THT Dartboard: June 29, 2006

Welcome to The Hardball Times Dartboard, our weekly attempt to rank all the teams in baseball. The Dartboard Factor is how many wins a team would be expected to have at the end of the season if it played a neutral schedule. Next to that, you’ll find the change in the Dartboard Factor from the previous week. An explanation of our method can be found here.

1. Detroit Tigers (Dartboard Factor = 106, +3): Marcus Thames, the 29 year-old with a .731 OPS coming into this season, may not be playing as far over his head as everyone expects. His Predicted OPS (PrOPS) is .958, and it’s not like his success has been tied to an extraordinarily high batting average (currently .298). Even if Thames does regress, the Tigers should be able to take it, with four players besides Thames sporting an .830+ OPS, and two more above .770. Talk about a balanced lineup.

2. Chicago White Sox (Dartboard Factor = 102, +3): At this point, I can’t see how anyone can be rooting for the White Sox while Ozzie Guillen is still the manager. Perhaps even more insulting than his attack on columnist Jay Mariotti, and his subsequent refusal to go to MLB-mandated sensitivity training is Guillen’s recent attack on Dodgers first base coach Mariano Duncan. Duncan (rightly) criticized Guillen for hurting Latinos is major league baseball, to which Ozzie responded, “Mariano Duncan never will be a big-league manager and not because I ruined it for him, [but] because if Mariano Duncan thinks being a manager is making out the lineup and changing pitchers, he is real wrong … I opened a lot of doors for Latino managers, a lot, because of the way I am, things that happened in my career as a player, coach and manager.” What about guys like Tony Pena and Felipe Alou, who came well before Guillen was ever hired? Did they slam the door shut behind them? Or is Guillen simply an egotistical jerk? Hmm … And lest we forget that Guillen was recently suspended for pulling and demoting a pitcher for not throwing a brushback pitch. According to reports, “Guillen slammed a water bottle to the ground when Blalock [the batter] grounded out and the manager then brought Agustin Montero in to pitch. Guillen was then seen in the dugout barking at Tracey [the pitcher], who pulled the collar of his jersey over his head.”

3. Boston Red Sox (Dartboard Factor = 100, +5): The Red Sox are baseball’s hottest team, with an 11 game winning streak in which their average margin of victory has been 4.5 runs. Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the run is that more than half of the wins (six) have gone to Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, the cornerstones of Boston’s pitching staff for the next decade. Both Beckett and Lester have had their flaws this season (Beckett has allowed 20 home runs, Lester is walking almost six batters a game), but the future for these two looks bright.

4. New York Yankees (Dartboard Factor = 100, +2): Randy Johnson has been very good in June, holding batters to a .195 batting average against in 31.2 innings, with 32 strikeouts and just 10 walks. More importantly, he’s done it against some good teams, like the Phillies and Indians, after struggling all season against top hitters (a 1.180 OPS allowed to four and five hitters, .590 to everyone else).

5. New York Mets (Dartboard Factor = 97, -2): The Mets are the only National League team in the top 10, but even they have been suspect in interleague play, with a 5-6 record against American League teams. Winning at least three of their next four (one more game with the Red Sox, and then a three game set with the Yanks) would go a long way towards showing baseball fans that an NL team has a chance in the World Series.

6. Toronto Blue Jays (Dartboard Factor = 96, +2): I’m afraid that even whispering about it might injure him again, but A.J. Burnett has struck out 14, walked one, and allowed 25 groundballs and only 7 fly balls in 15 innings since his return. Just keep quiet about it.

7. Texas Rangers (Dartboard Factor = 90, -2): One of the more underreported storylines of the season, in my opinion, has been Mark Teixeira‘s complete loss of power. His isolated power, which subtracts batting average from slugging percentage, is only 3% higher than the AL average, after being 74% higher last year. He has only eight home runs, despite having the same one-to-one groundball to fly ball ratio he has always posted. How long before we hear the first Teixeira steroid rumor come out?

8. Cleveland Indians (Dartboard Factor = 86, +2): The Indians are the only American League team to post a losing record in the last 10 days, at 4-6. Even still, their Dartboard Factor suggests that the Indians may have been too hasty to go into full-on wait-till-next-year mode in the past week. The Indians have a .548 expected winning percentage despite playing the second-toughest schedule in the major leagues. On the other hand, in a division with the top-two teams in baseball right now, there is little hope for Cleveland even if the Indians do play better the rest of the way.

