Johnson vs. Jimenez, and other thoughts

We're going to be taking a break from our regular programming today (i.e. the A Look to the Future: Your 2013 _______ Series) to take a look at some noteworthy occurrences around the league. Alas, I plan to hop right back on the Future wagon tomorrow with my next scheduled team: the Cleveland Indians.

- Josh Johnson has the same ERA as Ubaldo Jimemez

It's time to temper our excitement with Ubaldo: despite being 4-0 in his last five starts, he's put up a 4.41 ERA along with a 32/14 K/BB, 4 home runs allowed and more fly balls than grounders in 32.2 innings covering that span. He gave up 1 home run in his first 11 starts.

Meanwhile over in Florida, Josh Johnson has finally caught up to Jimenez in terms of ERA, and his June 26 start against the Padres was the first time that he gave up more than one run in a start (he gave up two) since May 8. 

So now it's time to beg the question, "How is Jimenez remotely better than Johnson?"

ERA? They're tied. FIP? Johnson, 2.47 to 3.07. xFIP? Johnson, 3.16 to 3.68. tERA? Johnson, 2.58 to 3.01.

What about the components? Strikeout rate? Johnson, 8.92 to 8.12. Walk rate? Johnson, 2.25 to 3.19. Whiff rate? Johnson, easily, 11.9% to 8.7%. Contact rate? Johnson, easily again, 73.9% to 78.9%. Groundball rate? Okay, it's Jimemez, but the margin is just 51.7% to 48.0%. 

Unless you rate pitchers solely by fastball velocity and groundball rate, ignoring everything else, such as allowing runs and stuff, I don't see how Josh Johnson isn't a better pitcher than Ubaldo Jimenez right now.

- The Chicago center fielders

I've covered this before, but the crazy thing is that nothing has really changed: Alex Rios and Marlon Byrd continue to be two of the game's most effective center fielders in 2010. They're currently first and second, respectively, in WAR among the game's center fielders, with each player combining an impressive offensive effort with quality defensive work.

Rios has been a godsend to the White Sox's offense this season, putting up a .307/.363/.522 line (.386 wOBA) in what's been one of the most noteworthy comeback seasons in baseball. Oh, and he's thriving in the field (+5 UZR, +6 DRS) and on the bases (21 steals) as well. He'll probably slow down from here, but ZiPS projects him to finish with 37 doubles, 24 homers and 36 steals in 627 PA, and I'm guessing that Kenny Williams can breathe a little easier after it looked like he made a huge mistake claiming Rios off waivers last August.

Byrd has been almost equally as impressive for the Cubs; he can't match Rios' offensive numbers but he closes the gap with superior defensive marks, as his 3.0 WAR is only a run behind Rios' 3.1 mark. Byrd has been a doubles machine so far, with 25 on the season already, and he's not getting all that lucky, his .329 BABIP isn't that far off from his .323 career BABIP. ZiPS essentially projects him to hold steady, with a .360 wOBA for the rest of the season compared to his .365 wOBA to this moment. The Cubs have shown an impressive propensity to waste money, but they may have gotten a bargain in Marlon Byrd.

- Toronto's power explosion...    and the lack of results.

I was going to include Vernon Wells, and then I remembered Jose Bautista, and then I remembered Alex Gonzalez. And then I thought, "Hey, John Buck is having quite the season, too."

So I just decided to go with Toronto's entire offense, which currently leads all of baseball in home runs and isolated power, along with being second in doubles. Despite this, they're essentially a middle-of-the-pack offense due to the AL's worst batting average and on-base percentage, the league's highest strikeout rate, and the lowest BABIP in baseball. But it's not like they've been particularly lucky; their RAA is -3 on the season. They're just an offense that's absolutely loaded with power, but not a whole lot else in terms of plate discipline or hitting ability. They won't hit it particularly often, but when they do, they'll hit it particularly far. Just check out this lineup:

Bautista: .299 isolated power, .229 batting average, .223 BABIP

Wells: .277 isolated power, .280 batting average, .274 BABIP

Encarnacion: .267 isolated power, .200 batting average, .167 BABIP

Buck: .249 isolated power, .263 batting average, .309 BABIP

Snider: .241 isolated power, .241 batting average, .272 BABIP

Gonzalez: .226 isolated power, .264 batting average, .285 BABIP

Hill: .172 isolated power, .191 batting average, .185 BABIP

McDonald: .182 isolated power, .218 batting average, .244 BABIP

The only guys with consistent playing that time that don't have a high isolated power along with low BA/BABIP marks are Fred Lewis, Adam Lind, Jose Molina and Lyle Overbay.

Why is this noteworthy? Because teams that hit for that kind of power are almost always among the best offenses in baseball. Remember that Toronto's RAA is -3? Well look at the RAA's for the next five teams after them on the isolated power list: +86, +40, +18, +48, +63. Of the 15 teams with an ISO of .145 or better, only 3 of them (the Jays, White Sox and Angels) have a below average RAA mark.

We're seeing a truly rare combination of impressive power and mediocre results. 

- It's been sort of a rough year for premium position players

Check out the position-by-position WAR leaders:

C: Brian McCann - 2.4 WAR

1B: Justin Morneau - 4.8 WAR

2B: Robinson Cano - 4.6 WAR

3B: David Wright/Adrian Beltre - 3.7 WAR

SS: Troy Tulowitzki - 2.6 WAR

LF: Carl Crawford - 4.1 WAR

CF: Alex Rios - 3.1 WAR

RF: Ichiro Suzuki - 3.1 WAR

Those are some pretty weak showings from the league's shortstops, catchers and center fielders, no? 

The most valuable catcher/shortstop in baseball right now is Troy Tulowitzki, who hasn't even played in a while, and he's 28th in baseball in WAR. Last year's highest ranked catcher/shortstop? Joe Mauer at No. 3. How about 2008? Hanley Ramirez at No. 5. 2007? Jorge Posada and Jimmy Rollins went No. 11 and No. 12. 2006? Jeter went No. 8. We haven't seen this lack of elite-level performance from shortstops and catchers since at least 2005, I would argue.

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