Let's take a look at a pair of American League East teams that might make some noise in 2006. And no, it is not the Yankees or the Red Sox. The Toronto Blue Jays are on the cusp of being a legitimate Wild Card contender this year. The only thing that keeps them from this is a truly consistent offense (and some would say having Josh Towers as a third starter doesn't help either, but he's had his uses this year). The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are the hottest team in baseball right now, and as Rich Lederer tells us, could now finish with 70 wins, even though they had the worst record in baseball not too long ago. Granted 70 wins is not something to shoot for, but the team is completely different looking in the second half (personel and results wise) than it was in the first half, when Alex Freakin' Sanchez meandered in the outfield. I would say roamed, but that sounds like moving with purpose, so meandered it is. Let's take a look at the lineups using Net Runs Above Average, and we'll experiment with a rate stat for Pitching Runs Above Replacement and Pitching Runs Above Average. This is nothing set in stone, just me messing around with it for the first time as of this writing. Since bullpens are so inconsistent from year to year, and even from month to month in some instances, I'll leave them out of the discussion entirely.
Toronto has some problems, but they have their bright spots as well. Eric Hinske is a problem. He cannot play defense and he does not hit well enough to merit owning the DH spot on this team. Frank Menechino was the best player on the entire roster according to NRAA when this year's Rate2 score was used for him (119), but his career Rate2 is 102. This year is a fluke thanks to small sample size (only a handful of games at second base) so I thought it safer to use his established level, especially since we're talking 2006. Corey Koskie cannot possibly be this bad (I hope) but it was sort of odd for the Blue Jays to invest long term in a third basemen with Aaron Hill and Russ Adams both coming up from the minors. Especially now that Koskie is back from injury, and Hill is fighting for time at shortstop and third base, even though he is clearly the best of these three players at this point.
As for the good news, Vernon Wells is the second best player on the team according to NRAA, but he should be first. His first month plus of the season was absolutely dreadful, continuing with last year's disapointing season, but he has picked it up since then:
Orlando Hudson cannot seem to hit that well, but his Rate2 of 120 places him as one of the very best defensive players in the league. Aaron Hill and Reed Johnson should get better with age, and Shea Hillenbrand is doing better than I expected him to in Toronto. The nucleas of the lineup and defense is strong, they just need J.P. Ricciardi to add a big bat in the offseason with that extra money he has been talking about all season long. When they stop wasting at bats on Corey Koskie and Eric Hinske they will be better off, even if it means eating Koskie's contract this year. Designate him for assignment if you have to and eat the money for 2005. Paying him in 2006 and beyond is not worth it when you have the young players on the left side of the diamond that you have.
As far as the starters are concerned, let's try this simple formula. (PRAA/IP)*9 = PRAA/9 IP. The same goes for PRAR. Let's take a look at the Blue Jays starters to see what we can find about them.
Roy Halladay gives the team the ace it needs to contend in the playoffs and against the big boys of the AL East, while Gustavo Chacin and the 2004 version of Ted Lilly (the one I think is real) give the team a very solid 2-3 combo. Josh Towers, as essentially a league average pitcher capable of 200 innings, is extremely helpful, and if David Bush would stop getting yanked around he might serve as a decent 5th starter for this team. David Bush is not that far below an average pitcher as you can see by his PRAA/9. Overall the Jays are very solid 1-5, and in better shape than the Yankees, Devil Rays, and Orioles, and at the moment the Red Sox. The Sox will have Jon Papelbon in the rotation next year though, with Jon Lester on the way, destroying Toronto's chances of taking over with the best rotation for the future. If the offense was more consistent I would annoint them as a better team than the Yankees with no second thoughts, but when your throwing Hinske and Koskie out there and the Yankees have stopped wasting at-bats on Womack, your not going to catch up soon enough.
I am wondering how many innings this statistic should go by. Instinctively I went with 9 like most other pitching rate stats. If anyone has suggestions feel free to chime in. I'll get to Tampa Bay tomorrow; I didn't expect to go on this long.