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May 27, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

Ivy Pride

by Jim Baker

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BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Chicago White Sox (2nd) @ Texas Rangers (11th)

Here's a not-so-crazy idea for the Rangers: Make some kind of offer for Roger Clemens. This will allow Clemens to keep pitching in his home state and give the Rangers a better shot at making something out of the American League West race before the Angels make a mockery of it--in spite of their many problems.

Kenny Rogers has some pretty stunning stats to go with the fourth-highest VORP in the majors. He easily has the worst K:BB ratio of anyone in the VORP top 15. Other than Carlos Silva of the Twins (15th), who has, conversely, nearly given up walking batters entirely, Rogers has the fewest strikeouts per nine innings. He's given up the second-most hits per nine (just in front of Silva, once again) and has walked more men per game than everyone except Milwaukee's Chris Capuano in that group. How has Rogers performed this smoke and mirrors act? It's helped that he's kept the ball in the park. Only Shea Hillenbrand of the Blue Jays has managed to touch him for a homer. (Florida's Josh Beckett and Oakland's Kirk Saarloos are the only other qualifying starters to have allowed just one home run.)

Chris Young goes for the Rangers tonight and he's in a position to log one of the more impressive rookie starting pitcher campaigns of the last quarter-century. He hasn't had a bad outing since his second start of the season. If things continue at this pace, he (along with Toronto's Gustavo Chacin) could end up with a VORP in the 40s. Only 20 rookie pitchers who were predominantly starters have done this since 1979:


63.1 Britt Burns, 1980 White Sox
58.4 Hideo Nomo, 1995 Dodgers
56.8 Rolando Arrojo, 1998 Devil Rays
52.1 Freddie Garcia, 1999 Mariners
49.4 Brandon Webb, 2003 Diamondbacks
49.3 Ismael Valdez, 1995 Dodgers
47.4 Rodrigo Lopez, 2002 Orioles
47.3 Dwight Gooden, 1984 Mets
45.3 Orlando Hernandez, 1998 Yankees
45.1 Matt Morris, 1997 Cardinals
44.9 Mike Boddicker, 1983 Orioles
44.9 Fernando Valenzuela, 1981 Dodgers
44.3 Tim Hudson, 1999 A's
44.1 John Halama, 1999 Mariners
44.0 Roy Oswalt, 2001 Astros
42.3 Rick Ankiel, 2000 Cardinals
41.9 Kevin Appier, 1990 Royals
41.2 Jose Rosado, 1996 Royals
41.2 Ross Baumgarten, 1979 White Sox
40.0 Dontrelle Willis, 2003 Marlins

Young turned 26 just two days ago, so he's not exactly a phenom. He is, however, a fairly rare cat--a pitcher with an Ivy League pedigree (in this case, Princeton). Could he become the best pitcher ever to come out of that particular collegiate athletic league? It's a long shot, but there is not a great deal of precedent in that regard. While Ivy schools have produced Hall of Fame hitters Lou Gehrig and Eddie Collins and solid careerists Roy Thomas and Red Rolfe, there have been no all-time great pitchers to emerge from their hallowed halls, although Ron Darling was pretty decent. (The League's two divisions are named after Gehrig of Columbia and Rolfe of Dartmouth.)

Here are the all-time won-lost records of pitchers who attended Ivy League schools (courtesy baseball-reference.com):


             W       L       PCT.   Most notable pitcher
Harvard     47      39      .547    Jeff Musselman
Yale       399     338      .541    Ron Darling
Brown      349     371      .485    Bump Hadley
Princeton   57      63      .475    Dave Sisler
Dartmouth  264     328      .446    Mike Remlinger
Cornell     11      15      .423    Ole Oleson
Columbia    54      95      .362    George Smith
Penn        26      61      .299    20 non-descript fellows

Total     1207    1310      .480
 
This doesn't include Young's 7-4 mark heading into tonight's game with the White Sox. With his entry into the majors, he's catapulted Princeton past Brown in the all-time winning percentage sweepstakes. (As a side note, looking at the Ivy totals makes me think it would be interesting to see what the all-time won-lost record for college attendees is compared to non-attendees. It's probably close to a 50/50 split, but it would be neat to find out.)

