Friday, July 08, 2005
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Toronto Blue Jays Report Card (by John Brattain)
Today's Picks (74-61, +$1,330):
Toronto (Halladay) -160 over Texas (Wasdin)
Thursday, July 07, 2005
Deja Vu (and the WSOP)It is impossible not to be concerned with the way Johan Santana has pitched of late. After going 4-0 with a 3.55 ERA in April, Santana is now 3-5 with a 4.14 ERA since -- including a 6.1-inning, six-run start against the Angels yesterday -- giving him just seven wins and a not-so-pretty 3.98 ERA heading into the All-Star break.
Of course, it's also worth remembering that Santana headed into last year's All-Star break with numbers so mediocre that he didn't even make the All-Star team:
YEAR GS IP W L ERA SO BB OAVGIn fact, Santana's numbers right now are nearly identical in every way to his first-half numbers last season. It is sort of eery how similar the stat lines are across-the-board, actually. And as I've written about several thousand times, he went on to finish 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA on his way to winning the AL Cy Young award.
The big difference, however, is that this time last year Santana was starting to round into Cy Young form, going 4-1 with a 2.39 ERA in June and starting July with three straight 10-strikeout games and a 1.44 ERA. This year, quite the opposite is happening, as Santana has faded from a nice start and is giving up runs in bunches.
The basic point remains though, which is that periods of intense struggles on the mound do not preclude future dominance. Whether the struggles come in April and May or June and July, the fact is that Santana is a very streaky pitcher and has shown in the past that he can flip the switch and go from mediocre to unhittable in the blink of an eye.
Expecting any pitcher to take an ERA nearing 4.00 into the All-Star break and come back the best pitcher in the league -- like baseball's version of Clark Kent going into a phone booth and coming out Superman -- is wishful thinking, obviously, and expecting the same guy to do it two years in a row is silly.
Santana is not going to go 13-0 with a 1.21 ERA in the second half again this year, and he doesn't need to. He simply needs to fix whatever his problem is. Whether he is injured or just ineffective, tipping his pitches or struggling with his mechanics, he and pitching coach Rick Anderson need to figure it out before the season slips away.
With a league-leading 143 strikeouts, a fantastic 143-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a dominant opponent's batting average of .226, the pieces are all in place for another amazing second-half run. But something needs to click in Santana that clicked in him last season, or none of the talk about second-half schedules and Wild Card standings will mean a thing.
Switching to a less depressing subject, today is Day 1 of the 2005 World Series of Poker Main Event. This may sound silly to some of you, but I have been looking forward to this day more than I have all but two other sporting events. I have been counting down the days for a year now, all while watching each 2004 WSOP episode on ESPN dozens of times. ("He called me with jack-high!" Sorry, inside joke.)
Anyway, if you are like me and you're interested in constant updates on the tourney, here are a few great sites to check out throughout the next nine days (yes, this year's Main Event will last nine days):
(If there are any other sites giving frequent updates, let me know and I'll be happy to add a link.)
My prediction for the Main Event? The field is beyond massive, with "Day 1" actually having to be split into three separate heats, so the chances of a big name making it through the field are slim. I'm guessing one recognizable name will make it to the final table and the champion will be someone under 40 years old who no one has ever heard of.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Ten Things I Didn't Know Last Week (by Dave Studeman)
- Winning in Extreme Environments (by Dan Fox)
Today's Picks (74-60, +$1,435):
Los Angeles (Lowe) -105 over Colorado (Kennedy)
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
State of the Twins: Half Way HomeThe Twins are half way to the postseason, which sounds pretty good on July 6. In fact, the 2005 Twins have the best record after half a season since the 2001 version came out of the gates at 50-31 before collapsing like a house of cards down the stretch. Take a look at how this year's team compares to the three AL Central championship teams after 81 games:
YEAR W L WIN%As I've said before, the difference between this year and the past three years is that there are actually other good teams in the division, one of which has the best record in all of baseball. If the White Sox and Indians were playing .500 baseball, like they did last year, the Twins would be one of the biggest stories around. They'd be on pace for another 90-win season and another division title, and everyone would be talking about how amazing it is that they can keep winning with all the new faces.
But the White Sox won't stop winning and the Indians have their best team since 2001, so the Twins are somehow seen as a disappointment by a lot of people. However, setting aside the notion that winning the division is any more useful than winning the Wild Card when it comes to ending up in the playoffs, the Twins actually have a bigger "postseason lead" than they've had in years past.
YEAR W L LEADThe Twins held slim half-game leads in the division after 81 games in each of the past two years, but were actually 4.5 and 2.5 games back in the Wild Card standings. From 2002-2004, the Twins ended the literal first half of the season with the sixth-, sixth-, and fourth-best record in the league, respectively. This season, they have the fourth-best record.
In other words, after 81 games this year's team has more wins than they had in any of the last three years, they have a bigger lead for a playoff spot than they had in each of the last two years, and they're higher in the AL standings than they were in two of the last three seasons.
I have often described the Twins as the smartest kids in the dumb class during their three-year run atop the AL Central. This year a new kid joined the class and turned out to be a genius. No one saw it coming and it doesn't mean the previous smartest kid is any less smart, it just means the competition got a little tougher. Now, instead of banking on cruising into the postseason simply for being the only decent team in the division, the Twins have to deal with being just another smart kid in the smart class.
