BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): New York Yankees (3rd) vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (5th)

Did it seem like the Angels were fouling off an extraordinary number of pitches in Game 1 on Tuesday night? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that a team that has less patience than other clubs would hit more foul balls because they are not swinging in ideal circumstances? That was my thinking, anyway. James Click ranked all the major league teams based on the percentage of pitches they turned into foul balls. Here are the 30 major league teams, ranked in order by the percentage of pitches they hit foul:

Team   Year    Fouls   Pitches  Foul %  BB Rank
CHA    2005    4299    23269    18.5%   (25th)
CHN    2005    4005    22163    18.1%   (28th)
BAL    2005    4009    22437    17.9%   (23rd)
HOU    2005    4012    22632    17.7%   (20th)
SEA    2005    4041    22924    17.6%   (22nd)
DET    2005    3977    22577    17.6%   (30th)
TEX    2005    4239    24074    17.6%   (15th)
TBA    2005    3916    22306    17.6%   (28th)
COL    2005    4073    23251    17.5%   (13th)
SFN    2005    3767    21620    17.4%   (26th)
MIN    2005    4007    23020    17.4%   (18th)
KCA    2005    3922    22575    17.4%   (27th)
ATL    2005    3960    22846    17.3%    (9th)
PIT    2005    3903    22538    17.3%   (21st)
NYN    2005    3998    23107    17.3%   (17th)
SLN    2005    3970    22975    17.3%    (9th)
ANA    2005    3927    22772    17.2%   (24th)
BOS    2005    4252    24776    17.2%    (1st)
WAS    2005    3835    22648    16.9%   (16th)
CLE    2005    4046    23906    16.9%   (14th)
TOR    2005    3939    23360    16.9%   (19th)
MIL    2005    3931    23421    16.8%   (11th)
LAN    2005    3889    23487    16.6%    (7th)
ARI    2005    3847    24138    15.9%    (5th)
CIN    2005    3835    24357    15.7%    (4th)
FLO    2005    3662    23303    15.7%   (12th)
NYA    2005    3775    24049    15.7%    (2nd)
OAK    2005    3792    24253    15.6%    (8th)
SDN    2005    3697    23801    15.5%    (6th)
PHI    2005    3717    24366    15.3%    (3rd)

My theory doesn’t really hold up for the Angels, but there is something to it overall in that the teams with the most walks foul off the fewest pitches on the whole, while the teams with the least number of walks foul off the most. The average walk rank of the ten teams with the highest foul percentage is 23rd. The average walk rank of the teams with the lowest foul percentage is about eighth.

One thing, at least, that we have learned from the above list is this: about one in six pitches ends up in foul territory. One way to reduce this frequency would be to make the field wider.

Remember, if you’re a young writer who is going to cover the Yankees someday, you’ll need to learn to accentuate the negative and eliminate the positive. For instance, heading into Game 3, this is the type of headline you’ll want to go for:

Down from three after Game 2 debacle

Another thing you’ll want to do is emphasize the negative in player stats. Traditional metrics won’t cut it. You’ll have to write things like this: “Alex Rodriguez failed to homer in 667 plate appearances in 2005.”

WORST MATCHUP (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Houston Astros (9th) vs. Atlanta Braves (10th)

I respect Craig Biggio as much a anybody, but hasn’t he, after all these years, figured out that sliding headfirst into first base is a very low-percentage play? I have this crazy notion that it makes it harder on the umpire to make a correct call in that it is jarring to the eye. He is expecting a call-as-usual and the player messes up his mind by belly-flopping.

Speaking of umpires, I’m not sure I agree with the position that the second base arbiter assumes with a runner on first. By setting up on the inside of the basepaths to the first base side, I believe he is always going to have the runner between him and the glove. We saw Derek Jeter job the second base umpire in such a situation in Game One. There was also a play in Game Two where there was no possible way the umpire could have seen the tag being applied because his eyes, the sliding Alex Rodriguez and the gloved ball were all co-linear. I’m not sure if the solution is to have the umpire stand on the third base side of second or to have him behind the bag.

