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The Nickel: #1

Small sample size concerns aside, it can be worthwhile to break the season down into smaller increments in order to see what's going on in the short run. This season, we will be breaking down the season into 5% increments. And, just for fun, we'll be calling them "nickels."

The Nickel: 4-4, The Season: 4-4

The Developing Theme:
Eight games in, the developing theme is great run production and weak pitching. Who would have thought that this group would be producing six runs per game? The surprising nature of this development screams of mean reversion: expect the team to stop scoring/allowing so many runs. This is the sample size argument. Generally speaking, when a short-term trend develops that doesn't fit with historical performance (see Repko, Jason), it doesn't last. It is dangerous to extrapolate short-term trends. For example, the Detroit Tigers will not win the AL central. (By the way, if they do win the AL Central, I don't have to own up to it. I learned this from the L.A. Times, which scorned Paul DePodesta for trading away Guillermo Mota and acquiring Jeff Kent). Regardless, the pitching staff, with a couple of notable exceptions, is not faring well. The team ERA is 5.22--this means that 0.26 of their season-ending ERA will be from this stretch. That is, if they don't allow another run this season, their ERA will be 0.26 (approximately, this actually depends on the number of innings they pitch over the rest of the season).

The Hot Ones:
This was Penny's nickel on the mound. 10.5 K/9 (strikeouts per 9 innings), 0.85 WHIP, only one walk. Two wins for you Cy Young voters out there. This is exciting. The main reason it gets me excited is that there is a rationale for the performance: Penny has returned to throwing the splitter, which he abandoned after his elbow injury. Short term trends with a reason for existing are more persistent than those without a reason.
Bill Mueller: I like this one because this was the guy I really wanted in the off-season. Production from third base was an area of concern, to say the least. Here is a guy who has OPSed around .800 throughout his career. At less than $5 million, this was a good deal. I don't get revved up about the batting title, but what the heck. Anyway, for the nickel, he's a gem: 1.265 OPS, .515 OBP, .464 BA.
Jason Repko has been a joy to watch. At least when he's on offense (.334/.400/.594). In fact, this is my favorite thing this year. While I firmly believe that teams should be assembled using the best quantitative analysis possible, the story of the season is told by all the crazy things that actually happen. Hustle plays, dramatic homers, grit, moxy, inspiration--all that stuff--are things that make up the story (think 1988 Dodgers here). So I love watching the kid. This is the kind of stuff that becomes infectious and instills confidence, both in the players and the fans.
Danys Baez has been great out of the pen. 11.25 K/9 and a WHIP of 0.75. Coletti has scored so far. And if you believe in a contract year effect, you have to like this.

The Disappointments:
Eric Gagne is gagn agaign. Ouch. This is the crown jewel, and we don't know when we're getting it back.
A new Lowe? Um, yeah. There was plenty of talk about Lowe's personal life causing him to lose focus last season. Well, if the first nickel is any indication, I think he might be dating Charlie Steiner now: 1.55 WHIP, two strikeouts and four walks. I'm hoping for sample size issues here over the Steiner explanation.
First base is making me crazy. Nomar hasn't played, and Loney's never played at AAA Las Vegas. The same Loney that OPSed  .776 at AA Jacksonville last year. To summarize, if he produces in the major leagues this year at the same level that he produced at double-A last year (an obvious stretch), then he'll be less productive than Choi was last year. I don't care how good his glove is, that's no better a backup plan than we had at third base last year. I don't know what Choi will become, but he is a better option than Loney right now. Boo, Ned, boo.

These aren't the only players to do well or badly, but they're my standouts for the nickel.