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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Five Previously Preposterous Questions

Walt takes a look at some of this season’s biggest surprises.

Among topsy-turvy, streak-riddled seasons, this has to be one of the turviest, riddledest ones ever.  And so I present 5 questions which would have been totally preposterous less than two months ago:

1.  Are the A’s the best team in the AL?

After a 7-20 May, the A’s record stood at 19-32, 10.5 games behind the Angels and just 2 games in the loss column better than Tampa Bay.  In fact, from May 24-26, they were swept by the Devil Rays.  In that disastrous May, they scored 4.1 runs per game while giving up a staggering 6 runs a game.

Then the baseball gods were kept up all night by some indigestion and decided to take it out on the anti-Beanies.  Since the end of May through July 26, the A’s have gone 35-14 (.714).  They’ve scored an average of 5.6 runs while giving up an average of 3.5 runs.  While no single player has really torn it up over that full two months, most have consistently been putting up very solid numbers.  The team OBP has been around 350 and they’ve discovered some power, slugging over 450 over this stretch.  Meanwhile their starters were dominant in June (worst starter ERA was 3.09) and although Saarloos and Haren have had a rough July, Harden and Zito remain dominant and the bullpen has stepped it up a notch.

As the A’s entered July, they faced a tough stretch of 23 games against division leaders (White Sox and Angels) and wild-card contenders (Toronto, Texas, and Cleveland).  At the time I said if they played .500 in those games that would be a sign they are a solid team.  And I said if they wanted to get into the playoff race, they’d need to go something like 15-8 but I didn’t think they were that good of a team.  Through 22 of those games, they’ve gone 16-6 and find themselves tied for the wild card.

If they were to continue playing the way they have since the end of May, using the Pythagorean, they’d finish with 98-99 wins.

Of course there’s no reason to expect them to continue winning at this pace.  And other teams have been doing nearly as well.  The Angels are 29-19 since the end of May and the White Sox have been 30-17.  And of course you can’t ignore the first two months – the A’s offense still doesn’t look that good and their young pitchers (other than Harden) do keep yo-yoing between bad and good as you’d expect.  So no, I can’t say that the A’s are the best team in the AL … but I won’t say they aren’t either.

2.  Are the Blue Jays the best team in the AL East?

Quick?  Which team leads the AL East in run differential?  You cheated by reading the above question didn’t you?

The Jays currently have a run differential of +67.  This is second in the AL only to the White Sox.  Overall, they’re 4th in the AL in RS and 5th in RA which usually is a nice combination.  For July, they’ve averaged just under 7 runs a game – did anyone else notice this? – with a team OPS of 866.  It’s like they’re hitting against Eric Milton every night. 

Of course their overall record of 50-49 and 22-25 since the end of May suggests that perhaps they aren’t the best team in the AL East.  So what’s going on?

Part of it is 1-run games, in which they’re 5-15.  Part of it may be an excessive number of blowout wins (wins of 11-2, 12-3, 15-2, 8-0 twice just in the last month) distorting their run differential.  Also some “good” luck that hasn’t paid off one bit – i.e. they’ve scored 25 more runs than their EQR and given up 20 fewer runs than their EQRA, yet they’re 2.5 wins behind their “adjusted” win total from Baseball Prospectus.  The White Sox have similar differentials and are 12 games ahead of their adjusted win total.

Like the A’s, nobody really stands out offensively, but every important player is between a 740 and 840 OPS.  On the pitching side, Halladay and Chacin have been great and the bullpen has been good

So my take is that their run differential is somewhat misleading and no, they aren’t the best team in the AL East.  But given the stumbling Red Sox, Yankees, and Orioles, I’m not ruling that out either.  Still, it’s unlikely they’ll make up 4.5 games AND jump over 3 teams ahead of them, but the wild card is a real possibility and the defrocked sabermetric GM’s pursuit of AJ Burnett makes a lot more sense.

3. Are the Astros the favorite for the NL Wild Card?

Meet the Houston Astros, aka the A’s of the NL.  They also stood at 19-32 at the end of May and they’ve nearly matched the A’s since with a 34-15 record (with one “tie”).  Not quite as impressive as the A’s, they’ve still averaged 5 runs per game while giving up just 3.2 over that stretch.  If they keep this up, they’ll finish with 97 wins.

There are a couple of sluggers here with both Ensberg and Berkman easily clearing the 900 OPS mark.  Biggio is having a renaissance season, posting an 836 OPS (helping to erase any lingering doubts about his Hall-worthiness).  But the rest of the offense looks pretty bad, with Jason Lane being the only other regular over a 700 OPS.  They’re scoring a pretty pedestrian 4.4 runs per game.

