<
>

Baker's Dozen: The week in preview

1. The Best Matchup of the Week
height=50 align=left border=0> height=50 align=left border=0>
San Francisco at Philadelphia: Friday through Sunday.

At long last, much-heralded rookie pitcher Jesse Foppert is set to make his first major league start in this series. It might come on Saturday or it might come on Friday or, knowing how these things go and my luck now that I'm leading with this item, it will probably come Thursday against the Pirates.

The good news for Foppert is that his mates are scoring a lot of runs for their pitchers. The bad news -- provided the opponent does turn out to be the
Phillies -- is that Philadelphia is too. Both are plating over six runners per game, although the Phillies are doing so without benefit of the home run. They are, in fact, last in the National League in that category through Sunday. So, though they might make it tough for Foppert in his first start, at least they won't traumatize him with mammoth home runs. That is, unless Jim Thome and Pat Burrell find themselves between now and then.

2. The Worst Matchup of the Week
height=50 align=left border=0> height=50 align=left border=0>
Toronto at Tampa Bay: Tuesday through Thursday.

Fact: Not all great players have/had starting jobs in the major leagues at the age of 21.

Fact: Not all players who have/had starting jobs in the major leagues at the age of 21 turn out to be great.

Fact: Having said that, often times, one is a pretty strong indication of the other.

With two 21-year old starting outfielders in the persons of Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford, what are the Devil Rays looking at long term? Is there a decade
of joy to follow? Before answering "yes" to that question, we must ask another: how disturbing is it that Baldelli and Crawford have combined for two walks in over 160 plate appearances so far this year? At least Crawford walked nine times as a rookie a year ago. Baldelli did not walk once in 95 plate appearances at Triple A last season and has drawn just one so far as a major leaguer. Is this just a case of typical rookie anxiousness or is this the shape of things to come for these two? Can a player who is so
not predisposed to wait out a pitcher have a great or even very good career?

Here are a few who did:

  • Roberto Clemente: The legend had no patience in his early years. He was just as hopeless in this
    department in 1959 (13 unintentional walks in 456 plate appearances) as he was as a rookie four seasons
    prior to that (15 in 501). In 1960, he got somewhat better and, while never really adding walks to his
    repertoire, with increased selectivity came much better production in other areas.

  • Kirby Puckett: Two years older than Baldelli as a rookie, he out-Clemented Clemente, walking just 15
    times in 583 plate appearances. He also had no power. It was one of the most deceptive rookie years ever for
    a future Hall of Famer.

  • Willie McGee: Sort of the anti-Kirby, McGee and
    Puckett displayed the incredible diversity of baseball
    body types when both played centerfield in the 1987
    World Series. For our purposes, McGee walked 10 times
    unintentionally in 439 plate appearances as a rookie.
    While he never exactly became Eddie Yost, neither was
    he ever that bad again. He went on to have the kind of
    career most players would take in a heartbeat.

  • Alfonso Soriano: It isn't exactly a career yet, but
    what little there's been is shaping up to be pretty
    good. Soriano had cups of coffee with the Yankees in
    1999 and 2000, totaling 61 plate appearances. In that
    time, he drew one walk. In 2001, he got the second
    base job full-time. As of April 28, a full 28 games
    into the season, he had yet to draw his second walk.
    He had, therefore, gone over 160 plate appearances
    with one walk to start his career. He picked it up a
    little bit after that and never quite got to the
    infrequency levels of Clemente, Puckett and McGee
    again.

    3. The Cuckolded Matchup of the Week
    height=50 align=left border=0> height=50 align=left border=0>
    Arizona at Montreal: Tuesday through Thursday.

    And now you decide to come home? Where have you
    been, huh? I heard you ran off to the Caribbean. You disappear for two weeks and
    you expect me to be waiting for you when you get back?
    Don't count on it. While you're at it, why don't you
    just move out? If I'm not good enough for you all
    the time, then I'm not good enough for you some of
    the time, either. Why don't you just pack up
    everything and leave? Oh, that's what you plan to
    do? Good! I don't care where you go, just go. The
    sooner the better.

    One fellow who might miss playing in Montreal is the Expos' most important player, Vlad "the Franchise Albeit League-Owned" Guerrero. Since the start of the 1999 season, his OPS is about 100 points higher in Montreal than it is elsewhere.

    4. The Welcome to the Jungle Matchup of the Week
    height=50 align=left border=0> height=50 align=left border=0>
    Minnesota at Chicago: Friday through Sunday.

    Of course eugenics seem like a bad idea! Sterilizing
    certain members of society because they don't fit our
    perception of acceptable? Who gets to decide? Who are
    we to judge? It's immoral, unseemly and just plain
    wrong.

    Then you see the footage of that guy running on the
    field at The Cell to attack umpire Laz Diaz and the
    father-son combo from last year attacking Tom Gamboa
    and suddenly you find yourself thinking, "On second
    thought ..."

