Saturday, September 27, 2003

My big dilemma

In my nearly 23 years, there are a lot of things I have never done. To list everything that I have never done in my life would take more time than I care to spend (that whole doing one thing for eternity thing doesn't appeal to me much). Some of the items on my list of things I've never done I would like to be able to do at some point. Others, I very much hope I never have to do. Fortunately, only two of the things I have never done are relevant when discussing my current dilemma. One of these two things is of the variety that I would like to sometime do and the other is of the variety that I would just as soon keep on my list of things I've never done.

First, I have never rooted for the Yankees to win a playoff series (or even rooted for them to win a single game). Second, I never been to a Red Sox playoff game (or even to any major league playoff game).

Now, in order to have a chance to do the latter for the first time, I am going to have to do the former for the first time. Let me explain.

My best friend, Rob, is a big Yankees fan from Long Island. His family has four tickets to every Sunday game in Yankee Stadium. Twice, he and his family have graciously allowed me to use one of those tickets to attend a game, including once this summer against the Red Sox. Along with their regular season tickets, they also get tickets to one game for each Yankees postseason series. This year, their youngest son is in Australia, so they have an extra ticket. They have offered that extra ticket to me for any series that I want to attend with them.

Now, obviously the game I would most like to see is an ALCS game between the Red Sox and the Yankees, but I would also like to just see a playoff game in person, since I never have. However, Rob is not planning on going back for the ALDS against Minnesota because he can't go back there three times and he wants to go to the ALCS and World Series if they make it that far. So, he's taking the risk that he won't see any Yankees playoff games this year for the chance to see more important games.

For me, this means that I have to root for the Yankees to defeat the Twins so that I can see my first playoff game. I was obviously already going to be rooting for the Red Sox to beat the A's, but it's going to be a new (and probably unpleasant) experience for me to be rooting for the Yankees.

In fact, I'd prefer not to think of it as rooting for the Yankees. Last night, one of my co-workers who is a Yankees fan said she doesn't want me rooting for the Yankees fan because she doesn't want any help from Red Sox fans. So my solution is that I'm not rooting for the Yankees, I'm rooting for myself. And myself wants to see a playoff game at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, October 9. Especially if the Red Sox are involved.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Celebrate good times, come on!

I wasn't going to post anything else today, but I just don't understand why everybody's getting so worked up over the Red Sox celebration last night. This was a truly fun season in which a team and the city that supports it became one and went on a wonderful rollercoaster ride that culminated in Boston's first playoff appearance since 1999.

With the deal finally sealed, the two parties (the team and the fans) were so happy that they just fed off of each other and the celebration became bigger than anybody expected it would.

If you're pissed off that the Red Sox and their fans were celebrating so much, that says more about you and your inability to enjoy the steps along the way than it does about the celebrators.

I went through more highs and lows this year than I can even remember, but I never lost faith in the Red Sox. I never thought that they wouldn't reach October. And once my faith, and the faith of all Red Sox fans, was finally rewarded, you're telling me that these highly charismatic Red Sox aren't allowed to revel in our love for them and thank us for being there all year?

Gimme a break.

A's vs. Red Sox

This series is a matchup of polar opposites, pitting the team that's the best at scoring runs against the American League team that's the best at preventing runs from being scored. As much as Joe Morgan continues to contend that the A's will lose again this year because their "wait for the 3-run homer philosophy" doesn't work in the playoffs, the A's are built on pitching and defense this year, and it's the Red Sox who mostly sit around and wait for the fireworks. Also, it's kind of funny how the philosophy of ignoring "small ball" didn't prevent Earl Weaver's Orioles from reaching four World Series and winning one of them while posting a rather impressive 26-20 record in 10 playoff series.

Anyway, back to 2003. The Red Sox easily lead the league in scoring with 5.97 runs per game, while Oakland ranks eighth with 4.77 runs per game. On the other hand, the A's lead the league with just 3.89 runs allowed per game, while Boston ranks eighth with 5.03 runs allowed per game.

I've seen stories recently saying that the Red Sox are far superior on offense and the A's have far superior pitching and defense, but you have to be careful not to give Oakland double credit. Would the Red Sox pitching staff post better numbers than Oakland's pitching staff if the two teams swapped defenses and home ballparks? Probably not, but the team ERA's would certainly be a lot closer. So, don't talk about Oakland having vastly superior pitching and defense, because it could just be vastly superior defense and slightly superior pitching. Instead, simply say that Oakland is much better at preventing runs.

Now, let's break down the starting lineups.

C - Jason Varitek wins the offensive battle here, hitting .276/.355/.519 (.874) with 31 doubles, 25 homers, 51 walks and 105 strikeouts in 140 games. His .296 EqA, 77.1 EqR and 39.1 RARP all rank second among AL catchers.

Ramon Hernandez has not been as good as Varitek with the bat, but he hasn't been bad either, hitting .270/.330/.457 (.787) in 138 games. His .271 EqA is fifth among AL catchers, but his 66.7 EqR and 26.2 RARP rank fourth.

So, Varitek is better at the plate, but Hernandez may make up for it behind the plate. According to Baseball Graphs, through games of September 23, Hernandez has 19 win shares (8.01 from fielding) and Varitek has 17 win shares (3.27 from fielding).

I'm not sure if I totally agree with the Win Shares system yet, but Hernandez is well-regarded defensively around the league, so he may very well be that much better than Varitek. I'll call this position a push, with Varitek winning on offense and Hernandez winning on defense.

1B - Kevin Millar is by no means a great first baseman, but he's worth the $2 million the Red Sox are paying him and he's worth all the trouble they went through to get him in the first place. After slumping badly in the second half, he's hitting .275/.348/.468 (.816) with 30 doubles, 24 home runs, 60 walks and 107 strikeouts in 146 games. His .282 EqA, 82.7 EqR and 22.0 RARP puts him about fifth among AL first baseman.

Former Boston backup catcher Scott Hatteberg was a key to Oakland's success last year, but he hasn't been good at all this year. He's hitting .252/.342/.378 (.719) with 34 doubles, 11 homers, 65 walks and 52 strikeouts in 145 games. His .256 EqA, 66.4 EqR and 4.3 RARP give you an idea of how important he is. He's barely better than a replacement level first baseman.

A lot was made about how the Red Sox had three designate hitters and no first basemen going into this season, but Millar hasn't been bad defensively. He and Hatteberg each have 1.74 fielding win shares, but Hatteberg's have come in much more playing time. Millar has 2.10 win shares per 1,000 innings and Hatteberg has 1.58 win shares per 1,000 innings.

At any rate, the Red Sox have the advantage here. Both players are pretty similar in their defense and the amount they get on base, but Millar has a lot more power.

2B - I've gotten annoyed with Todd Walker at times this season, but he's really been one of the better second basemen in the AL. He's hitting .283/.333/.424 (.756) with 37 doubles, four triples, 12 home runs, 47 walks and 54 strikeouts in 141 games. His .264 EqA, 74.3 EqR and 21.7 RARP put him about fourth among AL second basemen offensively.

Mark Ellis is no match for Walker offensively, hitting .248/.314/.372 (.687) with 31 doubles, five triples, nine homers, 48 walks, 94 strikeouts and five steals in seven attempts (71.4-percent success rate). His .243 EqA, 60.0 EqR and 8.0 RARP are all awful marks, even for a second sacker.

However, Ellis more than makes up for his offensive shortcomings with his defense. He has 17 win shares this season, with half of those coming from his defense. Walker, meanwhile, has 14 win shares with just 3.14 coming from his fielding.

Overall, the A's probably have a slight advantage here, but Walker being an above average offensive player is important for the Red Sox because it means there are no weak spots in their lineup. It's that depth in the lineup from 1 through 9 that allows the Red Sox to post so many big innings and big games.

SS - This position is a lot closer than most people think. Nomar Garciaparra is a little better than Miguel Tejada on offense and Tejada is a little bit better defensively.

