Thursday's recaps and the weekend preview from, well, basically the entire staff
The Thursday Takeaway
Not much separates the Tigers, A’s, and Angels this year, so every little advantage might help in October. With an 83 percent chance of winning its division entering play Thursday, one edge the Tigers will likely have is a relatively stress-free march from here to October. While the A’s (60 percent division odds) and the Angels (39 percent) will be beating each other into a pulp, the Tigers should be able to use the final two months to, for instance, rest Miguel Cabrera, as they did Thursday for just the second time all season. And they can start to think seriously about such October questions as: Would we really move Justin Verlander to the bullpen to make room for Rick Porcello?
Verlander pitched Wednesday and had one of his finest starts of the year, going seven innings while allowing two runs, striking out five, and walking one. Porcello, facing the same club in the same inhospitable pitching environment, bettered him Thursday, going seven innings while allowing one run, striking out five, and walking nobody. The effort lowered his season ERA to 3.09 and improved his team-best ERA+.
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Last week, I talked about the offense required from first basemen to offset their negative positional adjustment. This week, we explore second base, whose occupants hit 20 points of True Average worse last season but produced the same total WARP. This demonstrates the defensive gap we’re familiar with while also illustrating the low offensive bar for second basemen. One needed to produce a TAv of only .261 while playing average defense to be a “league average” second baseman last year (league-average TAv is always scaled to be .260). Gregor Blanco personified the league average hitter in 2013—and he had the 114th-best TAv out of 141 qualified batters.
First base is the safe haven of offense-only players who need a position. Of the league’s 30 current first basemen (the team leaders of PAs at the position), eight primarily played different positions in the minor leagues. They’re the usual bat-first players whose gloves demanded a move: Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, Mark Reynolds, etc. For prospects, relegation to first base means they have nowhere else to go. If their hitting drops off in the slightest, they’ll have nothing else to compensate with, and they’ll be out of baseball.
After we released the PECOTA Top 100 prospects list last week, a few commenters remarked on PECOTA’s apparent catcher leanings. Eleven of them appeared on the list, some higher than nationally beloved prospects. How dare PECOTA! In comparison, Jason Parks’ top 101 featured eight catchers, suggesting a small discrepancy in the position distribution of PECOTA’s rankings.
When I reread Nate Silver’s PECOTA Takes on Prospects series, three themes emerged. One, minor-league statistics are pretty damn good at predicting future performance. Two, so many factors can derail a prediction, particularly for young prospects. Three—which doubles as a disclaimer for this series—I’m not Nate Silver. Apologies in advance.
The second installment in a division-by-division dialogue leading up to Opening Day.
In the week leading up to Opening Day, Baseball Prospectus is conducting a division-by-division dialogue, asking and answering five questions about each team. Below, Andrew Koo and Zachary Levine discuss the American League East.
In addition to exploiting lefty-righty matchups, the A's also have a significant edge in the air.
The Oakland Athletics finished 2013 with baseball's fourth-lowest payroll, fourth-best offense, and best clubhouse chemistry. Debate hascentered on whether the latter two are related. There’s nothing objectionable about “good guy” genes—it’s a solid organizational goal to have. But chemistry alone doesn’t put runs on the board, and if a team is missing the talent, they better find the runs elsewhere. The 2002 Athletics discovered them in walk deities and college arms; once those methods pervaded front offices, the A’s slipped back into losing. Was chemistry the only undervalued commodity of their recent resurgence?
As the baseball community obtains more knowledge, roster construction strategies evolve. Previously undervalued talents like walks and defense are now accepted constructs. The A’s are Hollywood-infamous for adopting them before their competitors while prices were low. After a 74-win 2011, they cheaply signed Brandon Inge and Jonny Gomes, who Brandon McCarthy claimed bolstered the clubhouse DNA to the tune of 20 wins. But Inge and Gomes were two of several players who also bolstered a less-visible statistic: fly ball-to-ground ball ratio.