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June 1, 2008

Prospectus Preview

Sunday's Games to Watch

by Marc Normandin

Today's Full Slate of Games

Matchup: Braves (29-27) at Reds (27-29), 1:15 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Tim Hudson (77 2/3 IP, 3.13 RA, 1.09 WHIP, 48 K) vs. Johnny Cueto (61 1/3, 6.13, 1.36, 59)
Pythagorean Record: Atlanta, 34-22 (265 RS, 212 RA); Cincinnati, 26-30 (256 RS, 278 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Atlanta, #3; Cincinnati, #21
Prospectus: Ken Griffey Jr. hit home run number 599 last night, putting him one step closer to becoming the sixth player to cross the 600 homer threshold, following in the footsteps of Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660), and Sammy Sosa (609). At age 38, Griffey may not have the legs left to catch Mays, though he should almost certainly pass Sosa before he hangs up his cleats. He's currently hitting a home run every 33.5 at-bats, so if he keeps this pace and accrues another 400, he'll finish the season with 16, tied with Sosa for fifth on the list. Griffey's seven-year PECOTA forecast had him retiring after 2011 at age 41, finishing with the same number of homers as Mays, but that was based off of his weighted-mean. If he keeps with his 25th percentile forecast-and sadly enough, his .249/.336/.388 line looks similar to that .243/.322/.416 projection-that goal won't be attainable.

As for tonight's contest, Griffey faces a challenge in reaching his round number against Hudson. Hudson's not one for giving up homers, having given up just 0.4 HR/9 last year, and 0.6 this year. He's been able to do this thanks in part to a G/F of 2.7 and getting grounders on over 60 percent of his balls in play. This isn't to say Griffey can't launch one into the seats in his home park, but given his lack of power this year combined with Hudson's tendency to keep the ball on the ground, things look grim for fans expecting a historic souvenir tonight. Regardless, there's nothing like watching a player reaching a milestone in his home park, and this will be Griffey's last chance to do so until June 10.

Matchup: Red Sox (34-24) at Orioles (26-28), 1:35 p.m. EDT
Probable Starters: Bartolo Colon (12 IP, 2.25 RA, 1.17 WHIP, 8 K) vs. Brian Burres (60 2/3, 4.45, 1.35, 29)
Pythagorean Record: Boston, 33-25 (290 RS, 251 RA); Baltimore, 25-29 (223 RS, 239 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Boston, #2; Baltimore, #19
Prospectus: Last night, Manny Ramirez became the 24th member of the 500 home run club. Ramirez debuted for the Indians in 1993 at age 21, and hit a meager .170/.200/.302 over 53 at-bats, but he would show off what he was capable of during the strike-shortened 1994 as a rookie by posting a .269/.357/.521 line with 17 homers. Since then, Ramirez has had some monster campaigns, posted a career .315 EqA-including a stretch from 1999 where he posted EqAs of .333, .344, .320, .351, and .325-and is one of the premier hitters of his generation. You hear discussion of Manny Ramirez's decline offensively mixed in with the talk of his poor defense, but a declining Manny is still posting a .296 EqA with a line of .286/.369/.505, and his 15.4 VORP is second among AL left fielders.

Ramirez has an outside shot at 600 home runs, according to PECOTA and his recent production. His weighted mean forecast had him down for 21 homers in 537 PA, and he already has 10 dingers in 233. His seven-year PECOTA forecast has him exiting the league after his age-40 season in 2012, with 581 career homers (assuming he matches, not exceeds his PECOTA for this year). After Griffey, Ramirez is more than likely the next in line for 600 homers, even though there are a few active players in front of him. Frank Thomas is hitting .258/.372/.444 this year, and is sitting at 520 homers at age 40. Jim Thome is 37, just one year old older than Manny and 17 homers ahead of him, but Thome's struggling this year, hitting only .207/.337/.420. He's still hitting homers on over 21 percent of his fly balls though, which is a better rate than Ramirez (15.4 percent), so he also has an outside shot. I'm on the same page as Joe Sheehan when it comes to watching Manny play, so take the time to watch today while hoping for the first step towards 600 to fly out of the park.

Matchup: Padres (23-34) at Giants (23-33), 1:05 p.m. PT
Probable Starters: Randy Wolf (64 2/3 IP, 4.59 RA, 1.31 WHIP, 59 K) vs. Tim Lincecum (69 2/3, 2.84, 1.28, 76)
Pythagorean Record: San Diego, 22-35 (207 RS, 267 RA); San Francisco, 23-33 (214 RS, 265 RA)
Hit List Rankings: San Diego, #28; San Francisco, #24
Prospectus: Lincecum will make the 35th start of his career today, which essentially means he's pitched a full year in the majors as of today. Though he started off on the wrong foot, he's shown improvement and become one of the top young pitchers in the game today, perhaps one of the best pitchers overall. He has a career ERA of 3.46, has struck out 9.4 hitters per nine, walked 3.9-though he's improved on that front this year with a 3.6 mark-and allowed a low number of homers, giving up 15 shots over 216 innings. He was worth nearly four wins above replacement via SNLVAR in 2007, and is well on his way to exceeding that this year with another 2.4 already, two months into the season.

