Baltimore Orioles: The Birds’ season has been giving real Birds a bad name this year. Checking in on some Orioles’ stories:

  • Let’s take a look at how the
    Playoff Odds
    of those in the AL East have fared this season:

    Team         4/20    6/22    8/25
    Baltimore   33.60   71.18     .03
    Boston      30.64   47.09   86.76
    New York    21.39   19.39   41.16
    Tampa Bay   13.75     .00     .00
    Toronto     37.77    4.69    1.60

    The Orioles have truly wasted an incredible opportunity to throw the balance in the AL East out of whack. On June 22, the O’s stood 42-28 after 70 games, putting them in first place. That day, they embarked on a six game losing streak that dropped them out of first place, and signaled the beginning of the end for their 2005 season.

  • Sammy Sosa has been the definition of awful this year. Practically speaking, Sosa has been the worst Right Fielder in the game this year, worse than even replacement level. For all of the gain the O’s have experienced from Brian Roberts, they have balanced that by trotting out Sosa every day, who has had the single worst decline in VORP over a five-year period since 1972 (thanks to Keith Woolner for the research):

    NAME                  YEAR  VORP1  VORP2  VORP3  VORP4  VORP5    DIFF
    Sammy Sosa            2001  122.0   70.5   44.5   27.9   -2.9   124.9
    Mike Greenwell        1988   76.7   40.5   36.1   34.2   -4.3    81.0
    Greg Vaughn           1998   70.3   42.0   31.9   16.6  -10.5    80.8
    Ken Griffey Jr.       1998   85.8   75.7   56.0   39.1    9.4    76.4
    Jay Bell              1999   69.4   32.9   15.4   -2.2   -5.8    75.2
    Danny Tartabull       1991   69.7   48.5   44.7   21.1    1.5    68.2
    Lance Johnson         1996   66.8   28.7    5.3    2.4    0.3    66.5
    Jeff Bagwell          2001   68.7   58.7   52.0   41.0    3.4    65.2
    Jeff Cirillo          1999   56.0   39.9   35.7    0.9   -8.9    64.9
    Derek Jeter           1999  118.0   82.1   71.5   60.0   53.9    64.1

    Ouch. Not even Kirk Van Houten declined so quickly…

Paul Swydan

Cleveland Indians: Jhonny Peralta has absolutely erupted this season. Most everyone reading this column knows of his prowess at the plate, but his quick rise to power is truly something to behold. Check out this timeline of Peralta’s young career:

  • 1999 – Peralta, 17, signs with Cleveland and spends the summer with the Rookie league Dominican Indians. In 208 at bats: .303/.401/.514, with one less RBI than teammate Willy Taveras.
  • 2000 – Peralta leapfrogs Burlington to the Sally League and struggles, but holds his own as an 18-year-old. He continues to display plate discipline but is sapped of nearly all of his power (.241/.354/.309). With their first pick in June the Indians draft shortstop Corey Smith, who never pans out.
  • 2001 – Another year, another promotion. High-A Kinston is fertile ground for Peralta, who takes strides in everything except plate discipline.
  • 2002 – The youngest player in the Eastern League on Opening Day spends the whole year in Akron. Peralta breaks out to the tune of .281/.343/.457 with nearly as many extra-base hits as 2000 and 2001 combined. His defense also soars, from a -13 Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) at shortstop the previous season to +10. Middle infielder Brandon Phillips is acquired midseason in the Bartolo Colon deal and hits adequately at Triple-A Buffalo before a September cup of coffee.
  • Spring Training 2003 – Peralta is assigned to Buffalo and the Tribe decides to flank Omar Vizquel with Phillips at second and Casey Blake at third for Opening Day. Ricky Gutierrez, another of Peralta’s challengers, is placed on the 60-day DL.
  • June 12, 2003 – Vizquel’s injured knee lands him on the DL, and Cleveland’s hands are tied: Peralta, slumping horribly in Buffalo (.256/.310/.335) is promoted to fill in at short. He’s the youngest player in the American League.
  • June 24, 2003 – The big league stint ends; Gutierrez is activated.
  • July 1, 2003 – Peralta is bounced back to Cleveland as John McDonald hits the DL.
  • July 14, 2003 – Phillips, not Peralta, is shipped out when McDonald is activated at the All-Star Break. It ends a humiliating half-season for Phillips (.208/.242/.311), which looks great next to his second-half .175/.247/.279 in Buffalo. By default, Peralta sticks the rest of the season and finishes at .227/.295/.326.
  • 2004 – Peralta rakes all season long in Buffalo, earning the International League MVP while playing shortstop and third base. His .326/.384/.493 line earns him a September call-up.
  • Spring 2005 – Peralta fends off Phillips one final time, taking over as the primary shortstop.
  • July 2005 – A launching pad for Peralta’s season: he enters July normally hitting ninth and getting frequent days off in favor of Alex Cora. On July 7, Cora is traded to Boston and Peralta is the everyday shortstop. Manager Eric Wedge bumps him into the lineup’s three-spot on July 23, and he hasn’t moved since.

