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September 1, 2005

Crooked Numbers

In Reverse

by James Click

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The length of the baseball season can easily obscure some important trends that are developing. Teams like the A's get noticed because their rise from the depths has been so dramatic that it breaks free of the mass of information built before its arrival. But there are may other trends that can easily escape our eyes because so much of the season has already passed.

In an effort to discern those trends from the bulk of numbers in which they hide, we're going to take a walk on the lighter side today. The easiest way to see those trends we may be missing is to play the season backwards, starting as if today were the first day of the season and working backwards to April. Doing this on a game by game or even week by week basis would be incredibly time consuming, so let's just do things month by month, starting with the standings at the end of the season's first month:


TEAM  W  L PERC  GB  TEAM  W  L PERC  GB
BOS  17  9 .654 0.0   NYN 16 10 .615 0.0
NYA  18 10 .643 0.0   PHI 15 11 .577 1.0
TBA  15 12 .556 2.5   FLO 17 13 .567 1.0
TOR  13 14 .481 4.5   ATL 13 13 .500 3.0
BAL  10 17 .370 7.5   WAS 12 14 .462 4.0

CLE  19  7 .731 0.0   SLN 18 11 .621 0.0
MIN  16 12 .571 4.0   CIN 15 11 .577 1.5
DET  12 13 .480 6.5   HOU 12 14 .462 4.5
CHA  12 15 .444 7.5   MIL 12 14 .462 4.5
KCA   4 21 .160 14.5  PIT 11 16 .407 6.0
                      CHN 10 17 .370 7.0

OAK  17 10 .630 0.0   SDN 14 12 .538 0.0
ANA  13 13 .500 3.5   COL 15 13 .536 0.0
SEA  11 16 .407 6.0   LAN 13 14 .481 1.5
TEX  10 18 .357 7.5   SFN 13 14 .481 1.5
                      ARI  9 18 .333 5.5

As we would expect from our early season assumptions, the Yankees and Red Sox are tied atop the AL East, but the surprising Devil Rays are in third with a 15-12 record. The Central is all about the Indians blistering to a four game division lead while everyone but the Twins struggle to keep up. The A's open up a healthy division lead in the West while the Mets lead a tight NL East. The Cardinals lead the NL Central as expected, but the surprising Reds are in second while the Cubs are looking to make themselves a footnote to the season already, falling behind by seven games. Out west, the surprising Rockies and Padres are doing battle. Have the Rockies finally figured out how to win at altitude? Only time will tell. Let's check out the traditional triple crown categories:


BATTER        TEAM LG  AVG HR RBI   PITCHER        TEAM LG  ERA W SO
Alex Rodriguez NYA AL .333 12  24   Joe Blanton     OAK AL 0.95 3 26
David Ortiz    BOS AL .283 10  29   Johan Santana   MIN AL 1.39 3 41
Paul Konerko   CHA AL .299  9  17   Bartolo Colon   ANA AL 1.72 5 28
Jorge Cantu    TBA AL .340  7  28   Felix Hernandez SEA AL 1.75 2 38
Vlad Guerrero  ANA AL .330  7  24   Barry Zito      OAK AL 2.13 2 39
Jay Payton     OAK AL .262  7  21   Jose Contreras  CHA AL 2.14 3 27
Adrian Beltre  SEA AL .287  6  23   Josh Towers     TOR AL 2.49 3 21
Mark Teixeira  TEX AL .340  6  22   Bruce Chen      BAL AL 2.56 3 16
Ichiro Suzuki  SEA AL .252  6  20   Dan Haren       OAK AL 2.76 3 27
Jhonny Peralta CLE AL .294  6  19   Brad Radke      MIN AL 2.94 2 22

