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May 3, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

The Loneliness Factor

by Jim Baker

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BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined BP Hit List rankings): Florida (1st) @ Atlanta (8th)

Last year, Chipper Jones struck out more times than he walked for the first time since 1997. He seems to have that situation in hand. He's at 18-8 to the good so far, the kind of ratio that harkens back to his primo days. How reliant on Chipper have the Braves been so far? Last year, I invented a freak show stat called the Loneliness Factor. You can see how well it caught on. I'm sure you were discussing it at the water cooler just this morning. To figure the LF, we take the VORP of a team's best player, subtract the second-best player's VORP and divide the remainder by the third-best player's VORP. That is, if the second- and third-best players' VORP meets the best player's when combined. If not, we must reach down to the fourth- and fifth-best or beyond, in extreme circumstances.

The 2005 Braves are, to this point, just such an extreme circumstance. Their Loneliness Factor is nine-plus. Aside from Marcus Giles at 6.0, Chipper's 17.3 represents the overwhelming bulk of their output so far. All the other Braves combined--including Giles--cannot match him. (For comparison, a more typical number is that of the Diamondbacks. Troy Glaus has a Loneliness Factor of 1.4 since Luis Gonzalez is at 8.7 and Craig Counsell is at 6.7.) This won't last, of course. Andruw Jones will get up into the 20s by the end of the year and Giles will turn it on and get over 30. When the Braves are still in it come September, though, just remember who kept them afloat way back in April.

You know, sometimes you stumble across things on the web that demand an explanation. The thing of it is, sometimes it's better not to know that explanation. Sometimes the absurdity should go without clarification. Such a case, for me, would be the eleventh picture down on this page.

I don't really need to know the circumstances that brought this creation into the world. Knowing that it exists is probably too much in and of itself.

CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the BP Hit List rankings): Texas (22nd) @ Oakland (21st) and Los Angeles Angels (17th) @ Seattle (18th)

Bit of a log jam in the West. If you look at the standings, you'd swear you were looking at won-loss records from four seasons of some poor, under-supported number two starter. The American League West is currently the skid row of baseball divisions. While they don't have any representatives at the very bottom of the Hit List, neither do they have anybody close to the top. In fact, averaging the Hit List placements for each of the divisions, this is what we get:

11.6: National League East
14.2: American League Central
14.6: American League East
15.2: National League West
18.2: National League Central
19.5: American League West

Both the NLE and the ALC have three teams in the top ten with only the Phillies dragging the leaders down.

Things are not only flat on the team level, but individual AL Westies aren't stepping up, either. With four teams out of 30, the AL West should have approximately seven players in the top 50 in VORP. They only have three:

9th: Vladimir Guerrero, Angels (15.3)
16th: Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners (13.3)
20th: David Dellucci, Rangers (11.7)

There should be about 14 of 'em in the top 100, but the total is only nine. Chone Figgins (53rd), Mark Kotsay (65th), Raul Ibanez (66th), Richie Sexson (75th), Mike Young (87th) and Alfonso Soriano (95th) are currently hanging in the second 50.

The A's have been eschewing the stolen base for some time now. They've alternated between last and next-to-last in steals since 1999. This year, they've taken it to a new level, only making six attempts to this point (and making it twice). The trouble is, they're not coming up on the power end, either. Heading into play Monday night, they were tied with the Mariners for last in the league with 16 homers.

How rare is it for a team to finish last in both home runs and steals? Pretty doggone rare. The last time it happened, the Astros were known as the Colt .45s. Here are a few of the 19 previous teams to manage this feat:

  • 1962-63 Houston Colt .45s: The pre-Astros were born in a pitchers' park. They stole 42 their first year, 39 their second and 40 their third. That got them out of the basement when not one but three teams stole fewer bases than they did

  • 1959 Pittsburgh Pirates: This team did something that none of the others on this list managed to do: they finished over .500 (78-76). The next year, they were still last in steals and rose to just sixth in homers and went all the way.

  • 1954-56 Pittsburgh Pirates: Not stealing in the mid-'50s was no great sin, but the Bucs made it a problem by being the only National League team in this period to get caught more times than they succeeded. Forbes Field was not a great place for long balls, either. Still, though, what sorts of things happened when you went to see the Pirates at home in those years? Well, there were the triples. They had the most in the league in this period. That had to have some entertainment value in the absence of everything else.

  • 1942 Philadelphia Phillies: The teams that did this combined for a .394 winning percentage. These Phils, at 43-109, were the worst of the lot.

  • 1931 Cincinnati Reds: 1931 Cincinnati Reds: This team combined for an unbelievably low 21 home runs and 24 steals. It is easily the lowest combined total of all time. Next lowest are the '45 A's with 58. No team has finished under 100 since 1955. The '92 Red Sox were closest with 128, not counting strike seasons.

  • 1901 Cleveland Blues: Just for fun, they were also last in walks received while their pitchers gave up the most runs per game. Somehow, they didn't even finish in last place.

The 2005 A's appear to be a lock for last in steals, unless the Red Sox start getting caught all of a sudden (they had the second-fewest in the league with eight but have yet to be caught). The homer race is not a done deal, though. That has all the makings of a temporary outage. The team poled 189 last year, good for a middle-of-the-pack placement, and most of those fellows have returned. The '31 Reds can rest easy.

BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (opponents with greatest difference in BP Hit List rankings): Kansas City (29th) @ Chicago White Sox (4th)

Best VORP of any reliever in baseball? That's right: Kansas City Rule-Fiver Andy Sisco. That's the good news. The bad news is that he's acing the guys on his own team who pitch more innings, namely--the starters. Only three teams are currently experiencing this rather unpleasant phenomenon:

Royals: Sisco: 9.7; Denny Bautista, 4.3

Cubs: Glendon Rusch, 5.2; Carlos Zambrano, 4.7

Rockies: Marcos Carvajal, 5.8; Shawn Chacon, 5.5

WORST MATCHUP (opponents with worst combined BP Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): New York Yankees (23rd) @ Tampa Bay (28th)

Randy Johnson must think he's back on the Diamondbacks' 2004 pitching staff. Last year, the Snakes had 13 pitchers with negative VORPs. Even discounting all those negatories, Johnson's 2004 VORP was still higher than all the other D-back pitchers with positive VORPs combined, by a count of 69.3 to 62.4. Now, he finds himself as the only Yankee pitcher who has started more than one game who can claim a VORP that isn't a negative number. All told, Yankees other than Johnson, who is at 8.2, are a combined -2.1. For an extra dose of irony, no current Arizona starter is below zero.

It's like going to Paradise and finding out they don't clean the bathrooms regularly.

James Click contributed research to this column.

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