Wednesday, October 22, 2003

56 CURES FOR WHAT AIL YOU

Iím amazed that the Billy Beane and/or Paul DePodesta to the Dodgers rumours arenít setting the internet ablaze. Maybe it's because we're in the midst of a fantastic postseason. Maybe after last yearís Bosox anticlimax, everyoneís convinced that Beane is at best a flirt, and at worse a chronic runaway bride.

If either of them make the jump, letís just say that Brian Sabean wonít 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?

Iím not delusional. Letís be perfectly clear. The Dodgers donít need a lot of offense to be the major force in the NL West. They just need players who arenít 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 Paulís Aís 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 Jamesí 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 McKeonís leadership), and the Phillies came in second with their 86-76 record (Bowa helping to undo their otherwise impressive 91-71 ExW-L), letís 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 Dodgersí 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 moronójust ask Morgan Ensberg).

Of course, itís not that simple. The Mets werenít 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 Metsí lineup and defense probably still wouldnít win 90 games.

Yet despite his reputation for fielding overweight sluggers everywhere but on the mound, Beaneís 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 Aís better their 95-67 ExW-L by one game and win the division.

By keeping that exact Aís lineup and defense, and upgrading an already impressive pitching staff to the historic stinginess of the Dodgersí 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 Aís current talent is either homegrown (Tejada, Chavez) or other peopleís rejects (Hatteberg, Durazo, Singleton)óie. easy to replace if you know what youíre looking foródonít 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 Jordanís 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 í03; 117.2 RC over 158 games in í02; 135.3 RC over 161 games in í01).

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

Snowís 35 and his power isnít 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). Heís also a great defensive first baseman whose glove would help prevent even more runs (.881 ZR), and generally an all around fine human being.

Heís not worth anywhere near the $6.85 M the Giants paid him last year, and I canít imagine anyone else willing to spend that kind of money on him. To most teams heís a wash-up. To a Dodger team that desperately needs any influx of OBP (.303 as a team this season), heíd be a great $1-3 M one-year option. Overall, heís 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, Iíll leave that up to Billy and Paul (or maybe Derek Zumstegís 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 isnít that the Dodgers specifically need J.T. Snow. Iím sure Beane and DePodesta could even come up with a younger, less gimpy option for just as little money. Itís that the Dodgers donít 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 Dodgersí budget, however, those low-cost remedies means youíd then still have plenty of cash leftover to sign that new Guerrero youíve always wanted.

Donít 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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