Yet their +45 run differential is third best in the NL and that’s their pitching. For the season, the Astros are giving up just 3.9 runs per game in what’s usually a mild hitters’ park (despite its rep as Coors-lite).  I suspect most of you have heard of Roger Clemens, who’s sporting a swank 1.40 ERA (0.31 on the road!!).  Roy Oswalt is looking great (2.33 ERA) and is on pace to do something that hasn’t been done in ages – get a decision in every start he’s made.  But I had no idea that Andy Pettitte and his balky elbow had a 2.73 ERA.  Once they stop wasting bullpen innings on Chad Harville and Russ Springer, the bullpen should be much improved.  At least John Franco’s gone.

While it’s too much to ask even of the Miracle Astros to catch the Cardinals (currently 10.5 back), they are just two games back in the Wild Card behind the struggling Nats and just ahead of the Cubs and Phils.  I like the Astros’ chances but this team could use another bat.

4.  Is Derrek Lee having the greatest season ever?

OK, this one would not have been preposterous a couple months ago, it was just too early then to take it seriously.  And of course the answer is also obviously no.

But Derrek Lee is threatening to do something that has only been done twice before in the NL.  He leads in BA, he’s tied for the lead in HR, he’s second in RBI (2 back).  He also leads in runs scored.  And he also leads in doubles.

Of course we all know (or should) that no NL player has hit for the Triple Crown since Joe Medwick in 1937 (and he only tied for the HR lead).  But did you know that no NL player has led the league in both HR and doubles since Willie Stargell (?) in 1973.

And the only two NL players to lead in BA, HR, RBI, RS, and doubles (at least since 1900) were Joe Medwick in 1937 and Rogers Hornsby in 1922.  Of course Hornsby threatened to do it almost every year from 1920-1925.

5.  Is Jason Giambi the best hitting 1B in the AL?

You may have heard about Mr. Giambi and his early season struggles.  At the end of May, he was hitting about 231/376/347 with just 4 HR (1 in May) and 2 doubles.  It was so bad that HBP had become a major part of his offensive game (7 of them).

Well, his current full-season numbers stand at 285/441/531 which, with rounding, gives him a nice shiny 973 OPS.  That 441 OBP leads the AL (#2 in MLB).  He’s now got 16 HR and 11 doubles.  For June & July, he’s hit 339/503/720 with 12 HR (11 in July).  He’s slugging 1.000 for July.

His 973 overall OPS puts him 60 points ahead of Richie Sexson and 85 ahead of Teixeira.  He’s played a good bit of time at DH, so we could bring Travis Hafner (995 OPS) and David Ortiz (941) into the debate as well.  Of course OPS isn’t the perfect statistic.  Giambi has a 340 EQA which just trails Hafner (343) but is well ahead of Ortiz (321) and Sexson (319).

In fact, “is Giambi the best hitter in all of baseball?” looks like a legitimate question now.  He’s tied for third in the AL with AROD and behind Hafner and Brian Roberts (344).  He’s also just behind Derrek Lee (369) and Miguel Cabrera (343) from the NL.  Another hot week and he may trail only Lee.

Walt Davis Posted: July 28, 2005 at 02:40 PM | 25 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Ivan Grushenko of Hong Kong Posted: July 28, 2005 at 03:18 PM (#1504731)

Does Giambi have an MVP shot?  OK he’s behind A-Rod, but who else?  Roberts?  Vlad?  Posednik?

   2. SM in DC Posted: July 28, 2005 at 03:25 PM (#1504744)

How many Primates are going to be killed in kevin’s stampede to bloviate here?

   3. Cabbage Posted: July 28, 2005 at 03:32 PM (#1504755)

Does Giambi have an MVP shot?

He has an outside chance of having the best offensive season in baseball.  Of course, his baserunning and defense are pretty below average, even for a 1B/DH.

I don’t think there is a snowballs chance in hell that the writers would give him an MVP without the HR title, BA title, Yankee AL East Title, 3 or 4 walkoff hits between now and the end of the season, and Derek Jeter singing his praises to the media.

   4. The usual palaver and twaddle (Met Fan Charlie) Posted: July 28, 2005 at 05:09 PM (#1505032)

And there’s the omnipresent juicing question…

   5. Scoriano Flitcraft Posted: July 28, 2005 at 07:31 PM (#1505563)

And there’s the omnipresent juicing question…

I agree. Think of the affect this all has on children.

Although many schools are now replacing carbonated soft drinks on school lunch menus with 100% natual fruit juices, the high sugar content remains a legitimate health concern.

Where is Congress on all of this?

