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Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Dodgers’

After the Tampa Bay Rays emerged as one of the top teams in baseball last year due to their improved defense, stats geeks and baseball fans alike fell in love with the Ultimate Zone Rating statistic.  While the stat is the most comprehensive one we have to quantify defence, and there has been proven correlations between increased UZR and wins, many writers are taking it way too far. 

In an article on Sports Illustrated today written by Ben Reiter, he talks about how an improved defense has helped the Los Angeles Dodgers in one-run ball games.

Dodgers players and coaches believe that their newly stingy defense has not only allowed them to prevent runs on the whole, but also to prevent them when it matter most: in tight ball games. “When it comes down to close games, that’s when you really notice it,” Kershaw said. “The sure-handed teams seem to win those close games.” L.A. is a remarkable 19-9 in games decided by one run.

Yes, LA improved their UZR/150 from -6.0 to -.6 from 2008 to 2009, and seen their record in one run games improve from 19-24 to 19-9.  However, this is only one team and there are a variety of other factors that could explain the improved record.  The Dodgers have also lowered their Fielding Independant Pitching from 3.86 to a MLB best 3.67 and their bullpen ERA from 3.34 to a MLB best 3.21.  These are other stats that can have huge implications on a team’s record in one run games. 

My other problem is that 71 games is a fairly small sample size.  I want to take a look at how UZR/150 correlated to win loss record during the 2008 season for all teams.  This is 681 games worth of data.  For starters, I ran the numbers in Excel and there was no correlation between winning percentage and UZR/150.

We can also take a look at these numbers with the naked eye.  I split the league into three tiers, the top ten UZR/150 teams, the middle ten and bottom ten.  What a surprise.  The top tier had a winning percentage of .499 in one run games, the middle tier .489 and the bottom tier the best percentage with .513.  Good defence does not necessarily win close ball games.  I am sure if I ran the data in different years I would have different results.  A team’s record in one run games cannot be predicted with UZR/150.

So please baseball writers, stop asking baseball players and managers who are not statistic oriented to comment on something that they do not understand.  I am sure Kershaw thinks that his team’s new and improved defence is winning them ball games, and it makes for a great story, but the numbers do not back it up.  It also looks silly when your entire article is based on how UZR improvement correlates to more wins.

If there is one downside to the statistical revolution in baseball it is that everyone thinks they are an expert, and I am not excluding myself on this one, which leads to some pretty dumb things being said and written.

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The top story in baseball over the last couple of weeks has been the potential destination of trade block member Roy Halladay.  Doc is by far the best player currently available, and the suitors are many.  I would like to comment on some of the rumors and trade proposals thrown around in the media.  These are not necessarily reflective of what is going on behind closed doors, simply what I have read on the Internet.

St. Louis Cardinals

At first glance, this seems like it is a match made in heaven.  Halladay is a very private player, I think his wife gets more camera time than he does, and would fit perfectly in St. Louis.  It is a baseball crazy city, but the media is not overpowering like in New York or Boston.  The Cardinals are also currently leading the NL Central, and Halladay would push them over the top.  Imagine a rotation of Halladay, Carpenter, Wainwright, Pineiro and Lohse.  However, that is where the dream ends.

The most common rumor I have heard is a package headlined by Colby Rasmus and Brett Wallace headed to Toronto.  First of all, giving up Rasmus would leave an enormous hole in the Cardinals outfield THIS year.  They would be forced to start Ludwick, Ankiel and then Duncan or Glaus, if they do indeed decide to move him into the outfield.  I am sorry but that is not a championship calibre outfield.  I also think Rasmus’ value has increased exponentially over the last four months.  He has gone from top prospect to bona fide MLB player.  It is a big thing for a prospect to prove he can handle major league pitching, and Rasmus has made the transition almost seamlessly. 

Second, a year and a half of Doc is not worth six and a half years of Rasmus and seven years of Wallace, not by a long shot.  It does not make sense in terms of finances or on-field product.  I do not see this deal happening in a million years.

