|Thursday, October 17
Updated: October 18, 7:53 AM ET
Angels to challenge Bonds in evenly matched Series
By Rob Neyer
Barry Bonds can't win the World Series all by himself.
Even if it were possible for a player to win a World Series all by himself, Barry Bonds probably wouldn't be allowed to win the World Series all by himself. In fact, some will argue that the Angels should simply throw four pitches wide of the plate every time Bonds comes up with runners on base and first base open.
There are a couple of problems with this strategy, though:
1. Mike Scioscia doesn't like to do it, and
The Giants scored 799 runs this season, fifth-most in the National League, despite playing half their games in a pitcher's park. Does anybody think they'd have scored significantly more runs if Bonds had not drawn a gazillion walks?
You see, there's a sort of "hidden cost" to walking Bonds every time, which is that he won't make any outs when he walks. Sure, if you pitch to him he's going to kill you with his walks and his home runs and his batting average.
But mixed in with all that bad stuff will be at least a few outs. If you don't pitch to him, he's going to kill you with the walks, and there won't be any outs mixed in.
That's why managers don't just hold up four fingers every time he comes up. They might not understand the math, but they do understand that you can't just automatically award first base to anybody, even if he is the best hitter we've ever seen.
What's really surprising is what John Lackey did against left-handed hitters. Or rather, what they did not do against him. They didn't hit him. At all. Lackey's a righty, but right-handed hitters whacked him pretty good. Left-handed hitters, though, were helpless. In roughly 220 plate appearances, they managed just a .265 on-base percentage and -- even more strange -- a .239 slugging percentage against Lackey. All those plate appearances, and only one home run.
Is this an ability, or an anomaly? My guess is the latter.
Lackey has great stuff, but he doesn't throw a screwball or a Pedro-style change-up, and there's no reason to think he'll continue to fare better against left-handed hitters than against right-handed hitters. So I don't think that Barry Bonds has any particular reason to fear John Lackey.
Then again, the Giants actually did better this season against left-handed pitchers, which shouldn't be a huge surprise, considering that for most of the season, Bonds was the only decent left-handed hitter in the lineup. Everybody else -- Kent, Aurilia, Sanders, Santiago, Bell -- bats right-handed, so who knows? Maybe the Angels, with their righty-heavy rotation and bullpen, are perfectly suited to shut down the Giants, the Great Bonds notwithstanding.
But who's better?
When we evaluate quality, the first thing we always look at is wins. The Angels have the edge there, with 99 wins to the Giants' 95.
Next, we can look at runs, both scored and allowed. Again, the Angels have the edge. A team with the Angels' run differential typically wins 103 games, while a team with the Giants' run differential typically wins 99 games.
Of course, they have very few common opponents, and it's unlikely that the American League and the National League would be exactly equivalent. I believe that the National League might be just be a hair tougher, but not enough to suggest that the Giants are better than the Angels.
There's something else, though.
If the Yankees lose to the Devil Rays, do we figure the Devil Rays are the better team? If the Yankees win fewer games than the Devil Rays in, say, June -- hey, it could happen -- do we figure the Devil Rays are the better team? What about June and July?
No, no, and probably not.
Believe it or not, even that wonderful 162-game schedule doesn't tell us everything. From 1997 through 2001, the Giants averaged 90 wins per season. Over the same span, the Angels averaged 79 wins per season. Now, let me ask you something: Next March when the odds-makers finish their work, which team do you think will be favored to win more games in 2003?
I don't know for sure, either. But I'll hazard a guess and say it'll be the Giants. Now, if the Giants were better than the Angels in 2001 and they're expected to be better than the Angels in 2003, doesn't it stand to reason that they're probably better than the Angels in 2002?
I think that it does. But not by much.
And given that the best team doesn't win a high percentage of postseason series anyway ... well, I'm still picking the Giants. But I wouldn't bet more than a dollar on my "expertise," because this World Series is up for grabs even more than usual.