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March 28, 2011

Prospectus Hit List

AL Pre-Season Hit List

by Tommy Bennett

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! Jay Jaffe
RkTeam
Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor
Comment

1


Red Sox
94-68
-
.582
Flat

The impact of Fenway Park on Adrian Gonzalez's (.281/.377/.499, 31 HR) home run output may be overstated in the media at large, given historic park factors for lefty batters, but few doubt that the Red Sox added one of the game's finest players this offseason. With another four-win boost from the addition of Carl Crawford (.289/.340/.433), and a potentially full healthy season from Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox are clearly the cream the of AL. Jemarco Scutowrie looks like a nice, balanced player at short. The only question marks are at catcher—where Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.235/.308/.384) projects to be fringy—and in the rotation—where only Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have no questions to answer. (814 RS, 683 RA)

2


Yankees
92-70
-
.571
Flat
The Yankees' offense is as potent as ever, as they project to score the most runs in baseball. PECOTA picks Derek Jeter (.281/.348/.386) as the least productive regular lineup member, and that most likely augurs well for the rest. Russell Martin (.264/.360/.379) takes over behind the dish, where he is expected to draw enough walks to turn things over to the big boppers. But if the Red Sox' rotation has question marks, the Yankees' has interrobangs. Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia were resurrected from the dead to compete for the fifth starter's job, with Garcia the early winner. If that isn't 2005 enough for you, the team brought in Kevin Millwood to join the fray. That trio, slotted in behind the untested Ivan Nova and the increasingly unacceptable A.J. Burnett, has Cashman time-traveling the Billboard charts as well: his iPod plays 2005's Kelly Clarkson smash hit—dedicated to Andy Pettitte. (828 RS, 712 RA)

3


Rays
85-77
-
.524
Flat
The offense may struggle to score runs, as retreads Johnny Damon (.255/.334/.387) and Dan Johnson will get plenty of plate appearances. But PECOTA must have been the one who stole Evan Longoria's hat: the system has him at .264/.346/.472, which would be the worst season of his career. Meanwhile, the Rays seem reluctant to Re-Joyce in the Lord Always. Instead Matt Joyce (.241/.346/.436) will platoon with Ben Zobrist in right. That leaves the once and future Carl Crawford 2.0—Desmond Jennings—back in Durham, at least for the time being. Rookie Jeremy Hellickson joins the rotation and contributes immediately: PECOTA's optimism (3.49 ERA, 154 K in 165 IP) reflects the Hellboy's polish. The real roller coaster may be at the end of games, now that the rock-star bullpen of 2010 has disbanded. Co-closers Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta may eventually give way to rookie Jake McGee, whose remaining challenge is his walk rate (projected 4.4 per 9 IP). (728 RS, 691 RA)

4


Athletics
84-78
-
.516
Flat
The A's infield defense is where left-handed sluggers go to ground into double plays. Cliff Pennington (.244/.322/.326) is the only position player projected to crack the two-win barrier, and he does it almost entirely on the strength of his glove. A multiplicity of options in the outfield, first base, and DH give the A's roster flexibility if nothing else. New addition Hideki Matsui (.254/.340/.409) should get most of the plate appearances at DH, but it may not be long before Chris Carter (.242/.331/.461) breaks into the lineup, if only because he and Josh Willingham (.249/.356/.426) are the only real power threats. At 27, Dallas Braden and Brandon McCarthy are the old men of the rotation, but the youngsters in front of them (Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Gio Gonzalez) all project to be above-average. If Andrew Bailey (3.42 ERA) and Michael Wuertz (3.13 ERA) can stay healthy, the bullpen is as good as any. (653 RS, 630 RA)

5


Rangers
83-79
-
.516
Flat
Down Cliff Lee but up Adrian Beltre (.277/.324/.451), the Rangers hope they get some useful contribution out of Brandon Webb, who has already had difficulty preparing to make his regular-season debut. If they can't, there is more pressure on C.J. Wilson (3.77 ERA and 181 K in 202 IP) and Colby Lewis (3.75 ERA, 178 K, 204 IP) to repeat their surprising success. The role that Neftali Feliz will ultimately occupy (for now, closer) shouldn't be written in anything more permanent than pencil. What they could really use is two of him, since Tommy Hunter (4.97 ERA, 75 K, 140 IP) starts are even scarier than Alexi Ogando (3.03 ERA, 2.9 K/BB ratio) save chances. (762 RS, 737 RA)

