Happy Thanksgiving! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume Monday, December 1
May 18, 2006
Diamondbacks, Red Sox
Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups presents, among others, the best and second-best lineups in each franchise's history. In some cases, historically good players are left off of both the first- and second-team All-Stars because of how long the franchise has existed, or because the franchise has been especially blessed by good players at that position.
In other cases, such as with recent expansion teams, a team's "best right fielder in history" is a player who just happened to be the only right fielder in history. This is the case with the Diamondbacks. When Neyer wrote the book in 2002, the All-Time lineup looked like this:
C: Damian Miller (18.1 WARP1) # 1B: Mark Grace (7.6 WARP1) # 2B: Jay Bell (20.5 WARP1) # 3B: Matt Williams (20.9 WARP1) # SS: Tony Womack (7.4 WARP1) # RF: Danny Bautista (9.3 WARP1) # CF: Steve Finley (29.6 WARP1) # LF: Luis Gonzalez (51.3 WARP1)* # SP: Randy Johnson # SP: Curt Schilling # SP: Brian Anderson # SP: Omar Daal RP: Byung-Hyun Kim # *Indicates player is still active with Arizona # Indicates player was on 2001 Championship team
Now that we're approaching the franchise's ten-year birthday, we can check in and see how an updated all-time team might look. Only Luis Gonzalez is still with the team, so those WARP numbers (which Neyer did not use to assemble his lineups, though he did use Win Shares) are largely fixed. As for pitchers, we'll use VORP; we don't care much about the pitcher's hitting ability (it'll be messing with all their WARP scores) and we're not terribly interested in fielding. As a tie-breaker, yes, but there haven't been many candidates to start worrying about tie-breakers yet. For this sort of exercise, back-of-the-envelope run prevention is fine.
For one, Brandon Webb should be included on this list. He's posted VORPs of 52.1, 24.5, 46.2, and 21.9 from 2003-06, for a total of 144.7. This season could be his best yet, so not only is he firmly on the list at #3, but he's beginning his assault on Curt Schilling's total of 229.3. Webb is signed through 2009 for a pretty reasonable amount, has never really had arm trouble, and is a good bet to close that gap of 84.6 runs of VORP. In adding Webb, we say goodbye to Omar Daal, though not before remembering that he was actually pretty good in 1998 and 1999.
Anderson consequently gets bumped to fourth place, though with a 98.4 cumulative VORP for his tenure, he's vulnerable. His closest challenger is Miguel Batista, who is back for his second tour of duty with the Diamondbacks, and his career Arizona VORP of 91 is within shouting distance of Anderson's total. Clouding our assessment of this is the fact that Batista wasn't strictly a starter during his time in Arizona from 2001-2003. However, Anderson himself both started and relieved, so it's as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as we can get without relying on more advanced metrics. For now, let's make Batista the fifth starter, especially since we're safely out of Armando Reynoso territory. Let's also note that Anderson's pickoff move--which is not reflected in his VORP total--was fantastic. So he's fourth.
Kim's still the best reliever in team history. His VORP total is 77.9 (which is minus his starts in 2003), well ahead of current closer Jose Valverde (technically, Greg Swindell is next, with a VORP of 58.9. He's retired, though, and now co-hosts the D'back postgame show). Valverde is just 30.7 runs of VORP behind Kim and, health permitting, should mount a serious challenge over the next year or two.
The list gets more contentious among the position players, particularly at first base, shortstop, and right field. If we let WARP make our decision for us, Mark Grace gets out-WARP'd by Travis Lee, 9.2 to 7.6. But Grace, like Tony Womack, gets a rather subjective boost from his role on the 2001 squad. Given what was expected of Lee, no Diamondback fan would ever sign off on a list that showed him as the club's top first baseman. Grace can stay where he is for now, though Conor Jackson's five-year forecast shows him taking over the top spot after his third full season of play.
Womack's 7.4 career Arizona WARP is heavily weighted by his 4.1 WARP 1999 season... when he was predominantly a right fielder. If we remove credit for that, we're left with two real shortstop candidates: Alex Cintron and Craig Counsell.
Set Cintron aside for a moment, because Counsell's the more interesting case. Counsell is the current shortstop, and has 18.4 career WARP1 as a D'back. But he doesn't really qualify at any one position. Here are his Adjusted Games Played at his three most common positions:
Year 2B 3B SS ---------------------------- 2000 16.3 14.7 5.0 2001 44.8 26.6 46.1 2002 9.2 86.8 13.1 2003 7.5 47.8 18.7 2005 138.4 0.0 .1 2004 played for Milwaukee 2006 0.0 0.0 27.0 ---------------------------- Total 216.2 175.9 110.0
Counsell's been a terrific player for Arizona, and even though Womack got that notable hit in Game Seven of the World Series, can we really overlook consistently solid play in favor of one hit? By removing the 1999 right field numbers from the equation, Womack's left with just 3.3 WARP in 460.1 Adjusted Games at short. At his current rate of production, Counsell could out-WARP Womack's entire shortstop career if we count his 2006 performance alone, and that would be true even if he plays as few as 100 games. Counsell is pretty clearly now the better shortstop choice for an all-time team. He may not have the warm fuzzies associated with being part of a rally against Mariano Rivera, but for career value, Counsell's our guy.
