Posted by: dodgrblu | August 24, 2010

Do You Believe in Miracles?

"EVERYBODY SCORES!"

The month of August marks a series of anniversaries for the Seattle Mariners. It was 15 years ago this month that they came from as far as 13 games behind the California Angels (on August 2, 1995) to win the American League West for the first time in team history.

This date in 1995, August 24, was especially significant, as it marks the day the team really took off. On August 24, the Mariners were 11.5 games back of the division-leading Angels. From August 24 through September 6, the Mariners went an anemic 7-5. Yet they picked up six games on the Angels in that period. From August 24 on, the Mariners went 25-11; the Angels were 12-23 over the same time. The Mariners finished the 1995 season with a record of 79-66, 13 games over .500.

I witnessed the Mariners’ historic 1995 run. I attended a lot of games in 1995. I no longer recall exactly how many, but by the time the ALCS was done, it was somewhere north of 40 games. Back in those days, tickets were cheap: I could actually afford to go to 40-50 games a year. I was finishing my master’s thesis that summer: taking myself out to the ballgame was my reward for writing (that and going on the infamous Friday last-tour-of the-day at Redhook). I can’t tell you how many pages of my thesis were written in the third deck of the Kingdome. Ah, memories…

But I digress.

There were multiple factors at work in August and September of 1995. The Mariners not only went on a run of historic proportions, but equally as important, the Angels suffered a collapse of epic proportions. Moreover, folks in Seattle have forgotten about the Texas Rangers: on August 24, 1995, the Rangers (58-51) were also ahead of the Mariners. If not for the Rangers’ late-season fade, they could have been the beneficiaries of the Angels’ collapse.

If any one of these factors went the other way, would there still be baseball in Seattle? Would we have celebrated the 11th anniversary of Safeco Field earlier this summer? Highly doubtful.

And now I return you to 2010. Ugh….

Sadly, on August 24, 2010, the Mariners are 49-76, 21.5 games behind the West-leading Texas Rangers. I will go out on a limb and say their season is over. It would take a run the likes of which has never been seen in major league baseball, and three teams would have to collapse simultaneously, for the Mariners to win the division. (And don’t even think about the Wild Card: they are 28 games back, behind literally everybody in the American League except the Orioles.) It’s not going to happen.

At the risk of being called a hater, I will state once and for all that it really is over for the Mets and Dodgers, too. (You may recall that I’ve previously declared the Dodgers dead.)

The Mets are not only 10.5 games behind Atlanta but also trail the surging Phillies. And whoever doesn’t win the NL East may not even win the wild card, as the Giants and Cardinals are also in that race. As much as I want the Mets to still be in it, they are not.

The Dodgers are in a similar situation, trailing the Padres by 12 games, with the Giants and the Rockies also in front of them. Again, too many teams in the mix for the Wild Card to be a possibility.

Yet there are apparently bloggers who think the Dodgers “still have a shot.”

On Saturday morning, I started seeing some odd tweets. They were odd because the source was saying things that were out of character. Suspecting alien abduction, I had to figure out what had happened. And that’s how I found the latest entry in the MLB.com blog, “Sarah’s Take.”

I admit that, though I was aware of this blog, it’s not one I usually read. Sarah is of course, entitled to her “take,” as are we all. A number of things in this post had my eyes rolling, but I don’t want to get mean. (The tweets I saw were quotes from the blog entry.)

The thing is, if you’re going to make a claim like “the Dodgers still have a shot,” you probably should be ready to back it up with something besides, “hey, it has happened before!” and “the Padres are young.” You might start by addressing the fact that the Giants and Rockies are also ahead of the Dodgers.

Putting my money where my mouth is, here’s the most basic reason why I say the Dodgers do not have a shot of making a run in 2010:

Run differential. (Let’s save some characters from here on and call it DIFF.)

(No, I’m not going all “Stathead” on you. Sabermetrics are fascinating, but I’m not good enough at math to be a stathead. Not “buying lottery tickets” bad-at-math, mind you, but math is not my strong suit. I’ve got other reasons I believe the Dodgers are out of it besides DIFF, but this is what I’m going with.)

