The NL MVP

Since I looked at the NL Cy Young race yesterday, let’s look at the NL MVP Race today. Here was how I approached this question. I used Dan Szymbroki’s wonderful Zips projections to find projections for the likely backups of Andruw Jones, Derrek Lee, and Albert Pujols. I prorated those numbers based on the number of outs each player made and added in defense (again, based on what Szymbroski’s projections say) to come up with a super linear weights-type number. Then, I looked at the linear weights and defense for the three starters, and subtracted their potential replacement’s super linear weights from their own, to come up with a value over replacement type stat. This, in my opinion, is actually how valuable a player has been to his team. So who was the winner? Derrek Lee, far and away, with a 56 VOR (I’ll leave the “P” to BP). Pujols and Jones were tied at 43.

Clemens vs. Carpenter

Someone had an interesting idea on Baseball Primer today to look at Roger Clemens’ and Chris Carpenter’s expected W/L record based on how many runs their teams score for them and how many they allow; that is, how much better is Clemens’ actual record compared to his expected record, and how much better is Carpenter than he would be expected to go.
If he were a league average pitcher, Clemens’ expected W% would be .388 and his expected record would be 8-13 versus an actual record of 11-7. In other words, Clemens has 3 more wins and 6 less losses than one would expect. So that would make him +9.
If he were a league average pitcher, Carpenter would have an expected W% of .567, with an expected record of 14-11. He is actually 21-4, 7 wins better than expected and 7 losses better as well. That would put him at +14, or 5 wins better than the Rocket.
Obviously, some notable flaws exist in this study. First of all, I’m not sure there is any evidence that a pitcher has much influence over how much he wins or loses. Secondly, the less runs a team scores, the smaller an influence it has on its expected W%, so Clemens is put at a certain disadvantage in that sense. For example, with the Cardinals offense, Clemens would have an expected record of 16-2 vs. 10-8 (if the decisions for both are constrained at 18, Clemens’ actual number of decisions) for a league average pitcher, which would put him at +12.
That’s still not enough to pass Carpenter—and it’s the reason I think that Carpenter deserves the Cy Young—but the race is closer than the original study would indicate.

How much would Johnny Damon help the Yankees?

Great analysis by Bob Klapisch on ESPN today, where he talks about the difference between Johnny Damon and Bernie Williams, and quotes UZR! Now let’s look at the difference between the two. Offensively, Damon would add about 20 runs to the Yankees, a difference of two wins. But what about, and this is the big question, defense? Well, using my defensive ratings, which are pretty similar to (though not nearly as good as) UZR, we can answer this question. And what we’ll find is shocking: Damon is 2.8 runs below average while Williams is at -4.4, only 1.6 runs worse than the Sox centerfielder. In other words, offense and defense combined, Damon is worth maybe a little more than two extra wins year over Williams. Which would put the Red Sox and Yankees in a virtual tie for first place.

