Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Jon on Saturday, June 12, 2004

Hitters Lining Up to Lose

It’s a good thing Major League managers aren’t responsible for devising a coherent batting order before each game. Otherwise, some of the guys managing in the Majors wouldn’t have been hired. Oh, wait. Writing up a lineup for each game is one of the managers more important duties. I must have forgotten whilst checking tonight’s box scores.

One of the traditional rules of thumb in constructing batting orders has always been to get batters in scoring position before the big boppers in the lineup. This is accomplished by reaching base and maybe stealing a few bases. It sounds simple: get guys in position to score on hits from the best sluggers, and generally play your best hitters before your worst. In fact, the Moneyball philosophy, baseball’s newest craze, spouts more of the same, seeking to maximize run production by filling lineups with guys who get on base and others who can knock them in with power. It irks me to no end when managers flaunt their stupidity when writing up lineups. Following are examplary accounts of such buffoonery from today’s box scores.

  • As of yesterday’s games, Adam Dunn’s OBP of .426 ranked tops among Reds hitters. His slugging percentage, .588, was eclipsed only by Sean Casey. All season long, Reds manager Dave Miley had Dunn nestled in the fifth spot of the batting order, behind the likes of Casey, Ken Griffey Jr., and Austin Kearns. Then with the start of interleague play, Miley shook up the lineup, dropping Dunn back one spot to sixth in the lineup. Dunn got bounced one spot for the always-threatening D’angelo Jimenez. Was Miley trying to make sure his team continued to play low-scoring National League baseball, compensating for the increased run production of the added DH by reducing his team’s ability to score runs? Or maybe a win that night against the likes of Billy Beane and the OBP-obsessed Moneyballers would once and for all show the world of baseball just how useless these stats are. But it didn’t work. The Reds mustered a puny two runs, their lowest total in a week.

    The fact that Dunn, with his league-leading 18 dingers and his monstrous OBP (fourth in the league), is relegated to the back-end of the lineup is more than absurd. Dunn should be receiving as many plate appearances as possible. If it takes base runners to win games, Dunn’s your man. If it takes home runs, there’s nobody in the league with more. Yet he’s receiving fewer at-bats than Jimenez, Ryan Freel, Jason LaRue, and Wily Mo Pena. Sure, Adam strikes out in a good portion of his plate appearances, but he’s still quite possibly the best hitter on the team, and Miley’s approach has already cost him a number of plate appearances, and thus a number of baserunners and runs. With guys like Ryan Freel and Jason LaRue getting extra at-bats over Adam Dunn, the Reds have an extra reason to start swooning. Since Miley dropped him to the six-hole, the Reds have gone 0-4 and are no longer the NL Central leaders. After a three-game sweep at the hands of the A’s, I tally the score as follows: “Moneyball 3, Reds 0.”

    How many more losses before Miley realizes Dunn is a better hitter and deserves more at-bats than LaRue, Jimenez, Pena, Kearns, Casey, and maybe even Griffey? I wouldn’t try to wait out the manager.

  • The fact that Frank Robinson would even take the job as Expos manager/babysitter shies me away from the harshest criticisms, but there are no excuses for creating a poor lineup. Managers should know their teams, who their better hitters are, and where they belong in their lineups. He has the biggest boppers the Expos can afford, Tony Batista and Nick Johnson, batting fourth and fifth. But what in the world is Endy Chavez doing batting second, let alone anywhere in the Expos’ lineup?

    Chavez, with his .279/.298/.397 line is a help to nobody. Yes, he’s stolen eight bags in ten tries, but to be productive on the basepaths one must first reach base. If I had free reign with the ‘spos lineup card, I’d be batting Nick Johnson and Termell Sledge second and third behind Wilkerson. Sledge’s poor season numbers date back to a very slow start in April (.122/.163/.146). May (.316/.366/.526) was his breakout month, but thus far June (.385/.429/.462) has been even better. If it were up to me, Endy Chavez would sit squarely on the endy of the bench.

Get back to the basics, guys. Get Jason LaRue and Endy Chavez out of the beginning of their lineups so the better hitters reach the plate more often. It isn’t difficult to construct efficient batting orders, and managers at all levels of baseball should know how to maximize scoring potential.

If they don't, their time spent as manger should Endy, and then they'll be Dunn.

