Monday, June 26, 2006

The 2006 Red Sox, a Team Built on Pitching and Defense?

Quoting myself from this blog on March 1st, 2006 “If you take the aggregate 2005 numbers for the Red Sox and then assume no decrease from the returning players and add the 2005 numbers of players we have acquired and assume no drop in production, we should be about the same team offensively in 2006 as 2005.”

How they’re doing so far:


















A slight improvement in the core offensive stats but a slight decrease in the offensive “efficiency” or the amount of runs produced from those stats. It’s been pretty much what I would have expected, a pretty similar offensive team to last year despite the huge lineup turnover. That comes with a caveat though: individually I so far would have greatly over-estimated Varitek’s numbers and somewhat under-estimated Lowell and Youkilis’ production. Thankfully those things have evened out though and made me look relatively smart compared to some other prediction tools. One example is that I think so far I’ve beaten Diamond Mind, the highly advanced predicting tool found here. And also the writers at Baseball Prospectus, who stated in their 2006 issue that “Even with Manny and Ortiz still in the fold, the 2006 team is likely to decline on offense, so improvements in pitching and defense represent the club’s most likely path to the playoffs”.

As anticipated though we’re still filling the bases with runners and sometimes even scoring them despite productive outs! That’s not to say that they haven’t improved greatly on defense and somewhat on pitching so far as well to become a more well-rounded team. Pure and simple what has (and will continue to) contributed to the Red Sox not from running away with a playoff spot is that there’s so many more talented teams to match up against in the AL now. (This is especially apparently when looking at the disparity in talent compared to the NL). With the Yankees, Blue Jays, White Sox, Tigers, and A’s all doing well so far, it’s not going to be easy to play in October. And that’s not even including the Twins (who would easily make the playoffs in the NL), the Indians, who despite greatly underperforming to expectations so far still have an incredible lineup, and the Rangers, who have also played quite well.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Young Guys Getting it Done
John Williams

I just can’t remember a time when there were so many rookies putting up dominant numbers at one time in the American League. There has been some mention of this being a strong class but I don’t think it’s been done enough justice. Just 3 years ago Angel Berroa won the AL Rookie of the Year with a pedestrian .789 OPS for the Royals and 100 strikeouts compared to only 29 walks. The much more talented Bobby Crosby followed by winning the 2004 award with a .239 AVG and .745 OPS. How times have changed. There are also a bunch of second year players having great seasons (like Chris Ray in Baltimore or Bobby Jenks in Chicago) but this list will be limited to guys still classified in MLB as rookies starting the 2006 season.

Francisco Liriano: Better stuff than Santana? I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but that was before I saw him pitch. Finally being inserted in the rotation, he’s 6-1 in just over 58 innings, with a 2.16 ERA and .216 BAA, along with 67 strikeouts. And he’s not walking many guys either. He may not be able to save the Twin’s playoff hopes this season all by himself, but Minnesota has the makings of an absurdly dominant 1/2 punch for the coming years.

Justin Verlander: The hardest throwing starting pitching prospect since well Felix Hernandez. But King Felix has shown that a high 90s fastball over 8 innings doesn’t necessarily guarantee immediate MLB success. Then again Verlander does in fact throw even harder than that. His lack of strikeouts so far is troubling, but only a little bit, because there is no question his stuff is overpowering. He’s a little similar to Rich Harden in that manner (though with many less K), players are almost able to time his fastball, but it’s so hard they just can’t square up to it, so he gets a lot of weakly hit balls. He’s 8-4 with a 3.21 ERA so far for the Tigers, and definitely is making up for some other underwhelming pitchers in their rotation.

Jered Weaver: Remember when the Phillies couldn’t find a spot for 50 homer threat Ryan Howard the last few years? There should be an adage in baseball that says “unless you’re already running away with your division, make sure all your best players get playing time.” Just like Howard could have helped the Phillies make the playoffs in the early 2000s, Weaver could be replacing his brother right now and making the Angels contenders. Instead Jeff is busy being below average while Jered is stuck in AAA again with these numbers having been compiled in his brief 2006 MLB stint: 4 starts, 4 wins, 0.76 WHIP, .170 BAA, 1.37 ERA. I guess maybe with 4 consecutive no-hitters they would have found a spot for him?

