Posts Tagged ‘preview’

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Playoff Preview: ALDS

October 2, 2009

The Twins and the Tigers each won today, which means the winner AL Central will come from a tie breaking 163rd game to be held on Tuesday (at the incredibly awkward time of 5:07 Eastern/4:07 local time; that is a gripe for another day). I’d been planning on doing a quick preview on here because they are fun to do and I enjoy reviewing head to head match-ups. Instead I waited the entire weekend only to see the Tigers flounder in their series against the White Sox. Luckily for you I have, as usual, concocted a scheme to make all well again: a three team head to head to head comparison!

It seems to be common perception that pitching and defense are what wins in the playoffs. That may or may not be true, but either way you have to score to win. You can hypothetically win a game in which you allow twenty-three runs; you can’t win one scoring zero. So let’s begin with offense:

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The Yankees led the majors in runs scored, by a pretty fair margin, with 905.  The Twins were seventh in all of baseball, something that surprises me each time I look at it. I think I am still used to the buntbuntbuntscrap days of the Twins, but they’re a fairly dangerous offensive team (in spite of a few of the dreadful regulars in their lineup). At the other end were the Tigers, who were fourth worst in the AL in runs scored (17th ranked in all of baseball). With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what made up each of their offenses.

The Yankees set a team record for homeruns this season (with 242), as well as homeruns at home (129). There is good power in almost every slot of the lineup, as well as on the bench. A lot was made of the absurd homerun rates at New Yankee Stadium, but that seems to have cooled lately. There were only 16 more homeruns hit at home then on the road this year. Whether the “wind tunnel” will turn out to be an annual Spring/early Summer surge, or if it was simply an aberrational stretch, it seems a lot more evident that the homerun records for this team were the result of the lineup more than anything.

The Yankees, like in runs, pretty handily led the league in homers. In spite of their low run totals, the Tigers actually finished tenth in baseball in homers (in a rather large park) with 178, six ahead of the 13th ranked Twins. The Yankees also (surprise) led baseball in slugging and isolated power (ISO). The Twins were ninth and 15th, the Tigers 16th and 12th in those respective categories.

As far as getting on base, the Tigers (.330 OBP) were way behind both the Yankees (.362) and Twins (.344). The Tigers also finish a distant third to the Twins and Yankees in batting average and total walks. It’s pretty clear why they’re offense sputters, in spite of the decent homerun totals.

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The pitching matchup is not quite as lopsided. In ERA, the Yankees come in 12th in baseball (but 4th in the AL) with a 4.30 line. The Tigers are just about on the level with them, 6th in the AL with an ERA of 4.35. The Twins (once again, this was a surprise all season) had a 4.51 ERA and actually had the best bullpen ERA of the three teams, which further shows just how iffy their rotation can be. I guess it shouldn’t be as unexpected to me as it is, they don’t exactly have a Johan Santana in their rotation anymore.

(By the way, in their most important game of the year, the Twins started Carl Pavano on 3 days rest. They’ve come a long way.)

For a more nuetral look at the pitchers performances, let’s check out their FIP. The Yankees were right in line with their ERA with a 4.31 FIP. The Tigers were at 4.53, and the Twins 4.38.  That highlights the defensive differences in the two teams, with Tigers pitchers receiving more help (thanks, Adam Everett!) than those for the Twins (thanks, Delmon Young!).

Speaking of defensive help, the Tigers pretty much have three things going for them if they make the playoffs: at least two games from Justin Verlander each series; Miguel Cabrera; and their defense. They were third in baseball with a 50.5 team UZR, tremendously ahead of the Twins and Yankees, who were at -36.3 and -16.2, respectively. I think the Yankees play a little better than that number, but they’re still definitely behind Detroit. Robinson Cano, for example, played better than his -5 UZR this year (so I think, anyway… defensive evaluations get much better next season when batted ball and player data begin to be tracked and examined in the same fashion as pitch fx).

As their records would indicate, the Tigers and Twins are fairly well matched and the Yankees are far ahead of either of them in overall talent. The Twins are going to have home field advantage for the play-in game, and in a game where the pitching matchup is fairly even (Scott Baker for the Twins against Rick Porcello of the Tigers) you have to go with the team that was better offensively all season long.

tl;dr: Yankees will win in 3 or 4 games, regardless of this rounds opponent.

I promise to be less smug if/when the Yankees make the ALCS; like any sane Yankee fan, I respect the Red Sox and am deathly afraid of the Angels, who turn the Yankees into a little league team every season.

