Saturday, June 12, 2004

Are You Kidding Me? 

[Note: I e-mailed this in on Saturday morning. It never got posted, so I re-mailed it again. I'm going to try to edit the post date/time in Blogger so that it shows up as appearing on the 12th. Sorry for any confusion.

So after the 8th inning last night, I turned off the TV and went outside to
play with The Best Daughter In The World. The D-Backs never come back in
the 9th, right? Well, I come back inside about 20 minutes later and get to
watch Choate and Valverde close out the side for a 3-2 victory over the Blue
Jays. First a shutout in which somebody named Randy plays no part, then a
come-from-behind 9th-inning victory (first of the season), Quentin McCracken
back with the Diamondbacks organization... you must be joking! Fortunately
(and less fortunately), no.

Friday, June 11, 2004

.400... The Dilemma Begins 

The D-Backs beat the Orioles last night 3-0 thanks to one good inning.
After throwing a perfect game for six innings, Daniel Cabrera either a) was
affected by the rain, or b) was affected by my fifth inning jinxing (see
yesterday's entry), and gave up four hits and a walk to the D-Backs in the
7th inning. That was it, the three runs were all that the D-Backs needed.
Casey Fossum, Mike Koplove, and Jose Valverde all struggled slightly, but,
unlike many other times this season, all pitched themselves out of trouble.

I gather ESPN's SportsCenter ragged on Brenly for asking Finley to bunt in
the 7th inning after Hairston led off with a walk, putting up a quotation of
Brenly's for when Ben Davis did the same with Curt Schilling a few years
back. First off, let me say I think it's fair game to do anything you would
do were it not a perfect game or no-hitter. So, yes, I thought Brenly was
wrong then. But why exactly would Finley bunting be wrong? It was a 0-0
game, with a runner on first. Standard baseball operating procedure (not
saying it's right, but they still pass out the handbook to new managers, I'm
sure) says you bunt the runner over in that situation. Let's see... 7th
inning... Finley's been on a cold streak recently... Hairston's not a slow
runner... tell me that any other manager wouldn't have done the same thing.
Of course, Finley put the whole debate to rest by ruining Cabrera's
no-hitter, shutout, and victory by hitting his 17th home run.

Now the internal debate begins as the D-Backs' record is 24-36, or exactly
.400. When the D-Backs were below .400, it was easier to dismiss the season
and start planning for next year. Now that they've climbed to Ted
Williams-ian heights and hit .400, D-Back fans are presented with the
dilemma of cheering for their team and investing their time and allegiance
or writing off a team that could, given the unwillingness of any NL West
team to play decently, stay within striking distance of the lead into
September. They've gone 6-4 over their past ten games -- should they
contain their .600 pace here on out, they'd win 85 games. For the season as
a whole, the Dodgers and Padres are on pace to 88 games.

I'm not saying that the D-Backs are going to play .600 ball the rest of the
way. Heck, even with Delgado on the DL through at least Sunday, the D-Backs
could easily lose 2 of 3 at Toronto. But now that they've climbed back to
.400, the easy choice of writing off the season isn't quite there anymore.

In another sign of normalcy returning to the D-Backs, in lieu of writing
stories about possible trades or Brenly's future, "Diamondbacks Extra" in
the Republic this morning has a puff piece on fan letters to players. The
piece contains the following amusing quote from Matt Mantei, who still
receives letters saying, in effect, "You're my favorite pitcher":

"You wonder, though, have they seen my ERA lately?"

We have, Matt, if it makes you feel any better.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Jinx! Noonan! 

Daniel Cabrera has a perfect game through 5 innings! Daniel Cabrera has a perfect game through 5 innings! (Yes, I'm trying to jinx it -- he's throwing it against my team. If he makes it to the 8th inning with a perfect game or no-hitter, then I'll root for him. ;-) )

Disgust (Orioles 8, D-Backs 2) 

Ah, yes, make that disgust. A fairly toothless offense, a somewhat wild Brandon Webb, and an ineffective (and inefficient) bullpen all combined for an 8-2 drubbing by the Orioles.

Moving on, then...

So Brent Mayne injured his back getting something out of his suitcase and is put on the 15-day DL. Here's Brenly's remark:
"There is just not much chance of him being a usable player for us in the very near future here."
I'll just leave that softball down the middle of the plate for Robert at Veteran Presence. Catcher Juan Brito is coming up from Tucson to take Mayne's place.

And the injury news continues, though it's unclear if this could be described as detrimental to the team. Matt Kata gets moved to the 60-day DL to make room for Brito on the 40-man roster. Carlos Baerga goes down with a "pop" in the calf -- he's not on the DL yet but certainly could be by today. (All this after Baerga finally climbed above the "Ndoza line" -- If the "Mendoza line" is .200 and the "Doza" line is .100, then "Ndoza line" is .133 -- and Baerga made it to .148.) Who knows who comes up now... perhaps Andy Green? Maybe they'll just keep Baerga on the roster until Alomar or Colbrunn can be activated, then make his DL stint retroactive to today.

