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They're something all baseball teams spend the off-season trying to accomplish. Who's been succeeding? Where, and how can we tell?

With great huge Data Tables, most likely. Anyway, the most improved offense in the major leagues this season works the south side of Chicago (the baddest part of town.) The White Sox scored 4.28 runs per game in 2007, the worst figure in the American League. So far this season, they're zipping along at 4.92 runs per game, which is an increase of almost 15%. They now have the fourth best offense in the AL.

This, by the way, might be a good time for you to forget every word I said back in the spring mocking the White Sox for even dreaming that such a thing might be possible.

Which offense has gone plunging off  a cliff this season? Glad you asked. Its not the hometown heroes - mainly because their offense was already wandering in the desert, gazing wistfully up at the high peaks of Real Offensive Production. No, the team that has taken the biggest fall are the Yankees of New York. In 2007 they were truly the Bronx Bombers, scoring 5.98 runs per game, by far the most in the major leagues. This year, they're all the way down to 4.63 runs per game - it's a below average offense in either league, not even middle of the pack. They've lost 22.5% of their offense from one year to the next.

Let's have a look. This here Data Table ranks every major league offense by the extent to which it has improved, or not, from 2007 to 2008. The counting figures given here for 2008 are (obviously) adjusted to place them in a 162 game context as well.

RK    TEAM       R         H       2B      HR       BB      SB     GDP      BAVG        OBP     SLG     DIFF
        '08 '07  '08  '07 '08 '07 '08 '07  '08 '07 '08 '07 '08 '07 '08 '07  '08 '07  '08  '07   
Chicago Sox   797 693 1465 1341 292 249 217 190  558 532  70  78 154 138 .265 .246 .338 .318 .441 .404  15.0%
Chicago Cubs  855 752 1588 1530 327 340 184 151  643 500 89  86 125 127 .279 .271 .356 .333 .441 .422  13.7%
Minnesota     808 718 1577 1460 304 273 115 118  491 512  94 112 127 149 .280 .264 .337 .330 .412 .391  12.6%
Texas       893 816 1612 1460 362 298 195 179  603 503 89  88 114 129 .280 .263 .350 .328 .455 .426  9.4%
Pittsburgh    778 724 1475 1463 326 322 165 148  488 463 42  68 100 130 .260 .263 .323 .325 .412 .411  7.5%
St. Louis     769 725 1561 1513 295 279 177 141  623 506  70  56 146 154 .277 .274 .351 .337 .433 .405  6.1%
Baltimore     773 756 1458 1529 321 306 182 142  546 500 97 144 100 139 .261 .272 .329 .333 .427 .412  2.3%
Arizona      718 712 1361 1350 306 286 154 171  564 532 52 109 104 121 .250 .250 .324 .321 .407 .413  0.9%
Florida       793 790 1438 1504 291 340 234 201  501 521 78 105  90 107 .256 .267 .321 .336 .442 .448  0.4%
NY Mets       790 804 1494 1543 273 294 154 177  617 549 150 200 126 114 .264 .275 .338 .342 .406 .432 - 1.7%
Kansas City   688 706 1479 1447 301 300 119 102  397 428  86  78 131 151 .263 .261 .316 .322 .388 .388 - 2.6%
Houston       701 723 1443 1457 301 293 162 167  481 547 140  65  97 142 .259 .260 .321 .330 .408 .412 - 3.0%
Tampa Bay    751 782 1429 1500 250 291 174 187  604 545 170 131 106 119 .260 .268 .337 .336 .411 .433 - 4.0%
Milwaukee    763 801 1410 1455 332 310 212 231  523 501 114  96  90 112 .255 .262 .325 .329 .441 .456 - 4.7%
San Francisco 648 683 1408 1407 334 267  97 131  494 532 125 119 135 142 .254 .254 .319 .322 .381 .387 - 5.1%
Boston        818 867 1558 1561 340 352 182 166  605 689 128  96 155 146 .281 .279 .356 .362 .450 .444 - 5.6%
Oakland       693 741 1386 1430 291 295 117 171  583 664  87  52 115 142 .249 .256 .322 .338 .372 .407 - 6.5%
Washington    622 673 1337 1415 273 309 119 123  529 524  71  69 165 143 .243 .256 .317 .325 .364 .390 - 7.6%
Cincinnati    720 783 1366 1496 275 293 185 204  610 536 100  97  92 140 .249 .267 .327 .335 .408 .436 - 8.0%
Philadelphia  813 892 1448 1558 299 326 225 213  600 641 137 138  98 125 .257 .274 .334 .354 .442 .458 - 8.8%
Cleveland    737 811 1367 1504 322 305 160 178  521 590  79  72 116 114 .250 .268 .324 .343 .403 .428 - 9.1%
LA Dodgers    668 735 1385 1544 267 276 117 129  516 511 144 137 147 116 .253 .275 .320 .337 .376 .406 - 9.1%
Toronto       680 753 1421 1434 286 344 112 165  581 533 102  57 169 127 .258 .259 .333 .327 .382 .419 - 9.7%
Atlanta       721 810 1480 1562 282 328 155 176  611 534  57  64 147 137 .265 .275 .340 .339 .411 .435 -10.9%
Detroit       788 887 1540 1652 302 352 187 177  556 474 60 103 139 128 .273 .287 .340 .345 .437 .458 -11.1%
LA Angels    708 822 1418 1578 251 324 142 123  458 507 119 139 140 146 .258 .284 .319 .345 .391 .417 -13.9%
Colorado      713 860 1435 1591 322 313 155 171  563 622 133 100 129 140 .259 .280 .331 .354 .413 .437 -17.0%
San Diego    605 741 1384 1408 260 322 150 171  512 557  41  55 131 113 .247 .251 .315 .322 .385 .411 -18.4%
Seattle       648 794 1425 1629 262 284 124 153  464 389 114  81 130 154 .255 .287 .314 .337 .374 .425 -18.4%
NY Yankees    750 968 1490 1656 312 326 155 201  556 637 104 123 142 138 .267 .290 .340 .366 .414 .463 -22.5%
AL Average    753 794 1476 1513 301 307 155 161  538 536 100  97 132 137 .264 .270 .333 .338 .411 .423 - 5.1%
NL Average    727 763 1433 1487 296 306 165 169  552 536  96  98 119 129 .258 .266 .329 .334 .411 .422 - 4.7%
MLB Average   739 777 1454 1499 299 307 161 165 547 536  98  97 125 133 .261 .268 .331 .336 .411 .422 - 4.8%
You'll notice, by the way, that the Blue Jays are no longer on pace to shatter the all-time record for grounding into double plays. They're even in danger of losing their spot atop the major league leaderboard. So yeah, Cito is a genius...

