THT Dartboard: July 21, 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 = 105, -1): The Tigers may have improved playoff odds because of their balanced roster. The Rangers have four players with a Win Probability Added (WPA) of at least 90, the Athletics and Blue Jays have six, the Angels, Red Sox, and Yankees have seven, and the White Sox have eight. Detroit has ten players (40% of its roster!) with a WPA of 90 or above. In case of injury or slump, no team is better equipped to keep playing well than the Tigers.

2. New York Yankees (Dartboard Factor = 100, +2): Perhaps the most telling sign of Randy Johnson’s demise is that he’s throwing more than four-tenths extra pitches per batter as compared to last year, and more than he has in any season since 1996. Johnson’s stuff is no longer so overpowering that hitters will just flail at pitches no matter where they’re headed, and he’s been forced to start nibbling because he just can’t challenge batters with the heat any longer.

3. Boston Red Sox (Dartboard Factor = 98, -1) I’ll analyze the Josh Beckett extension in the near future, but until then, let’s ask the question: how unexpected has his terrible season been? We can use a nifty little statistic to answer this question. The statistic, which is simply strikeouts minus walks, divided by batters faced, is actually very powerful, and tells us almost everything there is to know about a pitcher, especially a young one. At just 25 last year, Beckett posted a (K-BB)/BFP of .148. Only 14 pitchers have put had a (K-BB)/BFP between .138 and .158 at 25. At 26, those 14 combined for a 3.36 ERA. Beckett has a 4.78 ERA. But what’s more, they averaged 7.30 K/9 at 26; Beckett is striking out 7.50 batters a game. They averaged 3.04 BB/9; Beckett is walking just 2.94. Here’s the difference: Beckett is allowing 1.99 home runs a game; those 14 allowed just .69. And that’s why they posted an ERA a run and a half lower than Beckett has.

4. Chicago White Sox (Dartboard Factor = 98, -2): Who else was happy to see Jose Contreras’ “win streak” come to an end? Yes, 17 wins without a loss is an impressive accomplishment, but it’s not like Contreras was shutting out every lineup he faced. During the streak, he had a 2.92 ERA and got bailed out a bunch by the White Sox offense, as only 75% of his 24 starts during the “streak” were even quality starts. Six pitchers—Johan Santana, Brandon Webb, Fransisco Liriano, CC Sabathia, John Lackey, and Tom Glavine—all pitched better than Contreras during his “streak.” And seriously, how can it be a winning streak if the wins are interspersed with no-decisions?

5. New York Mets (Dartboard Factor = 93, 0): Though he is on the disabled list at the moment, Pedro Martinez is having another great season, having passed the 200 win threshold this year. He’ll probably end up winning another six games or so this season, which would put him at 210 for his career. Only seven pitchers have recorded 205-215 wins at 34 since 1946. Two—Don Drysdale and Milt Pappas—never pitched past that age. The other five—Bert Blyleven, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Fergie Jenkins, and Mickey Lolich—combined to average 70 wins after turning 34, which would put Martinez right around 280 career victories. (Of course, Glavine and Clemens are still active and can further raise that average.) Only Clemens ever actually got to 300 victories though Glavine certainly looks like nothing can stop him at this point. If that’s the case, based on this very small, unreliable, and possibly unrepresentative sample, Martinez has around a 40% shot at 300 wins.

6. Toronto Blue Jays (Dartboard Factor = 93, -1): Remember when the Jays made all those offseason moves to improve the team and become a contender? Well, the key parts to their season thus far have all been players that were already with the team: Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, and Roy Halladay, who have 41 Win Shares, almost a third of the Blue Jays’ total production.

7. Minnesota Twins (Dartboard Factor = 90, +3): Not to rain on the Fransisco Liriano parade, because he really does have amazing numbers (83 strikeouts, 22 walks, and 7 home runs in 12 starts), but let’s just compare him to a certain King sporting a 4.89 ERA this season, who just happened to star exactly 12 games last year, and strike out 77 batters while walking just 23 and allowing five home runs. That’s not to say that Liriano won’t be great, because Hernandez will be too, and he’s suffered from a lot of bad luck this season, but can we temper the enthusiasm a little? Hernandez did the same thing last season, and he was three-and-a-half years younger than Liriano is now. If Hernandez eventually got hit, so will mini-Johan.

8. Texas Rangers (Dartboard Factor = 89, 0): In 2005, 39 runners attempted to steal off Kevin Millwood, and 33 were successful. In 2004, there were 13 attempts and 12 successes. In 2003, 41 steals in 45 attempts. 22 attempts and 21 steals in 2002. In 2001, 13 of 15 runners were successful. You get the picture…In fact, Millwood was on three different teams in these past five years, so you couldn’t even blame it on his catcher. Which leads me to one of the most surprising statistics of the year: runners have attempted to run on Millwood all of five times, and they have been unsuccessful in 60% of their tries. Whatever catcher Rod Barajas is doing, it is certainly working.

9. Los Angeles Angels (Dartboard Factor = 86, +2): After tying for second in the American League in Pitching Runs Created (PRC) last year, John Lackey is running in third this season. I hate when people scream about East Coast bias, but seriously, where is the love for one of the best pitchers in baseball?