BATTER         TEAM LG  AVG HR RBI   PITCHER         TEAM LG  ERA W SO
Ken Griffey Jr. CIN NL .365 10  19   Noah Lowry       SFN NL 0.69 5 33
Troy Glaus      ARI NL .307  9  20   Dontrelle Willis FLO NL 1.06 4 24
Morgan Ensberg  HOU NL .264  7  16   Roger Clemens    HOU NL 1.70 2 40
Albert Pujols   SLN NL .271  7  15   Carlos Zambrano  CHN NL 1.74 4 37
Derrek Lee      CHN NL .290  7  11   Jae Seo          NYN NL 1.78 4 23
David Wright    NYN NL .385  6  27   Chris Carpenter  SLN NL 2.17 4 38
Matt Holliday   COL NL .297  6  21   John Patterson   WAS NL 2.21 4 34
Pat Burrell     PHI NL .284  6  21   Jake Peavy       SDN NL 2.22 4 51
Shawn Green     ARI NL .307  6  14   A.J. Burnett     FLO NL 2.32 4 32
Miguel Cabrera  FLO NL .264  5  18   Brandon Webb     ARI NL 2.45 2 28

In the east, the story is Alex Rodriguez's early chase for the Triple Crown, but Yankee fans question whether A-Rod--a well-known "unclutch" hitter--will keep up his early pace when it really counts in August and September. Other early season stories are Jorge Cantu's explosion in Tampa, Jay Payton's impressive power in Oakland, Adrian Beltre fulfilling his $65 million contract in Seattle, and Jhonny Peralta's early surge in Cleveland. In the NL, Ken Griffey Jr. is reminding people why he was selected the Player of the 1990s over Barry Bonds.

In pitching, the story is the Bay Area rookies: Joe Blanton and Noah Lowry, leading their leagues in ERA. Three A's pitchers are in the top 10 in ERA, leaving no doubt that the A's made the right move trading Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. Johan Santana is right where we'd expect him and the arrival of King Felix Hernandez in Seattle looks to be living up to the billing.

Fast forward to the end of the season's second month:


TEAM  W  L PERC  GB  TEAM  W  L PERC  GB
NYA  35 19 .648 0.0   ATL 31 21 .596 0.0
BOS  31 22 .585 3.5   NYN 30 23 .566 1.5
TBA  28 26 .519 7.0   PHI 30 23 .566 1.5
TOR  26 26 .500 8.0   FLO 30 26 .536 3.0
BAL  18 35 .340 16.5  WAS 21 32 .396 10.5

CLE  32 23 .582 0.0   SLN 35 20 .636 0.0
CHA  27 26 .509 4.0   HOU 34 21 .618 1.0
MIN  28 28 .500 4.5   CIN 32 22 .593 2.5
DET  26 28 .481 5.5   MIL 28 26 .519 6.5
KCA  16 37 .302 15.0  CHN 23 32 .418 12.0
                      PIT 21 34 .382 14.0

OAK  37 16 .698 0.0   SFN 25 29 .463 0.0
ANA  26 27 .491 11.0  COL 25 30 .455 0.5
SEA  23 31 .426 14.5  LAN 23 31 .426 2.0
TEX  23 32 .418 15.0  SDN 22 30 .423 2.0
                      ARI 22 32 .407 3.0

The Yanks have surged to a 3.5 game lead in the AL East, the Rays continue to flirt with respectability, while the Orioles founder at the bottom, demoting Sam Perlozzo and hiring Lee Mazzilli to turn the ship around. Plus, Rafael Palmeiro has tested negative for steroids. The Indians continue to hold off the rising White Sox in the Central while the A's have buried the competition in the AL West, opening up an absurd 11 game lead. In the NL, the East looks how we'd expect with four teams within three games while the Nationals struggle to avoid the NL's worst record. The Cards are battling the Astros for the lead in the Central, but the NL West is still the division no one wants to win. Let's look at the stats:


