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Bone and steel
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Angels of Anaheim 8, Jays 2. The Angels hang 12 hits on A.J. Burnett to snap his winning streak at two games. No point talking about a game like that. Instead, I have two unrelated findings.

Finding #1: In a very small sample, Alex Rios has looked like himself since Cito Gaston took over

Before June 19, Alex Rios was hitting .270/.328/.372 in 314 PA. Since, he has hit .327/.362/.509 in 58 PA. Pretty big improvement. Rios has only had one other remotely comparable stretch this long in 2008. However, the sample size is still small enough that I'd hesitate to say conclusively that Cito and Gene have revived the Rios of old.

That said, the peripheral stats in that small sample suggest that Rios is hitting the ball with authority he hadn't shown in the first 11 weeks of this season.

Rios' struggles in the first 314 PA were due to at least two tangible problems: he was striking out more, and his groundball rate had shot up to where it had been in his offensively challenged 2004 and 2005 seasons. Under Gaston, Rios is still striking out a lot, but he has lowered his groundball rate and hit a lot of line drives:

2004 56.7 20.5 22.8 .286 .338 .383
2005 48.8 19.7 31.4 .262 .306 .397
2006 36.8 21.6 41.6 .302 .349 .516
2007 35.8 20.1 44.1 .297 .354 .498
08 Gibby 48.0 20.9 31.1 .270 .328 .372
08 Cito 41.9 25.6 32.5 .327 .362 .509

Obviously, no promises this is going to continue, but it's a heartening sign. I'm not expecting major miracles from Cito and company. I think the excitement about a new aggressive approach fixing the offense is somewhat overblown, though at least it should help decrease the probability of Rance Mulliniks shooting himself in the face anytime soon. But one thing I am holding out hope for is that Gaston's crew can help restore Rios' power. This is worth keeping an eye on. And so far, so good.

Finding #2: Dustin McGowan's ground balls are missing in action

Here's a graph of the starters' groundball percentages as a 5-start rolling average, starting from each pitcher's fifth start of 2008. Relief appearances don't count.

McGowan's GB% for the season is 41.4, down from 53.0 last year. That's the lowest GB% in the rotation, safely below Shaun Marcum's 45.3. Dustin. What. Until such time as the turquoise line goes back above the league average (44%-ish), you are the holder of the Shaun Marcum Memorial John McDonald Should Never Start Behind You Award, previously held by Shaun Marcum.

Which leads to the question - what's going on? I'd be curious to see whether McGowan's pitches have lost any movement this year. According to Fangraphs' fairly reliable pitch velocity stats, he's throwing all of his offspeed pitches almost 1 mph harder than he did in 2007. Could he be sacrificing movement for velocity? I doubt that is enough to account for the 12-point drop in groundball percentage on its own - given the variation in radar guns across the league, I'm not convinced McGowan is necessarily throwing harder at all in the first place - but it's still something I'd be interested in checking out. Maybe tomorrow.

Doc had been a bit of a sinking ship in the groundball department recently himself. Then he bulldozed the Mariners on Monday to partially restore order. I'm pretty confident Roy will be OK.

Today: Roy looks to keep the beat going this evening, searching for win #10, but it's not going to be easy: his opponent is an absolutely unconscious John Lackey. Lackey missed the first month and a bit of this season with a right triceps strain, but he's come back with a vengeance. Lackey has a 1.44 ERA in 68.2 innings over 9 starts, to go with a 2.63 WPA, which is already second-best in the AL. (The leader, Cliff Lee, has a 3.84 in 16 starts. Doc's WPA is 2.23, fifth behind Lee, Lackey, Joe Saunders and Marcum.)

Lackey looks kind of like Takashi Saito, if only Saito were more efficient and went seven innings in every appearance instead of one. Lots of sharp breaking balls with varied movement. Small platoon splits. Good luck.

