What's Happened: After lasting just four innings on Opening Day, Webb was pushed to the Disabled List due to bursitis in his shoulder. He was expected only to miss a few weeks, but since suffering a setback in late April, he's been limited to playing catch and won't be back until sometime in June. While Yusmeiro Petit has pitched poorly in his place (8.03 ERA, -0.2 SNLVAR, .367 SNWP), Haren leads the league in SNLVAR, [Doug] Davis is 11th, and [Max] Scherzer is 26th.As for the Hit List, the Dodgers continue to hold onto the top spot, the Brewers are third despite some bad news, and Yankees are 10th. Here's a taste:
Alas, Webb's absence has been the least of the club's problems; right now this may be the unhappiest team in the majors. Manager Bob Melvin was fired on May 8 with the team a disappointing 12-17, 8½ games out of first. They've gone just 2-6 under replacement A.J. Hinch, whose lack of managerial experience has drawn fire from the media as well as departed pitching coach Bryan Price. Last Friday, upon pulling Davis for a pinch-hitter, the pitcher — who had thrown just 80 pitches but trailed by a run in the seventh — confronted his new skipper in full view of the TV cameras, never a good sign.
The real problem isn't a lack of respect for the manager's authoritah, it's a snake-bitten offense that's scraping together just 3.9 runs per game, which ranks 15th in the league; their .236 EqA is the NL's worst. Three lineup regulars (Chad Tracy, Conor Jackson, and Chris B. Young) are below the Mendoza Line, and Stephen Drew and Eric Byrnes aren't much above it. As well as Haren and Davis have pitched, both rank in the league's bottom 10 in run support, well under three runs per game; Haren is second-to-last at 2.3. Meanwhile, the bullpen's been pretty lousy (12th in the league in WXRL and 13th in Fair Run Average), but most of the damage has been done in lower-leverage situations. Closer Chad Qualls and set-up men Tony Pena and Juan Gutierrez, the only relievers with Leverage scores above 1.00, are all in the black, WXRL-wise, while the mop-and-bucket patrol has sloshed kerosene around during their aisle nine cleanups.
What Will Fix It: Even if Webb returns at full strength, the Diamondbacks have dug themselves a huge hole. The PECOTA-based version of our Playoff Odds Report puts their chances at reaching the postseason at just 9.3 percent, down from 45.0 percent to start the year. The suspension of Manny Ramirez won't do very much to bring the Dodgers back to the pack; in fact, the Diamondbacks have lost three games in the standings since then. If they don't start scoring runs soon, it's going to be a long summer in the Arizona heat.
[#1 Dodgers] Life Without Manny: Clayton Kershaw no-hits the Marlins for seven innings; he's allowed just six runs and 13 hits and zero homers over his last four starts, and batters are hitting just .205/.313/.333 against him overall. The Dodger rotation has picked up the slack since Manny's suspension via a 2.81 ERA and just three homers in 80 innings despite the presence of both Jeff Weaver and Official Hit List Whipping Boy Eric Milton, two pitchers who survived the fly-ball pitcher's hell of Albuquerque to return to the majors.That last entry came out of an on-air conversation with WLQR-Toledo radio host Norm Wamer during my weekly spot, while the Ortiz one was something I made light of during my WWZN-Boston spot on the Young Guns (audio link hopefully forthcoming).
[#3 Brewers] Weeks, Months, Year: Amid a seven-game winning streak, the Brewers incur a loss of a different sort, as Rickie Weeks suffers a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist, ending his season at a point when he was hitting .272/.340/.517 while tied for the team high with nine homers. Given that the injury is in the opposite wrist as his 2006 season-ender, this only perpetuates the concern that he'll never be durable enough for full-time duty; he's topped 100 games only twice in five years. For the moment, the Brewers will patch from within via Craig Counsell, Casey McGehee, Hernan Irribaren, and perhaps Alcides Escobar.
