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July 29, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

Passel of Pitchers

by Jim Baker

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Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Los Angels of Anaheim (4th) @ New York Yankees of the Bronx (6th)

However necessary it might be, there is something undignified about the Yankees' pursuit of all these starting pitchers. It's like the richest guy in town cadging cigarette butts from drifters down in the hobo village. Hideo Nomo? Where will it end?

If a starter is available, chances are, they will end up in pinstripes before the year is out--Shawn Chacon joined Nomo in the Bronx last night to boot. How long before Brian Cashman lies in wait outside independent league clubhouses with a press gang, ready to Shanghai every manjack whose arm is still attached with human sinew? Looking at the staggering number of Yankee starters this year, I couldn't, for the life of me, remember that Darrell May was on the team. I distinctly remember Tim Redding's start and the one game that Tanyon Sturtze was called on to open, but May's Yankee stint? I must have been at the movies that night.

If Chacon takes the mound against the Angels tomorrow, he will be the 13th man to start a game for New York. That is nothing like a record. In fact, the Yankees are probably not going to crack the top 10 all-time, although one should never speak too quickly with Chuck Finley still out there somewhere.

Here are the most generous teams in history in terms of doling out starting assignments:

24: 1915 Philadelphia A's: Of the 24 men Connie Mack ran out to the mound as starters for the Philadelphia A's in 1915, 10 of them never started again in the majors and three started three games or fewer the rest of their careers. Many were barely shaving, but one member of that kiddie corps went on to have a Hall of Fame career, mostly with these very same Yankees: Herb Pennock.

20: 1967 New York Mets: Tom Seaver and Jack Fisher combined for 471 1/3 innings. The rest was up for grabs. Jerry Koosman was in there getting his feet wet, but no Nolan Ryan. His first start came the year before and his next one the year after.

20: 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys: It has been argued that the National League could not be considered "major" in 1890 with most of the talent moving over to the Players League. Exhibit 'A' might well be the Alleghenys' pitching staff. More than half of the 20 never saw the majors again. A handful combined for 35 more big league starts. That left only a trio who actually went on to mount something resembling careers: Duke Esper started 198 more games, Bill Silver started another 152 and Crazy Schmidt started 38...which isn't that impressive, but it gave me an excuse to name-drop Crazy Schmidt.

20: 1884 Kansas City Cowboys (Union Association): I know, the UA wasn't a major league, but they started 20 different guys in just 79 games! This is the sad thing: only seven of them were credited with victories.

19: 1955 Baltimore Orioles: While Mack was big on handing the ball to kids he pulled off the street, the '55 Orioles were an old folks home of wayward pitchers. The average age of the staff that year was 30.6. Kudos to you if you have a working knowledge of the careers of any of the 19 men who started games for them outside of Eddie Lopat and Bob Kuzava, both known for their work with the Casey Stengel Yankees.

19: 1946 Philadelphia Phillies: Schoolboy Rowe was outstanding in his 16 starts for the Phils. They have the best record (69-85) of any team that started 19 or more men.

19: 1944 Brooklyn Dodgers, 1935 Philadelphia A's, 1919 Philadelphia A's, 1915 St. Louis Browns: Who was the most famous starting pitcher on the '15 Brownies? George Sisler, the man who lost his single-season hit record to Ichiro Suzuki last year. With the Browns and A's starting 43 men between them in 1915 there had to be a reason, and there was--the presence of the Federal League necessitated a more liberal policy on what constituted a major league pitcher.

18: 1996 Pittsburgh Pirates, 1993 Cleveland Indians, 1956 Kansas City A's, 1952 Boston Red Sox, 1946 New York Yankees, 1939 St. Louis Browns, 1936 Philadelphia A's, 1910 St. Louis Browns, 1909 Boston Red Sox: The '46 Yankees and '09 Red Sox are the only plus-.500 teams to ever start more than 17 men in a single season… Denny Neagle pitched very well for the '96 Buccos and Jon Lieber was decent, too. Esteban Loaiza was on hand for the fun as was Jason Schmidt and Elmer Dessens. And, for the link to the 2005 Yankees: Darrell May was there, too!

Here's something about the Angels that's kind of interesting: They're last in the American League in getting hit by pitches. Not last by a little, either. The other 13 teams have been hit, on average, 37.9 times each. The next-lowest clubs have 29. At first, I thought it might be a result of their put-it-play style of hitting, but they were fourth in the league in getting plunked in 2004, a little below average in 2003 and first in 2002. Is there a reason for this, or is it just one of those things that happen once in a while? Anybody have any ideas?

Best National League Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): New York Mets (9th) @ Houston Astros (12th)

Number nine versus number 12 is the best the senior circuit can offer? Yes, it is. The next-best is also the biggest mismatchup in the majors this weekend: the number-one Cardinals visiting the number-23 Dodgers.

If you were playing a four-game series against the team with the best one-two-three starting combo in the majors, what is the best you could hope for when you face them? I think it's what the Mets got: miss the number one (Roger Clemens) and get the bottom end of the rotation in the two games not started by Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt. The problem is the Mets didn't take advantage of the situation by closing the deal with their ace going last night.

Worst Matchup (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Kansas City Royals (28th) @ Tampa Bay Devil Rays (29th)

It's the baseball equivalent of the battle between ultra-discount retailers Dollar General and Family Dollar Stores. The two lowest payrolls in baseball square off with the loser--by previous engagement--having to pay for the game balls.

The two lowest payrolls producing the two worst teams in the American League. Is there a payroll figure below which no amount of creativity and genius can possibly turn a team into a winner? Is $38 million--the figure that these teams are both just below--that number? We're probably not going to find the answer to that question in Kansas City or St. Petersburg. After all, the Indians are playing .500 baseball with a payroll that's only about 10% higher than that of either of these teams. We should probably commend the Rays' management for at least putting together a middle-of-the-pack offense on a shoestring budget. I mean, if we wanted to be nice.

Clay Davenport contributed research to this column.

--

Follow-up from Wednesday: In my last column, I listed an all-time team of players and asked if anyone knew why they were on that team. A number of you got it right: they were all men who had made the last outs of perfect games.

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