Hopefully the network friendly broadcast schedules don’t run the games or prevent anyone from seeing their hometown team (though I’m sure this will happen). Every series should be fun. Nothing beats playoff baseball!

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A.L. East Shortstops 2009

March 30, 2009

Do you know how when you watch a Die Hard movie and you see John McClain getting the perpetually brutalized, you can’t help but think about how awesome and tough he is for walking around on two broken legs with eight fingers in an effort to defeat his foreign enemies? Well, when Derek Jeter watches that movie he thinks “Yeah, me too.”

Derek Jeter has been a great hitter, and is pretty much a baseball and Yankee icon since the team won the 1996 World Series, and watching a player on your team yough out injuries to try and help the team can be very inspiring. But Jeter’s John McClain imprsonation last season did nothing but drag the Yankees and himself down. His refusal to sit out and rest after hand and wrist injuries, most notably thanks to a Daniel Cabrera fastball to the hand, killed not only his own season but really cost the Yankees as well. Jeter was not himself most of the season, with only 39 total extra base hits all year. For perspective, in each of 2006 and 2007 he accumulated 39 extra base hits on doubles alone. As a result his slugging dropped to the second worst mark of his career, and his OPS was the lowest he has ever had. The batting average was there, and his walk rate was right in line with 2007, so it is probably safe to say that his skills have not eroded, and the lack of power can be attributed to the injuries. In September, Jeter rebounded to slug .474, when he was presumably healthy for the first time in a lone time.

Jeter’s glove work (his lack of range, specifically) has been documented quite well already, and his speed is getting to be marginal, so his contributions have to come from him being an above average hitting shortstop. His range will only get worse, and unfortunately PECOTA sees his bat following last years downward trend to a line of .293/.359/.408 and an EqA of .272. I think Jeter rebounds to 2007’s levels, with an EqA closer to .290, but his diminishing defense will continue to temper his offense, even if he improves.

Regardless of his shortcomings, Jeter will likely remain the cream of the crop as far as A.L. East shortstops go. The Red Sox will open the year with Jed Lowrie as the starting shortstop, perhaps with a twist of Julio Lugo squirted in later in the year. Lowrie is a decent player, is younger and better than Lugo. Unfortunately, that is about as good as it gets for Lowrie, who has little power, little speed, and little range at short. He is a very mediocre hitter, with a peak probably in David Eckstein range. That’s nothing to sneeze at, Eckstein was a quality starter for several years, but the hype I’ve heard for Lowrie has been way too loud. Pecota expects a season of .252/.336/.436 and .269 EqA, and I can’t say I disagree.

Cesar Izturis has a career .299 on base percentage, and the Orioles signed him this off-season to a two year deal. The lack of production that Baltimore got last season at the shortstop position was so absurd that, to quote Baseball prospectus, “Izturis has moved to one of the very few teams for which he will actually represent an offensive upgrade, as the multitude of O’s shortstops combined for a .533 OPS last year.” PECOTA calls for a near repeat of Izturis’ last season with the Cards, .243/.319/.358 and an EqA of .237, coupled with above average defense.

I have already written a few times about the Rays improved defense last year, and Jason Bartlett was one major reason for that. Bartlett is a good (but limited) player to have around: strong glove and above average speed to enhance the mediocre-even-for-a-shortstop bat he has. The forecast from PECOTA is a line of .261/.314/.363 and a .243 EqA. This calls for a drop in all three of his slash stats (they also predict a drop in his plate apearances). Bartlett’s value comes from his defense, so as long as he maintains that the Rays will have no problem trotting him out every day.

The mediocrity keeps on coming with Marco Scutaro, one of the more boringly dependable and unspectacular players in baseball. Scutaro plays any position around the infield, fields them all very well, and has just enough on-base ability to overcome his lack of power of base-stealing. He’s pegged for a season of .256/.332/.366 and .250 EqA. Consistent and safe, if nothing else.

It doesn’t take much to stand out at shortstop in this division; there are no Jose Reyes’ or Hanley Ramirez’ to be found like in the N.L. East (though Hanley was a Boston prospect before being traded for Josh Beckett). Jeter still stands atop this pyramid, but mostly by default.

Next time around, what will probably be a really long article previewing the outfielders. Put on some coffee and break out your bifocals, you’re going to have some reading to do.

(By the way, Happy Birthday to me. Normally, writing is my birthday cake, but now that this is done I’m going to tear into a real cake.)

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A.L. East Third Basemen 2009

March 25, 2009

Opening day approacheth! And all the while, the timer for my previews ticks down. You have no idea of the kind of pressure I am under over here. So, quick everyone! To the preview-mobile.