Joel Zumaya: With respect to all the previous pitchers on this list, Zumaya makes them look like soft-tossers. Sporting the first consistently 102 MPH fastball since Randy Johnson, he’s got a .160 BAA in 34 2/3 innings so far this year, and his 2.34 ERA would probably be much lower if not for walking one batter every two innings. Faster than 100 MPH relievers have about a coin-flip’s chance of succeeding over the long haul it seems in recent MLB history, so good luck to the guy. What is encouraging is that he never seems to be muscling the ball up there, his motion is free and easy, which bodes well for at least maintaining the movement on his pitches for the future.

Ian Kinsler: And now for one hitter, here’s a guy putting up very impressive numbers in his first year in the big leagues. Despite his injury problems so far, he’s hit to the tune of a .381 OBP and .571 SLG in his first 91 atbats. He’s got a long way to go though to catch up to what the rest of these guys have already accomplished.

Jonathan Papelbon: Saving the best for last, Papelbon has so far in 2006 pitched 36 of nearly perfect relief innings to the tune of a 0.64 WHIP, .153 BAA, and an eye-popping 0.25 ERA. He has worked very hard to improve his offspeed stuff but is still mainly a fastball pitcher (77% of all pitches thrown in 2006). Compare that his fastball throwing-teammate Curt Schilling (63%). The numbers just prove what is easily perceived by the naked eye, major league hitters have not figured out his fastball yet. He’ll always be a very good pitcher due to his outstanding command of all his pitches, but it remains to be seen how dominant his main pitch remains for the near future. Sometimes guys have their pitches figured out, and sometimes they become Mariano Rivera.

Quite a list from just the American League. The National League also has a very strong rookie class this season, albeit not as star-studded as their counterpart. Leading the way is Prince Fielder (.545 SLG) with Ryan Zimmerman (.477 SLG from 3rd base) and Adam Wainwright (0.83 WHIP in relief) right behind, while a slew of rookie Marlins (Uggla, Ramirez, Johnson, Hermidia, Willingham) are also having good years. And not even mentioned so far are two guys considered pre-season favorites for the ROY awards in their respective leagues, Jason Kubel (Minnesota), and Conor Jackson (Arizona).

There certainly are a greater number than usual of talented rookies arriving this year, but the numbers could also be helped because of some changing ideas. More pitchers now are molded to be relievers based on one dominant pitch at the minor league level, and then moved up rapidly through the system to give the major league help very quickly (like last year’s AL ROY Huston Street). Drafting a guy with a 100 MPH fastball and keeping him a reliever means he only needs one other pitch to be halfway decent in order to make it to the majors, so it’s a fast return on your investment. The guy who best fits this description, Craig Hansen, has barely even pitched for the Red Sox in relief this season so far, but could yet make a big mark on the season.

As for the other pitchers on this list, their place could be the result of a change of thinking for the development of minor league pitchers. Speaking generally of pitchers, teams are becoming less and less reluctant to put young guys on the staff who have put up big numbers in the minors, even if they are very inexperienced. It’s partly a result of the sabrmetrics trend showing minor league numbers do translate partially to the majors as a rule, and also that there just isn’t enough pitching around to always be going out of the organization for improvements.


Saturday, June 17, 2006

Note on Jon Lester

Having witnessed Lester struggle with command in spring training and at times in his first couple of starts, it reminds me a little of Papelbon struggling in the same way when he was called up last year. I find them interesting players to compare because they are both young, are both on the Red Sox (not known for developing young pitchers), both have exhibited superb command in the minors, and both have great fastballs. Here are their numbers for their first 10.1 MLB innings pitched (reminder, this is just a quick note, it's way too small a sample size to conclude anything from):

Sox Young Gun



Home Runs




10 1/3






10 1/3





We’ve all seen how quickly Papelbon has become a quality strike-throwing machine, so is it reasonable to expect Lester to follow the same path? Probably not, especially since Lester will only be a starter from here on out and won’t be throwing constantly at the same effort level. But I expect Lester to be a very good starter for the rest of this year based on his career trends in the minors of always having great command along with his stuff. What is certainly encouraging from his first two MLB starts is the ability of Lester to bear down and add a little with runners on against, something absolutely shown by Papelbon.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Early Allstar Selections
John Williams

