Playoff Thoughts II

The year (post-season) of the home run? Perhaps, so argues Joe Lemire. I was thinking about this as I watched the Rangers-Tigers game last night. Early on, while Derek Holland and Max Scherzer were both struggling, I was trying to remember a post-season so dramatically defined by offense. I (and others) have pointed out how important pitching is to the post-season, and I still believe that (both at a gut level and based on copious statistical evidence provided by baseball prospectus and others). But every now and then a post-season comes along and turns into a slug fest.

Like 2002. I don’t have the numbers in front of me to prove this (so if someone wants to take the time to do this, that would be awesome), but 2011 feels a lot like 2002 to me. There are always blowouts and games where the scoring gets out of hand in any year’s post-season tournament, but I can’t remember a year like this since 2002. No one, especially the World Series teams (Angels and Giants) had a fearsome big-game type of starter. The bullpens were good and there were some excellent pitching performances, but you kind of expected the final scores to be 6-5, not 3-2.

Two points to all of this: (1) I can’t remember a slug it out post-season like this since 2002. (2) It really makes sad the Giants aren’t in this. I was kind of hoping the Phillies would win it all and the inevitability of that result would make it easy to swallow the Giants lost season. However, the more I watch this post-season, the more I think a dominant staff (starters and relievers) could have done some damage in this tournament.

(-SB)

A Couple of Classics

Friday night brought the drama, and it also brought the pitching. I complained yesterday about the lack of dominance by pitchers in the post-season in what was supposed to have been the year of the pitcher. (Side note: someone is probably going to write an idiotic article about how Roy Halladay is great, but not super great, because he can’t win in the post-season…it will be ludicrous but it’s going to happen). Last night however provided everything we love about baseball: suspense, great pitching, unlikely heroes, and surprising results.

Saturday Morning Thoughts:

  • Great job Cardinals. You continue to mess with my pitching model of success (although they really turned it on in the 2nd half…their season stats are not super impressive, but their second half stats are Giant-esque: 7.8 k/9, sub 3.30 ERA. Should have paid more attention to that), and you constantly annoy me with the terrible way you build your team, and yet you just keep on winning. I don’t get it and it frustrates me, but credit where credit is due. You just pulled off one of the greatest upsets in MLB history. Well done!
  • I’m all in with the Brewers now. Might even go buy a hat. Probably not, but if 2011 turns out to be a repeat of 2006, I’ll be upset. Just saying.
  • Sticking with the Rangers in the AL and I’m going to say Brewers in 7 in the NLCS.
(-SB)

 

Playoff Thoughts…

So, that squirrel thing was kind of funny. Other than that, despite the three game 5’s, I am not finding these playoffs to be super enjoyable thus far. Last October was so awesome, such an experience, and this year just can’t match that.

Some thoughts:

  • While there is a lot of evidence that pitching was better overall in 2011 than 2010 the post-season is not supporting that. Verducci writes about it here, but that would have been my top observation anyway. Again, it highlights the tragedy of Posey: I really think the Giants could have run this table if they had made it back.
  • Not surprised to see the Yankees go down to Detroit in a short series. I don’t think Detroit has enough to get past the Rangers, but in 5 games with Verlander and Cabrera and company, Detroit had plenty of weapons to deal with a Yankees team that had a nice regular season, but was always way too thin to inspire tons of confidence.
  • For a second there I believed that Tampa might be on the verge of something magical, but that was quickly erased by three nice, efficient games from the Rangers. There’s a part of me that wouldn’t mind seeing them win it all. Feels vindicating in some way for Giants’ fans. My ALCS prediction: Rangers over the Tigers in 6.
  • Tonight’s games: Still think the Phillies pull this out. They’ve been exposed by the Cardinals a lot more than I expected, but they should get out of this and on to the next round (and the World Series for that matter). Phillies over Cards 4-2. The other series continues to be a total coin flip in my opinion. I guess I’ll go with the Brewers since they are at home and that seems to really matter in this matchup. Brewers over D-Backs 5-4.
(-SB)

Prediction Reboot

(**Note: records are taken from May 1st standings…also links to the original prediction articles can be found by clicking on the division titles). The first month of the season is in the books, so it seems like a natural time to review some of my preseason predictions and see how we’re doing and if we need to make adjustments. Today, we’ll look at the divisions, and later this week the awards.

