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August 12, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

A Box of Collar Stays

by Jim Baker

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

BP has a new fun stat for you to mess around with. We're now listing RBI Opportunity. It qualifies a stat that has been declining in relevance in the mind popular since the late 20th Century. Now the poor sap who is stuck in a lineup of ne'ergetons can get his just due, no longer the prisoner of a raw number taken out of the context of real-life situations.

Both of these teams are well-represented in the top five among players with over 300 plate appearances.

.228 Vladimir Guerrero, Angels
.216 Manny Ramirez, Red Sox
.212 Carl Everett, White Sox
.206 Gary Sheffield, Yankees
.204 Juan Uribe, White Sox

The man with perhaps the most ostentatious reputation as a "clutch" hitter, the Red Sox' David Ortiz, clocks in at number 20.

The first National Leaguer does not appear until 10th place: Derrek Lee of the Cubs. Only five of the top 20 players in this stat are in the National League. That's a little less than half what it should be given normal distribution. I'm trying to get my head around why that might be and I'm thinking my hat size might not be big enough to figure it out. Since it is a percentage, shouldn't all things be equal regardless of league? My first inclination is that it's just one of those things.

One can argue it's easier to drive in a man from first base in a power-friendly park than it is in one that limits extra basehits, so perhaps all things are not equal on a stadium-by-stadium basis. However, given that, wouldn't we expect to see at least someone in the top 20 from Philadelphia or Colorado? We do have a Reds representative in the person of Ken Griffey Jr., currently installed at number 15. One of the five National Leaguers plays in the limiting confines of RFK Stadium: Brad Wilkerson of the Nationals is at number 17.

Since a player who bats with 50 men on third base has an RBI advantage over a player who bats with 50 men on first base, I played around a little with the numbers, creating a chart in which I assigned more credit for men on first and less for men on second and even less for men on third. It didn't really change things all that much. Nobody jumped out of the 46th slot to climb into the top 10 or anything like that.

WORST MATCHUP (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Washington Nationals (21st) @ Colorado Rockies (29th)

If you've read a lot of baseball history, you've probably run across stories of teams in contention gratefully sending gifts to second-division clubs who knocked off their main rivals in a pennant race. Usually it was a box of shirts or something like that since old timey players never had enough money to buy Escalades for every member of the Browns for sweeping the Indians--that and the fact that Cadillac was not producing Escalades at that time.

I am pretty sure this practice has gone by the wayside for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that all major leaguers now want for nothing except, perhaps, inner peace, and that's very hard to get into a FedEx package. If this were still a common practice these days, though, the Braves should be looking to send a box of collar stays to the Rockies at the end of the weekend, provided they can do to the Nationals what they did to the Marlins at the beginning of the week: beat them and push them to the side of the road so that the relentless Braves convoy can roll on. The week started with the Rox sweeping a doubleheader from Florida. If they can manage to sweep the Nats, that would make five contributions to the Braves Eastern Division cause in seven days. That's worth some K-Mart gift certificates, don't you think?

It will be interesting to see the Nats' pitching staff inserted into an environment diametrically opposed to their own. They've been fooling folks who don't bother to cleave team ERA in twain along a traveling/not traveling bias into thinking that this is a staff of no small accomplishment. While they have the lowest home ERA in the National League, their road effort is that of a middle number operation. Anywhere they play, they strike out the next-to-fewest men of any team other than the Braves, (who seem to be getting away with the crime). The more balls in play at Coors, one reasons, the more mischief on the basepaths there is bound to be. Could be a rough weekend for the ever-normalizing Nats.

The Astros television announcers were singing the praises of Ryan Drese during last night's telecast. This is not to single them out because a lot of folks have done so since Drese was ixnayed by the Rangers earlier this year and had a few good starts for the Nationals. By and large, though, he's been pretty mediocre, an ongoing trend in his career. The Houston announcers were chiding the Rangers organization for not getting anything for him (as you'll recall, Washington grabbed him off the waiver wire). Looking at his career Normalized Runs Allowed, it's no wonder that anyone wanted to send a live body to Arlington for him. Even with a half-way decent showing in 2004, it stood at about 5.15 for his career at the time the Rangers threw in the towel on him. His NRA since going to Washington? Yup, almost exactly the same as his career mark.

CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Texas Rangers (11th) @ New York Yankees (8th)

Eight of the nine VORP leaders by position in the American League come from the Eastern Division. Coincidence or conspiracy? Richie Sexson at first base is the only exception. Everyone else comes from Boston, New York or Baltimore. Which position in baseball is currently being dominated the most by one player? To answer this, I'll turn to an old construct of mine.

In past columns, I introduced my freak show stat, "Loneliness Factor." It has taken the nation by storm, I am happy to report. Unfortunately, that nation is Burkina Faso and they don't give a hang about baseball there. Loneliness Factor works this way: you take the highest VORP guy on a team and then figure out how many of his teammates it takes to equal his total. A leader on a well-balanced team will have a number under 1.25, for instance. It might not necessarily be a good team, but it will show that the team leader is not operating in a vacuum.

I thought of a different way to apply it and, since it's got such outstanding brand recognition, I'm going to trot it out here. I'll use it to assess which positions--by league--are being most dominated by one player. As you can probably figure, positions shake out a lot more evenly than do teams. In fact, only one position has a leader with a Loneliness Factor (this should actually be called "Dominance Factor" in this usage) of over two. American League third base is that position and Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees is that player. His figure of 66 requires 2.36 worth of the next best AL third basemen to match it. Second-highest comes from AL Catchers, where Jason Varitek requires 1.82 of his pursuers VORP for a match. The closest battle is at first base, where Derrek Lee is just ahead of Albert Pujols and requires only the tiniest portion of the VORP of the next player--Carlos Delgado--to match him.

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