THT Dartboard: August 11, 2006

Welcome to The Hardball Times Dartboard, our weekly attempt to rank all the teams in baseball. The Dartboard Factor is how many wins a team would be expected to have at the end of the season if it played a neutral schedule. Next to that, you’ll find the change in the Dartboard Factor from the previous week. An explanation of our method can be found here.

1. Detroit Tigers (Dartboard Factor = 106, 0): Carlos Guillen looks like a legitimate MVP candidate. He’s 11th in the league in Gross Production Average (GPA), fourth in Win Shares (20), and he’s the shortstop anchoring the best infield defense in baseball (57 plays above average). If, for all of David Ortiz’s efforts, the Red Sox don’t make the playoffs, why not vote for the best player on the best team in baseball?

2. New York Yankees (Dartboard Factor = 100, +1): It’s been just a week-and-a-half, but the Bobby Abreu deal is paying dividends for the Yankees so far. They’ve moved from half-a-game back of the Red Sox to three games up, and Abreu has been worth almost a full win above average (40.4 WPA Probability Added, or WPA). He also has four extra-base hits and five stolen bases in just nine games.

3. New York Mets (Dartboard Factor = 96, +3): Anyone else feel that Jose Reyes is once again ridiculously overrated? Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very good player, but I challenge someone, anyone, to prove to me that Reyes is better than Carl Crawford. Reyes may be two years younger, but Crawford is a better hitter, better fielder (which negates the positional difference between the two), and has a much brighter future ahead of him. Crawford’s big (6’2”, 219 pound) frame suggests that he will continue to add power (as documented by yesterday’s article on the relationship between size and performance), while Reyes’ suggests that he will struggle to hit any substantial number of home runs. Reyes also has a nagging injury history, while Crawford has played three straight seasons of more than 150 games. This isn’t to say that Reyes isn’t good or won’t be good, but it’s more that I wish we would approach him with tempered enthusiasm.

4. Chicago White Sox (Dartboard Factor = 95, 0): At the All-Star break, I wrote that Jose Contreras was due for a steep decline. He has a 4.93 ERA since. If Contreras’ decline is real—and his peripherals (4.77 expected FIP) indicate it is—the White Sox are in a lot of trouble. Their other starters all have ERAs between 4.83 and 5.18.

5. Minnesota Twins (Dartboard Factor = 94, +2): On Wednesday, Justin Morneau became the first Twins player in 19 years to hit 30 home runs in a season. Aaron Gleeman points out that Morneau is on pace to hit .320 with more than 40 home runs and over 120 RBI, something that has been done just 10 times in the past 50 years. Of course, the funny thing is that Morneau isn’t even one of the three best players on the team.

6. Boston Red Sox (Dartboard Factor = 93, -5): Trot Nixon‘s injury might not actually be a bad thing. It gives the Red Sox a chance to try out Wily Mo Pena for a month. In limited playing time, Pena has a .283 Gross Production Average (GPA), though his .398 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is unsustainable. The next month may determine Pena’s future in Boston (not that it necessarily should); if he plays well, Pena will probably take over for Nixon next year, if he doesn’t, he may find himself on the trade market yet again.

7. Toronto Blue Jays (Dartboard Factor = 90, -4): The Blue Jays have seven hitters on-pace for 30 or more doubles, even though the Rogers Centre has been a slightly worse than average park for hitting doubles this year. I’ve always enjoyed offenses that hit a lot of doubles, like Toronto this year or Boston the past few seasons.

8. Oakland Athletics (Dartboard Factor = 88, +4): Frank Thomas is on-pace to hit 37 home runs and nine doubles. The only other time someone has hit more than 35 home runs and less than 10 doubles was 1982, when Dave Kingman matched Thomas’ pace exactly. In fact, there have even been 37 instances of a player hitting 35 or more homers and more than 10 triples! All of which is a way of pointing out that Frank Thomas is really, really slow.

