May 30, 2004
Stros beat Cards; season evaluation to date
Bags, Lance Berkman and Mike Lamb all cranked two-run dingers Sunday afternoon and Tim Redding pitched seven and a third shutout innings as the Stros won the final game of their weekend series with the Cardinals, 7-1.
Redding (3-3) allowed just four hits and, after a first inning single, retired 16 of the next 18 batters. The Stros got to Matt Morris (4-5) for three runs and four hits in seven innings with Lamb's yak being the big blow, and then Bags and Berkman's homers in the bottom of the eighth against Cal Eldred put the game away. Berkman has now hit eight home runs in his last 12 games.
The Stros now become road warriors for the next two weeks as they go on a 13 game road trip to Chicago, St. Louis, Seattle, and Milwaukee. Roy O starts tomorrow's Memorial Day game against the Cubs' Greg Maddux at Wrigley Field.
The Stros (27-22) are inching their way to the one-third mark of the season, and its an appropriate time to assess how the club is doing. This post from yesterday explained the helpful hitting statistic of "runs created against average," or "RCAA," which computes the number of outs that a particular player uses in creating runs for his team and then compares that number to the amount of runs that an average player in the league would create while using an equivalent number of outs.
Through yesterday's games, here are the National League leaders in RCAA, courtesy of Lee Sinins:
1 Barry Bonds 41
2 Lance Berkman 33
3 Mike Lowell 30
4 Sean Casey 26
5 Craig Wilson 25
T6 Bobby Abreu 20
T6 Scott Rolen 20
8 Jim Thome 19
T9 Adam Dunn 18
T9 Todd Helton 18
Consequently, in case you didn't know it already, Lance Berkman is currently the second best hitter in the National League behind Barry Bonds, who happens to be one of the best hitters of all-time. Why on earth does manager Jimy Williams continue to bat Berkman either fifth or sixth in the order?
Although the Stros are currently a respectable fourth in the National League in team RCAA, the individual numbers are more revealing:
Lance Berkman 33
Jeff Bagwell 10
Craig Biggio 6
Jeff Kent 4
Mike Lamb 3
Eric Bruntlett 1
Jason Lane 0
Orlando Palmeiro -2
Raul Chavez -3
Richard Hidalgo -3
Morgan Ensberg -5
Adam Everett -5
Jose Vizcaino -6
Brad Ausmus -9
Thus, Berkman is having a monster season, and Bags is solid. However, after a fast start (the peril of relying on a small sample of games), Biggio is falling back to his declining trend over the past several seasons of not being much better than an average NL player. The reality is that the Stros would probably get at least as good offense and much better defense by replacing Bidg with Jason Lane as the season wears on, but don't expect Manager "I love my veterans" Williams to make such a move.
Moreover, despite the media's touting of Jeff Kent's meaningless 15 game hitting streak, Kent also is hitting just barely above an average NL hitter and has no business batting in front of the torrid Berkman in the lineup. Likewise Richard Hidalgo has slumped badly in May after a hot start and Williams' use of Palmeiro and Lamb in his place is actually a good move. Why can't Jimy do that in regard to Biggio?
The perception is that Adam Everett is having a much better season to date than Morgan Ensberg, but the facts indicate that, at least from a hitting standpoint, they are doing the same. Of course, Everett is the best defensive player on the team, so some indulgence of mediocre hitting is more justified than with other players. Ensberg had a horrendous April and a better May, but his power numbers are still way down from last season. After hitting 25 yaks last season, Ensberg still does not have one this season.
And, as readers of this blog already know, Brad Ausmus and Jose Vizcaino are among the worst hitters in Major League Baseball and, thus, should be used as little as possible. Of course, under veteran-entranced Williams, Ausmus is a starter and Viz is a key regular. I'm not certain that the rest of the Astros' hitters are good enough to make up for the regular negative hitting contributions of these two.
The equivalent RCAA statistic for pitchers is called "runs saved against average" or "RSAA." RSAA basically computes the number of runs that a pitcher saves for his team relative to the number of runs that an average pitcher in the league would give up while obtaining an equivalent number of outs for his team (as with RCAA, RSAA is park-adjusted). As with RCAA, a pitcher can have either a positive RSAA, which indicates he is an above average pitcher, or a negative RSAA, which means he is performing below average.