Power Rankings – September 5

Okay, so I’m going to do my power rankings a little differently from now on, using comments made by MVN’s team bloggers in the last week. Tell me what you think about the new format! As always, rankings are based on Pythagorean record adjusted for strength of schedule.
1. St. Louis Cardinals (1) – “The Cardinals improved to 87-50 with the back-to-back wins and have now beaten Houston 11 times in 14 games.”
2. Oakland Athletics (2) – “Game One of the second of three showdown series between the Angels and A’s was a real gem. Although the A’s scored only two runs, no one should fear that their bats have returned to dormancy. Bartolo Colon was dealing, pitching some great baseball that was well matched by what might have been Barry Zito’s best outing of the year.”
3. Atlanta Braves (3) – “I’m worried about who’s going to be given a spot on the (probable) postseason roster on the pitching staff, and what role.”
4. Los Angeles Angels (4) – “Everyone knows that once you get sick, your immune system develops protection against the illness, thereby preventing you from getting that illness again. In staying with that line of thinking, perhaps the Angels needed bullpen breakdowns in order to realize that they have a problem and that they should do something to inoculate themselves for the future.”
5. Chicago White Sox (6) – “If the [White Sox] are going to do any damage in the playoffs it’s going to be because of their rotation. Sure their offense will need to get hot at the right time, but even if they are hot, they won’t be carrying the team for the duration of it.”
6. New York Mets (5) – “I think it’s evident enough that the main reason this team loses games is because they can’t score runs, and they should have changed this line up a month ago.”
7. Boston Red Sox (7) - “Please tell Jose that we are not down to the ‘[Foulke] sucked playing against bad players, so all he needs is to play against better players argument.’ This is the baseball equivalent of the couple who, struggling mightily to make a relationship work, decide that getting married will probably make things better. Of course that is still better than the struggling married couple who decide that having a child will improve the marriage.”
8. Cleveland Indians (8) – “Playoff caliber teams just don’t do this kind of stuff. Get it together boys. Apparently this is too much to ask. FOUR throwing errors on the Indians defense in a span of recording 9 outs. That’s pitiful.”
9. New York Yankees (9) – “I try to be positive when I post but one thing that I have not put a positive spin on was Leiter’s presence in the rotation. Even when he pitches good and the Yankees win, watching the game is like going to the dentist and have 5 drills burning through your teeth at once.”
10. Houston Astros (12) - “So now we STILL 1/2 game back of Philly, who we just happen to be having a series with right now. We GOTTA win here.”
11. Toronto Blue Jays (10) – “Compete to lose, in fact, hardly describes the kind of ball the Birds are producing these days. Gone is the hustle and energy, the scrappiness. In it’s place is an apathetic front running team that is hoping not to lose, not grabbing the opportunities to win.”
12. Minnesota Twins (11) - “A Google search of images related to ‘inept’ returns a picture of the Twins. That’s not a joke.”
13. Philadelphia Phillies (14) – “The Phillies passed the first test of September by finally beating the Mets at Shea stadium, and winning a series in their own division. They’ll head to Washington to open a series tomorrow night 3.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves and in second place in the NL East, and 1 game ahead of the Houston Astros and in first place in the NL Wild Card race.”
14. Florida Marlins (13) – “The Marlins have put themselves in a position where they control their own destiny. Teams play the whole season to put themselves in that position. Few actually accomplish it. The Marlins are that chosen few, and they’ve earned it.”
15. Milwaukee Brewers (15) – “The Crew split (yet another) series, this time their 4-game home series against the Padres. Although it didn’t help one iota in gaining ground in the NL Wild Card race, it does prove that Milwaukee can compete with at least one division champion. The Brewers’ are clinging onto 3rd place in the NL Central, a full 20 games back of the Cardinals. The Crew is also 6th in the NL Wild Card race, 6 games in back of the Phillies. Oh, yeah, and their record is 67-70, requiring them to go 14-11 over their last 25 games to hit that oh-so ever elusive .500 mark.”
16. Texas Rangers (16) – “So an ugly end to a four game set in Kansas City, but ongoing into Minnesota on Monday night the Rangers starting pitching looks like they’ve rebounded nicely and have gone 8-2 with a 2.67 ERA over the past 13 games.”
17. Chicago Cubs (17) – “So as the Cubs were losing yesterday, the Cubs rookies (Matt Murton and Ronnie Cedeno) were stewing on the bench. All I have to say is, PLEASE PLAY THEM DUSTY! I think they have earned a right to show that they are major league stars in the making.”
18. Washington Nationals (19) – “This is it. The Nats Alamo so to speak. They need to win today or face the prospect of having to win both the Atlanta and Florida series at home to stay in the race. Things are breaking down. (Surprise, Surprise Guillen is unhappy) They can only get worse with a loss today.”
19. Seattle Mariners (20) – “I can put up with a lot of things as a fan. Cheating is not one of them. [Ryan] Franklin got caught, denied everything, served his time, and has pitched like someone who does not use steroids but desperately needs them.”
20. Detroit Tigers (18) – “Being late in the year I found that two things are nearly guaranteed. First, the Tigers will be pretty much out of playoff contention and second, I will not be able to find much to write about.”
21. Cincinnati Reds (21) – “And now the Reds are back to 8 games under .500 and 2.5 games out of 3rd place – the two goals many have set for the home squad.”
22. Baltimore Orioles (22) – “I’m elated over the news of [Ponson’s] dismissal. His tenure with the Black and Orange could have been a time of magnificence…But given numerous opportunities to display that talent, Ponson never showed a serious effort to prove what he could do.”
23. San Diego Padres (23) – “Pedro Astacio may not be Jake Peavy but he has been a nice addition since being signed to a minor league deal on June 30th and then brought up in mid-July. The 14 year veteran had gone 2-8 with a 6.04 ERA for the Texas Rangers but has allowed less then two runs in four consecutive starts with San Diego while posting a 2-2 record.”
24. Pittsburgh Pirates (25) – “The Good: umm…nothing”
25. Los Angeles Dodgers (24) – “Three in a row from the Astros and Cubs after losing 3 in a row. Yet another turn on the sick cycle carousel that is this season.”
26. San Francisco Giants (26) – “What’s that thing where a team scores more runs than the other team for like more than two days in a row? Oh yeah. Winn…wingggg…..winning streak! Haven’t said that all season. The Men in Orange and Black have rattled off five in a row topped off by today’s 3-2 victory over the Diamondbacks completing a sweep and vaulting the Giants a game and a half above third place.”
27. Tampa Bay Devil Rays (27) – “I believe there is a cancer in the current Rays Clubhouse and his name is Lou Piniella. I honestly can say that he’s to blame for just about all that has gone wrong this season, more than LaMar and more than Naimoli.”
28. Colorado Rockies (29) – “For the first time since 2001, the Rockies finished the month of August with a winning record. Despite dropping the final two games of their nine-game road trip, the Rox come back to Coors Field off of a 5-4 record on the trip and a 15-14 record for a month that has historically given them trouble. The Rockies are 19 games under .500 over the course of their first 13 Augusts (168-187) and have had a winning record in the month just three times.”
29. Arizona Diamondbacks (28) – “Okay, I suppose the past two series we’ve been doing a bit better- 3-3 across six games, only outscored 35-30 for that span. But average play? Not enough. Especially when we drop 2 out of 3 to the Padres, fall 6.5 games back, and in to 3rd place.”
30. Kansas City Royals (30) – “These Royals stink. And now we have the records to prove it.”