[#21 Astros] Ortiz Finally Homers! Russ Ortiz beats Big Papi to the punch by a day with a two-run shot, his first homer since 2003. With a 5.81 ERA and a 21/22 K/BB rate, he ought to consider a career move, as he hit .252/.301/.403 with four homers in 2002-2003, numbers that outdo more than one current Astros lineup regular. On the other side of the coin, Wandy Rodriguez allows his first home run since last August 10, a span of 88 1/3 innings. He's second in the league in ERA and fourth in SNLVAR; the Astros are 7-2 in his starts.
[#23 Marlins] Crouching Tiger, Rotting Fish: Andrew Miller returns from the disabled list and notches his first win in 11 months, but it's the Marlins' only victory in an eight-game span. The Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis deal hasn't turned out well for the Fish thus far, as Miller's put up a 5.88 ERA in 124 innings, Cameron Maybin's been sent back to Triple-A after a .202/.280/.310 start, and Mike Rabelo, Burke Badenhop, and Eulogio de la Cruz have all been below replacement level as well.
Don't look now, but the Rangers are leading the American League West. Coming off four straight sub-.500 seasons, projected for just 70 wins and the #29 spot on the preseason Hit List, they're out of the gate at 19-14 clip, with the fifth-best run differential in the majors. With the A's, Angels and Mariners stumbling and bumbling, the Rangers are starting to look like plausible contenders in a division where 84 wins may be enough. Our PECOTA-based Playoff Odds report estimates they have around a 23 percent shot at the flag, more than double their chances as of Opening Day but still roughly half of the Angels' estimate.As noted in the excerpt, I was critical of the decision to promote Andrus during a season where it didn't look as though the Rangers could win much. But since then, the AL West favorite Angels, who won 100 games last year, took several hits in the pitching department, losing both Ervin Santana and John Lackey for the first month of the season, and suffering the tragic loss of Nick Adenhart. The A's, who were predicted to win the division in BP's preseason projections, have fizzled and already look a bit green around the gills.
...Though the pitchers have gone backwards in two of the three key categories, they're surviving thanks to the Rangers' defense, which after ranking dead last in Defensive Efficiency in 2008 has improved by 45 points and now leads the AL. The shift of Young to third base to accommodate the arrival of the slick-fielding Andrus — a pair of decisions I criticized in this space, much to the dismay of our Rangerly readers — is bearing fruit.
More than that, it's following the template of one of last year's top story lines, the record-setting defensive turnaround of the Rays, a point that certainly factored into the decision to skip [Elvis] Andrus from Double-A to the majors even at the tender age of 20. In fact, the Rangers were one of three teams who elected to try replicating the Rays' recipe, patching a porous defense with a defensively sound shortstop regardless of his offensive limitations.
...If the Rangers' 45-point DE improvement were to hold, it would rank as the third-best turnaround ever, behind the Rays and the 1980 A's (Billyball comes to Oakland) and ahead of the 1991 Braves, who kicked off a dynasty. That would translate into about 100 runs saved based on Ben Lindbergh's math, and perhaps more, given the inflated value of each hit in the Rangers' offensive environment. In all likelihood, that would probably spell a postseason berth.
[#3 Mets] Tossing the Bad Apple: The Mets reel off seven straight wins to take over first place in the NL East, yielding just 20 runs in that span. The streak is part of a larger stretch of nine straight quality starts for the previously beleaguered rotation, one that coincides exactly with Oliver Perez's exile. The offense takes a hit as Carlos Delgado is sidelined by hip woes just as he's heating up (.423/.516/.654 in May), but replacement Fernando Tatis (.328/.385/.517) has been no slouch.Finally, I've been to each of the two new NYC ballparks twice over the past couple of weeks, and I'm quite sure I'm getting the short end of the stick with my current arrangement. CitiField, though it's definitely overplaying the Brooklyn Dodgers angle at the expense of Mets history, and though it has some particularly hideous signage, particularly around their gigantotron video, has an intimacy that lends it an energy which has been sorely lacking at the new Yankee Stadium. Additionally, the refreshment prices are much more reasonable, and the management hasn't embarrassed itself on a daily basis with odious pronouncements from Lonn Trost and Randy Levine about ingenious new ways to beat the peasants back from the playing field or otherwise separate them from their cash.