The Cy race between Halladay, Lackey, Lee and Kazmir should be fascinating. Did I miss anyone? (Don't say Daisuke.) Ervin Santana? Duchscherer? Saunders? Marcum? Danks? Perhaps Beckett or Sabathia goes on a huge second-half surge? Perhaps a super-mega-darkhorse, like Matt Garza?

The awesome depth of pitching in the AL is one good reason to keep watching. Doc and Lackey, 10 pm tonight.
5 July 2008: Sword and Shield | 29 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
christaylor - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 09:33 AM EDT (#188417) #
Kazmir is in the Cy race by Matsuzaka is not? The only thing ugly about Matsuzaka's year thus far are the walks and that's going to be a problem for Kazmir too... but Cy voters don't look at that as far as I can tell. Matsuzaka is 9-1 and plays for Boston; make that 20-2 and keep the peripheral stats the same (which is to say ugly), he's a lock. I'm not agreeing that that should be how things are, just merely that we should recognize that's how things are.

I'm rooting for Lee however, I'm hoping he has finally put it all together (many lefties put things together later in their career, Wells, Johnson)... from here on out we may be hearing his name in the Cy race for years to come.
Ron - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 09:57 AM EDT (#188418) #
I hope Gaston benches Rios for today's game. In the 6th inning, he misread the ball off Vladdy's bat and once he realized the ball was going to his left, he basically jogged to get to the ball. The ball ended up tipping off his glove and went for a double. Rance called him out on the broadcast and I don't blame him. Rios was simply lazy and if he hustled, he would have caught the ball. This is not the first time he hasn't hustled (he has been benched several times in his career for not running out ground balls) and I have a feeling, it's not the last.
Chuck - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 10:41 AM EDT (#188419) #

Guerrero's "double" was an awfully generous call by the official scorer. 

Rios, sadly, is going to be reliable for a half dozen boners in the outfield every season. I don't know if it's lack of hustle, lack of focus or poor judgement. And I have no idea what the solution is, or even if there is one. Tough love may be the solution. Who's to say?

With the full understanding that perceptions from a fan's vantage point are potentially way off, it seems that Rios has trouble sustaining focus for the duration of an entire game.

ayjackson - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 11:52 AM EDT (#188420) #

I just noticed that 33 year-old reliever Dan Kolb has surfaced on Auburn's roster (Restricted Status).

Mike Green - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 12:22 PM EDT (#188421) #
Tough love for Rios is a poor approach.  Despite the glaring mistakes in the field (and on the basepaths too), he is now a significantly better defensive outfielder than Vernon Wells, and a significantly better baserunner for that matter.  You just have to accept that the good plays are going to be much more numerous than the obvious bad ones.  When Rios plays centerfield, he gets 3 or 4 balls in front of him that Vernon would not for every one of his grossly misplays.
Lefty - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 12:28 PM EDT (#188422) #
Thats just Lexi being Lexi I guess.
Anders - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 12:29 PM EDT (#188423) #
Over the last 14 days (which misses one game of the Cito era, in which Rios went 2/5 with 2 doubles), Rios is hitting .320/.358/.480, with a BABIP of of .395. Over the past 28 days, Rios is hitting .322/.354/.456... with a BABIP of .394.

His average on balls in play for the season is .347. Rios has always had good a good BABIP, because he hits a lot of line drives, and the rule of thumb is generally LD% + .120 = BABIP.

I want to believe.... I just have a feeling that this improvement will be short lived (in this case it seems to rely on an unsustainable line drive rate.)
GregJP - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 01:24 PM EDT (#188424) #
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - a great team full of clutch hitters, great pitching, and a brilliant manager.

RS = 361
RA = 343


Toronto Blue Jays - a bunch of chokers who can't hit in the clutch and basically the worst team in the history of organized baseball.

RS = 356
RA = 335


Anything less than about 250-300 games in MLB is very close to being too small a sample to really tell you anything.
Chuck - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 01:41 PM EDT (#188426) #

I agree with most everything said here.

