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April 14, 2008
Monday's Games to Watch
Matchup: Red Sox (7-6) at Indians (5-7), 7:05 ET
Cabrera, however, hasn't been hitting at all--a .209/.244/.256 line in 45 plate appearances--and he sat yesterday in favor of journeyman Jamey Carroll for the second time this season. Cabrera put up a .283/.347/.415 line in 1666 minor league plate appearances over four seasons, and essentially duplicated those numbers last year in the major leagues. PECOTA projected a .263/.324/.383 season for 2008, and if Cabrera can reach even those modest numbers, he would still be an extremely valuable player for the Tribe because of his defense. Carroll is no slouch with the glove himself, as his 2006 season at second base with Colorado ranks as the fourth best by an infielder over the past eight seasons by simple fielding runs (SFR), and he is at +31 FRAA in 297 games at second base for his career. No matter who plays second, therefore, the keystone for the Indians should be a position of defensive strength this season.
While Cabrera has been one of the most egregious offenders thus far at the plate, the Indians as a team have not hit in the early going, with a collective OPS below 700. Travis Hafner could really use a strong start after last season's somewhat mysterious slump; his power, however, has thus far failed to fully return, as he has slugged .435 so far in 53 plate appearances after his slugging percentage fell from .659 in 2006 to .451 last season. This game will feature left-handed hitting designated hitters on both sides of the dugout who are (or perhaps in Hafner's case, were) on the short list of most feared AL sluggers, but who are currently going through slumps. Ortiz got the day off yesterday after starting the season 3-for-43, the worst stretch of his career.
Matchup: Twins (6-6) at Tigers (2-10), 7:05 ET
Bonderman's poor peripherals, however, are of course not the team's greatest source of concern right now. Detroit ranks last in the major leagues in slugging percentage (.335), OPS (657), and, most importantly, runs (33, 2.75 per game). Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield and Miguel Cabrera--the three core hitters in what was viewed as potentially the strongest lineup in baseball--each have an OPS of 609 or lower. Luckily for Bonderman, Minnesota's offense ranks just three points of OPS ahead of Detroit's, and has an on-base percentage of .305, last in the American League.
One additional thing to consider when evaluating Detroit's collective offensive slump is that the Tigers' hitters are the second oldest offensive group in baseball, behind Toronto's. Detroit's new franchise player Miguel Cabrera is just 25, and should be entering the prime of his career, but every other offensive starter is at least 31 years old, with core players Sheffield (39), Ivan Rodriguez (36), and Ordonez (34) considerably older than that. Of the 2106 batters since 1947 evaluated by Clay Davenport's quick study that was recently posted on BP Unfiltered, just 13 percent had their peak seasons at age 31 or older. Adjust that up one more year to 32, the age at which seven of Detroit's offensive starters are at or above, and that figure drops to eight percent. Even before the season began, then, the collective age of Detroit's hitters should have raised at least some doubt as to just how many runs such an aging roster could put on the board. Of course, injured center fielder Curtis Granderson bucks that trend along with Cabrera, as he is 27 this year, an age which has produced more career years than any other historically. When he returns from a fractured finger, likely at the end of the month, Granderson will bring a much-needed infusion of youth and offensive ability at the top of the lineup to the struggling Tigers.
Detroit will try to break free from the doldrums against the rookie right-hander Nick Blackburn tonight. Originally it was expected that Blackburn would be sent down to Triple-A Rochester upon the return of franchise left-hander Francisco Liriano, who made his first major league start yesterday after missing all of 2006 with Tommy John surgery, but an injury to young right-hander Kevin Slowey, combined with Blackburn's solid first two starts, have kept the rookie in the mix.
Matchup: Angels (7-6) at Rangers (5-7), 7:05 CT
No matter how he performs tonight, Santana is a good bet to get some healthy run support from the Anaheim offense, which ranks second in the majors with an OPS of 827. LA has the best collection of high-average hitters in the game, and not surprisingly the Angels top the majors with an average of .301. Also not surprisingly, the squad has drawn just 30 walks, less than 2.5 per game, tied for the lowest total in the AL. If it weren't for Chone Figgins, LA of A wouldn't hardly have any free passes to show for the first two weeks. Figgins, the 30-year-old all-purpose speedster, has walked 12 times in the season's first 13 games, despite his career season high being 65. Currently hitting .404/.525/.447, Figgins has carried over his play from the last four months of 2007. After the All-Star break last year, Figgins walked 33 times in 245 plate appearances, versus 18 walks in 258 PA before the break. He also hit .361 following the break after a hot June in which he set the Angels record for hits in a month (53).