   6. Loren F. Posted: July 28, 2005 at 10:18 PM (#1506078)

Giambi is hitting well, but in terms of overall value he trails A-Rod and Sheffield just on his own team. However, this brings up the fact that there doesn’t appear to be a deep field of contenders for the AL MVP right now. Besides A-Rod and Sheff, the leading candidates right now (based on likelihood, not merit) are probably:
Ortiz (heck of a hitter, lots of RBI)
Manny (same as Ortiz—unless he takes another day off)
Roberts (tremendous offense out of 2B)
Damon (batting crown and perceived as a scrappy player)
Tejada (could rebound but has fell behind in his key attraction, RBI)
Am I missing anyone?

   7. rory_b_bellows Posted: July 28, 2005 at 10:26 PM (#1506103)

I don’t think there is any way that Giambi ends the season hitting above 250.  If you look at his career progression, it’s a perfect bell curve, improving every year until 2001 and declining since.  He will have a better year than last year of course but to expect something like 2003 (276/412/527 with 41 HR) just doesn’t seem realistic.  I expect that he will end up hitting around 230 with 25 HR, not terrible but certainly not as good as his current pace.

   8. 44magnum Posted: July 28, 2005 at 11:00 PM (#1506141)

Giambi could win MVP if he has an August & September if he hits a decent amount of game deciding homers.  Chipper Jones & Barry Bonds always seemed to pound the ball during the last 2 months.  Miguel Tejada’s MVP award, a great year to be sure, was probably a direct result of the slew of game winning hits he produced leading the A’s to a post season berth.  As mentioned above, the low rbi total will hurt him.

   9. TVerik, who wonders what the hell is "Ansky" Posted: July 29, 2005 at 01:12 AM (#1506418)

rory, I think you’d find a lot of takers if you established a .250 BA line on Giambi this year.

That, by the way, would include me.

   10. RB in NYC (Now Semi-Retired from BBTF) Posted: July 29, 2005 at 03:34 AM (#1506814)

I don’t think there is any way that Giambi ends the season hitting above 250…I expect that he will end up hitting around 230 with 25 HR

Well, let’s see. ESPN projects him for 134 games and 399 ABs to this point. That seems a little conservative, the Yankees have exactly 62 games left (hey, there’s something I didn’t know). Let’s say Giambi plays in 45 of them…add that to the 83 he’s already played and you get…128. Ok, take that back. 134 games has Giambi playing in 51 of the remaining games, which seems reasonable enough to me. So 399 ABs, call it 400. At the moment Giambi has 68 hits. So let’s see:

.230 x 400 = 92 hits - 68 = 24. He has in this example 154 ABs left, so if he hit’s .230 for the year, he would have to hit .155 the rest of the way. I don’t see it. I think he’ll clear that easy.

.250 x 400 = 100 - 68 = 32. To hit .250 for the year, Giambi has to hit .207 the rest of the way.

I think something in the .260-.270 range is most realistic

   11. Phil Coorey. Posted: July 29, 2005 at 12:14 PM (#1507155)

Great article btw Walt.

   12. Need a job in baseball Posted: July 29, 2005 at 03:23 PM (#1507446)

MVP = No Way

A renewed force in an already solid Yankee lineup = Absolutely.

Help to lead an inconsistent team to a playoff birth = Likely.

BTW - I actually think that .250 is the lower limit for Giambi this year.  I would agree with the .270 to .280 projection, although I wouldn’t be completely surprised if he was closer to .300.

   13. Need a job in baseball Posted: July 29, 2005 at 03:34 PM (#1507475)

Maybe Giambi gets votes for Most Improved Player.  Either way, if he just maintains the numbers he has now and finishes with a .973 OPS, the Yankees should be ecstatic. 

Anyone have any idea on how his performance effects Matsui, and A-Rod hitting in front of him?

   14. Cowboy Popup Posted: July 30, 2005 at 05:00 AM (#1509589)

“Anyone have any idea on how his performance effects Matsui, and A-Rod hitting in front of him?”

Well, they’ve been running around the bases alot more lately (tonight excluded), so I’d imagine that they’re a little more tired now a days.

   15. Michael Posted: August 01, 2005 at 09:23 AM (#1514703)

Good article. 

In the AL there are 6 teams who have allowed 450 runs or fewer going in to today.  There are 6 teams who have scored 500 runs or more.  Just 3 teams have done both.  They are:

Chicago White Sox 510-413
Toronto Blue Jays 513-444
Oakland Athletics 504-450

So good that you highlighted both the A’s and the Jays as teams that deserve more credit and attention than they currently get (especially the Jays).

Oh, and supposed contender Baltimore is one of the 5 AL teams that has less than 500 RS and more than 450 RA (and more RA than RS).

