Starting World Series Day One on the Wrong Foot

With a hat tip to Baseball Think Factory, I regret to inform you that not even Day One of the World Series will prevent idiocy from polluting the air waves and ink-and-paper of publications. Daniel A. Cirucci wrote an opinion column for the Philadelphia Daily News (which has always been a beacon of sound, logical reasoning) called “Just call it baseBORE.”

At the end of the column where they have a blurb about the author, it reads, “Daniel A. Cirucci is a lecturer in corporate communications at Penn State Abington.” Re-read the title again, this time keeping in mind that this is someone responsible for educating the bright, young minds of this country’s future. “BaseBORE.”

Hilarious!

But enough snark for now, we must objectively criticize Danny’s column.

But no matter how it turns out, one thing will remain true: Baseball is an insufferably boring pastime.

This is an example of why the Opinion section of any newspaper is worth skipping over every day (and this is coming from someone who has also been published in the opinion section). As they say, “opinions are like assholes: everyone has one.”

Claiming that “Baseball is boring,” no matter how well you back it up is antithetical to any critical thinking, really. “Boring” is completely subjective. I think that NFL Live is boring. Millions of viewers disagree with me. I think that the singing of the national anthem is boring. Hundreds of millions of “patriots” disagree with me. There’s no way I can prove that I am right and that they are wrong, no matter how well I back up my opinion.

So, why even write it? And, perhaps to ask a more salient question, why publish it?

Except for the pitcher, catcher and hitter, all the players simply stand around waiting for something to happen. Huge amounts of time drift by aimlessly.

Two things:

  1. Don’t like it, don’t watch it, and certainly don’t waste our time complaining about it.
  2. To the untrained eye, as I will prove yours is Dan, it does look like nothing. But there’s a lot that goes on: the positioning of the fielders, signs being exchanged, the cat-and-mouse game between pitcher and baserunner(s), etc. If a football-hater said this about football — “the only time there’s ever any action is in the two seconds after the QB hikes the ball” — the same thing could be said.

Players have to work hard to stay awake.

No, they don’t.

So they chew gum or tobacco, spit, grab their crotches, shift their feet, adjust their caps, brush themselves off and gaze about hoping they’ll actually have something to do.

Idiosyncrasies != Boredom.

And we haven’t even touched on the time taken up with consultations among umpires or between the pitcher and the manager and the seemingly inevitable saga of calling someone from the bullpen to replace the pitcher.

We hear this criticism a lot in baseball, but how is it any different than football? In both sports, the average game time is around three hours. Football pauses for more commercial breaks, however, including an intentional 10-20 minute break at halftime. The replay challenges, which occur at least twice a game on average (I pulled that out of my ass, so feel free to fact-check that) take a couple minutes.

In baseball, you have a stoppage after every half-inning that lasts between 1 and 2 minutes (so, between 17 and 34 minutes), a 30-second mound conference that occurs maybe twice a game, and pitching changes, which occur on average three times a game (again, I pulled that average out of thin air). The delays in baseball are no different — and arguably less — than football.

EDIT: Fellow BBTF poster SoSH U made a good point that I’d like to add to this:

The half-inning stoppages and pitching changes in MLB are natural. They’re basically the same length at every level of baseball, and during that time there is at least something going on (pitchers warming up, players throwing it around the infield).

Contrast that with the TV timeouts that go on in pro and college football, where players and coaches stand around doing nothing but waiting for the TV light to come on and indicate that it’s safe to play again. You don’t see that at high school games (well, until they started putting the damn things on ESPN. I suppose those fans have to endure that crap too).

For the fans, all of this leaves lots of time for diversions. That’s how baseball statistics got started. The endless stream of statistics gives diehard fans something to focus on instead of the game.

List of sports in which statistics are kept:

  • Baseball
  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Hockey
  • Soccer
  • Lacrosse
  • Volleyball
  • Tennis
  • Table-tennis
  • Badminton
  • Bocceball
  • Wrestling
  • Boxing

In other words, every sport keeps statistics. Statistics got started in baseball because it is a contest between two opposing sides in which a winner must be declared. To nullify the frequency of disputes, statistics were kept as proof of the results of the event.

But the stats themselves are deadening: often obscure, seemingly irrelevant, terminally nerdy.

