Tuesday, July 11, 2006

All-Stars And Also-Rans

Baseball's "first half" win shares are done, and while there are a few vagaries from the interleague schedule there's more than enough data to run-down interesting achievements, and the curious divergences between conventional wisdom and reality. Here are the top ten things I learned from a quick run through of the win share standings:

1. The New Bonds.
How good is Pujols? Good enough that he led MLB with 22 win shares despite missing 17 of the Cardinals 87 games. Seven players in baseball's history have hit the 50 win share mark for a season: Pujols won't get there this year, but he will get there.

2. The Old Bonds.
Conventional wisdom: Bonds is an unproductive defensive liability who's about to be indicted. Reality: he generated 14 win shares in the first half -- the same as Alex Rodriguez, Andruw Jones and David Ortiz. How bad is Bonds's defence? About the same as David Wright's and Luis Gonzalez's. His WS Above Bench is tied for 11th in baseball. Like Haven Hamilton sang: Keep a-goin'!

3. Joltin' Joe II
Even casual baseball watchers know that Joe Mauer's season is something special. His stunning 18 win shares in the first half is fourth in baseball, and double the production of last-year's saviour, Victor Jesus Martinez. Baseball's best fielding catcher? Thirty-five year old Ivan Rodriguez. Import Kenji Johjima has powered his way into fourth-place at the position, and of late seems to have figured out how to call a better game for hot-shot Felix Hernandez.

4. Have you got the right Johnson?
"I'll take Johnson." In most fantasy drafts, the first Johnson off the board was Oakland up-and-comer Dan Johnson. Sub-Mendoza through April and May, DJ bounced back in June before relapsing. Total: 4 win shares. Meanwhile the 27-year-old Nick Johnson, a full-time worker at last, has delivered 16 win shares, good enough for third at his position and better than any AL first-bagger.

5. All glove, but no chase.
You knew Placido Polanco could field -- but have you even heard of Jamey Carroll? Colarado's 32-year-old second-baseman is second only to Mark Loretta in fielding win shares at the position. The trio's slick efforts with the glove are of no interest to Chase Utley, whose 16 win shares are miles ahead of their output.

6. Left side leaders.
Jeter and A-Rod. Tejada and Chavez. That's yesterday's news. With 17 win shares apiece, David Wright and Jose Reyes each lead their positions. Memo to Omar Minaya: if you keep your pitching house in order, this is your year.

7. His name is Bobby.
While we're sending memos, here's one to the fans who voted for the All-Star game lineups: Bobby Abreu can still hit. Snubbed by voters, Abreu's win shares are tied for second among outfielders. At the position, only Carlos Lee (16.2) has generated more production from his bat than Philadelphia's Pride (15.9), and in all of baseball, only sluggers Pujols, Berkman, Thome and Hafner ranked higher. He deserved the trip.

8. Still crazy after all these years.
Explaining his decision to sign tin-ankled slugger Frank Thomas, Billy Beane said this week that "the response might be that we shouldn't have signed him, but we wouldn't have those 18 home runs." Right again! Thomas's 7.9 win shares are fourth among DH's. Granted, he's only 4 above bench level based on his position and time played, but there are plenty of guys producing at that WSAB-level with no questions asked: Brian Roberts, Craig Biggio, Carlos Delgado, Garrett Atkins, Josh Beckett and Johnny Gomes.

9. Junior. Mint.
Let's hear it for the boys. The top of the WSAB starting pitching chart is dominated by a new generation of talent. Brandon Webb, Francisco Liriano, Chris Capuano, and Carlos Zambrano range in age from 23 to 27, and lead starters in win shares. They're followed by veterans Johan Santana and Roy Halladay, who are not much older, and then it's back to names like Arroyo, Kazmir and Verlander. The only veteran among the first-half's top-ten is Jason Schmidt. Refreshing.

10. If you've got the money, why not spend it?
BJ Ryan has been as good as promised, posting 12 win shares in the first half, 8 above bench. Same 8/4 production for $3.6 million less: Jon Papelbon. That's one expensive BJ.


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