Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Playoffs Power Guide, Bloggie-Style

This marks year #3 for the FBBTTPL re-analysis of the conventional wisdom with regard to NFL teams. You'll recall in the past that I have come up with a vaguely-representative formula based on the BCS to assemble a ranking that looks at records, schedule strength, quality wins, and a subjective poll ranking. The formula is as follows: A + B + C - D = score, and the rankings are scored from lowest to highest.

A: Rank in the ESPN power poll -- the subjective element. Hardly foolproof, but then again any poll that puts the 10-6 Patriots eight spots ahead of the 10-6 Redskins can't be all bad.

B: Number of losses.

C: Strength of schedule factor. This year I only ranked the 17 teams with winning records, so it's a relative strength test, probably differing slightly from a league-wide one. Anyway, I calculate the number of games against winning teams, which among the +.500 teams ranged from 11 (San Diego) to 5 (Seattle). The strength was then ranked 1-17 among these teams, where San Diego gets one point, and Seattle gets 17, and these scores were multiplied by 0.4 to dilute the factor. Otherwise you'd have the Chargers rated ahead of the Colts, which surely isn't an accurate reflection of... OK, never mind.

D: Number of quality wins, i.e., wins over teams included in the Sensational 17.

And the results?

1. Denver 3+3+1-7= 0
2. Indy 1+2+4.8-5= 2.8
3. Seattle 2+3+6.8-5= 8.8
4. Patriots 4+6+2.2-3= 9.2
5. Pittsburgh 6+5+3.2-4= 10.2

6. Chicago 5+5+4.8-3= 11.8
7. Tampa 7+5+4.8-4= 12.8
8. NYG 10+5+2.2-4= 13.2
9. KC 13+6+1-6= 14
10. Jax 11+4+6.4-3= 14.4

11. Cincy 8+5+4.8-3= 14.8
12. Carolina 9+5+4.8-3= 15.8
13. Wash 12+6+2.2-4= 16.2
14. San Diego 15+7+0.4-5= 17.4
15. Dallas 16+7+2.2-4= 21.2

16. Miami 14+7+4.8-4= 21.8
17. Minn 17+7+4.8-2= 26.8

As usual, the order gets shuffled around. The first number in the formula is the ESPN poll, so it's easy to compare. Biggest jump: KC, up four spots; biggest falls: Cincy and Carolina, down three. Some notes:

* Denver's ascention to #1 is pretty dramatic. Of course, they own one of the league's largest home-field advantages, and were 3-3 against winning teams on the road. But they survived a killer schedule and ran the table both at home and against all losing teams in any venue, and they leapfrog Indy and Seattle based on much tougher opponents and more quality wins. Who can argue with that?

* Pats could easily have made it to #3 by playing first-teamers against Miami last week and chalking up what would have been an easy quality win (and one less loss) in that case. Of course, Seattle threw its last game to the Packers for the same reason, so nobody can really complain. Still, the Pats are an enigma here: Six losses, 3-6 against winning teams (after going 9-1 last year and undefeated in 2003)... And yet, toss out the Miami gift and what you have is a tale of two totally unrelated half-seasons. ESPN puts them eight slots ahead of the next 6-loss team... but again, toss out the Miami game and they're a 5-loss team, just like the next six teams in the poll.

* Kansas City is totally underrated. Six quality wins, including over Denver and the Pats. Sure, five road losses and a home chunker to Philly early on before the Eagles disintegrated killed their hopes. But move them to the NFC and is there any reason not to put them in the Super Bowl? Seattle is the odds-on favorite, assuming they can grind down the Bears and/or maybe Tampa in the rain, but the Seahawks played only five winning teams all year, beating only Dallas, the Giants, and a disinterested Colts team which had already clinched home field and whose coach was dealing with a family tragedy.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

It Has To Happen

Five reasons why the Sox need Miguel Tejada:

5. The obvious one -- three infielders just can't get it done.

4. The other obvious one -- Manny must go. At this point, he is either of no value to the Sox, if we are to believe he won't even report in the spring, or is of almost no value, having burned every bridge in sight this time even if he does show up. All I can say is, I never should have thrown down for an authentic Manny jersey. At least Stacey talked me out of Manuel for a boy's name.

