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May 11, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

Team Hopping

by Jim Baker

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Best Matchup (opponents with best combined chances of making the playoffs according to the Baseball Prospectus Postseason Odds Report): Milwaukee Brewers @ New York Mets

For fun, we used the Postseason Odds Report to set the matchups today, although the results would have been pretty much the same if we had used the Prospectus Hit List. Looking at the National League, the defending World Champion Cardinals have the third-worst chance of making the postseason (about four percent), ahead of only Washington and Pittsburgh. I'm wondering how this ranks for defending champions. At a similar juncture in 1998, the Marlins were 11-21 and seven games off the wildcard pace. Is that an apt comparison, though, in that the Marlins were busy coring out their team?

The Mets and Brewers are one-two in team OPS and one-four in runs allowed per game, so it's the best of all possible worlds colliding at Shea Stadium this weekend. The Brewers are getting the better end of the pitching matchups, with Jeff Suppan scheduled to face Jorge Sosa tonight, Ben Sheets against the struggling Mike Pelfrey tomorrow night, and Chris Capuano against the enigmatic Oliver Perez on Sunday. You could almost give the edge to Milwaukee on that account in all three games, unless the focused Perez shows up, in which case he's every bit as effective as Capuano.

By and large, Mets pitchers have great BABIP numbers. Among their pitchers with significant innings, only Pelfrey (.306) and Perez (.293) are near .300. Perez can get away with it more than Pelfrey can because he's striking out more than three times as many hitters. When your K-rate is down under four as Pelfrey's is, though, you can't afford to have so many balls dropping in for hits. New York has the kind of offense that can even up pitching mismatchups, though--especially if Carlos Delgado starts chipping in.

Worst Matchup (opponents with worst combined chances of making the playoffs according to the Baseball Prospectus Postseason Odds Report): Florida Marlins @ Washington Nationals

We're barely a month into the season, and Ryan Langerhans is already on his third team. You realize what this means, don't you? That's right--there's more than ample time to allow this man to set the record for most teams played for in a single season. Twelve different men are tied for the record with four, the most famous of whom is Dave Kingman (1977) and the most recent of whom is Jose Bautista (2004). Of the 12, none of them landed with their third team as early as Langerhans has.

Aside from the two 19th Century players-- Harry Wheeler and Tom Dowse --whose transaction dates aren't carried by www.baseball-reference.com, the earliest a player got to his third team before Langerhans was Mike Kilkenny in 1972. After spending a week with the A's (about twice as much time as Langerhans did with them), he was sent to the Padres on May 17. While they both arrived with about the same amount of the season already played, there was more of the season left to go when Langerhans got to his third team, because the '72 season was abbreviated by a strike.

Kilkenny is also the player that got to his fourth team the soonest, being traded from San Diego to Cleveland on June 11. The next-earliest was Wes Covington, who landed on his fourth team of the 1961 season on July 2. They both had the most time left available to move onto a fifth team, but it didn't happen.

Another player who had a shot at a fifth team was Ted Gray in 1955. Gray is unique on this list, in that he was involved in no trades during his four-team sojourn. He was a catch-and-release man each time. His final team was the Orioles, who also let him go with just two days left before the end of the season, making that his fourth release of the year. If he could have caught on with the Senators (the O's final opponent that year) for the last weekend of the season, history would have been made.

So, the Nats have had Langerhans for over a week now. There's no rush, given that over three-quarters of the season remains, but it's never too soon to start listening to offers.

Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in chances of making the playoffs according to the Baseball Prospectus Postseason Odds Report): Baltimore Orioles @ Boston Red Sox

We've probably all said this at one point or another in 2007: "As good as the Red Sox have been, imagine how well the Sox would be doing if Manny Ramirez was on track." Is this so, or are there other corrections that would take place to counterbalance the improvements Ramirez is sure to show the rest of the way in 2007? Let's take a look at Boston's regulars and see how they're squaring up against their own projections:

C: Jason Varitek, 4.8 VORP (sixth in the American League). This is probably an accurate reflection of where Varitek belongs at this stage of his career. A seasonal VORP of just over 20.0 sounds reasonable (it's a little over the 60th percentile of his PECOTA projection) which is about where he's headed at this rate.