I was not advocating tough love for Rios, only claiming that I have no idea what would work on him, if anything. My general experience with people tells me that leopards don't often change their spots. Rios is who he is. It's likely that no amount of screaming or hugging will affect the frequency of his mental lapses.

As Lefty says, Lexi being Lexi. The team, and the fans, likely just have to live with it.

I concur with Mike's claim that Rios is a superior center fielder to Wells. When will the CF/RF flip-flop take place? My guess is that it will be no time soon. The reputations of center fielders take a long time to fade and the move to a corner outfield position (Griffey, Puckett) tends only to occur after it is long due. Further, Wells is being paid to be the team star, making a suggested move to RF potentially humiliating to him.

FInally, I am with Anders in the "I want to believe" category. If Rios never got any better than the 350/500 hitter he was for 1100 AB in 2006-07, that would be plenty fine with me. A return to that level from a 27-year old, if only just for the season's second half, seems a plausible hope, even given a return to a more normal line drive rate.

I am far more bullish on Rios than on Wells from whom I would now consider 350/450 to be a good season.

Alex Obal - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 02:04 PM EDT (#188427) #
Chris, I'm only anti-Matsuzaka because he's averaging a laughable 5.36 innings per start. His ERA is very good and his record is sparkling, but how can you give such an un-durable guy an award named after Cy Young and do it with a straight face? Kazmir's 6.0 isn't great but I don't think it's bad enough to disqualify him on its own, and he has far more strikeouts and better peripheral stats as well. I'm pretty sure everyone I mentioned has at least 6 IP/GS, with the exception of John Danks who's at 5.92. Of course, Roy Halladay's unique ability to eat tons of innings makes him a very strong candidate no matter where his record ends up.

Rios skeptics, y'all might be right, but 7 of his 23 doubles and 1 of his 4 homers have come in the last 13 games. BABIP regression will come and go - this latest BABIP-fueled hot streak has him at .351 which I think is a teensy bit higher than his true BABIP talent level given his speed and the fact he never pops up - but I sense a power surge coming. The fact that Rios tagged two solid doubles into left center in his first two PA of the Cito Era has stuck with me, to the point where I'm expecting it to be a significant turning point in Rios' isolated power numbers, until proven otherwise. I do have a proven track record of excessive optimism though.
Alex Obal - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 02:15 PM EDT (#188428) #
One more thing on Matsuzaka - he's 9-1 despite going 5.4 innings a start with his 3.12 ERA, which is some pretty impressive run and bullpen support. I agree if he finishes 18-2 with 5.4 IP/GS and a 3.12 ERA he's likely to get a lot of votes, which is a joke, in my opinion.

Fortunately, I think that's unlikely. In light of Matsuzaka's 19.8% K and 14.9% BB and .254 BABIP (he does have a very high popup rate). He's going to have a really hard time sustaining his ERA without performing better at something defense-independent. Maybe the run support will stick around. But I'd like to see him keep the magic going a little longer, or start really dominating hitters, before calling him a serious contender.
Parker - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 02:18 PM EDT (#188429) #
Does anyone else here think that runs for vs. runs against isn't necessarily the best yardstick with which to measure where the Jays' record should be this year?  The Jays have lost a lot of close games and won several utter blowouts.  When this happens in most cases it's attributed to bad luck, that scoring runs isn't coinciding with quality pitching, but is it possible the Jays just can't score runs when it matters?  They sure haven't been getting hits when it matters, as evidenced by their truly awful batting with RISP this season.

I know most intelligent baseball observers don't lend much credence to the idea of clutch hitting.  However if batters are pressing because they need a hit, either because the game is close or because of runners on second/third (or all of the above) then couldn't this result in poor "clutch" hitting and run scoring?  When there's no pressure because of a huge lead or deficit, the hits seem to come more naturally.  Just from my informal observations this year the team seems to have a number of close-but-no-cigar comebacks, where there's no pressure because the game is out of reach so the Jays are able to pile on a few runs, but when they come within one or two runs it's back to high-pressure at-bats and the offense dries up.  This seems to be an ideal situation to lose more games than they win despite a favorable RF/RA differential.