[#5 Brewers] Prince and the New Power Generation: Rickie Weeks homers in three straight games, while Prince Fielder bashes a trio of homers in a three-game sweep of the Marlins, two of them go-ahead shots. Fielder's hitting .341/.472/.659 ths month, one of five Brewers—along with Weeks, Ryan Braun, J.J. Hardy, and Craig Counsell (!)—who are slugging above .600 in May. The Brewers are tied for the league lead in homers, and they're a major league-best 18-6 since their 3-8 start, helping them grab a share of the NL Central lead.
[#12 Tigers] D-Train and E-Jax: Dontrelle Willis returns to the majors in shaky fashion (4.2 8 4 4 2 0), but the real story in the rotation is their three shutouts in a four-game span, including a two-hitter by Justin Verlander and a combined seven-hitter spearheaded by Edwin Jackson. Jackson appears to have finally turned the corner. He's got the rotation's best ERA (2.60), his 3.18 K/BB ratio is more than double his career rate, and he's still getting excellent double play support for such an extreme flyballer.
[#15 Yankees] Alex Rodriguez drills a three-run homer on the first regular-season pitch he sees, but he goes just 3-for-21 amid a stretch that sees Jorge Posada hit the DL and Derek Jeter and Hidkei Matsui both miss time due to nagging injuries. The Yanks need A-Rod to hit like the guy in the catalog, and they need Mark Teixeira (.203/.333/.424) to heat up as well. He's getting his walks and homers (four of the latter in a seven-game span), but his .193 BABIP is the lowest among the league's 105 batting title qualifiers.
The Fall: The Yankees' staff as a whole is allowing an MLB-worst 6.23 runs per game, and while the rotation has had its problems — particularly with Chien-Ming Wang — the bullpen has been even worse. Injuries have been a major problem, as [Brian] Bruney and [Damaso] Marte, expected to be Rivera's top set-up men, are both on the DL, the former with a strained flexor mass, the latter with shoulder tendonitis. Worse, Rivera has been battling arm-strength issues and experiencing discomfort in his surgically repaired shoulder. While his 18/1 K/BB ratio is impeccable, he's yielded four homers in his past six outings, as many as he allowed in 2007 or 2008, and more than he yielded in eight other seasons; last week he surrendered back-to-back shots for the first time in 863 career games.Seriously, I think I'm going to slap the next pundit who suggests Joba would pitch better in relief, particularly if they cite his win total as evidence.
Indeed, homers have been the staff's downfall; their 2.0 HR/9 rate is dead stinking last in the majors. The new Yankee Stadium, where an MLB-high 3.62 homers per game are flying out of the park, is a particularly poor match for a corps whose holdovers aside from Rivera are decidedly fly ball-oriented:Pitcher IP WXRL FRA GB%With their primary trio failing to fire on all cylinders, the less experienced members have been called upon to shoulder a larger workload, and in doing so, they've looked like small-sample flashes in the pan whose 2008 performances were flukes. Veras and Ramirez have combined to walk 21 hitters in 30 innings, and the latter has yielded five homers.