And, finally, Matt Mantei:
"Right-hander Matt Mantei, on the disabled list with tendinitis in his shoulder, has had his latest throwing program cut short because of a calf strain. Last week, he was battling flu-like symptoms."

Let's see, shoulder, calf, flu, fingernail... there aren't many places in his body left to injure.

Finally, and I've noted this below, I realized my analysis of pitching efficiency yesterday didn't adjust for park effects. I don't quite know how to go about doing this, but I'll ponder it for awhile...

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

And Such Small Portions, Too 

The article in the Republic this morning on last night's 8-1 D-Backs victory mentioned something I was going to dwell on today -- pitching efficiency.
"I've realized strikeouts are going to come and you're going to have games where maybe you're going to throw 120 pitches," Johnson said, "but today's game, it was hot out there and being pitch-efficient is more of the game you want to have today than to labor and throw 125 pitches."
Johnson threw just 89 pitches in 7 innings of work, or 12.71 pitches per inning. Johnson himself realizes that although strikeouts are cool to watch, they tend to be inefficient in keeping pitch counts down.

Now there's no question that the D-Backs have done poorly in keeping their overall pitch counts down. See this listing of teams, ranked by number of pitchers per inning:
CIN 15.65
PHI 15.77
STL 15.80
CHC 15.82
FLA 15.84
SDP 15.93
MON 15.97
ATL 16.04
MIL 16.15
NYM 16.27
LA 16.28
HOU 16.35
SFG 16.60
PIT 16.63
AZ 16.79
COL 17.03

That means Arizona's staff throws about 30 more pitches per game than Cincinnati, or maybe 1 starter and 1 reliever extra per year. Why is that? Is it because they're poor at getting people out, or because they go to longer counts? The table adds pitches per plate appearance (with rank) and plate appearances per inning (with rank).

CIN 15.65 3.60 (1) 4.35 (11)
PHI 15.77 3.65 (2) 4.32 (9)
STL 15.80 3.75 (9) 4.21 (1)
CHC 15.82 3.71 (4) 4.26 (6)
FLA 15.84 3.74 (8) 4.24 (3)
SDP 15.93 3.73 (6) 4.27 (8)
MON 15.97 3.74 (7) 4.27 (7)
ATL 16.04 3.67 (3) 4.37 (12)
MIL 16.15 3.82 (14) 4.23 (2)
NYM 16.27 3.76 (10) 4.33 (10)
LA 16.28 3.83 (15) 4.25 (5)
HOU 16.35 3.85 (16) 4.25 (4)
SFG 16.60 3.78 (12) 4.39 (13)
PIT 16.63 3.77 (11) 4.41 (14)
AZ 16.79 3.78 (13) 4.44 (15)
COL 17.03 3.72 (5) 4.58 (16)

As you can see, Arizona's pitching staff has done a poor job in not running the count, and then can't get them out. (It's sorta like that old joke about two people complaining about a restaurant's meal, one saying that the food tastes bad, and the other saying "yes, and such small portions, too.") In any case, there doesn't appear to be much of a relationship between keeping pitch counts low and getting batters out.

Now as for the D-Backs staff, here's their stats (small sample size warning for some of these!):

Villafuerte 13.20 4.00 3.30
Johnson 15.05 3.90 3.86
Good 15.17 3.69 4.11
Gonzalez 15.50 2.82 5.50
Sparks 15.61 3.44 4.54
Daigle 16.55 3.53 4.69
Koplove 16.65 3.75 4.44
Villarreal 16.72 3.58 4.67
Webb 16.95 3.83 4.43
Fossum 17.06 3.46 4.93
Valverde 17.75 3.96 4.48
Dessens 17.92 3.91 4.58
Randolph 18.33 4.18 4.39
Service 18.60 4.43 4.20
Choate 19.75 3.97 4.97
Mantei 20.16 3.91 5.16
Bruney 20.90 4.59 4.55
Nance 37.00 4.11 9.00

Folks, that's awful. Take Johnson out of the D-Backs averages, and their line reads 17.15 / 3.76 / 4.56. Last time I checked, the D-Backs have only played at Coors Field 3 times this year.

Now, I haven't thought yet about how to see if the poor pitching is the cause of or result of "overuse." But clearly D-Backs' pitchers would help themselves by getting people out sooner.

[EDIT: I realized that one factor I didn't take into account for the team rankings was park effects, even though I even made a "Coors Field" comment. Let me ponder how to adjust for that without going into great detail.]