Since there’s no mathematical formula for picking AL and NL allstars, there are many flaws in the determination of roster spots. The biggest flaw of course is having the fans vote for the most deserving players to start. This results in a lot of Yankee, Red Sox, aging former greats, and currently injured players getting spots. And the other flaw is the how the rest of the roster is chosen, as many times managers and coaches will pull for certain players while other more deserving ones go unnoticed. In the end it’s the fans mostly who matter though for this contest and usually enough spots open up as a result of uninterested players pulling out anyway, so no big deal. It seems though even in the pre-allstar analysis by writers of who should and shouldn’t make it, underappreciated players still seem to slip through the cracks while other trendy picks continue to be lauded despite not really deserving a spot on the team.

Exhibit A

Unrelated to the allstar talk, I’d also like to wonder aloud why it’s impossible to bring up Mauer’s name these days without also saying “Remember when the Twins were so cheap and picked Mauer instead of Prior because he would be much cheaper? Well look at him now!” I know that the Twins passed over the most polished college pitcher ever to sign Mauer instead because of ownerships unwillingness to pay up, but still, it wasn’t as if they were giving up on being competitive because of this. Prior was a sure thing top of the rotation guy in theory, but let’s all remember There’s No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect. Looking at it in terms of value, you have Prior wanting $10 about million to sign and Mauer wanting about $5 million. Signing guys out of the draft is extremely risky nomatter what scouts say, so either one is a risk. But Prior is a much bigger risk since he’s a pitcher. What most scouts said about Mauer in college was “like Johnny Bench, but a much better hitter and a much better fielder.” So there ya go, pretty much the best two-way prospect in the last decade or one of the best college pitchers ever, one of them twice as expensive. The biggest question with Mauer was how he’d do at handling big league pitchers and how his enormously large body frame would hold up as a catcher. Everyone knew he could hit like few prospects before. I’m not saying Prior was definitely the best choice, only that it wasn’t exactly a horrible cost-cutting move by the Twins. So people shouldn’t be surprised that he’s making the Cubs look stupid as Prior’s injuries have robbed him of velocity while Mauer is looking like a perennial batting champ threat.

On to allstar talk, here is who Rogers picks at each position, and his runners up in parentheses:

Catcher: Mauer (Hernandez, Rodriguez, Posada).
This is a pretty good list, Mauer should be first. But how does he have Rodriguez on there but not Martinez? (Rodriguez: 5 HR, 30 RBI, .790 OPS, Martinez: 10 HR, 43 RBI, .874 OPS). Don’t worry though, the fans are voting in Varitek at the moment.

1st Base: Konerko (Giambi, Overbay, Broussard).
Giambi is clearly better than Konerko, almost 150 OPS points higher. I’ll let it go because Rogers is an idiot and he did mention Giambi at least. How about mentioning Youuuuuukilis though? He has a higher OPS than Konerko as well… I don’t know why Overbay is even listed, he’s solid but not as good as Teixeira (even while having an incredibly off year), Hillenbrand, or even Shelton. Broussard is having an amazing, and delayed breakout year.

2nd Base: Lopez (Iguchi, Cano)
How weak is the talent at 2nd base in the AL that these rankings are actually correct. YUCK!

3rd Base: Rodriguez (Crede, Chavez, Blalock, Lowell, Wigginton)
A-Rod should start this every year until he rightfully moves back to SS, which will probably never happen. It seems like Rogers is just listing guys who are having better than normal years, or are on good teams, instead of listing the most deserving though. Wigginton? He’s having his best year…meaning a .273 BA and .310 OBP woooo. We are trying to win the game right? And not listing Troy Glaus (19 HR, 50 RBI, .957 OPS) must be a typo so I’ll ignore it.

Shortstop: Tejada (Jeter, Young, Guillen)
Looks good to me (his one perfect list). Oh Jhonny Peralta how quickly your stock has fallen.

