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May 15, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

The Centurions

by Jim Baker

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Best American League Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Detroit Tigers @ Boston Red Sox

Last night was Boston's first Centurion meeting of the 2007 season. Here are the Centurion American League standings for the season so far:

Boston     1-0
Cleveland  4-2
Detroit    2-3
Chicago(A) 4-6
What the hell are the Centurions, you ask? They're the clubs that have remained in the same cities since the league's founding in 1901. I think I started calling them that in 2001, so Centurions made sense then, what with the hundred years thing and all. I'm not so sure it still does, but what are you going to do?

The Red Sox were Centurions champions last year, as their 10-9 intra-Centurion record just beat out Detroit's 23-21 mark. Boston has now won three of the last four such titles, with the World Champion White Sox stepping up in 2005. The White Sox also won in 2002, while the Indians won out in 2001. Not being in the same division with the other three teams, Boston has a much lighter intra-Centurion schedule by about half.

The great concern in the wake of Sean Casey's outstanding postseason performance last year was that the Tigers would feel gratitude toward him and make him their first baseman for 2007. That's just what they did and the results haven't been satisfactory. You hate to see it because he is one of the nicest guys ever to put on a big league uniform, but his power has evaporated over the past two-plus seasons. Casey was never a rocker, but he was good for some pop, at least. Since September 1, 2005, though, it's been nothing doing--save for his impressive showing in the playoffs. This period encompasses about a full season's worth of at bats, 557. Over this stretch, he's slugged just .341, which represents an Isolated Power figure of 79 points. PECOTA saw him as falling to replacement level this season, but he's going to have to put on quite a show to get there.

Worst Matchup (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Texas Rangers @ Tampa Bay Devil Rays

These two clubs have allowed the most runs in the American League to this point. So, does the obvious happen when the teams with the two worst ERAs in the league have a head-to-head meeting? Let's take a look at what's happened in the American League between such teams since 2001.

2006 -- Orioles vs. Royals; 11.7 RPG (9.7 league average): The Orioles took five of the six games from Kansas City and, in the process, did nothing too radical. The highest score was 15 total and the lowest was six.

2005 -- Devil Rays vs. Royals; 9.6 RPG (9.4): This is slightly above what these two clubs averaged overall (8.9 RPG combined). Only one game was a even a bit slugacious: the July 28 contest in which the Royals blew a 5-0 lead and lost 10-5.

2004 -- Tigers vs. Royals; 11.7 RPG (10.0): Even though this series featured the most games on this list, with 19, it still came down to one game putting the skew on the proceedings. Without the 26-5 pasting the Royals laid on the Tigers on September 5, the per-game average drops by a full run. There were five other games that had at least 15 runs, including a 17-7 Tigers victory on May 27. The Tigers had a 2-0 win and the Royals won a 1-0 contest. Those are the two lowest-scoring games between the teams on this list.

2003 -- Tigers vs. Texas; 9.0 RPG (9.8): The first four games were in Texas and the run totals were 12, 11, 10, and 9. Moving to Detroit the next week, they didn't get to the league average once. The first game in Comerica went 16 innings and only resulted in six total runs, so the series was even lower scoring on a per-inning basis. Of course, the Tigers only scored 591 total runs, so expecting them to pump it up against anybody is asking too much.

2002 -- Royals vs. Devil Rays; 12.2 RPG (9.6): With only six games in the series (the Royals took four of them), it only takes one game to skew it up good. The 13-6 pasting the Rays gave the Royals on August 10 was the meat on the bones of this record. They were still over the league average.

2001 -- Tigers vs. Rangers; 11.0 RPG (9.7): If you take out the ninth inning of the August 8 game between these two teams, their average head-to-head score drops right down to the league average. With the score tied 6-6 in Texas, the Tigers got their first nine runners on in the ninth before making an out. A bit later, they had 13 runs in, a man on first and still only one out before the side was retired. That was just one of their eight victories over Texas in nine tries.

So, some fun stuff can happen in these matchups, but nothing that can't happen between any other teams. The flammability is often mitigated by the substandard levels of the teams' offenses--bats that don't have the wood density to club even the weakest pitching into submission.

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

There's a running joke at BP that whenever a pitcher has a no-hitter going and somebody on the internal email list alerts the group about it, the no-hitter is usually lost within the second batter of the alert. Naturally, we have come to call it the BP jinx. Nobody put out the alarm last night for Jason Bergmann's effort against the Braves. Instead, it was ESPN that cut away from the Cubs-Mets telecast only to see Brian McCann wreck it as the first batter of the bonus coverage. They jokingly called it their Bonus Coverage Jinx.

I've been thinking about this and why it occurs. While staring at some tea leaves on-line (since I don't drink tea myself), the answer came to me, man. Perhaps it is the outside energy that occurs when people away from the actual site of the effort tune in that causes the negative waves that end no-hitters? Maybe the energy can only stay positive when people who are right there on the scene groove to the feeling. Distant, off-site energy is weak and disruptive of locally-generated energy. Hey man, do you have a better theory?

Before last night, Bergmann had been one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball. In spite of having a superb WHIP he had yet to register a victory. His LUCK reading of -3.22 was better than only John Danks, Mike Pelfrey, and Anthony Reyes on the misfortune scale. Imagine having the seventh-best WHIP around and then flirting with a no-hitter and posting a Game Score of 83. If he can stay sane without proper scoring or support, he's a good bet for some more low-hit outings.

Closest Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): San Francisco Giants @ Houston Astros

Craig Biggio (2,966) and Barry Bonds (2,868) enter this series at one and two on the all-time hits leaderboard among active players. Biggio will pass 3,000 soon enough, but it's going to take Bonds until the middle of 2008 to get there. Bonds will eventually pass Biggio, though--not that anybody is going to remember that he joined the 3,000-hit club once he smacks his 800th home run. An interesting thing about Biggio is that he hasn't matched his career EqA since 1998. Cal Ripken, Jr. did a similar thing in the latter portion of his career, although he did manage to best his career mark one time (1999) in his last 10 seasons.

If Bonds continues on as is, he'll post a 9.3 WARP3. This is a Hall of Fame caliber of play and would qualify as the best season in the careers of a majority of big leaguers. For Bonds, though, it would rank as 15th-best. He's had only one game so far in which he got four official at bats without getting a hit or reaching on a walk. He did score a run in that game, though. He's had just two games in which he batted three official times and did not get a hit or a walk.

Looking back over the last seven seasons, Bonds has rarely had any such games.

Line    Total '07 '06 '05 '04 '03 '02 '01
5 0 0 0   3     0   0   1   0   0   0   2
4 0 0 0  25     0  11   0   4   3   2   5
4 1 0 0   1     1   0   0   0   0   0   0
3 0 0 0  10     2   0   1   0   2   2   3
That's 39 total in 750 games played, very few of which were pinch-hitting appearances. The last time Bonds had a significant string of plate appearances in which absolutely nothing happened was over six years ago. From his third at bat on April 5, 2001 to his second at bat on April 12, he was 0-for-21 without drawing a walk. He went 0-for-4 twice followed by two 5 0 0 0 outings. He's only gone 0-for-5 without a walk once since then. In fact, he's only had 17 other games with five official at bats in this century. Eleven of them came in 2001, and he's yet to have one this season. It's a pretty amazing thing to have someone in the lineup who is just about guaranteed to do something to give his team a chance to score in every single game he starts.

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