    5. The Disconnected Matchup of the Week
    height=50 align=left border=0> height=50 align=left border=0>
    Milwaukee at Florida: Tuesday through Thursday.

    When two baseball teams meet, there is usually
    something that ties them together. There are the
    obvious rivalries like the Red Sox and Yankees or the
    Dodgers and Giants. Then there are teams that have met
    recently in the playoffs (like the Angels and Yankees
    this week) or teams that recently made a big trade
    with one another. There is usually something that
    ties them together.

    For the life of me, though, I can't come up with
    anything for this meeting. When is the last time you
    pieced together a thought that contained both the
    Marlins and the Brewers? Milwaukee and Miami. Places as
    different as Venus and Mars. Part of the problem is
    that the Brewers arrived in the National League just
    as the Marlins were in full dismantle mode. Neither
    team has posted a .500 season since they began playing
    one another. If ever a series had no hook, this is it.

    But here they are, going at it for the sixth year now.
    For what it's worth, here are the won-lost results of
    their first 37 meetings:

    1998: Milwaukee 9, Florida 0
    1999: Florida 5, Milwaukee 4
    2000: Milwaukee 4, Florida 3
    2001: Florida 4, Milwaukee 2
    2002: Florida 4, Milwaukee 2
    Total: Milwaukee 21, Florida 16

    Maybe that's the hook right there: the Marlins can
    take the lead in the all-time series if they sweep the
    Brewers in all six games this year.

    6. The Rematchup of the Week
    height=50 align=left border=0> height=50 align=left border=0>
    New York at Anaheim: Tuesday through Thursday.

    Every once in a while I like to scout about the Web
    and see what people are writing about various baseball
    topics. One of my favorites is Bill Biast, who
    operates out of Long Island (I think). Here's his take
    on the Yankees season so far and this series against
    the Angels:

    "I predicted the Yanks to win 117 this year even
    though I couldn't picture in my mind them walking off
    the field after 45 losses. Forty five -- that's a lot of
    defeats when you think about them all at once. If they
    came in a row you'd be really depressed. But if you
    look at it another way, it's less than twice a week. I
    can probably handle that.

    I had a hard time finding a bookmaker who would take
    any "over" action on the Yanks. I had to dial in the
    Yankees for 120 wins to get any action and even that
    had a twenty percent vig. But who's crying now? Not
    me, pally. The Yanks are projecting to over 130
    wins, so it looks like my bet is safe. That's the last
    time I ever undervalue them. I was worried about Jose
    Contreras, to be honest and I was right, but the other
    guys are picking up the slack. They're just better
    players than everybody else has and that's all there
    is to it. Like the Twins. The Twins are a good team --
    but look what happens when they take on the mighty
    Yanks. Outhomered 25-2 or something like that in the
    last couple of years. Is it that the Twins are really
    good or is the rest of the league just that bad
    compared to the Yankees? I think it's gotta be a
    combination of the two. Now it's the Angels' turn. The
    Yankees got cheated out of the playoffs last year
    (those of you who saw it know what I mean) and now
    it's time for vengeance!"

    I'll be checking in with Bill Biast from time to time
    this season to see what he's writing about.

    7. The Biggest Mismatchup of the Week
    height=50 align=left border=0> height=50 align=left border=0>
    Detroit at Oakland: Tuesday through Thursday.

    There's an old baseball adage that goes something like
    this: no team has ever won a ballgame that did not
    have a lead at some point in the game. Sometimes that
    point does not come until the last pitch, but, as sure
    as the sun will rise in the morning, the moment always
    arrives for the winning team. I bring up that salient
    fact here because the Tigers did something against the
    Royals on Sunday that they have not managed to do all
    season: they managed to have the lead twice in the
    same game. They still lost, but when you're 1-16, you
    have to take your positives where you find them.

    Let's consider a lead something that lasts until the
    next time they come to the plate. So, if a team scores
    in the top of the sixth to take a lead but gives up
    that lead in the bottom of the sixth, then that is
    only a lead of one-half inning's duration. With that
    in mind, here are the Tigers' stats in that department
    so far:

    Total number of separate leads: 8
    Total duration of leads: 23 innings
    Total number of innings played: 155
    Total number of innings tied: 29 ½

    While one can argue that it doesn't matter how a team
    loses -- and even that it is worse to lose after
    holding a lead than by never having one in the first
    place -- what I find especially distressing about the
    Tigers 2003 start is that they aren't even grabbing
    leads.

    8. The My Personal Fantasy Baseball of the Week
    height=50 align=left border=0> height=50 align=left border=0>
    Chicago at Colorado: Friday through Sunday.

    Here's my candidate for Stat Line of the Week: 4 0 0 0.

