Best Matchup (based on personal choice): Detroit Tigers @ Seattle Mariners

Since the Mariners came into existence one-point-five score ago, it has been the rare moment when they have met the Tigers with both teams at or in excess of .500. The following chart shows the few occasions this has happened; the records shown are for the start of the series, and the number after the decimal point in the Year column indicates which meeting it was in the season. For instance, this is the second meeting between the clubs in 2007. So:

        Detroit     Seattle
Year/#  W  L  Pct   W  L  Pct
2007.2 52 34 .605  49 36 .576
2007.1 19 11 .633  14 13 .519
1997.1  7  7 .500   8  5 .615
1996.2  8  7 .533  10  4 .714
1993.1  4  4 .500   4  4 .500
1991.4 70 61 .534  67 64 .511
1991.3 65 57 .533  64 58 .525
1987.4 49 37 .570  45 43 .511
1987.3 41 34 .547  39 38 .506
1984.1 26  5 .839  18 17 .514
1982.3 59 57 .509  58 58 .500

One could make the case that this weekend’s meeting represents the best matchup these two clubs have ever produced. While the 1984 matchup showed a better combined winning percentage, most of that was the property of the eventual World Champions. They have never before met with both teams having winning percentages this high. For me, the two surprises on here are 1996 and 1982. The ’96 Tigers lost 109 games, so it’s hard to fathom that they ever had a .500 recor, even if it was just two weeks into the season. I guess I had forgotten that the ’82 Mariners made a little noise about finishing .500; they faded in the end, as did the ’87 team. It wasn’t until 1991 that a Seattle team finally finished over .500, a wait of 14 years. That remains the longest trip to a .500 season for any expansion franchise, although the Devil Rays are on year 10 without having gotten anywhere close.

Is it just me, or does it seem like people don’t get as excited about 200-hit seasons the way that they used to? If my perception is right, it’s for the best. Back when Steve Garvey and Pete Rose were doing it with regularity during in the ’70s, one would have assumed that it was the benchmark achievement for a hitter based on the fuss that was made. Of course, it is quite possible to have a 200-hit season and not be particularly outstanding-Garvey’s highest EqA in any of his 200-hit seasons was just .303. There have been other, even less unspectacular examples. Dave Cash had two 200-hit campaigns, which generated EqAs of .267 and .270. Cesar Tovar did it once, with an EqA of .265; Bobby Richardson‘s 1962 effort produced a .263 EqA. Dante Bichette had an EqA of .264 with his, and Juan Pierre‘s first 200-hit season produced an EqA of just .254. In 1970, Matty Alou did it with an EqA of .250.

So, having established that 200 hits in and of itself ain’t no thing, Ichiro Suzuki‘s march to a seventh straight 200-hit season is still certainly worth noting. The list of men who have had at least seven 200-hit campaigns is small and impressive: Pete Rose, 10 times; Ty Cobb, 9; Lou Gehrig, 8; Paul Waner, 8; Wade Boggs, 7; Charlie Gehringer, 7; and Rogers Hornsby, 7. With a five-year deal in the offing, we can wonder if Ichiro has a chance to end up at the very top of this list.

Assuming he continues apace and gets his seventh this year at age 33, how realistic is it to expect him to tie or surpass Rose for most 200-hit seasons? How did the men on the all-time list do after the age of 33? Rose had four more 200-hit seasons, with the last coming at age 38. The rest, with the age of last 200-hit season followed by frequency after 33: Cobb 37/2, Waner 34/1, Gehrig 34/1, Gehringer 34/1, Hornsby 33/0, Boggs 31/0. There were of course extenuating circumstances with Gehrig, and Hornsby pretty much quit playing at that point in his career. The PECOTA five-year projection sees Ichiro diminishing to under 500 plate appearances per season in a few years’ time, but PECOTA is conservative by nature. Barring a catastrophic injury, I think he’s good for at least three more 200-hit seasons.

Worst Matchup (opponents with worst combined Prospectus Hit List rankings, provided both are in the lower half): Washington Nationals @ Florida Marlins

One of my recurring harped-upon themes is that if a team manages to get it all together with their keystone combo, that puts them one up most other clubs. The Marlins have certainly done just that. These are the most productive offensive keystone combos in the bigs. To qualify, both players have to at least be in double figures in VORP. Most are at 20.0 or more:

70.9  Phillies: Chase Utley (42.8) and Jimmy Rollins (28.1)
63.0  Marlins:  Hanley Ramirez (45.1) and Dan Uggla (17.9)
58.5  Tigers:   Carlos Guillen (35.7) and Placido Polanco (22.8)
55.4  Braves:   Edgar Renteria (32.6) and Kelly Johnson (22.8)
53.8  Orioles:  Brian Roberts (35.8) and Miguel Tejada (18.0)
48.2  Rays:     B.J. Upton (24.4) and Brendan Harris (23.8)

Unfortunately for Florida, their entire outfield is only about two to three wins above replacement value this year.

Biggest Mismatchup (opponents with greatest difference in Prospectus Hit List rankings): New York Yankees @ Tampa Bay Devil Rays

With their victory last night, the Yankees took the first step in avoiding placing themselves on the list below. These are all the teams since 1960 that have outscored their opponents by 50 runs or more but still managed to finish under .500:

Year Team      Runs Opp Diff Pct. next year
2006 Indians   870  782  88  .481   52-36
2005 Blue Jays 775  705  70  .494   87-75
2007 Yankees   456  386  70  .494
1995 Orioles   704  640  64  .493   88-74
1984 Astros    693  630  63  .472   83-79
1967 Orioles   654  592  62  .472   91-71
1964 Twins     737  678  59  .488  102-60
2006 Rangers   835  784  51  .494   38-50
(2007 records are at All-Star break)

The good news is that even if the Yankees don’t get it going in the second half, the precedent for super underachievers is to bounce back the following season. (All, that is, except for this year’s Rangers.) Personally, I can’t see the Yankees joining this list. I think they’ll be fruitful and multiply the rest of the way and finish at least 10 games over .500.

Closest National League Matchup (opponents closest to one another in the Prospectus Hit List rankings): St. Louis Cardinals @ Philadelphia Phillies

One of two things needs to happen: either tying the outcome of the All-Star Game to homefield advantage in the World Series must be brought to a halt, or Cardinals manager Tony La Russa needs to be brought before the commissioner and interrogated like a schoolboy caught with a copy of something from the Larry Flynt canon. Leaving Albert Pujols on the bench with the game on the line (or at all, really) was unconscionable, and not the action of a man trying to win a baseball game. Once again, National League fans will be shorted the chance of an extra World Series game in their town this year. The teams and fans that should be especially worked up about this are the ones with the best odds of making the playoffs: the Mets, Braves, Brewers, Cubs, Padres, and Dodgers, and, to a lesser extent, the Phillies, Rockies, and Diamondbacks.

One would imagine that Phillies fans would let La Russa hear about it tonight, except that he left their guy in there at the key moment instead of lifting him for Pujols. What would his reception have been in Philadelphia if he had yanked the Phillie in place of the Cardinal? Never mind that the Cardinal in question has a career EqA that is 65 points higher than Aaron Rowand‘s; I think Phillies fans would have understood such a move. I suppose this is much ado about nothing, except that the team with homefield advantage has won 16 of the last 20 World Series. Naturally, there are many other factors involved, but you have to take every let up you can get.

Jason Pare contributed research to this column.

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