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May 3, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

Trader

by Jim Baker

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Worst Matchup (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Kansas City Royals (30th) @ Minnesota Twins (28th)

Here's some good Royals news: Kansas City is the only team in the majors without a sacrifice bunt in 2006. It's good to know that the team with the lowest On Base Percentage in the majors isn't dashing what few baserunners they have on the rocks of misguided forward movement.

Aside from that bit of right thinking, how is it looking for Kansas City? Eleven teams in the expansion era have posted winning percentages of .333 or less. Here, along with this year's Royals, is how they looked after 24 games:

3-21: 2003 Tigers
5-19: 2006 Royals
6-18: 1964 Mets
7-17: 1962 Mets
7-17: 1979 Blue Jays
8-16: 1998 Marlins
9-15: 1969 Expos
9-15: 1965 Mets
9-15: 1963 Mets
9-15: 1996 Tigers
9-15: 1979 A's
10-14: 1969 Padres

That's bad company right there, and the Royals are more than holding their own against them so far. You know things are bad when you've got Kerry Robinson leading off for you. Nothing screams "bury me shoulder-deep and use my lips for a golf tee" quite like that development. Anything that makes you long for Terrence Long can never be good.

Why do the Twins have their hands on their knees at the season's first turn, sucking wind? Consider that three of their starters have produced just about nothing beyond singles. Here are the ten players whose batting averages most completely define who they have been so far. In other words, the percentage of their OPS that is supported by batting average (through Monday):

Placido Polanco, Tigers: .957
Rondell White, Twins: .940
Yadier Molina, Cardinals: .864
Willy Taveras, Astros: .861
A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox: .856
Luis Castillo, Twins: .850
Angel Berroa, Royals: .845
Juan Pierre, Cubs: .836
Shannon Stewart, Twins: .833
Jason Michaels, Indians: .829

It's usually not a good thing to be on this list although it's much better to appear here in Luis Castillo's position than in Rondell White's. If you're going to have a huge majority of your production driven by batting average, .356 is where you want to be, not .132. It took a little while, but Castillo has his OBP higher than his Slugging Average. It's a pretty rare feat and he is the one man we can count on to manage it year in and year out.

Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): St. Louis Cardinals (5th) @ Houston Astros (7th)

Here's the other end of the above list:

Albert Pujols, Cardinals: .482
Jason Giambi, Yankees: .484
Barry Bonds, Giants: .487
Adam Dunn, Reds: .510
Jonny Gomes, Devil Rays: .513
Jim Thome, White Sox: .519
Adam LaRoche, Braves: .529
Jason Lane, Astros: .531
Morgan Ensberg, Astros: .533
Chris Shelton, Tigers: .546

When less than half of your OPS is batting average driven and that batting average is .333 as Sir Albert's is--well, you're on to something. This is a nice list for a player like Adam LaRoche who can point to his presence on it and say that he's getting the most out of his sub-.200 batting average. How soon before we begin hearing the Albert Pujols Triple Crown talk? (Or have I initiated it by asking that question?) The way certainly seems clear for him to make a run, although Todd Helton can be a threat in the right circumstances.

Jason Lane's presence on this list is interesting in that a decent part of it is attributable to his being in the top 10 in walks this year. His walk totals in the majors have been sporadic. He had a decent start in 2002 but then had none in 27 plate appearances the next year, an effort you might expect from an overanxious new call-up rather than somebody on their third go-round in the bigs. He had a decent number of walks in 2004 in his limited playing time but took only 31 unintentional passes in 561 PA last year when the Astros finally woke up and gave him a full-time job. This season, he's walking once every five trips to the plate.

I thought I had gotten to the point where I could detect spam e-mail but one finally slipped past me the other day. We're all used to bogus subject lines that say "Haven't heard from you in a while" like it's from some long-lost friend or "your invoice" like money is owed. The one that got me appealed directly to my passions. The subject line read:

Your Houston Astros Ticket

"Hey," I said to myself, "I like baseball." So I opened it and, naturally, it had nothing to do with the Astros and everything to do with the rockets:

- Guarantes (sic) 40 hours lasting
- Safe to take, no side efects (sic) at all
- Boost and increase performance
- Proven and certified by experts and doctors
- only $1.56 per tabs (sic)

Five lines, three sics--you've got to love that ratio. So, I guess I'm not getting a free pass to Minute Maid Park.

Closest American League Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Toronto Blue Jays (11th) @ Boston Red Sox (15th)

My favorite banner at Fenway on Johnny Damon Comes Marching Home night was the one that read "T R A D E R." Maybe that show Boston Public was more realistic than we realized: students were too busy having affairs, gunfights, suicide pacts--and whatever the hell other contrivances they cooked up every week--to learn how to spell. At first I thought it was a moving tribute to '50s GM Frank "Trader" Lane. Then I realized, no, these are just some morons who can't spell. You'd think that a town with so many colleges in it would employ spell checkers at the turnstiles to examine banners looking for just this sort of thing.

I know it's still too early to be using phrases like "on pace" and "projecting to" but it's fun, I can't help myself and besides, what's the harm? Along those lines, it's been a long time since a team struck out fewer than 800 times in a single season. The 2002 Contactees, a.k.a. the Anaheim Angels, came pretty close, but you have actually have to go back to 1992 to find a team that didn't break the 800 mark in whiffs. Three teams did it that year and it's only relevant now because the Blue Jays have gotten out of the gate with a pretty low team strikeout rate--one that would put them at about 775 for the season. Not that it matters, especially. Not striking out is not necessarily a virtue, just like striking out a lot isn't necessarily a detriment.

Every Jay but Troy Glaus has a fairly moderate K rate at the moment and since he's got 59 total bases so far, who gives a hang? It's just that we're so used to seeing teams in four figures in team strikeouts (with 900 usually being at the lower end of the league), a club that comes along with a chance to be an outlier in its time is worth noting. If the Jays were walking as much as the Yankees they'd actually have more walks than whiffs. Now that would be something as that sort of thing went out of style in the mid-'50s. Without doing a full body cavity search of the archives, I'm guessing the '56 Tigers were the last American League team to manage it and the '54 Dodgers the last National.

Speaking of extremes, one thing I forgot to point out in Friday's column was that in addition to the Yankees, the Red Sox and Reds are also walking at a pace that would land them in the top 10 all-time list. You'd have to think that at least one of them will hang in there to make it.

Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Pittsburgh Pirates (29th) @ New York Mets (4th)

Just curious as to why the moneyed Mets aren't being mentioned in the Roger Clemens sweepstakes. He would make a much better playoff rotation buddy for Pedro Martinez than Victor Zambrano or Brian Bannister.

Speaking of Bannister, he's now doing analysis for the Mets. If you've never seen the 1979 NBC special in which radio greats Bob & Ray were joined by the female members of the Saturday Night Live cast, then you've missed their ultimate illogical extension of the active-player-as-announcer concept. I'm paraphrasing, but it was Ray, I believe, who was an outfielder doing play-by-play, holding a microphone in his throwing hand: "There's a long drive coming my way, I'm going back, backů."

What do Dave Roberts, Luis Terrero and Jose Reyes have in common? They are the only players on the Padres, Orioles and Mets respectively to have a caught stealing attached to their names. The Orioles are off to a 22 for 23 start and the Padrinos are at 18 for 19. The Mets are not far behind at 30 for 33 and Reyes has all three caughts. The rest of team is 19-for-19. New York was third last year in stolen base percentage and first the year before. And, unlike in the past when Mike Piazza was behind the plate, the Mets are not in danger of having an equally marvelous opponents' stolen base percentage.

Related Content:  The Who

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