AL East

Two weeks in to the season my Red Sox-first-Rays-take-second-and-the-Wild-Card pick was looking terrible. As bad as the Sox looked, the team I was really concerned about was the Rays. They looked awful out of the gate and then got hit with a big injury (Longoria). It seems, though, they’ve righted the ship, in part due to the emergence of Sam Fuld (thank you Manny) and also to the pitching, which I thought was the key all along. Now a month in and nothing has dissuaded me from my original pick. Red Sox still win it and the Rays have what it takes to win the WC. Sorry Yankees but your weak rotation and old man squad (I’m looking at you Jeter) aren’t going to cut it unless there is a major midseason trade.

AL Central

I will admit that the team I felt least excited about picking in all of baseball was the Twins. It felt uninspired in every way, yet I just couldn’t not pick them. Currently, though, this division is completely upside down from where I had everyone. Literally, my 1 through 5 is actually 5-1. I also don’t think the Indians can keep this up, but who else, honestly, is good enough to win this division? Maybe the White Sox. If I had to put money on someone, it would be Chicago, but wow, this division is completely baffling. Also, I would LOVE to see the Indians hang on and pull this out.

AL West

Texas got off a hot start but is coming back to earth. They have surprised me so far, but I still think their lack of quality starting pitching will be a liability. Best guess: it will only take about 90 wins to secure this division again, and so my money is still on the A’s. The Angels have been good, and they have a couple of hot pitchers right now, but in the end I still have to go with Oakland.

NL East

The Marlins are making me proud so far this season. I felt they would be good this year but really looking towards 2012 (new stadium, more maturity from Logan Morrison/Mike Stanton/Anibal Sanchez)…maybe they are ready now. That said, I believe this division still comes down to the Phillies and the Braves with the loser making it in as the Wild Card. Don’t be surprised though if both Wild Card teams are from Florida.

NL Central

The Brewers are right where they want to be with Zack Greinke coming back. If they can get Gallardo going they have a formidable four man rotation with Marcum and Wolf being lights out so far. Look for them to make some bullpen moves this summer to shore up what has thus far been their major weakness. I’m sticking with them winning this division. I love the Cardinals for so far proving that they won’t go quietly just because Adam Wainwright went down for the season. The Reds are still conundrum to me. Some days I think I was a fool for not picking them to win the division running away, and others I think third place is exactly where they deserve to be. Bottom Line: this is still the Brewers division to lose.

NL West

Other than the AL Central this is my biggest mistake so far. What to make of the Giants? If you had told me before the season started that the Giants would lose Torres, Wilson, DeRosa, Sandoval, Casilla, Ross, and Zito to the DL before May 1st and be at .500 only 4.5 games back, I’d say “wow, that’s pretty fortunate.” And yet, despite all that, I can’t help but look at this team and feel like they should be better. In addition to injuries, Huff has had a terrible start, Belt didn’t pan out (this time around), and Tejada has been a disaster. Meanwhile Bumgarner started slowly and the bullpen has some issues throwing strikes. Only 4.5 back. I don’t know…the injuries feel ominous…feel like the kinds of things that derail a successful championship defense. But, there’s still a lot of time left. Oh and the Rockies are good. Really good. I still think a healthy Giants club is the best team in the division, but they are going to have to do this the hard way.

(-SB)

January Predictions

The monks offer our very early, very unofficial first shot at predicting the 2011 season. Enjoy and comment away!

1) Why will the Giants’ Repeat?

  • Jon: Because they are awesome. After not winning the WS for 56 years, they are due to win at least 4 times in a row! Don’t argue…it’s a game of statistics and this stat only makes sense.
  • Tim: Giants repeat because: Our pitching staff is strong as ever, and we are getting all the big guns back. It was just announced today that Cody Ross is pulling on the orange for another year, and with him and Huff swingin’ the lumber, and Panda already 15 pounds lighter, we’ll finally have some consistent run support for our amazing pitching staff.
  • Josh: The Giants will defeat the New York Yankees in the World Series.  I think it would be really cool to knock off the team I hate more than any other… besides the Dodgers.
  • Steve: They win again because the youth of the staff means the pitching holds up for another deep run, plus the offense is improved with pablo bouncing back, full seasons of posey/burrell/ross, the emergence of belt, and more goodness from huff/torres/sanchez.

