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June 22, 2004

Prospectus Matchups

Sluggish

by Jim Baker

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Best Matchup (Best combined record with both teams being over .500): Minnesota @ Boston

    As we all know by now, the Red Sox of 2003 set the all-time team record for slugging average with a .491 mark. What you might not remember is that the Toronto Blue Jays were challenging the record right along with them before fading late. The Sox are down in 2004, but nearly as much as the Jays. Neither has fallen as far as the Braves:

    Biggest declines in team slugging, 2003-2004:

    
    Braves:    -64
    Blue Jays: -58
    Red Sox:   -43
    Expos:     -37
    Mariners:  -31
    
    

    How do these 2004 entries stack up historically? None are very close to being the most significant drops of all time, I'm afraid:

    Largest team slugging average decreases, all time:

    
    Year Team       Drop
    1931 Pirates    -.089
    1903 Senators   -.084
    1902 Browns     -.077
    1933 Athletics  -.073
    1988 Tigers     -.073
    
    

    I would have bet real, actual cash money that more 1931 teams would have made the top 10 given that the entire league fell off by 61 points from 1930, but only the Pirates made the cut. Every National League team dropped by at least 44 points. Four Pirate regulars slugged over .500 in 1930; the high man the next year was Hall of Famer Paul Waner, at .453.

    On the other hand, we have the Tigers, a team that finished 116 points behind the Red Sox last year in slugging. They have closed that gap to just 11 points through this juncture of the season.

    Largest improvements in team slugging, 2003-2004:

    
    Tigers:    +62
    Dodgers:   +60
    Cubs:      +40
    White Sox: +32
    Reds:      +27
    
    

    At 62 points, they are still a piece from the all-time top 10, which caps at 70. Still, both Detroit and Los Angeles, the other hitless wonder team of '03, have come up greatly in this regard. They'd have to really bust out the bats the rest of the way to land with this company, though:

    Largest team slugging average increases, all time:

    
    Year Team       Increase
    1977 White Sox  .095
    1911 White Sox  .089
    1929 Phillies   .084
    1947 Giants     .080
    2000 Angels     .077
    
    

    • 1977 White Sox: The '76 White Sox had one regular over .400 (Jorge Orta). The '77 White Sox had just one under (Alan Bannister). Perhaps one of the best-loved non-championship teams in baseball history.

    • 1911 White Sox: In the first decade of the 20th century, it was not unheard of for a team to post a higher On-Base Percentage than slugging average. (It happened a lot more in the National League than it did in the American.) In fact, from 1901 to 1910, it only occurred six times in the American League, with five of those instances registered by the White Sox. From 1906 to 1910, the Southsiders' high watermark in slugging was .286. In 1910, they bottomed out at .261. The following year, they rode the crest of a livelier ball to post their best slugging average since the league's first season.

    • 1929 Phillies: Yes, the entire league got better in 1929 by almost 30 points, but there was more going on here than the Phillies riding that wave. In '28, they were 15 points below league average, while the following year they were 41 points above it. This was the year Lefty O'Doul arrived on the scene to post his career year. Chuck Klein and Don Hurst were also big contributors to the rise.

    • 1947 Giants: The '46 Giants finished second in the league in slugging but got a jump the next year when the whole league had its octane boosted to the tune of 45 points. This was Willard Marshall's career year and also the season Johnny Mize smacked 51 home runs. Every Giants regular save for Buddy Kerr was in double figures in homers.

    • 2000 Angels: They followed up their stirring gain by posting the 10th-greatest drop of all time in 2001. As James Click--the man responsible for researching these lists--points out, the Angels' big drop only cost them seven games in the standings.

Worst Matchup (Worst combined record with both teams being below .500): Detroit @ Kansas City

    There he is.

    Ahead of Albert Pujols. Ahead of Alex Rodriguez. Ahead of Manny Ramirez...

