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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

56 CURES FOR WHAT AIL YOU

I’m amazed that the Billy Beane and/or Paul DePodesta to the Dodgers rumours aren’t setting the internet ablaze. Maybe it's because we're in the midst of a fantastic postseason. Maybe after last year’s Bosox anticlimax, everyone’s convinced that Beane is at best a flirt, and at worse a chronic runaway bride.

If either of them make the jump, let’s just say that Brian Sabean won’t look so smart anymore.

Who wants to bet that if Billy or Paul do take over in Los Angeles, San Francisco reject J.T. Snow will be playing first base for them?

I’m not delusional. Let’s be perfectly clear. The Dodgers don’t need a lot of offense to be the major force in the NL West. They just need players who aren’t total offensive sinkholes at virtually every position.

The Dodger staff and defense only allowed 556 runs. Just how good is that? Well, the second-best Mariners allowed 637 runs, or 15% more, and the Giants were third with 638. (Billy and Paul’s A’s were fourth best with 643 runs allowed.)

Unfortunately, the Dodger offense only scored 574 runs. Just how bad is that? Well, the second worst Tigers scored 591 runs, or 3% more (possibly the only category this year in which the 43-119 Detroit team was second worst to anyone in anything). The dismal New York Mets were third worse, but 12% better, with 642 runs scored.

Plug those numbers into James’ Pythagorean theorem of baseball expected wins and losses

Runs scored [squared] / (Runs scored [squared] + runs allowed [squared]) = Expected Winning Percentage
and the Dodgers come out with a 84-78 Expected Win-Loss record, about one win less than their actual 85-77 third place finish.

Since the Marlins won the Wild Card with a 91-71 record (bettering their 88-74 ExW-L thanks to McKeon’s leadership), and the Phillies came in second with their 86-76 record (Bowa helping to undo their otherwise impressive 91-71 ExW-L), let’s say 91 Expected Wins, or a .562 Expected Winning Percentage, would have been enough to make a run at the Wild Card.

Completing the algebra using James' formula, a Dodgers team that scored 630 runs could expect a 91-71 record. That's it. Despite scoring 12 fewer runs than a Tigers team toying with all-time futility, the Dodgers were as little as 56 runs away from being contenders, from being somebodies.

If the Dodgers’ offense had been merely as inept as the Mets and scored 12 additional runs, they could expect 93 wins, more than enough to take the Wild Card from the Marlins (unless they were managed by a moron—just ask Morgan Ensberg).

Of course, it’s not that simple. The Mets weren’t nearly as good a team defensively as the Dodgers, and the increase in runs scored would have been offset by the inevitable increase in runs allowed. As a team, the Dodgers were 8th in baseball in ZR with .858, while the Mets were second to last with .833. In other words, the Dodgers pitching staff with the Mets’ lineup and defense probably still wouldn’t win 90 games.

Yet despite his reputation for fielding overweight sluggers everywhere but on the mound, Beane’s 2002 Atheletics were 10th in ZR with .855. (Yes, replacing Terrence Long at CF with Chris Singleton can make that much of a difference.) With less than stellar seasons from Chavez and Tejada at the plate, they scored 768 runs, 14th best in baseball.

Lead by Hudson, Mulder, and Zito in the rotation (and Foulke to close it out), however, that middle of the pack offense was enough to help the A’s better their 95-67 ExW-L by one game and win the division.

By keeping that exact A’s lineup and defense, and upgrading an already impressive pitching staff to the historic stinginess of the Dodgers’ hurlers, that hybrid team could expect to win an astounding 106 games. That's 6 more wins that the Giants, and 12 more than the Giants' expected wins.

For comparison, the record tying '01 Mariners had a 111-51 ExW-L.

Given the majority of the A’s current talent is either homegrown (Tejada, Chavez) or other people’s rejects (Hatteberg, Durazo, Singleton)—ie. easy to replace if you know what you’re looking for—don’t think for a moment that Beane and DePodesta haven't looked much deeper into the possibilities than I have just now.

But forget obliterating the competition. The Dodgers were only 56 runs away from being a legitimate Wild Card threat. How the hell did they let that slip away? How hard could it be to get 56 more runs?

Acquiring Jeromy Burnitz when it became clear that Brian Jordan’s season was over was a noble attempt to stave off collapse. And a healthy Shawn Green is probably good for at least another 20 runs (97.7 RC over 160 games in ’03; 117.2 RC over 158 games in ’02; 135.3 RC over 161 games in ’01).

But here’s an interesting stat: J.T. Snow had exactly 56 Runs Created in 103 games. How about that. Granted, you’ve got to subtract McGriff’s 40.1 RC in 86 games to get a realistic appraisal of what that would have meant to the Dodgers (although on the plus that’s also 17 less games to split between Mike Kinkade and Larry Barnes). But it’s clearly a step in the right direction. Snow's decent 8 RCAA would have been second best on the squad.

Snow’s 35 and his power isn’t what it used to be, but he still gets on base (.387 OBP this season, .353 career) and sees pitches at a Hattebergian rate (4.1 P/PA). He’s also a great defensive first baseman whose glove would help prevent even more runs (.881 ZR), and generally an all around fine human being.

He’s not worth anywhere near the $6.85 M the Giants paid him last year, and I can’t imagine anyone else willing to spend that kind of money on him. To most teams he’s a wash-up. To a Dodger team that desperately needs any influx of OBP (.303 as a team this season), he’d be a great $1-3 M one-year option. Overall, he’s a much better option than resigning McGriff, and likely less expensive than some of the other big names.

Now that only leaves the rest of the Dodger infield to fix. (I honestly can't think of any reason why Ceasar [.597 OPS] Izturis deserves a major league job--nobody's that good defensively. Replace Izturis with a competent hitter of only slightly inferior defensive skills, like say Orlando Cabrera, and you'll come pretty close to making up those 56 runs in one swoop. [Caberea had 101.0 RC in 162 games to Izturis' 48.1 RC in 158 games.]) Anyways, I’ll leave that up to Billy and Paul (or maybe Derek Zumsteg’s girlfriend).

Chances are the 2004 Dodgers won't lead the majors in fewest runs allowed--or at least not by such a huge margin. But by making changes to the lineup the proven Oakland A's way, you can still field a world beater with more wiggle room than Beane and DePodesta could ever dream of.

The point isn’t that the Dodgers specifically need J.T. Snow. I’m sure Beane and DePodesta could even come up with a younger, less gimpy option for just as little money. It’s that the Dodgers don’t necessarily need to sign a Vlad Guerrero to compete next year. They just need to make the same kind of low-cost, incremental improvements Beane and DePodesta have already proven they can do year after year in Oakland.

The added bonus is that with the Dodgers’ budget, however, those low-cost remedies means you’d then still have plenty of cash leftover to sign that new Guerrero you’ve always wanted.

Don’t be surprised if this year with this team, Billy finally says, I do.

PLEASANT SURPRISE

TSN makes a good call call for the AL ROY. Cleveland has good prospects up the ass and they are going to rock in the next couple of years. Jim Thome will regret going to Phillie.

I'd be somewhat surprised if Matsui didn't win the MLB AL ROY award.

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