- Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud: Baseball news in Boston
these days is nothing but good. The sun is shining, the Sox are in
first, Curt Schilling is the ad- and media-friendly “true
ace” of the Red Sox, and Manny Ramirez is not only a
“new guy,” he’s also a new
U.S. citizen. (Note: Fly to Florida to say the pledge of
allegiance, OK. Miss a game because you’re sick, then have dinner at home
with your best friend, not so OK.)
Anyhow, with all this good news let’s hold up our end of the fatalistic New England tradition for once. Here’s where we’re at, as of Wednesday
W L RS RA Current Pace 98 64 805 658 BP preseason projection 105 57 921 668
The Sox are 20-13, half a game up on the Yankees, and the pitching has
been devastating–right in line with PECOTA, BP’s
disturbingly accurate projection system. The team has fallen off of 100-win
pace because the hitting hasn’t been there, but with Nomar and Trot
both taking batting practice, a return to 2003 offensive form is on the
horizon. So what’s the problem? Hint: it’s wearing pinstripes.
For the past two weeks–while the Sox were getting swept by Texas,
then splitting nine games with Cleveland and Kansas City–the Yankees
have taken five of six from Oakland, swept KC, won a series in Seattle,
then beaten up on Anaheim’s vaunted bullpen in game one of their
current series in New York. They’ve erased their five-game AL East deficit and, perhaps just as importantly, banked their season-series win
against Oakland. (Texas is the ESPN flavor of the month, but PECOTA called the
AL West in this order: Oakland
(84-78), and Texas (78-84). Expect the teams to trend back toward those
projections as the season progresses, because there’s a lot of baseball left.)
Unfortunately for the Sox, there’s a lot of baseball left against the
likes of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder,
Barry Zito, Rich Harden…and God Forbid Joe Blanton. Between now and the All-Star break, the Sox will
have to face Oakland at Fenway Park in two separate series. And after
Oakland: Three games in the cavern at Oakland, done September 8.
Anaheim: Three games at Fenway and four games at Anaheim, done
Seattle: Six games at Safeco, done September 12.
Texas: Three games at Fenway, done September 5.
Oakland: Three games in New York, done August 5.
Anaheim: Three games in New York, done August 22.
Seattle: Three games at Safeco, done August 15.
Texas: Three games at Arlington, done August 12.
Holding serve isn’t enough for the Sox right now, because they’re
giving up points in strength of remaining schedule, a debt that will come
due in September. And for the past two weeks, they haven’t even been
- Year Three of the (Permanent) Yawkey Way Experiment: Here’s a press release we received the other day: “RED SOX MOVIE Opens Strong against Olsen Twins’ NEW YORK MINUTE.” Can’t make up that sort of thing, right? Another thing that’s hard to make up: an authentic
ballpark neighborhood, like Chicago’s Waveland Avenue. But that won’t stop the Red Sox from trying.
Here’s how it works: A couple hours before game time, Sox staff put up fences at both ends of Yawkey Way, a public street running along the third-base side of the old ballpark. Real Boston residents are thereby fenced out: BU student trying to get to school? Sorry, go around. Crusty old-timer walking from Kenmore to the Baseball Tavern to watch the game? Sorry, go around. Authentic Boston sausage vendor? Sorry, go someplace else.
Inside the barriers, of course, the Sox grab more space for retail. And they’ve determined, apparently, that the best atmosphere for selling crap to tourists is that of a grotesque carnival: $14 beers, obnoxious guy in a Red Sox uniform on stilts–HEY, KIDS!!!–and the highlight, a white dude in a multi-color poncho, affecting a bogus Mexican accent, hawking “Tácos, burrítos, enchiládas!!!” in a city with almost no Mexican population and a near dearth of real Mexican food.
Change is good. We dig the Monster Seats and we dig the right field roof BBQ. But we’d prefer the pushy vendors, the greasy streets–hell, even the rats, which reclaim Yawkey as soon as the ballpark shuts down–to the exclusive, Disneyfied version of Red Sox Yawkey Way. Hey, two out of three ain’t bad.
- Missed Opportunity: Johnny Damon has agreed to shave his beard in exchange for Gillette’s $15,000 charity donation. Benefiting children’s reading programs at the Boston Public Library is wonderful, but the execution here is short-sighted. Next time, open two charity accounts: one for people who want the shave, and one for people who want to keep the Captain Caveman look. Whichever account has the most donations by a specified date wins. Wouldn’t players and execs from around the league bid on this?
- Where There’s Smoke There’s…Mirrors: Hanging around,
Mike McDermott versus Teddy KGB. The Reds were supposed to hit a little this year, which two of them are–and their pitching was supposed to suck, which it has. Still, as of Wednesday afternoon they were lurking in third place, just four games back of Houston.
They’re a winning ballclub, at 17-15, but the Pythagorean theorem of baseball, which predicts winning percentage based on runs scored (157) and runs allowed (169), says they’re playing like a losing ballclub–and that they should be 15-17. In other words, they’ve been more lucky than good; currently, the Reds are on pace to go 86-76 on the season while scoring 795 runs and allowing 856…a close-to-impossible feat. But for now, through nearly one-fifth of the season, they’re right in the thick of things. And good things can
- The 99th Percentile: The Reds offense has been highly
dependent on the performance of two players, both handily exceeding
their 90th-percentile PECOTA projections, each accounting for more than one
third of the Reds’ value
over replacement-level performance. Here are the Reds regulars and top fill-ins to date, ranked by VORP, which compares a player’s performance to a replacement-level player at the same position:
POS PA OPS VORP Adam Dunn lf 133 1.195 21.4 Sean Casey 1b 142 0.993 20.4 Ken Griffey Jr. cf 128 0.839 7.9 Barry Larkin ss 125 0.741 7.7 Juan Castro 3b 62 0.703 1.5 Ryan Freel 3b 100 0.692 1 D'Angelo Jimenez 2b 148 0.649 0.5 Wily Mo Pena rf 45 0.608 -1.3 Jason LaRue c 66 0.621 -1.4 Austin Kearns rf 62 0.623 -1.8 Javier Valentin c 52 0.552 -2.8
Thank you, Adam Dunn, for single-handedly rescuing BP fantasy teams everywhere, most of which feature a whole mess of Expos with projections BALCOed by specious park factors. Together, Dunn and Sean Casey have carried the offense. As of this writing, Casey had amassed the highest first baseman VORP in all of baseball.
