The On Deck Circle

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Archive for the tag “Marlins”

Baseball Standings 2012: The Good, The Bad, and the Lucky

Now that the 2012 baseball season is around one-quarter over, I thought it might be a good time to take a break from the normal fare of this blog, and check in with what’s been happening around the Majors.

It is common in the late winter and early spring to prognosticate about what will happen in the up-coming baseball season.  Baseball magazines and blogs are rife with predictions.  Inevitably, many of those predictions soon look pretty foolish.  I’m as guilty as the next guy as far as these predictions are concerned.

But sometimes, baseball surprises us much more than usual.

Take for example, the early success of the Baltimore Orioles who currently sport a gaudy 28-17 record.  They have a simply remarkable record of 15-6 on the road.

Did you see this coming?  I doubt anyone else, including Orioles management on down to the lowliest clubhouse attendant, did either.

But how much of any particular teams success or failure at this point is simply pure dumb luck?  Which teams are either underachieving or overachieving?  And which teams are playing about as well as they should be?

One easy way to measure the difference between how a team is actually performing (its won-loss record) is to compare that team’s performance with its run differential.  Run differential simply measures how many runs a team has scored vs. how many they have surrendered.  The Giants, for example, have scored 184 runs this season, and they have given up 181.  Thus their run differential is +3.

You would expect a team with a +3 run differential to be about one game over .500.  The Giants, in fact, are three games over .500 (24-21), so it can be deduced that they’ve overachieved a little bit.

Now, let’s look at the rest of the teams.  In the left-hand column is a list of teams, from best to worst, based on their winning percentage.  In the right-hand column is a list of each team’s run differential, also rated from best to worst.  It is interesting to note which teams are either underachieving or overachieving at this point.

1)  Dodgers – .682                                            1)  Rangers  +79

2)  Orioles – .622                                              2)  Cardinals  +64

3)  Rangers –  .600                                           3)  Dodgers  +44

3)  Rays –  .600                                                 4)  Blue Jays  +35

5)  Indians – .591                                               5)  Braves  +32

5)  Nationals – .591                                            6)  Nationals  +19

7)  Reds – .568                                                   7)  Red Sox  +17

8)  Braves – .565                                                8)  Orioles  +14

9)  Cardinals – .556                                            8)  Rays  +14

10)  Blue Jays – .533                                         10) Houston  +12

10)  Giants – .533                                               11) White Sox  +11

10)  Marlins – .533                                             12) Reds  +8

10)  Mets – .533                                                  13)  Yankees  +7

14)  Yankees – .523                                            14)  Phillies +4

15)  White Sox – .511                                          15) Giants +3

16)  Phillies – .500                                              16) Cleveland +1

16)  Red Sox – .500                                             17) Angels -2

18)  Oakland – .489                                             18) Marlins -6

19)  Houston –  .477                                             19) Detroit -10

20)  Angels – .457                                                 19) Seattle -10

21)  Detroit – .455                                                 21) Arizona -14

21)  Pirates – .455                                                 22) Oakland -20

23)  Seattle – .447                                                 23) Kansas City -22

24)  Arizona – .444                                                24) Colorado -27

25)  Milwaukee – .409                                          25) Milwaukee -29

26)  Kansas City – .395                                         26) Pirates -34

27)  Colorado – .372                                               27) Mets -35

28)  San Diego – .370                                             28) San Diego -37

29)  Cubs – .341                                                      29) Cubs -46

29)  Twins – .341                                                    30) Twins -72

Starting at the bottom, no matter how you cut it, it’s going to be a long year for the Padres, Cubs, and Twins.  Unfortunately for the Brewers, their run differential matches their record, so there’s not much reason to expect a big turnaround there.  It’s time to start selling off some of their most tradeable parts.

As for the Mets, they better not start printing playoff tickets just yet.  Their run differential is that of a sub-.500 team.  They’ve been playing with a lot of heart, but over the course of a 162 game season, talent usually trumps heart.

