It’s The Little Things That Kill: We haven’t had a motto at BP since “Everything Else is Just Fluff” was retired, but a good candidate might be Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. We have a pretty good idea of what produces a winning ballclub: get on base, hit the longball, and prevent your opponent from doing the same. Everything else is gravy, or as it’s known in the bistros of Orange County, sauce d’excrément de Rally Monkey. Most of the time, it’s not worth worrying about.
But sometimes, as in the case of this year’s White Sox, the little things add up. Here, for the first and the last time, is the BP Hustle Board. All stats are prorated to 162 games.
White Sox 2002 2003 AL Rank (2003) Triples 29 21 12 GIDP 111 146 12 Sac Flies 53 35 13 SB Pct 70.8% 64.7% 11 (tie) RS/TRB 34.3% 27.6% 13
All of these stats should be familiar, except for the last one–runs scored as a percentage of times on base, calculated as (R-HR) / (H + BB + HBP – HR). Anything below 30% in that category is really low, and this year, the White Sox’ percentage ranks ahead of only the lowly Tigers.
The idea here is that, while individually these categories might not mean very much, collectively they begin to tell a story. The fact that the Sox rank so close to the bottom in all of them–and that their numbers are pretty far off from where they were just a year ago–speaks to part of their problem. This is a slow club that is older physically than it is biologically, and not one whose strengths and weaknesses balance themselves out very well.
- Outstanding Performer: The Sox have had a few bright spots though, most notably Esteban Loaiza, who is cruising along with the best ERA in the American League, and has fired off a string of seven consecutive quality starts. The peripheral numbers are there, too: Loaiza has racked up 74 strikeouts against 23 walks, and is doing a fine job of keeping the ball on the ground. Don Cooper and Ken Williams deserve credit for this one.
Draft recap: The Sox, heavy on pitching in their minor league system, selected position players in the first four rounds of last Tuesday’s amateur draft. In honor of the many college students just finishing up their exams, here’s a Cliff’s Notes recap of those selections.
- Brian Anderson (CF, U of Arizona): Tools-heavy outfielder who came on strong this year and also has a history as a pitcher. Take a look at his numbers for yourself. The Sox liked the pick because they have a ton of scouts down in Arizona who have seen him play a lot. Is that a good thing?
- Ryan Sweeney (OF, Xavier HS, Cedar Rapids, Iowa): Big and strong power hitter who was projected to go higher; Baseball America ranked him as the sixth-best high school hitter in the draft. Like Anderson, Sweeney has a history as a pitcher. He’s committed to a pretty strong college program–San Diego State–so he could be a tough sign.
- Clinton King (OF, U of Southern Mississippi): Almost a stathead pick. King is under six feet and doesn’t have much of a defensive reputation, but has posted a .394/.449/.772 line for an up-and-coming college program. He has a strong academic record, for what that’s worth.
Robert Valido (SS, Miami Coral Park HS). Defense-first player who impresses scouts. The MLB.com scouting report on him says it all:
“Good kid, athlete. Turns it on in big games. Flashes five tools occasionally. Big time competitor. Consistency with bat will be key. Mentally tough. Has the edge.”
All things considered, not a bad haul for the Sox, but typical of an organization that’s split just about down the middle between emphasizing tools and performance.
Outstanding Performer: We criticized the Cardinals for the handsome contract they awarded to Woody Williams over the off-season, but his performance thus far has justified it: Williams leads the league in ERA, and entering tonight’s start in Boston, has posted a 24-6 record and a 2.28 ERA since joining the Cardinals. Williams’ career path has been unusual–none of his PECOTA comparables continued to grow better with age to the same extent that he has. (Jamie Moyer would work pretty well if you ignore the handedness issues).
What we have here is two things. First, a pitcher who did not accumulate a lot of mileage on his arm at a young age, and second, a great marriage between pitching and defense. Williams has always been a finesse pitcher, and his ERAs have always been highly correlated with his team’s defensive efficiency rating:
Team Team DER ERA BB/9 1997 Toronto .701 4.35 3.05 1998 Toronto .712 4.46 3.48 1999 San Diego .708 4.41 3.15 2000 San Diego .718 3.75 2.89 2001 San Diego .707 4.97 2.30 2001 St. Louis .719 2.28 2.28 2002 St. Louis .721 2.53 2.18 2003 St. Louis .729 1.99 1.57
While we’ve made great strides in quantifying the direct effects that defense has on pitching statistics, the indirect effects can be important too: Williams’ walk rate has declined as he’s had more confidence in the guys behind him. It’s a little easier to throw strikes in front of Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen and Edgar Renteria than, say, Carlos Garcia, Ed Sprague, and a 38-year-old Otis Nixon.
