NL Central

Note: a “straight run
differential projection” is based on a team’s actual runs scored and runs
allowed.  A “component runs projected” is based on
basic runs created and component ERA
without the adjustment to make it an ERA figure (i.e. IP and the multiplication
by 9 not included).  I then applied the
Pythagorean Formula with an exponent of 1.83.


The NL
Central is currently a two-team race, with the Cardinals and the Reds
positioning themselves for their July sprint through the top of the NL
East.  The other four teams in the
division are, shall we say, flawed, though not all equally so.  Some, in fact, only resemble Major League
material.

 

ASTROS

26-45,
.366 win%, 5
th place, 13.5 GB, 14.5 GB Wild Card.  3.34 runs per game (15th in NL),
5.07 runs allowed per game (13
th in NL).  Straight run differential projection 55 wins
and a .339 win %; component run projection of 51 wins and a .315 win %.

Over the
past two weeks the Astros are 4-9, having played the Rockies, from whom they
took three straight, the Yankees, who swept three straight from Houston, the
Royals, who took two of three from the Astros, the Rangers, who swept the
three-game series, and the Giants, to whom they have lost the first game of
their three-game series.  Over those
games, the Astros have scored 48 runs (3.69 per game) while allowing 75 (5.77
runs per game).  While the scoring is up
by 0.35 runs per game over that stretch, their runs allowed are also up, by
twice that amount, 0.70 runs allowed per game. 
They have won exactly as many games over those 13 as could be expected
given that run differential.

To
finish the month of June, Houston will play two more home games against the
pitching-rich San Francisco Giants before they visit Arlington to tangle with
the red-hot Rangers, and they will then go north to Milwaukee to play the
Brewers (AKA Tons of Runs, but see below for more on that).

Speaking
of the Rangers, club president Nolan Ryan has confirmed that
Texas
is interested in Roy Oswalt
.  Given
that the
Texas
farm system is loaded
with prospects, this could be one stepping stone
along the rebuilding path for the Astros. 

In promoting
catcher Jason Castro, the club’s top 2008 draft pick,
have the Astros
shown they are building for the future
?

Finally,
the
Astros,
as a team, have a negative value

in terms of
Wins Above Replacement.  They will not be lonely for long, though:
either they will climb their way out of the negative zone, or the Pirates will
join them soon.

 

BREWERS

30-40,
.429 win%, 4
th place, 9.0 GB, 10.0 GB Wild Card.  4.87 runs per game (2nd in NL),
5.37 runs allowed per game (14
th in NL).  Straight run differential projection 72 wins
and .444 win %; component run projection 71 wins and .435 win %.

The Brewers,
AKA Tons of Runs, play high scoring games. 
The run scoring environment in 2010 is 4.47 runs per game per team, or 8.94
runs per game, total.  The Brewers, based
on their runs scored and allowed numbers, play games where 10.24 total runs per
game are scored, about 14.5% higher than the league average.  The Brew Crew scores lots of runs, and they
allow lots of runs in a variety of ways, combining substandard pitching with
substandard fielding, which amounts to very substandard run prevention.  On the other hand, they can really hit the heck
out of the ball: they are 2
nd in the National League in scoring,
slugging percentage, and OPS, and they are third in the National League in
on-base percentage.  The problem, of
course, is that the Brewers allow more runs then they score, which is kind of
like the debt spiral of owning more per month than one earns: it’s not really
going to get you anywhere good. 
Fortunately, the Brewers have a shot at the “first division” (top half)
of the Central Divisions since the Cubs may swoon at any moment, and the Astros
and Pirates aren’t really in much of a position to make a run past the Brew
Crew in 2010.

Now, the
past two weeks have been interesting. 
Despite the huge runs allowed numbers we just discussed, the Brewers
have improved that part of their game of late. 
They have played the Cubs, Rangers, Angels, and Rockies.  Milwaukee is 7-6 over those games, and they
have scored 63 runs (4.85 per game) and allowed just 52 (4.00 per game), which
is a
marked improvement compared to the data from the season as a
whole.  It almost makes me feel bad about
the previous paragraph, and I am at a complete loss to explain what is going
on.  Could it be small sample size?  Is their bullpen better?  Has their fielding improved? 

In order
to sort things out, I took a look at some statistics.  The Brewers have shown marginal improvement
in their Defensive Efficiency Ratio, though it just may be that the Dodgers
have had a tremendous falloff, for Milwaukee is no longer the worst team in the
Majors.  At one point this season, their
DER was .014 lower than any other team in the Majors, a degree of difference
larger than the differential between any two other consecutively ranked teams.  As it stands, their DER is the second worst
in the Majors, but they are “only” .020 worse than the Major League
average.  However, this doesn’t really
provide us with evidence that their fielding is all that much better, or, at
least, that their fielding has improved enough to account for their much lower
runs allowed figures in the last two weeks. 
It is more likely that their pitching isn’t as awful as it was earlier
this season. Their xFIP (their expected Fielding Independent Pitching
statistics) no longer sits in the bottom three in the Major Leagues, instead
sitting at a somewhat more respectable–but still bad–24
th in the
baseball, and their ERA is also declining. 
Though the Brewers’ pitching staff still allows the highest rate of line
drives in baseball, their home runs allowed to flyball rate is declining and is
actually lower than that of the Phillies, Yankees, and A’s.  Together with the fact that he Brewers are no
longer dead last in groundball to flyball ratio, we can infer that they are
allowing fewer home runs per batter than they were earlier this season.  And while it’s not a huge change, and while we’re
only talking about a two-week blip, and while they probably won’t compete for a
playoff spot, this is still something for Brewers fans to smile about,
privately.  Of course, the Brew Crew
did
just take game one of their series with the Twins
, so I guess the smiling
can be public.

The Brewers
finish June by playing two more games against the Twins before welcoming the
Mariners and Astros to Milwaukee.  To
First Pitch Strike, this looks like the Brew Crew’s chance to move back towards
the .500 mark.

Jack
Moore
wonders
what the Brewers should do
, concluding the Fielder and Hart are potential
trade-bait for better pitching.  As he
doesn’t analyze what could replace either of those two pretty good bats, I
wonder whether it just amounts to shifting the runs scored and runs allowed
numbers slightly downwards.  They Brewers
would need to get a proven stud back for either Fielder or Hart to make the
deal worth it, especially for Fielder. 
An analysis of the
organization’s own
potential pitching help
shows that while there’s some potential down in the
minors, it’s also wildly uncertain about how much help it will really be. 

 

CARDINALS

39-31,
.557 win%, 1
st place, 0 GB. 
4.50 runs per game (10
th in NL), 3.63 runs allowed per game
(3
rd in NL).  Straight run
differential projection for 94 wins and a .580 win%; component run projection
for 91 wins and a .563 winning percentage. 

Whereas
the Brewers play games where 14.5% more runs are scored than league average,
the Cardinals play games where 9.1% fewer runs than league average are scored.  Their scoring is right around the Major
League average, but their runs allowed per game is much lower. 

Over the
past two weeks, the Cardinals have played the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Mariners,
A’s, and they have opened up a series in Toronto with a win over the Blue
Jays.  Over that stretch of games, the
Cardinals are 6-6, and they have scored 50 runs (4.17 per game) while allowing
42 runs (3.50) per game.  They have been
just a little unlucky over this stretch, since their run differential implies
they should have won seven games rather than six.  The Cardinals are probably better than they
have been playing, though their offense isn’t scintillating. 

To
finish the month, the Cardinals will complete their series in Toronto before
travelling to Kansas City and then returning home to play Arizona. 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Berni Miklasz
points out that
the
other teams in the NL Central are the Cardinals’ best friends
since,
despite the recent mediocre stretch of play by the Redbirds, no other team has
stepped forward to seize the opportunity. 
(In some ways, the Cardinals should send the Mariners a nice thank you
card, since they swept the Reds over the past weekend to keep St. Louis firmly
in first.)  The larger point of Miklasz’s
column is that the Cardinals have been pressing a little, which tells me that
they themselves think they should be doing better than they have been and aren’t
satisfied with simply leading the division, particularly by only a slim margin. 

Despite
hitting a bit of the doldrums, the Cardinals have to remain the favorite in the
division, with perhaps the best balance between run scoring and run prevention
of any of the Central’s teams. 

It is amusing to visit the Post-Dispatch website and see that there’s
a “
What’s
Wrong with Albert?
” thread in the fan forums.  The only thing wrong with Albert is that he’s
human and not divine and thus not perfect.