It’s interesting to note that Casey’s great-but-far-inferior-to-Dunn numbers currently give him a nearly identical VORP to Dunn, despite Casey playing at first base. You might think first is the most offensively-competitive position in all of baseball, but so far in 2004, you’d be wrong. Left fielders, like Dunn, have outhit first basemen:
YEAR POS AVG OBP SLG ---- --- ---- ---- ---- 2004 1B .265 .351 .450 2004 LF .289 .374 .476
- The 1st Percentile: The offense was the good news; the pitching is the bad. The Reds are fifth-worst in the National League in runs allowed. Fortunately the badness, like the goodness in Dunn and Casey, is concentrated primarily in two players. One, Jimmy Haynes, has been summarily dumped and will never again be mentioned in a Reds PTP. Except for this, for anyone who didn’t read yesterday’s “Teams” report: Jimmy Haynes is the worst pitcher, by far, in the history of baseball to throw more than 1,000 innings. Farewell.
The other disaster, unexpectedly, has been 21-year-old fireballer Ryan Wagner. Wagner is currently the worst reliever in all of baseball for 2004, rated by Adjusted Runs Prevented. Wagner’s performance has been the definition of spotty; in 13 outings he has yet to give up one run. On April 19, vs. the Cubs, Wagner gave up five runs, all without recording a single out. He’s also given up three runs once and two runs twice. But not one.
- Comeback Kearns: A recent report from Will Carroll has outfielder Austin Kearns on the verge of making a miraculous comeback, again completing what has
potential to easily be the best outfield in baseball. Unfortunately, Kearns was struggling mightily before a pitch fractured his ulna. It remains to be seen whether the rest will help him return to his amazing early-2003 form. Kearns, Griffey and Dunn played only 21 games together last year.
San Diego Padres
- Wide Open West: At 19-14 through as of Wednesday afternoon, the Padres were solidly in second place–and the National League Wild Card lead–three games behind Los Angeles. The Dodgers have looked good, at 21-10, owners of a five-game winning streak. But they’re not that good.
Through 31 games the Dodgers are an incredible 10-0 in one-run games; perhaps that’s a testament to Jim Tracy’s managerial prowess, as well as
Los Angeles’ strong bullpen, defense, and small-ball skills. But it’s also, almost certainly, a testament to luck.
Consider the following table, which compares winning percentage in
one-run games against winning percentage in all other games for the 2003
Team, 2003 1-run games other games San Francisco .700 .595 Boston .619 .575 Chicago Cubs .614 .517 NY Yankees .600 .630 Cincinnati .588 .351 Florida .566 .560 Oakland .556 .607 Arizona .545 .505 Milwaukee .533 .376 Los Angeles .531 .522 Philadelphia .526 .532 Minnesota .524 .567 Seattle .516 .588 Detroit .514 .192 San Diego .512 .355 Baltimore .488 .420 Montreal .478 .526 Houston .475 .557 Pittsburgh .471 .459 Tampa Bay .460 .357 Texas .459 .432 Chicago Sox .450 .557 Kansas City .450 .533 Anaheim .444 .484 Colorado .436 .463 Atlanta .405 .700 Toronto .378 .576 Cleveland .375 .434 St. Louis .359 .577 NY Mets .357 .429
There’s a correlation there, but only a small one. Better teams do tend to win more one-run games than they lose, on average, but there’s a ton of variation around that mean. In 2004, the Dodgers are only 11-10 in non-one-run games, while the Padres are 12-11. It’s going to be an exciting season in the NL West.
- There’s a Party Going On Right Here: The team is no slouch, but an informal report from San Diego attributes 90% of the city’s Padres buzz to the new ballpark, and 10% to the team on the field. Residents of San Diego proper are especially excited. For less than $10, one can take the trolley to the stadium ($4.50 round trip) and purchase a “park pass” (five bucks) for standing-room access. That leaves a lot of money for beer purchases, and purchasing beer is exactly what Petco patrons have been doing. “The ballpark is a big party,” reports one fan, “there just happens to be a game going on in the background.”
Part of the reason fans aren’t paying much attention–yet–to the
Pads is their lack of what is perceived as a “dinner-table name.” David Wells might be a superstar at the dinner table, but doesn’t quite qualify on the field. Meanwhile Brian Giles, who has stayed out of the spotlight in Pittsburgh and San Diego, remains one
of the most underrated players in all of baseball.
- Feeling his Ots: Quick: name the Padres reliever with
a strikeout per inning, an ERA of 1.06, and .71 hits plus walks allowed per inning. Trevor Hoffman, right? Wrong. It’s Japanese veteran (and MLB rookie) Akinori Otsuka–say it OAT-ska–and through 16 games spanning 17 innings, he has been incredibly nasty. Setting up Trevor Hoffman in place of the still-absent Rod Beck, Otsuka has surrendered
just one double, one triple, and zero homers. He’s also, during that
time, accumulated three wins and a save…making him a rare middle
reliever with fantasy value. Consider adding him to your Fantasy Team Photo while you still can.