Looking at the two teams, the Jays on-base percentage is ten points better than the Sox, their slugging is eight points less, but these teams are two evenly matched offenses. The pitching is the difference between the teams, the Sox ERA is at 3.66, the Jays 4.03. Josh Towers starts tonight on five days rest, usually a good omen for Towers.
Jon Garland breezed through the first inning throwing all fastballs away. His location was excellent except for one pitch he left over the plate but Vernon Wells hit it right at the third baseman.
In the bottom of the first Chicago scored two runs on three hits. The home run by Paul Konerko came off a hanging slider but the two doubles by Tadahito Iguchi and AJ Pierzynski were outside pitches that the hitters went with to the opposite field for doubles, nice hitting by the Sox.
In the second inning the Jays scored five despite a bad running error by Corey Koskie who was out by 15 feet trying to turn a single into a double. That error did cost the Jays as the next five hitters all reached and scored. Greg Zaun learned from the Sox hitters and went with an outside fastball for a single to left. Eric Hinske turned on an inside fastball and laced a double to left, another nice piece of hitting. Reed Johnson put a defensive swing on a two strike slider, and got the barrel of the bat on it to send it to right centre for a triple. O-Dog went down and in to golf a fastball to right field for a home run, and Russ Adams took advantage of the wind blowing out to left to go with the pitch and hit another home run to left. Finally Vernon Wells stayed true to form and pulled an outside slider to third, 2 at-bats, 2 pitches seen by Vernon.
Baseball Prospectus's Umpire Report shows that tonight's home plate umpire Jeff Nelson is a league average umpire, as measured by BA and ERA, and tonight it looks like he has a good sized strike zone, he is definitely not squeezing the pitchers. Nelson rang-up Carl Everett on a high strike and that carried over to the next inning when the Sox expressed displeasure with some of the calls. As a result Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was thrown out. The ensuing "discussion" between Nelson and Guillen was entertaining, Nelson had some things to get off his chest too, it looked like the WWF there for a while. Rod Black suggested that Guillen might have been looking to get kicked out to fire up his team. I think I remember Jon Miller and Steve Stone on Sunday night's game commenting on how Bobby Cox would always pick on an umpire and get thrown out of a meaningless game in August or September, just to find a way to show his team that every game is important. Guillen's rant might have paid off, there were a couple of pitches to Everett later in the game that looked the same as the one called a strike, but now were called balls.
In the fifth Russ Adams hit his second shot of the night, this time pulling a "down the middle" fastball to right for the home run to give the Jays a 6-2 lead. For those of you who did not hear, in July Adams hit .329, with an OBP of .427 and a .380 SLG. Good signs of development for the rookie and his at-bats in the lead off position have been good, taking pitches, making the pitcher work, and letting his teammates get a read on the pitcher. Vernon Wells took a few pitches and got a pitch up that he hit back up the middle for a hit, sometimes being selective pays off.
In the sixth the Jays scheduled hitters are Koskie, Zaun, and Hinske. Koskie struckout his first two at-bats and has only one extra-base hit since he came back off the DL. Corey has not found his good form since coming off the DL, a hot swinging Koskie could propel the Jays to a hot streak. Before the game I heard Jeff Blair on the radio saying that JP's #1 off-season priority was to find a catcher, that Zaun was not a #1 catcher. Warren Sawkiw disagreed, as do I. I think it is unreasonable to expect Zaun to catch 140 games next year, but I still think he can be the #1 catcher, Zaun works well with the pitchers and that is the primary job for the catcher. Before the game I was surprised to see Hinske starting instead of Aaron Hill. But when you look at the numbers Hinske has better numbers against righties than Hill. Hinske's OPS against RHP is .758, against lefties it is .616. Hinske should not start against lefties again this season. On this night he rewards Gibby's faith going 3-3 in his first three at-bats. I was also surprised to see Johnson again getting the start in right, but he also had two hits to reward Gibbons' faith. Hudson hit a sac fly to make the score 7-2 in the middle of the sixth.
In the bottom of the sixth Towers makes a couple of mistakes and has runners on first and third with one out. Towers gets a pitch in on Dye and gets a pop up, but he grooves one to Aaron Rowand who drives in the run to make it 7-3.
Bad boy Bobby Jenks came in for the seventh. Jenks was the #21 prospect of the White Sox and probably would have been higher if not for a number of troubling personal incidents in his past. Jenks throws hard and features all fastballs to Catalanotto but no fastballs to Vernon. Jenks came into the game with 11 hits and 7 walks allowed in 8 innings but his control was good tonight.
Tonight was another excellent start for Towers, eight hits and no walks in 7.2 innings. Josh's last two starts before this one were also very good, Josh is pushing hard to get that tenth win, the one he couldn't get last year when Gibbons left him in for a ton of pitches in his last start of the season. Josh was pulled after hitting Pierzynski and Justin Speier follows by hitting Dye. I was disappointed that Guillen had been thrown out of the game earlier, he was probably blowing a gasket after the two Sox batters were hit.
When the Sox failed to score everyone knew retribution was coming, if Rowand had jacked one to make it a one run ballgame, then retribution might have been postponed until later. When I say everyone knew the retribution was coming, I mean everyone except TSN who were showing a highlight package in the middle of the game and missed Adams being hit. TSN also underperformed in other ways, as usual there were no pitch speeds, and the top corner info box was a no-show about 50% of the time in the first three innings.
Justin Speier was his usual efficient self. Here is Speier's ERA by month - 7.56; 1.08; 1.42; and 0.68 in July. Justin could have been the closer, if he had survived April. His form is a big pickup for the Jays with Jason Frasor hitting a rough patch right now. An excellent game for the Jays, good pitching and good hitting.
