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April 11, 2011

Prospectus Hit List

First Flight

by Jay Jaffe

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Welcome to the first regular season Hit List of the year! As in seasons past, our PECOTA projections are incorporated into the early-season Hit List Factors. So is a league-strength adjustment, though this one is one smaller and more consistent with such refinements elsewhere on our site. Thanks to the behind-the-scenes work of our tech crew, you can now view both the adjusted and unadjusted rankings via our new sortable Adjusted Standings, which are updated on a daily basis (though those don't include PECOTA). Don't let yourself get too confused, we'll explain all of this in more detail soon.
Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor



Over the Cliff: The defending AL champions start the year 6-0 for the first time since 1996, pummeling the Red Sox and Mariners by a combined score of 42-20 before being shut out by the Orioles' Zach Britton. Ian Kinsler homers in the first three games (two to lead off the home half), while Nelson Cruz tops that by going yard in the first four games and five times in the first eight, with new addition Mike Napoli adding three homers as well. On the hill, rotation fill-in Alexi Ogando tosses six shutout innings in his first major league start, and Matt Harrison—he of the career 5.15 ERA—chips in a pair of seven-inning, one-run efforts.


You Can Have It Both Ways: Winners of seven straight, the Indians are off to their best start since 2002. After totaling just seven homers between them last year, the middle infield combo of Asdrubal Cabrea and Orlando Cabrera combines for three in the season's first eight games, with the former's three-run blast helping the team sweep the Red Sox; the pair is hitting a combined .343/.377/.557. On the hill, Justin Masterson shows he can get by with or without the help of his friends, generating 18 grounders but striking out none in 7.1 innings while beating the White Sox, then whiffing nine Mariners in 6.1 frames.


White Sox
South Side Pains: Adam Dunn doubles, homers and drives in four runs in his Pale Hose debut before being felled by an appendectomy within the week. He's already nearing a return, while teammates Carlos Quentin (.353/.436/.703), Paul Konerko (.400/.463/.686), and Gordon Beckham (.333/.400/.564) continue punishing the ball in his absence. Since there absolutely has to be drama, Ozzie Guillen is already entertaining thoughts of a closer-by-committee arrangement after Matt Thornton blows two saves.


Blue Jays
Early Birds: Given the Jays' recent early-season teases, it's tougher to get excited about this year's start, but there's plenty to be optimistic about given the initial stretch of games. Coming off last year's 54-homer surprise, Jose Bautista homers on opening day and again two games later, though his momentum is slowed by a leave of absence to attend the birth of his daughter. New first baseman Adam Lind helps pick up the slack, collecting 12 hits in his first eight games; he's batting .308/.310/.462 as he tries to erase the memory of last year's slow start and wretched .237/.287/.425 showing. On the hill, rookie Kyle Drabek carries a no-hitter into the sixth while tossing a gem (7 1 1 1 3 7) against the Twins.


Monkeying Around: They've already switched closers and ditched failing starter Scott Kazmir, who has a 6.17 ERA since the beginning of last year. Yet the Angels still have some fight, thanks to the 1-2 punch of Dan Haren and Jered Weaver, who combine for an 0.99 ERA in the early going. The former runs up a 13/0 K/BB ratio through his first two starts and some 14th-inning emergency duty, while the latter is missing bats again after leading the league in strikeouts last year; he whiffs 15 Blue Jays. Meanwhile, the generally slappy quartet of Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis, and Alberto Callaspo—the Rally Monkees?—is hitting a combined .377/.445/.658 to offset the absence of Kendrys Morales.


Yanked Around: While their AL East rivals flop to a combined 0-12, the Yankees open in strong fashion before troubles new and old emerge. Notoriously slow starter Mark Teixeira blasts four homers in the first five games, three of them three-run shots, before slipping into an 0-for-18 slump, Derek Jeter testily abandons his new swing en route to a .206/.300/.235 line, and Phil Hughes is pounded for 11 runs in six innings over two starts. The latter's missing velocity raises injury concerns, but the team maintains that the problem is merely mechanical.


The Melkman Delivers... Sometimes: Melky Cabrera's 12th-inning single gives the Royals their third walkoff win in their first five games, following a pair of game-ending homers by Kila Ka'aihue and Matt Treanor. Cabrera (.283/.298/.435) and fellow punchline Jeff Francoeur (.282/.310/.436) are already showing off the holes in their game, but fellow outfielder Alex Gordon is batting .357/.400/.548 thanks to a string of four straight multi-hit games. Billy Butler (.394/.512/.667) is bopping as well, the Kila Monster (.176/.293/.324) not so much. At this juncture the Royals have outscored their opponents by four runs, but being outhomered 16-8 doesn't bode well.