Los Angeles Dodgers  

This seems like another great fit for Halladay.  The Dodgers have the best record in the Majors, and are the odds on favourite in the National League, even without Halladay.  However, the Dodgers would most likely have to give up either Clayton Kershaw or Matt Kemp. 

Let’s start with Kershaw.  In his second season, he has a 2.95 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in nineteen starts to go along with a 3.42 FIP.  Halladay’s numbers, on the other hand, are 2.73, 1.07 and 2.75.  Granted, Halladay pitches in a much more difficult division, but Kershaw is an excellent pitcher in his own right.  Teams are winning with young, cheap star players, and Kershaw fits that description perfectly.  The Dodgers have his rights for the next five and a half years, and will probably not pay him much more over that time frame than they would Halladay over the remaining year and a half on his contract.

Kemp has an OPS of .885 and is leading NL center fielders with a VORP of 34.7.  He also has a very respectable UZR/150 of 15.8.  While he would be easier to replace than Kershaw because they have Juan Pierre on the bench, I still do not think it is a smart move by the Dodgers.  Kemp is a star in the making, and will be an important part of the Dodgers core over the next 3-4 years.  He brings almost as much to the table as Halladay.  I also do not know if the Blue Jays are in the market for another outfielder.  They have much more pressing needs at first base, catcher, and shortstop if they lose Scutaro this off-season. 

Philadelphia Phillies

This is actually the consensus landing spot if Halladay does get traded.  While Philadelphia needs him the most, I do not think that this is the best package for the Jays considering that the Phillies do not have a top prospect ranked in the top 50 by Baseball America.  They Jays need to get at least one impact player for Halladay, and these Phillies players, other than Happ, just do not seem like they are those type of guys.  I am sure many people disagree with this statement but that is my opinion.

San Francisco Giants

I know it is a bit of a darkhorse pick, but I think this is where Halladay will end up if he does indeed get traded.  The Giants have surprised a lot of people this year, and I believe there window is in the next two years, which is exactly the same as the Halladay window.  Lincecum and Cain are healthy and dominant, Zito seems to have regained a bit of his former ability, Sandoval has emerged as a superstar, and Buster Posey could be ready to replace Bengie Molina behind the player next year.  Even though the Giants have scored the third least runs in the National League, they would have to be favourites with a rotation consisting of Lincecum, Cain and Halladay.

The Giants also have the prospects to appease JP Ricciardi’s appetite.  Madison Bumgarner was ranked as the ninth best prospect by Baseball America this year, giving the Blue Jays the impact pitcher they need to replace Halladay.  He would also probably be ready to go for 2010.  This is very important for Toronto as Ricciardi is running out of time, and the Blue Jays are only giving up on this year, not next.

Conclusion

I honestly do not know if Halladay will even be traded.  Teams are holding on to their prospects tighter than ever, and it is not the end of the world if JP does not get the package he wants and decides to hold on to Halladay.  He still has another year to trade him.

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This past week has truly been a time for mediocre pitchers to shine.  I cannot remember the last time when in the span of a week we saw two starting pitchers throw complete game shutouts in which they allowed only one and two hits apiece, no walks, and still only managed to strike out three batters each. 

First up we have Jason Marquis of the Colorado Rockies.  On June 29th, I was looking at my fantasy baseball team and saw that he was starting the next day in Dodgerland.  Expecting a blow-out, I benched him.  He proceeded to limit the Dodgers to two hits with 86 pitches (66 strikes).  It’s not every day you see a pitcher with a career ERA of 4.47 toss a two-hitter against the team with the best record in the majors, but that is what happens when you induce seventeen ground balls.  To top it off, Marquis followed this outing by shutting out the lowly Nationals for eight innings, helping him earn a spot on his first NL All-Star team.

