Monday, March 31, 2008


On his 3rd inning bunt single, I clocked Carlos Gomez at 3.1 seconds to first. Dude can run.

Angels better start hitting Livan around pretty soon. Seems like everybody did last year.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Almost ready to start the season

Haven't had much to say lately. Escobar may be gone for good, and that sucks. Weaver-Garland-Saunders-Santana-Mosely should get the job done but that's not the kind of rotation that will scare anybody. The offense is really going to have to come through this year. If they score runs like in 2007, the division should still be no problem.

Erick Aybar had a strong spring and will be the starting shortstop to open the season. The statistical impression of him is a near replacement level shortstop, a guy who might hit enough singles to bat .270-.280 but with no power or walks and poor baserunning. Defensively he has tools but makes too many errors. Aybar has looked much better than that in March, and while spring training numbers are near meaningless, there is hope for the kid.

Sometimes those players with unimpressive stats but great scouting reports really do pan out. Aybar was the #3 prospect in a strong Angels system, according to Baseball America, in their 2005, 2006, and 2007 handbooks. A few years ago his minor league numbers, when adjusted to MLEs, were neck and neck with Hanley Ramirez (his raw numbers were actually better, but he played in better hitters parks.)

I'm not saying he's going to go Hanley on us and hit .300 with 30 homers and 50 steals, that would be crazy, but just maybe the kid will turn into a contributor. Can't wait to find out.

Good luck to Nathan Haynes, as we didn't have room for him and he's now a Devil Ray. Too bad we couldn't work a trade out and grab an extra arm from them.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Devil Rays, how they will go from the cellar to contenders

Last month I projected the Devil Rays to win 89 games this year. If my projections turn out correct (and of course they all won't) that would not get them a playoff spot, but would put them within 3 games of the best teams in the league - the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Indians, and Tigers.

Last season they only won 67 games, scoring a middle of the pack 782 runs but surrendering a league worst 944. I can rule out the offense for the source of massive improvement, I only have them scoring a few more runs in 2008. While Carlos Pena and BJ Upton may not quite hit like they did last year, Evan Longoria's bat at third improves the team, unless they send him to AAA, and Cliff Floyd at DH should be an improvement on Greg Norton.

The improvement is on the pitching and defense side, where I project the team to allow more than 200 fewer runs next season. Their defense last season was one of the worst of all time. According to the Hardball Times team page they were 142 plays (or runs, not quite sure) below average last year. Either way, it's really bad. Their defensive efficiency was .652 according to Baseball-Reference, dead last in the AL by a mile.

At secondbase, according to my TotalZone system (using the modern version, not the 1956-86 version) the top 3 players (Brendan Harris, BJ Upton, and Ty Wigginton) were 18 runs below average. The top 2 shortstops, Brendan Harris (-16) and Josh Wilson (-12), were -28 runs. The corners, Iwamura and Pena, were approximately average. The zone ratings, average between STATS and BIS, have the combined infielders at -48 runs.

For 2008 Pena stays put, and Evan Longoria is projected as an average 3B. That may be conservative, as his Baseball America prospect report page praises his defense, but as long as he's average the Rays have the gloves to improve. Upton was a poor defensive infielder at every position he tried, but will not play there again, he fits much better in the outfield. Iwamura moves to second, where I project him just a bit below average (-5). The reports on him suggest that he will be able to handle the position. The real improvement is at short, where Jason Bartlett, a fine fielder (+13 projection) takes over. That's a 3-4 win improvement just on shortstop defense.

In the outfield, Crawford, an outstanding left fielder, stays put. In center they played Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes, who were a combined -16 runs by the zone ratings and -11 by Totalzone. Upton will take over fulltime and was +6 in TotalZone, and +1 by AVG Zone rating. The rightfielders, Young and Jonny Gomes, were slightly below average by ZR and -12 runs by TotalZone. For 2008, if Rocco Baldelli is able to play he should provide strong defense in right, though Rocco is no sure thing and injuries could force Gomes and his poor glove back out there.

The outfield should improve a bit, with the (middle) infield improving massively. Altogether, I have the 2008 Rays as a slightly above average defensive team.

An improved defense will do wonders for the pitchers. Last year they got fine pitching from Jamie Shields and Scott Kazmir. I am projecting more of the same for those two. After that, the rotation was a disaster. Edwin Jackson (5.76) and Andy Sonnanstine (5.85) were bad, and Jason Hammel (6.14), JP Howell (7.59), Casey Fossum (7.70) were worse. If that's not bad enough, look at Jae Seo (8.13).

For 2008, they added Matt Garza, projected at 4.47. Sonnanstine's poor record seems out of place considering he struck out almost 4 batters per walk (97-26). Improve the defense, add some experience, and a little better luck and his projected ERA is 4.50. Edwin Jackson finished the season strong, has a great fastball, and a 4.76 projection.

