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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

My Penance for Being Lazy and Incurious

... is reading Sean's excellent rebuttal to my earlier post about the Angels' 2002 championship run being the result of luck. It's a good, vigorous, piece of writing. As expected, I do have some quibbles with it.
1. The team stayed healthy, except for Sele, and they had Lackey to replace him. Well, no.
Got me on that one, Sean.
2. Several players had career years, including Benji Gil and Scott Spiezio.
Two does not equal "several." More to the point, one does not equal "several." As I said before, Scott Spiezio was the only Angel to post numbers significantly above his norm in 2002. Gil, like Palmeiro and Wooten, had above-average years, but none experienced the best year of their career. The rest of the lineup either put up numbers that were very close to what they could have been expected to do, or haven't been in baseball long enough to evaluate whether their 2002 season was a statistical outlier (like Washburn and Ortiz). In a few more years, I suspect we may conclude that Adam Kennedy had a career year in 2002, but we can't tell yet, as he's still in the portion of his career where he's likely to improve. For a while, I thought that Ben Weber and/or Brendan Donnelly had also topped out in 2002, but their performances in 2003 seem to indicate that they may just be that good (I'm not completely sold on that, but that's how the evidence looks now).
I can see there's some room for semantical quibbling here -- so, fine, I'll concede that we're dealing with less-than-career years for a number of players, (update: and that "several" does not equal "two" -- so more on this in a bit) but that doesn't mean that above-average years don't qualify as luck. For starters, let's look at Gil. His career average line hitherto was .236/.289/.359; in 2002, he posted .285/.307/.431, with an OPS of .738, well over his .647 average through 2001. Maybe not the absolute best year of his career (measured by OPS for years with more than 100 AB, that was 2001), but certainly the second best, and one I don't think anyone would have predicted -- except perhaps his one fan. (What a lonely job that must be!) I have to disagree about AK -- I think he'll continue to improve (for a while, at least -- he's still in that part of his career) -- and Weber and Donnelly as well. Washburn I'll cut some slack because he was injured last year, but frankly, I want to see him do it twice. Ortiz I'm not so sure about; I think what you see with him is what you get. Both are perfumed with luck to me -- and their appearance on the 2002 DIPS dERA-ERA leaderboard lends credence to that.

Moving right along:

Regardless, the fact is that it's actually normal for any given team to have a guy or two experience the best year of his career. I mean, you've got nine guys in the lineup and five starting pitchers, plus a closer - even if you don't pay any attention to the bench or the guys in the bullpen, that's fifteen chances for a career year.
And this finally gets to the meat of the matter. The more players you have, the more that can have bad seasons. Assume the chances of any one team member having a good season are 1 in 3. The odds of any n players having simultaneous good seasons becomes vanishingly small the larger n is.

Moreover, getting back to Gil, the bench guy you lose can be a worse than the starter who goes down. If the team loses a starter due to injury, you put your bench guy in, but if you lose the bench player, you get hosed when the starter needs a day off, or worse, also goes down, because then it's time to call up a AAAA type (read: Amezega). That's why I say the team got lucky losing Sele for two reasons: first, he was having trouble that year (4.89 ERA, anyone?), and second, Lackey was ready to go and actually excelled. Who knows but that we could have gotten the 2003 Lackey in 2002?

3. Appier had his last good year. Probably true, but so what?
So what is, if Appier falls apart as in 2003, there really isn't anybody ready in the minors to take over the starter role, i.e., you need two John Lackeys when only one is ready.
4. The Angels had great pitching in the minors to draw on. See, that's just not luck at all.
It is and it isn't. See above.

After reading Sean's blog, I still think the Halos had a guardian angel on their shoulder in 2002, who promptly went on vacation in 2003. But I'll give him kudos for a great rejoinder.


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