6


Tigers
83-79
-
.513
Flat
The top-heavy Tigers feature two frontline starters in Justin Verlander (3.26 ERA, 200 K, 212 IP) and Max Scherzer (3.57 ERA, 199 K, 200 IP), but not much behind them. Phil Coke (4.20 ERA, 112 K, 147 IP) and Rick Porcello (4.36 ERA, 92 K, 185 IP) at least have the virtue of youth. The balance isn't to be found in the lineup, either, where Miguel Cabrera (.307/.385/.537) and Victor Martinez (.286/.351/.434) threaten to overwhelm the contributions of the spectacularly named Will Rhymes (.265/.311/.332). The player to watch is Ryan Raburn (.266/.331/.450), whose PECOTA projection is actually below his career mark in all three triple-slash categories. Closer Jose Valverde (3.33 ERA, 69 K, 66 IP) may be so out of his mind as to be top-heavy all by himself. (733 RS, 713 RA)

7


White Sox
82-80
-
.509
Flat
Adam Dunn (.248/.370/.508, 38 HR) may not suit the traditional Ozzieball style, but he'll give a boost to an offense that ranked 8th in the AL last year. Dunn joins the rejuvenated Paul Konerko (.271/.357/.488) and the healthy (!) Carlos Quentin (.254/.351/.481) at the heart of a lineup that should score more runs than their perennial AL Central rivals. Meanwhile, a full serving of Jake Peavy (3.20 ERA, 161 K, 164 IP) is not entirely out of the question, even as Edwin Jackson hopes to take the final step forward by limiting his walk rate (3.6 per 9 IP projected). Chris Sale (3.00, 77, 60) and Matt Thornton (2.81, 74, 64) will make South Siders forget the loss of Bobby Jenks in the ninth inning. (749 RS, 735 RA)

8


Twins
82-80
-
.505
Flat
The Twins always seem to draw questions about their solutions up the middle. This year's crop includes crowd-pleaser Alexi Casilla (.255/.313/.318) and Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.284/.344/.407). PECOTA is even less pleased with last year's improvements from Delmon Young (.284/.318/.418) and Danny Valencia (.274/.318/.397). The team will have to monitor Denard Span, because the promise of the 2009 version could be all but gone now. It's a crowded field at DH, as Jason Kubel (.264/.331/.437) will beat out Jim Thome (.244/.365/.481) for most of the plate appearances, though even at age 40, Jimmer can still hit. But what has the world come to that Nick Blackburn has a job (4.62 ERA, 75 K, 175 IP) but Kevin Slowey (3.94, 72, 98) does not? Watch the return of Joe Nathan (2.15, 79, 69); for its part, PECOTA thinks he's unlikely to miss a beat. (730 RS, 722 RA)

9


Orioles
81-81
-
.502
Flat
After a flurry of acquisitions, the Orioles now sport a legitimate hitter at every position in the lineup. New sluggers Derrek Lee (.276/.357/.452), Vladimir Guerrero (.289/.339/.463), and Mark Reynolds (.237/.330/.468) should help boost the team's run scoring above last year's dismal 3.8 per game mark. Behind Jeremy Guthrie, the rotation is filled almost entirely with young pitchers who have at various points shown great talent. Brian Matusz (4.01, 163, 195) hopes to carry last year's second half success into 2011, and top young talent Zach Britton may force his way into the rotation and impress sooner rather than later. It's worth noting that this Orioles team might have been a sleeper pick to win one or two other divisions in baseball. (775 RS, 771 RA)

