April 8, 2005
Armchair Manager Edition
CLOSEST MATCHUP (Teams with records that most resemble one another at press time): Cleveland @ Detroit
We're still using last year's records to determine the match-ups and, believe it or not, this is the closest pairing of the weekend. We should bill this as "Disparity Weekend." By random chance, all but two of the series feature teams that finished at least ten games away from their opponents in 2004. Cleveland and Detroit were eight games apart and the White Sox and Twins were nine. The opponents in the other 13 series were a minimum of 15 games away from one another when the smoke cleared at the end of last season. The average disparity of the 15 pairings is 22.27 games. Of course, it's completely random, but if you paired up opponents by closest records from 2004, the average disparity would be a little over 2 ½ games. How extreme is this weekend's polarity? Consider this: if one were to seed the teams by 2004 records and have number one play number 16 in the National League and number one play number 14 in the American and so on, the average disparity would be 22.8--or just about what this weekend's match-ups turn out to be.
Not that this should bother you as you take in this weekend's games. It's a whole new season, after all.
There were some major meltdowns by closers this week and from the look of the headlines, you would think this was a man-bites-dog situation. Braden Looper, Mariano Rivera and--to the benefit of the White Sox on Wednesday--Bob Wickman all threw leads away like they were condom wrappers at an orgy. Understanding that we have come to expect a certain amount of perfection from Mr. Rivera, why is this treated as such big news? This is what closers do when they don't get the job done, right? They fail to hold leads at crucial moments. To that end, by saying a closer blew a save, we are basically assigning no credit for the team that came back. True, it takes a handful of men to create a rally, like Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye who homered off Wickman, so it's more expedient for headline and news copywriters to concentrate on the individual on the other side.
This brings up the continued obsession that many managers have with bringing in their closers at predictable junctures. This is some serious second-guessing here but I'll throw it open to a generic discussion with the White Sox-Indians game used merely as an illustration. If a set-up man is doing well and hasn't thrown a million pitches, why change boats in calm waters? Arthur Rhodes certainly had a handle on things against the Sox. He had only thrown 19 pitches. He exceeded that total 18 times last year (true, as a closer when he did so it was usually when he was in trouble). Why not--and here comes the fireman vs. closer argument again--let Rhodes start the ninth and at least wait until he gave up a baserunner before going to Wickman? This was, after all, a three-run lead, so there was some margin for error. Unfortunately, closers have become something like rock bands with a flute player--they're going to work it in on every song whether it fits or not, just because they've got one.
BEST MATCHUP (Best combined record with both teams being over .500): Philadelphia @ St. Louis
Did you ever notice that these two teams were in the same division for a quarter of a century and that they only tangled in a pennant race one time? It was a simple case of one being down while the other was up (1976-78, 1985, 1987) or both being down at the same time (1969-70, 1988, 1990). The one time they finished one-two was in 1982 when St. Louis prevailed by three games.
On September 13, St. Louis headed to the Vet for a three-game series nursing a half-game lead. Steve Carlton smacked them down with a three-hitter, striking out 12 and walking no one, out-dueling and homering off of Bob Forsch. The 2-0 win put the Phils into first place. That day marked the sixth and final time he would win 20 games. It was also the high water mark for Philadelphia. The Cards came back with two shutouts of their own behind John Stuper and Joaquin Andujar. The Phils stayed in the picture but it was hard with the Cardinals sweeping the Mets in two doubleheaders and a single game. The final meetings between the teams came on September 19 and 20 in St. Louis with the Phils now trailing by 4 ½ games. Another Andujar victory widened the margin to 5 ½ with just 13 to go. In the final game between the two, Carlton struck out 14 and prevailed 5-2. Time was too short by then and the Cards clinched several days later. The Phillies narrowed the gap to three games after St. Louis had it sewn up.
They're bound to meet in the playoffs one of these years. It looks like St. Louis is up to making this a reality in 2005. The Phils, on the other hand, need to get at least two starting pitchers with NRAs under 4.00. Of the 18 Phillies pitchers who have made at least 10 starts from 2002 through 2004, only three have managed this:
The bad news is that in the entire length of his career, newest Phillie Jon Lieber has only achieved this once in ten seasons. That figure? 3.99 in 2001 with the Cubs.