 

CUBS

31-39,
.443 winning percentage, 3
rd place, 8.0 GB, 9.0 GB wild card.  4.20 runs per game (12th in NL),
4.44 runs allowed per game (9
th in NL).  Straight run differential projection for 75
wins and a .461 win%; component run projection for 78 wins and a .481 winning
percentage.

Over the
past two weeks the Cubs have played the Brewers, White Sox, A’s, Angels, and
they opened a series in Seattle last night;
the
Mariners shut the Cubbies out
.  The
Cubs hold a 5-8 record in games over the past fourteen days; they have scored
54 runs (4.15 per game), and they have allowed 59 runs (4.54 per game).  Chicago has been somewhat unlucky, as that
run differential implies they should have won 6 of their 13 games.  This stretch of games surely can’t have been
all that encouraging to Cubs fans other than Ted Lilly’s near-no-hitter against
the White Sox. 

The Cubs
just have displayed no consistency in any part of the game, not in the lineup,
not in the rotation, and certainly not in the bullpen.  They are a very average team in the
field.  They can’t pitch like the
Cardinals, and probably not even like the Reds, who can throw Johnny Cueto,
Mike Leake, and Bronson Arroyo at an opponent on successive days.  And Chicago can’t consistently hit on par
with the Brewers or the Reds.  All of
this adds up to the conclusion that they will not challenge for the Central
division title.

Over the
rest of June, the Cubs will finish two more games with the Mariners before
returning to Chicago to visit the White Sox in the Cell, and then to host the
Pirates in the friendly confines.  They
need to play well over this stretch to avoid falling into the Central’s “second
division” for the Brewers have a chance to pass them, and given the Brewers’
inability to prevent runs that would prove embarrassing for the Cubs,
particularly given the payroll differential between these two clubs.

Chicago
sportswriters are tiring of this particular Cubs team, noting that
things
are tough
, more importantly, that the
Cubs just aren’t good
, and, finally–and this is music to my ears–the Chicago’s
baseball teams have
shaky
management at the top

In
truth, I have to agree that the Cubs are a poorly run organization, for I fathom
how the Cubs aren’t always a good team: they occupy a
big and major market, they have a solid fan base, and these facts
mean that their revenue stream is assured and large; and this leads to the
conclusion that their not being perennially good is a function of bad
management and, what is worse, indifference at the top, deficiencies keeping Chicago’s
National League team from being the powerhouse they should be. 

 

PIRATES

25-45,
.357 winning percentage, 6
th place, 14 GB, 15 GB Wild Card.  3.30 runs per game (16th in the
NL), 5.50 runs allowed per game (15
th in the NL).  Straight run differential projection for 51
wins with a .314 winning percentage; component run projection for 53 wins and a
.328 winning percentage.

And now
we’ve reached a truly sad, sad case.

Here’s a nostalgia-laden story of lost youth to provide some background on what I will write about this team:  I grew up in Bradenton, Florida, the Spring
Training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. 
On Little League opening day, Chuck Tanner, Joel Skinner, Birll Virdon,
Bill Madlock, Tim Foli, Omar Moreno, Bill Robinson, and Kent Tekulve came to
the ceremonies, talked to us, threw our first pitches, did all kinds of awesome
stuff for us.  They did this the two
years I played Little League, and when I moved on to Senior League, I got to play
at Pirate City, the Pirates’ Spring Training Facility, as well as in McKechnie
Field, the ancient but charming ballpark where the Pirates play their home
games in the spring.  As a result, I grew
up a Pirates fan. 

And thus
what is happening in Pittsburgh is painful.  Oh, I deluded myself at the start of Spring, I
thought the organization was moving in the right direction, and maybe they are,
and 2010 is what we have to endure before seeing something good emerge from GM
Neil Huntington’s machinations.  And then
again…wow does 2010 hurt to endure.  This
season, which follows seventeen straight losing seasons, appears like it could
be world historically awful.  The only
reason it isn’t being widely discussed in such terms is the open wound that is
the Orioles.  But they play in a tough,
tough division, while the Pirates play in…the NL Central.  The Pirates are currently at or just barely
above the bottom of the National League in both run scoring and run prevention.  They are, in fact,
allowing more than two runs per game than they are scoring.  How is that even possible?  I mean, they are going to surrender 330 or so
more runs than they score at this pace. 

That’s
why after 13 years of living in Minnesota and watching the Pirates, uh, “struggle”
I have transferred quite a bit of my loyalty to the Twins: they are a smaller
market, too, but they at least decided to be competitive.  (I feel a little guilty from time to time, as
though I’ve been cheating on my first love with a hotter, younger
mistress.  But then again, I don’t think
anyone would dispute the fact that my first love…has really let herself go.  I don’t think she’s even brushed her teeth
since Sid Bream slid home safely in ’92, to tell the truth.)

Over the
past two weeks…’zounds, but it’s just been terrible.  *Sigh* 
Over the past two weeks, teams playing the Pirates have been engaging in
a form of necrophilia scrimmages against the weaker competition of, say,
a
community college Double-A level. 
The Nationals, Tigers, White Sox, and Rangers have picked up 11 wins
against the Pirates.  Since the beginning
of June, the Pirates are 4-14, with a 12-game losing streak, and in the past
two weeks the Pirates have gone 2-11, scoring 44 runs (3.38 per game) and
allowing 65 (5.00 per game).  That run
differential is terrible, but both the runs scored per game and runs allowed
per game are better than their averages for the season as a whole.  The runs allowed figure is 9%
better than their season average, a full
half a run better, and they still managed to drop 11 of 13 games.  While they’ve been unlucky–their run
differential implies they’d win 4 rather than 2 of the last 13–at this point we’re
just quibbling about details.  Since
their run differential in the past two weeks implies a .329 winning percentage,
and since such a winning percentage would imply a 53 win season, what we’re
quibbling about is almost as meaningless as arguing whether the hole in the
hull of the
Titanic was twenty or
thirty feet below the waterline.  The Pirates
appear headed to the sub-cellar–to seventh place in a six-team division–and why
the Pirates trail the Astros despite Houston having a negative team WAR.  I’m beginning to think that Major League
Baseball should just give PNC Park and the Pirate organization to the Rays’
ownership and management group just to see what would happen if the Rays had a
nice park to play in and the Pirates had competent management.

To
finish a laughably awful June, Pittsburgh will finish their series with the
red-hot Texas Rangers before traveling to Oakland and then to Wrigley Field in
Chicago.  I have no confidence that any
part of this road trip will see the Pirates showing signs of life or even that
they can imitate a baseball-like substance.

With
nothing left to lose, the Pirates have
called
up their third base prospect, Pedro Alvarez
.  In turn, Aki
Iwamura was designated for assignment

You’d have to figure that manager John Russell would be
in
a lot of trouble
, but in a move that can only be described as “providing a
perverse incentive” the Pirates
extended
the contracts
of both John Russell and general manager Neil Huntington.  The Pittsburgh media doesn’t maintain the
neutrality of the national media in assessing these moves,
calling out the “endemic
blundering” of the Pirates’ organization
, and with Pittsburgh sports
columnist Bob Smizik calling the Russell, Huntington, and the ownership “
the
worst management team in baseball
.” 
And Gene Collier argues that
the Rangers’ success
indicts the Pirates
.  Ouch.

 

REDS

39-33,
.542, 2
nd place, 1.0 GB, 2.0 GB Wild Card.  4.82 runs per game (3rd in NL),
4.61 runs allowed per game (11
th in NL).  Straight run differential projection 86 wins
and a .530 win%; component run projection for 84 wins and a .518 win%.

The Reds’
flirtation with first place continued as recently as last Thursday, but then
they ran into the Mariners, who swept the Reds behind the strong pitching of
Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, and Ryan Rowland-Smith, who allowed the Reds only
one run in the series.  Of course, the
Reds have moved south to Oakland, have taken the first two games of their
series with the A’s and are threatening to take out their brooms, leading game
three 2-0.

Over the
past two weeks, the Reds have played the Giants, Royals, Dodgers, Mariner, and
A’s.  They are 6-8 over that stretch, and
they have scored 52 runs (3.71 per game) while allowing 61 (4.36 per game),
meaning that their offense has let them down of late, for while their run
prevention has improved almost half a run per game, they still lost more games
than they won.

To
finish the month, the Reds will return to Cincinnati to host the Indians and
then the Phillies. July will bring lots of matchups with NL East teams; in
fact, both the Reds and Cardinals take on the NL East through the month of July
once interleague play mercifully ends. 
Those matchups will do a lot to sort out the leadership of both
divisions. 

