2008 Sabermetric Year in Review: Seattle Mariners

The tour bus moves along to another city that probably wants to forget that 2008 happened.  I have to wonder what it takes to be a fan of the Mariners.  Consider the following.  The Baseball Reference page for the 2008 Mariners is sponsored by an Angels blog.  Am I the only one who finds that funny?  Anyway, stop #2: Seattle.

Record: 61-101 (4th place, AL West)
Pythagorean Projection: 66.67 wins

Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs

MVN Blog:
Caffeinated Confines

Other Mariners Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status
Trade Rumors

Overview: To think that before last season, there was serious talk of the Mariners, who had just picked up Erik Bedard from the Orioles, as a possible playoff team.  How quickly things change!  The Mariners became the first ever 100 (million dollars in payroll)/ 100 (loss, OK actually 101) team in baseball history.

What went right:  Raul Ibanez has officially reached that guy status.  Ask a casual fan of the game about Ibanez and he’ll search his memory banks for a moment.  Then you’ll point out that he’s the guy who consistently puts up a .350 OBP and 20-some home runs and plays a decent left field for the Mariners.  He’s never been an All-Star, but your friend will think for a minute and go “Oh yeah!  That guy!”  Raul Ibanez is the best player that no one cares about.  Sadly for the Mariners, he’s a free agent.

Ichiro had 200 hits again.  And stole 43 bases.  And played a really good outfield.  And played in 162 games.  I actually saw him at a Mariners-Indians game this year.  Now I understand why the folks over at U.S.S. Mariner have a hard time being objective about him.  He’s fun to watch.  That might not be the same thing as “good”, but he sure is fun.  

What went wrong: Carlos Silva.  Somehow, signing a guy who puts up a .500 record with an ERA of 4-somethng to a four year contract worth eight digits per year didn’t turn out so well.  How weird that no one at all anywhere saw that one coming a mile away.  Someone call Kyle Lohse’s agent and congratulate him on having the foresight to cash in for his client before that particular lesson sunk in.

Yeah, that about sums it up: On June 23, 2008, in an interleague game in Shea Stadium against the Mets, Felix Hernandez came to the plate twice.  In the second inning, he took the first pitch that he saw (from Johan Santana!) over the wall in right-center for a grand slam.  In the fifth, he bunted Willie Bloomquist over from first to second.  In these, his only two plate appearances of the year, Felix Hernandez accumulated 0.30 WPA on offense.  This put him in fourth place on the team overall behind Raul Ibanez, Jose Lopez, and Ichiro.   

Wlad the impaled: Is there something about this guy that I don’t get?  I understand that it’s fun to say Wladimir, but honestly, what’s the big deal with this guy?  We got to see him for 260 PAs in 2008 and he had a .250 on base percentage.  In AAA, of course, he hit like gangbusters.  What’s the difference between his AAA and MLB numbers?  He struck out in 32.5% of his plate appearances in the majors (and “only” 21% in his halcyon AAA days.)  OK, so he wasn’t ever going to be a singles hitter, but could he make it as a big bopper in the bigs?  Take a look at these swing numbers.  He swung at about 31% of the pitches thrown to him that were outside the strike zone, putting him well above the league median, and 65% of pitches in the zone, putting him well below the league median (min 250 PA).  My guess is that he’s got a lot of physical strength, but can’t read the strike zone.  That sort of approach might work well against inferior pitching (like the kind you’d find at AAA), but not at the big league level. 

What part of DH don’t you understand?: Will someone please explain the following list to me.  Jose Vidro 69, Jeff Clement 21, (list continues, and oddly, includes Miguel Cairo for a game.)  Those are the top two entries on the list of “who started the most games at DH for the Mariners in 2008″ list.  DH, for those of you who don’t know stands for designated hitter.  Maybe there’s a word in there that stands out.  I’ll give you a hint.  It’s not “designated.”  Yet, Vidro had a .274 OBP and Clement didn’t make it to .300 either.  Vidro did appear to have a weird outlier with a .254 BABIP, and most of his other peripheral stats were unchanged, so that might just be a freaky happenstance, but still…

Last year, I wrote: Sexson actually dropped his K rate from 2006 to 2007, increased his BB rate, and his batted ball profile was pretty much unchanged (he hit a few less line drives, and instead beat them into the ground.)  His BABIP was the culprit.  A gentleman who has normally put up a .280-.320 BABIP over a number of years suddenly saw it drop to .217.  In statistics, that’s called an outlier.  Sexson gets paid to hit 35 HR.  He also usually checks in with an equal number of doubles.  This year, he not only dropped to 21 HR, but he also only hit 21 two-baggers.  The other thing that changed was that he saw about a quarter of a pitch less (3.97 to 3.74) per plate appearance from 2006 to 2007.  Sexson needs to relax.  Assuming that there wasn’t a huge major injury that wasn’t made public, Sexson should revert to form.