Garciaparra is hitting .302/.346/.523 (.869) with 37 doubles, 13 triples, 27 home runs, 39 walks, 61 strikeouts and 19 steals in 24 attempts (79.2-percent success rate) in 154 games. His .296 EqA, 109.2 EqR and 54.4 RARP put him second among AL shortstops.

Tejada is hitting .276/.335/.473 (.808) with 42 doubles, 27 homers, 53 walks, 63 strikeouts and 10 steals in 10 attempts (100-percent success rate) in 159 games. His .280 EqA is fourth among AL shortstops and his 94.0 EqR and 40.1 RARP rank third.

Overall, Garciaparra has 25.49 win shares, with 6.24 from his defense, and Tejada has 25.71 win shares, with 7.47 from his fielding. I'd say this position is even, but both players have the ability to get really hot or really cold, so one team could end up with a huge advantage here. We obviously won't know which team until the series starts though.

3B - Bill Mueller has been a complete and total surprise for the Red Sox, hitting .327/.399/.542 (.941) with 45 doubles, five triples, 19 home runs, 59 walks and 77 strikeouts. His .317 EqA, 100.5 EqR and 55.7 RARP are the first among AL third basemen. The Red Sox liked him because they knew he could get on base at a decent clip, but they didn't expect this kind of batting average and they certainly didn't expect this much power.

Eric Chavez isn't much worse though as he's quietly had a very nice season, hitting .282/.350/.508 (.858) with 39 doubles, four triples, 28 home runs, 62 walks, 86 strikeouts and eight steals in 11 attempts (72.7-percent success rate) in 153 games. His .291 EqA is third among AL third basemen, but his 96.1 EqR and 42.8 RARP rank second among AL third basemen behind Mueller.

Chavez is probably better on defense though as he's listed with 24 win shares, with 6.15 coming from his fielding. Mueller has 23 win shares, with 4.22 from his defense. Overall, the two teams are probably pretty even here.

LF - This is where Boston gets its first huge advantage in the lineup. Manny Ramirez is having his usual tremendous season, hitting .324/.426/.582 (1.008) with 36 doubles, 36 homers, 96 walks and 93 strikeouts in 152 games. His .340 EqA, 128.7 EqR and 68.8 RARP put him well ahead of any other AL left fielder. Forget what anybody else says, Ramirez is Boston's MVP.

Terrence Long has played more games here than anybody else for the A's, hitting .243/.292/.384 (.675) with 22 doubles, 14 homers, 31 walks and 67 strikeouts in 139 games. His .235 EqA and 49.0 EqR would be terrible for a shortstop. For a left fielder, it puts him in contention for the title of "Least Valuable Offensive Player."

Eric Byrnes will probably see some time here as well. He's hit .266/.333/.463 (.796) with 27 doubles, nine triples, 12 homers, 41 walks, 69 strikeouts and 10 steals in 12 attempts (83.3-percent success rate). He's a much better option on offense than Long, especially against lefties. Long has a pathetic .599 OPS against lefties and Byrnes has an .871 OPS against them, although the Red Sox don't have any left-handed starters, so I doubt that will be much of a factor.

No matter who the A's use here, however, the Red Sox have a huge advantage at this position.

CF - Johnny Damon may not be worth the money the Red Sox are paying him, but he has been a solid contributor to the team this season. He's hitting .274/.346/.406 (.752) with 32 doubles, six triples, 12 home runs, 68 walks, 74 strikeouts and 30 steals in 36 attempts (83.3-percent success rate) in 143 games. His .271 EqA, 85.0 EqR and 24.6 RARP are solid marks for an AL center fielder and put him about sixth at the position.

Chris Singleton is hitting just .248/.302/.344 (.647) with 24 doubles, one triple, one homer, 25 walks, 53 strikeouts and seven steals in nine attempts (77.8-percent success rate) in 118 games. His .233 EqA and 30.0 EqR are terrible. Byrnes may also see some time here, as Singleton's defense -- however good you feel it is -- simply does not justify putting his bat in the lineup.

If Byrnes gets most of the time here, then the two teams will be pretty even with the Red Sox having a slight advantage. If Singleton sees most of the action, then the Red Sox will have a sizeable advantage.

RF - This position has question marks all over it for both teams. Trot Nixon has had the best season of his career, hitting .306/.396/.578 (.975) with 24 doubles, six triples, 28 home runs, 65 walks and 96 strikeouts in 134 games. However, there are two problems with Nixon. First, he can't hit lefties (.219/.296/.375 in 95 at-bats against them this season), so he might sit out against Oakland's two left-handed starters. Second, he's still being bothered by a calf injury that has limited him to just five games in the team's last 15 and will keep him out of this weekend's series, so he may not be ready to play in the first round at all.

Whenever Nixon doesn't play, Gabe Kapler will take over for him. Kapler is hitting .284/.342/.432 (.774) in 65 games (148 at-bats) since joining the Red Sox. He's a nice hitter, but he's somebody you want to be able to use as a pinch-hitter and spot starter, not as a regular.

Oakland, on the other hand, has two guys who are recovering from injury. You'll remember that the A's traded for Jose Guillen, who was having a tremendous season but has hit just .268/.316/.470 (.786) in 43 games since switching leagues. He broke the hamate bone in his left hand on September 14 and was expected to miss the rest of the season, but he returned just a week later and has gone 3-for-8 with a home run in three games since his return.

Jermaine Dye missed most of the season with knee and shoulder problems and has hit just .174/.259/.258 (.517) in 62 games this year. However, he claims to be completely healthy now and he could be a big boost for Oakland's offense if he hits the way he's capable of hitting.

This position has so many questions surrounding it that I'll call it even. If Nixon can play and Guillen and Dye struggle as they have been, then it's a big advantage for the Red Sox. If Nixon can't go at all and Guillen and/or Dye gets hot, then it will be a big advantage for the A's.

DH - David Ortiz is having a magical season and is really the main reason this year has been so much fun for Red Sox fans. Cookie Monster (scroll down to the second item) is hitting .287/.367/.594 (.960) with 39 doubles, 31 homers, 56 doubles and 82 strikeouts in 126 games. His .315 EqA is 13th among all AL hitters and his 88.2 EqR and 39.3 RARP would be better had he gotten regular playing time the entire season. He's probably the third best designated hitter this year.

Erubiel Durazo did what almost nobody thought he could do and stayed healthy the entire season, playing 151 games so far. He hasn't shown the power most people expected of him, but he has gotten on base and been a useful batter, hitting .259/.375/.434 (.809) with 29 doubles, 21 home runs, 99 walks and 104 strikeouts. He has a .286 EqA, 85.9 EqR and 25.2 RARP which makes him about the sixth-best designated hitter.

The Red Sox have a decent advantage here, especially since Ortiz has shown throughout the year that he is more than capable of protecting Ramirez in the lineup.

Overall, I'd say the Red Sox have a pretty good advantage when comparing the starting lineups. Oakland's defense closes the gaps when comparing several positions, but if a team has the offensive advantage at every position as the Red Sox do, then it's tough to make up for that with defense.

As far as the benches are concerned, it's probably pretty even. I don't think either team really has any tremendous pinch-hitters, especially if Byrnes and Kapler have to be in the lineup, and both teams have some useful role players. One problem with the Red Sox bench is that they have some real speedsters, which feeds into Grady Little's obsession with pinch-running and will probably cost Ramirez and Ortiz at least one at-bat each during the series.

As for the pitching, game one will give you everything you could ask for -- Pedro Martinez against Tim Hudson.

Martinez has a 2.25 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 204 strikeouts (10.00 K/9IP), 47 walks (2.30 BB/9IP) and seven homers allowed (0.34 HR/9IP) in 183.2 innings. He's definitely the best pitcher in baseball on a per inning basis. Hudson has a 2.70 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 162 strikeouts (6.08 K/9IP), 61 walks (2.29 BB/9IP) and 15 homers allowed (0.56 HR/9IP) in 240 innings. Hudson is definitely a nice pitcher, but he's also helped by his defense and home park. Hudson has allowed just a .253 batting average on balls in play while Martinez has allowed a .310 average on balls in play.