While
Francisco Cordero has looked shaky of late–for example in
Monday night’s game
against the A’s, and June 6
th against the
Nationals
, and…that’s enough for now–Arthur Rhodes has been a tower of
power for the Reds’ bullpen, again like fine wine and
sporting
a 29 inning scoreless streak
; Rhodes’s game log is here

The top
of the Reds’ rotation can be good, what with Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo, and Johnny
Cueto, they could be getting deeper, to, as
Edison
Volquez is looking sharp in his rehab
work and is on his way back to
Cincinnati.

 

NL East

Note: a “straight
run differential projection” is based on a team’s actual runs scored and
runs allowed.  A “component runs projected” is based on
basic runs created and component ERA without the adjustment to make it an ERA figure (i.e. IP and
the multiplication by 9 not included).  I then applied the
Pythagorean
Formula
with an exponent of
1.83.

As recently as ten days ago, all five teams in this division
were within six games of the lead.  Oh, what an interesting difference a
week can make in the post-Memorial day environment.  With summer now upon
us three teams have winning records and are within 5.5 games of the top, while
a fourth team clings to playoff contention and the fifth is regressing to its
mean, with hopes and dreams for next season dancing in its (collective) head.

 

BRAVES

42-28, .600 winning percentage, 0 GB, 4.91 runs/game (1st in
NL), 3.96 runs allowed per game (6th in NL); straight run differential
projection of 97 wins and a .599 winning percentage; component run projection
of 90 wins and a .554 winning percentage.

Over the past fortnight, the Braves have played the
Diamondbacks, the Twins, the Rays and the Royals.  Atlanta is 9-4 over
these games, winners of five straight, including 2 of 3 from the Twins and the
Rays, and a clean sweep of three games from the Royals.  Over these last
thirteen games, the Braves have scored 67 runs (5.15 per game) while allowing
54 (4.15 per game).  They’ve allowed a few more than they have been giving
up on average, but they continue their league-leading offensive ways.  And
while the D-Back and the Royals aren’t exactly top-flight competition, the
Twins and the Rays are, and the Braves took four of six games from
those two teams.  Bobby Cox’s team is no fluke and figures to be in the
hunt the whole way down the road.

Looking ahead the Braves visit the White Sox starting tonight before returning
home to face the Tigers and Nationals as they end the month of June.  

Calcaterra refutes the “grit” notion, arguing that the Braves’ success stems from
skill rather than an immeasurable intangible.

A possible distraction for this ballclub has been the Chipper
Jones’ saga: will he or won’t he retire.  Chipper himself has played coy, refusing to give a definitive answer.
 The funny part has been that he’s been hitting close to .500 since all the speculation started.

While the Braves’ outfield could use some help, their pitching is likely to improve.  

ATL--Eric Hinske.jpgAn unheralded free agent signee, Eric Hinke is hot at the right time in the right place.

 

MARLINS

33-36, .478 winning percentage, 8.5 GB, 5 GB Wild Card.
 4.70 runs/game (4th in NL), 4.36 runs allowed per game (8th in NL).
 Straight run differential projection of 83 wins and a .510 winning
percentage.  Component run projection for 79 wins and a .490 winning
percentage.

Over the past two weeks, the Marlins have visited the Phillies,
the Rays, and the Rangers, and they have hosted the Rays.  They were 5-5
over that stretch, and while they were swept by the Rangers, Florida did take
four of six games from the Rays in their two weekend series.  The Yankees
thus own the Marlins some thanks or something,  Over their past ten games,
the Marlins have scored 63 runs while allowing 55 (no per game figures for ten
games, just move the decimal point).  Scoring has thus been up in their
games, as they are scoring and allowing more runs per game over the stretch in
question.  

As play progressed, the Marlins visit Baltimore before returning
home to end June, playing the Padres and the Met in two tough series.

Defensive lapses have proved costly to
Florida of late.

Is Ricky Nolasco the new Carl Pavano (in a that’s not
a compliment kind of way)?

While rookie OF Mike Stanton has hit his first MLB home run in “grand
fashion”, he is still making the adjustment to the Show and
striking out a whole, whole lot (44% of his plate
appearances).  As expected, Cameron Maybin has been shipped back to AAA to make
room for Stanton on the Major League roster.

A couple more promotions and demotions have occurred as the
Marlins try to work past their bullpen blahs and improve what has been a weak link outside of Leo
Nunez. 

FLA--Josh Johnson.jpgWhile Ubaldo Jiminez and Roy Halladay have generated a lot of
justifiable hoopla, Josh Johnson’s awesomeness has been kind of lost in the
shuffle.  J. J., who faced Halladay the night Roy threw his perfect game
in Florida and picked up a tough luck loss in a game in which he allowed only
one unearned run, has been masterful this season.  He
outpitched Halladay twelve days after the perfect game completely shutting the
Phillies down over eight innings.  Johnson’s game log is impressive, with a bunch more
performances that include two or fewer runs allowed over seven or more innings.
 Johnson is sporting a career-high K rate, a career-low walk rater, which
of course translates into a career-best K/BB ratio; along with that he has a
career-best HR/9 rate, a career-low batting average against, a career-low BABIP
against, a career-high strand rate, and while his groundball-to-flyball rate is
slightly down, his home run to flyball rate is also at a career low.  All
this career-best stuff leads to two conclusions: (1) he’s having a career
season and has pretty much a dominant starting pitcher; and (2) he probably
won’t sustain his current level of statistical dominance, but,
then again, he doesn’t need to do so to remain one of the three best starting
pitchers in the National League, and even if his numbers slide some he’ll still
be
 among the best starting pitchers in baseball.

 

METS

30-30, .565 winning percentage, 2.5 GB, 0 GB wild card.
 4.51 runs per game (9th in NL), 3.91 runs allowed per game (5th in NL).
 Straight run differential projection at 91 wins and a .565 winning
percentage; component run projection for 79 wins and a .490 winning percentage.

Note the wild disparity between the straight run differential
projection and the component run projection.  I checked the data three
times and it’s all correct and the spreadsheet is calculating things the right
way.  The Mets are one of the following: (a) really lucky, (b) really
efficient, or (c) some combination of lucky and efficient.  Their actual
run differential is 311 runs scored and 270 runs allowed, but their component
run differential–what we’d expect them to have scored and allowed–is 300 runs
scored versus 346 runs allowed.  So, where my projection is really screwing
up and misreading reality is on the runs allowed question.  It’s been
pretty accurate with other teams, so I’m wondering if someone else who runs
projections and calculates run projections is getting the same strange reading
of the Mets.  I suppose I should be happy for the guys in Queens, but I’m
more concerned that the Mets are wrecking my statistical model.
 (Actually, it’s probably that I’m running a less-that-optimal runs
allowed projection, which is referred to in the “introduction” to
this post.)

Over the past two weeks, the Mets have played the Padres, the Orioles,
the Indians, and the Yankees.  They beat the crap out of who they should
have beaten and dropped two of three to the Yankees in the Bronx.  The
finished the stretch of games 9-3, having scored 57 runs (4.75 per game) and
having allowed 34 (2.83 per game)  That the Padres and Orioles aren’t
exactly offensive powerhouses, the Yankees are, so the Mets have
pitched and fielded pretty darn well over this stretch, and they have been hot
since the beginning of the month, with a 13-4 record in June.  They are
playing a lot better than I thought they would this season, for I had them
pegged as the Cubs of the East, and they are doing this despite three potential
points of weakness: (1) Jason Bay’s underperformance; (2) Jeff
Francouer’s near-total lack of production; and (3) Johan Satnana’s declining velocity.

NYM--Johan Santan 0620.jpg  

The main problem I have with the Mets outperforming expectations
is that it virtually guarantees that GM Omar Minaya will continue to hold his
position and that the Mets’ front office will remain shielded from the
intensive scrutiny that they should be receiving for their previous follies.
 Oh, who am I kidding?  Not living in New York, I am not exposed to
the constant scrutiny the Mets receive, so I’m not aware of it.  But I do
wish to encourage the New York sports media to go nuts figuring out how the Mets’
front office has managed to disappoint repeatedly in the last few years.

Speaking of the Mets’ GM, Mets players want him to go get them an ace, so
maybe the players realize that the team’s actual runs allowed are out of line
with what should be going on.  And maybe they, too, realize the
implications of Santana’s declining velocity.

 

NATIONALS

32-39, 10.5 GB, 8 GB Wild Card.  4.15 runs/game (12th in
NL), 4.66 runs allowed per game (12th in NL).  Straight run differential
projection for 73 wins and a .449 winning percentage.  Component run
projection for 71 wins and a .440 winning percentage.

