Monday, June 14, 2004

Bizarro Rob

Rob Neyer has previously taken to task sports writers who seem to reach conclusions before doing any research, then present only the facts which help their cases. A simple litmus test for this type of writing involves arguing the opposite conclusion just as effectively by presenting different facts. Let's see if Rob's latest article, predicting the A's to win the West, can pass muster:

The Angels began exactly as Arte Moreno hoped they would, riding hot offensive starts from holdover stars (Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson), new acquisitions (Vlad Guerrero, Jose Guillen) and a couple of "Who?" players (Jeff DaVanon, Chone Figgins) to a 22-10 record. They have slumped to 13-15 since then after losing Glaus to season-ending shoulder surgery and Anderson to arthritis in his shoulders and back. Anderson has made a miraculous recovery, thanks to the fabulous world of drug discovery, and just in time as his team now sits two games behind the surging A's (are they ever not surging?). To help us handicap the rest of the season, let’s look at the lineups both teams should hope to field when Eric Chavez gets healthy along with their 2004 Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) courtesy of Baseball Prospectus:

Angels:
C Molina (4.3)
1B Kotchman (-2.2)
2B Kennedy (-0.9)
3B Figgins (19.1)*
SS Eckstein (10.9)
OF Guillen (20.4)
OF Guerrero (38.9)
CF DaVanon (18.3)
DH Anderson (7.0)*
*VORP listed for CF

Total: 115.8

Athletics:
C Miller (10.2)
1B Hatteberg (20.3)
2B Scutaro (13.1)
3B Chavez (16.6)
SS Crosby (15.2)
OF Dye (18.0)
OF Byrnes (18.8)
CF Kotsay (9.5)
DH Durazo (20.4)

Total: 142.1

I did not include Erstad in the lineup, since these are the lineups the teams should hope to field, not the lineups they actually will, given the chance. Looks like Neyer’s doing pretty well so far, and offense is supposed to be a strength for the Angels. But look behind the numbers and the race is much closer than it may seem. Is Hatteberg really going to blow away his career best season OPS at age 34? When Chavez comes back in five weeks, will he be the same player? Hand injuries can be devastating to hitters. Will Byrnes continue his Jekkyl/Hyde Pre All-Star/Post All-Star act of the previous two years? Is Kennedy really this bad? The Angels hope to get Tim Salmon back soon and he could push Kotchman back to the minors since it’s apparent he’s not going to hit right away.

The part of the Neyer piece to which I really took exception was his focus on the ways the A’s could get better while completely ignoring what the Angels could do (except “get healthy”. Please. What they really need to is realize that Erstad’s only good uses, when healthy, are centerfielder and pinch-bunter. While they’re at it, they might also see that in Francisco Rodriguez they might not only have Eric Gagne, but Pedro Martinez as well, if you get my drift). Sure, Billy Beane is known for his great deadline deals and the A’s have a number of solid to outstanding prospects but Bill Stoneman, with five of B-Pro's Top 50 prospects, has plenty of chips to cash in for a second baseman and starting pitcher.

I do agree with Neyer's conclusions, but his analysis could’ve been more even-handed. With a couple of breaks for Anaheim, this will be one hell of a race.

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