BATTER        TEAM LG  AVG HR RBI  PITCHER       TEAM LG  ERA W SO
Alex Rodriguez NYA AL .308 20  39  Johan Santana  MIN AL 2.23 6 64
David Ortiz    BOS AL .280 16  51  Joe Blanton    OAK AL 2.31 3 43
Richie Sexson  SEA AL .288 15  39  Barry Zito     OAK AL 2.32 8 69
Manny Ramirez  BOS AL .314 14  47  Rich Harden    OAK AL 2.86 6 66
Gary Sheffield NYA AL .288 14  44  Carlos Silva   MIN AL 3.08 3 36
Aubrey Huff    TBA AL .275 14  42  Brad Radke     MIN AL 3.13 3 38
Gary Matthews  TEX AL .281 13  31  John Lackey    ANA AL 3.22 4 72
Paul Konerko   CHA AL .307 13  28  Kevin Millwood CLE AL 3.27 4 58
Vlad Guerrero  ANA AL .267 12  45  Jamie Moyer    SEA AL 3.36 5 42
Mark Teixeira  TEX AL .284 12  43  Bartolo Colon  ANA AL 3.52 7 48

BATTER         TEAM LG  AVG HR RBI  PITCHER        TEAM LG  ERA W SO
Ken Griffey Jr. CIN NL .335 19  39  Roger Clemens   HOU NL 1.53 5 63
Andruw Jones    ATL NL .253 17  47  Chris Carpenter SLN NL 1.69 8 71
Derrek Lee      CHN NL .296 16  29  Andy Pettitte   HOU NL 1.75 8 65
Adam Dunn       CIN NL .262 15  46  John Patterson  WAS NL 1.76 5 82
Albert Pujols   SLN NL .314 15  35  Carlos Zambrano CHN NL 1.92 6 71
Aramis Ramirez  CHN NL .305 14  43  Noah Lowry      SFN NL 2.10 6 72
Morgan Ensberg  HOU NL .284 14  40  Mark Mulder     SLN NL 2.54 6 25
Troy Glaus      ARI NL .276 13  36  Tim Hudson      ATL NL 2.62 5 41
Miguel Cabrera  FLO NL .316 12  36  Pedro Martinez  NYN NL 2.82 4 59
Chad Tracy      ARI NL .259 12  19  Tom Glavine     NYN NL 2.97 5 28

A-Rod is still leading the league in HRs, but the Boston offense is churning out too many RBIs for Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz for him to have a shot at the Triple Crown. Peralta and Beltre have cooled off just enough to miss the top 10 in HRs after two months. In the NL, Griffey is still not iffy, leading the league in bombs, but trailing players including Andruw Jones and teammate Adam Dunn in ribbies. Derrek Lee is having a good season in the HR department, but if only he would hit for a little better average or get a few more RBIs, he could be a darkhorse Triple Crown candidate.

The story in pitching is the Battle of the Big Threes: Santana-Carlos Silva-Brad Radke versus the new A's version of Blanton-Barry Zito-Rich Harden. If only the White Sox had some pitching--when will Jon Garland ever come around?--they could close the Indians' lead in the central. The Mariners smartly sent down Hernandez to monitor his pitch counts and continue his development. In the NL, Clemens continues to dominate, but teammate Andy Pettitte now trails only Chris Carpenter in the ERA lead. The two ex-Athletics have appeared on the leader board with the surprising John Patterson and the new Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano. Amazingly, none of the Marlins' young pitchers have managed to crack the league's top 10.

On to mid-season:


TEAM  W  L PERC  GB   TEAM  W  L PERC  GB
BOS  48 31 .608 0.0    ATL 46 34 .575 0.0
NYA  47 33 .588 1.5    PHI 45 35 .563 1.0
TOR  38 41 .481 10.0   NYN 43 36 .544 2.5
TBA  36 44 .450 12.5   WAS 41 38 .519 4.5
BAL  30 50 .375 18.5   FLO 43 40 .518 4.5

CLE  49 33 .598 0.0    HOU 50 30 .625 0.0
CHA  45 33 .577 2.0    SLN 51 31 .622 0.0
MIN  41 41 .500 8.0    CIN 41 38 .519 8.5
DET  39 41 .488 9.0    MIL 40 41 .494 10.5
KCA  28 51 .354 19.5   CHN 37 45 .451 14.0
                       PIT 32 50 .390 19.0

