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March 17, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

Those Sinister Duos

by Jim Baker

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Someone I know was staying at the same hotel as the Venezuelan team during the WBC last week. He reported that the woman who emerged from Johan Santana's vehicle as all the Venezuelan players were pulling up to the lobby was so incredibly beautiful he nearly broke down and cried. Doesn't this make sense? Shouldn't the guy with the highest projected VORP by PECOTA among all pitchers have nothing but the finest? Isn't it reassuring to know that life does imitate high school?

Speaking of Santana, the Twins have it within their grasp to piece together one of the finest one-two lefthanded punches of recent memory. Francisco Liriano, currently on the roster of the Dominican Republic and one of the more promising arms in the world, has a shot to make Minnesota's rotation. Whether the Twins choose him or Scott Baker at this juncture, there is no doubt he will be in the picture in the near future. If Minnesota brings him along as carefully as they did Santana, that future might be a bit delayed.

While it's hard to argue with results, the Twins went into the 2003 season with Santana in their bullpen even though he was pretty obviously their best starting pitcher. He was finally put in the rotation to stay on July 11 of that year. Given how many teams have fried young arms, though, we should probably be congratulating Minnesota for their restraint. Should they decide to repeat the process with Liriano, then we should--grudgingly, because we all want to see what he can do--heap more praise on them.

On the other hand, think of the possibilities! PECOTA pegs Liriano to have a VORP of 27.1 this year. That's based on just 22 starts out of 39 appearances. It is certainly conceivable that, with a full slate of 33 starts and a bit of overachievement, he could rate a VORP of 40.0 or more. If Santana lands somewhere between his amazing 88.8 of 2004 and his merely very impressive 73.0 of 2005, the pair would combine for 120-plus.

How would they rate in terms of recent lefthanded duos? Going back to 1972, they would be on the verge of cracking the top 10. Given that 2006 would be Liriano's first full season, that's quite a trick. What follows are the 10 best lefthanded teammate duos since 1972 based on combined VORP. The minimum requirement for qualification is that both pitchers had to rate a minimum of 40.0. Why 40.0? For one thing, it's a round number. For another, there have been fewer than one pitcher per team per year that rates that high since 1972. (In other words, there have been 916 team seasons in that time and about 800 pitchers who have had a VORP of 40 or more.) By requiring the junior partner to score at least 40.0, we avoid the old which-brothers-have-hit-the-most-home-runs trap.

In all, 32 pairs of lefty teammates have managed to hit the minimum in the same season. These are the 10 best totals:

  • 156.1: Randy Johnson (100.6) and Omar Daal (55.5), 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks
    Omar Daal's best season in conjunction with the free agent signing of Randy Johnson made for the best lefty tandem results of the recent past. Yes, Johnson did a majority of the heavy lifting, but Daal's VORP just misses being one of the best 300 of the last 34 years, so it's nothing to spit lemonade at.

    Here's a what-if of scary proportions: what would the world look like if Johnson had signed with the Braves when they drafted him in 1982? Of course, it involves a lot of other speculation such as whether or not they would they have remained patient with him throughout the '80s. From a purely fun speculation angle, though, imagine all those Braves staffs of the last 15 years with the fifth starter kicked off and Johnson inserted.

  • 139.1: Ron Guidry (69.6) and Tommy John (69.5), 1979 New York Yankees
    In terms of equal participation, this is the best lefty duo of modern times. Tommy John showed up in New York via free agency and pitched two seasons with monstrous workloads the likes of which he had only seen once before back in his pre-eponymous surgery days. Ron Guidry was coming down off his incredible 1978 high. The following year John and fellow Yankee lefty Rudy May both cracked the 40.0 VORP barrier while Guidry slipped just beneath it.

  • 138.4: Randy Johnson (85.9) and Jeff Fassero (52.5), 1997 Seattle Mariners
    It should come as no surprise that any team with Randy Johnson that also managed to scrape up another decent lefty is on this list. Johnson has been the dominant southpaw of the past 35 years. This is well-illustrated by these 10 best lefthander seasons since 1972 by VORP:

