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April 2, 2010

Prospectus Hit List

AL Pre-season Edition

by Jay Jaffe

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The Prospectus Hit List is back for its sixth season! This year, on the orders of Dr. James Andrews, I'll be publishing separate AL and NL editions, as well as publishing a combined ranking for those who wish to quibble over interleague superiority. As ever, we at BP are determined to put our best foot forward when it comes to predicting the upcoming season, and the foundation of our predictions is PECOTA. From the basic projections, our staff adjusts for expected playing time, strength of schedule, reliever leverage, and team defense to generate the Projected Standings, which have been updated frequently throughout the spring based upon the latest news and analysis. The Hit List Factors below are the Pythagenpat winning percentages derived from the latest runs scored and runs allowed projections, which are included in parentheses at the end of each team capsule. As you quibble with the rankings-I certainly have-remember that projections are not destiny; they're shorthand for a wider range of probabilities centered on the stated won-loss records. As proud as we are of our system's track record, we're eager to put the theoretical behind us and watch the season unfold. Play ball!

RkTeam
Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor
Comment

1


Red Sox
95-67
-
.592
Flat
Defensive Posturing? New England worrywarts may fret about a lack of offense straight out of some Borgesian nightmare. Indeed, the winter's key arrivals-John Lackey, Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro, Mike Cameron-tilt more towards run prevention, bolstering the rotation both directly and with a renewed commitment to defense borne of last year's sorry 28th-place ranking in Defensive Efficiency. As for the offense, relax chowdaheads, we've got the Sox projected for a True Average of .270 (second-best in the majors), not to mention the top record in all of baseball. (847 RS, 696 RA)

2


Rays
92-70
-
.571
Flat
Rays-ed Hopes: The darlings of 2008 got a harsh lesson in come-back-to-earthiness last year, but this team is so stacked it should carry an NSFW tag. The addition of Wade Davis to the rotation, the continued development of David Price, and a bounceback from B.J. Upton all add to the upside achievable by this talented corps, headed by MVP candidate Evan Longoria and the lineup's Swiss Army knife, Ben Zobrist, and backed by an organizational depth which is simply unrivaled. (820 RS, 705 RA)

3


Yankees
91-71
-
.566
Flat
No rest for the World Champions. Despite their efforts to get younger-punting Johnny Damon and Hideki Matusi for Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson-their success still hinges upon whether Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera can continue defying the aging process, not to mention whether Alex Rodriguez's hip remains intact. PECOTA sees the Yanks having their hands full battling the younger Rays and deeper Red Sox, and that's without accounting for their efforts to ward off the inevitable distractions surrounding The Jobacalypse. (859 RS, 749 RA)

4


Athletics
83-79
-
.517
Flat
Averaging 75 wins since 2007, the A's make for a surprising choice to break out of the latest AL West scrum. Indeed, "breaking out" is a stretch given how tightly bunched around .500 its four teams are. Unless and until the likes of Chris Carter and Michael Taylor show up, the A's lineup is merely ordinary, a great distance removed from the walk-and-wallop days, but at least it's not dependent upon the wishful thinking of healthy seasons from Eric Chavez and Bobby Crosby. Headed by ace-in-the-making Brett Anderson and a roll of duct tape that will be stretched to accommodate both Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer, it's the rotation which will make or break Billy Beane's boys. (731 RS, 705 RA)

5


Rangers
83-79
-
.512
Flat
Last year's upstarts won't sneak up on anyone this time around, and while the holdover talent is plenty good, what's really interesting here-particularly in light of last year's Elvis Andrus-led defensive improvement-is the daring remake of the rotation into one that can miss bats. Towards that end, not only have they brought in Rich Harden, but they've brought Colby Lewis back from Japan and C.J. Wilson forward from the bullpen. As with the A's, things could get very interesting if and when this team dips into its own reserves to give Neftali Feliz and Justin Smoak key roles. (800 RS, 780 RA)

6


Mariners
82-80
-
.509
Flat
The additions of Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins and even Milton Bradley have turned Jack Z's Mariners into the hip pick in the AL West. PECOTA sees the upgraded defense amply supporting the somewhat shaky rotation behind Lee and Felix Hernandez, but it's got plenty of concern for an offense where only the front four hitters-Ichirio Suzuki, Figgins, Casey Kotchman and Bradley-forecast for True Averages above .260, with Kotchman's .262 still a significant drag from the first base spot, to say nothing of the three hole. In the Pacific Northwest, 3-2 games may be the new grunge. (727 RS, 713 RA)

7


Twins
81-81
-
.501
Flat
The loss of Joe Nathan to the surgeon's table notwithstanding, there's plenty of reason for optimism in the Twin Cities. Start with the new ballpark and its pricey-but-possible byproduct, the Joe Mauer contract extension. Move along to the upgrade to a real live middle infield (Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy) and the returns to health not only of rotation anchor Kevin Slowey but of potential staff ace Francisco Liriano (take the under on that projected 4.58 ERA) and you've got hopes for Central success that should remain undimmed even amid the dreaded closer-by-committee controversy. (815 RS, 813 RA)

