Baker's Dozen: The week in preview

Breaking down this week's matchups (and mis-matchups).

Originally Published: July 17, 2003
By Jim Baker | ESPN Insider

With an abbreviated schedule this week, this will be a shorter version of Baker's Dozen:

The Best Matchup of the Week
Seattle at Kansas City: (109-76 combined).



Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star makes an excellent point about this series and the two that follow for the Royals (against Oakland and Minnesota). If they prove they can hang, they will send a message to the two teams behind them that it's time to get out of buyer's mode so as to start looking toward next year. If Chicago and Minnesota can't makeup ground in the coming week, they might change policy and essentially give the Royals the keys to the kingdom. If that does happen, it will be a shame for the Twins that they unloaded Bobby Kielty for Shannon Stewart. In fact, it's a shame either way.

MLB Insider
Read Jim Baker five days a week on ESPN Insider:

  • MLB Insider
  • Subscribe now
  • Given his current pace, Ichiro Suzuki will finish 2003 with approximately 239 hits. This will give him a three-year, career total of 689, easily the best start to a career ever. In fact, it would make for the fifth-best three-season hit total ever:

    719: George Sisler, 1920-22
    703: Rogers Hornsby, 1920-22
    693: Bill Terry, 1929-31
    692: Bill Terry, 1930-32
    689: Ichiro Suzuki, 2001-03 (projected)

    Watching him put the first pitch from Jason Schmidt into play in the All-Star Game on Tuesday night got me to thinking: what is the upper limit of how many hits a player could have in a season? If everything went right, how far could a determined, talented hitter who is not especially keen on drawing walks take the edge of the hit-gathering envelope? Is Sisler's 83-year old record of 257 in a season looking a little soft right now? What are the upper limits of how many hits a player could have in a season? Now that Barry Bonds has hit 73 home runs and Mark McGwire 70 in recent times, let's examine what it would take to crack upper limits of previous hit totaling accomplishment.

    My belief is that as long as Ichiro is healthy and sticks around these United States to play his baseball for the next few years, Sisler's record is soft. In 2001, Ichiro became the first player since 1930 to crack the all-time top 10 in hits in a season. If he can get 105 hits the rest of the way this year, he'll crack it again. That means he'll have to chase Sisler next year, which is fine. The key is maximizing his opportunities. To do so, Ichiro  or any player -- would have to:

    Bat lead off. (Done.)

    Play every game -- preferably every inning of every game. (Ichiro missed five games in each of his first two years and is on pace to miss three this year.)

    Eschew the walk. However, that doesn't mean swing at anything. Selectivity will work as long as it done with a mind toward getting a good pitch to hit rather than as a means to working out a free pass. A walk is not as good as a hit for purposes of this proposal! (Ichiro will take a walk more frequently now than he did two years ago but he is no Rickey Henderson. He lost 27 precious plate appearances to intentional walks last year.)

    Avoid getting hit by pitches, sacrificing or lifting lazy flies to the outfield with a runner on third and less than two out. At bats are not to be wasted for the deliberate and suicidal advancement of others. No slapping slow grounders to the second baseman to move a runner on second over to third. (There are no outrageous plate appearance losses in this regard to this point in his career.)

    Play for a team that scores more than its share of runs. (Check -- in spite of their home park.)

    Play for a team that gets itself into a good number of extra inning games. (This is probably contradictory to the previous requirement.) Play for a team that must play a one-game tie-breaker at the end of the year. It helped Wills in 1962 as his Dodgers played three extra games.

    If Ichiro can do all of these things in one of the coming years, it would not be unreasonable for him to get about 765 plate appearances. To this point, he gets official at bats in 91.8 percent of his plate appearances which would make for about 700 official at bats. To get 258 hits, he would have to hit around .370. That does not strike me as too outlandish a need given that his career average at the moment is .340. Ichiro is the best-positioned modern ballplayer to have a shot at this record since Wade Boggs in his prime and Boggs never really had a chance because of his wonderful ability at drawing walks.

    The Biggest Mismatchup of the Week
    N.Y. Mets at Atlanta (Braves lead by 21 games).



    This series represents the best first-place team in baseball against the best last-place team. Can the Mets hold on to that title or will the Texas Rangers pass them as the Mets focus on youth for the remainder of the season? It is a very hard thing to admit that wins and losses matter less than the future, but that is the unnatural step that teams who commit to a youth movement have to take. The Rangers are themselves embarking on just such a plan which means both teams are doing a 180 from their recent direction.

