Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Dave on Friday, July 16, 2004

If an Elite Slugger Makes a Run at the Triple Crown, Does Anybody Notice?

If a tree falls to the ground in an empty forest, does it still make a sound? If a firework explodes overhead but no one's around to watch it, can it still be seen? One would hope, if the perceivers were present, we could sense these things. But, what if Manny Ramirez makes a run at the Triple Crown, does anyone take notice?

The last man to reach the feat was Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. The National League hasn't had a winner since 1937 in Joe Medwick. So, it would stand to reason that anyone who's in the running for one of baseball's holy grails would receive considerable media coverage. How close is Ramirez? Let's take a look at the Batting Average, HR, and RBI leaderboards (as of the all-star break):

1. Ivan Rodriguez    .369
2. Melvin Mora       .347
3. Vladimir Guerrero .345
4. Manny Ramirez     .344 
1. Manny Ramirez      26
2. David Ortiz        23
3. Hank Blalock       23
4. Alex Rodriguez     22
6. Vladimir Guerrero  20 

1. David Ortiz        78
2. Manny Ramirez      77
3. Vladimir Guerrero  77
4. Miguel Tejada      75
5. Hank Blalock       68

Clearly, Manny will have the most difficulty winning the batting title. He trails Ivan Rodriguez by a full 25 points - not chump change in a race that's already more than half over. But this has been an entirely abnormal first half for the Detroit squatter. Take a look at what a normal first half is for Pudge (well, for the last three years, anyways). He has hit 70 points better than most would expect him to. In addition, at the decrepit age of 32, he should be in decline, even by non-catchers' standards. I can't expect Pudge to miraculously hit .370 for this reason. He also has been catching the entire first half. This leads to wear and tear on the body, and generally manifests itself in the worsening of the catcher's offensive performance.
If Manny maintains his current batting average, and Pudge stays healthy, Pudge needs to hit according to this equation: ((Current Avg.)*(Current # of GP) + (Future Avg.)*(Team Games Left)*(% of Games Played Thus Far))/(Eventual Total GP) = .344 = (.369*77 + (Future Avg.)*(77)*(77/85))/(162*(77/85)) ---> Future Avg. = .318.

Soak that in. If Pudge hits LESS than .318 and Manny keeps up his current .344 batting average, Manny overtakes Pudge. Even if Manny hits .335 the rest of the way, Pudge will likely only need to hit .310 or less to allow Manny to overtake him. You know how most people say, "I'm not a betting man..."?, well, I am a betting man and I would definitely bet on Pudge hitting .310 or less in the second half. Whether he injures himself and keeps his lucky first half mostly intact remains to be seen. He can't be injured too much, however. Then Pudge won't qualify for the batting title.

Melvin Mora? He's never been even close to this proficiency at the plate. Manny should overtake him. Manny's main competition in the average department could be Vlad. They're relatively close now, so it wouldn't be difficult to pass Vladdy.

How about HR/RBI? Well, Manny's leading the field by three in HR and finally has protection in the Boston lineup. He should be able to bomb enough to win the HR title - although ARod hit two last night and looks to be hot on Manny's tail. As for RBI - it's no secret the Red Sox have the best lineup in baseball. They were missing two of their marquee hitters (Trot Nixon, Nomar Garciaparra) for the vast majority of the first half and they still managed to score the third-most runs in MLB. Manny, now with the benefit of protection, should see fewer IBB and more RBI opportunities. He's already second, trailing only The Cookie Monster. Guerrero and Ortiz are Manny's main competition, but I would wager that Manny will finish with the most RBI of the individuals. Truthfully, I'd take the field beating Manny, however.

Let's not mince words though. Winning the Triple Crown will be difficult for Manny. Manny must realistically overtake two people in the race for the batting title - one with a substantial lead on him. He must hold onto the HR title with two others having an outside shot at overtaking him (Ortiz and Guerrero) and one with a legitimate shot (ARod). In addition, he needs to win the RBI crown and wrest the top spot from Ortiz. He has many more competitors there and the race is closer. Still, Manny does have a good shot at it, and I wouldn't be surprised if he became the first triple crown winner since Yaz.

A player with a legitimate shot at the Triple Crown should have everyone voting for him for MVP, but Manny's been getting no such hype. Granted, Vlad is having an outstanding season, besting Manny in runs by a significant amount 73 to 55. In the Triple Crown categories they're neck and neck. Here's the kicker, though: Manny leads Vlad by 40 points in OBP (.432 to .392) and by more than 80 points in slugging (an ungodly .673 to .591). What you then get is a 120 point lead in OPS and a 40 point lead in Gross Production Average (.363 to .324). Surely this should merit at least some MVP consideration, right?