10. Oakland Athletics (Dartboard Factor = 84, +2): Eric Chavez is primed for a big second half. His batting average on balls in play is 40 points lower than it should be based on his past performance, but his batted ball distribution hasn’t really changed. In fact, Chavez is actually hitting a slightly higher proportion of line drives this year, which generally means a higher batting average. These things tend to even out, and Chavez should match or exceed his PrOPS line of .280/.390/.510.

11. San Diego Padres (Dartboard Factor = 83, -2): Mike Piazza is very quietly having a very good season behind the plate (.318 Gross Production Average, or GPA). He’s about to get his 2,000th hit and score his 1,000th run, and if Piazza sticks around for a few more years, he has a shot at 500 home runs (411 at the moment).

12. St. Louis Cardinals (Dartboard Factor = 83, +2): Just wanted to mention how overrated Jason Marquis is as a hitter. Though Tony LaRussa famously sends him in as a pinch hitter (14 pinch hit at-bats in the past three years), Marquis is a career .229 hitter, and is batting .192 this year.

13. Cleveland Indians (Dartboard Factor = 82, -3): CC Sabathia, (over)hyped as a rookie five years ago is getting way too little attention. At 25, Sabathia has 76 career wins, something only 21 pitchers have done at such a young age since World War II. If he wins just seven more games this season (matching his first half total), Sabathia will move into the top 15 in wins at 25. For all the talk about the young pitching in the American League Central, Sabathia has been completely ignored despite his extraordinary accomplishments.

14. Cincinnati Reds (Dartboard Factor = 81, +3): I know he strikes out a lot, but how can the media continue to ignore Adam Dunn? He has 30 home runs on the year, which puts him on pace to have to around 210 career round-trippers by the end of the season. Dunn is 26, by the way. Even if he gets injured today and doesn’t play the rest of the season, Dunn will rank 15th in career home runs at age 26 among all players since 1946.

15. Los Angeles Dodgers (Dartboard Factor = 80, -4): Has Nomar Garciaparra re-made himself into a player with a legitimate shot at the Hall of Fame? Marc Normandin and I argued about this over something called a ‘Fat Chicken’ a few days ago. The simple fact is that Nomar has 500 fewer hits than Derek Jeter at the same age, and that he would need to be a healthy .320 hitter until he’s 40 to get 3,000 hits. He’s had three-and-a-half such seasons in his career; how can anyone expect him to pull off eight (and-a-half) more?

16. Seattle Mariners (Dartboard Factor = 80, -1): With 176 wins since turning 30, Jamie Moyer ranks 13th in wins after 30 (this only includes pitcher seasons starting in 1946). Moyer also rates fifth in wins above average. Moyer is a sort of reverse Dwight Gooden, who ranks fifth in wins before turning 30 (157). Take those two together—333 wins—and you get an idea of what could have been, if Moyer hadn’t taken a decade to put it together or if Gooden hadn’t fallen apart so early. Instead, both will be remembered as good, but Hall of Fame quality pitchers.

17. Arizona Diamondbacks (Dartboard Factor = 79, +2): Remember when the Blue Jays had to choose between Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado following the 1999 season, in which the two combined for 86 home runs and 257 RBIs? The Jays eventually decided to keep Delgado and dealt Green for Raul Mondesi. Remarkably, in retrospect, either would have been a pretty good choice. Green, by my calculations, has been worth 278 runs above replacement since 2000, and Delgado, 309. On the other hand, Delgado cost a little more, making $89 million over that time period while Green was paid $81 million. (Their contracts for this season are pro-rated for a little over half a year.)

18. San Fransisco Giants (Dartboard Factor = 79, -1): Is Omar Vizquel a Hall of Famer? Assuming he stays healthy through next season, he’ll be a 40-year old shortstop with over 2,600 hits and double-digit Gold Gloves. That would make him a strong candidate at least. Who would have thought that Vizquel’s chances at the Hall might be better than Roberto Alomar’s?

19. Atlanta Braves (Dartboard Factor = 78, +4): With seven straight wins, Atlanta is suddenly just 4.5 games out of the Wild Card. Even if they lose the division title, the Braves could still very much keep their streak of playoff appearances alive. Their positive run differential indicates this streak is no fluke, and Atlanta will head into August as a bona fide contender. So much for all those rumors surrounding John Smoltz.

20. Colorado Rockies (Dartboard Factor = 78, -3): Though he is probably un-tradable now, Todd Helton actually represents the type of player who would only be affected minimally by leaving Coors Field. Because over a third of his value comes from walks, and because he doesn’t hit so many home runs, Helton would remain basically the same player he is now: lots of patience, lots of doubles, and a good batting average. Sort of like Brian Giles. In fact, Helton might suit PETCO Park perfectly, with its large outfields and faraway walls.

21. Houston Astros (Dartboard Factor = 75, 0): Not only do the Astros need quite a bit of luck to truly contend for a playoff spot (Baseball Prospectus puts their chances of making the postseason at just 7%), but they also need to avoid injuries like the plague. Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman have carried the team—the two are a combined 10 wins above average, and without them, the Astros become the Royals—and if either was to get injured, Houston’s already-slim chances would—poof!—disappear.

