Saturday, May 28, 2005

Hey look! Run Differentials!

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post, so I have to at least touch base here to ensure that it's not just a waste of space.

It's one of those days when I don't have anything in particular to write about, or a pressing issue that's rattling inside my head.

I'm very much keyed into this weekend's New York-Boston series -- the fact that it's a holiday weekend only adds flavor to the three games.

It looks like it's going to be a great day in the Northeast. Probably just a tick under 70 degrees right now, just after 10 a.m., with barely a cloud in the sky. One of my friends is heading down to New York today to sit in the left-field bleachers and be part of a Saturday afternoon sellout. On days like this, you think that maybe life could better, but you really don't know how...

Pavano-Clement is the pitching match-up today, same pairing as the 2nd game of the season.

Clement is 5-0 with a 3.34 ERA in 10 starts. He's been especially good during this month of May:

3-0, 2.86 ERA, 34.2 IP, 24 H, 10 BB, 23 K

Where Clement stands in a few AL statistical categories:

WHIP: 1.30 (27th)
K/9 IP: 6.54 (13th)
OBA: .325 (29th)
SLG: .341 (T-6th)

His on-base number isn't sparkling; the closest pitchers to him in this category: Paul Byrd, Barry Zito, Rodrigo Lopez, Mike Maroth, Carl Pavano and Dave Bush.

However, his SLG-against is very solid (only 2 HR allowed so far this year), and his strikeout numbers are respectable.

Carl Pavano is 4-2 with a 3.69 ERA.

WHIP: 1.38 (34th)
K/9 IP: 5.46 (29th)
OBA: .330 (T-32)
SLG: .486 (51st)

Looking at specifically that SLG number, which is one of the worst in the league among qualifying starters, I find it somewhat surprising that Pavano's ERA isn't worse than it is. He does eat innings (61 to this point), so that helps, but he has had his share of moments of getting racked around.

There was the May 11 start against the Mariners at Yankee Stadium:

4 IP, 10 H, 9 R, 5 ER, 4 HR, 1 BB, 6 K, 88 pitches

There was the May 1 fiasco against the Jays:

5 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 2 K, 90 pitches

Of course, he didn't get the loss in either of these games, which helps the look of his record.

On the flipside he's been able to mix in a couple of very effective outings to balance out his numbers.

May 17 vs. Seattle: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K
April 20 vs. Toronto: 8 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K

I highlight the walk totals, or better put the absence of a walk total, because if there's been an impressive area of Pavano's stat sheet on a game-in, game-out basis it's bases on balls. In only one start has he allowed more than two, and in three starts he hasn't allowed any.

My gut tells me today could be a Red Sox day at the Stadium, more because of the streaks both teams are on (Yanks: W5, Sox: L4), which are likely to end sooner rather than later. My feeling on today's game has less to do with the pitching match-up, which for the most part is very even.

Run Differentials
(through Friday's games)

St. Louis: +53
Atlanta: +51
Chicago (AL): +47
Baltimore: +45
Florida: +41
Texas: +40
Minnesota: +38
New York (AL): +36
Milwaukee: +34
San Diego: +33
Toronto: +28
New York (NL): +15
Boston: +14
Los Angeles (AL): +14
Chicago (NL): +6
Detroit: +4
Los Angeles (NL): -2
Cleveland: -8
Philadelphia: -19
Washington: -20
Pittsburgh: -23
San Francisco: -25
Seattle: -27
Arizona: -29
Houston: -43
Tampa Bay: -51
Cincinnati: -54
Colorado: -61
Oakland: -65
Kansas City: -72

While I don't think run differentials tell the entire story, they serve as a nice synopsis. A couple of things that catch my eye on first glance:

1) Is Arizona due for a fall? They're record stands at 28-21, but they've performed like a middle-of-the-pack offensive team (14th in RS) and a bottom-of-the-barrel defensive team (25th in RA). And naturally, their Pythagorean Record plays this out.

Their expected record? 21-28. They are a +7, which is about as big as a number as you'll see when using this formula: Runs scored [squared] / (Runs scored [squared] + runs allowed [squared]).

I haven't watched the D-backs much this year, but figured they were vastly improved from the dreadful campaign they had last year. They probably are improved, much improved in fact. But I have to wonder how long they'll keep this magical rebound up...

2) The Mets are better than the Red Sox.

Okay, okay, I don't really believe that, but I think the numbers right now illustrate just how average (or worse) Boston has been of late, and that the Mets are better than most people give them credit for. Being a daily listener to New York sports radio my perceptions of this team are probably distorted to an extent. People blow hot and cold with the Metropolitans to such an extreme, you would think sometimes that they're a team whose season could unravel at any moment. But they're not that bad: 10th in RS, 15th in RA.

3) I wouldn't be shocked if Cleveland makes a run to get back in the AL Central race.

I've heard it mentioned a few times already, that "Cleveland's offense is due to turn things around." That might be true, but they have a long way to go; they currently rank 27th in the majors in RS with 184. That's pretty dreadful, we're talking Pirates/A's territory. And this is from a team that scored well over 800 runs last year, ranking 5th in the AL. So, yeah, I guess it's natural to believe they're going to have a runs bonanza at some point.

But as surprising as their sluggish bats have been to this point, on the other side, they've made a huge leap forward in the pitching department.

2004: 4.81 ERA / .787 OPS
2005: 3.70 ERA / .678 OPS

I haven't gone through every team in the majors, but I have to imagine the only teams that are even approaching this kind of improvement from last year are the White Sox and maybe Baltimore... Am I forgetting anyone?

Of course the life of a baseball team, especially one who's probably going to hover around the .500 mark for most of the season, is one in which as the bats get hot, the pitching will cool off.

But if the Tribe can have a four- or five-week stretch in which everything comes together, they probably could make a serious run to get within striking distance of Minny and Chicago. At this point, they're nine back in the loss column. Daunting, but I definitely see an opportunity for them to close the gap a bit.

4) The AL East is challenging for the mantle of "Best Division in Baseball."

The division has been so top-heavy, not to mention monotonous, boring and predictable, for so long, the rise of Baltimore and Toronto as possible playoff contenders is still taking some getting used to.

The Rays are still a relative minor-leauge outfit at -51, but the other four teams are all comfortable in the plus-column as far as run differential goes. The only division which has as impressive collection of differentials is the NL East: +51, +41, +15, -19, -20

5) The Cards are at it again.

I don't have yearly run differentials in front of me, but I have to imagine that the list of teams that had the biggest margin in this category for consecutive years is an exclusive one.

Last year, St. Louis' margin of +196 was by far the best in baseball. And while I don't think they're going to hit that number again, they have a good shot to lead baseball again in this category.

Enjoy the games the rest of the weekend, and have a safe and fun Memorial Day weekend.

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