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September 4, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Arizona Diamondbacks, Kansas City Royals, Philadelphia Phillies

by Baseball Prospectus

Arizona Diamondbacks

  • Better to Be Lucky than Good: The Law of Large Numbers tells us that over a large enough sample, teams' luck will even out. In other words, if two teams play enough games, the better team will end up with more wins. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, 162 games is just not enough. Clay Davenport's Adjusted Standings report is an attempt to look beyond a team's win-loss record to see how well a team has really played. The report's third-order winning percentages for each team is an attempt to strip away some of the elements of luck from a team's record to give a number more indicative of how good the team has really been. Here are the third-order winning percentages for the current NL playoff contenders:
    
    Team                   Third-Order Win%/Actual Win%
    Atlanta Braves           .586/.626
    Philadelphia Phillies    .558/.540
    Montreal Expos           .486/.504
    Florida Marlins          .527/.540
    Chicago Cubs             .545/.518
    Houston Astros           .524/.525
    St. Louis Cardinals      .513/.521
    San Francisco Giants     .549/.616
    Arizona Diamondbacks     .529/.504
    Los Angeles Dodgers      .495/.522
    
    

    After fighting through an early-season visit by the injury bug, the D'backs have nearly fallen out of contention. It's a tough way to finish the season, but much of the blame for their collapse can be chalked up to bad fortune. Thanks to their current five-game losing streak, the D'backs trail six teams in the Wild Card race. They will need to play extremely well to be hanging around the race by the last week of the season, when they will play six tough games against the Home Rockies and the Cardinals.

  • Rookie of the Year: Brandon Webb. The 24-year old sinkerballer ranks first in the NL in SNWAR and SNPct. His 2.65 RA in nearly 150 innings should make him worthy of Cy Young consideration. However, thanks to his 8-7 won-lost record, Webb is not even a lock to win the Rookie of the Year. Now that Jose Reyes is out with a sprained ankle, Webb's primary competition for the award will come from Dontrelle Willis, Scott Podsednik, and Jason Phillips. Here are the four of them, ranked by Value Over Replacement Player (VORP):
    
    Player            VORP
    Brandon Webb      51.0
    Scott Podsednik   35.2
    Jason Phillips    29.6
    Dontrelle Willis  27.4
    
    

    The decision really shouldn't be that difficult. However, the voters have plenty of excuses to pick any of the other three players. Podsednik has lots of steals and the good face, Phillips has big triple crown stats and some neat goggles, while Willis has a big smile, an awesome leg kick, and three more wins than Webb.

    However, Webb fans shouldn't fret if he doesn't win the award that brought so much fame to Bob Hamelin and Pat Listach; his peripherals indicate that he is more than just a flash in the pan. Webb's 3:1 K/BB ratio and filthy 3.19 GB/FB Ratio put him just below Kevin Brown as the nastiest groundball pitcher of the year. It seems probable that we haven't heard the last of Webb yet.

  • Pitcher Platooning: September is a great time for teams to be more liberal with how they use their players. The expanded rosters bring about more reliever switches and designated pinch runners, and give Dennys Reyes fans a reason to live. In addition, some managers get creative when given extra roster flexibility. After adding five extra pitchers to his staff, Bob Brenly has indicated that he may platoon the D'backs' fifth starter, starting Elmer Dessens against teams with righty-dominated lineups and Chris Capuano against teams vulnerable to lefties. While picking either of those guys to start a game for your team in a pennant race is sort of like choosing between Gary Coleman and Gallagher to govern your state, at least Brenly is putting the two pitchers in situations where they are slightly more likely to succeed. He will need them to pitch adequately down the stretch to have a shot at sneaking into the playoffs.

Kansas City Royals

  • Baseball Cliché Killed in Arlington. Film at Eleven.: "Strong starting pitching prevents long losing streaks." - The Book.

    The mythical writers of baseball's Book have some 'splainin to do. After the Royals beat the Rangers Wednesday night behind rookie Jimmy Gobble, they ran their record to 9-0 in games following a four-game losing skid.

