Friday, September 29, 2006

I come not to praise Pedro, but to bury him

Well, I was going to write something about the NL MVP, and reasons why Ryan Howard doesn’t deserve it, but that all changed when the Mets announced that Pedro is out until next spring. Apparently he’s got a tear in his left calf – not the right calf that put him on the DL for a month in August and September. Awesome.

No matter how you slice it, this is not good news for the Mets. On the other hand, it might not be a disaster, either. Healthy, Pedro is a dominant starter with playoff experience who, even with reduced velocity in 2006, still strikes out more than a batter an inning. But we haven’t seen Healthy Pedro for a long time – not since his terrible start against Boston in late June, in fact. It was after giving up 8 runs (6 earned) in only three innings against the Red Sox that Pedro went on the DL for a month, for his hip.

Since coming back from his hip injury, Pedro’s had seven starts – interrupted by another month on the DL for his right calf – going 2-4 with a 7.84 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. Only two of those seven were “quality” starts, and they account for his two victories. The other five have all been, to one degree or another, crappy.

The point is, Pedro hasn’t really been an ace for almost half the season, and if memory serves, the Mets have played pretty well during that time: 47-35 since Pedro first went on the DL for his hip on June 29th. That’s a .573 winning percentage, pretty close to the season’s .591, and still better than anybody else in the National League. All the Mets need to do to win in the playoffs, is keep on doing what they’ve been doing since the All-Star break. Yes, the increased reliance on Steve Trachsel and John Maine makes me nervous, but combined with the best bullpen in baseball, not too nervous.

All pitching data in this post is courtesy of David Pinto's awesome day-by-day database at Baseball Musings.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Q+A

Q: Who are you?
A: I am the Pirate. This is my blog, mostly about the dorkier aspects of baseball: win shares, VORP, WARP, EqA and all that good shit. I’m a Mets fan, but I won’t just write about my favorite team. I may also talk about the latest baseball literature. My buddy Hot Johnny can get pretty much every baseball book that comes out, through work, for free; and he passes them all off to me.

Q: Why do they call you the Pirate? That’s totally gay.
A: I used to look like a pirate, yar. I am not gay. A long time ago I used to have long hair and a penchant for wearing bandanas and a big silver hoop earring, and my friends started referring to me as the Pirate. It was the nineties, what do you want? My love of butt piracy is just a coincidence.

Q: I have run out of pertinent questions. Why are you so fat, dutchie?
A: I love me some pork chops. And bacon!

Monday, September 25, 2006

The AL MVP

There’s been a bit of a thing recently over who should win the AL MVP, Derek Jeter or David Ortiz. Some people think maybe even LHP Johan Santana deserves the hardware (though of course he’ll never win) Frankly, as a Mets fan, I don’t really give a shit who wins the AL MVP. But Jayson Stark has got something up over at ESPN.com giving three reasons why Santana, even with as great a season as he’s had, doesn’t deserve to be MVP that I just had to comment on.

His first point, that pitchers have the Cy Young award and that the MVP is for position players, I’m not going to argue with. I happen to disagree (I think it’s difficult for a pitcher to be the Most Valuable, playing in only 35 out of 162 games, but they shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand) but if that’s your position I can understand it. That’s fine.

His second is that “the Triple Crown is not a synonym for the MVP.” I don’t think that this is an actual argument against Santana for MVP, so much as an observation; that in the past, pitchers who have led their league Triple Crown stats (Wins, K’s, and ERA) have not won the MVP. Which probably means that Santana won’t win the MVP, but it doesn’t supply any reason why he shouldn’t.

His final point is a straw man argument for Santana for MVP, which he counters with some crap about how Liriano was just as good as Santana until getting hurt; and how if Liriano was just as good as Santana then Santana couldn’t be the MVP.

Now, forget about the fact that won-lost records are a really shitty way to tell how well a pitcher has performed (if you’ve seen 15-8 Steve Trachsel pitch you know what I’m talking about.). How does the fact that one player was just as good as another, for roughly half as long, take away from the guy who performed all season? If Johnny McRookiepitcher throws a perfect game in his first start and then his arm falls off and blows up, is he just as valuable as Santana?

And even if Liriano had been able to pitch brilliantly through the whole season, how would the presence of an excellent teammate take away from another player’s performance? Nobody makes the argument that Ortiz doesn’t deserve the MVP because Ramirez is also so good (both with 18 WSAB).

Of course, the MVP in the NL is Carlos Beltran. But if Howard takes the Phillies to the playoffs, Beltran won’t win either. No matter how much he deserves it.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Quadruple-A

One thing that never fails to drive me berserk is when fans of AL teams refer to the NL as “Quadruple-A.” People think that the NL is the AL’s bitch this year for a couple-three reasons: the beating the NL took in inter-league play this year, the dominance of the AL in the last 10 years’ worth of World Series and All-Star Games, and, anecdotally, the success of mediocre AL pitchers on moving to the National League (Pedro Martinez in 2005; Kyle Lohse, Bronson Arroyo and Francisco Cordero in 2006, just off the top of my head.)

Granted, the AL beat up on the NL this year in inter-league play, winning 154 games and losing just 98; 155 if you count the All-Star Game. In 2005 the AL beat the NL 136 to 116, and won that All-Star Game as well. In fact, the AL has won every All-Star Game since the start of inter-league play, with the exception of the Glorious Tie of ’02. Is this just luck? Or is the AL in fact a better league?

Take a look at this handy chart of how each league has done in the 10 years of inter-league action:

The AL has won the season tally in inter-league games six times, to the NL’s four. And over the 10 years of inter-league play, the AL has won 51% of the games, to the NL’s 49%. That, um, seems pretty even to me. But don’t take my word for it. What do I know? Read this very interesting series of articles by MGL at the Hardball Times.

OK, done? I’m not going to re-do all of his analysis (mainly because I can’t, because I’m not that good at math) but his basic gist is that yes, the AL really is better than the NL right now, but not by as much as this year’s lopsided inter-league record would make you think. Basically, he thinks that the pitching is about the same level in each league, but that AL hitters are about half a run better per game than NL hitters (even after taking into account the DH in the AL and pitchers batting for themselves in the NL). According to MGL, that half-run advantage works out to be worth about .050 of winning percentage – in a given number of contests, we’d expect the AL to play .550 ball, and the NL .450. Or, if the NL played the AL in 100 games, we’d expect the AL to win 55 and lose 45.

But why? Well, take a look at this bad boy right here:

That’s the payroll for all MLB teams. You might notice that four of the top five payrolls are in the AL. In fact, the AL actually spends about $10.6 million more on salary than the NL, despite the presence of two more teams in the NL. The AL is outspending the NL by more than $11 million per team. So it isn’t that the AL is a better league – it’s just richer.

The fact that the AL is better than the NL in hitting, but not pitching, also supports this. Hitting performances can be predicted fairly accurately, so the edge in spending is likely to pay dividends on the hitting side of the equation; with pitching there’s no guarantee that you’ll get what you pay for. Just look at the number of big-money free-agent pitchers who sign with a new team and immediately stink – Yankees, I’m looking at you.