I think umpires, by and large, do a pretty good job. I do believe when they have problems it is often times a result of not being positioned properly to make the correct call. In some ways, I find that more disturbing than when they are positioned correctly and just flat out miss it. Human error I can forgive. Procedural malfeasance is a different story.

In my last column I presented the In-Spite-of Team–the players whose teams made the postseason in spite of their poor showings. Since every action has an equal and opposite reaction, here’s the Don’t Blame Me Team–the players whose teams did not make the postseason in spite of their best efforts.

Catcher: Victor Martinez, Indians, 7.2 WARP1
First Base: Derrek Lee, Cubs, 12.3
Second Base: Brian Roberts, Orioles, 8.9
Third Base: David Wright, Mets, 7.8
Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta, Indians, 9.2
Leftfield: Jason Bay, Pirates, 10.0
Centerfield: Grady Sizemore, Indians, 6.1
Rightfield: Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners, 6.8
Designated Hitter: Travis Hafner, Indians, 7.2
Starting Pitcher: Johan Santana, Twins, 73.0 VORP
Middle Reliever: Justin Duchscherer, A’s, 30.0 VORP
Closer: Huston Street, A’s, 33.3 VORP

BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): San Diego Padres (18th) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (2nd)

The Padres have been melting runners at a pretty amazing rate. In the course of a baseball season, approximately one out of every three runners goes on to cross the plate. The Pads were 2-for-15 with runners on base in Game Two. Average-wise, they were a more respectable 5-for-18 in Game One, but that’s still 13 men who were either destroyed via the double play or left to decay on the bases like the all-too-classic bleached skull. Obviously, the only way to get away with that sort of thing is to not surrender any runs to the other teams, something San Diego pitchers haven’t been doing.

The Padres find themselves in a position visited by many teams before them in best-of-five series: basically going home to play a farewell game in front of their fans. 15 other teams since 1969 have done this very thing: dropped two on the road and then returned home to get closed out. The Pads themselves did it against these very same Cardinals (not very same to a man, but very same in terms of the overall franchise–you knew what I meant) back in 1996.

CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): Boston Red Sox (4th) @ Chicago White Sox (6th)

What a contrast in the usage of closers presented by Ozzie Guillen and Tony LaRussa this week. Guillen used his man, Bobby Jenks, for two innings, while La Russa saved his man, Jason Isringhausen to start the ninth inning when there was an extremely high-leverage situation in the eighth that was just begging for a closer. Personally, I prefer the Guillen method. I’ll admit to not being happy with the Guillen signing when it happened last offseason. I did not like his approach to the game as a player and I made the assumption he would manage the same way. To some extent, he has, but, as Rany Jazayerli points out, there’s more to managing than deciding when to send baserunners to unnecessary demises.

Back when only two teams made the playoffs, repeat participants were fairly common. When the playoffs expanded in 1969, the chances of the same teams appearing in consecutive years–or otherwise–decreased dramatically. In fact, the same exact four teams only showed up in the playoffs on two occasions and it just happened to be back-to-back: in 1977 and 1978, the Royals, Yankees, Phillies and Dodgers were the playoff quartet.

When the number of participants doubled again in 1995 it would seem to be just about impossible that we’re ever going to see the same octet of clubs in the postseason. (We did get a repeat of the American League quartet in 1998 and 1999.) However, with the Braves, Cardinals, Yankees and Red Sox making the scene just about every year, doesn’t it stand to reason we’re going to have a postseason very soon in which all eight participating teams are exactly the same as in some other, previous season?

2004’s octet (Twins and Dodgers standing in for White Sox and Padres) seems like a good bet to show up again. If the White Sox could do something they’ve never done before–make the playoffs more than once a decade–2005’s group could show up again as-is as well, but it would appear the Indians are going to have something to say about that.