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If Billy Beane Won't Hold a Fire Sale, Then I'll Just Have To Do It Myself
2007-08-03 13:29
by Ken Arneson

Another reason for the A's not holding a fire sale, besides the ones I listed last time, is that the A's are not really all that far from contending again. While the A's are currently seven games under .500, they have actually outscored their opponents on the season. And if you go even further, and adjust their runs scored/runs allowed by strength of schedule, things look even better. According to BP's Adjusted Standings, the A's ought to have the best record in the AL West, and should be just one game behind Detroit for third-best in the entire American League.

When a team's actual record falls far below its projected one, it's usually a sign of two things: 1) a bad bullpen, and 2) a bounceback to come. This is essentially what happened to Cleveland in 2006--they outscored their opponents by 88 runs, but finished 6 games below .500, thanks to an atrocious bullpen. They stabilized their pen in the offseason, and in 2007, they are contending again.

There was a period in July, while Huston Street, Justin Duchscherer and Kiko Calero were all on the DL, when there was not a single member of the A's bullpen who was on the division winning team of a year before. The A's won the division thanks to their pen--their M.O. in 2006 was to play solid, mistake-free defense, keep the game close into the late innings, and then outlast the other team's bullpen with depth. There were many narrow, late-inning victories on the way to the division crown. This year, the A's haven't been able to win those types of games very often.

If Street, Duchscherer and Calero return to health in 2008, and are joined by an effective Alan Embree and Santiago Casilla, the A's could return to their favorite game plan again. The major tinkering that needs to be done is to purge the team of the sub-.300 OBPs that are killing the offense. Jason Kendall is gone, so that's one-third the battle. And hopefully, the A's can find some sucker to take Mark Kotsay off their hands, and hope that Chris Denorfia can take over the job and put up a far more respectable OBP than Kotsay's. The final and most difficult problem is to find an ABC (Anybody But Crosby). I've been watching Donnie Murphy pretty closely this week, and I don't see any reason to think he's Anybody.


* * *

Meanwhile, I'm facing a bit of a roster crunch at home. With three kids now, there's just not enough space around here to keep all the stuff we've accumulated over the years. It's time for a fire sale! I'm doing a major purge of my house this weekend, getting rid of anything I don't need--clothes, trinkets, toys, games, books, etc. This includes dozens of baseball books. Everything must go! If any of you are in the Bay Area, and might want to take any of this stuff off my hands, email me at catfish AT Anything I have left by Sunday will be headed to Goodwill or CARH.

2007-08-03 14:48:06
1.   unmoderated
wish i could be there for the books.
2007-08-03 15:19:21
2.   Xeifrank
Ok, let me see if I get this straight. A team that falls well below their projected recorded may have an atrocious bullpen. How about the reverse of this situation. A team that is well ahead of their projected record. Besides the luck factor, like in your example, what is the other likely culprit? A very good bullpen?
vr, Xei
2007-08-03 15:52:03
3.   Ken Arneson
2 Yeah, from what I understand, the quality of the bullpen has some statistical relevance towards explaining why a team misses their pythagorean record. You win/lose more than your fair share of close games, while the blowouts even out. I can't remember where I read that, though.
2007-08-03 15:54:23
4.   RIYank
Yeah, bullpen in both cases.
The simple explanation: good relievers throw in high-leverage situations. The runs they save are expected to be worth more (in win expecation) that the other runs that go into the Pythagorean formula.
2007-08-03 16:05:55
5.   Xeifrank
3/4. In other words, having a good bullpen is very important? With most relief pitchers being unpredictable from year to year, this does not appear to be such an easy task.
vr, Xei
2007-08-03 19:08:08
6.   Ken Arneson
5 No, the most important thing is to have a large difference between runs scored and runs allowed, because that's the best predictor of future wins and losses.

The bullpen quality seems to be one thing that can make this prediction method fail at times, so you need to take that into account when analyzing your team by runs scored and runs allowed.

2007-08-03 19:41:32
7.   Vishal
i wish i was around for the books too. if things go my way i may have a job in the bay area soon though. so that'll mean going to a lot of A's games :)
2007-08-03 21:07:35
8.   Xeifrank
6. Well yeah, obviously you want the largest run differential possible. According to the theory the good bullpen could help a team with an already good run differential outperform their predicted record to, no?
vr, Xei
2007-08-04 07:51:27
9.   Ken Arneson
Yes, I think so, but (a) I don't think it's all that strong and reliable of an effect--it's probably more useful as an explanation after the fact than as a predictor because (b) relievers, as you say, are unreliable, in both directions, so there's a lot of streakiness and luck involved.

Look at the difference between the Mariners and the A's this year: the Mariners are +8.3 wins above their projection. How much of that is J.J. Putz & Co. holding on to every single narrow lead they get? Putz is good, but not that good. Seattle can't expect to get the kind of bullpen perfection (Putz set an AL record for consecutive saves) in the future that they've been getting so far this year. Normally, they'll blow some saves here and there.

If you ask me, the Twins' bullpen is just as talented as Seattle's, but they're pretty much right on their projections. Maybe next year, Joe Nathan gets Putz's luck, and the Twins end up +8 instead of Seattle. I don't think the Twins need to look at their team and think "we need a better bullpen". And I don't think Seattle should look at their team and expect "we're going to get +8 above our projections again".

The first priority is still to get the good projection. Starting pitchers are still more important than your bullpen.

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