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This Has to be Some Sick Joke

Posted By Bill Baer On February 15, 2008 @ 2:10 pm In Media,MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 2 Comments

Ah, power rankings. Nowhere are they more meaningless than in baseball. But Aram Tolegian, whom I’ve never heard of until just now, released “the first batch” of MLB power rankings for FOX Sports.

It is a perfect storm: I have a lot of time on my hands, and this guy used tons of flawed logic. This day is going to go pretty fast.

#1 Detroit Tigers

No team had a better off-season, and for that reason the Tigers occupy the top spot.

The Tigers definitely had the best off-season. They ranked 9th out of 14 AL teams in runs allowed per game, and 2nd of 14 in runs scored per game. So what do they do? They go out and acquire Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis in a trade. They failed to improve their pitching staff, and they have overkill offensively. I wouldn’t say they had the best off-season. In fact, when you look at it objectively, they had a rather poor one. They had pitching problems at both ends going into the offseason, and they only addressed it by acquiring Willis, who can’t be relied upon for anything, as his ’07 campaign isn’t much of an aberration when you look at his statistics (everything is close to his career norm).

And the Boston Red Sox, the defending World Series champions, and the team that didn’t take a step back in anyway except in losing Curt Schilling to injury, should be #1.

#2 Cleveland Indians

No argument here.

#3 Boston Red Sox

The rotation doesn’t look overly strong and the offense certainly doesn’t project better than those owned by the Indians, Tigers or Yankees.

No argument about the Indians’ rotation. However…

Red Sox

Player: ’07 ERA+

Beckett: 145

Matsuzaka: 108

Wakefield: 100

Lester: 104

Buchholz: 298 (only 4 starts, one of which was a no-hitter)

Tigers

Verlander: 125

Rogers: 103

Robertson: 96

Bonderman: 91

Willis: 83

Yankees

Pettitte: 110

Wang: 121

Mussina: 87

Hughes: 100

Chamberlain: 1192 (only 24 IP, all as a reliever)

The starting rotation of the Red Sox is clearly the most dominant, with the Yankees’ trailing and the Tigers’ clearly lagging far behind.

#4 Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks may have arrived a year early last season, but that’s what often happens when there’s a boatload of endless upside on the roster.

No, that’s what happens when you out-perform your Pythagorean W-L by 11 games. The D-Backs allowed 732 runs and scored only 712. The Diamondbacks had one of the worst RS/RA margins of teams that made the playoffs. Adding Dan Haren will offset the crash to Earth that the Diamondbacks will face, but they’re not some powerhouse simply because they had very favorable run distribution last season.

Of their eight regulars, only four had an OPS+ over 100, and all of them were just barely:

Jackson: 110

Hudson: 106

Reynolds: 110

Byrnes: 104

The D-Backs ranked dead last in the NL in OBP and 9th of 16 in SLG. And who’d they add in the off-season to help provide more offense? Chris Burke?

Please consider that last year’s success was done primarily without Randy Johnson and with Dan Haren still in Oakland. Both will start the season as part of the rotation, which means the D-backs take another big step forward.

Randy Johnson needs to stay healthy. At age 44, how realistic is this expectation?

#5 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Fans had the entire off-season to project how big the Angels’ winning margin in the AL West would be. But all of that changed when the Mariners traded for Erik Bedard. Now things may not be so easy in the West. The Angels still deserve the nod simply because this is a team with very few holes and a solid mix of veterans and youth with upside.

Ugh, so many generalities. But he’s correct in saying that the Angels are the top team in the AL West. As we’ll find out, the Mariners are being overrated.

#6 New York Yankees

The organization is doing the right thing by building from within now that the strategy of being the league’s most active off-season team has proven futile. For a team that’s supposedly in transition, this season won’t be too painful.

There’s a reference to the youth on the Yankees, but no mention of how that will affect them. And there’s no reference to their shaky starting rotation. Chien-Ming Wang has an extremely low K-rate, and pitchers with low K-rates don’t have the same sustained success that those with high K-rates do.

