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June 22, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

The Silver Boot

by Jim Baker

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

Silver Boot fever: catch it! Used to be you'd have to go to Florida for a natural-rivalry Worst Matchup, but not any more. Now the great state of Texas is horning in on the action, and believe me, we're all gripped with the fever down here. Here in the state capital, you can't go a block without seeing a couple people in opposing Rangers/Astros fan garb going chin-to-chin, arguing about which of their favorites is going to go home with the prized podiatral trophy. From Texarkana to El Paso, commerce will pretty much grind to a halt this weekend as 23 million-plus people cope with the allure of interleague intrigue.

Believe it or not, Craig Biggio--currently crawling his way to the 3,000 Hit Club--is going to pop 40 doubles again this year. (That is, unless they shut him down when he does get to 3,000 hits.) He's currently tied with Nap Lajoie for sixth all-time in that category. He'll pass George Brett, who is only eight doubles away. (That is, unless they shut him down when he does get to 3,000 hits.) For the separatists--and I've never bothered to pay much attention to the great divide in matters such as these--he'll finish with the most doubles ever by a right-handed batter.

These pursuits of milestones--what are we to do with them? It reminds me of the negative reaction so many people had to the last episode of The Sopranos. Everybody craves obvious closure. I say you don't need a round number to call it a career. Sure, it would be nice, but with a career-low .236 EqA and a negative VORP, it's kind of painful to watch. Biggio has already qualified for the Hall of Fame, so he's not one of these guys that need the round number to even be considered.

Getting back to Lajoie, he was the all-time doubles leader for about a dozen years. He took over the lead from Cap Anson in 1912, and added another 50 or so to his total before retiring. He held the top until Tris Speaker broke him in 1925. Anson had grabbed the all-time lead in 1882, so that means only three men have held the top spot in 125 years. That Biggio has come to within mentioning distance of these players is pretty impressive. That's just the thing--his accomplishments are many. It's a shame to see him sullying the portrait that is his career with these final struggles.

Speaking of Round Number Clubs, even they have their stratifications. For instance, Biggio's opponent in this series, Sammy Sosa, hit his 600th homer this week, joining a Round Number Club with only five members, although Ken Griffey, Jr. can make it six pretty soon if he stays healthy for the rest of the season. While Sosa is high on the counting strata, how does he rate overall in the 500 Homer Club? Looking at career EqA among the members, not very well. Including Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and Frank Thomas--four men who are on the threshold of membership--there are 24 players in or near the Club. These are the bottom five EqAs:

.288: Ernie Banks
.294: Sammy Sosa
.302: Eddie Murray
.306: Reggie Jackson
.307: Harmon Killebrew

Keep in mind that Banks was a shortstop for about half his career, the only member of the 500 Club other than the soon-to-be-included Rodriguez who spent considerable time in the middle infield. The average career EqA for a 500 Homer Club member is .325. Coming in last or next-to-last in a group of men that includes the likes of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays is by no means grounds for dismissal from Hall of Fame candidacy, however, given the white noise that has accompanied Sosa's career, it's going to be interesting to see how it plays out. Jay Jaffe discussed Sosa's Hall of Fame chances in full detail on Unfiltered yesterday.

Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Boston Red Sox @ San Diego Padres

Tim Wakefield and Greg Maddux have been in the big leagues at the same time for the better part of 15 years, yet have never faced each other as starting pitchers. Once in 1999 and twice in 2002, Wakefield relieved in games for the Red Sox that Maddux had started for the Braves, but as starters, Saturday will be the first time they've matched up. Veterans with almost 500 wins between them aside, is the more intriguing pitching matchup of the series on Sunday when Jake Peavy and Josh Beckett lock horns? Combined, they are a Madduxesque (ca. 1995) 19-2, but their Expected Won-Loss is nowhere near that compelling. Peavy is 7.9-2.1 and Beckett is a far more mundane 4.8-2.9. The Red Sox have been giving him eight runs a game, something they'll be hard-pressed to do on Sunday, not only because they'll be facing Peavy, but because they'll be playing in Petco Park.

These are the combined expected won-loss records in the three matchups this weekend:

Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Chris Young: 12.5-7.9
Wakefield vs. Maddux: 11.2-8.5
Beckett vs. Peavy: 12.7-5.0

This has not been a great month for the Red Sox schedule-wise. Apart from five games against San Francisco and Texas, the rest of their other 22 games are against teams over .500. Not only that, they've had to make two separate trips to the West Coast thanks, in part, to the magic that is interleague play.

Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Pittsburgh Pirates @ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

If being selective were the sole grounds for judging quality, your American League Rookie of the Year would be Reggie Willits. He is currently second in all of baseball (to Nick Swisher of the A's) in number of pitches per plate appearance. He's got 34 walks in 224 PA which, in the Angels organization, makes him something of an anomaly. Actually, Willits has played well enough to make himself at least worth mentioning in Rookie of the Year talk. He's already 26, so this is not the start of something great, but if Jason Tyner can spend parts of seven years in the majors without walking nearly as much, why can't Willits carve out a niche for himself long enough to qualify for a pension?

Closest Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Colorado Rockies @ Toronto Blue Jays

While on the topic of pitches per plate appearance, the highest number for non-qualifiers among those who've had more than just a handful of trips to the plate belongs to Rockies pitcher Taylor Buchholz. He's been to the plate 17 times and seen 86 pitches. He's parlayed it into just two singles and two walks, so one supposes the only upside then is helping wear down the opposing pitcher. On the other end of the spectrum, there are currently nine players who have come to the plate once and taken a single swing. They're all pitchers, of course. That's a wonderful way to show disdain for the hitting process, isn't it? Just get it over with as soon as possible.

The Rockies could do something this year they've never done before: have a .500 road record. Heading into Toronto this weekend, they're at 17-16 away from Coors. While that's barely breaking even, it is undeniably breaking even. Not only have they never finished at or over .500 on the road, only one time in their history have they had a better road record than home record. The sole occasion was in the strike-shortened year of 1994, when they lost 32 games in both situations but won 25 at home as opposed to 28 on the road. Usually, they're double figures worse on the road; they've averaged about a 13-game gap. The 2002-2003 seasons were especially polarized, with the club playing well enough to win the division at home and barely over .300 on the road. The home/road gap in OPS among their most active hitters is about 127. The biggest drop-offs belong to Brad Hawpe (223) and Troy Tulowitzki (202). Of course, Hawpe is so good at home that even with the gap, he's functional on the road. As it was in the old days, Todd Helton still looks good on the road. He's only giving away 16 total points between Coors and elsewhere. He could even that up with one weekend of terrorizing Blue Jays pitchers.

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