OAK  56 24 .700 0.0    COL 37 45 .451 0.0
ANA  43 36 .544 12.5   SFN 35 46 .432 1.5
SEA  35 45 .438 21.0   LAN 34 47 .420 2.5
TEX  33 49 .402 24.0   SDN 32 47 .405 3.5
                       ARI 31 51 .378 6.0

The Sox have pushed past their rivals into the lead in a tight AL East race while a rough month has pushed the D-Rays back towards those lovable, terrible Orioles. The Blue Jays got Roy Halladay back from a nasty comebacker injury from spring training, but they're 8.5 games out of the Wild Card. The Indians are still blazing along with the league's second best record, but the surprising White Sox are right behind them. In the West, the A's--who inexplicably traded Payton to Boston for Chad Bradford, who then got hurt--have opened up a seemingly insurmountable 12.5 game lead on the Angels. The Angels are 3.5 games back in the Wild Card and with the division out of reach, they should be focused on making a move or two at the deadline to get back in the race. In the senior circuit, the Nationals are the story as a hot month has pushed them over .500 and ahead of the Marlins. The Central has a hot race going between the Astros and Cards, tied atop the division. And in the West, the Rockies--the Rockies!--are leading the division no one wants to win while 8 games under .500. Tens of thousands of words are filling the internet and newspapers applauding the Rockies' clubhouse atmosphere, their grit, and their style of play. Plus, there are rumors they'll bring up a rookie named Clint Barmes once he gets back from injury.

To the stats:


BATTER        TEAM LG  AVG HR RBI   PITCHER       TEAM LG  ERA  W  SO
David Ortiz    BOS AL .294 23  78   Joe Blanton    OAK AL 2.21  8  71
Alex Rodriguez NYA AL .318 23  56   Barry Zito     OAK AL 2.55 11  98
Manny Ramirez  BOS AL .316 22  74   Johan Santana  MIN AL 2.78  7 104
Mark Teixeira  TEX AL .285 21  71   Mark Buehrle   CHA AL 3.06  7  71
Jason Giambi   NYA AL .304 21  51   Kevin Millwood CLE AL 3.16  6  75
Vlad Guerrero  ANA AL .318 19  65   John Lackey    ANA AL 3.31  5 109
Richie Sexson  SEA AL .266 19  54   Carlos Silva   MIN AL 3.49  6  47
Paul Konerko   CHA AL .302 19  44   Bartolo Colon  ANA AL 3.54 11  76
Gary Sheffield NYA AL .277 18  63   Jamie Moyer    SEA AL 3.59  6  56
Eric Chavez    OAK AL .317 18  55   Jon Garland    CHA AL 3.61  8  52

BATTER         TEAM LG  AVG HR RBI   PITCHER        TEAM LG  ERA  W  SO
Andruw Jones    ATL NL .275 30  73   Chris Carpenter SLN NL 1.45 12 114
Ken Griffey Jr. CIN NL .325 25  55   Roger Clemens   HOU NL 1.66  8  91
Morgan Ensberg  HOU NL .285 24  68   Andy Pettitte   HOU NL 1.98  9  95
Albert Pujols   SLN NL .333 23  57   John Patterson  WAS NL 2.27  6 109
Derrek Lee      CHN NL .336 23  48   Pedro Martinez  NYN NL 2.76  8  99
Aramis Ramirez  CHN NL .325 21  66   Roy Oswalt      HOU NL 2.77 10  80
Adam Dunn       CIN NL .257 21  60   Noah Lowry      SFN NL 2.78  9 100
Miguel Cabrera  FLO NL .319 18  60   Carlos Zambrano CHN NL 2.93  8  97
Pat Burrell     PHI NL .271 18  54   John Smoltz     ATL NL 2.98 10  94
Carlos Lee      MIL NL .264 17  53   A.J. Burnett    FLO NL 3.17  9 100

Ortiz is leading the league in HRs and RBIs at the break, running down A-Rod who had a slow month--we knew that guy would wilt in the heat of a pennant race in the Bronx!--as Mark Teixeira stakes his claim as one of the games new power stars. In the NL, Jones has overtaken Griffey while Morgan Ensberg stakes his claim as the best bat on dirt, not grass.