Houston is a big surprise to me, not because they are a sub-.500 team, but because their run differential suggests they should be playing better than .500 baseball.

The Cardinals already appear to be playoff bound, but their run differential suggests that the best may be yet to come for them.

The Red Sox, who have recently been playing better baseball, actually have a better run differential than the division-leading Orioles.  Expect the Red Sox to close ground on Baltimore over the next several weeks, even if the slightly overachieving Orioles continue to play good baseball.

The Yankees are a decent team, but are a long way from being a 95 win team.  At this point, they more closely resemble an 84-win team.  It’ll certainly be interesting to see how that new reality plays out in New York.

If the White Sox can figure out how to win at home, their run differential shows that they can yet win their division this year, but Cleveland is not at all a bad team.

The Phillies, like the Yankees may be, in fact, a mediocre team masquerading as division contenders.  On the other hand, the Braves and the Nationals appear to be for real.

Comparing the two columns above, what did you notice?

Halladay the Great

 

Roy Halladay

Image via Wikipedia

 

Congratulations to Phillies pitcher, Roy Halladay, who tossed the first post-season no-hitter in the Majors since Don Larsen‘s perfect game in  1956.  Halladay also pitched a perfect game earlier this year on May 29th vs. the Marlins.

Now is the time for all baseball fan’s to finally recognize how truly great Halladay has been in his fantastic career.

This past season, Halladay led the National League in wins (21) complete games (9), shutouts (4), innings pitched (250.2) and batters faced (993).  The epitome of a true workhorse, Halladay has pitched at least 220 innings in each of the past five seasons.

Halladay set a new career high in strikeouts this year with 219, the fourth 200 K season in his career.

Halladay’s career record is now 169-86, good for a .663 win-loss percentage.

His career WAR stands at 54.3, about the same as Sandy Koufax.

He has already won one Cy Young award, and should be the favorite to win his second this year.  He has also finished in the top five in Cy Young voting in four other seasons.

Halladay walked just 30 batters this year, and has topped 40 walks in a season just twice in the past decade.

Halladay has now appeared in seven All-Star games.

For over a decade now, Halladay has been one of the finest pitchers in baseball.  What he accomplished yesterday was not merely a moment of greatness.  It was yet another moment of greatness in a storied career that will one day lead inevitably to induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Halladay’s is the kind of career we will one day want to share with the younger generations who weren’t around to see him pitch.  We should count ourselves lucky for having witnessed his greatness.

Under the Radar, Part 4: Soldiering on in Chicago

This is the fourth installment of a periodic series I call “Under the Radar.”

In this series, I take a closer look at players who have enjoyed their fair share of success as major league baseball players, but who are not usually associated with baseball’s biggest stars, players such as Derek Jeter, A-Rod, or Albert Pujols.

These players have toiled, in effect, Under the Radar.

Yes, it is true that in their own baseball towns, they may enjoy a loyal, even affectionate fan-base.  They may even represent their team in the All-Star Game.  Yet somehow they manage to remain out of the gossip columns while being productive, though not flashy,  players for their respective teams.

In this edition of Under the Radar, I will take a closer look at a pair of first baseman who have soldiered on in Chicago for the past several years.

Specifically, I will be examining the careers of Derrek Lee of the Cubs, and Paul Konerko of the White Sox.

Once I began to take a closer look at the career statistics of these two players, it became strikingly clear how similar their respective careers have been.

To begin with, both players are 34-years old.  Both players bat and throw right-handed.  Both players made their professional debuts in the National League in 1997.  Therefore, they have each played thirteen seasons in the major leagues.

Both Derrek Lee and Paul Konerko are with their third major league organizations.  Lee began his career as a member of the Padres, played for the Marlins for six seasons, and is now about to enter his seventh season with the Cubs.

Konerko came up as a catcher in the Dodgers organization, played briefly with the Reds and has been a member of the White Sox since 1999.

Even many of their career statistics are strikingly similar:

Konerko has played in 1700 games.  Lee has played in 1681 games.