2) Favorite to Win (Non-Giants Division)

  • Jon: Phillies…it feels strange picking a team the Giants’ made to look like weepy little school boys in the NLCS, but their pitching and above average hitting will be tough. Despite their solid lineup they didn’t perform to potential last year. If their pitching stays healthy and their hitting meets potential, they can take it in 2011.
  • Tim: Twins…I was initially leaning towards the Phillies, but I’ve decided on this was too rational. Minnesota Twins. Doesn’t sound rational? With Justin Morneau looking to be healthy at the start of the season, and Joe Mauer locked up for all eternity, all these small town boys need to do is finally get by the Yankees in October.
  • Josh: New York Yankees vs. Phillies. How can you not pick these two teams at this point in the year? Injuries can change everything but the sound mind says these two teams will meet. Oh and Vegas thinks so too!
  • Steve: Red Sox…I actually think it will be the Phillies, but they’re covered, so I’ll go with the semi-homer pick. I do have legitimate concerns about the pitching, but if the rotation is healthy they have PLENTY of offense to get them to the post-season where Lester and an improved bullpen will carry them through.

3) Sleeper Picks (NL and AL)

  • Jon: Brewers in the NL…I just have a feeling. Grienke, Gallardo, Braun, Fielder, and NOT Hoffman. A’s in the AL…no, this is not because I’m from the Bay Area. This team competes every year with guys I’ve never heard of (Mike Sweeney anyone?). This year they not only have a credible line up with DeJesus and Matsui and Willingham, but their rotation is top 3 in the league.
  • Tim: Although my Twins Prophecy sounds like a sleeper, the real sleeper here is the Rockies. They have so much young talent, and the rest of the league is finally taking notice. We were lucky to slip by them in our division last year, but Ubaldo Jimenez is throwing the heat, and he and his teammates will ride the flowing mullet of Troy Tulowitzki all the way to a ring. In the AL, this is the year of the year of the A’s. I am mostly basing this pick on the fact that their cross town rivals took home the glory in 2010, and it’s lit a fire under their butts. They signed Grant Balfour today, and he had a great year with Tampa Bay last year, which should help their struggling bullpen. Adding Hideki Matsui at DH was a smooth off-season pickup. I would love nothing more than a Battle of the Bay Vol. 2. Hopefully the A’s can step it up.
  • Josh: AL pick is the Twins.  I guess this isn’t much of a sleeper since they went to the playoffs last year, but they always build their team well.  Bill Smith (GM) is a smart cookie and he builds a great squad with a decent payroll of just under $100 million and  Ron Gardenhire  can get the most out of his rotation and lineup. In some ways, I see a lot of similarities to the Giants. NL…I think the Braves could creep up on some people. The first year without the legend of Bobby Cox should be intriguing and they could be a great story or this could be the dumbest pick ever. Their rotation could use some help in the back-end but the addition of Dan Uggla could be huge for them and Jason Heyward should only be getting better (scary). By the way, I hope this pick fails. I hate the stupid Braves.
  • Steve: I too like the Brewers…a lot, but I’m going to go with the Marlins as a true sleeper. If Vasquez pitches like he did in ’09 and the rest of the rotations stays healthy, they have as good a 1-5 as anyone in MLB. Plus they have a stable of young, athletic hitters who could come together around Hanley. I might be a year early on them, but watch out for FL. In the AL, I love the A’s, but again that’s been covered, so I’m touting the White Sox. Good pitching, power, defense, a crazy manager…they play in a winnable division and have the pitching depth to make a serious run if they get in.

There you go…second guess away!

The National League

All the monks are hard at work on a post for sometime in the middle of this week when we unveil our first (but not last) predictions for the 2011 season. My initial thought as I pondered my some early picks: OMG the National League is wicked loaded!

Not too long ago I posted about the centrality of pitching to post-season success and how the Champions of the last decade (almost to a team) made significant additions to their staffs that led to glory.

Yesterday, ROTO Authority offered a list of some of the key pitchers who have gone from the AL to the NL this offseason. There are a few good ones on there, adding to a league that already has a full slate of dominant arms.

In light of those moves and others that have taken place there are 8 teams with a legitimate shot at the playoffs (listed with their top two pitchers just for comparison’s sake):

  • East: Phillies (Halladay and Lee) and Braves (Lowe and Hudson)
  • Central: Reds (Volquez and Cueto), Cardinals (Carpenter and Wainwright), Brewers (Grienke and Gallardo)
  • West: Giants (Lincecum and Cain), Rockies (Jimenez and De la Rosa), Dodgers (Kershaw and Billingsley)

note how many good pitchers from these teams are still not mentioned (i.e. hamels, oswalt, hudson, jurjiens, arroyo, wood, bailey, garcia, westbrook, marcum, bumgarner, sanchez, hammel, lilly, kuroda, garland)

There are, in my estimation, five more teams that could at least make a run if the stars, sun, and moon line up right (i.e. perfect health and some career years). Here they are with their top two starters:

  • East: Marlins (Johnson and Nolasco), Nationals (Hernandez and Marquis), and Mets (Santana and Niese)
  • Central: Cubs (Dempster and Garza)
  • West: Padres (Latos and Richard)

that doesn’t include: vazquez, sanchez, volstad, strasburg, zimmerman, pelfrey, zambrano, wells, stauffer, leblanc, and harrang.

