October 19, 2003

The world's newest Marlins fan

I had the weirdest feeling while watching the first game of the World Series on Saturday night. For the first time I can remember, I came into an important sporting-event not knowing which team I wanted to win.

Throughout the first inning or so on Saturday, I tried to think everything through. Normally, I root for whomever is playing the Yankees. This year that's been easy - my beloved Twinkies in round one and the Red Sox in round two.

But the Florida Marlins are that rare team that I have almost zero positive feelings about. I chronicled the horrible way in which they abused A.J. Burnett's arm last season and this season, before his elbow finally couldn't take it anymore. I also wrote about the - pardon the pun - fishy goings on with the Marlins trying to send Kevin Millar to Japan during the off-season. And I think most baseball fans are aware of the fact that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria may not be among the best human-beings in sports today.

It is a World Series between the team I always root against and the team I couldn't really see myself rooting for.

And then something interesting happened. With Game One tied 1-1 in the top of the fifth inning, Juan Pierre drove in Jeff Conine and Juan Encarnacion with a single to left field. As Encarnacion round third, the throw from Hideki Matsui was cutoff by Aaron Boone, allowing Encarnacion to score. If Boone doesn't cut it off, or if he cuts it off and throws home, I think Encarnacion is dead meat.

In the middle of that play, while Conine crossed home plate and Encarnacion rounded third, I heard myself whisper a little "Go! Go!" almost hesitantly. And when Boone cut the throw off and Encarnacion came home to make it 3-1 Florida, I saw myself give a little fist-pump.

And just like, I was rooting for the Florida Marlins.

Of course, I became a fan just in time to see them get beat 6-1 in Game Two, but I guess a big part of being a fan is suffering with your team, right?

So far, the World Series has looked a whole lot like New York's first two playoff series. Just like against Minnesota and Boston, the Yankees dropped Game One, at Yankee Stadium. And, just like against Minnesota and Boston, the Yankees bounced back and won Game Two - all three times behind Andy Pettitte.

The Marlins, like the Twins and Red Sox before them, have taken homefield advantage from the Yankees. This is now a best-of-five, with three of the five games in Florida. Of course, losing homefield didn't hurt the Yankees in the first two rounds and the teams with homefield are actually 2-4 this post-season.

Besides being the guy whose throw was cutoff by Aaron Boone in Game One, Hideki Matsui also drove in the first runs of last night's game with a three-run homer off Mark Redman in the bottom of the first inning. Matsui is now 4-8 with a homer and three RBIs in the World Series.

There are all kinds of sample-size issues at work here, so I don't think making a big deal out of a good two games is worth doing. However, my good buddy Larry Mahnken, of Replacement-Level Yankees Weblog fame, brought up an interesting point last night, which is that Matsui did exceptionally well against National League pitching during the regular-season.

Matsui played against five NL teams this year: Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston, New York and St. Louis.

Here are his numbers in those games:

                AVG      OBP      SLG

Chicago .625 .750 1.125
Cincinnati .385 .385 .923
Houston .417 .417 .500
New York .522 .607 .957
St. Louis .545 .583 .909

That is some serious hitting. Of the 18 teams Matsui faced this season, he had an OPS (on-base % + slugging %) of at least 1.000 against four of them - all NL teams.

In 67 total at bats against the National League, Matsui hit .492 with six homers. That's really amazing, considering he hit just 10 homers in 556 at bats against the AL.

Hideki Matsui

vs AL .263 .381 55.6
vs NL .492 .881 11.2

It could just be a fluke, but when someone has about 55 at bats for every homer against the AL and then hits six homers in 67 at bats (or seven in 75 if you count the World Series) against the NL, I think it's a huge enough difference that it probably goes beyond simply being flukish.

Do the National League pitchers pitch differently to Matsui? I know the general consensus is, or at least was, that pitchers throw more fastballs in the National League. But with free agency and interleague play and all that, I don't know if that's still the case at all.

Another possibility is that NL teams don't have the same type or quality of scouting reports on Matsui. They haven't had a chance to see him that much and they haven't had as much reason to assign their scouts to cover the Yankees as thoroughly.

Of course, if that were the case, then the first few AL teams Matsui faced this season would also lack quality scouting reports on him, what with him being a rookie and all. Matsui hit just .255 with two homers in 110 at bats during the first month of the year, so that sort of shoots a hole in that theory.

I don't know exactly why Matsui has hit NL pitchers so much better than he has AL pitchers and I don't know if it really means all that much, but it's interesting and certainly worth keeping an eye on during the rest of the World Series.

In other, far less surprising news, Jack McKeon used another one of his starting pitchers as a reliever last night, letting Carl Pavano pitch the seventh inning, while throwing 21 pitches.

Of McKeon's five "starting" pitchers, four of them have appeared as a reliever at least once this post-season. Mark Redman is the only one of the five who hasn't come in from the bullpen, and the other four guys have appeared as a reliever a total of 13 times.

Of Florida's 120 innings pitched during the post-season, their five starters have combined to throw 82 of them, or 68.3%. I don't want to seem like I am picking on McKeon, because I actually think using starters in relief is a smart move in the post-season. After all, if starting pitchers really do all throw on the side between starts, why couldn't they throw an inning or two out of the bullpen? Still, I do wonder if having Pavano and Willis and Beckett and Penny constantly doing something in the post-season that they aren't used to doing is going to end up hurting Florida at some point, if it hasn't already.

In a somewhat related note, it appears as though Carl Pavano, and not Dontrelle Willis, will get the Game Four start. The reason is that McKeon wants to be able to have a lefty in the bullpen. Some of you may feel like pointing out the fact that he does have a lefty in the bullpen already in Michael Tejera. While that is technically true, Tejera may as well be a righty, because lefties hit .392/.442/.595 off him this season. I suspect, like me and any other sane person with access to ESPN.com's stats page, Jack McKeon wouldn't let Michael Tejera anywhere near a lefty in an important game.

How many times Dontrelle can come in and pitch multiple innings out of the pen, like he did in Game One, could have a huge impact on the rest of this series.

Oh, and if you missed it, I previewed the series over the weekend:

2003 World Series Preview: Marlins - Yankees (October 18, 2003)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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