THT Dartboard: June 22, 2006

Welcome to the Hardball Times Dartboard, our weekly attempt to rank all the teams in baseball. A short explanation of our method is probably in order. Basically, the goal is to rank teams based on how they have performed thus far.

However, using something basic like win totals is a bit too simple, as they can be influenced by luck and strength of schedule. On the other hand, if we just looked at a team’s Pythagorean record (their expected record based on runs scored and allowed), we’d be discounting the team’s actual performance, which isn’t fair either. Plus, there’s a lot of luck involved in how many runs a team scores and gives up.

So instead, here’s our method. We start off with a team’s real record; that’s simple enough. Then we compute how many BaseRuns each team has scored and allowed. BaseRuns are a run estimation system much like Runs Created, and they take the situational luck out of run scoring. They are a better predictor of how many runs a team will score or allow the rest of the way than actual runs.

Then, we compute each team’s expected winning percentage for the rest of the season, based on their BaseRuns totals. (For our more geeky readers: We compute the team’s Pythagorean record using a custom Pythagenpat exponent.) We then add the number of wins the team is expected to have the rest of the season to the number of wins it has so far. This gives us a perfect balance of actual and expected performance. As the season progresses, a team’s win/loss record becomes more and more important (as it should), and its expected record is given less weight.

Finally, we make one other adjustment, for strength of schedule. Obviously, it’s easier to win a lot when you have an easy schedule. So using ESPN’s strength of schedule calculations, we subtract the number of extra wins a team is expected to get because of their schedule. For example, if a team has a .490 SOS, they are expected to win (.500 – .490)*162 = 1.62 more games than an average team, so we subtract 1.62 from their “Dartboard Factor.” (Another note: Technically, this is not the correct way to make such an adjustment, but it is close enough.)

That leaves us with the final “Dartboard Factor.” Essentially, this is the number of wins the team would be expected to have at the end of the season if it played a neutral schedule. It’s an easy way to identify not just where teams rank but how good they are (i.e. 90 wins is playoff-caliber, 81 is average, etc). We hope you enjoy this new feature.

1. Detroit Tigers (Dartboard Factor = 103): The Tigers’ success has largely rested on their infield defense, which has been over 50 plays (about 40 runs) better than average thus far. While that’s extraordinarily good, infielders Brandon Inge, Carlos Guillen, and Placido Polanco averaged +19, +6, and +11 Range ratings per 150 games in 2004-05, and the Tigers do force a lot of ground balls.

2. Chicago White Sox (Dartboard Factor = 99): During his playing career, Ozzie Guillen averaged less than three home runs and 20 walks a season, yet the White Sox are winning by getting on base and hitting the long ball, leading the American League in home runs, and ranking fifth in walks.

3. New York Mets (Dartboard Factor = 99): Jose Reyes has finally learned to take a walk (a career-high 29 already), and with that he’s on pace for his first 100-run season. It also doesn’t hurt that Carlos Beltran (1.010 OPS) has been tearing the cover off the ball.

4. New York Yankees (Dartboard Factor = 98): Sure, Randy Johnson is struggling, but New York’s other big money veteran has been sterling. Mike Mussina is 8-3 with a 3.42 ERA, and at 37, he’s well within reach of 300 wins, with 232 at the moment.

5. Boston Red Sox (Dartboard Factor = 95): Kevin Youkilis (.436), Trot Nixon (.430), and Manny Ramirez (.421) are in the 4-7 slots in the American League in on-base percentage, with only Derek Jeter (.431) breaking the trio up.

6. Toronto Blue Jays (Dartboard Factor = 94): BaseRuns tells us that the Jays have scored 30 less runs than expected. However there’s good evidence that they’ve actually been extraordinarily lucky offensively. The Blue Jays have hit .18 home runs per fly ball, whereas every other team in the league is between .10 and .14. That’s 50% more home runs than expected, or about 45 runs.

7. Texas Rangers (Dartboard Factor = 92): John Wasdin has yet to allow a home run in eight innings. The longest “Way Back Wasdin” has ever gone without giving up a long ball to start the season was 13 innings, back in 1999.

8. St. Louis Cardinals (Dartboard Factor = 87): Is Mark Mulder done? He’s sporting a 6.09 ERA after his shellacking at the hands of the White Sox and has gone a month without a quality start. Mulder’s allowed 18 home runs, only one less than he allowed in all of 2005.

9. Los Angeles Dodgers (Dartboard Factor = 86): Not only is Nomar Garciaparra leading the league with a .363 batting average, but it looks like that average is for real. His batting average on balls in play and line drive percentage are both in-line with his career totals.

10. Cincinnati Reds (Dartboard Factor = 84): The Reds went on a big-time slide over the past two weeks, with nine losses in 11 games. The offense averaged a paltry 3.55 runs per game over that stretch, with sluggers Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn hitting a combined .174 (8 for 46).

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

11. Cleveland Indians (Dartboard Factor = 84): How is Travis Hafner first in the American League in Runs Created (67) and only fourth in All-Star balloting at first base? The Indians need to start winning so that this budding star gets noticed.

12. Oakland Athletics (Dartboard Factor = 84): The A’s are near the league lead in walks, as always, but perhaps just as interesting is that there are only four American League teams that strike out less. Has Billy Beane expanded his philosophy to look for batters who aren’t just patient, but have a good eye as well?

13. San Diego Padres (Dartboard Factor = 83): Should Padres fans be worried about Jake Peavy’s 4.81 ERA? Not really, as his component ERA is a full run lower. Should they be worried that no hitter on the Padres has an .800+ OPS? Though PETCO Park is a pitcher’s stadium, I would still say yes.

