- 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:
Team Third-Order Win%/Actual Win% Atlanta Braves .586/.626 Philadelphia Phillies .558/.540 Montreal Expos .486/.504 Florida Marlins .527/.540 Chicago Cubs .545/.518 Houston Astros .524/.525 St. Louis Cardinals .513/.521 San Francisco Giants .549/.616 Arizona Diamondbacks .529/.504 Los Angeles Dodgers .495/.522
After fighting through an early-season visit by the injury bug, the D’backs have nearly fallen out of contention. It’s a tough way to finish the season, but much of the blame for their collapse can be chalked up to bad fortune. Thanks to their current five-game losing streak, the D’backs trail six teams in the Wild Card race. They will need to play extremely well to be hanging around the race by the last week of the season, when they will play six tough games against the Home Rockies and the Cardinals.
- Rookie of the Year: Brandon Webb. The 24-year old sinkerballer ranks first in the NL in SNWAR and SNPct. His 2.65 RA in nearly 150 innings should make him worthy of Cy Young consideration. However, thanks to his 8-7 won-lost record, Webb is not even a lock to win the Rookie of the Year. Now that Jose Reyes is out with a sprained ankle, Webb’s primary competition for the award will come from Dontrelle Willis, Scott Podsednik, and Jason Phillips. Here are the four of them, ranked by Value Over Replacement Player (VORP):
Player VORP Brandon Webb 51.0 Scott Podsednik 35.2 Jason Phillips 29.6 Dontrelle Willis 27.4
The decision really shouldn’t be that difficult. However, the voters have plenty of excuses to pick any of the other three players. Podsednik has lots of steals and the good face, Phillips has big triple crown stats and some neat goggles, while Willis has a big smile, an awesome leg kick, and three more wins than Webb.
However, Webb fans shouldn’t fret if he doesn’t win the award that brought so much fame to Bob Hamelin and Pat Listach; his peripherals indicate that he is more than just a flash in the pan. Webb’s 3:1 K/BB ratio and filthy 3.19 GB/FB Ratio put him just below Kevin Brown as the nastiest groundball pitcher of the year. It seems probable that we haven’t heard the last of Webb yet.
- Pitcher Platooning: September is a great time for teams to be more liberal with how they use their players. The expanded rosters bring about more reliever switches and designated pinch runners, and give Dennys Reyes fans a reason to live. In addition, some managers get creative when given extra roster flexibility. After adding five extra pitchers to his staff, Bob Brenly has indicated that he may platoon the D’backs’ fifth starter, starting Elmer Dessens against teams with righty-dominated lineups and Chris Capuano against teams vulnerable to lefties. While picking either of those guys to start a game for your team in a pennant race is sort of like choosing between Gary Coleman and Gallagher to govern your state, at least Brenly is putting the two pitchers in situations where they are slightly more likely to succeed. He will need them to pitch adequately down the stretch to have a shot at sneaking into the playoffs.
- Baseball Cliché Killed in Arlington. Film at Eleven.: “Strong starting pitching prevents long losing streaks.” – The Book.
The mythical writers of baseball’s Book have some ‘splainin to do. After the Royals beat the Rangers Wednesday night behind rookie Jimmy Gobble, they ran their record to 9-0 in games following a four-game losing skid.
The ability to stop a losing streak at four is supposed to be the province of, well, stoppers, team aces that routinely give their team an excellent chance to win every fifth day. If that’s the case, then the Royals’ stoppers include Gobble (twice), Darrell May (twice), Chris George (twice), Jose Lima, Kris Wilson, and Miguel Asencio.
- Joker’s Wild: On Aug. 15, Joe Randa‘s numbers had fallen to .251/.317/.399, and in impolite circles he was being referred to as “The Lunger” in honor of his ugly swing. In short, he looked done, and appeared to be a serious impediment to the Royals’ playoff hopes.
The retirement party has been put on hold. Randa has gone on a 16-game hitting streak since, with two or more hits in 10 of those games. He’s hit .431/.471/.646 in that stretch, and batting in the #2 slot for most of that time, has scored and driven in 13 runs apiece in those 16 games.
With Aaron Guiel continuing his remarkable breakout in the leadoff role, and a healthy Mike Sweeney and Carlos Beltran in the 3-4 spots in the lineup, the Royals are starting to put together an All-Boy Power Lineup. Witness Wednesday night, when this foursome bunched a double, single, triple, and RBI groundout together to score three runs in the third inning. The Royals had only one other hit the entire game, but won anyway, 3-1.
The Royals desperately need Randa’s renaissance to continue all month and into October, because you can’t field an All-Boy Power Lineup when your #2 hitter hits like a girl.
- Have Bat, Will Travel…to Kansas City?: The All-Boy Power Lineup got extended by one last week when the Royals finally and belatedly picked up another hitter: Rondell White.
The Royals ostensibly picked up White because they were particularly lacking against left-handed pitchers. But despite a long-ago earned reputation as a left-masher, White has virtually no platoon split to speak of.
In 2003, in fact, White has hit right-handers (.277/.326/.485) better than southpaws (.282/.338/.410). Between 2000 and 2002, White hit left-handers marginally better than right-handers (.348/.460 vs. .336/.456), but not nearly enough to worry about.