Third base in the A.L. East: where hip labrums go to die. Mike Lowell and Alex Rodriguez have each suffered a torn hip labrums in the past 8 months, both in their right hip. The hip is a huge joint, and unlike the shoulder labrum supports the weight of the entire body on it. The sensitvity of these types of injuries is compounded by the fact that both men are right handed hitters, and their push off legs have been compromised.

Lowell appears to be back in business, and A-rod (at least, according to his doctor) should show no ill effects and minimal risk of re-injury once he is ready to go. That will, hopefully, be in early-to-mid May. A-rod’s line from PECOTA is projected at .287/.379/.541, in 624 at bats. This projection was out well before it was known Alex would need an operation. This line, even coming off of injury, does not seem out of reach for A-rod; it is a very slight drop from 2008 (and a massive drop from his incredible 2007). What needs to be adjusted is the time he will miss. Estimating an early May return, lets say he misses 35 games, approximately 140 plate appearances, or about 22% of his projected 624 PA’s. Combining 78% of A-rod’s time with 22% of a replacement level bat (let’s use Jose Castillo, a third baseman with a VORP right near zero last season). Cody Ransom will probably fill the role, and I would expect a mediocre-to-average bat from him (and below average defense) but for the purpose of providing a modest estimate, Lopez’ line of .281/.314/.313 will do. That gives the Yankees an assumed averaged line of .286/.364/.491. and a .300 EqA Overall, the Yankees still sport a well above average third base year, but this is only if A-rod returns on time and is healthy and productive right away.

Lowell checks in with a projected .264/.327/.446 and .267 EqA. He has limited range but he’s at the right position for that, because he still has a superb glove. If I weren’t feeling so spry I would copy and paste those last two sentences and place Scott Rolen‘s name right where Lowell’s is. They’re within a year of age, they’re an injury liability, they’re good defenders and they’re projected for nearly the same OPS and EqA. Rolen’s PECOTA line in this case is .261/.336/.430 with an EqA of .268. Neither player is spectacular, but both are very solid veterans, if still unreliable health-wise.

In the same veign of aging third baseman is Baltimore’s Melvin Mora. Mora is older than either Lowell or Rolen, but he has also averaged 600 at bats over the last three seasons. He had an incredibly torrid second half, which was tempered by his ice cold first half, but finishing the year with 23 homers and an .825 OPS certainly isn’t bad for a 36 year old father of quintuplets. A more even keeled season should be expected, and the PECOTA line of .269/.332/.443 and .268 EqA seems accurate.

Rounding out the division is the player who could, if A-rod proves to be something other than his usual self, be the best third baseman in the division. Evan Longoria has a very good glove, arm, and bat, all at 23 years old. Longoria is only going to improve; his on-base skills are even better than the .343 OB% he put up last year. PECOTA forecasts a season similar to last years, with a slight drop in slugging (which makes sense; his slugging spiked last year from the numbers he had been putting up in the minors). His line of .270/.346/.507 and .289 EqA are all-star worthy, particularly if he keeps up his stellar defensive play. And whether it actually counts for anything or not, Longoria is one of the most confident players in baseball. It doesn’t take something as complex as PECOTA to see that great things are emerging for Longoria.

Next time around: Shortstops!

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A.L. East Second Baseman 2009

March 12, 2009

As it turns out, it is a lot of work writing and maintaining a blog. I have been spending many hours slouched with poor posture over my computer, snacking on bulk-purchased leftover Halloween candy, trying to project starting lineups and time-shares. And why do I do it, the love of baseball or the growing need to put my seemingly useless college degree to use (even if it is via a profitless internet site visited by a single-digit number of people each day)? You decide.

Self-loathing aside, second base is a pretty deep position in the east. The discussion must, of course, start with 2008 A.L. MVP Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia had a supreme season in which he started well and finished even better. The award is debatable, but Pedroia’s production is not. He put up an OPS of .869, hit 54 doubles, and just to top it off stole 20 bases while being caught only once. He also played exceptional defense, rating as the fifth best second baseman in baseball by the Bill James fielding bible plus/minus system. Oh, and he has a sweet commercial as well.

Pedroia bats far better at home, even though he is a well above average hitter for his position on the road. PECOTA sees a slight drop in his numbers, down t just about what his 2007 production was (when he won Rookie of theYear), with a projected line of .294/.358/.451 with an EqA of .283. I think he’ll split the difference of his first two seasons, which quite honestly are not that far apart. And remember, that superb bat is coupled with a very good glove, making Pedroia easily the best second baseman in the A.L.