9. Oakland Athletics (Dartboard Factor = 86, +2): How’s that Moneyball draft looking now? Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton have combined for 18 Win Shares this season, and Jeremy Brown was just called up.

10. Minnesota Twins (Dartboard Factor = 85, +7): Over the last two years, Johan Santana has posted a 1.40 ERA after the All-Star game. If he has another second half to remember this season, he may very well bump his ERA below 2.00 for the year and make it very hard for Cy Young voters to ignore him, no matter his win total. Then again, the way the Twins are playing right now (15 wins in their last 16 games), if Santana posts a 1.40 ERA in the second half, they could contend in the first-ever division with three 100-win teams.

11. Los Angeles Dodgers (Dartboard Factor = 84, -2): Trading Dioner Navarro and Jae Seo for Mark Hendrickson and Toby Hall makes absolutely no sense. Navarro, only 22 and a former “top” (meaning Yankees) prospect was having a good season, with a .372 OBP. So why couldn’t the Dodgers get more for him than a 30 year-old catcher with a .680 career OPS, and Hendrickson, whose 3.81 ERA this year has been aided by a .254 BABIP? His 4.65 FIP is much closer to Hendrickson’s (very mediocre) career averages.

12. Seattle Mariners (Dartboard Factor = 83, +5): The Mariners, with eight wins in their last 10 games and 17 in their last 24, are just three games out of first place in the AL West. Felix Hernandez is 3-1 with a 3.58 ERA this month, and if he continues to recover from a terrible start to the season, “The King” could triumphantly lead the Mariners to the postseason.

13. Colorado Rockies (Dartboard Factor = 82, 0): Matt Holliday already has 44 extra-base hits, just six less than he had all of last season. He’s fifth in the National League in OPS and has posted 12 Win Shares. His career year has more than made up for Todd Helton‘s declining power numbers—Helton is on pace to hit less than 20 home runs for the first time in his major league career.

14. San Diego Padres (Dartboard Factor = 82, -1): Why is Kevin Towers considered to be one of the best general managers in the game? Chris Young is 7-3 with a sub-3.00 ERA this season; Adam Eaton, who Towers traded for Young in the offseason, has yet to pitch a game for Texas.

15. Cincinnati Reds (Dartboard Factor = 81, -3): The big news this week was Ken Griffey Jr. passing Mike Schmidt for 11th all-time in the career home runs standings. Assuming Junior hits 25 more homers this season, that would leave him 179 short of Hank Aaron’s record. Despite all his injuries the past few years (I guesstimate they cost him 100 home runs), Griffey is still well within reach of the all-time record, especially at the Great American Ballpark (where home runs fly out 12% more often than on the road). That’s a testament to Griffey’s greatness, and a reminder of just how good he used to be.

How an Ace Performance Impacts Reliever Workloads
Bullpenning has its advantages, but it's great when an elite starter eats up a bunch of innings, too.

16. St. Louis Cardinals (Dartboard Factor = 81, -6): The K/BB ratios of St. Louis’ 3-5 starters: 27/20, 45/35, 45/39. Sidney Ponson, Jeff Suppan, and Jason Marquis are not really major league quality pitchers, which begs the question, “Why is Adam Wainwright (2.45 ERA as a reliever) still pitching out of the bullpen?” The time is now for the Cards to commit to their youth.

17. Milwaukee Brewers (Dartboard Factor = 79, -1): Ben Sheets is almost back, which would provide a big boost to the Brewers in a suddenly tight NL Central. The Brew Crew is only 4.5 games out of first and 3.5 games out of the Wild Card. Sheets was very, very good before going on the Disabled List with tendonitis in his right shoulder; posting a 28/1 K/BB ratio. Since 2004, Sheets has struck out 433 and walked just 58 batters in 415 innings.

18. San Francisco Giants (Dartboard Factor = 79, -2): A few weeks ago, I wrote an article stating that Dusty Baker’s impact on his starters’ pitch counts was overstated. Jason Schmidt, who is throwing a whopping 113.2 pitches per start this year, is providing further evidence for that claim. In fact, since Dusty left, Schmidt has average over 109 pitches per start, a level he never approached while Baker was still in San Francisco.

19. Los Angeles Angels (Dartboard Factor = 77, +2): Loyalty sucks. The Angels are paying Garrett Anderson and Darin Erstad, two career Angels who are supposed to represent the franchise, a combined $19.5 million this season, for a combined VORP of -4.8. Unfortunately for Angels fans, the two have indeed represented the franchise this season, because the whole team has s-u-c-k sucked, sucked, sucked.