SECOND BIGGEST NATIONAL LEAGUE MISMATCHUP (Second-largest disparity in records with one team over .500 and the other under .500): New York Mets @ Atlanta
Raise your hand if Kaz Ishii's outing yesterday surprised you. This is vintage Kaz--if one can use the word "vintage" with a player who has only been in the league for a little over three years. He surrendered just two hits, though he walked four and hit another. He did manage to strike out seven Reds which either means he's at least on the right track to getting his BB:K ratios back to where they where in 2002-03, or that pitching against Adam Dunn and the Reds is good for what ails your K/9 numbers. As a team, they've already taken the non-contact route to the bench 32 times so far. That's not a criticism. Who cares about team offensive strikeouts? And look at the end results. It is, however, something the Mets should consider when trying to salvage some dignity out of getting swept out of Cincinnati. Not every team is going to disrupt the air the way they do.
When the Mets acquired Ishii to team him up with Victor Zambrano at the back end of the rotation, John Erhardt plucked a couple of good lines for BP's "The Week in Quotes" feature. Neither bodes well for the Mets:
That one is so good, it almost sounds like a set-up. Is Bruce Vilanch advising the Dodgers now? The second quote regards another back-of-the-order Mets moundsman:
"When I walk a lot of guys, I'm not happy about it."
Ishii and Zambrano combined for 200 walks in 314 innings last year, a sizable outlay, to say the least. Fortunately for New York, the rest of their rotation-- Pedro Martinez (2.53 walks per nine innings in 2004), Kris Benson (2.74) and Tom Glavine (2.96)--are not so generous. As it is, Ishii and Zambrano are in an excellent position to be the walkingest pair of teammate starters in the bigs. Here's the competition, with their combined 2004 walk rate:
Arizona fans are going to long for the days of their recent past when they had Curt Schilling and his average of 35 walks issued per season (not to mention Randy Johnson walking just 44 in 245 2/3 innings last year). The trio of Webb, Ortiz and Estes should each have that many by Memorial Day. The transfer of Estes from Colorado to Arizona almost guarantees the Diamondbacks the league walks-allowed crown as only 29 passes separated the two clubs last year.
THE BEST OPPORTUNITY FOR ME TO RANT ABOUT A DUMB PLAY MATCHUP: Washington @ Florida
If there's one thing Juan Pierre can do, it's hit singles. Say anything else you want about him, the guy can singleton it out there with the best of 'em. In fact, he served notice on this in his first year in the bigs. Playing in Coors Field, he managed 62 hits, 60 of which were singles. (This figure of 3.2 extra base hit percentage has got to be a record for players with over 200 plate appearances, doesn't it?) That was in 2000, and since then he's averaged 167 singles a year, including 184 last year.
So, we've established his credentials as a singler. Why, then, was he bunting with nobody out and a runner on second in the bottom of the 10th of Wednesday night's game against Atlanta? If you're reading BP, you know the sacrifice is not well-regarded around here, but surely some sac bunts are more evil than others. Having the pitcher with the career .053 batting average lay one down is certainly consigned to an outer circle of hell while this particular maneuver must be placed much closer to the flame.
That Pierre popped the ball in the air and Damion Easley was doubled off second is almost beside the point. The fact remains that he never should have been bunting in the first place. Looking at the BP Expected Run Matrix, you can expect a runner on second with no outs to produce 1.1596 runs on average, while a runner on third with one out produces .9722 on average. If Pierre had gotten the bunt down, what is gained? It can be argued that the situation is different in a sudden death situation like Wednesday's. Teams faced with a winning run on third invariably walk the next two men to create a force. They also drag in the outfield and shade the infield half-way to either cut down the run at the plate or try for the double play. The irony is that the Marlins were already in a scoring situation and in no danger of being doubled up - that is, until the bunt went awry.
In honor of the late Pope, John Paul II, I thought it would be interesting to compile an all-Papal team. To qualify, players must have the same first or last name as the taken names of one of the Popes, going all the way back to the beginning of the Papacy. No, Dave Pope and Donn "Pope" Pall are not eligible. I also decided against using John, Paul, Peter and Stephen because there were just too many choices among the players. (Had Pauls been allowed, Paul Molitor would have been the designated hitter.) I tried to take the best player available but, as is often the case with these sorts of things, a need to fill a position takes precedent.
Gregory "Greg" Maddux (1986 to present)
First Pope with that name: St. Gregory I (590-604)
Matt Clement: (1998 to present)
First Pope with that name: St. Clement I (88-97)
Gregory and Clement were teammates last year. A note on variations: I decided not to use them, but if I had, Roberto Clemente would have been a good one for Pope Clement. St. Eusebius (Tony Eusebio) and St. Sixtus I (Sixto Lezcano) would be other approximations.
