Over the course of the week, the outlook in the AL West has changed completely, leaving three teams to look toward what the future holds.
For the increasingly difficult-to-catch frontrunner atop the AL West, the future is already now. For the two teams firmly entrenched in the cellar, the future is tomorrow. And for the team caught in the middle, it's not entirely clear where the future is headed. In theory, the Angels and Rangers are still locked in a violent tussle for the right to claim divisional supremacy, but just as I found myself expecting a great race to the finish (not a wholly unreasonable expectation, given that the Angels were still sitting within two games of first place as recently as this past Saturday morning), something a little odd happened: Texas stopped losing, and Los Angeles stopped winning... altogether.
Since blowing up the Athletics in Oakland to the tune of a 23-8 scoring advantage over this past weekend, the Rangers collected three consecutive road victories against the Angels before falling to them last night, and vaulting their lead in the AL West to a whopping six games with just 37 games left to play. That definitely wasn't the turn I was expecting. I do expect the Angels to whittle down at least a small portion of that deficit over the next three weeks, as they get to contend with a far less daunting schedule than the Rangers (who must play 16 games in 17 days against the Red Sox, Angels, and Rays from Aug. 22-Sept. 7), but it's apparent that the post-season dream is rapidly slipping from the Angels' grasp.
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Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers has a history of turning trash to treasure, even though all his shrewd moves don't always work out.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are enjoying an unexpected turnaround in 2011. The team widely picked to finish last in the NL West finds itself in the thick of a pennant race as the All-Star break approaches. The difference between this year and last through 85 games could hardly be more dramatic:
Do early-season phenoms fade once the rest of the league learns to stop giving them pitches to hit?
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Taking a look at the most improved players of 2010.
In addition to post-season baseball, the month of October brings with it the first chance to reflect on the regular season that has just ended. For many fans whose favorite teams did not qualify for the postseason, such reflections can conjure up disappointing memories stemming from the previous offseason, or from a putrid stretch in the middle of the year that knocked them out of contention. For fans of the playoff teams, the reflections often form a mental highlight reel of the season. Regardless of personal team allegiances, I always find it fun to reflect on the season by looking at some of the surprise performances of the year. In this context, a surprise performance would belong to a player whose numbers were nowhere near as appealing a year ago.
Taking a look at disaster starts from many different angles.
Going into Monday evening's game against the Blue Jays, the Yankees had every reason to feel good about themselves, having come from behind the night before to secure a stirring 10-inning victory over the Red Sox. With one more win (or a Red Sox loss) they would clinch a spot in the playoffs. Alas, by the third inning Monday night, it was clear the Yankees would be uncorking no champagne, as starter A.J. Burnett dug them a 7-0 hole by allowing two homers, seven hits, and seven runs while retiring just seven hitters. Had the Yankees been at home, Burnett would have been booed off the mound by the Bronx faithful, but as this was a road game, Yankees fans were left to hurl rotten tomatoes and blue epithets at their TVs.
There are major differences between statistics, and it is important not to misuse them.
In this day and age, baseball players are defined by their statistical attributes much more than they were a few decades ago. That isn’t to say that stats rule all by any means, but rather that teams are starting to be built with more of an eye toward numbers than in the past or at least with an eye toward numbers that provide more information. We have witnessed the defensive revolution. This past offseason, not only did the Red Sox make a conscious effort to bring aboard the darlings of fielding metrics—Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro, and Adrian Beltre—but teams shied away from the likes of Jermaine Dye, who averaged 33 home runs and a .279/.347/.528 line over the last four seasons, because his overall contributions were not in line with his asking price. And last offseason, the glut of hard-hitting but poor-fielding corner outfielders suffered financially; it’s hard to imagine players with skill sets similar to those of Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu being offered so little even just a few years ago.
A deeper look into Cliff Lee's rate of strikeouts to walks and how it stands against other pitchers at this point of the season.
Well, last week was rather eventful, wasn’t it? I woke up to the tune of approximately 14 text messages from friends and family asking for my opinion of a supposed Cliff Lee-to-the-Yankees deal, only to find out after responding that no such deal had been consummated. Then, as I drove home from work, regularly scheduled Philly sports talk radio programming interrupted its continuous “If Lee was on the Phils" drivel to inform the listening audience that the lefty du jour had been traded to the Texas Rangers by the Seattle Mariners. It was a foregone conclusion that Lee would be traded around this time, and his very impressive numbers to date only increased the desire for his services from a bevy of potential suitors. This marks the fourth team Lee has pitched for since last summer—I suppose that’s what happens when a not-great pitcher signs a team-friendly deal and then becomes awesome—and while he doesn’t make the Rangers favorites to vie for the American League championship by any stretch, he brings a unique command of the strike zone that certainly aids their chances of playing deep into October.
Lee’s debut for the Rangers drew mixed reviews. On one hand, he pitched a complete game and continued to show the type of stuff that made his roster presence so important in the first place. On the other hand, he allowed six runs to the lowly Orioles. In the end, he didn’t walk a batter and struck out two, increasing his seasonal totals to 91 strikeouts and 6 walks, a rather preposterous 15.17 K/BB ratio. I say preposterous because that mark resembles one we might see after a week or two of the season, when small samples drastically skew rate statistics. Seeing as it is the middle of July, even though Lee missed the first month of the season with a abdominal strain, he has pitched 112 2/3 innings, hardly a sample small enough to deem his ratio faux-worthy.
David Ortiz, whose career seemed in an unstoppable downward spiral at this time a year ago, punctuates his return to prominence.
Some stat geeks and sabermetric fanatics usually pass-up the All-Star Home Run Derby, calling the event purely commercialized for the younger or more casual fans, not for the true fans that study the game! Well, now at 18, I’d like to think of myself as a “scholar of the game.” I’m increasing my knowledge each and every day with Baseball Prospectus, as numerous research and analytical assignments ensures the expansion of my baseball mind.
However, I can happily admit that there was nothing wrong with enjoying Monday night's showcase of baseball’s best power hitters (well, beside A-Rod, Pujols, and Ryan Howard….). Maybe, aside from bragging rights, it didn’t count for anything, but what it did do was bring to light the competitive nature of a baseball player. Yes, it was just a derby, but it still meant something to each and every one of those participants. Especially for Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, who was pronounced as good as dead at the same time last year. Now, once again an All-Star, Big Papi put on a show at Angels Stadium in Anaheim.
How Jamie Moyer learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.
On May 6, Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Robertspassed away. Many nice things were said upon his shuffling off this mortal coil—staff leader of the 1950 "Whiz Kids," active in the formation of the players' union, all-around stand-up guy. But the most distinctive number attached to his 19-year big-league career was his 505 home runs allowed, the all-time record. Those dingers didn't stop Roberts from racking up 286 wins with a 3.41 ERA, a 113 ERA+, and 82.0 WARP, good enough to earn him a bronze plaque in Cooperstown in relatively short order.
The Game One showdown between star southpaws, and tonight's matchup features a recently phoaled Phillie.
In yesterday's chat, Bronx Banter's Alex Belth asked me, "Is there any particular pitching matchup that you are looking forward to in the series?" I responded that the matchup I was most looking forward to was between CC Sabathia and Ryan Howard, particularly given the prospect of the big man pitching three times for the Yankees in a seven-game series, and the slugger's less-than-sterling reputation against southpaws. "I think that matchup will tell us something about what's going to happen over the next four to seven games," I wrote.