9. Texas Rangers (Dartboard Factor = 86, 0): Mark Teixeira is suddenly leading the Rangers with 18 home runs after hitting just eight in the first three months of the season. Teixeira is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t be so quick to assume that any change in performance is due to steroids or some other kind of problem (or supplement). Say it with me people: regression to the mean.

10. Los Angeles Angels (Dartboard Factor = 85, 0): Would you trade a 23 year-old pitcher with a 107 ERA+, a fastball that rests in the upper-90s and a nasty slider; who has been compared to Pedro Martinez and generally projected to be a very successful major leaguer? Apparently, the Angels are willing to, as Ervin Santana was shopped all around at the trade deadline. Santana has steadily improved since entering the major leagues. In his first two months last season, he had a 5.88 ERA, then a 4.29 ERA in the next two, and a 4.06 ERA in the last two. This season, he had a 3.73 ERA in April and a rough May (5.45 ERA), but a 3.80 ERA in the next two months, and a 3.24 ERA in August.

11. Los Angeles Dodgers (Dartboard Factor = 83, +7): Derek Lowe is such an atrocious hitter that every time he comes to the plate, the Dodgers’ chances of winning go down 2.5%. What’s sad is that Jose Cruz Jr. has still cost Los Angeles more wins as a hitter than Lowe.

12. St. Louis Cardinals (Dartboard Factor = 82, -3): Albert Pujols’ WPA is exactly 666. Spooky. Also, completely insane. The man missed a month and he’s still over two wins better than the next guy.

13. San Diego Padres (Dartboard Factor = 81, -3): Brian Giles’ OBP is dangerously close to surpassing his slugging average (.377 versus .381). He and Abreu are very similar players at this point, and both are in for a sudden decline sometime soon.

14. Arizona Diamondbacks (Dartboard Factor = 80, -1): The Livan Hernandez trade signals that Arizona is all-in, an interesting bet in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. It’s an interesting acquisition for Arizona, whose bullpen has a 4.52 ERA, tenth in the National League. One way to deal with a bad bullpen is to try to improve it, another is to acquire a workhorse like Hernandez. If at the end of the season, Arizona makes the playoffs and Cincinnati does not, the Diamondbacks’ strategy will look like the right one.

15. Cincinnati Reds (Dartboard Factor = 80, -2): I’ll hold back from piling on general manager Wayne Krivsky even more for the disastrous Austin Kearns trade to note that Adam Dunn went on a tear recently, batting .354 in July. Dunn is severely underrated because of his low batting averages, but he walks a lot and hits the crap out of the ball. Between him and Ryan Howard, I think we a better than 50% chance of seeing someone hit over 60 home runs in the next few years.

16. Cleveland Indians (Dartboard Factor = 80, -2): There’s been a lot of Travis Hafner for MVP talk lately and frankly, it doesn’t make much sense. Hafner is a great hitter, and he’s having a fine season, but he’s on a team that’s on-pace to lose over 90 games. For a player to have an MVP season on a 90-loss team, he needs to be something special. Hafner leads the league in runs created, but there are three players within 10 runs of him. He’s tied for fifth in Win Shares with five other players. And those are (mostly) context-neutral stats. Context does not look kindly upon Hafner. He has contributed almost three wins less than his rate stats would indicate, according to the Clutchiness blog. He’s only seventh among hitters in WPA. Does that sound like an MVP to you? Certainly not on a 90-loss team.

17. Seattle Mariners (Dartboard Factor = 80, -1): Adrian Beltre is hitting .291 with 11 home runs and 38 RBIs since June. That’s still not the Beltre that the Mariners thought they were getting when they signed him to a five-year, $65 million contract, but hey, at least he’s hitting.

18. Houston Astros (Dartboard Factor = 78, +4): Craig Biggio is less than 100 hits away from 3,000. An interesting fact is that Biggio has only hit .300 four times in his career. That would tie Biggio with Dave Winfield for fewest .300 seasons among players in the 3,000 hit club. Cap Anson, with 24, has the most.

