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September 6, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

The Quest to Turn Everybody Into Rob Deer

by Jim Baker

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Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Texas Rangers (11th) @ Oakland Athletics (8th)

According to the latest BP Postseason Odds Report, the A's have only a one-in-10 chance of blowing the division lead. What this means is that they'll enter the playoffs as the weakest team of the four, according to the latest BP Hit List:

Yankees (1st)
Tigers (2nd)
White Sox (4th)
Twins (5th)
A's (8th)

I suppose this means another October of sniping at the Beane method and how it doesn't work in the postseason.

If the Twins do justify the current odds of 63 percent and get in, a healthy Francisco Liriano is going to give them the best one-two pitching punch of any playoff team, but Oakland is not bad off in this regard according to 2006 VORP:

Minnesota
Johan Santana, 65.3
Francisco Liriano, 49.4

Oakland
Barry Zito, 44.9
Dan Haren, 43.4

New York
Chien-ming Wang, 47.0
Mike Mussina, 39.6

Detroit
Justin Verlander, 47.5
Jeremy Bonderman, 36.4

Chicago
Jon Garland, 33.5
Jose Contreras, 29.1

The third-best starters on each team look like this:

Nate Robertson; Detroit, 34.3
Joe Blanton; Oakland, 23.4
Brad Radke: Minnesota, 20.6
Mark Buehrle; Chicago, 18.6
Jaret Wright; New York, 12.8

These aren't the pitchers who will necessarily be aligned one-two-three, however. Kenny Rogers (32.8) will take a lead role for the Tigers and Randy Johnson (11.5) will do the same for New York. If Radke's run for glory doesn't work out, it's a pretty steep drop off the quality cliff for the Twins. Boof Bonser as a Game Three starter could be a possibility. He's looking a lot better than Carlos Silva and Scott Baker these days.

As was highly publicized, the Rangers turned over their entire starting rotation this year. I thought it would be interesting to see what has happened to the dozen men they used as starters in 2005.

Chris Young (31 Ranger starts in 2005): Leading the Padres with a 34.0 VORP.
Kenny Rogers (30): 32.8 VORP in Detroit.
Chan Ho Park (20): Was allowing 5.20 runs per game with the Padres before being felled by an injury.
Ryan Drese (12): Released midway through last year, he caught on with the Nationals and fooled some of the people some of the time. Just two starts for them this year, neither of which ended well.
Pedro Astacio (12): Also released half-way through 2005 but fooled more of the people more of the time with San Diego. Not so this year in Washington where he spent the first half of the season on the disabled list and posted a 5.80 DERA since.
Jose Dominguez (10): Now in the Oakland system, he's had a rough go of it at Sacramento. He struck out just 48 of the 403 men he faced and has struggled to a 5-10 record. Not a fitting end for one of the more highly-regarded pitching prospects in recent Rangers history.
Ricardo Rodriguez (10): He facilitated the Rangers getting Vicente Padilla from Philadelphia and was then released at the end of spring training. Did some time as a high-ERA specialist with the Memphis Redbirds in the Cardinals system.
Joaquin Benoit (9): Now a full-time Texas bullpenner with a 5.07 DERA.
Kameron Loe (8): The only '05 Ranger started allowed back on a semi-regular basis, he has not matched the promise shown last year. A 5.55 DERA in 15 starts has helped keep the Rangers out of the final running.
C.J. Wilson (6): He's been much more effective out of the bullpen than he was as a starter last year. He's struck out nearly a man per inning in his 34 appearances.
John Wasdin (6): Was pretty effective in Triple A and has been given five starts this year with the big club. His 16:13 K:BB ratio in 30 innings is the worst of his career, albeit in a small sample size.
R.A. Dickey (4): Just one start this year and it was a humdinger. He left with an ERA of 18.50 - about three times what he's posted at Oklahoma this year.
Edison Volquez (3): Walked quite a few men at Oklahoma this year but also whiffed 11 per nine - as opposed to his five poor starts for the Rangers where he struck out a total of 11 in 21 1/3 innings. Still only 22, though.
Josh Rupe (1): Has been more effective in the Rangers bullpen than Frisco's this year.

Worst Matchup (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half) : Pittsburgh Pirates (28th) @ Chicago Cubs (27th)

This is The Battle of the Three True Outcome Pitching Staffs. The Cubs have a commanding lead in the Quest to Turn Everybody Into Rob Deer while the Pirates are in a battle for second place.

Team:     HR+BB+K Allowed
Cubs:     1,710
Pirates:  1,585
Brewers:  1,576
Phillies: 1,572
Marlins:  1,564
The pitching staff that is least likely to promote a Deerian lifestyle is Cleveland with 1,269. It stands to reason that an American League team would have the lowest count in this category, but the Rockies and Cardinals follow the Indians and White Sox with the least Three True Outcomes combined.

