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March 28, 2011

Prospectus Hit List

NL Pre-Season Hit List

by Jay Jaffe

The Prospectus Hit List returns for its seventh season! This year, Tommy Bennett will help share the workload, since my surgically-repaired shoulder ain't what it used to be. 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 to generate the Projected Standings, which have been updated 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 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


Giants
90-72
-
.559
Flat

Standing Pat Burrell: Fresh off their first world championship in 56 years, the Jints are counting on their elite rotation—headed by two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and further bolstered by a full year of Madison Bumgarner—to do the heavy lifting once again. GM Brian Sabean does little to upgrade the roster over the winter other than letting World Series MVP Edgar Renteria depart in favor of an even older shortstop in Miguel Tejada, instead banking on a full season from Buster Posey, the rejuvenation of a slimmed-down Pablo Sandoval, and the eventual arrival of top prospect Brandon Belt, whose presence at first base would force a thongless Aubrey Huff to roam the outfield. (737 RS, 648 RA)

2


Phillies
89-73
-
.552
Flat
Phightin' for Phive: With Cliff Lee back in the fold, their rotation looks as formidable as any in recent memory, if not yet ready to stand with the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz Braves, since they number no locks for Cooperstown in their ranks. At the very least, the majors' top starting five is forecast to lead the Phils to their fifth straight NL East flag in spite of looming threats to a Werthless offense that could be further kneecapped by the loss of Chase Utley. Note that our projections account for only 400 PA worth of the second baseman and 410 from top prospect Domonic Brown, who's out due to wrist surgery, not to mention some time on the sidelines for Brad Lidge; good news on those fronts could further the Phillies’ advantage. (743 RS, 664 RA)

3


Braves
87-75
-
.538
Flat
Brave New World: Rehabbed from an ACL tear and hoping to avoid the crosshairs of the injury forecasting system that bears his name, Chipper Jones links this team to past glories, but after capping Cooperstown-bound skipper Bobby Cox's career with their first playoff appearance since 2005, the coming season brings plenty of fresh blood. Skipper Fredi Gonzalez takes the helm from his mentor, while five-star prospect Freddie Freeman joins an impressive youth movement that already includes Jason Heyward, Tommy Hanson, Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Brandon Beachy, and even 27-year-old Brian McCann, with even more top pitching prospects waiting in the wings. Expect the team to be in the hunt for the wild card, and well-positioned to capitalize if injuries and age cause the Phillies to falter. (766 RS, 706 RA)

4


Dodgers
87-75
-
.538
Flat
Chase Away the Blues: With a whole offseason to practice his mound visits, Don Mattingly takes the helm and restores some optimism, even in the face of the McCourts' ownership battle and Ned Colletti's wince-worthy attraction to low-OBP "solutions" like Juan Uribe, Rod Barajas, and the JaMarcus Gwybbons Jr. platoon in left field. The new regime appears primed to put Matt Kemp's career back on course, but the real key is a pitching staff forecasted to be the league's best run-prevention unit thanks largely to a stacked rotation featuring four starters in PECOTA's top 30. (700 RS, 644 RA)

5


Brewers
85-77
-
.524
Flat
Rising to the Top in Cream City: Having gone all-in attempting to reach the playoffs one more time before Prince Fielder departs for greener pastures, the Brewers may have won the winter with their trades for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Alas, making it through the spring unscathed is another matter, but so long as they're able to take the ball most of the time, their rotation should rate as the division's best, backed by a Brauny offense that can slug it out with anyone. (784 RS, 745 RA)

6


Marlins
84-78
-
.521
Flat
Another Fish Tale: Once again, the Marlins promise to lurk on the outskirts of contention, but whether they can join the fray is another story. On paper, the rotation appears to be strong enough to support their cause, but you'll have to forgive those less than willing to take Javier Vazquez's rebound on faith after last year's ugliness. As for the lineup, a full season of Mike Stanton accompanying Hanley Ramirez in the middle of the order is a fine thing, but no combination of Omar Infante, Matt Domingez, Emilio Bonifacio, and Donnie Freakin' Murphy is enough to offset the loss of Dan Uggla. (773 RS, 739 RA)

7


Cardinals
84-78
-
.521
Flat
Not in the Cards? The loss of Adam Wainwright puts a serious dent in the Cardinals' post-season hopes, and if that's not bad enough, there's always the impending free agency of Albert Pujols to ponder. Thanks largely to a monster forecast (.312/.421/.573, 8.1 WARP) for their first baseman, the offense projects to rank in the league's upper third, and it's not as though the rest of the NL Central's threatening to run away. The real question is whether Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, and a full season of Jake Westbrook can help cover for the team's absent ace; at best, their margin for error appears slim. (770 RS, 737 RA)