What of Mike Mussina? Should he have just retired? 2007 was the worst season of his 17-year career. Excluding his first season in ’91, he set career lows in IP and strikeouts, and career highs in ERA and WHIP. And he’s 39.

Andy Pettitte is always reliable for decent production, but two straight seasons with a 1.4 WHIP is concerning.

Phil Hughes showed flashes of brilliance, but he’s only 21. Similarly, Joba Chamberlain is 22 and has never made a Major League start.

The Yankees will have a great offense as they always do, but their starting rotation will make or break them, as it does so many other teams.

#7 Los Angeles Dodgers

There are also several position battles in key places, like third base where Nomar Garciaparra may not have enough left in the tank to fend off prospect Andy LaRoche. Another battle to watch is in the outfield where the Dodgers have Juan Pierre, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp vying for the two spots flanking Andruw Jones. And what about Jason Schmidt? There have been no setbacks in his return from shoulder surgery, but fans should keep their fingers crossed nonetheless.

Nothing here justified the Dodgers at #7. They have a middle-of-the-road offense and after Brad Penny and Derek Lowe, their starting rotation falters. Of course, they have that great bullpen to fall back on, but it’s not even close to enough to justify them at #7.

#8 New York Mets

Trading for Johan Santana has energized the organization heading into spring.

He has the Diamondbacks (#4) and Dodgers (#7) ahead of the Mets, who appear to be solid on all fronts. The Mets had the NL’s fourth-best offense and 7th-best pitching staff, and before Santana, they had stayed relatively idle. Adding Santana gives them a top-tier pitching staff, and combine that with their top-tier offense, the Mets should be higher than #8 and #3 in the NL.

#9 Toronto Blue Jays

I’ll give you a minute to stop laughing before I quote him on why he put the Jays at #9.

Ready?

If you view the glass as half full in Toronto, you’ve got a team with a solid rotation, a major defensive improvement at third in Scott Rolen and a burgeoning superstar in OF Alex Rios.

2007 Troy Glaus Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP; accounts for both offense and defense): 5.8

2007 Scott Rolen WARP: 5.6

It’s a break-even change at best. Given Rolen’s back problems, playing on the Toronto turf isn’t going to help him any.

Let’s see… the Jays’ offense ranked 10th out of 14 teams, and their pitching staff ranked a distant second to the Red Sox. Yes, their starting rotation is relatively solid, but Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, and Jesse Litsch are all in their mid-20’s and not one of them had sustained Major League success before 2007, so it’s hard to expect similar production from them in 2008. It’s fair to expect a regression.

Even in their bullpen, they featured guys having unexpected success. Jeremy Accardo, Casey Janssen, and Scott Downs never had anything close to the kind of success they had last season.

#9 is too high for the Jays.

#10 Colorado Rockies

The old style of thinking that pitching will ultimately do in the Rox has to be discarded. Although it would have been nice to see the team upgrade its rotation this off-season.

When you adjust for park effects (obviously, pitching in Coors Field deflates your pitching statistics, and all of their starters had 4.00+ ERA’s), the Rockies had a decent rotation. Among those who pitched 100+ innings…

Francis: 114 ERA+

Fogg: 97

Cook: 116

Hirsh: 100

In addition, the Rockies’ bullpen was superb. Even in Coors Field, the Rockies’ bullpen featured six guys who pitched 45+ innings and kept their ERA under 4.00:

Fuentes: 3.08 ERA (155 ERA+)

Corpas: 2.08 ERA (231 ERA+)

Affeldt: 3.51 ERA (137 ERA+)

Hawkins: 3.42 ERA (140 ERA+)

Julio: 3.93 ERA (122 ERA+)

Herges: 2.96 ERA (162 ERA+)

Of those six, only Affeldt and Julio departed. Their bullpen will be strong again in ’08. The Rockies should be top-three in the NL, along with the Mets and Phillies.