Back to the question then: If Manny Ramirez makes a run at the Triple Crown, does anyone take notice?

It seems the answer to the question is, unfortunately, no. It's not for a lack of perceivers, either. There are hundreds of columnists and thousands of members of the media, so it would seem that someone should catch on to Manny's stellar play thus far and potential run at history - but they haven't. Besides the absence of articles written about Manny's hunt for the Triple Crown (due in large part to IRod's fluky average, no doubt), one can look at the dozens of folks weighing in (incorrectly) on the midseason AL MVP.

Taking a look at the Google results, there's not a one that speaks of Manny as the midseason AL MVP. Most favor Guerrero (here, here, and here) due to "carrying the Angels through injuries," even though I'm pretty certain Manny was doing the same. Even the fans prefer Guerrero. Hell, even everyone's favorite Cy Young Fluke, Jack McDowell, prefers Guerrero.

What's even worse? The fact that some folks believe Ivan Rodriguez is the midseason AL MVP. It's not like Manny has a forty point lead on Pudge in GPA too. In fact, he doesn't, he only has a 38 point lead (.363 to .325).
If you want to use the arguments for MVP people normally use you're in trouble. Yes, the Tigers have climbed out of the cellar admirably, but you can thank more than Pudge for that. Carlos Guillen has put together truly a career year and the pitching is vastly improved. Sure, Pudge has done a lot for his team, but for all his heroics, The Tigers are still a fourth place team - not a good thing to put on your MVP resume. In addition, the Tigers have not had any injuries that Pudge has helped them "battle through." The Sox have had injuries and Manny's really taken a machete to them.

If you want to use the arguments you should be using for MVP, Manny wins them all. He has a better VORP (53.7 to 50.4 for Pudge) and has a better GPA. "But Pudge plays catcher!" Well, Manny's RARP (Runs Above Replacement Position) is still better: 47.3 to 42.0, in large part because catchers are so adept with the stick these days. Where did I get all these statistics? From the website that champions sabermetrics and objective thinking - and even they preferred Pudge!

I don't know if Manny's losing a popularity contest, but this is just ridiculous. His production is through the roof and he plays improved defense in left. Is Manny going to win the Triple Crown? Probably not. Is he the AL Midseason MVP? Definitely.

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Posted by Ben K. on Wednesday, July 14, 2004

A Different Midseason Report

Apparently, the 2004 Yankees are the closest to perfection any baseball team has ever achieved.

At least, that's what the New York Daily News Yankee beat Anthony McCarron would lead you to believe. In Tuesday's paper, McCarron was faced the assignment of assessing the Yankees' first half success and failures. Based on what he wrote, he couldn't find any failures. Here's what McCarron had to say about his search:
The assignment went something like this - write a story detailing five things that went right for the Yankees in the first half of the season and five things that went wrong. But with a team that is 55-31 and seven games in front in the AL East, it's tough to pick that many deficiencies.

In fact, we couldn't. The editors even agreed, a rarity in writer-editor relations.
Imagine that. No failures at all. Now, I don't like to insult fellow journalists. It's a tough job trying to get stories and present them fairly and accurately. But McCarron's assessment seems to be a little glorifying of the New York Yankees.

Off the top of my head, I can easily name five faults with the Yankees through the first half of the season. Here they are:

1. Mike Mussina
2. Jose Contreras
3. Kevin Brown
4. Jon Lieber
5. Felix Heredia

Looking back at McCarron's article, it's clear that he focused on some of the same problems that I see with the Yankees. He's critical of the starting pitching and the lack of successful lefties out of the bullpen. He also notes that Jason Giambi was sick and hurt and thus is a problem. Finally, he ends with his fourth complaint: since the Yankees are always coming from behind to win, their starting pitching is giving up too many runs. So that means that starting pitching is problem 1 and 4. Basically, the guy who covers the Yankees everyday all season can only find three faults in this team. Maybe his editors should ask if he's a little too close to the team and a little too close to Yankee cheerleaders John Sterling and Charlie Steiner who he visits every game during the Daily News Bottom of the Fifth.

But I digress. Back to the topic at hand: the pitching problems of the New York Yankees.

On the whole, the four Yankee starters listed above are 29-15, which just goes to show how meaningless the win-loss record statistic truly is. Overall, these four pitchers sport an ERA of 4.93 and a WHIP of 1.38. It's not really necessary to say that these four guys are fooling no one. The Yankees' killer offense seems to be masking a problem, but for the Yanks to succeed in October, Mussina and Brown will have to get their command back. I'm crossing my fingers that El Duque is for real, but we won't know that for a few weeks. So generously, that's four problems right there, according to Mel Stottlemyre and Joe Torre.

