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BEST AMERICAN LEAGUE MATCH-UP (Best combined records with both teams being over .500): Texas @ Boston

    Who has the most irreplaceable infield unit in baseball? It depends how you define your terms. If you set a minimum requirement of a VORP of 25 or greater from all four participants, then this unit is the best:

    1B: Albert Pujols: 82.2
    2B: Tony Womack: 27.3
    3B: Scott Rolen: 68.9
    SS: Edgar Renteria: 29.3
    Total: 207.7

    If you raise the bar to 30 (or, perhaps soon enough, 35), this is the most irreplaceable unit:

    1B: Mark Teixeira: 42.2
    2B: Alfonso Soriano: 34.8
    3B: Hank Blalock: 38.2
    SS: Michael Young: 43.5
    Total: 158.7

    The Cleveland unit of Ben Broussard, Ron Belliard, Omar Vizquel and Casey Blake is third. Speaking of them…

    Did you do it, Red Sox Royal Rooters? Did you clip Tuesday night’s Yankees box score and have it framed for your rumpus room? That sound you heard the world over on Tuesday night was Yankee haters counting off push-ups they were doing every time the Indians scored a run, college cheerleader style. 22-0. No matter what happens the rest of the way, Red Sox fans and the wider Yankee-hating population will always have that moment.

    That’s really all it is, too: a moment. Within 24 hours, the Yankees had chalked up a very pedestrian 5-3 victory over Cleveland. Then, they followed up by scoring in the first four innings of their next game. So much for the demoralizing and humiliating effects of a blow-out loss, hey wot? I put it to you that this is what makes this game of our choosing worth watching night after night: the variety of its outcomes. You simply never know what you’re going to get when you walk into a ballpark or turn on the television, radio or computer simulcast (or mechanical recreation if anyone is still doing those in a town square somewhere).

    People want us to get excited about the United States’ women’s softball team winning the gold medal at the Olympic Games. While it’s nice for the participants and should give us pride as a nation, etc., etc., have you ever tried to watch that game? What is the point? Nearly every contest ends in a shutout. It’s like the NFL in the 1920s: no variety in scoring. There were 32 games played at the Athens Olympics and 27 of them ended in shutouts. Fully one quarter of the games ended 1-0.

    Please don’t get me wrong; this is neither a misogynistic tirade nor an indictment of low-scoring games. What I am doing is dissing sports that do not offer a variety of outcomes. Only one time in those 32 games did the losing team plate more than two runs. Where is the fun in that? If women’s softball ever hopes to get anywhere as a spectator sport then it needs to address the dominance of its pitchers over its hitters at its highest levels.

BEST NATIONAL LEAGUE MATCH-UP (Best combined records with both teams being over .500): Los Angeles @ St. Louis

    We know that there are many conflicting philosophies regarding MVP voting. Some believe it should be the player having the best individual season. Others believe it should be the player who does the most to help a team if and only if that team is in contention for a postseason berth. To remove the award from context or not to remove the award from context, that is the question. In terms of context, there is one other thing to consider, and that’s what we’ll cover here.

    In this series, there are four players who are having MVP-caliber seasons: Adrian Beltre, Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen. Three are on St. Louis and one is on Los Angeles. What is more, none of Beltre’s teammates are anywhere near him in terms of VORP. In fact, it would take the next two best players on his team (Shawn Green and Cesar Izturis) plus 88% of the fourth-best player, Milton Bradley, to equal his figure.

    That’s what we’re looking at here: the Loneliness Factor. How much help do the best players on each team have? Beltre’s Loneliness Factor is 2.88 – it takes the next two best players on his team and 88% of the one after that to equal his value over replacement. For Pujols, it’s only 1.05. Here are the five highest LFs the National League:

    6.16: Barry Bonds, San Francisco
    3.78: Lyle Overbay, Milwaukee
    2.88: Adrian Beltre, Los Angeles
    2.51: Todd Helton, Colorado
    1.68: Lance Berkman, Houston

    I’m not arguing that Overbay is more valuable than Pujols, I’m merely pointing out for those keen on the contextual argument for MVP, that Bonds and Beltre are operating in a relative talent vacuum compared to their Cardinal counterparts.

    The highest LFs in the American League are:

    2.79: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle
    1.57: Lew Ford, Minnesota
    1.54: Aubrey Huff, Tampa Bay
    1.43: Carlos Guillen, Detroit>
    1.40: Travis Hafner, Cleveland

    Ford and Huff do not have MVP numbers, obviously, and I don’t think Suzuki has done enough to warrant a top vote, in spite of his run at George Sisler‘s hit record. To me, this list is good evidence that Guillen deserves a lot of consideration for the top slot. There’s a huge drop-off in talent after him and Ivan Rodriguez on the Tigers. Surely, he means more to his team’s success than does the Yankees’ Gary Sheffield (1.14) and Red Sox’ Manny Ramirez (1.05). Both of them, while having excellent seasons, have better partners in their ranks.

