World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: June 30

OK, so I lied.  Last week, I said that there would be no roundtable this week.  Through the magic of technology, we were able to gather together a roundtable, although don’t ask exactly how that was accomplished.  It involves the fact that as this is being published, Pizza Cutter doesn’t have internet access.
Anyway, this week, in the ultimate act of nepotism, we welcome as our guest Corey Seidman from MVN’s Phillies blog Phanatic Phollow UpWon’t you read on as we discuss set up guys, division leaders and Curt Schilling.
Question #1: Of the current division leaders, which ones don’t you expect to be there at the end of the season.  Whom do you expect will overtake them?
Corey Seidman: We find ourselves at the halfway point with the Red Sox, White Sox, Angels, Phillies, Cubs, and Diamondbacks in first place. I see all six of these teams winning their respective divisions.
The Red Sox have been the best team in the American League to this point, with their only criticism being their sub-.500 road record. But they haven’t been as bad as they have been unlucky on the road. They were swept in Toronto following their season opening series against the Athletics … in Tokyo. It’s hard to hold a team accountable when they’re given a day to travel from Japan to Canada and start another series. Of their 19 other road losses, 10 were one-run games. This doesn’t show that they can’t win on the road, it merely shows they have been unlucky on the road through the first half of the season.
The White Sox pitching has been great, which is why they find themselves ahead of the surprising Twins and disappointing (yet surging) Tigers. The Sox rank second to only Oakland in ERA (3.43), opponent’s OBP (.307), and WHIP (1.24.) They lead all of baseball with 49 quality starts. Their bullpen is second in reliever’s ERA and features two late-inning guys with 0.84 WHIP’s in Scott Linebrink and Matt Thornton, as well as Bobby Jenks.
Unfortunately, their two most heralded run producers are having the worst seasons of their career, in the same year. Paul Konerko has a .368 slugging percentage (career .490), and Jim Thome has driven in only 38 runs in 73 games. Thome is on pace for 81 RBI, his lowest total in a full season since 1995. Despite Konerko’s and Thome’s struggles, the White Sox are still the best team in the A.L. Central. Carlos Quentin, A.J. Pierzynski and Joe Crede have held them together offensively, and let’s face it, Konerko and Thome couldn’t be any worse in the second half than they were in the first.
The Angels are the best team in the A.L. West. Their 3.5 game lead and 4-3 record against the second place A’s doesn’t show their dominance, but don’t expect the A’s to continue their winning ways much longer. They’ve pitched out of their mind, and we’re one Rich Harden pulled muscle and one Justin Duchsherer look in the mirror away from seeing them fall fast. The Angels have the best starting staff in baseball from 1-5 with the emergence of Joe Saunders and the return of Ervin Santana. Francisco Rodriguez is on pace to set the single-season record in saves, Scot Shields continues to look like he could close for any other team in baseball, and the back end of their bullpen has only improved this year with the addition of Jose Arredondo (1.40 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 19 K in 19.1 IP.) Add in a collection of little speedy guys (Figgins, Izturis, Aybar, Kendrick), good defense (Hunter and Matthews Jr.) and a slugger returning to form (Vlad), and you’ve got a team that makes the playoffs every year.
For the wild card, I expect the Yankees to make a late push as they have done in recent years to overtake the Rays. Right now, the Rays look like an unstoppable team, but they just strike me as being a year or so away from seriously competing. I could see them winning it but could also see them having a bad September and letting the Yankees slip past, then have a disappointing season in 2009 that leads everyone to say this year was a fluke, before making the playoffs in 2010. Either could happen but neither would surprise me.
The Phillies are the best team in the N.L. East, and will win it, barring a catastrophic injury (Utley or Hamels.) They are considerably younger and healthier than the Braves and Mets, and haven’t had nearly the amount of different lineups the other two have had. The Marlins were a young team that overachieved for two months and are coming back to reality now. They don’t have the pitching to continue. Tell me all you want about Josh Johnson coming back, but I see a starting staff that’s best piece is Scott Olsen and his 4.89 K/9. Andrew Miller is struggling, Mark Hendrickson looks like this year’s Adam Eaton, and only Ricky Nolasco is picking it up lately. The Phils have the 3rd most quality starts in the N.L., the best bullpen ERA in baseball, and a lineup that is finally breaking out of a 10 game slump. Ryan Howard has struggled all season, yet still leads the N.L. with 67 RBI. Imagine if he was hitting .250 instead of .215. He’d have closer to 80.
The Cubs had been awesome all season, but have struggled lately. Regardless, they are the Red Sox of the N.L. this year. They are the best team, have a ridiculous home record of 33-10, and are below .500 on the road. They lead baseball with 442 runs scored, are 4th in the N.L. in runs allowed, and their Pythagorean W/L is a game better than they are. Offensively, they have done it through periods without Alfonso Soriano. Probably because they have 7 regulars hitting above .280. They’ll have home field advantage.
The Diamondbacks will win it because they are in the worst division in baseball. The N.L. West was extremely tight last year, but the Padres and Rockies forgot how to win this season. The Dodgers aren’t good enough to overtake the D-Backs or they already would have. The Diamondbacks have been scuffling for a while and still haven’t lost much ground. The advantage in pitching goes to Arizona and their two aces, as does the division. They aren’t anything spectacular offensively, and Eric Byrnes might have only hustled and gritted his way to a big contract, but nobody else in the West is good enough.
The wildcard will go to the Cardinals here. The Brewers are making a push, but they have shown us over the last season and a half that they are a streaky team. The Cards had been getting it done without Albert Pujols, and despite the numbers suggesting Ryan Ludwick can’t keep this up, he likely won’t need to for the Cards to win the wildcard. (Check who leads the Cardinals in ERA. You won’t regret it.)
Eric Seidman: So, right now we’re looking at the Phillies, Cubs, and Diamondbacks in the National League. If forced to bet money it would be put on all three of these teams winning their division. As a Phillies fan I am still not sold on the division being as easy as it has been; easy as in, the Phillies lose 8 of 11 games and gain ground. I just have a funny, non-saber feeling, that if the Mets or Braves sweep them in an upcoming three-game series, it could rejuvenate their season and propel them toward some relative success.
I don’t see the Cubs dropping off though keep in mind the Cardinals have Wainwright, Carpenter, Mulder, and Clement on the DL. Who knows if any of them will come back and/or be successful, but it is a possibility. Ultimately, though, I really don’t see them posing a significant threat to the Cubs (in the regular season).
Out west, the DBacks should win the division fairly easily but we all saw last year how an insane winning streak at the end of a season can come out of nowhere and potentially skyrocket a team toward the top of the division. Without Rafael Furcal the Dodgers, essentially, have an ugly offense, even going hitless last night (yet still winning!). So, in the NL I will pick the three current winners though if I have to pick a team to potentially overtake the leaders I will go with Mets, Cards, Dodgers.