Anyway, the specific thing I wanted to do here was locate the spots in the lineup where the most impressive upgrades have happened. So I broke down gathered all those team numbers for 2007 and 2008 for each position, used Runs Created per Game as my standard, and here's what I found out:

Biggest Upgrade:  NL - Chicago Cubs (179.6%); AL Tampa Bay Rays (172.6%)
It's pretty easy to see what's happened here. Two young players have stepped up in a big way. In fact, Geovany Soto taking over in Chicago for the dismal Jason Kendall-Michael Barret tag team is the biggest single offensive upgrade made by any major league team this season. The Cubs catchers created just 3.60 runs per game in 2007; this year's crew, led by Soto, have created 6.46 runs per game - that's a whopping 79.6% increase. The improvement in Tampa is almost as impressive. The main man involved, Dioner Navarro, was pretty awful with the stick in 2007 and his caddy (Josh Paul) was at some level way below terrible. But Navarro is still a very young player and this year he's a big step forward (OPS+ from 70 to 117). Plus his backup this year (Shawn Riggans) has been pretty good as well.  Tampa's improved poroduction from their catchers is the second biggest upgrade in the American League, third biggest in the majors.

Biggest Collapse: NL - San Diego (43.8%); AL New York Yankees (47.6%)
Josh Bard was pretty good in 2007, but he's been terrible this year. Michael Barret has been terrible for quite some time, of course. Its the biggest collapse at any position in the National League.  In New York,  Jorge Posada, who was brilliant in 2007, has been injured for much of 2008 (he's caught in just 28 games), and his main replacement (Jose Molina) hasn't hit a lick.