Since we already gave the A's credit for having a better defense and both pitchers will be pitching in the same park, we have to say that the Red Sox have a very big advantage in this pitching matchup. Especially since he's been near unhittable recently, with a 0.90 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 35 strikeouts, six walks and no homers allowed in 30 innings in September.

Barry Zito will toe the rubber in game two for Oakland. The defending AL Cy Young Award winner has a 3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 142 strikeouts (5.64 K/9IP), 87 walks (3.45 BB/9IP) and 19 homers allowed (0.75 HR/9IP) in 226.2 innings.

If Little's smart, he'll go with Tim Wakefield in game two and save Derek Lowe for game three at home because Lowe's been much better at home this season. Wakefield is scheduled to start the final game of the regular season, but that could just be a short tune-up start and he can go on short rest anyways since he's a knuckleballer. It sounds like we won't know for sure who will start game two for awhile, as Little said he may wait until after game one to make a decision.

Wakefield has a 4.13 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 168 strikeouts (7.55 K/9IP), 71 walks (3.19 BB/9IP) and 23 homers allowed (1.03 HR/9IP) in 200.1 innings. It looks like Zito would have a big advantage over Wakefield, but again we have to remember that we've already given Oakland credit for having a much better defense, and that's part of what has made Zito's numbers as impressive as they are. He's allowed a microscopic .235 batting average on balls in play while Wakefield has allowed a .285 batting average on balls in play. I'd say Zito has the edge over Wakefield, but it's not a big edge.

Lowe has a 4.47 ERA, 1.42 ERA, 110 strikeouts, 72 walks and 17 homers allowed in 203.1 innings, but he's been much better in the second half of the season -- especially September -- and he's been much better at home.

At Fenway Park, Lowe has a 3.21 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 59 strikeouts, 37 awlks and seven homers allowed in 115 innings. On the road, he's got a 6.11 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, 51 strikeouts, 35 walks and 10 homers allowed in 88.1 innings. Basically, Lowe's really been hurt by 21.1 innings with a 9.70 ERA on turf. He's an extreme groundball player, and on grass he has a 3.86 ERA in 182 innings.

Since the All-Star break, Lowe has a 4.02 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 87.1 innings. In September, he has a 2.97 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 18 strikeouts, 12 walks and three homers allowed in 33.1 innings.

If Lowe goes in game three, he will be opposed by Ted Lilly, who has a 4.18 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 145 strikeouts, 57 walks and 23 homers allowed in 174.1 innings, but he's been much better recently. He had a 3.90 ERA in August and he's had an amazing 0.40 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 25 strikeouts, six walks and one homer allowed in 22.1 innings. The only problem, as you may have noticed from those numbers, is that he hasn't pitched very deep into the game. He's averaging just 5.44 innings per start in August and September and his longest start over that stretch has been 6.2 innings. It will be interesting to see if he's able to go longer than that in the playoffs, especially since he's been smacked around to the tune of a 6.75 ERA in two games against Boston this year.

Still, I think you have to give Lilly the edge over his opponent in game two, whether it turns out to be Wakefield or Lowe.

Game four, as it is for most series, is pretty much up in the air for this series. The A's say they will likely go with a three-man rotation, which would mean Hudson would start this game on three days rest. If they decide not to do that, they would probably use rookie Rich Harden, who has a 4.46 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 66 strikeouts, 38 walks and five homers allowed in 72.2 innings.

Little has suggested that it's possible the Red Sox will use Martinez on short rest in game four, but I think that's probably pretty unlikely and they certainly won't do it if they're ahead 2-1 as they'll want to try and save him for the first game of the ALCS. Most likely, Boston will use John Burkett, who has a 5.14 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 104 strikeouts, 47 walks and 19 homers in 178.2 innings.

Hudson would obviously have a big advantage over Burkett, but Martinez would also have a big advantage over Zito in game five.

As for the bullpens, well, Boston's bullpen woes have been well-documented all season long. Byung-Hyun Kim has been a better closer for the Red Sox than he's been given credit for, as he has a 3.28 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 51 strikeouts, 10 walks and three homers allowed in 49.1 innings as a reliever. Still, he hasn't been nearly as good as Oakland's closer.

Keith Foulke has a 2.10 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 87 strikeouts, 20 walks and 10 homers in 85.2 innings. Those 85.2 innings are more important than his 43 saves in 48 opportunities as that's just more innings than most closers are allowed to pitch these days.

The A's have another excellent reliever in Chad Bradford, who has a 2.72 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 61 strikeouts, 29 walks and seven homers in 76 innings. Also, Ricardo Rincon is an excellent lefty specialist with a .548 OPS against left-handed hitters and John Halama is a decent long reliever with a 3.10 ERA in 21 relief appearances covering 40.2 innings.

Mike Timlin has probably been Boston's most consistent reliever this season and he has a 3.59 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 64 strikeouts, nine walks and 11 homers allowed in 82.2 innings. Bronson Arroyo has only pitched 14.2 innings with the Red Sox, but he's been impressive while posting a 2.51 ERA and 0.84 WHIP and has probably earned himself a spot on the postseason roster.

Alan Embree has a 4.25 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 55 innings and he's technically Boston's lefty specialist, but he's been better against righties (.631 OPS) than lefteis (.696 OPS) this season. Scott Sauerbeck and Scott Williamson have been back-breakers since joining the Red Sox, and Todd Jones hasn't been much better.

No matter who the Red Sox put in the bullpen for this series, the A's will have an advantage there. Luckily for the Red Sox, the A's offense isn't as good at working the starting pitcher and getting to the bullpen quickly as it has been in past years.

Overall, I think these two teams are pretty evenly matched, but the Red Sox do have a pitcher who sometimes seems like he can't lose. For that reason, my official prediction is that Boston will win in five games (or in four games if Martinez pitches in game four).

Also, for Red Sox fans who are obsessing over 1918, maybe you should be thinking about a different season, one that took place 15 years earlier. When the Red Sox open their series against Oakland on Wednesday, it will be exactly 100 years to the day since the opening of the very first World Series. For those of you who don't remember, the Red Sox (then known as the Boston Pilgrims) defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates five games to three in that contest.

Sorry for the lateness of this post. I had some errands I had to run and then little things kept coming up to distract me. I hope you enjoyed it, and check back this weekend for my preview of the series between San Francisco and Florida (I don't know yet whether I'll post that tomorrow or on Sunday).

Football stuff

It's Friday, which means my latest fantasy football column was in the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle this morning. Here's the link:

Fantasy Football: Unlikely QBs step up

Feel free to let me know what you think about it. Also, this week's "NFL Experts" predictions have been posted at Seth Speaks. As you can see in the table to the right, I tied for fourth with a 10-4 record last week and I'm in second at 32-14 for the season.

Finally, check back later for my preview of the playoff series between Oakland and Boston. And scroll down to check out yesterday's preview of the series between the Twins and Yankees if you haven't already.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Yankees vs. Twins

Well, it's time for my first playoff matchup preview. It's pretty simple, I'm just going to compare the two teams and point out which teams may have advantages in which places and then I'll make my prediction for the series at the end.

Everybody knows that the Yankees have won the last 13 games they've played against the Twins, but who knows if that really means anything. Both teams are certainly different than they were for the six games last season, and they're probably even different teams than they were when they met up seven times in April of this season. So, people are going to be talking about how the Yankees have the Twins number or how the Twins are goign to be pumped up to end their streak or other such nonsense, but who cares?

The fact of the matter is that the Yankees are 98-60, nine games better than the 89-69 Twins. However, as any Twins fan will tell you if you ask them, Minnesota has gone 45-20 since the All-Star break while the Yankees have "only" gone 41-24 since then.

For the season, the Yankees rank third in the AL with 5.38 runs scored per game and fourth in the AL with 4.48 runs allowed per game, while the Twins rank sixth in both catgories with 4.94 runs scored per game and 4.63 runs allowed per game. Since the All-Star break, however, the Twins are third with 5.37 runs per game and second with 4.08 runs allowed per game while the Yankees are fourth in both categories with 5.32 runs scored per game and 4.54 runs allowed per game.

So, which team looks better overall? It's tough to say. The Yankees have been the better team by both record and run differential over the course of the entire season, but the Twins were the better team by both measures over the second half of the season. One would think that the Twins will continue playing as the have been in the second half rather than reverting to their mediocre form of the first half of the season.

We won't really know that for sure until the playoffs start, though, so let's just break the two teams down by position, beginning with the starting lineup.

C - At first glance, it looks like the Yankees have a huge advantage here as Jorge Posada is a legitimate MVP candidate. He's hitting .278/.404/.509 (.913) with 23 doubles, 29 home runs, 93 walks and 110 strikeouts in 140 games. His .317 EqA and 97 EqR are easily the best among AL catchers.

So, the Yankees have the best catcher in the AL, but the Twins may have the second-best catcher in the league. I've often said that I'd rather have Jason Varitek behind the plate than anybody else in the AL, but Posada is clearly the best in the league (he just pisses me off because he refuses to block home plate when a runners coming in, he always steps up to take the throw and tries a sweep tag). And while Varitek is probably a better offensive catcher than A.J. Pierzynski, it appears that Pierzynski might more than make up for it with his defense. According to Baseball Graphs, through games of September 21, Posada leads all AL catchers with 27 win shares and Pierzynski is second with 21, with both players providing about 7.5 win shares with their fielding (Varitek has 16 win shares, three from his fielding).

Although, I'm not sure how much I believe that those numbers are 100-percent accurate, since it says that Pierzynski has provided about half a win share more with his bat than Varitek has and I don't know how that's possible with the numbers they've posted. Still, it's pretty clear that Pierzynski's among the best catchers in the AL. He's hitting .309/.356/.459 (.815) with 33 doubles, three triples, 11 homers, 23 walks and 55 strikeouts in 135 games. His .282 EqA and 70.6 EqR are both third amond AL catchers behind Posada and Varitek.

Overall, I'd give the Yankees an advantage here, but not a huge one.

1B - This is another position where it appears that the Yankees have a huge advantage by looking at the names of the players, but it's really much closer than that. Jason Giambi is still a fearsome hitter and one of the best first basemen in the game, but this has been a down year for him. He's hitting .253/.412/.532 (.944) with 25 doubles, 41 homers, 127 walks and 139 strikeouts in 153 games. His .324 EqA and 118.4 EqR rank second amond AL first basemen.

For the Twins, Doug Mientkiewicz is quietly having a fantastic season, hitting .300/.394/.451 (.845) with 38 doubles, 11 homers, 73 walks and 54 strikeouts in 140 games. He's not a prototypical first power-hitting first baseman, but he has Giambi's most important ability -- the ability to get on base a lot. His .298 EqA and 82.3 EqR rank third among AL first basemen, and his EqR total would be much closer to Giambi's had he not missed so many games with injuries (Giambi's played 13 more games than Mientkiewicz). Both players seem to be healthy at the moment, so that shouldn't be a problem in this series.

It's worth noting that Mientkiewicz is, by all accounts, a much better defensive first baseman than Giambi, but the Yankees still have the advantage here. Just not as big an advantage as you might think.

2B - The middle infield is where the Yankees have a huge advantage over the Twins. Neither team is anything to write home about defensively up the middle, but the Yankees at least have some fearsome hitters in those spots. The Twins have some, well, warm bodies in those spots.

Alfonso Soriano is definitely overrated, but that doesn't change the fact that he's a tremendous hitter for a second baseman. He's hitting .291/.339/.522 (.861) with 36 doubles, five triples, 36 homers, 37 walks, 125 strikeouts and 34 steals in 42 attempts (81-percent success rate) in 152 games. His .297 EqA and 115 EqR rank second among AL second basemen.

Luis Rivas is hitting .261/.311/.386 (.697) with 16 doubles, nine triples, eight home runs, 30 walks, 65 strikeouts and 17 steals in 23 attempts (74-percent success rate) in 131 games. His .246 EqA and 52.2 EqR are well below average, even for a second baseman.

Not only is Soriano a much better hitter than Rivas, he may also be better defensively than Rivas. Looking at Baseball Graphs again, Soriano has 26 win shares (6.25 from fielding) while Rivas has only seven (3.86 from fielding). This position is about as big an advantage for the Yankees as you could imagine.

SS - Derek Jeter is definitely a much better hitter than Christian Guzman, but at least Guzman is a much better fielder. Still, the Yankees have more of an advantage here than it will appear because Jeter missed a lot of time with a dislocated shoulder.

He came back to hit .320/.390/.447 (.837) with 24 doubles, three triples, 10 homers, 43 walks, 87 strikeouts and 10 steals in 15 attempts (66.7-percent success rate) in 116 games. His .299 EqA is second amond AL shortstops, but his 78.7 EqR ranks fourth because of the missed time.

Guzman is hitting .267/.310/.366 (.676) with 15 doubles, 14 triples, three homers, 30 walks, 79 strikeouts and 18 steals in 27 attempts (66.7-percent success rate) in 141 games. His .238 EqA and 54.8 EqR are very bad, even for a shortstop.

Looking at the win shares, Jeter has 17 (1.24 from fielding) and Guzman has 12 (6.61 from fielding), but Jeter would have a larger edge had he been able to play as many games as Guzman has. This isn't quite as huge an advantage for the Yankees as second base is, but it's still a big advantage.

3B - Finally, we get to the first position where the Twins have the advantage. Aaron Boone is hitting .261/.320/.442 (.762) this season, but he's hitting just .235/.279/.383 (.662) with 12 doubles, five home runs, 11 walks, 30 strikeouts and eight steals in eight attempts (100-percent success rate) in 50 games since joining the Yankees. If New York's front office had checked Boone's home/road splits with Cincinnati, they might have realized that he would struggle for them. Boone has a .266 EqA and 79.4 EqR, but he's really not even that good at the moment.

Corey Koskie, on the other hand, could possibly have been an MVP candidate had he stayed healthy all year. He's hitting .291/.392/.451 (.844) with 28 doubles, two triples, 14 home runs, 76 walks, 112 strikeouts and 11 steals in 16 attempts (68.8-percent success rate) in 128 games. His .298 EqA is third among AL third baseman, but his 80.7 EqR ranks him fifth.

Both Koskie and Boone are good defensive players and Boone has more speed on the basepaths than Koskie, but Koskie has the edge where it really matters. He gets on base nearly 40-percent of the time and Boone, even with the Reds, only reached base 34-percent of the time. The Twins have a sizeable advantage over the Yankees here.

LF - Shannon Stewart is a nice offensive player, hitting .308/.366/.461 (.827) in 138 games this year, but he's been even better for the Twins. Since being traded from Toronto, Stewart is hitting .325/.387/.475 (.862) in 63 games, which isn't good enough to make him AL MVP or even MVP of the Twins, but it gives the Twins an advantage at this position. He doesn't have as much speed as he used to -- or even as much as people think he still does -- but he can still get on base and he has a bit of pop in his bat.

Hideki Matsui is having a fine "rookie" season, hitting .287/.352/.436 (.788) with 42 doubles, 16 home runs, 62 walks and 86 strikeouts in 159 games. He hasn't been nearly as good as everybody thought he would be, but the Yankees can afford to overpay for an average bat in left field.

Matsui has more win shares (19 - 18) and more EqR (90.2 - 85.7) than Stewart, but that's mostly because he's played 21 more games than Stewart, whose .284 EqA is better than Matsui's .279. In a short series, Stewart shouldn't have a problem playing every game, so the Twins have a slight advantage here.

CF - Bernie Williams is still a good hitter, but he's not as good as he used to be. Also, his defense has dropped from great to probably being below average this season. Williams has been an excellent hitter in the playoffs, but that was then and this is now, and now he's hitting .260/.366/.409 (775) with 18 doubles, 15 homers, 71 walks, 60 strikeouts and five steals in five attempts (100-percent success rate) in 116 games. He can still get on base, but he doesn't hit for a high average anymore and he's lost most of his power.

