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"Lou is not talking about mechanics when he goes out to the mound,"
~Chicago Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild

Thursday, May 18, 2006

AL East - Quarter Mark

Being the intelligent reader that you are, I'm sure you are well aware of the effects sample size has in sports and baseball in particular. While the passing of every game gives us more reliable information about the teams and players, I've always felt that the quarter mark of the season is the first point in which you can start to see some meaningful statistics.

In attempt to fight the boredom that comes with being out of school and not having money to do anything, I'm going to run through all 6 divisions looking for things we've learned about the 2006 baseball season. First stop - the AL East.

Yankees - NY has been neck and neck with Boston most of the year. The lineup has been as predictably good as the rotation has been predictably bad. Mussina has been the lone bright spot in the rotation thus far. At age 37 he's somehow figured out a way to increase his strikeout rate while lowering his walk rate simultaneously. His .263 BABIP is the lowest of the staff, which suggests he has been a bit "hit lucky" but nothing too drastic. The low strikeout and high walk rates of both Randy Johnson and Mariano Rivera should be something of a concern for the organization. Rivera should be fine, but Johnson is clearly not the pitcher he was of even two years ago.

The strength of this ballclub is the offense, but with Sheffield on the DL and Matsui out for likely 3 months, they have some serious holes in the outfield. Bernie Williams simply is not a productive major leaguer anymore and Bubba Crosby is more suited as a 4th outfielder. Lucky for Yanks, The Boss has deep pockets and will be looking at other options. The bad news is that other than Phillip Hughes, the club doesn't have alot of chips to play with. No amount of mid-level Yankee "prospects" is going to pry Abreu from Philly or Hunter from Minnesota.

Red Sox - Looking at the overall numbers, it's tough to find anything to really criticize. Other than a few key pitchers' inability to keep the ball in the park, nothing really alarms me. I guess the biggest problem facing Boston is the rotation. Schilling and Beckett should be fine, although I don't expect either to dominate. Wakefield is Wakefield - which is nothing more or less than a league average pitcher. But the back of the rotation is quite scary if I'm a Sox fan. Clement is at an age where you can no longer project what he could be and you just have to accept him for what he is - an inconsistent pitcher with control problems.

The offense should still remain in the top 3 of the AL even with the two Alexes (Cora/Gonzalez) wasting every 9th at bat. Lowell has rebounded to his '02-'04 form and seems to be the doubles hitter he was until last year. It's nice to see the organizaation finally find a spot for Kevin Youkilis.

Blue Jays - Everyone's sleeper pick of the year has not dissapointed. I expect at some point they will. It's not that the Jays aren't a good team. I can see them winning 86-89 games. I just don't see them hanging around so closely to Boston and New York much past the All-Star Break. Alex Rios and Vernon Wells have carried the offense along with Troy Glaus. Wells will drop off but still put up more than respectable numbers. Rios I feel will drop off considerably. The same problem that has always slowed his development, plate discipline, has not changed a bit. As of now his IsoD (OBP-BA) is a meager .018. In layman's terms it means he's still only taken 6 walks vs 21 strike outs.

Halladay is still great, though his low strikeout total (24K in 49.1 IP) concerns me. Lilly's ERA is artificialy low and the other 3 at the back end of the rotation are nothing to fear. A healthy Burnett makes this staff quite a bit better, but still not as good as advertised.

Orioles - This pitching staff is a mess. The root of the problem is control. The team is averaging 4.74 BB/9 led by Daniel Cabrera's 39 walks in 41.1 innings. I fully expect Leo Mazzone to right this problem at some point. It just doesn't seem like it's going to be this year. Sabernomics has a running tab that calculates both the Orioles and the Braves pitching statistics so we can keep an eye on The Mazzone Effect. It's something worth peeking in at every week or so. Until this pitching problem is solved it doesn't matter how good the offense is. This isn't a .500 ball club.

Devil Rays - Pitching is the problem here as well. Other than Kazmir there's not a guy in this rotation that has any business starting for a MLB team not in Tampa or Kansas City.

The offense is full of potential. Johnny Gomes is hitting out of his mind. I expect him to be a 30 home run guy, but I keep waiting for him come back down to earth. The rest of the offense seems allergic to getting on base and once they get there all they want to do is run. Getting Cantu, Lugo, Huff, and Baldelli back into the lineup still won't be enough to overcome the pitching woes.

Overview - As always this division is going to come down to Boston and New York. Only this time I think the loser misses the playoffs too. It should be a great race, but at this point I give the edge to Boston. They haven't had the injuries the Yankees have had, so their offense is every bit as good. The Sox have the edge in pitching which will tip the balance in their favor.

The AL Central is on deck.

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