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Of course you’re right that you can’t tell anything from a dozen games. In
general. But I think the exception to that is elite level players who suffered
through injuries, but are now showing themselves to be healthy and at the top
of their game. Jim Thome and Curt Schilling spring to mind. At this point,
would you really put much money on those guys putting up anything resembling
their 2005 seasons? I think for that subset of players, two weeks actually can
tell you a whole lot.

–N.S.

I’ve been pounding this point a lot, so I want to run back to it quickly for a
moment. I’m not suggesting that there’s no information at all to be gleaned in
the first month of the season. I am cautioning against jumping to conclusions
(“Well, guys who rode the bench in the WBC didn’t play enough in March.”
“Players who played in the WBC are having trouble adjusting to boring old
regular-season baseball.” “Yeah, he picked up a slider and that’s why he’s
3-0.”) based on that information.

I think N.S. is correct in that the performance of Thome and Schilling to date
is an indication that their health issues are behind them. Their performance
lines and their apparent health are useful information, but it’s not enough to
conclude that Thome and Schilling are and will be 100% healthy. It’s just more
data for the evaluation of the two guys, and it needs to be balanced against
everything else we know.

There’s never anything wrong with having more information. What’s critical is
using that information correctly, and not jumping to conclusions. Forced
conclusions–the media beast must be sated, you know–are the enemy of
thoughtful, rational analysis that sometimes ends with a smile and a gentle
shrug of the shoulders.

With that in mind, here are some things bouncing around my head as we approach
the 10% mark of the season.

  • Strength of schedule is a huge issue in evaluating teams. The Mets’ 7-1
    start was fueled by a steady diet of Nationals and Marlins, a bump that will
    sustain their record for a while. Starting Thursday, they have a
    10-games-in-11-days road trip, after which we’ll have a lot more information
    about this team.

    The Orioles open with 13 of 17 at home, the Mets with 12 of 15 at home (11 of
    14 after a rainout). The Nationals, though, play 13 of their first 16 on the
    road, the Yankees 11 of 14. These things even out eventually; for now, though
    they can serve to skew records a little.

    At the other end of the spectrum, the Twins opened with a brutal stretch. They
    have yet to play a game against a team I have projected to finish under .500,
    starting the season with series in Toronto and Cleveland, then coming home to
    play the A’s, Yankees and Angels. They’ll go to Chicago this weekend before
    things let up a bit, but considering the opposition, if they’re at .500 next
    Monday morning, that’s a successful start to the season. The Mariners opened
    in a similar fashion, with a home series against the Angels and A’s followed by
    a tough road trip to Cleveland and Boston.

    It’s just something to consider before labeling teams one way or another. No
    one’s played a representative schedule yet, and some teams have faced rather
    extreme slates. I wouldn’t recommend relying on the Adjusted Standings yet,
    either, as sample-size caveats apply fairly strongly, but you can get a sense
    of the degree a team’s record is a function of its context from them.

    Notable record/run differential gaps: the Giants are 8-5 with a -9. The
    Yankees are 6-7, +23 (!). The Orioles are 8-7 with a -10. The A’s are 7-7,
    -12. The Marlins are 4-9, -7.

  • The Royals’ 2-11 record is, I fear, not some kind of small-sample anomaly.
    This is a wretched baseball team, its best players a cornerstone center
    fielder (David DeJesus) who is off to a terrible start and a
    handful of free agents who have no role in the team’s future (Mark
    Grudzielanek
    , Reggie Sanders).

    The Royals have allowed 95 runs in 13 games, and if offense really has spiked
    up again, they have a fighting chance to be just the third team since 1900 to
    allow 1100 runs (1996 Tigers, 1930 Phillies). Their pitching staff is
    horrible, and there’s very little help available in the farm system. Aside
    from DeJesus, Doug Mientkiewicz and maybe Mark
    Teahen
    , they have no above-average defensive players to support the
    staff, and two of those guys could lose their jobs before the year is out to
    the Royals’ terrific hitting prospects, Billy Butler and
    Alex Gordon.

    Major League Baseball has until July 1 to announce plans to eliminate two
    teams for the 2007 season, and they can do so without actually naming the
    teams which will be going away. If they use this clause–which they may do as a
    lever to extort stadium financing from a number of cities–an already dismal
    year in Kansas City could take on the feel of a death march, because the
    Royals would certainly show up on any short list of contraction candidates.

  • I was talking on air yesterday with Dave Cokin of ESPN Radio in Las
    Vegas–who I’m battling for the honor of the worst team in BP’s charity
    Scoresheet Baseball league–and we were discussing the value of looking at
    batting average on balls in play to identify pitchers whose performances are
    likely to be fluky, in either direction.

    Eyeballing the numbers in BP’s sortable stats, I see a couple of candidates
    for improvement, including the Diamondbacks’ Miguel Batista
    (.440 BABIP) and Orlando Hernandez (.432). The D’backs may
    need defensive help, especially in the outfield, but both of these guys’
    numbers are beyond what can be explained by the defense. The Phillies’
    Cory Lidle has allowed just one walk and two home runs in 18
    innings, but a .411 BABIP has driven a 5.00 ERA. Look for these pitchers’ ERAs
    to fall.

    At the other end of the spectrum, as much as I hate to acknowledge it, is
    Ervin Santana. I think he’s on the John
    Lackey
    path, but right now, he has the game’s lowest BABIP, a
    ridiculously low .105. Another personal favorite, Greg
    Maddux
    , is at .173. Curt Schilling has pitched very
    well (16 strikeouts, three walks, two home runs allowed) in his three starts,
    but he’s been helped by a .158 BABIP.

    These numbers will all head towards the mean, which for BABIP is usually right
    around .300. The extremes–the pitchers who get luckiest or unluckiest in a
    season–tend to be in the .220s at the low end (Billy Wagner
    in 2005, .218; lowest starter was Roger Clemens at .248) and
    .350s at the high end (Schilling was at .381 in 2005; other notables were
    Sidney Ponson at .358 and Glendon Rusch at
    .355).

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