That leaves only three teams (the D-backs, Pirates, and Astros) who have NO chance (note: I really feel like I could put the D-Backs in the stars/moon/sun category but will not at this point).

look at some of the pitchers on those teams: saunders, hudson, kennedy, maholm, ohlendorf, rodriguez and myers.

That’s crazy! 13 of 16 teams have a chance and half the teams in the league have a legitimate chance. Bottom line: I am struggling with my national league picks right now. I would hate to be a hitter in the NL…

Stay tuned for our january prognostications coming soon!

(-SB)

Scrap Heap Signings

Let’s reflect. Growing up, I was able to pick any cereal once a year on my birthday. This was a big deal in my 8-year-old world for three reasons:

  1. I never got to eat “sugar” cereal. Lots of bran and strong intestinal tracts in my family.
  2. Cereal was my favorite food.
  3. The potential for not only some good cereal, but a sweet toy that was hidden in the box/bag.

Looking up and down the aisle like a giddy schoolboy, I would pick the cereal with the best potential for tasty cereal and a worthy toy. I would often go for the knock off cereal like “Lieutenant Crunch” due to its larger size and toy potential.

We are in the time of the baseball year where teams are scrambling to patch the remaining holes in their roster with second-rate talent. As exciting as it is to see Craig Counsel sign for his 17th one year contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, it is a time when teams are hoping to find decent enough players to simply survive.

But underneath all the mundane signings, there is a tasty morsel of deliciousness that every MLB GM seeks to uncover. No, none of the GM’s will ever admit that any of these players will be “season changers” for their respective squad, but that doesn’t mean they still don’t hold out hope that their signing will be the one that everyone talks about. They will dig deep into that bag (because most generic cereals come in bags) of “Lieutenant Crunch” and try to unearth that toy that will revolutionize their season.

For every Craig Counsel, Fred Lewis, Terry Mulholland (yes, I just went late 80’s) and Garrett Atkins, there is a hidden jewel that is going to perform WAY over expectation and make every GM look like they have the foresight of an Old Testament prophet.

Enter the greatness that is Pat Burrell. He was sent to the scrap heap by Tampa Bay in the middle of 2010 and thought to be done. All the GM’s holding out to uncover the “toy” of greatness were scurrying around trying to find the piece that would send their team towards a second half playoff run. Initially signed to a minor league deal by the SF Giants, he became the power-bat-spark that played a huge role in getting the team to World Series.

I can still remember the scene of his clutch late inning HR against the Dodgers that stuck like an arrow in their heart. I was sitting on the patio of my buddy’s sunny Santa Cruz home drinking an adult beverage when David B. Flemming’s voice echoed through the Redwoods announcing the HR that we would never forget.

So, let’s sit back, nibble on some “Lieutenant Crunch” and watch all the GM’s scramble in the hopes that our team finds the hidden morsel of deliciousness that makes us say, “Brian Sabean is @%$W&* genius.”

(-JH)

Why Repeating is So Difficult, Pt. 3

Alright, this is the end of it…some of us have real jobs that we need to get back too =)

We ended the last post with the 2009 Yankees, so lets move on to the Giants!

2010 San Francisco Giants

  • 2009 88-74 (3rd in NL West): 8.1 K/9, 3.55 ERA, 121 ERA+, 1.28 WHIP
  • 2010 92-70 (1st): 8.2, 3.36, 121 (no change!), 1.27 WHIP

First off, how nasty has the Giants’ pitching been the last two years?! Lets review: the only team we looked at to post even one K/9 rate over 8 was the Diamondbacks. The Giants did it two years in a row! Those same Diamondbacks, who had two Hall of Famers on their staff, matched the 121 ERA+ but only did it once. The Giants did it two years in a row! The 2005 White Sox had the best ERA+ at 125, but nowhere near that in ’04 or ’06. The 2007 Red Sox had an ERA+ of 123, but couldn’t quite match it the next year. The Giants broke 120 two years in a row! And, the best ERA of any other team, regardless of year belongs to the 2005 Cardinals (3.49) which was matched essentially matched by the Giants’ in 2009 and bested this last season.

