September 12, 2006
Prospectus Game of the Week
Detroit Tigers @ Minnesota Twins, September 10, 2006
Welcome once again to Game of the Week. We keep on promising you Jered Weaver in this space, but we never deliver. The promised Angels/Blue Jays tilt between Weaver and Roy Halladay isn't being offered on the Extra Innings package, and so we're going to the AL Central, where the Detroit Tigers are facing the Twins in Minnesota.
The divisional race in the AL Central was thought to be over as recently as a month ago. On August 7, Detroit had a ten-game lead in the division. Since then, the Tigers have a 10-21 record. They've lost two out of their first three in a crucial four-game set against Minnesota. Meanwhile, in Chicago, the White Sox have taken two in a row from the extremely disappointing Cleveland Indians. Just like that, the AL Central race is now down to a three game lead, three and a half over the White Sox, the tightest race in the AL.
Starting for the Twins, we have the prohibitive Cy Young favorite, and possible MVP candidate, Johan Santana. Santana's a special person, easily the best pitcher in the majors over the last three years. Here are some numbers, courtesy of Keith Woolner:
NAME IP BB SO HR ERA RA SNLVAR VORP RA+ Johan Santana 666.0 140 722 68 2.76 2.91 24.7 223.3 1.66 Roy Oswalt 670.3 142 535 51 3.20 3.42 20.1 183.7 1.40 Roger Clemens 517.0 161 482 32 2.40 2.68 20.7 183.5 1.82 Chris Carpenter 614.3 126 523 61 3.06 3.30 20.5 175.6 1.45 Carlos Zambrano 626.0 271 578 54 3.16 3.51 19.4 168.9 1.39 Jake Peavy 546.7 158 579 52 3.16 3.38 17.8 145.0 1.42What's impressive is the margin by which Santana is better than his peers. His Support Neutral Value,
Like Santana, Jeremy Bonderman is a repeat customer here at Game of the Week, having pitched against the Yankees in our first game this year. After Bonderman was featured in this space, he went on a nice run in June and July, going 6-1 with a 2.67 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 75 innings, a flash of the ace potential everyone has seen in Bonderman since he came up to the majors at the age of 20. However, since the beginning of August, Bonderman's 0-2 with a 5.75 ERA. Let's look at the lineups these fellows will be facing:
Detroit Minnesota EqA VORP EqA VORP Brandon Inge, 3B .264 6.5 Luis Castillo, 2B .260 17.4 Craig Monroe, LF .270 12.2 Nick Punto, 3B .271 11.7 Marcus Thames, DH .293 20.5 Joe Mauer, C .320 59.3 Magglio Ordonez, RF .274 18.6 Michael Cuddyer, RF .293 29.2 Carlos Guillen, SS .302 51.6 Justin Morneau, 1B .310 47.6 Chris Shelton, 1B .278 11.4 Torii Hunter, CF .270 20.3 Neifi Perez, 2B .128 -5.1 Jason Kubel, DH .239 -4.5 Vance Wilson, C .242 -0.4 Jason Tyner, LF .244 -0.5 Brent Clevlen, CF .365 7.5 Jason Bartlett, SS .285 19.6By releasing Dmitri Young last week, the Tigers showed that they're factoring in considerations other than performance when establishing their roster. Young was released after the waiver trade deadline, and after rosters expanded--in other words, the team didn't think simply burying Young on their bench was good enough. Despite initial claims that Young's release was "performance related"-and unrelated to Young's problems with alcohol-later in the week sources within the organization were calling Young "a growing cancer."
We see a similar mindset at work in a few spots of today's lineup. Neifi Perez bats seventh in the DH league, because apparently, no-one has noticed his string of sub-.300 OBP seasons, and sub-.400 slugging seasons. September recall Chris Shelton gets the start at first base, after spending the month of August in lovely Toledo, Ohio. In April, Shelton announced his presence with authority, hitting 10 homers in 92 at bats. From that point until his demotion, he hit only six homers in 262 at bats-although his overall performance was strong enough that he ranked as one of the Tigers' best bats at the time he was sent down. The demotion did not work wonders for Shelton--he hit .266/.372/.440 in the International league, with 3 homers in 109 at bats.
Today's centerfielder, Brent Clevlen, was the MVP of the Florida State League last season, on his second go-around at that level. He's a 22 year old corner outfielder by trade who stumbled in his first taste of AA this season, batting .230/.313/.357. In the Tigers' universe, that performance not only earns you a call-up to the Show, but you get starts in center field, in the middle of a pennant race. To his credit, Clevlen's hit a ton in a miniscule sample size.