Urban "Red" Faber (1914-1933)
First Pope with that name: St. Urban I (222-230)
As a Hall of Famer, Faber gets the nod over that other famous Urban, his contemporary Urban Shocker.
Grover Cleveland Alexander (1911-1930)
First Pope with that name: St. Alexander I (105-115)
Victor "Vic" Willis (1898-1910)
First Pope with that name: St. Victor I (189-199)
Four of the five starters are either in or will be in the Hall of Fame.
Fabian Kowalik (1932-1936)
First Pope with that name: St. Fabian (236-250)
Sylvester "Blix" Donnelly (1944-1951)
First Pope with that name: St. Sylvester I (314-335)
Bruce Benedict (1978-1989)
First Pope with that name: Benedict I (575-579)
Benedict was the 62nd Pope and just the seventh of that early group never to be canonized.
Constantine "Gus" Niarhos (1946-1955)
First Pope with that name: Constantine (708-715)
Pius "Pi" Schwert (1914-1915)
First Pope with that name: St. Pius I (140-155)
The last Pope who is now a saint was Pius X, who died the same year that Schwert broke in with the Yankees.
Adrian "Cap" Anson (1871-1897)
First Pope with that name: Adrian I (772-795)
Anson bore the name of two Popes: Adrian and Constantine. Gus Niarhos was Constantine Gregory. Blix Donnelly was Sylvester Urban. There are countless other players so-monikered, like the aforementioned Molitor, who is Paul Leo.
Nicholas "Nick" Etten (1938-1947)
First Pope with that name: St. Nicholas (858-867)
Only three Popes bear the sobriquet "The Great." Nicholas was the last and the one with the shortest reign. Etten is the only player named Nicholas ever named to an All-Star team.
Marcus Giles (2001 to present)
First Pope with that name: St. Marcus (336)
Pepper Martin (1928-1944)
First Pope with that name: St. Martin I (649-655)
Clearly, the best player ever to carry the name "Martin" front or back was Cuban superstar Martin Dihigo. He could probably be dropped anywhere on this list as he was, like Babe Ruth a threat at the plate and on the mound. Hall of Famer Marty Marion is another possibility. Had I been stretching the rules, third baseman Clete Boyer would have been a match for St. Anacletus (76-88). Boyer's actual name was "Cletis" and Anacletus, the third Pope, was known as "Cletus."
Lucius "Luke" Appling (1930-1950)
First Pope with that name: St. Lucius I (253-254)
Another Hall of Famer. Unlike a lot of jury-rigged "name" teams, this Papal squad would rock.
Linus "Lonny" Frey (1933-1948)
First Pope with that name: St. Linus (67-76)
Frey was a three-time All-Star who split his time between second base and shortstop.
Theodore "Ted" Williams (1939-1960)
First Pope with that name: Theodore I (642-649)
The temptation to use George "The Stork" Theodore here was strong, but quality won out. Middle names were not counted, but all three DiMaggio brothers bore the middle name of "Paul," a name that has adorned six Popes.
Zachary "Zack" Wheat (1909-1927)
First Pope with that name: St. Zachary (741-752)
Julius "Moose" Solters (1934-1943)
First Pope with that name: St. Julius I (357-352)
Felix Jose (1988-2003)
First Pope with that name: St. Felix I (269-274)
Ben Paschal (1915-1929)
First Pope with that name: St. Paschal (817-824)
Paschal was a member of the '27 Yankees, but had his best moments filling in for Babe Ruth in 1925 (.360/.417/.611). He outslugged both Ruth and Lou Gehrig that year by nearly 70 points.
Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy, a.k.a Connie Mack (1894-1950)
First Pope with that name: St. Cornelius (251-253)
Leo Durocher (managed 1939-1973)
First Pope with that name: St. Leo I (440-461)
Bobby Valentine (managed 1985-2002)
First Pope with that name: Valentine (827)
Pope Valentine lasted just two months. If catcher weren't so jammed, another choice here might have been Valentine "Val" Picinich.
John Paul was the first new Pope name since Pope Lando passed away in 914. That meant that for a thousand years, 142 Popes chose names that already been used. As for ballplayers named John Paul, the pickings are slim. 12 men have made the majors with that as their first and middle names and most have had short careers. The four pitchers totaled 11 appearances and the highest career EqA among the position players was .233 by Johnny Pasek. The John Paul best-known to modern fans would be former Pirate and Marlin John Wehner, a player who scratched out an 11-year career without ever coming to the plate more than 149 times.