First Base
Biggest Upgrade: NL - Houston (155.7%); AL - Boston (141%)
One very good player (Lance Berkmann) and one good player (Kevin Youkilis), each  having the best season of his career. Berkmann is rebounding from what was a bit of a down season for him (although almost every other player in the game would happily settle for his 2007 OPS+ of 131.) Youkilis actually had his best season ever in 2007 prior to this year; so what he's doing this season is especially impressive.
Biggest Collapse: NL - Colorado (68.7%); AL - Tampa Bay (60.4%)
Neither Todd Helton nor Carlos Pena have actually been bad - but Helton is a 34 year old who after being one of the best hitters in his league year after year has suddenly declined to being just an ordinary guy. Pena is coming off a completely unexpected monster of a season which he seems determined to prove was his contribution to Baseball's Greatest Fluke Years by otherwise good players (see, for example, Norm Cash in 1961 and Adrian Beltre in 2004)

Second Base
Biggest Upgrade: NL - Florida (133.6%); AL - Texas (164.3%)
Dan Uggla and Ian Kinsler, two young players moving into the heart of their primes, both having by far their best seasons. Seattle actually slips in between the two - its not that Jose Lopez has been good in 2008, but he's bounced back from a dreadful 2007 season.
Biggest Collapse: NL - Pittsburgh (57.4%); AL - New York (57.4%)
Freddy Sanchez represented the Pirates in the last two All-Star Games; he turned 30 just before Christmas and has gone straight off the cliff. Robinson Cano is only 25. Last year, he was just about as good as Alex Rios. This year... well, he's been nowhere near as good as Alex Rios, who's having a pretty disappointing year himself.

Third Base

Biggest Upgrade: NL - St.Louis (143.8%); AL - Chicago (164%)
I trust you're all familiar with Troy Glaus - he is still The Mighty Troy, he still has a big scary bat, and Scott Rolen and his injury replacements were not very good in 2007. Joe Crede has had a very nice bounce back season after his injury troubled 2007.
Biggest Collapse: NL - Florida (64%); AL - Los Angeles (67.1%)
Jorge Cantu has actually hit quite well for the Marlins, and I'm sure they have no complaints at all - it's just that they had Miguel Cabrera at this spot last season. In Anaheim, Chone Figgins has missed quite a bit of time, and hasn't been up to his previous level when he's been in the lineup. Plus, one of his replacements (Brandon Wood) has gone 8-64 this season.

Biggest Upgrade: NL - Chicago (152.5%); AL - Toronto (149.6%)
Ryan Theriot was very impressive in his first extended shot at major league action in 2006, but last year he was simply awful in his first full season. This year he's settled somewhere in between, with the BAVG and OBP where it was in 2006 although the bit of pop he showed back then may have been a short sample blip. What's happened in Toronto is that David Eckstein and Marco Scutaro have taken the at bats that were largely squandered in 2007 by Royce Clayton and John McDonald. Eck and Scuts have hardly been great - its debatable whether they've even been adequate - but Johnny Mac and Clayton were downright terrible. So its been a pretty significant upgrade anyway.
Biggest Collapse: NL - Colorado (61%); AL - Baltimore (39.2%)
Now that's what they call a sophomore jinx. Tulowitzki missed a lot of time with an injury and has hit so poorly when in the lineup (OPS+ of 39) that Rockies fans are muttering darkly about missing out on Ricky Romero. Well, maybe not. But Tulowitzki has been awful, and his main backup (Omar Quintanilla) hasn't hit much better.) The Orioles, of course, traded Miguel Tejada away, and have given most of the action at shortstop to one of the worst hitters drawing a major league salary. Freddie Bynum is hitting .179 and has more fingers on his right hand than extra base hits. Tejada's 2007 season wasn't particularly good by his own standards, and it was a good time to trade him - but shouldn't you have a replacement in mind? The Baltimore downgrade at shortstop is the biggest negative in the major leagues this season.

Left Field
Biggest Upgrade: NL - Pittsburgh (145.7%); AL - Baltimore (178%)
Here's where the Tejada trade pays off for the Orioles. Jay Payton had this job in 2007, and was bad. He's been bad again this year, but his badness has been limited to days when a southpaw starts for the opposition. The rest of the time Luke Scott plays here and he's been very good indeed. The Baltimore upgrade at this position is the biggest single improvement by any American League team this season, trailing only what Soto has done for the Cubs. Who knew? In Pittsburgh, Jason Bay is a good young player  who has bounced back smartly from his first ever off year to play the way he always has. Detroit and the White Sox, thanks to Marcus Thames and Carlos Quentin, have actually made bigger upgrades than the Pirates.
Biggest Collapse: NL - New York (54.7%); AL - Los Angeles (60.9%)
Time waits for no one, and it won't wait for Moises Alou and Garret Anderson. Alou only played half the season in 2007, but he was simply outstanding when he was in the lineup. Alas, he's had just 49 at bats this season. Anderson bounced back a bit in 2007 from a couple of sub-par years, but it was probably a  mirage. Gary Matthews isn't in the majors because of his bat. At least, I hope not.

