This may seem like two separate articles, but the All WAR team actually led me to an interesting conclusion regarding the Diamonbacks, a team I have been struggling to figure out all year. This conclusion led me to another about the division in general. And honestly, I think the numbers speak for themselves. There isn’t a lot to say about the guys on the All WAR Team other than the obvious, which is that they have played well.
The All WAR team is comprised of the players with the best WAR at their respective positions, with the six best remaining position players on the bench. We also have the top five starting pitchers. However, I had to leave off relievers, for whom WAR seems to me a flawed statistic. This is especially true within the NL West given the weird situation the Rockies have created with their whacky, new bullpen management strategy. As for the players who made it, there are a few obvious guys, and a few surprises. But, more than anything, I think this shows us where the balance of power is within the NL West in terms of star players.
NL West: All WAR Team
C – Buster Posey (6.8)
1B – Paul Goldschmidt (3.3)
2B – Aaron Hill (5.0)
3B – Chase Headley (6.3)
SS – Hanley Ramirez (2.7)
OF – Angel Pagan (3.9)
OF – Andre Ethier (3.4)
OF – Carlos Gonzalez (3.1)
SP – Clayton Kershaw (4.9)
SP – Wade Miley (4.3)
SP – Madison Bumgarner (3.4)
SP – Matt Cain (3.4)
SP – Trevor Cahill (2.9)
BE – Miguel Montero
BE – A.J. Ellis
BE – Dexter Fowler
BE – Cameron Maybin
BE – Shane Victorino
BE – Jason Kubel
Divisional Standings with All WAR Player Counts
- San Francisco (4)
- Los Angeles (5)
- Arizona (6)
- San Diego (2)
- Colorado (2)
The Diamondbacks’ Lost Season
The Arizona Diamonbacks are a team with a lot of talent in a lot of areas. Let’s take a look at some numbers but before we do, lets have a little primer on xFIP. Expected Fielding Independent Pitching is basically ERA, which has been adjusted to examine only the things, which a pitcher can control. For this reason xFIP is adjusted for any runs a defense has saved or cost the pitcher or pitching staff. xFIP also accounts for any deviation from an average HR/FB rate. This last bit helps to park-adjust the number and it eliminates some of the luck involved in giving up (or not giving up) home runs. If your xFIP is lower than your ERA, that means you have pitched better than the results indicate. If you outperform your xFIP in ERA, you have been lucky. Believe me this is going somewhere.
xFIP v ERA
- Arizona: 3.84/3.97
- Los Angeles: 3.93/3.44
- San Francisco: 3.98/3.72
- San Diego: 4.04/3.88
- Colorado: 4.23/5.11
- San Francisco: 25.4
- San Diego: 24.4
- Arizona: 23.1
- Los Angeles: 18.3
- Colorado: 16.8
- Arizona: 3.8
- Los Angeles: 1.7
- San Francisco: -0.6
- San Diego: -1.5
- Colorado: -4.7
- San Diego: 97
- San Francisco: 97
- Colorado: 92
- Arizona: 92
- Los Angeles: 87
What the Numbers Mean
Conventional wisdom is that pitching and defense win championships. By this standard the Diamondbacks should be about three weeks from snagging the NL West Pennant, given their division leading UZR/150 and xFIP. But conventional wisdom has been proven wrong quite often in baseball statistics over the last decade. Perhaps Arizona is an example of this.
With Los Angeles contending, despite placing last in wRC+, and fourth place San Diego sitting tied with division leading San Fran’ atop the wRC+ rankings, offense isn’t telling the story either. So what is telling the story of the West at the moment, from a statistical perspective? Well, it seems to be the same thing telling the story of the Diamondbacks in 2012.
Bad Luck and Inconsistency
After a torrid start ( 5 home runs, 13 RBI, and a 270 w RC+ through 11 games), Chris Young pounded his shoulder into the hulking center field wall at Chase Field. He headed to DL to mend, only to return a trembling shadow of his April self. Since May, he has hit .202 with just 9 homers in 79 games. His season wRC+ sits at 95, 67 points worse than in 2011.
Meanwhile Justin Upton has battled himself and a few nagging injuries to shape another disappointing “even numbered year.” Lately he has worked himself back to average (100 wRC+), but played so poorly early on that Kirk Gibson decided to bench his young right fielder, fueling trade rumors. But Upton has not been the only inconsistent member of the club.
