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June 30, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

League Dominance

by Jim Baker

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Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Detroit Tigers (1st) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (28th)

It's pretty obvious what the events of the last several weeks are leading to: the dissolution of the National League as we know it, or, failing that, its relegation to a lower level. It's time for the Senior Circuit to throw in the towel. Let's look at the facts. The National League has:

  • lost 10 of the last 14 World Series
  • managed one tie in the last nine All-Star Games
  • routinely gotten its butt kicked in interleague play this year

It's obviously time to reclassify the National League as either a Quadruple-A loop or a high Triple-A league. Perhaps we should even make the existing N.L. teams affiliates of the American League. Isn't that the only logical thing to do in light of the obvious imbalance that now exists?

Not to blow my own sousaphone, but back in February, I predicted this very thing! In discussing the transfer of starting pitching talent from the National to the American League, I wrote this on February 17: "… a total of 197 points of VORP went into the AL from the NL among last year's most-active starters, with only 70 going the other way. Don't be surprised when the American League wins most of the interleague matchups, the All-Star Game and the World Series as a result of this scandalous transfer of talent."

I won't even bother to check if these pitchers have been a factor. Rather, I'll let that prediction stand on its own, out of context because that is the essence of self-hype.

Getting back to reality, I was joking with that prediction and I'm joking about this year's NL/AL won-loss disparity being anything more than a slight spike on baseball's EKG. Looking at the win discrepancies in interleague play since the expansion of 1998, this is what we find:

2006 American: 52
2005 American: 20
2004 American:  2
2003 National: 22
2002 National:  6
2001 American: 12
2000 American: 21
1999 National: 19
1998 American:  4

Not especially significant in any year up until now. If one league had posted three consecutive seasons of 50 more wins, we could talk. The National League might even carve some of that bulge away this weekend, although the Americans have clinched the season series. Even if the Nationals sweep all 14 series it won't be enough to completely close the gap. Looking at the BP Hit List rankings, the American League has an advantage in seven of this weekend's series, the National in three and four are too close to call:

Visitor    Host        Advantage
Tigers     Pirates     American
White Sox  Cubs    American
Royals     Cardinals   National
Phillies   Blue Jays   American
Red Sox    Marlins     American
Astros     Rangers     American
Dodgers    Angels      National
D'backs    Athletics   American
Devil Rays Nationals   National
Brewers    Twins       American
Mets       Yankees     too close
Indians    Reds        too close
Orioles    Braves      too close
Rockies    Mariners    too close

With that, I'm still not looking for the American's 52-game gap to grow significantly this weekend. Next season, it will be back to normal with one league or the other grabbing a 20-game advantage, and we'll have forgotten this ever happened.

Keep your eye on eBay for this item.

Baker's 12th Axiom is this: The larger something is, the less likely it will be preserved. That goes double for a thing with lots of components like a battleship, a skyscraper, or a ballpark. The only circumstance that would truly save Tiger Stadium in its ideal form was the presence in Detroit of a popular independent league team. Keeping the façade extant as the exterior of a shopping mall is better than nothing I suppose, but as anybody who has been to see the still-existing former ticket booths of Braves Field in Boston can tell you, a portion of a memory is a hazy substitute.

Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): New York Mets (3rd) @ New York Yankees (4th)

Oh Boy! The Mets are playing the Yankees again. How novel. This will surely get the turnstiles clicking. Good thing, too, as the Yankees desperately need parlor tricks and promotions to draw fans.

Excuse me while I get excited about a traditional counting stat for a moment. In the Mets first 25 years of existence, only one of their players broke triple figures in runs scored. In 1970, Tommie Agee reached the plate 107 times. The next Met to do it was Darryl Strawberry, 17 years later. In all, only 11 Mets have scored 100 or more runs in a season with Edgardo Alfonzo's 123 in 1999 being the team record. They haven't had a century man since Alfonzo repeated the feat in 2000. This season, Jose Reyes is leading the majors in runs scored with 67, and he obviously has a decent shot at Alfonzo's team record. What's more, three other Mets have a fighting chance at making the 100-run mark: Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Carlos Delgado are within striking distance. This is heady stuff for this team, but here's hoping that none of them actually reaches this milestone. The second half of the Mets season will be about keeping players fresh for the postseason, not chasing numbers.