Centre Field
Biggest Upgrade: NL - St.Louis (150.5%); AL - Chicago (131.1%)
Rick Ankiel is a bonafide hitter, and a huge improvement on the Ghost of Jim Edmonds, which is who the Cardinals were trotting out here last season. In Chicago, it's not so much that Nick Swisher has been good - he's having the worst season of his career, in fact. But last year the White Sox were giving these ABs to Jerry Owens and Darrin Erstad.
Biggest Collapse: NL - Houston (47.8%); AL - Minnesota (59.4%)
Last year, Hunter Pence had a tremendous rookie season for the Astros. This year, they moved him to RF (where he's had a  disappointing year) and have played Michael Bourn in centre. Bourn's career numbers as a hitter look too much like John McDonald's for this to have a happy ending. In Minnesota, Torii Hunter had one of the best seasons of his fine career in 2007, and his replacement (Carlos Gomez) hasn't been very good.

Right Field
Biggest Upgrade: NL- St.Louis (150.8%); AL - Texas (148.8%)
No one expects the Spanish Inquisition, and no one expected Ryan Ludwick to have the hot streak he did earlier this season. He seems to be falling back to earth, but what he's given the Cardinals to this point has made him a big upgrade on Juan Encarnacion and Ludwick himself. David Murphy has played the most right field in Texas, and he's played very well - its also helped out that Josh Hamilton has played there a third of the time. The Murphy-Hamilton combo in RF has actually been a bigger upgrade than the Hamilton-Byrd combo in centre. This is mainly because Kenny Lofton played a lot of centre for Texas in 2007, and he's still pretty good. Nelson Cruz was their main right fielder in 2007, and he's not pretty good. In fact, he's the other thing. The Texas upgrade, by the way, just noses out what J.D. Drew has done in Boston, rallying from a very disappointing first year in the AL.
Biggest Collapse: NL - Atlanta (60.6%); AL - Detroit (59.1%)
Jeff Francoeur is still so young that it's unclear exactly what kind of hitter he's going to be, but this season he's hit for neither average nor power. He's got to do at least one of those things. In Detroit, Magglio Ordonez is having yet another very fine season, just like almost every other season he's had in the majors - the only problem is the act he's following, the astonishing, dominating season he had last year.

Designated Hitter
Biggest Upgrade: AL - Texas (144.8%)
Actually, the Astros have the biggest upgrade at DH but we're obviously not going to count that - it's 36 at bats. Texas has replaced one veteran NLer with a bad rep for another and its worked out just great. Milton Bradley has even been able to stay in the lineup and he's already hit almost as many homers as Sammy Sosa did last season. And hitting homers was about all Sammy did.
Biggest Collapse: AL - Seattle (44.5%)
Philadelphia DHs have gone 2-23 this season, but who cares. Meanwhile, Jose Vidro has gone right off the cliff. He's lost 99 points off his batting average, and no one gets away with that.

Finally, a couple of other Blue Jays notes:

The Jays offense has been better at three positions: shortstop, which we already mentioned, has the biggest improvement. The other two are catcher (127.3%), thanks to Rod Barajas replacing Jason Phillips; and first base (113.6%), where Lyle Overbay has been healthy. (Matt Stairs did not hit a lick in 2007 when he was playing first base.)

The biggest disaster has been DH (57.7%). Frank Thomas was pretty productive in 2007, and Matt Stairs has been pretty ordinary this year. Left Field (80.0%) is down - Stairs was sensational with the bat last season when he played the outfield. The situation in left has improved dramatically over the past few weeks, of course. Right field (80.3%) has been just as bad - Rios is having a very disappointing season. The injuries to Wells only makes the situation worse, because Brad Wilkerson has filled in in RF and Brad hasn't hit much of anything. There's been falloff at second base (83.3%) - Aaron Hill wasn't having a very good season with the bat before he got hurt, and Marco Scutaro has actually matched Hill'ss offensive production at 2b.  Which is alarming. Anyway, Joe Inglett has been an upgrade on both of them. Over at third base (90.3%), Scott Rolen is still a good player and a defensive whiz but he's nowhere near being the kind of offensive force that Troy Glaus is. Rolen has at least played a larger portion of the team's games than Glaus was able to last year, which is good because Scutaro hasn't hit a lick when he's been in at 3b. The problem in centre field (93.5%) is that while Vernon Wells has played better than he did last year, he's been on the DL twice now and Alex Rios hasn't hit while he's been playing centre.