Jason Kubel has 29HR. However, only 7 of those have come since the end of July. Kubel is batting .157 since August 1. Last season’s 21 game winner and staff ace, Ian Kennedy went 1-5 with a 5+ ERA in May. He hasn’t pitched quite so poorly since, but has rarely posted back to back outings of quality. And while other teams sometimes receive a boost from young pitchers making regular starts for the first time (Kris Medlen, Andrew Werner, Erasmo Ramirez, Marco Estrada, and Matt Harvey are recent examples), Arizona was forced to suffer a trio of disastrous debuts from Tyler Skaggs, Patrick Corbin and Trevor Bauer. Corbin has started settling down a bit, with a regular turn, but Bauer was exceptionally terrible, walking over seven batters per nine in addition to being thoroughly pounded.
With all the inconsistency and no fortune in their favor to mask their flaws, the Diamondbacks are on the outside of the Pennant Race looking in. Even saving twice as many runs on defense than the nearest division rival has them under-performing their xFIP and surprising some with their struggles this year, nearly as much as they did with their 95 regular season wins in 2011.
Those Lucky Dodgers Come Back to Earth
Many feel the Dodgers have been pitching over their heads, and in fact, the xFIP/ERA comparison backs this up. The Dodgers have out-performed their xFIP by over half a run, which is not sustainable. This is exceptionally true for a team that has played middle of the pack defense (when compared to all MLB teams). These two factors, have been seriously catching up with them over the last month. Their luck is no longer present to mask horrific offensive slumps from Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Shane Victorino, as it masked a rag tag corpse of position players during first half injuries to Kemp, and Mark Ellis.
Now with Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsly both out for the remainder of the season, the Dodgers will require huge stretch performances from Josh Beckett and Joe Blanton. Talk about Dodger Blue.
The Rockies Can’t Wait
Speaking of unlucky, another slew of injuries, a pack of inconsistent young pitchers, an almost totally lost season for Troy Tulowitzki, and the most inept manager in the game (Jim Tracy), have pock marked 2012 for a desperate franchise. Young hitters continue to blossom in numbers (Tyler Colvin, Josh Rutledge, and a totally revamped Dexter Fowler), while young starters wish they had played independent ball rather than signing with Colorado. One can hardly blame them. It would be challenging to find a fan base more anxious for football season.
The Surging Padres
Luck and inconsistency touched the Padres early. The club went 34-53 before the break due to an unconscionable attrition rate among starting pitchers. This saw the Padres adding the equivalent of chopped up old tires to their roster (Jeff Suppan, Kip Wells, Ross Ohlendorf). Adding to the abhorrent pitching, a defense best described as “freshly coiled” failed to pick of an offense which simply melted lazily in the gleaming summer sun.
But miraculously, the Padres are 37-24 since the All-Star break. The dual hitting coaches, Phil Plantier and Alonzo Powell, have finally delivered Chase Headley, the elite power hitter, to Padre fans. He is just two dingers shy of a 30/100 season. Meanwhile, rookies Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal (who, together I have dubbed The Great Grandalanso) look like bats to build around. Even the middle infield, a source of such bountiful misery early on, has been revitalized by the terrific (occasionally jaw dropping) defense of SS Everth Cabrera, along with the 2B tandem of hot hitting Logan Forsythe and the ever-energetic “Little Ninja,” Alexi Amarista.
The Giants Hold Steady
The Giants have had no such luck. And if you’ve been paying attention, that’s a good thing. Despite losing their best hitter to a toxic combination of selfishness, stupidity and vanity, the Giants have ket rolling along. The finely tuned ecosystem that it is, when one tree falls in the Giants rotation (Tim Lincecum) another, just as grand, takes it’s place (Madison Bumgarner). Marco Scutaro has complimented a much improved offense, and Hunter Pence has provided even more consistency, despite not truly emerging as a cornerstone. Buster Posey is a picture of perfection, if he could run, he would be Mike Trout. They have a deep bullpen, a good bench, and play solid defense. This means that the Giants do not have flaws, which are masked by luck. When Pablo Sandoval was injured, when they lost Brian Wilson for the season, when Santiago Casilla failed as closer, they supported these points of weakness with real strengths. They deserve this division and they are sure to get it.
The most talented do not always succeed, but time always expires for the lucky ones.
