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June 15, 2004

Prospectus Matchups

Interleague Edition, Part Deux

by Jim Baker

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BEST MATCHUP (Best combined records with both teams being over .500): Oakland @ St. Louis

    What do these two teams have in common? They have no starting pitchers that are below replacement level in 2004. Going through all 30 teams and checking the five pitchers on each club with the most starts, we find that the A's are one of only two American League teams that make this claim. The other is the Toronto Blue Jays, but if you take the aggregate VORP of those five pitchers, the A's outscore the Jays 91.2 to 63.7.

    The Cardinals are one of four National League teams (also including San Diego, Philadelphia and Cincinnati) that can also make that claim. That might make it sound like it's not such a special achievement. That's only six teams out of 30, though, so it's not to be taken lightly. Cleary, finding five starting pitchers who can operate above replacement level is a pretty neat trick. For a couple of teams--like the Diamondbacks and Rockies--having three would be nice.

    This isn't to say these teams have necessarily gotten great starting pitching, because they haven't. The Reds have been pretty poor and the Cardinals are at the bottom of the middle of the pack. Two teams who didn't make the list will very shortly. When Jae Seo passes Tyler Yates in starts with the Mets and Mark Prior does the same with Sergio Mitre on the Cubs, they will add quality to the quantity aspect of this list. Jeremy Bonderman is also a decent start from putting the Tigers in this group.

    Looking at entire staffs, the A's have just one pitcher who is below replacement level. That's Ricardo Rincon. The Braves (Mike Hampton and Will Cunnane) and the Dodgers (Hideo Nomo and Brian Falkenborg) have only two. Every other team has at least three. What that means for the A's is they have only had to endure 15.3 innings of sub-replacement pitching (well, not really, but you know what I mean).

    Here are the teams who have seen the fewest innings pitched by sub-replacement hurlers. Both of tonight's combatants make the grade:

    
    Athletics: 15.3
    White Sox: 30.o
    Phillies:  34.7
    Mets:      43.3
    Cardinals: 50.7
    
    

WORST MATCHUP (worst combined record with both teams being under .500): Kansas City @ Atlanta

    The pointlessness of interleague play is an inarguable topic (pause here for argument...). Given that, we are left to wonder just what the hell the significance this week's or any other interleague matchups have. In an effort to try to bring some relevance in my own mind to these proceedings, I played a little free-association game. You've probably never seen free association done in real life, but know it best from the training camp scenes in The Dirty Dozen. That was certainly my first and just about only exposure to it. Anyway, I gave myself five seconds to come up with a link between this week's interleague opponents. If I couldn't do it in the allotted time, it was on to the next one.

    • Kansas City at Atlanta: John Schuerholz

      The Braves general manager cut his teeth in Kansas City before moving to Atlanta in 1991.

    • Cleveland @ New York Mets: Jeff Kent, Roberto Alomar, Carlos Baerga

      These are three second basemen who have played for both teams.

    • Detroit @ Philadelphia: Jim Bunning

      Hall of Fame pitcher did extensive time with both clubs.

    • Chicago White Sox at Florida: Ozzie Guillen

      Coached the Marlins last year; managing the White Sox this year.

    • Seattle @ Milwaukee: Pilots connection

      The Brewers spent their first season in Seattle. Their hasty departure opened the door for the eventual creation of the Mariners.

    • Anaheim at Pittsburgh: ...uh...um...

    • Texas at Cincinnati: The Bells

      Father Gus Bell spent his prime in Cincinnati while son Buddy Bell spent his prime in Texas but also wound up in Cincinnati, too.

    • Oakland at St. Louis: Mark McGwire, Tony La Russa

      Manager Tony came over first in 1996 and then traded for his former Bash Brother charge a year later.

    • Boston at Colorado: Sox & Rox

      Similar, catchy, rhyming shorthand names.

    • New York Yankees at Arizona: 2001 World Series

      You might remember this one.

    • Baltimore at Los Angeles: 1966 World Series

      You might not remember this one, however. Perhaps the most one-sided World Series ever.

    • Tampa Bay at San Diego: Fred McGriff

      84 home runs with the Pads and 98 and counting with the Rays. (As a side note, if McGriff can get into the 500 homer club, he'll be the first member to have homered with six different teams. Frank Robinson and Eddie Murray are currently tied with five each.)

    • Toronto at San Francisco: ...oh...wait, um...

      I drew a blank on a couple and felt it untoward to cheat and look something up for the purposes of publication. You can probably think of your own for the ones I choked on as well as different ones for those on which I did not.

MISMATCHUP (opponents furthest from each other in won-lost records with the better team over .500 and the lesser team under): Boston @ Colorado

    Let's say, for argument's sake, that 2004 turns out to be the year the Red Sox break their long World Championship draught. If that were to happen, this is a document I would like to see signed by every member of the Boston media whose job it is to cover or comment upon the team:

    I, ____________, hereby solemnly swear that for one year after the Red Sox win the final game of the World Series, I will not utter or write a single word against the team, its players, owners, coaches, manager or any attendant personnel. I will only say or write happy things whenever I mention the Red Sox. Even if they lose 35 of their first 40 games the following year, I will bear in mind the ecstasy and joy of the preceding October and merely report the facts without emphasizing the negative in any way shape or form. I will endeavor to treat the World Champion Red Sox with kid gloves, even if they get drunk and commandeer the team bus and crush a VW Beetle full of orphans. I will ignore their foibles, shortcomings, oversights, miscues and failures and remind my audience that slack must be cut because these are, after all, the same men who an eighty-plus year draught.

    I understand that at the end of said year, I may go back to being myself and resume my critical ways.

    While the Rockies are not going to challenge the 1930 Phillies for the most runs allowed in a season (1,199), they could well break the team record, set by the 1999 edition of the Rox. That group surrendered 1,028 runs. The thing of it is, though, this is not the worst offensive version of the team--not by a long shot. Even without Larry Walker and Preston Wilson, they are still on pace to outscore five of the previous 11 Colorado teams. They could still wind up as the worst Rockie team of all-time, however. Even allowing for them to play up to their actual level, they're still on pace to only win 65 games. That's worse than their first year in the show back in 1993 when they won 67. Can the return of the W's--both now starting rehab assignments--get them to 70 wins? I'm thinking they won't.

Closest Matchup (Teams with records most resembling one another): Texas @ Cincinnati

    Anyway you smack the numbers around, the Reds are riding for a fall. As we all know, teams that get outscored the way they have don't fare well in the long run. Going into last night's game against Philadelphia, the Reds had been outpolled by 24 runs. This put them five or six games ahead of where they should be, depending on which version of the Pythagorean you want to use. Having said that, you can find that entire 24-run differential in their meltdown against the A's last week. If you toss that series away, they'd actually be 284-284 in runs scored and runs against. This still means they're playing over their heads, but not by as much. Are we letting one disastrous series get in the way of assessing them honestly? On the other hand, that disastrous series helped call attention to the fact that this was a team riding a little too high.

    Do you miss the time when a 34-28 record was a 34-28 record? You know, back in the good old days, when they didn't used to clog the mind by putting the number of runs a team scored and allowed right there so you could make your own value judgments. Actually, newspapers still don't do that. Instead, they give us streak info and interleague play records. What is interesting is that the NFL standings have had the points for and against since…well, ever since I can remember. When you think about it, with a smaller schedule, NFL PF/PA can get skew a lot worse than a baseball record can. I'd like to see newspaper sport sections leap into the 21st Century and start including runs scored and runs against, wouldn't you?

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