21 July 2008: Upgrades | 31 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Mick Doherty - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 01:27 PM EDT (#189131) #

Nelson Cruz was their main right fielder in 2007, and he's not pretty good. In fact, he's the other thing.

Whoa, Nellie! Young Cruz has 31 home runs in AAA this year, which I believe is second on all of minor league baseball for the season. While you are probably right about his (4A) skill level, he's going to get a whole bunch more shots to show whether he's Joe Lis or David Ortiz ...

Chuck - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 02:10 PM EDT (#189133) #
Yet another enjoyable epic. Please don't let the absence of reader commentary suggest that lengthy essays such as these go unread.
92-93 - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 02:42 PM EDT (#189137) #
Since May 11th, Troy Glaus is hitting an absurd .317/.406/.608 with 38r 17hr 43rbi in 61 games. Man do I ever miss that bat.
Mike Green - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 02:55 PM EDT (#189140) #
Troy Glaus is having a big year, but you do have to remember to take a significant NL discount on his stats.  Here are the NL GPA leaders. Bearing in mind the record in interleague play and the ages and histories of many of the names at the top, it is likely that NL pitching this year is at a nadir. 
Pistol - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 03:32 PM EDT (#189143) #
Please don't let the absence of reader commentary suggest that lengthy essays such as these go unread.

Barry Bonnell - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 03:48 PM EDT (#189144) #

Does anyone else find it interesting that the Jays re-hired Mel Queen to evaluate the farm system?

I would be shocked if it was J.P that made this decision. Would love to see Queen's report on the state of the farm system.


John Northey - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 04:04 PM EDT (#189147) #

That is an interesting one.  Mel Queen hired to evaluate the system. Talk in the column of Rob Ducey (born in Toronto, raised in Cambridge just like me but unlike me has baseball skills) coming in to be the new farm director as well. 

Very interesting.  Makes one wonder about how many more changes are on the way.  It was possible that JP picked Cito to come in and manage but Queen coming in to evaluate the system and possibly Ducey taking over the farm system suggests JP is in deep trouble or being moved to a new role.  Should be interesting to see what comes about in the next few months eh?
Thomas - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 04:58 PM EDT (#189151) #
Talk in the column of Rob Ducey (born in Toronto, raised in Cambridge just like me but unlike me has baseball skills) coming in to be the new farm director as well. 

Ducey wouldn't be coming in. He already works as a scout for the team. I'd also be surprised if he became the new farm director, just because I don't get the sense the Jays are unhappy with the current state of the farm system. I don't see why they'd actively be looking to make a change. But, I agree that it would be surprising if the Queen move was JP's idea. He may have consented, but I suspect the idea must have originated with Gaston or maybe Godfrey.
greenfrog - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 05:10 PM EDT (#189155) #
Apparently Posada could miss the rest of the season:

Do the Yankees have any blue-chip prospects (besides Hughes, who I'm guessing is untouchable)? The Jays could provide them with a fantastic stretch run package of AJ, Zaun + a reliever.
92-93 - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 05:23 PM EDT (#189158) #
Austin Jackson, Jose Tabata, Ian Kennedy, and Alan Horne might fit the bill.
Chuck - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 05:54 PM EDT (#189161) #

Do the Yankees have any blue-chip prospects (besides Hughes, who I'm guessing is untouchable)? The Jays could provide them with a fantastic stretch run package of AJ, Zaun + a reliever.

Look for Molina the elder to don the pinstripes and screw little brother out of ABs, just like the good old days. Of course, no one in Gotham will shed any tears should little bro' have to resume life as a backup.

Just how bad is that Posada contract looking now?

John Northey - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 05:54 PM EDT (#189162) #
Given the Jays have brought in Queen to evaluate the farm I would think the higher ups are not happy with it.  Seeing guys like Thigpen and Adams collapse in AAA after being blue chippers a couple years earlier, plus others who looked promising collapse like Ricky Romero, and Chip Cannon plus others showing signs of stalling like Diaz I would worry too.  A lot of that is to be expected as not all prospects make it but one would expect some growth until they are near 30 rather than the complete collapse we've seen from Adams (206/302/335) & Thigpen (220/269/312).  We also saw top prospect Josh Banks have a 6.66 ERA in Syracuse then go to San Diego for free and now has a 122 ERA+ over 7 starts/50.2 IP.

An example of concerns for me - Thigpen has seen his OBP and Slg drop every year since being signed, Snider while still being a top prospect has seen his Avg and Slg drop with each promotion while his OBP has seen a slight uptick from A+ to AA (333 vs 336).  These are not good signs, regardless of Snider being young for AA, especially with his K's getting worse too (now at 1 per 3.02 AB's).  As much as we like to see Snider working his way to the majors quickly the speed might be too much at the moment and staying in Dunedin might have been a better move for this year.

