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April 4, 2010

Prospectus Hit List

NL 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've done separate editions, the American League on Friday, and the NL today, 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 a shorthand for a wider range of probabilities centered around 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


Phillies
90-72
-
.558
Flat
Somebody Get Me a Doctor: Winners of the last two NL pennants, the Phillies aggressively nabbed Roy Halladay to help them pursue a third, though they'd likely have come out further ahead by keeping Cliff Lee than by using him to restock the farm system. Beyond Halladay, the external tweaks (Pedro Feliz and Chan Ho Park out, Placido Polanco and Danys Baez in) pale in comparison to the expectations that Jimmy Rollins and Brad Lidge can rebound from dreadful campaigns to give the fearsome combo of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jayson Werth one more swing for the fences. (774 RS, 683 RA)

2


Cardinals
88-74
-
.546
Flat
Thanks to the pricey return of Matt Holliday, PECOTA sees the gap between the Cardinals and the rest of the Central field as the largest in the majors; the division is theirs to lose. Or it will be, at least it will be if the rotation's 1-2 punch of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright holds up for 350-400 innings, if Dave Duncan can bestow his magic upon Brad Penny and Jaime Garcia, and if Albert Pujols' recent back woes-to say nothing of the fretting over his as-yet-nonexistent contract extension-are as trifling as they seem. (725 RS, 656 RA)

3


Rockies
86-76
-
.533
Flat
Last year's 74-42 post-Hurdle sprint showed that the Rockies' talented young nucleus can compete with any in the game. Troy Tulowitzki's already a star, Carlos Gonzalez will be if he hits like he did in the second half (.320/.384/.608), and there's plenty to like about Dexter Fowler and Chris Iannetta as well. No less important in this team's ascendance is their commitment to keeping the ball in the park. The front four starters (Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa, Aaron Cook, and Jason Hammel) all generate plenty of grounders; none forecast to allow more than 20 homers, and both Jimenez and De La Rosa miss plenty of bats as well. (780 RS, 728 RA)

4


Braves
86-76
-
.531
Flat
The Last Roundup: With full seasons from Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, and top prospect Jason Heyward, the Braves won't delay in putting their best foot forward during Bobby Cox's final run. The rotation is solid, and while the lineup lacks a single player forecast for more than 21 homers, no starter has a projected OBP below .338, and the unit's .271 True Average projects as the league's highest. With enough luck to keep Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus, and Billy Wagner from breaking down, the team could be looking at a Wild Card berth, their first trip to the playoffs in five years. (744 RS, 696 RA)

5


Dodgers
83-79
-
.511
Flat
The tawdry tabloid drama of owner Frank McCourt's divorce proceedings overshadowed an offseason in which the Dodgers did alarmingly little, unless one counts naming Blake DeWitt the starting second baseman and anointing the re-signed Vicente Padilla their Opening Day starter as upgrades. Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are young and talented enough to carry this lineup, and likewise for Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billinglsey in the rotation, but the dirty little secret is that to remain atop the NL West, they'll need plenty of help from backslidng young cohorts as well as more grizzled compatriots, and PECOTA's none too optimistic about Manny being Manny (.273/.381/.486). (719 RS, 702 RA)

6


Diamondbacks
82-80
-
.500
Flat
Dial O for Optimism: With Brandon Webb facing sobering news and both Kris Benson and Rodrigo Lopez-a duo with a 5.40 ERA and all of 21 big-league starts since 2006-manning the back of the rotation, projecting the Diamondbacks for a 12-win improvement seems a bit much, and that's without getting into the hopes that Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy can live up to their billings. As for the offense, the growth of Justin Upton, the return of Conor Jackson and the arrivals of Adam LaRoche and Kelly Johnson should help to alleviate the team's perpetual OBP problem, but they're still getting too little from Stephen Drew and Chris B. Young to solidify the lineup top to bottom. (735 RS, 727 RA)

7


Giants
82-80
-
.504
Flat
You Bought That? Despite locking up Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain at reasonable prices, the Giants missed the boat with some of their winter expenditures, as the $31.5 million committed to Freddy Sanchez, Mark DeRosa, Aubrey Huff, and Bengie Molina hardly upgrades an offense that finished last in the majors with a .244 True Average. Sanchez is damaged goods, Molina a waste with top prospect Buster Posey ready, and DeRosa's bat is light for left field. Had they shuffled him to third, moved the amazing Pablo Sandoval to first and used the leftover funds to sign a Johnny Damon, this team might have been a force in the division. (700 RS, 694 RA)

8


Marlins
80-82
-
.490
Flat
Even with the Players Association's intervention to force the Marlins to spend money on useful things like a Josh Johnson extension and a Dan Uggla raise, the Marlins are still competing on a shoestring budget. Given their recent track record, it's hardly out of the question that they can contend, particularly if Chris Coghlan can maintain his Rookie of the Year form, if Cameron Maybin can deliver on his long-held promise, and if the team can get anything close to a full season out of Anibal Sanchez. (725 RS, 740 RA)