Biggest Natural Mismatchup ("Natural" opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Chicago White Sox (2nd) @ Chicago Cubs (29th)

A fact that best illustrates the frustration of being a serious Cubs fan is this: they have the worst team OBP in the league but have managed to hit into the third-most double plays. (By contrast, the Reds have the third-highest team OBP but have hit into the second-fewest DPs behind only the Mets.) So, not only is a Cubs baserunner the rarest sight in the league, he stands one of the best chances of being destined for termination.

Follow-up
On Tuesday, I asked readers to recall any incidents of players taking whacks at intentional balls much as Miguel Cabrera recently did. What follows are some verbatim responses. Readers were very honest about the imprecision of their memories, but if even half of these are accurate, it's a not-so-rare occurrence:

I long ago heard that Hank Aaron hit a homerun on an intentional ball, but that he was called out for stepping on the plate. It's hard to believe that such a memorable event would be...well, forgotten, but maybe it has been.--Joal Ryan

I could swear I remember Dave Winfield getting an extra base hit on an IBB, but it could be a falsely-implanted memory.--Jake V.

I remember seeing Chipper Jones hit a homer during an attempted intentional walk a few years ago. And, on a related theme, I think I recall Barry Lyons getting picked off second on a throw from the catcher during a would-be intentional walk in a game against the Cubs many years ago, but I could be wrong about that (or I could have reversed it: maybe he was doing the picking off).-- Mike Cadwalader

I recall that Bill Madlock doubled off an attempted intentional ball when he was with the Pirates against the Cubs at Wrigley. Unfortunately I do not recall the year (must have been around 1983).--Denis Buckle

I read on the back of a 1977 Topps baseball card (who knows which one) that Don Mueller got a base hit while being intentionally walked. Not sure where or when, but there you have it.--Name withheld upon request

In regards to the question about players hitting pitches meant for intentional walks, I remember Juan Samuel doing something similar to what Cabrera did this week when he was on the New York Mets (it'd have to be the 1989 season then). This memory comes from a game I listened to on the radio as a kid so it's hazy, but I'm pretty sure he reached base on the play and I want to say he hit a home run (he hit only three for the Mets that year so it wouldn't be too hard to verify this I guess). If my memory serves me correctly on this it's the only memorable thing Samuel did in his tenure in New York.--Chis Nehls

Players getting hits on attempted IBB--Cal Ripken Jr. did this sometime in the early 90's (pre-1996 anyway). I'm pretty sure it was against the Tigers, and if memory serves (which it may not, I was pre-pubescent at the time) it blew open a close game similar to Cabrera's the other night.--Dave

My brother and father claim that Richie Allen hit a home run off of an intended intentional ball for the Phillies in the '60s. I suspect that this is an embellished memory, but there may be some kernel of truth behind it.--E.R.

I recall Keith Hernandez hitting a pitch-out (not an intentional walk, but the same idea) on a hit-and-run play, against the Braves (?) in 1985. Hernandez managed to make contact with the ball by throwing(!) his bat as it came by, but was called out by the home plate umpire for swinging with his foot out of the batter's box.--Brian Lerner

And from the cinematic department, come these two entries:

The most famous (and glorious) contact made on an intentional ball occurred in 1992 by Jack Elliott of the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese league. Not only did that team feature Elliot in all of his mustachioed glory, but also a second coming of Pedro Cerrano as outfielder Max 'Hammer' Dubois.-jake rake

I believe the immortal Jackie Earle Haley (a.k.a. Kelly Leak) did it in one of the Bad News Bears Movies. (might be Breaking Training - in the Astrodome against the Houston Toros with Bob Watson and Cesar Cedeno looking on...)--Phil Castagna

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