3. Assuming Manny goes, what we lose in thump we gain in intangibles, out of the same slot in the order. Some numbers to consider...
- we all know Manny is the metronome. Vs. lefties? 1.000 OPS. Righties? 1.000 OPS. Home? 1.000 OPS. Late innings? 1.000 OPS.
- Tejada is less impressive at the plate. Assuming he's in his prime, recent seasons suggest he'll post an OB% about 50 points lower, in the .350 range, and a slugging some 75-100 points lower. BUT: he strikes out some 30 percent less or so, makes good contact, and really only loses the OB% in walks. Will he ever match Manny's production? Probably not. But he's a shortstop, so will he and a replacement outfielder together match the production of Manny and a replacement shortstop? Perhaps.

2. Since Sox fans are still as unnecessarily negative as ever, this move will completely change the tone in Boston.

[Interesting and rather cathartic column by Gammons today. Yes, it seems like the Sox are in management disarray since Theo left, but I definitely buy the idea that if Theo had been here, the roster (and Yankee roster as well) would quite possibly be no different.

1. And above all else... He's Ortiz' best friend. Ortiz is going into his walk year with about 28 teams waiting for him. Ortiz is the indispensible one.

Make it happen Jen Hoyerington.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Shorter Bob Ryan

"Don't be your usual pathetic selves and blame Damon, after all he did for us."

[Apologies to Atrios.blogspot.com, inventor of this format of condensed column, wihch I plan to be stealing a lot.]

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

OK, What Just Happened??

Like most of you, I woke up to be unexpectedly cracked on the head, not unlike the time Pat Patterson hit Bruno Sammartino on the head with a chair during an interview.

Like most of you, I had the traditional response to a Sox player going to New York: hoping he gets injured.

The emotional impact of Damon's leaving is hard to address, at least beyond what's already in print. This sucks, and makes 2004 feel like a long time ago. Will Yankee fans remember the way Damon ended their season and sealed their place in history as the first team to choke a 3-game lead? Hope so, but they'd be forgiven for taking a more opportunist slant, for now.

Anyway, we can at least look at some numbers. Damon was fourth in the league in runs, went 18/19 in steals, and put up decent slugging for a leadoff hitter. None of that really matters much. Runs say more about the guys behind you; steals are nice but competent baserunning is all you need with Ortiz coming up; and slugging... like I said, the job is to get on base for the big guns.

So for this job -- Sox leadoff hitter -- the key qualification is on-base percentage. Damon was 19th in the AL at .366. Is that special, exactly? Well, Julio Lugo checked in at .362. Probably the next biggest qualification is patience. Now, what makes patience important is twofold: running up pitch counts is generall good, and where a hitter can work the count into an advantageous situation, it means he's taking control of the strike zone. The latter is a subjective matter, but at least regarding the former we can look at pitches seen. Damon ranks 22nd in the AL. Again, good, but the domain of the Lugos, Renterias (remember him?) and Sorianos... well behind the immortal Brandon Inge.

Defensively, Damon's play in center was commendable. With his quickness he covered a ton of ground, and his fearlessness was an asset in Fenway's strange dimensions. His arm was kind of a joke, however, so the comparisons to DiMaggio will be left aside for now.

All this adds up to one conclusion: if you don't get too emotional about it, Damon is replaceable. At far less than $13 mil a year. I wish it didn't come to this. But it did, and it's not that tall a task.