DIFF is a very basic stat, and historically it has been a pretty good predictor. Since 2002, no American League teams and only two National League teams (2005 Padres and 2007 Diamondbacks) have had negative DIFFs and qualified for the postseason. It’s also very easy to calculate: it’s how many runs your team scores minus how many runs your opponents score against you. If your team is winning its games by a large margin, their DIFF is high.

DIFF is imperfect: you can have a negative run differential but have a record significantly better than expected. This happens when you’re winning a lot of one-run games. This happened to the Mariners in 2007 (-19) and 2009 (-52). In those years the M’s exceeded expectations by winning 88 games and 85 games respectively. But eventually a negative DIFF tends to catch up with you–for example, the Mariners in 2008 (61-101) and 2010.

But, as I said, DIFF is a good predictor. Here are the run differentials for the teams who made the post season in 2009:

Yankees (AL East) +162
Twins (AL Central) +52
Angels (AL West) +122
Red Sox (AL WC) +136
Phillies (NL East) +111
Cardinals (NL Central) +90
Dodgers (NL West) +169
Rockies (NL WC) +89

Now, here are the run differentials for the teams currently leading their divisions (and the wild card) as of August 24, 2010:

Yankees (AL East) +167
Twins (AL Central) +98
Rangers (AL West) +91
Rays (AL WC) +146
Braves (NL East) +117
Reds (NL Central) +90
Padres (NL West) +123
Phillies (NL WC) +70

Compare this with the Dodgers’ DIFF, through tonight’s game, of +5. Okay, it’s not a negative number. But also note that the teams between the Dodgers and the Padres–the Giants and Rockies–have DIFFs of +68 and +33.

[Going back to the 1995 Mariners. Their DIFF for the full season of 1995 was +88 (April-August: +43, September-October: +45).]

Does it look to you like the Dodgers really still have a shot?

But what’s wrong with having a positive outlook? What’s so wrong with Sarah saying that the Dodgers are still in it? “Ms. Vamp, why must you be sooooo negative?”

The problem is not with Sarah or any fan having a positive outlook: the problem is when the Dodgers’ front office has an unrealistic view of the team’s situation. In a perfect world, they would have recognized before July 31 that it was over for them, and not traded away youth for age–e.g, not traded Blake Dewitt for Ryan “TOOTBLAN” Theriot, and James McDonald and Andrew Lambo for Octavio “Don’t Ask” Dotel.

It’s too late for general manager Ned Colletti and the Dodgers to undo the deals that preceded the July 31 deadline.

But it’s not too late to deal some of the players who will be free agents at the end of the year and who might have value to other teams who are still in the hunt. They should start by “flipping” Ted Lilly and shipping out Manny Ramirez and Hiroki Kuroda. As good as Lilly has been for the Dodgers, it would be difficult with the way waiver deals work to get as much for Ted Lilly as they gave up a month ago. But they might get something decent back. It’s doubtful that anyone will give up a prospect for Manny, but they could save approximately $3 million in salary. And, given A.J. Burnett’s inconsistency and Andy Pettitte’s injury, it’s probable that the Yankees would have some interest in Kuroda (and sending him to the Yankees now wouldn’t preclude the Dodgers re-signing him in the off-season).

Any prospects that the Dodgers could net right now would help rebuild the very thin farm system and could help them in the future.

Unfortunately, I don’t own the Dodgers, and I don’t get a say in how they’re run. (If I did, watch out NL West, watch out world!) And I’m afraid that the front office doesn’t see that they’re out of it this year. Claiming Rod Barajas off waivers last Sunday implies that they might think they still have a chance. I can only sit around and hope that Ned Colletti et al come to their senses in the next week, acknowledge that 2010 is over, and do what they can to build for the future.

As always, I invite the Dodgers (or the Mets, for that matter) to PROVE ME WRONG. I’d love nothing more.

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