Can I get a mulligan on that one?  (Oh, the Mariners already tried to use one on the Bedard trade…) Indeed, Sexson’s BABIP did rebound to a more characteristic .275 for the year (including his time with the Yankees).  But what no one really saw coming was that he would stop swinging (his swing rate dropped from 47 to 43%).  Worse, when he swung, his contact rate went down.  Not surprisingly, his strikeout rate shot up above 30%.  The real danger though is that Sexson has become a ground ball hitter.  While he used to hit about an equal number of FB and GB, his ground ball numbers are trending toward 50% now, and Sexson is a guy who needs to be hitting home runs to be valuable.  Sexson was either doing something different this year (and it didn’t work) or he’s toast.  My guess is that he’s toast. 

Here’s an idea:  I was going to write about the Mariners’ search for a GM.  It’s hard to argue against the guy who built the Milwaukee farm system, even if I can’t pronounce or spell his name, but I was hoping for something more.  I had hoped that a more Saber-savvy GM might get his call to the big time, but alas, alack, anon, it was not to be.  It’s a sensible strategy to build the farm first, but let’s hope that the new guy learns from the past and doesn’t commit a lot of money in a foolish way.

Outlook: I suppose that the Mariners are in the same position now as they had been last year.  A lot of really bad contracts, even if Sexson is gone.  Bedard is out for half of next year anyway.  It would be nice to suggest a total root canal, but it’s never quite that easy.  To do that, the Mariners would have to off-load some of those awful contacts, and it’s not like people are in line to take them.  This looks like it’s going to be a slow re-build.

2008 Sabermetric Year in Review: Washington Nationals

Here we go again.  The tour bus is back up and running and the 2008 Sabermetric year in review is underway.  Last year, back when it was just me at StatSpeak typing to myself, I went in reverse alphabetical order on the year in review pieces.  This year, in discussing it with my StatSpeak colleagues, we decided to go in reverse Pythagorean order.  It doesn’t matter.  The Nats would still be first.  Washington.  First in war, first in peace, last in the National League.

Record: 59-102 (5th place, NL East)
Pythagorean Projection: 62.12 wins

Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs

MVN Blog:
Oleanders and Morning Glories

Other Nationals Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status
Trade Rumors

Overview: The Nationals were last in overall hitter VORP and next to last in overall pitcher VORP in the National League.  For a league named after them, they didn’t do so well.  (Although, you have to admire the consistency.)  Ummm, I did hear that the new ballpark is nice.

What went right: Cristian Guzman surprised me.  In addition to playing some pretty good third base defense (despite never having played 3B in the majors before!) during that epic All-Star game, he had a pretty good season… for a National.  In 2007, his season ended after 192 plate appearances and a .328 batting average.  Guzman has always been a ground ball reliant hitter and his .364 BABIP suggested a lot of seeing eye singles… and a lot of potential for regression to the mean.  But in 2008, he put up a pretty good line of .316/.345/.440.  His BABIP was still a little elevated given his batted ball profile, but credit at its due.  He had a decent year.

I don’t know who John Lannan is, but anyone who manages to squeeze out 9 wins on this team at age 23 is worth mentioning.  He’s a majority groundball pitcher, which probably helped him overcome his pedestrian 5.79 K/9 and his rather ugly 3.56 BB/9.  But, the man’s FIP was 4.79, which suggests that his 3.91 ERA (and he was the only Nats’ starter to post an ERA+ over 100… meaning that he was the only Nats’ starter who had an above-average year) won’t last. 

What went wrong: Oddly enough, the one position of strength for the Nationals, at least on paper, going into 2008 was first base.  The Nats had Dmitri Young, whom they signed to an extension after his Renaissance campaign in 2007 and Nick Johnson.  (Oddly, in a league with no DH, the Nats committed to both contractually.)  Both sustained injuries in 2008 which limited them to about 40 games each at first base, so perhaps having a backup plan for both was wise.  But the lion’s share of playing time at first base went to Aaron Bleeping Boone.  So much for a position of strength.

Yeah, that about sums it up: Eternal Presidential candidate Ralph Nader petitioned the Washington Post to cover his campaign for the Presidency, but was rebuffed by saying that the Post would only cover candidates who had a legitimate shot at winning.  Nader fired back asking why the Post bothered to cover the Nationals.  (Thanks Politico!)  Ouch.  When Ralph Nader tells you that you’re a loser, it’s time to go home. 