Over the past two weeks the Nationals have been fading
fast
 have played the Pirates, Indians, Tigers, White Sox, and Royalls,
and they are 5-8 in their games during that stretch, including a sweep of
PIttsburgh, dropping two of three in Cleveland, and being swept by both the
 Tigers and the White Sox.  In those 13 games, the Nationals have
scored 44 runs (3.38 per game) while allowing 60 (4.62 per game), a showing of
offensive ineptitude.  Explaining why they’ve lost more than they’ve won
seems a waste of time since allowing 1.24 more runs per game than you’re
scoring is a one-way ticket to the cellar.

In better news, the Royals seem just the sort of tonic the
Nationals are in need of and they are in Washington for two more games.
 The Nationals beat Kansas City behind some strong pitching on
Monday night.

To finish June the Nationals will finish the KC series before
traveling to Baltimore–another tonic–and Atlanta–not so much on the tonic
end of things.

Obligatory Stephen Strasburg link dump to follow.

Are strikeouts a bad thing for Stephen
Strasburg?  Thomas Boswell wants to minimize the stress on SS’s arm and so
would like to see fewer deep counts, fewer pitches, and more weak tappers.
 He’s got a point, sort of.

It turns out that hitters aren’t alone in being overwhelmed by
Strasburg’s stuff: he’s too much for the umpires to handle as well.

Murray Chass has questions
regarding Strasburg’s innings pitched
.  Rob Neyer provides answers.

In other Nationals’ pitching news, John Lannan was sent down to
Double-A, which leads to some questions, but a glance at his peripherals provides some
answers, with Josh Alper of Fanhouse hitting the nail
squarely on the head: 

For his career, he’s struck out just 4.3 batters per nine innings
and walked 3.5, a ratio that makes it very difficult to sustain success over a
long period of time. His groundball rate has dropped since 2008, a further sign
of trouble for a pitcher who simply can’t miss bats often enough.

 

PHILLIES

35-32, .522 winning percentage, 5.5 GB, 3.5 GB Wild Card.
 4.60 runs per game (7th in NL) and 4.28 runs allowed per game (7th in
NL).  Straight Run Differential Projection for 86 wins with a .528 winning
percentage.  Component run projection for 82 wins and a .508 wining
percentage.

Over the last fortnight, the Phillies are 5-7 in their games
versus the Padres, the Marlins, the Red Sox, the Yankees and the Twins.
 That is good competition but it seems as though the Phillies are waiting
for their Godot or their Mojo or something.  In taking two
of three from the Yankees in the Bronx, there were thoughts that the series could turn their season around, but they promptly
returned home and dropped two of three to the Twins.  While lots of teams
have dropped two of three to the Twins, the problem for the Phillies was that
they dropped a game on Saturday in which they led 8-3 at one point, meaning
they had to really subtract some serious Win Probability to
lose that game, and then they lost behind Roy Halladay who was seemingly
outpitched by Carl Pavano (?!) on Sunday afternoon.

Over their past twelve games, the Phillies have scored 56 runs
(4.57 per game) while allowing 72 runs (6.00 per game).  Despite the fact
that two of their losses included back-to-back thumpings by the Red Sox, the
Phillies’ run prevention efforts have been subpar and are a significant
contributor to their recent slide in the standings.  While their offensive
woes have received more attention–and justly so, since their offense has been
highly touted–their inability to compensate for their muffled bats with
tighter defense and better pitching, particularly from the bullpen, has been a
real and perhaps growing problem.

The Phillies finish June by visiting Cleveland, then returning
to Philadelphia to “visit” the Blue Jays before traveling to
Cincinnati.  

Despite their recent struggles, everyone around
Philadelphia insists things are still cool.

The Phillies’ mojo–or at least their shortstop Jimmy Rollins–is due back today.

 

 


AL West

Note: a “straight
run differential projection” is based on a team’s actual runs scored and
runs allowed.  A “component runs projected” is based on
basic runs created and component ERA without the adjustment to make it an ERA figure (i.e. IP and
the multiplication by 9 not included).  I then applied the
Pythagorean
Formula
with an exponent of
1.83.


Well, well, the AL West, a division full of teams with flaws.  Only one team in this division is above average at both scoring and preventing runs, and that team plays in a climate that has historically caused their pitching to melt down in the summer heat.  The rest of the teams allow more runs than they score, which is obvious cause to doubt their prospects.  


ANGELS

jered weaver.jpg

39-33, .542 winning percentage, 3.5 GB, 4.5 GB Wild Card.  4.74 runs per game (6th in AL), 4.88 runs allowed per game (11th in AL), straight run differential projection 83 wins and .511 winning percentage; component run projection 79 wins and a .488 winning percentage (an 13 games behind first place…ouch!)

Over the past two weeks the Angels have faced the A’s, Dodgers, Brewers, and Cubs, and they have made the most of their competition, with an 8-5 record over that time.  But their bogus run differential condition persists: they have scored 61 runs (4.69 per game) over that  period, but they’ve allowed 65 runs (5.00 per game).  This is the oddness of this year’s Angels ballclub: they are six games over .500 despite giving up more runs than they have scored, and they are out-performing their expected record by four games.  Their record of 8-5 over the past two weeks is about two games better than we would expect, all things being equal.  On top of this already kind of odd oddity, the Angels’ actual run differential significantly over-performs their expected–component–run differential, which implies that they’ve been efficient and quite lucky so far this season.  Or they are a wild aberration.

Jered Weaver, pictured above, is leading the AL in strikeouts.

From here, the Angels return home to face the slumping Dodgers, then the Rockies, and then the division-leading Rangers as June draws to its close.

The Angels’ offense is surging but…the pitching, particularly the bullpen, remains suspect.  It used to be that once Scioscia went to the ‘pen, the game was over, and you could practically feel that even while watching on TV.  But it hasn’t been like that in either ’09 or ’10, and, in fact, the opposite feeling, one of near panic, has been palpable, even on my computer monitor.  Heck, you can practically smell the flop-sweat dripping off of Angels’ relievers’ faces when they come into tight situations.

A good example of what I’m talking about took place on Friday, when the Angels led the Cubs 7-2 heading into the ninth inning.  The “other Francisco Rodriguez” promptly walked the first two batters than served up a dinger to Tyler Colvin to cut the score to 7-5 and then Fernando Rodney walked a high wire in a high win to close out the Cubs 7-6.  But why did that game end up that close?  in 2008 the Angels’ ‘pen just shut them down.  Of course, the game would have been 3-2 in 2008 in the first place, so maybe I don’t have a point.

Despite infield injuries that include the Erik Aybar’s knee, the Angels are holding together and really swinging the bats very well.  But if they keep on giving up more runs than they score…well, they just won’t be around to play in the post-season.

[Note: I have not hyperlinks for the Angels because...I was delinquent and had a power outage while I was typing this post the other night and all my material went...wherever stuff goes in cyberspace when the power goes out before you save your work....]


A’s

34-37, .479 winning percentage, 8 GB, 9 GB Wild Card.  4.00 runs/game (12th in AL), 4.28 runs allowed per game (4th in AL).  Straight run differential projection for 77 wins and a .473 winning percentage; component run projection for 76 wins and a .467 winning percentage.

Over the past two weeks the A’s have fallen off the pace in the AL West. Granted the Rangers have been really, really hot, but the A’s have faced the Angels, Giants, Cubs, and Cardinals and they have won only 4 games, losing 9, in that time period.  They have scored 50 runs (3.85/game) while allowing 56 (4.31/game), meaning that their offense has been worse and less active in the past two weeks than it has over the course of the season, which is scary, since their offense hasn’t been…so far this year.

From here the A’s host the Reds (whom they trail 0-1 right now in game one of that series), and the Pirates (which maybe should give A’s fans something to be happy about) before they travel to Baltimore to end the month of June.

According to A’s fans, manager Bob Geren isn’t making the grade, and the blog Athletics Nation offers a condensed Managing 101 course for their allegedly confused skipper. 

I’m not sure it’s just an issue with a manager, but rather than this team simply can’t score enough.  


MARINERS

Cliff Lee vs Reds 1-0.jpg26-41, .388 winning percentage, 13 GB, 14 GB Wild Card.  3.41 runs/game (13th in AL); 4.38 runs allowed per game (8th in AL); straight run differential projection 62 wins, .382 winning percentage; component run projection 63 wins, .390 winning percentage.

Ah, Seattle.  They expected big thins this year but they just can’t score runs.  Their Offensive Ineptitude is pretty entrenched.  On the other hand, they can pitch a little here and there: they just swept the Reds, allowing Cincinnati only 1 run in the entire 3-game series and winning two 1-0 shutouts behind some obviously dominant starting pitching from Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, and Ryan Rowland-Smith.  

