Roundtable discussion of the pressing questions facing the NL East teams as we approach the start of the season
1) After a disappointing sophomore campaign, what can we expect of Jason Heyward going forward?
MJ: Jason Heyward had an injury-riddled sophomore season in Atlanta, but there is a lot to like about his chances at a rebound campaign in 2012. His offensive line was deflated by a .260 BABIP, but his peripherals were once again stellar. His 11.6 percent walk rate represented a regression from 2010 but cannot be considered poor, and his .162 ISO likewise dropped from the previous year but did not experience a precipitous fall.
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Going team by team to determine which collection of hurlers is most imposing this October.
Nate Silver spent the final week of September 2006 evaluating playoff rotations in a manner reflected in his other work across various fields. The analysis was intuitive, yet innovative and unrivaled. What Silver incorporated that basic playoff rotation analyses often exclude is uneven workloads. Playoff teams may designate four starters, but they shift parts around due to the sporadic schedule and threat of extinction; after all, if a loss makes elimination inevitable, logic dictates having the best man lead the final surge.
The usage numbers Silver presented then are now dated, but the ones provided below are not, thanks to intern Bradley Ankrom. These new percentages include every postseason series since 1995, classifying the starters’ roles by their order of appearance in the playoffs. That means the number ones are the pitchers who started the team’s first playoff game, the number twos are those who started the team’s second playoff game, and so on. Some may note that this methodology may be skewed by the new playoff schedule, although until proven otherwise it should still provide more context than other tactics.
While there is a confusing starting rotation picture for the AL playoff contenders, the NL is much clearer.
With the matter of the playoff participants in both leagues largely settled, on Wednesday I examined the unsettled nature of the playoff rotations of the likely AL representatives. As I showed, each has a considerable amount of unfinished business with regards to identifying their front four, with injuries and matchup issues both playing a part, and there's relatively little separation between the four, at least according to a quick and dirty measure I nabbed from Nate Silver's back pages. By comparison, the NL teams have much less uncertainty as to who will be taking the ball, and much more certainty about whom the fairest of them all is, at least when it comes to post-season rotations.
A look at the three most likely playoff series in the National League, all involving teams from the NL East.
There are not many playoff races of interest remaining this season. Despite a tight AL East race between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, both teams are almost a lock to make the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus's Playoff Odds Report. A similar case has arisen in NL East, and indeed in the National League in general. Aside from the NL West race, the remaining three playoff spots are well in-hand given our expectations of the teams involved. The Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers have all but wrapped up their divisions with 100 and 95.5 percent odds of making it in according to their PECOTA projections. And while the Atlanta Braves may only hold a five-game edge on the San Francisco Giants for the Wild Card, they stand at an 87.8 percent chance to win the fourth playoff spot.
Presuming everyone plays as expected (and the “that's why the play the games” saying appears here as a warning that this does not always happen), the NL East teams have little to look forward to in the regular season; play out their games as expected and they should end up as two of the top contenders to represent the National League in the World Series. What sort of competition are they facing? Let us look ahead to the currently projected potential playoff matchups between the NL East division representatives and their likely opponents.
How often do teams' Opening Day starters live up to their top billing?
“He deserves it. He earned it. He should have made the All-Star team last year. Right now, I think Mike Pelfrey should be the No. 1 guy on this staff.”—Terry Collins
The quote above is a variation on a theme repeated exactly thirty times per preseason. At some point before 25-man rosters are finalized and the games start to mean something, each manager makes a show of anointing his team’s Opening Day starter. The names change—in most cases, they’re more impressive than Pelfrey’s—but the platitudes stay the same.
Digging deeper into some good and bad of the American League East's power trio.