After a breakout 2002 campaign, Torii Hunter has been a disappointment this season, hitting .250/.312/.451 (.764) with 30 doubles, four triples, 26 homers, 50 walks, 104 strikeouts and six steals in 13 attempts (46.2-percent success rate) in 152 games. He has posted a .902 OPS in September, but I think you have to consider Williams a slightly better player on offense at the moment.

This position is probably about even. Williams is probably better on offense and Hunter is probably better on defense.

RF - In order to figure out who has the advantage in right field, you first have to figure out who New York's right fielder is. I'll go with Karim Garcia, since he has more games played there this year than anybody else on the Yankees roster. He's currently hitting .261/.299/.427 (.726), which is pretty pathetic for a right fielder. The Yankees could also use Juan Rivera, but he's hitting .245/.284/.409 (.693), which is even more pathetic.

If the Twins are smart, they'll have a good hitter in right field every game. Jacque Jones is hitting .317/.342/.486 (.828) against righties this season and Dustan Mohr is hitting .279/.365/.477 (.842) against lefties.

If they go with that platoon, the Twins have a huge advantage here. But no matter what they do, they'll still have the edge. The Yankees just don't have any good options for right field.

DH - Nick Johnson may very well be the best offensive player on either team. He's only played in 91 games this season, but he's hitting .296/.434/.492 (.926) with 19 doubles, 14 homers, 69 walks and 55 strikeouts. He doesn't have Giambi's power, but he gets on base 43-percent of the time, which helps the Yankees turn their lineup over more often.

Matthew LeCroy is having a nice season, hitting .280/.333/.482 (.815), but he just can't match Johnson's production. This position may be New York's biggest advantage because Johnson gets on base almost 25-percent more often than LeCroy does.

Overall, I'd say the Yankees have the better starting lineup. Their advantages at catcher, first base, second base, shortstop and designated hitter outweight Minnesota's advantages in the outfield and at third base. Luckily for the Twins, they have the better bench.

I don't know exaclty what either team's bench will look like, but the Twins get to choose from useful players like Lew Ford, Michael Ryan, Michael Restovich, Denny Hocking and others. The Yankees have players like John Flaherty, Enrique Wilson, Luis Sojo, Ruben Sierra and Erick Almonte. Some of those Yankees benchwarmers seem to come up with big plays all the time, but they're really all awful. Sierra's about the only worthwhile player the Yankees have if they ever need a pinch hitter.

Now, on to the pitching staff for both teams.

The pitching matchup for game one will be Mike Mussina against Johan Santana, and you couldn't ask for anything better.

Even after an awful outing yesterday, Mussina has a 3.40 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 195 strikeouts (8.18 K/9IP), 40 walks (1.68 BB/9IP) and 21 homers (0.88 HR/9IP) in 214.2 innings. Santana has a 3.17 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 166 strikeouts (9.74 K/9IP), 46 walks (2.70 BB/9IP) and 17 homers (1.00 HR/9IP) in 153.1 innings. He's been even better as a starter this year, with a 2.99 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 106 strikeouts, 26 walks and 14 home runs in 105.1 innings.

Don't assume that Santana has an advantage against the Yankees because he's left-handed, as New York is better against lefties (23-10) this year than against righties (75-50). However, it does help the Twins that Mussina throws with his right arm. Minnesota is just 25-27 against lefties this year, but 64-42 against righties. Of course, their winning percentage against righties wouldn't be nearly so good if all the righties they faced were of Mussina's caliber.

Ultimately, I think Santana is, at this moment, a better starting pitcher than Mussina (and I'll be shocked if he doesn't win a Cy Young Award in the next five years). The big question is: how will he react to pitching game one of the postseason in Yankee Stadium? Santana pitched in the playoffs last year, but it was all in relief, and it wasn't in Yankee Stadium.

Brad Radke will start game two for the Twins, but the Yankees have not announced who they will use in game two. I'm going to assume it will be Andy Pettitte.

Pettitte has a pretty 20-8 record, but he hasn't really been all that good. He has a 4.12 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 177 strikeouts (7.83 K/9IP), 49 walks (2.17 BB/9IP) and 21 homers (0.93 HR/9IP) in 203.1 innings. He's made 13 good starts (including six really good starts, six average starts and 12 bad starts (including seven really bad starts), and those have been mixed up throughout the season. Basically, you never know what you're going to get out of Pettitte this season.

That said, he has two things in his favor against the Twins. First, he has a ton of playoff experience (although he hasn't generally pitched all that well in the playoffs. And second, he's left-handed, which has generally made things harder for the Twins this season.

Radke has only been decent this season with a 4.56 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 117 strikeouts, 27 walks and 32 homers ni 207.1 innings, but he's been excellent since the All-Star break. Over that time, he's had a 3.33 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 49 strikeouts (4.94 K/9IP), seven walks (.71 BB/9IP) and 12 homers (1.21 HR/9IP) in 89.1 innings. If he can carry that momentum into the playoffs, he will be a better bet than Pettitte.

Making his first playoff appearance, Radke was excellent for the Twins last year, allowing just four runs on 19 hits and two walks with 11 strikeouts in 18.3 innings over three starts. They will need him to be excellent again this year.

Kyle Lohse will start game three for the Twins, and I assume he'll be starting against Roger Clemens.

Lohse hasn't been great this year overall, with a 4.64 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, but he's been good in spurts. He had a good first third of the season, following a blah 4.80 ERA in April with an incredible 1.97 ERA in May. Then, he fell apart in the second third of the season, posting a 6.21 ERA in June and an absolutely ugly 11.51 ERA in July. He's gone back to being usable in the final third of the season, posting a 3.83 ERA in August and a 4.00 ERA in September.

Despite Lohse's ability to turn in good performances at times, or even for months at a time, I think this is the only game where the Yankees have a definite edge (assuming I'm correct with the matchups). Clemens is getting old, but he still has what it takes. This year, he has a 3.94 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 187 strikeouts (8.18 K/9IP), 55 walks (2.41 BB/9IP) and 24 homers (1.05 HR/9IP) in 205.2 innings.

Looking into Clemens' playoff past to see how he might do this season paints a muddy picture. Overall, he's been excellent in his very long playoff career, with a 3.46 ERA in 132.2 innings. However, he's been roughed up pretty badly in the first round each of the last three years.

Still, given a choice between Clemens and Lohse for a big game, I'd go with the 41-year-old every time.

Games four and five are a lot less clear than the first three. It sounds like the Twins are leaning towards going with a three-man rotation in the first round, since off days would allow Santana to start game four on normal rest and Radke to start game five on three days rest. However, if the Twins are up 2-1 after three games, my guess is that they'd go with Kenny Rogers for game four, hoping that he can win it and allow them to use Santana to begin the ALCS.

As for the Yankees, most people assume that David Wells will start game four, but the recent success of Jose Contreras could allow the Cuban to get his first playoff spot. And of course, the Yankees could always give the ball back to Mussina if they're in dire straits.

Rogers has a 4.56 ERA and 1.42 WHIP, but he's been better in August and September. Wells has a 4.25 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, but you never know how he's going to do with that bad back of his. And Contreras has a 3.39 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, but a lot of that has come against the likes of the Tigers and Devil Rays (26.2 of his 69 innings are against those two teams).

Basically, all three of those pitchers are capable of getting the job done, but I wouldn't bet my life (or even a modest sum of money) on any of them.

Finally, we get to the bullpen.

The Yankees really only have one excellent relief pitcher. Rumors of the demise of Mariano Rivera have been greatly exaggerated, as the Panamanian has a 1.70 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 59 strikeouts, 10 walks and three home runs allowed in 68.2 innings. Also, he may very well be the best postseason pitcher in the history of baseball, as he's allowed just eight earned runs in 80 innings. That's a 0.90 ERA folks.

