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July 21, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

You don't win pennants beating teams 9-8. You hear Michael Kay say that all the time.

It's true, you know. If you averaged 9 runs a game scored and 8 runs allowed, you'd only win about 90 games, which is pretty good, but won't win a lot of pennants. Of course, no team in history has ever scored 9 runs a game, or allowed 8 runs a game, but you get the point. If you want to win championships, you build around pitching and defense. Everyone knows that.

One problem, though. It's not true.

Oh, I'm not saying that you can win with great offense and no pitching--you can't. But you can't do it the other way, either. You need to have some of both.

Ahh, but surely, pitching is more important, right? Nope. The average World Series winning team scored 13% more runs than their league, and allowed 13% fewer. Pitching and offense are equally important. Jim Kaat almost gets this, saying that OBP and offense have value, but you need the pitching. Still he does overvalue pitching's importance. But not as much as Kay. He thinks that the Blue Jays, Red Sox and A's have screwed up big time with their focus on On-Base Percentage. He fails to see the forest for the trees.

The Rangers screwed up. They put together a fantastic offensive team, but they paid a premium for their stars, and now have half a team, with a $100 million payroll. They're screwed, until they can develop some pitching, and get out from under some of the more foolish contracts (not A-Rod's). The Sabermetric Trinity however (Beane, Riccardi and Epstein), can see the inefficiencies in the market. And they see that the most valuable offensive statistic of all, OBP, is one of the most undervalued. And so like an antiques expert at a rummage sale, they grab valuable parts that nobody else notices, and thrive. Cheaply. The Blue Jays have put together a great offensive team for less than half the price of the Rangers, and a third the price of the Yankees. And while Carlos Delgado is a vital part of that offense, without him the Blue Jays would still have a good hitting team--and be paying less than $35 million for it. That gives them a great deal of flexibility in the future; they can afford to keep a star player, they can afford to go out and get pitching help. They are not handcuffed; OBP has set them free.

The Jays crushed the Yankees tonight in a game that ended, mercifully, early. With Halladay going against Pettitte tomorrow, and the Red Sox facing the Tigers yet again, it seems likely that the Yankees' lead will be back down to two on Wednesday. But then, it seemed that they would be tied going into the break, so I won't assume anything.

I don't know what to make of Jeff Weaver anymore. Sometimes he's great, sometimes he's awful. This year, it's been mostly the awful part. Should the Yankees bring Claussen back and throw him in the rotation? I don't think so, he's still recovering from Tommy John Sugery, and I don't want to risk it. Going out and getting another starter isn't an option, nor is putting Hitchcock in there. Contreras is coming back slowly, and probably won't be available until mid-August. Leaving Weaver in the rotation isn't going to kill the Yankees, but the study by Tom Tippett that came out today diminishing the importance of DIPS gives me less hope that he'll turn it around (his DIPS ERA is around 4.00 the past three years, 4.11 this year). I think that there are some flaws in Tippett's conclusions, but I'll leave it to the experts to figure that stuff out.