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The Diamondbacks' Week in Review

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Not had much time to write here this week: Mrs. SnakePit has a new job (running the websites for some local newspapers), which means I no longer get dropped off at work an hour early. This does mean we get to go to bed an hour later, but that hour gained is less conducive to writing blog entries, than to watching D-hacks' unapproved movies. I'm sure things will settle down into a schedule between now and next Opening Day; the timing of this lifestyle change, just after the season has ended, could hardly have been better as far as that goes. She's deliriously happy, as her new job is much more flexible and less megaNazicorporation than the old one, and is substantially better paid - relieving any need to push the SnakePitette into the world of Internet porn. :-)

The diaries have already gone over the main news items of the week: one Diamondbacks-related and one affecting baseball in general. Bob Melvin won NL Manager of the Year, and when even Ben puts Melvin as his #2 pick of the year, you know this award was largely justified. Melvin acknowledged it was largely a team award, not intended solely to honor him, and that seems fair. He said, "The way I look at it, in a team sport it can sometimes be a little uncomfortable accepting an individual award. "But I think this award kind of filters up and down through the organization." Congratulations to Melvin, and here's to more of the same next year. While I've certainly had qualms about some of his in-game management decisions, I can't argue that a team with the 26th-highest payroll in the majors had the best record in the National League and reached the final four, defying the statistical evidence. If they can do that batting a collective .250 - 29th in the majors - they'll be unstoppable if they can hit a bit better.

And that may be inevitable: their batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was 28th-best, only .282. That's nineteen points below the National League average, and BABIP is thought largely to be random chance. If the D-backs regress to an average value next year, we'd likely be hitting around the .270 mark, which is probably another fifty or sixty runs we can expect to score. And that's regardless of any improvements to be expected from a largely-young roster. According to this study [PDF, and extremely math-heavy] by Yale professor Ray Fair, the estimated peak level of OPS is at 27.6 years. The majority of the D-backs will be on the upside of the curve next year; Hudson, Byrnes and possibly Tracy are the only ones for whom age is not on their side.

As an aside, that report also found 18 hitters who apparently defied the ravages of Father Time in an 'unnatural' fashion [to be specific, logging four or more seasons after the peak age where their OPS exceeded the expected level by more than one standard deviation]. Here are the top ten, with their biggest over-performance season and their age at the time:

  1. Barry Bonds (2004, 40)
  2. Sammy Sosa (2001, 33)
  3. Luis Gonzalez (2001, 34)
  4. Mark McGwire (1998, 35)
  5. Ken Caminiti (1996, 33)
  6. Albert Belle (1994, 28)
  7. Larry Walker (1999, 33)
  8. Dwight Evans (1987, 36)
  9. Gary Gaetti (1998, 40)
  10. Rafael Palmeiro (1999, 35)

The study covered the period from 1921-2004 - but all ten above peaked from 1994 on. Coincidence? It would take a brave, trusting person to think so, especially given that the list includes numerous individuals who have admitted or been accused (with varying evidence) of taking illegal performance-enhancing drugs. I was stunned to see who was sitting at #3 on that list, ahead of Mark "I'm not here to talk about the past" McGwire. Clean living and hard work? The recent Williams-gate revelations have left the legacy of the 2001 world Series on decidedly shaky ground [though since Roger Clemens is on similarly-shaky ground, we might call that one a draw.]

Home-runs are vastly over-rated, anyway. Those calling for the acquisition of a power-hitter might also want to note that the four playoff teams in the NL this year managed only four players between them with more than 30 homers: Howard (PHI, 47), Holliday (COL, 36), Soriano (CHC, 33) and Young (ARI, 32). Of the 45 players in the league who hit twenty or more homers, less than one-third saw their teams reach the playoffs. The median number of bombs by NL teams in 2007 was 171, and only one outfit with more - the Phillies (213 homers) - played in the post-season. The Brewers (231), Reds (204), Marlins (201), Mets (176) and Braves (171) all stayed home. Chicks may dig the long-ball [or they may, like the rest of us, have become ultra-sceptical about them], but the playoffs largely seem immune to their charms.

To no-one's great surprise, Jake Peavy was the unanimous choice of the Cy Young voters in the National League. Brandon Webb was almost unanimous (31 of 32) as the second-place choice, and you've got to feel for him a bit: the reigning champion threw more innings, improved his ERA and struck out hitters at a higher rate than the year he won...and he didn't get a single first-place vote. ERA was slightly down this year overall (4.43 compared to 4.49 in 2006), but Peavy was definitely helped by the Petco effect: when you take park factors into account, his ERA+ was only three points better than Webb's, 159 to 156. And, remarkably, Peavy never completed eight innings the entire year, compared to Webb's seven times.