Talent wise, Pedroia should have a lot more competition for that title from Robinson Cano. Cano is three inches taller, twenty-five pounds heavier, has one of those cliche sweet lefty swings, and is incredibly athletic in the field. All of that makes him probably the most frustrating Yankee to watch on a daily basis.

Cano has two major flaws with his game (or perhaps his on-field personality): he is a free swinger and he is prone to mental lapses. The former is something that he improved from 2006 to 2007, though that improvement stagnated last season. The latter is something that Larry Bowa, former third base coach for the Yankees, was almost personally responsible for preventing. However, Bowa left with Joe Torre after 2007 and coincidence or not, Cano’s defense and offense both suffered.

While his offense, which is predicated on the ability to hit for a high average, is likely to fluctuate throughout his career because of his low walk rate and moderate power, his defensive dropoff is astounding and befuddling. Once again diving into fielding bible, Cano was a +17 in 2007, good for the fifth best rating amongst second baseman. In 2008 Cano dropped to sisxth worst with a -16.

Cano’s terrible season at least capped off on a positive note, as he closed the year with 19 hits in his last 42 at bats, and his overall OPS in the second half was .815. It should also be noted that this is not an instance of a lefty in need of a platoon partner, as he hit far better against left-handers last season, and is even slightly better against lefties for his career. Cano is heading into his fourth season and is still only 26, so a bounceback after two good years should be expected. PECOTA projects him with a line of .289/.328/.446 with a .265 EqA. I think that is underestimating Mr. Cano, and I think that with proper focus (a crapshoot with that) his defense will be above average once again this season.

The Rays turnaround last year was the most talked about story in baseball, and equally famed was the turnaround for their defense. The middle-infield was their biggest upgrade over 2007, as Akinori Iwamura brought his range and glove-work to a new position by moving from third base (with Jason Bartlett coming over to play short). The previous years version of the Rays featured a combination of B.J. Upton, Brendan Harris and  Ty Wiggington, a trio that (at least in Upton and Wiggington’s case) inspires significantly more fear with their bat than their glove.

Iwamura took second, while Upton moved to center, where his speed and range are not countered by his inability to make basic plays on groundballs. Iwamura is only an average (at best) offensive player, even as a second baseman, but his defense gives him value. PECOTA has him at .263/.340/.400 and a .261 EqA in 2009. This is a slight dropoff as Iwamura enters his age 30 season, but if his defense is consistent once again then he shouldn’t have trouble getting his 2010 option picked up, or finding a starting role elsewhere.

Speaking of contracts, Brian Roberts signed a new deal with the Orioles three weeks ago, ensuring for the first time in about two years that the persistent trade rumors, mostly of Roberts going to the Cubs, are dead. Roberts received a four year deal worth $10 million each season, and when you look at what you are getting production wise the deal is a great one. Roberts is also very durable, his only major injury coming late in 2005 on a freak accident, as he collided with former Yankee Bubba Crosby and dislocated his elbow.

Roberts draws a good share of walks, has very good speed, and is capable of double digit homeruns. The forecast from PECOTA for him is  272/.356/.434, to go with a .282 EqA. A very solid season, though perhaps underestimating his on-base abilities which have improved with his age.

The final stop on this tour is in Toronto, where the Blue Jays have one of their better position players stationed. Former first round pick Aaron Hill never played a game at second in the minors, and his debut season in the majors had him primarily at third base. In 2006 he finally settled in at second, where he has played since, and played it well. In 2007 he led all second baseman in plus/minus, and has a career 98.6 fielding percentage there as well. Last year was a lost season due to a concussion he suffered in a collision with David Eckstein (perhaps the first and only time in history that someone else came out on the wrong side of a collision with Eckstein).

Hill has a huge breakout in homerun power in 2007, hitting only three less than he did in his 876 career minor league at bats. As one of the best defenders in the league at his position, Hill has positive value even if mediocre with the bat. A line of .261/.318/.394 with an EqA of .250 is what PECOTA expects (to go with a drop to his career norm in power, with 8 homeruns). If he can put up even an average on base percentage and hit double digit homeruns then Hill is an extremely valuable player under team control throgh (potentially) 2014, though his contract is heavily backloaded with three expensive option years. If Hill’s bat doesn’t recover from post-concussion effects then he can kiss those options goodbye.

These always end up longer than planned, but hopefully it is worth it for anyone reading through them. The most amusing part of this for me, aside from poring through varying statistics and box scores, is getting feedback and comments, so don’t be shy with those.

Next preview: third base!

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