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June 21, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

On the Road Again

by Jim Baker

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BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Texas Rangers (4th) @ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, USA, North America, Western Hemisphere, Earth (8th)

I don't want to get too personal here, but Francisco Cordero is the closer on my fantasy team and he's had one save opportunity in the last 21 games. That's just not going to work for me. My needs are not being met and, according to an inspirational poster I saw at a store once but couldn't afford to buy, "I am the most important person in my life." The Rangers are clearly scoring too many runs in their victories which is fine for somebody like Chan Ho Park, but not so great for me. I don't know Park very well but I'm pretty well-acquainted with who I am and, frankly, my needs have to come before his in my corner of the universe.

Park pitches tonight. His last time out, he closed out the fourth inning with his 98th pitch and lived to tell about it. Think about that: reaching the generally-agreed-upon proscribed pitch limit after just four innings, being allowed to pitch the fifth and getting the win. That's the life right there.

Park leads the sport in a couple of categories you probably would want to avoid. Not surprisingly, given his last outing, he throws the most pitches per inning and also the most per batter faced. You can get away with that kind of thing when your team is scoring almost nine runs per game for you. What did you have to be in a past life to get 8.71 runs of support per game? Mother Teresa?

Park could end up with a kick-ass won-loss record in spite of himself. He's 7-1 while working off an expected won-loss of 4-5. If he can just keep those pitch counts under 130 by the fifth inning, he could easily join this list of the best winning percentages ever by pitchers with ERAs over 5.00:

Pitcher, Year Team: Won-Loss, Pct/ERA
Roxie Lawson, 1937 Tigers: 18-7,.720/5.26
Joe Giard, 1925 Browns: 10-5, .667/5.04
Jack Wilson, 1940 Red Sox: 12-6, .667/5.08
Roger Pavlik, 1996 Rangers: 15-8, .652/5.19
Shawn Estes, 2004 Rockies: 15-8, .652/5.84
Ray Moss, 1929 Dodgers: 11-6, .647/5.04
Cliff Lee, 2004 Indians: 14-8, .636/5.43
Chuck Stobbs, 1950 Red Sox: 12-7, .632/5.10
Ray Kremer, 1930 Pirates: 20-12, .625/5.02
Randy Lerch, 1977 Phillies: 10-6, .625/5.07

These ERAs are not adjusted. Kremer, the only 20-game winner in history with a winning percentage over .600 and an ERA over 5.00, was just barely worse than league average in baseball's Year of the Funball, 1930. Park won't win 20, but he could end up 17-6 with the kind of support he's getting.

WORST MATCHUP (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Colorado Rockies (30th) @ Houston Astros (25th)

Or is this the Biggest Mismatchup? The Astros are a decent team at home while the Rockies--as is their custom, although they're really pushing it this year--are strictly PCL on the road. We've got two such colossal road/home mismatchups this week:

16 games: Tampa Bay (5-28) at Yankees (23-12)
15 games: Colorado (5-28) at Houston (19-12)

We've also got a disproportionate number of teams falling apart completely on the road in 2005. Here are the worst road records since 1972:


Year   Team       W    L     Pct.
2005    Rox       5    29    .147
2005    Rays      6    28    .176
2005    Reds      6    24    .200
1981    Cubs     11    35    .239
1988    O's      20    61    .247
2003    Tigers   20    61    .247
2005    Astros    9    27    .250
1977    Braves   21    60    .259
1979    Jays     21    60    .259
1989    Tigers   21    60    .259

Of course, this is just a snap shot of the 2005 season so far. I'm sure there were plenty of other teams who got off to horrendous road starts and then normalized as the season went on and avoided being on this list. Four teams, though? That sure seems like a lot. You've got to figure that at least one of them is going to keep playing like this on the road. My bet to best the '81 Cubs--a team with the distinct advantage of not having to play its full schedule--would be Colorado. Since they tank on the road in the best of circumstances, it only stands to reason they'd really tank on the road when they're clearly not in the best of circumstances.

Why is this occurring? Let's skip getting a real quote from an actual former ballplayer and fill one in by connecting the dots on all the usual themes:

"Your player of today is too soft to handle the road life even though they don't have to don anything other than show up and play. They get carried down to the lobby of the hotel by four bellboys and get to eat from a buffet that would make a Czar blush. And all those video games they're always playing aren't any good for the batting eye and don't get me started on the loud music. In my day, we could tell what kind of pitch was coming by sound it made when it left the pitcher's hand. Now they're all so deaf from the rock and the rap and country they're lucky if they can hear themselves think. Which leads me to another point--they're all too sensitive. A little booing on the road and they get all hurt--there's another problem on the road: susceptibility to outside interference from fan heckling. Hecklers aren't as good as they used to be, of course, but that doesn't matter to your coddled, soft modern player. They get their feelings hurt if they comb their hair too hard. Plus they're always tired on the road from all the women they get. Don't misunderstand me, we had women in my day too, but we went for quality over quantity. I don't blame the ballplayers so much as I blame fate because women were better looking in my day. Now they go through three or four a night just to find two who when you combine their best attributes equal someone I wouldn't have given a second look at in my prime. Naturally that wears a ballplayer down and it's no wonder they can only win one out of every four or five while on the travel."

BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (opponents with greatest difference in their Prospectus Hit List rankings): St. Louis Cardinals (2nd) @ Cincinnati Reds (28th)

Premise: There are more pitchers on bad teams having good years than there are position players doing so.

Only two position players from sub-.500 teams are currently in the top 20 in VORP. Jason Bay of the Pirates is eighth and Adam Dunn of these very Reds is 20th. Over in pitching ranks, it's a different story. Through Sunday's games:

Roger Clemens, Astros (1st)
Roy Halladay, Blue Jays (3rd)
Roy Oswalt, Astros (7th)
Pedro Martinez, Mets (8th)
Mark Redman, Pirates (9th)

Two starters in the top 20 are also on squads that are teetering at .500. Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks is 16th and Jason Johnson of the Tigers is 19th. Among relievers, it's even more pronounced. Four of the top seven best VORP figures among those who do not start come from sub-.500 clubs:

Pete Walker, Blue Jays (1st)
Huston Street, A's (5th)
Dan Wheeler, Astros (6th)
Andy Sisco, Royals (7th)

Positions 16 through 20 are also taken up by relievers in this situation.

CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Boston Red Sox (5th) @ Cleveland Indians (7th)

Enough of the giddy, winning-streak, feel-good crap: how good a chance do the Indians have of making the playoffs? The Indians have gone from everybody's sleeper team to actually being asleep all the way to their latest incarnation as the hottest team in baseball. Which are they really? Probably right around what they have now become. At .544, they are just about at the winning percentage I had them figured for before the season began (.531). I think they were finding their level and it's not a bad one, really.

I'd be a lot more excited about Grady Sizemore if he were Grady Walkmore. Out of the leadoff spot, he's got just eight in 150 plate appearances. Granted, this is not a team bursting with candidates to move into that role. Their best on-base threat is Travis Hafner and he's not the sort you'd want running station-to-station at the top of the order. As long as Sizemore can keep his batting average a good bit over .300, he will fill the bill until a better one comes along.

James Click provided research for this column.

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