Besides determining baseball's next champion on the field, next month's playoffs could impact which prospective free-agent outfielder will enjoy the biggest payday this winter.
Two players, Jason Bay(notes) of the Boston Red Sox and Matt Holliday(notes) of the St. Louis Cardinals, are the top prizes in the free-agent market, which also includes such oldies but goodies as Johnny Damon(notes) of the Yankees and Vladimir Guerrero(notes) of the Angels as well as the less heralded but intriguing Chone Figgins(notes), the Angels' third baseman whose versatility appeals to some clubs.
But the two heavyweights are Bay and Holliday, which is why we offer you the following Tale of the Tape:
|Jason Bay||Matt Holliday|
|Age on Opening Day, 2010:||31||30|
|Agent:||Joe Urbon||Scott Boras|
|2009 highlights:||Career-high 36 HRs, 115 RBIs||.353, 13 HRs, 51 RBIs in 57 games with Cardinals|
|Best season:||This may be it.||2007, second in NL MVP.|
|Career honors:||Rookie of Year, 3-time All-Star||3-time All-Star, 3-time Silver Slugger|
|Postseason experience:||.341, 3 HRs in 2008 debut for Red Sox||.289, 5 HRs in '07 with the Rockies|
|Testimonials:||"I think you can get no better,"
-- Red Sox DH David Ortiz(notes).
|"Matt is a complete player, a great person and an ideal teammate. He's really been a good fit,"
-- Cardinals GM John Mozeliak.
|Biggest impact on current team:||Manny numbers, minus the drama||A bat to complement Pujols|
|No agreement at All-Star break, will revisit.||Determined to test the market.|
|Major flaw:||Average fielder at best||Impressed no one in Oakland|
|Possible suitors:||Yankees, Mariners, Angels, Giants||Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, Giants|
|Price tag:||Four years north of $14-$15m is plausible, maybe lots more if NYY are involved.||Ditto|
|X-factors:||British Columbia native may want to go back to Northwest, but has proven he can handle Boston market.||Some say Holliday has a hankering for Fenway, but like Big Mac, may fall in love with the Arch|
|Early guess:||Mariners||Red Sox|
Yankee hegemony: When the Boston Red Sox swept the Yankees three straight in Fenway Park in early June to open a two-game lead in the AL East, you would have found plenty of people ready to concede both the season series, and the division, to the Red Sox.
Instead, that series marked a turning point in Yankee fortunes. The Yankees have had seven homestands and six road trips since and haven't lost any, going 38-12 (.760) at home and 29-18 (.617) on the road.
The Bombers won nine of their last 10 meetings against the Red Sox, including three straight last weekend to clinch the AL East title and salvage a 9-9 split against Boston. The Yankees, who close out the season against the Royals and Rays, had a winning record against all of their AL rivals except the Red Sox and Angels (5-5), both playoff qualifiers.
Best against the best: When the best hitters playing this October face the best pitchers, how can we predict who will come up big? Well, we employed statistics calculated on billjamesonline.net to get an idea. James breaks down how batters fared by the quality of pitchers faced, based on pitchers' ERA. The best pitchers were considered those with ERAs at 3.50 or less, which generally covers a staff ace and in some cases a No. 2, a closer, and top-shelf setup men.
Holliday, Miguel Cabrera(notes), Alex Rodriguez(notes), Torii Hunter(notes), Matt Kemp(notes) and Orlando Hudson(notes) have posted some of the best numbers among the playoff qualifiers against the best pitchers. Cabrera is batting .359 against the best, though just three of his 32 home runs have come in those 142 at-bats. Holliday is batting .352 with six home runs, 22 RBIs, and a .997 OPS against the best, while A-Rod is batting .284 with nine HRs, 22 RBIs, and a 1.014 OPS. Rodriguez, in fact, has more home runs and a higher OPS against the elite class than he had against the dregs.
Meanwhile, Hunter (.302, six, 20), Hudson (.310) and Kemp (.301, seven, 19) both have hit better than .300 against the sub-3.50 set. If the Twins overtake the Tigers, Joe Mauer(notes) also will be among the top achievers, batting .358 with six homers and 17 RBIs.
What about some of the big-name boppers? Albert Pujols(notes) (.272, four, 12, .804 OPS) has held his own, while Ryan Howard(notes) is batting just .224, but has hit 13 home runs and knocked in 27 runs. Derek Jeter(notes) is batting .292, while teammate Mark Teixeira(notes) has seven HRs and 22 RBIs to go with a .246 average. Manny Ramirez(notes), the most feared bat in the '08 postseason, has a so-so .279 average with five home runs and 12 RBIs.
The Red Sox lineup, loaded with All-Stars, has not put up numbers against superior pitching. David Ortiz is at .208, five and 15. Four other of Boston's best hitters are at .220 or lower: Jason Bay (.204), Kevin Youkilis(notes) (.204), Dustin Pedroia(notes) (.206) and Victor Martinez(notes) (.220). Catcher Jason Varitek(notes) is batting .139.
This is just one barometer, of course. A-Rod still will be under pressure to improve on his abysmal postseason history, while Ortiz has been a 21st-century Mr. October for the Red Sox. We'll have to see whether regular-season form holds in October.
Fungo hitting: Put Peter Moylan(notes) in the unsung hero category for the surging Atlanta Braves. The Aussie right-hander set a franchise record with his 85th appearance Monday, pitching a scoreless eighth in Atlanta's 4-0 win over the Marlins. Since blowing a save July 12 against the Rockies, Moylan has allowed two earned runs in 36 appearances (34 innings) for a 0.53 ERA, posting a 4-0 record with 11 holds in that span. Not bad for a guy who flamed out over a decade ago in the Twins' organization, became a pharmaceutical salesman, parlayed a strong performance for Australia in the first World Baseball Classic to land a contract with the Braves, then made a full recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery. "When I saw him throwing 96 in Australia before he signed, I knew he had a chance to be good in the big leagues," said Jon Deeble, the coach of the Australian national team who made a run at Moylan in his role as Pacific Rim scout for the Red Sox. "I think he has learned to pitch now. He was a thrower back then but now he is a pitcher, and a good one at that.'' … When Randy Choate(notes) was the winner in Tampa Bay's 7-6 win over the Texas Rangers, it was the first win by a Rays reliever since J.P. Howell(notes) on Sept. 2. The Rays bullpen had gone 0-8 with a 7.45 ERA between wins, and nine of the team's 16 losses in that span came in the eighth inning or later, six by home run. A Rays reliever has given up a game-tying or go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later 10 times since Aug. 7. Dan Wheeler(notes) has given up 11 home runs this season, tying a career high. … Don't think for a minute that Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell is off the market for a managing job because he has a clause in his Boston contract prohibiting him from taking a job before 2011. The Red Sox merely left themselves in position to receive compensation from whatever team might hire Farrell. The Indians are expected to have interest if (when?) they fire Eric Wedge.
- Red Sox