Jonathan Albaladejo 16.0 -0.046 5.62 53.7%
Edwar Ramirez 15.0 0.193 6.22 37.5%
Jose Veras 15.0 -0.209 6.24 34.1%
Phil Coke 13.2 -0.021 4.19 33.3%
Mariano Rivera 12.1 0.652 4.73 41.2%
Brian Bruney 8.0 0.611 1.88 40.0%
Damaso Marte 5.1 -0.099 17.17 35.0%
David Robertson 4.2 -0.044 7.42 36.4%
The Fix? Predictably, the bullpen's disarray has renewed calls to move Chamberlain back to the set-up role in which he flourished in 2007 and early 2008, particularly given his early struggles as a starter and the recent return of Phil Hughes. But with Chamberlain heating up — 23/7 K/BB in 18 2/3 innings over his last three starts, as opposed to 11/10 in 16 innings over his first three — and Hughes getting cuffed in two of his three starts, the Yankees need for a Jobaful rotation is clear; he's third on the team in SNLVAR, and tops among the starters in strikeout rate.
That still leaves the team muddling through without Bruney and Marte, neither of whom is likely to be back much before the end of the month, if then. Power arm Mark Melancon debuted a few weeks ago, and he showed good stuff in a couple of outings while failing to find the plate in two others; he was sent back down to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to make room for the return of Alex Rodriguez, but he'll likely be back soon. Mexican League refugee Alfredo Aceves, who made two relief appearances and four starts for the 2008 Yanks, has been recalled to fulfill a long-relief role; he could find a home in the later innings if Wang or Hughes or whomever can establish a habit of getting through five innings (those two are 1-for-6 in that category). Would the team consider moving the latter to a relief role assuming Wang returns close to full strength? If not, they may be left to twiddle their thumbs while shuffling through an assortment of Brett Tomkos and hoping the likes of Veras, Ramirez, and Albaladejo can find the strike zone sooner or later.
From beginning to end, we root for greatness.If that's not reason to pick up a copy and dig into the other 99 entries in this book, I don't know what is. Perhaps two entries a day will help the time between now and Manny Ramirez's return pass more quickly.
We root for our team to do well. We root for our team to create and leave lasting memories, from a dazzling defensive play in a spring training game to the final World Series-clinching out. With every pitch in a baseball game, we're seeking a connection to something special, a fastball right to our nervous system.
In a world that can bring frustration on a daily basis, we root as an investment towards bragging rights, which are not as mundane as that expression makes them sound. If our team succeeds, if our guys succeed, that's something we can feel good about today, maybe tomorrow, maybe forever.
The pinnacle of what we can root for is Jackie Robinson.
Robinson is a seminal figure — a great player whose importance transcended his team, transcended his sport, transcended all sports. We don't do myths anymore the way the Greeks did — too much reality confronts us in the modern age. But Robinson's story, born in the 20th century and passed on with emphasis into the 21st, is as legendary as any to come from the sports world.
And Robinson was a Dodger. If you're a Dodgers fan, his fable belongs to you. There's really no greater story in sports to share. For many, particularly in 1947 when he made his major league debut, Robinson was a reason to become a Dodger fan. For those who were born or made Dodgers fans independent of Robinson, he is the reward for years of suffering and the epitome of years of success.
The Diamondbacks fired their manager, so does a change of field leadership improve the team? Do the Giants try to trade for a bat to help their fine pitching staff win with a good ERA? If you think the Dodgers are going to run away with the division, maybe you don’t make moves to try to catch them. With Manny out, however, there’s an opening to catch them by improving your team.I'm skeptical that this will trigger any big moves unless either of those teams close the gap significantly, because both are relatively budget conscious these days. The Diamondbacks spent the winter bracing for hard economic times, laying off around 30 front office employees and letting expensive free agents such as Adam Dunn, Orlando Hudson and Randy Johnson depart; they then turned around and signed Jon Garland for nearly the same price as the Big Unit. For all of their belt-tightening, their payroll rose by abut $7.3 million over last year; they ranked 20th in Opening Day payroll at $73.5 million.
