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August 27, 2004

Prospectus Matchups

Beware, It's Batting Average Edition

by Jim Baker

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BEST AMERICAN LEAGUE MATCH-UP (Best combined records with both teams being over .500): Minnesota @ Anaheim

    Last weekend, we previewed the four match-ups in which both teams still had a shot at a divisional title. This weekend, there are only two such series: San Francisco versus Atlanta and this one. All of the other 13 pairings either feature two teams that are pretty much out of it or one team that is and one that isn't. Is out and isn't, that is.

    The good news about the Johan Santana Cy Young candidacy is that the numbers that often attract voters are, fortunately, good enough to attract voters. What I mean by that is, apart from winning over our crowd with the best VORP of any pitcher in the American League (58 at press time - about seven ahead of Curt Schilling and about ten ahead of teammate Brad Radke), he's got something nice and obvious for the reg'lar folks, too. His 14-6 record is just close enough to Mark Mulder's 17-4 mark to keep the A's hurler from having too great of an edge among those voters for whom won-loss record is three-quarters of the battle. I'd like to think that in this day and age, the dichotomies in their ERAs and run support (Mulder is getting nearly two more runs per game from his teammates than is Santana) will have more sway. Alas, we cannot be too certain of that at this point in man's evolution.

BEST NATIONAL LEAGUE MATCH-UP (Best combined records with both teams being over .500): San Francisco @ Atlanta

    Julio Franco turned 46 this week. He has now outlasted Cap Anson, the position player who always comes to mind when one thinks of men who kept at it long past the time most have hung it up. Anson played in all but 18 of his team's 132 games in 1897, his final season. His last game came at the age of 45 years, five months and change. To his credit, Anson played more than Franco and even caught in 21 games over the last two years of his career. Of course, there is always the possibility that Franco is even older than advertised. While one would like to get more production out of first base, Franco is by no means an embarrassment, as he's currently sporting an EQA of .279. Relative to other first basemen, that doesn't rate especially high, but relative to other 46-year olds, it's tops, considering that all of them are off on other pursuits. He's certainly light years ahead of Pete Rose at this age. Rose the manager wasted 272 plate appearances on Rose the 45-year old player with a .228 EqA.

    In the opposite dugout this weekend will be a man about six years his junior. My theory about Barry Bonds is this: given his dedication to conditioning (one that rivals Franco's well-known obsession), it would take Bonds another decade to get down to replacement level. Looking at how the two men match up as 40-year-olds, doesn't it stand to reason that, at Franco's age, Bonds will be much better than Franco is now? And "much better than Franco" is someone you'd want on your team. Barring a catastrophic injury, is it unreasonable to postulate that Bonds can continue helping a team win ballgames as a 125/130-game man until 2010?

    I discussed this with Will Carroll, who said, "It's reasonable, but unlikely. Bonds has some pretty severe hamstring problems that require something on the order of 10 man-hours per day (including his own) to keep in workable condition." There will come a time when that stuff is going to get old and Bonds will hang 'em up. If that is sooner rather than later, he would then be in a position to have one of the greatest final years ever, if not the greatest.

MISMATCH-UP (opponents furthest from each other in won-lost records with the better team over .500 and the lesser team under): New York Yankees @ Toronto

    If you missed my chat session (and I can't think of any good reason why that would be so), you missed a question about who the next manager of the Blue Jays should be. My serious choice was Larry Dierker. Isn't it puzzling that he has never gotten another shot at managing? Consider that his .553 winning percentage with the Astros would be good for 20th all-time if he had enough games managed to qualify. He had four first-place finishes in five years. What is more, he would be very much at home working J.P. Ricciardi's side of the analytical street.

    One more historical note on Dierker: He currently ranks 49th among all managers in terms of total games over .500. That doesn't sound too impressive until you remember that a large majority of the men ahead of him managed for much longer than he has. Only Eddie Dyer of the 1946-50 Cardinals and Pants Rowland of the 1915-1918 White Sox managed fewer games with more success.

WORST MATCH-UP (worst combined record with both teams being under .500): Kansas City @ Seattle

    For those of you with sensitive stomachs, I give you fair warning: I am about to discuss something unpalatable to the analytically-minded--if that isn't metaphorically-mixed enough for you. I'm going mention the batting championships of the respective leagues.

    There, I've said it: "batting championship." I probably haven't uttered that phrase in seven or eight years. It's no longer relevant but, for those of us reared on the belief system that a .300-hitter was a god among men, there will always be a small section of our minds reserved for awe at a figure like ".372," regardless of how revolutionary the rest of our thinking might be. It's never going to go away, I admit it. Just because today, with nearly 80% of the season gone, marks the first time I've even looked at the league leaders in batting average, doesn't mean a guy in the .360s doesn't get some positive reaction from me.

    I think just about everyone alive today has been corrupted in this regard to some extent. It will be the future generations, reared in a world dominated by post-modern baseball analysis that will be raised in a world completely free of batting-average considerations as a mark of individual achievement. Perhaps somewhere at this very moment, a woman is going into labor in order to deliver unto the world the very man who will be instrumental in doing away batting average as an officially-kept statistic four decades from now.

    Actually, what is interesting about this batting race is that in the very same year, the leaders in either league could finish with the most hits ever for a batting champion and the fewest. That's a pretty neat trick. Barry Bonds is currently projected for about 134 hits. This would be the same number of safteies that Carney Lansford had in strike-shortened 1981, when he won the American League batting title. On the other end of the spectrum, Ichiro Suzuki is still on pace to break George Sisler's all-time hit record of 257, set in 1920. (What is neat about Sisler is that, two seasons later, he had even more hits per game than he did in '20. If he hadn't missed 12 games, the record might be about ten hits higher than it is.)

    What would be really neat is if Ichiro and Bonds both win batting titles with Ichiro having twice as many hits as Bonds. It's not out of the realm of possibility.

Related Content:  The Who,  Managers Of The Year

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