This week’s Old Time Baseball Photo features the sad story of Musielle “Baby” Bovis. A promising prospect and standout rookie, Bovis hit 13 home runs in just 89 ABs in 1943 at age 19. But after being involved in a train accident in the winter of ’44 Bovis became convinced he was a baby. He would crawl to the plate, and around the bases. He would roll around in the outfield grass, soiling his uniform regularly, and crying inconsolably when hungry or tired. Perhaps even stranger, he developed at a normal pace, as if he were a real baby, learning to speak again (slowly) in 1945, before fully reliving his adolescence. By the Spring of 1961, at age 37, he had finally regained his former abilities and returned as a member of the Chicago White Sox. Bovis batted .387, knocking in 115 runs and playing an astonishingly adept right-field. Some say it was as if he were 18 years old, and many wonder what he could have been, if he hadn’t taken that fateful train ride.
The NL Wild Card race has become increasingly difficult to watch of late, with Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and St. Louis playing like they’d rather not take part in MLB history’s first one game playoff series. Los Angeles can’t hit, Pittsburgh has become wildly inconsistent, and St. Louis is unravelling on the mound. This edition of Passing Through features the latter of those three teams, loosely clingling to the top Wild Card Spot. With three games against the Padres and four against the Dodgers, who are just one game behind them in the standings, the Cardinals could be playing for their season.
St. Louis Cardinals
Chris Carpenter still hasn’t returned to a rotation that needs him more than ever. In his abscence Lance Lynn has been bumped from the rotation to the ‘pen, Jake Westbrook will miss at least one turn with an oblique injury, Jaime Garcia has been beat up since returning from injury, and Adam Wainwright seems to be fading down the stretch in his first season after Tommy John. On offense, Carlos Beltran is visibly hobbled and has been dramatically worse over the second half, while Lance Berkman will miss the rest of the year recovering from knee surgery. The Cards came West for seven games, and in the state they are in, every win they can earn is critical, as they will likely have trouble amassing many before October.
San Diego Padres: September 10-12
Traditionally, the Cardinals like to whoop up on the Padres, especially in important games. Trend = bucked. In game one Logan Forsythe and Cameron Maybin each threatened to hit for the cycle, in a 17 hit night for the home team. Jaime Garcia lasted only 3 innings, allowing 4 runs. Young Shelby Miller followed with three frames, allowing two more. The Padres would blister the bullpen for five additional scores, winning 11-3. The second game was a failure of another variety. The Cardinals refused to seize control despite 8 walks surrendered by San Diego pitching, and 3 Padre errors. The Padres scored 5 runs in the fourth inning and, thanks to a throwing error committed by Pete Kozma, 3 of those were unearned. San Diego took the evening 6-4. On Wednesday the Padres polished of their first three-game sweep of the Cardinals since 1995, with a 3-2 victory. Another sharp start by the only reliable starter the Redbirds have left, Kyle Lohse gave way in the bottom of the sixth, when rookie catcher Yasmani Grandal broke up a 2-2 tie with an RBI single. The Cardinals threatened in the ninth, but the Padre bullpen made it stand.
Los Angeles Dodgers: September 13-16
The Cardinals will begin a crucial series in Chavez Ravine on Thursday, attempting to regain some kind of rhythm in their March toward the playoffs. Lucky for them, the Dodgers have been suffering badly from their wretchedness at the plate, averaging 2.67 R/G, while scoring more than 3 runs just twice this month. Adrian Gonzalez has contributed to this pallor with a .636 OPS since “The Trade.” Matt Kemp is currently out of the lineup with a shoulder injury, but had been in a hellish slump since bruising his knee in Colorado on August 28th.
- Game 1: Lance Lynn (taking Westbrook’s turn this time through) v. Josh Beckett
- Game 2: Joe Kelly (who took Lynn’s spot, when he was sent to the pen) v. Chris Capuano
- Game 3: Jaime Garcia v. Clayton Kershaw
- Game 4: Adam Wainwright v. Joe Blanton
Something can be decided this weekend if one of these teams takes control of their tailspin. It would certainly be better to see a team earn their matchup with Atlanta, rather than just outlasting the misery of two other cities until October 5th. Somebody, please play ball!
Old Time Baseball Photo of the Week
This week’s Old Time Baseball Photo features Kale Murton. Commonly known as “opposite Jim Abbott” because of his enormous left hand. He threw right-handed, but as a natural lefty, his handwriting was among the worst ever recorded. Although his Major League career was brief, he did achieve lasting success as a visual artist with a series of really smudgy charcoal drawings.