The obscurity of a statistic does nothing to add or subtract from its usability.

If a statistic is “seemingly irrelevant,” that is probably your fault and not the statistic’s. An example of an irrelevant statistic would be, “Shane Victorino scored two goals in one game once when he was in high school.” Or even staying within the context of baseball, an irrelevant statistic would be the note that Jeff Cirillo (who logged nearly 5,400 at-bats as a position player) threw a scoreless inning as a pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007.

And the phrase “terminally nerdy” coming from someone who lectures at colleges is a great example of the pot calling the kettle black.

And you know what they say

If he brings up the “Statistics are like bikinis” phrase, I’m going to blow a gasket.

Statistics are like bikinis.

Damn it.

What they reveal may seem enticing but what they conceal is vital.

I hate this quote because it misses the point. The anti-stat crowd always says that stats don’t cover everything (like Derek Jeter’s ability to grit his way to a win for his team), but no one has ever claimed that they do or ever will. Statistics are logged observations in numerical form.

The other criticism from the anti-stat crowd is that statistics are misleading, or can be used in biased ways. This, unfortunately for them, is not the fault of the statistics, but of the people who use them. Look at any political campaign and how they stretch the truth; this is true of any human being. If I believe in global warming, for instance, I’m only going to cite statistics that reinforce my belief that global warming is a problem.

Statistics are a creation of human beings and are used by human beings, so of course there are going to be instances where they are used dishonestly. That doesn’t mean we should throw out the baby with the bathwater, as they say.

Still, it often happens that the box score winds up being way more interesting than the game itself.

How does this make any logical sense. A box score is a log of what happened during the game. Unless you have a fetish for newspapers or black ink… this sentence is completely useless.

Yet, for the ordinary fan who’s not absorbed by all those numbers, other diversions have to suffice. That’s why new ballparks come equipped with huge Fan-o-Vision screens, ever-changing scoreboards, fountains, fireworks, tacky giveaways, faux shrines, playgrounds, picnic areas and lots and lots of restaurants, snack bars and shops.

How is this unique to baseball? Have you taken a look at what Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has in mind for his new stadium?

It’s a sugar high for kids and cholesterol gulch for adults.

Again, not unique to baseball, or to sports for that matter.

I went to the Phils’ new ballpark right after it opened. It’s very nice. But the more you hang around the place, the more expensive it gets.

Not. Unique. To. Baseball.

And in the course of a typical game (we’re not talking the playoffs or the World Series) you get to do a lot of hangin’ around.

If you’re completely ignorant of baseball, then yeah, you’re going to be bored.

If you don’t like baseball and find it boring, great, you’re entitled to your opinion. What if we published every subjective opinion article in the editorials?

  • New Kids on the Block are the best band ever
  • Pepsi tastes better than Coke
  • Megan Fox is hotter than Angelina Jolie
  • Michael Jordan’s cologne smells worse than Paris Hilton’s
  • The Kong coaster at Six Flags is better than the Medusa

It’s so pointless. No one opinion is better than another, regardless of how well you back it up. There is no amount of factual evidence available where you can definitively state that the Kong coaster > Medusa, or Megan Fox > Angelina Jolie.

The Baseball Almanac says the longest professional baseball game ever played was a 25-inning game between the Chicago White Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers in 1984.

This is A) a cherry-pick and B) making the exception the rule. The standard baseball game is nine innings long. There were 369 extra-inning games this season out of about [EDIT: Fixed my math] 2,430 total games. 15.2% of games this season went extra-innings. In other words, 84.8% of games will last the standard 8.5 or 9 innings.

And it’s enough to make you want to never come back – or at least to long for the days of Joe DiMaggio.

So, extra innings didn’t exist in DiMaggio’s day? Certainly, baseball games weren’t as long, but in reality, we’re talking about a difference of maybe 20 minutes (again, I made that up). Maybe Cirucci is a busy man, and those 20 minutes are vital.

The great Yankee Clipper was one of the last players who actually played for baseball’s one dynamic moment: the crack of the ball against the bat. Joe certainly did not do it for the money ($100,000 annually for his last three years, 1949-’51). He never got to reap the astronomical salaries of today’s sports pros.

The argument has somehow shifted from “baseball is boring” to “players are greedy”?