In the AL, I see the Red Sox, White Sox, and Angels winning their divisions. The Tigers have been on fire lately and the Athletics have performed well this year, too. Oh, and the Rays! And the Yankees! And the Orioles are 41-38! Okay, I’ll calm down a little. I’ll take Red Sox winning the division with the Rays winning the Wild Card and the Yankees finishing 1-2 games behind the Rays. I’m going to take the White Sox to win the Central, and the Angels to, very soon, separate themselves from the As.
Pizza Cutter: As I write this, the AL division leaders are Boston, the White Sox (by half a game over Minnesota), and the Angels.  I think all three are vulnerable.  I’ve sung the praises of Tampa Bay previously, although that one might just be hope on my part.  Boston’s still the better team, but weird things happen in baseball.  The White Sox will win the Central.  If Minnesota is actually leading the division by Monday morning, put them in as my pick to be de-throned.  The Angels are a few games up on the A’s, but the A’s have the far better run differential.  And the A’s will probably make a few moves at the trading deadline.  This could turn into a matter of who adds more at the trading deadline.  In the NL, on the other hand, I don’t see anyone moving up over Philly or the Cubs.  The NL West doesn’t matter because everyone in the division is slouching toward mediocrity.  It’ll probably be Arizona… but that’s only beause someone has to win it.
Question #2: Over the last three calendar years, for relievers with at least 140 total IP in that span, the highest WPAs for non-closers belong to Scot Shields, Rafael Betancourt, and Heath Bell.  Given your free pick, who do you take as your setup guy?
Corey Seidman:I’d take Scot Shields over Betancourt and Bell, and not just because I have a man-crush on #62. He’s one of the most valuable players in baseball, seriously. 2.93 career ERA, 497 hits and 548 strikeouts in 602 IP, and one season where he somehow finished 10-11 despite not starting a single game. He’s had 70+ appearances in the last 3 seasons and rarely gets hurt. He mixes a mid 90’s fastball with a deadly curveball and slider, which opponents are hitting .184 and .094 off of, respectively. Betancourt and Bell simply haven’t done it as well for as long as Shields.
Eric Seidman: Relievers are tricky to evaluate because, as Indians GM Mark Shapiro astutely pointed out, you’re dealing with small sample sizes every year. A guy could look great one year, and terrible the next, yet his true skill level might not have changed at all; despite this, it would be very likely for fans and analysts to sour on him following the poor year. Therefore, I would look for a durable setup man with consistent true talent skills.
Over the last three calendar years, Shields has a 2.76 K/BB and a 0.71 HR/9. Put together, his 3.19 FIP matches his 3.18 ERA.  His 74.7% LOB rate in this span comes in right around the average league mark and his .283 BABIP is very reasonable for a reliever of his caliber.  Add in that he has been very successful for eight years now, compared to the relatively small sample of league success for Bell and Betancourt, and to me it isn’t even a question that Shields is the answer.
Pizza Cutter: Tempt me with a Cleveland guy?  Nah.  Betancourt did most of his good work last year when he had a low BABIP and a low HR/FB.  This year, he’s been as unlucky as he was lucky last year, but he’s a flyball pitcher, and when flyball pitchers get un-lucky, it’s a bad situation.  Bell and Shields have roughly the same profile (a strikeout an inning, K/BB around 3, lots of ground balls.  But, Shields hasn’t gotten the kind of luck bounce that Bell has gotten.  Bell has had BABIP’s in the .260 range for the last season and a half, while Shields checks in at a more modest .280-something.  Bell is also down in the 4-6% range for HR/FB, while Shields has given up a league average 9-10%.  That means that Bell is much more likely to regress in his performance, while Shields is more likely to keep things up.  What’s funny is that last year, the Angels hit a rough patch with Shields and the fans wanted to dump him.  I’d take him.
Question #3: Does Curt Schilling belong in the Hall of Fame?
Corey Seidman:Curt Schilling is a first-ballot hall of famer. By the way, I hate when analysts argue that a guy is a hall of famer but not a first-ballot hall of famer. If a guy’s good enough for Steve Phillips to think he’s a hall of famer, doesn’t that mean the baseball writers who actually know what baseball is would agree too?  And if they do, why not put him in right away if he’s going to go in anyway? And if not, who cares? He’s still in. His plaque won’t read “MADE IT IN ON HIS THIRD GO-ROUND.”
Back to Schilling, yeah, first-ballot hall of famer. Second in Cy Young voting three times, three World Series rings, bloody sock, three 20-plus win seasons, 10-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 career postseason starts. Without a doubt. I can’t think of a single reason or stat to suggest he isn’t a shoe-in.
Eric Seidman: The Hall of Fame, above all else, is a museum in a small New York town.  Many fans and analysts treat it as the ultimate in statistical achievements, but to me, it is nothing more than a building that serves to honor the best stories and most important people involved in these stories and moments in baseball’s history.  To me, when I think of who is worthy of being a Hall of Famer, I like to ask myself if said player is someone I want my future grandson to know about.  Curt Schilling gets a resounding yes on this quite fallible test.  As Pizza and Corey have mentioned, his numbers may not make him a slam dunk when stacked up to other Hall of Famers, but it is when those numbers were accrued and what he has meant to the game in the last twenty years that puts him in, in my book.
I do agree with Corey in that it ultimately doesn’t matter when a guy gets in, as long as he does, relative to maybe his first three eligible years, other than to show where exactly a player ranked among his fellow HOF-peers.  On a slightly different tangent, imagine if this/next year is the final year for guys like Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine, Randy Johnson, Pedro, Schilling, and Mussina.  We could have all of the best pitchers of the 90s (not named Clemens) eligible at the same time.
Pizza Cutter: Let me go with a decidedly non-statistical approach to this.  The man does have a pretty good, although not a slam dunk, case as one of the best pitchers of the era both Sabermetrically (career K/BB ratio of 4.38), and non-Sabermetrically (200-some wins in an era when wins are harder to come by).  However, I’m not much on statistical arguments for Hall of Famers.  The Hall of Fame is a cultural institution telling the story of baseball and the men who most influenced it.  Schilling was a central character in at least two amazing baseball stories (Arizona’s 2001 World Series, Boston in 2004).  Plus, there’s a theory that he actually won the election for President Bush in 2004.  In the post-game interviews following Game Four of the 2004 World Series — held in late October, right before Election Day — Schilling, the hero on the team that everyone was in love with at the time, endorsed G-Dubs (over the guy who was from Boston!).  In a country where people vote for candidates based on the “Oooooh, shiny!” principle, it probably was the best endorsement that G-Dubs could have gotten.  So Schilling wrote a good chunk of the history of the early 00′s in baseball and possibly of American history.  Put him in the Hall.