9


Astros
79-83
-
.485
Flat
With Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt both ailing, the roster's top-heavy mix of stars and scrubs may well be less stellar and more scrubby than PECOTA's expecting. Even as currently constituted, however, their forecast offers surprising optimism, particularly regarding the rotation. Continued progress for Wandy Rodriguez and Bud Norris and a rebound for Brett Myers could make the Astros one of the better run prevention units in the league, offsetting the offense's forecast for a .254 True Average, tied for second to last in the league. (696 RS, 719 RA)

10


Mets
79-83
-
.484
Flat
As their winter of discontent showed, the Mets are hardly free and clear of last year's injury-pocked nightmare, particularly because they spent all their shekels on Jason Bay while skimping on depth. The rotation behind Johan Santana is a fright, forecast for a combined 4.58 ERA and still dependent upon the wishful thinking that Oliver Perez and John Maine can rebound to 2007 form. As for the lineup, Jose Reyes should be back soon, but with no better subs than Gary Matthews Jr. for Carlos Beltran (who has yet to run, let alone play this spring), or Mike Jacobs for Danny Murphy (to say nothing of Murphy for a major-league caliber first baseman), the only conclusion to be reached is that OMAR, UR DOIN IT RONG. (741 RS, 766 RA)

11


Cubs
78-84
-
.483
Flat
The keys to Wrigley may now belong to Tom Ricketts, and Milton Bradley's goat may have been 'scaped out of town, but the harsh reality remains: the Cubs are an old team saddled with cumbersome contracts, and their window of opportunity may have closed. Unless or until Starlin Castro is called up, Geovany Soto will be the only under-30 regular in a subpar (.257 True Average) lineup. The rotation's a happier proposition, so long as Carlos Zambrano's durability doesn't erode further, Ted Lilly's return goes as planned, Randy Wells pitches as he did as a rookie, and either Tom Gorzelanny or Carlos Silva can rebound after two year stretches with ERAs above 6.00. And yeah, that's a lot of ifs. (715 RS, 742 RA)

12


Brewers
78-84
-
.477
Flat
Pounded Brewskis: The 1-2 punch of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun is still fearsome, but the rest of the lineup considerably less so, particularly if Corey Hart can't turn around two years of decline and now the threat of losing his job. The bigger problem PECOTA foresees is that the additions of Randy Wolf, Doug Davis and pitching coach Rick Peterson won't be enough to substantially improve a rotation that finished with with the highest ERA in the NL; in fact, the system sees the Pirates as the only NL team which will allow more runs. Gulp. (734 RS, 771 RA)

13


Reds
77-85
-
.476
Flat
The collection of young talent here remains among the most intriguing-and occasionally frustrating-in the game. Balanced against hopes of it jelling into a contender is the concern that prized young arms Aroldis Chapman and Mike Leake could become Dusty Baker's next Prior and Wood, particularly given the recent travails of Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto. As for the lineup, note that the two lowest OBPs (Drew Stubbs' .312 and Orlando Cabrera's .327) are forecast in the top two spots, and recall that last year's bid towards relevancy was similarly undone by a .301 OBP from there. (702 RS, 739 RA)

14


Nationals
74-88
-
.454
Flat
Stephen Strasburg is on his way, likely to show up sometime in late May or early June. Until then, Nationalistas can check their watches, Milhouse style, as they wile away the innings hoping that Garrett Mock breaks through as PECOTA expects, that Chien-Ming Wang might recover from his shoulder woes, that Ryan Zimmerman can build upon last year's breakout, and that the largely retreaded lineup can keep things interesting. Did we mention that Stephen Strasburg is on his way? (679 RS, 750 RA)

15


Padres
73-89
-
.445
Flat
Despite less Moores and more Moorad, the Padres continue their rebuilding effort with a minimal payroll and little hope of contending in the NL West. With Adrian Gonzalez still in tow and and a full season from Kyle Blanks, the offense doesn't figure to be a problem, Petco-suppressed numbers to the contrary; the team is forecast for a .264 True Average, sixth in the league. Even with the return of Chris Young and the arrival of inning-eating Jon Garland, it's the rotation where things could get ugly, as Mat Latos is the only member of the front five forecast for an ERA below 4.34. (653 RS, 736 RA)

16


Pirates
70-92
-
.423
Flat
Sorry, Captain McAllister, there's little suspense as to whether the Pirates can halt their string of 17 consecutive years of sub-.500 futility. The rotation lacks a single starter forecast to whiff even six hitters per nine, the closer is Octavio Freakin' Dotel, and in the wake of last summer's turnover, the lineup packs less punch than a lettuce sandwich. Andrew McCutchen (.350) and Akinori Iwamura (.350) are the only regulars forecast for OBPs above .333, and Garrett Jones (.437) and Ryan Doumit (.431) are the only ones forecast to slug even .420, leaving the Bucs with an MLB-low projected True Average of .248. Until Pedro Alvarez arrives, expect a litany of despairing "yaaarghs!" (659 RS, 778 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

Related Content:  A's,  Rotation,  Year Of The Injury

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