Outfield: Dye, Wells, Ordonez (Ramirez, Rios, Swisher, Guerrero, Ibanez)
This is always a tough one since anyway you pick it you’re going to leave great players off the roster. We can do better than this though. First take off Magglio who is having just a good year, not a great one. Dye has to stay since he’s having a huge year, and so should Wells (who edges out his teammate Rios because of his amazing CF defense). The third spot should go to Manny, because any guy with an OPS over 1.0 has to start the allstar game, period. Sizemore needs to be listed here too, because of his all-around play. But you could also list Blake, Matthews Jr., and Ichiro (he is batting .360 here people) ahead of Ibanez.

DH: (Hafner, Thome, Ortiz)
Well there’s no DH this year so it’s just a matter of trying to fit these guys on the team somehow. Especially in the case of Hafner. I hope baseball doesn’t continue the running joke of not picking him for anything.

Starting Pitchers: Contreras (Mussina, Halladay, Kazmir, Zito, Schilling, Rogers)
I like this list, I think all these guys should make the team. That’s of course if you want to play the allstar game without the BEST PITCHER IN THE AL!!! Who edited this and allowed Johan Santana to not be listed???? Santana’s current AL ranks: 1st in strikeouts, 5th in WHIP, 2nd in K/BB, 4th in ERA, 6th in BAA. He’s always a better second half pitcher, but even by the allstar game he should have improved on these already dominant rankings. On Contreras, he is not starting the allstar game, I’m sorry. I would put my money on Halladay. Other guys to watch here are Haren, Verlander, and Liriano if he keeps it up for the next few weeks.

Closers?: Papelbon (Jenks, Ryan, Otsuka)
I put a question mark because I think Rogers meant to write “Relievers here” since I’m pretty sure setup guys can be allstars too. Anyway, trying my hardest to not jinx the closer on my favorite team, I will just say that Papelbon is the allstar closer as of this moment. Where does Otsuka come from on this list? No, I’ll take Ryan, Ray, Jenks, and Nathan. But man do I want to list Zumaya as well. How cool would it be for his 102 MPH fastball to be on national television?

Catcher: Estrada (Ausmus, Barrett, Lo Duca)
Wrong, wrong, wrong. First of all, Brian McCann is still in the league despite his DL stint, and he’s now batting .368. He doesn’t qualify for the batting title because of his time off, but only 3 catchers in the NL do anyway. I guess you have to give some love to Estrada, he of the 5 homers and .337 OBP just because there aren’t many options out there. Ausmus though, no way. I don’t care how impressive his short-lived ability to hit bloop singles is. His OBP is actually higher than his slugging right now, which is not easy to do. Of course it’s easier when you have a grand total of 1 home run. Paul Lo Duca? No, he’s also pathetically slugging under .400 in a dream lineup spot in front of Beltran. Here’s who I would go with: McCann starting, with some votes for Barrett, Miller, and Martin.

1st Base: Pujols (Howard, Berkman, Garciaparra)
Albert get well soon. If we have to play this thing without you (Bud can we delay it a few weeks pretty please?), then Berkman and Howard are the best choices for starter. I’d give the nod to Howard just to give the guy some national attention, he is one of the most awesome hitters to watch in the batter’s box in the game today. And yes, I’d have to include Nomar in here, who has been red hot while he’s been healthy. Also good to mention is Johnson, he is only 1 OPS point behind Howard and really coming into his own.

2nd Base: Utley (Phillips, Uggla)
In baseball at 2nd base, it’s Chase Utley and a bunch of other guys. In the NL, Uggla is one of the other guys, and so is Phillips. Rickie Weeks is right behind Phillips and is even more fun to watch play so I would list him in the top 3 instead.

3rd Base: Wright (Cabrera, Rolen, Ensberg, Hall, Sanchez)
This is a tough one alright. For clarification, Cabrera is superior to Wright, despite Wright’s greatness. Rolen and Ensberg (now slowed by injury) are also having huge years. They could start the game as well. I think I might stop the list there though, I think Bill Hall has been kind of lucky this year and after that the talent drops down into a lower echelon.

Shortstop: Renteria (Greene, Reyes, Ramirez)
A general rule for allstar teams, if you’re batting under .250 and you’re a middle infielder, you’re not going. So see ya later Greene and Reyes. Renteria is the clear favorite. Eckstein is also in the mix for batting close to .330. Hanley is in there as well, and I’ll say Vizquel too because he has some pretty comparable numbers.