Blanton and Zito continue to lead the league, but Harden's injury means the A's are going to be struggling to find a pitcher to fill in the rotation slot. In the NL, Carpenter has overtaken Clemens in the ERA race, but Clemens' teammates are climbing the boards behind him. The Mets have to be happy with Pedro Martinez's performance so far, but the story of the year is still young Lowry and his 2.78 ERA. Among the league leaders in wins and strikeouts, he'd be putting together a serious campaign for Rookie of the Year if he hadn't thrown so many innings last year.

Through the first four months:


TEAM  W L  PERC  GB   TEAM  W  L PERC  GB
BOS  64 43 .598 0.0    ATL 60 47 .561 0.0
NYA  64 43 .598 0.0    PHI 60 48 .556 0.5
TOR  53 53 .500 10.5   NYN 58 49 .542 2.0
TBA  47 62 .431 18.0   WAS 55 52 .514 5.0
BAL  45 63 .417 19.5   FLO 56 54 .509 5.5

CLE  65 44 .596 0.0    SLN 69 42 .622 0.0
CHA  63 43 .594 0.5    HOU 60 49 .550 8.0
MIN  55 54 .505 10.0   MIL 54 55 .495 14.0
DET  51 56 .477 13.0   CIN 52 56 .481 15.5
KCA  36 70 .340 27.5   CHN 51 58 .468 17.0
                       PIT 47 63 .427 21.5

OAK  63 44 .589 0.0    SDN 54 53 .505 0.0
ANA  60 47 .561 3.0    ARI 47 63 .427 8.5
TEX  51 56 .477 12.0   SFN 46 62 .426 8.5
SEA  44 63 .411 19.0   COL 46 65 .414 10.0
                       LAN 45 64 .413 10.0

The Red Sox and Yanks are tied again, leaving the rest of the division in their wake while the Indians cling desperately to that half-game lead on the White Sox in the central. The A's--ravaged by injuries to Bobby Crosby and Harden, but buoyed by the return of closer Octavio Dotel and DH Erubiel Durazo--have lost 9.5 games of their once-insurmountable 12.5 game lead on the Angels, but the Halos are still trailing in the Wild Card. It's division title or nothing for them. The Nationals are still hanging around in the NL East while the Braves and Phillies--always PECOTA's choice--vie for the division crown. The Cards brutalized the Astros this month and opened up an eight game advantage. With a lineup that powerful, it was only a matter of time before they started pulling away, especially with the returns of Scott Rolen and Reggie Sanders from injuries last month. The Reds have slid back to mediocrity, but they're still leading the Cubbies, who just never got on track this season. In the west, the Rockies have plummeted from the top--must have been the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx--as the Padres have finally poked their heads above .500. Their 8.5 game lead looks safe with two months to go. The Dodgers are in last place and media criticism in LA is intense.

The stats:


BATTER         TEAM LG  AVG HR RBI   PITCHER        TEAM LG  ERA  W  SO
Alex Rodriguez  NYA AL .325 31  78   Barry Zito      OAK AL 2.77 12 124
David Ortiz     BOS AL .303 28 100   Mark Buehrle    CHA AL 2.87 11  94
Mark Teixeira   TEX AL .294 28  93   Kevin Millwood  CLE AL 2.98  7  99
Manny Ramirez   BOS AL .294 26  90   Johan Santana   MIN AL 3.06  9 150
Alfonso Soriano TEX AL .282 26  78   Bartolo Colon   ANA AL 3.13 14 107
Richie Sexson   SEA AL .261 26  77   John Lackey     ANA AL 3.22  8 146
Gary Sheffield  NYA AL .286 25  84   Jarrod Washburn ANA AL 3.23  6  64
Paul Konerko    CHA AL .283 25  64   Kenny Rogers    TEX AL 3.26 10  60
Jermaine Dye    CHA AL .297 22  63   Carlos Silva    MIN AL 3.39  7  59
Jason Giambi    NYA AL .291 22  58   Brad Radke      MIN AL 3.50  6  85

