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Thursday, April 24, 2003

Bi-Weekly Review: A.L. West

The A.L. West through April 20th.

American League West Standings - Through April 20

Team        W      L     Pct.     GB      L10     Str     Home     Away
Seattle    11      8     .579      -      7-3     W 1      6-4      5-4
Oakland    10      9     .526      1      3-7     L 1      7-2      3-7
Anaheim     9     10     .474      2      5-5     L 1      6-3      3-7
Texas       8     11     .421      3      5-5     W 1      5-5      3-6

American League West Team Stats - Through April 22

Team       RS     RA    Pyth.     AVG     OBP     SLG     ERA   BABIP  BABIP Allowed
Seattle    99     85     .572    .260    .353    .402    3.93    .294      .271
Oakland   108     81     .634    .262    .345    .440    3.78    .285      .266
Anaheim   107    101     .528    .294    .360    .429    4.89    .313      .277
Texas      81    130     .281    .246    .325    .444    5.74    .263      .334

Every American League stadium gets rained on from time to time.  The raindrops drip down into the parking lots, into gutters and storm drains, and eventually end up transferred into streams or creeks or the like.  These streams flow into rivers, and the rivers flow into the oceans, and so the raindrops make their way from stadium to sea.

And if the marine destination of these ballpark raindrops happens to be the great and vast ocean called the Pacific, then you can bet that some pretty good teams call those rained-upon stadiums home.

But because the four teams of the AL West haven’t really strayed from their own division, we don’t know just how good they are compared to the rest of the league.  It’s pretty likely, however, that they’re still the strongest division in the AL, if not the majors.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter much which division is better right now—what matters is who does best within the division.  And so far, that might be a little hard to discern.  Seattle’s grasp on first place may be somewhat tenuous in light of less-than-perfect peripherals.  But the Athletics, despite their good start and nice run differential, have been playing very poorly.  Anaheim has been hitting well, but their pitching has not been World Champion-caliber so far.  And Texas may even be lucky to be as close to first place as they are.

Long story short: There’s no clear front-runner right now, with the Seattle Mariners—the focus of much pre-season pessimism—atop the division.  Seattle’s problems are centered on their offense.  Much like 2002, the Mariners have little trouble getting runners on base, but with a low slugging percentage, can’t ever seem to drive them in.  In fact, Seattle’s 170 runners left on base leads the major leagues.

Meanwhile, Oakland looks good from a Pythagorean standpoint, but they haven’t been doing much winning lately.  Their on-base percentage of .345 isn’t low, but it’s not as good as the competition’s.  A bigger problem for Oakland is that their run prevention may be somewhat luck-influenced, as they are unlikely to sustain a .266 BABIP allowed.

The poor Angels have been suffering particularly lately, and it hardly seems fair that in their first out-of-division series, they play the Yankees while Seattle and Oakland get Cleveland and Detroit respectively.  But it all evens out eventually.  The Angels are having pitching trouble, with a 4.89 ERA (10th in the American League).  Even worse, Anaheim’s BABIP allowed is pretty good, meaning that’s not the problem with their pitching.  In fact, the Angels’ strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.474:1 (115 SO, 78 BB) is second-to-last in the league, ahead of only the Devil Rays, who have struck out 89 and walked 87.  Anaheim’s pitching will need to improve before they have a shot at first place.  They’re also getting only 5.4 IP/G from their starters, compared to 6.05 for Seattle and 6.3 for Oakland.

For Texas, nothing is really going right.  Their .246 batting average looks terrible until you compare it with their .227 average (and .680 OPS) with runners on.  And they play in a hitters’ park.  But they can hope for improvement as they stray from the AL West.  Unfortunately, the pitching has also been weak.  Their 5.74 ERA in above only Tampa Bay in the American League.  The Rangers are a good team, but they’re unlikely to contend this year.

At this point in the season, it’s difficult to judge the quality of these teams definitively.  In particular, comparing Seattle and Anaheim is like comparing apples and oranges (Thank you; I’ll be here all week).  But even more troubling is trying to gauge player performance with such a limited time-frame, which is my excuse for not mentioning any names so far.  But I’d be remiss if I didn’t try to draw inaccurate conclusions from small samples as though they were meaningful, so here are a few players whose performance has been notable—one way or another—so far:

For the Seattle Mariners:

Kazuhiro Sasaki (Key Stats: 8 Save Opportunities, 4 Saves) - Sasaki has made things interesting for the Mariners so far, and while the offense has been surprisingly apt at negating his blown saves, it can’t last forever.  Sasaki needs to return to his old form, and hopefully his stint on the disabled list will help.

