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September 19, 2008

Prospectus Preview

Friday's Games to Watch

by Marc Normandin

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Today's Full Slate of Games

Matchup: Tigers (71-80) at Indians (75-77), 7:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Armando Galarraga (163 1/3 IP, 4.08 RA, 1.22 WHIP, 116 K) vs. Fausto Carmona (113 1/3, 5.72, 1.63, 52)
Pythagorean Record: Detroit, 75-76 (776 RS, 786 RA); Cleveland, 79-73 (746 RS, 710 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Detroit, #17; Cleveland, #14
Prospectus: Galarraga currently ranks second in VORP among rookie pitchers behind sometimes starter, sometimes reliever Joba Chamberlain of the Yankees, and is a viable candidate for the Rookie of the Year award because of it. He's been one of the more dependable starters for this disappointing Tigers squad, but his success is not entirely of his own doing. His peripherals are mostly solid, as the right-hander has struck out 6.4 per nine and walked 3.1 per nine, but he gives up a few too many home runs at 1.3 per nine innings pitched. That's something that may need to be addressed in the future, since a large portion of Galarraga's success comes from his .257 BABIP; not only is that well below the average, but it's over 30 points under expectations given his rate of line drives allowed on the season. You should enjoy his low, ace-like ERA while it lasts, as his FIP is 4.68, and his QERA-put together from his solid-yet-unspectacular strikeout, walk, and ground-ball rates-is a comparable 4.63. Given the state of the clawless Kitties' rotation this year, it's going to sting next season if Galarraga regresses as expected.

After adjusting his performance for where it should be, he's at his 90th-percentile PECOTA forecast as well, which can be viewed both as a positive and a negative for next year. Considering his weighted-mean peripheral ERA was 6.17, he's overshot expectations by more than just a little, and since he's already in his age-26 season this isn't a case of a very young pitcher having a forecast that says he isn't ready for The Show. He did lose a year of development to Tommy John surgery, and he's had the stuff to get hitters out for awhile now, so maybe there's the chance that this year's 90th-percentile forecast becomes next year's weighted mean, and that he won't be another one-shot Rookie of the Year candidate never to be heard from again.

Matchup: Astros (80-72) at Pirates (64-89), 7:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Randy Wolf (176 2/3 IP, 5.04 RA, 1.40 WHIP, 148 K) vs. Ian Snell (153 1/3, 6.11, 1.83, 127)
Pythagorean Record: Houston, 72-80 (670 RS, 710 RA); Pittsburgh, 64-89 (704 RS, 846 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Houston, #15; Pittsburgh, #30
Prospectus: Prior to the start of their series last weekend, the Astros and Cubs appeared to be setting up for a battle between immovable objects; the Cubs are arguably the top team in the majors, and the Astros were coming from out of nowhere to try and push their way into the playoff picture. It didn't turn out that way; the only immovable part of Houston lately has been their win total, as the club has dropped five straight to fall back to the outer fringes of the contention, with their playoff odds dropping from 9.3 percent to under half of one percent, right around where they were prior to their hot stretch. Technically their season isn't over, since the Astros could win out like the Rockies almost did in 2007, but the likelihood of that is essentially zero.

They get a shot at ending their losing streak tonight against Ian Snell, who has seen his share of struggles this season. Luckily for Snell, much of his poor performance can be blamed on someone else, and unluckily for the Pirates, the fingers can be pointed at their poor defensive play. Yes, Snell has a WHIP of 1.83 that's partially his own doing thanks to his 4.9 walks per nine, but he's giving up just one home run per nine and his strikeout rate (7.5 K/9) is still solid and in line with his previous work. The major problem has been his BABIP of .371, a product of his sky-high liner rate of 25.5 percent and the Pirates' defense, which has converted just 67.8 percent of balls in play into outs. The liner rate and BABIP do match up, which is bad news for Snell, but it is not in line with his career rates. Pitchers have little control over line drives, and they can occasionally have years where far fewer or far more line drives end up falling for hits. After two average seasons in a row, 2007 happened to be Snell's season to give up fewer liners than is normal, which resulted in the shiniest ERA of his career. This year, he seems to have found the liners he didn't give up last year, and then some, and he has put up the worst line of his career. He has had little change in the velocity of his pitches, so it's not likely that he's all of a sudden become incredibly hittable.