Other options available to the Yankees include Chris Hammond, Felix heredia, Antonio Osuna, Gabe White and Jeff Nelson.

Hammond has a nice 2.90 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 62 innings, but he could implode like he did while posting a 7.71 ERA in July. Heredia has a pretty 1.50 ERA, but he's walked five and struck out just two in 12 innings since joining the Yanks and has 43 strikeouts and 33 walks in 84 innings this year. Osuna has a decent 3.88 ERA, but an ugly 1.56 WHIP. White's only pitched 11 innings with the Yankees and has been unlucky to post a 4.09 ERA, but he's also struck out just 29 in 45.1 innings this season. And Nelson has an ugly 4.24 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 17 innings since returning to New York.

The Twins have a much better situation, as Eddie Guardado (2.80 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) and LaTroy Hawkins (1.89 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) are both very reliable.

J.C. Romero has struggled with a 4.84 ERA, but his .612 OPS allowed against lefties this year means he'll be counted on to negate some of the Yankees' big left-handed bats. Youngsters Grant Balfour (3.00 ERA, 1.05 WHIP as a reliever) and Juan Rincon (3.46 ERA, 1.30 WHIP) may also be called upon in relief. Also, Eric Milton is just returning from injury, but he'll likely find his way into a game at some point.

Well, know that you've read all of those numbers, you can probably go ahead and forget them all. The fact is that anything can happen in a five-game series. What the numbers show is that the Yankees and Twins are more evenly matched than most people probably realize, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. Any player can get hot for three or four games and any player can go 0-fer a series.

It would not shock me at all to see the Twins knock the Yankees out of the playoffs this year, but my official prediction is that New York will win in four games. I don't know if all of my postseason matchup previews will be quite this long (about 3,750 words), but I hope you enjoyed this one. As always, feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Shutouts galore

There were four shutouts in the majors yesterday, and an interesting assortment of pitchers contributed to the blankings. Let's take a look and see.

Mets 1, Pirates 0

Al Leiter tossed his first complete game of the season, allowing eight hits and a walk while striking out six. The effort earned him his 15th win of the season (the fourth time he's won at least 15 games in a season) and dropped his ERA just under 4 to 3.99.

Yesterday's complete game shutout was eerily similar to his last complete game, which came on the one-year anniversary of 9/11. In that game, Leiter allowed six hits and two walks while striking out eight in a 5-0 win over the Braves.

It's a good thing for the Mets that Leiter brought his complete game to the mound yesterday, because his opposite position was nearly as good. Kip Wells was able to strand the runners he put on base in every inning besides the fourth, as he allowed one run on eight hits and a walk with four strikeouts in 7.1 innings.

In the fourth, Mike Piazza singled and moved to third on a double from Tony Clark. Timo Perez was able to get the run home with a groundout to shortstop, and that was all the scoring in the game.

The loss dropped Wells to 9-9, but he's having a very nice season with a 3.29 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 140 strikeouts (6.59 K/9IP) and 74 walks (3.48 BB/9IP) in 191.1 innings. He's been even better recently, going 4-2 with a 1.29 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 28 strikeouts and 12 walks in 42 innings. It looks like the Pirates have an ace for next season's team.

Cubs 6, Reds 0

Kerry Wood went into the seventh inning working on not only a shutout, but a no-hitter as well. Wood got Sean Casey to ground out for the first out of the inning and then walked Russell Branyan.

On a 1-1 pitch, Wily Mo Pena hit a high chopper and beat it out for an infield single to break up the no-hitter. After Jason LaRue flied out for the second out of the inning, Wood walked Ray Olmedo before falling behind Dernell Stenson 2-0 and then coming back to strike him out swinging.

It's a good thing Pena got that single, because it meant that Dusty Baker took Wood out after "only" 122 pitches. Wood has now thrown 121.3 pitches per game over his last six starts and has thrown at least 120 pitches an unlucky 13 times this year. Had Wood finished the seventh with the no-no still in tact, Baker likely would have left him out there until he gave up a hit, the game ended or his arm fell off.

Wood's night ended with the seven shutout innings and just the one hit to go along with four walks and 12 strikeouts. He now has a 3.20 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 266 strikeouts (most in the NL; 11.35 K/9IP) and 100 walks (most in the NL; 4.27 BB/9IP) in 211 innings (eighth-most in the NL).

After Wood left, Kyle Farnsworth and Mike Remlinger each pitched a scoreless inning to preserve the shutout.

Wood and the Cubs got all the runs they would need when Aramis Ramirez hit his 27th homer of the season in the fifth inning. Just to be safe, Chicago scored four more runs in the sixth and added another in the seventh.

Braves 2, Expos 0

The game reached the eighth inning in a scoreless deadlock as neither Javier Vazquez nor Shane Reynolds had permitted a runner to cross home plate.

Reynolds left at that point, having allowed seven hits and three walks while striking out two. It was just his fifth start of the season with a game score of 60 or better, and two of those came in his first two starts. His impressive outing improved his ERA to 5.50 and his WHIP to 1.51, but the no decision left him at 11-9.

Vazquez stayed in the game and found trouble in the eighth, walking Mark DeRosa to lead off the inning. Darren Bragg sacrificed DeRosa to second and Andruw Jones pinch-hit and flied out to center, sending DeRosa to third.

Vazquez was then unable to pick up the third out, yielding singles to Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles and a double to Gary Sheffield to put two runs on the board for Atlanta and runners on second and third. Vazquez then intentionally walked Chipper Jones and Chad Cordero came in to strike out Javy Lopez.

Jaret Wright picked up the win for pitching a scoreless eighth and John Smoltz struck out the side in order in the ninth to pick up his 45th save of the season and his first since returning from injury.

Yankees 7, White Sox 0

Jose Contreras showed yet again why the Yankees went out and signed him this off-season, pitching eight shutout innings with four hits and a walk and nine strikeouts.

Since returning to the Yankees in late August, Contreras has only made one really bad start -- a three-inning, seven-run drubbing at the hands of the Red Sox. In his other six starts, he's posted a 1.33 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 39 strikeouts (8.63 K/9IP) and 12 walks (2.66 BB/9IP) in 40.2 innings.

He may have taken awhile to come around, but he now has a 3.39 ERA and 1.17 WHIP and he looks like he can definitely be a part of New York's starting rotation next season.

Contreras received all the support he would need very early, as Nick Johnson hit the 11th pitch of the game into the stands for his 14th home run of the season. The Yankees tacked on a run in the sixth before exploding for five in the ninth on Juan Rivera's fourth homer of the season -- a solo shot -- and Jason Giambi's 40th -- a grand slam.

Despite the seven-run lead, Mariano Rivera came on in the ninth and recorded the final three outs, allowing Magglio Ordonez to reach third base before striking out Jose Valentin to officially eliminate the White Sox from the playoffs.

I don't know how often it happens that there are four shutouts on the same day, but I know it's an exciting thing -- for me at least -- when it happens. Especially since the four starting pitchers were all so very different.

Wood's a fireballing young Texan with a right arm of gold and questionable control, Leiter's an aging lefty who gives everything he has left on every pitch he throws, Reynolds is an aging righty recovering from surgery and Contreras is a Cuban of unknown age and experience with excellent stuff. One this one night, however, they were all the same thing -- great pitchers.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Thank you

The counter on this blog just recently passed 15,000 and I wanted to thank everybody who has stopped by to read what I have to say. I started this blog just over five months ago, and I wasn't really sure what to expect. After growing slowly over the first four months, I've had over 5,000 visitors already this month and I'm getting much more reader response than I used to, which is a good thing (I love getting e-mails from readers).

Also, I wanted to let everybody know about some of my plans for future posts. Before the playoff starts, I will have an in-depth analysis of each of the four matchups. I will probably do the AL first, because the AL is all-but-officially decided already and will be done for certain in the near future. Also, I will be posting my top five choices for the Manager of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, MVP and Cy Young Award winner in each league during the playoffs.

