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Off-day fun, 5/10 edition, where I talk about other teams, too

May 10, 2012

Today the Giants rest in the middle of a road trip, a short one in terms of length (only six games) and distance traveled (they go to LA and Arizona).  The series against the Dodgers did not go as expected; the only game the Giants won was the one Clayton Kershaw started. As a result, the Dodgers’ lead has grown to five games, and they are the only team in the division above .500. Check out the internet’s sexiest version of the NL West standings below. “Pyth” stands for Pythagorean expectation, an estimation of how many times a team “should” win based on runs scored and allowed, developed by Bill James. You can read more about it here.

I think it’s legible, but you can click to enlarge if that tickles your fancy.

I still refuse to believe in the Dodgers’ chances to win the division. Their bullpen behind Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen is weak, and their starters behind Kershaw, despite stellar numbers so far, are average at best. Surely the fact that they have the best defense in the league according to Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) has helped, but defensive stats are notoriously prone to small sample-size noise. I hope I hyphenated that correctly.

The Rockies are the same as ever, beating the shit out of the ball and letting their opponents do the same. Of course, this largely due to the Coors Field effect. Gaze upon this splendidly purple table depicting their offensive performance at home and away:

And this one depicting their pitching statistics:

An offense with Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton shouldn’t be that horrible on the road for long. Their pitching staff’s problems at home will be alleviated somewhat by the return of ace Jorge de la Rosa sometime in June. He has had moderate success at Coors Field, holding opponents to weighted On-Base Averages (wOBAs, or “whoa-buhs”) of .316 in 2011 and .308 in 2010. He debuted a split-finger fastball in 2010, which could be relevant to his success.

***

Brian Wilson is gone for the season and Jeremy Affeldt’s return date from a sprained knee is listed as “Possibly mid-May” on mlb.com. With the recent 100-game suspension of Guillermo Mota, the Giants bullpen is officially in trouble. Those three have been part of the bullpen since 2010, and the simplest way to illustrate the void they leave is with plain old innings pitched.

Innings Pitched (IP) by pitcher and year

I estimate that the Giants bullpen threw roughly 460 innings in each of those years, so this trio accounted for 42.8 percent of the work in 2011 and 38.8 percent in 2010. That’s quite a lot to replace. If Mota wins his appeal (he claims the banned substance he was punished for came from children’s cough syrup) and Affeldt comes back soon like the optimistic timetable says, then this will all be moot and the bullpen should be fine. But if neither of those things happen, the Giants will have to rely on unproven guys like tattooed Aussie Travis Blackley, Viking-descendant Steve Edlefsen and Dan Otero. Or (and this is a very important “or”) they could call up wunderkind Heath Hembree.

Travis Blackley doesn’t like cameras.

***

The biggest surprises in each league so far are the Baltimore Orioles  and New York Mets. I certainly was not alone in picking them last in their divisions, yet at the moment the 20-11 Orioles are tied for the AL East lead and the 18-13 Mets are a half-game back in the East of the NL. I think Baltimore has the better chance of sustaining their success, and this hypothesis is confirmed with a superficial look at run differential. Orioles: +17, in line with their record; Mets: -18, suggesting they have been lucky to win so many games.

Baltimore also has an excellent bullpen. Closer Jim Johnson, 9-for-9 in save chances, gave up his first run of the season today, so it’s safe to say he’s good. Flamethrowers Pedro Strop (average fastball velocity 95.8 mph) and Matt Lindstrom (95.3) mow hitters down in the middle innings, while crafty junkballer Chris Davis (89.5) gets hitters out with guile when he’s not playing first base.

Giancarlo Stanton’s Home Run of the Week:

Giancarlo Stanton hits balls with such force that the seated viewer is awestruck to the point of momentarily forgetting the lot of every man, woman and child on this earth (death). Somehow, at the same time, said viewer also feels a sharp pang of mortal terror, an accessory to the realization that a man such as Stanton exists, and could, like Dexter or certain gods in Greek mythology, perform any number of unspeakable acts on our persons if he ever developed a taste for sadism. Or maybe that’s just me. I’m told I have issues.

Trust that smile at your own peril.

Anyway, he hits those kinds of home runs often enough that it’s possible to make a regular feature about them. Here is one that makes Petco Park look like a child’s sandbox.

Other fun highlights for the baseball fan:

Toronto’s Brandon Morrow is turning into one of the premier strikeout pitchers in all of baseball. He posted 203 Ks last season, but this season, after a slow start, he seems to be a more complete pitcher. In his most recent start, he struck out 10 A’s in six innings.

Seattle shortstop Brendan Ryan made an amazing play to throw out one of the fastest players in the league.

Dee Gordon making plays like this makes me sad, but it’s part of the reason the Dodgers defense is rated so highly. Also, we get to hear Vin Scully in the middle of one of his game-enriching player backstories.

Chipper’s still got it.

Remember that time Derek Jeter caught a ball in foul territory then took like six steps and dove into the stands like he couldn’t stop his momentum? Well, Tigers outfielder Don Kelly actually had to go into the stands to make this wonderful catch that sealed a win against the Mariners. He glides through the air like Peter Pan on heroin.

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