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August 2, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

Word to the Third

by Jim Baker

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CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Chicago Cubs (16th) @ Philadelphia Phillies (17th)

The Hall of Fame inductions of Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg on Sunday put me in mind of another player who conjoins two of their signatures: third base (Boggs) and the Chicago Cubs (Sandberg). A lifer from the former who played the latter remains unelected to date and it may well be the biggest injustice in the game today. He is, of course, Ron Santo.

"Hall of Fame third baseman" is one of the rarest sobriquets on the planet. This stands to reason because, with the exception of Frank Baker and a few others, third basemen were rarely offensive forces on their teams until after World War II.

Here are the ten-best career EqAs ever posted by third basemen:

.316: Eddie Mathews
.312: Wade Boggs
.312: Chipper Jones
.311: Mike Schmidt
.306: George Brett
.301: Al Rosen
.299: Paul Molitor
.296: Stan Hack
.295: Bob Elliott
.293: Ron Santo

Say what you will about Jones as a fielder, he has represented the position well at the plate. Rosen's career was nowhere near long enough to qualify him for the Hall. Elliott should be better known than he is and Hack might have something of a Hall gripe himself.

These are the best WARP3 figures ever amassed by third basemen in their careers:

148.6: Mike Schmidt
141.1: Wade Boggs
132.3: George Brett
130.5: Eddie Mathews
127.3: Paul Molitor
110.8: Darrell Evans
105.9: Ron Santo
103.4: Buddy Bell
101.5: Graig Nettles
99.2: Robin Ventura

Only five men appear on both lists and four of them are in the Hall of Fame. The fifth is, of course, Santo.

Can we all agree that the 10 best men at any position belong in Cooperstown. That sounds pretty reasonable, doesn't it? 130 years of major league baseball: 10 best guys ever at a given position make it.

Under any measure, Santo is one of the 10 best-ever third basemen. He's in.

Here's my proposal for what the Hall should do: Each year, for the next five or six years, they should dedicate themselves to redressing shortcomings at each position. They should have a special election for each position that is separate from the rest of the electing they do. It should examine the very best candidates at each position who have not been inducted. They should start with third base in 2006 and move on to pitching in 2007.

This isn't to say that the Hall needs to fill in the blanks all the way down to the lowest common denominator at each position. The place doesn't need to induct every third baseman that managed to have a better career than George Kell, one of the more unfortunate choices ever made. What they do need, though, is to make sure that each position is properly represented with the very best men ever to make a career of it. If they do what I propose, Santo won't miss next year.

BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Florida Marlins (13th) @ St. Louis Cardinals (1st)

While we're on the topic of Hall of Fame third basemen, there are two playing in this series. Well, there would have been had they not been moved to other positions. Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera are both looking like Hall of Famers regardless of where they stand with gloves on their hands, but they would have elevated the hot corner in Cooperstown had they stayed at third.

While Pujols burst on the scene better than Cabrera (.328 EqA at age 21 to Cabrera's .299), it may surprise you to know that Cabrera is having a better age 22 season. His EqA is .344 so far this year while Pujols posted a .319 in his age 22 season, which was 2002. Woe be onto the National League East if Cabrera improves as much in his age 23 season as Pujols did in his (a 41-point EqA jump).

BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Kansas City Royals (26th) @ Boston Red Sox (3rd)

Regarding Manny Ramirez and the attempts to trade him elsewhere:

Isn't it breach of contract not to run out ground balls? Shouldn't the failure to try one's best make a contract null and void? Should it really be that simple for a player to force a team's hand? If a player is unprofessional and crazy enough to not give his all so that it will induce his team into trading him, why should it work out to his advantage? Shouldn't the team have sort of legal recourse for such actions? Shouldn't the league investigate a player not trying his hardest? They certainly would have in 1921. If I were the Red Sox and baseball, I would make it very uncomfortable for players who don't give 100 percent.

Instead, the team not only doesn't get 100 percent performance from its best player while he's still there, they are also forced to fire sale him. Why should a player be able to pull a stunt like this, get his way, and then continue playing elsewhere with no financial misfortune?

It can be argued that there was a little more going on here with Ramirez--his princely contract weighs heavily on the Red Sox wallet--but ask yourself this: if Ramirez was sane and stable and behaved as such, would there be a movement to unload him?

This marks the Royals third appearance on the short end of the Mismatchup stick. In their previous two castings in that role, they were swept by the White Sox and lost two of three to the Orioles, both in early May.

The reasonable expectation would be for the better team to win two out of three Biggest Mismatchups with a sweep thrown in once in a while. This is how the uberteams have fared, counting from the time I stopped using last year's records to make these matches, which was in mid-April:

1-0: one
2-0: two
2-2: one
3-0: three
2-1: six
1-2: five
0-3: one

That's 33-21, or a .611 winning percentage. Certainly not enough of a lock to make betting on these matchups an automatic--especially with the money line that accompanies such uneven showdowns.

The one total tank job by the uberteam came just two weeks ago when the Orioles were swept by the Rays. Obviously, Baltimore was in the process of taking its leave of the upper reaches of the game. It was their final hurrah on the positive end of any BP Matchup.

WORST MATCHUP (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Colorado Rockies (30th) @ San Francisco Giants (26th)

Chris Kahrl has chided the Mariners on their end of the Randy Winn deal and with good reason. So, should Brian Sabean be congratulated for unloading a lot of nothing on Seattle or should we be wondering about their end of the deal, too?

Winn is 32 years old and is currently ranked in the lower-third of major league leftfielders, posting a VORP of 13.2. It's not Winn specifically that is bothersome, it is more what he represents for the Giants--just another guy who isn't going to get them any closer to the promised land. A water treader. A placekeeper. An organizational bookmark.

What is more, this deal represents the state of trading deadline activity: Deadline '05. In other words: not a lot worth noting. It keeps people employed, though. A recent study showed that, without the July trading deadline, 18 percent of all baseball writers would lose their jobs. From that end of it, we should be grateful, at least.

How many combined games will the players moved at the deadline win for their new teams? Using WARP3, I'm setting the line at 10 and betting the under. The way under.

Related Content:  Ron Santo,  The Who,  Wade Boggs,  Best

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