In which old school and new school find some common ground on Clubhouse Confidential.
I wasn't always a Larry Bowa fan. I grew up rooting for the Dodgers in the late 1970s, during the time of their heated rivalry with the Phillies. The two teams tangled in the 1977 and 1978 National League Championship Series, with the Dodgers winning twice and advancing to the World Series, only to meet their doom at the hands of the Yankees. That Phillies team, anchored by future Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, slugger Greg Luzinski, fireman Tug McGraw, speedster Garry Maddox and backstop Bob Boone, didn't lack for memorable players. Bowa was the slick-fielding starting shortstop, a slappy contact hitter and a fiery competitor whose visible intensity wasn't likely to gain the affection of fans of opposing teams, and in my case, it didn't. His abilities were nonetheless respected enough by the writers that he placed a strong third in the 1978 NL MVP voting in on the strength of a season in which he hit .294/.319/.370 with 192 hits but just three homers and 43 RBI. Bowa was worth a runaway career best 4.6 WARP that year, good for 23rd in the league, but still requiring some amount of narrative grease to outdo the higher rankings of teammates Schmidt, Luzinski, and Maddox, not to mention fourth-place finisher Reggie Smith (.295/.382/.559, 6.0 WARP) of the Dodgers.
The spirit may be willing, but the reflexes and range are often lacking, providing an object lesson for the Pinstriped Empire.
Both here at BP (and in the annual) and at my other home, I've been waging a desultory war about Derek Jeter's future. His contract is up after the 2010 season, and though he'll be knocking on the door of 3,000 hits, I have argued that the Yankees should say goodbye. Jeter's defense is already a problem at short and is unlikely to have improved as he enters his age-37 season. With his bat sliding and his speed seemingly ebbing, a transfer to another position seems unlikely to bear fruit. As I said in my most recent chat, "I don't know that Jeter is a viable major leaguer in three years. My standard line—his glove will no longer play in the middle infield, his bat won't play anywhere else."
Memories of this fan's rite of passage engender a look back at 1977 on the bases.
"This team, it all flows from me. I'm the straw that stirs the drink. Maybe I should say me and [Thurman] Munson, but he can only stir it bad." -Attributed to Reggie Jackson in the May 1977 issue of Sport magazine.
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Dan shows the relationship between quantum physics and sabermetrics before delving into Win Expectancy.
"I'm reminded a bit of the principle of superposition--each player in the game produces a contribution that has an effect on the probability of winning, somewhat analogous to a wave function. Add up these "wave functions" for each team, and you get a result that expresses how likely the team is to win with these particular sets of contributions, yet at this point it's still unknown whether the team actually wins (much like the fate of Schrödinger's cat inside the box). However, the wave function only collapses to the actual result when the game is played (or the box containing the cat is opened)."
--Keith Woolner, “Aim for the Head” October 24, 2001
The White Sox unload Billy Koch. The Rockies' injured outfielders are returning to action. Jose Reyes' return gives the Mets some interesting lineup options. Justin Lehr tries to plug a hole in the Athletics' bullpen. The Cardinals wrestle with a modest catcher surplus. These and other happenings in today's Transaction Analysis.
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.
Miguel Batista could be in for a big payday. The Royals are suffering with the regrets of the morning after. And Larry Bowa, as you might have guessed, is seeing red. All this and much more news from Arizona, Kansas City, and Philadelphia in your Friday edition of Prospectus Triple Play.
What Went Right?: The Diamondbacks fought through injury to remain in contention until September. Two out-of-nowhere players, Matt Kata and Robbie Hammock combined for 14.8 Runs Above Replacement Player without having made the pages of Baseball Prospectus 2003. Brandon Webb broke out in a huge way, while being handled gently by Bob Brenley, and Alex Cintron showed more power than anybody expected from him, slugging 45 extra base hits in less than 500 PAs. Steve Finley and Luis Gonzalez continued to outperform their PECOTA projections, hitting .287/.363/.500 and .304/.402/.532 respectively. Finally, the D'backs said goodbye to Mark Grace. He may be an announcer next year, or a coach, or maybe even governor of your state, but at least he won't be making outs for the Diamondbacks next season.
A lost season for the Angels has folks in Anaheim scratching their heads. John Smoltz's injury buries Bobby Thigpen's name for another year. The Royals' run evokes memories of George Brett and company. Sandy Alomar...you can probably guess what Chris will write about Sandy Alomar. Witticisms, Kahrlisms and roster schmisms in this edition of Transaction Analysis.
The Diamondbacks' Brandon Webb should be a lock for Roofie of the Year, and a contender for Cy Young. The Royals add Rondell White to their All-Boy Power Lineup. The Phillies have overcome Jose Mesa's awful season. These and other news and notes out of Arizona, Kansas City, and Philadelphia in today's edition of Prospectus Triple Play.
Better to Be Lucky than Good: The Law of Large Numbers tells us that over a large enough sample, teams' luck will even out. In other words, if two teams play enough games, the better team will end up with more wins. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, 162 games is just not enough. Clay Davenport's Adjusted Standings report is an attempt to look beyond a team's win-loss record to see how well a team has really played. The report's third-order winning percentages for each team is an attempt to strip away some of the elements of luck from a team's record to give a number more indicative of how good the team has really been. Here are the third-order winning percentages for the current NL playoff contenders: