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May 9, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

Load-Bearing Units

by Jim Baker

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Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Boston Red Sox (8th) @ New York Yankees (1st)

Sorry to be so predictable but the Matchups are not made subjectively. Besides, with the buckage these two throw at their payroll, they pretty much need to be the Best Matchup whenever they get together or they're not getting their money's worth. When baseball unbalanced its schedule in 2001, I remember wondering if each Boston-New York meeting would still get the full hype once their meetings weren't so rare. The answer has turned out to be yes, but that probably shouldn't surprise us since they are both competitive. In the days of the 154-game schedule, they used to meet 22 times. Had I looked at the attendance data from a pre-expansion season where they were both in the pennant race, I would have seen that the additional dates didn't necessarily diminish fan interest. Here, for instance, are the per-date attendance averages for 1949, when they finished one-two:

Yankees hosting Red Sox: 57,592
Yankees hosting others: 30,674
Red Sox hosting Yankees: 33,357
Red Sox hosting others: 20,411

The difference now, of course, is that Red Sox don't have empty seats for anyone anymore.

Two pitchers with interesting Hall of Fame cases start against each other in the second game. Both Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling were on the 1990 Rochester Red Wings, although Schilling had been called up by the time Mussina got there from Double-A in the latter part of the season. Sixteen years and over 420 wins later, they are meeting for just the fourth time. Mussina has a 2-1 lead so far:

July 7, 2000: Baltimore 2, Philadelphia 1
This was a good pitchers' duel with Mussina whiffing 10 Phillies and Schilling knocking over eight Orioles in a complete game loss.

April 17, 2004: Boston 5, New York 2
Wildness undid the usually steady Mussina in this one. He forced in two runs with a walk and a hit by pitch and later surrendered a homer to Manny Ramirez. Schilling was wild as well, matching his season-high with four walks but he danced around trouble in his 6 1/3 innings, leaving the bases loaded in the fifth.

October 12, 2004: New York 10, Boston 7
The two missed each other in the 2001 World Series when Schilling was with the Diamondbacks. Their first postseason meeting was Schilling's first start since rupturing his retinaculum in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against Anaheim. As Will Carroll explained in Mind Game, Schilling had probably first sustained the injury much earlier in the season, but had not done serious damage until his misstep in the first inning against the Angels. Clearly not himself, he got his hair mussed in the first and was knocked out in the third, giving the Yankees a 6-0 lead and the first victory on their way to the sweep that should have been. For his part, Mussina was cruising with an 8-0 lead before getting roughed up in the seventh for four runs.

Their paths cross again with both at the top of their games. Schilling has returned to the land of the outsized strikeout-to-walk ratios, entering the game at 45:7. Mussina has usually been quite decent in this regard, but this year he has been, for lack of a better word, Schillingesque. He comes in at 42:8.

Worst Matchup (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Tampa Bay Devil Rays (27th) @ Seattle Mariners (24th)

You know who is sixth on the Mariners in RARP? In only 17 plate appearances, no less? Stathead love object Roberto Petagine. This is pointed out not so much as a brag on Petagine as an illustration of the sorry state of the Mariner attack. When you're a GM there are two ways to fail: quietly and noisily. I am thinking the latter course is a quicker route to the unemployment line. Signing big-name free agents who don't pan out--as Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson aren't this year--has got to be the fastest route to the exit lane carpeted in banana peels.

Here's a fun project: make a list of all the general managers in baseball and Google them with the word "fire" in front of their names. I would have thought there would be more petitions out there calling for just about everybody's ouster--or maybe two-thirds of them. Not so. Mariners GM Bill Bavasi has a couple, though, and at least one of them originated before the Beltre and Sexson signings.

Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Cleveland Indians (7th) @ Kansas City Royals (30th)

It pretty much comes down to this for teams playing the Royals: they've got to win two of any three-game series or they must consider the meeting a failure. The Indians got behind the eight ball with a 4-3 loss last night. The Royals might just be ripe for a sweep at the Indians' expense. Tonight's starter, Jeremy Affeldt has had three decent--albeit short--outings in a row. He collides with Jason Johnson who has been pretty nondescript so far. Tomorrow afternoon finds Hard Luck Scott Elarton meeting the The Enigmatic Mr. Jake Westbrook. I know: it's not entirely accurate to call a pitcher with a 14:21 strikeout-to-walk ratio "Hard Luck," but on a team with normal support, he'd be 3-3 now instead of 0-4. If anything, he's been lucky to have kept it close in as many games as he has so far. With so many balls in play and so many walks, his tightwire act is bound to collapse one of these days.

Even if both pitchers show up and throw their hearts out, though, the fact remains they are still being backed up by men in Royals uniforms while Johnson and Westbrook are supported by some pretty handy bat-wielders. Are there any Kansas City position players who could make the starting nine of the Indians? Perhaps a better question might be if any Royals could make the starting nine of any other team. Yes, Mark Grudzielanek would be an upgrade at second base for a few clubs. A healthy David DeJesus would be a welcome addition to a number of teams, especially in the National League Central (see below). That's really about it.

Do the Royals have any respites coming in their schedule? They have the fading Orioles this weekend. (Who had May 3 in the Orioles Dead Pool? ) There's an interleague series against the Pirates coming up in about five weeks, too. Mark your calendars for that one!!!

Skroo-upps (Skroo-upps is a copyright feature of this author): In the May 3 edition of Prospectus Matchups I listed the won-loss records of the .333 or worse teams of the expansion era at the 24-game mark and compared them to this year's Royals. I mistakenly omitted the 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks from that list--they of the 51 wins. Their record after 24 games was 10-14, which tied them for best at that juncture among those unfortunate teams.

Closest Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Chicago Cubs (21st) @ San Francisco Giants (23rd)

You could put together a pretty awful team by combining the San Francisco infield and the Chicago outfield.

The length of Omar Vizquel's contract raised some eyebrows at the time of its consummation, but at this point, he's the only Giants infielder getting things done on the offensive end. Including catcher Mike Matheny (.216 EqA), Giants non-outfielders aren't chipping in much:

1b: Lance Niekro, .192;
2b: Kevin Frandsen, .228; Jose Vizcaino, .179; Ray Durham, .192
3b: Pedro Feliz, .223
ss: Omar Vizquel, .306

The Cubs lineup is in far worse shape, though. Here are the teams whose RARP leaders have the lowest figures in baseball:

4.7: Esteban German, Royals
5.1: Chad Tracy, Diamondbacks
5.4: Derrek Lee, Cubs
7.0: Brian Giles, Padres
7.9: J.D. Drew, Dodgers

The Royals--well, you know about them. The Diamondbacks' figure is low, but to their credit, they have a number of players bunched up just below Tracy and no regulars currently posting a negative RARP. Lee's return will get the Cubs off this list eventually, but it won't hide the fact that they have created a team that is not capable of competing in the National League Central or, really, anywhere else. You can't blame management for Lee's injury or the slow start of Aramis Ramirez, but somebody has to take the fall for that outfield. Looking at combined RARP for the three outfielders with the most plate appearances on each major league team, we find these units to have the lowest totals:

0.9: Cardinals
3.2: Pirates
3.7: Cubs
4.2: Astros
6.5: Twins

If it weren't for the Reds and Brewers (ranked 5th and 9th), the outfields of the NL Central would be complete wastelands. There is a difference between the Cubs and the two teams beneath them on this list, though. The Pirates, at least, have one player representing well (Jason Bay at 9.0). The Cards have a struggling and perhaps finally-showing-signs-of-aging star in the person of Jim Edmonds. They also have John Rodriguez who has a RARP of 5.4 but who doesn't qualify for inclusion here because he isn't one of the three most active St. Louis outfielders. Yes, Juan Pierre is better than he's shown so far, but not by so much that a return to career norms is going to make that much of a difference. The same can be said for Jacque Jones. Ideally, you give a job to a player like Matt Murton in a situation where he's the third-wheel in an outfield trio, not the load-bearing unit.

Related Content:  The Who,  Managers Of The Year

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