I'm sure the sharp baseball minds of Da Box have considered something along these lines, I'm just putting it out there for someone smarter than me to debunk as total crap and subjective reasoning.
parrot11 - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 03:06 PM EDT (#188430) #
"Does anyone else here think that runs for vs. runs against isn't necessarily the best yardstick with which to measure where the Jays' record should be this year?"

Generally, I think that it's an OK tool to use, but it's not the be all and end all (which is the case for most stats). It can be skewed severely by things like scoring runs in blowouts, so that instead of losing 9-0 you lose 9-6 because the other team sent out a scrub to finish the last 2 innings. Should those 6 runs matter?
Chuck - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 04:09 PM EDT (#188432) #

Here is the run differential distribution for the Jays' first 87 games. "+1, 12" means they outscored the opposition by 1 run 12 times.

+13, 1
+12, 1
+8, 2
+6, 5
+5, 1
+4, 2
+3, 11
+2, 6
+1, 12
-1, 21
-2, 7
-3, 5
-4, 7
-5, 2
-6, 1
-7, 2
-12, 1

The team's record is 41-46. Their RF/RA is 356/335 for 46 pythagorean wins.

If we ignore the 5 games in which the absolute run differential was 8 or more, the team's record is 37-45 and the RF/RA is 309/317 for 40 pythagorean wins in 82 games. This gets prorated to 42 wins in 87 games and is almost identical to the team's actual 41 wins.

So it looks like those 5 blowouts alone (four in the Jays' favour, one in their opponents' favour) are enough to throw off the team's Pythagorean record. In fact, if we let the +12 and the -12 cancel each other out, we can isolate three Jays' blowouts (+13, +8, +8) as being the perpetrators.

Now, whether one can use the "bad luck" argument to suggest that a team with better luck would more efficiently spread out their runs, I leave for someone else to argue. The bottom line is that 3 of 87 games this year serve as the basis for the team's Pythagorean/actual disparity.


Parker - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 04:12 PM EDT (#188433) #
...instead of losing 9-0 you lose 9-6 because the other team sent out a scrub to finish the last 2 innings.

Good point; I hadn't even considered that as a factor.  I'm blaming the Jays' bats when maybe I should be considering the quality of pitching they face in those situations.

Definitely more food for thought.
Olerud363 - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 05:14 PM EDT (#188434) #

While those runs don't matter they do say something about the quality of the team.  That scrub is the same guy you will face in the 14th inning, or in a 12-10 game.    In other words teams that keep the game at 9-0 instead of 9-6 have a fairly deep bullpen and this will show up in other games.   

Unless you want to argue the "scrub" isn't trying in the 9-0 game, but really the guy is probably earning the minumum and giving it everything every time out.


GregJP - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 05:17 PM EDT (#188435) #
It really amazes me that anyone on a site of this quality would get into the blowout and extraneous runs argument. 

The simple truth is that our favourite team has been very unlucky this year.  Crap like that happens over a sample of 80 games.

92-93 - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 05:21 PM EDT (#188436) #
"The simple truth is that our favourite team has been very unlucky this year. Crap like that happens over a sample of 80 games."

It really amazes me that you can ignore the Jays' horrendous lineup and chalk up the team's failures to bad luck.
Olerud363 - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 05:21 PM EDT (#188437) #

If we ignore the 5 games in which the absolute run differential was 8 or more

The whole point is that good teams win more blowouts then bad teams.  You have to be good to blow teams out.  Winning with blow-outs is THE positive indicater. 

The believers of the the pythagorean theory are arguing that the blowout wins are the true indicater of the quality of the team, while the 1 run losses were from luck.  


GregJP - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 05:25 PM EDT (#188438) #
It really amazes me that you can ignore the Jays' horrendous lineup and chalk up the team's failures to bad luck.