The trading deadline came and went with no moves by the Jays. JP has said he was not interested in trading any of his front line guys because none of them were giving him diminishing returns. I first saw JP Ricciardi talk about "diminishing returns" in the Globe and Mail on July 23rd.
"Orlando Hudson? I would say we're not trading him. We don't have many players on our club right now that we feel are giving us diminishing returns. We're close to winning with these guys, and I don't know what message we'd be sending by moving any of them."
Since then I have seen similar quotes from JP using the diminishing returns expression, and I think I know what he means but I decided to do some research. To explain it I went back in time to delve into the world of Bill James, Billy Beane, Moneyball and the Oakland A's.
JP received his front office indoctrination with the Oakland A's, a front office that used sabrmetrics and the works of Bill James to help construct their roster. Moneyball describes how Bill James was very influential on the thinking of the Oakland A's, Sandy Alderson and Billy Beane. In the 1982 Baseball Abstract, Bill James published an essay, "Looking for the prime", a study of how age impacts baseball players. At the time the baseball truism was that the years 28 to 32 were the prime years for a baseball player. Bill's conclusions were, as you might expect, somewhat different.
"Both pitchers and non-pitchers attain their greatest aggregate value at the age of 27, with a nearly equal figure at age 26. Thus both pitchers and non-pitchers, as groups, attain their greatest value before the 28-32 period even begins, are declining throughout that range and have lost nearly half of their peak value by the time it ends. If you must assign a 5-year peak period to all players regardless of description, the best shot would be 25-29."
Moneyball touches on the age profile and how the A's look at it. Billy Beane is quoted as saying about Eric Chavez. "He's 24 years old. You know if he's here now" - he holds his hands at his chest - "He'll wind up here" - he raises his hand over his head. Michael Lewis questions Billy Beane about the age issue, Lewis suggests individuals are different, how can you assume players will follow the pattern? His answer is equally simple: baseball players follow similar patterns, and those patterns are etched in the record books. Of course, every so often some player may fail to embrace his statistical destiny, but on a team of 25 players the statistical abberations will tend to cancel each other out. And most of them will conform fairly exactly to his expectations.
Michael Lewis might have overstated the case somewhat but in general players do improve until they are 27 or 28, and when the A's put together their roster on that basis it's a fair assumption that JP is doing the same. So when JP talks about diminishing returns he is saying his core group of young players are still getting better. Let's look at the ages.
The Young Core 2005 2006 2007 1B Hinske 27 28 29 2B Hudson 27 28 29 SS Adams 24 25 26 3B Hill 23 24 25 CF Wells 26 27 28 RF Rios 24 25 26 Key Additions 2005 2006 2007 C Zaun 33 34 35 1B Hillenbrand 29 30 31 LF Catalanotto 30 31 32 LF Johnson 28 29 30 3B Koskie 31 32 33
All six of the young core are in the 25-29 year old prime, or are coming into it, assuming you agree Hinske is a core player. Those six hitters, as a group, should be better next year than this, with Hinske and Hudson peaking this year, and none of them will be out of the 25-29 year peak until 2008. We could expect then that JP will be repeating his "no diminishing returns" speech this time next year too. On the other hand Zaun, Catalanotto and Koskie are on the down slope and those players are, in theory, giving diminishing returns. Hillenbrand hits the down slope next year. Zaun, Catalanotto and Hillenbrand are each playing well and are not showing signs of slowing down. So, from a trading perspective, given the statistical aging expectations, there is no obvious player to trade. The Jays have no replacement for Zaun, Hillenbrand is in the final year of his 5 year prime, only Koskie and perhaps Catalanotto are the players that age based roster construction, and team needs, would say to trade. If the Jays determine that Aaron Hill and Gabe Gross can adequately replace Cat and Koskie, JP could look to trade those two players, or if the Jays sign a big slugger to play LF, then Cat becomes half a DH or is tradeable. Let's have the same look at the pitchers.
Starters 2005 2006 2007 SP Halladay 27 28 29 SP Lilly 29 30 31 SP Chacin 24 25 26 SP Bush 25 26 27 SP Towers 28 29 30 SP McGowan 23 24 25 Bullpen 2005 2006 2007 RP Batista 34 35 36 RP Chulk 26 27 28 RP Frasor 27 28 29 SP/RP League 22 23 24
In 2005 only Miguel Batista lies outside the prime age range, in 2006 Ted Lilly will hit the down slope. For 2006 Halladay and Towers should be the same as this year, while Chacin, Bush and McGowan should be better. In the bullpen Chulk, Frasor and League should be better.
Age and performance is only one part of the equation, these days salaries are as important. Again we have the words of Billy Beane from an interview he gave to Athletics Nation
"One of the reasons that this team was so successful during its run was that we had young players that were contributing at the major league level that were very cost-effective which allows you to add other things. When you have a guy like Chavez and Tejada playing short and third making $300,000, it allows you to bring in a Kevin Appier. It allows you to bring in a player of that status and of that salary to augment it. When you have guys surrounding the diamond that are making 5, 6 or 7 million dollars in our market, that gets chewed up pretty quick. The remainder of your roster gets filled in with guys who probably shouldn't be there. The most valuable resource in this game is 0-3 (years of service) players who are good players on your major league team. Those are the most valuable guys you can have because that allows you to do so much more because they fill out a critical role."
As JP ponders his roster for 2006 he can anticipate a better offense and better pitching if Bill James is to be believed. Let's hope Bill James is right.