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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
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.
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