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July 26, 2005

Prospectus Hit List

Week of July 24, 2005

by Jay Jaffe

Rk Team
Overall W-L
Week W-L
Trend
Comment

1


Cardinals
62-36
3-4
Flat
As noted before, injuries remain the biggest threat to this team's march to a pennant. With Albert Pujols (strained shoulder) a late scratch on Saturday, the Cards were missing five starters: Pujols, Scott Rolen (back to the DL after hitting just .207/.293/.264 since returning from shoulder woes), Reggie Sanders (DL'ed with a broken fibula), Yadier Molina (DL'ed with a broken hand), and Larry Walker (limited by a herniated disc and likely DL-bound). Pujols' injury is considered minor and Rolen's subs are hitting a combined .312/.383/.401, with Abraham Nunez leading the way, but this team's medical reports bear watching.

2


White Sox
64-33
3-4
Flat
Big Hurtin': calling the pain in his left ankle "10 out of 10," Frank Thomas goes back on the DL. With 12 homers in just 124 plate appearances and the top Marginal Lineup Value Rate on the team (0.122), Thomas' bat was a Big Help despite that paltry .219 batting average. The Sox scored 5.28 runs per game while he was active, compared to 4.38 with him on the shelf. Also hurting are Jermaine Dye, who has missed four games due to infected spider bites, and Dustin Hermanson, whose back problems put closers such as Billy Wagner on the team's wish list.

3


Red Sox
54-44
4-3
Up
Always with the Drama: after a half-dozen appearances as a closer, Curt Schilling declares himself ready for the rotation, but manager Terry Francona is in no hurry to shift him back to his usual role, not surprising given the bullpen's 5.29 cumulative ERA (second-worst in the league). They also rank dead stinking last in Reliever Expected Wins Added (-1.509). Meanwhile, already-slumping (3-for-35) Mark Bellhorn's sprained thumb triggers the team's acquisition of Tony Graffanino, and the infield may undergo even more restructuring if Kevin Millar or Bill Mueller is dealt for pitching help as rumored. Theo Epstein's sure to have a phone-filled week as he tries to prep the World Champions for their title defense.

4


Angels
59-40
4-3
Down
Though they've hit only .234/.297/.299 since the break, the Angels were eight outs away from sweeping the Yanks in a four-game set before faltering in the late innings. Still, the staff has posted a 3.03 ERA over the last two weeks, and the bullpen ran off 29.2 scoreless innings at one point. Closer Francisco Rodriguez has been especially untouchable, with a 15.1 inning scoreless streak that goes back to June 21. K-Rod also leads the AL in Reliever Expected Wins Added with 4.390; setup man Scot Shields is second at 3.480, and the entire pen leads the league with 9.294.

5


Braves
55-44
3-3
Flat
On Again, Off Again: having already done two stints on the DL with a forearm problem and then been bombed out of his first start back, Mike Hampton suffered a back injury while getting out of a hot tub, causing him to miss Saturday's start. Though he's pitched only 61 innings, Hampton is second among Braves pitchers in VORP (21.0). Also hurting again is Chipper Jones; he homered in his return, but his injured left foot has since sent him back to the bench. Fortunately, Andruw Jones is again carrying the offense, batting .333/.429/.806 with five homers since the break. Meanwhile, rookie Jeff Francoeur continues to impress, as he's hit .385/.385/.808 with three homers in his first nine games. Still waiting for that first walk, though.

6


Yankees
52-45
3-4
Up
Held first place in the AL East for all of one day, but the big victory is surviving an 11-game road trip with a winning record despite their decimated rotation. Having started no fewer than 11 pitchers in a 20-day span, the Yanks are increasingly reliant on their offense, which has been living up to that Bronx Bomber sobriquet. Not only does the team lead the majors in scoring (5.54 runs per game), they've hit 38 homers over their past 15 games, with Jason Giambi bashing 10 on his way to a .373/.519/1.017 line for the month. Meanwhile, rookie Robinson Cano is riding a 13-game hitting streak and has hit .359/.377/.583 since June 25. He now leads AL rookies in hitting VORP (19.6; note that both Joe Mauer and Chris Shelton have too much service time to qualify as rookies, despite what our stats say).

7


Athletics
53-45
6-1
Up
Continuing their mad dash up the Hit List and the Wild Card standings, having won 12 of 14, including nine out of 11 against the Rangers and Angels, their closest AL West competition. Rookie Nick Swisher is enjoying a monster month, hitting .286/.383/.629, fellow rookie Dan Johnson (.288/.366/.479 overall) has helped offset the loss of Erubiel Durazo (shelved since May 25, now slated for season-ending Tommy John surgery), and new acquisition Jay Payton homered three times in his first six games. With the deadline approaching, who knows what Billy Beane will pull out of his hat next?

