Thursday, June 12, 2003

Bullpens, and Who's Going to Win This Thing

I'm psyched because I get to go to two different interleague series tonight and tomorrow, St. Louis at Boston, then Houston at Boston. I've been thinking a lot about whether or not we've already seen the World Series matchup, and I've decided that the odds are that we haven't. The reason for this is that regardless of what Selig says, there is a whole lot of parity right now near the top of major league baseball.

Here are the list of teams with as much right as anybody to believe that they can win the World Series:

AL NL
New York Atlanta
Boston Houston
Minnesota Chicago
Seattle St. Louis
Oakland San Francisco

And here's another list of teams that are real close to that list:

AL NL
Toronto Montreal
Anaheim Philadelphia
Los Angeles

Throw in KC, Cincinnati, and Colorado, who are all at .500, and maybe even the White Sox, who as bad as they've played are still only 7.5 behind the Twins, and you have 19 teams that are alive. But more important than that, you have those 10 to 15 teams where its anyone's guess who will make it to the World Series.

Anyway, we've learned a couple of things about the playoffs since they've expanded to four teams in each league. First, of all, any team in there can win it. Second, bullpens rule. You just can't afford to blow games in a seven game series. The Yankees for years had a dominant bullpen, and even in the Series they lost two years ago, it was the failure of Mariano Rivera that ended it, and the failure of Byung Yun Kim that kept them in it. Last season, it was the Angels unhittable bullpen that carried them all of the way.

None of this is surprising, but what amazes me is baseball's response to this. Major league executives aren't saying "Hey, we need a bullpen to win it", they're saying "Hey, we can throw a bullpen together cheap". They look at Brendan Donnelly in Anaheim, or Joe Borowski in Chicago, or Chad Bradford in Oakland, and think that after investing 80-150 million dollars in payroll, they're going to get the part of the team that will decide the World Series at Salvation Army.

Well, sorry folks, that's not the way it works. While it is true that a Chad Bradford can turn up anywhere, it does not mean that you can take seven guys off of the scrap heap and have them all be Chad Bradfords. For every Shigetoshi Hasegawa, there are twenty Juan Acevedos, and yet teams that can afford to do better are ignoring this fact, and trotting out an endless collection of has-beens, never weres, and circus freaks to the mound.

Here are the best bullpen leaders, according to adjusted runs prevented, as listed on Baseball Prospectus. I'm leaving spaces between teams where there is a big dropoff in scores.

Houston
Los Angeles
Anaheim

Seattle
Cubs
Oakland
Minnesota
Tampa Bay
Arizona

Colorado

The first seven team are all on our contenders list, and there are no other teams other than these that score seriously above average. And I'm going to say it here, that one of these seven teams will win it. The Yankees, Braves, Red Sox, Giants, and Cardinals all have a glaring weakness that someone will eventually expose in a short series.

Trades could always change this of course, and the Cardinals just got Jason Ingrinhausen back, so that will help them. But let's take a look at the Big 7 for starter ranks (again from Baseball Prospectus) and runs scored.

Starters Runs
Oakland Seattle
Houston
LA
Seattle Anaheim

Cubs Cubs
Minnesota Oakland
Minnesota
Houston
LA
Anaheim

Two of the three best bullpens rank at the bottom of one of these two categories, so let's knock them out. That leaves us with Seattle, Houston, Oakland, the Cubs, and Minnesota.

In the AL, Oakland has that great starting pitching in Zito, Mulder, and Hudson, but are 7 in back of a well-balanced Mariner squad, and are going to have to fight it out withe Yankee/Red Sox loser for the wildcard unless they win 20 in a row again. Minnesota is a virtual lock to win their division, but is on the low end of all of these groups, a very solid but not great team. Because, there is no guarantee that the A's will even make the playoffs, we're going to go with the 42-20 Seattle Mariners.

Over in the NL, we're left with two teams in the same division, with Houston currently leading, and the Cubs just out of the wildcard spot. They are so close though, and its only June, that the difference doesn't matter. Either one could not make the playoffs. The Cubs have Prior and Wood, but they are also the Cubs, and I'm not a great believer in their offense. Oswalt and Miller might be able to stay with Prior and Wood. We're going Astros.

So there you have it. A June prediction:

Seattle over Houston in the World Series.


PDMOH winners

Orlando Hudson
BJ Surhoff

My apologies to any circus freaks that were offended at any point of this story.

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