Saturday, July 12, 2003

Climb to Safety - Handicapping the National League Race

You can hear, hear it coming
Like a train out of control
Surely leaves you wondering
Exactly where your ticket goes

Scream at the conductor
He's been dead for twenty tears
Hear the other people laughing
As he grinds through every gear
  • Climb To Safety, Widepread Panic

  • With 90 games gone, the National League is what it always is, a topsy-turvy, everchanging jumble of baseball teams. Cincinnati Reds fans are in the countdown for the firing of their manager, Bob Boone. The Cubbie faithful have had to endure the Corking incident and the bizarre comments of Dusty Baker on their way to a .500 record. The Mets, Pirates, Brewers, and Padres? Their seasons never even got out of the station. Still, there are eleven teams that are over .500. Yet with the exception of the Braves and Giants, none of them can be sure of even making the playoffs, and when you consider the recent histories of the Braves and Giants, getting over the hump is a concern for everyone.

    Nowadays, bullpens alway decide these things. Once you get to the seventh inning, you know those guys will be warming up, and one of them will be on the mound when the game is decided. So of course, with the trading deadline only 18 days away, the hot commodity is relievers. But why wait so long? One of the few things that I regularly rant about, even did it yesterday, is that so many teams have decided to wing it with their bullpen, even while they approach and break the 100 million dollar mark with their payroll. The Marlins paid big yesterday, sending three quality minor leaguers to Texas for Uggie Urbina. Boogie Uggie Uggie Come On!

    Go to grab your nerve you find that its been missing
    Seems you've lost your faith in everyone you know
    I surely hope that you don't plan on winning
    Best start paying more attention to the ones that throw you clear
    You are seconds from the impact and we're moving way too slow
  • Climb To Safety, Widepread Panic

  • So who is going to make a late seaon deal? The Cardinals always seem to find a way to get something done. The Giants are rumored to be after Armando Benitez. And the rest, who knows? Don't forget there will be American League teams in the bidding as well. Boston, New York, Toronto, and Kansas City are all still in the race, and all need bullpen help. There's just a whole lot of teams who have been
  • putting out the fire with gasoline
  • .

    So handicapping the National League race is a fool's game, but what the hell. Here's my own abbreviated look at the standings as of this morning:

    NL East winner - Atlanta 60-31

    Houston 49-43
    St. Louis 47-45, 2 back
    Chicago 46-46, 3 back

    San Francisco 56-36
    Arizona 51-41, 5 back
    LA 48-43, 7.5 back
    Colorado 49-46, 8.5 back

    Wildcard Race

    Philly 51-39
    Arizona 51-41, 1 back
    LA 48-43, 3.5 back
    Montreal 48-44, 4 back
    Colorado 49-46, 4.5 back
    Florida 48-45, 4.5 back
    St. Louis 47-45, 5 back
    Chicago 46-46, 6 back

    It's going to get crazy. Let's see what the oddsmakers think. These are the current odds to win the National League pennant:

    Atlanta 13-5
    San Francisco 4-1
    Arizona 9-2
    Houston 7-1
    St. Louis 8-1
    Philadelphia 8-1
    Chicago 8-1
    Los Angeles 12-1
    Florida 25-1
    Colorado 65-1

    If you want a longshot, there is none better than Colorado. 65-1 within earshot of the wildcard, and some good young starters aboard.

    Here is where we have to start separating them out. For now, we have to assume that the rosters stay the same. There are four things I like to look at when trying to figure out who will win the playoffs - Bullpens, Top Three Starters, Offense, and Defense. Here's how I think the bullpens rate, based on Ajusted Runs Prevented, as reported by
  • Baseball Prospectus
  • :

    Incredible - LA, Houston
    Very, Very Good - Arizona and Philly
    Not Bad - Chicago, Atlanta, and Colorado
    Average - San Francisco
    Pretty Damn Awful - Montreal, St. Louis, and Florida

    If it's my money, I want a team with a great bullpen. So even though Atlanta and San Francisco
    are the two teams most likely to make the playoffs, and their bullpens aren't terrible, I'm not going with either one of them. I only get to pick one team, a bullpen is what I want, and I'm thinking I can find a team that has this and enough balance in other areas to win.

    This leaves me with four teams - LA, Houston, Arizona, and Philly. The run by the Diamondbacks has been truly remarkable. Last month I handicapped the races and didn't even look at them. Here's a look at their offenses:

    LA - OBP .302, SLG .355
    Houston - OBP .337, SLG .430
    Arizona - OBP .335, SLG .436
    Philly - OBP .339, SLG .406

    Houston and Arizona rank fourth and fifth in the league in runs scored. Philadelphia is 8th. LA is dead last. That's too big of a weakness for the Dodgers to overcome. I'm eliminating them.

    Defensively, Philly has the second fewest errors in the league. Houston is tied for fourth. Arizona is ok at eighth.

    Finally,let's do the top three starters. The numbers in the parenthesis are Support Neutral Wins over a .425 pitcher. A definition of that can be found in the same place where all of the stats are, at Baseball Prospectus. If you don't want to bother with all of that, it's enough to know that the higher the number is, the better.

    Houston - Oswalt (2.0), Miller (1.2), Redding (1.0)
    Philly - Millwood (2.3), Wolf (1.7), Myers (1.5)
    Arizona - Webb (3.8), Batista (2.6), Schilling (2.2)

    This is where the big difference comes in. Brandon Webb ranks number 1 of all National League Starters right now, Miguel Batista 8th, and Curt Schilling 13th. Kevin Millwood is the only Phillies pitcher that can fit in that group, and Houston doesn't have anyone at all. Now it's certainly possible that either Webb or Batista could falter, but Schilling is just getting back on the field, and there's still the shadow of the Big Unit hanging over everything.

    Last month I had the Astros, but this month I'm switching to the Diamondbacks. With an excellent bullpen, the chance for a dominating rotation, an above average offense and a reasonable defense, they are going to be very difficult to beat from here on in. At 9-2, the opportunity to score on them with big odds has passed, but it's better to cash a ticket at low odds than to not cash one at all.

    After five innings (90 games is 5/9 of the schedule), I like Arizona vs. Seattle in the World Series.

    Comments? Counseling?


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