Young Guns: Thanks to standout performances by Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, the A's rotation is off to a strong start, with a league-best 2.47 ERA. The former throws six shutout innings in a 1-0 squeaker against the Twins, while the latter accompanies his new extension with eight innings of one-run ball against the Blue Jays. After whiffing just 5.0 per nine in his first two seasons, Cahill now has 15 strikeouts in 12.2 frames thanks to the increased effectiveness of his curveball. Alas, the A's offense isn't hitting many pitches of any trajectory, batting just .233/.293/.358 and scoring just 3.2 runs per game.


Bucking the Trend? The Orioles pick up where they left off after Buck Showalter's arrival, with their young starters offering hope that they can lead the team to its first winning season since 1997. Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, and Jake Arietta combine to allow just two runs in 26 innings over the team's first four games, with Tillman tossing six no-hit innings and top prospect Britton making his much-anticipated debut sooner than expected due to Brian Matusz's intercostal strain. Britton is every bit as impressive the second time through in a combined shutout of the Rangers, showing mid-90s heat and a heavy sinker that helps him generate 16 groundball outs and stay out of the middle of the plate.


Detroit Rock City: Justin Verlander's been sound but not spectacular, while the rest of the Tigers starters have been pounded for a 7.47 ERA; that's an airplane, not a rotation. Brad Penny and Rick Porcello aren't missing many bats, striking out just 5.5 per nine through two turns apiece while being strafed for 31 hits in 19.2 innings. On a team that finished third-to-last in the AL in Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency and now has the blessing of a full season of Jhonny Peralta, Shortstop, this could be a problem.


Red Sox
Stop the Slide: Heavily favored to win the division and reach the World Series, the Sox instead stumble to an 0-6 start—their worst since 1945—before taking two out of three from the Yankees in Fenway. Newcomer Carl Crawford is just 5-for-38, while Kevin Youkilis is hitting an odd .148/.395/.222, but the real issue is the rotation, about which there were plenty of unsettling questions coming into the year. Prior to Sunday night, the starters have compiled a 7.46 ERA while allowing 2.6 homers per nine, with John Lackey clobbered for 15 runs in 8.2 innings and Clay Buchholz surrendering five homers in 10 innings. Josh Beckett wins the rubber match against the Yankees with eight dominant innings (8 2 0 0 1 10) in his first scoreless appearance since August 7, 2009—also against the Yankees, versus whom the Soulpatch Farmer now has a career 5.90 ERA in 140.1 regular season innings.


Wedge Issue: Milton Bradley is wearing earplugs, and while it's supposedly not to tune out old nemesis turned new skipper Eric Wedge, you can't blame him if he did. Wedge goes ballistic after Jack Wilson removes himself from a game following a pair of early errors at his new position, second base, but at least Wilson is hitting (.333/.333/.389). That's more than you can say for his teammates, who look every bit as dead in the water as last year via a .215/.285/.312 line and a meager 3.2 runs per game.


Comebacks and Departures: The M&M duo of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are reunited, but it's been slow going thus far as the former returns from knee surgery and the latter from a concussion that cost him the entire second half of last season. Mauer's hitting just .233/.404/.267, Morneau's at .258/.303/.355, and they're getting very little help from the rest of the team. The offense is scoring a mere 2.7 runs per game on .214/.266/.288 hitting with just three homers, with five regulars below the Mendoza line. Adding injury to insult, the team loses Tsuyoshi Nishioka to a fractured fibula via Nick Swisher's late (but clean) slide while breaking up a double play, underscoring the newcomer's inexperience at the keystone and the cultural differences between Japanese and American styles of play.


Underwater: Projected to be the odd team out in the AL East, the Rays lose their first six games and stumble to a franchise-worst record through nine games. Worse, they lose Evan Longoria for a few weeks due to an oblique strain, then watch as Manny Ramirez starts the year 1-for-17 and abruptly retires rather than face another drug suspension. The team is averaging just 2.4 runs per game on .163/.232/.284 "hitting," with John Jaso, Dan Johnson, Johnny Damon, Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist, and Reid Brignac all far below the Mendoza line. The team adds new sadness to baseball's lexicon by announcing the recall of career .259/.326/.392 hitter Casey Kotchman to take over first base, with Johnson moving to DH.

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:  The Who,  Four Homers,  Year Of The Injury

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Premium Article On the Beat: The Heart... (04/11)
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Prospectus Hit List: N... (03/28)
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Premium Article Prospectus Hit List: G... (04/12)
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Premium Article Collateral Damage: Mor... (04/11)

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