keyboard_arrow_uptop

I want to thank everyone who has called and sent in e-mail professing sympathy
for the loss of Doug Pappas and providing remembrances of him and his work.
Doug reached so many people, and created so many good memories for those with
whom he crossed paths.

I was checking out BP’s Adjusted Standings report this morning. I think we’re
far enough into the season that the report is useful in indicating which
teams’ win-loss records are clouding their true performance, for better or
worse. Schedules are pretty unbalanced–how many games have the Red Sox played
in Skydome this year? Six? Seventeen? Twenty-five?–and the effects of under- or overperforming
Pythagenport, or being particularly efficient or inefficient in generating
runs out of offensive events, are beginning to be felt. It’s interesting to
look at these gaps and find the performance issues–great, now I’m going to
trip spam filters–that cause them.

Take those Red Sox, for instance. With 228 runs scored and 180 runs allowed,
their record of 27-17 is a match for their Pythag mark. But according to Clay
Davenport’s calculations, the Sox should have a 241-167 edge in runs. The
offensive gap, which has cost them at least one win, is mostly explained by
the team’s early-season struggles with runners on base: 251/.342/.403, as
opposed to a whopping .281/.364/.468 with the bases empty. There’s no reason
to believe that the Sox have some inability to hit with runners on–most teams
hit a bit better in that situation–and their performance in May has been much
better than what they did in April, so they should be find going forward.

The Yankees have been trading paint with the Red Sox in the AL East, but are
behind them by 4.5 games on Clay’s report. The Sox’ struggles with men on base
explains part of that, and the Yankees’ inability to find starters for the
back of the rotation explains the rest. Their 216-204 edge in runs would make
them barely a .500 team, but they’re actually 25-18. This is largely because
they’ve suffered a handful of blowout losses with the back of the rotation on
the mound. With Jon Lieber solving half that problem, and the
inevitable acquisition of a real fifth starter, this should not be expected to
continue.

That the Red Sox are a game-and-a-half ahead of the Yankees, with underlying
quality indicators that show them to be the better team, and with them having
yet to get anything from about $14 million worth of hitters, is a great sign
for Sox fans.

The Blue Jays are underperforming their projected record by 3.4 wins, the
biggest negative gap in baseball. That seems to be reflective of their bullpen
problems, which have contributed a number of close losses, the most recent of which was last Wednesday’s heartbreaking game where they gave up four runs to the Twins in the ninth inning to lose 6-5.

While a team’s record in one-run games is largely due to a confluence of
factors we tend to call “luck,” one tangible factor is the
performance of the bullpen. Rany Jazayerli discovered that team’s with good
pens do show an edge in one-run games. (The article, published at ESPN.com,
appears to no longer be accessible. Rany’s follow-up piece is here.) The
Jays, despite having relievers with good performance histories, haven’t had a
good pen this year, which is why they’ve suffered so many late losses.

Over in the AL Central, the White Sox look like they should be five games
ahead of the Twins. Instead, they’re tied, and that after taking three of four
from them over the weekend. Like the Yankees, the Twins have suffered enough
blowouts–usually in games started by Kyle Lohse or
Seth Greisinger, who I think was found in a van down by the
river–to skew their runs allowed. Even at that, the Twins have managed to
allow 19 fewer runs than would be expected by their run elements and
competition. That should be defense, but since the Twins are dead last in MLB
in defensive efficiency, I’m forced to conclude that the Twins have progressed from messing with the air conditioning at the HHH Dome to employing snipers to
eliminate baserunners, using Bert Blyleven’s “circling” of fans as a
distraction.

(OK, it’s probably a 28-point OPS edge in pitching with runners in scoring
position vs. with the bases empty. Overall, the Twins have allowed a .350
opposition OBP, and if they continue to do that, they will not reach the
postseason.)

Great day in the morning…the Twins recalled Justin Morneau. I
take it all back, they’re wonderful.

Perhaps the most surprising thing I see in the Adjusted Standings is that the
Rangers are right where they should be. Their record of 25-18 is a dead match
for their third-order record, which indicates that while they may be getting
fluky seasons from some players, those performances are legitimately making
them a contender. They remain three games behind the Angels, however, who have
a record four games better than their underlying indicators.

The Angels are crushing the ball with runners in scoring position, a
.321/.384/.535 line that explains part of their edge. The rest can be
attributed to their being the anti-Blue Jays in the bullpen: 12-4 in one- and
two-run games. Francisco Rodriguez, Kevin
Gregg
and Scot Shields have been awesome. (Shields’
3.31 ERA is inflated by two lousy outings in the first week of the season.)
Unlike some of the other overperformers, the Angels can actually be expected
to keep this up; their bullpen is a significant competitive advantage over
their opposition, and has been for three years now.

The NL doesn’t have as many standout numbers. The Expos are a little bit
better than they’ve looked, dragged down by a ridiculously poor
performance–.195/.285/.289–with runners in scoring position.

The close race in the NL Central is being run by three underachievers and one
massive overachiever. No team in the NL is further ahead of its projected
record than the Reds, and there doesn’t appear to be any underlying reason for
it: their bullpen has been just OK, they’re not hitting impressively in the
clutch, and they’re just 7-7 in one-run games. I thought the Reds could be an
84-win team this season–last year’s disaster was reflective of injuries, not
the true talent level–and I still expect them to end up in that range, and out
of contention.

The Astros have been lousy in close games, in part because Octavio
Dotel
and Brad Lidge have been off for the last
month. That has cost them three wins as compared to their expected record.
Meanwhile, the Cubs and Cardinals are just a little bit off in turning run
elements into runs, and runs into wins, enough to make the NL Central seem a
lot more mediocre than it really is.

The Dodgers, who, had the biggest positive gap in baseball a week ago, are now
just 1.7 games better than their projected record. Starting out the season
10-0 in one-run games will do that. Eric Gagne and
Guillermo Mota are a big advantage in close games, and the
Dodgers have some extra OBP lying around, particularly on the bench, that they
didn’t have last year. This helps them tactically in the many low-scoring
games they play at Dodger Stadium.

With the NL West rapidly dividing into haves and and have-nots, the Dodgers
are left to battle the Padres, who have a three-win edge over their projected
record. The Pads are getting phenomenal work from the bullpen, especially the
right side, where Akinori Otsuka, Scott
Linebrink
and Trevor Hoffman have been fantastic.
That’s helped them to an 8-4 record in one-run games. The Pads are also
“saving” 13 runs by allowing just a 674 OPS with runners in scoring
position (vs. an overall mark of 719).

Some of the differences between a team’s projected record and actual are
sustainable competitive advantages, such as the Angels bullpen. Others are
just small-sample flukes, such as the Dodgers’ success in close games. Using
the Adjusted Standings Report as a guide to where teams are picking up and
losing wins is one way to figure out what is going to happen the rest of the
way.