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July 14, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

Second Half

by Jim Baker

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Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Chicago White Sox (2nd) @ New York Yankees (3rd)

The Yankees find themselves in unfamiliar territory coming out of the All-Star break. It's only the second time since they started finishing first that they have not been in that position at the break:

2006: 50-36, 3 out
2005: 46-40, 2.5 out
2004: 55-31, 7 up
2003: 57-36, 2 up
2002: 55-32, 2 up
2001: 52-34, 1.5 up
2000: 45-38, tied
1999: 52-34, 4 up
1998: 61-20, 11 up

In every previous season save one, they have managed to improve their lot in the second portion of the season. In 2004, they saw their seven-game lead shrink to three games by season's end. That's just window dressing, though--they still won the division as they did last year and could well this year.

One major difference between this Yankees team and the ones listed above is that they are underperforming against their runs scored/runs allowed while all the previous Yankee teams outperformed it--sometimes by ridiculous amounts. The Yankees don't have the largest third-order differential in baseball, but they're on the list:

-10.0: Indians
-7.3: Pirates
-6.1: Rangers
-4.8: Angels
-3.5: Yankees

They do, however, have the worst differential of any team whose closer is on this list of highest VORPs among pure relievers:

29.0: Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox
25.1: B.J. Ryan, Blue Jays
21.4: Darren Oliver, Mets
21.3: Mariano Rivera, Yankees
20.0: Takashi Saito, Dodgers
19.2: Rafael Soriano, Mariners
19.0: Joel Zumaya, Tigers
18.8: Trevor Hoffman, Padres
18.7: J.J. Putz, Mariners
17.9: Scot Shields, Angels

And really, the Yankees haven't been that bad in one-run games. The four teams ahead of them have been brutal. The Indians are 7-13, the Pirates 9-25, the Rangers 8-16 and the Angels 11-13. The correlation between one-run game records and differential isn't straight up, but there are definite influences. The Yankees are 14-12 in one-run games this year. They've only had one season worse since '98 and that was the 21-21 mark they posted in 2002. They're usually eight to 10 games over .500 in one-runners.

Closest Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Colorado Rockies (15th) @ Cincinnati Reds (16th)

7.9 to 3.0. That's Wily Mo Pena's VORP as opposed to that of the man he was traded for, Bronson Arroyo. Except that's just Arroyo's VORP for hitting the ball, not for tossing it. If you want to bring his main gig into the picture, he's at 39.6 for pitching. So, may I be the 4,321st person to say many, many kudos to Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky for engineering this deal. May I also say that whatever Krivsky managed to put in the positive column of his lifetime decisions--including saving orphans from burning buildings and cute baby aliens from space ship crashes if he has, in fact, done such things--was all obliterated yesterday.

We all make mistakes. We marry the wrong people, we get in the slow line at the supermarket, we choose the wrong careers. There are two types of wrong decisions, though. The first is the kind that seems like the right thing to do at the time but that goes wrong later. You marry a person because you're in love. You choose a particular checkout line because the people ahead of you don't have many items and the cashier has quick hands. You go into a field that seems lucrative. Sometimes these go wrong later and the decision looks bad in hindsight.

The second type of wrong decision is the one that looks bad from the moment of conception. It is this type that Wayne Krivsky has made with the Austin Kearns et al trade. Apart from the humiliation of being taken to the cleaners by a general manager who is not known as being one of the shrewder operators on the scene, there is nothing about this deal that makes sense. OK, it addresses the Reds need for relief help. Look at the list of highest-ranking relievers above. How many of them are found properties? Relief pitching--especially middle relief--is not the sort of thing one has to pry the gold out of one's teeth to buy. It's out there. What is especially frustrating about this trade--and here is where it mimics the other colossally bad trade of recent vintage, the Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano deal--is that Kearns could have brought so much more from somewhere else. I never upbraid a team for trading a player--they're commodities after all. What is painful to watch is when a team unloads talent and gets so little in return.

That is my main gripe with this trade. It could be that Kearns and Felipe Lopez--who are both in their primes--will go to Washington and do nothing. We don't know that, though. Their potential could have landed the Reds a lot more than what they got and this is why Krivsky should have woken up this morning with the same feeling of dread that a sailor does when dawn breaks and he finds himself in bed with a peg-legged 65-year old strumpet and a giant sea squid.

Worst Matchup (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Washington Nationals (27th) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (29th)

Five-highest VORPs of non-All Stars with major league rank save for Travis Hafner whose plight as a non-All-Star is well known to you:

33.6: Nick Johnson, Washington (19th)
31.2: Carlos Guillen, Detroit (24th)
29.2: Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay (29th)
27.8: Bobby Abreu, Philadelphia (34th)
26.6: Victor Martinez, Cleveland (35th)

All disses pale in comparison to that of Hafner's, which may well be the worst single All-Star dis of all time, although I haven't thoroughly checked. Some might argue that Hank Greenberg should have made the team in 1935, the year he drove in 170 runs, but his EqA that season was just .329 while those of the two men who made it at his position, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx, were .354 and .353. Hafner, for his part, has an EqA of .372 this year. Anytime you're outpointing Gehrig's and Foxx' seasons of the mid-'30s, you're onto something good.

Anyway, I'm not beefing that Nick Johnson should have been on the team and wasn't. The ASG serves so many masters it's absolutely impossible to get it quite right. I just wanted to point out that he's having an All-Star caliber season and not really getting noticed for it.

Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Kansas City Royals (30th) @ Detroit Tigers (1st)

Just to keep things in perspective in the wake of the All-Star Game, here is how the American League starter ranks on his own team in terms of VORP along with their major league ranking:

Justin Verlander, 35.5 (13th)
Jeremy Bonderman, 34.0 (16th)
Nate Robertson, 28.5 (27th)
Mike Maroth/Zachary Miner, 26.4 combined
Kenny Rogers, 25.1 (32nd)

Do you sometimes think that we're never quite going to get there, that in spite of the millions of hours spent trying to get people to see things for how they really are, it's always going to be 1958? Actually, it doesn't take a load of sabermetric mumbo-jumbo (not my phrase) to show that Rogers is, along with being the highest-paid member of the Detroit starting staff, the one who has pitched the worst. Apart from all indicators you informed readers know about, the layman only has to look at his ERA. It's the highest among the six. His mates have treated him well, however. Here are the run support figures for the Tigers starters along with their major league ranking:

7.30: Rogers, 4th
7.29: Miner, 5th (if qualified)
6.34: Verlander, 17th
5.31: Robertson, 45th
4.52: Bonderman, 74th
3.38: Maroth (too low to calculate)

Interestingly, Miner and Maroth--in spite of their widely divergent family support--managed to come up with just about the same won-loss record (6-1 and 5-2) in splitting their starting slot so far. Getting back to Rogers and his place in the rotation hierarchy, when a team's least effective pitcher starts the All-Star Game, they've got nothing to complain about.

Related Content:  The Who,  All-star Break

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