James tackles the divide between the way the mainstream media values relievers, and the way more advanced metrics do.
In his discussion of the likely NL MVP race shaping up, Joe Sheehan pointed out that if you look at the most prominent contenders--Derrek Lee, Albert Pujols, and Andruw Jones--Lee distances himself from the field in WARP by a vast margin. Looking at the traditional stats, Lee leads the league in batting average, Jones leads in home runs and RBI, and Pujols is second, third and second in those categories, respectively. It's easy to see why those three would be the favorites headed into the final month of the season.
Most of the excitement in Philadelphia has to do with an improved bullpen, recent versions of which have been the perceived bane of the city's existence. So out with Jose Mesa, in with Billy Wagner. Given how much of the blame for the Phillies' disappointing performances the last two seasons has been placed at the foot of the relief staff, it's easy to understand why fans, media, and the team itself is so eager to have the hard-throwing lefty closing games. I actually agreed that the move would help the Phillies, although not exactly for the reasons generally given. Closers are overrated as a class, and as great as Wagner is, using him solely to protect ninth-inning leads and the occasional ninth-inning tie is a suboptimal application of his talent. However, I also know that Larry Bowa is one of the most temperamental managers in the game, and I strongly believe that his emotional style has been a detriment to this team over the past two seasons.
While I've avoided saying so until now, the Phillies have to be considered the favorites in the National League East. It's not clear that any team is better than them, but this isn't the AL Central. There are basically five teams who look to be no worse than 75-87, and four who should be over .500. The Braves have fallen back to the pack, the Marlins should decline a little from last year's 91-71 performance, and the Mets could rise to .500 if their new acquisitions, Kazuo Matsui and Mike Cameron, meet expectations. Even the Expos have a chance to stay in the Wild Card chase, thanks to a balanced offense and Frank Robinson's demonstrated ability to get a lot from no-name bullpens.
Last Tuesday night around 9 p.m., my mother asked me how I was planning to write about the All-Star Game if I wasn't watching it. I told her that I wasn't writing my column while away, and that I wouldn't write about the All-Star Game when I returned because no one cared about the All-Star Game past about 10:30 a.m. the next day.
You can't make this stuff up, folks.