    The ability to stop a losing streak at four is supposed to be the province of, well, stoppers, team aces that routinely give their team an excellent chance to win every fifth day. If that's the case, then the Royals' stoppers include Gobble (twice), Darrell May (twice), Chris George (twice), Jose Lima, Kris Wilson, and Miguel Asencio.

    Ahem.

  • Joker's Wild: On Aug. 15, Joe Randa's numbers had fallen to .251/.317/.399, and in impolite circles he was being referred to as "The Lunger" in honor of his ugly swing. In short, he looked done, and appeared to be a serious impediment to the Royals' playoff hopes.

    The retirement party has been put on hold. Randa has gone on a 16-game hitting streak since, with two or more hits in 10 of those games. He's hit .431/.471/.646 in that stretch, and batting in the #2 slot for most of that time, has scored and driven in 13 runs apiece in those 16 games.

    With Aaron Guiel continuing his remarkable breakout in the leadoff role, and a healthy Mike Sweeney and Carlos Beltran in the 3-4 spots in the lineup, the Royals are starting to put together an All-Boy Power Lineup. Witness Wednesday night, when this foursome bunched a double, single, triple, and RBI groundout together to score three runs in the third inning. The Royals had only one other hit the entire game, but won anyway, 3-1.

    The Royals desperately need Randa's renaissance to continue all month and into October, because you can't field an All-Boy Power Lineup when your #2 hitter hits like a girl.

  • Have Bat, Will Travel...to Kansas City?: The All-Boy Power Lineup got extended by one last week when the Royals finally and belatedly picked up another hitter: Rondell White.

    The Royals ostensibly picked up White because they were particularly lacking against left-handed pitchers. But despite a long-ago earned reputation as a left-masher, White has virtually no platoon split to speak of.

    In 2003, in fact, White has hit right-handers (.277/.326/.485) better than southpaws (.282/.338/.410). Between 2000 and 2002, White hit left-handers marginally better than right-handers (.348/.460 vs. .336/.456), but not nearly enough to worry about.

    The Royals can best make use of White by not worrying about his platoon matchups, and putting him in the lineup everyday. By instead platooning Ken Harvey (906 OPS vs. LHP, 642 vs. RHP) with Guiel (718 OPS vs. LHP, 908 OPS vs. RHP), and moving Raul Ibanez between right field and first base as needed, the Royals can maximize their offense and maintain some defensive flexibility in the late innings.

    A nagging hip flexor has limited White's availability in his first week with the team, but early indications are that the Royals would like to bench Harvey against right-handers as much as possible. In a three-team race that could come down to the last day of the season, every edge helps.

  • Just Call Him Sandy: In this space a few months ago, we proclaimed the following: "You read it here first: sometime in the next month, Jeremy Affeldt is going to have That Game. The game where he finally achieves national recognition--a two-hit shutout, or a 13-K masterpiece, or maybe both."

    Affeldt never had That Game, in large part because he developed Those Blisters, which led to maddening inconsistency from start to start and eventually forced a move to the bullpen. Working in relief and out of the spotlight, though, Affeldt quietly made a quasi-Koufaxian leap. Here are his numbers between Aug. 3 and Aug. 26:

    
    14.2 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 24 K
    
    

    Affeldt has hit a speed bump in his last two outings. Last Thursday against Texas, he couldn't get his footing on a muddy mound and threw just three of 12 pitches before strikes before he was pulled. He had no such excuse on Tuesday, when he gave up seven hits and six runs to the Rangers in a single inning of work.

    The Royals are convinced that it was a fluky appearance that won't be repeated. Tony Pena has taken advantage of Affeldt's performance by using him in high-leverage situations in the middle innings. Given his usage patterns and potential to dominate, Affeldt's performance the rest of the season may have more impact on the Royals' playoff chances than any other pitcher on the roster.

Philadelphia Phillies

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