At the original thread, johnnyangel wanted to see data comparing the Angels' playoff readiness against other contenders in the American League. Well, ask and you shall receive, both here and at Light Up That Halo!:
Closer WXRL: Todd Jones, 0.509 wins, 24th among closers
Strikeout Rate: 6.40 K/9, 19th in the majors
FRAA: 3 runs, tied for 12th in the majors
One of my good friend's favorite pastimes is poking fun at Todd Jones. With a 5.35 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP, it's easy to see why. The data clearly reflects that, as Todd Jones is in the closer cellar. Joel Zumaya would be an incredible upgrade if he were able to play Guitar Hero, but the Tigers' bullpen current, woeful state makes Jones the best option. The Tigers defense is nothing to write home about, and while everyone raves about the Tiger pitching staff, it appears that they rely more on the flyout and groundout. Bonderman and Verlander are strikeout machines, but after that the highest K/9 rate for Tiger starters is Andrew Miller and Kenny Rogers with 6.1.
What is keeping the Tigers in contention? Their offense, easily. They lead all of baseball in runs scored with 503. Whenever their pitching and defense fail to make par, their bats can bail the team out and push enough runs past the plate to win. Will this translate well in the playoffs? Not necessarily, according to Silver and Perry. No offensive categories had a particularly strong correlation with postseason success.
Closer WXRL: Joe Borowski, 1.756 wins, 15th among closers
Strikeout Rate: 6.43 K/9, 17th in the majors
FRAA: 3 runs, tied for 12th in the majors
Joe Borowski has been another closing joke. Borowski is a case-in-point for the relative uselessness of absolute statistics--while he leads the American League in saves, Borowski sports a 5.35 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP. Borowski has been clutching onto the last thread of a fraying rope, pitching just well enough to keep his job. Like the Tigers, their defense is nothing spectacular.
The Indians are eerily similar to the Tigers: all hit, average glove, (and unlike the Tigers) an average rotation (C.C. Sabathia notwithstanding) and a horrible closer. Like the Tigers, it's unclear whether that balance will translate well into October baseball.
Closer WXRL: Francisco Cordero, 1.750 wins, 16th among closers
Strikeout Rate: 7.16 K/9, 4th in the majors
FRAA: -3 runs, tied for 17th in the majors
This season's version of the Detroit Tigers have succeeded thus far using blistering bats and studs on the mound. Prince Fielder and surprise shortstop slugger J.J. Hardy highlight a pounding Brewers offense, and a rotation that includes Ben Sheets and Chris Capuano is one to be reckoned with. Francisco Cordero's relatively low WXRL is, like the other closing Francisco, a bit surprising. I'll have to look into what the deal with Cordero is.
That said, the Brewers defense ranks in the bottom half of the major leagues. Who are the culprits? Except for third base (primarily Braun and Counsell) every infield position is posting negative FRAA scores. The team's offensive stars are also their defensive weakest link, with Fielder sporting a -7 score and Hardy a -6. outfield is mostly solid except for centerfielder Bill Hall, who stumbles in with a -10 FRAA rating. Best way to beat the Brewers? Wear out their starters, and force them to throw you good pitches, preferably on the ground down the middle. If you hit a ground ball or line drive at that infield, there's a fair chance you'll still score a hit.
New York Mets
Closer WXRL: Billy Wagner, 3.043 wins, 4th among closers
Strikeout Rate: 6.77 K/9, 14th in the majors
FRAA: 25 runs, tied for 2nd in the majors
Besides the Red Sox, the Mets may be the most balanced of the contenders. Billy Wagner is nails, and the Metropolitan defense is sparkling. Fulfilling something that was much-discussed in the preseason, the Mets' pitching staff is a bit suspect. Yes, Oliver Perez and John Maine are having great years, with both striking out eight per game, but both sport low BABIP scores and large DIPS differentials, suggesting that both are due for some regression. After Maine and Perez, though, no Mets starter sports a K/9 score over 5. The reintroduction of El Duque and, later in the season, Pedro may change that.
Closer WXRL: Bob Wickman, so low I can't even find him on the charts, but 1.6 wins last year
Strikeout Rate: 6.78, 13th in the majors
FRAA: -5 runs, 18th in the majors
After looking at the data, I'm not exactly sure I've considered the Braves contenders, but perhaps I should reconsider given the mere three games that separate them from the Mets and their history. Bob Wickman's scores are awful, though that may be due to a prolonged trip to the disabled list. Atlanta's closing situation will require more reexamination later in the season. What is there to say about their pitching? Smoltz may be Smoltzy, but his spotty health along with that of Tim Hudson has decreased their staff's effectiveness. Will good health for those two hurlers improve the Braves' outlook? Maybe. Even if those two aces return to form, it remains to be seen if that awful Braves defense can stop balls from dropping in for hits.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Closer WXRL: Takasi Saito, 3.93 wins, 2nd among closers
Strikeout Rate: 7.68 K/9, 1st in the majors
FRAA: -6 runs, 19th in the majors
The story for the Dodgers begins with pitching and ends with pitching. Despite its current patchwork look, the Dodgers rotation has been nails. It says something when All-Star and possible Midsummer Classic starter Brad Penny is at the cellar of the rotation with 6.7 K/9. Likewise, the Dodger bullpen (save the middling Brett Tomko) has been excellent, especially the 8th and 9th inning combination of Broxton and Saito. Saito is currently the second most valuable closer in the major leagues. There was a lot of concern in the preseason that his deceptive delivery may no longer deceive major league hitters, but halfway through the season he continues to baffle batters.