I will do the NL first for each award, and I will be doing the awards in the order I listed above (most people do MVP last, but I think the Cy Young races are more compelling this year). I doubt I will do these on 10 consecutive days, but I will get them all done before the playoffs end. I will also, obviously, post my observations on the playoffs as they are proceeding.

I hope everybody's as excited for the playoffs to start as I am, and I hope you all keep on coming over here to read what I have to say. And if you disagree with me, or even if you agree and want to let me know that you do, feel free to drop me a line.

Wha' Happen?

There were two pitchers starting on the West Coast last night who would have made their teams feel very confident about their chances of winning last year. I'm not talking about Jamie Moyer, who was very good last year and won his 20th game last night, or Barry Zito, who won the AL Cy Young award last year and has been good-but-not-great this year. Rather, I'm talking about Jarrod Washburn and Odalis Perez, both of whom were excellent last year and both of whom got roughed up last night.

Washburn lasted just three innings last night, allowing three runs on five hits and three walks with no strikeouts. For the season, he's now 10-14 with a 4.43 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 118 strikeouts and 54 walks in 207.1 innings.

Last year, he went 18-6 with a 3.15 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 139 strikeouts and 59 walks in 206 innings.

What's changed this year? Well, his strikeout rate has dropped from 6.70 K/9IP to 5.12 K/9IP, but his walk rate has also dropped slightly from 2.58 BB/9IP to 2.34 BB/9IP.

The biggest difference between last season and this season, however, is the long ball. Last year, Washburn allowed 19 home runs (0.83 HR/9IP), but this year he has allowed 34 homers (1.48 HR/9IP). Basically, he's allowing home runs 78-percent more frequently than he did last year. I'm not exactly sure why Washburn is allowing so many more home runs this year, because he's actually getting more ground balls. Last year, he had a GB/FB ratio of 0.60 (193/321) and this year he has a GB/FB ratio of 0.68 (219/324).

Washburn is also allowing more hits this year (.99 H/IP this year, .89 H/IP last year) which means more of his home runs are coming with runners on base. Last year, Washburn allowed 14 homers with the bases empty and five (26.3-percent) with runners on. This year, he's allowed 20 homers with the bases empty and 14 (41.1-percent) with runners on.

Add an increase from three hit batters to 11 hit batters and you have everything that has caused Washburn's ERA to rise. The stuff that Washburn doesn't have much control over (i.e. everything besides homers, strikeouts, walks and hit batters) has been exactly the same. He allowed a .259 batting average on balls in play last year and he's allowed a .259 batting average on balls in play this year.

Perez had an even shorter outing last night, allowing four runs on five hits and a walk with one strikeout in just one inning. For the season, he's now 12-12 with a 4.52 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 141 strikeouts and 46 walks in 185.1 innings.

Last year, he went 15-10 with a 3.00 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 155 strikeouts and 38 walks in 222.1 innings.

Unlike Washburn, Perez has increased his strikeouts from 6.27 K/9IP to 6.85 K/9IP and increased his walks from 1.54 BB/9IP to 2.23 BB/9IP. Like Washburn, he's giving up a lot more homers (1.36 HR/9IP this year, 0.85 HR/9IP last year) and a lot more hits (1.03 H/IP this year, 0.82 H/IP last year). That's about a 60-percent increase in homers and a 25-percent increase in hits.

The main difference between Washburn and Perez is that Perez may be getting a bit unlucky (or he was a bit lucky last year). Last year, Perez allowed a .247 batting average on balls put in play. This year, that average is up to .294.

Even if you think that the pitcher has a great deal of control over how many hits he allows once the ball is in play, you can't tell me that Perez's "stuff" has gotten so much worse that hitters are able to make that many more batted balls avoid the fielders. Unless LA's defense has declined significantly, Perez's luck has changed significantly.

Two other pitchers threw at least 140 innings both this year and last year for the Dodgers, which means we can look at their batting averages allowed on balls in play to get some idea of whether or not LA's defense has declined significantly. Hideo Nomo allowed a .270 average on balls in play last year and has allowed a .252 average on balls in play this year. Kaz Ishii allowed a .279 average on balls in play last year and has allowed a .284 average on balls in play this year.

So, Nomo's batting average allowed on balls in play improved significantly and Ishii's declined slightly. From looking at these two pitchers, I don't think we can conclude that the LA defense has gotten significantly worse. It's possible that it has, but that would mean that Nomo has gotten extremely lucky to allow fewer hits on balls in play than he did last year when the defense is worse than it was last year.

Ultimately, I think we need to conclude that Perez's luck has changed. The question is whether he was a good pitcher with no luck last year and a good pitcher with bad luck this year or or bad pitcher with good luck last year and a bad pitcher with no luck this year.

Most likely, he's a decent pitcher who had some good luck last year and has had some bad luck this year. And it doesn't help that he's combining his bad luck with an increase in home runs.

If I had to pick one of these two pitchers who I expected to return to their form of a year ago, I would pick Perez. But I don't necessarily think either of them will.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Analyzing Gammons

If you look at my list of links to the right, you'll see that Peter Gammons is not among the columnists I link to under the "favorite columnists" section. Two or three years ago, Gammons was one of my favorite columnists, but his terrible grammar combined with observations and opinions that are often very strange have led me to avoid him recently. However, last night I did read his most recent column about how Felipe Alou finally gets to go to the playoffs after being screwed by the 1994 strike. Like most of his columns, this one has a "News and notes" section at the end.

Today, I'd like to take the chance to comment on some of his little items in the "News and notes" section of this column.

After he talks briefly about why Alex Rodriguez will probably win his first MVP Award this year, he says "A-Rod lost out for the wrong reasons in '97. But I'm not sure Rodriguez deserves it any more than Garret Anderson."

Huh? I've seen Anderson's name mentioned several places as an MVP candidate, and I cannot understand it at all. Anderson is a fine player and I certainly wouldn't mind having him on my team, since he's the second-best left fielder in the AL (although there are six left fielders better than him in the NL). However, he never has been and never will be an MVP caliber player.

Anderson is putting the finishing touches on his best season, hitting .317/.347/.549 (.895) while playing every day. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is putting the finishing touches on his fifth-best season, hitting .299/.396/.606 (1.002) while playing every day. Did I mention that Rodriguez is a shortstop and Anderson is a corner outfielder?

Last year, I believe Gammons also thought that Anderson was more deserving of the MVP Award than Rodriguez, but you could at least chalk that up to the misguided notion that an MVP has to come from a winning team (more on that later). This year, Rodriguez's Rangers are in last place again, but Anderson's Angels are only three games ahead in third place. If Rodriguez and Anderson had switched teams before this season, the Angels would have made a run at a winning season and the Rangers would have made a run at 100 losses.

If you hear anybody mention Anderson's name in a discussion of potential AL MVPs for this season, do me a favor and smack them. If they ask why you did that, smack them harder. Don't let people get away with stupidity.

In his very next item, Gammons says that "Lou Piniella is pushing Rocco Baldelli for rookie of the year over Jody Gerut and Hideki Matsui".

I have no problem with Gammons telling us that Piniella thinks Baldelli should be the AL Rookie of the Year. It's a pretty meaningless report, because we all know that Piniella is going to promote his own player, but I have no problem with it. What I do have a problem with is that Gammons, when he mentions the players Baldelli would have to beat out, doesn't list the player who probably has been the best rookie in the AL this season. That would be Angel Berroa.

Berroa is hitting .292/.341/.457 (.798) in 150 games, which is comparable to or better than Baldelli's .289/.326/.419 (.746) in 149 games, Gerut's .281/.337/.500 (.837) in 121 games and Matsui's .287/.350/.438 (.788) in 155 games. The big difference of course, is that Berroa plays shorstop and the other three play in the outfield.

I'll go more in depth when I pick my top five for every award after the season, but anything that even mentions the AL Rookie of the Year award has to include Berroa's name. He's not the biggest star or the best prospect, but he's definitely a candidate for the award, if not the favorite.