Not. Unique. To. Baseball. (In case you were wondering)

I’m amazed when people wail about the salaries of CEOs but think nothing of the fact that Alex Rodriguez will make $28 million this year.

I don’t know anyone — who follows both politics/economics and baseball — who has complained about CEO salaries, but not athletes’ salaries.

And again, citing A-Rod’s salary is a cherry-pick, and it’s not unique to baseball. Michael Vick was given a 10-year, $167 million contract from the Atlanta Falcons. The Los Angeles Lakers gave Kobe Bryant a 7-year, $136.4 million contract. Alexander Ovechkin was awarded a 13-year, $124 million contract.

Not. (Say it with me now) Unique. To. Baseball.

Whew – all that and Madonna, too!

Celebrity gossip. Not unique to baseball.

Fin.

You’d think someone who has spent and still spends a considerable amount of time in academia would be able to make an argument much better than this. I would expect a column like this out of an eighth-grader, not someone in charge of informing college students.

THT: Why the Phillies Will Beat the Rays

This is hopefully the second-to-last installment of our post-season series pre- and post-views. The last one better be “Why the Phillies Won the World Series.”

Click here to check it out at The Hardball Times.

By the way, if you’re looking for real analysis, head on over to The Good Phight and check out the two recent posts from MattS:

Your 2008 National League Champions

Philadelphia Phillies @ Los Angeles Dodgers, Game 5 NLCS, Phillies advance to World SeriesAs hard as it may be to believe, the Philadelphia Phillies are the National League representatives in the World Series. Pinch yourself to validate that this is not a dream.

Cole Hamels pitched seven strong innings once again, allowing only one run — a Manny Ramirez home run to the delight of FOX broadcaster Joe Buck — on five hits and three walks with five strikeouts. What more can you ask of the guy? Maybe a Brett Myers-esque night at the plate, but I’ll settle.

Jimmy Rollins led off the game with a home run to right-center on a 3-2 fastball from Chad Billingsley. The Phillies never looked back, scoring twice in both the third and fifth innings (oddly enough, those runs did not come via home run). Hamels dominated the Dodgers’ lineup throughout the entire game with Ramirez getting the only good swing — on a high and outside 1-2 fastball — and Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge locked it up with two scoreless innings.

You have to feel for Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal, as he made three errors in the game, all coming in the fifth inning. With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on first and second respectively, Pat Burrell hit a grounder in the hole which Furcal could not field cleanly. Seeing the botched grounder, Utley sped around third base towards home plate, and Furcal made a poor throw, allowing Howard to advance to third base.

Later in the inning, with the bases loaded and two outs, Carlos Ruiz hit another grounder to Furcal — a relatively simple play 99% of the time. Perhaps uneasy about his previous defensive plays, Furcal was hesitant with his throw. It came up short to first baseman James Loney, who could not cleanly catch the bounce, so a run scored and everyone was safe all around.

Blake DeWitt was arguably just as bad. In his two at-bats in the game, he hit into two 4-6-3 double plays. His WPA for the game was -1.77. Aside from that three-run triple off of Jamie Moyer in Game 3, DeWitt had an awful NLCS.

On the flip side, many Phillies had a great NLCS, including Shane Victorino, Utley, Hamels, and the entire bullpen. Victorino had the Dodgers so scared that they intentionally walked him twice in Game 5 to get to Pedro Feliz.

I’ll probably be teaming up with John Brattain for a couple more articles at The Hardball Times, explaining why the Phillies beat the Dodgers and why they’ll beat whoever they face in the World Series (likely the Tampa Bay Rays). Click here if you’d like to review the previous articles, perhaps reminding you of how wrong I always am.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.

One More Win

Philadelphia Phillies @ Los Angeles Dodgers, Game 4 NLCSAfter last night’s stunning comeback, the Phillies find themselves up three games to one, just one victory away from returning to the World Series for the first time since 1993.

Oddly enough, if you had only just now looked at the series statistics without knowing the results of each game, you’d think the series would be tied. Both teams have performed similarly in almost every area, except for the bullpen thanks to Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs.

Perhaps the best part of last night, besides the win, was a quote from hero Matt Stairs. Per David Murphy:

“You want to get that one big hit where you feel like you’re part of the team,” Stairs said. “Not that I don’t feel like I’m part of the team, by no means, but when you get that nice celebration coming into the dugout and you’re getting your ass hammered by guys, it’s no better feeling than to have that done.”

