The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Jay Tee Vee Too

I haven't seen the results (they air Friday evening, when I'll be on an airplane) but my second NESN appearance on the Boston Globe's SportsPlus certainly felt like a success. I was on for one nine-minute roundtable-style segment with fill-in host Eric Frede and Boston Globe columnist Nick Cafardo; last time I did three shorter segments one-on-one with host Bob Neumeier, who's currently covering the Tour de France. This time around, I felt more comfortable; no deer-in-headlight moments, no endless rambles, no trying to work the definition of "Monte Carlo simulation" into my final 30 seconds. The conversation felt natural, with both Frede and Cafardo giving me room to answer questions in detail. If I had a regret, it's that the other 45 minutes I enjoyed talking baseball with the two of them and producer Alan Miller leading up to the show didn't make it on; it was fun swapping perspectives.

There's a dark irony that I have to travel all the way up to Boston, to the "enemy territory" of the Red Sox network to get on TV, when Steve Goldman can't even crack the YES studio despite being the most talented writer covering the Yankees anywhere. But really, that's nothing new. The John Henry/Theo Epstein regime has, by virtue of its success and the very visible employment of Bill James, created an audience that's receptive to the likes of Baseball Prospectus, and this isn't the first time I've benefitted from that.

Anyway, on the air I was able to make a good number of the points which I'd researched the day before. But some of the more interesting stuff got swept aside, so for the benefit of those interested Sox and Yankee fans, I decided to present my outline here. All stats through Tuesday unless indicated.

Part I: Red Sox vs. Good Teams -- the Red Sox simply haven't been very strong against other quality AL teams.

• BOS vs. .500+ AL teams (CWS, DET, MIN, NYY, OAK, TEX, TOR): 18-24 (.429)

• NYY vs. .500+ AL teams (BOS, CWS, DET, LAA, MIN, NYY, OAK, TEX, TOR): 24-20 (.545)

• Boston went 16-2 vs. NL in interleague play. Against AL they're only 40-34 (.541). Take out Baltimore (8-1) and they're 32-33 (.492)

• NYY went 10-8 vs. NL. Against the AL, they're 45-28 (.616)

Part II. Coco Crisp vs. Kevin Youkilis in the leadoff spot

• When the Sox lost Johnny Damon, they traded for Coco Crisp with the idea that he'd be their leadoff hitter. But after a broken finger sidelined Crisp in the first week of the season, the team moved Kevin Youkilis there. They restored Crisp to the leadoff spot when he returned six weeks later, but when he struggled there, they returned to the Youkilis leadoff lineup.

• Here are their stats leading off and elsewhere in the lineup:
#1          PA    AVG    OBP    SLG   BB/PA   K/PA    R/G
Crisp 107 .242 .299 .303 .075 .187 5.14
Youkilis 322 .287 .391 .451 .140 .171 5.82

Crisp 111 .304 .360 .490 .081 .127
Youkilis 88 .286 .409 .443 .136 .193
• Youkilis doesn't fit the profile of a leadoff hitter; i.e., he's not fast, whereas Crisp is. But Youkilils has been getting on base at a considerably better clip than Crisp, and the team has been scoring considerably more runs with him atop the order. He's shown more power and more patience, and he's even got five steals to Crisp's nine. Overall, he's a Wade Boggs-type leadoff hitter, and the benefits of having a guy like that at the top of the lineup far outweigh the costs.

• Crisp has hit well lower in the lineup; he may be pressing out of the leadoff spot (note increased K rate as well as depressed rate stats), and he may still be dealing with issues related to his broken left index finger.

• The Sox got off to a good start with Youkilis in the leadoff spot; they struggled a bit (6-7) since going back to that because Youkilis has struggled (.137 in July), but they've done a nice job of sticking with this plan overall despite its relatively unorthodox nature.

Part III: Why are the Yankees ahead of the Red Sox in postseason odds? [note: not anymore, since the Yanks lost two straight]

• The reason is that the Sox aren't outscoring their opponents by nearly as wide a margin as the other three teams at the top of the AL East playoff chase; particularly, the margin is only about 2/3 what the Yanks' is.
Team       --PLAYOFF ODDS--   -RUNS PER GAME--
Tigers 71.5 18.3 89.8 5.25 3.80 1.45
Yanks 52.1 14.6 66.7 5.67 4.70 0.98
White Sox 26.7 37.5 63.9 5.85 4.85 1.00
Red Sox 40.2 17.4 57.6 5.57 4.90 0.67
• However, the remaining schedules of the Red Sox and Yankees suggest that the Sox may have a considerable advantage:
Remaining (thru Tuesday 7/18):
BOS: 38 home, 32 road; NYY: 34 home, 39 road

Strength of Remaining Schedule: BOS: .506; NYY: .513

Games vs. .500+ Teams:

Bos: 1 TEX, 3 ANA, 3 DET, 5 NYY, 4 TOR, 3 CHW, 3 MIN
6 @ OAK, 3 @ ANA, 4 @ NYY, 4 @ TOR
TOTAL 39 (22 H, 17 R)

