Friday, February 1, 2008

AL Central vs. NL East: How will the move to a new division affect Johan Santana

Mike Bock of the blog Fantasy Hurler had a post on Wednesday analyzing how the move to the NL should affect Johan Santana's production in 2008. You can read that post here.

I agree with him on a few points (there is more offense to be found in the AL than in the NL, the move solidifies Santana's spot in the first round), but I felt that we shouldn't overrate the impact pitching in the NL East as opposed to the AL Central will have on his season. I looked at the two divisions and found them to be fairly comparable in offensive production in 2007. Here is the response to Mike's column that I posted in the comments thread.

"I agree that the offenses in the NL are inferior to the AL, but I don't think we should overestimate is move to the NL East.

Anyways, if you compare the offenses in the NL East and the AL Central from 2007, excluding the Mets and the Twins, to two divisions are actually pretty comparable. Below are each team's runs and OPS totals from 2007, with their league rankings in parentheses.

NL East
PHI - 892 (2)
ATL - 810 (9)
FLA - 790 (13)
WAS - 673 (30)

AL Central
DET - 887 (3)
CLE - 811 (8)
KC - 706 (27)
CWS - 693 (28)

NL East
PHI - .812 (2)
FLA - .784 (7)
ATL - .774 (9)
WAS - .715 (28)

AL Central
DET - .802 (4)
CLE - .771 (11)
CWS - .722 (26)
KC - .710 (29)

Now obviously FLA won't have such good offensive totals in 2008 due to the loss of Miguel Cabrera, so we could drop them down to a little below average, and we can raise Detroit a little higher due to adding Cabrera. PHI should be an elite offense again in 2008. ATL has lost Andruw Jones, who had a poor year anyways, but they will now have a full season of Mark Teixeira, so mark a little bit of a gain for ATL. CLE will have better numbers if Hafner has a normal year. The White Sox added Nick Swisher, but that won't make them more than an average offense at best. WAS moves to a more hitter friendly home park in 2008, so that should help a little bit. KC should still be awful in 2008.

As far as park factor goes, MIN was actually a better pitchers' park in 2007 than NY, according to the run-scoring park factors on ESPN. MIN actually hasn't had hitter friendly park factor numbers since 2005.In all, I agree there are some great offenses in the AL Central, but top to bottom, they are only a little better than the ones in the NL East. Santana should be the best pitcher in 2008 and he'll love getting to face the pitcher, but we shouldn't overrate the affect moving to his new division will have if we are comparing offenses."

Mike responded to my comments in a new post yesterday. I've pasted the section of his post that directly dealt with my comments.

"AL Superiority a Mirage?

I love hearing from readers! Ben Westrup, of the awesomely titled I Hate Matt Berry blog, has offered a lengthy explanation as to why I've overrated Johan's move from the AL Central to the NL East. To wit, comparative run production and OPS numbers are either insignificantly different, or slightly in the NL East's favor.

Anecdotally, it seems that many pitchers get hammered moving from the NL to the AL (Schilling, Johnson, etc.). Could that be a mirage?

Let's look at the likely 3-4-5 hitters of the respective teams:

Detroit: M. Cabrera, Sheffield, M. Ordonez
Minnesota: Mauer, Morneau, Delmon Young
Cleveland: Sizemore (he should be), Hafner, V. Martinez,
White Sox: Thome, Konerko, Swisher
Kansas City: Teahen, Sweeney, Gordon? (you've got me here)

Washington: Zimmerman, Dmitri Young, Austin Kearns? (*vomit*)
Florida: Willingham, Hermida?, Jacobs?
Mets: Wright, Delgado, Beltran (Johan won't face this bunch!)
Braves: C. Jones, M. Teixeira, McCann
Phillies: Howard, Utley, Burrell

Notice a pattern?

Two of the four teams that Johan will be frequently taking the mound against next year have hitters in the heart of their order who might not crack Detroit's starting lineup. Instead of Cleveland and Detroit, he gets Florida and Washington. Additionally, the best of Johan's adversaries in the NL East (Howard, Teixeira, Jones) are either lefties or switch hitters; he'll be facing their off-hands.

I ran the league ERA and WHIPs. They were surprisingly close, about a tenth of a run apart in ERA, and only one hundredth of a percentage apart in WHIP. Looking at these lineups, what appears to be happening is that the NL East pitchers are doing more with less talent, probably because they aren't facing hitters nearly as good as those in the AL Central. I'd say that the DH/pitcher affect is being somewhat obscured by the fact that AL Central pitchers are simply better, across the board. Which is probably reflected in the fact that six or seven AL Central SPs (if we include Santana) will be going in the first eight or nine rounds next year, and about two NL East'ers will be.

It's also worth noting that the move to the NL means that vicious AL East (4126 runs scored) has been swapped out for the paltry NL West (3731 runs scored). That's a big differential! Dividing the run differential amongst the various franchises, the AL East teams scored approximately half a run more per game than their NL West counterparts.

I hate looking at wins as a measuring stick for pitchers, but finally, consider this: New York players crossed homeplate 86 more times than Minnesotans last year. With a bit more run support, I doubt we'll see Santana with only 15 wins again this year."

Ultimately we agree that Johan Santana is the best pitcher in baseball, who should be a first round draft pick, and whose new league can only help his stats. But when I look at the AL Central, I just don't see it as being that much better than the NL East. I do think it is better, but I don't think the gap is as big as Mike does. If we discount the team that Santana is leaving and the team he is moving to, we have two poor offenses (K.C. and WAS), two elite offenses (DET and PHI), two above average offenses (CLE and ATL), one average offense (CWS) and one average-below average offense (FLA). I think, based on their production from last year and the players gained and lost, that the AL Central is only a little better than the NL East in terms of offense.

I'd love to hear if you think I'm wrong, right, or whatever.

Either way, check out the good stuff the guys at Fantasy Hurler are posting.

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