Meanwhile, for the Twins, the focus has been on Ozzie Guillen's favorite players, the so-called "piranhas." Depending on whom you ask, group consists of Nick Punto, the three Twins named "Jason" (Jason Bartlett, Jason Tyner, and Jason Kubel, who really doesn't fit the mold), and Luis Castillo. While the emergence of Bartlett and Punto is a great story--both players are operating somewhere north of their 75th percentile PECOTA projections--it's a mistake to ignore the bigger fish out of love of little ball. The last time the Twins were featured on Game of the Week, Justin Morneau was struggling with a .264 EqA. He's now being mentioned in MVP discussions, along with Joe Mauer, who leads the AL batting race. Morneau's MVP argument comes down to the typical homers/RBIs/winning club trifecta, with the added bonus of several prominent clutch hits. Meanwhile, Mauer is having the third-best season by an American League catcher since 1960:
Year Name PA VORP 1993 Chris Hoiles 503 60.4 1979 Darrell Porter 679 59.5 2006 Joe Mauer 533 59.3 1995 Ivan Rodriguez 630 58.3 2004 Ivan Rodriguez 575 55.9What Mauer has over Chris Hoiles and Darrell Porter is time: he has three weeks to add to his VORP total, and is likely to pass both players, to get into first place. Still, restricting that list to American League catchers was a bit of a cheat. Here are the major league VORP leaders at catcher since 1960:
Year Name PA VORP 1997 Mike Piazza 633 101.7 1996 Mike Piazza 631 76.8 1998 Mike Piazza 626 73.9 2003 Javy Lopez 495 72.3 2000 Mike Piazza 545 70.2Indeed, the National League--and by the National League, I primarily mean Mike Piazza--controls the top 11 spots in the catcher's VORP list. Mauer's got no shot at Mike Piazza's amazing 1997 season, and is not a lock to break the top five. Still, if the vote were held today, he's probably my choice for AL MVP. The biggest mark against Mauer is that his teammates will probably split the vote, leaving the door open for a Derek Jeter or perhaps David Ortiz.
All this talk, I almost forgot there's a pennant race going on here. On to the action:
Now, we'd all love to hear a broadcaster comment on Santana's mechanics, but instead we get Bremer asking a question I thought I'd never hear on a baseball broadcast: "Can you tell us about the plot of 'Desire'?" This is what happens when you suspend Bert Blyleven. Santana's all over the strike zone against Brent Cleven, throwing a couple of pitches which fly six, seven feet above the plate. On a full count, Santana manages to freeze Clevlen with a fastball on the inside corner for his third strikeout.
Brandon Inge follows with a sharply-hit grounder to short. Bremer apologizes for interrupting a plot synopsis for "Fashion House" in order to do his job for a moment, then allow the actor's monologue to continue. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills! Bartlett bobbles a perfect double play ball, scooping the ball to second. The split second lost to the bobble and the scoop allow Wilson to throw a good takeout slide at Castillo, disrupting the throw to first. Now it's Monroe's turn to run the count full before grounding sharply to third, where Nick Punto makes a big diving stop, then airmails a throw to first for the out. Through three innings, Santana has thrown 57 pitches, only 31 of them strikes.
In the bottom of the seventh, Jordan Tata comes into the game and faces a barrage of singles from the Twins, allowing four runs on five hits. If this was a little league game, the mercy rule would be invoked. The Tigers will go on to score a run in the ninth to make it 12-1, the final score. Around this same time, Victor Martinez is hitting a solo homer in Cleveland, breaking a 2-2 tie against the White Sox. C.C. Sabathia goes the route in a 5-2 win, so the Chicagoans fall back in the Wild Card Hunt. That pitcher's duel in Anaheim? Kinda disappointing. The Good Weaver held up his end of the bargain, but Halladay gets featured in Under the Knife-he leaves in the first inning, after getting hit by a liner.
For our next installment, I'm offering you a choice: Friday night, the Phillies are taking on the Houston Astros, which would afford us one more chance to see Roger Clemens in what could be one of his final appearances; or we could catch the most-frequently requested pitcher in the National League, Brandon Webb, pitching against the Humidor Kids and southpaw Jeff Francis. Tell me what you want, and keep your eyes peeled to the newsletter.