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July 1, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

The Nearly Nil Nats Effect

by Jim Baker

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BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Cleveland Indians (8th) @ Baltimore Orioles (5th)

It was to be an attendance Armageddon. The coming of a team to Washington was going to make Camden Yards look like Cleveland Municipal Stadium back in the mid-80s, a giant echo chamber where pigeons outnumbered people. Ignoring the fact that attendance in Baltimore actually went down the first three seasons after the last Washington team left town (1972-74), has this mass exodus from Oriole Park taken place?

No. Not really, in spite of the fact that the upstart Nationals are outdrawing the Orioles so far.

Baltimore attendance is down slightly from last year--but it's up from two years ago and is about in line from where it's been since 2002:


2005: 31,570
2004: 34,300
2003: 30,302
2002: 33,116
2001: 38,369

A couple of things to consider: Through June 30 of last year, attendance was at 33,696. The average improved over last summer and will this year, too, even though the team is drifting down to terra firma. Another thing is that the Giants and Barry Bonds had visited Camden Yards in June of last year. This helped the average by almost 1,000 fans per game. Take that out of there and the difference between this year and last is negligible.

Speaking of the Giants, how has the absence of Bonds impacted their viability as a road draw? Last year, San Francisco was third in road attendance behind the Yankees and Cubs, the two clubs with arguably the largest diasporas in the majors. They--or, more accurately, he--were good for 36,190 per game. So far in 2005, the Giants are bringing in barely over 30,000 on the road, meaning they've dropped into that random range where the visiting teams are interchangeable.

A friend sent me some Sports Illustrated articles he found in his files. Most were from the mid-'70s. Knowing what we do now and given the way many writers now present data, there is a definite disconnect in reading stuff from that period. For instance, in a piece about the famous 1937 Newark Bears--the Yankee farm team that is one of the best minor league squads ever assembled--the level of analysis is fairly one-dimensional. It's a good piece, but every player mentioned is considered almost exclusively by one statistic only--batting average. A good number of the Bears hit over .300 that year, leading the author to write this: "(Joe) Gordon hit only .280, but he hit 26 home runs." The pitchers are only judged by their won-loss records. It's strange to think that, not so very long ago, this was how it was done.

BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Colorado Rockies (30th) @ St. Louis Cardinals (1st)

I started this before last night's game started and wrote this cocksure preamble to the series:

"Can you picture the Rockies winning any of these games? It doesn't seem possible, does it? A team with a shot at one of the worst road records ever recorded facing the best team in baseball in its home element?"

So, now that Jeff Francis is out of the way, can you picture the Rockies winning any of the remaining games?

The Cards have been averaging about five-and-a-half runs at home while the Rockies are right around three away from Coors. While that doesn't give Colorado pitchers a lot of wiggle room, it probably doesn't matter, as they have a team ERA of 5.82 away from home. This discrepancy is the greatest in the majors as most teams fall under a run per game difference either way in ERA/Run Support on the road. Here are the biggest this year:


-2.63: Colorado
-2.08: Tampa Bay
-2.00: Cincinnati

Not surprisingly, the Angels (1.60), Cardinals (1.60) and White Sox (1.42) cover the other end of the spectrum.

This leads us to a minor innovation: Now you can select the type of game you'd like to watch by picking the road opponent. Want to see a lot of runs cross the plate? Tune into contests when these clubs are the visitors:


Tampa Bay: 11.60 (combined ERA and Run Support)
Baltimore: 11.34
Boston:    11.07

And in the National?

Cincinnati:    10.70
San Francisco: 10.26
San Diego:     10.19

Are you a fan of lower-scoring affairs? Try watching these American League teams when they're in gray:

Oakland:   7.84
Minnesota: 7.99
Chicago:   8.10

And their National League counterparts:

Milwaukee:    8.10
Philadelphia: 8.15
Houston:      8.38

No team has ever been as good on the road as Rockies have been bad, which you probably could have guessed. The list of teams in history that even approach reciprocating what the 2005 Rockies have done on the road can be handled by a short count. These are the best road records since 1900:

.800: 1906 Cubs
.740: 1909 Cubs
.730: 1939 Yankees
.729: 2001 Mariners
.727: 1908 Pirates
.720: 1909 Pirates
.704: 1904 Giants
.701: 1912 Giants

(For the record, the '09 Pirates were 9-2 in Chicago and the Cubs were 7-4 in Pittsburgh.)

A team would have to go about 69-12 on the road to reciprocate what Colorado has done so far. Can I get a show of hands from those who think that is ever going to happen…?

CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Washington Nationals (16th) @ Chicago Cubs (14th)

It's time to drag out the Loneliness Factor again. This is a freak show stat I came up with last year. Since the honorary degree season has come and gone with not even the lowliest college contacting me with a free sheepskin, I've got to assume this stat hasn't resonated the way I had hoped.

The way it works is this: you take the highest VORP guy on a team and then figure out how many of his teammates it takes to equal his total. For instance, if the top three players on a team are 25, 15 and 10, that team leader's Loneliness Factor would be 2.0. One of the pitfalls of this stat is obvious in the case of the Cubs, whose leader, Derrek Lee, has the highest LF in baseball at 4.65. This implies he's supporting the team alone, which he's not. The Cubs runner-up is Aramis Ramirez who has a VORP of 25.0, which would be the top figure on ten other teams. Hey, now I'm beginning to see why not even Johnny Hopkins Community College of Slugville, Mississippi ("not affiliated with Johns Hopkins") came calling.

Here are the highest Loneliness Factors so far:


4.65: Derrek Lee, Chicago (N)
2.58: Vladimir Guerrero, Los Angeles (A)
2.28: Jason Bay, Pittsburgh
1.92: Moises Alou, San Francisco
1.83: Bobby Abreu, Philadelphia

That the three least lonely leaders come from Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and Kansas City also points out an inherent flaw in this system: a leader with a really low number is easier to match than a guy breaking out the big twig.

We're heading into the "easy-multiplier portion" of the season, the time when you can toss precision to the wind and multiply all counting stats by two for the cheap total projections we all so desperately crave. It never gets any easier than this, unless you think adding a third onto two-thirds is as simple as doubling something. That's not how I was brought up.

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