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August 31, 2008

Prospectus Preview

Sunday's Games to Watch

by Marc Normandin

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Today's Full Slate of Games

Matchup: Blue Jays (69-66) at Yankees (72-63), 1:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Roy Halladay (204 IP, 3.09 RA, 1.04 WHIP, 175 K) vs. Andy Pettitte (175, 4.73, 1.38, 133)
Pythagorean Record: Toronto, 75-60 (590 RS, 524 RA); New York, 71-64 (649 RS, 613 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Toronto, #8; New York, #10
Prospectus: Halladay has quietly put together one of the best seasons of his career, making himself a viable Cy Young candidate as the only American League starter anywhere close to Cliff Lee in terms of productivity. With 6.4 SNLVAR, Halladay is right behind Lee's 6.7 showing, while both pitchers are around one full win above the next-closest starter. Though Halladay is usually around this level of production via SNLVAR, this season stands out as his best since 2003:


Year  WARP3
2002   9.6
2003  10.9
2004   4.2
2005   6.9
2006   8.1
2007   6.5
2008   9.5

WARP3 was used rather than WARP1, as it adjusts for playing time and gives us a picture of what Halladay's season should look like at its end, rather than the incomplete eight wins above replacement he's currently sitting at. Despite this success, this is not of the same caliber as his 2003 campaign, where he struck out 6.9 hitters per nine, walked an absurdly low 1.1 per nine, gave up just 0.3 homers per nine, and threw a whopping 266 innings with nine complete games-all while averaging 100.8 pitches per start. That's the kind of efficiency we expect to see from Halladay nowadays, but in 2003 it was just his second year as a successful starter. Granted, the nearly 500 innings he threw between 2002 and 2003 probably contributed to his '04 shoulder problems, but the time off that year (and in '05, when he broke his leg) helped to heal him up just right so he could continue his dominating ways. Now, Halladay is once again on pace to cross the 250-inning barrier, and may end up with 200 strikeouts for just the second time in his career. Combine that with his current 16-9 record and his chance to toss 10 complete games on the season, and he has the kinds of things going for him that the BBWAA looks at come awards time; hopefully between Halladay and the aforementioned Lee, that's enough to keep eyes and votes from the less deserving starters who are more reliant on their team's production.

Matchup: White Sox (76-59) at Red Sox (79-56), 1:35 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Gavin Floyd (160 1/3 IP, 4.71 RA, 1.23 WHIP, 114 K) vs. Tim Wakefield (152, 4.09, 1.20, 99)
Pythagorean Record: Chicago, 76-59 (689 RS, 595 RA); Boston, 80-55 (706 RS, 570 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Chicago #4; Boston, #2
Prospectus: If you're wondering how Dustin Pedroia ended up ranking 40th on Nate Silver's most recent Top 50 players list, this weekend's series is a good place to start finding the answer. Last night Pedroia went 4-for-4 for the second straight game, continuing his stretch of perfection in the series: he has reached base in all 10 of his plate appearances against the White Sox this weekend, picking up eight hits (six singles, two doubles) and a pair of walks. Last night's performance came from the cleanup spot, and even included an intentional walk in the eighth to keep Pedroia from driving in David Ortiz from third base. The excellent weekend has bumped Pedroia's average up to a league-leading .327, and his overall line of .327/.372/.490 has him at a .293 EqA, well above the average second baseman's .264.

This may come as a surprise, but Pedroia is now right up there with Ian Kinsler and Chase Utley for VORP at second base; he sits less than a half-win behind both sluggers. He's closing in on his 90th-percentile PECOTA forecast, and thanks to his defense-Pedroia ranks sixth out of 19 keystoners in John Dewan's Revised Zone Rating-he has been even more valuable than his line indicates. The best part may be that Pedroia's performance is in line with his batted-ball data-he has a 21.7-percent liner rate and a .337 BABIP, the same as his expected figure-meaning that we can look for this kind of production to continue; not too shabby for a guy who hit .188/.278/.278 the first two months of his career.

Matchup: Orioles (63-72) at Rays (83-51), 1:40 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Brian Burres (112 IP, 6.03 RA, 1.66 WHIP, 54 K) vs. James Shields (177 2/3, 4.15, 1.17, 139)
Pythagorean Record: Baltimore, 66-69 (694 RS, 708 RA); Tampa Bay, 77-57 (627 RS, 535 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Baltimore, #18; Tampa Bay, #3
Prospectus: Considering Evan Longoria is easily the Rays' most productive hitter, you would think losing him for a month would slow them down offensively. That hasn't been the case though, as the club has hit an impressive .275/.352/.460 overall since August 8, the first day Longoria missed a game due to his broken arm. Making up for his lost production has been a team effort. Carlos Pena has hit .278/.435/.653 with seven homers during the stretch, making up for a slow start. Eric Hinske has just a .300 OBP since Longoria went down, but has shown plenty of power with a .510 SLG. B.J. Upton has a .396 OBP, Cliff Floyd has hit an impressive .350/.440/.625 over his 40 at-bats, and Willy Aybar, despite hitting just .250/.321/.415 on the season, has filled in more than admirably at third base, hitting .309/.364/.556. Prior to taking over at third for Longoria, Aybar was hitting all of .221/.301/.347 with one home run every 42 at-bats.

