-highest SLG of all-time and the 32nd-highest OPS of all-time. He would have the 18th-most runs scored in a season since 1900. He would have the 19th-most hits in a season of all-time and the 15th-most since 1900. He would have the sixth-most total bases of all-time, the seventh-most doubles of all-time and the fifth-most extra-base hits of all-time.

And remember that he’s only 23 years old (I know, some of you don’t believe that, but I’ve seen nothing that gives me a reason to question it).

Some people might want to argue that Bonds has been better on offense because his OBP is so much higher (.493 to .451), but I think the fact that Pujols has played 11 more games (79 to 68) swings things back in his favor. Indeed, the numbers from Baseball Prospectus bear that thought out.

Pujols has a .376 EqA, which is second in the NL to Bonds’ .386. But Pujols leads the league with 79.4 EqR and 50.5 RARP.

For my money, Pujols is the NL MVP so far, and I hope he hits .400 and wins the Triple Crown. He is just an absolute marvel.

Honorable mention: Todd Helton, Mike Lowell, Edgar Renteria, Scott Rolen and Jose Vidro.

AL Cy Young

5. Pedro Martinez, RHP, BOS.

The annual question is whether Martinez will win the Cy Young Award or whether he’ll get hurt and allow somebody else to win it. In 1999 and 2000, he stayed healthy, had two of the greatest seasons ever and won his second and third Cy Young Awards. The last two years, he’s been limited by injuries (more so in 2001 than last year) and somebody else has won.

This year, Martinez has already been on the DL once, but he’s been good enough that he comes in at fifth on my list so far.

Martinez is 5-2 with a 2.74 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 86 strikeouts (9.44 K/9IP) and 23 walks (3.74 K/BB) in 82 innings. He’s sixth in the AL in strikeouts, second in ERA, third in WHIP, second in BAA (.212), seventh in winning percentage (.714), third in average game score (60.5), second in K/9IP and fifth in K/BB.

When he’s been healthy, he’s probably been the second-best pitcher in the AL. The problem is that the other contenders have all been able to pitch at least 25 more innings than him so far. If he stays healthy for the second half, Martinez will undoubtedly move up higher than fifth and he still has a very good shot at winning his fourth Cy Young Award.

4. Mark Mulder, LHP, OAK.

After two very good seasons at age 23 and age 24, it looked like Mulder was going to breakout and have a tremendous season this year. He’s slumped a little of late, but he’s still good enough to come in at number four, and his last start is an indication that he might be ready to try and move up on the list.

Mulder is 11-5 with a 3.25 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 74 strikeouts (5.47 K/9IP) and 29 walks (2.55 K/BB) in 121.1 innings. He‘s tied for first in the AL in wins, third in innings pitched, seventh in ERA, first in complete games (5), tied for fourth in quality starts (11) and seventh in average game score (55.9).

How does he manage to throw so many innings without taxing his arm too much (he averages just 100.4 pitches per start and has only thrown more than 110 pitches twice)? It’s because he only throws 3.5 pitches per plate appearance (fourth-best in the AL) and just 14.0 pitches per inning (second-best in the league).

Mulder was 8-2 with a 2.36 ERA at the end of May and it looked like he might run away and hide with the Cy Young Award, but he got roughed up in his first start in June and followed that up with another poor outing. Since then, he’s thrown seven innings in four straight starts, allowing just one run yesterday.

His lack of strikeouts makes him susceptible to giving up hits in bunches if his luck goes against him or his defense has a bad day, but he doesn’t walk many hitters and his ability to pitch deep into ballgames is a big plus.
3. Tim Hudson, RHP, OAK.

Despite going just 15-9 last year, Hudson was an excellent pitcher. He’s having the same exact problem again this year.

He’s only 6-3, but he has a 3.09 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 70 strikeouts (5.28 K/9IP) and 31 walks (2.26 K/BB) in 119.1 innings. He’s fourth in the AL in innings pitched, fourth in ERA, fifth in WHIP, eighth in BAA (.234), second in quality starts (13) and sixth in average game score (56.5).

Like Mulder, he doesn’t strike many people out but, also like Mulder, he doesn’t walk many people. He gives the A’s a chance to win just about every game he pitches and that shows up in the fact that Oakland is 13-4 when he takes the mound, even though he’s only 6-3.

2. Mike Mussina, RHP, NYY.

Mussina’s been one of the best pitchers of the last dozen years and he probably is the best pitcher since 1990 who hasn’t won a Cy Young Award. He’s finished in the top six in Cy Young voting eight times, but he’s never won, in large part because his seasons with great win-loss records never seem to match up with his seasons with great ERA’s.

This year, they are matching up so far. He’s 10-4 with a 2.95 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 104 strikeouts (8.77 K/9IP) and 17 walks (6.12 K/BB) in 106.2 innings. He’s tied for fourth in the AL in wins, second in strikeouts, third in ERA, first in WHIP, sixth in winning percentage (.714), fifth in BAA (.225), tied for fourth in quality starts (11), third in K/9IP, second in K/BB and second in average game score (61.7).