The Hardball Times

I wanted to hold off making this announcement, but there’s no point to doing so anymore: I’m going to be writing regularly for The Hardball Times! No, this does not mean that I’m abandoning this blog, rather that I’ll just have something to link to on Mondays. Like today:
Whatever happened to Ichiro?
I should be back with my power rankings later on.

Looking Forward: Colorado Rockies

What they have: The Rockies have an interesting team, in the sense that they can get offense (at home) from practically anyone. They don’t need to invest a lot of money in offense, which is why it’s a little strange that they gave Todd Helton a 9-year, $141.5 million contract in 2011. Now they’re probably stuck with him until 2011, the last year of Helton’s deal. Helton is a great offensive player, and after a horrid first half this year, he’s been blistering hot, but his contract is hurting the Rockies. Nevertheless, it’s not Helton’s deal that’s killing the Rockies so much as the Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton contracts, signed in 2001. This is the last year that the Rockies are on the hook for both of these deals, which should save them upward of $10 million, a nice chunk of money to play with on the free agent market. The Rockies have two good corner outfielders–Brad Hawpe and Matt Holliday–and a future All-Star shortstop, Clint Barmes. Ryan Shealy, a first baseman who did a great job filling in for Helton while the first basemen was on the DL, does not seem to fit into the Rockies’ plans, since he has no position to move to. Pitching-wise, B.K. Kim has been surprisingly good for the Rockies, with a 4.95 RA (park-adjusted, that’s equal to 4.23, 9% better than the league average). Jason Jennings, with a 100 RA+, has continued to be a good pitcher, though he’s out for the season. But the real key to the Rockies’ future is Jason Francis, who came into the major leagues last year as a highly touted rookie. Last year, he was much better at home than on the road (2.45 RA at home vs. 6.40 on the road), which I would’ve chalked up to small sample size. But he’s doing the same thing this year, with a markedly better RA at home than on the road: 5.13 vs. 6.76. And it’s no fluke; look at Francis’ peripherals at home and on the road:

