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September 9, 2005
The Rivalry Cometh
BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Boston Red Sox (3rd) @ New York Yankees (6th)
VORP Leaders in pitchers with 15 games or fewer
As you can see, Small is the only hybrid on the list. Because of this, he has pitched the fewest innings of the group, trailing next-lowest man Hernandez 51 to 44 2/3.
The one Yankee core player who has made very little noise this year is Jorge Posada. He is having what may prove to be the second-worst year of his career. Bernie Williams is having the worst year of his career, but the rest of the Yankees with any kind of track record (Hideki Matsui, in year three of his career, is not included here) are all holding their own against their established performance levels:
Yankee: 2005 EqA/Career EqA, +/-
(For the record, there are men in the Hall of Fame who've had worse careers than Williams. His career is shaping up to be quite symmetrical, with the rise, peak and descent all coming where you would expect.)
In a lineup that is advancing in age, it stands to reason that not everyone is going to show signs of that aging at the same pace. Posada's decline is understandable, albeit sudden and it is likely that he has another good season or two in his future. Rodriguez is the youngest of the group shown above and is hitting as well as he ever has. Do not listen to any arguments that he has not pulled his weight this year. Were he playing shortstop instead of third base, he would be posting one of the best WARP3 numbers of his career.
The biggest drops:
PITCHER (Drop Year: VORP) High Year Decline
Like Schilling, a number of these pitchers experienced injuries in their drop year. Blass' is the most famous, or, as is probably more appropriate when discussing an injury, infamous. As you can probably guess, none of them pitched more innings in the drop-off year. Some of the drop in their VORP is attributable to the reduced workload and some of the reduced workload is attributable to the precipitous drop in VORP. Carlton, Lima, Loaiza and Stieb all threw at least 75% of their previous season's totals. Blyleven pitched a bit over half. The rest were under 100 innings. (For his trouble, Halladay got shipped to Syracuse.)
Owing to his injury and his sojourn to the bullpen, Schilling has the lowest percentage of innings pitched compared to the previous season. He's currently at 26.1 percent of his 2004 total but will eclipse Guzman, Blass and, perhaps, Nomo with a few more good starts.
Let's do a reduction on the Red Sox of 2005; one of those deals wherein you selectively build a case as to why they shouldn't be where they are:
They haven't gotten almost as much out of their secondary first basemen as they have out of the man who has gotten the majority of the playing time there. They cut their second baseman. Their ace left via free agency and their ace-in-the-hole hasn't pitched 60 innings yet. Their new ace has been more lucky than good. Their shortstop hasn't really earned his huge salary. Their closer went down for the count. Their rightfielder has missed a considerable amount of playing time. Their bullpen, with very little exception, has been terrible. They've been picking and shucking spare parts with amazing regularity and most of them have contributed very little.
Sounds pretty grim, doesn't it? Doesn't sound like a team that could even hope to finish .500. (You could do a very similar reduction of the Yankees, too.) People make these sorts of selective evidence presentations all the time when arguing. It's what they don't say that you should be thinking about. In this case, it's the Sox having the top-ranked players at designated hitter, catcher, left and centerfield.
Speaking of aging, Johnson turns 42 tomorrow. He misses pitching on his birthday by a day. He's done it five times before and his birthday appearances are a microcosm of his career as a whole. His first two birthday starts came in 1989 and 1992 and he lost both, walking eight in the second outing. His last three came in 1999, 2000 and 2004 and have resulted in just three earned runs allowed and 29 strikeouts.
It will be interesting to see how much longer after Johnson retires Wakefield will continue to pitch. He's three years younger than Johnson but could, given the track record of many of his knuckleballing ilk, outlast him by half a decade beyond that.
VORP: Best American League Relievers
Gordon had the best VORP figure of any Yankee pitcher last year, reliever or otherwise. Only a handful of teams find themselves in that situation this year. They are:
The fact that both the Yankees and Red Sox have done this in the past two years shows that, while it's not an ideal situation, it is by no means the end of the world.