Thanks to this collective effort, what was supposed to have been a problem period for the Rays, that could have helped the Red Sox and the Yankees catch them in the standings has instead come and nearly gone without a hint of any falling back. The Rays have actually increased their lead over the Red Sox by two games since Longoria went down, while the Yankees have dropped another six back in the standings.

Matchup: Phillies (74-62) at Cubs (85-51), 1:20 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Jamie Moyer (160 2/3 IP, 4.03 RA, 1.35 WHIP, 102 K) vs. Carlos Zambrano (168 1/3, 3.69, 1.30, 114)
Pythagorean Record: Philadelphia, 77-59 (656 RS, 566 RA); Chicago, 86-50 (740 RS, 549 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Philadelphia, #9; Chicago, #1
Prospectus: August has not been kind to the Phillies' lineup, as they have hit just .231/.321/.391 on the month. That makes for a lower OPS than the offensively-challenged Nationals, the difference being that the Phillies' line is bad for them, but status quo for the hapless Nats. Their line at home has not been all bad (.257/.350/.421), but outside of the cozy confines of Citizen's Bank Park, the offense hasn't shown up to work, with a .201/.285/.355 line. It's a bad time of year to struggle late during games as well, given that we're closing in on the last month of the season when everyone's favorite "C" word starts to show up in print across the country, but the Phillies have done just that, putting up a .219/.332/.364 line against the opposition's relievers, and hitting .244/.317/.387 when trailing in games.

With the bats sleeping, the Phillies may find themselves taking on the role of last year's Mets squad if their excellent pitching (.260/.330/.372 opponent's line on the month) doesn't hold up. Luckily for Philadelphia, their record has not shown off their inability to drive in runs at a productive frequency yet, as they still sit directly behind the Mets in the division standings. One of the reasons for this is today's starter, Jamie Moyer, who has had a solid August: five starts and 27 2/3 innings pitched, with a 3.90 ERA and 18 strikeouts versus 10 walks. His last start against the Mets didn't go so well-just three innings and six runs allowed, along with both homers he's given up on the month-so today is a chance for redemption from the one sour note he's played in August, especially in a start coming against the league's top team in both the standings and Hit List.

Matchup: Dodgers (66-70) at Diamondbacks (69-66), 5:05 p.m. MST
Probable Starters: Derek Lowe (174 2/3 IP, 4.22 RA, 1.21 WHIP, 126 K) vs. Brandon Webb (188 2/3, 3.39, 1.12, 157)
Pythagorean Record: Los Angeles, 68-68 (557 RS, 561 RA); Arizona, 71-64 (623 RS, 587 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Los Angeles, #15; Arizona, #13
Prospectus: Webb takes on the Dodgers for the third time this season, and as in the two previous outings, his opponent on the mound will be Derek Lowe. The two sinkerballers have split their meetings thus far, with the Dodgers taking the first contest in a come-from-behind win-with no fault by Webb, who threw eight innings while allowing only one run-after Lowe wasn't at his best, allowing four runs over 5 1/3 innings pitched. In their second tilt, it was more of a pitcher's duel, with Webb once again holding the Dodgers to one run over eight innings, this time with six strikeouts, one walk, and a notch in the win column, while Lowe went 6 1/3 with seven strikeouts and a pair of both walks and runs allowed, before being pulled after 87 pitches.

Normally, an outing between these two would be a battle between two of the more extreme ground-ball pitchers in the majors, but Lowe just hasn't been as down to earth with his offerings as he usually is. His G/F ratio has dipped from last year's 3.4 (and his career rate of 3.3) to 2.6 this year; though still putting him among the more severe groundballers in the league, it's nowhere near Webb's 3.5 mark. Though his FIP is a half-run below his actual ERA, don't be deceived by the difference in performance; it stems from his low strand rate of 67.4 percent-below the league average, but close to Lowe's career and recent figures that are also below the mean. Both teams need this win, as the Dodgers, despite being under .500, are just 3 games out with a month left during which to catch up to today's opponent. The winner of today's game wins the series, and with just one three-game set between the two left on the schedule this year, that's going to mean a lot heading into October. The Diamondbacks can put the Dodgers that much further from contending-their playoff odds are already below 25 percent entering the final four weeks of the season.

Related Content:  The Who,  Hit List,  Pythagorean Standings

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