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June 11, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres

by Baseball Prospectus

Boston Red Sox

  • SMACK FOR MATCHUP JUNKIES: Interleague play adds a wrinkle to the schedule next week, as the Sox venture to previously uncharted Colorado and San Francisco territory. It's entirely possible that the series with the Rockies, patsies of the West, will earn a mention in next week's edition of Prospectus Matchups as the biggest mismatch, so let's ignore it here.

    It's the stop in San Francisco we're fiending for, and the first fix comes Friday night. Tim Wakefield, originally scheduled to start in Denver, will be held out for fear of thin-air-induced, non-knuckling knuckleballs. Instead, Wakefield will start the opener in San Francisco--where, it is hoped, his knuckler will perform new and interesting dance moves in the thick sea breeze.

    This can't be welcome news to San Francisco's one-man offense, Barry Bonds. Here's a list of all active pitchers with a 0.000 OPS vs. Barry Bonds, minimum 3 ABs:

    
    Opposing pitcher   AB   H  BB  SO    OPS
    Tim Wakefield       7   0   0   2   .000
    Jeff Suppan         6   0   0   0   .000
    Todd Van Poppel     5   0   0   4   .000
    Julian Tavarez      4   0   0   1   .000
    Kyle Lohse          3   0   0   0   .000
    Derek Lowe          3   0   0   0   .000
    
    

    Are we just having fun with small sample sizes? Sure. Still, this list pays simultaneous homage to Bonds' greatness and the maddening power of Wakefield's vexer. Just six active pitchers have been perfect vs. Barry Bonds for more than two at-bats, but Bonds hasn't solved Wakefield for seven. The world's most patient hitter has been stymied, thus far, by the major leagues' slowest pitch.

    Matchup madness continues Saturday when Pedro Martinez takes the SBC hill. Pedro looked like the game's best pitcher again Tuesday night in an eight-inning smackdown of the San Diego Padres. Between now and the trip west, he's got another chance to shine vs. Los Angeles--the league's most anemic first-place offense. But in San Francisco, Barry will be waiting. It's been years since he and Pedro have faced each other in a regular-season game. But back in Pedro's NL days, Barry treated him the same way he treats everyone else: .367/.525/.633. Think that's great? Wait until you see what the Giants' number-three hitter has done against Pedro:

    
    Active hitters with 1.000+ OPS vs. Pedro Martinez, min 20 ABs
    
    Opposing hitter    AB   H  2B  3B  HR  BB  SO    BA    OBP   SLG   OPS
    Marquis Grissom    21  12   3   1   1   2   2   .571  .609  .952  1.561
    Ryan Klesko        29  10   2   0   4   3   7   .345  .406  .828  1.234
    Mike Piazza        20   7   1   0   3   0   3   .350  .381  .850  1.231
    Barry Bonds        30  11   3   1   1  10   7   .367  .525  .633  1.158
    Enrique Wilson     22  10   4   0   0   1   2   .455  .478  .636  1.115
    Luis Gonzalez      34  14   4   0   1   5   4   .412  .488  .618  1.105
    Craig Biggio       33  12   6   1   0   6   4   .364  .475  .606  1.081
    Gary Sheffield     24   8   2   0   2   5   6   .333  .406  .667  1.073
    Shannon Stewart    30  12   0   0   1   4   3   .400  .500  .500  1.000
    
    

    During a typical Giants' first inning these days you might find fans in line for garlic fries and an Anchor Steam, loading up for Bonds' AB leading off the second. But Saturday, the patrons would do well to see if Pedro can break Grissom's hex. If not, he'll start his outing facing Bonds with at least one runner on base.

  • MAKING A SPLASH: Since its opening in 2000, San Francisco's ballpark-by-the-bay has played as one of the major leagues' most hostile environments for hitters not named Barry. McCovey Cove is tantalizingly close, just a short hop over the portwalk behind the 309-foot mark down the right-field line. According to the Giants' official "Splash Hits" count it has been reached 29 times on the fly by Bonds. But before David Ortiz and crew go swinging for SportsCenter, they might want to know the rest of the splash-hit count.

