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May 16, 2008

Prospectus Matchups

The 2008 Baseball Psychological Workout

by Jim Baker

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Acceptance of things you cannot change is one of the key components of mental health. (Acceptance of things you can change might not be, however.) In order for you to maintain your sense of mental equilibrium as the baseball season progresses, you might want to take a look at the checklist below and come to an understanding with your mind that the information you are feeding it is real. Reassure your mind that you are not trying to trick it or make it learn new things. You are not purposely trying to make it think outside of some sort of box. You must gently reassure your brain that the baseball input you are giving it is genuine but not necessarily familiar. Reinforce your reassurances with the promise of a gift. Tell it you'll avoid activities that could result in concussions. It will like that.

I am here to help you and your brain. As for my credentials in this area, I think it's only fair to assure you that I do not possess a single college credit in the discipline of psychology. Without this encumbrance, I am unburdened by preconceived notions of how brains actually function. I am not completely ignorant on the subject, though. For instance, I know that they do not respond well to direct contact with ice picks or sledge hammers. I may be confusing "brain" and "mind," come to think of it. I suppose they would have explained the difference on the first day of Psych 101, but, as I said, no background there for me.

On to that which might vex the mindů

Suspension of Disbelief

You must apply this when contemplating Cliff Lee. There is no reason to have expected him to do what he has done so far. To have predicted it would have been engaging in magical thinking, a dangerous practice for those keen on maintaining their sanity. You might as well have predicted you'd see a unicorn with sparks shooting out of its horn. Of course, by the time your brain makes the necessary adjustments to accept Lee's dominance, things will have returned to normal.

Acceptance of Lower Standards

Your brain has come to accept certain thresholds of success. It understands that there are different strata of achievement in the human endeavor. So, when it takes a quick glance at the American League leaders and finds that there are no players with an OPS over 1000, it is bound to reject this as a possibility. After all, the last time the American League had a leader under 1000 in this category was 1992 (it was the year before that for the National). There have been a couple of close calls since then, with only one or two players making it, but, mostly, it's been multiple fellows getting over the line each year.

Are we then also in danger of having an EqA league leader who doesn't hit the heights to which we have grown accustomed? Is there to be no monster in the American League this season? The current leader is Milton Bradley of the Texas Rangers at .334. If Bradley can maintain that figure, then presenting the lists below will have been informative but not necessarily relevant. Bradley is not the ideal candidate to keep this up, given his durability issues and career EqA some 50 points lower than his current standing. A more likely scenario is Alex Rodriguez returning from the disabled list and finishing out the season at .335 or so. If that doesn't happen and none of the current runner-ups--Kevin Youkilis, Carlos Quentin, and Manny Ramirez--can up their ante, we could see someone from 2008 added to one or both of the lists that follow:

All-Time Lowest League-leading EqAs


Lg Year  PA  EqA Player
AL 1945 717 .315 Snuffy Stirnweiss
AL 1976 609 .318 Hal McRae
NL 1918 567 .319 Heinie Groh
NL 1919 577 .320 Rogers Hornsby
NL 1926 613 .321 Hack Wilson
AL 1963 668 .321 Carl Yastrzemski
AL 1963 626 .321 Bob Allison
AL 1965 571 .322 Carl Yastrzemski
NL 1983 687 .322 Dale Murphy
AL 1984 705 .323 Eddie Murray
NL 1984 718 .323 Tim Raines
AL 1978 608 .323 Ken Singleton
AL 1918 506 .323 George Sisler
AL 1983 685 .323 Wade Boggs
NL 1956 652 .323 Duke Snider
NL 1916 550 .324 Rogers Hornsby
NL 1931 662 .324 Bill Terry
NL 1931 580 .324 Mel Ott

Lowest League-leading EqAs Since the '80s


Lg Year  PA  EqA Player
NL 1994 511 .325 Craig Biggio
AL 2003 679 .326 Manny Ramirez
AL 2004 573 .326 Travis Hafner
AL 2003 705 .326 Carlos Delgado

The Pittsburgh Pirates Have the Best Outfield in Baseball

Tell your brain to wrap itself around this one. Looking at the major league VORP leaders, no other team has three outfielders in the top 100. The Pirates, on the other hand, have three in the top 40. Currently, Nate McLouth is eighth, Xavier Nady is 26th, and Jason Bay is 39th. Given the personnel involved--upstart, notorious hot starter, and guy in recent decline--it doesn't seem like a claim they'll be able to make for the entire season, does it?

The Tigers Are Middle-of-the-Pack in Runs Scored

Heading into the season, Detroit seemed to have pulled off the neat trick of getting a productive hitter into every spot in the lineup. Appropriately, PECOTA called for Detroit to have one of the more productive scoring seasons in 2008, slotting them into the top five in runs. So far, though, they're about in the middle of the 30 major league teams in that category. While everyone anticipated that Magglio Ordonez would experience a drop-off from his career year in 2007, nobody expected him to do so and still be the team's biggest offensive threat. Less was expected of the pitching, but its failure to meet expectations is probably just as pronounced. While seen as more of a mid-level unit, the Tigers' pitchers are, instead, challenging the Rangers for the title of most promiscuous lobbers in the land.

Should we be getting used to this? Their poor jump seemed like one of those things at the time, especially when they rebounded to within one game of .500 at the start of the month. But can a team endure two separate 2-10 runs by Memorial Day and still be viable at the end of the year? You'll remember that the 2006 Cardinals endured two distinct eight-game losing streaks, but nevertheless managed to grab the division. That requires participation from the other teams, though. Are the Indians, Twins, and White Sox going to loll around .500 for the rest of the season while the Tigers right the ship, or is it already too late? The Postseason Odds Report hints that Detroit has already taken one too many pratfalls coming out of the shoot, as their odds of making the playoffs currently stand at 11.4 percent.

A Class of '98 World Series

At 50.8 percent, the Tampa Bay Rays have the fifth best odds of making the playoffs, trailing only fellow '98 MLB inductee Arizona (83.9 percent), the Chicago Cubs (74.5), Boston (67.7), and Oakland (66.6). While not all that shocking in the micro sense--both the Rays and Diamondbacks were picked by many to do well heading into the season--the current playoff forecast jars the mind in the macro picture, conditioned as we are after a decade of Devil Rays futility. While next month's interleague Florida showdown will probably be the most relevant it's ever been, don't hold out too much hope of an all-Sunshine State World Series: the Postseason Odds only give the front-running Marlins a 23.3 percent chance.

Thanks to Bil Burke for contributing research to today's column.

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