#11 Seattle Mariners

The addition of Erik Bedard cannot be understated as the M’s may own the best one-two punch in the West.

There are only three other teams to compete with… but even then, I’ll take John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar (or Jered Weaver since Escobar will miss the first month of the regular season) over Bedard and Felix Hernandez.

Lackey/Escobar/Weaver ERA+: 151/134/117

Bedard/Hernandez ERA+: 146/110

Bedard helps a middling Mariners pitching staff, but he won’t be enough to save Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista, and Carlos Silva from mediocrity.

Additionally, J.J. Putz aside, the Mariners’ great ’07 bullpen featured a bunch of young guys having phenomenal seasons (like the Blue Jays), and we can’t reasonably expect repeat performances.

Raul Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki will be offensive mainstays for the Mariners, but they are going to feature Brad Wilkerson regularly in right field, and he hasn’t put up an above-average offensive season since 2004 when he was in Montreal. Adrian Beltre will be slightly above-average, and Richie Sexson will continue to kick his OBP and SLG into a black hole.

Bedard aside, the Mariners are mediocre and I’d be surprised if they finished within 5 games of the Angels in the AL West.

#12 Milwaukee Brewers

It’s kind of scary to think of what the Brewers accomplished last season with Ben Sheets managing only 141 innings and Rickie Weeks suffering from the lingering effects of a wrist injury.

The Brewers featured an above-average player at every offensive position except catcher and center field. Despite a sub-par starting rotation, the Brewers rode their offense and decent bullpen to a finish of four games over .500.

They lost Francisco Cordero, but they got Eric Gagne, David Riske, and Salomon Torres, which more than offsets the loss. In acquiring Cameron, Bill Hall will move to third base, and Ryan Braun will move to left field.

The Brewers probably won’t see any marked improvement in their 5th-best NL offense or 9th-best pitching staff. The neighborhood of 83 wins continues to be a likely landing spot.

#13 Philadelphia Phillies

The feeling here is that Phillies took a step back this off-season. How any team can trust Brad Lidge to close is beyond us. But that’s assuming he’s even on the mound. Lidge had surgery to repair cartilage in his right knee in October. It goes without saying that this is something to watch in spring. If you believe Aaron Rowand was the unsung hero of the offense last season, then being optimistic about the Phils gets that much harder now that he’s in San Francisco.

How the Phillies are 6th-best in the NL according to Aram is baffling. They feature the NL’s best offense by far, three legitimate MVP candidates in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins, one of the best 1-2 punches in the NL with Cole Hamels and Brett Myers, and a markedly improved bullpen. In addition, their defense will set the standard in the NL, and they easily have the deepest bench in the league.

The only question marks with the Phillies are Cole Hamels’ health (he’s always been an injury concern, even throughout the Minor Leagues) and the #3-5 spots in the rotation. Kyle Kendrick had a stunning ’07 season and is a perfect fit for Citizens Bank Park given his ground ball tendencies. However, that was only one year and it could just be a fluke. Jamie Moyer, if Julio Franco doesn’t sign with a team, will be baseball’s oldest player on Opening Day, and Adam Eaton will have the #5 spot in the rotation most likely.

If the Santana pushes the Mets to #1 in the NL, the Phillies are #2.

Everyone, for some reason, assumes Brad Lidge is a wreck, but if you look at his ’07 season, it looks pretty damn good:

67 innings, 88 K, 30 BB, 3.36 ERA (131 ERA+), 1.254 WHIP

As for his injury concerns, his knee is healthy.

After Lidge, the Phillies have three solid pitchers in Tom Gordon, Ryan Madson, and J.C. Romero. The Phillies don’t have a bullpen as good as, say, the Rockies, but it’s still above-average.

Losing Aaron Rowand was inconsequential. Victorino simply moves to center field and right field will consist of a Geoff Jenkins/Jayson Werth platoon. Victorino is a huge improvement defensively, and the right field platoon will more than make up for Rowand’s offense.

