Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Ghost of Roberto Alomar

This season marks five years since the Mets acquired Roberto Alomar as part of an ill-fated attempt to revamp what had been the lowest-scoring lineup in the major leagues in 2001. Alomar was part of an offseason that saw the Mets try to build around Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz and Roger Cedeno. While the other three carried spotty track records and injury concerns, Alomar was the safe bet out of the bunch. Alomar came to New York with 12 consecutive All-Star appearances, a three-year run in Cleveland where he finished in the top five in the MVP voting twice, and sporting a career line of .306/.378/.455, not unlike another New York middle infielder.

Then poof.

Alomar’s first year with the Mets, at the age of 34, saw him put up a line of .266/.331/.376, boosted by a glimmer of false hope in July. The All-Star Roberto Alomar was gone forever.

This year, a few October hopefuls have been dealing with atrocious starts from players they’re counting on as much as the 2002 Mets were counting on Alomar. If you had suggested after Alomar’s April 2002 line of .267/.325/.390 that he was done, it would have seemed insane. At this point sample size warnings are in full effect, but that doesn’t mean we have to swallow our local color commentator’s rosy “you know at the end of the year he’ll have his numbers” prognostications. With that in mind, let’s remember the Alomar and look at three key players, all over the age of 30, for teams that entered the season with better chances at October than the 2002 Mets.

Below the players’ names are their career AVG/OBP/SLG and 2007 numbers, including their PECOTA collapse rate, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus 2007.

Carlos Delgado, 35
Career: .281/.389/.553
2007: .196/.284/.265 Collapse: 45%

Delgado threw a scare into Mets fans last season when he essentially went 0 for May. He rebounded to have a strong second half and left fans with a .351/.442/.757 postseason to savor over the winter. This season, the ball has not jumped off his bat at all as he’s struggled to slug his weight. Worse, he’s looked downright old—on a team that has Julio Franco, no less. As the Mets wait for David Wright’s power to return, they’re going to need Delgado to bounce back once Shawn Green comes back to Earth and Moises Alou takes a month off for a Hamptons summer.

Paul Konerko, 31
Career: .282/.352/.494
2007: .202/.294/.383 Collapse: 35%

The good news for White Sox fans is that they’ve been here before. In 2003, at the age of 27, Konerko put up a putrid .234/.305/.399 line. It was suggested in some sabermetric circles that he was a hitter with “old player skills,” whose peak may have come and gone. Konerko responded by belting 116 home runs over the next three seasons. The White Sox are Jim Thome’s rate stats and Mark Buehrle’s contract push away from battling the Royals rather than being contenders in a stacked AL Central. They need Konerko to start hitting enough for us to take a good look at Jermaine Dye’s similar but lesser struggles.

Manny Ramirez, 35
Career: .313/.410/.596
2007: .227/.330/.330 Collapse: 41%

Ramirez’ slow start has been overshadowed by the fact that they’re in first place. Helped by All-Star level starting pitching from two guys who didn’t require a posting fee, and the Yankees only being up to plague seven, they’ve been able to open up a comfortable lead on their hated rivals. Eventually the Yankees will start playing up to their underlying metrics, and the Red Sox won’t be able to carry a shell of Manny, especially while J.D. Drew is enjoying rush festivities at the Abreu Sigma Giles fraternity of stathead darlings who lose their power. A winning streak from the Bronx Bombers will have the Boston media clamoring for “Manny being Manny” to come back and replace “Manny being Robby.”

I’m not suggesting that any, let alone all three, of these guys are done. But one of my favorite things about PECOTA is the distribution for the results of its forecasts (75% of players reaching their 25th percentile, 10% reaching their 90th percentile, etc.). All three of these guys came into the season sporting collapse rates over 35%. That doesn’t necessarily mean that one out of these three will collapse. But given the awful starts and the collapse rates, it’s fun to guess who might pull a Robby.

Of the three, I’ll go with Konerko, based on 2003 and his inferior track record.

Anyone else care to hazard a guess?

(ed. note: Stats are as of the beginning of play on Thursday. Nice game, Manny.)

Baseball Tonight: Artificial Debate Central?

Have the producers of Baseball Tonight told their analysts to disagree with each other no matter what the issue?

The other night, John Kruk and Steve Phillips were asked to name their player of the month for April. Phillips chose A-Rod, but Kruk chose Vladimir Guerrero because he didn’t want to pick the obvious choice.

(That argument got overshadowed by the surreal debate over the Indians sending Fausto Carmona down to the minors. When Phillips (pro) asked Kruk (con) how he would feel if returning from injury he lost his job to someone with a couple of good games, all Kruk could do was huff. The hard feelings were palpable the rest of the night.)

Wednesday night, apparently it was Kruk’s turn to be reasonable. Kruk and Fernando Vina—who sometimes looks at the camera as if it’s Albert Belle’s forearm coming at him all over again—were asked to rank their top three aces in baseball, setting aside salary. Kruk chose Santana, Halladay and Oswalt. Vina chose Colon, Willis and Beckett. He was being serious. Apparently, it’s not a fireable offense for a retired second baseman to think Johan Santana isn’t one of the three best pitchers in baseball, but it would be if he consoled Santana with a hug.

I know it would be boring if they just sat around agreeing with each other, but rather than disagreeing over something that should be obvious, wouldn’t the producers be better served to scrap the segment in favor of something truly divisive?

I can’t wait to see what happens when the Indians recall Carmona.