    VORP: Pitcher, Season Team (rank since 1972)
    100.6: Randy Johnson, 1999 Diamondbacks (5th)
    95.8: Steve Carlton, 1972 Phillies (7th)
    95.7: Ron Guidry, 1978 Yankees (8th)
    88.8: Johan Santana, 2004 Twins (15th)
    88.3: Randy Johnson, 2001 Diamondbacks (16th)
    86.3: Randy Johnson, 1995 Mariners (21st)
    85.9: Randy Johnson, 1997 Mariners (23rd)
    84.8: Randy Johnson, 2000 Diamondbacks (26th)
    84.6: Jimmy Key, 1987 Blue Jays (28th)
    82.1: John Tudor, 1985 Cardinals (36th)

  • 133.1: Randy Johnson (85.9) and Jamie Moyer (47.2), 1997 Seattle Mariners
    Yup, same team. They were certainly loaded from the left. From the right? Well, that was a different story. Nine other pitchers made starts for the club, all righthanders. Together they combined to go 14-28 with an ERA of 6.68. Dennis Martinez, Derek Lowe and Scott Sanders all made the worst of their limited starting duties. Only Ken Cloude managed to pitch near league average from the right side. In the playoffs, no starts were entrusted to the righties but Johnson and Jamie Moyer were crushed in the first two games before Jeff Fassero pitched well in Game 3. Johnson whiffed 13 Orioles in Game 4 but Mike Mussina and two relievers two-hit the M's to ice it.

  • 132.9: Randy Johnson (84.8) and Brian Anderson (48.4), 2000 Arizona Diamondbacks
    Omar Daal went back to reality and Brian Anderson stepped up with the best year of his checkered career, posting a DERA of 3.72. It's been the only time he's gotten below 4.00 in a season where he had considerable work.

  • 126.1: Tom Glavine (65.7) and Denny Neagle (60.4), 1997 Atlanta Braves
    You had to the figure the Braves Ascendant would have a couple of reps on this list and here they are.

    Since 1972, there have been five lefty tandems that have both posted a VORP over 40.0 more than once. Three of them came in the same two seasons:

    Tom Glavine & Denny Neagle, 1997-98 Atlanta Braves
    Andy Pettitte & David Wells, 1997-98 New York Yankees
    Jeff Fassero & Jamie Moyer, 1997-98 Seattle Mariners

    The other two came in similar years as well:

    Jerry Koosman & Jon Matlack, 1973 and 1976 New York Mets
    Ken Holtzman & Vida Blue, 1973 and 1975 Oakland A's

    These two pairs met in five of the seven games of the '73 World Series. Holtzman beat Matlack two out of three times including the rubber match in Game 7 while Koosman beat Blue in Game 5 after both departed early from Game 2.

  • 124.7: Jim Abbott (63.3) and Mark Langston (61.4), 1991 California Angels
    When Mark Langston was on the Mariners it seemed like he generated more trade rumors than the secretary treasurer of a swinger's club. He was finally dealt for the oft-mentioned Randy Johnson in one of the worst trades of the latter half of the 20th Century. The Expos lost Langston to the Angels via free agency and the player to be named later, Mike Campbell, never pitched for them. They eventually traded him for a minor leaguer. Langston hooked up with Angels teammate Chuck Finley two years later to create a tandem that fell just shy of making this list. Jim Abbott was nearly as good the following year but saw a complete reversal of his won-loss record. I'm finding it hard to believe he's been out of the majors for six seasons now.

  • 124.4: Mike Hampton (63.1) and Al Leiter (61.3), 2000 New York Mets
    Apart from the '97 Mariners trio seen above, the 2000 Mets are the only other team with three lefties to crack 40. Mike Hampton and Al Leiter were joined by Glendon Rusch who rated a 42.3. One of only four teams to have two pitchers crack 60.0.

  • 123.2: Barry Zito (73.4) and Mark Mulder (49.8), 2002 Oakland A's
    Barry Zito and Mark Mulder are the only pair to bust over 40 three times. They did it consecutively from 2001 to 2003 with this season, 2002, being the best. They both slipped a bit in 2004, with each finishing in the 30s.

  • 122.6: Frank Viola (72.1) and Allan Anderson (50.1), 1988 Minnesota Twins
    Allan Anderson is probably the most obscure name on this list. It was his misfortune to have his career fall between the Twins' two trips to the World Series in 1987 and 1991. You could make a case that this was Frank Viola's best season--either this or the year before.

It's probably more likely that the Santana-Liriano tandem won't crash this list until 2007, but it remains a tantalizing possibility that they could pull it off for Minnesota this year. What we might have on our hands here is the first lefty duo that could both post a VORP of over 70.0 in the same year.
Related Content:  Lefty,  Randy Johnson,  The Who,  Omar Daal,  Best

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