Time Life is proud to present the newest in it’s proud tradition of compilations! Monsters of Unibrow! You’ll have some of the greatest brows of all time including Wally Moon’s “Alien Stripe,” and Frank Zupo’s “Charred Shish Kabob.” Plus some Unibrows that were almost lost to history such as: Mike Harkey’s “My Mustache Upside Down Is My Eyebrows,” and Von Hayes’ “Somehow I’m Still Handsome Even Though I have a Unibrow!” Order today! Don’t Delay.
The following is a highly experimental spew of baseball related shards. If you have any Ornette Coleman, put it on. Come, together we will discover a new truth. We will teach something to ourself.
Mike Trout is ice cold, and that is bumming me out. But that means that overall fish-joke output is down among baseball writers, so I guess I break even. It should be noted that among whales, dolphins and mermaids fish-jokes are as prevalent as ever.
I am disappointed James Loney left town before I could get my friends to start calling him “Lames Balogna.”
While trying to figure out what Ricky Romero’s problem has been this season, I found out that he has only stranded 64.4% of runners this year, the second highest total among qualified starters in 2012 and roughly 15 percentage points worse than his 2011 strand rate. Basically, he stinks out of the stretch. Combine that with a higher walk rate and there’s your answer.
Muppets, are equally hilarious out of the windup or the stretch.
The Ricky Romero thing was researched and written solely to provide a setup for the Muppets thing. But at least we all learned something.
If Mark Texeira were right handed he would be a third basemen.
If you listen to sports talk radio, and they start talking about baseball, turn it off. Darren Smith of the Padres’ XX1090 admitted on air he doesn’t know how certain teams are doing because he doesn’t buy the MLB package. So not only does he not watch baseball, but he makes no effort to. In fact, this deficiency is premeditated.
Pete Rose’s career wRC+ was 120, which puts him squarely between Bobby Bonilla (121) and Cliff FLoyd (120).
Pete Rose had fewer 100 more hits than Ty Cobb, but nearly 3,000 more plate appearances. This means Cobb could have hit .033 for five full seasons (of 600 PA each) and Rose would not have matched him.
Chase Headley has finally won my respect. Admiration will be at stake next season.
I wonder if Mat Gamel thinks that a sink is just a toilet you can’t poop in.
Two teams I have spent a lot of time watching, growing up in San Diego and then relocating to Los Angeles, are the Padres and the Dodgers. If you look at the standings, you may conclude that they have been very different teams this season. But if you look deeper, or if you have a more complete sense of where each club has come from, and where they have gotten to in 2012, you can see six ways in which they are precisely the same.
1) They have overachieved
The Dodgers enterred the year with a horrible owner, a middling rotation, a closer that collapsed in the season’s first month, a horrible collection of third basemen, left fielders and first basemen, and a shortstop who was not only light hitting, but perhaps the league’s worst defender at the position. The Dodgers have used an infinite checkbook to build an American League style middle of the order, and they are half a game out of the second Wild Card spot after a hard fought win in San Francisco on Saturday night.
San Diego on the other hand, just flat out stunk. The Padres entered the season a team that routinely placed among the the bottom three teams in almost every valuable offensive action, and they had just traded it’s top starter. They also owned a shamefully putrid middle infield of Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson. What’s more, they were only supposed to get worse. The expectation was that before season’s end they would have parted with Carlos Quentin, Huston Street, Chase Headley and perhaps even Edinson Volquez. They no longer have Hudson or Bartlett on the roster, while the four players expected to be traded are still there. Two of those four have been signed to extensions. To top it off, they have played baseball at a 90 win pace since the All-Star break, and have out-hit nearly half the teams in baseball (96 wRC+).
2) They have suffered from mass injuries.
Chad Billingsly is now out for the rest of this season and all of 2013 after injuring his elbow. Matt Kemp has been playing banged up, and hasn’t looked the same since the first week of May, when he strained, then pulled and finally re-aggravated his right hamstring in a chain of events spanning almost two months. He suffered a bone bruise, crashing into the fence in Colorado last week and has now injured his left shoulder. He is 3 for his last 29.
Mark Ellis suffered a near fatal leg injury earlier in the year, only to return healthy and productive. Ted Lilly has been out since May 29th with shoulder inflammation. Javy Guerra has been out since the first week of June after undergoing surgery on his right knee. Jerry Hairston had been a valuable veteran utility man, but required hip surgery and will miss the rest of the season. Experienced middle inning reliever Todd Coffey will also miss the remainder of 2012 after undergoing Tommy John.