1B: Kevin Youkilis, 9.0 (third). His EqA is about 25 points higher than what he's done in the past, which is not out of line for a 28-year-old player. He's in the 100the percentile of his PECOTA projection, so he might be overplaying his hand. Or it could be that he's on the way to the season that people used to envisage for him when he was trapped at Pawtucket.

2B: Dustin Pedroia, 2.4 (10th). So far, Pedroia is at about half of his 50th percentile PECOTA projection. Considering that he spent most of the first month of the season doing nothing, it appears that he's beginning to get the hang of it. Either that, or it's just the four consecutive multi-hit games talking. He should be good for at least a win more than he's shown so far.

3B: Mike Lowell, 11.8 (second). He's nailing the upper end of his PECOTA right now. His current counts of .305/.364/.534 would all be career highs, so if you're a bit skeptical that those will be his rates come October 1, that's understandable.

SS: Julio Lugo, 1.6 (ninth). Lugo is one of the few Sox regulars who has underperformed so far, ranking in the low double-digits in terms of PECOTA. An upward correction to the 50 percent range would be worth an additional win for the Sox.

LF: Manny Ramirez, 2.3 (eighth). That's eighth in a field that only has one player (Carl Crawford) with over 100 plate appearances ahead of him. Ramirez is at about 10 percent of his PECOTA right now. His Isolated Power is down over 100 points from his career level. A return to normalcy--the 50 percent range--would be good for three more wins for Boston.

CF: Coco Crisp, -2.1 (20th). Crisp is still at an age where he could be improving; if anything, he's regressing. He should be good for two wins above replacement level, but that isn't happening right now. There's probably a lesson in the Crisp acquisition, and it might be this: it's probably not wise to go all-out just to get a poor man's version of a player you lost to free agency.

RF: J.D. Drew, 1.4 (ninth). Those expecting the Drew of 2004 or 2006 would be tempted to write in an additional two or three wins, but PECOTA didn't have especially high expectations for him. To be sure, they were higher than what he's shown so far, as he's about a win off his 50th percentile expectation of 18.8.

DH: David Ortiz, 17.0 (first). Ortiz's VORP so far has been right in line with what he did in 2005 and 2006. It's actually just a little higher, but not so much so that you'd want to go discounting it too much.

So, erring on the conservative side, it would seem that the slow starts of Mssrs. Drew, Crisp, Ramirez, and Lugo, if corrected and balanced against the downward corrections of Mssrs. Lowell and Youkilis, would result in about four additional wins, like so: Varitek: 0, Youkilis: -2, Pedroia: +1, Lowell: -1, Lugo: +1, Ramirez: +3, Crisp: +1, Drew: +1, Ortiz: 0.

Closest Matchup (opponents whose chances of making the playoffs mostly closely resemble one another according to the Baseball Prospectus Postseason Odds Report): Arizona Diamondbacks @ Houston Astros

The D'backs are getting by in spite of the fact that 25.3 percent of their plate appearances have gone to regulars-- Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson, and Alberto Callaspo --who have played below replacement level. Looking at players with lesser field time as well (and excluding pitchers), Arizona has expended 43.1 percent of its plate appearances on those in the negative VORP club. Does that sound like a lot? How does it compare to the rest of the league?

Percentage of plate appearances expended on players with negative VORP:

55.5: Cardinals
48.8: Pirates
47.3: Dodgers
43.1: Diamondbacks
28.5: Padres
24.7: Nationals
20.8: Rockies
19.7: Marlins
18.6: Brewers
18.1: Reds
17.2: Giants
14.1: Braves
13.8: Mets
13.0: Cubs
11.6: Astros
5.8: Phillies

The league median is 19. For the Astros, their figure is the product of just two players: Humberto Quintero (2.3 percent) and Adam Everett (9.3 percent).

Related Content:  The Who,  Mike Pelfrey,  Fourth Of July

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