Personally I hope it's Jeremy Reed. The guy is 24, so his rookie season can't be evaluated seriously. He put up a .450 OB% in his last season in the minors. Not being a hitting coach, I can't say with any certainty how his success at the prior level can be translated into the bigs. But he can play the outfield, and has potential to be a top-of-the-order guy. The alternatives aren't special, and the Sox should avoid rusing headlong into any emergency deals. The biggest thing working against them is the scarcity of guys who can play center and get on base. But neither of those skills is unheard of, or irreplaceable.

Monday, December 12, 2005

So Many Rumors, So Little Time

* Do the Sox have an organizational plan? Apparently we're going to find out in an hour or two. Of course, I'm in DC and our hosts don't have NESN, so maybe I'll know by tonight. The question on everyone's mind, of course, is not what Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer will be doing but Theo. Nobody's saying whether Theo is part of today's shindig.

* Evidence that they DO have a plan: contacting Clemens' agent for a return which would work on a number of levels. First, the guy can still pitch, and hard. Second, as a free agent who was not offered arbitration, he won't cost them draft picks. Lastly (I'm skipping the PR angle), bringing in a guy who Papelbon and Beckett admire could have a nice trickle down effect on the young guys on the roster, and even inspire Schilling, a former protege. [Clemens the role model? Has it come to this?] It also reinforces that the Sox are committed to the young guys, bringing in a short-timer while Papelbon, Hansen and Lester gestate a little longer, rather than the classic Steinbrenner move of signing a flashy name for the rotation who blocks all the youngsters indefinitely.

* Tejada sounds like an unlikely option. It's all too talk-radio simple to deal him for Manny, and doesn't take into account a lot of the ordinary complications, like how the money balances out, whether teams would trade within the division (to the team they're trying to catch), etc. My sense is that if Tejada really does want to leave, we wouldn't get him for less than Papelbon and Lester, which I think/hope is a non-starter. Anyway, if the O's go dealing, I just don't think it will be for a bat. They are desperate for pitching, and Tejada is one of their only commodities who could bring pitching in return.

* I did a little victory lap this morning when I saw Renteria complaining about the Fenway infield. I swear, it doesn't take a genius to think through the game. Case in point.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Aftermath

Just a couple quick notes. So now it appears the Sox want Marte for themselves, which sounds like great news to me. I had said earlier that maybe Lugo was a decent substitute for Renteria, if that deal had gone through, but because of Tampa's utter stupidity the Sox wind up with a far better deal: Marte, and whoever else they can get to play short, including a semi-incumbent Alex Cora. Like I said, the Sox seem to have a stash of blackmail materials on the rest of the league.

Like other blue chippers, we don't really know what Marte is, but by all accounts he has a very high ceiling, something that can't be said of Lugo, and probably can't be said of Renteria at this point. Of the three players rumored in the proposed 3-way deal, Marte is the most valuable because mega-prospects are much harder to find than shortstops with league-average production. And because mega-prospects can either turn into themselves, or be turned into established stars in need of a change of scenery. [And no, I don't want to see him traded for Tejada. The Orioles loved Clement a year ago; maybe they still do.]

My choice right now at SS is Alex Gonzalez. His defense intrigues me. As for Edgar, I guess we will never know if he would have gotten comfortable in Boston. But if he flops in Atlanta, at least then we will know it wasn't about getting comfortable so much as getting old.

BTW, there's a post in me, in a more contemplative mode, about Steven Goldman's Mind Game, particularly the chapter on controlling the strike zone. More later, I hope.
Shortstop Carousel Pt. III: Now What?

Yesterday and earlier, we looked into the relative strengths and weaknesses of incumbent Sox SS Edgar Renteria versus a couple rumored options. But we failed to compare him to his current real-life replacement: nothing. Had we done so, we might have seen those 30 errors as a small price to pay for Renteria's value-above-a-warm-body factor.

