Happy Labor Day! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume on Tuesday, September 2.
May 20, 2008
Tuesday's Games to Watch
Matchup: Mets (22-19) at Braves (22-21), 1:05 and 7:05 p.m. ET
The Braves' offense this season has relied upon the fantastic duo of Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. Batting .410, Jones is chasing one of the game's most storied marks, but McCann is seeking records of his own. For one, McCann has already played in 41 of the Braves first 43 games, 40 of them at catcher, which puts him on pace for 150 games behind the dish, something that's been done just 27 times in history, the last time by Brad Ausmus in 2000. Even more impressive, McCann leads the major leagues with 17 doubles. Between their speed afoot and the more frequent days off that catching almost always involves, catchers are rarely among the league leaders in doubles, and no catcher has ever led even his own league in doubles. McCann is still a long shot to finish the year in the overall lead due to the time off he will need throughout the summer, but he has a shot at setting the all-time single-season record for doubles by a catcher, which is currently held by Ivan Rodriguez, who hit 47 in 1996.
Matchup: Orioles (23-20) at Yankees (20-24), 7:05 p.m. ET
The Orioles have maintained their league-leading defensive efficiency so far, converting 72.9 percent of balls in play into outs, which has allowed them to stay above .500 despite the fact that they "can't hit their way out of a paper bag." Baltimore has one of the finest defensive traditions of any team, due to the outstanding O's squads of the 1960s and early '70s. The 1968 team converted 75.3 percent of balls in play into outs, ranking second best in the past 50 years, and the 1969 team was third at 75.2 percent. The 1972 Orioles rank sixth on the list, and the 1961 squad 14th. Common to all of those teams was third baseman Brooks Robinson, who played his entire 23-year career with the Orioles and ranks among the greatest defensive players ever. Melvin Mora, the currently longest-tenured Oriole, has been doing his best Robinson impression this season, as he leads AL third basemen in Range Factor.
Matchup: Diamondbacks (28-16) at Marlins (24-19), 7:10 p.m. ET
Fortunately for him, the Florida lineup is formidable as well, especially when slugging first baseman Mike Jacobs is penciled in. Jacobs has homered in two straight games, his first two back as a starter after being limited to pinch-hitting duties for nine days with a quad strain. Jacobs has produced a bizarre line of .271/.298/.644 in 124 PA this season, with 11 homers and a 27/5 K/BB ratio. Such a power tear is not unprecedented for Jacobs; in his rookie season of 2005, he came up with the Mets and launched 11 homers in 112 PA, good for a .710 slugging percentage. No one in the history of the game has ever slugged .600 or better over a full season with an OBP less than .300; the player that came the closest to hitting both those marks was Matt Williams, who had a .607 SLG and .319 OBP in 1994 for the Giants. That was the year that Williams hit 43 homers in 112 games, putting him on a pace to top Roger Maris' single-season home run record when the strike ended the campaign. Because of that low OBP, though, Williams wasn't even close to being the best player on his own team, as Barry Bonds hit 37 homers, walked 74 times, and had a 1073 OPS. There have been just two players in history to slug north of .500 over a full season with an OBP of .300 or less: Tony Armas, who ripped 43 homers for the 1984 Red Sox and slugged .531 with an OBP of exactly .300, and Dave Kingman of the 1976 Mets, who hit 37 bombs and slugged .506 with a .286 OBP.
Matchup: Indians (22-22) at White Sox (23-20), 7:11 p.m. CT
Conspicuously absent from this year's Flake leaderboard is Contreras, who has actually been the most consistent Chicago starter in 2008. That is in direct contrast to his reputation. The Cuban import dazzled in his rookie season with the Yankees, striking out 72 in 71 innings with a 3.42 RA, but Contreras then went down in October flames, giving up 11 runs in 11 post-season innings, which earned him a pair of losses. That was essentially the end for Contreras in the Bronx, as next season he put up a 6.21 RA in 18 starts, alternating good outings (eight quality starts) with horrendous ones (four of seven or more runs) before being shipped to Chicago, where he continued to pitch poorly. Maddeningly for Yankees fans, Contreras then put things together to have an excellent season in 2005, and even won three games in the playoffs, turning into a playoff hero for the World Champion White Sox. The next two seasons, however, brought more of Contreras' trademark inconsistency, as he finished second in the AL to Sabathia on the Flake list in 2006, and fourth last season.
Matchup: Giants (17-29) at Rockies (18-27), 6:35 p.m. MDT
Both Lincecum and Cook have thrived despite pitching in front of bad defenses, as the Rockies rank 23th and the Giants 26th in the majors in efficiency, that after both finished in the top 12 last season. For the Giants, that poor play can be traced to the infield: at third base, where the Giants have a second baseman, Jose Castillo, playing out of position, at second base, where the young (Eugenio Velez and Emmanuel Burriss) have displayed even less range than the old (Ray Durham), and at first base, where the 36-year-old Rich Aurilia is last in the majors in Range Factor. The Rockies miss Troy Tulowitzki's glove at shortstop, but the main problem for them defensively has been the play of Garrett Atkins, who is second to last amongst NL third baseman in RF. Given that first baseman Todd Helton's contract is almost totally unmovable ($16.6 million per year through 2010, and then $19.1 in 2011), it might make sense, as Nate Silver outlined this offseason, for the team to deal Atkins for pitching, considering that Ian Stewart appears ready to take over the hot corner (.288/.381/.647 with 12 homers at Triple-A Colorado Springs).
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.