    Speaking of Gotham, I rented "Gangs of New York" the other night and two things came to mind. The first was that I blew it by not seeing it on the big screen. Watching it on my aging television in Compresso Fuzz-E-Vision (patent pending) just didn't cut it. The second was how hard it is to reconcile the opening rumble scene which takes place in February of 1846 with what took place just a few months later across the river in Hoboken. By that I mean, when a baseball fan sees the year "1846" come up on the screen, the one thing that should come to mind is the first recorded base ball game played under so-called "organized" rules between the New York Nine and the Hoboken Knickerbockers on June 19 of that year. The movie's incredibly violent battle between the immigrant Dead Rabbits gang and the xenophobic Native Americans is in direct contrast to our collective view of 19th Century base ball as pastoral wood cut engraving.

    What if the Dead Rabbits and the Native Americans had settled their differences with a baseball game? They could have marked off a field in the middle of the Five Points and had at it. True, the scene would not have had the impact of the gang clash. Also, what would the motivation for revenge have been for Leonardo DiCaprio's character, Amsterdam? To come back some day and bean Bill the Butcher with a high hard one? And what kind of ballplayer would Bill (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) have been? A proto-Cobb (or, perhaps, Cap Anson?), of course, "plugging" one and all with extreme prejudice -- that is, hitting them with a thrown ball to get them out which was legal in some of base ball's earliest versions.

    The Closest Matchup of the Week
    St. Louis at Los Angeles: (Dodgers up by ½ game).



    Rickey Henderson will be batting leadoff tonight for the Dodgers. (I am anxiously anticipating a Henderson-Jesse Orosco showdown when the Dodgers play the Padres in September. By then they will be a combined 91 years and 2 months.)

    If the Cards-Dodgers matchup proves one thing, it is that there are many paths to the same destination. These teams arrived at the break with but a half-game separating them but managed to do that in very different fashions.

    While we're getting metaphorical:

    "Jack Spratt could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean."

    Is this a description of the chubby chaser's dream marriage? No, it's nursery rhyme metaphor for the differences in these two teams. The Dodgers are Jack Spratt, lean and without power. They cannot score or be scored upon while the Cardinals lead the league in scoring but allow their opponents a good deal of fat. Continuing the rhyme:

    "Together they licked the platter clean."

    What if you could "lick the platter clean" by combining the Dodgers pitching and the Cardinals hitting? You would have a team that would be 71-23 right now. (Conversely, a Cardinals pitching/Dodgers hitting club would be 31-63.) Since this doesn't take into account home parks, let's combine the two elements using only their road runs for and against:

    L.A. Pitching/St.L. Hitting: 70-24
    L.A. Hitting/St.L Pitching: 29-65

    That projects to 121 wins which would just about be the best record ever save for the 1906 Cubs.

    The Worst Matchup of the Week
    Detroit at Chi. White Sox: (70-116 combined).



    Paul Konerko's drop-off is the most inexplicable for an American League first baseman since Lou Gehrig in 1939. He has ceased to function against right-handed pitchers. His OPS against lefties is a familiar .895 but he is at .405 against the other side. From 2000 to 2002, his was actually better against right-handers with an .867 OPS as opposed to an .807 against lefties. To me this says the problem is fixable. He's only 27 and I am predicting a much, much happier discovery and resolution of what is troubling him than what was eventually discovered about Gehrig.

    The Best Pitching Matchup of the Week
    Mark Prior vs. Dontrelle Willis, Saturday.

    This isn't just hype. They are the only opposing starters this weekend who have a combined ERA under 3.00.

    When is a half not a half?

    When it is something more like 60 percent.

    Because the All-Star break came about two weeks after most teams reached the halfway point in the schedule, teams have actually played much more than 50 percent of their schedules. Baltimore and Pittsburgh are on the low end with 91 games played while Colorado is on the other extreme with 97. It is important to note this because there is a perception that the second "half" of the season is about to begin and this can be dangerously misleading.

    Why? Because the pennant races are a lot closer to being over than we are all assuming. Our minds are in halftime mode when, in reality, there is much less recovery time available to struggling teams than the designation "half" would imply. So, to paraphrase the old song, it is very much later than you think and these two teams as well as the others who believe they harbor a chance had better get on the stick.

    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.