Conversely, Cubs hitters are the least likely to produce a True Outcome:

Team:     HR+BB+K Allowed
Cubs:     1,230
Twins:    1,263
Mariners: 1,265
Orioles:  1,278
Giants:   1,324
That's a gap of about 500 between True Outcomes allowed and achieved. Can we surmise that Cubs games move much, much faster when they are at bat than when they are in the field (aside from the obvious time consideration that comes from the fact that they've surrendered more runs than they've scored)?

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

Regarding the Most Valuable Player candidacy of Derek Jeter, here is how he stacks up in WARP1:

7.9: Travis Hafner, Indians
7.8: Derek Jeter, Yankees
7.5: Miguel Tejada, Orioles
7.2: Joe Mauer, Twins
7.0: Jermaine Dye, White Sox

Nobody else is even close to 7.0 at this point. It's interesting that Hafner holds his own in this category even though it includes fielding. So dominant has his hitting been that he has the upper hand over just about every fielder in the league in spite of his lack of glove time. Jeter's defense this year is not measuring up to last season's showing. His FRAA is currently at -1, a big drop from last year's career-high of 17 - although it would still stand as the third-best mark of his career.

I think it's safe to say that the voters are going to ignore Hafner in 2006, so it might come down to a battle between Jeter, Mauer and Dye; three players from clubs that have made a run at it. With that in mind, I would say Jeter's chances are looking pretty good right about now.

Closest Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings) : Houston Astros (17th) @ Philadelphia Phillies (16th)

There is a natural tendency to feel sorry for pitchers that are poorly supported by their teams. There should be no such sympathy for Roger Clemens, however. He knew what he was getting into when he signed with the Astros again. Clearly, money and convenience were more important to him than run support. Is that fair to say? The Astros have been getting Andy Pettitte about a run per game more than they have Clemens and even more than that for Roy Oswalt. The Astros hitters have landed Clemens near the very bottom of the run support, just like last year. In turn, he has pitched well enough to put his team into a position win 14 of the 15 games he's started, but they've only managed to win eight of those games.

In fact, Clemens has pitched about as well as any starter in baseball this year. Looking at Runs Allowed-Plus, he's right near the top among all pitchers with 15 or more starts:

2.13: Jered Weaver, Angels
2.10: Francisco Liriano, Twins
1.84: Roger Clemens, Astros
1.60: Chris Carpenter, Cardinals
1.56: Johan Santana, Twins
1.50: Roy Oswalt, Astros
1.44: Roy Halladay, Blue Jays
1.42: Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks
1.41: Justin Verlander, Tigers
1.34: Jason Jennings, Rockies

His Average Game Score is right there with Carpenter's for the best in the majors. It would seem that he could continue doing this indefinitely (although I remember saying the same thing about Steve Carlton toward the end of his career and see how he ended up). Clemens has the very thing that ballplayers have dreamed about for 135 years: ultimate freedom. He can sign with whomever he wants for however much he wants for however long he wants. He can pitch for a whole season, or on Sundays or for three months. He can sign on August 31 and parachute into the middle of a pennant race if he likes.

If he is of a mind to, Clemens could end up third on the all-time victories list behind only Cy Young (511) and Walter Johnson (417). If he limits his pitching over the next three seasons and remains relatively effective (in other words, he doesn't even have to be one of the most effective pitchers in the game as he is at the moment), he could chalk up eight-to-10 wins a year through 2009. That would land him in the mid-370s, just ahead of Grover Cleveland Alexander and Christy Mathewson.

Having looked at the WARP1 for the MVP candidates in the American League, here are the figures for the National League leaders:

9.7: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
9.5: Carlos Beltran, Mets
8.9: Miguel Cabrera, Marlins
8.2: Alfonso Soriano, Nationals
7.6: Lance Berkman, Astros
7.5: Scott Rolen, Cardinals
7.4: Jason Bay, Pirates
7.1: David Wright, Mets

Ryan Howard--currently at 6.6--is not among the leaders but fear not, Phillies fans. His gaudy RBI number is going to put him in the top three when the vote is tallied, if not in first place itself.

Let's look at the MVP finishes of the top single-season RBI getters of the Expansion era:

165: Manny Ramirez, 1999 (4th)
160: Sammy Sosa, 2001 (2nd)
158: Sammy Sosa, 1998 (1st)
157: Juan Gonzalez, 1998 (1st)
153: Tommy Davis, 1963 (3rd)
152: Albert Belle, 1998 (8th)
150: Miguel Tejada, 2004 (5th)
150: Andres Galarraga, 1996 (6th)
149: George Foster, 1977 (1st)
148: Johnny Bench, 1970 (1st)
148: Rafael Palmeiro, 1999 (5th)
148: David Ortiz, 2005 (2nd)
148: Albert Belle, 1996 (3rd)

That's an average of about third place. Of course, a number of these players did other things that caught the eyes of the voters--just like Howard's big home run total will this year.

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