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Thursday, June 05, 2003

Bi-Weekly Review: A.L. West

The A.L. West through June 3rd.

                    June 3                   At Last Update           Since Last Update
           -------------------------    -------------------------     -----------------
Team        W      L     Pct.     GB     W      L     Pct.     GB     W      L     Pct.     Str
Seattle    38     18     .679      -    29     15     .659      -     9      3     .750     W 7
Oakland    32     24     .571      6    27     17     .614      2     5      7     .417     L 1
Anaheim    28     27     .509    9.5    22     21     .512    6.5     6      6     .500     W 3
Texas      25     31     .446     13    20     24     .455      9     5      7     .417     L 4

American League West Pythagorean Standings - Through June 3 (Previous Update May 20)

                   June 3                At Last Update       Since Last Update
          --------------------------   -------------------    ------------------
Team        R     RA     Pct.   Diff     R     RA     Pct.     R     RA     Pct.
Seattle   310    222     .655  +.024   238    173     .647    72     49     .680
Oakland   263    213     .596  -.025   211    151     .648    52     62     .417
Anaheim   284    254     .554  -.045   216    198     .542    68     56     .595
Texas     301    353     .419  +.027   238    274     .428    63     79     .386

American League West Team Stats - Through June 3

Team        AVG     OBP     SLG     ERA   BABIP  BABIP Allowed
Seattle    .284    .358    .449    3.74    .315      .270
Oakland    .255    .324    .416    3.41    .273      .254
Anaheim    .282    .347    .430    4.31    .305      .294
Texas      .271    .340    .472    5.88    .295      .332

Today, for a change of pace, we’ll be going to the mailbag to answer some excellent questions about the AL West:

Q: Isn’t “going to the mailbag” just a way for an unoriginal columnist who’s out of ideas to fill space without any actual work or creativity? —Aimee F., Westport, WA

A: Not necessarily.  It also allows an arrogant writer to stroke his ego by demonstrating to readers that his opinion is valued by the masses.  You see, by letting a bunch of you ask me questions, I convey the impression that many people defer to my knowledge on a specific subject.  This creates the illusion of credibility and helps keep me from sinking further into depression.

Q: Can you give us a quick recap of what’s transpired in the division since your last update? —Chad D., Cheney, WA

A: Certainly.  More and more, the AL West has been the Mariner show.  Seattle is now in first by six games, and they’re undefeated on their current road trip.  Texas is fading further from the picture, and Anaheim has been running in place.  Oakland’s 5-7 showing since the last update has increased their deficit from two games to six, which is the second-largest deficit of any second-place team in the majors.

Is that cause for rejoicing in Seattle?  Well, Mariner fans might be careful with their optimism: after 56 games in 2002, Seattle had a nine-game lead on Oakland, who went on to win the division.  (They were only up by three on Anaheim, however.)  So the race is far from over.

Here’s how it looks team-by-team:

Seattle Mariners

Despite the reservations fans may have after last year’s collapse kept Seattle out of the playoffs—while half of their division got in—the Mariners have been superb lately.  Their technique of scoring more runs than their opponents has led to a win every time they’ve employed it.

Q: There’s been a lot of talk about Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball lately.  In his praise of Oakland’s GM, Billy Beane, Lewis offers up the statistic that the A’s have won more games than everyone except the Atlanta Braves recently.  Isn’t there a multiple-endpoints problem here? It seems the Mariners have been plenty successful lately, and their GM deserves credit, too.  —Pat G., Seattle, WA

A: That’s absolutely correct.  When you factor this year into things, the Mariners have won more regular season games than the A’s have since 1999, since 2000, and since 2001.  In fact, you can pick any year between 1990 and 2001, and you’ll find that the Mariners have won more games since then than Oakland.  Even before this year began, the Mariners had won more games over the past two and three years.  Selecting a set of years to make a team look as good as possible is basically arbitrary.  That doesn’t mean it needs to be ignored, or that Oakland doesn’t deserve a great deal of credit.  But it’s important to question how these statistics were derived and look for possible biases, as you did, Pat.

