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April 11, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

Turning the Tables

by Jim Baker

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Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Colorado Rockies (7th) @ Arizona Diamondbacks (9th)

One year ago this week, these teams were featured as BP's Worst Matchup. Enjoy the moment.

Was that too snide? Maybe it was. Did the Rockies prove something this past weekend by getting into double figures three times against the Padres while holding them to single figures? Consider this: since 1962, 30 teams have done that very thing (in either a three- or four-game series). The average number of wins for those 30 teams is 88.6. Before we go penciling the Rox in for that many wins, consider that they themselves have done this before--two times in 2000. Those were both at home, and on both occasions the opponents (Montreal and San Francisco) scored at least six runs in every game. Those Rockies did win 82 games, though.

The question is, then, do 60-something-win teams (the approximate expected result of this year's Colorado entry) do this sort of thing? No, not really. Of the 30 teams on the list, only six finished below .500, and five of those had win totals in the 70s. The one truly bad team that managed this feat was the 1996 Tigers, winners of just 53 games. Their mark that year was the California Angels, winners of just 70 games. Now, it must be pointed out that the Tigers had already been on the losing end of no less than three such series that year. The Yankees, White Sox and Red Sox had taken them out 32-13, 41-13 and 32-12, respectively.

Almost half the teams on the list won at least 91 games. The average number of wins for a losing team was 73.4. The best team to ever be so victimized was the 2000 Giants with 97 wins, but they fell in Coors Field. The next-best team is the 1978 Orioles, winners of 90 games. They were victims of the 93-win Brewers. In all, only six victim teams had better records than the victors in these series.

The 10-4, 12-4, 10-4 beatdown on the Padres could be just one of those things or, given what's transpired in the past, it could be an indication that the Rockies are better than anticipated.

Early-going extremes: Cory Sullivan has hit 8% of all major-league triples so far this year. Maintaining that insane pace would give him 71 on the year, assuming the total number of triples hit this year approximates last year's total of 888. In 1912, the year Owen Wilson set the all-time record with 36, he accounted for 2.7% of the major-league count. If Sullivan could pull that off, he'd finish with a very healthy 24. That's not especially outrageous. When Cristian Guzman hit 20 triples in 2000, he was responsible for 2.1% of all big-league three-baggers. Lance Johnson's 21 in 1996 was good for 2.5%. It's much more likely that Sullivan will finish with nine or ten on the year, but, after watching get two in one inning, it's fun to think about the possibility of more.

Worst Matchup (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): San Diego Padres (30th) @ Florida Marlins (24th)

Unlike some other bad teams of recent vintage, the Marlins provide some very compelling reasons to watch. Two are, of course, Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera, both of whom are worth the price of admission to a ballpark. If I were one of the cities currently courting the Marlins (or being leveraged by the Marlins, whichever you think more accurately describes the situation), I would want to know those two players were going to show up with the team when they uproot and show up on my doorstep. Both are signed to one-year contracts, Willis for $4.35 million and Cabrera for $472,000--the biggest bargain in baseball. As part of any negotiations with the Marlins, I would insist that one or both be locked up for a few years beyond 2006.

I might also insist that the Marlins not pursue trading them unless it was for demonstrably equal or greater talent. Of course, "demonstrably" is open-ended enough to bring on all kinds of silliness, so the terms would have to be defined in more detail than that. If my city is a possible new home for the Marlins, what I am trying to avoid is the situation where the Montreal Expos moved to Washington without Vladimir Guerrero. True, he was a year removed from the Expos when they changed homes and yes, they did make an attempt to get him locked down long-term. Regardless, I want a little star power coming my way when I prostitute my city and my taxpayers to build a new facility for our new baseball team.

Early-going extremes: What were the Padres thinking when they sent for the services of Dewon Brazelton? Thanks in part to his initial effort, they have the worst team ERA in the majors after the season's first week.