But now that we are there, and we know something will happen, let's consider two more options. First, in exchange the Sox acquired uber-prospect Andy Marte. Since Marte is further along in his development and boasts both power and defense on his resume, it's a bit generous to say Hanley Ramirez' departure makes this a wash, but Hanley's value increases slightly as a shortstop, so we will call this even. Add up all the deals and you've got Beckett + Lowell + Mota + Loretta for Renteria + Mirabelli + the two minor league pitchers. Four major league contributors (we'll remove "stud" from Beckett's name til that shoulder performs a bit) for a backup catcher, a shortstop who should have been better, and two kids. If we stopped there, one could scarcely complain.

But option A, supposedly, is to flip Marte for Lugo. Amazingly, it's the Devil Rays who have been objecting, although seasoned rumor readers will know that most GMs consider it impossible to talk to the D-Rays because they will always insist on your four best players in exchange for their refuse. From my perspective, it should be the Sox objecting. If Marte is the new Hanley Ramirez... well, it was risky to trade the original Hanley for a top-of-the-rotation starter, so I can't see why we would trade the next Hanley for a guy whose play might be nearly replicated off the waiver wire or bottom of the free agent market.

Which turns us, one can hope, to option B. Alex Gonzalez is the best freebie out there, despite a nightmarish .300-ish on-base %. He HAS hit for power -- 25 homers in 2004, in Miami no less -- before crashing back to Earth last year. Still, his 500 outs a year aren't as devastating with Loretta now taking care of business in the #2 slot; he could get his power stroke back in friendly Fenway; and he's good-glove, great-arm in the field. Think of him as Pokey Reese, except replace a dozen or so slap singles with three-run bombs.

So do we really like Alex Gonzalez? Not especially. But is the differential between him and Lugo worth giving up a great prospect?? No freakin' way.

Update! A certain Belgian cyclist points out that Alex Cora is another option already on board. He can be counted on for about a .700 OPS, and last time he played 138 games (in LA) he had 8 errors. So I would guess he can field. Presumably Pedroia is waiting in the wings, arriving no later than 2007.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

How Can This Have Happened?

Someone in the Sox' office has nude photos of all the other owners. That's the only way to explain some of the trades we've been on the receiving end of in the last 8 years. Pedro for Armas and Pavano? Schilling for ... what was his name again?? Varitek and Lowe for Slocumb? And now... Mark Loretta for Doug Mirabelli? [I'll hold off on grading the Beckett trade, I still believe in some jinxes.]

Anyway, I simply can't see why we should be the recipients of such a lopsided deal. Mirabelli was a really useful guy, a luxury as a backup, but was never going to hit enough to warrant a feature role, even if Varitek wasn't around. I wrote last year that Mirabelli kills lefties, and even in the throes of a weak season in 2005 he still rang up a .356 OB%-.420 Slug-.776 OPS. Not too shabby. But a guy who gets 140 at-bats and serves as one pitcher's personal receiver simply isn't all that important.

Loretta, meanwhile, is almost an on-base machine. His career numbers, even in pitcher's parks in San Diego, are .365-.408-.773. Last year was an off-year, which combined with his age (34) is presumably why the Padres let him go. He was an all-star in 2004, when he hit .335 with an OPS just under .900, and at least one website claimed he was a gold-glove caliber defender. He came back to Earth some last season, presumably because of injuries given that he only played 105 games, and his slugging lost 150 points (to .347), well below any past performances. Bears watching. As does his transition to the AL, where he's never played.

But I like his chances -- the AL is the nibblers' league, and Loretta's hallmark, like many of his new teammates, is patience. As much as his slugging has fluctuated, his OB% numbers are steadily between .350 and .390... and as I said last night, for the table setters slugging isn't nearly as important as getting on. His strikeout totals the last four seasons are 37, 62, 45, 34. Good news, considering he's replacing Bellhorn for whom those numbers would reflect his last four months. Walk numbers max out in the high 50s, but last year he saw 3.9 pitches per at-bat, a Manny-like number. If healthy and rejuvenated (as a switch to the big time should guarantee), he will fit in perfectly with the Sox lineup.
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