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October 26, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

Fight the Powers That Be!

by Jim Baker

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The Pitcher's Domain

I don't know about you, but Willy Taveras' hit-by-pitch to open last night's game rankled my sense of justice. While the Curt Schilling pitch that hit him was high and not in the strike zone, it was clearly over the plate; Taveras was leaning way in when the pitch nicked his hand. Was letting him go to first base the right call? Here's what the rule says:

Rule 6.08
The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when --
...
(b) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (1) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (2) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball;
If the ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a strike, whether or not the batter tries to avoid the ball. If the ball is outside the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a ball if he makes no attempt to avoid being touched.
APPROVED RULING: When the batter is touched by a pitched ball which does not entitle him to first base, the ball is dead and no runner may advance.

According to this, home plate umpire Laz Diaz made the right call, unless you'd like to argue that Taveras made no attempt to get out of the way, which I'm not about to do at this juncture. Since Diaz was following the rule, my attack today is not on him but on the rule itself. It is my belief that the area directly below and above the strike zone should not be the province of the hitter's body. To me, a pitch must be off the plate when striking a batter to warrant passage to first. A pitcher should not have to worry that the punishment for missing low or high while over the plate could result in a free base for the batter. For purposes of hit by pitches only, the strike zone should extend downward to the edge of the plate and upward beyond the batter's height. If I had my way, the pitch that hit Taveras would have been called a ball and nothing more.

Manny Being…Great

If you know this already, good, but if you don't, it is easy to understand why. By now we have all seen that Manny Ramirez has some problems with presentation. He makes no effort to look like what we all imagine a great ballplayer should look like. He masks his physique by blousing an oversized shirt and bagged pants. He has out-locked Johnny Damon. On occasion, like last night when he casually rounded third and was nearly nailed for it, he runs the bases as though gamboling through a public park. He doesn't elaborate on his craft in the media.

Unfortunately, this has a tendency to call attention away from what he does best: hit a baseball like few others born to woman:


Best All-Time Equivalent Average, Right-Handed Batters
.342: Albert Pujols
.340: Frank Thomas
.337: Rogers Hornsby
.335: Mark McGwire
.331: Manny Ramirez

That's right-Manny's better than Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, and Alex Rodriguez. How does he stack up against everybody? The four best all-time EqAs belong to left-handed batters:

.368: Babe Ruth
.364: Ted Williams
.356: Barry Bonds
.346: Lou Gehrig

Throw in switch-hitter Mickey Mantle at .340, and two more sweet-swinging lefties who clock in at .333 (Stan Musial and Dan Brouthers), and Ramirez winds up in 12th overall. That's 12th out of every man who tried to have a big league career in the history of time. Try to keep that in mind the next time you see him. He might not have the sense of decorum of those other eleven guys ahead of him, but he sure hits like them.

When All You Do Is Hit, The Least You Could Do Is…Hit

While there has been much discussion about which player the Red Sox should hold out of their lineup once they get to Denver, the temptation is to say that it won't matter that much in the end, given the apparent disparity between the two teams as displayed in the first two games of the Series.

How much has losing the designated hitter cost American League teams in the World Series since 1995? Let's start by looking at the won-loss records. Including the two games just concluded, AL clubs have gone 24-9 at home in Series games, starting with the Indians-Braves matchup in 1995. In that same time, they are 17-17 in the National League parks. In terms of runs per game, the Americans have averaged 5.5 at home, and 3.6 on the road. That's a pretty serious drop-off, but one must expect some downturn in away games. [Ed. note: But two runs?]

What this doesn't address is the performance of the individual designated hitters. If we're looking for a reason for the general downturn in run scoring, we'll have to search elsewhere, because as a group DHs have not been productive in the World Series. Since the '95 Series, American League designated hitters have posted a line of .211/.338/.263 in a little over 140 plate appearances. In fact, if you take away David Ortiz's performances from the Games One of 2004 and 2007, the group's line drops to .178/.307/.187. Taking Ortiz's two best games out of the equation removes all but one of the group's extra-base hits (a double by Jason Giambi in 2003). Only three AL DHs in this time have managed two-hit games: Carl Everett in 2005, Brad Fullmer in 2002, and Cecil Fielder in 1996.

There have been some especially empty showings. Chuck Knoblauch had two walks and a sac fly to show for his 15 plate appearances in Series play with the Yankees (2000-2001). Eddie Murray was 1-for-11 for the '95 Indians, while David Justice was .176/.364/.176 for the '97 Indians and '01 Yankees. The only thing these DHs have done with any regularity other than make outs is walk; averaging about one every seven plate appearances, which sort of takes the H out of DH.

Skroo-Uppz (Skroo-Uppz is a copyrighted feature of this reporter; no other reporter may make the same errors without my express written consent)

As if Indians fans haven't suffered enough, I added an extra two years to their gap between World Series appearances in my last outing. That's because Cleveland returned to the Series in 1995, not 1997. Perhaps I had blotted it out of my mind because I didn't have cable then and my broadcast reception was so bad that the only way I could watch Game Six was by holding a jury-rigged antenna in my hand and moving it constantly as the picture-extremely fuzzy even at its best-came and went. Sad? You bet it is. The story has a happy ending, though. I now have 700 cable channels, just like everybody else. Truly, this is a land of opportunity, where a person who has no clear access to television because of financial constraints and the bad luck of being in a poor reception area can pull himself up by his bootstraps to someday have a premium cable subscription with the Extra Innings package thrown in to boot.

Anyway, taking those two years off the count drops the '55-'95 Indians from the fifth spot all-time down into a tie for seventh with the '32-'72 A's.

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