[#13 Braves] You're a Dull Boy, Frenchy: After supposedly finding the religion of plate discipline over the winter, Jeff Francoeur is back to his old ways, drawing just four walks in 118 PA, and getting on base at a .305 OBP clip that's actually seven points below his career rate. "If on-base percentage is so important, then why don't they put it up on the scoreboard?" he muses, indicating that yes, there are questions so dumb they shouldn't be asked.Also at BP, in addition to my Manny math is my two-part series (National and American Leagues) on which April results are meaningful as far as the playoff races are concerned. From the AL piece:
[#14 Angels] Nap Time At Last: Just three days shy of three full years in the majors, Mike Napoli finally gets a start at DH—three of them, in fact — and responds by going 8-for-11 with 13 total bases. You'd think such a move would have been glaringly obvious by now given the presence of a defensively superior catcher and the absence of Vlad Guerrero, the lone Angel with a higher OPS since Napoli hit Anaheim back in 2006. Alas, old-schooler Mike Scioscia labors under the notion that there are only two positions for a backstop: a-squattin' and a-sittin'. Napoli's hitting .328/.444/.642, just two points of batting average shy of leading the team in all three triple-slash categories.
[#19 Yankees] The Yanks lose five straight and fall to 3-10 within the AL East after defeats by Boston and Tampa Bay, and they lose Jorge Posada to the disabled list due to a hamstring strain along the way. The good news is that Alex Rodriguez will rejoin the lineup on Friday; in his absence, Yankee third basemen have hit .202/.248/.283. The bad news is that he can't do anything about the MLB-worst 6.3 runs per game the pitching staff is allowing.
In the East, history suggests that we ignore Toronto's hot start at our peril; 18-10 teams with three straight seasons above .500 tend to keep the good times rolling. On the other hand, particularly with three teams forecast to win at least 94 games, the PECOTA-based odds suggest a deck still stacked heavily against the Blue Jays, and last week I identified a handful of reasons they might regress. Forecast to have the league's lowest-scoring offense, they're suddenly and improbably the highest-scoring unit, fueled by an infield that's hitting a combined .303/.380/.479, with Aaron Hill (.360/.404/.552) and Marco Scutaro (.262/.400/.458) both particularly over their heads. Their rotation has been decimated by injuries, and it's possible that three starters who helped them post the league's top ERA last year — Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum, both rehabbing from off-season arm surgeries, as well as departed free agent A.J. Burnett — won't throw a single pitch for them this year. Through the end of April they had played the league's second-easiest schedule (.474, based on PECOTA-projections), but they'll face the AL's second-hardest (.513) overall. Not helping the Jays is the fact that the indicators suggest that neither the Yankees nor Rays have scuffled enough to rule them out, and both have substantial upgrades waiting in the wings — the former in the form of Alex Rodriguez, the latter via David Price, the game's top pitching prospect.If you like the ESPN Insider flavor better, you've got your AL and NL versions too.
She claimed that the players’ unwillingness to confess to or snitch about a rape (that did not happen) was the equivalent of drug dealers and gang members promoting antisnitching campaigns.In a follow-up column at Fox Sports, Whitlock continues his attack: "By refusing to acknowledge her mistakes in the Duke case, she creates the impression that her agenda trumps the truth." Ahem.
When since-disgraced district attorney Mike Nifong whipped up a media posse to rain justice on the drunken, male college students, Roberts jumped on the fastest, most influential horse, using her New York Times column to convict the players and the culture of privilege that created them.
Proven inaccurate, Roberts never wrote a retraction for the columns that contributed to the public lynching of Reade Seligmann, Colin Finnerty and David Evans.
I don't trust Roberts' judgment, I don't trust her understanding of baseball, and I don't trust her motives in writing a book about Alex Rodriguez that surely would not exist were it not intended to be a hit piece. If Rodriguez was juicing in high school or kindergarten, it goes to character, not performance, and we have had countless reasons to know that he's not Mother Theresa in the clubhouse or off the field. Neither were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, et al. Cobb's reward was to die friendless, Ruth and Mantle died young, the causes of their cancer probably not unrelated to their youthful carousing, and Williams' own son had him decapitated and stuck in a freezer.Word.
