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July 16, 2004

Prospectus Matchups

Yanni-Free Edition

by Jim Baker

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Best Matchup (best combined adjusted third-order won-loss record with both teams being over .500): Boston @ Anaheim

    Here's the deal: before the season begins, you look at your team and realize they are not going to hit as much as they did the year before. What do you do? You get some better pitchers so you can reduce the bottom line on the other side of the ball. This is exactly what Theo Epstein did, and he stated as much. And you know what? It worked. The Red Sox are projecting to give up fifty fewer runs than they did last year while losing about the same amount on the offensive side. (Because of the nature of runs scored and runs allowed, the same differential at lower totals actually results in a better record, all other things being equal. This is why it's going to be just about impossible for the Rockies to ever win 100 games.)

    Except here's the problem: the team is underperforming his careful calculations by seven games. Man, that's got to suck! The cool thing is, in another organization, the general manager might be made the fall guy for this. In this organization, though, it will be understood that the best plans were laid and that reality just didn't cooperate. Epstein keeps his job and they try again next year.

    Even with that, though, what a kick in the intestines this has to be for him. Put yourself into his head for a moment: you're up against a well-run, extremely well-financed operation, and you put together a team that is outplaying them on paper by a count of eleven games at mid-season. Not only that, you--more than just about any other man in your position because you grew up on this stuff--know this to be so. What else can you do?

Worst Matchup (worst combined adjusted third-order record with both teams being under .500): Cleveland @ Seattle

    No letters please. There are only two matchups this weekend in which both teams are under .500, so the Indians are in this one almost by default. On the other hand, they have managed to allow the most runs in the American League, so I withdraw the semi-apology. They have managed to do this in spite of the fact that they have the most successful trio of starting pitchers in the American League. Nobody else has three starters with VORP showings this good:

    The trouble is, everyone else they've given a start to, with the exception of Jason Stanford, has been right at or below replacement level (mostly below). If they could have found somebody to just go in there and eat innings marginally above replacement, they would be a lot closer to the White Sox and Twins. John Davis, for instance, has squandered the best offensive support on the team.

    Then there's the bullpen. This is pretty much all you have to know: take the best rep from each team's bullpen in terms of VORP and rank them 1 through 30. Here are the bottom five:

    The BP Stat of the Day on Wednesday informed you that the Tribe's pen had allowed the most Adjusted Runs Prevented of any team in the league and it's nowhere close: three times more runs than the next-worse team, the Yan-led Tigers. Hearing Yan reminds me of something: I have led a relatively Yanni-free lifestyle and I owe a lot of my sanity to that. So I, like most right-thinking citizens of the baseball-watching world, was especially distressed when FOX felt it necessary to expose us to Yanni because Ivan Rodriguez is a fan. Even though they did not appear to be entirely serious about it, even a soundbite that small can do plenty of damage. Here's a dangerous tautology:

    The Olympics are in Greece this year. Yanni is from Greece. Olympic telecasts rely heavily upon instrumental music to ratchet up the sap factor. Therefore: expect to hear a lot of Yanni during the Olympics.
    Getting back to the Indians, they're like the pretty girl who came to the dance contest with bad shoes. She got asked to dance a lot but bled to death from her blisters. Lord, that's a grim analogy! Translation: the Indians have a nice offense and three great starting pitchers, but their bullpen and back end of the rotation has killed them.

Mismatchup (opponents furthest from each other in adjusted third-order won-lost records with the better team over .500 and the lesser team under): Montreal @ Atlanta

    The Atlanta plan this weekend is simple: the Braves turn aside the Expos while the Mets and Phillies battle each other to a stand-still, allowing Atlanta to step over the bodies into first place.

    While nobody was watching, the Expos slipped the bonds of the worst record in baseball. While you had your eye on good teams, the Diamondbacks slipped behind them.

    So what is the deal with Orlando Cabrera? Has the wandering and the uncertainty crushed his very soul? He is now playing below replacement level. Here are his VORP figures and standings over the past few years:

    • 2001: 33.9, 3rd
    • 2002: 22.7, 6th
    • 2003: 49.8, 3rd
    • 2004: -4.6, 26th

    For a good player to get this low at this position, you've really got to go some. As of this writing, he's fallen below the likes of Rey Ordonez, Ramon Martinez and, in a limited role, Donnie Sadler. Like the drunk who hangs out with an even worse drunk to make himself feel good by comparison, the struggling shortstop can always count on the presence of Neifi Perez to supply the nadir for the position. That's just what Neifi's doing, too: 29th out of 29 National League shortstoppers.

Closest Matchup (teams with the adjusted third-order records the most resembling one another): Chicago White Sox @ Oakland

    To Whom It May Concern at the Offices of Major League Baseball:

    I am a fan of significant measure--a full 56 inches at my greatest point of circumference if you must know. I am writing to you today because on two occasions this week, I settled down to watch major league baseball games on my television only to discover there was none to be found. On Monday night, I was looking forward to some quality pitching and hitting. I flipped channels patiently for three hours and got nothing for my trouble. Angered, I went to the movies on Tuesday night and saw a film about a shaved-headed man fighting off religious fanatics out in outer space. I don't recall the name but it also had that English lady who is now a knight and it was loud and gave me a headache. I decided to give your product another chance on Wednesday night, but, once more, made no discovery of any big league baseball. I demand an explanation at once! What is the meaning of this outrage? Who are you to deprive a fan such as me of my favorite pastime?

    Angrily yours,
    T.E. Breggs

    Freddy Garcia has had a crazy strikeout-to-walk ratio since coming over from Seattle. In three starts, it's 23 to 3. There is the little matter of the five home runs surrendered, though. There's no way he can keep up that pace, is there? It's not especially common to give up more home runs than walks, but it can be done. Greg Maddux of the Cubs currently has 18 walks allowed but has given up 20 homers. Brad Radke of the Twins has given up 12 home runs while walking only ten. Since 1900, here are the only men to do so, according to research done by Michael Wolverton:

    Pitcher         Year   HR   BB
    Robin Roberts   1956   46   40
    Gary Nolan      1976   28   27
    Rick Reed       1998   30   29
    Jose Lima       1998   34   32
    Brian Anderson  1998   39   24
    Rick Reed       2002   32   26
    David Wells     2003   24   20
    Brad Radke      2003   32   28

    Since the A's already are the stingiest team in the league giving up runs, their patented second-half rise is going to have to come on the other side of the ball. Here's where their players rank, by position, in EqA.

    As a team, the A's are right in the middle of the pack, sitting at .263 as we come back from the All-Star break. If they can elevate themselves past these same White Sox (currently at .267) and drop in behind the top three of New York, Boston and Detroit while maintaining their pitching, then we will see yet another run to glory in the Oakland style.

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