Then last night, Jarrod “Seattle literally tried to give me away to the Yankees last year” Washburn chucked a one-hitter against the Orioles.  Now you are probably thinking, ya but it is the Orioles.  However, their offence is actually decent this year.  It is their terrible pitching that is holding them back.  Washburn’s line was even more perplexing, as it took him 110 pitches to sit down twenty-seven O’s.  He also gave up thirteen fly-balls, and for a guy with a career HR/FB rate of 8.7%, he is lucky one of those did not leave the yard. 

These two outings are just one of the many reasons I love baseball.  As much as the sport has become dominated by statistical analysis and expected outcomes, something like this could happen.  Retreads like Marquis can put together masterful two-hitters.  Give me a call when Luke Ridnour drops 40 points or Donald Brashear scores a hat-trick.

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During Spring Training of this year, Seattle Mariners pitcher (and former first round pick) Brandan Morrow decided that he wanted to be a part of the bullpen and not the starting rotation.  The Mariners responded by installing the 24-year old strikeout machine as their closer.  After an absolutely horrendous first third of the season, he has decided that no thanks, he would rather head back to the starting rotation.  Once again, the Mariners caved to his demands, and will be optioning him to AAA indefinitely to work on his stamina and command.

Just so we are all clear here, a kid only three years out of college has gone from the bullpen to the starting rotation, back to the bullpen, and now back to the rotation again.  This is not uncommon, but usually it is the team making this decision either because the pitcher is struggling as a starter, or they simply want to limit his innings.  In this case, it is all Morrow’s doing.  During Spring Training he told the Mariners that it would be easier for him to handle his Type I diabetes as a reliever.  Now he insists that it will not be a problem because he has started in the past without complications.  I do not know Brandan Morrow and he could be a fantastic guy, but he is looking more and more like a diva every day.  He claims he wants to be a starter because he wants to help the team.  What would help the team is him having a concrete role on the team and not walking six batters for every nine innings he pitches

There are success stories of failed starters going on to become dominant relievers; while the opposite happens much more rarely.  Eric Gagne put together forty-eight unremarkable starts for the Dodgers before saving 152 games over three seasons.  Mariano Rivera started ten games in 1995 for the Yankees before becoming a full-time reliever.  However, these guys were forced into the bullpen because they had no other choice.  They could not cut it as starters.  Off the top of my head, the reverse list of players who have transitioned from the bullpen to become successful starters is pretty short: Pedro.  He made sixty-three appearances out of the Dodgers bullpen in 1993 before joining the Expos rotation the following season.  Please comment if you can think of any other good examples.  Let’s compare Pedro’s bullpen exploits to Morrow’s.  And yes, I have removed Morrow’s five September 2008 starts from the data.

Morrow graph     

 

 

As we can see, Morrow was worse in pretty much every way, shape and form, matching Pedro only in strikeouts.  I will admit it is a little unfair to compare Morrow against Pedro, so let’s just examine Morrow’s numbers on their own.  His ERA is acceptable for a set-up man or lower tier closer and his strikeout rate his phenomenal.  Other than that, all his numbers are well below average.  Giving up six walks per innings is unacceptable whether you are a starter or a reliever.  I have no idea how Morrow thinks he is going to transition below-average numbers for a reliever into a successful starting role.  When you look at his failed journey into the starting rotation last year, the numbers get even uglier.  He kept his WHIP constant at 1.46 but his poor control came back to bite him due an increased home run rate of 1.60 per nine innings. This led to an inflated 5.79 ERA.   

Despite putting together an unremarkably unimpressive track record in the big leagues, Morrow thinks he knows what is best for him, and Seattle is letting him do whatever he wants.  In no way am I saying that I am smarter and know the right answer, but the Mariners need to take control of the situation.  He is there property and they should decide what is best for him.  Morrow is entitled to his input, but in the end it should be the Mariners decision.  However, you can only have so much confidence in a management team that put together the first $100 million/ 100 loss team in MLB history.

With all of that being said, I wish the best of luck to Morrow in his quest to become a starting pitcher.  He is an exciting player to watch and if he figures out his control problems could be a solid number two or three starter.  If not, he will be added to the long list of top five draft pick busts.

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