SPLIT

HR/9

BB/9

K/9

Home

1

2.68

6.58

Away

1.86

4.31

6.52

I know what you’re thinking: “how can that be?” I have no idea, but the fact is that Francis is allowing 86% less home runs at home, 61% less walks, and striking out 1% more batters. His RA+ at home is 122; on the road, it’s 68. Maybe it has to do with the fact that Francis developed in the Rockies’ system, and is thus used to pitching in Denver’s climate. Go figure. And then there’s Aaron Cook, he of the 2.88 G/F ratio and 135 RA+. Cook is a nasty pitcher with a nasty sinker, and should continue to have success in Colorado (yes, I have officially jinxed him). In Brian Fuentes and (if he can keep up his performance since being dealt from the Nationals) Sunny Kim, the Rockies have a couple arms in an otherwise weak bullpen.
What they need: Unlike the Royals, who I profiled last week, the Rockies have a lot of pieces in place. With the payroll money that will free up this off-season, they should try to get a 2nd baseman, a catcher, and a center fielder to replace Preston Wilson. In the minor leagues, the Rox do have Tim Olson and Jeff Baker, one whom should be their next third baseman. As I showed, Colorado actually has a pretty good rotation, but the Rockies definitely need some bullpen help. The Rockies do have a few good starters in AA (Enmanuel Ulloa and Sandy Nin, to name two) who could probably help out next season. And then there’s Ryan Shealy, a player who has no future with the Rockies. A trade rumor at the deadline had him going to the Red Sox, and I still think that’s a great potential destination for him. Perhaps the Sox would deal Hanley Ramirez or Dustin Pedroia for him, thus filling one of the Rockies’ needs as well. If the Rockies included Fuentes as well, they might be able to pry Kelly Shoppach. If they go after Johnny Damon to boot, I could see the Rockies contending next year in the weak NL West.

Looking Forward: Kansas City Royals

Between now and the end of the season, I’ll be looking at each non-playoff team’s outlook for the off-season, starting with the last team in my power rankings, and going up the list. So today, let’s look at the Kansas City Royals.
What they have: Sadly, the Royals have very few bright spots on their team. The bullpen looks to have a solid young core, led by Andy Sisco, Abiorix Burgos, Mike MacDougal, and Mike Wood. As for starters, Denny Bautista probably has an okay future ahead of him, but he’s no more than a #3 starter on a solid team, or a back-of-the-rotation guy on a good team. The Royals are neither, and thus, Bautista has been their best starter this year. Bautista gets a lot of ground balls, which would be good if the Royals had any semblance of infield defense. The only other young starter the Royals have, that is, one who might have a future, is Zach Greinke, whose problems this year have been serious, and worrisome for Royals fans. After a promising start to his career last season, Greinke has regressed mightily, and has a 6.28 ERA this season. Is it just bad luck, or are the problems more serious than that? According to DIPS 3.0, Greinke’s expected RA this year is 5.77. FIP is kinder, but still says that Greinke has been no better than a league average pitcher. So where does that leave him? I think that Greinke will regress to the mean, but comparisons to Greg Maddux were obviously too early (though Maddux didn’t have a great start to his career either). On the hitting-side, the Royals are even worse off. There’s David DeJesus, and then…nothing. Mark Teahan and John Buck, acquired in the Carlos Beltran deal, need to start producing, or else the trade will have been a complete failure. But even if those two do end up league average batters or better, that’s it. The Royals roster is painfully bare, absent of even high-potential players. The Royals are going to need help from outside their 25-man roster if they want to be a major league ball club.
What they need: Well, everything would be one way to put it. The Royals’ AAA and AA teams are noticeably bare, each hovering around .500. Not one relatively decent pitching prospect can be found on either of the teams, not one. It’s pitiful. There are few hitters as well: Billy Butler and Thomas Duenas, and that’s it. Basically, the Royals will need to look to free agency to get better. And even the Yankees aren’t going to spend the amount of money the Royals need to field a competitive team.
The Royals, by virtue of being cheap and drafting poorly, have put themselves into a hole: poor team, crappy system, needs at literally almost every position. How they’re going to improve, I don’t know. And, unfortunately for Kansas City fans, I don’t think they will at all.

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