Q: Even if the Mariners have been as successful or more successful than Oakland recently, doesn’t their financial advantage explain that difference and more, leading to the conclusion that Oakland is otherwise the superior organization?  —Marginal W., Minneapolis, MN

A: Maybe.  Maybe not.  We can’t judge how Seattle would perform under Oakland’s circumstances because the information just isn’t there.  If Seattle succeeds slightly more at a much greater expense, it’s perfectly plausible that the extra expense was deemed worthwhile.  It’s also conceivable that the Mariners and other high-payroll teams pay extra to make success more likely—that Oakland is walking a tightrope that other teams feel they don’t need to walk, and it’s worth the extra cash to avoid it.  That’s not a rejection of the premise of Moneyball, nor is it a dismissal of the tremendous accomplishments of the Athletics.  But there’s no good evidence that the approach of the Athletics is superior to that of the Mariners or the Yankees.  Each team can only succeed within their own circumstances—their methods are made to fit those circumstances and can’t be judged against other situations.

Q: What about the Mariners’ implied plan to stay competitive year after year without ever dedicating the resources to make an all-out World Series run?  Is that justified?  Is it unfair to fans?  —Howard L., Seattle, WA

A: I actually think it’s a pretty good idea.  Teams that win the World Series usually do so by catching some breaks, and if the Mariners have a limited chance to go all the way every year, it can make it more likely that they go in at least one year—more likely than if they had a somewhat better chance once or twice.  The odds of making it all the way through the playoffs will never be that good, and the more times a team is in the playoffs, the better off they are—even if their chances in any given postseason are worse.  Plus, it makes the times when they don’t win more interesting.

Whether they can stay competitive is open to debate, and is a question that won’t be answered until it does or doesn’t happen.

Key Mariners

The entire offense has been phenomenal lately, but heading the list over the last thirty days are Ichiro Suzuki (.391/.422/.536), Bret Boone (.343/.374/.695), and Edgar Martinez (.295/.370/.653).  While Boone and Edgar have been doing well all season, Ichiro started out struggling, and his turnaround is particularly good news for the Mariners.  On the pitching side, Jamie Moyer is 6-0 over the last 30 days with a 2.63 ERA.

Oakland Athletics

Q: Shouldn’t you have saved some of the Moneyball stuff for the A’s section, so that this update would look less lopsided toward the Mariners?  —Allison S., Spartanburg, SC

A: Probably.  But there’s Oakland news worth talking about, too.  This is the first time Oakland’s had a losing record between updates.  They’ve lost a lot of standing in the race.  In fact, the A’s are the only AL West team that look much different than they did last time.

What happened?  While their schedule since the last update has been fairly easy (seven of their twelve games have been against the struggling Royals), they did lose all four games they played against the Twins in that time period—they’ve still done well enough against lesser teams.  There’s probably nothing too meaningful about a 5-7 record over 12 games, except the impact it’s had on the standings, and Oakland now has a lot of ground to make up.

Q: Doesn’t Oakland have a knack for second-half surges that makes them more of a threat to compete with Seattle than they appear to be right now? —Cory L., Toronto, ON

A: Yes, but they improved in very different ways in 2002 than they did in 2001.  It’s true that good acquisitions can make a difference, but they don’t come close to explaining all the difference.  It’s likely that Oakland improved in the second half of both years just by chance.  Here’s where their improvement came from in each year:

        Offense            Defense
2002    Strikeouts         Walks, BABIP
2001    HR, BB, BABIP      Home runs

Key Athletics

It’s actually hard to find any A’s whose performance has been all that notable lately.  Each of the big three has had a rough start, but there’s no indication of major struggles.  Scott Hatteberg, at .234/.294/.277, has been struggling over the last thirty days, as has Eric Chavez (.207/.255/.359).  Otherwise, the recent performance of the Athletics has been pretty routine.

Anaheim Angels

Q: When was the last time something particularly interesting happened to the Angels? —Bill S., Chicago, IL

A: Last October.  Really, the Angels are a good team right now, but they’re treading water in third place.  And they don’t seem that different from last year.  They’re hitting better with runners on than without, and they’re hitting better still with runners in scoring position.  They’re 6-4 in one run games.

The problem essentially seems to be that they’re underperforming they Pythagorean percentage by a large margin.  They should be doing much better.  But the bullpen is doing just as well this year (3.01 ERA) as it did last year (2.98 ERA).  If they have a real problem, it’s the starting pitching, whose ERA is a full run above what it was last year.  However, this is a team whose 4.24 ERA is 5th in the American League.  Bad luck is their main problem.

