July 8, 2005
Leader of the Pack
BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Boston Red Sox (4th) @ Baltimore Orioles (6th)
Not that you should care about saves, but it’s kind of interesting that Keith Foulke--formerly not of the disabled list--is being vilified this year when his ratio of saved games and blown saves is just about the same as last year’s:
2004: 32 for 39 -- .821
2005: 15 for 19 -- .789
Fortunately, most fans look beyond that surface scum of a stat and see his first half for the complete implosion it’s been. Consider that last year Foulke was ranked 15th out of 518 relievers in WXRL (Expected wins added over a replacement level pitcher, adjusted for level of opposing hitters. WXRL combines the individual adjustments for replacement level [WXR] and quality of the opposing lineup [WXL] to the basic WX calculation.) This year, he’s fourth from the bottom.
If Curt Schilling is truly ticketed for the bullpen for the time being, will the Red Sox move him into the closer role?
WORST MATCHUP (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Cincinnati Reds (27th) @ Arizona Diamondbacks (25th)
Here’s a small chart. On the left side of the slash mark is the rank and VORP for the players from one team. On the right side are the rank and VORP for the players from a second team. Can you name the teams?
C: 2nd, 15.2 / 11th, 8.8
1b: 8th, 17.3 / 4th, 15.0
2b: 7th, 16.9 / 9th, 9.6
3b: 3rd, 26.4 / 16th, 2.6
ss: 1st, 33.8 / 18th, 0.1
lf: 3rd, 31.2 / 9th, 10.2
cf: 3rd, 27.1 / 10th, 8.4
rf: 9th, 16.0 / 4th, 19.1
Average: 4th-5th, 23.0 / 10th, 9.0
The club represented on the left is the Cincinnati Reds. The team on the right is the Chicago White Sox. I think it’s safe to say that if they played tee-ball in the majors instead of using pitchers, the Reds would be 57-26 and the White Sox 33-51 instead of the other way around.
How much of a down-year is it for National League catchers? Consider that the Reds’ Jason Larue is second in VORP. We probably shouldn’t be too surprised by the fact that Larue is contributing--he’s been getting better every year in spite of the fact he’s drifting into his mid-30s. Here are the decreases/increases in his EqA since his second season in the bigs:
2000: minus 5
2001: plus 7
2002: plus 11
2003: plus 10
2004: plus 3
2005: plus 12
Last year, he finished a very respectable seventh with a VORP of 21.1. What’s happened to the six men who were ahead of him?
Jason Kendall, Oakland (9.7): Traded out of the league, but he still wouldn’t be a factor with the first half he’s had.
Johnny Estrada, Atlanta (11.3): I guess 2004 was it. Pretty nice season, though.
Michael Barrett, Chicago Cubs (10.8): Did 2004 represent his age 27 spike?
Ramon Hernandez, San Diego (14.2): He’s right behind Larue and would probably be leading the league if not for his problems with his wrist.
Mike Lieberthal, Philadlephia (7.2): The peak of 2002-03 is a thing of the past, as he appears to be on the Mike Piazza sliding program, albeit a few years earlier in the career.
Paul Lo Duca, Florida: (16.4) It’s funny how long a first-impression can stay with you. The first time most of us heard of Lo Duca was four years ago when he posted a .310 EqA for the Dodgers. He hasn’t come close to that since, but, considering the fact he was 29 that year, he hasn’t fallen off as far as you might expect.
BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): St. Louis Cardinals (1st) @ San Francisco Giants (27th)
The last time the Cards were the heavy in the Biggest Mismatchup, they split with the Rockies at home. A good showing in San Francisco will put the Cards near the top of this list:
19: 2001 Mariners
13: 1999 Indians
12 ½: 1998 Braves
12: 1995 Indians
11: 1998 Yankees
10 ½: 2000 White Sox
10 ½: 1998 Twins
9 ½: 2002 Braves
8 ½: 2003 Braves
8: 2000 Cardinals
These are the teams in the three-division era with the largest leads headed into the All-Star break. In fact, St. Louis is in a position to best everyone on this list save for the ’01 Mariners. Since none of these leads were coughed up, the Cardinals need to start thinking about what they need to do to keep themselves amused until the playoffs start.
No sooner did I plead a lack of knowledge in my last column about the man who started the 1948 All-Star Game for the American League than I cracked open the latest publication from the Society of American Baseball Research, The National Pastime. There, in an article by Larry DeFillipo, are two long paragraphs about Walt Masterson, the man in question. As it turns out, Masterson was the first player born in the 1920s to make it to the major leagues. He did this on May 8, 1939, a month shy of his 19th birthday. The article even includes a picture of him.
My contention was that Masterson was the most obscure man to start an All-Star Game, not the worst. In another article in the same publication, Timothy Connaughton compiles a team of the best players never to make an All-Star team and the worst players who did. One of his selections at pitcher was Jack Armstrong of the 1990 Reds. He got off to a great start that year and got the starting nod for the National League team. He went south after that and, as Connaughton writes: “…he did not pitch in the NLCS and logged only three innings in the World Series.”
Armstrong is not obscure for many of us because we remember seeing him pitch. (He was also an original Marlin in 1993.) Twenty-five to fifty years from now, though, he will be far more obscure than Masterson, a pitcher with a much longer career.
CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Los Angeles Dodgers (22nd) @ Houston Astros (21st)
The Padres are a five-game winning streak from burying the Diamondbacks and Dodgers and putting the clamps on the division.
Have you ever noticed how a name will suddenly become very popular in baseball? In an instnat, there are a ton of guys with that name when there had been none before. I’m thinking specifically of the name "Cabrera." Prior to 1997, there had only been two Cabreras in big league history and one of those--Al, with the 1913 Cardinals--only played in one game. The next in was Francisco Cabrera--a name that still resonates in Pittsburgh and Atlanta for his series-winning hit in the 1992 NLCS. Five years later, Jose and Orlando--now of the Angels--showed up and the flood gates opened.
The Yankees just recalled Melky Cabrera to replace the injured Carl Pavano on their active roster. Melky represents the eighth Cabrera to enter the big leagues since Francisco last played in 1993. What is interesting is that they are not all coming from the same place, either. Their origins are diverse: Colombia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have all sent Cabreras to the bigs.