May 14, 2008
Wednesday's Games to Watch
Matchup: Athletics (23-17) at Indians (20-19), 7:05 p.m. ET
Cust's bats weren't registering correctly on the Mohs scale at the beginning of the season, as he claimed that the ones he used at the start of April were too soft. Since that 3-for-30 beginning and an upgrade in lumber, Cust has put up a .315/.495/.493 line in 99 PA, contributing a 26/24 K/BB ratio and three home runs. Cust has cut his strikeout rate down to 26.5 percent of his PA, and not only that, but he's tied for the lead in the American League in EqA, along with Milton Bradley, at .333. (As a further example of the power drought in the AL this season, there are currently eight players in the NL with higher Equivalent Averages than .333.) Cust's ranking deserves a bit of explanation--after all, his overall line is impressive, but there are 38 players in the AL slugging better than his .417. Remember, OBP is life, and with regards to EqA, walks are life. The formula, which you can read about here, weights walks and HBP at 1.5 times rather than 1. Cust leads the AL with 32 walks and a .434 OBP.
Matchup: Braves (19-19) at Phillies (22-18), 7:05 p.m. ET
In that contest, Atlanta got a run in the ninth off of Phillies' closer Brad Lidge, the first earned run scored against the relief ace this season. Lidge shut it down after that for his 10th save; he has yet to blow a save opportunity, after blowing 14 of 65 the last two years in Houston, and he leads the majors in WXRL. Philadelphia's bullpen is second overall in WXRL, behind only Florida's, and first in ARP with 22.8. Last year, the Phillies had a below-average bullpen, which ranked 24th in the majors with a -1.2 ARP. Besides having Lidge locking down the end of games, the Phillies have gotten excellent results from J.C. Romero, Chad Durbin, and Rudy Seanez, who all have a RA marks below 3.00, although their K/BB ratios--a combined 34/32 for the trio--suggest that tough times are ahead. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Philadelphia bullpen, however, is its stability. The Phillies started the year with a seven-man relief corps, and have stuck with that same group all season. The team has also had the same five starters pitch each game, meaning that Philadelphia has not used a single pitcher besides the dozen that began the year on its roster. The Phillies are the only team in the majors to use only five starting pitchers and seven relievers total this season; last year, 13 different pitchers started a game for Philadelphia, and 18 were used in relief.
Matchup: Yankees (19-20) at Rays (22-16), 7:10 p.m. ET
But why is it that righties can hit Mussina better? Joe Sheehan and Kevin Goldstein have suggested that, from a scouting perspective, the reverse split is probably the product of two things: first, that Mussina throws nearly straight over the top, making it much easier for right-handers to pick up the ball against him than against a pitcher who comes with a more sidearm tilt, and second, that his pitches (and especially his famous knuckle-curve) have great vertical break but very little horizontal motion away from right-handers, which also helps eliminate the normal disadvantage righties face against their own kind.
Just how rare is Mussina's dichotomy? There have been 94 right-handed pitchers in the last 50 years who have thrown at least 1000 innings to both right-handed and left-handed batters, and of those, 19 have a reverse split. The -72 difference between career OPS of righties and lefties versus Mussina is the second largest, behind only the -115 of Steve Trachsel. Here is the full list of 19:
Name IPvRight OPSvRight IPvLeft OPSvLeft Diff Steve Trachsel 1328.2 829 1164.2 714 -115 Mike Mussina 1678.0 731 1727.2 659 -72 Tim Wakefield 1356.1 768 1313.1 720 -47 Woody Williams 1166.0 771 1050.1 736 -35 Juan Marichal 1871.0 641 1636.0 610 -31 Bert Blyleven 2458.1 680 2511.2 656 -24 Kevin Tapani 1115.0 755 1150.0 740 -15 Jeff Suppan 1106.0 795 1012.0 781 -14 Mike Moore 1332.0 747 1499.2 733 -14 Dennis Martinez 1875.0 705 2124.2 691 -14 Don Sutton 2821.0 647 2461.1 633 -14 Ron Darling 1113.0 721 1247.1 708 -13 Tom Candiotti 1327.2 704 1397.1 693 -10 John Burkett 1270.0 745 1378.1 736 -9 Jim Palmer 2041.0 637 1907.0 630 -7 Bob Forsch 1515.0 702 1279.2 697 -5 Bret Saberhagen 1220.2 673 1342.0 669 -4 Andy Messersmith 1192.0 607 1038.1 605 -2 Dwight Gooden 1287.2 667 1513.0 666 -1
Thanks to William Burke for database research
Matchup: Rockies (15-24) at Diamondbacks (24-15), 6:40 p.m. MT
That's remarkable and rare as well as not good. In the last 50 years, there has never been a player who qualified for the batting title while striking out so often. The top spot is occupied by Dave Nicholson in 1963, who whiffed 175 times in 520 PA, 33.7 percent, while the next two highest rates are occupied by the 1987 and '86 seasons of Rob Deer, the poster boy for Three True Outcomes slugging; Deer was well above average at the plate in both of those seasons, in which he combined for 61 homers and 158 walks. The 24-year-old Reynolds, however, has not yet developed the plate discipline of Deer, who walked in 12.7 percent of his career PA--Reynolds is at 9.4 in his two-year major league career, after putting up a 9.8 percentage in his four minor league seasons. If Reynolds continues to struggle with making contact, he could lose significant time to Chad Tracy when the latter returns from the DL later this month. While he doesn't have quite as much power as Reynolds has shown, he still has some, and Tracy has struck out less than half as often, with a 15.4 percent K rate in 2007 major league plate appearances.
Matchup: White Sox (18-20) at Angels (24-17), 7:05 p.m. PT
Opposing Lackey in that 2005 Game Three and getting the win for Chicago was Jon Garland, while Orlando Cabrera was playing shortstop for the Angels; those two players were traded for each other this offseason. Cabrera has not taken a liking to the South Side, as he has produced only a .212 EqA and -3.6 VORP. While that trade has not paid off for the White Sox so far, the deal Kenny Williams made with Arizona for outfielder Carlos Quentin has netted Chicago its most productive hitter to date. Quentin ranks fourth in the AL in EqA, and second in slugging, with a league-leading nine home runs. He also tops the circuit in times getting hit by a pitch, with seven. This is not a random bit of luck, but a real skill of Quentin's--in his first two seasons with Arizona he was hit by 19 pitches in 454 plate appearances, and has now been plunked at a higher rate than any player with at least 600 PA since 2006, when he entered the league. In 2005, Quentin's last full year in the minors, he led the Pacific Coast League by getting hit with 29 pitches, one short of the overall minor league leader.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.