Monday, July 7, 2014

Waking up to the Dodgers in first place

There's a reason major league baseball seasons are 162 games and not 62 games. Sixty two games are not enough for skill to dominate luck in the results. Just as a poker hand is largely luck, so is a baseball game. But if you play enough of either, it'll be clear who's got more skill.

I took a look at the skill of each player on each roster and concluded the Dodgers ought to run away with the division. The Giants started off winning way more games at a way faster rate than I thought they would, the Dodgers way slower. But lately, talent has been shining through.

The Dodgers have more top end talent and more depth. Depth is important for two reasons. First, you never know who's going to overperform or underperform expectations, but if you have several guys that can carry a team, one or another probably will (Adrian Gonzalez slumps but Yasiel Puig is hot). Second, injuries happen. How the roster can reconfigure around an injury is critical (Carl Crawford is out but they still have four solid outfielders).

Do I still feel like the Dodgers will coast into the playoffs? Well, I thought the Dodgers had the talent to be a 98-win team, and the Giants an 83-win team. According to the individual achievements of the players so far, the Dodgers are on pace to be a 92-win team and the Giants a 81-win team. BUT, because of luck, timing and other things that are not likely to continue, the Dodgers and Giants have won about the same number of games, both on a 90-win pace. I was probably a bit ambitious with my Dodgers predictions, but right on with my Giants ones. The Giants are not very good. To be a good baseball team, you need many good and very good baseball players, and the Giants just don't have that. Given what's already in the books for this season so far, mix that with the talent-levels going forward (of course we have yet to see what the trade deadline brings) and we see the Dodgers finishing with maybe 92 wins, and the Giants 85.

Here's a helfpul talent visualization. The horizontal axis is each player's projected (by me) WAR. The vertical axis is the average of the FanGraphs and baseball-reference WAR achieved to date, scaled to a full season. Click to see it at a larger scale. The blue names are Dodgers hitters, the red names Dodger pitchers. The orange names are Giants hitters, the black names Giants pitchers. You can see who has over and underachieved (underachievement comes in some cases from time missed due to injury, and you wouldn't expect the same people to be injured in the second half of course).  By the way, "Staff" is the WAR due to pitcher hitting (it counts, and both teams are relatively good at it).

What you see in this graph is a lot of blue and red on the upper right. It looks like the teams have a comparable number of mid-range players but remember those are the Giants best players but the Dodgers second-tier players. At the worst end, the Dodgers have guys they can cut like Paul Maholm & Chris Perez. They can at least get replacement-level guys in there to replace them! While the Giants have Matt Cain & Sergio Romo that are not going anywhere. Matt Kemp is also a sore spot for the Dodgers because his defense has been unfathomably bad, but it's reasonable to think he'll improve all the way up to just 'bad' so his valuable offense can continue to play.

So bottom line, I'm feeling pretty good about the projections and about the Dodgers. Most of the misses in individual projection are due to playing time, with a few surprises nobody could see coming. And in the aggregate, the projections are pretty on. The Dodgers meanwhile continue to look substantially stronger than the Giants and that ought to play out over the next 75 games.

Photo credit: File photo

1 comment:

  1. Dodgers should go ahead an unload Kemp just so they can finally give Joc Pederson his due in CF. Like the Ethier/Van Slyke platoon in a short-term capacity, but down the stretch I'd rather have a REAL CF out there running down balls hit in the gaps with younger legs for once. Matter of fact, Dodgers should give one of these AL contenders a call and see what they're willing to offer for Hanley Ramirez. Hanley can still produce in the middle of the order and remains the kind of hitter that pitchers tend to give a 1B pass to, but his days as an everyday SS are pretty much numbered. DH (and the occasional start at 3B) seem to be his most likely future at this point. Besides, Dodgers have younger, better defensive options to go with like Erisbel Arruebarrena and Miguel Rojas as well as a solid offensive one in Alex Guerrero (now that Dee Gordon has locked up 2B once and for all). If the Dodgers ship those two guys out, their chances of reaching the postseason and even the WS increase almost exponentially. Hope Ned and Stan are weighing this possibility very carefully as the trade deadline looms ever closer...