That may be short-lived, though, as Stephen Drew's five-year forecast sees him besting both Womack's and Cintron's WARP1 totals by his third full year in the majors, and he could outplay Counsell not long after that. Shawn Green--who's hitting .443/.483/.595 since April 23rd--could take the top right field spot from Danny Bautista if he posts a mere 3.5 WARP this year, which he's well on pace to do (he hasn't been lower than 3.7 since 1995). Since everyone expects this to be Green's last year in Arizona, prospect Carlos Quentin could take it back from him after just his third full season, according to PECOTA's rather pessimistic five-year projection.
Pick up the theme yet? All three positions have highly-touted young players ready to take over as regulars, and all three could be considered the best, most productive players in team history after just three years of regular play. Some of that is due to the relative youth of the franchise, but Vice President of Scouting Operations Mike Rizzo deserves a ton of credit as well.
Another start for Curt Schilling, and another three home runs flying into the stands, this time against the Orioles. A great deal of the excitement that came with Schilling's first three starts has disappeared--along with his .158 Batting Average on Balls in Play--as his home run rate has climbed. The difficult part is pinpointing exactly what has caused Schilling to regress. His peripherals, with the exception of the horrid home run rate, are excellent. He has not looked tired or fatigued, which was the fear after his 133-pitch start. He appears to be throwing more fastballs lately, rather than relying on his true out pitches, although some additional data would certainly let us know for sure.
Here are his peripherals for the past three seasons, excepting April of 2005, when he came back early from injury and was shelled:
Year IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 G/F ERA 2004 226.7 8.06 1.39 0.91 1.04 3.26 2005 75.7 7.97 2.26 1.07 0.78 5.11 2006 58.3 8.02 1.39 1.54 0.78 4.17
Aside from the home run rate, Schilling has basically posted the same peripherals for the past three years. His walk rate climbed somewhat in 2005, but that can most likely be attributed to his recovery from injury, and this year it has returned to his 2004 level. Even his BABIP is in the same area: for 2006, it is .287, whereas in 2004 he finished with a .288 BABIP. In the years before Schilling came to Boston, he already had a penchant for giving up home runs, so this is not a new trend. His HR/9 from 2001-2003 is 1.09, and for his career it is 0.94. Interestingly enough, his G/F ratio seems to mirror his 2005 season more than his pseudo-healthy 2004, which may very well be an alarming piece of evidence that things are not looking well. His career G/F rate is 1.16, so 0.78 is well below his established level.
One set of statistics not included in the table above are his batted ball types. Here are those figures:
LD% GB% IF/F HR/F P/PA 2004 19.8% 41.7% 14.6% 11.2% 3.8 2005 23.7% 32.6% 13.9% 12.0% 3.7 2006 18.5% 33.5% 12.0% 13.9% 4.2
The drop in the percentage of groundballs since 2004 is alarming, as is the slight drop in infield flies. It is possible that Schilling's line drive percentage dropped due to the rise in flyballs, which certainly suggests that he is more hittable than before. The rise in Home runs per Flyball is an interesting statistic. It is possible that Schilling is unluckier than normal at the moment, so that figure is higher than it should be, or he may be more susceptible to the long ball than before. The most alarming statistic is the rise in pitches per plate appearance, as it shows that Schilling is laboring to get outs.
The recent rise could be caused by a variety of things. Maybe that 133-pitch start took more out of Schilling than was initially apparent. Age may also be catching up to him sooner than expected due to the ankle injury. Then again, it could be something as minor as picking the wrong pitches in the wrong situation, or not trusting his catcher's instincts and pitch selection. Considering the home run rate has only been a real issue for the past two games--even if it is six homers in fewer than 11 innings--the latter seems like the most plausible explanation until further data is presented. If you really want to push the issue, Schilling's peripherals have fallen since his extended outing:
IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA 4/3 - 4/30 40.7 8.85 1.55 0.88 2.88 5/5 - 5/15 17.7 6.10 1.02 3.05 7.13
The 133-pitch outing came on April 25, so that table is sort of cheating, considering it ends on April 30. That was when the changes in his peripherals came, though. His strikeout rate has dropped substantially, and the home runs are obviously a problem. His control seems to have improved, but you can also say that he is walking fewer batters due to how hittable his pitches seem to have been. His H/9 has jumped from 7.08 in the first set of games to 12.71 in the second set. This gives us a what, but we still lack a why and a how. With someone like Curt Schilling, who is both aging and more injury-prone--as well as affected by injury--than a number of pitchers, it is easy to overanalyze or draw conclusions as to what might be the cause of the problem.
PECOTA's weighted mean projection is mostly accurate so far, although the predicted K rate is a tad lower than Schilling's actual rate, and the home run rate was in line before the latest implosions. There is a good chance after this slide runs its course that Schilling will look a lot like the pitcher PECOTA envisioned, rather than either of the two forms he has shown thus far in 2006.
Of course, this is an issue that can certainly be looked upon further in a later Notebook piece, when there is more data to work with. Drawing any type of conclusion from a 17-inning sample seems overambitious, especially when the answer could easily be that he is missing his spots, or in a rough patch, or not nodding in agreement with the pitches Jason Varitek calls often enough. A great deal of the data seems damning, but it lacks the proper explanation that only more time can give us. For now, watch Schilling carefully to see what there is to see.