By my simplistic methods, no Championship team in the last 10 years pitched as well as the 2010 Giants. (fun fact: in 2009, when the Yankees won, CC Sabathia posted an ERA+ of 137 and won 20 games…that same season Tim Lincecum crushed Sabathia with a 173 ERA+ and Matt Cain bested CC at 148…how many games did they win? 15 for Tim and 14 for Matt.)

The Giants are a true outlier in my model for a couple of reasons. 1) They didn’t make any significant additions to their staff in 2010…yes they added Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla, but it was mostly bullpen tweaks. Their big addition: Todd Wellemeyer (we all know how that ended up).

2) They did have a major contributor emerge over the course of the season in Madison Bumgarner (his 136 ERA+ was actually the best of any of the starters in ’10). That said, MadBum didn’t explode on to the scene they way Pavano did in 2003, or Lackey in 2002, or Garland in 2005 (this is actually a good thing, as I will explain later, but essentially he wasn’t extremely overworked as the 4th starter).

3) Like the Yankees the year before, the Giants break the mold a bit in that their ability to get to the postseason had more to do with their offense than pitching. It is in the regular that a good offense really shows up as significant predictor of success. The real important additions were Huff, Burrell, Posey, Torres, and Ross who allowed the Giants to scrape together enough runs to get four more wins. Once in the playoffs the Giants ridiculous pitching took over (which fits the BP model for playoff success to a T).

Conclusion:

I said in yesterday’s post, the pattern for World Series Championships tends to be this: an average staff makes a couple of key additions, sees a few young arms emerge, and experiences a significant bump in production. This bump caries the team to the title, but it also has proven to be unsustainable. Many championship teams have seen a major drop off in pitching production in their title-defending season torpedoing their ability to repeat.

Most of this drop off has to do with injuries and fatigue and a lack of the same type of talent infusion the team experienced the season before. For example, the 2004 Red Sox saw a huge bump in production (13 pts of ERA+) with the additions of Curt Schilling, Bronson Arroyo, and Keith Foulke. They added more arms the next year in Matt Clement and David Wells, but neither provided the same bump. On top of that, the Sox lost Schilling for most of the year due to the injury (bloody sock) he suffered in the 2004 playoffs, Pedro Martinez to free agency, and saw the beginning of the end of Keith Foulke (who pulled a Robb Nen in sacrificing his shoulder for the sake of the WS).

For teams hoping to make the jump to the WS it would behoove them to add pitching. If they are lucky enough to pull it off, they then need to add even MORE pitching and hope their guys stay healthy and strong for another long season.

Concerns

Based on these findings, I see a ton of red flags for the 2011 Giants. They have made no significant additions to their staff. Furthermore, Lincecum and Sanchez profile as the type of pitchers who might not rebound as well from their extended seasons. Tim Kawakami wrote a great article back in August about Lincecum’s astronomical pitch numbers, and it was clear to anyone watching (and confirmed here) that Sanchez ran out of gas at the end of THIS season, which doesn’t bode well for the next. The Giants’ staff seems poised for a classic post-World Series hangover drop in production.

Reasons for Hope

1) The Giants are clearly unique in their pitching superiority. No other team trying to repeat in the last 10 years has (a) been able to bring all the key players back and (b) had such a nasty staff. One of the things that made the Giants so good is their lack of a weak link (Zito is the obvious objection, but as a 5th starter he is unparalleled, both in quality and salary). Even if the Giants regress a bit as a staff they will still be better than a lot of the staffs that won WS in the last 10 years.

2) The Giants’ offense could potentially be a lot better over the course of the whole season this year. A full season of Posey/Ross/Sanchez, repeat performances by Burrell/Huff/Torres, a bounce back season from Sandoval, and the emergence of Brandon Belt could produce a better than league average offense for the first time since Bonds left. Improved offense and a regression on the mound could balance out to the same regular season results. Then the G-men will just have to hope for the magic in the postseason.

3) I have legitimate concerns about Sanchez, but I continue to marvel at Lincecum. Everything about him and how he’s been used to this point screams tommy john surgery in the near future. However, maybe he really is a freak. He is in great shape and has never had an arm injury, ever! Perhaps he’s just blessed in bizarre ways and 2011 will be business as usual.

Predictions

We will have full prediction posts in March when the season is a lot closer, but here’s where I am at currently. I do think the Giants pitching will regress overall but not significantly (think an ERA+ of 112 and a K/9 of 7.5). As good as they were last year they did give 15 or so starts to Todd Wellemeyer and had some bullpen issues early (Romo and Affeldt struggled early and Affeldt never came close to his 2009 form…if he comes back healthy and strong that will provide another significant internal addition).

