Archive for the ‘Ichiro’ Category

If it’s May 9 rather than June 9…

June 9, 2009

…and your team’s MVP candidate is hitting .228/.343/.447, do you worry?

Because that’s Ian Kinsler’s line since May 6 (the season started on April 6, so if this were a month earlier that would take us back to about game 1). Fortunately, back in the real world, he hit .321 and slugged .652 for the first five weeks or so. So since May 6 he’s lost 47 points of average, 14 points of OBP and 103 points of SLG, but he’s still a .905 OPS second baseman, not some .228-hitting disappointment. For now.

Another one: his season numbers are still awe-inspiring, because he hit .400 for the first month or so. But do you think Miguel Cabrera would be getting ESPN.com feature stories right now if the first baseman had put up an .839 OPS with 3 homers through May 9, rather than from May 6 to June 9?

On the other hand, how do you suppose the New York media would react if Mark Teixeira had waltzed into the city and hit .350/.417/.761 with 12 HR in his first month-plus, rather than his second?

Do you think there would be any doubt about his All-Star chances if Ichiro! had hit .400/.439/.538 in April-May rather than May-June? Would the media get off David Wright’s back a little bit if he had been hitting .388 with a .500 OBP on May 9?

One thing that drives me crazy is the way that, at least with regard to position players, each passing month is a little less important to us than the last, until you get to September (and that’s assuming you’re in a pennant race). If a guy hits .400 in April but then hits .200 in May, he’s still a good bet to make the All-Star team, while if he hits .200 in April and .400 in May, he’s probably still considered a disappointment come June (unless somebody noticed and gave him the Player of the Month Award or something). The April stats count for all the hype, and the October stats count for who’s “clutch” and who’s not, and all the stuff in the middle just kind of happens.

But if the Mets win by a game or two, Wright’s enormous early-May-to-early-June will have been as big a part of it as anything Delgado or Reyes or Beltran could possibly do in August or September. With that decimated lineup, being only three games out at this point is a miracle you can attribute almost exclusively to the wonders that are Wright and Santana. Yet if Wright slips a bit in September (or even if he’s his usual stellar self, but is perceived as being “not clutch”), he’ll be widely regarded as a failure again. These games (and these stats) count too, people…

AL All-Star Atrocities

June 3, 2009

It’s hard to believe, but by my count, we’re exactly halfway done with the 2009 All-Star Game balloting process. Today is June 3; balloting began (ridiculously, outfreakingrageously early) on April 22. That was 41 days ago. The game itself is on July 14. That’s 41 days from now.

So I thought it would be a good time to look at the progress of the balloting and some of the oddities/surprises/huge mistakes therein. I’ll probably do the National League tomorrow unless something more interesting comes up, but MLB.com’s latest AL update came out today, and the NL has been getting all the attention anyway, what with the Manny thing and the Brewers thing and the Milledge thing, so we’ll stick with the American League for today. My geekily opaque stat of choice today will be WAR, as seen on FanGraphs, through the games of June 1.

1. Ranger Dominance.
The story of the AL ballot is usually Yankees and Red Sox fans using their numbers to bully everybody else out of the game, but it looks to me like the Rangers might be doing their best Brewers impression and stuffing the box this year (or have just had more home games this month than anybody else; I’m not going to bother to check). “Only” two Rangers would start if the voting ended today–the unquestionably deserving Ian Kinsler (2.5 WAR) and the less-deserving Josh Hamilton (0.9 WAR)–but a Ranger is in the top 5 at every position, including Chris Davis (fabulous first-base D but a .194 AV and .253 OBP; -0.2 WAR), rookie shortstop Elvis Andrus (1.2 WAR thanks mostly to great D) and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (0.5 WAR). And Nelson Cruz (who it should be said as a much stronger claim to a spot than Hamilton) is also among the top 10 outfielders. I expect they’ll slide back in several areas–Michael Young is in a distant second at 3B behind Longoria, for instance, and I’m sure the Right Coasters will make sure Lowell and A-Rod pass him up soon enough–but it’s kind of ludicrous right now.

2. Derek Jeter
I get that the All-Star game is supposed to be about who the fans want to see, and I’m generally for rewarding players for longer-term performance than just the first half of this season. But Jeter (2.0 WAR), who is enjoying a very nice bounceback year from a down-for-him 2008, currently has 2 1/2 times more votes than any other shortstop, including Jason Bartlett (.373/.418/.596, 2.7 WAR) and Marco Scutaro (.305/.408/.457, 2.5 WAR). Both those guys are having a fluky couple of months, and I’d rather see the first-ballot Hall of Famer than the scrubs that happened to get off to hot starts. But I also think that the voting should be closer than 2.5:1. Jeter is a very close second behind Longoria for the most votes in the AL, and it’s hard to argue that he’s earned that.