Moving onto Felix Heredia, we see the same problem. Opponents are hitting .270 against the lefty specialist and he's 6.18 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP. The Yankees need a lefty out of the pen to get those pesky lefty power hitters out, and for now, Heredia's that guy. Breaking it down, however, Heredia could easily return to form. Left-handers are only hitting .217 against him, and he has pitched better of late. Gabe White, the other lefty option out of the pen, was so bad that the Yanks traded him back to Cincinatti. In effect, the Yankees paid the Reds for White last year and then paid them against this year to take White back. Crazy economics. But anyway, for the first half of the season, Heredia can be considered a problem. However, he should be expected to rebound, and I think he'll be a great contributor down the stretch. Additionally, he could be a nice fantasy pick-up for teams searching for holds under the radar.

Finally, I would like to propose something a little shocking here: Alex Rodriguez has been a problem for the Yankees so far. I'm sure Anthony McCarron wouldn't think to examine Rodriguez under a fine-tooth comb because he is after all A-Rod. But A-Rod's numbers aren't going to blow anyone away. His .270/.361/.510 line is very un-A-Rod. He's slugging a full 100 points lower than the last two years and his OBP is off by about 30 points as well. He's striking out a lot and he's pressing with runners in scoring position. In 83 at bats with runners in scoring position, A-Rod is hitting .217. He has only 35 RBIs in those situations with a .307 OBP and a .446 slugging. Luckily for the Yankees, A-Rod always seems to improve his hitting in the second half, and many analysts still pick him as the candidate to beat for the MVP. But so far, I think A-Rod has been something of an offensive disappointment. Defensively, he'll win a Gold Glove at third, but at bat with runners on base, he is having a very un-A-Rod-like season hitting 100 points lower than he usually does in those situations.

So the Yankees are primed to make yet another run at the title, and seemingly the pieces are in place. The pieces, however, just might need a little adjusting. I'm sure these adjustments will come. On the other hand, the media covering the Yankees should not toe the party line. If there are flaws, do some research and bring them out. Often times, these flaws come in the least expected, and most interesting, places.

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Posted by Dave on Monday, July 12, 2004

The Real All-Star Snubs

For a game that's an "exhibition," we sure make a big deal out of the All-Star game. The meticulous method for voting players in highlights the All-Star Game's complexity. At the start, baseball fans across the country, and even out of the country, give votes to the players they want to see as All-Stars. In theory, these players should be the best at their respective positions, but it doesn't usually work out like that. That's where the manager and players come in. The players, managers, and coaches vote for eight pitchers (5 starters, 3 relievers) to compose the majority of the rotation. After that, the All-Star manager (the defending pennant-winner's manager from the previous season) makes a few final selections (4 pitchers and 3 position players). Finally, the fans vote again for the last All-Star. Oh, and for the players to be All-Stars, they must receive a plurality of approval in the Senate and a 2/3 majority in the House. Just kidding. To be sure, the process is certainly not cut-and-dry.

Nor should it be. The media duplicitously will hound players and managers about who got snubbed while simultaneously saying the game is merely an exhibition. It can't be both ways, and it's clear that the game has taken on greater importance. More often than not, players will receive bonuses for making the All-Star team. These are not some minor judgements that Torre or McKeon are making, in some cases it could cost a player $100,000 to be omitted from the squad. Of greater importance to baseball, however, is the fact that the All-Star game's victor does win something besides an "exhibition." It wins home-field advantage in the World Series for its league.

While that may not mean much to Jack McKeon, whose Marlins are struggling this season, it means a great deal to Joe Torre. His Yankees are likely on their way to another Series, especially if they reel in the Big Unit, Randy Johnson. It's not as if home-field advantage is some phantom media creation either, just go here or here to find some solid proof that the home-field advantage does indeed exist.

Given that each league really has something tangible to play for - that is, home-field advantage in the World Series - it should be understood that each manager will do everything in his power to win. So what if everyone doesn't get the opportunity to play? So what if the best players aren't necessarily on the team? As Fox has made abundantly clear to us, "this time it counts," just like the last one did. Each team needs to play to win - it's no longer an exhibition and a game for feces and giggles (that's just odd to read).

So who are the real All-Star snubs? The dominant middle relievers and closers that are absent from the Midsummer Classic.

Under the assumption that each team is playing to win - which it should be doing - which gauntlet of pitchers would you rather face:

Staff A:
Mark Mulder (for 2, I think he deserves the starting spot), Javier Vazquez, C.C. Sabathia, Joe Nathan, Tom Gordon, Francisco Rodriguez, Francisco Cordero, and Mariano Rivera.