Pity or Disgust (D-Backs 8, Orioles 1) 

In Krzysztof Kieslowski's last movie, Red, the lead female character tells the lead male character, whom we've discovered has a socially unacceptable hobby, that she feels only pity for him. Later in the movie, the two are talking once more and, referring to that earlier conversation, the female character admits she actually felt disgust, not pity.

As I watched the movie last night, the lines echoed my thoughts as I caught portions of the game on the radio last night. "So this is what it's like to be a fan of another team watching the Diamondbacks," went through my head as the Orioles offense couldn't get anything going (OK, it was against Randy Johnson, so that's understandable) and both their starting and relief pitching were ineffective and their defense was suspect. At first I felt pity... and then decided that it was disgust.

So what does that say about the Diamondbacks so far this year?

In any case, we should win whenever Johnson takes the mound, so I'm not too excited. It's these next two games that will prove the test.

Couple other links: Orioles Warehouse seems to be the only regularly updated Orioles blog, though the recent updates have been focused on the draft. Hopefully something will go up on the D-Back series, because I enjoy the writing.

Here's the requisite link to the front-page Republic article on the impending name change for BOB. I'm not sure what new reporting merited this article -- like we didn't know that Chase was eventually going to replace Bank One in the ballpark's name -- but it will set bloggers, columnists, and other assorted wags on their way. SportsCenter to Phoenix, stat!

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Money's Worth, part 2 

Last week I discussed a proposed new stat I called Ballplayer Value, which was a shot at evaluating whether or not a team was getting "value" from a ballplayer by taking that player's VORP and dividing it be ratio of their salary to the league median (about $800K in 2004). I provided non-pitcher BVs; here are D-Back pitchers' BVs (I assumed $300K salaries for Good, Bruney, and Service):

Pitcher Salary ($M) VORP BV
Randolph, S. .323 7.8 19.3
Good, A. .300 3.7 9.9
Bruney, B. .300 1.3 3.5
Service, S. .300 0.7 1.9
Koplove, M. .330 0.5 1.2
Johnson, R. 16.5 21.9 1.1
Webb, B. .335 0.0 0.0 (salary not updated, but it doesn't matter since VORP = 0)
Valverde, J. .320 0.0 0.0
Nance, S. .308 -1.4 -0.5
Choate, R. .326 -2.1 -0.9
Villarreal, O. .325 -2.9 -1.2
Fossum, C. .345 -4.4 -1.9
Daigle, C. .300 -10.3 -3.9
Sparks, S. .500 -8.2 -5.1
Dessens, E. 4.0 -4.5 -22.5
Mantei, M. 7.0 -8.4 -73.5

I don't have much to say about the chart other than it's incredibly sad. Only 3 of those VORPs are significantly positive numbers. Shudder.

Rob over at 6-4-2 kindly pointed out that my concern about VORP not taking into account playing time was, well, wrong (here are a couple links with some explanation). And so I think while the BV concept holds merit, it's going to need to be seriously overhauled. As a predictive concept, it's a good idea (if you're trying to build a starting lineup), but then I'd rather use PECOTA cards from BP or something like that. As a "hindsight-is-20/20" concept, I'm still not sure VORP is what I want to use... it's probably best to wait until the season is over.

Finally, in an unrelated note, congratulations to Luis Gonzalez, named NL Player of the Week, a nice change after what even he would admit was an abysmal May. Here's hoping he keeps it up.

And one of the pitchers responds this week like Gonzo did last week.

What A Giant Boras... 

So the question I left out in yesterday's Three Questions was, "Who will the D-Backs draft?" And that was in part because I felt like responding with another question -- "Who cares?"

Now that's not true, of course. But baseball's draft seems to be so much more of a crap shoot with a longer time horizon than every other sport (at least football and definitely basketball). At best draftees will be called up a year from now, and it could take longer. It makes drafting based on an organization's positional strength silly, because who knows what an organization's strength could be 18 months from now. (It also sounds like the D-Backs don't subscribe to that school of thought anymore.)

It sounds like the D-Backs got a solid player in Stephen Drew, who might have been drafted much higher has his agent Scott Boras not scared off potential suitors with high financial demands. I wonder how Drew's contract will match up with other mid-1st round picks this year and in the past and with high-1st round draft picks this year -- did Boras' reputation and demands cost his client a couple million dollars?