They've scored as many runs as the team leading the AL west.  How is that horrendous?
Magpie - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 05:33 PM EDT (#188439) #
So it looks like those 5 blowouts alone (four in the Jays' favour, one in their opponents' favour) are enough to throw off the team's Pythagorean record.

Well, that and the 12-21 record in one-run games. If they had split those games - they don't need to be exceptionally good, or exceptionally lucky, just randomly normal -  they'd be doing what Pythagoras expects them to do.

There are, and always have been, two things and two things alone that pull a team's actual record away from its Pythagorean expectation: one-run games and blowouts. That's kind of a "Well- duh!" statement - what else could there be?

But while these two things can have the same overall impact on W-L record as opposed to Expected W-L, they are not entirely alike in kind. The biggest variable in one-run games is just dumb luck. Although reasons for the specific failures of specific teams can be identified with more precision, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - common to all teams that are lousy in one-run games.  And so it's a random thing. A team can have a lousy record in one-run games one year and be perfectly fine the next. A good record in one-run games usually isn't the mark of a quality team - it's the mark of a lucky team.

Blowouts, on the other hand,  are more significant because the ability to beat the other team senseless is characteristic of a quality team. Its a genuine marker. You can catch a break and win a game by one run quite regularly. Happens all the time. But you don't catch a break and win by ten runs. You win by ten because you were way better than the other team that day. And you have to be pretty good, in some fundamental way, if you make a habit of that sort of thing.

In 2006, Cleveland went 18-26 in one run games, 16-9 in blowouts (games decided by 7 runs or more). No team with a losing record had ever outscored their opponents by 88 runs until the 2006 Indians came along. It was pretty easy to see them being much better in 2007, and they were. They were almost the exact opposite of the 2007 Mariners. Those Mariners won 88 games despite giving up 19 more runs than they scored. Seattle was fortunate in the close ones (27-20), and not so good when the game was a laugher (10-16).  It was pretty easy to anticipate this year's implosion.

Which represents a small helping of good news for the Blue Jays, who will take any they can find, I expect. Like the 2006 Indians, they're not very lucky in one-run games (12-21);  but when the game is No Contest, while they're not as impressive as the 2006 Indians they're doing okay (4-3).

Of course, none of this helps the Jays actually accomplish anything this this year. Oh well. Cleveland didn't get much done in 2006 either.
Olerud363 - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 08:12 PM EDT (#188441) #

That's a great explanation Magpie.      The blue jays have been unlucky in so many ways since 2005.   

Every team has injury's but on top of things that can be expected on every team  (like Glaus' various ailments, BJ Ryan's Tommy John) there have been a number of flukey injuries as well. 

Haladay missing 20 starts with appendicitis and the Mench line drive,   Aaron Hill's concussion,  Overbay's broken wrist, which could still be effecting his power.   Rios' Staph infection.    If the luck went the other way, Haladay gets out of the way of the line drive, Haladay gets Appendicitis in January 2007, Rios doesn't miss a month in 2006,  the blue jays outperform their pythagaran a couple of years, we get some fluky late inning wins, and 2005 through 2008 we have four low 90 win seasons in a row, and a wild card somewhere in there.   


Parker - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 09:27 PM EDT (#188442) #
For what it's worth, the Jays are batting 242/327/349 in late/close situations.  That's slightly worse than their RISP numbers of 240/330/.350.
christaylor - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 10:17 PM EDT (#188443) #
Excellent explanation, Magpie. The comparison of the 2006 Indians and the 2008 Jays got me thinking though - in addition to the the record in blow outs and one run games there's also the absolute number of one run games and blow outs a team gets into. The 2006 Indians will at the end of it, probably be involved in many fewer one run games and many more blow-outs than the Jays of 2008.

