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setting records straight

the 2008 baseball season is underway: oakland vs boston, playing in tokyo at 5 in the bleepin' morning stateside. athletics lead it 2-0. mlb’s marketing department triumphs again: opening day. woo-hoo. . . . . .

i admire the heck out of rick hummel; to cardinal fans of my generation, he’s been the equivalent of bob broeg. but his article today is so misleading i can’t let it pass without comment. he writes: "The Cardinals were 21-7 in games started last season by Brad Thompson and Todd Wellemeyer and 57-77 when the two converted relievers didn't start." that’s in the lead graph. another 600 words ensue, yet The Commish never mentions the glaring disparity in run support --- the cardinal offense averaged 5.82 runs a game in thompson / wellemeyer’s 28 starts, vs only 4.19 runs/game in the other 134 games. that explains the disparity in won-loss record far more than thompson and wellemeyer’s pitching. the won-loss record is particularly skewed in wellemeyer’s case. in his 11 starts, the bullpen threw more innings (49.2) than wellemeyer did (49.1) and allowed fewer runs (20, vs wellemeyer’s 26). only 2 of his 11 outings earned the "quality start" seal of approval (ie, 6 or more innings / 3 or fewer runs). yes, the cards went 10-1 when wellemeyer started --- but the offense and the bullpen deserve most of the credit.

i’m not pulling any stat-dork gimmicks here; i’m not citing SLNVAR or VORP or FIP or any such like. just looking at plain ol’ runs and innings pitched. the idea that run support can distort a pitcher’s won-loss record has been around for 30 years; bill james starting tracking that back in the late 1970s, before tony la russa had managed his first big-league game. and it’s tony’s neglect of these concepts --- not hummel’s --- that concerns me. hummel’s article quotes both tony and dave:

Pitching coach Dave Duncan said that what last year's results told him is that, "On the days that [Thompson and Wellemeyer] pitch, they've given you a chance to win the game." . . . .

Manager Tony La Russa takes the same approach in assessing the importance of the club's record in Wellemeyer-Thompson games last season. "That shows what happens when they pitch effectively," La Russa said. "I like the fact they work quickly and go after hitters.

"But," he said, "that was last year."

exactly --- that was last year. and run support doesn’t carry over from year to year; pitching ability does. judged purely by that standard, thompson and wellemeyer were passable in 2007; i wouldn’t expect them to be much better than passable in 2008. i’ll put a poll at the end of his post --- will the cardinals be over .500 or under it in thompson / welle’s starts this year?

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as for anthony reyes, maybe he’ll end up with the mets; they’re looking for a 5th starter. reyes might be a decent fit in shea, which suppresses home runs and (due to poor batter visibility) elevates strikeouts. i have no idea who the mets would send back; they’re disenchanted with mike pelfrey, who’s their version of reyes (struggling high-profile prospect), but i don’t see that guy being a fit in st louis any more than reyes is. reyes pitched against the mets at least once this spring; i gotta believe there’ll be a new york scout in the stands for his start today (gameday link here.

other logical fits: the phillies (long rumored to have interest), the orioles, the marlins, the nats. texas traded for a similar pitcher last year (brandon mccarthy) and got decent results; they can always use another arm. oakland is stockpiling young players; maybe billy beane’ll take another prospect off our hands. oh wait, they’ve already finalized their 25-man roster.

opening-day update: athletics 4, red sox 3 . . . . .

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now here’s a brilliant post. SBN brother site The Good Phight likens each big-league team to a rock n roll band. these guys obviously are decrepit old fools like me, because i’ve actually heard of most of the bands they cite. here’s the entry for the cardinals:

St. Louis Cardinals are The Beach Boys: The wholesome, family-friendly exterior conceals a deviant, tragic core (substance abuse, performance enhancing and otherwise; tragic deaths of key performers). Led by an authoritarian egomaniac (Tony LaRussa; Murry Wilson). One brilliant member surrounded by a rotating cast of a couple solid supporting players and a bunch of scrubs (Albert Pujols; Brian Wilson). Shocking, inexplicable late-career resurgence (2006 postseason; "Kokomo").

can’t argue with a word of that. the entry for the cubs is equally spot-on:

Chicago Cubs are Jimmy Buffett: Millions of people like them for some reason, despite having done nothing worthwhile for a full century. The culture of drinking surrounding each probably explains this tolerance for failure. The fans are generally affable and friendly, but are single-mindedly dedicated to their hero(es). Fans will travel thousands of miles to see them play.

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for those of you who are following the sim tournament: i'm doing my best to keep up, but my current travel / work schedule's brutal. writing summaries is not near the top of my agenda. i think there'll be an update this afternoon . . . .