BATTER         TEAM LG  AVG HR RBI   PITCHER         TEAM LG  ERA  W  SO
Andruw Jones    ATL NL .277 39  91   Roger Clemens    HOU NL 1.63 10 131
Morgan Ensberg  HOU NL .288 32  87   Chris Carpenter  SLN NL 1.95 15 156
Ken Griffey Jr. CIN NL .314 32  81   Andy Pettitte    HOU NL 2.42 11 118
Derrek Lee      CHN NL .330 32  66   John Patterson   WAS NL 2.76  6 124
Albert Pujols   SLN NL .331 29  80   Pedro Martinez   NYN NL 2.77 11 136
Adam Dunn       CIN NL .242 29  72   Carlos Zambrano  CHN NL 2.78  9 138
Aramis Ramirez  CHN NL .316 27  78   John Smoltz      ATL NL 2.84 12 116
Carlos Lee      MIL NL .275 26  83   Roy Oswalt       HOU NL 2.87 12 109
Carlos Delgado  FLO NL .291 24  85   Dontrelle Willis FLO NL 2.92 13 105
Miguel Cabrera  FLO NL .329 24  76   Ben Sheets       MIL NL 3.20  9 116

A-Rod's power is back, but Ortiz's RBI lead is 22. You know what that means--A-Rod can't handle the pressure in the Bronx, his HRs are clearly coming with the bases empty when anyone can hit home runs. Only true Yankees--ahem, Derek Jeter--hit dingers with guys on base. Teixeira and Alfonso Soriano are taking advantage of the hot summers in Arlington to post some big numbers, but that's more the Texas heat than anything else. If this was May--when it's still relatively cool in Texas--they wouldn't be putting up numbers this big. Jones is still leading the NL, but Ensberg and Griffey are right behind him. What a great year for Griffey, revitalizing his career and establishing himself as one of the game's great hitters once again. Lee has shown a great spike in his batting average, but if only he could get some RBI opportunities. His season is starting to look at lot like Andre Dawson's 1987. Clearly, Lee's as clutch as A-Rod, sniping his home runs when the game isn't on the line and runners aren't on base.

Zito is putting together what looks to be his second Cy Young campaign, leading the AL in ERA and nearing the top of the wins and strikeout charts. But if Halladay can put together a solid final two months, he could overtake everyone for the hardware. In the NL, Clemens and Carpenter battle back and forth, still holding off the same motley crew of challengers. Amazingly, every NL pitcher in the top 10 in ERA has 105 strikeouts or more while only four AL pitchers can claim the same.

And then after five months, we're right where we are today. What can we learn from this silly exercise? Primarily, the baseball season is a long period of time with many ebbs and flows, highs and lows. But also, people change their expectations and assumptions at the drop of a hat. No one should be worried about why the Nationals' offense is suddenly terrible, but they are because the Nats were in contention early in the season. Why are the Orioles doing so poorly after a hot start? Because they have no pitching and their offense should be in nursing homes, but the reason they get coverage is because they started off so hot. Whither Brian Roberts? Or Lee's chase for the Triple Crown? Would the Rockies be the media darlings, improbably leading their division at the All-Star Break? What of the Yankees' terrible first month and character-confirming climb from the depths? Would we view the Indians, White Sox, Cubs, and Reds differently?

None of this is to say that team and player performance fluctuations throughout the season are purely random, but rather that the perception of exceptional performances early in the season is vastly different than those towards the end because those at the beginning don't have the luxury of being completely obscured by almost a full season's worth of numbers.

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