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August 7, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

Los Olvidados

by Jim Baker

Given the parameters of the BP Matchups, it can happen that certain teams do not appear here as often as others. Teams at the extreme ends are more likely to be Matchups fodder than teams in the middle. The Red Sox have made 12 appearances this year, the Nationals 10, and the Mets and Royals eight each. All four have spent the entire season either at the very top or bottom. Even with this built-in bias against middling teams, just about every club has made at least three BP Matchups appearances this year (four is the average). To redress this, today we're going to focus on the four matchups that involve the teams that have been shortchanged Matchups-wise so far in 2007. These are the forgotten ones: the Orioles have only made one appearance, while the Phillies, Giants, and Cubs have made just two apiece.

Chicago Cubs @ Houston Astros

Kerry Wood's appearance in Sunday night's game against the Mets--his first big league game in a year--should remind us that the Cubs have cobbled together a fairly effective front three in spite of his (and Mark Prior's) absence. Assuming a floor of 20.0 VORP, no team currently has four starting pitchers who qualify as a unit. The Mets come the closest, as their fourth-highest starter is Tom Glavine with a VORP of 19.4. Curt Schilling's 16.5--the fourth-best figure on the team--also puts the Red Sox fairly close as well.

Among three-man units who have all hurdled 20.0, these clubs have amassed the best total VORP:

117.5, Padres: Jake Peavy (51.7), Chris Young (45.0), Greg Maddux (20.8)
114.7, Athletics: Dan Haren (52.4), Joe Blanton (35.5), Chad Gaudin (26.8)
109.2, Braves: Tim Hudson (48.1), John Smoltz (35.3), Chuck James (25.8)
100.9, Cubs: Carlos Zambrano (37.2), Ted Lilly (34.1), Rich Hill (29.6)

Five other teams have three starters above the 20.0 floor: the Red Sox, Indians, Mets, Giants, and Blue Jays.

Hill stifled the Astros last night, and has the best third-highest mark of any pitcher in baseball. What that means is that the burden is spread more evenly among the Cubs' top three than it is on these other teams.

Washington Nationals @ San Francisco Giants

Obviously, to write about the Giants is to write about Barry Bonds. It's not just his pursuit of the all-time home run record that gives him the lion's share of Giants coverage, it's the fact that general manager Brian Sabean has managed to surround him with a great sea of nothingness. Bonds' VORP is a few ticks lower than the rest of the San Francisco position players combined, provided you don't subtract anything for the Giants who are posting a negative number. If you do include them, he's acing the team by a goodly amount. While it's not always an accurate gauge of a player's value to his team, I offer the Giants record with and without Bonds in the starting lineup:

with Bonds: 42-48, 376 Runs Scored/385 Runs Allowed
w/o Bonds: 6-14, 93 Runs Scored/94 Runs Allowed

The run differential in the non-Bonds starts is skewed primarily by two games, a 15-2 victory over Colorado on May 13, and a 9-1 win over Houston 10 days later (although they did lose 12-1 to the Cubs without Bonds on July 12). The Giants have actually scored more runs per game without Bonds than they have with him, 4.7 per game to 4.2.

Speaking of assembling talent, I had this hunch that the Giants had received the fewest points in Rookie of the Year voting over the last decade. Obviously, Tim Lincecum is heading for a top three or top five finish in this year's voting, but how have they fared in the recent past? Admittedly, the Rookie of the Year Award is not the best gauge of a team's ability to develop talent. There are players who have received place votes in the past decade I guarantee that you have completely forgotten. I went with a decade count since I figured that if a player was good enough to have even one voter take notice in his rookie year, then it's a modest proposal to assume he'd be around 10 years later. Sure enough, my hunch was right:


Points  Team, Players receiving votes
417     Cardinals, 7
331     Marlins, 12
302     Rockies, 10
268     Pirates, 8
249     Braves, 5
173     Astros, 6
170     Expos/Nats, 5
169     Phillies, 4
163     Reds, 4
135     Cubs, 4
131     Padres, 2
 94     D'backs, 2
 87     Brewers, 4
 40     Mets, 4
 23     Dodgers, 4
  8     Giants, 2

The Giants' two players to figure in the ROY voting of the last 10 years have been Matt Cain, who finished fourth last year, and Ryan Jensen, who finished sixth in 2002.