    Other Giants (5): Felipe Crespo 2, J.T. Snow, Jose Cruz, Jr., Michael Tucker.
    Opponents (6): Luis Gonzalez 2, Hee Seop Choi, Ryan Klesko, Mark Grace, Todd Hundley

    For the Sox, Ortiz probably has the best chance to turn the trick, but Jason Varitek and Mark Bellhorn also provide left-handed pop. Of all right-handed hitters in the game of baseball, Manny Ramirez has to have one of the best shots at it.

    Note that J.T. Snow, a left-handed-hitting first baseman, achieved that one single splash landing in 840 career ABs at Pac Bell, perhaps the most vivid illustration of his ever-decreasing punch. With Snow on the DL, the Sox will see some combination of Pedro Feliz or Damon Minor instead.

  • BIG DEAL: So far, Keith Foulke has looked like a bargain to Red Sox Nation, even at $7 million per. We don't mean to rain on that parade, but it is worth noting that Foulke's other cost was realized in Monday's draft, where the Red Sox lost their first-round pick to Oakland because of Foulke's signing. With no first-round choice, Boston's first 2004 pick came in the second round, where they grabbed Dustin Pedroia, a miniscule 5'9", 180-pound shortstop out of Arizona State. Pedroia's .466 on-base and .544 slugging averages look nice to performance analysts, and the contrarians in us like the idea of taking the strange-bodied guys that nobody else wants. Still, it's hard to get too excited about a guy who, as they say, "compares favorably to David Eckstein." In 777 college ABs, Pedroia hit all of 14 homers.

Cincinnati Reds

  • COMING UP RED EVERY TIME: A month ago in this space, we accused the Reds of achieving their surprising start in the NL Central with smoke, mirrors, and a healthy dollop of luck. A month later, they've gone 14-10, moved from third place to the top of the division, and expanded their deficit between runs scored (280) and runs allowed (300).

    They're a .576 ballclub at 34-25, but The Pythagorean Theorem of Baseball says they're playing at a .458 clip based on scoring and run prevention. By all rights, they should be in fourth place, seven or eight games back of Houston, six or seven back of the Cardinals and Cubs.

    So what's going on? One thing is obvious: The Reds are losing games by larger margins than they're winning them--the offense is getting shut down in the same games that the pitchers are getting hammered the worst. Case in point, Monday's 13-2 blowout at the hands of Mark Mulder and the A's, not to mention Wednesday's 17-8 debacle, also in Oakland. From the Baseball Prospectus Record By Run Differential report, here's how the games have broken down:

    
    Differential         Record
    1-run games           10-7
    2-run games           12-2
    3-run games            9-3
    4-run games            2-4
    5-run games            0-3
    6-run games            0-3
    7-run games            1-1
    9-run games            0-1
    11-run games           0-1
    
    

    In games settled by three runs or less, the Reds are an incredible 31-12; in blowouts of four runs or more, they're an atrocious 3-13. As distributions go, they don't get much luckier than that.

    A 118-point winning percentage differential between expected and actual performance; it's just not sustainable, is it? We intend to dig up the appropriate historical precedents. Right in front of us, we have the 2003 numbers. Care to hazard a guess as to who had the biggest deviation, for better or worse, in 2003? You guessed it: these same Cincinnati Reds. (The 2003 Reds went 69-93, .426, while being outscored by a whopping margin of 885-694. That's a Pythag expected record of .377, which should have comfortably wrapped up last place in the Central. As it was, the Reds finished a game ahead of the Brewers for fifth.)

    Testament to Dave Miley's managerial prowess? The more likely explanation is that the Reds have simply gotten away with being lucky rather than good. They'll be hard-pressed to keep it up.

  • ALL IS FORGIVEN?: Ken Griffey Jr., like Barry Bonds in 2001, is basking in the unspoiled media positivity that accompanies a major milestone run; in doing so, he's thriving. Griffey already has more ABs in 2004 than he did in either the 2002 or 2003 seasons. In another couple weeks he'll have hit more home runs in a single season than in any year since 2000.

    Do not equate The Kid's legendary fragility with an inability to hit; for his career, he's averaged 41 homers per 162 games played and a .293/.378/.562 composite. He's Bald Bull in Mike Tyson's Punchout: Hit the right spot and he goes down easy--but on his feet, he's one of the toughest in the game.