8


Rockies
83-79
-
.514
Flat
Rocky Mountain (Too) High: There's no escaping the fact that PECOTA's numbers for Colorado appear to hail from pre-humidor days. The team is forecast to play in a 5.3 runs per game environment, a level unseen since 2004, and 15 percent higher than last year's 4.6 per game. As such, it's less constructive to take the numbers too literally than to note that full seasons from Troy Tulowitzki, Dexter Fowler, and Chris Iannetta—none of whom played more than 132 games last year—should fortify a lineup that ranked third in scoring. As for the pitching, after skimming that 15 percent off the top, the regression in store for Ubaldo Jimenez, Jhoulys Chacin, and even Jorge de la Rosa isn't quite as grim as it may appear at first glance. The underlying message is that the Rox still have work to do to regain the ground they've lost in the NL West over the past few years. (872 RS, 847 RA)

9


Reds
82-80
-
.504
Flat
Code Red and It's Not Even April? The first pitch of the regular season has yet to be thrown, and already the Reds' rotation is down Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey. If that potentially ominous development turns out to be serious, it won't help Dusty Baker's reputation any more than it will the team's bid for a return to the postseason. Full seasons from Edinson Volquez and Aroldis Chapman should bolster the repeat effort, but the offense is dependent upon the likes of Drew Stubbs, Scott Rolen, and Jonny Gomes outdoing their PECOTAs to provide Joey Votto and Jay Bruce enough support. (753 RS, 747 RA)

10


Mets
81-81
-
.499
Flat
And You Thought Last Year was Bad:From Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel to Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez, the whipping boys may be gone, with Sandy Alderson the new sheriff in town, but that doesn't mean morale has improved in the face of further beatings over the Madoff morass and the continued hemorrhaging of cash that could force the Wilpons to sell the team. With major question marks hanging over the heads of Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and Johan Santana, the team's 2011 fate is so grim that fans may yearn for the not-so-cheap laughs provided by the dearly departed; at Hit List Central, we know we will. (731 RS, 733 RA)

11


Padres
80-82
-
.491
Flat
More Slippage than Slipper: Last year's near-Cinderallas are down one Adrian Gonzalez, and while their commitment to improving their defense—which ranked just seventh in PADE—is laudable, a lineup with just one hitter forecast for a True Average above .280 figures to struggle in the scoring department. More interesting is the rotation, where burgeoning ace Mat Latos is joined by 2003 first-rounder Tim Stauffer, workhorse lefty Clayton Richard, and reclamation project Aaron Harang, who hopefully has enough left to reap the advantages of the bigger ballpark he deserved in his heyday. (655 RS, 668 RA)

12


Cubs
80-82
-
.491
Flat
Keep it Together: In a winnable NL Central, the Cubs' status as potential sleepers hinges on their ability to overcome their OBP issues—particularly atop the lineup—to complement their power. Happily, no-longer-interim manager Mike Quade makes the right call in choosing Andrew Cashner for their rotation, and if Carlos Silva is losing his cool, at least Carlos Zambrano is keeping his. (776 RS, 791 RA)

13


Diamondbacks
75-87
-
.460
Flat
What's Snakin'?: Even with Mark Reynolds having departed for Baltimore, the Diamondbacks' lineup promises plenty of pop, more so if Russell Branyan wins the first-base job; for a change, the team forecasts to finish in mid-pack in OBP, if still lacking the top-of-the-order threats that can set the table to best effect. New GM Kevin Towers is setting up the bullpen to improve upon last year's historically awful unit, but he has yet to solve the remaining problems on a pitching staff which projects to allow more runs than all but one NL team, with just two starters slated for ERAs under 4.94. (768 RS, 834 RA)

14


Pirates
71-91
-
.438
Flat
This Counts as Progress: Almost certainly bound for a 19th consecutive losing season, the Bucs at least have half of a good lineup in place in the form of Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and—in his first full season—Pedro Alvarez. Unfortunately, the other half of that lineup promises little more than the excitement of seeing whether Lyle Overbay can outhit Garrett Jones, which is like seeing whether fungus can overtake mildew in your shower. The pressing issue for the rotation is whether James McDonald or Ross Ohlendorf can give the staff an innings leader whose ERA starts with a number lower than 5, and perhaps here it's worth noting that for all of their promise with the stick, the young defense behind the Bucs' low-wattage staff ranked last in the majors. Yeearrrrgh, yet again. (715 RS, 815 RA)

15


Nationals
71-91
-
.438
Flat
Not Werth It, but Not Hopeless: Stephen Strasburg is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and Bryce Harper is bound for the low minors, so the Nats are paying Jayson Werth a king's ransom to distract, er, entertain the masses in the interim. Not that there aren't interesting questions to be answered in the meantime. Can Jordan Zimmermann live up to the pre-Strasburg hype? Is the Danny Espinosa-Ian Desmond middle-infield combo for real? How long can Livan Hernandez sustain his unlikely resurgence? And damn, isn't Ryan Zimmerman a fine ballplayer? (710 RS, 810 RA)

16


Astros
68-94
-
.417
Flat
Earthbound and Down: Owner Drayton McLane may be on the verge of selling the team, but the new regime's shot at turning this franchise into a non-laughingstock—thus neutralizing one wag's well-stocked supply of DisAstro jokes—is years away thanks to a nearly-barren farm system. As for the here-and-now, the rotation may be respectable, but the offense forecasts to be the majors' most inept, with a team OBP of .304, four regulars below .300, and things only likely to get worse with the absence of Clint Barmes, which is really saying something. (636 RS, 762 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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