    Obviously, a player’s Loneliness Factor can be skewed greatly if he is surrounded by a whole host of incompetence (Overbay) or a corps of frequently-injured players (Ford). Because of situations like this, it does not stand alone by any means, but it can act as a devil’s advocacy tool when refining the meaning of the word “valuable.”

MISMATCH-UP (opponents furthest from each other in won-lost records with the better team over .500 and the lesser team under): Arizona @ San Francisco

    Barry Bonds has not started 21 games this year. The Giants have gone 8-13 in them, as opposed to 64-48 otherwise. Who would dare fill the shoes of the Great One? Three men have and this be their tale.

    • Todd Linden has only done it once, on June 7 in Colorado, but it produced a very Bonds-like line: 2 1 0 0 3. Linden drew three walks in that game–60% of his season total.
    • Jeffrey Hammonds, who before departing the major leagues for perhaps the last time, started five games in left field for the Giants and relieved in another. The results were not good. He had three singles and a double in 20 at bats. If you took away the games in which he wasn’t directly replacing Bonds, Hammonds was a more acceptable .213/.330/.427, as opposed to .200/.273/.250 in his brief showings as Bonds’ fill-in.

    • Dustan Mohr has been the most common Bonds replacement in 2004. He’s started 16 games in this role and has responded with a .306/.414/.388. Let’s face it, anybody who filled in for Bonds would represent a drop-off in production. What the Giants would hope, though is that a player help soften the impact of that drop-off by at least performing up to his own level. In Mohr’s case, his power evaporates when acting as Bonds fill-in. He’s hit four doubles during that time. His Isolated Power on other occasions is .200. When caddying for Bonds, it’s .082.

    Pro-rating Bonds’ stats for the 85 plate appearances he’s missed during these games, the Giants have missed out on six home runs and 18 walks. In all, They Who Would Be Bonds have a line of .267/.388/.338. This is opposed to the .253/.365/.441 line they have otherwise. Heavy lies the crown, it might seem.

CLOSEST MATCH-UP (opponents with the won-loss records closest to one another): Detroit @ Tampa Bay

    I think we’re all in agreement that the most unassailable record in the baseball world is Owen Wilson‘s (no, not that Owen Wilson) 36 triples in one season. Since it was set in 1912, nobody has come within 75% of that figure.

    What I am proposing to you today is a trade designed to manufacture a run at that record. So far, Comerica Park is turning out to be the best triples park in the American League, if not in all of baseball. Don’t get me wrong–it’s not the triples factory that Forbes Field was (check out where the Pirates finished in three-baggers from 1909 to 1970), but more triples have been hit there over the last three seasons than anywhere else, including Coors Field.

    So, here’s my proposition: the Devil Rays should trade Carl Crawford to the Tigers. Crawford currently leads the majors in triples with 17. True, 12 of them have come at home, so one could argue that he is already enjoying a home-field advantage of sorts, but why not maximize his triple-hitting ability?

    What is more, a triples-hitting guy named Crawford has historical mojo in Detroit. The guy who came closest to Wilson’s record is Sam Crawford with 26 in 1914. He is also the all-time leader in the category with 309. Here are some other things to consider when contemplating why this trade needs to be made:

    • No active player is in the top 100 in career triples
    • The highest rank of a player who spent at least part of his career in the post-World War II period is Stan Musial–19th with 177
    • The highest rank of a player whose career lasted into the divisional era is Roberto Clemente–27th with 166

    • The highest rank of a player who played in anything like the recent past is George Brett–70th with 137

    Folks, don’t you want someone from our era to make a mark in the world of triples? Looking around, doesn’t Carl Crawford have the best shot at being that guy? He’s only 23 and is built for speed. Placed in an environment like Comerica, it is not unlikely that he could be a top 100 man in triples by the time he’s done. He already has 32. If he hits double figures for the next ten years, that would land him in Brett territory. If he could hit a dozen a year for the next decade, he’d make the top 50. If he’s in the right place at the right time when he gets to his prime and he can avoid the kinds of injuries that detract from speed, is it out of the question to speculate he might hit 30 triples one year?

    I think we’re all in agreement that, when it comes time vote for the MVP this year, most ballots are going to place Ivan Rodriguez ahead of Carlos Guillen. This is not an endorsement of this act, merely a prediction this is what is to be. Both men have been indispensable to the Tigers in their rise from the historic depths, but Guillen has been more indispensable than has Pudge. Their current VORP differential is about 13 points. What is interesting about this is that while Rodriguez might be over-credited in this year’s voting, he was under-credited last year while playing for the World Champion Marlins.

    These are the VORP standings of the five best 2003 Marlins:

    Mike Lowell: 52.0
    Derrek Lee: 51.7
    Rodriguez: 49.1
    Luis Castillo: 39.0
    Juan Pierre: 38.5

    The voters, of course, placed Pierre highest among Marlins:

    10th: Pierre, 39 points
    11th: Lowell, 30 points
    21st: Castillo, 8 points
    23rd: Rodriguez, 5 points
    27th: Miguel Cabrera, 3 points
    27th: Lee, 3 points
    34th: Dontrelle Willis, 1 point

    Go figure.

Thank you for reading

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