Q: Even if the Angels were at their Pythagorean percentage, they’d still be in third place.  Why can’t they seem to reproduce (so far) the performance that brought a World Championship last year? —John L., Anaheim, CA

A: Well, the pitching has been a little off, and that can’t be discounted completely.  Also, teams that do well are those that catch breaks, and Anaheim hasn’t this year.  And Seattle and Oakland are excellent teams.  When they play their best, the Angels look bad.  Anaheim will start to look better, but they’ll need to change their personnel or their luck in a pretty big way to make a run at the division.

Key Angels

Jeff “Who?” DaVanon has ten hits, including six home runs, in the Angels’ last three games.  He had nine career home runs before that.  I don’t know what the record is for consecutive two-home-run games, but I do know that it’s a shame that this story has gotten lost in the Sammy Sosa corked bat controversy.  ESPN should break away from their coverage of sawing Sammy’s bats in half to show DaVanon’s at bats.  His OPS for the season is at 1.123 over 90 at bats.  He’s now tied with Tim Salmon for third on the team in home runs with eight.  And he’s got six stolen bases without being caught.

Troy Glaus, over the last 30 days, has hit a DaVanonesque .340/.434/.742.  Glaus is back to form as a key offensive force.

Texas Rangers

Q: It doesn’t seem fair for the Rangers to continue to fail despite having such a potent offense.  What can they do? —Alex R., Arlington, TX

A: The park, the defense, and the pitching all conspire to make Texas a potent run-allowing machine.  A good place to start would be a reduction in walks.  The Rangers have allowed more walks (239) than any other AL team.  Pitching-wise, they’re not that bad in other areas.

Q: I live in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, and my mom says that the cryaquepts typical of the area make this a poor place to build a large baseball stadium.  However, I believe that the presence of a mollic epipedon helps to mitigate this factor.  What do you think? —Billy, Albuquerque, NM

A: I think you’re in the wrong article, Billy.

Q: Will the emergence of talented young hitters for the Rangers turn them into a competitive team? —Hank B., Arlington, TX

A: I don’t think it would be likely for the Rangers to compete—in any division—without some improvement in run prevention.  Right now, only one major league team (Toronto) has scored more runs than Texas has allowed, and the margin is not large.  And the young hitters already need to replace the aging and departing Rafael Palmeiro and Ivan Rodriguez.

Key Rangers

Speaking of talented young hitters, over the last thirty days, Hank Blalock is hitting .355/.412/.581, and Mark Teixeira is hitting .282/.367/.538.  Alex Rodriguez is in a slump, hitting just .228 over the last month, though his OBP of .316 and slugging of .455 over the time period show just how good his secondary skills are.  Colby Lewis, in his last six starts, has an ERA of 8.77.

And so another two weeks of AL West action have gone by.  The Mariners have widened their lead, once again starting the year on top.  It remains to be seen whether they can hold on this time.

Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: June 05, 2003 at 06:00 AM | 5 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Jimbo Jones Posted: June 06, 2003 at 02:12 AM (#611292)
Dan, entertaining as always--thanks.

I've always supported the case against those who argue that Oakland is a poorly constructed-for-the-playoffs team--they never made much sense to me.

In a similar vein, I think we should be wary about assuming that Oakland has a "knack" for big spurts in the second half of the season. I'll agree that the fact that they are a younger team (than the Mariners) may be a point in their favor in the dog days of August, but that seems like an argument for a greater ability to maintain strong performances rather than take their game to a new level.

Here's hoping, anyway.

PS: I not sure exactly what counts as "interesting," but Jeff DaVanon hitting six home runs in three games might just do it for me
   2. Yardape Posted: June 06, 2003 at 02:12 AM (#611296)
DaVanon-esque. Beautiful. I'm going to start using that as my baseball adjective of choice.
   3. reno dakota Posted: June 06, 2003 at 02:12 AM (#611307)
I think I would prefer "DaVanonian."
   4. Bernal Diaz has an angel on his shoulder Posted: June 07, 2003 at 02:13 AM (#611319)
I have yet to read a bad article by either Dan or Aaron. Keep up the good work.
   5. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: June 09, 2003 at 02:13 AM (#611327)
Sorry I haven't replied sooner.

I not sure exactly what counts as "interesting," but Jeff DaVanon hitting six home runs in three games might just do it for me

There's a chance I wrote the first part before looking at DaVanon's game log.

Anyway, thanks guys. I just wanted to point out that where I say the Mariners have been better than the A's since year XXXX, the "since" includes the year in question.

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