22. Milwaukee Brewers (Dartboard Factor = 75, 0): Prince Fielder, who is only 22, is on pace to hit 29 home runs. Since 1946, only 16 players have had a 30-homer season at 22. Of those, almost half—seven, to be exact—are either Hall of Famers or have a good shot at the Hall. (I guessed that Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero, and Miguel Cabrera all will have a good chance of making it, though in all likelihood, only three of them will.)

23. Baltimore Orioles (Dartboard Factor = 74, -1): Brian Roberts is a valuable player if only for his on-base percentage, but in light of the past year, and his whole career prior to last season’s first half, how weird do his 15 pre-2005 All Star break home runs look? Taking out his 2005 first half, Roberts has averaged a home run every 127.75 at-bats. But for three-and-a-half months last season, he was hitting one every 20.87, a rate more than six times better. Of course, based on Roberts’ stature alone, it should have been obvious that he was not going to hit 30 home runs a year. Roberts is 5’9”, 175 lbs. If we look at all players who debuted after 1945 and were between 68 and 70 inches and 165 to 185 pounds (597 overall), we find that they only hit a home run every 59.15 at-bats versus an average of a home run every 37.73 at-bats for all other players.

24. Florida Marlins (Dartboard Factor = 73, +1): It’s a bit strange to hear Dontrelle Willis’ name invoked in so many trade rumors; after all, he’s only 24! He can anchor a playoff-caliber pitching staff, and he’s a potential Cy Young candidate. The dreadful Marlins offense has limited Willis to a 6-7 record, but nevertheless, he still already has 52 career wins. If we look at the 28 pitchers who have won between 50 and 60 games at 24 since 1946 (excluding Mark Buehrle, whose career still has a long way to go, but including Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, and Ismael Valdez, all of whom have just about played out their time), we can conclude that Willis has another 100 victories in him—the average pitcher on that list finished his career with 152 wins.

25. Philadelphia Phillies (Dartboard Factor = 73, +1): How can Bobby Abreu be as valuable as Ryan Howard when he’s hit 23 fewer home runs than the burly first baseman? With or without power, Abreu is a master at the plate. He takes so many pitches that he leads the league in pitches seen per plate appearance (4.5). He walks 22% of the time he comes to the plate. When Abreu does swing, he makes the most of it, with a consistently high line drive percentage and a great batting average on ground balls (of which he hits a lot). Abreu is great on the base paths, which is especially helpful for a guy who can get on base 44% of the time. What he lacks in strength, Abreu makes up for by playing smart and hustling.

26. Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Dartboard Factor = 68, -4): Though he’s currently .500 on the season, Casey Fossum’s career win-loss record is one of the most interesting in baseball. Despite being the owner of a 26-38 record coming into 2006, Fossum in fact had more winning season (three) than losing campaigns (two). If we look at all pitchers with at least five seasons since 1946 in which they ended up with a non-.500 record (minimum five decisions), Fossum’s .406 winning percentage is by far the lowest among pitchers with more winning than losing seasons. The next-worst is Tanyon Sturtze, also with three winning and two losing seasons and a 446 winning percentage.

27. Washington Nationals (Dartboard Factor = 66, -1): Despite his great first half, Alfonso Soriano is actually the third-best hitter on the Nationals according to WPA. Ryan Zimmerman (265.1) and Nick Johnson (222.9) both rank ahead of Soriano (148.0). Johnson and Zimmerman also happen to rank first and sixth in doubles in the National League, while Soriano has been hitting the ball just a bit farther; with a similar extra-base hit rate, he has four more home runs than Johnson and Zimmerman combined.

28. Chicago Cubs (Dartboard Factor = 65, +1): How truly bad is Juan Pierre? He’d be significantly better off just bunting every time up, which would improve his Gross Production Average (GPA) 20 points. Sadder still, it would actually improve his slugging percentage two points.

29. Kansas City Royals (Dartboard Factor = 61, 0): There may not be a more totally pathetic player right now than Angel Berroa. He doesn’t walk (eight free passes all year, and one of those intentional), he doesn’t make good contact (52 strikeouts, and a career average of 104 Ks per 162 games), he doesn’t hit for power (six home runs), and he doesn’t even hit for average (.247). But at least he plays shortstop, right? Yeah, he can’t even do that well: John Dewan ranked him 29th out of 31 shortstops in The Fielding Bible. His comment? Berroa’s “basic problem is that he just has no judgment.” Neither does a front office that has yet to jettison this black hole of crap.

30. Pittsburgh Pirates (Dartboard Factor = 60, 0): Oliver Perez is currently in the minor leagues trying to figure out why he’s walking six runners a game. After his 2004 season, it’s simply impossible to explain how Perez could have fallen so far off the face of the earth—there’s simply no comparable situation. Pitchers who come close to performing that well at 22 go on to have great careers—it’s pretty much written in stone. And yet, maybe the two best seasons by a 22-year-old pitcher have been followed up with never-ending problems and unfulfilled potential, one being Perez’s 2004, and the other, Mark Prior in 2003.

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