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April 7, 2014

Pebble Hunting

It's Been One Week

by Sam Miller


Last year, the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, PA issued a correction for a piece it had written on the Gettysburg Address, 150 years earlier. “We pass over the silly remarks of the President,” they had written in 1863. “For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of." It took some time, yes, but Patriot-News staff eventually did check themselves before they wrecked themselves.

That’s the sort of correction I’m expecting from the Boston Globe some decades from now, when they realize how absurd the closing line of Dan Shaughnessy’s column was last week: “Wednesday night… just became a Must Win” for the Red Sox. There are no must wins on Day 2 of a baseball season, and certainly no Must Wins. Shaughnessy, on the other hand, hopefully appreciates that his next column just became a Must Not Suck.

That said, games do count, and they do add up, especially with teams' schedules so frontloaded with intra-division matchups. So while 22 teams’ playoff odds are virtually unchanged in the past seven days—a swing of no more than six percentage points in either direction—a few clubs have already seen (relatively) substantial shifts in their seasons. These be they:

San Francisco Giants: 12.9 percent added
From/To: 49.5 to 62.4 percent
What happened: Led the league in home runs (and second in doubles) in the first week, scoring seven runs or more in four of seven games. (Last year’s team scored seven or more in 17 percent of its games.) Pitching staff struck out 57, walked 12 in 61 innings. Clayton Kershaw scratched from anticipated start against them. Club has hit .251/.315/.449 overall (quite good!) but .370/.426/.593 with runners on (probably not sustainable!).
Also: Vagabond infielder Brandon Hicks, in 10 plate appearances, has lifted his career OPS by 92 points this year. His WPA is higher than Alex Rios’ was last year.

Detroit Tigers: 10.4 percent added
From/To: 58.8 to 69.2 percent
What happened: Back-to-back walkoffs against division rival, and 3-0 in one-run games. Easy enough to imagine both those walkoffs going the other way and Detroit being on the other side of this list. Still, six of nine regulars have an OPS better than .925, and the team’s .288/.337/.488 is the best in AL by a healthy margin. Their starters’ ERA is second-best in American League, just behind Oakland.
Also: By Defensive Runs Saved, Tigers are already last in defense. (FRAA has them solidly below average.) Defensive metrics are incredibly unreliable in such samples, but give ‘em their due credit here.

San Diego Padres: 8.1 percent dropped
From/To: 29.3 to 21.2 percent
What happened: Padres have trailed in 40 innings this year; they’ve led in just four. Lost two of three at home to division favorite Dodgers, then two of three to league underclass Marlins; meanwhile, the Giants’ increased odds have to come from some team’s column. No. 3 hitter batting .130/.167/.130; cleanup hitters batting .095/.208/.095; no. 5 hitters: .095/.125/.182. Club hitting .195/.246/.271 with runners in scoring position, scarcely better overall.
Also: Josh Johnson hurt (!).

Arizona Diamondbacks: 8.0 percent dropped
From/To: 17.3 to 9.3 percent
What happened: Worst pitching in NL so far by ERA, FIP, or xFIP. Hitting .296/.371/.408 in low leverage, .218/.228/.364 in high; opponents hitting .273/.365/.474 in low leverage, .388/.411/.714 in high. Starters’ ERA is 6.18, relievers’ is 6.11.
Also: Lead all of baseball with 13 infield hits, nearly twice as many as next NL team.

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