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May 30, 2008

Prospectus Preview

Friday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Today's Full Slate of Games

Matchup: Marlins (30-22) at Phillies (31-24), 7:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Mark Hendrickson (63 IP, 4.86 RA, 1.41 WHIP, 36 K) vs. Brett Myers (65 1/3, 6.34, 1.64, 52)
Pythagorean Record: Florida, 27-25 (254 RS, 242 RA); Philadelphia, 33-22 (293 RS, 237 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Florida, #11; Philadelphia, #10
Prospectus: Cody Ross had one of the worst Aprils you can imagine, hitting .146, 7-for-48, with just two walks and no homers. Ross has followed that dismal performance with an oddly great May. So far, Ross has hit nine home runs in the month, but has just three other hits, all singles. From May 10 to May 25, Ross went 5-for-24, with each of those five hits landing in the seats. Ross followed that stretch up by hitting three homers in two games against the Mets, becoming the first player to amass eight home runs in a span of nine hits since Adam Dunn did it in May of 2003. For the month, Ross has an Isolated Power figure of .587; for contrast, the higest ISO figure over the course of a full season is the .535 mark of Bonds in '01. Finally, since the start of 2007--when Ross hit .335 with 12 homers and a .653 SLG in 197 plate appearances--Ross has a .319 ISO, which is the highest for any player in that period with at least 300 plate appearances.

Ross's strong May has begun to reward the faith of PECOTA, which projected a very healthy equivalent line of .271/.349/.507 for him this season, with a .284 EqA, and not a moment too soon, with Jacque Jones potentially eating into his playing time. So far this season, Ross has bettered even Mike Napoli in his one-dimensional slugging, with nine home runs against seven singles. Here's a look at the 10 seasons in which a player hit more long balls than one-baggers in the past 50 years, minimum 100 PA:


Year Hitter          PA   HR  1B
2001 Barry Bonds     664  73  49
1998 Mark McGwire    681  70  61
1999 Mark McGwire    661  65  58
1995 Mark McGwire    422  39  35
2001 Mark McGwire    364  29  23
2005 Frank Thomas    124  12   8
2004 Richie Sexson   104   9   8
2002 Bobby Estalella 130   8   7
1996 J.R. Phillips   116   7   5
1959 Neal Chrisley   120   6   5

Thanks to Jason Paré for database research.

Matchup: Dodgers (26-27) at Mets (26-26), 7:10 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Clayton Kershaw (43 1/3 IP, 3.32 RA, 1.08 WHIP, 47 K--Double-A) vs. John Maine (58, 3.72, 1.35, 48)
Pythagorean Record: Los Angeles, 27-26 (237 RS, 228 RA); New York, 27-25 (251 RS, 243 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Los Angeles, #9; New York, #14
Prospectus: The best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball makes his second career major league start tonight. Kershaw's first one went as well as could have been hoped for--after giving up a walk and a run-scoring double to the second and third batters he faced, the 20-year-old settled down and allowed no walks and one run over the next five innings, finishing with seven strikeouts. The Dodgers had plans to limit Kershaw's inning to 25 IP per month while in the minors, but his last start pushed him to 23 2/3 for May, so it appears Los Angeles will allow its phenom a slightly longer leash now that he's reached the majors. Described by one scout last year as the best left-hander he'd ever seen in the Midwest League, Kershaw's list of PECOTA comparables is impressive--Scott Kazmir, Homer Bailey, and Kerry Wood being the top three--but those names, along with the presence of Rick Ankiel at No. 5 and Ryan Anderson at No. 7, serve notice that the young lefty will likely struggle with his control. Kershaw issued 3.9 UBB/9 IP in his 202 1/3 combined minor league innings, and PECOTA projects that number will rise significantly with Los Angeles. Kershaw, however, has the vicious stuff to make up for those issues: against St. Louis, his fastball sat at 94 mph, his curveball was around 20 mph slower, and he mixed in a few changeups that split the difference.

Willie Randolph was a base and bench coach during Joe Torre's tenure with the Yankees until Randolph was named Mets manager for 2005, and has purposely modeled his managerial style and demeanor on Torre's stoicism. Many have recently excoriated that emulation, as part of the reason Randolph has come under heavy fire this year is due to his apparent lack of emotion, especially with regards to getting tossed from games. Manager ejections are not an official stat, but Randolph is almost certainly near the bottom of the list. He was criticized for not getting tossed after Carlos Delgado's home run was called foul at Yankee Stadium, when his bench coach Jerry Manuel was heaved. In terms of the statistics, Randolph and Torre are most similar when it comes to their hesitancy to issue intentional walks (33 for Torre last season, 40 for Randolph) and make defensive replacements (33 for Torre, 36 for Randolph).

Matchup: Braves (29-23) at Reds (30-22), 7:10 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Tom Glavine (45 1/3 IP, 4.96 RA, 1.50 WHIP, 24 K) vs. Edinson Volquez (62, 1.88, 1.21, 76) Pythagorean Record: Atlanta, 26-26 (253 RS, 249 RA); Cincinnati, 29-23 (239 RS, 210 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Atlanta, #3; Cincinnati, #23
Prospectus: The Braves are playing four games below their Pythagorean projection, and much of that underperformance is related to the team's failures on the road. Even with yesterday's 8-1 win to prevent a series sweep in Milwaukee, Atlanta has the National League's worst road record at 7-18. It's not as if the Braves have been playing horribly away from Turner Field, where they have the best home record in the NL (22-7): Atlanta is 0-11 in one-run road games this year, and is 0-18 in one-run games away from Atlanta dating back to September of last season. Overall in 2008, Atlanta is 2-14 in one-run affairs, and since the start of 2006 is 39-72. There doesn't appear to be any major reason for that performance. The usual culprit in such instances, the bullpen, cannot be assigned too much of the blame: Atlanta's pen has blown just three saves this year, the fewest of any team in the majors, and ranks in the top half of all teams in both principal measures of reliever performance, WXRL and ARP.