Greg Colbrunn (Key Stats: 10 AB, 4 Games) - Seattle, at some cost, addressed the substantial weakness of their bench this past off-season with the acquisition of Colbrunn, an excellent offensive player.  And for some reason, Bob Melvin, who should be familiar with Colbrunn from their time in Arizona, essentially refuses to use him, giving more playing time and pinch-hit appearances to lesser hitters like Willie Bloomquist and John Mabry (and there ain’t a platoon split in the world that makes them better hitters than Greg).

For the Oakland Athletics:

Erubiel Durazo (Key Stats: 1.021 OPS) - Free at last, Durazo has exceeded expectations so far, leading the A’s in slugging, OPS, RBI, and walks.  His .313/.439/.581 line is superb, and if he keeps it up, he’ll likely be the driving force in Oakland’s offense.  But Durazo’s competing with players like Terrence Long and Ramon Hernandez for that honor right now, which underscores the unreliability of early season statistics.

Miguel Tejada (Key Stats: .167 AVG, .549 OPS) - Last year’s MVP has yet to show
much at the plate this year, which has certainly meant trouble for the A’s.  The good news is that he’ll come around—at least some—which will help offset diminishing production from less important lineup spots.

For the Anaheim Angels:

Brad Fullmer (Key Stats: .417 AVG, 1.095 OPS) - Mr. Fullmer, let go and resigned at a cut rate, has not produced at a cut rate at all.  Already a good hitter, perhaps Fullmer is taking a big leap forward, or perhaps he’s just been a little lucky—either way, the Angels shouldn’t complain.

John Lackey (Key Stats: 8.51 ERA, 16 SO, 15 BB) - Lackey’s 3.66 ERA as a rookie was a bright spot in Anaheim’s otherwise . . . also bright season.  This year, Lackey’s 8.51 ERA is an unpleasant aspect of Anaheim’s otherwise—well, you get the idea.  The bright side is that Lackey makes Kevin Appier’s 7.36 ERA look better.  Hmmm . . . did I mention how well Brad Fullmer is hitting?

For the Texas Rangers:

Chan Ho Park (Key Stats: 6.46 ERA, 13 SO, 16 BB) - Chan Ho Park was once supposed to be the Rangers’ ace, but it’s hard to be an ace when you walk more people than you strike out (though some would argue Colby Lewis is doing just that, with 18 walks and 14 strikeouts.  John Thomson, with 22 strikeouts and three walks, is doing what he can to make up for those two, but he probably can’t keep it up forever).

Hank Blalock (Key Stats: .479 OBP, .688 SLG, 1.166 OPS) - Ah, so this is the Hank Blalock we’ve been hearing so much about.  Deprived of Rookie of the Year honors, Blalock has decided to move right on to MVP candidacy.  Okay, it’s early to be talking about that.  But here’s an amazing stat: if Blalock reached 600 at bats without getting another hit, his batting average would still be .045.  Well, never mind, that’s not good.  I guess Hank will have to keep this up a little longer before we hand out any trophies.

It looks like the beginning of a good race in the West this year.

Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: April 24, 2003 at 06:00 AM | 2 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: April 24, 2003 at 01:59 AM (#610529)
I may not be a geographer like you but I don't think that raindrops that fall (ever so rarely) on the ballpark in Arlington end up in the Pacific Ocean.

That's true, and the exclusion of Texas was (rightly or wrongly) intentional. They're a good team with big-time potential, but at least lately, they haven't kept up with the other three.

I'm not that informed on the AL, but the number that really jumps out at me is the Ranger's opponents BABIP of .334. Any of the Ranger cognoscenti want to comment on who's responsible for that?

Some of that is bad luck, and the Rangers' defense isn't exactly the best, plus they also play in a hitters' park. Their BABIP allowed was in the neighborhood of .302 last year, with the 2002 AL at .292. It should get better, but I don't know if there are specific new defensive weaknesses.

Ira,

I think you are correct, too, and these Pythagoreans should be ingested with large salt granules right now. Obviously, Texas isn't a true .281 team, even against this competition.

I would postulate that "one-game advantage with 140 to play" has more to do with the tenuous nature of Seattle's lead than "peripherals" do.

Maybe, but that's a two-game lead now...
   2. John Posted: April 26, 2003 at 02:00 AM (#610582)
"Teams which underperform their pythagorean record are ones that get blown out and win close games. ... Teams which overperform their pythagorean record are ones that blow other teams out and lose close games... "

Isn't this backwards,Ira?


It sure is. Suppose a team wins 81 games by a score of 4-3, and loses 81 games by a score of 6-1. One, that's probably a team with a good bullpen and lousy starters. And two, that team would substantially overperform their pythagorean projection (which would be somewhere in the range of...oh, hell, I'll calculate it...58-104). Beat their projection by 33 games. That's an extreme example, but it shows that a team that is better than pythagoras would expect is quite *possibly* better because its bullpen, when the starters/offense give them the chance, hold on to close leads.

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