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September 24, 2004

Prospectus Matchups

The Penultimate Weekend

by Jim Baker

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

You know what sucks? Paying rent. And utility bills. And taxes. And car payments. Not to mention car insurance and groceries. It's these petty inconveniences that keep people like you and me from going down to the airport on a whim, buying a first-class ticket for San Francisco and snagging a box seat from the first scalper we encounter so that we can see a great series like this in person. The presidential candidate who promises me a lifestyle that will ensure me the ability to do what I just described gets my vote.

Here's a tip for you MVP voters out there. Let's say you're considering two candidates for the award. Why not have them switch teams hypothetically and see what the team's records would be? In the case of this series, we would want to switch Barry Bonds (138.2 VORP) with Adrian Beltre (87.6 VORP). Because they play different positions, let's assume they would be replaced for a replacement level player at the position they each abandoned. With that in mind, here are the current standings:


Los Angeles           87-65    -
San Francisco         86-67   1.5
Now, here they are with Beltre and Bonds swapped:

Los Angeles          91-61     -
San Francisco        82-71    9.5
That's even with giving Beltre a one-win advantage for defense.

While we're on the topic of MVP voting, I can't let the opportunity pass without taking one more shot at those who put Shannon Stewart on their ballots last year. If Stewart was worthy of consideration in 2003, must we not consider Justin Morneau to be so in 2004?

What follows are their records after the All-Star break. Stewart came over in a trade from Toronto last year at that time, while Morneau was brought up from the minors to stay at the same juncture this year:

2003 Stewart: six homers, 38 RBI .322/.384/.470
2004 Morneau: 15 homers, 49 RBI; .255/.328/.532

That's pretty much the same in the OPS department. Furthermore, the addition of these players had almost the exact same impact on the team:


                  2003    2004
Pre-All-Star:    44-48   47-40
Post-All-Star:   46-24   41-24
If you bought into the cause and effect of Shannon Stewart, how can you not do the same for Justin Morneau? If you voted for the first one, you must, therefore, vote for the next.

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

After the latest bullpen meltdown on Thursday afternoon in Arlington, in which Octavio Dotel blew his sixth save since coming over from Houston, the A's are now tied with the Indians and Tigers for the most blown save opportunities in the American League. Dotel's failure broke his tie with previous closer Arthur Rhodes.

Of course, you don't have to be a closer to blow a save, and the A's are living proof of that. Seven other pitchers have contributed blows to the cause. Most of those are blown "holds" rather than blown saves in that the pitcher in question was not entering the game to get a save but to set it up for Rhodes or Dotel to finish things off. So, it's not really fair to say something like "Chad Bradford is oh-for-three in save situations." He has contributed three blows to the grim cause, however.

Anyway you look at it, the A's have coughed up 26 late leads this year. This is a complete reversal from last year when they had the fewest blown saves in the league with 12. That's in 60 save opportunities, one fewer than this season.

If you don't trust your bullpen, one thing you can do is not leave them a mess to clean up. The A's have two of the better starters in this regard. Baseball Prospectus counts Bequeathed Runners; Sunday's starter, Mark Mulder, is in the top five in terms of fewest bullets left in the body upon exit. Here are the leaders among pitchers with 30 or more starts:

Ben Sheets, Brewers: 5
Jon Garland, White Sox: 7
Pedro Martinez, Red Sox: 7
Mulder, A's: 8
John Thomson, Braves: 8
Matt Morris, Cardinals: 8
Brad Radke, Twins: 8

Barry Zito, who will not pitch in this series, has nine. Odalis Perez, who makes his 30th start for Los Angeles in the first game of the big Dodgers/Giants series, enters that game with six. Barring leaving the bases loaded, he'll jump onto that leader board.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the "clean-up in aisle one" guys.

Russ Ortiz, Braves: 36
Jason Johnson, Tigers: 31
Kirk Rueter, Giants: 30

Man, you have to trust your bullpen to leave them with all that unfinished bidnit.