The following are the current NL leaders in RSAA:
1 Randy Johnson 18
T2 Tom Glavine 17
T2 Livan Hernandez 17
T4 Roger Clemens 14
T4 Brad Penny 14
6 Ben Sheets 13
T7 Armando Benitez 12
T7 Horacio Ramirez 12
T9 Chad Cordero 11
T9 Zach Day 11
T9 Ryan Madson 11
T9 Tomo Ohka 11
T9 Jake Peavy 11
T9 Carlos Zambrano 11
Again, the Stros are a solid third in the NL in team RSAA, but as with RCAA, the individual RSAA stats are more revealing:
Roger Clemens 14
Roy Oswalt 8
Andy Pettitte 4
Octavio Dotel 3
Mike Gallo 3
Brad Lidge 3
Wade Miller 3
Dan Miceli 1
Chad Harville 0
Brandon Backe -2
Ricky Stone -3
Brandon Duckworth -4
Tim Redding -5
Jared Fernandez -6
The Rocket and Roy O are off to solid starts, but the rest of the pitchers are just barely above average or below average (note that Redding's solid start of today is not included in the above statistics and will improve his negative RSAA considerably). The biggest disappointment has been Dotel, who has been one of the Astros' leaders in RSAA over the past three seasons.
Consequently, the Stros are solidly in contention in the NL Central, but they are being carried by strong performances by a relatively small group of players (Berkman, Bags, Clemens and Oswalt) while the other players are grinding away at either just above or below average seasons. Inasmuch as older players such as Bags and Clemens will likely trend downward as the season wears on, other Astros will likely have to pick up their performances considerably if the Stros are going to remain in contention for the NL Central title. That's certainly possible, as Hidalgo, Ensberg, Kent, Redding and Dotel are all candidates to improve their performance from the first third of the season. But it's also far from a certainty.
The final element -- and admittedly the least important -- is manager Jimy Williams. As noted here earlier, Williams' mishandling of Ensberg last season may have cost the Astros the NL Central title that they lost to the Cubs by a game. This season, Williams has continued his inconsistent use of Ensberg, inexplicably bats his best hitter in the five or six hole rather than third, and continues to overuse poor performers Ausmus and Vizcaino.
Again, these may appear to be relatively small errors in isolated circumstances, but over 162 games, those errors in judgment add up and can make a difference, particularly in a close race. The NL Central race looks like it will be a barnburner this season, and its doubtful that the Astros will have any margin for error. Here's hoping Williams' illogical prejudices don't end up costing the Stros in a close race.
Posted by Tom at May 30, 2004 9:23 PM |
Yes. Brad Ausmus is "The Automatic Out"
Posted by: Chris at May 31, 2004 4:55 PM
Interestingly, Adam Everett leads the National League in outs!
Posted by: Tom Kirkendall at May 31, 2004 5:15 PM
Everett is also among the leaders in intentional outs (or what some would quaintly call sacrifices.) I find it interesting that you attribute the Astros failure to reach the playoffs last yr to Jimy's "misuse" of Ensberg. Blum was not bad last year, and there is a strong case to be made that Ensberg's success was actually because Jimy was using him in situations where he could succeed. Regardless, the easiest thing to pin last yr's disappointment on is the Roy O injuries. If he starts a couple of extra games, there's a good chance that no one knows finds out about Steve Bartman.
ALso, Berkman's position in the batting order is debateable, but is there even a single game in which the Astros have lost where Lance was left in the on-deck circle with a chance to win in the 9th? Also, considering the Astros are still among the league leaders in runs scored with only 1 1/2 dependable hitters says something about Jimy's lineup combinations.
Posted by: John at May 31, 2004 11:55 PM
Let's take your comments one at a time.
Yes, Everett is one of the league leaders in sacrifices, but that simply means that manager Jimy increases his offensive ineffectiveness by forcing him to make more outs rather than allowing him to attempt to make fewer outs.
As far as Blum as being "not bad" last season, you must be confusing Blum's 2002 season (when he had a career season) with his abysmal 2003 season. Last season, Blum was one of the worst hitters in the National League, posting a negative 23 RCAA and a pathetic .674 OPS. Ensberg, on the other hand, had a positive 20 RCAA and strong .907 OPS, which means that there was a 43 run difference between playing Ensberg rather than Blum over the course of the season. Needless to say, with those vast differences in productivity, manager Jimy's illogical platooning of Ensberg and Blum for much of the season could very well have been the difference in the NL Central race and, at very least, is dispositive proof of managerial malpractice.
Similarly, your comment "but is there even a single game in which the Astros have lost where Lance was left in the on-deck circle with a chance to win in the 9th" is anecdotal and misses the point of the detrimental effect over the course of a season of using an inferior hitter when a far better one is available. At this point in the season, Everett (221) has 13 more plate appearances than Berkman (208). Consequently, in terms of hitting, Everett has already played almost three more games than Berkman this season. In terms of RCAA, Berkman (positive 33) is 38 runs better than Everett (negative 5), which translates to .77 runs per game. Accordingly, manager Jimy has already cost his team 2.31 runs this season simply by batting Berkman fewer times than Everett. If you add in the plate appearances of other inferior hitters that have batted more than Berkman, the number of runs that Williams has cost the team only increases.