I was going to add some emphasis, but I’ll allow you to throw your own mind in the gutter.

Stairs also made a couple other funny quips, though there were no more double-entendres. From the Associated Press:

“My whole career, even back in the early days, my approach was try to hit the ball out of the ballpark,” he said. “And it’s something I enjoyed doing. In batting practice, I try to hit every ball out of the ballpark. I’m not going to lie, it’s fun. I try to hit home runs and that’s it. I’m not going to hit a single and steal second base. So I think the biggest thing is to get up there, swing hard and elevate.”

Is Matt Stairs this year’s version of Russell Branyan (i.e. used in a very limited role, but ends up winning a game anyway)?

Game 5 (Wednesday, 8:22 PM EST) will feature Phils ace Cole Hamels against the Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley. Should the Phillies clinch on Wednesday, they’d get about a week of rest, meaning that Hamels could start Games 1 and 5 of the World Series (or 1, 4, and 7 depending on how the rotation is set up). If they clinch in Game 6 on Friday, they’d get about five days, which is fine as well.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.

Moyer More Unlucky Than Bad in Game 3

Philadelphia Phillies @ Los Angeles Dodgers, Game 3 of the NLCSOne look at his pitching line in Game 3 of the NLCS in Los Angeles against the Dodgers and you’re forced to conclude that Jamie Moyer was absolute garbage. He’s no stranger to the garbage start either, as he tends to have one every once in a while: September 16, August 26, and May 10, for instance. But if you look a little deeper, you’ll see that Moyer’s failure was due less to his lack of “stuff” and more to bad luck and a successful aggressive approach by the Dodger offense.

Rafael Furcal led off the bottom of the first inning taking a ball and a strike, then swinging at the third pitch, an inside slider that skidded just past the outstretched glove of third baseman Pedro Feliz, too far to the right of shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

Andre Ethier, a left-hander, came up and swung at Moyer’s first pitch. It was a high and inside fastball (not a good location if you’re a left-handed hitter) that Ethier drove into the ground and it was, once again, just outside the outstretched glove of a diving Phillies infielder, this time Chase Utley.

Manny Ramirez continued the first-pitch swinging, offering at a get-it-over fastball and smoking it into left field, driving in Furcal. Not a lucky hit.

Russell Martin took the first pitch, an outside change-up. Moyer then threw two strikes, a cutter and a four-seamer that Martin also took. Martin swung at and fouled off the fourth pitch, another four-seamer. In trying to cross him up inside, Moyer’s fifth pitch, a change-up, went in too far and hit Martin on the knee to load the bases for Nomar Garciaparra.

Nomar took four of the five pitches he saw, the fifth one a cutter on the outside corner for strike three.

Casey Blake took the first pitch, then fouled off a curveball to fall behind in the count 0-2. Moyer’s third pitch an outside fastball, and Blake served it into right field to drive in Ethier on a great piece of hitting of which he deserves full credit. You can’t fault Moyer for it, since he made a good pitch.

Matt Kemp took three straight balls at which point Phillies fans were feeling a big inning for the Dodgers coming up. Maybe not. Moyer bounced back in the count to bring it to 3-2, then got Kemp looking at his sixth pitch, an inside fastball for strike three.

Blake DeWitt went down in the count quickly 0-2. Moyer tried to get him to offer at two straight change-ups in the dirt, but it was to no avail. With a 2-2 count, Moyer threw a high slider, but it caught too much of the plate and DeWitt hit it down the right field line, just in fair territory for a bases-clearing triple to bring the lead to 5-0.

Finally, Moyer ended the awful first inning by retiring the pitcher Hiroki Kuroda on a grounder to third baseman Pedro Feliz.

Moyer came out for the start of the second inning. Continuing with the aggression, Furcal swung at the first pitch, a change-up over the plate (another get-it-over pitch to get ahead in the count) and it cleared the left field fence for a solo home run and the Dodgers’ sixth run.

Manager Charlie Manuel let him stay in to pitch to the left-handed Ethier, who also swung at the first pitch and flied out to shallow center field, before replacing him with Clay Condrey.

Moyer’s line: 1.1 IP, 6 ER, 6 H, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 HR. 11 batters faced, 32 pitches (2.9 per batter).