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Posted by Dave on Thursday, June 10, 2004

The Pitchers of "Record"

It's been well-chronicled how wins are largely a matter of chance. Need proof that wins are pretty fickle? Just ask Jason Schmidt, Bronson Arroyo, or Freddy Garcia about their performances tonight. All pitched well enough to seemingly assure their team of victory - but none received the win.

"Wins" is an awful statistic mainly due to its reliance on the pitcher's offense. For those that are unfamiliar with how wins are assigned, take a gander at the official scorer's guidelines (10.19, toward the bottom). Wins depend quite heavily on how the pitcher's offense performs - something very much out of their hands. A great offense will put a hurler in a position to win, even if he has pitched poorly. Conversely, a terrible offense can subtract precious wins from a pitcher's resume. This means that no matter how well a pitcher pitches (Ben Sheets, two nights ago), he can only receive a "win" if his offense scores him enough runs. Thus, a pitcher only carries, at most, half the responsibility of the win. The way the media assigns Cy Young awards would have you believe that a pitcher can will his offense to perform (Exhibit A: Roger Clemens in 2001)

While there is much griping about how wins are assigned and how they should be interpreted, there is generally very little discussion about losses. Basically, a loss is given to the pitcher who puts his team behind. If the team remains behind, then the pitcher that put the team behind gets the loss. If that's not clear, check out the official scorer's book again here. Very few times is this definition a problem. Generally, the pitcher that gives away the equality of the game deserves the loss. While there is some discretion regarding how wins should be assigned (especially in odd games with many relievers), there is none regarding how losses should be given. The scorer must give it to the hurler that negatively disturbs equality.

Normally, I wouldn't have a problem with the limitations of assigning losses, but a particular box-score irked me today. With the rest of the game ahead of them, the Braves removed John Thomson from the contest in their game against the Tigers. He had only allowed one run and I can only assume that there was a rain-delay in the middle of the second as Jeremy Bonderman was forced from the game after only two innings. Sadly, Thomson's "relief," T. Smith (that's the best I can do - ESPN.com apparently doesn't recognize him as a pitcher - maybe because he doesn't do his job very well) gave up three runs in four innings. The Braves rallied to score two runs, but Thomson was still the pitcher of record. The former Rocky put his team at a deficit and they never recovered. Thus, by the book, he deserves the loss.

Similar to pitchers that receive a win after giving up three earned runs, this simply bothers me. The Braves offense, meager as it is, had nine innings to recover one run for John Thomson. And they did, eventually, score two runs. But Mr. T. Smith (it's actually Travis Smith, a former Cardinal) gave up too many runs first. It doesn't seem like Thomson should get the loss when he only gave up a run and nearly the entire game was left - especially when his relief allowed 3/4 of the runs that were eventually scored. Sure, there have been situations in which losses were given more unjustly. But this is a recent case, one that reinforces the need for flexibility for the assignment of losses similar to that of its statistical counterpart, wins.

I Can't Resist...the Irony Is...Too Strong!

I gravitated to a recent article written by Joe Morgan entitled: "Is Gagne's Save Streak Overrated" This was remarkable mostly because it showed that Joe Morgan was taking an intelligent stance on something baseball-related. If you're unaware, Joe Morgan has developed a following of whipping boys because of his idiotic comments (check out some authors' distaste here and here). Later in the article I became informed that Joe Morgan is penning a book entitled "Baseball for Dummies." I'm sorry, that's just too funny.

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Posted by Jon on Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The Wait Grows Longer With Each Win

Cincinnati has been waiting for a while.

Since reaching the NL Championship Series nine years ago, the Reds have averaged 78.5 wins per season. McKeon Magic circa ’99 brought Cinci close to 100 wins, but the pixie dust ran out, leaving the Reds out of the playoff picture. Excluding that anomalous 1999 season, the Reds have gone 532-602 since 1995, an unastounding .469 clip.

After last year’s disaster of a season, nobody – and I mean nobody – picked the Reds to win the NL Central, let alone contend with the likes of the division powerhouse Astros, Cubs, and Cardinals. The Reds seemed poised for another season of rebuilding. With an offense of young stars and aging future Hall of Famers reasonable run production could have been foreseen, but their outfield tandem of Dunn, Griffey, and Kearns spent nary three weeks on the field together in 2003 due to a plethora of injuries. And their pitching staff was arguably worse than Detroit’s last season. That’s not something to be proud of.