Konerko has logged 6893 plate appearances.  Lee has 6860.

Konerko has 1690 hits.  Lee has 1701 hits.

Konerko has 326 homers.  Lee has hit 293 home runs.

Konerko has compiled 2991 total bases.  Lee has 3016 total bases, a difference of a scant 25 bases spread out over 13 seasons.

Konerko has produced 1601 runs in his career (Runs + RBI’s – Homers.)

Lee has produced 1592 runs in his career.

And, in case you have forgotten, both players have one World Series Championship ring to their credit.  Lee won his while playing with the Marlins in 2003.  Konerko won his World Championship ring just a couple of years later in 2005.

But, as you would expect, there are some differences as well.  Beginning with the obvious, Derrek Lee is a black man playing in Chicago’s North End, a predominantly white, Central and Eastern European-leaning culture.

Paul Konerko is a white man who plays in Chicago’s predominantly black South-Side.

It should be noted here that both players have enjoyed overwhelmingly positive experiences in Chicago, despite the color of their skin, and the ballparks they play in.

As far as their baseball skills are concerned, Derrek Lee has been the better defensive player of the two.  Lee has three Gold Gloves to his credit; Konerko has none.  Konerko was, however, a defensive upgrade over Frank Thomas who became a full-time D.H. once Konerko arrived.

Lee has also been the better base-runner of the two.  Lee has stolen 101 bases in his career, although he has also been caught 44 times.  Meanwhile, Konerko has only attempted 10 stolen bases in his entire career!  But he has been successful eight times.

Lee also has 28 triples to Konerko’s seven.

Although both players have been significant run producers, Lee has been better at scoring runs, while Konerko has been a little better at driving runs in.

Specifically, Lee has scored 90 or more runs in seven different seasons, while driving in 90+ runs in five seasons.

Konerko, on the other hand, has topped 90 runs scored three times, but he has driven in 90 or more runs seven times, topping 100 RBI’s four times.

Konerko has played in three All-Star Games; Lee has played in two.

Lee has finished in the top 10 in N.L. MVP voting twice; Konerko has finished in his league’s top ten once.

In 2005, the year Konerko won his World Series ring with the White Sox, Lee enjoyed the best season of his career.  He led the N.L. in hits (199), doubles (50), home runs (46) slugging percentage (.662) and total bases (393.)

Konerko, on the other hand, has never led his league in any category in any season, except Grounding Into Double Plays (28 in 2003.)

Lee’s career OPS (On Base plus Slugging) is .873.

Konerko’s career OPS is .843.

Overall, then, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that Derrek Lee has been a slightly better player than Paul Konerko over the past 13 seasons.

Are either of these players potential Hall of Fame candidates?  Probably not.  Although both have had very productive careers, the expectations  for Hall-of-Fame enshrinement tend to be greater for first basemen than for perhaps any other position.

After all, this is the position played by Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Willie McCovey, Hank Greenberg, Harmon Killebrew and Eddie Murray.

By the time each of them retires, Derrek Lee and Paul Konerko will probably finish their careers in the second tier of first basemen, a level that includes Will Clark, Don Mattingly, Keith Hernandez and Fred McGriff.

Finally, it is interesting to note, however, that if you look up both players’ career statistics at Baseball-Reference.Com, you will discover, historically speaking, whose careers both players most closely match.

To this point in his career, Derrek Lee’s career most closely matches that of Kent Hrbek, Fred McGriff, Tim Salmon… and Paul Konerko.

To this point in his career, Paul Konerko’s career most closely matches that of Kent Hrbek, Fred McGriff, Boog Powell… and Derrek Lee.

On either side of the Windy City, then, the people of Chicago have been treated to solid, consistent, and extremely similar careers by each team’s respective middle-of-the-order, run-producing first baseman contemporaneously.

Can any other baseball town in America count itself so lucky?