The bullpen ERA was even worse than the starters, 6.16, but good news for the Rays is that bullpen ERAs have little year to year consistency. They have nowhere to go but up. They have a new closer in Troy Percival (3.90) and solid setup men in Al Reyes (3.64) and Dan Wheeler (3.65).

If they need more help in the bullpen, or if Sonnanstine and/or Jackson do not show improvement, the Rays have plenty of fresh young arms. They are (and their CHONE projections): JP Howell, 4.67, age 25; Jason Hammel, 4.70, 25; Jacob McGee 5.37, age 21; and Wade Davis, 5.38, age 22. The last two projections don't sound great, but these are young guys with great stuff and scouting reports, and the system may underrate them by regressing them too much to a minor league mean. There scouting reports should weigh more heavily than their projections, check out Baseball America for those. Finally, they have the #1 pitcher from last year's draft, David Price. He doesn't even factor into the projection, but could wind up moving as quickly through the minors as Tim Lincecum last season.

So the short answer, it's massive pitching improvement aided by massive defensive improvement. I submit that it's easier to improve a bad pitching staff with 2 guys around 3.50 and three around 6.00, than to improve a staff with 5 guys at 5.00. We'll find out. Good luck Rays, and I would be quite happy with an Angels -Rays ALCS next fall, as unlikely as that sounds.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Junk Stat of the Day

Here's a completely useless stat to measure a team's season. It gives credit for regular season wins and postseason wins, with some extra credit for the postseason.

1) take regular season wins over 80 (theory being a 79 win team is a drag to root for, and winning only 70, or 60, doesn't hurt any more - and actually a team worse than that provides comic value to numb the pain)
2) multiply division series wins by 2
3) League championship series wins by 3
4) World Series wins by 4

So, who's had more success over the past decade in the West, Angels or A's? I came up with the method before looking at team records, so I'm trying to be unbiased here, though I obviously have a preference. The A's had two 100 win seasons, and did win one playoff series, so they have some accomplishments to be proud of. That the Angels succeeded in winning the big one is really what puts them in the discussion.

From 2000-2006 the A's scored 15, 26, 27, 20, 11, 8 & 19, a seven year run. Angels from 2002-2007 score 49, 0, 12, 24, 9, & 14. For a 6 year run that's 108 points. For the A's, their best 6 year run is 111 (2001-2006) and they are at 107 for 2000-2005. Pretty close.

Angels can top the A's on a 7 year run by winning the division with over 90 wins, getting past the first round, and not getting swept in the ALCS. Of course, they can also extend the run for who knows how long. For the A's, add in 1999 (7 points) and they have a solid 8 year run, but anything they do past 2008 will be a different team. Call their 1999-2006 run the Chavez-Zito A's (though Zito didn't start until 2000). The Angels are working on extending the Anderson-Figgins-K-Rod-Lackey-Shields reign.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

LA beats Boston

I watched my first baseball game of the year today, as the Dodgers played the Red Sox. Most of the game it was all Red Sox, as they took a 5-1 lead. The Dodgers put a lot of people on base with one out, but throughout the game had an annoying habit of hitting into inning ending double plays.

Then in the 9th, the Red Sox minor leaguers blew a 5-2 lead to the Dodger minor leaguers. They tied it up with a 3 run homer, loaded the bases, and Jason Repko hit a grand slam. True, it's only spring training, but watching the Red Sox lose is always enjoyable.

Some observations: Ellsbury is really good. I guess people who watched the world series last year already know this. Jed Lowrie looks overmatched as a shortstop. He might turn into a decent 2B for another team (he sure won't move Pedroia). Matt Kemp is one awkward looking outfielder, despite good speed. He sure can hit though, he's a young Manny Ramirez. Juan Pierre covers a ton of ground in left field. He had a good game, getting on base a few times including a cool bunt to the shortstop. But the stats say he doesn't have nearly enough games like this, if he did he wouldn't be making 500 outs a year.

Juan Pierre in left isn't as bad as most people think, myself included. Checking the numbers, I have Pierre as -13 runs on offense (hitting 288/333/363) and Ethier at 279/348/436, a league average hitter. But I've also got Pierre as +13 for range in left field, with Ethier at +1. While I don't have the exact numbers, Ethier has a much better arm but Pierre helps you more on the bases.

Because of contracts, the ideal solution would be to salary dump Pierre and play Ethier. Even if Pierre can't be moved, it might be advisable to play Ethier because he's younger and has the potential to become something more. But given you have both players, it doesn't make that much difference to the Dodger's 2008 division chances which one gets to play. This is at odds with what most people are saying, myself included. I think I might have said Pierre playing would cost the Dodgers 2 wins or something like that. I was talking out my ass, focusing much too exclusively on hitting. The numbers don't support that.