So the good news is that the Twins are once again in a position to make the playoffs, if they can simply manage to play at the same level in the second half. The bad news is that it's going to be a lot tougher to win 46 of their last 81 games than it was to win 46 of their first 81 games. Why? Well, the second-half schedule is significantly tougher.
The Twins' opponents had a combined winning percentage of .490 in the first half, while they will face teams with a .514 winning percentage in the second half. That may not seem like much, but .490 versus .514 is the difference between a 79-win team and an 83-win team. Which would you rather face down the stretch?
The Twins have just 29 games games left against teams that are below .500, compared to 40 games against sub-.500 teams in the first half. The biggest thing making the second-half schedule tougher is 13 games against the AL-leading White Sox (compared to just five in the first half), but not having any games left against the last place Devil Rays hurts too.
Plus, the Twins play the A's 10 times in the second half, after not playing them at all in the first half. While Oakland is just 41-41, they have been the hottest team in baseball over the last six weeks. In other words, they picked the wrong time to play the A's 10 times in three months. To make matters worse, the Twins will play just 37 of their 81 remaining games at home.
Here is how the second-half schedule breaks down:
OPPONENT GThere's a lot of work left to be done, and about 30% it will have to come against the team with the best record in baseball and a team that is 24-9 since May 30.
WILD CARD W L WIN% GBOn your marks ... get set ...
Today at The Hardball Times:
- News, Notes and Quotes (July 6, 2005) (by Aaron Gleeman)
- Business of Baseball Report (by Brian Borawski)
Today's Picks (72-59, +$1,335):
Minnesota (Santana) -135 over Los Angeles (Byrd)
Detroit (Bonderman) +135 over Cleveland (Sabathia)
Boston (Clement) - 135 over Texas (Park)
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Say No To Boone (and other Twins notes)You'll find no one who has begged more for a new second baseman over the past few seasons than me, but not even I think acquiring Bret Boone for the remainder of this season is a good idea. From looking at his numbers and from reading the chronicles of his struggles over at USS Mariner, Boone (who was recently designated for assignment by the Mariners) appears to be completely done as an above-average regular.
YEAR AVG OBP SLG OPS IsoPNever much for drawing walks, Boone's low batting average now makes him a major on-base percentage sinkhole, and his declining power has his slugging percentage below .400 for the first time since 1997. A four-time Gold Glover, his range defensively has also slipped significantly, perhaps even more than his bat.
YEAR ZRNow, Zone Rating is far from a perfect stat, but that sort of yearly decline for a second baseman who turned 36 in April is pretty self-explanatory. If it were a choice between Boone or Luis Rivas at second base, I would take Boone every time. But thankfully the Twins have a few decent second-base options beyond Rivas for once, some of whom actually get on base at a decent clip.
I think the best-case scenario for Boone at this point is that a move away from Safeco Field helps his offensive numbers and a move to a new team rejuvenates him a little bit. Still, something along the lines of .260/.320/.440 with mediocre defense is probably the best that can be expected, with a potential worst-case scenario that looks a lot like Juan Castro's numbers (.241/.266/.367).
Considering what Nick Punto has done when healthy (.277/.343/.400) and how much of a surprise Luis Rodriguez has been at the plate (.293/.353/.427), I don't think Boone is worth taking a chance on. Hell, Boone has been even worse offensively than Michael Cuddyer (.259/.339/.384) this season, which most Twins fans would probably tell you is impossible. I'm all for adding a veteran right-handed bat, but Boone isn't it.
Other Twins Notes ...
- "LeCroy has girth, gout and a great attitude" (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
- "LeCroy moves Richter scale" (St. Paul Pioneer Press)
While doing my daily news-gathering gig over at Rotoworld, one of the things I have noticed about newspaper coverage is that multiple papers covering the same team tend to have nearly identical stories several times per week.
I'm not talking about two papers covering the same injury, which is inevitable. I'm talking about two papers running feature stories on Matthew LeCroy on the same day. It becomes clear that the newspapers and the journalists covering the team are being fed story ideas and information by the team.
I can't say that I blame them for taking advantage of what they are being fed, and I did enjoy reading about LeCroy, but it is interesting to see it in such obvious ways. And the two newspapers here are far from the worst offenders -- I've seen as many as four or five papers covering the same team in a bigger market run the same, seemingly random story on the same day about, say, a third-base coach.
The top third-base prospect in the organization, he is fifth in the Florida State League with a .325 average. He has a short swing with some power, and projects to be a very good offensive player. Now about that glove ...Walker last played for the Twins back in 2000, and has since played almost 700 major-league games spread over six seasons, nearly all of them as a starting second baseman. And yet six years after he left Minnesota, Walker is still somehow held up as the example of bad infield defense. Talk about buying the company line ...
YEAR LVL G GS IP ERA SO BBThe only real knock against Baker is that his strikeout rates haven't been earth-shattering -- 7.0/9 at Triple-A, 9.2/9 at Double-A, 7.9/9 at Single-A -- but the ERAs are very low and the strikeout-to-walk ratios are very high. I think Baker has an excellent chance at becoming a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter, and I'd love to see the Twins let him work out of the bullpen as a long reliever during the second half.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Full Year Leaderboards (by Dave Studeman)
- Two True Outcomes (by Steve Treder)
Today's Picks (71-59, +$1,235):
Oakland (Haren) -130 over Toronto (Towers)