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4 Responses to World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: June 30

  1. dan says:

    Corey and Eric: related?

  2. kevin says:

    While I agree with the consensus that Curt Schilling should be in the HOF, I disagree with some of the reasons cited by the panelists. First, judging HOF worthiness by “would I like my grandson to know about him” would incorporate many players who aren’t HOF’ers, by any stretch of the imagination. Lonnie Smith, Mark Fidrych, George Foster — to name a few from my youth. Second, the idea that “wins are harder to come by” today has become a cliche that seems to strengthen in the face of opposing evidence. When have we ever had so many active 300-game winners as the past 2-3 years? We need a sabermetrician to debunk the myth that career wins are on the decline at the game’s upper echelon.

  3. Kevin, you’re neglecting to realize that the idea of what makes a hall of famer is something that is to each his own. There are no stringent requirements since it is done by actual people voting. You can disagree with my sentiments but it doesn’t make you or I right or wrong. When we judge numbers we do so by comparing someone’s totals/rates to those of others already in, which to me is suspect in and of itself considering different eras bring with them different rate frequencies.
    And you don’t need a ton of research to show that career wins are not what they used to be. Sure there are some 300-game winners right now, but in the olden days pitchers went on less rest, went complete more often than not, and therefore factored into more decisions, wins or losses.
    It might not be as severe as some make it out to be but pitchers factored into more decisions as we backtrack through the decades.
    And to clarify the grandson criteria, I’m referring to how I would be able to justify discussing a player numerous times with regards to the most important stories in a 15-yr period and then him not showing up in the museum. Smith, Foster, and Fydrich certainly don’t do that for me.

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