Baker's Dozen: The week in preview

Jim Baker breaks down this week's matchups, which include the best, worst and  disconnected.

Originally Published: April 14, 2003
By Jim Baker | ESPN Insider

1. The Best Matchup of the Week
San Francisco at Philadelphia: Friday through Sunday.

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  • 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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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

    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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.

    Jim Baker is an author at Baseball Prospectus and a frequent contributor to Page 2. You can e-mail Jim at bottlebat@gmail.com.