Just to be different, BP Matchups will focus on individuals this time around rather than teams. Instead of team matchups, we’ll be looking at starting pitchers. The choices were made, by and large, using SNLVAR.

A note: management is not responsible for matchups changed after press time.

BEST MATCHUP (opponents with best combined SNLVAR): Josh Beckett (Florida Marlins) vs. Carlos Zambrano (Chicago Cubs), Sunday

Beckett had two excellent starts earlier in the month–two of his best this year–before imploding in Milwaukee last time out. His home/road splits are becoming more pronounced with each succeeding season and have now done a complete turnaround since his incursion into the majors.

Unadjusted ERA

Year:  Home  Road
2002:  5.25    3.17
2003:  2.67    3.59
2004:  3.45    4.27
2005:  2.36    4.90

This year is pretty extreme, but one would expect the 2003-04 differentials, given the propensities of Pro Player. With Beckett’s myriad injury problems, it’s always been a case of small sample sizes all around, though. He looks like a good bet to break his career mark for innings pitched this year, however, needing only two complete games’ worth of material to do so.

While we can expect to see more and more Sabermetric-type inroads into mainstream statistics, one thing that isn’t going away anytime soon is Won-Loss records. One sure way to stay off the mainstream radar is rack up the no-decisions. Among pitchers with 15 or more starts, Zambrano is in the bottom 10 in terms of percentage of starts in which a decision was received. His mark of 58% puts him in a tie with Scott Kazmir of the Devil Rays. There are pitchers having both good and bad seasons at the bottom in this consideration. Zambrano is on the positive end of the spectrum while Kirk Rueter and Joel Pineiro are on the other end. The pitcher with the highest percentage this year is Beckett’s teammate, Dontrelle Willis who has gotten a decision in 25 of his 26 starts.

WORST MATCHUP (opponents with worst combined SNLVAR): Eric Milton (Cincinnati Reds) vs. Josh Fogg (Pittsburgh Pirates), Saturday

Yes, the Eric Milton signing looks bad right now, but it’s the kind of thing where it is definitely a mistake on the player’s part as well as the team’s. Milton simply chose the wrong venue for his particular foibles. I don’t think it’s the worse signing of the off-season, though. That title has to go to Russ Ortiz with the Diamondbacks, doesn’t it? Ortiz has the fifth-worst walks per-nine innings rate and he fourth-worst hits-per-nine. Their NRAs are nearly equal at the moment (6.62 to 6.68–advantage Milton), so it comes down to the length and monetary strength of their contracts and Ortiz’s is for more years and more money.

Milton’s in a no-excuse park tomorrow, a place where pitchers have the upper hand. His best game this year came in a similarly pitcher-happy park, Petco Field on July 31.

As for Fogg, he’s got the lowest strikeout rate on the Pirates save for reliever Salomon Torres. What is more, he’s not taking much advantage of being in a venue endorsed by the Pitcher’s Fraternity.

BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (opponents with greatest difference in SNLVAR): Roger Clemens (Houston Astros) vs. Jeff Weaver (Los Angeles Dodgers), Sunday; or Roy Oswalt (Astros) vs. Edwin Jackson (Dodgers), Saturday

Tonight’s Andy Pettitte vs. Derek Lowe is no fun-run for the Dodgers, either. They have the misfortune of catching the business three-fifths of the Houston rotation. Clemens hooks up with his old Yankee teammate Weaver. Back then, Weaver was a Big Apple pariah, the jonah of a very solid pitching staff in 2003. That season is proving to be the lost weekend of Weaver’s career. He’s pretty much back to where he usually is, with an NRA in the 4.00s, albeit the higher end of that spectrum. Now that Weaver has turned 29, we know this much: he’s not as good as he looked with the Tigers in 2002 and not as bad as he looked with the Yankees in 2003.

Jackson is making just his second start of the season, his first being a poor showing against the Marlins a week ago. Jackson did his best work in a late-season call-up in 2003 and it’s that initial splash that I still think of when I hear his name–which is no way to run a memory bank. It’s been rough times since then and it doesn’t get any easier for him with Oswalt sharing the mound with him tomorrow.

The combined NRA of the Dodgers starters for the series is 15.98. For the Astros, it’s only 8.10. It’s not fair, really. A lot of teams would be hard-pressed to come off well on paper against these three.

The John Smoltz vs. Rick Helling matchup on Saturday in Milwaukee looks a bit one-sided, too. Smoltz has the sixth-best SNLVAR in the game while Helling is making his first start since August 13, 2003 and he hasn’t been especially effective since 2000. It’s been so long since Helling started a game that he might not even remember that he surrendered 10 home runs in his last three starts with Baltimore–which is probably a good thing.

CLOSEST MATCHUP (opponents closest to one another in SNLVAR): Orlando Hernandez (Chicago White Sox) vs. Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners)

It’s debatable whether this truly is the closest matchup (yes, they have the same SNLVAR and the same last name thing has to count for something) but it does give us a chance to drop the name of Felix Hernandez–always desirable for ratings. Some of the highlights of his brilliant career so far:

*30-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
*Allowing a hit about once every two innings.
*They’re all singles. No home runs allowed yet. No extra basehits allowed yet.
*Only loss came in a game where he allowed just one earned run.
*Although a righthander, lefties have been useless against him: .116/.156/.116
*When they’re not missing, they’re beating it into the ground: 50:14 GB/FB ratio

The opportunity for a great irony is lost by the absence of Scott Podsednik from this series. He’s rehabbing in the minors this weekend, so we won’t have the chance of seeing Hernandez give up his first big league extra basehit to a man with no triples or home runs. You have to wonder if a pitcher has ever broken in with four no-XBHitters before. Maybe in the Deadball Era?

On the other hand, Orlando Hernandez is having his worst year in the majors so far. His DERA is at 4.92, a half-run higher than at any other time in his career. In his brief return with the Yankees last year, he struck out nearly a batter an inning. This year, he’s down under six-per-nine for the first time in his career.

Speaking of the Mariners, have you seen Scott Spiezio‘s tattoo? I had an idea. What if the tattoo ages along with Spiezio’s arm while the subject stays young? When he’s 75 and his bicep muscle has atrophied into nothingness and the tattoo has sagged and gone splotchy–as, inevitably, they must–the subject of the tattoo will still be bouncing around as though only 27 years old. Hey, that sounds like a good idea for a book! Wait… Drat–I thought was on to something there.

Here’s another idea I had the other night. You know that show where people compete to become dancers? It’s like American Idol only with dancing. Of course you don’t watch it, that’s not the point. You just have to know it to understand my show idea: So You Want to be a Surgeon? You start out with a group of people and narrow it down every week just like on those other shows. Here’s the twist: they have to perform surgeries of increasing difficulty each week. Like in the first episode, it might be taking off a skin tab. Then, as more and more contestants are eliminated due to botched jobs, the surgeries become harder and harder, working all the way up to full-blown brain surgery in the season’s stunning closer. Look, we need more dancers and singers–especially of the stripe found on that show–like we need a visitation of the plague. What we can always use, though, are skilled medicos, and here’s a great way to find untapped talent in this field. So far, I can’t get anyone in the industry to return my calls on this, but I remain optimistic.

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