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June 1, 2004
Hi. My name is Jim Baker and what follows is what I
will be doing at Baseball Prospectus. Twice a week,
I'll select four games based on some very rigid
criteria and write about them or the teams involved.
Every Tuesday and Friday, you'll see a Best Matchup, a
Worst Matchup, a Biggest Mismatchup and a Closest
Matchup. How do I know these games actually fit their
billing? Simple, I use the won-loss records of the teams
Is that scientific? Hell no!
But it gives me a platform to state a case about any
number of things both germane and tangential (not to
be confused with the Vaudeville act of the same name)
to the matchup at hand. I could make it more
scientific by only using the Pythagorean records of
the teams involved, but the key to enjoying this column
is not to get too caught up in the billing--or the
methodology of how the billings were conceived.
What are my credentials? For one thing, I am related
by blood to every single current member of Baseball
Prospectus, so my arrival here owes something to
nepotism. Apart from that, I was once Bill James'
assistant and contributed to the first edition of the
Historical Baseball Abstract. I've spent the past two
years writing for ESPN.com, primarily on the MLB
BEST MATCHUP (Best combined records with both teams
being over .500): Boston Red Sox @ Anaheim Angels (61-40)
Can you use a 43-year old headline as bulletin board
fodder? Probably not, but, just in case, the Red Sox
handed the Angels their first loss ever on April 15,
1961. Boston 3, Los Angeles 0. The Angels had won
their debut in Baltimore on April 11 and then missed a
game owing to weather. (They opened at 1-8 but went on
to have the best expansion year ever.) Ike Delock was
the winning pitcher for Boston. Now there's a guy who
gets no ink whatsoever. He was on the team for over a
decade and I dare you to raise your hand if you've
heard of him.
Here's another question: Can you name the Angels
player who is leading the team in walks? It would be
Troy Glaus, but he's getting lapped while being tended
to by the pit crew (Note to editor: this fulfills my
obligation for crossover material pandering to NASCAR
demographic). It's Jeff DaVanon, actually, leading
the way with 17. Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Guillen
are fairly close, but they both have more than double
the number of at-bats DaVanon has managed. Given this,
it should not surprise to find the Angels last in the
league in walks received.
Can a team draw the fewest passes in the league and still succeed?
Anaheim is currently a half-game behind the Yankees
and Red Sox for the best record in the American
League. When is the last time a team came in last in walks but still finished with the best record in a
league? It was 15 years ago, when the Cubs went 93-69
but were 12th out of 12 teams with 472 walks. Things
were a little more compressed that year in the
National League. The Cubs were only 100 behind the
leader, Montreal, with 572. (The league average was
521.) Consider that this year, the Angels are
already 100 behind Boston, the leader with 231.
Projecting for the entire season, the Red Sox will
out-walk the Angels 748 to 411. That's leaving a lot
up to chance on the Angels' part, isn't it?
WORST MATCHUP (worst combined record with both teams
being under .500): Kansas City Royals @ Detroit Tigers (40-58)
Bad news for the Tigers:
.500 is a girl who used to like you
.500 is a puppy who ran away
.500 is a car that won't run anymore
.500 is a cushy job you used to have
Good news for the Tigers:
Quick, name the major league shortstops that are
leading their teams in VORP...
It's a short list: Carlos Guillen of the Tigers and
Michael Young of the Rangers are it. A player at a key
defensive position leading the way for a team on track for a 20-plus-game
improvement--do they have an award for that?
Man! I would have bet anything that Juan Gonzalez
would get through 2004 without going on the Disabled
List. I'm just shocked and astounded to find him
there. What if Gonzalez had been able to assimilate
some of Cal Ripken's DNA back in 1990? How many
home runs would he have by now? Since he has sat out
nearly three complete seasons since becoming a big
league regular in 1991 (actually, more like 2.75) and
since he hits a home run every four games, he'd project to be in
Jimmie Foxx/Mickey Mantle territory on the all-time
home run list. He would also project into the top 20 in
strikeouts, but that's a small price to pay.
CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to each other in
won-lost records): Houston Astros @ Chicago Cubs (tied)
Apart from rearranging my book collection based on
color, I spent a good portion of the off-season
contemplating the fun possibilities this series could
feature in terms of pitching matchups. They were:
The Texas Shootout: Kerry Wood vs. Roger Clemens
War of the Two-Thirders: Mark Prior (24-12) vs. Roy
Cy Then vs. Cy Tomorrow: Roger Clemens vs. Mark Prior
Battle of the Hall of Famers: Greg Maddux vs. Roger
And so on--Maddux vs. Pettitte, Maddux vs. Prior, Pettitte vs. Wood, Pettitte vs. Prior and Oswalt vs. Wood. Instead, what do we get?
Brandon Duckworth vs. Glendon Rusch
Right. No game with 10 combined Cy Young Awards. No
showdown of the only men to have struck out 20
batters. Instead we get two guys with a combined career ERA of
5.00. If P.T. Barnum were alive today, he'd be rolling
over in his grave. Back when he owned a baseball team,
his sense of showmanship wouldn't have permitted this
sort of thing, I'll tell you what. (It was a
baseball team he owned, right?)
MISMATCHUP (opponents furthest from each other in
won-lost records, with the better team over .500 and
the lesser team under): Colorado Rockies @ San Diego Padres (San Diego up by 8½ games)
Are you familiar with the story in the Bible about a
wanderer named Reshak who finds himself in the Valley
of Plentitude and does not even realize it? He goes on
living as if he was no place special and leaves
without taking advantage of that which was afforded
Don't know it? I'm not surprised, as I just made
it up to help illustrate this next bit about players
who get to play in Coors Field and don't make the most
of it. Making up Bible stores is illegal in Texas
(where I live), but I thought it was worth the risk.
Here's a list of the worst home OPS numbers of any
Rockies player who had 50 plate appearances in 2002 or
2003 or is projecting to do so in 2004:
.422: Sandy Alomar, 2002
.446: Denny Hocking, 2004
.506: Bobby Estalella, 2003
.517: Rene Reyes, 2004
.590: Kit Pellow, 2004
.619: Mark Bellhorn, 2003
.648: Jose Ortiz, 2002
No Rockies regular in the last three years has had an
OPS under .700 at home. You do a thing like that and
people are going to notice and limit your playing
time, no matter how neat you keep your locker or how
polite you are to your elders on the team. Among the
players on this list, Ortiz had the most home plate
appearances, with just over 100.
Visitors appear to be having an easier time adjusting to Petco Park than have the Padres.
Opponents have a group OPS 50 points higher than San
Diego players in the new joint (.718 to .669). Only
the Anorexpos are worse. On the road, the Padres are
116 points better, topping their hosts .785 to .762.
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