  • DUDE, PASS ME THAT REDS JERSEY: Jung Bong has been recalled from Triple-A Louisville, in a move sure to shatter all records for Reds headshop memorabilia sales.

San Diego Padres

  • BACK TO EARTH: Updating an item from last time, the Los Angeles Dodgers' one-run record has begun to regress toward their overall winning percentage. As such, they've relinquished their lead in the West, and sit in a virtual tie for first with the Padres. Part of the Dodgers' hot start was attributable to a lucky 10-0 streak in one-run affairs to open the season. Over the past four weeks, Los Angeles has gone 1-4 in one-run games. A corollary of the Pythagorean Theorem of Baseball is that, in the long run, a team's record in non-one-run games is much more predictive of its future performance than its record in the high-variance nail-biters. San Diego is now 22-21 excluding one-run games, Los Angeles is 20-22, and San Francisco is 20-19.

  • WHEEL OF BELTRAN: With the Kansas City Royals double-digits out of first place, Peter Gammons reports that Royals GM Allard Baird is looking to dump stars and dump salary...sooner, rather than later. Center fielder Carlos Beltran, a big-money free agent at the end of the season, is the undisputed crown jewel of Baird's booty. Of nine potentially interested teams, Gammons lists four--Padres, Dodgers, Giants, and Diamondbacks--in the NL West. Let's take a quick look at the impact a Beltran rental might have on the pennant race teams. (For now let's skip the D-Backs, wallowing in fourth place.) Assuming the GMs can assemble packages of prospects and/or dollars that make sense to Baird, which rusty cogs in the current lineups might be replaced by a shiny new Beltran?
    
    Dodgers
                            POS   PA     AVG     OBP     SLG     MLVr
    Carlos Beltran      cf    24    .274    .356    .535    .136
    
    Juan Encarnacion    rf    214   .248    .276    .413   -.085
    Jason Grabowski     lf    91    .250    .308    .440    .020
    Robin Ventura       1b    56    .216    .286    .235   -.321
    
    

    Plenty of room for improvement here. Is Paul DePodesta willing to cut bait on Juan Encarnacion? On the offensive side, it would be worth about a quarter of a run per game.

    
    Giants
                        POS   PA     AVG     OBP     SLG     MLVr
    Carlos Beltran      cf    24    .274    .356    .535    .136
    
    Michael Tucker      rf    194   .282    .381    .479    .174
    Dustan Mohr         rf     87   .206    .356    .368   -.054
    Jeffrey Hammonds    rf    113   .211    .336    .358   -.088
    
    

    San Francisco's lineup suffers from having to give Bonds frequent days off. Beltran, a workhorse, would lighten the off-day load significantly. With Jeffrey Hammonds long gone, Michael Tucker is currently San Francisco's flavor of the month--he's been hot since moving to the leadoff role. Tucker, who turns 33 in two weeks, has posted an OPS above .800 just once in his 10-year career. He can't sustain his recent pace; the question is whether Brian Sabean knows it.

    
    Padres
                        POS   PA     AVG     OBP     SLG     MLVr
    Carlos Beltran      cf    24    .274    .356    .535    .136
    
    Jay Payton          cf    201   .295    .378    .415    .140
    Ryan Klesko         lf    134   .261    .351    .357   -.016
    Terrence Long       lf    111   .294    .342    .402    .054
    Kerry Robinson      lf     59   .241    .288    .259   -.271
    
    

    We've run out of bad things to say about Kerry Robinson. Terrence Long has been somewhat of a surprise but don't expect that to last. T-Long's .294 average is completely devoid of power--he's homerless in '04--and he's shown no uptick in patience with just seven walks. Unless something changes, his average is bound to fall, and with that his on-base percentage will return to the sub-.300 level of the past two seasons.

    Of course, the addition of Beltran helps more than just a team's offense. He's been a plus defender throughout his career, and with mediocre outfielders patrolling the spacious outfields in both San Francisco and San Diego, the pitching staffs would be grateful for the help. The Dodgers rank sixth in MLB in Defensive Efficiency, the Giants 17th, the Padres 18th.

    Carlos Beltran and the N.L. West title are up for grabs. Which GM will pull the trigger?

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Premium Article Prospectus Matchups: I... (06/11)

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