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Best Matchup (opponents with best combined Prospectus Hit List rankings): Boston Red Sox (3rd) @ New York Yankees (1st)

I don’t know about you, but I’m headed over to Radio City Music Hall to watch the draft today. Should be fun.

Speaking of fun, here’s a head-to-head sub-battle in this series that bears watching: Kevin Youkilis versus Jason Giambi. They are currently ranked one-two in the American League in most pitches per at bat. Which one will see more pitches in the series?

Looking at quality of pitchers faced, the Yankees and Red Sox (especially) are well represented in the high 10. These are the 10 highest–out of 275 who have 100 plate appearances or more–unadjusted OPS (by unadjusted, I mean no extra weight has been given to OBP) in terms of quality of pitchers faced:

.785: Wily Mo Pena, Red Sox
.780: Alex Gonzalez, Red Sox
.779: Gary Sheffield, Yankees
.779: Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
.778: Jason Varitek, Red Sox
.777: A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox
.776: Mark Loretta, Red Sox
.775: Hideki Matsui, Yankees
.774: Brian Anderson, White Sox
.773: Marcus Thames, Tigers
.773: Jim Thome, White Sox

Rounding out the top 20 are six more Tigers, two Blue Jays and Manny Ramirez. These teams benefit from not having to face their own pitchers and getting to play the Royals a lot–in Detroit and Chicago’s cases–and the Orioles and Devil Rays a lot–in New York, Boston and Toronto’s cases.

It stands to reason that there would not be a wide range of scores in this category. In fact, it runs from .692 to .785 (.709 is more like the real lowest number as the .692 is an outlier and belongs to a player–Wilson Betemit–who barely qualifies for inclusion with just 103 PA). It will probably narrow a bit more as the season goes forward. As a contrast to the first list, here are the 10 lowest:

.692: Wilson Betemit, Braves
.709: Mark Sweeney, Giants
.712: Lew Ford, Twins
.713: Ryan Langerhans, Braves
.714: Andruw Jones, Braves
.714: Chipper Jones, Braves
.715: Brian McCann, Braves
.715: Marcus Giles, Braves
.761: Matt Stairs, Royals
.717: Craig Biggio, Astros

In addition to some other hassles, it’s no wonder the Braves are having their problems.

Closest Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): New York Mets (6th) @ Los Angeles Dodgers (5th)

I think we as a nation and as a people and, perhaps even as a species, forgot what a great ballplayer Nomar Garciaparra was. We can chalk it up to human nature, our natural tendency to push to the back of our brains what is no longer directly in front of our eyes. While he was being injured and passed around like a broken bottle in a hobo camp the past couple of years, we lost sight of the fact that, when healthy, this is one productive guy. A move to third instead of first would have made him seem even more so, though.

How does Kaz Matsui do it? How does he keep getting worse with every passing year? Among players with a minimum of 100 plate appearances, he’s got a bottom-five OPS and has pretty much lost his job–if it ever really was his to lose–to Jose Valentin. How long, though, can Valentin keep up his Rogers Hornsby ca. 1925 impersonation? I figure another week. In any case, it’s probably time for the Mets to finally give Matsui his walking papers and free up his roster spot for something more productive.

Worst Matchup (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (21st) @ Tampa Bay Devil Rays (29th)

Jonny Gomes of the Rays is on the short list for stealing futility so far this year:

0-for-5: Jeff Francoeur, Atlanta
1-for-6: Gomes
3-for-8: Randy Winn, San Francisco
3-for-7: Curtis Granderson, Detroit

On the other hand, Orlando Cabrera of the Angels makes the haven’t-been-caught-yet list:

11-for-11: Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati
9-for-9: Mike Cameron, San Diego
8-for-8: Cabrera
7-for-7: Eric Byrnes, Arizona
7-for-7: Lew Ford, Minnesota

While we’re at it, the nailed-just-once club looks like this:

26-for-27: Corey Patterson, Baltimore
13-for-14: Brian Roberts, Baltimore
12-for-13: Kenny Lofton, Los Angeles Dodgers

Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): Texas Rangers (10th) @ Kansas City Royals (30th)

Through the first third of the season, the Rangers have posted their best road ERA of the past five years:

2006: 4.24
2005: 5.13
2004: 4.46
2003: 5.52
2002: 4.76

They’ve slipped a bit on the homefront, but at The House that George Built, they can probably get away with a 4.99 showing, provided they keep it cool on the road and start upping the ante at home. For the previous four seasons, their runs scored at home have fallen within a very narrow band:

2005: 469
2004: 491
2003: 480
2002: 474

If they keep going at the rate they’ve established so far this year, they’ll be at 393. They’ve also been pretty reliable on the road prior to this, so their performance there has been a nice surprise.

2006: 456 (projected)
2005: 396
2004: 369
2003: 346
2002: 369

A return to normal at home and maintenance of their road improvement so far–coupled with a continuation of their pitching performance to date would give them the division.

With 3 1/3 innings pitched to close out the Mariners on Sunday, Elmer Dessens notched himself one of those long saves, the type where a reliever throws three to four innings and renders the score moot according to the save rule. At one time, any reliever who closed out a victory–even if it was just a third of an inning in a runaway game–got a save. A shining example of this comes from Opening Day of the 1971 season. Dave Giusti entered the game with two outs in the ninth, runners on second and third and the Pirates leading the Braves 8-2. He recorded the final out and got the save. That season, he also had a 1/3-inning save in game with the final score of 9-4.

Eventually, they tightened up that stuff and tinkered with it to the point that there must be a clear and present danger of a lead being lost in order to get credit for the save. Regardless, it’s a stat that’s cost the owners a lot of money over the years. Men who get a lot of them bang the till for lots of dough. Someday, the owners will wake up to this fact and kill what Jerome Holtzman wrought back in 1960.

In any event, one bit of the old anything-goes save rule survives: if a pitcher closes out a game with three or more innings of relief work and never relinquishes the lead, he still gets one. How rare a feat is it? Dessens’ was the seventh so far in 2006:

Date: Pitcher, Team vs. Opponent (IP)
April 22: Pete Walker, Toronto vs. Boston (3)
April 25: Boone Logan, Chicago White Sox vs. Seattle (3)
May 4: Chad Gaudin, Oakland vs. Cleveland (4)
May 9: Francisco Liriano, Minnesota vs. Texas (3)
May 12: Hector Carrasco, Anaheim vs. Seattle (3)
May 14: Emiliano Fruto, Seattle vs. Anaheim (3 2/3)
June 4: Elmer Dessens, Kansas City vs. Seattle (3 1/3)

Last year there were 14 such games and in 2004, 21. So, from the beginning of 2004 through Sunday, that’s about once every 136 games. You may have noticed that these are all American League games. It stands to reason that A.L. games would be in the majority here, but the lack of an N.L. example this year is surprising in that were 11 of them in 2004-05. In addition, there was one in an interleague game played in Florida last June 12. (John Wasdin of the Rangers had a four-inning stint in that one). Wasdin had three of them last year and Pete Walker has had three between this year and last. Of the 42, 29 have been three-inning outs and 11 have lasted four innings. The last two by Fruto and Dessens are the only 3 2/3- and 3 1/3-inning stints on the list.

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