April 11, 2008
Friday's Games to Watch
Matchup: Yankees (5-5) at Red Sox (5-5), 7:05 ET
The Red Sox will have another rookie besides Buchholz playing against New York for the first time in infielder Jed Lowrie, who was called up yesterday from Triple-A Pawtucket to take the roster spot of third baseman Mike Lowell, who went on the DL with a hand injury. Lowrie will likely make his major league debut at some point in the next three days against the Yankees. He has gotten off to a slow start this season, with just one extra-base hit in his first eight Triple-A games, but last year put up 44.6 runs of VORP between Double-A Portland and Pawtucket, slugging above .500 at each level. Lowrie ranks at No. 57 on the Baseball Prospectus 2008 top 100 prospects list. He has played shortstop in the minor leagues, but according to BP's Kevin Goldstein, it is doubtful Lowrie will be able to handle that position at the highest level; with Lowell out, Lowrie was called up to play some third base, a position he has never played before, allowing Kevin Youkilis to slide back to first base at times in place of veteran fill-in Sean Casey. Lowrie is a switch hitter, who PECOTA sees as having virtually an identical OPS against both left and right-handers, with a better ability to get on base from the left side, and more power from the right. The left-handed Casey displays significantly less of a platoon split than most lefties, and has actually hit southpaws better than righties in each of the past three seasons, so the playing time decisions that manager Terry Francona makes at first and third base while Lowell is sidelined will not be especially obvious ones.
Matchup: Cubs (6-3) at Phillies (4-6), 7:05 ET
At the age of 31, Kosuke Fukudome likely already spent his career peak across the Pacific with the Chunichi Dragons, but it's looking like the Japanese right fielder is still very much in the midst of his prime in the early going, as Fukudome has begun his stateside second career by hitting .371/.488/.543 through 43 PA. Fukudome won over the Wrigley bleacher bums for good on Opening Day when he went 3-for-3 and launched a game-tying three-run homer off of Brewers closer Eric Gagne, and he's kept on hitting since. You would think that a player coming over from Japan to play his first year in the U.S. would have a large amount of unpredictability inherent in his projected performance, but PECOTA sees Fukudome's forecast--.289/.401/.504 in 465 PA, with 15 homers--as being one of the less volatile ones in baseball, as the system assigned Fukudome a low Beta value of 0.87. Fukudome's consistently strong performance in Japan--he posted OBPs of .431, .438, and .443 over the past three seasons--suggest he can be a J.D. Drew-type performer (Drew is his top PECOTA comparable), with outstanding plate discipline, a strong ability to hit for average, decent power, and some speed. With the additions of Fukudome and rookie catcher Geovany Soto, who has hit .333/.410/.667 thus far, the Cubs offense looks to be a much more formidable unit this season than the one that finished eighth in the NL with 752 runs scored last year.
Matchup: Brewers (6-3) at Mets (4-4), 7:10 ET
Today's edition of You Know It's Early When... features Milwaukee catcher Jason Kendall, who has gotten off to a .538 start (14-for-26) and currently leads the major leagues in Equivalent Average at .427. Kendall hit .242/.301/.309 last season in 514 plate appearances, with a VORP of -9.9, and 34-year-old catchers do not usually experience late-career renaissances. After an 0-for-4 day yesterday, meanwhile, Kendall's teammate Prince Fielder is sitting at .242/.333/.303 on the season, and after hitting 50 home runs last year has yet to go deep in 2008. In 2007, however, Fielder also left the gate sluggishly, as he hit just one home run through his first 15 games and 58 at bats.
The Mets are experiencing difficulty with the long ball as well, having hit three home runs in their first eight games, the lowest total in the major leagues. New York has still managed to put up 5.5 runs per game, third most in the National League, thanks in large part to the strong play of outfielder Angel Pagan, who singled in Jose Reyes with the winning run in the 12th inning to beat the Phillies 4-3 last night. Pagan leads New York with a 976 OPS thus far, filling in admirably for injured left fielder Moises Alou. Possessor of one of the most wonderfully confounding names in baseball history, the 26-year-old Pagan is serving his second tour with the Mets organization after spending several year with the Cubs. He was pegged by PECOTA for a breakout chance of 41 percent this season, the highest percentage of any Mets player on the active roster.
Matchup: Tigers (1-8) at White Sox (5-3), 7:11 CT
Tonight, the D-Train gets his second crack at ironing things out, and a second chance against the White Sox, who rank first in the majors with an OPS of 853 and runs/game average of 6.25. Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski has been the AL's version of Kendall, as he leads the White Sox with averages of .429/.484/.786 and ranks second in the American League in EqA, behind Baltimore outfielder Luke Scott. Joe Crede has also bounced back in a huge way so far from last season's injury-plagued campaign in which he hit just .216/.258/.317, with a team-leading three homers, 11 RBI, and .781 slugging percentage.
The Adjusted Standings are up on the BP Stats page, and, not surprisingly, the Tigers clock in with the largest difference between their actual record and their third-order record, at -2.7 wins. Detroit has scored 28 runs and given up 58, but by AEqR, those totals are 37 and 45, which suggests a record of 4-5. Despite the team's slow start, the PECOTA-adjusted playoff odds report still has Detroit with a 42 percent chance to make the playoffs.
Matchup: Padres (5-5) at Dodgers (4-5), 7:40 PT
Standing between Peavy and another win over the Dodgers is LA shortstop Rafael Furcal, who has hit Peavy harder than any other Dodger, with three home runs, two triples, and a .658 slugging percentage in 38 career at-bats against the right-hander. Furcal has gotten off to a great start this season, with a .382/.488/.588 line in 41 PA. That start is a good indication that Furcal is fully past the injuries that seriously hampered his production last season. Chief among those was an ankle sprain Furcal suffered last March. The speedy shortstop didn't play his first game until April 13 because of the injury, and put up just a 515 OPS for the month on the way to a career-low in seasonal OPS. Furcal is in the last year of the three year, $39 million deal he signed before 2006, and, at just 30 years old, could set himself up for another hefty payday if he can come close to replicating his career year of 2006 (.300/.369/.445).
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.