The Washington DC home for troubled youth: The Nationals did do something right in picking up a pair of guys from the scrap heap who were tossed away by their old teams due to having “character issues.”  Former Met Lastings Milledge and former Devil Ray Elijah Dukes came aboard and by mid-season were fitting into the middle of the Nats’ lineup.  Milledge, as a 23 year old, put up a line of .268/.330/.402 while Dukes, 24, added in a contribution of .264/.386/.478.  I don’t know what these guys are like in the clubhouse, but considering that the Nats bought at fire-sale prices on both, it was a very wise baseball move.  In theory, both will continue to improve with age, both in terms of baseball performance and judgment  I suppose this brings up the question of “winning at what price?”  As a Sabermetrician, I’m interested in studying the most efficient and effective way to win at the game of baseball and getting two young, talented players is a really good strategy.  But it tells me that some teams are not completely, totally, laser focused on winning.  That’s an ethical dilemma as to whether that’s a good idea, but the Nats apparently decided that they were in such dire straits that they could afford to overlook a few youthful peccadilos.  

Austin, we have a problem: Austin Kearns went from decent player always hyped to be “on the edge of breaking out” to .217/.311/.316.  What happened to him?  Part of it was that while his batted ball profile was largely unchanged, his BABIP dropped 50 points from 2007 to 2008.  That should right itself.  However, a closer look at Kearns’s swing diagnostics reveals a rather interesting pattern. Kearns was traded during the 2006 season from Cincinnati to Washington (for Gary Majewski… a trade which I believe is now officially a lose-lose move).  After leaving Cincy, his swing percentage went from 45-46% down to 44% and then in 2008 to 40%.  His contact percentage jumped into the low 80′s from the mid 70′s upon arriving in the capital.  He was swinging less (and pitchers adjusted by throwing him more pitches in the zone), but connecting more when he swung.  That suggests a specific change in mentality, most likely that he was attempting to lay off bad pitches by changing his response bias toward not swinging.  While it’s one thing to make an adjustment, it seems like this one just doesn’t fit him.  Maybe he should go back to being the hitter he was in Cincy.

Last year, I wrote: The Nationals are currently something of a collection of spare parts.  You can build a car out of those parts and it’ll run, but… well, it’ll still be the Washington Nationals.

This is still a team that gave significant playing time to guys like Paul LoDuca, Jesus Colome, and Ronnie Belliard.  The spare parts analogy still seems to fit, and it seems like more spare parts are on the way.  A peak through the Nationals’ farm system shows no big time talents rising through the ranks.  Guys like Milledge, Zimmerman, and Dukes are kids, but really this is a team with a serious talent deficit throughout the system. 

Here’s an idea: Find the guy who was able to get anything for Felipe Lopez and promote him.  Somehow, the Nationals managed to find someone (the Cardinals, specifically) to take a guy who couldn’t hit, was a mediocre defender (at both second and short), and who was two and a half years removed from doing anything productive.  Lopez is currently a free agent and he’s exactly the kind of cast-off that the Nationals need to stop investing in.  It’s not that they have a steady stream of second base prospects just waiting to break through, but the thought process of “we’ve got to look like we’re doing something” could ruin this team.  It may be an awful thing to have to live through, but maybe the best thing to do is to get guys who are dirt cheap and invest the organization’s money in the Rays plan of scouting and building through the draft.

Outlook: Well, it’s not doom and gloom forever.  There are some pieces in place that would, given better circumstances, allow the Nats to build, but there’s not a lot of pitching, and the farm cupboard is bare.  I’m seeing a drought along the lines of Kansas City or Pittsburgh in the near and intermediate future for the Nationals.  So, if I see you out there wearing a Nationals hat (and you’re not wearing it just because it is pretty), I will salute you.  I appreciate people who stick by losing teams.