Matchup: Athletics (8-5) at White Sox (7-4), 7:11 CT
Smith and Dana Eveland, who won a rotation spot out of spring training and who has allowed just a run over 13.1 innings and two starts, give Oakland a back end of the rotation consisting of two intriguing 24-year-old lefties, both acquired from the Diamondbacks for Haren. Billy Beane stockpiled arms all winter, and the considerable pitching depth that Oakland consequently built up has paid off immediately in the early going. Despite dealing Haren, and having Harden go down after two starts, the Athletics currently rank second in the AL with a 3.49 collective RA from their starters. Chicago, on the other hand, has been carried to the top of the AL Central thus far by its offense, which ranks second in the league in OPS to the Angels, and which has ripped 17 home runs through its first 11 games. Third baseman Joe Crede has already matched his home run total from 178 plate appearances in last season's injury-shortened campaign (four) in just 46 2008 PA, and has a pair of grand slams in the early going. Former Oakland outfielder Nick Swisher is also playing well, with a team-leading 11 walks and 10 runs out of the leadoff spot. Swisher will be playing for the first time against the team that traded him in the offseason, with which he spent the first four seasons of his career. One of the players the A's got back for Swisher, 23-year-old center fielder Ryan Sweeney, has started the year with eight hits in 23 at bats, but is currently sidelined with a quad strain.
Matchup: Diamondbacks (9-3) at Giants (5-8), 7:15 PT
YEAR NAME AGE IP RA WHIP K/9 BB/9 1985 Phil Niekro 46 220 4.50 1.47 6.1 4.9 1984 Phil Niekro 45 215.2 3.55 1.37 5.7 3.2 1986 Phil Niekro 47 210.1 5.39 1.60 3.5 4.1 1993 Charlie Hough 45 204.1 4.80 1.34 5.5 3.1 1983 Phil Niekro 44 201.2 4.20 1.57 5.7 4.7 2007 Jamie Moyer 44 199.1 5.33 1.44 6.0 3.0 1965 Warren Spahn 44 197.2 4.74 1.35 4.1 2.5 1987 Tommy John 44 187.2 4.56 1.38 3.0 2.3 1983 Gaylord Perry 44 186.1 5.23 1.41 4.0 2.4 1988 Tommy John 45 176.1 4.85 1.51 4.1 2.3 1992 Charlie Hough 44 176.1 4.50 1.28 3.9 3.4 1991 Nolan Ryan 44 173 3.02 1.01 10.6 3.7 1992 Nolan Ryan 45 157.1 4.29 1.32 9.0 3.9 2007 David Wells 44 157.1 5.55 1.54 4.7 2.4 1987 Phil Niekro 48 138.2 6.43 1.65 4.2 4.3 1994 Charlie Hough 46 113.2 5.86 1.50 5.1 4.1The only non-knuckleballers on this list are Jamie Moyer and David Wells from last season (Roger Clemens was also 44 last year, and threw 99 innings), Warren Spahn, Tommy John, Gaylord Perry and Nolan Ryan. The best-case scenario for Johnson's 2008 campaign would be if he could come close to the 44-year-old Ryan's 1991 season, which ranks fifth on Johnson's list of most comparable pitcher seasons. No. 1 on that list is Satchel Paige's 1951 campaign, when the 44-year-old Paige threw 62 innings for the St. Louis Browns, mostly in relief, and posted a 5.66 RA. Anytime Paige shows up on a list of comparables, you know that the player in question is unique. Johnson, in fact, has a PECOTA similarity score of zero, meaning that there has been no one like him in major league history. (The only other major league pitchers with similarity scores of zero for this season are Francisco Liriano and Stephen Randolph.) The only lefthander on the list above is Jamie Moyer, who is a soft-tosser, whereas Johnson's career K/9 is 10.8. PECOTA sees Johnson, who had surgery on his back last August for the second time in a year, as being able to make 14 starts this season, with a 90th percentile projection of 22 starts. There's no question that if the Big Unit's back is sound, he can still be an outstanding starter--last season, he struck out 11.4/9 IP in his 56.2 innings, and from May 9 to June 10 turned in quality starts in five of six outings, with a 51/5 K/BB ratio, 2.02 RA, and 0.81 WHIP in 35.2 innings. That's pure, undiluted dominance, the Randy Johnson of old with even better control.
Tonight's game will be a fantastic battle of left-handed power pitching. The Giants starter, 25-year-old Jonathan Sanchez, is coming off the best start of his career--last Wednesday against San Diego, he struck out 10 in six innings, and has now K'd 113 in 102 career major league frames.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.