Attempting to extend Atlanta's road woes tonight will be Volquez, who has gone at least five innings and allowed no more than two runs in each of his first 10 starts. Tonight he can become the first pitcher since 1956 to run off 11 such starts in a row to begin the season. The other pitchers besides Volquez with 10 in a row to start a year are Jake Peavy in 2004, Bob Tewksbury in 1992, and Juan Marichal in 1966. The longest overall streak of starts with five-plus innings and two runs or less is 14, held by Greg Maddux from 1993-94 and Mike Scott in 1986. Volquez took one of his two losses against the Braves on the road back on May 2, a game in which he gave up one earned run in six innings and struck out nine. He is coming off a relief appearance last Sunday--his first since 2005--in which he threw 39 pitches over 1 2/3 innings against San Diego, earning the loss when Adrian Gonzalez knocked a three-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the 18th.

Matchup: Yankees (26-27) at Twins (28-25), 7:10 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Mike Mussina (59 IP, 5.64 RA, 1.49 WHIP, 36 K) vs. Boof Bonser (46, 5.48, 1.30, 40)
Pythagorean Record: New York, 26-27 (236 RS, 241 RA); Minnesota, 26-27 (245 RS, 255 RA)
Hit List Rankings: New York, #19; Minnesota, #21
Prospectus: New York invades the Homerdome for a rematch of the 2003 and 2004 ALDS tonight. Minnesota will be returning home after a 5-1 road trip, having taken two of three from the Tigers and swept the reeling Royals, who have now lost 11 straight. Minnesota's pitching is performing about as expected--on pace to allow 779 runs, as compared with a projection of 782--but the team's offense has posted a healthy 4.6 R/G, putting it on pace to outstrip its projection by 36 runs. Looking behind the numbers, however, it is apparent that Minnesota's offense is fortunate to rank fifth in the AL in runs, because the Twins are ninth in the league in both slugging and OBP. Indeed, an examination of the adjusted standings reveals that the Twins' 14-run deficit between actual runs scored and AEqR is 14, the largest in the junior circuit, which has helped Minnesota post 4.6 wins more than expected.

The Yankees offense ranks just sixth in the AL at under 4.5 R/G, an uncharacteristic position for a team that has finished first or second each of the past four years. Injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada have obviously played a huge part in that, and those injuries are clearly reflected in the team's walk total, which rates only 10th in the league. The Yankees, whose hallmark since their recent run of success began in 1995 has been the ability to work deep counts, draw walks, and force starting pitchers to exit early, have finished no worse than third in the AL in walks from 2002 to 2007, and since 1995 have ranked first in walks six of 13 seasons. Jose Molina has done his part in keeping the Bombers off the sacks, having taken only a pair of free passes in 107 plate appearances while playing in Jorge Posada's stead. The Yankees will be further hard-pressed to flood the bases against a Minnesota pitching staff that has issued a major league-low 2.4 UBB/9. Taking advantage of the free-swinging Royals in their last three games, Twins pitchers did not issue a walk in the series sweep, a span of 31 innings.

Matchup: Padres (21-34) at Giants (23-31), 7:15 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Greg Maddux (64 2/3 IP, 4.59 RA, 1.30 WHIP, 33 K) vs. Matt Cain (67, 4.57, 1.40, 59)
Pythagorean Record: San Diego, 20-35 (210 RS, 253 RA); San Francisco, 18-34 (182 RS, 253 RA)
Hit List Rankings: San Diego, #30; San Francisco, #27
Prospectus: Maddux and Cain square off tonight for the sixth time, a matchup dating back to 2006, when Maddux was a member of the Dodgers. The 42-year-old is 3-0 in those games against his fellow right-hander, and his team has won four of the five. Both of Maddux's starts against the Giants this season have come against Cain, and he has given up one run in 14 innings combined, with seven hits allowed and a 10/2 K/BB ratio. Cain has not pitched as well as he did in 2007--his total of 11 homers allowed is three fewer than he gave up last year in 133 less innings, and his walk rate has taken a hike as well.

If the Giants and Cain do manage to beat Maddux, chances are that San Francisco closer Brian Wilson will be a factor. Wilson notched his 16th save of the season last night to move into the National League lead in his first year as closer. That's a remarkable figure, in that the Giants have 23 wins, meaning Wilson has saved 69.6 percent of the team's victories. That puts Wilson on pace to save 48 games for a 69-win team. The record for closing out the highest percentage of team victories is held by Bryan Harvey, who had 45 saves for the Marlins' 64-win inaugural season in 1993--a 70.3 percentage. The Giants are the right team to provide Wilson with the opportunity to challenge Harvey, in that any leads their sluggish offense generates are generally slim ones. What's odd about Wilson's season thus far is that he's already given up 12 runs in 22 1/3 innings for a 4.84 RA despite having blown just two saves. The 26-year-old was groomed to be a closer since he was drafted in 2003, as he made 129 relief appearances against three starts in the minor leagues, but he did walk 24 batters in 34 1/3 innings at Triple-A last season, and those control problems have been manifest so far in his big league career. Wilson therefore has a long way to go in order to equal Harvey, whose 1993 season featured a 73/13 K/BB ratio in 69 innings--just one more walk than Wilson already has this season--and an eighth-place finish in the Cy Young voting.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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