Now 23 and only a month and a half settled into his full-time job, not only is Peralta one of baseball’s very best hitting shortstops, he’s also one of the best by BP’s fielding metrics. The only starting shortstops to rank higher with the glove are Rafael Furcal and Jack Wilson, and so far only Miguel Tejada has been able to match Peralta as an all-around player. By Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP):

Top 10 MLB Shortstops by WARP1 (through 8/24)

-------- ---- ---- ---- ---- -----
Tejada    BAL 62.6   24   -2  7.8
Peralta   CLE 47.1   36   13  7.7
Furcal    ATL 37.8   43   17  7.4
Jeter     NYY 49.7   33    7  7.3
Lugo      TBA 38.0   36   11  5.6
Renteria  BOS 24.8   36   11  5.6
Vizquel   SFN 23.1   36   11  5.6
Young     TEX 53.4   10  -17  4.8
Lopez     CIN 44.2   14   -9  4.8
Neifi     CHN 12.2   35   12  4.3

If Peralta keeps up his current OPS of .921, it will vault him into some elite company among shortstops his age or younger (OPS+ is OPS above the league-average OPS):

Top Shortstops By OPS+, Age 23 And Younger

NAME              YEAR  AB AGE OPS   L_OPS OPS+
----------------- ---- --- --- ----- ----- -----
Arky_Vaughan      1935 499  23 1.098 .722 1.520
Rogers_Hornsby    1917 523  21  .868 .633 1.372
Alex_Rodriguez    1996 601  20 1.045 .795 1.314
Arky_Vaughan      1934 558  22  .942 .727 1.296
Arky_Vaughan      1933 573  21  .866 .679 1.275
Vern_Stephens     1943 512  22  .839 .663 1.266
Denis_Menke       1964 505  23  .847 .685 1.238
Cal_Ripken_Jr.    1984 641  23  .884 .724 1.222
Jhonny_Peralta    2005 371  23  .921 .754 1.221

So enjoy him, respect him, and cheer him on through your TV sets, Tribe fans. And if his name creeps into AL MVP discussions, well, remember where you heard it first.

James Click contributed research to this column

Dave Haller

Detroit Tigers: A month into the 2005 season, Joe Sheehan identified the Tigers’ Jeremy Bonderman as one of “his guys.” This echoed something he wrote just before the season started, as he compared Bonderman to Ben Sheets in career development. In our preseason poll, Nate Silver went one step further, picking Bonderman to contend for the AL Cy Young.

Bonderman’s Wednesday start against the A’s ended abruptly and badly, with a nasty comebacker off his wrist. His performace-3 IP, 9 HA, 6 ER-caused his BABIP to rise from .295 to .303, his HR/9 went from .95 to .99, his H/9 went from 8.74 to 9.05, his ERA went up a quarter of a run, and his VORP dropped from 33.7 to 29.5. Not bad for three innings of work.

But that one hiccup doesn’t change the overall season in a meaningful way yet. The early enthusiasm has been largely correct, as he’s been one of the better starters in baseball according to SNLVAR. Bonderman ranks 24th in the majors with an SNLVAR of 4.3, just behind Tim Hudson and the much-improved Mark Buehrle, both with 4.4. Limiting the rankings to AL-only, he sits in ninth place. The Tigers’ bullpen has let him down a bit, allowing seven of his 12 bequeathed runners to score, but his overall numbers point to some genuine progress on his part, particularly when viewed historically:

Year   IP   H/9    K/9   BB/9   HR/9  BABIP   VORP
2003  162  10.72  6.00   3.22   1.28  .324    -8.5
2004  184   8.22  8.22   3.57   1.17  .286    26.4
2005  173   9.74  7.02   2.81    .99  .303    29.5

His BABIP is high enough where we can’t just say “luck” with a straight face when evaluating his peripherals. His walk rate is below league-average (as was his hit rate as recently as Wednesday afternoon), and his strikeout rate is a bit higher. That it’s also more than a full strikeout lower than last season is a little unnerving, but it’s not like he’s given back any other area of performance as his strikeouts have dipped. The decreased home run rate is also a promising sign, as is the fact that he’s faced the toughest opponents of any Tiger pitcher (.267/.336/.427), and has held them to a .254/.313/.413 line.

But let’s stick with the home run rate for a second. How much of that HR/9 score is from the Comerica Boost?

Venue    IP   HR   HR/9
Home    90.0   7    .70
Road    83.0  12   1.30

We seem to have discovered a developmental asterisk, particularly when we learn he didn’t allow a HR at home until his 7th start of the year there. However, digging a bit deeper in his home/road splits, we find all sorts of reasons for not dismissing the home run splits so quickly.

For one, despite the extra longballs, his ERA drops from 4.70 at home to 3.80 on the road. He’s also allowed far fewer H/9 IP on the road (7.48 H/9 on the road, 10.5 H/9 at home), and his control has been better on the road (3.31 BB/9 at home, 2.27 BB/9 at home). We’re also really testing the boundaries of credibility with this exercise, as we’re coming awfully close to trying to draw meangingful conclusions from a very small number of innings.

There are a number of indicators in place that suggest Bonderman’s truly developing into a front-line starter, rather than just a guy who pitches in a spacious park and is taking advantage of that in his performance. For one, his control has improved, as already mentioned. We’ve also got the “Curt Schilling Theory” where his home runs are concerned. Schilling always had the label of “allows a lot of home runs, but they’re solo home runs, so they’re not that bad.” Bonderman has done that this year; of his 7 home runs allowed in Comerica, 5 have been solo shots, and of the 12 HRs allowed on the road, 7 have been solo shots. Keith Woolner tells us that the average home run this year has been worth 1.6 RBI; Bonderman’s have been worth 1.5. Whether or not that’s predictive of anything isn’t known, and certainly worth investigating in the future; from a purely descriptive standpoint, it’s yet another factor contributing to his successful 2005.

Bonderman’s been the best Tiger starter this season, though that’s a bit like saying that out of all the flavors of Harry Potter jelly beans, black pepper is the best; what are you going to choose after that? Booger? Vomit? Earwax? Bonderman’s pretty much in a class by himself in Detroit Tiger Starterdom and, alongside prospects Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya, should give the Tigers a solid, young rotation for the next few years.

John Erhardt

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