Other questions could be on the quality of coaching at each level - do we have the best we could get?  Are guys learning what they need to know before promotion to the next level?  For years we saw strong AA teams [iirc] then a horrid AAA and this year the top two levels are both in trouble (Syracuse at 500, NH is 40-60). This suggests something is not getting passed on to players to help them succeed in the transition from A+ to AA to AAA.  Players in the minors need lots of instruction and if you don't do it right you have a nightmare, counting on just the raw skills and individual dedication rather than pushing to get 100% out of the players.  With the new high school focus this becomes even more important, college players have already had a few years of high level coaching normally which could explain the AA record pre-08.

In truth, all ML teams should have a Mel Queen type hired annually to do reviews of the minor league system.  Ideally you also get a different guy or set of guys every few years to do it so you can get different points of view and make sure you don't miss anything.  A well developed player vs a poorly developed one can save a team millions or allow it to make millions more than they otherwise would.
parrot11 - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 06:06 PM EDT (#189164) #
I would think that more organizations would quietly hire someone independent to evaluate their farm system (i.e. independent audit). The opinion of the GM is probably not the best place to go for an unbiased assessment.
Gerry - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 07:00 PM EDT (#189167) #

The hiring of Mel Queen sounds like a Rogers initiative that leads to the end of the season.  It looks like Rogers are getting ready for a full JP review at the end of the year and to do that they need third party opinions to complete that review.

The meaning of this to me is, as I said, JP is in for a grilling at the end of the year.  If the decision has already been made to fire JP this move wouldn't be necessary, just turn it over to the new guy.  JP's risk is that Queen's report has a negative opinion of the farm system, then Rogers will say that JP isn't improving the major league or the minor league systems. 

Mike Green - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 07:31 PM EDT (#189169) #
That makes sense, Gerry. 

The honest answer to the question being posed of Mel Queen  is that the farm system is, right now,  middle of the pack. What Rogers does with that information, assuming that they get a straight answer, is another story altogether.

Rob - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 08:08 PM EDT (#189172) #
Following the n people who have declared their appreciation for Magpie's work, I'll be the (n+1)st. Congratulations also for including a link that goes somewhere; next step is to point to a non-Box page.

Let's break down those "runs per game vs. last year" figures by division, just for fun:

Rangers, +9.4%
Athletics, -6.5%
Angels, -13.9%
Mariners, -18.4%

White Sox, +15.0%
Twins, +12.5%
Royals, -2.5%
Indians, -9.1%
Tigers, -11.2%

Orioles, +2.2%
Rays, -4.0%
Red Sox, -5.7%
Blue Jays, -9.7%
Yankees, -22.5%

The AL East is kind of surprising, but maybe all those offences overperformed last year. The Rays have improved relative to the league, but the more interesting improvements are their pitching/defense, of course, and I suspect Magpie here will go into that in Part 2.

How about those Twins? Eric Seidman wrote about their improved pitching this very afternoon at Fangraphs, specifically noting Baker's, Blackburn's, and Slowey's performances, but nothing about their improved offence. (He also made a crack about the HR derby commentators mispronouncing "Morneau"--a delicious bit of hypocrisy since Seidman's the guy who refuses to pronounce "Bédard" correctly, as he freely admits.) Anyway, despite the loss of Hunter, and Mike Lamb actually underperforming 2007 Nick Punto, the Twins are hitting the cover off the ball. Other than that I don't know how they improved.

Marlins, +0.4%
Mets, -1.7%
Nationals, -7.6%
Phillies, -8.9%
Braves, -11.0%

Cubs, +13.7%
Pirates, +7.5%
Cardinals, +6.1%
Astros, -3.0%
Brewers, -4.7%
Reds, -8.0%

Diamondbacks, +0.8%
Giants, -5.1%
Dodgers, -9.1%
Rockies, -17.1%
Padres, -18.4%

Aside from the Central, the National League sure looks uninspiring, offensively. Four out of the five NL West teams have lost runs at a greater rate than the NL as a whole (-4.7% as per the original chart).