2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Arizona Diamondbacks

Kids, if you’re out there reading this, take the following piece of advice.  Never ever ever ever do a baseball annual.  When I first started this series, I actually figured I’d be done by Spring Training.  What was I thinking!?!?!  We end our very long tour (stop #30) of the U.S. in the Arizona Desert to look at the Diamondbacks.
Record: 90-72, 1st in NL West (won NLDS 3-0 over Cubs, lost NLCS 4-0 to Rockies)
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula):  78.90 wins (712 runs scored, 732 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs
MVN Blog:
Out in the Desert
More Diamondbacks Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status 
Trade Rumors
Overview:  A team that was outscored by its opponents ends up with the best record in the National League and comes to within one step of the World Series, only to be beaten by a team that is on an equally improbable run.  Ain’t baseball great!
What went right: Eric Byrnes is perhaps the world’s perfect fantasy baseball player.  He’s not the best player in the league and your brother has never heard of him, so he slips under the radar.  Still, he puts up a .286/.353/.460, leads his team in RBIs and steals 50 bases.  Plus, he threw his dog into McCovey Cove at the All-Star game.  Byrnes though is that guy who is a better player in fantasy ball than he is in real life.  That’s not to say that he’s a bad player.  But, he’s got an RC/G rating of 6.2.  So, a lineup of 9 Byrnes clones would score about 6 runs per game.  Not bad, but not exactly elite. 
And the award for “Third Best Pitcher in the League” Award goes to Brandon Webb.  (That would be the Steve Trachsel Award, if I’m not mistaken.)  First off, Brandon Webb has thrown 230 innings in each of the last three years (OK, so it was 229 in 2005…)  He’s nearing 200 K’s for a season and walks relatively few batters.  Plus, his luck indicators show that he was all natural last year, and the year before that.  And he does it with a fastball that tops out in the high 80s.  Impressive.
What went wrong: Randy Johnson got hurt.  It was kinda stupid to rely on the back of a 43 year old man not to give out, but then again, Johnson had pitched 200+ innings in the previous three years and while not invincible any more, he was still looking like a pretty good pitcher to have going every fifth day.
Stephen Drew went from hitting .316/.357/.517 in 2006 (and in 226 PA’s) to hitting .238/.313/.370.  In some ways, Drew was a better hitter in 2007, striking out less and walking more.  However, he hit fewer line drives, and… well he just wasn’t able to sustain his preternatural .391 BABIP from 2006.  I don’t know what his minor league BABIP was, but that’s probably the better gauge of what he can really do.  But all of you who thought that he was J.D. Drew’s little brother, you were wrong.
Yeah, that about sums it up: Jeff Cirillo pitched?
How often does that happen?: What?  Cirillo pitching.  His first time.  But that’s not what I meant.  If the Pythagorean record were perfect, then the Diamondbacks would have been a 79 win team last year.  As it happens, they outperformed their Pythagorean record by 11 games.  How often does that happen?  Would you believe once every 10 years?  At least that’s what the stats would predict.  The Diamondbacks had some really good karma going last year, or at least they won a lot of close games and lost a lot of blowouts.  Here’s the thing that gets people swooning about baseball.  Last year’s NLCS was a contest between two teams that had done statistically improbable things.  Is it just that baseball is magic like that?  No, it’s that the way you get to the NLCS is to do statistically improbable things, like win 90 games in a season.
Should I be worried about Brandon Lyon as the closer?: Here’s a really good example of how perception is very relative.  Lyon has had two good years over the past two seasons, and was very much improved from the previous two years in the majors (2003 and 2005… not sure where he went in 2004).  Last year, in particular, he was particularly effective.  So, the D-Backs sent Jose Valverde packing to the Astros figuring that Lyon was a good candidate to close.  What they missed is that Lyon gets very few strikeouts (and doesn’t have a good K/BB ratio), and that most of his success last year could be chalked up to the fact that he had a nice little valley in his HR allowed (directly attributable to his HR/FB percentage dropping down to 2.2%… about 9% is league average).  He’s going to give up more HR this year.  Throw in the fact that his BABIP was low (coming down from two years, 2003 and 2005, in which it was in the .360 range), and it gave the illusion as someone who was rapidly improving, when it was simply a mediocre pitcher going from someone who was really swinging from someone with bad luck to someone with good luck.  His strikeout rate has actually been decreasing, as has his fastball velocity, over the past few years.  D-Backs fans, I hate to say this, but you should be having nightmares about Lyon.  Then again… it’s really not that hard to rack up 30 saves on an average team, even for a journeyman pitcher.  So, in that sense, Lyon will do just fine.
Outlook: Hope you enjoyed last season D-Backs fans.  I appreciate that adding Dan Haren is a better option than hoping in Randy Johnson’s back (although there’s still a good deal of hoping in Randy Johnson’s back going on in the desert).  The NL West is a bit of a mish-mosh right now, and I suppose the D-Backs could slip into the playoffs again, but look me in the eye and tell me that you really believe that this team, particularly this offense, is of the calibre that wins championships.  You can’t do it, can you.
Finally: A big thank you to those of you who have read these year-in-review pieces and commented on them.  Thanks to Eric for writing the Kansas City piece a while back when I thought that this project was going to bury me.  Thanks to MVN for supporting the project behind the scenes.  I’m just happy I managed to write all 30… or at least 29 of them…

