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April 18, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

Supplemental Runner Income

by Jim Baker

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Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): New York Yankees (3rd) @ Toronto Blue Jays (12th)

In spite of the substandard nature of the back-end of the Yankees rotation I still picked them to win the division. My thinking was that even if they repeat last season's generous offering of 789 opponent runs--or even tack on another 5% or so to that figure--the offense is going to compensate for it in spades. Would it be enough spades, though? After all, there comes a point where no amount of offensive output can compensate for a pitching staff that can't take care of business. (See 2005 Cincinnati Reds.)

Looking at PECOTA, no team had a combined projected VORP for its starters quite like the Yankees. Only Boston came anywhere near matching it. And this is after basically giving away the designated hitter spot for sentimental reasons. If the Yankees had a masher at DH instead of Bernie Williams, then I'd be more inclined to say they could become one of those rare teams that scores 1,000 runs. As it is, if everybody stays healthy they still have an outside shot at it. An improvement from 886 to over 900 is extremely likely while getting up around 950 is not out of the question, either.

At those levels, a team can absorb a lot of punishment on the other end and still be successful. A runs scored/runs against ratio of 950 to 828 (5% more than last year) would result in a projected record of 92-70. That's not going to be enough to beat the Red Sox but we should keep in mind that New York has outperformed its projections in every year but one of the Joe Torre era. The strange dichotomy of their first 12 games will not continue with run distribution becoming less regimented soon enough. Realistically, the Yankees should score about 925 runs while allowing about the same number they did last year. That will get them 94 wins. A three-win outperformance of projection--modest by their recent standards--puts them at a win total that will be hard for anybody to overcome.

The best thing the Blue Jays can hope for is that the Yankees have an aging attack. It's not a team with any kind of depth--although if a catastrophic injury took place, the club's willingness to spend their way out of the problem compensates for that.

Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): San Diego Padres (28th) @ Colorado Rockies (5th)

I'm throwing this out there in light of what happened in the National League West last season: if a team does not win more than half its games, it should not be allowed to participate in the postseason. The .500 or sub-.500 division winner will get a nice pennant identifying them as such but they will not earn the right to advance. Their opponent will get a first-round bye. It's certainly one way to counteract one of the pitfalls of the three-division format: a temporary unsightly imbalance of power resulting in a division bereft of a quality team.

Clint Hurdle is at it again. The Rockies lead the majors in sacrifice bunts. One can only assume that Sunday's 1-0 loss to the Phillies at Coors Field is going to reinforce in Hurdle's mind the notion that one-run strategies make perfect sense there.

While Todd Helton is leading the bigs in walks at this juncture, his teammates Clint Barmes and Matt Holliday have yet to draw their first pass of the season in over 100 combined at bats. Neither has been a pillar of patience prior to this, but Holliday had 35 walks last year. Excluding Helton, the Rockies have drawn just 26 walks. As low as that is, it's still more than the Angels. Which leads us to…

Closest Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (19th) @ Minnesota Twins (18th)

What is this wildness streak befouling Carlos Silva? He's had two walks so far this season, a total it would have taken him six starts to amass last season. Find the plate, man! His opponent tonight affords him an excellent opportunity to get back on track. With Jeff Davanon gone, the Angels last best hope for somebody walking at an acceptable rate is comeback player-of-the-year candidate Tim Salmon, a man who definitely knew how to drop the bat at one time in his career. His reentry has produced only one walk so far, putting him just two off the team lead. If you had to set an over/under on Angels walks tonight against Silva it would probably be ½--except that should be his over/under against any team. In this case, a bettor should be required to pay a lot more for the under.

Worst Matchup (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Washington Nationals (29th) @ Philadelphia Phillies (24th)

Let's say you wanted see how fast a baseball game could be played. One of the best ways would be to guarantee that fewer pitches were thrown. Here are teams from either league that represent the players who have either thrown (the pitchers' number) the fewest pitches per at bat or seen the fewest. A game between these two squads would move along at a pretty good clip. The Phillies are represented by Aaron Rowand, albeit with the highest rate on either squad:

         AL        NL
         Player, TEAM           #P/AB        Player, TEAM            #P/AB
SP       Roy Halladay, TOR       3.03        Dave Bush, MIL           3.14
RP       Matt Miller, CLE        3.35        Chad Qualls, HOU         2.92
CL       Shawn Camp, TBA         3.22        Chris Reitsma, ATL       2.64
C        A.J. Pierzynski, CWS    2.94        Yadier Molina, STL       3.07
1B       Richie Sexson, SEA      3.30        Adrian Gonzalez, SD      3.20
2B       Placido Polanco, DET    2.47        Anderson Hernandez, NYM  3.15
3B       Aaron Boone, CLE        3.02        Pedro Feliz, SFN         3.07
SS       Carlos Guillen, DET     3.25        Ronny Cedeno, CHN        2.93
LF       Craig Monroe, DET       2.78        Matt Holliday, COL       3.34
CF       Grady Sizemore, CLE     3.27        Aaron Rowand, PHI        3.39
RF       Magglio Ordonez, DET    2.79        Jeff Francoeur, ATL      3.05
         Average        3.04                 Average                  3.08
The relievers have a minimum 100-pitch requirement. The closers do not. And yes, Roy Halladay is not long for this list. Here are the players on the opposite end of the spectrum so far in 2006. The Phils and Nats are both represented:
         AL                                NL
         Player, TEAM         #P/AB        Player, TEAM          #P/AB
SP       Barry Zito, OAK       4.43        Glendon Rusch, CHN     4.29
RP       Jason Frasor, TOR     4.80        Arthur Rhodes, PHI     5.32
CL       Eddie Guardado, SEA   4.92        Billy Wagner, NYM      4.68
C        Jason Varitek, BOS    3.91        Brian Schneider, WAS   3.86
1B       Jason Giambi, NYA     4.96        Derrek Lee, CHN        4.40
2B       Tadahito Iguchi, CWS  4.06        Rickie Weeks, MIL      4.67
3B       Troy Glaus, TOR       4.56        Ryan Zimmerman, WAS    4.28
SS       Derek Jeter, NYA      4.00        Rafael Furcal, LAN     4.31
LF       Brad Wilkerson, TEX   4.23        Carlos Lee, MIL        4.40
CF       Johnny Damon, NYY     3.81        Carlos Beltran, NYM    4.53
RF       Milton Bradley, OAK   4.08        Bobby Abreu, PHI       4.29
         Average               4.34        Average                4.46
As far as position players go, we know this much: you can be a good player and be on the fast-game team, but you can't be a bad player and be on the slow-game team.

There ought to be a law. Marlon Anderson and Marlon Byrd are back on the same team and that's just the kind of thing the easily confused of this world don't need. It's probably not the best thing in the world for the Nationals, either, but that's another problem entirely. Anderson and Byrd were first united in September of 2002 when both were with this week's opponents, the Phillies. Both have been relegated to bench roles in the intervening years. The confusion could be compounded exponentially if they were both on the Marlins.

Thanks in good part to Pedro Martinez, the Nationals lead the major leagues in getting beaned. This follows from last season when they tied for the major league lead with Toronto by getting popped 89 times. If they stop taking it personally, they would see these painful pitches for what they are: supplemental runner income. Instead of complaining and retaliating, they should welcome these plunkings as a way of lengthening their meager offensive rations and strive to become he first team since the 1997 Astros to get hit by 100 or more pitches.

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