    How many times has this happened to you? You go to
    check out the box scores and see that a team that has
    one of your fantasy team players on it has scored a
    boxcar load of runs. You start salivating at the
    thought of all the crooked numbers your boy will have
    produced. But then, you find that, while everyone else
    on the team had a feeding frenzy on the other team's
    pitching staff, your guy took a collar home. This was
    the case for me last week with Damian Miller and the
    Chicago Cubs. Miller, who has actually been pretty
    good this year so far, posted the above line while his
    mates were plating 16 runs against the Reds on
    Thursday.

    Here's a related question: is it worse to discover
    your guy was the sole celibate at the hitting orgy or
    to find out that he wasn't even in the lineup? I had
    both experiences last week, as Jose Valentin sat out
    the White Sox 12-3 pounding of the Indians two day's
    after Miller was blanked. I'd have to say it's a wash.

    9. The What's Up With Biggio? Matchup of the Week
    height=50 align=left border=0> height=50 align=left border=0>
    Houston at Milwaukee: Friday through Sunday.

    In the past, Craig Biggio has always brought a wide
    array of weapons to the plate, including some home run
    power. He never relied on the long ball to carry his
    game, however. In the past, his home runs represented
    about 12 percent of the body of his OPS. This year
    things are quite different. Biggio's impressive home
    run total is masking the fact that he isn't doing
    anything else. He has six in just 85 at bats, meaning
    that homers account for over a third of the value of
    his OPS. He's only got one other extra-base hit (a
    double) and a single walk. He is still getting
    plunked, though. With three so far, he's on pace to
    get hit by about 20 pitches, a fairly typical recent
    Biggio showing in the self-abuse department.

    What's going on? For one thing, except for those six
    home runs, he's hitting everything on the ground these
    days, after a career of hitting 1.3 grounders for every
    fly, he's up at a two to one ratio.

    10. The Home Run Derby Matchup of the Week
    height=50 align=left border=0> height=50 align=left border=0>
    New York at Texas: Friday through Sunday.

    Through games of Sunday, the Yankees and Rangers were
    tied for the league lead in home runs with 35 each.
    But not so fast! Before we start looking for a home
    run fire mission at the Ballpark in Arlington, let us
    not forget that Yankee pitchers have only surrendered
    four homers so far this year. Ranger pitchers -- as
    is their custom -- have been almost as prolific serving
    up homers as Ranger batters have been hitting them.
    Only the Devil Rays and Blue Jays have given up more.

    11. The Persevering In Spite of it All Matchup of the Week
    height=50 align=left border=0> height=50 align=left border=0>
    Minnesota at Kansas City: Tuesday through Thursday.

    True, that is a bit of an overstatement. Still though,
    the Twins and Royals have combined to win two-thirds
    of their games in spite of the early slumping of Torii
    Hunter and the total absence of Carlos Beltran from
    their respective lineups. Beltran was activated in time for the
    Tigers series over the weekend but must have thought
    he was playing for Detroit, as he went hitless in 10
    at-bats. That won't last. Neither will Hunter as a
    sub-.200 hitter. Hunter has only tried to steal one
    base this year. Last year, he tried to steal about
    once every five games. This brings up an interesting
    question: do players who are playing below their usual
    level of expectation have a tendency to lose their
    confidence on the basepaths as well? Or is it just a
    function of not having as many opportunities owing to
    not getting on base as much?

    12. The Mystery Matchup of the Week
    ? vs. ?.

    In 1979, these two teams featured a number of players
    who had would either go on to play for the other or
    who already had. There seemed to be so many players
    going back and forth between them that it got a bit
    confusing. The '79 roster of one featured three
    starting position players who would spend time with
    the other while the other had two starters and a
    reserve who had or would do time with their opponent.
    The first team had three pitchers on its staff who
    also did time with the other. Hint: They were both
    pretty good teams, too.

    Last week's Mystery Matchup was he Dodgers vs. the
    Padres. It was San Diego that almost moved to
    Washington, D.C. at the start of the 1974 season and the
    Dodgers who played seven games regular season games in
    Jersey City in their final year in Brooklyn. Thanks to
    all of you who wrote in with your guesses.

    13. The What A Trio It Could Have Been Matchup of the Week
    height=50 align=left border=0> height=50 align=left border=0>
    San Diego at Cincinnati: Friday through Sunday.

    Wouldn't it have been nice to have seen the outfield
    of Austin Kearns, Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey, Jr. get a
    whole year together? Oh fate, you cruel and spoiled
    child. Would that have made for a better outfield than
    the Ken Griffey, Sr., Cesar Geronimo, George Foster trio
    of 1975-1979? It makes for a fun debate, but, if
    Griffey, Jr. never gets healthy again, we'll just
    never know. Certainly, they aren't going to spend
    anything like five seasons together. Five weeks would
    be nice for a start.

    Jim Baker writes Monday through Friday for ESPN Insider. He can be reached at jimbakerespn@yahoo.com.