3. Ken Griffey Jr.
I know I just said I’m all for honoring players for their great careers and everything, but haven’t we already done all that with Junior? He’s just 30,000 votes behind teammate (and currently vastly superior player) Ichiro! for the third starting position among outfielders. At least when he was getting voted onto the team in Cincinnati, he was actually playing in the outfield when he was healthy enough to play. Now he’s a full-time DH, with just 23 innings in the field so far, and he’s hitting .208/.327/.362 (0.0 WAR). Look, Junior knows we love him, and there will be decades (God willing) for ceremonies and such after he retires. Let’s leave him out of this one, though, ‘kay?

4. Ichiro!
Where did all those Japanese voters go? Ichiro is, as I said, in the third and final OF slot, but is much, much closer to 4th through 7th places (Griffey, Carl Crawford, Torii Hunter and Nick Markakis) than he is to 2nd place (Hamilton). Yet, he’s having arguably the best year of his career, and he’s been elected to start the All-Star game in each of his first eight seasons; to be left out of this one would be unfortunate and pretty ironic. His walk rate is down, and so are his steals, but he’s hitting .352, and with more power (5 HR; he’s had 6 total in each of the last two years, and his career high is 15). He’s playing his usual stellar defense, and has a 1.8 WAR, better than both Hamilton and the current leader, Jason Bay (1.5).

5. Adam Jones.
UZR doesn’t like his fielding nearly as much as most human observers do (in fact, they say he’s cost the team nearly five runs, which seems like a blip after being worth 10 runs last year), or else his WAR would be much higher than his current 1.9. His .344/.400/.608 offensive line ought to put him in regardless, however. He’s a distant 10th in the outfield balloting. Another Oriole with a strong case is Nick Markakis, though WAR hates him because UZR says he’s lost them ten fielding runs already (after saving 12 last year…what’s up with the O’s outfield?).

All in all, this is shaping up to be a better voting year than most; I’m not convinced that we’re getting all the starters right, but (as long as Ichiro continues to hold Griffey at bay) there aren’t any that I’d actually call “atrocities,” either. Well, maybe Hamilton too, though at least he was still playing like an All-Star (more or less) in the second half of ’08, if you want to credit him for that.

For the record:

Pos My Vote Leader
C Mauer Mauer
1B Morneau Youkilis
2B Kinsler Kinsler
3B Longoria Longoria
SS Bartlett Jeter
OF1 Hunter Bay
OF2 A.Jones Hamilton
OF3 Ichiro Ichiro

I know, I said I’d rather see Jeter than Bartlett, but I know Jeter’s going to win anyway (and I know Bartlett is on the DL, but he’s just been that good), and I don’t think I could ever actually bring myself to vote for Jeter.

I didn’t even really mention Torii Hunter (2.2 WAR), but he’s been phenomenal for an Angels team that really badly needed a hitter.

The hardest to leave off my ballot were Youkilis and Teixeira (both of whom have been about as valuable as Morneau…so all things equal, of course, I go with the Twin), and Carl Crawford (who has arguably been just a little better than Ichiro, but I have to go with career value there).

Nelson Cruz is actually the best OF in the league according to WAR (2.4), but a lot of that comes from his 7.6 UZR (meaning he’d save 22.9 runs per 150 games at that rate), and that’s no more sustainable than Scutaro’s OBP. He’s good, but not that good.

So that’s my ballot. What’s yours?

Crushing DreaExpectation Management, Part II: The Seattle Mariners

April 17, 2009

Full disclosure: I love the Twins more than is probably healthy, but to the exact extent that it’s possible to love two teams in the same league, I love the M’s. And I love their weird-ass fans, who I think I’ll probably have to write a whole thing about someday. But today is not that day.

As I type this on Thursday night, the Mariners, who ended ’08 all alone at the bottom of the AL with 101 losses, are 7-2, all alone at the top of the AL, and three games clear of all the other teams in the sorry-looking West.

What they’re saying: Yesterday, I noted that people didn’t seem all that excited about the Orioles’ hot start. Those Mariner fans? Not so much. My sense is that when this season started, nobody in the Northwest actually noticed. But nine games later and they’ve won a bunch of them? Well now!

  • Rob Neyer notes in passing while on a trip to Seattle that “the good citizens are wondering if the Mariners will ever lose again (seriously: people here are talking about 2001 and they’re not kidding).”
  • The Olympian’s Gail Wood would like you to avoid making the mistake of thinking that these are last year’s Mariners. She extols their leadership, their pulling together, and their stringing together of hits, and is very excited indeed.
  • The Seattle Times’ Larry Stone encourages everybody to get giddy for the hot start and home opener, but then basically says it ain’t gonna happen.
  • The P-I’s (hey, didn’t they fold?) Gerry Spratt notes that Wednesday night’s Mariners game out-ratingsed American Idol, Lost and Law and Order in Seattle.