20. Arizona Diamondbacks (Dartboard Factor = 75, -5): On June 4, the Diamondbacks were 34-22 and in first place in the NL West. Since then, Arizona has gone 3-19, with two five-game and one seven-game losing streak (plus, they’ve currently lost two in a row). The great thing is, they’re still only 3.5 games out.

21. Baltimore Orioles (Dartboard Factor = 75, +2): Anyone else notice that Corey Patterson is batting .282 while striking out in only 18% of his at-bats (versus a career average of 25% going into the season)? Patterson may never be the star scouts foresaw, and he may be known as a toolsy bust for the rest of his life, but he’s worked on his game and the improvement is apparent. Even in a tough June (.635 OPS), Patterson did not revert to his free swinging ways, striking out 19 times in 100 at-bats. What’s strange is that Patterson is taking less pitches than ever, seeing just 3.13 per plate appearance (versus a 3.41 pitches/plate appearance career average). Maybe he’s just seeing the ball better?

22. Florida Marlins (Dartboard Factor = 75, 0): The Marlins did their rebuilding right. Whereas teams like the Royals and Pirates are perpetually rebuilding and perpetually unsuccessful, the Marlins have Miguel Olivo, Mike Jacobs, Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, and Miguel Cabrera forming what is already one of the better infields in baseball, and Josh Willingham and Jeremy Hermida doing a very good job as corner outfielders. Essentially, all the Marlins need to be a contender next season is a center fielder (where young Reggie Abercrombie has struggled thus far) and pitching (like every other team in the major leagues). Though with Dontrelle Willis (24), Josh Johnson (22), Anibal Sanchez (22), and Scott Olsen (22), Florida is actually has a pretty deep (and very young) rotation.

23. Houston Astros (Dartboard Factor = 74, -1): It’s good to be a groundball pitcher for Houston, and not so much to allow a lot of fly balls. The Astros have made 54 more plays than expected on grounders, and 34 less on fly balls. The ground ball number, by the way, rests heavily on Adam Everett‘s brilliant play. If we translate his zone rating into runs above average, we find that he’s been +18 runs this year, while the next-best shortstop (Jose Reyes) has been +8.

24. Philadelphia Phillies (Dartboard Factor = 73, -4): Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell are currently on-pace to combine for 93 home runs, and are first and tenth, respectively, in the National League in long balls. Burrell finally seems to be fulfilling all the promise he had at the beginning of his career, when scouts compared the slugger to Mark McGwire.

25. Atlanta Braves (Dashboard Factor = 70, -2): Jeff Francoeur needs to learn to take a walk. The average player has about a 60 point difference between his batting average and on-base percentage; for Francoeur, the difference is less than half of that. The only way players like that can succeed is by either gathering a lot of extra-base hits (at a minimum, a .500 slugging average just to be average) or by hitting for a high batting average (like Ichiro!). Francoeur’s minor league average was only .282, and his minor league SLG was .549 (which is like .450 in the major leagues). So either he learns to take a walk or Francoeur will never be a good major league hitter.

26. Washington Nationals (Dashboard Factor = 69, -3): Very quietly, former White Sox pitching prospect Jon Rauch has turned into a good reliever for the Nationals. He has a 2.83 ERA since coming to the franchise, including a 2.98 ERA in 40 appearances this year. He may not have turned into the Randy Johnson-type ace people expected him to be (Rauch is 6’11″—he also throws in the 80’s), but he has finally matured into his own.

27. Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Dashboard Factor = 68, +4): More good news for the Rays: This young team has a winning record at home, at 18-17. This may still be a 90+ loss club, but it’s improving.

28. Chicago Cubs (Dashboard Factor = 61, -3): It’s baffling that Kerry Wood and Mark Prior get all the attention in Chicago. Talk about fans and the media focusing on the negative. Instead of constantly discussing these two injury-riddled young pitchers, let’s discuss Carlos Zambrano (2.95 ERA), who has withstood more stress on his arm than those two and is still pitching strong with 54 career wins midway through his age-25 season.

29. Pittsburgh Pirates (Dashboard Factor = 58, -6): If Jason Bay goes on a shooting rampage, it’ll be hard to blame him, because who wouldn’t go crazy being a superstar on a hopeless team? The Pirates are doing a nice thing for him by running ads encouraging fans to vote him into the All-Star Game, which will be Bay’s only chance this season to play on an actual good team.

30. Kansas City Royals (Dashboard Factor = 57, +6): With an 8-3 record in interleague play, maybe the Royals could make the playoffs in the National League. Or at least not lose 100 games.

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