In the last two weeks the Mariners have faced the Rangers, the Padres, the Cardinals, and the Reds, all teams that are at or near the top of their divisions.  Seattle has gone 6-7 over that stretch of games, but they needed to sweep the Reds to win six games, meaning they were 3-7 versus the Rangers, Padres and Cardinals.  Over the past two weeks, the Mariners have scored 32 runs (2.45 per game) while allowing 61 (4.69 per game), meaning that they weren’t very good until they started playing the Reds, allowing 60 runs over the ten games prior to their series with Cincinnati…yuck.

Going forward, the Mariners host the Cubs–maybe we’ll see the Silva vs. Bradley matchup we’ve been waiting for–before traveling to Milwaukee and the CitiField portion of New York as Seattle closes out June.

The brightest spot for the Mariners has been the ridiculous Cliff Lee, who threw a brilliant 1-0 shutout on Friday night.  Right now the Mariners are being coy and staying mum about what other teams are asking about trading for  Lee.  The blog, U. S. S. Mariner, provides a nice assessment of Cliff Lee trade stuff.  And my heart beats a little faster upon reading this item on the Twins being serious about pursuing him…oh, sorry, the Twins being serious about considering pursuing him.  

Finally, here’s an item comparing the Mariners to the division-leading Rangers.  Kind of funny if you’re not a Mariners fan.


RANGERS

41-28, .594 winning percentage, 0 GB.  5.14 runs per game (4th in AL), 4.33 runs allowed per game (5th in AL).  Straight run differential projection 93 wins and a .577 winning percentage.  Component run projection for 90 wins and a .554 winning percentage.

The Rangers have the largest lead over second place of an division-leading team.  They are HOT, and their offense has been completely ridiculous in June: .302/.361/.467, a .829 OPS, and a .360 team wOBA (that’s in 2009 New York Yankees territory).

While they did just come off a sweep of the putrid Astros, the Rangers hold a 9-1 record over their last 10 games, a 15-4 record in June, and they are 11-2 over the past two weeks, having faced the Mariners, the Brewers, the Marlins, and the Astros, and having scored 80 runs (6.15 per game) while allowing only 38 (2.92 per game).  They have over-performed their expected wins for the past two weeks by 1 game, and they are two games over expectations for the season.  

And Nelson Cruz hasn’t been at 100%.  

Gosh, Vlad Guerrero loves hitting in the Ballpark.  While that .371 BABIP looks unsustainable, he was a .390 career hitter at that ballpark in over 100 career games there before the season started.  He just flat-out hits in Arlington: .389/.439/.690, 1.129 OPS and .476 wOBA.  That. Is.  Obscene.

The Rangers will finish June by playing the Pirates and Astros at home before going to LA to face the Angels.  In other words, they are set up to continue their strong June before facing their nearest division competitor.

One source of strength for the Rangers has been the unexpected contributions they have received.  Additionally, 5 key pieces in their lineup are simply raking with runners-in-scoring-position and 2 outs.  

josh hamilton.jpg

Josh Hamilton has been ridiculously hot as well.  After last season, no one could expect that Hamilton would be good, but the better he is the more likely the Rangers will be to take the AL West.

Right now, Texas is the class of the division, but as I noted in the opening, the summer heat is still on its way, and it tends to melt Rangers pitching.  There’s still 90 games to be played and the Rangers could fold like a Titanic deck chair, but even in they do, none of us should forget the June they’ve had here in 2010 because it’s been special.


Twins Weekend; DY and Pavano Keep Producing

The Twins took 2 of 3 from the Phillies in Philadephia, smashing home runs and recovering from ugly starts by both Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey to win a wild one on Saturday and kind of cruise to victory on Sunday behind a strong start by Carl Pavano, aka Luigi.  

Friday night’s game made me yell at my computer monitor and switch over to the Dodger-Red Sox game before settling in front of the tube for Cliff Lee’s masterful domination of the Reds.  Since the rumors say the Twins covet Lee I watched and daydreamed and drooled.
Saturday’s Twins-Phillies game was a wild one, with the Phillies busting out to a huge lead, but the Twins rallying for 5 runs in the top of the 9th–more Phillies’ bullpen woes–and then a crazy top of the 11th.  June-loving Delmon Young put the Twins ahead for good with an RBI single.  He was huge in this game, with a .376 WPA.  
Young has had a  huge June for the Twins, putting up the following numbers: 25 hits in 66 at bats with 4 doubles, 3 home runs, 12 runs scored, and 16 RBI, which comes out to a slash line of .379/.388/.576 with an OPS of .964 and a wOBA of .414.  His isolated power (ISO) is .197.  His walk and strikeout rates are career bests, and his BABIP is still below his career rate.  His season line stands at .306/.350/.502 with an OPS of .852, a wOBA of .367, and ISO of .196, and 17 doubles, 8 home runs, 32 runs scored, and 43 RBI which puts him second on the team.  Go DY!
Pavano paced the Twins on Sunday. contributing a mammoth .454 WPA, and dazzling the Phillies’ hitters, though, of late, it seems like almost all starting pitching is dazzling the Phillies’ hitters. But we’ll take what we can get!  Nick Nelson of “Nick’s Twins Blog” says Pavano’s is justifying his contract and then some.  The money shot quote:
After two young and relatively inexperienced starters were forced out very early over the first two games of a series in a tough opposing ballpark, Pavano faced off against one of the game’s most dominant pitchers and delivered a masterful complete-game victory, relieving a beleaguered bullpen and salvaging a series that at one point looked completely lost.

Pavano has completed seven or more innings in 11 of his 14 starts this season and has accumulated more innings than all but four starters in the AL. It’s no coincidence that he has factored into the decision each time he’s pitched this season; he’s routinely lasted deep into games and he has heavily impacted their outcomes. Talk about earning your paycheck. (That last sentence can be read with a not-so-slight tinge of irony by my friends who follow the Yankees.)

Update to AL Central

How could I forget this, anyway?  

In discussing the Royals I neglected to include both a mention of or a link to Aaron Gleeman’s discovery that Alex Gordon is too good for them.  Hmm.  On the other hand, the Royals have played their way out of the cellar without Gordon, so I wonder….*deep breath* no, correlation is not causation, correlation is not causation…etc. 

The Mauer Power Story: Further Evaluation

Bllomberg Sport’s blog here at MLBlogs evaluates the evidence surrounding Joe Mauer’s power outage.  

They pose two possible explanations–the home field he plays in and the notion that pitchers have altered their approaches–and they find that he probably won’t repeat his 2009 power binge, but that he also won’t continue in his 2010 power outage to date.  
As they put it:

Target Field’s low home run
rate and the new approach by pitchers may be hurting Mauer’s home run numbers.
But the statistical variation in his HR/FB rate also helps explains the drastic
difference between 2009 and 2010. That rate suggests that Mauer’s MVP-type
numbers may have been affected by a statistical outlier, and that fans and
teams may have to reassess their expectations for Mauer’s power numbers. In
regards to how pitchers are approaching Mauer, it seems unlikely that the
recent adjustments can explain this year’s low home run total, as he has been a
top player in the league since 2004, and pitchers have been adjusting to his
tendencies every year. Meanwhile, Target Field has been playing like a large shopping
mall – but it does not explain Mauer’s low road home run total, or the fact
that he has yet to hit any homers at home.

Expect a middle ground to
emerge between the home run binge Mauer showed last season and the drought he’s
experienced in 2010.

Regression to the mean, baby, regression to the mean.

AL Central

Note: a “straight
run differential projection” is based on a team’s actual runs scored and
runs allowed.  A “component runs projected” is based on
basic runs created and component ERA without the adjustment to make it an ERA figure (i.e. IP and
the multiplication by 9 not included).  I then applied the
Pythagorean
Formula
with an exponent of
1.83.

In American League Central
Division news, the supine Pirates and the battling Braves combined to help
knock a couple of games off the margin between the second-place Tigers and the
division leading Twins.  The White Sox may yet make a move, but whether
it’s towards the division lead or in the trade market remains an open question.
 The Royals and the Indians appear a bit lost, but more on that below.

 

INDIANS

The Indians are 25-40
with a .385 winning percentage, 12.5 games behind the division lead.  They
are 11th in the AL in scoring at 4.25 runs/game, and they are 12th in the AL in
run prevention at 5.05 runs allowed per game.  Their straight run differential
projection is for 65 wins with a .404 winning percentage; their component run
projection puts them with 61 wins and a .378 winning percentage.  Cover
your eyes, Indians fans, it kind of gets worse from here.