I was also curious about changes in ISO from one year to the next. Top 5 and bottom 5:

St. Louis, +19.1%
Baltimore, +18.6%
Chicago Sox, +11.4%
Texas, +7.4%
Chicago Cubs, +7.3%
San Diego, -13.8%
Seattle, -13.8%
NY Yankees, -15.0%
Oakland, -18.5%
Toronto, -22.5%

Geez. We all knew the Jays weren't putting balls in the seats, but the largest power drop in the majors is a little much, no?
Frank Markotich - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 10:09 PM EDT (#189176) #
Mel Queen to evaluate the farm system? Rob Ducey to be farm director? Well, maybe but it has the smell of a hoax to me. Especially coming from Elliott, who is as well connected with the current Blue Jays management as George W Bush is with the Taliban.
scottt - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 10:15 PM EDT (#189177) #
Do the Yankees have any blue-chip prospects (besides Hughes, who I'm guessing is untouchable)? The Jays could provide them with a fantastic stretch run package of AJ, Zaun + a reliever.

Ponson is doing the job for the Yankees. Hughes is coming back at some point and so is Wang. I don't see the Yanks giving anything in a trade but rather picking up somebody as part of a salary dump.
scottt - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 10:24 PM EDT (#189178) #
Geez. We all knew the Jays weren't putting balls in the seats, but the largest power drop in the majors is a little much, no?

Rios hit #5 yesterday. 

Hill hit 17 last year. From Glaus to Rolen. Thomas to Stairs. Wells on the DL. Lind not starting. What team could have been worse than that?
John Northey - Monday, July 21 2008 @ 11:46 PM EDT (#189180) #
Good point Frank.  The Jays site now states that Queen was hired to teach a handful of top pitching prospects as Queen wanted back into baseball and, given his past success with Halladay, the Jays decided to bring him back in.

Want scary stuff?  Elliot has been nominated for the Spink award, which is basically the writers wing of the HOF.  Lets pray that one of the two other nominees gets in instead.  FYI: I heard on the radio from Elliot himself that it was Richard Griffin who nominated him.  Ugh.
Magpie - Tuesday, July 22 2008 @ 01:08 AM EDT (#189184) #
Congratulations also for including a link that goes somewhere; next step is to point to a non-Box page.

Do you mock me, sir? (I think he mocks me.)

And I won't stand for it, I says! For in my very last piece, an ode to the Mighty Bob Gibson, I included this link to a YouTube clip of Gibson striking out a whole bunch of Tigers. It worked, too. Still does.

A little respect, for your elders. Or maybe the phrase I'm looking for is "Nyah nyah."
TamRa - Tuesday, July 22 2008 @ 04:02 AM EDT (#189187) #
Queen tutoring Jays pitchers would be an interesting thing if he concentrates on Righties...the lefties all seem to be doing well (but it's too early to tell if Ricky Ro has figured it out).

Several of the RHP prospects have been inconsistant, especially after being promoted. It might be something as simple as the adjustment to a new level. Ray, Rodriguez, Ginley in particular come to mind.

ComebyDeanChance - Tuesday, July 22 2008 @ 09:11 AM EDT (#189190) #
I'm not sure why it would by 'scary' that Bob Elliot has been nominated for an award or why he'd be trashed on a Blue Jays fan board. He's been writing about baseball at both the major and minor league level in Toronto for a long time, and has made a worthwhile contribution.

I suspect that the reason some diss Elliot is due to his antipathy toward JP Ricciardi. Not sure why Elliot would be blamed for that. While everyone's entitled to their opinion, I would think that Bob Elliot has been a better baseball reporter than Ricciardi has a GM, and will be at his post for a long time after Ricciardi has been let go.
Mike Green - Tuesday, July 22 2008 @ 09:27 AM EDT (#189191) #
The best writing, in my opinion, is now found on the internet, from writers like Rich Lederer and Steve Treder to John Walsh and Tom Tango.  There's a little bird in the northern section of the web who isn't too shabby either.:)
Magpie - Tuesday, July 22 2008 @ 10:13 AM EDT (#189195) #
There was a time - and it lasted quite a long time, to be honest - when you could argue that Bob Elliott was the best, most essential baseball writer in Toronto. There was also a time when this here site quite loyally approved of just about everything Ricciardi did.

Neither of those things have been true for a long time. Many of the guys who were Present at the Creation of Da Box have moved on to Other Things, and institutional memory isn't something you find all that much of on the Internets and it's certainly not something that weighs very heavily on me. ( Hey - I still think of myself as one of the New Guys!). Anyway, I never drank the Ricciardi Kool-Aid. I might have, if I'd been around, but I wasn't. So we'll never know!

And Elliott - sad to say, but he's been mailing it in for most of the past ten years. He's been at his post too long. He's just going through the motions now.