In his brief career, Lincecum has already pitched a few gems against today's opponent. On June 25 of last year, Lincecum threw seven scoreless with eight strikeouts, though he didn't pick up a win, thanks to the Padres scoring three runs the inning after his exit. His next start was the only other where the Padres roughed him up, when he gave up four runs on September 16, opposite eventual Cy Young winner Jake Peavy. Against this year's poor Padres offense-ranked 27th in the league in team EqA-he's given up one run in 12 1/3 innings thus far, with 16 strikeouts against six walks and no homers allowed, helping to make the case for his own Cy Young award. Nothing's changed with the Padres offense since his last outing against them, so chances are good we'll see another well-pitched game out west today.

Matchup: Detroit (23-32) at Mariners (21-35), 1:10 p.m. PT
Probable Starters: Jeremy Bonderman (64 1/3 IP, 5.04 RA, 1.54 WHIP, 39 K) vs. Miguel Batista (55 2/3, 6.46, 1.87, 37)
Pythagorean Record: Detroit, 26-29 (261 RS, 279 RA); Seattle, 22-34 (226 RS, 283 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Detroit, #22; Seattle, #30
Prospectus: The Tigers just cannot get their starters and their lineup on the same page, and it's been damaging their record since the season began. As June begins, the Tigers are hitting .263/.333/.419 as a club, with the pitching allowing opponents to hit .263/.350/.406. That difference in rate production is reflected in their run differential-OBP is life-and the Tigers' record has suffered for it. The offense is hitting at home, producing at a blistering .291/.357/.479 rate, but their pitching is getting blasted almost as badly at .274/.352/.435. The pitching is more successful on the road, allowing opponents to hit .253/.349/.378; not good, but certainly an improvement, but the problem with this is that the Tigers forget to pack their bats for road trips, and have so far scratched out a meager .238/.312/.365 showing outside of Michigan.

Given the talk centered around this team over the winter in regards to their chances at 1000 runs scored-honestly a meaningless number on its own, but one that's thrown around for its bigness every time a team improves its offense by a solid bit-it may come as a surprise that the Tigers rank eighth in the league with a below-average .257 team EqA. The highest ranked Tiger via VORP, Magglio Ordonez, comes in at #23, and the next loftiest Tiger, Miguel Cabrera, doesn't show up until #77. Things should change, given Cabrera, a .310/.386/.536 career hitter who was projected for .301/.376/.516 for the Tigers this year, is under expectations and his ability. Curtis Granderson has only amassed 142 plate appearances thanks to missing time with injury to start the year, but his performance has also been underwhelming relative to last year's campaign, though that shouldn't surprise anyone who looked at his PECOTA forecast over the winter.

Matchup: Dodgers (27-28) at Mets (27-27), 8:05 p.m. EDT
Probable Starters: Hiroki Kuroda (68 1/3 IP, 4.08 RA, 1.30 WHIP, 37 K) vs. Johan Santana (74 IP, 3.65, 1.20, 65)
Pythagorean Record: Los Angeles, 29-26 (248 RS, 236 RA); New York, 27-27 (259 RS, 254 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Los Angeles, #14; New York, #12
Prospectus: When Santana was supposedly heading to the Red Sox or Yankees, there were whispers that his problems with the long ball would be exacerbated there, due to their parks' respective leanings towards aiding offense. When he was eventually dealt to the Mets, these whispers were silenced, thanks to the offense-dampening Shea Stadium. However, what we have seen from Santana in 2008 belies the nature of the stadium, as his HR/9 has climbed from 1.4 to 1.5 per nine. Granted, he's gone from giving up 30 homers per 200 innings to 32 over the same time frame, but the thing that has Mets fans worried is that he was supposed improve, at least superficially, thanks to a league switch and move to a pitcher-friendly haven.

This has not happened for a few reasons. First, Santana has lost additional velocity. He's dipped another half-a-mile per hour on his fastball, which had already dropped from 93.1 to 91.7 mph. He rarely used his cutter in the past, but it's been cut out of the equation entirely at this point. The past two seasons have shown Santana using his fastball more so than in the past, despite its status as an inferior pitch relative to what he was capable of before. It's a bit much to say Santana's lost it-he's still one of the top pitchers in the NL thanks to low walk totals and a still-excellent 7.9 K/9-but this is not the Santana the Mets thought they were trading for, the one they signed to pitch for them through 2013. Though it has not hurt them too much in 2008-the Mets have other problems to focus on outside of Santana's rising homer totals-it's something that's going to become bothersome and problematic in the future if their expensive ace can't figure out a way to pitch his way out of this recent trend.

Related Content:  Manny Ramirez,  Year Of The Injury

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