I also think the Giants will score a lot more runs this year with a nice season for Pablo, depth in place at the start of the season (not just at the end), and the jolt Belt will provide when he does his Posey imitation this summer.

That said, I see them running out of gas in the postseason. Several NL teams have followed “my plan” well this offseason. The Phillies are the obvious offenders, but watch out for the Brewers (big additions), the Reds (big emergence potential), and even the Cubs (especially if this is true), Marlins (addition and emergence), and Dodgers (addition and emergence). Also, don’t forget about the Rockies/Braves/Nationals who all improved in various ways over the offseason, plus they have some young players who should continue to mature. Also, the Cardinals still have a few good players.

All that to say, the NL is going to be TOUGH this year, which means the Giants probably need to improve on both sides of the ball. The problem: that just hasn’t happened with returning Champions in a long time.

(-SB)

Why Repeating is So Difficult, Pt. 2

This ended up being a lot longer than expected so we’re going to do a three parter. The premise of part 2: winning a world series is all about pitching. It takes a big jump in pitching production from the year before to win the championship and in the last ten years that jump has been unsustainable for reasons I will try to explain in part 3.

I recently reread Baseball Behind the Numbers by the Baseball Prospectus guys. Having just watched the Giants surprising postseason run I was eager to review the study where they unveil the factors that lead most directly to success in the postseason.

According to BP, the only four factors that have any kind of statistical significance (and it’s not that much statistically speaking) are: 1) strong starting pitching (and more specifically, power pitchers who can strike batters out and get swings and misses), 2) dominant relief pitching (especially from the closer), 3) defense that doesn’t make mistakes (doesn’t have to be great in terms of range but NO errors), 4) to a much lesser extent than the first three, power hitting (i.e. home runs).

Just based on that you can see why the Giants 2010 run makes a lot of sense. Their findings form the basis for the premise of this post and the importance of pitching:

Winning in the postseason, and thus the World Series, is, based on the stats, all about pitching. My observation is that over the last ten years the WS champions have seen a major addition or jump forward in their pitching talent, and then an inability to sustain that the next year. I am way more adept at reading statistical baseball analysis than performing it, so what follows is pretty elementary, but hopefully you will see my point.

Let’s look at the last 10 World Series Champions, how their pitching fared in the year before, the year of, and the year after their win, and their key staff additions (through trades, free agency, or a young talent emerging). I’ll be using K/9, ERA, ERA+ (note that an era+ score of 100 is league average), and WHIP data from BaseballReference.com.

2001 Arizona Diamondbacks

  • 2000 83-79 (3rd in NL West): 7.6 K/9, 4.35 ERA, 110 ERA +, 1.34 WHIP
  • 2001 92-70 (1st): 8.0, 3.87, 121 (11 pt increase), 1.24
  • 2002 98-64 (1st): 8.1, 3.92, 117 (4 pt drop), 1.23

The Diamondbacks had 2 key additions in 2001: a full season of Curt Schilling and Miguel Bautista. They also had some great subtractions (no Omar Daal). They actually had a better regular season in their repeat year, but got swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the Cardinals. Thus begins the trend I hope to highlight here: it is very difficult to get the same production out of a pitching staff two post-seasons in a row. Especially staffs that are super top-heavy (It was Johnson and Schilling and then smoke and mirrors the rest of the way).

2002 Anaheim Angels

  • 2001 75-87 (3rd in AL West): 5.9 K/9, 4.20 ERA, 108 ERA+, 1.38 WHIP
  • 2002 (99-63 Wild Card): 6.2, 3.69, 120 (12 pt increase), 1.28
  • 2003 77-5 (3rd): 6.2, 4.28, 103 (17 pt drop!), 1.35

A classic case of key additions (Kevin Appier which sent Scott Schoenwies to the bullpen) and the emergence of young talent (John Lackey, K-Rod, Scot Shields) providing a huge, but unsustainable, bump in production. The 2002 Angels actually saw a bigger salary increase from 2001 to 2002 than the infamous 1997 Marlins team. As a result, they got better in a lot of areas, not just pitching. In 2004 they saw a similar bump when they added Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar and won the division before getting bounced from the playoffs in dramatic fashion by David Ortiz (I mean the Boston Red Sox).