Draft recap: OK, we’re willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a team like the Braves when it comes to the amateur draft: while their selections, heavy on pitching and high school talent, might not be completely in line with stathead conventional wisdom, their history of developing talent merits a favorable review. But the Cardinals, whose farm system has been barren for the past several years? This year’s selections included, in order:
- a high school catcher who was widely considered an overdraft
- a gawky (6’7″) high school right-hander
- a college arm with serious control problems
Another high school catcher was tabbed in the fifth round. And Matt Pagnozzi, nephew of Tom, was picked in the eighth. Gotta love those bloodlines.
For a team with a history of treating its prospects as poker chips to be traded in for veteran talent–a strategy that has often been successful–the Cardinals have taken on a lot of projects. If this is a proactive attempt to begin to rebuild the farm system from the ground up, more power to them, but their odd disposition to loading up on catchers suggests that isn’t the case.
- Upcoming schedule: The Cardinals’ performance has been schizophrenic since we last wrote about them. They dropped series to Houston and Pittsburgh before performing well in the battle of the birds, rattling off a sweep of a hot Blue Jays team and taking a series from the Orioles. If the Cards play up to the quality of their opponents, the next couple of weeks could provide for a repeat of the pattern. Without an obvious DH candidate on the roster, the Cardinals will play six straight this week on the road against the Yankees and Red Sox, before playing the Brewers and the fading Royals in 10 of their next 13.
Wretched Performance: Everyone. After edging to within a game of .500
on May 23, the Rangers have lost 12 of 14, including their last nine, to drop
their record to 25-36. It’s an across-the-board failure for the team: the
starters have been ineffective (38 runs in 46 innings during the losing
streak), the few good starts have ruined by the bullpen (two blown ties, two
blown leads in their last nine games), and the hitters are in a relative
slump, having scored more than four runs just twice in 11 games after
averaging close to seven runs a game for a month.
As they have for a few years now, Rangers’ pitchers are taking most of the
blame for the team’s woes. The Rangers have the worst ERA, third-worst
Adjusted Runs Prevented and fourth-worst Support-Neutral Value Added in
baseball. Those numbers don’t account for the Rangers’ defense though. Just as they have for most of the season, Texas’ D continues to rate as the worst in the game by Defensive Efficiency, with 32.8% of the balls in play against them falling in for hits.
The culprit is an outfield that just doesn’t cover enough ground. While the
team is eighth in the AL is groundball/flyball ratio, they are far and away
the league leader in doubles allowed (155) and they also lead in (doubles +
triples) allowed. Their ratio of non-HR extra-base hits to flyballs allowed
laps the field:
Team 2B+3B FB Ratio Mariners 84 695 .121 Angels 112 700 .160 A's 95 579 .164 Twins 130 715 .182 White Sox 116 611 .190 Devil Rays 136 708 .192 Tigers 125 630 .198 Yankees 137 650 .211 Indians 137 622 .220 Red Sox 147 620 .237 Royals 137 574 .239 Blue Jays 154 629 .245 Orioles 145 589 .246 Rangers 164 599 .274
While it’s hard to argue that the Rangers have a good pitching staff, the
number of runs the team allows has as much to do with the team’s collective
lack of range–particularly in the outfield–as it does the pitchers.
Things aren’t going to get much easier for the Rangers. After finishing their
tour of the NL East this week by hosting the Mets and Marlins, they’ll play 23
straight games against team currently over .500, including six with the Astros
and seven with the A’s. For the third straight season, the Rangers will reach
the All-Star break out of contention and wondering how a team with this many
stars can be this far from relevance. The answer can be found in the pasture;
John Hart has to find some outfielders who can both hit and cover some ground.
#1 pick: Bucking the industry trend, the Rangers selected a high-school
pitcher with their first pick. John Danks, a left-hander from Round
Rock High School, went 8-1 with a 1.36 ERA in his senior year, striking out
135 and walking just 22 in 72 innings.
The Rangers desperately want to add pitching, and they could get some bounce
from the local angle, but the fact remains: high-school pitchers are the
draft’s biggest risks. Danks has a long way to go before being a factor in
Transaction Analysis: John Hart performed some advanced math–addition
by subtraction–by sending Ruben
Sierra to the Yankees for minor-league outfielder Marcus
Thames. Sierra was using at-bats better given to Mark
Teixeira and fresh-off-the-DL Kevin
Mench, and not using them well: .263/.333/.398 before the trade.
Thames isn’t a prospect. Now 27, he was hitting .278/.332/.407 at Columbus,
and was immediately assigned to Triple-A Oklahoma. He’ll have a job there for
about as long as it takes the Rangers to promote Laynce
Nix (.315/.364/.519 at Double-A Frisco) to the Pacific Coast League.