    ...Carlos Guillen, the man the Seattle Mariners were ready to throw away in deference to Omar Vizquel, was 10th in all of baseball in VORP heading into Monday night's games. He was even ahead of Ivan Rodriguez, the other new Tiger who is getting a lot of the credit for revitalizing the team. I would have to say Guillen's presence in the top 10 is even more surprising than that of Sean Casey and Melvin Mora, the other two unlikelies, because Mora was getting there last year before being felled by an injury and Casey once had the goods, back when Bill Clinton was president.

    If he keeps this up, Guillen had better make the All-Star team--or else. Or else what, I'm not saying. I'm just saying, "or else."

Biggest Mismatchup (Largest disparity in records with one team over .500 and the other under .500): New York @ Baltimore (Yankees up by 14 games)

    The Orioles have suffered the indignity of being passed by the Devil Rays in the midst of the latter team's 11-game winning streak. Can you name another seventh-year franchise that turned its existence around with an 11-game winning streak? That's right--the 1969 Mets. On May 28 of that year, the Mets' record stood at 18-23 (which, as mediocre as it sounds, was still tied for the best Mets record ever through 41 games at that point). They then tore off 11 consecutive victories to put themselves on the way to a 100-win season. The Rays have had to win 11 in a row just to get to within hailing distance of .500. Furthermore, the '69 Mets later had winning streaks of 10 and nine. They also had a seven-gamer and two sixes interrupted by a loss.

    In addition to having gotten some seriously woeful starting pitching, the Orioles are not chipping in with the gloves. Here are the five-worst team Defensive Efficiency ratings for 2004, heading into Monday's games:

    
    Twins:   .6718
    Braves:  .6719
    Pirates: .6721
    ORIOLES: .6762
    Rockies: .6777
    
    

Closest Matchup (Teams with records that most resemble one another at press time): Oakland @ Anaheim

    Here's to the A's, a team that has not let the scourge of interleague play interfere with its mindset against the sacrifice bunt. Heading into this week's intraleague eye of the storm, the A's have just seven sacs, one more than their East Coast bunt-hating Red Sox colleagues.

    If one were to guess, one would assume that positions 1-16 in the greatest number of team sacs in the majors would be held down by National League teams while positions 17-30 would be in the hands of American League teams. Given the DH situation, this would stand to reason, even with the presence of interleague games on the schedule. Does it actually shake out like that?

    Almost. There are a few overlap teams. They are:

    White Sox: Tied for 12th with the Reds and Phillies
    Angels: Tied for 15th with the Mets
    Padres: Tied for 19th with the Indians and Mariners

    It is good for a National League team to be in the overlap, bad for the American. The White Sox have the best team slugging average in baseball and don't need to be screwing around with trading outs for single bases. Somebody needs to whisper that into the ear of manager Ozzie Guillen--or maybe scream it right into his face. The Mets are nearly an overlap team, too. Combine that with having the best stolen base percentage in the majors, and they're not chewing up very many baserunners voluntarily.

    A total of 403 men have hit major league home runs this season. Ten have logged at least 100 at-bats without joining that list. It so happens that three of them are Angels.

    Most at bats without a home run:

    202: David Eckstein, Anaheim
    195: Willie Harris, Chicago (A)
    175: Morgan Ensberg, Houston
    153: Darin Erstad, Anaheim
    132: Chris Stynes, Pittsburgh
    129: Terrence Long, San Diego
    129: Eric Young, Texas
    115: Fernando Vina, Detroit
    106: Chris Woodward, Toronto
    101: Casey Kotchman, Anaheim

    What this means is that Anaheim has yet to get a single home run out of a first baseman this year. Their first basemen are slugging a combined .319. Let's put that into some perspective. In 1968, the Year of the Pitcher on your Chinese calendar, Wes Parker of the Dodgers slugged .314 while playing a full year at first for the Dodgers. Among full-time first basemen that year, he was the worst. Here we are in an age of offensive wonder, and the Angels are settling for a performance equivalent to that of a first baseman who played his ball in an all-time pitcher's park in an all-time pitcher's year. That's a hell of a handicap to give your opponents in a playoff race.

Related Content:  The Streak,  Slugging,  Year Of The Injury,  Team

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