Over the past two
weeks, the Indians are 6-8 and, though things were looking up as they went 6-5
over the first eleven games of that stretch, they just got
 swept by the Mets.  In fact, the Tribe has dropped four straight games.
 (Informally and on a sad note: the curse of Rocky Colavito sure is living
on.)  In the last fourteen games, the Indians have scored 80 runs, 5.71
runs/game, which is impressive, and they have allowed 69 runs in that stretch
(4.93 runs allowed per game).  They have been unlucky, since they scored
11 more runs in the past two weeks than they’ve allowed, but, on the other
hand, they have “wasted” some other offensive output, winning two
blowouts, 10-1 over the White Sox and 11-0 over Red Sox.  Outside of those
two games, and over the other twelve, they have scored 59 and allowed 68, which
projects out to a .429 winning percentage, or about two games under .500 over
that stretch, which mirrors their actual record.  Clearly, however, their
runs scoring and run prevention has been better over the past two weeks has
been better than it has been over the season as a whole.  I don’t know if
this a reason to be optimistic in Cleveland, as their component run
differential is pretty sad (a net [that is runs scored - runs allowed] of -86
versus -66 in the actual runs scored vs. runs allowed figures), which bodes ill
for the future.  And then there’s that whole Rocky Colavito thing…(hey,
I’m a Twins fan, and I still hate Frank Lane just for Cleveland’s–and Terry
Pluto’s–sake).

The Indians’ upcoming
schedule has them headed to Pittsburgh–which, given the pathetic, Orioles-like
mess that is the Pirates, could help the Tribe out–then on to Philadelphia and
Cincinnati before retuning home to face the Blue Jays in bringing June to a
close.

Indians fans may again
want to hide their eyes, for the Royals have quietly crept out of the cellar
and passed them for fourth place in the division.  In fact, it looks like
Cleveland will be preparing for the old player roulette once again; that is,
they will likely be dealing, and Matt Kaassen at FanGraphs
 makes the case for just such action.  John Parent also makes the argument, and I really like the
idea of Russell Branyan going to the Angels.  

Rookie catcher Carlos
Santana has experienced both the
 good and bad in his first week of Major League experience.
 
Mitch Talbot is experiencing some growing pains, though he’s been one of the few real rays of sunshine in
Cleveland so far this season, aside from the awesome and underrated
 Shin-Soo Choo.  My problem with Talbot is his, well, terrible K/BB rate.

Finally, after
watching Sunday’s game, Is there
 trouble with the mound in Progressive Field? 

 

ROYALS

The Royals are 29-38,
with a .433 winning percentage, 9.5 games behind the division lead.
 Despite having an exceptional team batting average (.278 to lead the AL),
they are only 8th in the AL in scoring at 4.62 runs per game.  They are
13th in AL in run prevention at 5.14 runs allowed per game.  Their
straight run differential projection is for 72 wins and a .445 winning
percentage, with a component run projection of also 72 runs and a .445 winning
percentage.  Hey, the Royals actual run differential and component run
differential actually match up.

Over the past two
weeks the Royals are 7-6.  They have scored 74 runs, or 5.69 runs per
game, while they’ve allowed 67 runs, which would 5.15 runs allowed per game.
 First of all, their run prevention is as consistently bad as it had been
all season.  Second, while their offense appears to have performed much
better over the past two weeks, they
 did put 15 on the board in just one of those
games, meaning they scored 59 in the other twelve games, or slightly less than
5 per game.  With their consistently dismal run prevention, it is actually
quite impressive that they are over .500 in the last two weeks.  Having
crept out of the cellar and passed the Indians for fourth place in the
division, the Royals’ month-ending series with the White Sox may have some
(small) significance, most likely for trade-market activity by one or both of
those teams later this summer.

The Royals’ upcoming
schedule takes them first to Atlanta for the weekend before traveling to
Washington; they will then return home to face the Cardinals and the White Sox
to end the month of June.

Fortunately for the
Royals and their woeful run prevention,
 Zach Greinke may be getting back on track.  With the Royals actually giving him some run support
Greinke might well chalk up more wins for Kansas City.  Greinke will start
Sunday in Atlanta against their unknown new rotation piece,
 Kris Medlen

Most of the news out
of and/or concerning the Royals, however, concerns their
 willingness to deal.  GM Dayton Moore apparently said he expects to be busy.  One point of concern will be maximizing
the value the Royals can get for David DeJesus
.  Matt Klaassen considers what the Royals should do, and it makes for some bleak reading since
the best piece Klaassen identifies as potential trade-bait is the Royals pride
and joy, closer
 Joakim Soria.

 

TIGERS

The Tigers are 34-29
with a .554 winning percentage.  The 1.5 games behind the division lead.
 They are 9th in the AL in scoring at 4.41 runs/game, and they are 5th in
the AL in run prevention allowing 4.40 runs per game.  The Tigers’ straight
run differential projection is 86 wins and a .532 winning percentage; their
component run projection is for 89 wins and a .550 winning percentage.  

Over the past two
weeks, the Tigers are 9-4, and they’ve scored 73 runs (5.63 runs/game) while
allowing 60 runs or 4.62 runs allowed per game.  One thing to consider is
that they allowed 15 runs in one of their losses, meaning that if we exclude
that game they have allowed an average of 3.75 runs/game over that two week
period.  The Tiger are hot, the
 winners of six straight, and they have been scoring a lot more runs per game and
allowing a lot fewer than they have over the season as a whole. 

The Tigers’ upcoming
schedule has them hosting Arizona this weekend; the D-Backs  that just got
swept by Boston.  Following that series, the Tigers visit the Mets, Braves
and Twins to finish June.  Now,
 that’s a challenging road-trip.  Leyland will be chaining
them down for the duration.

In their last win, the
Tigers got both a strong start from Jeremy Bonderman while also
 bashing 19 hits.  Bonderman’s strong performance in their latest win must
be encouraging for both the Tigers and their fans, for given that they trail
the Twins by only a game and a half, consistent pitching from another starting
pitcher would be a happy sign.  

In a surprising item,
one that defies the baseball conventional wisdom as filtered to us by color
analysts and lazy columnists,
 Jim Leyland completely dissed the concept of team chemistry in
a fashion–and language–that reminds of certain sabermetric analysis that
similarly disses that unmeasurable intangible–clubhouse chemistry–in almost
the same terms.

 

TWINS

The Twins are 38-20
with a winning percentage of .576, and they lead the AL Central Division,
though their lead is down to only 1.5 games.  They are 5th in the AL in
scoring with 4.75 runs/game, and they are 2nd in the AL in run prevention
allowing only 3.88 runs/game.  The Twins’ straight run differential
projection is 94 wins and a .582 winning percentage.  Their component run
projection is 90 wins and a .558 winning percentage.  Component run
projections thus have the Twins and Tigers neck-and-neck for the division
title.

Over the past two
weeks the Twins are 7-6, scoring 54 runs (4.15 runs/game) while allowing 50
runs (3.85 runs/game).  So, the offense has been down over the past two
weeks, and while
 Delmon Young has
had a great June (.937 OPS) so far, both
 Denard Span (.526
OPS)
 and Joe Mauer (.773 OPS which isn’t bad, but it’s not Joe
Mauer-ish) have not, and in the absence of Orlando Hudson, the second spot in
the lineup has been
 absolutely awful, and is a glaring concern.  The upcoming schedule has the
Twins on the road versus Philadelphia, Milwaukee and the New York Mets before
they return home to close the month by hosting the currently second-place
Detroit Tigers.

While Francisco Liriano has been spectacular, and while there has also been some talk
among the Twins’ faithful regarding
 whether or not Liriano deserves to start the All-Star Game, Liriano was outdueled by Rockies’ super-stud Ubaldo Jimenez on Thursday morning.   Scott Baker overcame some recent
inconsistency to
 pitch a true gem on Wednesday night, contributing a mammoth .430 WPA as the Twins edged the Rockies 2-1.

The Twins are currently sizing up their needs entering summer and the heart of the pennant
race.  One rumor making the rounds is whether or not the Twins should
pursue Mike Lowell of the Boston Red Sox;
 Aaron Gleeman ponders here, noting that’s he’d be a definite upgrade over what the Twins
have now, while
 Parker Hageman discusses over here, noting that Target Field will not help
Lowell’s power figures at all.

If you’re curious
about the Twins’ organization’s position players,
 this may be helpful, and if you’re curious about the organization’s pitchers, this might help.

 

WHITE SOX

The White Sox are
31-34, with a .477 winning percentage, and they are 6.5 games behind in the
division  They are 10th in the AL in scoring at 4.33 runs/game, and also
10th in the AL in run prevention at 4.76 runs allowed per game.  Their
straight run differential projection is for 76 wins with a .471 wining
percentage, while their component run projection is for 74 wins and a .455
winning percentage.