A recap:

  • Furcal: Ground ball hit
  • Ethier: Ground ball hit
  • Ramirez: Line drive hit, RBI
  • Martin: HBP
  • Garciaparra: K looking
  • Blake: Ground ball hit, RBI
  • Kemp: K looking
  • DeWitt: Fly ball triple, 3 RBI
  • Kuroda: Weak ground ball out
  • Furcal: Home run
  • Ethier: Weak fly ball out

Only two of the six hits were well-hit (DeWitt’s triple was not well-hit). Against Moyer, the Dodgers’ BABIP was .714 with only one line drive.

Compare their average on the batted balls to that of the NL average BABIP:

  • Ground balls: 3-for-4 (.750); NL average: .232
  • Fly balls: 2-for-3 (.667); NL average: .145
  • Line drives: 1-for-1 (1.000); NL average: .717

Be aware of the small sample size, but you get the point.

As they say, “baseball is a game of inches” and had Furcal and Ethier’s hits been an inch or two closer to Feliz and Utley respectively, it’s an entirely different inning.

That’s why I am not hasty in faulting Moyer for his poor outing. The only mistake he made was hitting Martin with the change-up. Otherwise, you have to credit the Dodgers with their aggressive approach. Moyer has a tendency to throw hittable junk in an attempt to get ahead in the count (as a pitcher without much “stuff,” it’s an important strategic endeavor). It’s likely the Dodgers realized this and that’s why they were successful.

This start, coupled with his four-inning stint in the NLDS, will lead a lot of fans and media people to lobby that Manuel hand the ball to Joe Blanton (essentially pushing him up a day) or even J.A. Happ, should Moyer’s spot in the rotation come up again. This is misguided, however, as Moyer didn’t even pitch terribly against the Brewers in Game 3 of the NLDS, so it’s a knee-jerk reaction. His mistakes then were two lead-off walks to Mike Cameron and Bill Hall (Cameron scored on a Prince Fielder sacrifice fly, Hall scored on a J.J. Hardy single); other than that, he shut the Brewers down.

If Moyer’s spot comes up again in the NLCS, you hand him the ball and realize that luck simply wasn’t in his favor in Game 3 against the Dodgers, and that his opponents had a successful approach — certainly not all his fault. Watch some videotape of the game, make some adjustments (don’t throw first-pitch cookies), and try to halt the slide.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.

Brett Myers is a Post-season Legend

Remember Myers’ two at-bats against C.C. Sabathia in Game 2 of the NLDS? How could he possibly one-up that performance?

Oh, I don’t know… how about hitting two singles in two at-bats and driving in three runs against Los Angeles Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley?

He swung at the first pitch in both at-bats. The first hit came on an inside slider to put the Phillies up 2-1. Myers kept his hands inside the baseball and drove it into shallow right-center. The second hit came on an outside fastball to increase the Phillies’ lead to 6-2. Myers scorched it down the right field line past first baseman James Loney.

As he has been wont to do lately, he’s also been pitching well. Granted, he’s been a little wild (ask Manny Ramirez), but as of this writing (Phils up 8-2 in the bottom of the third), he’s given up two runs through three innings on three hits and three walks while striking out four.

UPDATE: Not so much anymore, as Myers surrenders a three-run home run to Manny Ramirez to make it an 8-5 lead.

And Myers makes it 3-for-3 at the plate in the bottom of the fourth inning as he beat out an infield single down the third base line.

The Phils have thus far scored eight runs without hitting a single home run. The collective head of the media has exploded.

On a much more depressing note, I’d like to send my condolences out to Charlie Manuel, whose mother passed away this morning. He still found enough strength to manage Game 2, and for that he deserves our utmost respect. ESPN’s Jayson Stark has a great, moving article on Manuel that I implore everyone read.

Shane Victorino was also given some bad news after the game. His father told him that his grandmother had passed away. Shane has written about it on his blog. Scott Lauber has some Shane quotes as well.

Success! Phils win Game One

Los Angeles Dodgers @ Philadelphia Phillies, NLCS Game OneIt looked like it was going to get ugly very early. In the first inning, Cole Hamels gave up a one-out double to Andre Ethier — no fault of Hamels, it was a good piece of hitting — and promptly made arguably his only mistake pitch of the game, an 0-1 fastball down the middle to Manny Ramirez*. Man-Ram smoked it, as most good hitters would on a fastball down the middle. The ball just barely stayed in the yard, bouncing off of the 19′-high fence in left-center.