But they’ve turned it all around. Injuries haven’t been a huge problem and Paul Wilson has represented an about-face for Cincinnati pitching altogether. All of this has pushed the Reds past the Cardinals, past the Cubs, and past the Astros. In fact, with more than a third of the season in the books, their 34 wins makes Cincinnati the best team in the league, and they trail only the Yankees for the best record in baseball. Surely, this is one of the nicest stories in baseball this season, and if they can keep it up, their rags-to-riches fairy tale will headline publications in October. But keep it up they can't.

Much like last year’s Royals, this Reds team is a contender when, by all modes of evaluation, it shouldn’t be. Based on their runs scored and runs allowed, the Reds are not having a first place season. They’re not even a .500 team. Look at their actual record and their adjusted record, based on runs allowed and runs scored.
		W	L	

Actual 34 23
Adjusted 28 29

Difference +6 -6
These two percentages show that they’re winning, but with smoke, mirrors, and a lot of luck. For the season, they haven’t even scored as many runs as they’ve allowed, and they already have six more wins than they should. A team that allows more runs than it scores is usually near the bottom of the standings, not on top. And if they continue to walk the fine line between wins and losses, eventually Lady Luck will catch up to the Reds, and the losses will even out the wins for the rest of the season.

Last season, the Royals finished the season some ten games ahead of where their adjusted record would have placed them, based on runs allowed and runs scored. This year, they were out of contention before the first quarter of the season ended. Eventually a team’s luck runs out and their record regresses back to the mean. Having examined the Royals of last season, the Reds shouldn’t start silk-screening their ‘Division Champs’ shirts any time soon. And with every member of their rotation, with the exception of Jose Acevedo, pitching well over their heads, the Reds could soon begin to slide.

It’s great that Cincinatti is performing at a higher level than could reasonably be expected, but all this winning could lead to a strange predicament come the trading deadline.

Logically a .500 team, as this season’s Reds could be viewed, would be sellers at the trading deadline, especially when three other teams playing better ball. The Astros, Cubs, and Cards all have similar adjusted records of about 33-23, placing those three on a different tier in the NL Central. To make matters worse, the Reds have at least three perfect sell-high candidates to trade. You can’t trade just anybody for legitimate potential help in the future. A Paul Wilson may be tough to unload because of his checkered past. Other Reds, though, are riding value spikes that could never be higher.

The ruddy poster-boy for these Cincinnati overachievers is their closer, Danny Graves. With a mind-boggling 27 saves in mid-June, Graves has saved more games than 11 teams have won. He's closed out more than three-quarters of the Reds wins. If this rate continues, he’d end the season with 74 saves. At this rate, too, he’d allow 26 home runs. But Graves is pitching well and aside from his home runs allowed, there’s barely a smudge on his stat record this season. He’s throwing better than his last few seasons and almost well enough to merit the $6 million he’ll be paid in 2004. His 26 saves nearly ensure a trip to Houston and the All-Star Game next month and may make him more appealing than he should be to other GMs. After all, most any pitcher can record a healthy number of saves. All it takes to record a save is to close for a team that enters the ninth inning with a small lead an abnormally large number of times. To have won as many games as the Reds have so far, they’ve merely been in this position more than any other team. If Matt Herges were given the same opportunities, I am confident that he’d have as many saves as Graves. But because the Reds are ‘in contention,’ Graves may not be traded.

Another sell-high candidate sits at first base. Sean Casey is hitting like the dickens. He’s riding a .374/.416/.626 line through June with 44 runs, 43 RBI, and 11 homers. His AB/HR is currently at a career high level and his SO/BB ratio is fantastic at 20/15. Casey is a very good player. His career .305/.372/.467 line shows that this season’s successes are not too far-fetched, and a regression to his career numbers for the rest of the season would still merit accolades. Nevertheless, his value is as high as it will ever be. Selling him now could bring more in return than at any other time. In years past, Casey has been offered up in trade proposals by the Reds. It would make most sense to trade him now.

