7.10.2007

Baseball at the All-Star Break

by Jeff Siegel

Things to ponder at baseball’s all-star break, while trying to ignore Barry Bonds:

Prediction update: I’m one for three in the American League and three for three in the National League. The only thing that surprises me is that the Yankees are as far behind as they are, given that the first-place Red Sox have been so flaky (or as flaky as a team with a 10-game lead can be). Shortstop Julio Lugo, with a .197 average, is having about as bad a year offensively as is possible; there is a hole in centerfield; and Manny Ramirez is on pace to drive in just 86 runs, which would be the first time since 1997 that he didn’t drive in 100. More amazingly, that’s the only season Ramirez didn’t drive in 100 runs since becoming a regular in 1995. It helps that closer Jonathon Papelbon has been as good as Lugo has been bad and that the starting pitching has been remarkably consistent.

Magglio Ordonez is pretty good: How impressive has the Tigers’ outfielder been? He is on pace to tie the American League record for doubles, get more than 220 hits and drive in 135 runs. And he is doing it playing half of his games in a pitcher-friendly park, according to baseball-reference.com.

Ichiro, Ichiro, Ichiro: Yes, he doesn’t hit a lot of home runs. But Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki is a fine offensive player, holding the major league record for hits in a season, and he is also one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. So why do so many observers dislike him – and sometimes vehemently so? Or, as the always sensitive and even-handed FireJoeMorgan.com put it in 2005: “Ichiro is overrated! Ichiro is overrated! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!” The last thing I want to do is get into a cyber ether wrestling match with the anonymous New York and Los Angeles TV types behind FJM, as it’s known, but Ichiro has about the same OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) and strikes out about one-third as much as Detroit’s Curtis Granderson, currently the hero of the Ichiro-is-overrated crowd.
Ichiro update: Yes, that was the the Seattle centerfielder hitting the first inside the park home run in All-Star game history. You'll have to move forward to about 3:10 on the clip, and get past Fox Sports' fine coverage of a dog swimming in McCovey Cove, but it's there.

A sabermetrics conundrum: Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate sabermetrics, the study of baseball statistics pioneered by Bill James. I own several of James’ books, I pay careful attention to sabermetrics for my (successful) fantasy team, and during my career as a sportswriter I used sabermetrics frequently, which was back when it wasn’t especially fashionable. But it’s not the be all and end all that the FJM folks claim it is. Case in point: A statistic called Pythagorean Winning Percentage, which can establish whether a team underperformed or over-performed based on runs scored and runs allowed. If a team finishes with a better actual record than its Pythagorean record, the statistical conclusion is that it was lucky. If it has a worse record, it was unlucky. Somehow, though, the Yankees have finished with a better record than their Pythagorean record in nine of Joe Torre’s ten seasons as manager. Isn’t that asking a lot of luck? Could Torre’s skill as a manager or intangibles like Yankees’ mystique or Derek Jeter’s leadership, none of which sabermetrics accounts for, have something to do with it?

(Photo of the Yankees' Derek Jeter used with a GNU Free Documentation License. The All-Star Game begins at 8 p.m. on July 10 on FOX.)










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