Finally, your point about Williams being responsible for the Astros being fourth in runs scored in the NL is misplaced. That is the result of statistical anamolies that occur when too small a sample of games is used and a couple of players (in the Astros case, Biggio and Hidalgo) got off to fast starts before trending downward quickly. As a team, the Stros have fallen three places over the past three weeks and, unless the hitters other than Berkman pick it up, they will continue to trend downward over the coming weeks.
In short, your support of Williams is quite similar to those that we all read in the local media and hear on local sports talk shows often. However, just as with those opinions, they are not empirically based. Williams' apparent refusal to base his decisions on statistical probabilities is costing his team runs, and that can be the difference in a close pennant race.
Posted by: Tom Kirkendall at June 1, 2004 7:52 AM
Wow, I'll never be one to call him a genius, but you really think Jimy is a baseball idiot? I don't, but that's more because I don't think managers have that much effect over the course of a season, at least not on the field. I loved Dierker because he essentially hands-off and let the players play. Plus, he relied on his "gut" a lot, which in baseball works about as often as a stat-based approach, with a lot less hand-wringing.
Apparently, you think it can all be worked out by a LaRussa-esque reliance on stats. Your empirically based conclusions are fine, but you must admit their shortcomings as well, especially that the stats only reflect what has happened. They DO NOT reflect what would have otherwise happened had a lineup switch here or a pitching change there been made.
For all your insistence that Ensberg was so great last yr, it's likely that his performance was as much an anomoly as you claim that '04 Astros performance to be. Maybe he's just a late-bloomer who is struggling a bit early this yr, but I think he's just not that good and was lucky to have such a great yr last yr. More AB's will only reveal that he's no more than an avg offensive 3B.
Also, on the batting order, yes, I admit that putting a player higher in the batting order will, over the course of the season, generate more AB's. And if he's better, it will generate more runs for the team, but more runs do not necessarily equal more wins, it only projects to more wins. We saw that last year when the Stros RS/RA formula projected more wins than they actually had, while the Cubs was the opposite. In fact, unless you're losing games by 1 or 2 runs with your best player not getting a chance to bat in the 9th, it will probably not make a difference in wins and losses. That's not anecdotel evidence, it's just a result of the nature of the game. If your guy would've had 4 AB's anyway, it's doesn't really matter if he bats 3rd or if he bats 5th.
Finally, to claim that "sacrifices" (in the case of Everett) make a player more effective goes against the very sabermetric grain of which you seem to be such a staunch defender. More often than not, sacrifices are just a waste of plate appearances. (See Monday's game vs. Chicago for proof where Chavez's sac bunt in the 8th produced nothing. Oops, more anecdotel evidence, sorry.)
Oh, one more unquantifiable argument - making managerial decisions often must account for more than just on-field performance. These guys live together for nearly 8 months. Sometimes you just have to accept that it's Biggio's team, even though we all know it's time for him to be a platoon player. Just beacuse you can't measure the emotional aspect of a team doesn't mean it's not there.
Posted by: John at June 1, 2004 3:10 PM
I think Williams is a very good baseball coach. I do not think he is a particularly good manager, and his questionable moves reflect that. I agree that Dierker was a superior manager, but his teams often suffered from mediocre coaching. Give me Dierker as manager and Williams as bench coach and you may have something.
LaRussa is about the least stat oriented coach in baseball. That's why you see a club that has solid hitters such as Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, and Renteria and little else. LaRussa has been in love with underperformers for years and it has kept him from being a great manager.
You may be right that Ensberg had a career year last season just as Blum had the year before. However, that's not a reason to play an player who is clearly underperforming another player such as was the case with Blum and Ensberg last season. Again, Williams' bias in favor veterans hurt the club, just as his bias in favor of poorly performing vets Ausmus and Vizcaino is hurting the club this season.
You are certainly correct that more runs does not necessarily mean more more wins. But it is certainly more likely that a team will win more games if it scores more runs rather than less.
I agree with you that Everett's sacrifices are largely a waste. Another example of Williams' questionable managing ability.
As for the emotional part of a team, you make a good point. However, about the time a manager begins making decisions based primarily upon feelings rather than performance, he can get the fishing pole ready because he won't be participating in the post-season.
Posted by: Tom Kirkendall at June 1, 2004 4:10 PM
Post a comment
Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)