Something I'm getting pretty tired of hearing of late: how much easier it was for Babe Ruth to hit homers because the leagues were segregated and the entire male population of the United States was malnourished in his day. If it was so &$#@ing easy to hit home runs back then, why didn't more guys do it? Why doesn't the all-time home run list look like this?

755 Hank Aaron
755 Barry Bonds
714 Babe Ruth
689 Rogers Hornsby
671 Al Simmons
660 Willie Mays
659 Goose Goslin

How does a man hit 10 percent of his league's home runs for an entire decade without being downright extraordinary? The circumstances were the same for everybody (except that Ruth the batter never had to face Ruth the pitcher nor the Yankees pitching staff). This has nothing to do with what Aaron did or what Bonds is doing or what the eventual home run champion of all time, Alex Rodriguez, will do. I'm merely stating my opinion that this vogue of dismissing Ruth's accomplishments is bogus.

Seattle Mariners @ Baltimore Orioles

Every year, I mentally assign a Los Olvidados Award to the team that appears to be leaving the fewest footprints in the media. This is by no means scientific, but so far, it seems that the Orioles are the forgotten ones of 2007. Is that your perception too? One of the reasons is that they jumped the shark a little early this year. Their high water mark came on April 22, when they got up to 11-7. They were under .500 within five days and haven't been back over since. Usually, the Orioles go a lot longer playing .500 ball before going under for good. This certainly robbed them of some of the annual Orioles-on-the-rise press time they usually get.

WARP3s of American League Rookie of the Year candidates:

8.4: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston
6.9: Dustin Pedroia, Boston
6.5: Reggie Willits, Los Angeles of Anaheim 5.6: Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore
5.6: Brian Bannister, Kansas City
4.9: Travis Buck, Oakland
4.9: Delmon Young, Tampa Bay
4.6: Joakim Soria, Kansas City
4.4: Akinori Iwamura, Tampa Bay
4.2: Alex Gordon, Kansas City
3.9: Hideki Okajima, Boston

It is highly unlikely that Guthrie is going to win the AL RoY, but if he did, he'd be one of the oldest rookies of the year in recent memory. Over the last 15 seasons, RoYs have averaged 23.6 years of age. The oldest among them have been Japanese imports who had their first big league season later in life than their North American counterparts. Kazuhiro Sasaki was 32 when he won the award with Seattle in 2000, Ichiro Suzuki was 27 when he got his the next year, and Hideo Nomo was 26 years, seven months when he started his rookie year in 1995. The oldest non-Japanese RoY of recent vintage was Bob Hamelin of the 1994 Royals, who began his rookie year at 26 years, five months. At 28, Guthrie would be way up there, but he's going to have to be incredible the rest of the way to have any kind of a chance.

Florida Marlins @ Philadelphia Phillies

According to BP's Postseason Odds (ELO version), the Phillies have the best shot at the wildcard, 22.96, followed by the Braves (14.82), the Padres at 14.56, the D'backs at 14.43, the Mets at 12.48. Then we get down into the Dodgers (8.64), Rockies (6.81), Brewers (2.54), Cubs (2.39), and then those who check in with percentages of 0.17 or less: the Cards, Marlins, Nats, Giants, Astros, Reds, and Pirates.

This would be fine by me, as I've picked the Phillies to do something a number of times in recent seasons and they have always come up short. In factů

When I pick the Phillies, I end up looking silly.
For when they come up wanting, my rep takes quite a punting.
But oh-seven would be better, Phils bettors would not be debtors.
But the season started hellish (on this I don't embellish).
Then just when they were rising, an event unappetizing:
Fate sniggered like that Muttley and took away Chase Utley.
But was the cyanide required once Tadahito I. was hired?
So the Fightin's kept the pace and stayed fair in the race.
Have they really cheated death? I would say: don't hold your breath.

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