Monday, February 28, 2005

Battle royale

Everybody but Robinson's toy poodle wants a shot in the Nats pen, the WaTi reports

The article's lead states that are "a dozen pitchers are battling for perhaps one or two open spots." Those are odds only Chevy Chase's character in "Dirty Work" would love.

Translation: While a lot of these guys are fairly fungible, Robinson faces a couple of difficult choices, at least to start the season. (I know how he must feel; I faced the same choices when I started a "Dynasty" on MVP 2005 this weekend.)

This article also demonstrates---and please don't take this as a pro-Post, anti-Times slam---that Barry Svrluga is a vastly superior writer to anything the Times has (in this case, Ken Wright). Remember how well Svrluga handled the inevitable "Castilla/Coors Field" article---including not only Castilla's thoughts; not only Robinson's; not only Bowden's; not only the oft-cited "21 road homers, 14 homers at Coors" 2004 statistic; but also provided some home/road context throughout Castilla's career? (By comparison, the Times writer merely averaged all of Castilla's seasons from 1995-2004.)

Well, in today's article, Wright repeats the litany of relievers' numbers from 2004. You know: They started off 1-14, but they went 26-15 the rest of the way. In addition:

Despite last year's disastrous start, the Expos' bullpen finished with a 4.00 ERA.

Yes, but what does this mean? Where is the context?

It means, if you refer to the NL's end-of-season stats almanac provided to periodicals like the Times, or even if you go to a website that has league-wide and team-by-team stats splits (like, that Montreal's relievers actually finished better than the league average in ERA.

Of course, ERA will only tell you so much; then again, why even focus on the won/lost records of relievers? I thought it was pretty well understood a decade ago that relief won/lost records are variable enough not to inform us much of substance. The article, for instance, jokes that there's no "Mariano Rivera" in the Nats bullpen. That's correct. But did you know that of the ten "most similar" pitchers to Rivera (scroll to bottom)---Rivera is rather unique, but these are excellent relievers, all---all of them have/had career records below, at, or just barely above .500? As Paul Harvey would say, iiiiiit's true. (Of course, Rivera is a superior pitcher, I think; on the other hand, none of those other guys---save Wetteland, for one season---pitched for the latest "dynasty-era" Yankees.)

Anyway, let's wrap up this section with a two-word benediction: Rocky Biddle.

---Antonio Osuna-or-late-ah*, speaking of the bullpen, arrived at camp. He had been tending to his 70 year-old father, who has cancer. Best wishes to Mr. Osuna.

* With apologies to Chris Berman, Al Osuna (the original inspiration, I believe, for Berman's nickname), and you the readers for enduring such a lame Berman-nickname reference.

You're 100% correct on the Barry versus the Times angle. The Times has definitely had some doozies over the last few weeks. The Castilla article was the perfect example.

I'm amazed at how quickly some of these basic concepts have started to catch on over the last few years.

Yet, I'm also amazed at how many fossils are unwilling or unable to change too.
Well put, Chris.

What's funnier still is, thinking back to the Times' article on Castilla, when the writers insinuate their own thinking for the managers'. I mean, did Robinson actually say, "You know what would be great? If Castilla just average the last ten years of his career."

In fact, were you to give Robinson a list of possible stats for Castilla, I'm guess about .280/30/100 would be quite near the top. Just looking at Castilla's career in non-Coors years would make you think Robinson would jump for joy with that performance, even if Castilla has improved as a hitter.
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