2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Atlanta Braves

My second-to-last stop on the tour (#29!) was actually my last stop on my actual tour of the U.S.  Well, it’s not exactly a tour, but my wife is from Atlanta, and we were down there with my in-laws (and my nieces!).  But it sounds cooler to say things like “I’m on a tour of the U.S.”  In a year and a half or so, we’ll likely be moving down to Atlanta… so I’m guessing that my kids will grow up to be Braves fans…
Record: 84-78, 3rd in NL East
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula):  88.70 wins (810 runs scored, 733 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs
MVN Blog:
Chop-n-Change
More Braves Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status 
Trade Rumors
Overview: A great injustice happened to the Braves in the 2007 season.  The Braves has the second best Pythagorean record of any team in the National League, yet missed out on the playoffs.  Pythagorean record is a better predictor of future performance than is actual record.  Dare I say that it’s a better measure of actual team quality (rather than “team performance.”)  One of the best four teams (actually two of them… the Padres being the other) in the NL missed out on the playoffs last year.  But, luck was not with the Braves. 
What went right: Chipper Jones went right.  35 year old guys who post an over 1.000 OPS get mentioned.  Larry Wayne is walking a bit more, as often happens with older players, but he doesn’t seem to be losing any of his other skills that usually decline (strikeouts have stayed pretty constant, still a decent enough fielder not to be an embarassment).  Pretty good bet to be a very useful player for the next 5-6 years still.  Here’s an interesting question.  Is he a Hall of Famer?  He’s 123 HR away from 500 HR (which is probably do-able at 4 seasons x 30 HR), and about 880 hits away from 3000 (less likely, but I suppose within reach), but let’s say that he retired tomorrow.  Is he a HOFer?  I say yes, based on the fact that he has a career OBP of .403.  Impressive.
Time for a warning about a set-up guy that had a phenomenal year, but is due for a crash back down to earth.  Peter Moylan had a BABIP of .236.  He strikes out 6.3 guys per nine innings, but walks 3.1.  That kind of a K/BB ratio doesn’t scream dominant.  In fact, Moylan’s FIP (which is ERA with a good amount of luck stripped out) was 3.93, a number that out-stripped his actual ERA by a full 2 runs.  Moylan went right last year because of a lot of luck.  Remember Moylan, thou art mortal.
Getting Mark Teixeira on a one-and-a-half year lease was a pretty good move (and apparently I wasn’t alone).  Yeah, the Braves had to give up Jarrod Saltalaralphmacchio to get him and that’s eventually going to hurt, and it didn’t pan out last year, but the Braves replaced Scott Thorman (VORP of -9.6) with Teixeira (27.1).  It’s still a gutsy move and signaled the Braves’ intention to win now, but it’s a well placed gamble, and it should have paid off with an NL East crown.  But, the Braves can go at it again this year. 
What went wrong: Andruw Jones.  And for the life of me I can’t figure out why.
Yeah, that about sums it up: Julio Franco was not only present at the first baseball game that I ever went to, he had been in the league a few years at that point to boot.
Frenchy and plate discipline: Jeff Francouer swings a lot (57% of the time in 2007, putting him even with Vladimir Guererro for one of the free-est swingers in baseball), strikes out a lot and doesn’t walk very often.  Is he a disciplined hitter?  Would you believe me if I said that while I don’t think he’s very disciplined, he’s a mid-range guy when it comes to discipline at the plate.  Consider that he sees 4.01 pitches per plate appearance and makes contact 75% of the time, it means that he works the count and would rather put the ball in play.  His .342 BABIP suggests that he had the right idea.  Walks and strikeouts are only part of the story on plate discipline.  It’s just as “disciplined” to put a ball into the left field corner. 
Brian McCann: OK, will the real Brian McCann please stand up?  Those of you familiar with baseball should be familiar with “regression to the mean.”  Since McCann has put in two seasons at the big league level, that could mean one of two things.  His 2006 season was his true talent level, and he will regress back to that mean from his comparatively awful 2007.  Or his 2007 season was his true talent level, and 2007 was his regeression back to the mean from his over-his-head 2006.  Or maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  Either way, in 2007, all of McCann’s important indicators went down (BB, K, LD%, BABIP, ISO), and that’s not a good trend line. 
Outlook: For some reason, people are convinced that the NL East is a two-team race between the Phillies and Mets.  Not so, say I!  The Braves have two waves of players right now.  One of them has been around since the 1995 World Series win (sore subject around my house… wife is from Atlanta… I’m from Cleveland), and the other is the next generation.  That sounds like the perfect set up for a Star Trek reference.  So, this season is going to be like Star Trek 7 where the old generation meets the next generation and they have a great adventure and save humanity.  Starring William Shatner as John Smoltz and Leonard Nimoy as Tom Glavine.  Wow, I went way too far with that analogy.