Brazelton is not the sort of pitcher a team has to trade for. He's more usually the sort that comes to you with hat in hand, asking for a shot at a job. So, you've got two problems: 1) you want him; 2) you're willing to send something for him in return, even though it's what's left of Sean Burroughs. No, make that three problems: 3) You put him in your starting rotation.

All the Padres had to do was look at Brazelton's ten best comps at baseball-reference.com and therein would they find a cautionary tale. Without resorting to complicated calculations, a simple look at the combined career won-loss record for the ten will show a count of 89-179. PECOTA's top three comps for Brazelton include one overlapping name with baseball-reference (Sean Douglass) along with Jesse Jefferson and Joaquin Benoit. What else, really, did San Diego need know?

Closest Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Houston Astros (10th) @ San Francisco Giants (11th)

Why is everybody doing a mental frug over Barry Bonds' opening week of action? Why does his manager have to answer questions about what's wrong with him? So far, Bonds has appeared in all of five games in which time he has 12 official at-bats that have produced a double and a single. Had this occurred in May or June or September or October, not only would nobody be writing about it, chances are they wouldn't even notice. In fact, this very thing has happened in those months. Four times in the last two seasons alone, no less:

  • September 23-26, 2005: Bonds played in four games in this run during which he had a single in 14 at-bats. He also walked just twice, as opposed to the seven times he's walked so far this year.

  • September 28-October 3, 2004: Bonds closed out the 2004 campaign with a 1-for-13 showing in six games that also included 10 walks.

  • June 15-19, 2004: This sequence is almost exactly the same as the one from 2006's first week: 2-for-12 in five games with a double and six walks.

  • April 30-May 9, 2004: Perhaps one of the most productive oh-fer runs in baseball history? In seven games, Bonds went hitless in 15 at-bats but drew 13 walks.

Now, the keen-eyed will have noticed that this most current run and the last run of 2004, when sandwiched around his brief appearance last year, make for a very un-Bondsian 15-for-67 since September 28, 2004. Before reading too much into it, remember that this is still a pretty small sample size and also that he has still managed a slugging average over .600 and an on-base percentage of about .440 in that time.

Early-going extremes: Lance Berkman has a 1-to-18 groundball-to-flyball ratio. Conversely, Joe Mauer of the Twins is at 15-to-1. It's usually pitchers who have numbers like Mauer's. Another Astro, Jason Lane, had the lowest groundball/flyball ratio last year, .55.

Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Chicago White Sox (22nd) @ Detroit Tigers (1st)

Conversely, players have weeks like Chris Shelton just had all the time. In fact, they have a name for them and their own award. They're called Players of the Week. When they do it in the first week of the season, though, everybody wants to talk about them. That's part of the fun of the early going, isn't it? Guys putting up crazy numbers and everybody getting caught up in it while in the backs of our minds we know it doesn't really mean anything?

One thing I always like to do is look at the top 10 leaders in OPS for the first week of the season and figure out which of them will still be there when the leaves are falling. This year, a pretty good percentage are players who are clearly not pretenders to the list: Shelton, Derrek Lee, Travis Hafner, Ronny Cedeno, Jim Thome, Ramon Hernandez, David Wright, Lance Berkman, Albert Pujols and Xavier Nady.

You can probably figure out by sight who the pretenders are, but there is another way to separate them that can prove helpful. Just look at what percentage of their OPS comes via batting average. Among these current top ten players, the highest batting averages as percentage of OPS belong Hernandez, Cedeno and Nady--probably just as you figured. Thome has the lowest percentage.

Early-going extremes: Four of the five least selective batters so far in 2006 are appearing in this series. In terms of numbers of pitches per at bat, the bottom five in the majors are these:

2.65: A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago
2.66: Craig Monroe, Detroit
2.81: Magglio Ordonez, Detroit
2.82: Moises Alou, San Francisco
2.82: Placido Polanco, Detroit

If nothing else, you might get home a little earlier from the games.

Thanks to Keith Woolner for providing research.

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