Over the past two
weeks, the White Sox are 9-4, including taking 2 of 3 from the Tigers, 2 of 3
from the Cubs, and sweeping the supine Pirates in their last three series. They
have scored 64 runs (4.92 runs/game) and they have allowed 50 runs (3.75 runs
allowed per game) over that period of time.  Clearly they have been
 much  better at scoring and preventing runs
over the past two weeks than over the season as a whole.  This improved
performance is the likely cause for GM Ken Williams walking back earlier
indications that he might be willing to turn over the roster, and his recent
indication that he’ll
 stand pat rather than trading pieces off.  (Williams is also downplaying reports of friction between him and manager Ozzie Guillen.)

Chicago’s upcoming
schedule has them heading to Washington, where they will have the delight of
facing Stephen Strasburg on Friday; they will then return home to host the
Braves and the Cubs before heading to Kansas City to end the month of June.

The White Sox would like to see Carlos Quentin return to his 2008 form.
 In other quarters, however, there is a question as to
 whether Quentin’s career can be saved at all.

While Quentin has been
surprisingly bad,
 Alex Rios has also been a surprise as
he’s been performing extremely well.  

In bad news, Jake
Peavy has been experiencing
 right shoulder pain.  

For their sake, Peavy needs to be healthy, for the Sox have a chance towards the end of the month the pick up some ground on the division leaders, for the face reeling Washington, the Cubs, and the Royals over the same period of time that the Tigers have to face tough teams including the Twins.

 

 

 

AL East

Note: a “straight run differential projection” is based on a team’s actual runs scored and runs allowed.  A “component runs projected” is based on basic runs created and component ERA without the conversion into an ERA, i.e. just using the runs allowed estimate.  I then applied the Pythagorean Formula with an exponent of 1.83.

The AL East is split between three excellent teams, a pretty good one, and one that is downright terrible.  The three excellent teams are within 3 games of the lead, but that fourth one, the pretty good one, is only three games out of third place and only six games from the lead.  And they can really hit the heck out of the ball.

The top of the division is currently occupied by two excellent teams: the Tampa Bay Rays and those Damn New York Yankees.  
The Rays had been burning through their opposition and setting a fearsome pace in the division, with a run differential at or near 100 runs as recently as two weeks ago, but they have hit kind of a rough patch of late, having gone 6-6 over the past two weeks.  For one thing, the pace they were setting, for 115 or so wins, simply wasn’t sustainable, as it was being paced by lights-out pitching.  They still have a share of first place, sitting tied with the dreaded Yankees.  Despite recent signs of life, Centerfielder B. J. Upton continues to mystify, as his obvious talent stands squarely at odds with his on-field performance.  First baseman Carlos Pena has struggled at the plate, though he has recently been on a tear and set the Rays’ franchise records for home runs in a career.  As far as their young and dynamic rotation goes, David Price has been great, performing well in the Rays’ first game against the Braves, but both Matt Garza and James Shields have been inconsistent.  Nevertheless, the Rays still have an excellent defensive foundation, with very good pitching and a very good defense.  Their offense has slowed down, but they still project to be a top-level team.  Current record: 41-24, 0 GB; straight run differential projection 104 wins, .642 winning percentage; component runs projection 97 wins, .599 winning percentage.
Those damn New York Yankees are up to their usual tricks, proving they are among the best teams in baseball.  They occupy first place along with the Rays.  They have split the first two games of their series with the Phillies, including a game one hammering of Phillies’ ace Roy Halladay on Tuesday night.  C. C. Sabathia kind of returned to form on Tuesday, though he still had a long inning, one in which he seemed to lose focus and surrender three runs.  Most impressively, the Yankees have played well despite missing A-Rod in the lineup.  (A-Rod, in fact, may find his pursuit of certain career marks threatened by his lingering hip injury issues.)  The Bombers have been bombing, but, again, the recovery of A-Rod remains a concern, though this team is quite good in all areas, though probably not among the elite fielding teams in baseball.  But, hey, if you can pitch and hit like these guys can, how out of it can you get?  Over the last two weeks, the Yankees have been 9-4, and since the 5th of June they have surrendered more than four runs only twice.  Current record: 41-24 0 GB; straight run differential projection 104 wins, .642 winning percentage; component run projection 103 wins, .633 winning percentage.
The Red Sox have been rising, despite the fact that one prominent Boston sportswriter pretty much wrote them off for dead in the third week of May (if you check his archive, you’ll see that he hasn’t written about the Sox since then).  Another Boston columnist at least notes that the Sox have been rolling “despite lots of bumps.”  Actually, the Sox are either (a) underperforming or (b) getting a bit unlucky relative to their run differential, and they still are playing pretty darn well, meaning that both the Rays and Yankees ought not get too focused on each other just yet.  Remarkably, the Sox have been doing all of this since their putative ace, Josh Beckett, went on the DL after having been, well–suboptimal may be too nice, and rancid may be too harsh–not exactly ace-like to begin the season. Despite Shaughnessy’s early season whining and griping and moaning and crying over Adrian Beltre not being very good, Beltre is hitting the heck out of the ball, and the Sox offense is really clicking, despite being without Jacoby Ellsbury.  Heck, their rookie rightfielder smashed a grand slam on the first pitch he ever saw in the Show on Saturday afternoon.  Over the past two weeks the Red Sox have been 9-5.  They are 39-28 and but 3 GB the division lead.  Their straight run differential projection is for 94 wins and .577 winning percentage; their component run projection is 95 wins and a .588 winning percentage.
The Blue Jays unfortunately reside in the AL East.  I say unfortunately, because they have been very good this season, and very, very powerful at the plate, leading the majors in home runs with 103 dingers in their first 67 games, putting them on pace for 249 home runs for the season.  They are only 3 games out of third place, but that puts them 17.5 games above the fifth place team, the odious Orioles (but more about them later).  The Jays are crushing the ball despite a serious fall-off in production from both Aaron Hill and Adam Lind.  Instead, other Jays’ sluggers have paced them.  I watched their game against the Padres tonight, and catcher John Buck smashed a ball off the Western Metal Supply Company building in the left field corner of Petco Park, a ball that hit the top facing of that building and would have probably flown another hundred feet had a damn building not intercepted its flight.  At any rate, the Blue Jays have shown some decent pitching here and there, but even with their power, their lack of on-base percentage makes them a suboptimal team in a division as stacked as this one.  The Yankees and Red Sox simply grind away on offense, the Rays pitch and field as well as anyone, and the Blue Jays are somewhat exposed in such an environment.  Given these facts, Joe Pawlinoski wonders what the Jays should do, as in, should they acquire pieces via the trade market for the here and now or should they focus on the future.  Like Pawlinoski, I think they’d be better off looking to next year.  Over the past two weeks the Jays a
re 5-8, but they have been on the road since the 8th, and they are a better home team and could thus be quite the spoiler down the road for those top three teams in this division.  The Jays are 36-31, 6 GB in the East; their straight run differential projection has them with 87 wins and a .537 winning percentage; their component run projection is for 86 wins and a .533 winning percentage.
Ah, the lowly Orioles. Man, what can I say but they really suck.  And there is yet more pain to follow.  Their bullpen is just a mess, with injuries and inconsistency galore. Their young starting pitching, which had me convinced that they could compete for fourth place in the division, has been, well, terrible.  They don’t score runs for their best two pitchers, Kevin Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie, who have the worst and the fourth or fifth worst run support in the American League.  And, as far as their offense goes, their first basemen are being offensively outproduced by three National League pitching staffs.  Yes, that’s what you just read: first basemen are producing less than pitchers are. If that isn’t the definition of The Suck Offensive Ineptitude, I don’t know what is.  Over the past two weeks, Baltimore is 3-11, and they have allowed 95 runs in those 14 games, an average of almost 7 runs allowed per game; their offense has scored but 38 runs in those same 14 games, barely above 2.5 per game; good grief, but that is terrible.  While rookie starter Jake Arrieta has been a welcome sight, and while both Buck Showalter and Bobby Valentine have met with the team regarding the manager’s job, I have no clue what they could possibly do at this point to improve.  In the same vein of darkly despairing rhetoric, follow the link to see a late May rant at the Baltimore organization by an Oriole’s follower (I particularly like the opening: “Let’s not kid ourselves: The O’s organization has officially taken any hope of a brighter future and thrown it out of the window.”) The Orioles are 18-48, 30 games under .500 (with only 66 games played thus far), and 23.5 games behind the division co-leaders; for goodness’ sake, they are 17.5 games out of fourth place in a five team division!  Their straight run differential projection is for 46 wins and a .284 winning percentage, which would make them the worst team since the 2003 Tigers, who were the worst team since the 1962 Mets, which is epically terrible territory.  The Orioles component run projection is slightly “better” at 50 wins and a .309 winning percentage.  Wow, the Orioles are terrible.
Come back tomorrow for a look at the AL Central.