...If Rodriguez used steroids in high school, that tells us a little more about Rodriguez the man but nothing of substance about Rodriguez the ballplayer. If he used HGH as a Yankees, well, HGH seems to help athletes with recovery time and healing, not performance. So does aspirin. Move on. Xavier Nady is having platelets shot into his elbow. The dividing line between these two therapies is entirely arbitrary.
As for Roberts' allegations of Rodriguez tipping pitches as a Ranger, they had best be better sourced than her work on the Duke case. According to SI.com, "Roberts said that over the course of a couple years, some people with the Rangers began to detect a pattern whereby Rodriguez would appear to be giving away pitch type and location to hitters, always middle infielders who would then be able to repay him in kind when he was at the plate, with his body movement."
It is extraordinary to think that "some people" would notice this and not alert management as to the practice. Unless there is videotape evidence, or Roberts' sources are willing to come forward and explain why they sat on their knowledge that Rodriguez was damaging his own pitchers, this must be dismissed as the worst kind of hearsay. That Roberts knows relatively little about baseball must be considered here -- her credulity and our skepticism must be of equal proportion.
In general, Roberts makes far too many serious allegations about Rodriguez to hide them behind anonymous quotes. Rodriguez deserves more, but more importantly readers deserve more. There is far too much in this attack book for Roberts to expect readers to take it on faith that her anonymous sources are real and they can be trusted.Yeah, ouch.
The use of anonymous sources has come under increasing criticism from readers of all types of publications. Having used them frequently in my decades as a reporter and columnist, I am aware of the problems they pose. Reporters have to establish their credibility with their use of unidentified sources for readers to accept them.
Roberts and I were once colleagues at The New York Times, and I can’t say she established that credibility. She also didn’t strike me as being a top-flight reporter. As a result, I don’t feel I can trust her book full of anonymous sources. Even if every single A-Rod transgression she reports is accurate, it’s too easy for her to write one former teammate said this and another player said that.
...Roberts belies her understanding of baseball with an observation she makes in trying to offer an example of A-Rod on steroids. Citing the game in August 2002 in which he hit three home runs, she writes that his “performance set off the steroid alarms,” explaining, “In the dog days of the season, when players are wilting, A-Rod had fresh legs and a fresher bat.”
And she quotes an unnamed “Ranger teammate” as saying, “It’s that stuff that makes you say no (bleeping) way.”
No way? Both Roberts and the teammate should consult The Elias Book of Baseball Records,” pages 359 through 362. The list of players who hit three or more home runs shows that 76 players other than Rodriguez hit three or more home runs in August.
Gil Hodges slugged four for the Brooklyn Dodgers Aug. 31, 1950. Hall of Famer Jim Rice hit three in a game twice, both games being played Aug. 29. Other Hall of Famers who hit three in an August game were Ralph Kiner, Larry Doby, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson and Eddie Murray (twice).
It has never been suggested that any of those players used steroids.
Just as looked as though the Dodgers might run away with the National League West, they were hit with a bombshell on Thursday, namely Manny Ramirez's 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy. Leaving the specifics of his violation to the reporters except to note that he won't be eligible to return until July 3, the question is whether his absence will put the division in play. The answer — sorry, Diamondbacks fans and Manny haters — is probably not.After running through the Marginal Lineup Value Rate-based cost in runs of the Dodgers' three in-house candidates to replace him — Juan Pierre, rookie Xavier Paul, and third baseman Blake DeWitt, who would force Casey Blake to the outfield — I suggested another means of calculation:
Despite haggling with the Dodgers over his contract into early March and suffering a hamstring strain during his second week of spring training, Ramirez had picked up where he left off last year, hitting .348/.492/.641 and leading the NL in OBP and walks. His performance has helped power the Dodgers to the majors' best record (21-8), run differential (+55) and Equivalent Average (.286), not to mention a modern major league record 13-0 start at home. The team currently leads the Giants by 6.5 game and the Diamondbacks by 8.5 games.
