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July 19, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

White(Sox)washing

by Jim Baker

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Just how out there is the White Sox' 31-5 record against their own division? Pretty far.

Since the advent of divisional play in 1969, no team has punished its intradivisional rivals the way Chicago has so far this year. Here are the best intradivisional records in that time, including those posted in seasons shortened by strikes. Usually one has to exclude small samples like those, but the Sox have been so successful in 2005, there is no need:


YEAR    TEAM     W      L    PCT.
2005    ChiSox   31     5    .861
2005    Cards    29     9    .763
1994    M's      19     7    .731
1995    Tribe    37    14    .725
1995    Reds     35    14    .714
1996    Cards    37    15    .712
1983    ChiSox   55    23    .705
1993    Braves   55    23    .705
1974    Dodgers  63    27    .700
Those are wildly diverse game totals. Only the '74 Dodgers managed to play at least .700 ball against their opponents in the 90-game intradivision era, which lasted until 1978 in the American League and 1992 in the National. That's one in 412 team-years.

Clay Davenport suggests that, since the number of games played is so diverse among these teams, this is "a good place to use the cumulative binomial function to give more weight to sustained performance." Clay explains the function this way:

"The binomial probability distribution is just the odds that a fair coin would come up heads X times in Y trials; cumulative just means 'or more,' rather than exactly. So to say that the Sox' 31-5 record has a .999999 cumulative binomial probability distribution, means that there is only a .0001% chance that a fair coin would come up heads 32 or more times in 36 attempts. By doing it with probabilities, instead of simply rates, you are rewarding a sustained performance.

"The probability of going 31-5 is a little harder then going 19-0, or 21-1, 24-2, 26-3, 29-4...or 109-53. Probabilistically speaking, those are all roughly even."

Even with this adjustment, the White Sox still come out on top, but the '74 Dodgers look much better. (They were a fairly pedestrian 39-33 against the Eastern Division that year.)

YEAR    TEAM       W     L   PCT.   BINOMIAL
2005    ChiSox   31     5   .861   .99-9999
1974    Dodgers  63    27   .700   .99-9962
1983    ChiSox   55    23   .705   .99-9925
1993    Braves   55    23   .705   .99-9925
2005    Cards    29     9   .763   .99-9764
1995    Tribe    37    14   .725   .99-9689
1996    Cards    37    15   .712   .99-9402
1995    Reds     35    14   .714   .99-9299
1994    M's      19     7   .731   .99-5322
As Clay suggests, the White Sox shouldn't have too hard a time hanging onto the top spot in this category. They have 38 games remaining against their own division. To beat the Dodgers' binomial distribution, their final intradivision record needs to be 54-20 or better, so they have to go 23-15 the rest of the way, a winning percentage of .605. That certainly doesn't seem Herculean.

Of the Sox' five AL Central losses, three have come at the hands of the Indians, one to the Tigers and one against the Twins:

April 7: Indians 11 - White Sox 5
April 10: Twins 5 - White Sox 2
April 14: Indians 8 - White Sox 6
April 29: Tigers 3 - White Sox 2
June 5: Indians 6 - White Sox 4

The Royals have yet to beat them yet this year.

BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Oakland A's (11th) @ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (3rd)

Just this...the current VORP of what used to be the Big Three:

25.0 - Barry Zito (still in Oakland)
20.6 - Tim Hudson (Atlanta)
18.9 - Mark Mulder (St. Louis)

That's just one for the anti-Beane crowd to mull over.

WORST MATCHUP (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Houston Astros (21st) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (26th)

Worst, yes, but such large portions: a doubleheader!

Tonight's double-dip features three scheduled starters with ERAs above 7.00. The starter for Pittsburgh in the "nightcap" (for those of you younger than 35, that's doubleheaderspeak for "second game") is Ian Snell. His current ERA is 7.00, putting his career mark at 7.29 in limited exposure. This is the highest ever for a pitcher born in the state of Delaware, save for wonderfully-named Broadway Smith who pitched a few innings in 1923. Can Snell, who is 23, overcome this rough start to become the greatest pitcher ever born in Delaware?

The competition:

  • Sadie McMahon (1889-1897): McMahon was the ace of the famous 1890s Baltimore Orioles teams, at least until Bill Hoffer came along.

  • Chris Short (1959-1973): He had a couple of nice years with the Phillies in the mid-'60s and made the All-Star team twice.

  • Bert Cunningham (1887-1901): On this list mostly for his longevity.

  • Huck Betts (1920-1935): Betts had a couple of good years in the early '30s after a six-year absence from the majors. He closed out his big-league career on the infamous '35 Braves.

The fifth-starter spot has been a black hole for the Astros all year long. They easily have the best one-two slots in the game as well as the best front three. The trio of Roger Clemens (57.4), Roy Oswalt (46.5) and Andy Pettitte (29.2) have a combined VORP of 133.1. Outside of Houston, only the White Sox crack the century mark (110.1) and only the Nationals get close to it (92.2). This sets the floor for all three participants at a minimum VORP of 20. That limits the qualifiers to just six teams. The other three are the Angels, Braves and Marlins.

BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Tampa Bay Devil Rays (30th) @ Boston Red Sox (4th)

If I were a fan of the concept of "turning points" in a baseball season, I'd have to go with the ninth inning of Sunday night's Red Sox/Yankees game. The Red Sox were down 5-3 with the bases loaded and nobody out. A two-game swing hung in the balance and they slipped on a banana peel. Of course, if they had bounced back last night against the Rays, it wouldn't seem like such a big deal. Sports with 162-game seasons cannot possibly turn on a single half-inning, though, unless a team's two Hall of Fame outfielders collide in that half inning and lay each other out.

Lowest team-leading VORP among starting pitchers:

6.1: Jeff Francis, Colorado
9.6: Noah Lowry, San Francisco
12.8: Casey Fossum, Tampa Bay
15.9: Runelvys Hernandez, Kansas City
16.4: Ryan Franklin, Seattle

CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): San Diego Padres (15th) @ New York Mets (14th)

The National League is clearing out of the top spots in the Prospectus Hit List at an alarming rate. The balance of power has shifted dramatically to the point that the top five teams in the National League average a ranking of 9.4 while the AL's five best average 4.4.

Currently, there are about 160 players on pace to qualify for the batting title. Examining the bottom 10 percent of those in terms of on-base percentage, we find a few who have gotten leadoff man assignments. Jack Wilson of the Pirates (ranked 156th) has gotten a single game leading off. Tony Womack of the Yankees (155th) has led off seven times. The Astros' Adam Everett (145th) has found his name in the top spot 18 times. The Cubs have given a total of 51 lead-off assignments to Corey Patterson (157th) and Neifi Perez (149th).

Which brings us to Jose Reyes. His OBP is currently ranked 152nd among major-league qualifiers and yet he has been the lead-off man for the Mets in 85 games to date. I think there comes a point when a manager gets so sick of hearing a criticism that he digs in his heels and refuses to budge in spite of overwhelming evidence that he's been making a mistake. At this point, Willie Randolph probably thinks it would be a sign of weakness to give in to his critics and drop Reyes to the eighth spot in the order where he belongs. The only other explanation would be that he thinks batting Reyes leadoff helps the team. That can't possibly be the case, though, can it?

Clay Davenport and James Click contributed research to this column.

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