Outfield: Bay, Soriano, Jones (Beltran, Lee, Abreu, Holliday, Burrell)
Bay yes, oh hell yes. Soriano too, because he’s on a 60 homer pace (btw what in the world has gotten into Soriano?) Jones no. Beltran is the third outfielder, he’s been sensational, and one of the best players in the NL. Also c’mon where is Adam Dunn on this list? He will probably lead the majors in homers with Pujols sidelined (until Pujols comes back that is). And please get Burrell off this list, unless you also want to take Hawpe, Drew, and Byrnes with you to the game. These guys are very good, not great.

Starting Pitchers: Webb (Arroyo, Peavy, Glavine, Zambrano)
Webb most definitely starts the allstar game. He’s got the wins and the sparkling era to prove it. That’s not to say Pedro hasn’t been the best pitcher in the NL this year, just that Webb is the most standard guy to pick to start the game. Pedro has to be on this list of contenders though, along with Arroyo and Zambrano. I disagree with the others. Peavy is one of the best pitchers in baseball in general, he just hasn’t pitched quite as well this year, in case Rogers hasn’t been watching. Glavine has been good but not great as well. Schmidt has been awesome, he’s on this list and I’m going to mention Chris Young too just because he’s had 2 no-hitters past the seventh. I also need to mention Penny, Carpenter, and Lowe, who could all make the team by continuing their trends for the next month.

Relief Pitchers: Gordon (Isringhausen, Hoffman, Fuentes, Wagner)
Gordon tops the list for sure. Isringhausen, please, I don’t think so, check the K/BB ratio on him and the blown save total. Hoffman is deserving as he is every year, along with Fuentes, Wagner, and perhaps Gonzalez and Cordero if they keep it up.

Now to focus on watching the Red Sox / Twins 1-1 pitcher’s duel tonight. The Twins just removed Santana from the game after 8 innings pitched, 5 baserunners allowed, and 13 K’s to bring in Joe Nathan (1.96 ERA). Both of those guys of course not being mentioned as potential allstars by Phil Rogers.


Monday, June 05, 2006

The Best Team in Baseball
John Williams

They were 71-91 last year, so what in the world has gotten into the Tigers? I'm going to break it down to see what's going on here, first the hitting, and then the pitching.

The 2005 team wasn’t bad in this regard, especially taking into account the cavernous ballpark in which they play. They were 17th in mlb in runs scored and 14th in OPS. More impressively, these ranks were achieved with Carlos Guillen on the DL for 75 games and Magglio Ordonez on the DL for 80 games. Without Magglio in the outfield, on most nights there wasn’t much offensive power out there. Rondell White and Craig Monroe supplied merely serviceable production while Nook Logan was a disaster offensively in 129 games. Pretty much anyone in place of his .305 OBP and .335 SLG would be a boon for the hitting. At short stop, a host of replacements did little in Guillen’s absence. This led them to finish 24th in SS OPS, and that’s including Guillen’s .802 number in the games he played. Right off the bat the Tigers could help their offense very much by just keeping Guillen and Magglio healthy for 2006.

As for the rest of the lineup, here’s a look at the main position players and their production from last year compared to this year (through 57 games).


2005 Player


2006 Player















































With considerable lineup stability from 2005 to 2006, the improvements from last year to this year really are mostly due to the health of the key players. Nook Logan may or may not have been bumped out of the outfield picture had Ordonez been healthy all last year, but with Granderson now replacing him center field production has gone way up. Also the over-the-hill Dmitri Young/his injury replacements are out of the DH spot, and in their place is Marcus Thames, who has been somewhat of a revelation so far this year. Though at his age a suddent breakout season isn’t likely, the Tigers probably won’t lose anything at DH this year. Elsewhere, Polanco has been somewhat of a disappointment, which slightly offsets some of the other lineup improvements.

Speaking generally, the 2005 Tigers were a team expected to be competitive, i.e. play at least .500 ball. The final W-L was a little misleading since they were a little unlucky, as their expected W-L was 75-87. Having Ordonez and Guillen healthy no doubt would have brought them very close to .500. So given a healthier roster, a replacement for the abysmal production of Nook Logan, and a little luck, it’s not surprising that this team is competitive this year. Since their roster does have some older and injury-prone position players, there was no real reason to expect everyone to be healthy and productive this year. That makes it all the more surprising that as of today, June 4th, they have the best record and best run differential in all of baseball. Looking at the gains in hitting from last year to this year, they have solid but relatively minor. The improvement in runs prevented is the real key to success here.