Hamels stayed out of further trouble in the inning, striking out Russell Martin, walking James Loney, and ending the inning by inducing Matt Kemp to fly out to right fielder Jayson Werth.

* It’s debatable as to whether or not Ramirez should have ever been pitched to in that situation, considering that first base was open. With the gift of hindsight, it’s plain to see that he should have been walked, but an intentional walk in the first inning of a scoreless game is questionable strategy in and of itself.

Hamels rolled through the game, although he was nearly at 60 pitches through three innings.

The Dodgers scored again in the fourth, but it was on a lucky ground-rule double by Matt Kemp — a ball that sliced down the right field line, landing just inside the line. Kemp advanced to third on a grounder to shortstop by Casey Blake, and scored on a fly ball to deep left-center by Blake DeWitt.

For whatever reason, Hamels decided to throw a high fastball in an 0-1 count to DeWitt. Not exactly the pitch you want if you’re trying to avoid a fly ball to the outfield.

Other than that, Hamels was dominant, going seven strong innings, giving up the two earned runs on six hits and two walks, and striking out eight. Ryan Madson threw a scoreless eighth and Lidge had a stress-free ninth inning, although the first two outs were recorded on deep fly balls to center and right-center.

As he so often seems to do, Shane Victorino started the Phillies’ run scoring on a seemingly harmless grounder in the sixth inning, but because of his speed, shortstop Rafael Furcal rushed his throw and threw it wide of first baseman James Loney. Without hesitation, Victorino advanced to second base.

With Utley up next, you were just hoping he didn’t make an unproductive out, as he’s likely been playing with a bad hip since about early May (he was taken out hard at second base by Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks). Instead of working the count, Utley swung at starter Derek Lowe’s first offering, a sinker he left up. Utley put enough on his swing to deposit the ball beyond the right field fence to tie the game.

More home run-runs. 10 of the 15 runs the Phils scored in the NLDS came via the long ball, and now 2-of-2 in the NLCS. Maybe it doesn’t matter. With Phillies fans content with a mere tie game against a dominant sinker-baller, Ryan Howard grounded out. But it wasn’t over. Pat Burrell took three straight balls, and then a called strike before smoking a belt-high fastball that landed beyond the left field fence in about half-a-second.

With Hamels on the mound, 9 outs to go, and a dominant bullpen to look forward to, things were looking good, and they were good. Ryan Madson did give up a hit but it should have been an error, since Pedro Feliz literally booted a Russell Martin ground ball. Brad Lidge went 3-up, 3-down in the ninth for a victory in Game One of the NLCS.

It wouldn’t be a Phillies victory without some curious strategy from manager Charlie Manuel. In the bottom of the seventh against “reliever” Greg Maddux, catcher Carlos Ruiz led off with a single deep in the hole, a tough grounder for Furcal. With the pitcher due up, Manuel could have sent up left-handers Greg Dobbs or Matt Stairs against the right-handed pitcher, but instead opted to go with So “Failure” Taguchi to bunt Ruiz to second base.

A look at the Run Expectancy Matrix at Baseball Prospectus will show you why bunting in that situation is a losing play even if executed properly, so success or not, it was a dumb move. But Taguchi turned regular old fail into epic fail by popping up his bunt attempt, caught by Loney in foul territory.

The one bright spot in Manuel’s strategy was that he didn’t take Burrell out until the ninth inning. Usually, it’s in the seventh inning.

All in all, it was an entertaining game and a great start to the NLCS. Brett Myers will oppose Chad Billingsley tomorrow afternoon (4:35 PM) in what should be yet another low-scoring game.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.

Is The Hardball Times Sick of Me Yet?

Prior to the Brewers-Phillies NLDS series, I partnered with John Brattain on a preview, trying to lay out the reasons why the Phillies were favorites to win the series. Fortunately, the Phillies did a decent job of not making me look like an idiot, so Brattain and I teamed up again for the NLCS.

First, you want to know why the Phillies beat the Brewers, right? Right? Come on. The Gruesome Twosome analyze ex post facto the NLDS.