Though that is in part because the Padres' bullpen was so good [a 3.06 ERA overall!], and Peavy taking the Triple Crown of ERA, wins and K's sealed it - only three other players have done that in the past forty years, the last being the Big Unit in 2002, who was also a unanimous choice. No, I can't really argue with this one at all, even if the gap between the two was not as large as the results here might have you think. Therefore, congratulations to Webb for his great season - and also Jose Valverde, who received acknowledgment on a couple of ballots. Without either of those two, we don't reach the playoffs, and get the pleasure of sweeping the Cubs out of the playoffs. I don't know about you, but I think that was the highlight of my season [in particular, probably Livan coaxing a double-play at Wrigley with the bases-loaded, as I sat outside our step-daughter's house in the car. A diary may need to be spun off for that topic]

The big news is, of course, Barry Bonds being indicted for perjury. I think fans of 29 teams immediately started imagining amusing scenarios in which Bonds encounters a group of Aryan Nation thugs in the bathroom at San Quentin. Sadly, I imagine that even if Bonds doesn't manage an OJ, the outcome is likely to be closer to a Lindsay Lohan-esque 84 minutes in jail. Adolf and his buddies had better have their running shoes on. It is nice to see Bonds being called to account for his apparent deceit, which has been going on for so long that it's become a way of life for him. Seems that no-one brought it to his attention that lying to a grand jury is not the same thing as lying to ESPN. Or, indeed, the IRS, who still seem to be lurking in wait for Bonds.

You can certainly argue that the charges are pointless, or are only taking place because it's Bonds, and I would see those are credible points. However, this is about making a statement of accountability: Bonds is not being charged with taking steroids, but perjury and obstruction of justice. It's a somewhat mixed message ("Take drugs, just don't lie about it") but justice is sometimes not always possible directly; Al Capone was jailed for tax evasion, not murder. I don't think it's going to be an easy prosecution. While Bonds' defense team will attack the forensic evidence exactly as OJ's team did, this is such a high-profile case, I imagine the federal government would not have moved unless they were certain of their case. It's gonna be nasty, vicious...and probably quite entertaining to watch. I'll bring the popcorn.

One interesting sidelight: it's often claimed that because the drugs in question were not banned by MLB, the players concerned were doing wrong. This appears to be incorrect; take a look at this document from the Commissioner's Office, dated June 1991. "The possession, sale or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by Major League players and personnel is strictly prohibited." This policy was re-iterated in 1997. What part of 'strictly prohibited' is not clear to Bonds' apologists?

Nick Piecoro writes in the Republic today, though the piece's opening sentence - "Free agency has never been a busy avenue for the Diamondbacks in Josh Byrnes' two years as general manager, and that probably won't be changing anytime soon" - is rather at odds with the headline, "D-Backs interested in free-agent pitchers"! Not much to support the latter, though the team has apparently been kicking the tires on Matt Clement and Bartolo Colon, albeit in what Piecoro reports as "due diligence". The piece also reports the club is unlikely to trade Conor Jackson, which seems like good news to me, noting his offensive potential and low salary - both noted here previously. Expect Chad Tracy to be dealt over the weekend - simply because I renewed our sponsorship of him at just now!

Finally, this research suggests that "Major league baseball players whose first or last names began with K are significantly more likely to strike out." There's only been a handful of non-pitchers in the D-backs' history who fall into this category:

  • Karim Garcia: 78 K's in 333 AB's
  • Matt Kata: 86 in 481
  • Danny Klassen: 58 in 188
  • Josh Kroeger: 21 in 54
  • Kelly Stinnett: 245 in 927

Overall, that's 488 in 1983 - one every 4.06 at-bats. The overall rate in the National League last season was one every 5.13, so the Diamondbacks do appear to support this theory. The study also noted that students whose names began with an A or B got better grades than those where the first letter was C or D. No word on whether this effect extends to players whose names end with a K, but Mark 'Special K' Reynolds and Tony 'Homer or Bust' Clark are looking forward to that one, having combined to fan 188 times in only 587 at-bats (once every 3.12) in the past year.

I'll hopefully get to post the next award and poll in the Pitties tomorrow; the current one is looking a fairly solid victory for Micah, but we'll see if there is another last-minute rush of votes today.