Manny Acta looks to get the Indians off to a better start, Ruben Amaro Jr. explains why he couldn't keep two aces, and other news and notes.
When Manny Acta holds his first team meeting as manager of the Indians later this month at the beginning of spring training in Goodyear, Arizona, he will be armed with some numbers. Anyone who knows Acta isn't surprised by that. He is a firm believer in the value of statistical analysis and has based part of his approach to managing from things he read in Mind Game, a book published by Baseball Prospectus, that explained how the Red Sox used brainpower to build their World Series-winning team in 2004.
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Turning to the impact of the respective slates of the contenders and the spoilers in the senior circuit.
It's time to fish or cut bait for the Giants. One week ago tonight, they kicked off a four-game series in Colorado with a win, which closed the gap between the National League's top two wild-card contenders to a single game. The Rockies stormed back to take the final three games of the series, culminating in a 14th-inning comeback which featured a pitcher walking with the bases loaded, thereby setting up Ryan Spilborghs' walk-off grand slam. The Giants now trail the Rox by three games in the race for the Wild Card, and if that's not bad enough, they have by far the toughest remaining schedule of any NL contender.
Does a franchise pitcher like Roy Halladay have an outsized impact on Blue Jays attendance, and would dealing him do likewise?
In last week's article, I estimated a dollar value of adding Roy Halladay for each of the contending teams mentioned in trade rumors related to Doc as of last week. Using an approximation of the effect on playoff odds and subsequent success in the playoffs, I found that Roy Halladay's contract was worth nearly $15 million more to a contender than he is to the Blue Jays. However, there are many other factors that play a role in revenue that vary by team, and one factor is that Blue Jays fans love Roy Halladay. Many of those fans cannot stand the thought of losing him, and the Jays certainly may wonder if subtracting him would hurt their attendance enough to deem it unwise. The concept of a franchise player having a high sentimental value to a city is one worth exploring, so let's discuss the effect of Roy Halladay on the Blue Jays' attendance.
With sellers heavily outnumbered, how can everyone get what they want at the deadline?
The grumbling among most general managers is that it is too hard to make a trade in the current climate. Just 15 days remain until the July 31 deadline for making trades without securing waivers on players. However, 18 of the 30 major league clubs are still within five games of a playoff spot as the teams begin returning to action from the All-Star break tonight. Just nine teams can be considered definite sellers with the deadline approaching, leaving 21 clubs either looking to buy or at least stand pat. Thus, it is truly a sellers' market.
The eight premium players who might get dealt, and what it would take to get them.
CC Sabathia, Rich Harden, and Joe Blanton have already been dealt in a flurry of early activity, leaving many contenders playing from behind in the race to improve their team by the trade deadline. With three of the top arms off of the market, the list of trade targets is hitter-heavy. For pitching, there's really only Erik Bedard; everyone else you can think of is either on a good team or not an impact pitcher. Then again, the A's are 51-44 and have dealt away 40 percent of their rotation in the last 10 days, so maybe they'll move a third. Read on.
A selection of surprise teams, good programs, and underrated college squads you should keep in mind following this year's season.
Many of us have already began rejoicing that baseball is back, in as much as pitchers and catchers reporting represents the return of baseball. But this Friday baseball will be back in another sense, as the college baseball season's uniform start date will see almost an entire nation's worth of universities hit the field for the first time. Since the New Year, we have gone over the nuances of the college game, the changes it will undergo, the players likely to be the most dominant, and we have gone through the teams themselves. After looking at the 2007 Omaha teams and then reviewing last year's next-best teams last week, I wanted my last pre-season college piece to review 16 more teams that could make some noise in 2008. It's a mix of good programs and underrated programs.
How did a historically brilliant starting staff get no further than fourth place?
Since 1901, the major leagues have sported 2166 single team seasons, 2182 if you count the Federal League. In that time, the top 15 or so pitchers each season are generally thought of as aces, with adjusted ERA (ERA+, or ERA normalized for parks and leagues, with 100 being average) serving as the easy guide to an ace. After adding a few thresholds--22 GS/130 IP (to weed out some super-relievers from the '70s and a few rookie sensations called up in July), no fewer than nine wins, and a WHIP under 1.4 to help weed out flukes and pitchers who don't go deep enough into ballgames to get regular decisions--I got down to 1478 of these ace-level seasons, which seemed about right. It's not a perfect way of identifying aces, but since an ace is as much about perception as it is the performance, ERA+ with some qualifiers serves as a decent enough proxy. There are worse methods.
By this standard, some teams have multiple aces in a year. Forty-nine clubs had three aces (or ace-level performers, if you prefer), and five others had at least four. Here are those five, with their ERA+ listed next to their names:
A contender in the Pacific Northwest no longer looks like one, and Jay runs down a few reasons why.
After a surprising bid not only to win the Wild Card but to challenge for the AL West lead, the Mariners sank from postseason contention in rather dramatic fashion. As August 25 dawned, they were 73-53, just one game behind the Angels in the AL West and three games up on the Yankees in the Wild Card race. Their Playoff
Odds stood at 28.8 percent for the division, 29.9 percent for the Wild Card, and a season-high 58.7 percent overall. Two and a half weeks later, after a 1-13 plunge, they're down 8.5 games in the AL West, are given just a 0.3 percent shot at winning their division, and 5.5 back in the Wild Card, with just a 1.2 percent chance. In terms of raw wins and losses, they've set a dubious
record--no team that far above .500 that late in the season has ever collapsed so quickly.
The Nationals are holding their own despite dire preseason predictions.
The Washington Nationals aren't exactly having a season to remember, but it's getting better. Ryan Church figures it could be worse. A whole lot worse, really. "You have to remember that some people were predicting in spring training that we were going to lose 130 games this season," observed the Nationals left fielder. "I knew we weren't going to be that bad. No major-league team can be that bad."
No, the Nationals aren't that bad--they're 52-63 and tied for fourth place in the National League East with Florida. That the Nationals would have one of the worst records in the major leagues just two years after relocating to the nation's capital from Montreal is not really a surprise. Nationals ownership made it clear long before this season ever started that 2007, the franchise's last season at decrepit RFK Stadium before moving into a new ballpark along the Anacostia River next April, was going to be one of retrenchment. The Nationals cut the payroll from $63 million to $37 million, and made only a token bid to retain star left fielder Alfonso Soriano before watching him sign an eight-year, $136 million contract with the Chicago Cubs as a free agent.