BIGGEST AMERICAN LEAGUE MISMATCH-UP (opponents furthest from each other in won-lost records with the better team over .500 and the lesser team under): Seattle @ Texas

Here's a hypothetical question for the Rangers: what outcome do you look for from the Angels-A's showdown? Let's assume they takes two of three from the Mariners this weekend. Here are the four possible standings of Monday morning, September 27:


I. A's sweep

OAK 90-65 -
TEX 87-68 3
ANA 85-70 5

II. A's take 2 of 3

OAK 89-66 -
TEX 87-68 2
ANA 86-69 3

III. Angels take 2 of 3

OAK 88-67 -
TEX 86-68 1
ANA 87-68 1

IV. Angels sweep

ANA 88-67 -
TEX 87-68 1
OAK 87-68 1
In Scenario I, one of their two enemies is made to go nearly away. Is it best for the Rangers to only have to deal with one nemesis in the last week of the season? Or, is it better to let the Angels inflict a wound on the A's and tighten everything up?

The missing piece here is that the Angels go to Arlington for four games immediately after this. So, perhaps it would be best for the Rangers to have the Angels rough up the A's, after which they can see to the Angels' destruction personally?

You know how players on and managers of bad teams always claim they love to play the role of spoiler? Has anyone ever studied as to whether they actually put their effort where their love is? Do bad teams play slightly better in, say, the last two weeks of the season when matched up against a team fighting for its life?

My guess would be "no." I threw this question out to the lads down at the BP Social Club this morning. James Click says he did a quick pass on the topic last year and found nothing, confirming my suspicions. The topic demands a more thorough going over, however. If one of you is riding the rails or bumming around the country, I challenge you to make better use of your time and undertake a more in-depth study at the public library of the next town you stagger into.

Bobby Madritsch starts the first game of the series for the Ms. If he continues pitching like he has of late, the Rangers are going to have their mitts full with him. Very quietly, he's done extremely well since moving into the starting rotation on August 5. He's started nine games and posted a quality start in seven of them. He is certainly the most valuable pitcher on the Mariners since they off-loaded Freddy Garcia.

Madritsch needs to make the most of the 2004 season. Why? For one thing, he's a 28-year old rookie. For another, he has a tattoo on his neck. Say what you will about the tattoo fad, but once you put one in a place where it can't be hidden--except perhaps with a neck brace--you're pretty much giving up on that job in corporate America. In other words, if Madritsch doesn't make in baseball, he has severely limited his post-career working opportunities by putting the big feather right out there where everyone can see it. Of course, that might be a misconception on my part. Given the number of people who are tattooed these days, who can say that the CEO of IBM in a couple of years won't be a guy with a big snake coiled around his nose?

BEST AMERICAN LEAGUE MATCH-UP (Best combined records with both teams being over .500): New York Yankees @ Boston

Let's take the pitching match-ups from the four big series this weekend and assign them titles like we do with the team series, only using VORP instead of Won-Loss records.

  • Best Match-up: Mike Mussina, New York (21.2) vs. Pedro Martinez, Boston (54.4); Game 1, Friday

  • Worst Match-up: Cha Seung Baek, Seattle (-7.0) vs. Joaquin Benoit, Texas (-2.0); Game 1, Friday

  • Biggest Mismatch-up: Esteban Loaiza, New York (-7.9 as a Yankee) vs. Curt Schilling, Boston (70.8); Game 3, Sunday

  • Closest Match-up: None are especially close in terms of VORP. In the following three match-ups, there is a difference of about 13: Rich Harden, Oakland vs. Jarrod Washburn, Anaheim, Game 2, Saturday; Jeff Weaver, Los Angeles vs. Brett Tomko, San Francisco, Game 3, Sunday; Mark Mulder, Oakland vs. John Lackey, Anaheim, Game 3, Sunday

In each of these three cases, the pitcher with the higher VORP is on the visiting team. OK, there isn't a lot to get excited about in terms of pitching match-ups this weekend, but don't let that deter you from getting all Levitraed-up about these series. This is what it's all about, whether or not there is a marquee pitching match-up in the offing or not. Mussina/Martinez could certainly rise to the occasion.

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