8


White Sox
79-83
-
.487
Flat
Fronted by Jake Peavy for a full season, the rotation should be a strength, but Ozzie Guillen can emphasize the running game until Juan Pierre's cow is waved home, and the White Sox will still live and die by the long ball. Judging by the forecast for a .417 SLG (10th in the league, and in a hitter's park), that means facing this lineup's utter mortality. Full years of Carlos Quentin, Gordan Beckham, and Alex Rios will help, but the Sox have too many low-OBP sinkholes, and the Mark Kotsay/Andruw Jones DH plan is a big bowl of wrong-even more so if Oz makes good on his threat to bat Kotsay third. (748 RS, 769 RA)

9


Tigers
79-83
-
.486
Flat
Dontrelle Willis' startling overtures towards adequacy underscore the Tigers' biggest challenge: getting more than 1.7 WARP from a quintet on whom they're spending $65 million this year, almost half their payroll; they're left banking on Willis and Jeremy Bonderman while sinking the cost of Nate Robertson. Easier to understand is their bet on a pair of former Yankees, Austin Jackson and Johnny Damon, to upgrade the top two spots of their lineup, though the team's PECOTA forecast of a .259 True Average suggests that makeover may only scratch the surface. (762 RS, 784 RA)

10


Indians
79-83
-
.485
Flat
With no Central team set to run break away from the pack, the Indians may wind up making a competitive bid even as they rebuild. Particularly so if Fausto Carmona can deliver upon a spring which has him back in his dazzling 2007 form, helping new manager Manny Acta avoid falling back upon the eminently hittable leftes which have pockmarked recent Cleveland rotations. The return to health of Grady Sizemore, a full season of Matt LaPorta, continued development of the already-impressive Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo-not to mention the anticipated mid-summer arrival of Carlos Santana-at least lift this team into the realm of sleeper, which is more than one might hope for after consecutive years of trading away Cy Young winners. (767 RS, 792 RA)

11


Orioles
78-84
-
.480
Flat
While there's no guarantee that the Orioles can snap their string of 12 consecutive losing seasons, PECOTA thinks they can at least be within hailing distance of .500, and with Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz joining the growing cast of young studs from day one, they'll certainly be more interesting than in years past. Which isn't to say there won't be growing pains, or that other potential flaws-Brian Roberts' back, Garret Atkins' dying bat, Miguel Tejada's adaptation to the hot corner, not to mention a whole lot of average-at-best rotation filler (Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen)-won't manifest themselves. (797 RS, 831 RA)

12


Angels
78-84
-
.477
Flat
Fallen Angels? Despite winning five division titles in six years, the Halos enter 2010 as AL West underdogs, at least where PECOTA is concerned. Blame the losses of John Lackey, Chone Figgins, and Vlad Guerrero, the latter two to division rivals. Much hinges upon the ability of Brandon Wood to make good on his once-blue chip status, the rebounds of Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, and Scott Kazmir, and the potential maturation of Jered Weaver into a ground-ball-generating staff leader. Don't put it past manager Mike Scioscia to squeeze extra wins out of this projection via his skillful bullpen management, but don't be surprised when this team doesn't dominate the division as in years past. (796 RS, 835 RA)

13


Royals
76-86
-
.467
Flat
Zack Greinke and Billy Butler aside, the Royals have turned into a zombie flick; how else to explain the employment of undead retreads like Jason Kendall, Yuniesky Betancourt, Rick Ankiel, Jose Guillen, and Kyle Farnsworth, to say nothing of the sheer existential horror of the franchise's past decade and a half? Hope and faith here is best left to individual quests: another Cy Young-caliber season for Greinke, a rebound for Alex Gordon, continued success mining stathead wisdom for Brian Bannister, and so forth. (738 RS, 792 RA)

14


Blue Jays
72-90
-
.440
Flat
The Doctor is Out: So the Blue Jays begin the post-Halladay/Ricciardi era facing the distinct possibility of being overtaken in the AL East by another flock of luckless birds, and this writer will have to find a new whipping boy beyond the embattled ex-GM. The lineup projects for plenty of power, particularly if Travis Snider can live up to his impact-player billing. But patience is in shorter supply, unless you're talking about the organization's ability to burn through young arms. Shaun Marcum's back from Tommy John surgery to be the Opening Day starter, but can the likes of Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow survive this franchise's arm-mangling tendency? (732 RS, 830 RA)


The Prospectus Hit List rankings are derived from Won-Loss records and several measurements pertaining to run differentials, both actual and adjusted, from Baseball Prospectus Adjusted Standings through the close of play on every Thursday.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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