Thursday, September 5, 2013

August Who's HOT, Who's NOT

Time flies when you get old like me, totally missed the changing of the month. As such, this month's Who's HOT, Who's NOT spans from August 1st through September 4th. Since this is one of the least-read subjects on which I post, I doubt it will make much of a difference to anyone.

The hot team of August were the LA Dodgers, 26-7 in that time span with their loss last night snapping a 6-game winning streak. Right behind the Dodgers were the Braves (22-9) and Rangers (21-10). As of today the Rangers are tied with the A's for the AL West lead and are leading in the wild card race. Until baseball does the obvious and expands the wild card series from one game to three (my prediction for this occurring--2014), it will always behoove a team to do what they can to avoid the wild card, and as recently as last month the Rangers were on the outside looking in with regard to the playoffs. A lot can change when they raid the Chicago teams for Matt Garza and Alex Rios.

To the surprise of absolutely no one the bottom three teams were the Astros (10-23), Cubs (10-22) and Marlins (11-21). The Astros and Cubs are current illustrations of future trends in how teams will be built. They took different routes--the Astros obtained much of their young talent through trades whereas the Cubs did it through the draft, but that's the future. In the present, the Cubs drew just over 20,000 in their game against the Marlins (I know, that many?), apparently the smallest attendance at Wrigley Field since 2002. The Cubs aren't shy about stating their intentions to be competitive by 2015, and for their sake they better be right.

As always, you can replicate these numbers any time you wish at a truly obscure niche of Baseball-Reference:
Home>2013 MLB>Other>Last N Days Leaders
It's touchy and you'll have to click some buttons more than once for reasons I don't understand, but it's worth it to see information that isn't easily gleaned elsewhere. These are the best batting averages for players with at least 65 plate appearances:

Many interesting names in this list. The Yankees' chances of making the playoffs diminish with each day (down to 10.6% as of today's Baseball Prospectus playoff odds) and they aren't getting any younger. As such, what should they do with Robinson Cano in the off-season? He's probably the best second baseman in the game (Dustin Pedroia notwithstanding) but what is that worth on a team that might be heading on the downward slide, and even more importantly, for how long? Pedroia's contract is clearly a benchmark but it's by no means extravagant. I firmly believe that baseball is perched on the precipice of a sea change in contract length and Cano could be the first example--it's one thing to pay him $20 million a year, but for HOW LONG? 

I was down as long ago as June as stating Andrew McCutchen for NL MVP and the story is only going to get bigger. I'm stunned over the coverage the Pirates received just for winning their 81st game and breaking the 21-season losing streak (anyone can have a bad couple of decades)--what's going to happen when they clinch their playoff spot? Brandon Belt is quietly creating a situation for the Giants--I'm not sure how seriously they were looking to make the move, but eventually Buster Posey will go the way of all catchers and end up playing another position. If Belt can maintain this type of production, it might make that move more difficult. Jayson Werth makes his entry into the too little-too late club as the Nationals are 9 games out of the NL wild card race, i.e., dead in the water. 

These are the players with the most home runs:

I've written enough about Miguel Cabrera and won't belabor the historic nature of his season, but all will hinge on how truly hurt he is. The Yankees won't be able to blame Alfonso Soriano for their inability to make the playoffs, but I'll guarantee they had no idea they'd get the kind of production from him they received. I haven't been by Wrigley Field in a while but I'll have to go back for the unveiling of the Donnie Murphy statue, and I'll save my comments on Justin Morneau.

Who were the worst hitters in this span?

For the most part, not worthy of any comment except for Garrett Jones. There is no guarantee for the Pirates in their acquisition of Justin Morneau, but they appear to have picked the right time to obtain him as Jones had a bad month coupled with Morneau having a power streak he hasn't had in quite some time. It's going to be an interesting off-season as Morneau hits the free agent market but he's rebounded nicely in the past couple of years to generate interest. Will he get a contract anywhere close to what he's making this year ($14 million)--I can't see how, but a good finish on a playoff team certainly won't hurt his cause.

I believe I've made myself clear on how I feel about pitching wins and my hat is off to all of you who understand and appreciate the use of satire, overstatement and sarcasm to advance a point of view. Having said that, these are the pitchers with the most wins in this time span:

And what do we have at the top--a primary example of why the win doesn't tell the complete or accurate story of pitching effectiveness. Jorge De La Rosa has a 6-1 record with a very respectable 3.66 ERA and a WHIP of 1.500. These are his game scores for those 7 starts:
39 (L)   47 (W)   58 (W)   57 (W)   45 (W)   45 (W)   55 (W)
Game scores above 50 indicate that pitchers had performances that helped their teams win and below suggests they didn't. 3 of De La Rosa's 6 wins were more accurately placed at the feet of the Rockies hitters but he gets the credit. Someone should talk or write about that, it just doesn't seem fair to place such emphasis on team performance in one stat that hasn't been truly reflective of pitching performance for almost 100 years.

The Dodgers had the month, indeed the summer they've had because of great hitting and even better pitching. I've stated elsewhere how confused I was when they acquired Ricky Nolasco but it certainly has paid off. I don't care how bad a stat is, if two pitchers can combine to go 12-0 like Nolasco and Zack Greinke did, it's worthy of notice. Joe Kelly is just another young pitcher for the Cardinals (like Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller) that will have them poised to be very good for years to come. I don't even know what a Martin Perez is but he appears to be a primary reason why the Rangers put themselves back in the thick of the AL West race.

These are the pitchers with the most losses:
Not too many surprises on this list but I'll guarantee I never would have guessed I'd see Felix Hernandez on a list like this--it can't be blamed on run support. There's no shortage of pitchers who helped their teams out of playoff contention like Wei-Yin Chen and Hiroki Kuroda, and Edwin Jackson has managed to have this kind of month for the entire season--lucky for the Cubs they don't have him signed to a long-term contract...wait, I just might be wrong on that one. Only Ubaldo Jimenez, Nathan Eovaldi and John Lackey can look elsewhere for blame as they appeared to put up decent numbers (in Lackey's case, VERY good), but for the most part, the pitchers on this list dug their own holes.

These are the pitchers with the most saves:

People hate the save almost as much as the win--me, not so much, I'm just not a fan of the emphasis placed on it. Regardless, I believe the era of the highly-paid closer will be one step closer to ending with Mariano Rivera's impending retirement as teams are discovering the 9th inning can be handled far less cheaply than it has in the past. Either that or the closers just aren't as good--I'll leave that for others to decide. 
Having written all that, take a moment to appreciate that line for Craig Kimbrel. As I stated earlier, disregard any stat you wish but anytime someone can rack up 13 saves in a little over a month and not give up a run, let alone an earned run, that's something. Greg Holland and Koji Uehara were just as good,  and Uehara's WHIP is simply unbelievable. No one argues the importance of finishing out a game, but none of these players should be considered unique or special (except maybe Kimbrel). 

I'm not a believer in momentum, and even if I was I wouldn't place undue emphasis on a time span about a month prior to the beginning of the playoffs. As long as baseball doesn't allow managers to use players in precisely the spots they wish there will be elements of chance that other sports don't have. Take these numbers for what they are, snapshots of player performance over a brief period of time--for some, it's an accurate portrayal of their season, for others a fluke.

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