Good Luck/Bad Luck: AL Version
June 29, 2007

Before I get to the analysis of AL pitching, I want to comment on something I read on ESPN.  One of their chief writers suggested that Frank Thomas, who hit his 500th career home run last week, is a marginal Hall of Famer.  I guess one can take points away from him for being a DH for the last nine years but he did play first base for his first nine seasons.  So the real criteria is what he's done with his bat.  The argument was made that guys are hitting 500 homers with such frequency these days that it's no longer a guarantee for enshrinement.  But here's the thing: Thomas was not just a home run hitter.

In each of his first eight seasons he scored 100 runs, walked 100 times and drove in 100 runs and he's accomplished the feat nine times overall.  Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth both did it 11 times.  Barry Bonds has done it ten times.  That's it.  No one else has done it more than Frank Thomas.  Ted Williams did it eight times, although he probably would have finished with the most such seasons had he not lost four and a half years to war service.   Jimmie Foxx did it 7 times.  Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Joe DiMaggio never did it.  

Is that too team dependent?  OK, how about this.  Frank Thomas is tied for 16th all-time in adjusted OPS with Hank Greenberg, Johnny Mize and Tris Speaker with a score of 158.  This means that over the course of his career he was 58% more productive than a league average player.  That 16th ranking is higher than Mays, Aaron, DiMaggio, Mel Ott, Honus Wagner, Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt, Willie Stargell, Harmon Killibrew, Eddie Matthews and about 100 other Hall of Famers.  Oh yeah, and Thomas won back-to-back MVPs and was in the top 5 in the voting five times.  He ranks 16th in career on base, and will probably finish the season 8th in walks, in the top 15 in home runs, top 20 in runs created, top 25 in extra base hits, top 40 in total bases and times on base and just outside the top 20 in RBI.  And that's just at the end of this season.  He might play for another season or two.  That should be sufficient to qualify him as one of the 25 greatest hitters ever.  Even if he retired today, I would go so far as to say that Thomas is a mortal lock for enshrinement the first time he comes up for vote.     

OK, on to the pitching:

But before I get to the AL, I wanted to jot down a few notes about Rich Hill's last outing.  He gave up 6 earned runs to the Nationals on July 4, four of which came on a Dmitri Young grand slam.  From a WHIP standpoint it wasn't a bad outing but his ERA took a beating for the third time in his last four starts.  What struck me was how hard the Nationals were hitting the ball against him.  There were no bleeders, bloops or seeing-eye singles.  Everything they made contact with was a smash, which led me to believe that maybe he was tipping his pitches.  I mean, even pitcher Matt Chico smoked a single.  But for the life of me I could not see anything in his delivery that suggested that he was tipping.  I did notice that his arm angle seemed to be lower than I remember and that he was leaving a lot of pitches belt high.  Larry Rothchild is a pretty good pitching coach so I imagine he and Hill will have a solution in fairly short order.  Be patient.

OK, now for the AL BABIP results:

OK, just as scary as the idea that Jake Peavy could get better in the second half, how about a counterpart in the AL doing the same thing.  Erik Bedard's BABIP is more than 20 points worse than that of the Orioles (.288) but pretty much in line with his career rate.  A guy with his stuff probably shouldn't allow a BABIP over .300 so at worst Bedard will be as good as he's been in the first half.

The news isn't as good for Jeremie Guthrie (.245), who's been the beneficiary of some timely catches.  

The Red Sox don't have anyone who is exeeding expectation by a significant amount but two guys who should have better luck in the second half are Daisuke Matsusaka and Curt Schilling, both of whom have a BABIP more than 20 points worse than the team (.286).  

Both Jon Garland and Mark Beurhle are having remarkably lucky years with balls in play.  The White Sox team average is .296.  Garland's career rate is around .275-.280 but this year is at .256 so far.  Beurhle's career rate is around .295 but has a .265 this year.  Expect both to fall off in the second half.  John Danks is the only starter whose BABIP is higher than expected.  The real surprise is the number of guys in the bullpen who are being killed by balls in play.  Matt Thornton, Andy Sisco, David Aardsma, Nick Massett and Mike MacDougal are all over .330. 

The Indians are not particularly good at turning balls in play into outs.  Their .308 BABIP is 5th worst in the AL.  On the plus side, odds are that both CC Sabathia and Paul Byrd will get better support from the "D" in sthe second half as both are well over career and team marks.  Cliff Lee's .280 is well under the team mark but pretty much in line with his career rate.  

The good news for Tigers fans is that they have a great offense and that Nate Roberson should get better in the second half.  His BABIP (.332) is well over the team mark of .300 and his career rate of around .295.  The bad news is that Kenny Rogers, Andrew Miller and Justin Verlander are so far out of their depth that it's pretty certain the second half will be much more of a struggle for them.  Rogers is more than 100 points below his career average and Verlander is more than 50 off his.  