10


Angels
78-84
-
.482
Flat
Mike Napoli and his projected .469 slugging percentage were shipped out in return for Vernon Wells (.256/.309/.416) and his untradeable contract. Meanwhile, only Kendrys Morales is pegged for so high a slugging percentage. To make matters worse, the Angels have committed themselves to Jeff Mathis (.207/.261/.301), while Hank Conger (.262/.320/.382) at best shares time. Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter look like nothing else than a year older. At least the rotation provides a bright spot: Jered Weaver (3.06 ERA, 180 K, 198 IP) and Dan Haren (3.14, 202, 228) may each compete for the Cy Young award. Look away, though, when Scott Kazmir (4.13, 131, 150) takes the mound. PECOTA is desperately optimistic here—Kazmir coughed up a three-run home run to Yuniesky Betancourt on Thursday en route to a 10 run “tune up.” The only relief may come from converting new addition Hisanori Takahashi (3.59, 58, 66) to the rotation. (636 RS, 662 RA)

11


Blue Jays
75-87
-
.461
Flat
With much of last year's homer-happy offense either gone or subject to heavy regression to the mean, the Blue Jays run the risk of being the AL East's doormat. But there is reason to expect bounce-backs from Yunel Escobar (.281/.348/.397) and Adam Lind (.265/.315/.466). New left fielder Juan Rivera (.263/.309/.437) should fit right in with the team's low-OBP, high-SLG tendencies, which J.P. Arencibia (.254/.289/.481) will accentuate nicely. The saving grace here is the rotation, which features four former first-round draft picks and, for now, Jo-Jo Reyes (a second rounder). Much turns on the ballyhooed debut of the Drabek heir: PECOTA is skeptical as a result of Kyle's low minor league strikeout rates, while scouts remain convinced. If Reyes stumbles, the door would be open for Marc Rzepczynski to seize a rotation spot—for now, he's just a long reliever. (725 RS, 787 RA)

12


Indians
74-88
-
.457
Flat
Look through this roster and try to count the players who will play good baseball. Grant three: Grady Sizemore (.252/.349/.432), Shin-Soo Choo (.275/.367/.438), and Carlos Santana (.264/.378/.468). From there is gets speculative: Is Matt LaPorta even as good as Lyle Overbay? How soon can Lonnie Chisenhall (.251/.299/.401) be ready, and how good will he be when he is? The rotation isn't much better, since Mitch Talbot (4.64 ERA, 100 K, 146 IP) is the third starter. Consider that closer Chris Perez (3.42, 83, 75) projects to have a higher WARP (0.8) than three members of the Indians rotation. (712 RS, 781 RA)

13


Mariners
71-91
-
.435
Flat
The race to 513 begins! The M's begin their onslaught on their low-water mark in runs scored from a year ago by swapping in Brendan Ryan (.244/.292/.315) at short and Dustin Ackley (.246/.327/.345) at second (by midseason, probably). Miguel Olivo (.235/.271/.396) joins the team as catcher, though Safeco may vitiate his only virtue: moderate power. Justin Smoak (.236/.338/.373) tries to develop as a young hitter in this lineup—good luck with that, buddy. If hoping Erik Bedard will stay healthy is at this point unreasonable, the rotation is just dreadful behind Felix Hernandez (2.60 ERA, 214 K, 230 IP). Lucas French? Doug Fister? Gracious. Michael Pineda (3.53, 102, 120) gets to make the opening day roster, at least, giving fans some modicum of enjoyment. (591 RS, 683 RA)

14


Royals
69-93
-
.420
Flat
No, really, did you hear about the farm system? The Royals are the only Cactus League team that becomes more interesting as the games progress through the innings, and that's because the major leaguers come off and the ringers from Northwest Arkansas and Wilmington take the field. Kila Ka'aihue (.262/.385/.470) gets his shot at DH, and PECOTA is a believer. A new center fielder, Lorenzo Cain (.254/.312/.359, but initially ticketed for Omaha), and a new shortstop, Alcides Escobar (.272/.307/.358), represent modest improvements over last season's roster. But the pitching staff is now a laughing stock: Joakim Soria (1.4) is projected to have a higher WARP than the team's top two starters (Luke Hochevar and Jeff Francis) combined (1.2). In fact, PECOTA projects Bruce Chen to be the most valuable starter on the team. Treat yourselves, Royals fans, to watching the team on defense at least when Tim Collins (3.25 ERA, 77 K, 60 IP) is pitching. (688 RS, 817 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.

Related Content:  A's,  10-year Projections,  The Who,  Rotation

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