What does this mean though? I'm guessing that it has something to say about the variability of each team's talent. In the case of the Jays the talent is less variable and less in the case of the Indians, more. Another non-quantitative guess on my part is that the uniformity in the Jays pitching it is all good and the hitting, mostly average with very little "bad". Whereas the Indians had some standout good talent both in the rotation and in their hitters, but mixed with some quite bad players.

The sad summary of that is that it is quite easy to improve a team like the 2006 Indians, dump the bad. With the Jays of 2008, you of course have to keep all the good pitching but what to do about the offense that hasn't been done already. Stewart's not going to play another game, but beyond that how does one improve a team whose OPS+ bunch around 100 and are locked up for 2+ years? The answer probably is sit and wait. Not fun. Especially given that's the answer two years running.
Magpie - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 10:54 PM EDT (#188444) #
The sad summary of that is that it is quite easy to improve a team like the 2006 Indians, dump the bad.

A large difference between the two teams is this: if the 2008 Jays had won and lost according to their Pythag expectation, they'd be at 46-41, and on pace to go about 86-76. Not bad, but not good enough. Whereas if the 2006 Indians had won and lost according to their Pythag expectation, they would have gone about 90-72. There were already where they needed to be.
John Northey - Saturday, July 05 2008 @ 11:41 PM EDT (#188445) #
The offense isn't as hard to improve as it appears.  We have had ugly, ugly holes in LF and DH, the two easiest positions to find a slugger for.
Stats for positions avg/obp/slg via ESPN in order of OPS - note: Pitchers are at 0/0/0

LF: 230/312/329 - 641 OPS
DH: 215/326/360 - 686 OPS
2B: 269/331/367 - 698 OPS
CF: 270/316/392 - 708 OPS
SS: 279/361/351 - 712 OPS
1B: 257/360/378 - 738 OPS
RF: 284/336/427 - 763 OPS
CA: 270/344/423 - 767 OPS
3B: 263/357/410 - 768 OPS
PH: 341/431/523 - 954 OPS

Now that just isn't right.  The DH and LF should be at least top 3 for offense unless you have an A-Rod on your team.  Instead they are the worst.  However, hope is here as Lind is here and showing promise at last going 323/353/645 since being called back up.  We have Snider looking ready for 2009 hitting 274/354/448 in AA. 
CF is locked in as is 2B, the next two problem slots but Hill and Wells should hit better than they have this year (assuming Hill recovers).  SS & 1B both have horrible slg% but both have great OBP at 360.  CA has two guys with team options for 2009 plus a top prospect in Diaz.

To me it is clear that DH and LF must be addressed, and are in the process of being addressed.  2B/CF/RF are locked in long term by guys with OPS of 748/806/782 so odds are the 698/708/763 will be improved on next year given all 3 are under 30 still.  1B could be an issue but a 1/2 decent signing in the winter of a good DH/1B guy, ideally right handed, would be perfect (shame Frank Thomas wouldn't accept a bench role) to back up the kids in LF/DH and Overbay.  So to me it is clear what JP has to do and it isn't going to be a rocket science situation.  Find a right handed DH/1B/LF'er who will accept bench time, find a long term solution at SS, and hopefully not need to find a replacement for Hill but with Scutaro/Inglett/McDonald all here for 2009 unless released we have the depth, especially with Campbell in AA, to deal if Hill isn't able to recover or needs lots of time off.

2009 has a ton of promise, all we need are a few adjustments with the most difficult being SS.  This isn't a disaster team, just a really unlucky one.
westcoast dude - Sunday, July 06 2008 @ 12:28 AM EDT (#188447) #

Nice  to see Rios bounce back from a tough game by going 3 for 5 and stealing 3 bases, including 3rd twice.

BJ Ryan, on the other hand, looked shakey: lead-off walk, a single and a double. It's a good thing Rolen hoovers up everything and started a rally killing double play.

Wildrose - Sunday, July 06 2008 @ 01:34 PM EDT (#188457) #
I must admit I'm with the DJF bunch when it comes to those auto-trader adds.
5 July 2008: Sword and Shield | 29 comments | Create New Account
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