Matchup: Phillies (86-67) at Marlins (80-72), 7:10 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Brett Myers (181 2/3 IP, 4.31 RA, 1.32 WHIP, 157 K) vs. Josh Johnson (76 1/3, 3.30, 1.32, 70)
Pythagorean Record: Philadelphia, 88-65 (751 RS, 637 RA); Florida, 76-76 (724 RS, 726 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Philadelphia, #9; Florida, #18
Prospectus: While the Astros have reversed their recent successes with a week's worth of failure, the Marlins have stepped right into the ring and announced that their playoff chances are still alive. They have gone 8-2 over their last 10 games, and are five games back and tied with Houston for third place in the NL wild-card race. Despite this, the Marlins will probably not be playing October baseball; they have a 0.7 percent chance of extending their season as of today, though if they could manage a sweep in their weekend series against the first-place Phillies, they would increase those chances exponentially. That's unlikely, however, as the team has lost its best hitter-Hanley Ramirez is out with a shoulder injury. Since the Marlins are just barely in it, it takes away from their ability to play much more than spoiler, and it absolutely crushes their dreams of mirroring the Rockies' late-season success in 2007.

It's a shame that Ramirez stands to miss the last few weeks of the season. He was in the midst of his best season yet, and was not only second in the majors in VORP with 78.1, but it looked as if he had figured something out on the defensive end as well; Ramirez ranked seventh among 20 qualifying shortstops in John Dewan's Revised Zone Rating with an .840 showing. Considering that last year he was second-to-last and at .773 (this year's last-place qualifier is at .791) that's a massive improvement, and goes a long ways towards explaining just why Nate Silver ranked Ramirez as the most important talent in the game recently.

Matchup: Brewers (84-69) at Reds (70-82), 7:10 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Jeff Suppan (170 2/3 IP, 5.48 RA, 1.52 WHIP, 83 K) vs. Ramon Ramirez (16, 2.25, 0.75, 12)
Pythagorean Record: Milwaukee, 82-71 (710 RS, 656 RA); Cincinnati, 68-84 (658 RS, 742 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Milwaukee, #7; Cincinnati, #25
Prospectus: Much has changed for the Brewers in the past week; when I wrote about their series with the Phillies that began last Thursday they were four games up on their opponent for the wild card, but by the time the weekend had ended a sweep had dropped them into a tie. Now, with another week of games under their belt and minus one Ned Yost (dismissed following a 39 percent drop in their playoff odds over just seven days), the team is struggling to regain its footing. Last night's implosion by Salomon Torres did nothing to help, but they will try to pick up the pieces against the Reds, who have won eight of the 15 contests between the two this season.

Tonight's game may be a tough one to win. The Brewers don't need any help looking inadequate at the plate lately-they have continued their early-September struggles at the plate, averaging just three runs per game, something not even their best starters can expect to deal with game after game. They'll have to try to get things going against Ramirez, who has been pitching well in his big-league debut, with 6.8 strikeouts per nine and 3.4 walks per nine during his 16 innings. That's following up his work as a starter in the minors this year across two levels: 89 innings pitched, 8.5 punchouts per nine, and a 3.24 ERA. He was devastating over his last 10 appearances in the minors, posting a 1.97 ERA, 60 strikeouts in 64 innings, while handing out just 3.2 free passes per nine.

Matchup: Mets (85-67) at Braves (67-86), 7:30 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Oliver Perez (178 1/3 IP, 4.49 RA, 1.37 WHIP, 162 K) vs. Jo-Jo Reyes (106 1/3, 5.84, 1.62, 75)
Pythagorean Record: New York, 85-67 (753 RS, 663 RA); Atlanta, 74-79 (706 RS, 736 RA)
Hit List Rankings: New York, #5; Atlanta, #19
Prospectus: The Mets lost their grip on the divisionlead , but it wasn't because they played as poorly as the Brewers have recently. The Mets and Phillies have remained very close ever since the All-Star break, with the two teams rarely more than a game or two apart from each other in the standings, and with the Phillies rattling off seven wins in a row, it was almost guaranteed that the Mets would lose their place atop the NL East. They sit just a half-game out, and with a series against the struggling fourth-place Braves on tap, they have their chance to reclaim the pole position out east once again. They don't have to worry too much about missing out on the playoffs as they did last year; just like in the AL East, where the Red Sox' failure to wrestle first place away from the Rays, the Mets still have the wild card to fall back on. Although they are just 1 games up on the Brewers for that spot, but as has been covered in this space often recently, the Brewers are having a hard enough time surviving the last month of the regular season, never mind working their way back into the playoff race.

Atlanta sends Reyes to the mound tonight, which might be a good thing for the Mets. After a late-July start, the Braves sent Reyes back down to the minors for a spell, but he's done little to show that he deserved to be called back up since returning: in 23 2/3 innings, Reyes is averaging 4.2 strikeouts, 4.6 walks, and 1.5 homers per nine, and posted a 6.08 ERA since returning to the bigs on August 19 to face the Mets. Both of his starts against New York have come since his return to the majors, with one going well and one going poorly. The first was a quality start, with six innings pitched and just two runs allowed, along with five strikeouts to his three free passes, but his second didn't go so well, with Reyes surviving for just two innings after surrendering a pair of homers and four runs. The Mets need more of that kind of production tonight, as they are running out of time to play cat and mouse with the division-leading Phillies.

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UTK Wrap: Extended Rap (09/19)
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