While San Diego’s offense has remained fairly healthy since getting Carlos Quentin back and shuffling Jason Bartlett onto the DL with an injury that was likely a total fabrication, the rotation has been a rich and different story. The Padres have had to use 15 different starting pitchers (including Jeff Suppan and Kip Wells) this season, because Tim Stauffer, Joe Weiland, Micah Owings, and Cory Luebke have all required Tommy John surgery. Dustin Mosely will be lucky to pitch in the first half of 2013 after having surgery to repair a torn labrum. Anthony Bass and Andrew Cashner are finally back in the mix after missing time. Lately Jason Marquis and Eric Stults have provided stability, but the first part of this epic adventure provided only misery to a team that has known it too well these past several years.
3) They have new owners
A very unique set of circumstances played out as the Frank McCourt era ended in LA. The bidding war for the Dodgers was so competitive and the group of bidders so well populated, the Padres actually benefitted from it tremendously. In fact the franchise has probably been turned around solely because of how the ownership situation in LA resolved itself.
The Padres had a future McCourt of their own lined up to buy the team in Jeff Moorad. He is a scheister with so little money he was attempting to buy the team on lay-away before the other owners did their part in saving the Padres, firmly rejecting him to stop the sale. The O’Malley family swooped in with local businessman Ron Fowler and bought the team for twice the price Moorad’s group negotiated. Their group actually has so much money, they have been quoted as saying they overcapitalized in terms of what they needed to close the deal.
4) They have turned a corner
The Dodgers, aided by their new owners’ deep pockets have launched an historical spending spree, landing Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. They figure to be players on some top of the rotation arms this offseason, and are very much in the running for a Wild Card spot after finishing just 3 games over .500 in 2011. They have also re-established themselves as major spenders in the international market, with their signing of Yasiel Puig. Signing such as this were the cornerstone of the great Dodger farm systems of the mid-90s. Their weakness in this are has left the Dodgers with a staggeringly shallow minor league system in recent years.
The corner that the Padres have turned is much simpler, more fundamental. The team has simply begun it’s return to normalcy. A near decade of failed drafts and a gross inability to develop talent had left the Major League roster a collection of .240 hitters with no power. The team is now beginning to experience a wave of talent that made them a popular choice for the baseball’s top farm system in ore-season rankings. They have also begun their slow approach toward the middle of baseball’s salary rankings, which brings us to our next point.
5) They have increased payroll
The big spending has been much publicized in LA, but the Padres have made a major move of their own, in relative terms. Resigning Carlos Quentin for 3 years at $9M a year doesn’t sound like much, but Padre fans have gotten used to letting go of anyone worthy of a spot near the middle of the lineup. Sad as it sounds (and is) this signing, as well as talks about keeping Chase Headley, with the possibility of a major extension, represent a huge shift in economic policy for San Diego.
6) Next year will be different.
The Padres have overachieved. They aren’t in last place after beginning the season with the lowest payroll in baseball and expectations to match. Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal have each swung the bat well and improved defensively. Chase Headley has emerged as a true 3 hitter, continuing to get on base at a high rate, while knocking on the door of 30HR and 100RBI. Carlos Quentin has provided pop and stability, hitting cleanup. Jedd Gyorko is coming. Alexi Amarista and Everth Cabrera have played stunning defense up the middle. And a healthy rotation assembled from pieces the Padres already possess could have the potential to be second only to the Giants among NL West teams in ’13.
The Dodgers, meanwhile could be a Goliath. They now wield a very imposing middle of the order, and some terrifically valuable role players. A.J. Ellis, Luis Cruz, and Mark Ellis have been instrumental in keeping the Dodgers in contention, especially Cruz, who has upgraded the defense at third base by over 30 runs per 150 games with his 36.9 UZR/150 (as compared to the mark of 4.8 put up between his predecessors at the hot corner this year). With the addition of a true #2 behind Clayton Kershaw appearing imminent, the Dodgers are expecting big things.
But don’t let expectations fool you, not in the Far Division. Last year the Diamonbacks looked like the beginning of a dynasty. Now, they are lost in the middle somewhere. That’s baseball. It’s a strange game. There are always three outs, but they are never made the same way. This should always compel us to look closer.
If mustaches could talk, and not just hang over the thing on your face that actually can, Paul Konerko’s would say something like “Get out of my way, I have a tiger for a pet.”
Also I think this definitively answers the question you have been asking yourselves his whole career. The answer is: Bad Cop.