This is more or less the Tigers 5 man rotation of 2005, along with their ERA, WHIP, and PERA numbers:

2005 Pitcher




Jeremy Bonderman




Mike Maroth




Jason Johnson




Nate Robertson




Sean Douglass




Besides Bonderman and his limitless potential, mostly what you see here is what you get: mediocrity. Bonderman was both a little unlucky in 2005 and very likely to improve in 2006. Going into 2006 you couldn’t really have expected any of the other guys to have significantly improved. Mike Maroth is painfully average and somehow also overrated despite his infamous 2003 season in which he had 21 losses. Jason Johnson meanwhile is both average and not on the team any longer. Nate Robertson (like Johnson) seems to not have the stamina for a full baseball season and thus tends to average very few innings per start as the year goes on. Last year that led to a bunch of games where his baserunners scored due to the bullpen failing him, which is probably partly his fault for running out of gas. Also he's not all that great while he is in there. Sean Douglass is both bad and no longer with the club.

Here is the Tigers 5 man rotation for 2006, along with their ERA and WHIP numbers:




Jeremy Bonderman



Mike Maroth



Kenny Rogers



Nate Robertson



Justin Verlander



Look at those sparkling 3.x ERAs from the rotation. And the best pitcher of them all isn’t even included in that. Bonderman is still pitching better than his ERA for some reason, eventually he’ll get it into the 3s though. So what’s the problem? Well Mike Maroth is one of them. His whip is actually up from last year so far, and worse he’s still allowing a lot of home runs. His ERA means that he has been completely lucky so far this year, and especially given his career of 2nd half fades, it isn’t likely he’ll keep having success. Kenny Rogers so far looks to be a solid middle of the rotation acquisition enjoying a late career resurgence in a pitcher’s park. Congrats to the Tigers for picking him up to replace Johnson, whose numbers he’ll easily best. For Nate Robertson, see above for Mike Maroth. He’s deemed solid mainly because he doesn’t go on the DL, but his pitching is nothing special. Justin Verlander has great stuff, poor strikeout rates, a good WHIP, and an excellent ERA. Since he’s been lucking on balls hit in play, he won’t continue his present success, which means he will be good for now as opposed to excellent. His presence certainly bodes well for the future of the rotation.

The rotation is better than last year with swapping Rogers for Johnson, and also putting Verlander at the back end, but it’s not this much better. It shouldn’t be a rotation that leads MLB in ERA, that’s for sure. The 11 rank in K/BB for the rotation or 21 rank in K/9 are better indicators of it’s strength. I would guess their rotation is going to finish somewhere around 10th in collective ERA, and only that high because of the park they play in. That’s going to mean a lot of tough starts for Maroth and Robertson coming up.

The bullpen for this team has (on the surface at least) been outstanding as well. The era ranks 2 in baseball at 3.19, while the K/9 only ranks 26th, to keep with the same theme as above. The 2005 bullpen was actually pretty good, so in theory they just need to hold steady coming into this year. They have done that, not by signing the overrated Todd Jones, but from the emergence of Joel Zumaya, who is dominating with a K/9 number over 10 so far. The sooner he moves into the closer role the better. Fernando Rodney has also made improvements on his very good 2005 and currently posts a 0.91 WHIP. Losing Farnsworth certainly didn’t help the crew, but the young guys they have throwing bullets out there ensure that the bullpen will again be solid for 2006.

This looks like a good team to me with a superb record. They’ve already made it through a third of the season so it’s too late to say that their success will be fleeting. They will stay in the playoff race until the end of the year just by playing .500 from here on out, so it seems unlikely that they wouldn’t be able to stay in the running for the wildcard at least. It seems my preseason prediction of fourth place for them was too low, especially with the failures of the Indians’ and Twins’ pitching staffs. Look for them to slowdown their breakneck pace as their starter pitchers’ peripheral stats catch up to them, but also look for them to stay in contention in the increasingly underwhelming AL Central.

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