WORST MATCHUP (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Pittsburgh Pirates (23rd) @ Cincinnati Reds (30th)

Are the Reds the worst team in baseball? Naah. They'll be out of the pit by the time the next Prospectus Hit List goes up next week. The sweep of the Natty Dreads has surely catapulted them out of the cistern and a decent turn against the Pirates this weekend will push them past Kansas City and Colorado, I boldly predict.

The Pirates and Reds are last in the league in successful sacrifice bunts, so if they hold true to form, you won't be bothered by a bunch of candy-ass sacrificing this weekend when watching this series. Together, they have one less than the Diamondbacks. This is a nice bit of change from the past three seasons of the Lloyd McClendon reign. The Pirates were fifth, fourth and seventh in sacrifices the last three years. They were 12th his first year at the helm (2001). One would assume Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have fewer opportunities to sacrifice, and that's probably the case since they're behind so much. In terms of sacs per runners on first base, though (an inexact accounting method, true), the Reds move one every 39 runners over and the Pirates one every 30. That's first and fourth in the league.

People were way too busy last year worrying about whether the Red Sox would break their 86-year championship drought when there was something far more serious on the line: Their seven-year old record for most team doubles. In the end, they only tied it:


373: 2004 Boston Red Sox
373: 1997 Boston Red Sox
373: 1930 St. Louis Cardinals
371: 2003 Boston Red Sox
358: 1930 Cleveland Indians
357: 2003 Toronto Blue Jays
357: 1936 Cleveland Indians
355: 1921 Cleveland Indians
353: 1931 St. Louis Cardinals
349: 1934 Detroit Tigers

A year later, the Reds have gotten themselves into pretty good position to break this record. The Reds have poled, chopped, slapped, gapped, blasted, banged, ground-ruled, tweened and hustled for 112 doubles so far. This would put them in the neighborhood of 378 doubles if they can keep it up. In order to truly get the asterisk monkey off the back of the modern record breakers ('30 Cards had .12 more doubles per game than the two Sox clubs), though, they would need to get pretty close to 400 for the year. It's a tall order given their usual injury hassles, but it's something to watch for in a season that is otherwise looking pretty lost.

CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Boston Red Sox (6th) @ New York Yankees (8th)

Was the unbalanced schedule the result of a concerted lobbying expert on the part of the Northeastern Scalpers Consortium? Nine or 10 home games against the Red Sox is a nice bump in the wallet for Mr. S. Calper and his New York cronies. Ditto for his Boston cousin, Dr. T. Out. A grand conspiracy, I say.

If we take away Alex Rodriguez's three multi-homer games, we're left with a season that most players would gladly accept. Without benefit of April 18, April 26 and May 24 (seven homers, 19 RBI, 11-for-13), Rodriguez runs a line of .279/.325/.503. Among American League third basemen, that's essentially what Melvin Mora of Baltimore is doing. It seems like longer, but it's only been three years since a player hit 50 homers (Rodriguez, again, with 57, followed by Jim Thome with 52). A 50-spot at Yankee Stadium would be more impressive than Rodriguez's similar showings at the Ballpark at Arlington. The last Yankees to hit 50 homers in a season were Roger Maris (61) and Mickey Mantle (54) in 1961. Since that famous season, no Yankee has gotten especially close, and only three of them have broken the 40-mark. Here are the top 10 homer totals from 1962 on:


44: Tino Martinez, 1997
41: Jason Giambi, 2003
41: Giambi, 2002
41: Reggie Jackson, 1980
39: Alfonso Soriano, 2002
38: Soriano, 2001
37: Dave Winfield, 1982
37: Graig Nettles, 1977
36: Rodriguez, 2004
36: Gary Sheffield, 2004

The last Yankee home-run champion was Jackson in 1980. (Nettles also grabbed a title in 1976 but with just 32--as was the custom at the time.) There's something, I don't know, strangely unimpressive about this list. I think it's because we have a perception of the Yankees as uberteam and that perception should be borne out in every aspect of the game--including ridiculous home-run totals.

If Rodriguez can keep shuttling them out of the park at near his current rate, he will find himself among the all-time Yankee single-season home-run leaders. The top ten includes only four men: Maris (1st), Mantle (tied for 4th and in 7th), Babe Ruth (2nd, 3rd, tied for 4th twice and tied for 8th) and Lou Gehrig (tied for 8th twice). Busting into the midst of that group is money, regardless of the context.

Tom Gorman contributed research to this column.

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