When the pitching matchup for Sunday night's Yankees-Red Sox game was initially announced, I joked that I would fake my own death to avoid watching the potentially plodding affair of New York's Dustin Moseley facing off against Daisuke Matsuzaka. As it turns out, the joke was on me, because even having attended three games at Yankee Stadium over the past week (two in the press box, one in the cheap seats) while watching the Yankees duke it out with the American League East's other two heavyweights, I somehow managed to miss out on the best one. With the Yankees riding their second four-game losing streak in a two-week span coming into Sunday, Yankees manager Joe Girardi went to the whip and started Phil Hughes—who was set to be skipped in accordance with efforts to manage his innings total—in Moseley's place. Hughes gave the Yankees his best outing in more than a month, and the same can be said for Matsuzaka. The result was a taut 10-inning thriller worthy of the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball hype.
August again sorted out the contenders from the pretenders.
During the marathon baseball season, the month of August can often be thought of as the league’s Sorting Hat—a time when the playoff contenders separate themselves from the pretenders and position themselves for September’s sprint to the finish. As Baseball Prospectus' John Perrotto has been documenting each week, the playoff races have recently taken on a much clearer shape, with the Yankees, Rays, Twins, Rangers, Braves, Reds, and Padres becoming prohibitive favorites, and the Phillies a better-than-even bet to fill out the post-season dance card. As thrilling as the September race to the wire can (and hopefully will) be, a team’s performance in the dog days of August—after the trade deadline, before roster expansion—can often cement a team’s playoff ambitions as time slowly ticks away on the rivals chasing them.
With the rumors flying about where Jays ace Roy Halladay is headed, what would he be worth to different teams?
When sabermetricians try to approximate the dollar value of a player's performance, we are mostly using recent free-agent values. For instance, if Halladay is worth about six wins above replacement level (which is a good approximation for most teams' fifth starters), we would say that the value of his replacing a typical fifth starter is about $27 million above the MLB-minimum salary of $400,000. As his current contract pays him $14.25 million in 2009, this would imply that a full 2009 season of Roy Halladay would have been worth the difference ($13.15 million). However, let's say that Halladay gets dealt right now, with about 70 games left to go, instead of around the deadline. Our inclination would be to say that Halladay's remaining 2009 net value would be this pro-rated, $5.7 million above his contract, but that misses a few essential parts of the analysis.
The trio atop the NL Central have their strengths, but also their differing chinks in their armor.
At the outset of the season, the Cubs were forecast to be the National League's best team, but they've endured a litany of injuries and a few key underperformances. At this writing, they sit in fourth place in the NL Central, playing .500 ball (30-30) and trailing the division-leading Brewers by 3½ games. Earlier this week, our staff turned their attention to what's wrong in Wrigleyville and where the Cubs go from here. In today's edition of "Pair Up in Threes," we examine the trio of contenders above them, a crowd that should make for a fair share of Midwestern mayhem over the course of the rest of the season.
The Rays will try running the ChiSox out of the playoffs, and Lester and Lackey go at it again at Fenway.
Matchup: Rays (97-65) at White Sox (89-74), 4:05 p.m. CT, TBS Probable Starters: Andy Sonnanstine (193 1/3IP, 4.89 RA, 1.29 WHIP, 124 K) vs. Gavin Floyd (206 1/3, 4.67, 1.26, 145) Pythagorean Record: Tampa Bay, 92-70 (774 RS, 671 RA); Chicago, 89-74 (811 RS, 729 RA) Hit List Rankings: Tampa Bay, #3; Chicago, #10 Series Favorite: Rays, 76.2% (Up 2-1) Prospectus: With a win yesterday, the White Sox kept Chicago from being swept clean out of the playoffs in both leagues, salvaging some pride in the Second City. The victory was Chicago's third straight at home when a loss meant certain elimination, after the Sox beat the Tigers in last Monday's makeup game and then the Twins in Tuesday's one-game playoff for the division title. Floyd pitched well in that game against Detroit, giving up one earned run in six innings to pick up his team-leading 17th win of the season. This will be his first career outing against the Rays. Sonnanstine pitched the best game of his career against the White Sox back on April 19, a complete-game three-hit shutout at Tropicana Field, but did not fare as well in his next two outings versus Chicago, giving up 19 hits and seven runs combined in 12 innings.