Kansas City
There's not much optimism for a team that allows the opposition a .312 average on balls in play.  Even so, Zack Grienke (.356) and Odalis Perez (.344) almost have to get better defensive support in the second half.

Los Angeles
The Angels don't have anyone who is exceeding expectation by a substantial amount.  Their team BABIP is .288.  Only Scot Shields is in uncharted territory and for a short reliever that's not uncommon.  The two guys to keep an eye on in the second half are Ervin Santana and Bartolo Colon.  Both are way over their career averages so barring a hidden injury, each should enjoy a much better second half.  Jered Weaver is also higher than the team mark and way over last year's .239 but a huge correction was expected anyway.  This year's Weaver is probably the real one.

The Twins BABIP is .2997.  Johan Santana is at his customary .268 so there shouldn't be any worries there although those expecting him to post a historic second half will probably be disappointed.  He will be merely great.  We can expect better from Boof Bonser (.330) and Scott Baker (.345).  The guy who might put up a historic second half is Joe Nathan who has been victimized (.378) by some unlucky bounces and has never posted a BABIP higher than .279, even when he was in San Francisco.
New York
For all the optimism in New York about the Yankees finally coming around... well, the fact of the matter is that they've actually been lucky to be as good as they've been.  Guys like Tyler Clippard, Kei Igawa, Scott Proctor and Andy Pettitte have been lucky on balls in play when either comparing to the team average (.286) or to their own careers or both.  Even Mike Mussina, who's BABIP is well over the team mark is not that far off his own average.  The only two guys who are getting the wrong end of the stick are Mariano Rivera and Roger Clemens.  That probably won't be enough to get them into the playoffs.

The A's have one of the most efficient defenses at turning balls in play into outs.  Their BABIP is .2746.  Even so, Dan Haren (.225) and Joe Blanton (.265) can't be expected to continue their great first halves.  Haren's career average is around .295 as is Blanton's.  Chad Gaudin's first half BABIP suggests he's in for a good second half and if you want a dark horse closer for a big second half, try Alan Embree.  His BABIP is sitting at .324 and his career mark is .309 playing on some teams that did not have good defenses.

The second worst team in the AL at turning balls in play into outs is the Mariners, which is quite surprising given that they have several excellent fielders, at least by reputation.  Ichiro Suzuki and Adrian Beltre are routinely considered among the best glovemen at their positions and Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Guillen and Jose Lopez at least have the reputation of bring their best glove to the game.  But the Seattle team BABIP is .3184.  Go figure.  All that means is that Jarrod Washburn (.289) is probably as good as he can be right now and that Jeff Weaver (.389) and Felix Hernandez (.393) are the ultimate in buy-low opportunities.  

Tampa Bay
Welcome to the worst team in baseball at turning balls in play into outs.  People are always saying that the Rays have all this super young offensive talent and just need some pitching to contend.  I would agree with that statement as long as it's limited to the bullpen.  But a big reason the starters struggle as much as they do is because the defense fails to turn balls in play into outs.  Scott Kazmir (.341 BABIP this year) might win a Cy Young award if he ever got average defensive help.  Edwin Jackson (.374) might also turn out pretty good.  Jamie Shields, on the other hand, has gotten all the defensive breaks with his .260 BABIP.  That won't last.  Neither will Al Reyes' shocking .192 BABIP.  Prepare for more chaos in the Rays' pen this summer.  

The Rangers BABIP is .3082.  For those who have Kevin Millwood (.362), Joaquin Benoit (.343), Vicente Padilla (.351) and perhaps even Kameron Loe (.326) that bodes well for the next two and a half months.  For those hoping for better days for Brandon McCarthy (.301) or Robinson Tejeda (.315)... maybe next year.

For all the brimstone that JP Riccardi brings on himself, he's done a pretty decent job of assembling an efficient defense.  The Jays BABIP mark of .280 ranks as one of the best in baseball.  That's good news for Dustin McGowan (.297) and Roy Halladay (.305).  One might expect better days for Josh Towers (.337) as well, but his career mark is close to .320 so that remains to be seen.  One guy who almost certainly will not be as good in the second half is Shaun Marcum, whose .220 is nearly 100 points better than last year's.   I know it sounds crazy but a guy to keep an eye on is Victor Zambrano.  I don't know what happened to him other than he's not pitching well this year at any level.  And maybe he won't get a chance to pitch in the majors this year.  But his BABIP this year is .395 yet he's never posted a mark over .305 and his career rate is .283.  To me that makes him a sleeper.  

Good luck and enjoy the Break.