His ERA really should be lower too. Thanks to the Yankees defense and probably a little bad luck, he’s allowing a .318 batting average on balls put in play (everything besides strikeouts, walks, hit batters and home runs). With so little range on defense -- especially up the middle -- the Yankees are letting more hits get through than they really should.

Still, even if his ERA were as low as it probably should be, I still don’t think he’d be able to quite get past…

1. Esteban Loaiza, RHP, CWS.

When Loaiza had his amazing April, I said that he’d be back to his old mediocre self because he’s had good starts before and was never able to sustain them. When he followed that up with a very good May, I traded him off my fantasy team because I wanted to get rid of him while his value was still high. Now that he’s had his third straight excellent month, I’m ready to make him my AL Cy Young for the first half of the season.

Loaiza is 11-3 with a 2.18 ERA, 1.04 WHIP 94 strikeouts (7.34 K/9IP) and 27 walks (3.48 K/BB) in 115.1 innings. He is tied for the AL lead in wins, is fifth in innings pitched, fourth in strikeouts, first in ERA, second in WHIP, third in winning percentage (.786), third in BAA (.219), first in quality starts (14), seventh in K/BB, sixth in K/9IP and first in average game score (63.1).

He had a chance to finish June with sole possession of the league lead in wins and an ERA below 2.00, but he allowed five runs (four earned) on nine hits and a walk with four strikeouts in seven innings yesterday. That performance constituted just his second bad start of the season (he allowed five runs in 3.2 innings in his first start in May, but rebounded nicely with a 1.60 ERA the rest of the month).

There’s nothing more to say than that he’s been amazing and he’s clearly been the best pitcher overall in the AL so far.

Honorable mentions: Roger Clemens, Roy Halladay, Jamie Moyer, David Wells and Barry Zito.

NL Cy Young

5. Hideo Nomo, RHP, LA.

As you probably know, Nomo burst onto the scene with an outstanding rookie season in 1995 for the Dodgers, winning the Rookie of the Year award and finishing fourth in Cy Young voting. His numbers dropped off slightly the following year, but he again finished fourth in Cy Young voting.

He then had a below average season and was in the middle of another one before he was traded to the Mets. After those two sub par years, he had three amazingly similar, slightly above average seasons in a row with three different teams -- Milwaukee, Detroit and Boston. Then, last year he returned to Los Angeles and had his first truly above average season since 1996.

This year, he’s in the midst of his first truly great season since his first (and only) truly great season in 1995.

Nomo is 9-6 with a 2.41 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 103 strikeouts (7.52 K/9IP) and 50 walks (2.06 K/BB) in 123.1 innings. He’s tied for fifth in the NL in wins, second in innings pitched, fifth in strikeouts, sixth in walks (sixth-most, it’s a bad thing), third in ERA, third in WHIP, fourth in complete games (2), tied for second in shutouts (2), second in BAA (.193), second in quality starts (13), 10th in K/9IP and second in average game score (63.5).

Nomo’s kind of hard to handicap because in some areas he’s outstanding (ERA, WHIP, BAA) and in others he’s fairly bad (walks and his 12 home runs allowed, which is a lot in LA‘s home park). And that home park is another factor. How much of his performance is just because he plays in a good park for pitchers?

Oddly enough, Nomo’s been better on the road than at home. He’s 3-4 with a 3.54 ERA at home and 6-2 with a 1.47 ERA on the road, and 11 of his 12 home runs allowed have come at home.

If he didn’t play for the Dodgers and he didn’t walk so many people, I’d probably have him ranked higher. But he does do both of those things, so he’s fifth on my list.

One thing I am impressed with is how much of a workhorse he’s been this season. He’s on pace for nearly 250 innings pitched this season. His career high is 228.1 in 1996. The main reason is that he’s consistently been able to work deep into games. He’s made 17 starts this season, and in all but one of them he’s pitched at least seven innings.

4. Mark Prior, RHP, CHC.

Prior has been pretty much what everybody expected him to be. Taken with the second overall pick in 2001, Prior started at Class AA last year and dominated for 34.2 innings before he moved up to Class AAA and dominated for 16.2 innings. He then went to Chicago, where he wowed everybody for 116.2 innings and made people say that he’s a definite future Cy Young winner.

This season, he’s showing that the future may be here already. Prior is 8-3 with a 2.61 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 127 strikeouts (10.36 K/9IP) and 26 walks (4.88 K/BB) in 110.1 innings. He’s ninth in the NL in innings pitched, second in strikeouts, fourth in ERA, fifth in WHIP, seventh in winning percentage (.727), eighth in complete games (1), 10th in BAA (.231), tied for third in quality starts (12), first in K/BB, second in K/9IP and fifth in average game score (61.5).

Looking through all those numbers, there are some good and some bad things.

The good is the strikeouts and walks. He has four double-digit strikeout games, including 16 in eight innings in his last start. He also has three games in which he hasn’t walked anybody, including that 16-strikeout game and his 12-strikeout, complete game shutout in early April.