2003 Florida Marlins

  • 2002 79-83 (4th in NL East): 6.8 K/9, 4.36 ERA, 93 ERA+, 1.43 WHIP
  • 2003 91-71 (Wild Card): 7.0, 4.04, 105 (12 pt increase), 1.35
  • 2004 83-79 (3rd): 7.0, 4.10, 101 (4 pt drop), 133

Looking at this makes me mad because it reinforces what a flukey team this was. They were obviously helped by the additions of Donrelle Willis, Matt Redmond, and Uegeth Urbina as well as getting full/emergent seasons from Carl Pavano and Josh Beckett. But they were essentially the same (fairly average) staff all three years with a small spike in performance in 2003. One caveat (and some foreshadowing) injuries really hurt them in 2004 as none of their 5 main starters pitched a full season.

2004 Boston Red Sox

  • 2003 95-67 (Wild Card): 7.0 K/9, 4.48 ERA, 104 ERA+, 1.36 WHIP
  • 2004 98-64 (Wild Card): 7.0, 4.18, 117 (13 pt increase), 1.29
  • 2005 95-67 (Wild Card): 6.0, 4.74, 96 (21 pt drop!), 1.39

The Red Sox were really good through this three-year window, yet they represent the best example so far of the cycle of major additions, big bump in production, followed by post-championship drop off. The 2004 team saw a huge jump because they added Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke. And the 2005 team suffered greatly the loss of Schilling (injury kept him out most of the season) and Pedro Martinez to the Mets. The 2005 additions of David Wells and Matt Clement weren’t enough to overcome the letdown. (The ERA numbers also show how hard it is to pitch in the Al East.)

2005 Chicago White Sox

  • 2004 83-79 (2nd in AL Central): 6.4 K/9, 4.91 ERA, 97 ERA+, 1.42 WHIP
  • 2005 99-63 (1st in AL Central): 6.3, 3.61, 125 (28 pt increase!), 1.25
  • 2006 90-72 (3rd): 6.3, 4.61, 103 (22 pt drop!), 1.36

The White Sox trump the ’04 Red Sox in my pitching cycle theory. The addition of Orlando Hernandez, healthy/full seasons from Freddy Garcia and Jose Contreras, and the emergence of Jon Garland and Bobby Jenks help partially account for this crazy spike in ERA+ followed by a tremendous drop. The interesting thing about the White Sox is how the K rate stayed the same, but the other numbers changed so dramatically. This probably shows that in ’05 they had an exceptional year defensively and got a bit lucky (if I had more time I’d look into some other numbers like BABIP). The 2005 Chicago White Sox: the poster-children for my pitching theory.

2006 St. Louis Cardinals

  • 2005 100-62 (1st in NL Central): 6.1 K/9, 3.49 ERA, 122 ERA+, 1.27 WHIP
  • 2006 83-78 (1st): 6.1, 4.54, 98 (24 pt drop!), 1.38
  • 2007 78-84 (3rd): 5.9, 4.65, 95 (3 pt drop), 1.41

If the ’05 White Sox are my well-behaved/front row students, then the ’06 Cardinals are my unruly/spit wad shooting/back row/trouble makers. Thanks for killing the drill guys. That said, keep in mind that the Cards had GREAT teams in 2004 and 2005 and that the ’06 team was basically the same core. Also, you do see a drop in the repeat year, mostly having to do with losing Chris Carpenter for the season (notice a big injury following a Championship has a lot to do with the depressed repeat season stats). However you slice it, this was a weird Championship team, period.

2007 Red Sox

  • 2006 86-76 (3rd in AL East): 6.7 K/9, 4.83 ERA, 99 ERA+, 1.44 WHIP
  • 2007 96-66 (1st): 7.2, 3.87, 123 (24 pt increase), 1.27
  • 2008 95-67 (Wild Card): 7.4, 4.01, 116 (7 pt drop), 1.33

The Red Sox stats show that they had the best chance of anyone to repeat in the last 10 years. They went to 7 games against the Rays in the 2008 ALCS and from their statistical steadiness that should be no surprise. The big additions in ’07 were the Japanese imports (Matsuzaka and Okajima), plus Becket had the best year of his career as he fully adjusted to life in the AL East. Papelbon also benefited from his first full season in the closer role. The Sox did add a full season of John Lester in ’08 which helped, but the big problem with repeating was Becket broke down as the season wore on and pitched with half a shoulder in playoffs. Again, the injury problems to key starters in the year after a WS win is a major reason why teams have struggled to repeat.

2008 Philadelphia Phillies

  • 2007 89-73 (1st in NL East): 6.5 K/9, 4.73 ERA, 97 ERA+, 1.45 WHIP
  • 2008 92-70 (1st): 6.7, 3.88, 113 (16 pt increase), 1.36
  • 2009 93-69 (1st): 7.1, 4.16, 101 (12 pt drop), 1.35

Record wise, the Phillies have gotten better each of the last 4 years (including 2010). And they seem to be the team that takes my theory “most seriously,” having added Cliff Lee in 2009 to try to repeat, Roy Halladay/Oswalt in 2010 to get back on top, and Cliff Lee again this offseason. Hats off for improving the most important part of the team four years running.