The Royals can best make use of White by not worrying about his platoon matchups, and putting him in the lineup everyday. By instead platooning Ken Harvey (906 OPS vs. LHP, 642 vs. RHP) with Guiel (718 OPS vs. LHP, 908 OPS vs. RHP), and moving Raul Ibanez between right field and first base as needed, the Royals can maximize their offense and maintain some defensive flexibility in the late innings.
A nagging hip flexor has limited White’s availability in his first week with the team, but early indications are that the Royals would like to bench Harvey against right-handers as much as possible. In a three-team race that could come down to the last day of the season, every edge helps.
- Just Call Him Sandy: In this space a few months ago, we proclaimed the following: “You read it here first: sometime in the next month, Jeremy Affeldt is going to have That Game. The game where he finally achieves national recognition–a two-hit shutout, or a 13-K masterpiece, or maybe both.”
Affeldt never had That Game, in large part because he developed Those Blisters, which led to maddening inconsistency from start to start and eventually forced a move to the bullpen. Working in relief and out of the spotlight, though, Affeldt quietly made a quasi-Koufaxian leap. Here are his numbers between Aug. 3 and Aug. 26:
14.2 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 24 K
Affeldt has hit a speed bump in his last two outings. Last Thursday against Texas, he couldn’t get his footing on a muddy mound and threw just three of 12 pitches before strikes before he was pulled. He had no such excuse on Tuesday, when he gave up seven hits and six runs to the Rangers in a single inning of work.
The Royals are convinced that it was a fluky appearance that won’t be repeated. Tony Pena has taken advantage of Affeldt’s performance by using him in high-leverage situations in the middle innings. Given his usage patterns and potential to dominate, Affeldt’s performance the rest of the season may have more impact on the Royals’ playoff chances than any other pitcher on the roster.
- Down The Tubes?: The Phillies are no stranger to late-season swoons. Most famously, they lost 10 games in a row in 1964 (before winning the last two meaningless contests) to blow a six-and-a-half-game lead. Two years ago they led the Braves by eight-and-a-half games in June and missed the playoffs. In 1995 they had the best record in baseball on June 26 and finished under .500. So when they went 1-9 to start their killer road trip, Phillies fans weren’t that surprised.
But as badly as they’ve played, they’re still in the thick of the race. Two weeks ago, the Phillies were clinging to a half-game lead over the Marlins. Since then they’ve gone only 6-9, but they’re still tied with Florida for that coveted playoff spot.
We won’t be shy about saying it: with six teams within three games of each other, there’s no way to predict who will win. The six Phils-Marlins contests that remain can decide this, but there are 17 other games that will also matter.
- Where There’s Smoke…: The team is losing and the manager is under fire. We’ve all seen it before, but when Larry Bowa’s involved, it’s much more fun. Although management backs him to the hilt, rumors abound that if the Phillies don’t see October, Bowa won’t be back in 2004.
That may well be true. But Ed Wade is no George Steinbrenner, and the Phillies under Wade have been very patient with managers, letting both Jim Fregosi and Terry Francona long outlive their usefulness. It’s hard to see them firing Bowa, even though his act has worn thin, especially since the pre-Bowa Phillies had only made the playoffs once in nearly two decades.
Should they fire him? That’s a big question, but if we ran the Phillies, we’d look at the imprudent lineup construction and those second-inning suicide squeezes and take him to 30th Street Station to catch the first train out of town. Bowa isn’t as bad a tactician as, say, Dusty Baker, but if the guy has no strategic value, why keep him around if his players can’t stand the sight of him? The Phillies released Tyler Houston because he couldn’t get along with Bowa. At least Houston was above replacement value.
- Solid Bench: To his credit, it does seem that Bowa’s used his bench well. Here are the bench players’ expected EqAs and actual EqAs through Sept. 2:
PECOTA Thru 9/2 Difference Ricky Ledee .259 .292 +.033 Jason Michaels .242 .316 +.074 Tomas Perez .244 .247 +.003 Tyler Houston .243 .256 +.013 Todd Pratt .263 .316 +.053
The greatest impact of the Kelly Stinnett pickup won’t be Stinnett’s play, but the opportunities it will give Bowa to use Todd Pratt as a pinch-hitter. Of course, Bowa might just be tempted to give Stinnett those at-bats, anyway.
- Stat Report: Since last time we looked at the Phillies’ Opening Day lineup in comparison to their PECOTA projections, let’s do the same with their top starters and relievers:
PECOTA ERA Thru 9/2 Difference Kevin Millwood 3.63 3.62 -0.01 Randy Wolf 3.48 4.14 +0.66 Vicente Padilla 3.71 3.79 +0.08 Brett Myers 5.06 4.21 -0.85 Jose Mesa 3.36 6.13 +2.77 Rheal Cormier 4.03 1.85 -2.18 Terry Adams 3.85 2.69 -1.16 Turk Wendell 3.95 3.56 -0.39
You can fit three of John Smoltz (0.89) into the gap between Mesa’s actual and expected ERAs. But the rest of the bullpen has helped make up for Mesa’s flameout. That the Phillies find themselves still in contention despite their horrific pitching in August is a testament to how well Joe Kerrigan’s staff had performed to that point. If the pitchers can right the ship, the Phillies will be in a good shape.