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May 2, 2008

Prospectus Matchups

Fun with Playoff Odds

by Jim Baker

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When looking at BP's Postseason Odds report, it is important to remember that it is not written in stone. Just last year, several teams undid sure things going in either direction. Take this year's surest thing, the Arizona Diamondbacks, for instance. At one point well into the 2007 season, they were showing an 11 percent chance of making the playoffs. They destroyed those odds, as you'll recall. This year, they're running at a percentage that is nearly reciprocal to that. Here are the four clubs that are currently showing a better than 50 percent chance of getting into the Final Eight:

80.3: Arizona
68.9: Oakland
53.9: Chicago (AL)
52.1: Tampa Bay

If any of those three American League teams maintain that stance and make it to the postseason, it will be a pleasant surprise. If all three or even two of them do, it will be stunning. It's still too early to picture a White Sox-Rays ALCS, but the fade of the Yankees (18.6 percent) and Indians (21.1) is creating a vacuum that will have to be filled by somebody if that pair doesn't do something to improve its odds. They are the two biggest surprises on the negative side (the Tigers are at 40.1 percent, which isn't very far off the mark) with the Angels clocking in at 28.3 percent qualifying for third. I would place the Brewers 26.3 percent showing fourth.

Among the five teams with the least chance of making it, I'd say that only San Diego is a complete surprise:

2.1: San Diego
2.9: Pittsburgh
4.7: Kansas City
5.4: Washington
5.5: San Francisco

The other four are about where they were expected to be, as were the next two lowest teams, Texas and Houston.

A Game in Transit: Baseball 50 Years Ago

With all the ballyhoo over the 50th anniversary of the Giants and Dodgers moving to the West Coast, I got to looking at their schedule that first year in California, and it's pretty interesting. The Giants and Dodgers started with a home-and-home series against each other featuring three games in each city. Then, the Cardinals and Cubs came to the coast and switched off three-game series in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Phillies and Pirates came next, only they played five-game series in each city. Then the Dodgers made the trip north for two games and the Giants returned in kind to Los Angeles for two. By this time, the season was 26 games old and the Giants (17-9) and Dodgers (9-17) were just getting ready to leave California for the first time.

I wondered if the National League normalized the San Francisco and Los Angeles schedules by 1959. The answer is yes, it did. The Dodgers opened their World Championship run in Wrigley Field, while the Giants were in St. Louis. Both immediately headed for the coast for their home openers, this time hosting only two three-game series before heading east again. Their schedules from there on out no longer contained the protracted home stands and road trips of their first year on the coast.

While the Dodgers and Giants made good on their intentions of leaving New York, there were a couple of other moves discussed that year that did not come to pass. Did you know we could have been watching the Houston Indians for the past 50 years? According to The Sporting News, when Cleveland's attendance fell to a post-war low of 663,805, the Indians' board chairman, William A. Daley, began to make noise about leaving the city. The newly-formed Houston Sports Authority made a generous offer, but the Indians chose to stay put; their attendance more than doubled the next year, owing in part to Cleveland's improvement in the standings. The previous year, rumors were swirling that the Indians might relocate to Minneapolis. The same rumor circulated about the Washington Senators, but it became fact when team President Calvin Griffith applied to the league for such a move and was rebuffed, although the move would eventually take place in 1961.

  • When the Giants and Dodgers announced they would be leaving for the coast in August of 1957, it was rumored that either the Pittsburgh Pirates or Cincinnati Reds would be shifted to New York. At the same time, the Yankees made an attempt to have themselves declared the sole holders of territorial rights to New York City baseball.
  • In 1958, the Reds suggested they might leave Cincinnati because of parking concerns around Crosley Field. The city bought itself five more years of Reds baseball by conforming to the team's wishes.
  • The Phillies were rumored to be moving across the Delaware River into New Jersey.
  • The American League actually proposed expanding to nine teams. An uneven number of teams is an idea whose time will never come; after all, we've lived with unbalanced divisions for a decade rather than having the leagues evened out.

Down But Not to Be Forgotten

Six months ago, Troy Tulowitzki was looking like the second coming of Cal Ripken, Jr. He was one of the main reasons the Rockies made the playoffs and he was coming off one of the more impressive rookie showings ever. Now he is shelved until July with a torn tendon in his left quad. This comes after enduring a brutal first month of his sophomore season. Among players with 85 or more plate appearances, only Robinson Cano has a worse MLVr than Tulowitzki. It's important for us--and him--to remember, though, that this is just a chapter in his life story. He will return and he will be good again and this stretch of bad fortune will end up as nothing more than a launching point for his biographers to wax eloquently about his ability to overcome adversity.

Down and Soon to Be Forgotten

Has Andruw Jones bottomed out, or is there somewhere lower he can go? In yesterday's day game against the Marlins, Dodgers manager Joe Torre chose to sit a number of his regulars, including Jones and Jeff Kent. With the score tied 3-3 in the eighth, Los Angeles loaded the bases with two outs and the pitcher due up. On the mound for Florida was lefty Renyel Pinto (who was looking alternatively intimidating and amateurish). Instead of sending up the right-handed batting Jones with Kent having already been expended, Torre chose instead to go with James Loney, also enjoying a day free from starting duty. One could point to the fact that Pinto has actually been better against right-siders than lefties this year, but that's based on a small amount of at bats. His totals in the previous three seasons show a .196/.350/.247 line against the left and a .218/.339/.393 line against the right. No, this was not a case of Torre playing the reverse percentages, it was a manager going with a player in whom he has more faith. Jones was brought into the game as a defensive replacement, however. That is in itself an interesting choice given the downturn in his defense going back to 2004.

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