Surprisingly there are only 5 teams in the NL to allow 450 or fewer runs.  And only 2 teams in the NL have scored 500 or more runs.  And only 1 team has done both:

St. Louis Cardinals 532-406

So in all of baseball there are only 4 teams that are 500+ RS and 450- RA.  Given this I wish BBTN would show a little more of the Jays.

   16. Ziggy's screen name Posted: August 02, 2005 at 02:58 PM (#1516877)

Great work Walt, I enjoyed it.

Here’s another question about hardware: is there a (legitimate) excuse to not give the CYY to Clemens?  0.31 ERA on the road?  1.4 overall?  His win total is below where it should be, but come on, even the sports writers can’t say a guy with a 1.40 ERA isn’t a winner.

   17. Mushmouth Posted: August 02, 2005 at 06:17 PM (#1517301)

Podsednik?  Tell me you are kidding.

   18. Walt Davis Posted: August 03, 2005 at 03:04 PM (#1519723)

Here’s another question about hardware: is there a (legitimate) excuse to not give the CYY to Clemens? 0.31 ERA on the road? 1.4 overall? His win total is below where it should be, but come on, even the sports writers can’t say a guy with a 1.40 ERA isn’t a winner.

Not that I see, but they didn’t give it to Randy last year.  And Carpenter has a nice low ERA, a 16-4 record with the best team in the NL, and is averaging over 7 IP per start.  That might overshadow Clemens in the writers’ eyes.

But there’s still two months left.  A lot can happen to an ERA in two months.  Carpenter could end up at 3, in which case it’s probably Clemens easily.  Or Clemens ends up over 2.00 then it’s Carpenter easily (probably even if his ERA goes up to 3).

Right now Astros starters have 3 of the 4 lowest ERAs in the NL.  When did they move back into the Astrodome?  You’d think I’d have heard about that.

   19. Traderdave Posted: August 03, 2005 at 07:21 PM (#1520242)

Good article, esp the Jays parts.  I must confess I did n’t know that their run diff was so pronounced.

   20. Hurdle's Heroes (SuperBaes) Posted: August 04, 2005 at 03:38 PM (#1522323)

Great article.  Anyone else not surprised Beane couldn’t bring himself to change the hottest team in baseball?

MVP:  I don’t think it’s absurd to consider Podsednik for the award.  He sparks the offense of the best team in baseball.

Cy Young:  Carpenter is burning Clemens in K’s and CG’s.  If the Nats make the playoffs, what about Chad Cordero?  Can Roy Halladay win the AL Cy Young after missing over a month?

   21. Roberto Petagine Posted: August 05, 2005 at 06:18 PM (#1525319)

AL MVP:  Vladimir Guerrero

   22. Ziggy's screen name Posted: August 05, 2005 at 09:35 PM (#1525860)

I think AROD and Manny look like much better candidates at this point.  Too bad, I was hoping for a pair of unexpected MVPs in Roberts/Lee.

   23. dime Posted: August 08, 2005 at 08:53 PM (#1530566)

I know we all love our scrappy white players, but podsednik is just not very good. He may be the most overrated player in the league. He can’t hit good pitching, and 9 times out of 10 his stolen base is completely irrelevant. He’s only an average defender, and has a weak arm.

carlos lee is ten times the player podsednik is.

   24. Eddie Gaedel Posted: August 08, 2005 at 10:31 PM (#1530693)

Here’s another question about hardware: is there a (legitimate) excuse to not give the CYY to Clemens? 0.31 ERA on the road? 1.4 overall? His win total is below where it should be, but come on, even the sports writers can’t say a guy with a 1.40 ERA isn’t a winner.

Clemens great ERA is as much an illusion as his crappy W-L record.  Check out his DIPS.

Carpenter has outperformed him in every facet (W-L, WHIP, K/9, K/BB, working deep into games) EXCEPT ERA. 

If Clemens once won a CYA based on a gaudy W-L record despite lesser peripherals, then why should he win it this time based entirely on a gaudy ERA, but lesser peripherals.

I’m not a worshipper at the feet of W-L record.  But there are plenty of other areas demonstrating Carpenter’s dominance, both over NL hitters and over Clemens.

   25. The Ghost of Sox Fans Past Posted: August 27, 2005 at 01:15 AM (#1576370)

Enough of the writers will stiff or downgrade Giambi because of steroids to keep him from winning. I’ll even bet that he’ll finish out of the top 10.

If Clemens once won a CYA based on a gaudy W-L record despite lesser peripherals, then why should he win it this time based entirely on a gaudy ERA, but lesser peripherals.

Because he’s Roger Clemens, which is one of the biggest reasons he won that last one.

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