At the outset of the season, our PECOTA projections pegged the Dodgers as a 93-win team with a 47.8 percent chance of winning the division and a 9.4 percent chance of taking the Wild Card, with the Diamondbacks at 88 wins, 34.7 percent, and 10.3 percent, respectively. Updating today's "Reality Check" piece to include Wednesday night's results and their ramifications in the PECOTA-based version of our Playoff Odds report, the Dodgers are projected to win 100 games (a .619 winning percentage), with an 84.1 percent chance of winning the division and a 4.7 percent chance of taking the Wild Card, while Arizona is projected to win 84 games (a .521 winning percentage), with 10.7 and 12.1 percent shots at the division and Wild Card. In other words, the Dodgers have widened the gap considerably on their closest rivals. The Giants, meanwhile, are still projected for just a 78-wn season, with a 3.4 percent shot at the division and 4.6 percent chance at the Wild Card.
As an alternative way to gauge the impact of Ramirez's absence, suppose we segment the Dodgers' season into three unequal parts, namely the 29 games they've already played, the 50 games they'll be without Ramirez, and the 83 games they'll have left once he returns. For the first segment we pencil in the team's actual scoring rates to date, and for the latter two segments, we use the team's PECOTA-projected scoring rates, applying the worst-case "Manny Hit" (-0.568 runs per game) for the course of his suspension:Before the day ended, I wound up doing radio hits for ESPN's Austin affiliate as well as my regular WWZN Boston spot, and this morning, like clockwork, I'm making the rounds on the Fox News Radio network. Catch me yakking with your local drive time host:Segment RS RAUsing Pythagenpat, that's a .573 winning percentage and a 93-win pace, or right where we pegged the Dodgers at the outset of the year. While this math is effectively saying that the cost of losing Ramirez may be enough to undo the extra advantage they've gained with their quick bolt from the gate, that still leaves the Diamondbacks having to find about 10 wins to overtake the Dodgers.
First 29 5.55 3.66 Actual
Next 50 4.49 4.39 PECOTA minus 0.568 r/g offense
Final 83 5.06 4.39 PECOTA
Overall 4.98 4.26
The bottom line is that Ramirez's absence likely won't cost the boys in blue the NL West flag. It could tighten the race, but the only real certainty is that it will be less colorful.
Excluding the strike-affected 1994-1995 years, the 2009 season ranks seventh out of 14 seasons no matter which rate you use. Within that context, it's a run-of-the mill post-strike season. What's throwing observers is that 2008 featured the lowest home run rate of that period, and 2007 the second-lowest. The 7.7 percent increase over the previous year, were it to hold, would be the largest climb since 1998-1999 (9.3 percent), just edging out the 2005-2006 increase (7.4 percent).As to why, what's interesting is that in the absence of any contemporary steroid scandals (A-Rod is sooo 2003), it's ballparks and balls that are being discussed as the mechanism, which shouldn't surprise anyone who read the chapter I wrote for Will Carroll's The Juice or my follow-up.
Of course, we're still dealing with a relatively small sample size here—10.6 percent of the schedule, to be exact—as we haven't even finished the April schedule in a season where Opening Day arrived late because of the World Baseball Classic. The question is whether a change observed in the cruelest month will continue to manifest itself over the course of the year. All signs point to yes:Year April Change Season ChangeSince the post-strike 1995 season didn't start until April 25, we're confined to using 1996 as a cutoff, but the effect is clear: the small samples of April (and March) games can produce swings on the order of 20 percent, and while the magnitudes of such year-to-year changes aren't sustained over the course of the season, without fail during this era, an increase or decrease in April home runs portends an annual change in the same direction. It's a nearly bulletproof assertion to say that we'll see more home runs hit in 2009 than 2008.
