Monday, September 10, 2007

JAYS-TIGERS: IT'S A HELLUVA TOBOGGAN RIDE, WAITING FOR LEFTY

Monday -- Tigers 5, Jays 4: One explanation for tonight's four-run fiasco is Scott Downs is close to having an appearances clause kick in and John Gibbons figures the Jays owe him one if the lefty falls short.

Downs (pictured, apparently getting the final out of a ballgame, so we know he's done it before) has made 71 appearances, putting him on pace for the 80 that's a benchmark for many specialist lefties. However, he's only thrown three times in nine games since the start of the month, strangely enough. Downs would have been the best choice to start the ninth inning against three lefty swingers, assuming it is closer-by-committee until Jeremy Accardo gets his head and his mechanics straight.

Letting Roy Halladay come back out after already logging 110 pitches on a night when his line through eight suggested he didn't have his A-game — eight hits, just three strikeouts against the free-swinging Tigers — was just begging for something bad to happen. Detroit had three hitters coming up who all swing from the left side:
  • Switch-hitting backup catcher Mike Rabelo, who's hardly faced a lefty since he was called up;
  • Timo Pérez, who has a career .425 on base plus slugging against lefties;
  • Sean Casey, who's had only 57 at-bats against lefties (he hits them at a better rate than right-handers, but that's a small sample size and the Tigers probably never let him start a game vs. quality left-hander or face one when they need runs);

Doesn't it sound like Downs, who is supposed to see some ninth innings while Accardo worked out his problems, had much better odds of getting a 1-2-3 inning than a wearying Halladay, even assuming the Tigers pinch-hit with a right-handed batter and Casey Janssen comes in?

That why's it's worth wondering that Gibbons is figuring that if he saves management some money, he'll save his job. Anyway, keep an eye on how often Downs isn't called into games over these final three weeks and whether or not he makes it to 80 appearances, although there is no way of knowing if he really has such a bonus clause.

It's probably Seamhead self-parody to be looking up stats in Game 143 of a frustrating season. The simplest of explanations is usually best. Gibbons just knows that the truth can't be looked up on a computer, it lies right down in the gut. Well, beyond the possibility of being a company man to the bitter end, tonight furnished the conclusion that Gibby's gut has shit for brains.

SIR JOHN J. REDUX

The furore over John McDonald's worth has basically come out in the wash. The Geek won't let it go, though, after reading sportsnet.ca's Scott Carson's Sept. 3 column. Granted, Carson's job is to come up with stats for use on the broadcasts that can be easily understood by the hackers and dilettantes who do not pack the gear between the ears to serve in our beloved corps of Jays geeks, but this was a bit much.

Carson, believe it or not, cited batting averages -- in 2007, seriously? -- to claim McDonald was the equivalent of past Gold Glove shortstops Mark Belanger or Ozzie Smith at the plate:

"Now, I also realize that Johnny Mac isn't the most complete shortstop in the game. Offensively, he's a 9th place hitter with a career .240 stick in an era where offense is considered a premium. But the great Ozzie Smith, another shortstop who made the spectacular seem routine, won 13th straight Gold Gloves between 1980 and 1992 with a career average of just .262. And Baltimore's Mark Belanger, an 8-time winner in the 70's, hit just .228 over his 18-season career, so clearly hitting hasn't been a factor in the past. And nor should it this season."

Comparing career averages between someone whose career the Second Dead Ball Era of the late '60s and the '70s and a contemporary player is just truth-minus-facts. In 1976, for instance, Belanger hit .270 with one homer and 40 RBI. Sounds like McDonald's numbers, right?

Wrong. In the Bicentennial year, that actually made him a league-average hitter. (McDonald is about 40 per cent worse than league average.) Belanger even hit in the 2-hole a bit and had a .410 on-base percentage in that capacity. Some fans were almost ready to riot the one time Gibbons batted McDonald second.

Five years earlier, 1971, Belanger led AL shortstops with a robust .365 OBP (seven of the other 11 regulars in the league were below .300.) Somehow, though, in Sportsnet Bizarro World where the Buffalo News' word is ex cathedra, Belanger was the same hitter as John McDonald and his .276 OBP in 2007.

The same pretty much goes for Ozzie Smith. The Wizard of Oz eventually got good enough to be a 2-hole hitter on a pennant winner (the '87 Cardinals) and recorded OBPs as high as .380 and .392, plus he had an 80% success rate stealing bases. It's just an insult to readers' intelligence to say McDonald even compares.

As for the fielding argument, this is the definition of being right while still getting it upside-down and backwards:

I'm going to statistically show that McDonald is the most "superior fielder" at his position. Errors made: McDonald (5), Cabrera (9), Jeter (16). But more importantly, total chances per 9 innings, which shows how many balls a
shortstop handles during a game: McDonald (5.22), Cabrera (4.47), Jeter (4.25).
I rest my case.
Neither of those shows anything; on a per-inning rate, Cabrera's committed fewer errors than McDonald (10 in 1,193 innings to McDonald's seven in 789). Even baseball people are past citing errors — A's manager Bob Geren told the L.A. Times , "Errors should not be the criteria. Fielding percentage is one of the worst averages there is. It doesn't tell you anything about range, positioning." By the way, Geren pumped up Sir John J., and he did it for the right reasons.

So Carson's using a criteria discredited by people in the game and outsider statheads. A better way to show who's "most superior" is noting that McDonald does lead AL shortstops in Revised Zone Rating, with a paper-thin edge over the Royals' Tony Pena. On a per-inning rate, he's right up there when it comes to making plays out of his area. Again, though, the rates would be lower if he had played more.

Error totals are completely subjective. How many balls a guy handles during a game doesn't make anyone the best shortstop any more than how often I handle my own balls makes me Ron Jeremy. McDonald's been very good, he's a treat to watch, but the poor use of stats to try to argue he's a real hitter and the bogus fielding arguments is more annoying than about half the beer commercials currently on TV.

(Oh, and the Jays want to give him $2 million next season.)

1 comment:

Pete Toms said...

I was watching last nite ( moreso because the Tigers are the last team in the AL with a shot at catchin the Yanks )and was as surprised as anyone to see Jansenn in the game in that situation, but having said that...does it matter?

I held a glimmer of hope up until Gm 2 of the D Rays series that the Jays could close to a handful of games of the WC. Since that game,
I have no hope and little interest in the Jays fortunes from here on out. As you said recently, it doesn't matter if the Jays win 83 or 84 games ( in retrospect were you too optimistic?). The Jays will play out September just like all the other teams that have no hope. It's September, watch the games, read the boxscores, there's a lot of regulars sitting and 4A guys playing....it happens every year.

Want to rant about Johnny Mac?