Monday, June 07, 2004

Three Weeks, Three Questions (Interleague Edition) 

Let's get to it, shall we...
The Week That Was...
The D-Backs entered the week 18-32, 10 games out... now they're 22-35, 9 1/2 games out. You know, as silly as it sounds, moving up a 1/2 game a week almost gets the D-Backs into first (it'd leave 'em 1 1/2 games out). Although the pitching didn't improve any (an average of 6.2 runs/game dropping the high/low), the offense is picking up (an average of 5.4 runs/game dropping the high/low).
The Two Weeks That Will Be
Hello, Interleague! Let's say hello, shall we, to the Orioles and Camden Yards (3 games), Blue Jays and SkyDome (3 games), and the visiting Yankees (3 games) and Devil Rays (3 games), along with a couple of Monday travel days.
The Orioles hit well for average (1st in the AL), but not for power (7th in SLG), and don't strike out (best in the AL by a wide, wide margin). The Orioles can't pitch for... you know (last in ERA, worst in walks), but, hey, the D-Backs can't pitch for it, either. Their opposing OPS is middling... I'd be happy if the D-Backs took two, am expecting one (with Randy on the mound tomorrow night).
The Blue Jays hit poorly for average and power (11th and 12th, respectively). Their pitching is OK -- 5th in ERA and opposing OPS. If the D-Backs win a series this week, it'll be this one.
More Yankees and Devil Rays stuff next week, here's an article on the Devil Rays' lack of success (thanks to Baseball Primer for the link). The article mistakenly says the Rays play the Rockies twice, ignoring us. Ignored for the Rockies... "If it wasn't for disappointment, I wouldn't have any appointment" (They Might Be Giants, "Snowball in Hell").
Three Questions
1. Will Richie re-sign or resign?: Now that Sexson has decided to have surgery and is out for the rest of the season, will he want to sign up once more, in part out of some sense of obligation with the D-Backs with (presumably) an incentive-laden contract? Or will Seattle throw a ton of money at him that the D-Backs won't match? My guess is the former, but I would guess that indications of future success will play a role in the decision-making.
2. Is 13 the unluckiest number?: 13 pitchers on the roster, and we'll still give up at least 5 runs a game. I guess it's OK to load up on pitchers heading into a week of DH-play, but what's going to happen when Colbrunn, Kata, and Alomar return to health? Who gets sent down? I'm guessing Edgar Gonzalez becomes, what, the third starter sent down to Tucson and DeVore and Olson escape the heat island effect of Phoenix summers.
3. Who gets DH nods this week?: Assuming an outfield of Gonzo, Finley, Bautista, and an infield of Shea, Hairston, Cintron, Tracy, and Hammock I'd actually put in Mayne against lefties (I know, but he leads the team with an OPS of 1.288 in an admittedly-small-sample size of 12 AB), maybe DuBose on Wednesday night. Sadly enough, Mayne qualifies as the person with the highest OPS against righties (a poor .485). So I would expect DeVore and even Olson (he of the amazing .000 OPS) to get some playing time. I wonder how Gonzo would react to being put in as DH?

Who Woulda Thunk It? 

I mean, who expected last night's upset? The well-moneyed squad getting put in their place by the upstarts? Sometimes the right things just happen.

So, yes, I was happy that Avenue Q beat out the favored Wicked for Best Original Musical at last night's Tonys.

Oh, wait, you thought I was talking about the Pistons-Lakers? (Which I didn't see -- I only care about the NBA when Bill Simmons writes about it.) But it was par for the course this weekend -- see Birdstone-Smarty Jones (which I didn't see, because I just forgot to swing by the TV 3:30 Saturday afternoon) and Gaudio-Coria in the French Open (I did catch the last 2-3 points on Sunday morning).

One of the enjoyable things about blogging is the ability to be willfully unconventional, though if anybody had the Pistons-Birdstone-Gaudio trifecta this weekend, I'm sure they're now rich enough to own Blogger/Google.

It does remind you that (in the old cliche) "that's why they play the game." So, even though the Lakers will probably now come back and win the Series, Smarty Jones will make his owners rich in stud, and Gaudio will probably never be heard from ever again, they did provide excitement for 3 minutes or 3 hours this weekend...

Minor thoughts on the D-Backs (three weeks / three questions will be by later today):
1. So Donnie Sadler's designation for assignment "had nothing to do with Donnie," or words to that effect from Brenly. You know, when you're hitting around .100, you don't really make it easy for your manager to keep you.
2. Sadler's demotion meant that Casey Fossum was used as a pinch runner for Carlos Baerga in yesterday's game. While being replaced by a pinch runner is somewhat of a good thing (Baerga's hit took him back above the "Doza Line" -- .100, half the "Mendoza Line"), I think being replaced by a pitcher for a pinch runner is sign #43 that you should really start lining up your coaching opportunities for winter ball and spring training...
3. Yesterday's 6-5 D-Backs victory over the Dodgers was a positive sign in that neither starting pitching nor the relief staff had their "A" games going, but we still eeked out the victory.

Finally, regarding the last entry, I did want to make clear that Arte Moreno seems like a nice, bright guy who seems to be doing a lot for the Angels. My beef was with the Republic article, which seemed like something I might write in a blog.