That said, if anyone from Toronto is going to be nominated for the Spink Award, it has to be Elliott on the basis of of what he's done over the course of his long tenure (more than 20 years now). Personally, I've always preferred Larry Millson's work but for the longest time the Globe's decision to present the most minimal of sports sections meant there really wasn't a whole lot for Millson to do other than file game stories. Elliott was the essential reporter.
Chuck - Tuesday, July 22 2008 @ 10:18 AM EDT (#189196) #

I agree with Mike. While there is far, far more dreck on the internet than in the mainstream media -- and this is the dreck that is cited when internet "writers" get pilloried -- the very best of the internet writers, at least in the world of sports, tend to be those toiling away for little or nothing. If newspaper sports writers aren't anachronisms yet, they soon will be.

Frank Markotich - Tuesday, July 22 2008 @ 02:13 PM EDT (#189217) #

Upcoming exclusives in the Toronto Sun:

"Kelly Gruber to replace Arnsberg as pitching coach"

"Ricciardi's days as GM numbered, Manny Lee tabbed as replacement"

As told to Bob Elliott by several pink elephants.

You heard it here first.

Magpie - Tuesday, July 22 2008 @ 02:51 PM EDT (#189220) #
If newspaper sports writers aren't anachronisms yet, they soon will be.

I disagree with that, for what I think are a couple of reasons: access and connections. (They may actually be the same one!) The print guys in particular have something the vast majority of internet writers don't have - access. They can go into the clubhouse and down on the field and talk to these people every day. (Technically I have that access as well, but it's not why they gave me a press pass and I've always felt it would be a little iffy if I were to use it that way.) Anyway, they form networks among themselves and amongst people in the game. And so they are much, much better positioned to be reporters - to find out stuff.

I don't think the best analysis of the game is necessarily to be found from the best reporters, in baseball or anywhere else. To repeat an analogy I know I used at least once before, Bob Woodward of the Washington Post is a great, great reporter. He can talk to anyone and find out anything. But as an analyst of current events, of war and peace and politics - there are dozens of people I regard much more highly.

I think there will always be a place for both of these Inside and Outside perspectives. I do think it would be nice if someday they each had more respect for one another, but for the most part neither camp has very much use for the other.

Are my hippie roots showing?
China fan - Tuesday, July 22 2008 @ 03:15 PM EDT (#189222) #
As usual, I find myself in complete agreement with Magpie.   Mainstream journalists and Internet writers are not rivals of each other -- they are complementary to each other.  They have different roles on the same team, and it's silly to suggest that one will eventually replace the other.
Internet writers are becoming more and more valuable, but they're not going to replace the mainstream journalists (who, after all, have a growing presence on the Internet as well -- see the Jeff Blair blog as an example).   To predict that the Internet writers are eventually going to replace the mainstream journalists would be like suggesting that Roy Halladay is such a great pitcher that eventually he will replace the catcher and the first baseman as well. 
Alex Obal - Tuesday, July 22 2008 @ 07:05 PM EDT (#189242) #
My stance is that of the Big Ten Wonk. Nod perfunctorily toward your columnist, but hug your beat writer. Newspaper columnists used to have three effective monopolies: the ability to see the games, the ability to reach an audience, and the ability to talk to players. Monopolies #1 and #2 have basically disappeared, and my existence as a fan is much better as a result. Now, sportswriters should be judged by what they do with monopoly #3. Those who enlighten us consistently - like Snappy the Turtle - deserve megatons of credit. Those who don't, don't. Those who lack sufficient perspective to put the information they get in a sane context should be laughed at. Those who use their platform to try to carry out personal grudges should be slapped.

I think this applies to most kinds of journalism.
Rob - Tuesday, July 22 2008 @ 08:25 PM EDT (#189244) #
Alex (and the Wonk) are exactly right. Consider our happy little corner of the baseball world. I think it's pretty clear that we care a fair bit about what Snappy, Bastian, and Wilner have to tell us, and much less about the words of Griffin, Macleod, and Elliott. The first three use that monopoly on talking to players (and their wives) to great effect; the last three either don't do that well or don't know Jason Frasor's first name.

Actually, the Jays have been well-represented at, now by Bastian and earlier by Fordin (who's working the other side in this series, now that I think of it). Also, Jordan is easy to cheer for: he appears to be living his dream working a baseball beat in the majors mere years after finishing j-school, and he's neatly sidestepped the perils of the newspaper industry by working online. Would that we were all that lucky at his age.
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