14. Colorado Rockies (Dartboard Factor = 82): The Rockies threw two consecutive shutouts at Coors Field for the second time in history earlier this week. The first was in 2002, with starts from Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle, who made a combined $16.5 million that year. This time the starters were Byung-Hyung Kim and Jason Jennings, who are making $5.75 million combined this season. Fiscal sanity in Colorado? Finally.

15. San Francisco Giants (Dartboard Factor = 81): Pedro Feliz and Barry Bonds are tied for the team lead in home runs with 10. Whoever would have thought that I could ever write that sentence? Feliz does, however, still trail Barry in career home runs by 641.

16. Arizona Diamondbacks (Dartboard Factor = 80): Brandon Webb leads the league in ERA and innings pitched. He’s done it by cutting down on his walks (1.12 BB/9 this season versus 3.58 BB/9 coming into 2006). Not only has Webb’s newfound control help cut down his ERA, but it also allows him to go deeper into games, as he’s throwing 1.82 less pitches per inning than he has in his career. That allows him to go over eight-tenths of an inning more per start while maintaining the same pitch count, which translates into something like 30 extra innings over a full season.

17. Milwaukee Brewers (Dartboard Factor = 80): Carlos Lee is probably earning himself a lot of money with his large power boost this year (he’s on pace for over 50 home runs), but he’s actually been one of the most consistently good hitters in baseball for many years now. If we adjust each of his seasons to 600 at-bats, here are his year-by-year home run totals: 20, 25, 26, 32, 29, 31, 31.

18. Minnesota Twins (Dartboard Factor = 78): Lost amidst the excitement over Joe Mauer’s .378 batting average is that he’s thrown out more than 40% of would-be basestealers and has only one passed ball.

19. Seattle Mariners (Dartboard Factor = 78): The Mariners are 11-5 in June, and all of a sudden contending in a weak AL West, thanks in large part to a rejuvenated offense that’s scoring over six runs a game in June. Ichiro Suzuki is batting .467 this month, and even Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre are in on the action, with .800+ OPS’s in June.

20. Philadelphia Phillies (Dartboard Factor = 77): The Phillies are 18-23 at home and 17-14 on the road. Could their struggles be due to tough Philadelphia fans? Over the previous two years, the Phillies have only been two games better at home than on the road, while we’d expect them to be closer to 10 games better. This is something that deserves more investigation.

21. Florida Marlins (Dartboard Factor = 75): The Marlins’ nine game winning streak is over, but it finally announced to the rest of the country that Florida is not nearly as bad as some think it is. Sure, they’re not going to contend, but the Marlins are a decent team with a lot of potential for the future.

22. Houston Astros (Dartboard Factor = 75): Roger Clemens is scheduled to make his first start today, and the Astros have put themselves in prime position to reap the benefits of adding an extra ace by compiling a 37-35 record, trailing by only six games in the NL Central and two games back in the wild card chase. However, here’s the question: What if Clemens (who is 43, after all) doesn’t pitch like an ace? Can the Astros still win? Are they dependent on him psychologically? Because if they are, the ‘Stros may be in for a big let-down.

23. Los Angeles Angels (Dartboard Factor = 75) As Cyril Morong pointed out on Beyond the Boxscore, the Angels sent down the all-time leader in career ERA among pitchers with at least 26 innings pitched when they demoted Jered Weaver. I agree with Rich Lederer: The Angels made the easy move, but not the right one.

24. Baltimore Orioles (Dartboard Factor = 73): After posting 5.54 ERAs in both April and May, the Orioles have a team ERA of 4.67 in June. Is Leo Mazzone’s magic finally starting to work?

25. Atlanta Braves (Dartboard Factor = 72): That’s now nine straight losses for the punchless Braves, who are averaging all of 3.33 runs per game over the losing streak. And even though their pitching has been pretty bad all year, JC Bradbury’s Mazzone Meter still tells us that they’re doing better than the Orioles. So here’s the question: Would the Braves be in contention if Mazzone were still their pitching coach?

26. Washington Nationals (Dartboard Factor = 72): Everyone has been talking about Alfonso Soriano’s great hitting, and with good reason, but the real story here might the resurgence of another former Yankee—Nick Johnson. Johnson has put up a monster .312/.438/.561 line, and is tied for sixth in the National League with 57 Runs Created. He also has 35 extra-base hits, good for fifth in the NL. Could this finally be the year Johnson stays healthy and puts together the type of season we thought he’d be having year-in-year-out a few years ago? Alas, Johnson is already having back problems and has missed the last couple games.

27. Chicago Cubs (Dartboard Factor = 64): Why haven’t general manager Jim Hendry and manager Dusty Baker been fired yet? This is a mess of a team with no foreseeable hope and more holes than can possibly be filled. I’m writing this only two-and-a-half years after the Cubs had baseball’s youngest, most promising team. The blame lies squarely on these two men’s shoulders.

28. Pittsburgh Pirates (Dartboard Factor = 64): They’ve lost two straight to Kansas City—need I say more? It’s too bad Freddy Sanchez’s amazing start (.355 batting average) is going unnoticed because he plays for one of the worst franchises in professional sports.

29. Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Dartboard Factor = 64): I really hope Mets fans all stopped reading once they saw their favorite team at number three, because otherwise, I’m going to get a lot of New Yorkers very angry right now: Scott Kazmir is on-pace for 210 strikeouts and 75 walks, and if he continues to improve his control as much as he has this year at just 22, he will be competing with Fransisco Liriano and Felix Hernandez for Cy Youngs very soon.

30. Kansas City Royals (Dartboard Factor = 51): I promised myself that I would say something good about the Royals in this space because of all the bad press they’ve been getting lately.

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