19. Philadelphia Phillies (Dartboard Factor = 78, +5): Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell are on pace to combine for 90 home runs and 322 strikeouts. Fielders must have a nice, relaxing time playing against the Phillies.

20. Colorado Rockies (Dartboard Factor = 77, 0): Though Coors Field is now playing like a neutral park, the one thing that the humidor hasn’t changed is the lack of strikeouts in Denver. Coors has seen 8.5% less strikeouts than the average National League park. Given how the park is playing now, I think it would be in Colorado’s best interests to look for pitchers with good control who let their fielders do all the work.

21. San Francisco Giants (Dartboard Factor = 76, -3): The last time Barry Bonds’ OPS was below 1.000 was 15 years ago. Steroids or no steroids, Bonds is a ridiculous hitter and always has been.

22. Atlanta Braves (Dartboard Factor = 75, -4): What’s wrong with Tim Hudson? How about nothing. His peripherals are good, and his expected FIP has been stable for each of the past three years (4.15 this year, 3.91 last year, 4.11 in 2004). Partially, he’s been the victim of bad luck (his component ERA is about four-tenths of a point lower than his ERA), and partially, it’s been a bad infield defense, which, adjusted for league, is 26 plays worse than average on the season, which would translate to about two-tenths of a point of ERA.

23. Florida Marlins (Dartboard Factor = 74, 0): Miguel Cabrera is ridiculous. He’s four walks away from tying his career-high, he’s cut down on strikeouts for the third year in a row, and upped his batting average for the third straight season as well. And he hasn’t given up any power while doing all that. That’s a sign of a mature hitter, at 23. Cabrera or David Wright? The answer is, you can’t go wrong.

24. Milwaukee Brewers (Dartboard Factor = 74, 0): In the past three years, Ben Sheets has pitched 430 innings and struck out 449 batters while walking just 61. That’s a ridiculous 7.36 K/BB ratio. If only Sheets could stay healthy.

25. Baltimore Orioles (Dartboard Factor = 72, -2): Miguel Tejada is ridiculous. He’s batting .330 and now has his eight consecutive 20 home run seasons. Only five shortstops, including Cal Ripken Jr. and Alex Rodriguez as shortstops, have hit more home runs in their career than Tejada. And the man is only 30. Believe it or not, Tejada is on track for the Hall of Fame, because shortstops simply don’t hit like he does.

26. Washington Nationals (Dartboard Factor = 69, -1): I am convinced that Jim Bowden has magical powers.

27. Chicago Cubs (Dartboard Factor = 68, +3): The Cubs received a lot of flack for handing Scott Eyre a 3-year, $11 million contract, but to their credit, he’s been worth it. Eyre has a 2.15 ERA and a 149.0 WPA, which validates much of his contract already. Of course, a good middle reliever doesn’t really do much for a team that’s on pace to lose 94 games.

28. Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Dartboard Factor = 68, 0): After putting up a 1.185 OPS in April, Jonny Gomes has been on a terrible slide. His OPS in May was .728, then .681 in June, .477 in July, and .345 in August. Gomes is a patient and powerful hitter, but he’s going to need to up his batting average (.210) to be successful. It could just be that he’s struggling right now, and his .242 BABIP points to some expected improvement, but Gomes might need to cut down on his strikeouts, which are teetering dangerously at Bobby Bonds/Jose Hernandez/Adam Dunn levels. There’s just not very much margin for error when you strike out that much.

29. Kansas City Royals (Dartboard Factor = 62, 0): Mark Teahen is having an awesome season. He has a .295 GPA; according to WPA, he’s almost five wins above average, and he’s 13th among American League hitters in Win Shares Percentage (WSP). Teahen’s defense is atrocious, but at least now the Royals can say that they got something for Carlos Beltran. If Teahen keeps this performance up, of course.

30.Pittsburgh Pirates (Dartboard Factor = 60, 0): In two starts for the Pirates, Shawn Chacon has twice as many walks as strikeouts (eight versus four) and almost as many home runs allowed (three). Dave Littlefield is the best general manager ever.

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