And the meat of the matter: Why the Phillies will beat the Dodgers.

Here’s a snippet:

Bill: [...] No reliever on the Dodgers’ postseason roster finished the regular season with an ERA+ under 130, which is amazing. I mentioned in the Phillies-Brewers preview that Philly relievers all had an ERA+ over 120, so that gives you some perspective on just how good their bullpens are. Presume any late lead is safe in the NLCS.

John: Well, any lead of more than two runs anyway. I never discount the ol’ “bloop and a blast” possibility or as we witnessed in the LDS … the IBB and a blast. My gut tells me we’re going to see one “walk-off” win in this series, or so my sources inside my head inform me (yes, I always think with my stomach).

The 2008 MLB Awards Bonanza

I finally got around to it. My apologies to those of you (read: no one) who waited with bated breath.

Last year’s debates about the awards led to some controversy but hopefully we have all learned a lesson (which is: I’m always right) and can traverse through this year’s awards intelligently. I’m talking to you again, BBWAA. Last year’s bonanza was fun, especially when I was told “forget ur format and just watch the games” and “to say your format is flawed is an understatement.”

To preface the bonanza, I’ll quote my methodology explained last year:

I make heavy use of Sabermetrics, and light to no use of “traditional” statistics like wins and losses, saves, batting average, and the like.

In addition, I intentionally do not take into account the player’s team and whether or not they have been in contention. It is my belief that a player’s contributions on a failing team are worth just as much, if not more than another player’s contributions on a winning team. This is a debate that always pops up around this time of year, so feel free to try to change my mind on it.

In other words, you can wrap [nerd] [/nerd] tags around my article. Let’s go.

American League Most Valuable Player: Milton Bradley

I really had a tough time deciding the AL MVP. There are basically five choices: Alex Rodriguez, Dustin Pedroia, Grady Sizemore, Joe Mauer, and Bradley. I had gone into writing this article expecting to pick Sizemore, but a close look at the statistics leads me to pick Milton Bradley.

Milton Bradley had the best offensive numbers — and the best differential between his OPS and the average OPS for hitters at his position — out of the quintet but gets points taken from him for being a DH. He also ranked behind three of the other four in WPA. Those are the only arguments that can really be made against Bradley, however. Bradley had the highest PMLVr (which undervalues walks, benefiting only Sizemore), which is somewhat surprising considering the DH is the most offense-heavy position because the player doesn’t have to play defense. Maybe Jose Vidro has something to do with it.

The top five:

  1. Milton Bradley
  2. Joe Mauer
  3. Alex Rodriguez
  4. Dustin Pedroia
  5. Grady Sizemore

National League Most Valuable Player: Albert Pujols

This is really, really easy. He had, by far, the highest VORP in the Majors and he’s an extremely good fielder as well. The only hitter remotely close to him in OPS is Chipper Jones (who’s also very close to him in PMLVr) at a good 70 points behind, 1.114 to 1.044.

There’s nothing to debate — Pujols is the NL MVP. It will be a sad sight if he gets shafted on the award for the second season in a row (and you feel for him even more when you look at his 2002-04 seasons and then realize that Barry Bonds put up even better numbers).

The top five:

  1. Albert Pujols
  2. Chipper Jones
  3. Lance Berkman
  4. Hanley Ramirez
  5. Jose Reyes

American League Cy Young Award: Cliff Lee

I really wanted to give the AL Cy Young to Roy Halladay because he was my pre-season pick to win it, but Lee has slightly better numbers.

2008 American League Cy Young: Cliff Lee vs. Roy Halladay

Halladay’s pitched about 23 innings more (thanks in part to 5 more complete games) but overall has been slightly inferior to Lee. A 0.06 difference in WHIP isn’t that much to tip the scale in any way towards Halladay.

The top five:

  1. Cliff Lee
  2. Roy Halladay
  3. Jon Lester
  4. Mariano Rivera
  5. John Danks

National League Cy Young Award: Tim Lincecum

Johan Santana made a late push to put him neck-and-neck with Lincecum, but the Giants ace’s peripherals give him the nod.

2008 NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum vs. Johan Santana

The FIP is what really clinches the deal for Lincecum, but the K/9 is very impressive.