#14 Chicago Cubs

Derrek Lee wasn’t himself last season and Alfonso Soriano had a down year. But even still, the Cubs won the Central. It’s reasonable to expect both Lee and Soriano to perform better. In that case, the Cubs are once again viable in the Central. Staying healthy in spring, especially 3B Aramis Ramirez, is key. As is finding a closer out of a group that includes Kerry Wood.

Soriano had a down year? You can say that, but it’s really nit-picking.

Soriano 2006: .351 OBP/.560 SLG

Soriano 2007: .337 OBP/.560 SLG

Just a .014 drop in OBP. He did miss about 20 more games than he usually does, but he isn’t an injury concern.

Derrek Lee wasn’t himself?

Lee career: .367 OBP/.502 SLG

Lee 2007: .400 OBP/.513 SLG (567 AB)

Looks like he had a pretty good season, no?

Aramis Ramirez has had 500+ AB every season since 2000, when he was still a young player looking for an everyday role. And I could find no news about the Cubs third baseman having any injury difficulties.

The Cubs feature the NL’s best starting rotation — a 100+ ERA at every slot. As for a closer, they have options, including Carlos Marmol, who had an exceptional 2007 season. Seeing as how it was his “breakout” season, it’s unreasonable to expect a 1.43 ERA in 69 innings again, but he could be the Cubs’ answer at closer. Bob Howry is the other candidate and he’s had four straight seasons with an ERA+ of at least 140.

The Cubs will feature a slightly improved offense now that they added Kosuke Fukudome, and will rival the Padres again for the league’s best overall pitching staff. The Cubs are a close #4 behind the Mets, Phillies, and Rockies in the NL.

#15 Atlanta Braves

It’s hard to like any team with two starting pitchers in their 40s. But John Smoltz and Tom Glavine have proven they can pitch with dignity, even in old age. But how long will that last? The offense remains solid, but certainly didn’t get better by swapping Andruw Jones for Mark Kotsay. And that says nothing about what the defense lost with Jones moving to L.A.

People are going to be sorry for underrating the Braves. Losing Andruw Jones isn’t a good thing, definitely, but given his poor mechanics, there’s a higher than usual possibility that Jones’ ’07 season wasn’t a fluke. If so, replacing Jones with Kotsay is much less of a drop-off than it appears.

In ’07, the Braves had the 3rd-best offense and 3rd-best pitching staff in the National League. Does adding Tom Glavine, behind Tim Hudson and John Smoltz, hurt them? I can’t think of a reason how. And the Braves will still feature three offensive mainstays in their line-up…

Johnson: 117 OPS+

C. Jones: 166

Diaz: 124

Catcher Brian McCann and right fielder Jeff Francoeur had average seasons in ’07, but if they learn how to draw a few more walks, they could make the Braves’ offense explosive. Either way, it’s an offense to be reckoned with, much like the Phillies’ and Mets’. It’s a three-horse race in the National League East, and three of the NL’s top five teams are from the East.

. . .

That’s the top-fifteen. There’s a lot of nit-picking to be done with his bottom-fifteen, but we can all universally agree that the Marlins, Royals, Pirates, Giants, Orioles, Twins, Cardinals, and White Sox will be bad. The Nationals, Padres, Astros, Rangers, and Athletics have the potential to be mediocre. And the Rays and Reds are mediocre teams that have the potential to have breakout seasons.

And what you’ve all been waiting for: my top-fifteen power rankings:

1. Boston Red Sox

2. Cleveland Indians

3. New York Mets

4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

5. Philadelphia Phillies

6. Detroit Tigers

7. Colorado Rockies

8. Atlanta Braves

9. Chicago Cubs

10. New York Yankees

11. Milwaukee Brewers

12. Seattle Mariners

13. Arizona Diamondbacks

14. San Diego Padres

15. Los Angeles Dodgers

As always, feel free to berate me in the comments.


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