On First Pitch Strikes

I decided to find out how important getting ahead of hitters actually is, so I did a study of first pitch strikes compared to, uh, first pitch balls.  
Bill Felber’s The Book on the Book  got me thinking about this.  Felber did a 5000 pitcher/batter interaction study of results in various pitch counts.
Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post cites Felber’s study in an article about watching baseball while paying more attention to the count, since the count can tell you a lot of things.  His analysis focuses on 1-1 pitches and what results, since 1-2 is a lot different count for both pitchers and batters and 2-1 is.
However, my focus was just on what happens after the first pitch.  That is, what are the results after an 1-0 count compared to the results after an 0-1 count.  In other words, how important is a First Pitch Strike?
Now, I started to do this study the really, really hard way, by looking at  MLB Gameday for every individual game and recording the results in Excel.  Well, one day’s worth of games about did me in.  Instead, I looked over at Baseball-Reference.com and I found this:  tabulated data for every pitch count and what happens after a particular count is reached.  So, I was able to easily find out how results differed after an 1-0 count (first pitch ball) from what they are after an 0-1 count (first pitch strike).
First of all, the overall data for 2010 are that hitters do this: .259/.330/.406 and a wOBA of .346; 9.00% of plate appearances end with walks and 18.27% of plate appearances end with strikeouts, meaning that the overall BB/K rate is 0.49.  
In plate appearances that are determined with one pitch, batters do really well: .345/.350/.555 (the OBP is higher than the AVG since sometimes guys get hit with pitches), with a wOBA of.413; obviously, there is BB/K ratio since you can’t do either in a one-pitch plate appearance.
After 1-0 counts, first pitch balls, hitters produce like this: .273/.391/.436 with a wOBA of .389; the walk rate is 15.91% and the strikeout rate is 14.47%, giving us a BB/K ratio of 1.10.  Hmm.
After 0-1 counts, first pitch strikes, hitters produce like this: .228/.272/.348, with a collective (and woeful) wOBA of .294; their walk rate is 4.92% and their strikeout rate is 25.67%, for a BB/K ratio of 0.19.
Now, let’s assume that every time that a plate appearance is resolved on the first pitch that that pitch is a strike (obviously untrue, since (a) HBP’s don’t happen on strikes and (b) hitters swing at first pitches that wouldn’t be strikes).  If we combine the data from one pitch plate appearances, which is very good for hitters, with the data from after 0-1 counts we still see that hitters underperform the data from after 1-0 strikes: .250/.286/.387 with a wOBA of .315.  Look at the OBP figure!  After 1-0 counts it’s .391; with first pitch strikes it’s .286.  Also consider that the walk rate is 4.02% compared to a strikeout rate of 21.02% and the BB/K ratio is again 0.19.
This 2010 data is summarized below, with FPR meaning First Pitch Resolution, FPB meaning First Pitch Ball, and FPS meaning First Pitch Strike.
                  AB          H           AVG      OBP      SLG        wOBA       BB%          K%       BB/K     
TOTAL     63516  16458   .259      .330       .406      .346          9.00        18.27     0.49 
FPR          7283   2515       .345      .350        .555       .413            —            —          —   
FPB         24637  6735    .273        .391        .436      .389         15.91       14.47     1.10  
FPS         31596  7208     .228       .272        .348      .294          4.92        25.67     0.19  
FBR+FPS 38879  9723    .250      .286       .387      .315          4.02        21.01     0.19
Thus, even if your pitchers are giving up all that goodness on plate appearances resolved on one pitch–presumably strikes that are mostly put into play–even then, it appears that first pitch strikes are awesome for the pitching team.  The on-base percentage differential is itself huge (.286 vs. .391 after the count goes 1-0), and attributable to the incredibly lower proportion of walks that your pitching is allowing.
2010′s data is no aberration.  I accumulated the information back through the 2006 season, and it is remarkably consistent.
In plate appearances resolved on the first pitch: .341/.346/.552, .409 wOBA.
In plate appearances begun with First Pitch Ball (after 1-0): .279/.394/.456. .396 wOBA, 15.57 BB%, 13.88 K%, 1.12 BB/K.
In plate appearances begun with First Pitch Strike (after 0-1): .236/.279/.361, .301 wOBA, 4.82 BB%, 25.05 K%, 0.19 BB/K
In plate appearances either resolved in one pitch or begun with the First Pitch Strike: .257/.292/.399, .332 wOBA, 3.88 BB%, 20.17 K%, 0.19 BB/K.
The walk to strikeout data is the most, er, striking thing.  After 1-0 counts batters walk more often than they strikeout, while after 0-1 counts batters walk less than a fifth of the number of times they strikeout.  That’s a huge, huge difference.  (Maybe it’s not the actual bases on balls that give managers gray hairs; maybe it’s first pitch balls that give them the actual gray hairs, as the managers envision the walks that will follow.)

It simply pays to throw First Pitch Strikes.  
Even though you are going to have some guys get on base with hits because they are first pitch swinging, the on-base percentage difference between plate appearances starting with first pitch balls (.394) and those that don’t (.292) is huge.  This represents a lot of runs saved in plate appearances that don’t start with balls (that aren’t resolved after a 1-0 count).  
In fact, if you look closely at the summarized 2006-2001 data, you will see that the OBA in FPS plate appearances (.279) is about the same as the AVG in FPB plate appearances.  Runners just don’t get on much after a FPS.
An additional thing to consider is that a lot of plate appearances that are resolved in one pitch are swings that occur when the batter thinks he’s gotten “his pitch,” that is, when the pitch is in the section of the strike zone that the batter is looking to hit.  This means that those first pitch swings that create res
olved plate appearances often occur when the batter thinks he’s got the best chance of doing something with the pitch.  I can’t quantify how often this is, but I can point out that batters generally approach the first pitch in such a way.   
Results at home may vary, particularly from batter to batter.  After all, some guys don’t mind hitting with two strikes.  Some batters mess up on 3-1 counts.  However, as a general rule, the first pitch strikes sure seems pretty important, remaining the best pitch to throw to begin a plate appearance.

On Strike Zones and Swings Outside of It

Strikeouts are at an all-time
high
.  Jeff Fletcher offers a few different explanations: batters not adjusting
their approaches with two strikes; batters working deeper into counts and thus
getting behind (sure, blame plate discipline); umpires calling too many third
strikes on hitters (sure…ask pitchers about that).

Specific
refutation of the last point is the evidence–courtesy of John Walsh at The Hardball Times–that the strike
zone is such smaller on 0 and 2 counts than it is on 3 and 0 counts
).
 This actually proves kind of troublesome, as you’ll see below.

Another explanation for the increase in strikeouts is that batters may be swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone.   Joe Pawlikowski argues at FanGraphs that, in fact, hitters are swinging
outside the strike zone more often.  The possible explanations Pawlikowski
cites are:

1, This is just an early season thing. They say hitters get better
as the weather warms. Maybe that has as much to do with them getting into a
groove — hitters are getting closer to the 250 PA mark — as it does the
weather.

2. It’s just part of the natural cycles of the game. Hitters
were more patient earlier in the decade. Maybe now they’re starting to be more
aggressive.

3. Related to No. 2, and perhaps a bit to No. 4, pitchers are
exploiting a weakness and are making hitters chase more.

4. Pitchers are just hurling nastier stuff. Hitters are having a
hard time adjusting to tougher breaking and off-speed pitches. I’m not sure how
you could go about proving this one, so it’s probably an afterthought, if that.

5. The criteria for pitches inside and outside the zone has
changed.

6. Just blame the umps.

As noted, the John Walsh piece in the Hardball Times proves problematic at just this juncture, for it–another link here–provides evidence for points 5 & 6 from Pawlikowki’s assessment: that (5) the criteria for pitches outside and inside the strike zone changes, and (6) we kind of can just blame the umps.  

So, you see, all this folds back on itself: we have more strikeouts than the historical norm, batters are swinging at more pitches outside the zone than previously, and umpires are altering the size of the strike zone.  The chicken-egg conundrum begins to rear its ugly little head here, for which came first in this cycle?  

This Rickie Zanker post at the Hardball Times suggests that Pawlikowski’s #5 is true from the standpoint of the Pitch F/x measurement of balls and strikes. 

I’m still wondering about the impact of the “Compassionate Umpire,” however, and just how much that “compassion” biases the strike zone.

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