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May 8, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

A Trio of Musings

by Jim Baker

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Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Washington Nationals @ Milwaukee Brewers

In order to blow this golden opportunity to have their first plus-.500 season since 1992, the Brewers would have to go 59-71 the rest of the way. That's not happening--especially when they have the Nats lined up for their next two games. That should make the likelihood of a sub-.500 season even less…um…likely. In a very public cry for help, the Nats are sending Jason Simontacchi to the mound tonight for his first big league appearance since 2004. Every team--even a lot that go on to win tons of games and flags to hang at their ballparks--give a few starts every year to unlikely candidates (see the 2007 Red Sox and Julian Tavarez), but this is especially emblematic of how quickly the Nationals have acclimated themselves to traditional Washington baseball franchise malaise.

Chances are, you're probably pretty surprised to see that Simontacchi is still active; he was closing for Bridgeport in the independent Atlantic League last year. This year, he made two starts at Triple-A Columbus, walked one, struck out three and allowed 17 hits and seven runs in 10 2/3 innings. If you tilt your ear toward Wisconsin, you can hear a Homer Simposon-esque drooling sound emanating from the Brewers clubhouse. Of course, it would be a much better story if Simontacchi goes seven strong innings and keeps the Natties in the contest.

The Brewers' 22-10 start is their best record ever through 32 games. It's even better than their 32-game mark in 1987, the year they won their first 13 games--after that, they went 7-12. What follows is a list of the latest .667 (minimum) record the Brewers have managed in their history.

2-1: 1980, 1981, 1988, 1991, 1993, 1996
3-1: 1969 (Pilots), 1971, 1982, 1986, 1994, 2000
4-2: 2004, 2005
5-2: 1985
6-3: 1974, 1975, 1978, 2006
7-3: 1979
8-4: 1997
10-5: 1976, 1995
14-7: 1977
16-8: 1990, 1998
20-10: 1987

Most of these ended in heartbreak and demise, but 2007 will be different. Clay Davenport's current playoff odds report lists Milwaukee's chances of making the postseason at 64 percent. That's second in the National League, ranking behind only the Mets (68.3 percent) in the Senior Circuit, and it's also third overall--Boston's leading the way at 83.7 percent. What is more, those three teams are the only ones with 50 percent shots of winning their respective divisions.

Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Boston Red Sox @ Toronto Blue Jays

Topic for discussion: if the Red Sox and Yankees were placed in different divisions, would it impact the entire salary structure of baseball? Does their head-to-head battle drive their payrolls ever upwards and, consequently, up the ante for the entire sport? Since both teams are smart enough to know you can't buy a World Championship but you can spend your way into October baseball, doesn't it stand to reason that their expenditures are made simply to get into the playoffs? If the divisions were realigned non-geographically somehow, would Boston and New York be able to ease off the pedal on that last 25 percent of their payrolls, or would they keep on spending because they have the money to do so? Just wondering…

It's a fleeting thing, but this matchup features the relievers with the two highest VORP marks in the American League. Boston's Hideki Okajima has made 15 appearances and is at 9.2, while Toronto's Jeremy Accardo is at 8.7 in 11 outings. Between them, they've surrendered one run in over three full games' worth of appearances. In terms of WXRL, Okajima is ranked seventh in the league, and Accardo is 19th.

Worst Matchup (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Colorado Rockies @ St. Louis Cardinals

Jim Edmonds was struggling, and then he went into a dry spell. Edmonds hasn't had a hit in his last 20 at bats going back to April 28 against the Cubs. At that time, he was already at an uncharacteristic .235/.325/.324, but now his OBP is 15 points higher than his slugging average. One might assume 20 straight hitless at-bats is the worst it's ever gotten for Edmonds, but not so--if he can land something safely in his first official at-bat tonight against Taylor Buccholz, he'll avoid tying his personal longest hitless streak.

These are the five worst non-safety streaks of his career:

  • 21--September 22 to September 30, 2004: It was in 2004 that Edmonds had his best year, posting career-highs in EqA and WARP3 (.341 and 11.9, with his next-highest marks being .332 and 10.6 in 2002). An impressive season, but it would have been even better if not for a late-season dive. After walking and singling twice against the Brewers on September 22, Edmonds concluded the very productive first nine-tenths of his season. He flied out in the eighth, and followed that with six straight oh-fers and a failed pinch-hitting appearance. He singled in his first at-bat against Milwaukee's Ben Hendrickson on September 30, and then finished the season with seven more outs. All told, he lost 51 points of OPS over the last two weeks of the season, falling from .317/.433/.679 to .301/.418/.643 in the process. In the end, it didn't cost anything, really, except perhaps for bragging rights over who had the best season on a team that won 105 games and the pennant. Edmonds, Albert Pujols, and Scott Rolen were bunched up in the high 11s in WARP3, and Edmonds would have been a little higher with a stronger finish.
  • 21--August 24 to August 30, 2000: After poking two homers against the Braves on August 24, Edmonds hit into a fielder's choice in his next at-bat. He went 0-for-3 the next day and then put together three consecutive 0-for-5 games in which he struck out 11 times. (His teammates were thriving, meanwhile, winning all three contests and scoring at least five runs in each.) One would have to guess that three straight oh-fers with five chances each time probably doesn't happen very often. Since five at-bat games suggest that a team had at least some success against the opposing pitchers, one would think that one of those 20-plus hits over the course of three games would be distributed so that everyone would get one. Edmonds broke his oh-fer five-spot streak in his third at-bat against the Marlins on August 30.
  • 20--April 28 to May 7, 2006: Edmonds has only struck out five times during his current streak, so at least he's putting the ball into play. His overall batting average on balls in play isn't the worst one out there at .242, but it looked a lot more normal before this streak began (.307).
  • 19--July 15 to July 23, 1997: After singling in his first at-bat against Texas, Edmonds went down three more times to finish the game, and then experienced five consecutive oh-fers. A run-scoring single in his third at-bat against the Yankees on July 23 snapped the drought. During the streak, he walked six times and struck out just five.
  • 18--September 2 to September 13, 2003: Edmonds homered in his first at-bat of the second game of a doubleheader against the Cubs, and then struck out twice before being lifted for So Taguchi in the eighth. After whiffing three times against the Astros on September 13, he yanked a single in the ninth to break the streak. In between, he struck out 10 times and walked once. This was emblematic of the entire second-half of his 2003 season, when shoulder miseries caused him to miss a good deal of playing time and seriously devalued what had been a superb season beforehand. (Three of the failed at-bats in this streak came as a pinch-hitter.)

Normally, we could write off a streak like this latest one as one of those things, much as we would have with the other four streaks on this list. Even a player at the top of his game--as Edmonds certainly was in 2004--is going to have a bit of a correction now and then. Preceded by a rough first month as this one was, and predicated by years of hard play and the fact that Edmonds will be 37 in June, this one sadly seems more symptomatic than coincidental.

Related Content:  The Streak,  Jim Edmonds,  The Atlantic

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