Friday, July 11, 2003

After 5, The Score Is . . .

Baseball has a sort of ying-yang, Balance thing going for it. So many of the little pieces just seem to fall into place. Like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, it's amazing how much of it they got right on the first draft. Even now, whenever the powers- that-be try to improve the game, they more often than not make a mess of it. The Designated Hitter, perfectly shaped parks with fake grass, putting an owner in as Comissioner, all of these just upset the Balance, and damaged the game.

I've never seen this mentioned anywhere, but you can look at a 162-game baseball season as a nine-inning game. You can divide 162 by 9 evenly, so that 18 games constitutes the same portion of a season that one inning makes of a game. Every team is currently at or approaching their 90th game, so looking at the season right now should give you about the same feeling you get after five innings - There's lots of time left, but we need to get moving.

I want to look at the American League today, and I'll do the National League tomorrow. I know I said I was going to do weekend previews today, but I decided that without the Contest that I was doing earlier, the information is too repetitive of what you can find on major sites.

Always like to find out what the oddsmakers think. Here are the odds for all contenders to win the American League:

New York 2-1
Boston 18-5
Seattle 7-2
Oakland 4-1
KC 9-1
Chicago 10-1
Minnesota 12-1
Anaheim 20-1
Toronto 30-1

You can have all of the Baseball Prospectus people to run your major league franchise, and I'll take the oddsmakers. You throw the odds out in front of non-gamblers, and the first thing they like to do is rip it to shreds:"Boston as the second highest favorite?! They're crazy!" But the oddsmakers have been at this forever, and will continue to be. They understand the Balance.

Playoff Baseball can be broken down to these components - offense, top 3 starting pitchers, bullpen, and defense. For me, the only thing you can not live without is a bullpen. I'll go into the playoffs with a great offensive team, no starters, and a bullpen, or with a team that has overall pitching strength, but don't put me in a situation where I'm up 5-3 in the seventh and I'm counting on Brandon Lyon to protect my lead.

So let's look at the bullpens. I'm breaking them down into categories based on Adjusted Runs Prevented, as found on Baseball Prospectus. And oh, I wasn't trying to insult them earlier. They're fantastic.

Incredible - Anaheim
Very Good - Seattle, Oakland, Minnesota
Average - Chicago, New York
Horrifying - KC, Toronto, Boston

A ray of hope for Twins fans! The three best offenses in the league don't have strong bullpens. The current philosophy of rich teams right now just astounds me. They want a hundred million dollar lineup, and a Salvation Army bullpen. Doesn't work for me. I'm knocking them all out.

That leaves us with Anaheim, Seattle, Oakland, and Minnesota. Let's take a deeper look at them. Here are each team's top three starters, listed along with Support Neutral Wins, again found at Baseball Prospectus.

Anaheim - Washburn (6.8), Lackey (5.6), and Appier (5.0)
Seattle - Moyer (8.0), Pineiro (7.6), Meche (5.0)
Oakland - Hudson (9.7), Mulder (9.7), Zito (8.7)
Minnesota - Lohse (6.9), Rogers (5.9), and Radke (5.3)

The A's have the three best pitchers out of all four teams, a huge advantage for them. Now the offenses:

Anaheim OBP .332 SLG .431
Seattle OBP .347 SLG .424
Oakland OBP - .328 SLG .414
Minnesota OBP - .335 SLG .436

None of these offensive numbers are weighted for ballparks. Seattle's big lead in on-base percentage sticks out here, but everything else is reasonably close. There are no great offenses in this group. All of thes teams rank between 7th and 10th in runs scored.

Just taking a quick look at fielding stats, because we have less of an understandng about them, the Mariners and Twins lead the league in fewest errors and fielding percentage. The A's and Angels are middle of the pack.

Now the problem with all of this is we're analyzing team's playoff chances before we know who the playoff teams are. Getting there is still a major issue for everyone except maybe the Mariners, and the Twins have been downright horrible. Also, while I don't think Boston or New York can win it, they might very well both make the playoffs.

Oakland is two games out of the wildcard right now, and five back in the division. Anaheim is 6.5 games out of the wildcard. The Twins are 4.5 out of the division, but have a losing record. The Mariners are five ahead of Oakland, and still have the best record in the American League.

So who would I bet to win it? Right now, I'll stick with Seattle, the same team I chose last month, at 7-2 rather than taking Oakland at the slightly better 4-1 odds, mainly because Seattle is a safer bet just to get into the playoffs, and I like their balance. But I'll tell you, I love the Angels at 20-1. They are still well within reach of the playoffs, playing over .500 ball, and the bullpen, their key component, is humming and rolling.

We'll do this again after the sixth inning.


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