The 2008 championship team featured the key addition of Brad Lidge (who had the year of his life posting a 226 ERA+) which allowed them to put Brett Myers back in the rotation. 2008 also saw the emergence of Cole Hamels (ERA+ of 142). However, despite the addition of Lee in ’09, Lidge had a major setback that year posting an abysmal ERA+ of 59, and Hamels struggled with mental and physical issues all year (ERA+ of 97). Bullpen struggles have really hampered them the last two seasons.

2009 New York Yankees

  • 2008 89-73 (3rd in AL East): 7.1 K/9, 4.28 ERA, 104 ERA+, 1.36 WHIP
  • 2009 103-59 (1st): 7.8, 4.26, 108 (4 pt increase), 1.35
  • 2010 95-67 (Wild Card): 7.2, 4.06, 106 (2 pt drop), 1.31

The Yankees are an interesting case. First, it’s clear that their success is more closely tied to offense than any team in the last 10 years. Despite some significant additions over the last three years, they have had essentially the same staff production each season. Each staff had one guy who had a great year (Mike Mussina in 2008…look it up, it was legit…and then CC Sabathia in ’09 and ‘10), one other guy who stepped up as a legitimate number 2 (Andy Pettitte in ’08, AJ Burnett in ’09, Phil Hughes in ‘10). The big difference in 2009 was Pettitte offered a solid third option, which they sorely lacked in 2008 and 2010. 2010 had a lot to do with injuries, per usual, with Pettitte/Javier Vasquez/Burnett all missing time or lacking effectiveness due to being hurt.

That’s it for part 2. Sorry for the length! Tomorrow we’ll wrap it up by looking at the 2010 Giants, drawing some conclusions, and deciding if this spells doom or not for 2011 Giants.

(-SB)

ESPN’s Bonehead Move

I commute 45 minutes to work every single day.  Frickin’ lame! I pass the time by listening to one of two media sources: sports radio and stand up comedians. While I would love to break down the inner workings of a Ralphie May monologue, I really want to talk about the greatness of sports radio and how I long for the nuggets of KNBR.

Sometimes, I flip on the 680 station in the hopes that satellites will get awesome and broadcast KNBR all the way to Virginia.  Until some genius accomplishes that, I listen to the local ESPN stations.

I live for a good sports discussion. My favorite sports radio personalities are two guys that call themselves the sports reporters.  I don’t like them because they offer the best insights on sports, or because they have great on air chemistry (which they do), or even because they constantly rip on Peter King.  I enjoy their presence in my ear drums because of their passion for their teams.  And its ridiculous passion for some awful teams.

There is something about the way a “journalist” breaks down the 4th play of the 7th drive where Albert Haynesworth came off the line quickly and pulled off a double reverse spin move, completely missed a tackle, yet showed true potential and the Skins should keep him.  You don’t get that kind of analysis in California.  KNBR analysis consists of Gary Radnich talking about Jessica Simpson dating Eric Johnson how that could affect Tony Romo’s pass delivery.  Brilliant.  Actually both are brilliant.  Just worlds apart from each other.

So how does this tie back into the Giants and who the crap cares about two sports reporters breaking down the moves of a washed up defensive linemen?  Well first off, I care, and secondly they often will break out into great discussions about broadcasters.

Recently, they started talking about the greatness of Jon Miller.  Jon Miller is one of my icons.  He can somehow describe the action in a way that actually makes me smell the sod in the stadium or actually see the chalk from the rosin bag when he describes a pitcher.

The sports reporters were breaking down the recent firing of Jon Miller from ESPN Sunday Night Baseball.  This saddens me to great lengths but it is always good to hear it from other people.  Jon Miller is my link to SF Giants baseball.  The Giants are rarely on TV Sunday nights, but Jon is always on.  He makes me miss listening to him on the radio back in Cali.  Strangely enough, he also makes me miss my family.  I used to love watching ball games with my mom and sisters and the announcers are a big part of that experience.

I know it sounds stupid and ridiculous, but ESPN’s move to get rid of Miller really pisses me off.  The sports reporters called it an epic mistake and I couldn’t agree more.  Joe Morgan, who has also been fired, was the weak link in the Morgan/Miller team.  The reporters said they were throwing the baby out with the bath water.  I couldn’t agree more.

(-JS)