Lastly, the Reds have one outfielder any runner-up in the Carlos Beltran bonanza might gladly accept: Ken Griffey Junior. Trading Griffey would be difficult at this juncture. He’s about to hit a major home run milestone and is finally back to his old self. The problem is that the last time he hit this well was the year 2000. Now Griffey is 35 years old and certainly on the downside of his career. At this age, Griffey should come with a "Fragile: Handle With Care" sticker plastered squarely on his uniform as a warning of the imminent injury to come. Until he goes down with another injury, Griffey is an All-Century player. But the injuries will return. Last year, the Reds explored trading Griffey. Now that he’s healthy, and before he can hurt himself again, the Reds should make it known that he’s available. His contract isn’t ridiculous and it’s quite possible that he would welcome a change of scenery, making him another candidate to be traded.

Trading any of these guys would be tough on Reds fans, but either way, they’ll have to continue to wait. The postseason is still many moons away and sadly, the Reds won’t be on top when the calendar next reads ‘October’. The question is whether Cincinatti fans in October will be looking forward to another season of low expectations or whether the Reds will have acquired the pitching prospects or position players to make the 2005 season one less dependent on luck. This season's success could prevent the Reds from being legitimate competitors in the future.

Strikeouts Either Way

If watching a pitcher strike a batter out makes you smile, then you should probably be watching more of the Red Sox. As of today’s games, the Sox can K with the best of ‘em. Their two aces, Pedro Martinez (76 K's) and Curt Schilling (73), are one and two in strikeouts in the league. More astoundingly, two Boston batters also lead the league in strikeouts: Mark Bellhorn (63 whiffs) and David Ortiz (59). If you like K's, keep it tuned to the Sox.

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Posted by Ben K. on Monday, June 07, 2004

The Meaning of the All-Star Game

Last week, Major League Baseball released the first of its weekly All Star voting updates. The point of these updates, it seems, is to get fans to vote for their favorite players who may or may not be leading the voting at any given week. It's a great marketing ploy designed to attract increased interest to the Midsummer Classic and to draw casual fans to MLB.com as they vote over and over again for their favorite players. But there are also some inherent drawbacks to this marketing campaign.

Let's take a look at the stats of the top five shortstop vote-getters in the American League.

1. Nomar Garciaparra: 412,742 votes. But he has yet to play this season due to injuries.
2. Derek Jeter: 396,268 votes. He's hitting 233/.290/.388 with 7 HR and 27 RBI.
3. Miguel Tejada: With 299,517 votes, Tejada is hitting 310/.371/.471 with 8 HR and 43 RBI.
4. Michael Young: young has 292,763 votes, and he is currently at .326/.359/.506 with 8 HR, 35 RBI, and 37 runs scored.
5. David Eckstein: Eckstein, who is not Jewish despite many people's thoughts to the contrary, has 95,450. He's hitting .300/.354/.358 with 0 HR and 11 RBI.

And here are the numbers of one more shortstop in the American League, Carlos Guillen who is currently playing in one of the worst hitters' parks in the Majors. He is hitting .325/.402/.560 with 8 HR, 35 RBI, and 41 runs scored. While these numbers may make Carlos Guillen the league's best shortstop, through June 6, he hasn't even won enough fan support to edge out David Eckstein.

How is it that Nomar is first in balloting while the more deserving candidates are over 100,000 votes behind the leader and arguably the most deserving shortstop is at least 320,000 votes behind Nomar? I think it's all part of the way the casual baseball fan perceives the sports. Earlier this year, Derek's slump, which hopefully is gone, gained a lot of attention. He was constantly featured on the back pages of New York's tabloids and ESPN's Buster Olney wrote a lengthy article about the slump. Any fan hearing snippets of news from the Bronx would automatically associate Derek Jeter's 2004 campaign with a slump. On the flip side, no one's heard anything about Nomar. In this people's minds, I propose, no news must be good news. Therefore, Nomar's probably hitting over .300 with a lot of RBIs and some home runs. With Jeter slumping and no attention paid to Nomar, Garciaparra becomes the de facto name-recognition favorite. Forget the more deserving Tejada, Young, or Guillen. The fans will vote for their favorite name. So far, Nomar wins.