The chink in the Blue Crew's armor is the defense. Anecdotally, I've watched a lot of Dodger games (my guilty pleasure after Angels games--nothing beats Vin Scully) where expectedly convertible outs became "and it goes under the glove of [insert name of infielder here]!" Just today, with a man on third, an easy groundout to second became an error and a run when Jeff Kent sent the ball airmail-style to James Loney. The cause of this defensive inefficacy is likely what plagued the Angels last season: musical chairs position players, especially on the corners of the infield. While Nomar came up as a slick-fielding shortstop, he's been a dud defensively, this season posting negative FRAA scores at both corner bags. His primary predecessor at third Wilsom Betemit, has been below average with the glove, and Jeff Kent may as well wear a cooking mitt on the field with a -12 FRAA. The outfield has been a bloody butcher shop, with Gonzo horrible in left and Pierre (and his oddly small head, but I'll save that for another day) below average in center. I'm unsure if this state of affairs will continue in the infield--give the Dodgers some stability (Nomah at third, Loney at first) and you may see some improvement. However, the outfield will continue to be questionable as Gonzo and Pierre figure to remain starters. Want to beat the Dodgers? Hit the ball hard at infielders not named Furcal, or hit hard, hard, hard, line drives to the outfield.
San Diego Padres
Closer WXRL: Trevor Hoffman, 2.50 wins, 5th among closers
Strikeout Rate: 6.71, 15th in the majors
FRAA: 9 runs, 9th in the majors
Once I acquire Extra Innings, Padres games will become my second guilty pleasure. No bat all arm seems to be a meme for California baseball. Like the Halos, A's, Giants, and Dodgers
the Padres sport a spotty offense. Their success has come because of their pitching, which leads the major leagues in staff ERA with 3.05. Despite that efficiency, they are square in the middle in staff K/9 rate. What gives? Ace Jake Peavy sports an insane 10.2 K/9, and recent All-Star addition Chris Young is close with 9.1 K/9. The answer is in the rest of the staff. This, combined with the fact that three of the starters (Young, Germano and Wells) do not exhibit groundball rates greater than 50%, indicates the Padre rotation is dominated by flyball pitchers. The biggest whiffer of the bullpen is Health Bell, but no other reliever strikes out more than 8 batters per nine. Trevor Hoffman isn't much of a groundballer, and given his low (for a closer) K/9 rate of 6.0, he also seems to be a bit of a flyball man. Does that really matter? No. Hoffman continues to display the artistry of changing speeds remaining effective, and by effective I mean continuing to be an elite closer.
If the Padres aren't a team that powers the ball past batters, their postseason chances may depend on the efficacy of their defense. The infield is solid aside from third base. However, given the flyball propensities of the pitching staff and the cavernous abyss that is Petco Park, this is especially true of the outfield. This may be a problem, as only Jose Cruz has been effective with the glove. Mike Cameron and half of the Brothers Giles are defensive liabilities, the former with -7 runs and the latter with -5. Padres pitchers may want to keep the ball low, or else every ball hit high into the San Diego air may be a reason to hold your breath.
For some reference, let's look at the Halos and Sox again:
Closer WXRL: Frankie Rodriguez, 2.267 wins, 7th among closers
Strikeout Rate: 7.04 K/9, 6th in the majors
FRAA: 18 runs, 6th in the majors
Boston Red Sox
Closer WXRL: Jonathan Papelbon, 3.627 wins, 3rd among closers
Strikeout Rate: 7.09 K/9, 5th in the majors
FRAA: 11 runs, tied for 7th in the majors
Paps has been lights-out as expected. The Boston pitching staff is just a hair better in K/9 than the Angels, though admittedly it would be better with a full season of Schilling and Beckett. The Sox defense is a bit less effective than the Angels', but not by much.
If I were a betting man, I would consider the Angels, Mets and Red Sox as the strong trio of the contenders. The Mets are likely the weakest of the three because of their rotation. What does this mean? If the Halos can hold off the surprisingly surging Mariners and win the Western Division, then we can be optimistic about the team's chances in the playoffs, except if the Halos have to face the Sox in the Division or League Series, or the Metropolitans in the World Series.