Staff B:
Mark Mulder (for 2, again), Joe Nathan, Eddie Guardado, Gordon, K-Rod, Keith Foulke, Cordero, and Rivera?

Who would you rather face? Talk about a choice-less decision. Clearly, however, you'd rather face Staff A. Any team's chances for scoring improve for the two innings with Vazquez and Sabathia on the mound (as opposed to Guardado and Foulke in those innings). How many runs are saved by using Staff B as opposed to Staff A? Let's do a quick and dirty weighted average of the ERAs. Each pitcher's first-half ERA will be worth 1/9 of the team's ERA, except for Mulder who's worth 2/9:

Staff A: 2.29
Staff B: 1.93

The numbers do not lie. While I agree with the consensus that starters are almost always more valuable than relievers, it is not the case in the All-Star Game where each team is playing to win one and only one game. If Torre took and played purely relief pitchers when he could, he would save more than a quarter of a run. One quarter of a run is not negligible and it would go a long way in securing home-field advantage.

Unfortunately, Torre's not quite as unconventional as I am. Recently, he took Ted Lilly, Tom Gordon, Estaban Loaiza, and Joe Nathan to fill out the remainder of his spots. Loaiza and Lilly?! Lord, Lilly's not even as good as his teammate Roy Halladay, and Loaiza boasts a 4.77 ERA heading into the break - not exactly an All-Star caliber ERA. Neither will likely be utilized during the game. With those other two choices, Torre could have taken Foulke and Guardado, but he sacrificed the tandem of closers.

More relievers would be better (Torre could take on BJ Ryan and Juan Rincon as Lefty One Out Guys (using them in that fashion is just laughable, I may add)), but the current rules only allow a maximum of seven relievers. For Torre, at least, taking the maximum number of relievers would be the optimal strategy to use in composing his All-Star team. Any fewer than the seven relievers is willfully permitting more runs to be scored. This amounts to a decreased probability of home-field advantage in the World Series and subsequently to a decreased probability of a hoisting this thing. I would hope that Torre would not willfully lessen the Yankees' chance at a Series victory, but it appears he's done just that in filling out the remainder of his roster.

McKeon's not immune either. He passed over Guillermo Mota, Brad Lidge, and John Smoltz in favor of Sheets, Pavano, and Livan Hernandez. He could have saved some runs as well, but he has much less personal interest in the outcome of the game since the Marlins will have difficulty making the playoffs - let alone competing for the World Series. In addition, the starters in the National League are nearly as good as the relievers (at least in terms of ERA), so the foregone relief doesn't dampen the NL's chances as significantly.

So, next time you hear someone bemoaning the absences of J.D. Drew, Frank Thomas, Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, or Lew Ford, realize who the real All-Star snubs are - the players who could actually have had a profound impact on the outcome of the game - the dominant middle relievers and closers omitted by each league's manager: Eddie Guardado, Keith Foulke, BJ Ryan, Juan Rincon, Guillermo Mota, Brad Lidge, and John Smoltz.

Notes: It seems the majority of America disagrees with me on this front. When SportsNation did a poll about who the least-deserving AL All-Star was, 53% felt Tom Gordon took the cake. Though the information on the table is presented in a biased manner (they merely report that Gordon is 2-3 with two saves - they fail to report the 1.78 ERA or the 22 holds he has), it gives at least some insight into what most Americans think regarding the issue. It should also be noted that in the same poll, only 10% felt Guardado was the most glaring AL omission while only 7.4% felt Keith Foulke was the player most missed. Compare that with 30.5% percent from Paul Konerko and its clear that the fans didn't want to see anymore relievers in the All-Star game. In fact, if you think Gordon was voted on fairly, they wanted to see fewer relievers. I guess everyone doesn't have a shot at appearing in the World Series...

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Posted by Ben K. on Monday, July 12, 2004

A Return to the Blogging World


I don't know if anyone's still out there, but I'm sure some of the RSS feeds that Talking Baseball is on will pick up a new post. I believe that we're partially about to return to writing. Or at least, I am about to return to writing. I can't speak for anyone else.

What inspired this return after weeks of silence, you might ask. Well, over the weekend, I finally read Michael Lewis' Moneyball. And I was blown away by it. So this week, I personally am going to tackle issues surrounding the book. I have my thoughts on how Billy Beane, Paul DePodesta, Voros McCracken, Bill James, and everyone related to this new school of baseball though that is, in Lewis' words, outside the Club.

Since we've hit the midpoint of the baseball season, sort of, and the All Star break gives us a few days' rest from having to be glued to the TV as our favorite teams play, I'll be posting. So check back soon, and sorry for keeping you all in the dark for so long.

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