Moving beyond shortstop, the news grows stranger. As of last Tuesday, Alfonso Soriano was the lead vote-getting, gaining over 700,000 votes so far this season. Soriano's numbers are pretty good so far. He's at .284/326/.431 with 7 home runs, 32 RBIs, and only 21 runs scored. Yet, compared to 2003, Soriano's stats are hardly remarkable. Through June 6, 2003, Soriano was hitting .301/.361/.565 with 18 home runs and 42 RBIs while leading off for the Yankees. This year, his worse stats are happening while he hits third for the offensively-powerful Texas Rangers in one of the best hitting parks in the league. But again, Soriano was the guy the Yankees traded for Alex Rodriguez. Since the media has certainly noticed that the Rangers are better without A-Rod, it must be Soriano's doing. Therefore, he gets the votes. While Soriano is probably the AL All Star at second base, I think he's a far cry from the top vote-getter, or best player, in the league this season.

Finally, Johnny Damon in the American League is currently third in the outfield. As Dave recently wrote, most Red Sox fans want Damon off the team. His numbers are incredibly average, and he can't even be lauded for his stole bases as he's only 5 for 9 on the base paths. A more deserving outfielder (Gary Sheffield, Magglio Ordoñez, Carlos Beltran, Hideki Matsui) should earn the All-Star recognition, but because of the attention paid to his hair, Johnny Damon is suddenly an All Star. That's right; Johnny Damon's hair, the Jesus or caveman look, is the reason he's an All Star. Everyone everywhere has associated Damon with Major League Baseball. It may be only in passing, but news sources have loved Damon's hair this year. The casual fan, when voting for their All Stars, will only think about those players the media has reported on this year. This might be, in Damon's case, about their hair or it might be, in Jeter's case, about a slump. But either way, that loose association gets an All Star vote.

Inherently, there is nothing wrong with the All Star vote being a popularity contest. Major League Baseball wants to draw fans to the All Star game telecast. If the people's true choices are represented on the field, then more people will watch. If those 400,000 people who voted for Nomar all tune in to watch their choice play, that's clearly more than the less than 95,000 who may have voted for Carlos Guillen. And more viewers equals more money in the minds of MLB. But the problem arises when the All Star counts. And as we all know and are constantly reminded by the marketing geniuses at MLB, "this year, it counts." If the All Star game counts, and it does now determine home field advantage in the World Series (or whether the Yankees will play three games at home or four), then the voting procedure no longer fits the format.

Since the game counts, the players, coaches, and managers will want to see the best players in the league out on the field. Each team now has added incentive to win the game, and to do so means putting forward the team of the players who have performed the best this year. Yet, the fans want to see their favorites. They want to see the Nomar's and the Derek's. They don't want to see Carlos Guillen. (I mean, really, who is Carlos Guillen anyway? In the mind of an ordinary fan, he's the starting shortstop for a team that lost 119 games last year.) In my view, Major League Baseball has to figure out how to reconcile these two conflicting wishes. MLB cannot put forward the most attractive players based on fan preference while the teams are supposed to be playing for the ever-important home field advantage. Whether it's giving the managers, players, coaches, or even scouts more say in the process, or restructuring fan voting, if Bud Selig is serious about the "this time, it counts" message, it's also time to figure out a way to get the best teams on the field while giving the fans what they want: the celebrity players.

Five Disappointments, Revisited

In one of my last posts, I wrote about my top five disappointments of the 2004 season. My list included Derek Jeter, Jose Contreras, Aubrey Huff, Carlos Delgado, and Albert Pujols. I also asked you the reader to vote on your top disappointment. While I awarded the booby prize to Contreras, the readers thought Derek was more deserving. With a new poll up on the All Star game, here's how the last poll broke down.

Contreras received 7 votes or 13 percent of the total.
Jeter received 29 votes or 55 percent.
Huff received 5 votes or 9 percent.
Delgado received 8 votes or 15 percent.
Pujols received 3 votes or 6 percent.
Other received 1 vote, but I don't know who that was because the person didn't leave a comment.

Anyway, since that post, Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter have both broken out of their slumps. Pujols now leads the majors in home runs and he's hitting .325 while Derek's raised his average nearly 40 points in the last week and a half. On the other hand, Contreras was pulled after 1/3 of an inning last week, so I can't say the same for him. But maybe, just maybe, my post has the same pull of the Sports Illustrated cover. It's a jinx. It's a nice thought at least.

So there's a new poll up. Go vote. I'll let you know about the results soon enough. And I just wanted to say thank you to all of our readers. Sometime this weekend, we reached 10,000 viewers since we started back in January. Hopefully, we'll continue to grow as the season goes on.

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