The top-five:

  1. Tim Lincecum
  2. Johan Santana
  3. Ryan Dempster
  4. Cole Hamels
  5. Dan Haren

American League Rookie of the Year: Mike Aviles

This is not a contrarian pick, believe it or not. Mike Aviles has been slightly more valuable than Evan Longoria. They’ve both close offensively: Aviles’ 116 OPS+ and 35.0 VORP to Longoria’s 130 OPS+ and 39.3 VORP, but Aviles has been the best defensive shortstop at a more demanding defensive position. Additionally, Aviles has a greater differential between his OPS and the average OPS at his position (POS OPS in the following chart), .140 to .106.

2008 American League Rookie of the Year: Mike Aviles vs. Evan Longoria

The top-five:

  1. Mike Aviles
  2. Evan Longoria
  3. Armando Galarraga
  4. Denard Span
  5. Joba Chamberlain

National League Rookie of the Year: Geovany Soto
This one’s not particularly difficult. The only real competition Soto has is Joey Votto but Soto is a catcher and Votto is a first baseman. However, the difference between Soto’s OPS and the average at his position is almost five times higher than Votto’s.

2008 NL Rookie of the Year: Geovany Soto vs. Joey Votto

The top-five:

  1. Geovany Soto
  2. Joey Votto
  3. Jair Jurrjens
  4. Hiroki Kuroda
  5. John Lannan

American League Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon

Maddon is an easy choice since he took a team that was expected to finish third or fourth (although an improvement over previous years) to American League Eastern Division champions. It was the first time in franchise history the Rays had finished higher than fourth place and with more than 70 wins (they had 97), and they had 31 more wins this season than they did last season.

There’s no great way to measure exactly how much a manager influenced his team so there’s a lot of subjectivity here. Maddon could simply just be the guy at the helm while all this happened, and may not have had a whole lot to do with it, but there’s just no way to prove it either way.

The Rays went from worst to first and that’s quite an accomplishment.

National League Manager of the Year: Lou Piniella

Lou’s only competition here is Charlie Manuel, but his team won 97 games in a tougher division that included another 90-win team in the NL Wild Card-winning Milwaukee Brewers. Additionally, the Cubs were the class of the National League almost all season, sporting the best offense and the second-best pitching staff. The Phillies, by comparison, were third and fourth respectively, and played in a relatively easier division.

American League Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award: Mariano Rivera

Everyone is talking about Francisco Rodriguez but he’s a bum compared to Mo. Rivera’s season was bananas. 308 ERA+ and a 0.665 WHIP while averaging more than one strikeout per inning and converting 39 out of 40 save opportunities? He and Lidge were far and away the class of the relievers.

The top-three:

  1. Mariano Rivera
  2. Joakim Soria
  3. Joe Nathan

National League Rolaids Relief Man of the Year: Brad Lidge

Is there any other choice? His season was actually not as impressive as Rivera’s but had a great 229 ERA+ and led all relievers (including Rivera) in WPA while having a perfect save record: 41-for-41. He was a big part of the reason why the Phillies had the league’s best relief corps.

The top-three:

  1. Brad Lidge
  2. Carlos Marmol
  3. Brian Fuentes

American League Silver Slugger Awards

Format: Name (PMLVr)

C: Joe Mauer (.293)
1B: Kevin Youkilis (.252)
2B: Ian Kinsler (.243)
3B: Alex Rodriguez (.322)
SS: Mike Aviles (.207)
OF: Shin-soo Choo (.280)
OF: Carlos Quentin (.261)
OF: Josh Hamilton (.222)
DH: Milton Bradley (.375)

National League Silver Slugger Awards

C: Brian McCann (.299)
1B: Albert Pujols (.497)
2B: Chase Utley (.240)
3B: Chipper Jones (.487)
SS: Hanley Ramirez (.362)
OF: Ryan Ludwick (.265)
OF: Carlos Lee (.252)
OF: Matt Holliday (.246)
P: Carlos Zambrano (.886)
Gold Glove Awards: I’m not going to bother with handing them out because there’s a lot of debate over which metrics are most accurate, and there’s no great way to prove any of it. Personally, I use RZR and OOZ, which you can find at The Hardball Times, but others think UZR and +/- are better, but UZR isn’t published and you have to pay to access +/- on Bill James Online.

As usual, you have the freedom to comment below and tell me why I’m wrong and/or to list your own picks.