A Delicate Imbalancing Act

It is the conventional wisdom among many fans and sports-writers these days that baseball suffers from a serious case of competitive imbalance.

The rich teams like the Yankees (always the Yankees) enjoy an unfair competitive edge over their disadvantaged competitors  due to the monstrously large size of their media-market.

A few other teams, notably the Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels and perhaps the Cubbies also get to bid on the high-profile free agents, leaving the small-market teams gazing woefully in the window like so many Dickensian street-urchins.

Things have gotten so bad, so the logic goes, that only a salary-cap can save baseball from itself.

The on-line blogosphere, Twitter, and all of the other domains frequented by the chattering masses, constantly sling arrow after arrow at this paper tiger, trying, ostensibly out of a sense of fairness, to slay this ravenous beast before it ruthlessly devours yet another season.

And yet, the reality is that the competitive balance between baseball’s thirty teams is as strong as it’s ever been, and is much stronger than it has often been.

Since the year 2001, eight different teams have won the World Series in nine seasons of competition.  Only the decade from 1978-87, when ten different teams won the World Series, featured a greater diversity of championship teams.

Moreover, although free agent signings have played a part in the overall formula of putting together a championship baseball team, a significant proportion of the star players on these teams have either come up through the team’s farm systems, or they were acquired in astute trades.

Let’s use the 2006 champion St. Louis Cardinals as an example.  Only two significant players on that team, Chris Carpenter and Jason Isringhausen, were obtained via free agency.  The combined cost of these two players, however, was a nominal three million dollars.  One would think that even teams like the Royals and the Pirates could have afforded one or both of those players.

The total team payroll for the Cardinals that championship season was a relatively modest 88 million dollars.

The 2005 Chicago White Sox are another example of how a franchise can build a championship baseball team without leading the league in spending.  The entire payroll for this team was about 75 million dollars, and the only significant free-agent the White Sox added that season was Jose Contreras, who ended up with a reasonably productive fifteen victories.

And although last season’s Yankees won the World Series after purchasing both Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia, they also had farm system products Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, and Phil Hughes to thank as well for their 27th World Series Championship.

That’s far more talent than the Royals and Pirates have produced from their farm systems combined over the past decade.

While it’s true that the Yankees broke the bank last season with a payroll in excess of 200 million dollars, it is also true that their example has been an anomaly over the past decade.  Most teams, like the Mets, for example, who have relied primarily on free agent signings (Johan Santana, Carlos Beltran, K-Rod) to bring a world championship home, have failed miserably.

Conversely, most teams that have won, or have simply played in the World Series over the past decade, have been in the middle or upper-middle tier of spenders.  A couple have even been near the bottom of the payroll list.

Now the argument at this point becomes, of course, that small market teams  just can’t generate enough revenue to compete with even the medium market teams.  Well, there are three basic flaws with that argument:

Flaw #1:  Each franchise is owned by a millionaire, or a group of millionaires, who have to decide how important it is for them to field a championship ball-club.  The truth is (as we have just witnessed with the penny-pinching Marlins signing of Josh Johnson to a long-term contract) that the money IS ALWAYS there, if ownership decides to open their collective checkbook.  Meanwhile, what is the excuse for poor scouting, player development, and lack of sound judgment when making trades?

Flaw #2:  The second argument that advocates of competitive reform make is that baseball is a business, and you can’t expect the owners of small market teams to throw good money after bad in a vain attempt at catching the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Mets, etc.

Yet in what other realm of the American business world do owners of small franchises EXPECT and, stunningly, RECEIVE, gifts of cash from their bigger competitors to “level” the playing field.  The owners of these small baseball franchises then generally pocket the cash, fail to improve their product-line, then expect that baseball will come up with even more creative ways to allow them to enjoy a profit without being held to even a minimum standard of improvement.

Flaw 3:  Teams like the Royals, Brewers, Pirates, Reds, A’s, etc, are NOT directly competing with the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, or Angels.  These small market teams are more accurately competing directly with the other teams in their own division for a shot at the playoffs.