2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Baltimore Orioles

The tour makes its last stop in an American League stadium in Baltimore.  It must be frustrating to be an Orioles fan.  Listing off what the Orioles have done in the past few years sounds like a record on repeat (4th, 4th, 4th, 4th…)
Record: 69-93, 4th in AL East (see there it is again)
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula): 70.22 wins (756 runs scored, 868 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs
MVN Blog:
Oriole Magic
More Orioles Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status 
Trade Rumors
Overview: If the rumor is true, then Cal Ripken is trying to step in to save the Orioles.  For the Orioles’ sake, he’d be best advised to grab a glove.  Melvin Mora played third last year.
What went right: Erik Bedard and Brian Roberts are really good players and the Orioles are really lucky to have them.  (What’s that?  Oh… yes I see.  Seattle?  The Cubs?  What do you mean it’s not exactly done?)  Well, the Orioles were lucky to have had them.  Erik Bedard has managed to string together a high strike out rate, low walk rate, high groundball rate, low line drive rate, and nary a speck of luck on the BABIP and HR/FB front.  In other words, if you liked what you saw this year, prepare for more of it.  Almost 11 K’s per nine innings.  Roberts is more of the fantasy heartthrob because he steals bases, although a second baseman with an .808 OPS is a nice luxury to have around.
If there is a medal that the Orioles give out for consecutive games played (wonder after whom that one could be named…) it would go to Nick Markakis who appeared in the first 161 games of the season for the Orioles and then sat out the season-ender.  At 24, most guys are content with being the best guy on their AA team.  This year, assuming Roberts actually finally moves to Chicago, he’ll probably be the best player on his Major League team.  I suppose I could tell you why he’s Sabermetrically very good and how he’s going to get even better (because that’s what guys in their early 20s do).  Someone pointed out that Bill James (I think…) did a study that said if a player at 23 is holding down a regular MLB job, he has a 1/3 chance of becoming a Hall of Fame player.  At 23, Markakis was putting up All-Star calibre numbers.
Also, the Orioles would make a great fantasy team.  What do fantasy owners spend their nights doing?  Worrying about stolen bases.  The Orioles, thanks to Corey “I can run but not do much else” Patterson, Roberts, and Markakis stole 144 bases and led the American League.  Huzzah!
What went wrong: The Orioles had the idea that if they threw a lot of money at some good middle relievers, this would solve their problems.  They brought in Chad Bradford (who had a pretty good season with some bad luck), Jamie Walker (who had a pretty good season with some good luck) and Danys Baez… who… had an OK season.  They laid out 3-4 year contracts for these guys figuring that they would repeat their past glories.  And they still finished fourth.  It’s not that a strong bullpen isn’t an asset, simply that it’s hard to leverage it into a lot of wins.  There was also the problem that Chris Ray got hurt and that the Orioles also had 8(!) guys pitch at least 10 appearances in relief who were functioning below replacement level for relievers.
What the heck happened to Miguel Tejada?  His OBP has been fairly steady over the past few years, but his power stats (SLG, ISO, HR/FB) have been trending downward and he’s progressively begun hitting more and more ground balls.  He seems like a guy whose muscles are withering away.  (…What?)  And now he’s Houston’s problem.
Yeah, that about sums it up: And now a list of Orioles batters who had positive WPA contributions to their team as hitters.  Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, backup outfielder Tike Redmond, Tejada’s replacement Luis Hernandez, Aubrey Huff (barely), Erik Bedard (you read that right), and swingman Brian Burres.  That’s swingman as in sometime reliever sometime starter who had an RBI single in there somewhere in 2007.
Jeremy Guthrie and the Rookie of the Year vote: Did anyone else notice that Jeremy Guthrie led the American League in VORP among rookies?  Guthrie, after fumbling around with the Indians for a few years, figured out that walking people wasn’t a good idea and reaped the benefits.  I was surprised to see that a few ROY votes didn’t wander his way, especially given that everyone’s favorite Sabermetric heart-throb Brian Bannister got a first-place vote.  (Huh?)  Actually, last year when MVN passed around the ballots for the “all the baseball writers vote for the major awards” column at the end of last season, Guthrie got one vote for Rookie of the Year.  Mine.
They got who?: For Tejada they got Luke Scott (blah), third baseman Michael Costanzo (strikes out a lot, hits a lot of long flyballs), Matt Albers (middling pitching prospect), Troy Patton (did OK in AAA at 21), and Dennis Sarfate (who was just flipped from Milwaukee.  For Bedard, they got Adam Jones (drool), the very under-rated George Sherrill, and a few other spare part pitchers.  For Roberts, they’ll probably get Ronnie Cedeno (an intriguing shortstop with a .900 OPS at AAA), and some young pitching.  Not a bad haul to re-build a team. 
Outlook: With Tampa Bay on the rise, is this the year that the Orioles finally break their long streak of finishing fourth and instead finish last in the AL East?  In the distant future, they’ve got a lot of really good young kids and can build around that nucleus, but Baltimore fans who surely have been pining for a winning season are going to be disappointed over the next 2-3 years as the kids have some growing pains.