Gammons later talks about how Tom Gordon has come back from his arm injury to have an impressive season and, as he often does when he wants to make his point stronger, he quotes a player. This time, Sandy Alomar Jr. says, among other things, that Gordon is "as good as anyone in the league."

This is another case of somebody who is too close to the situation saying something that just isn't true. It shouldn't surprise us that Gordon's catcher wants to pump Gordon up, but why would Gammons report it? The fact is that Gordon, who really is having a very nice season, isn't even the best reliever on his own team, nevermind being as good as anybody in the league.

Gordon has a 3.14 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP with 87 strikeouts and 30 walks in 71.2 innings. Teammate Damaso Marte has a 1.56 ERA and 1.00 WHIP with 86 strikeouts and 28 walks in 75 innings. It's fine to say that Gordon is back to being a great pitcher, but don't exaggerate it by saying he's just as good as any reliever in the league.

Other AL relievers who have been better this season than Gordon include: Keith Foulke (2.04 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 86 strikeouts, 20 walks, 83.2 IP); Mariano Rivera (1.73 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 58 strikeouts, 10 walks, 67.2 IP); LaTroy Hawkins (1.89 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 74 strikeouts, 14 walks, 76.1 IP); Eddie Guardado (2.86 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 55 strikeouts, 14 walks, 63 IP); Rafael Soriano (1.66 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 62 strikeouts, 10 walks, 48.2 IP); Brendan Donnelly (1.63 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 78 strikeouts, 23 walks, 72 IP) and Shigetoshi Hasegawa (1.38 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 31 strikeouts, 18 walks, 71.2 IP). And I may be forgetting one or two guys.

Later, Gammons reports that Brad Ausmus might sign with the Padres next year, and he reports it as though it's a bad thing for the Astros.

"As much as Brad Ausmus respects and likes his Astros teammates, don't be surprised if he signs as a free agent with the Padres because of his children and school."

Look, I know everybody loves Ausmus' defense and leadership, but he's hitting .230/.305/.295 (.600) this season and he'll turn 35 early in next season, so his offense isn't getting any better. I don't care how many other intangibles or immeasurables you bring to the ballpark, if you have an OPS of .600, you're hurting your team. If the Astros are smart, they'll make Ausmus' decision easier for him by not even trying to resign him.

I was planning on mentioning how I think the Cubs are risking their future for a shot at the playoffs this year, and Gammons column gives me a perfect opportunity to do just that.

"If you don't think what the Cubs have achieved is remarkable, going from 95 losses to contention, consider that they are the fourth team since the mid-60's to do so -- along with the '91 Orioles, '77 Brewers and '68 Washington Senators. The flip side is that if you're a fan of a team losing 95 games, don't get too excited about next year just because the Cubs turned it around. Remember, they had Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, Kerry Wood and Matt Clement."

The flip side of the Cubs situation is that you might not want to get too excited about their future, because there could very well be some arm problems over the horizon. I hope I'm wrong, but the Cubs are asking an awful lot of three of their four young hurlers.

Prior has started 28 games and averaged 112.1 pitches per game. In and of itself, that's a lot, but his workload has increased dramatically as the NL Central race has gotten further along. In his last nine games, Prior has averaged 119.4 pitches. And in his last five, it's an unbelievable 125 pitches per game, including two games of 131 pitches and one game with 129 pitches.

This season, Prior has thrown at least 120 pitches eight times and at least 110 pitches another 11 times.

Zambrano hasn't been worked nearly as hard, but it's still more than I'd like to see a 22-year-old throw. In 31 starts, he's averaging 107 pitches per game. In his last 11 starts, he's averaging 113.1 pitches. He's thrown at least 120 pitches five times and at least 109 pitches another 11 times.

Wood, who has already had major arm problems, is averaging 110.4 pitches per start in 31 starts. In his last five starts, however, he's averaging 121.2 pitches, with four of those five starts breaking the 120-pitch mark.

Wood has thrown at least 120 pitches 12 times (including an inexcusable 141-pitch outing) and at least 110 pitches seven more times.

Nobody really knows exactly how to use pitch counts to prevent injuries, but we should have learned from the situation with A.J. Burnett that it's better to err on the side of caution. The Cubs are gambling with the arms of three young pitchers at the same time, and the odds are that at least one of the three will go bust.

Finally, Gammons talks about Doug Mientkiewicz and says that "He is a great defensive first baseman and superb situational hitter, though his RBI totals may not be those of the prototypical first baseman. Also his .396 on-base percentage and 72/54 walk/strikeout ratio are remarkable for someone who was hurt much of the season."

Mientkiewicz certainly is a great defensive first baseman (according to Baseball Graphs, he has more defensive win shares than any other first baseman in the majors), but there is no need to trivialize his offensive value by making something up about him being a superb situational hitter. He is hitting .302/.395/.454 (.849) this year, which makes him the fourth-best offensive first baseman in the AL.

Now, let's try and figure out exactly which situations Mientkiewicz is superb in. With runners on base, Mientkiewicz is hitting .313/.399/.458 (.857). That's better than what he's doing overall, but not by a lot. And with runners in scoring position, he's hitting just .292/.390/.400 (.790). And it gets even worse with runners in scoring position and two outs, as he's hitting .271/.386/.322 (.708) in those situations.

So, it must be something else. Ah, here we go. In "close and late" situations -- which are defined as "results in the 7th inning or later with the batting team either ahead by one run, tied or with the potential tying run at least on deck" -- Mientkiewicz is hitting .397/.494/.603 (1.097). That's damn good. He must have some unnatural ability to just get better when the game is on the line.

Gammons said he's a superb situational hitter and we've just found a situation in which Mientkiewicz is hitting superbly this year, so we could just call it a day and say Gammons is right, but let's be scientific just for the heck of it.

From 2000-2002, Mientkiewicz hit .287/.377/.431 (.808). In close and late situations over those three years, he hit .286/.384/.422 (.806). Hmm, that's pretty much the same as his overall numbers. That's strange. Maybe he just developed his unnatural ability to hit better with the game on the line this year. Or maybe its just the randomness of small sample sizes.

Mientkiewicz is a good hitter because he gets on base nearly 40-percent of the time. To try and give him credit for other things is just an insult to our intelligence and an insult to his abilities. Give him credit for being the excellent player that he is, don't make up stuff to give him extra credit.

That's about all I have to say about Gammons' latest piece of work, and when I went to sleep last night, I was only going to talk about Gammons' column. Then I got up this morning and read Jayson Stark's column on why A-Rod is not this year's AL MVP.

You should read the whole thing, but Stark basically says that an MVP can't be from a team in last place because if you took him away the team would still be in last place. He also concedes Rob Neyer's point that this should work both ways. If a team would make the playoffs without a certain player, then that player can't be MVP either. The Red Sox have a lot of players without whom they would have missed the playoffs (not that I'm counting my chickens before the Mariners finish laying their egg), but Stark seems to be saying that since all those Red Sox hitters are similarly valuable, you can't pick one.

So, in Stark's little dream universe, the top three MVP candidates are Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada and Shannon Stewart. And no, I'm not kidding. Read his column if you don't believe me.

I can deal with it when the best player in the league doesn't win the MVP award, but I can't deal with it when the guy who wins the MVP award isn't even the best player at his position.

Chavez is probably the second-best third baseman in the AL, but Bill Mueller is the best this season. If Tejada isn't the fourth-best shortstop in the AL this year, then he's at least no better than third ahead of Derek Jeter. And Stewart probably isn't even among the top five left fielders in the AL this year.

I honestly don't know what Stark is thinking, but I hope the AL MVP voters aren't thinking along the same lines. If Rodriguez doesn't win the award, as he should, then the award should go to somebody else who had a tremendous amount of value to his team. It should not go to somebody just because their team made the playoffs and they're one of the best hitters on the team. Once again, I'll go into the AL MVP award in more depth when I present my top five choices for each award after the season, but I'll give you a preview. Chavez, Tejada and Stewart aren't in my top 10, let alone top five.