So basically, the fan base is now freaking the geek out. Good idea? …Well, yes it is. As Stone says above, why not go nuts? It’s the home-opening series. It’s baseball in the best modern stadium in the game. Go for it, people. Yet, onward:

Reasons for hope: Well, they’re not going to win 116 games. Only two teams ever have, and there will be another, but it won’t be this bunch. They’re also not going to win 100. But there are reasons to think they might be playing games that mean something in September:

  • Ichiro! hasn’t been around for this. The leadoff hitter and face of the franchise just made his season debut yesterday. He’s 35 and not likely to be the truly great player he was in ’01 and ’04 and ’07. But he’s awfully good. He’s maybe the only player you can count on to get on base at a good clip without really drawing walks, and he’s an excellent fielder and baserunner. Ichiro means that Junior doesn’t have to drag himself around the outfield, and that Endy Chavez doesn’t have to lead off (I have to assume he’ll be dropped to 9th once the effects of his season-opening hot streak disappear). These are good things.
  • That outfield defense is unbelievable. With Chavez, Ichiro! and Franklin Gutierrez, the M’s are starting top-flight center fielders in every outfield spot. It really is a treat to watch these guys run around, especially in the vast emptiness that serves as Safeco’s outfield. They also have the best defensive third baseman in the league in Adrian Beltre, and though the rest of the infield (the lumbering Branyan/Sweeney combo, the enigmatic Jose Lopez and the sure-handed, awesome-named, lead-footed Yuni Betancourt) is a singles-hitter’s dream, the Mariners have put together a mostly-flyball staff, which plays to the strengths of both their defense and their spacious park.
  • Eric Bedard is healthy. Under old management, the Mariners made a foreseeably terrible trade with the O’s to nab Bedard, and it got worse when Bedard proved hurt, unhappy and ineffective. Through his first two starts, though, Bedard has thrown 13 innings, struck out 15 batters and walked just 1 with a 2.08 ERA and a crazy 1.53 FIP, looking much more like the Bedard they thought they were getting (3.88 K/BB ratio, 3.19 FIP in 2007) than the one they did get in ’08 (1.95 K/BB, 4.32 FIP). If he stays healthy, along with Felix Hernandez, 40% of their games will be started by one of the ten or so best pitchers in baseball.
  • Adrian Beltre is in a contract year. There is evidence that players do perform better when their continued employment or a big raise is on the line, and the last time Adrian was in that position, he had one of the best years a third baseman has ever had. He’s put himself in a bit of a hole on the trip back to that level, but you never know.

Why it won’t happen: Well, it might. But concerns:

  • The other 60% of the rotation is awful. Carlos Silva, probably the most overpaid active player in baseball (thanks again to the prior administration), is an extreme ground-ball pitcher (at least when he’s not completely lost, which happens), and he’s not as bad as his ERA is going to look, but as long as it’s Betancourt, Lopez and Sweeney/Branyan trying to track down the ground balls he induces, he’s going to keep looking about that bad. They’ve been trying to dump Jarrod Washburn since the end of ’08, and there are good reasons for doing so, and for the same good reasons, it hasn’t worked.
  • There’s no real offense here. Chavez and Betancourt look pretty awesome right now, but they’re not. Of the nine starting position players, only Beltre, Lopez and maybe Ichiro figure to be above-average hitters for their position, and they won’t be by much. When this team wins, they’ll have pitching, defense, and a bit of good luck to thank. Lots of close games.
  • They’ve been lucky so far, though not in the same way as the Orioles; they’ve got a very solid run differential and reasonable BABIP. But they’ve scored about an average number of runs, and have had to hit .362 with runners in scoring position to do it. When that number comes down to earth, they could have some problems.

What PECOTA is saying: Before Thursday night’s game against the Angels (which looks like a loss as I near the end of this), Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA-Adjusted Playoff Odds Report had the M’s finishing 79-83 on average (good for a virtual tie for second in their craptastic division), and with a 28% chance of making the postseason. That is huge for a team that lost 101 last year.

My take: I was one of the crazy few who actually thought the Mariners would win about 80 games before the season started, and obviously I like what I’ve seen so far. The brilliant Dave Cameron at the brilliant USS Mariner blog would say that I need to adjust that figure upward for the fact that they’re now 7-3: that record + my original expectation of .494 play over the next 152 = 83-79. And I have no doubt that that’s mathematically accurate, but I’m not going to do it. I think BP’s projection is basically dead-on; this is a near-.500 team that, if it gets a little lucky and the A’s and Angels get a little unlucky, has a pretty decent shot at making a run at the postseason. That’s not 2001, but it’s a pretty solid six-month turnaround for the new bosses.