2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Boston Red Sox

I’ll try to be magnanimous, but these are the same Red Sox that broke my heart this past October.  And there’s only one… nevermind…   I went to Boston about this time last year.  I have to say, pretty town.  I walked around Fenway (it was before the season started, so no game and no “Sweet Caroline“ for me…) and felt a special little feeling in my heart.  Might have just been dinner.  Stop #27 on the tour is Boston.
Record: 96-66, 1st in AL East (beat Angels 3-0 in ALDS, beat Indians 4-3 in ALCS, beat Rockies 4-0 in World Series)
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula):  101.89 wins (867 runs scored, 657 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs
MVN Blog:
Fire Brand of the American League
More Red Sox Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status 
Trade Rumors
Overview: Somehow, it went from being tre chic in 2004 to be a Red Sox fan (and, of course, you’d been cheering for Boston since you were a kid… not, of course, as your favorite team since I know that you’re from Milwaukee originally, but your dad always kinda talked about how he liked the Red Sox and you got it from him) to being tre chic to hate Red Sox fans in 2007.  After all, they’re all so arrogant and pushy and entitled, right?  I mean, who do they think they are?  And I hate chowder.  And the Dropkick Murphys.  And The Departed wasn’t even good.
I say this as someone with no reason to say anything nice about the Red Sox.  I agree that the bandwagon jumpers were annoying with three Q’s.  But, I can’t hold it against someone who in all honesty had his or her heart broken by the Red Sox all those years if they want to celebrate a title.  So, when you see someone wearing a Red Sox hat, just smile and hope that you’re feeling the same thing they do some day.
What went right: Dustin Pedroia pulled off a rather rare feat in baseball.  He walked more than he struck out last year.  As a 23 year old kid, he had a .380 OBP (which would have put him in the lead on a lot of teams last year… he finished 4th on the Sox behind Ortiz, Manny, and Youk.)  Pretty good company.  Let’s not get carried away.  He’s not going to be the second coming of Manny Ramirez, but… the kid’s got some skills.  A well-deserved Rookie of the Year award on his part.
The Red Sox scored big when they brought in that pitcher from Japan.  And I guess that Dice-K guy did pretty well too.  If there was one baseball player that never quite got the kind of press that he truly deserved last year, it was Hideki Okajima.  Taking nothing away from Jonathan Papelbon, Okajima was just as good.  No big secret.  Few line drives + lots of strikeouts + few walks = good pitching.  If there was a “relief pitcher of the year” award (not that awful Rolaids relief man award), I think Okajima should have gotten serious consideration for it.  There are others from whom I could probably build a better case, but Boston fans, please note that you have two closer-quality guys in your bullpen.  Be proud.
What went wrong: Julio Lugo.  Oops.  What happened?  Would you believe me if I said that Lugo got a little unlucky last year.  His BABIP dipped well below his career average (as did his HR/FB).  Not many people talk about BABIP from a batter’s perspective.  BABIP is largely a repeatable skill with a batter, so when you see a player with consistent numbers over the years and then a sudden drop, treat it the same way that you treat a sudden spike.  Lugo’s not nearly as bad as he looked last year.  Don’t give up on him too fast.  Fantasy players, he probably didn’t get drafted in your league.  Keep tabs on him.  He might be a decent pick mid-year.
Looks like the Indians sold high on Coco Crisp.  Don’t worry.  It looks like the Red Sox sold high on Andy Marte.  To read Crisp’s stats is to see a guy who started striking out more and hitting fewer line drives when he got to Fenway.  2004-2005 is looking like a two year spike.  If you block those years out, 2002-2003 and 2006-2007 look about the same.  Sadly, Crisp has lost his spot to Jacoby Ellsbury and will spend the rest of the season pinch running and being a defensive replacement for Manny Ramirez.
Yeah, that about sums it up: They won the World Series.
Why Mike Lowell is not actually better than A-Rod: Do I really need to write this?  During the off-season when there was the briefest of flirtations between the Red Sox and A-Rod, sentimental Red Sox partisans pointed to the fact that Mike Lowell was also a free agent and that they’d rather Lowell than A-Rod.  I understand the emotion behind the desire, but I’ve never heard such a stupid sentence leave anyone’s mouth.  (And I hear myself talk all day.)  Pick any metric you want.  Mike Lowell is quite good.  A-Rod is stratospheric.  No one is worth $27.5 million a year, and so in that sense, Lowell might be the better bargain, but if that’s not an issue, sit down and tell me that given a choice between the two of them, you’d pick Lowell.  If you do, you’re managing with your emotions.  Now, does being a good “clubhouse guy” and a team leader have something to do with Lowell’s appeal.  Maybe… but you’ve never been in the Red Sox clubhouse… how do you know he’s a good leader?  Just about every team has a leader and there are nice guys in every clubhouse.  But, for a moment let’s grant that Lowell is the kind of guy who is sincerely a fantastic guy to be around and a great leader.  (I sincerely hope he is…)  Will someone tell me how that helps Julio Lugo hit the ball?
Would you believe: In 2007, David Ortiz was the fifth most un-clutch player in baseball.  You can look it up.
Outlook: Well, I suppose it’s as good a time as any to mention how hard it is to repeat as champions in baseball.  But then, it quickly becomes a game of who exactly will take the Red Sox down?  I suppose that there are a few candidates, but I can’t see any reason for the Red Sox not to start printing playoff tickets.  They are basically still the same unit from last year and it’s not like the Yankees got any better this off-season.

