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June 25, 2005
The Thrill is Gone
Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Chicago Cubs (11th) @ Chicago White Sox (3rd)
Remember back just a few years ago when Krispy Kreme doughnuts were thought of by most as this exotic, regional delicacy that celebrities had flown in by chartered jet and drunken college kids took thousand-mile road trips to eat? Now, there's a Krispy Kreme in every neighborhood and they sell them in supermarkets and gas stations. Hell, an eight-year old could probably get a franchise to sell them in a makeshift stand made of cardboard boxes in front of his house. It just isn't a big deal anymore--the novelty is gone and the balloon has popped.
The same can be said for interleague play. The novelty is long gone, yet Major League Baseball continues to shill this empty box. The latest e-mail from MLB.com Insider is titled "Interleague Play Thrills Again." Right. MLB beats the interleague drum so hard that you would think their families are being held hostage in a dark room by some kind of pro-interleague cult. If it's the big shot in the arm the game needs--as its proponents continue to claim--then let's have them do this: schedule the interleague games the second and third weeks of April, a traditional downtime for attendance. If the thrill of watching the Reds come to town to play the Blue Jays is so incredible, then the fans will turn out to see the exotic beasts from the other league regardless of the weather or the fact that school is still in session. Scheduling these games in the nice-weather months is just overkill and obfuscates one of the key factors in the "need" for this unnatural practice.
I'm as excited about Derrek Lee's chances of winning the Triple Crown as any fan who hasn't mentioned batting average since the Clinton administration. Seriously, it's cool in spite of the fact that two points on the crown aren't especially relevant to anyone who follows the game seriously. The merits of the individual stats involved are beside the point when you're talking about doing something that hasn't been done in nearly four decades.
I think we need to keep Lee's season in perspective, though. Any talk of his now having ascended to the very upper echelon of baseball's shiniest stars is premature at best. He's 29 years old and has an EqA about 100 points higher than his career mark. At his age, this is looking more like a spike season than a great, permanent leap forward. If he levels off at .350, posts a .342 in 2006 and a .352 in 2007, then I will be proven wrong.
I think it's much more likely that he'll return to the .280 to .300 range next year. I'm not being hard on the guy--he's a solid player who any team would want even when he's not spiking. I just don't think we should get carried away and think he has become something he isn't.
Worst Matchup (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Kansas City Royals (27th) @ Colorado Rockies (30th)
"Sweet home, Colorado, where the skies are so blue…"
I am singing that correctly, right? After another humiliating foray out into the wide world, the Rockies retreat back to their mountain fortress where they play their opponents even up. The Rox have become something like the Procambarus horsti or Albino Cave Crayfish--they're fine in their specific environment but in great peril when confronted with new surroundings.
The Rockies aren't going to go 11-101 on the road like the 1899 Cleveland Spiders did, but it's only because they won't stop playing home games like the 1899 Cleveland Spiders did. Give them a schedule with more than three-quarters of their games on the road and let's see what they can come up with. Let's compare the Rockies road record with those of the losingest teams of all time. These aren't necessarily the worst road teams ever, just the teams that managed to lose 110 or more games in a single season while playing in the National or American League:
.139 - 2005 Rockies, 5-31 .167 - 1935 Braves, 13-65 .169 - 1916 A's, 13-64 .197 - 1904 Nationals, 15-61 .208 - 1932 Red Sox, 16-61 .210 - 1963 Mets, 17-64 .221 - 1898 Browns, 19-67 .225 - 1962 Mets, 18-62 .243 - 1941 Phillies, 20-59 .247 - 2003 Tigers, 20-61 .247 - 1952 Pirates, 19-58 .259 - 1965 Mets, 21-60 .325 - 1939 Browns, 25-52Man! When you can outdo that crowd in any endeavor your ass is historic!
If you're a Rockies fan, here's something you might want to try: pretend they don't exist when they go out on the road. Don't listen to them on the radio. Don't watch their games on television and don't look at the sports page. Then, when they get back from a trip, just resume your fandom where it left off before they amscrayed. In this way, you can delude yourself into thinking you're pulling for a .500 ballclub.
Just watch: the Royals temporary turnaround under Buddy Bell will result in a ten-year contract extension for their new manager.
Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Cincinnati Reds (28th) @ Cleveland Indians (7th)
In Tuesday's column, I mentioned the paucity of position players from bad teams in the VORP top 20 compared to the disproportionate number of starters and relief pitchers. As it turns out, it's just one of those things. In this and the previous 10 seasons, 59 batters placed in the top 20 in VORP from losing teams while 57 pitchers did so. Thank goodness I didn't go into a "see, pitching doesn't mean that much" rant complete with cursing, epitaphs and poxes called down on those who would dare disagree with me. For the record, pitching as a dominant force has been traditionally over-hyped, but this year's disparity in high-caliber offense from players on bad teams is not a data point in the argument against that hype.
Closest Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): San Francisco Giants (26th) @ Oakland A's (24th)
In case you haven't noticed, the A's are up off the canvas and are wiping the blood from their wounds. I can't say they're going to rally to win the division or the 89 games I predicted they would before the season began, but they will finish at or over .500.
I think all of us--me included--get too locked into what is going on at any given moment during a season. We forget the "snapshot" aspect the daily standings. They are but a glimpse at a team at a moment in time. A team's won-loss record and place in the standings is subject to change but it is sometimes hard to grasp that. We think we are seeing eternity when all we are watching is an instant. Where were the Indians a short time ago? Right...within a Night Train bottle's throw of Skid Row. Now they're ranked seventh in the Prospectus Hit List. The Padres were in similar straits and they rose up only to fall out of the top ten once again.
So far in 2005, just about every A's regular has posted an EqA lower than his career number. Eric Byrnes is right about at career average and Bobby Kielty is slightly over his. Bobby Crosby is over, too, in the short duration of both his career and 2005 season. As for the rest of them, doesn't it stand to reason they will move closer to their career averages rather than further away? This isn't to say they'll all surge to or past their norm and drive the A's past Texas and Los Angeles, but .500 is there for the taking.
As for the Giants, they are playing in a division that is begging to left in the dust by a team with ambition. The team to do it, obviously, is the aforementioned Padres, but they have yet to put the spurs to it. They won't have to overachieve to win it though if the Dodgers don't retake the initiative. San Diego could easily coast into the playoffs with 85 or 86 wins.
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