The Brewers, for example, simply have to play just slightly better than the Reds, Pirates, Astros and Cubs for a shot at the playoffs.  And once in the playoffs, as several Cinderella teams have showed over the years, anything can happen.  The team with the best record during the regular season does not always win.

This is why when I read respectable sports-writers make arguments that, for example, the Brewers should trade 26-year old Prince Fielder now for maximum value so they can obtain blue-chip prospects, the lack of logic in that argument leaves me dumbfounded.

Here’s why.

The Brewers, with Fielder and Braun in the middle of their lineup, and several other at least league-average players, have a legitimate chance of competing for the top spot in their division.  Isn’t that the reason franchises field teams in the first place?  Isn’t that why fans come out to the park to see their team?  Isn’t that why (perhaps ironically) the Brewers signed free-agent Randy Wolf?

Moreover, if the Brewers did put Fielder on the open-market and obtained a couple of blue-chip prospects in return (who might be only a couple of years younger than Fielder), wouldn’t they just end up with the same dilemma a couple of years from now regarding whether or not to keep these new young players?

Would you then turn around and trade them as well for prospects?  What’s the point of making trades for young talent in the first place if you don’t plan on keeping them around long enough to help your team make a run at the playoffs?

This is called a prospect-fetish; its danger is that it masquerades as a sensible solution to the apparent dilemmas posed by direct competition.

Let’s stop for a minute and ask another question.  Why do some people assume that what is in the best interests of small market teams is naturally in the best interests of Major League Baseball?

Those who advocate for a salary cap, for example, base their arguments on the presumption that because this salary cap would, in effect, “hurt” the Yankees chances of future success, then small market teams can only benefit.  And if this new system allows small market teams greater access to top-tier talent, they can only be more competitive as a result.

But I ask once again,  how is this zero-sum game philosophy (your loss is automatically my win) in the best interests of BASEBALL?

This is not a rhetorical question.  Here’s why.

Guess which teams benefit the most when the World Champion Yankees or Red Sox come to town?  It is the small market teams (who refuse, or, out of sheer incompetency, are unable, to field a quality team) that benefit the most.

Attendance is always higher in Kansas City, or in any of the smaller markets, when the Yankees or Red Sox come to town.  In other words, EVERYONE WINS when these high quality teams come for a visit.   Revenues go up for both the Royals AND the Yankees.

Does baseball really want to consider putting a system in place that could, in effect, kill the goose that lays the golden eggs?

There is one solution to this so-called competitive imbalance that was once used extensively as a means by which a team would seek to enhance its bottom line.

Move the franchise.

Take a look at how many teams moved from one city to another in search of greener pastures throughout the 20th century.  The Dodgers, Giants, Braves (twice), A’s (twice), and the Senators, are just some of the teams that moved primarily for financial reasons.  Some cities gained teams; others lost them, and some of those who lost teams later gained new franchises.

There are thirty major league franchises, yet several teams play in American cities that don’t rank anywhere near the top thirty in terms of population.  Kansas City, Oakland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh rank, respectively, 35th, 44th, 56th and 60th in population.

Meanwhile, Charlotte, NC ranks 18th, Las Vegas ranks 28th, and Tucson, AZ ranks 32nd.  Raleigh, NC, Mesa, AZ and several other cities are moving up fast.  These cities also have the advantage of being in the sun-belt, a more natural setting in which to play baseball.

Change is difficult, but baseball is a business. And if it is in the best interests of both the teams themselves and of Major League Baseball for a franchise to move, then sentimental posturing, aided and abetted by inefficient and ultimately pointless systems like revenue-sharing, shouldn’t stand in the way.

Ultimately, then, the Pirates,  assuming they commit themselves to top-notch scouting and player-development, might someday be able to afford to sign that free-agent who could turn out to be the last piece in their franchises’ championship puzzle.

Only it may happen in Charlotte instead of Pittsburgh.

But, hey, Pittsburgh, you would still have the Steelers.

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