2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Chicago Cubs

OK, the will-they-or-won’t-they-but-you-know-they-eventually-will thing with the Cubs and the Orioles over Brian Roberts is reaching tension levels not matched since Pam and Jim.  Other than that, my adopted home team is swimming along nicely.  Stop #26 on the tour is just up the street to Wrigley Field (which is every bit as gorgeous as it looks on TV).
Record: 85-77 , 1st in NL Central (lost 3-0 to Diamondbacks in NLDS)
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula): 87.51 wins (752 runs scored, 690 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs
MVN Blog:
View from the Bleachers
More Cubs Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status 
Trade Rumors
Overview: Y’know, don’t tell anyone, but the Cubbies have a really good team.  The kind of team that might just make a run at… the thing that we’re not supposed to say… the thing they haven’t done in 100 years…
What went right: Where the heck did Carlos Marmol come from?  He pitched in 2006 and didn’t do anything close to this.  Marmol’s strikeout rate almost doubled from 2006 to 2007, and his walk rate fell.  However, he’s a pitcher who lives and dies by the flyball.  In Wrigley, a flyball pitcher is at the mercy of which way the wind is blowing.  His HR/FB was down in ’07, so he probably has some uppance coming to him this year, but what a season for Marmol.
The Ted Lilly signing worked out pretty well too.  Lilly actually out K-ed Zambrano, out VORPed him and issued fewer walks.  Not bad for a guy who had that “$10 million for an average starter” look about him at the beginning of the year.  Speaking of big marquee signings from last off-season, Alfonso Soriano didn’t disappoint, although if I’m not mistaken, he magically got older by about four years recently.  He’s now 32, and that’s hardly over the hill, plus it seems like he’s got some life in him, but I think people still think of him as a young pup that is still on the upside of his career.  He put up good numbers this year, but the trend line is probably going to be pointing downward soon.
What went wrong: It wasn’t that Matt Murton had a bad year.  It’s that I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why he didn’t get more playing time (and still doesn’t.)  His line of .281/.352/.438 looked a lot like Jacque Jones’s .285/.335/.400 and Cliff Floyd’s .284/.373/.422.  At one point, the Cubs had a trade going for Jones (who’s not the best defensive CF… not that Murton was the answer there either) but it was nixed by the Cubs owners.  It’s just that no one knows who owns the Cubs.  So, what was the logic behind that one?  A cheaper, younger player who can do the same thing as the older, more expensive model. 
Yeah, that about sums it up: Even though they traded him, it still makes me giggle.  Angel Pagan.  Second place: Rocky Cherry.
Say it with me now, “Ryan Therriot is neither a shortstop nor a #2 hitter”: Just keep repeating that over and over.  Yes, he can run the bases, play several positions, and is otherwise a handy guy to have on an NL team.  He also has an on-base percentage of .326.  To me that screams “#8 hitter!”  Lou Piniella has the guts to bat Alfonso Soriano in the #1 spot, but then bats Therriot behind him?
Why is Ryan Dempster still a closer?: Because he has “closing experience.”  I know that Kerry Wood is now the Cubs closer and that Dempster is going back to starting, but if the closer is supposed to be the best pitcher on the team, why wasn’t Bobby Howry working the ninth?  Yeah, he gets his strikeouts, but he also walks a lot of guys.  Well, now the Cubs will install Kerry Wood, and assuming his arm is still attached to his body, he’ll save 30 games and be hailed as a great new closer who no one ever knew had it in him.
Outlook: Kosuke Fukudome is in town, and there’s been a lot of talk about where to put him in the lineup.  My recommendation: second.  If he’s as much of an OBP machine as they say he is, then hit him where he will get extra at-bats.  The other piece of outlook that has to be resolved is the question of who will buy the team.  Cubs fans seem to want Mark Cuban and he seems to be interested.  Now that would be the kind of match that would give baseball in Chicago some character that’s been missing ever since the death of Harry Caray. 

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