NYY: 6 TOR, 4 ANA, 3 DET, 3 MIN, 4 BOS
7 @ TOR, 3 @ TEX, 3 @ CHW, 3 @ ANA, 5 @ BOS
TOTAL 41 (20 H, 21 R)
Key differences:

• NYY has 13 games left vs. TOR, BOS has only 7
• NYY closes season vs. TOR, BOS closes season vs. BAL
• NYY travels to CWS, BOS hosts CWS
• NYY travels to TEX for 3, BOS hosts TEX for 1 makeup
• BOS has one more home game than Yanks in head-to-head
• BOS has two West Coast roadtrips, NYY has one

Part IV: Statistical comparisons

• Starting pitching: slight edge to the Yanks but both need help; these rotations are only three deep in terms of above-average pitchers at the moment.
       BOS    NYY
ERA 4.53 4.27
7th 4th-T (AL rankings)

RA+ 102 104
9th 4th
Adjusting for park and ignoring the relatively trifling distinction between earned and unearned runs (on a team level, they're still runs allowed), the Yanks are allowing runs at a rate four percent better than league average, the Red Sox two percent better than league average (100 = average).
SNLVAR  9.5   10.0
9th 5th
Support-Neutral Lineup-Adjusted Value Above Replacement (SNLVAR) is an insane mouthful as an acronym, but what it expresses is the number of wins above replacement level added by a starter's performance given league-average offensive and bullpen support.
EWP   .457    .491
12th 10th
Expected Winning Percentage for the rotation based on how often a pitcher with the same innings pitched and runs allowed in each individual game earned a win or loss historically.
VORP  114.3  121.2   (total staff)
9th 4th
• Relief pitching: thanks to Papelbon's incredible performance here, the Sox pen looks pretty good -- one of the best in the league, in fact -- but who knows when the bubble (3 ER in 49 IP) will burst?
WXRL  7.616   5.381
3rd 9th

ARP 19.3 22.5
8th 7th

FRA 4.95 4.77
8th 5th
Adjusted Runs Prevented (ARP) is a measure of the number of runs a relief pitcher prevented compared to an average pitcher, given the Base/Out state (the combination of runners on base and the number of outs) for which he entered and left each game (adjusted for park and league). In other words, it uses play-by-play data to assess the responsibility for fractional runs prevented based on the run expectancy of a given situation, instead of charging the runs scored by inherited runners solely to the previous pitcher. Fair Run Average (FRA) is ARP's cousin; it uses those fractional runs (due to letting inherited runners score) to recalibrate a reliever's "true" ERA.

The Yanks have a slight advantage in these numbers, but that's negated by the fact that the Red Sox have pitched better when the stakes are higher, which is what WXRL (Reliever Expected Wins Added) reflects. WXRL measures win expectancy based on the game state (inning, score margin, baserunners, outs); it combines the ability to assess fractional runs with the context of how close the game is. Jonathan Papelbon leads the majors in WXRL with 5.113, nearly a full win ahead of the next pitcher, BJ Ryan. Setup man Mike Timlin is 15th at 1.919, and Manny Delcarmen is 22nd at 1.060. For the Yanks, Mariano Rivera is 7th at 3.397, but their next-best pitcher is Ron Villone at #27 (.935), followed closely by Kyle Farnsworth at #29 (.929) and Mike Myers (30th at .910). Dragging the Sox down are Rudy Seanez (-1.019) and Julian Tavarez (-0.553).

• Offense: slight edge to Yankees, mainly in converting offensive events to actual runs. When they get Matsui and perhaps Sheffield back, margin could widen unless Sox improve (Crisp and Varitek in particular) or make trade.
        BOS    NYY
R/G 5.57 5.67
3rd 2nd

Actual 506 509
Proj. 524 505
Dif. -18 +4
The Sox haven't been as efficient in scoring runs, they're nearly two wins short of their projected totals.
EqA    .281   .283  
4th 3rd
Equivalent Average is a measure of total offensive value per out, expressed on a batting average-like scale and adjusted for park and league scoring levels and quality of competition.
VORP  157.6  167.8
5th 4th
Outside of the playoff odds, I'm not sure any of the Prospectus-brand stats actually made it into the conversation, but the discussion was certainly informed by it, and some of that stuff will probably be used in the graphics for the show. The one additional point I made was that the Sox have done a nice job of working their youngsters (Delcarmen, Papelbon, Jon Lester, Craig Hansen) into their staff when injuries and ineffectiveness have left them no better options, and the kids have delivered, with Papelbon and Lester doing so big-time (Lester's combined one-hitter against the Royals the previous night had the green room buzzing). Anyway, those of you with interest in this will hopefully get to see it on NESN when it airs Friday and Saturday at 5:30 PM Eastern, or when the segment goes up on the SportsPlus site. Special thanks to Alan Miller for inviting me back, to Baseball Prospectus for picking up the tab, and to Nick Stone for standing by with stat updates while I was in transit.

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