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July 22, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

It Happens Every Time

by Jim Baker

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BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Boston Red Sox (4th) @ Chicago White Sox (2nd)

Many years ago, there was a comic strip called "They'll Do It Every Time" by Jimmy Hatlo. In it, the typical foibles of humankind were pointed out in jocular fashion in a two-panel format. For instance, the first panel might read: "When wifey asks old Snortrotter to do some chores, he's too tuckered..." and it would show the fellow laid out on the couch with eyes drooping. Then, in the second panel, it would read: "But if wifey hints around about a little whoopee, old Snortrotter is up and at 'em!" In that panel, he'd be good as new, his eyes lit like bonfires.

If we had a staff cartoonist here at BP, we'd commission that person to draw the following in the Hatlo style:

First panel: "On Tuesday, BP Matchups discusses historic ramifications of White Sox stellar intradivision record." (comic illustration: square-jawed ballplayer with 'C' on his cap outrunning Chief Wahoo, Tiger in uniform, ballplayer with crown on his head and pair of identical ballplayers)

Second panel: "Wouldn't you know it--Pale Hose take it on the chinski from the Bengals that night 8-1 and 8-6 the next! -- They'll do it every time!" (comic illustration: Tiger in uniform bashing square-jawed ballplayer with 'C' on his cap in face with oversized war-club-like bat)

As we all learned during impromptu playground discussions back in grade school, the best starting pitchers post higher VORPs than the best relievers. Therefore, it's always a little disturbing for a team to have a reliever with a VORP better than the highest-ranking starter on the team. Currently, only three teams are experiencing this bit of business and the Red Sox are one of them:

Boston: Mike Timlin, 21.9 over Tim Wakefield, 19.8
San Francisco: Scott Eyre, 13.3 over Noah Lowry, 10.0
Colorado: Brian Fuentes, 12.8 over Shawn Chacon, 11.9

WORST MATCHUP (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Colorado Rockies (29th) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (26th)

There's still time to get on the Zach Duke bandwagon--like another week, maybe.

In contemplating Duke, I was wondering if fantasy baseball hasn't contributed to the following phenomenon: upstart players don't seem to stay secret as long as they used to. It seems to me that it used to take a while for a player to get noticed. Naturally, the proliferation of nightly baseball highlights on many media outlets and the internet have done their share to make this so, but I can't help that think that, with thousands of fantasy team owners on the make, guys are going to get noticed a lot faster. Of course, this might just be a trick of memory.

BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Baltimore Orioles (6th) @ Tampa Bay Devil Rays (30th)

My father used to work in the service department of a Buick dealership in Newark, New Jersey. He told me that one time, Ralph Terry, the former Yankee pitcher, brought in his car to get some work done. Terry should be known best for his outstanding pitching in the 1962 World Series. He pitched well three times and won two games, including the deciding Game Seven with a four-hit, complete-game shutout of the Giants. I won't bother to mention what he is most famous for because no man should be known for just a negative thing when there are other, positive things on his resume.

Anyway, as best as I can figure it, the time of his visit to my father's workplace was probably in the summer or fall of 1967. After leaving the Yankees, Terry had been with the Indians, A's and, most recently, the Mets, from whom he'd been released twice in the preceeding year. My father recognized him and asked if he was going to try to catch on with another team. (He was still pretty young--only 30 or 31 at the time.)

"No," said Terry, "I figure that once you get released by the Mets, it's time to give it up."

Which brings us to Hideo Nomo.

Once you've been designated for assignment by the pitching-starved Devil Rays, it's probably time to think about a life after baseball.

Except that Nomo has been here before and returned. That was in 1998 when he looked pretty bad. Two things, though: downtrodden though he was seven years ago, it was nothing like it's been in 2004 and 2005 when he's posted a combined ERA of 7.66. There is always a team desperate enough to overlook the big picture and focus on the positives, though. Nomo has had about six pretty decent starts this year which might be enough to entice someone into giving him another shot. Perhaps he can return to the place of his greatest triumph--and perhaps the greatest triumph any pitcher ever had. That would be Denver, where, as a visitor, he threw a no-hitter.

Ironically, Nomo is being cast out of the place where he has pitched best this year. His eight starts at home have resulted in a 3.91 ERA. It's been on the road where the real indignities have taken place.

The road has not been cruel to the Orioles bats, though. They visit St. Pete this weekend sporting the highest team road Isolated Power figure in the game:

.193: Orioles
.174: Rangers
.171: Red Sox

If schedules were completely balanced, road records would be the perfect way to judge a club's true performance level compared to their peers. They're not, though, so take this for what it's worth. Texas has the second-largest home/road split in the American League (62 points less) and yet they still manage to finish this high on the road because of the heavy havoc they create at home.

BEST NATIONAL LEAGUE MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Chicago Cubs (12th) @ St. Louis Cardinals (1st)

Same stat, National League version:

.169: Cubs
.163: Braves
.162: Mets

Is it too early for the Cardinals to start thinking about who they'd like to meet in the first round of the playoffs? No, it isn't, but what, really, are they going to do about it? Hatch some Machiavellian plan like the one their manager Tony La Russa had in mind back in the convoluted playoff plan that came with the '81 strike?

What team is most likely to derail the Cards hand-cart ride to glory? Atlanta? If you were the Cards, which team would you want to face in the first round? Probably the winner of the West, right? There is an excellent chance that team is going to be weaker than the eventual Wildcard winner. So, putting far more thought into this than is necessary, the Cardinals should want the Wildcard to come out of their own division. That will open the door for the Braves (a name randomly assigned to mean "Eastern Division Champion") to play Houston or Chicago in the first round while St. Louis will draw the Western champ--a team emerging from a division of questionable virtue.

OK, let's not go down this path. Step away from the precipice. It's silly and should never even be considered. No team should ever spend two seconds worrying about this nonsense and I strongly doubt they do unless when questioned about it by a reporter.

CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): San Diego Padres (15th) @ Philadelphia Phillies (16th)

Extra...Extra...Pads back into division title after 21-game losing streak
--projected tout of old-timey Hollywood-style newsie on the evening of October 2, 2005

Looking at the reverse of that Isolated Power stat, the Phillies have allowed an IP of .208 at home. Predictably, the Reds are slightly worse, but, down I-95 a piece, the Nationals have used their ballpark to register a home IP allowed of just .089. That's pretty extreme. Almost equally extreme is what the Philadelphia hitters do when they leave home. They've only got 33 road homers, worst in the majors. Their road IP is just .113--also worst in the majors. Jim Thome has one road homer and his replacement, Ryan Howard, has yet to poke an XBH in 34 road at bats.

This is a home game, though, so enough about that. The Phillies' victory over the Dodgers on Tuesday night was stunning and fun. After a disastrous top of the 10th by Billy Wagner in which he walked everybody but his dog, Pat Burrell led off the home half with a triple. The play was a lot more exciting than it needed to be because Burrell stood and watched it for a couple of seconds before jamming them gears and putting the hammer down, good truckin' buddy.

The Phillies actually pinch-ran for him, which is pretty interesting considering how close to home he got. He looked pretty spent, though and an extra step on a grounder to the infield could have made the difference between a tie and a loss. It was all rendered moot when Howard followed with a home run to center to end it. All that hustling and strategizing and the runner walked home with room to spare. In three pitches, Yhency Brazoban managed to get a serious tag-on twice.

Again, getting back to something we discussed last time out regarding the Red Sox and their loss to the Yankees on Sunday night: this sure had the look of a turning point moment for the Phillies--provided turning points actually existed. Instead, they dropped their next two games 10-2 and 1-0.

Why?

Because it just isn't that simple.

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