1996 1.150 n/a 1.094 n/a
1997 0.944 -17.9% 1.024 -6.4%
1998 0.976 3.4% 1.041 1.7%
1999 1.143 17.1% 1.138 9.3%
2000 1.281 12.1% 1.172 3.0%
2001 1.168 -8.8% 1.124 -4.1%
2002 0.953 -18.4% 1.043 -7.2%
2003 1.047 9.9% 1.071 2.7%
2004 1.087 3.8% 1.123 4.9%
2005 0.947 -12.9% 1.032 -8.1%
2006 1.154 21.9% 1.109 7.5%
2007 0.920 -20.3% 1.020 -8.0%
2008 0.896 -2.6% 1.005 -1.5%
2009 1.082 20.8% 1.082 7.7%
Record: 11-9The topic and format will change every week, perhaps being based on a trend, a problem or a bit of history as opposed to a statistical ranking, and it should increase the frequency with which I publish there given that I don't have to grind my gears to come up with a whole new topic every time.
Current Hit List Factor: .549
Why They're Flying High: The Pirates are allowing the league's fewest runs per game (3.70) after finishing dead last in that category last year, and new pitching coach Joe Kerrigan is receiving a good deal of the credit. Where Paul Maholm was the only Bucs starter to finish the season with an ERA below 4.80 last year—a figure that essentially matches that unit's projection—four of the Pirates' five starters are below that mark this year, led by Zach Duke (2.43). Kerrigan's use of video led Duke to review the form he exhibited in his stellar 2005 rookie campaign, prompting a tweak in his delivery, and the coach's knack for preparation and use of statistics have helped the young hurlers improve their situational pitching. Where they were among the worst in the league in batting average allowed after getting ahead 0-1 (.251 AVG, T-15th) or 0-2 (.194, T-14th) last year, they're now among the best (.214, 3rd on the former; .138, tied for first on the latter).
Why That May Not Last: The Pirates lead the majors with a .738 Defensive Efficiency after finishing 28th at .675 last year. That 63-point improvement is not only the largest jump of any team, it would top the 2008 Rays' record-setting turnaround of 54 points. But where the Rays notably upgraded the left side of their infield via Jason Bartlett and Evan Longoria while shifting B.J. Upton and Akinori Iwamura to positions for which they were better suited, the 2009 Pirates are returning three-quarters of their regular infield, with Andy LaRoche swapping out for Jose Bautista at the hot corner. The outfield has seen some shuffling, but neither Eric Hinkse nor Craig Monroe, the two new faces in the mix, are known for their work with the leather.
Additionally, the staff's strikeout rate (5.4 per nine) is the worst in the league, with Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf whiffing less than four per nine, and Ian Snell's staff-leading 6.1 still lagging a full K behind the league average. Their strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.29) is also last, and ERA indicators such as their 4.76 FIP and 5.52 QERA suggest that when a correction arrives, it won't be pretty.
Glimmer of Hope: Perhaps because of Kerrigan's help, the pitchers are serving up fewer meatballs than before; the staff's Line Drive rate has fallen from 19.2 percent to 16.7, the fifth-largest drop in the majors. Whether you're using the simple LD% +.12 to estimate batting average on balls in play, or Brian Cartwright's more advanced .15*FB%+.24*GB%+.73*LD%, both formulas herald BABIP drops of more than 20 points, so it's possible that some of the early-season improvement in that department is real enough to stick.
Nine-O? It's only Seven-O: Roughed up on a road trip, the Dodgers return to, uh, Dodgertown 90090 to complete their first undefeated April at home (7-0) since 1947. Chad Billingsley ranks in the league's top 10 in ERA, strikeout rate, fewest hits per nine and SNLVAR after reeling off his fifth straight quality start but the rest of the rotation is looking rather rickety. The team has otherwise gotten just four quality starts out of 18, three of them from Randy Wolf, and Clayton Kershaw's been bombed (two starts, nine innings, 15 runs) since his 13-strikeout performance.
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