8


Indians
51-48
4-3
Up
Went 4-3 on the week, but against such feeble competition--the Royals and Mariners, with a combined winning percentage of .395 entering their series--that translates as "treading water" in the Tribe's native tongue. Then again, Travis Hafner is still experiencing symptoms of the concussion he received last Saturday, leaving the offense short its best hitter. Thanks to a bullpen which didn't allow a run until the ninth inning of Sunday's game, the staff put up a 2.44 ERA on the week, a string of 13 scoreless innings. That pen still leads the majors with a 2.76 ERA and is second in the AL in Reliever Expected Wins Added (8.784).

9


Mets
51-47
5-1
Up
Mets-o-Mezzo: according to Alan Schwarz, the Mets spent 25 out of 27 days within one game of .500. But having won six out of seven, they're now four games above sea level and have the fourth-best run differential of any NL team. The hot hand belongs to Jose Reyes, who's hit .452/.485/.581 and has stolen eight out of eight during that streak... all of which has brought his OBP to .295.

10


Orioles
50-47
1-5
Down
The once-mighty O's offense managed just 17 runs on the week, and the Birds are just 3-7 since the break and looking up at the Yankees as well as the Red Sox in the AL East race. That'll happen when you get swept by the D-Rays. Javy Lopez has returned after missing two months. But don't look to the Padres Phil Nevin (who rejected a deal for Sidney Ponson) or the Marlins' A.J. Burnett (3.48 ERA and 23.3 VORP) for additional help. The yenta hotline has Baltimore's unwillingness to take on struggling Mike Lowell's contract ($21 million through '07) as the deal-breaker.

11


Twins
53-45
4-4
Down
Despite returning to Rochester, rookie Scott Baker's successful start may point the way towards a reshuffling of the rotation, one that would include dealing Joe Mays or Kyle Lohse to the Red Sox or another pitching-hungry club for some offensive help. Meanwhile, despite homering in Baker's win, Justin Morneau is hitting just .184/.282/.321 since May 14, and at least one source has the first baseman suffering from blurred vision. Not helping matters is Bret Boone, just 8-for-41 since coming to Minnesota via trade.

12


Astros
51-47
7-1
Up
This week's winner of the Platinum Pole Vault award rocketed nine spots on the Hit List and into the Wild Card hunt, thanks to a staff which yielded only 16 runs en route to a 1.66 ERA on the week. Rookie Wandy Rodriguez lowered his ERA from Boeing territory by allowing three earned runs in 13 innings over two starts, striking out 10, while the big three of Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt, and Andy Pettitte threw nothing but zeroes. Looking like the one in the catalog is Lance Berkman, who used a 14-for-32 week with eight exta-base hits to climb to .310/.416/.504, within sight of his career norms.

13


Cubs
50-48
4-3
Down
Now You've Seen Everything: a tenth-inning grand slam by Neifi Perez gives the Cubs their first series win in St. Louis since 1999. Even with that, Neifi's only hitting .242/.259/.339 since May 1. Darker news comes from the training room, as Kerry Wood may be dealing with a frayed labrum. He'll head to the DL and then the bullpen, though it's unclear as to whether surgery is in the immediate offing. With at least $14 million owed to him beyond this season, what are they waiting for, besides the Dusty Baker Arm Thresher?

14


Rangers
48-49
1-6
Down
After hitting the All-Star break on a 9-3 tear, the Rangers are just 2-9 since, and now reside in third place in the AL West. The pitching staff has been hammered to the tune of a 6.50 ERA, ofering up just three quality starts in that span. As usual, trade rumors surround Alfonso Soriano, who hit .310/.355/.655 on the week. The team might be better off trying to find a taker for Richard Hidalgo, riding a hot week (.400/.444/.680) to within shouting distance of replacement level (just 0.4 VORP).

15


Blue Jays
49-49
4-2
Down
No nudity, alas, but they did streak for a whole three games, sweeping the Mariners. Sandwiching that between series losses to the Devil Rays and Royals doesn't exactly inspire confidence about their place in the Wild Card hunt, however, nor does the rotation's 5.73 ERA since the All-Star break. Not one to be deterred by such mediocrity, Frank Catalanotto has hit .515/.543/.871 since the break. Now that's streaking.

16


Marlins
49-47
4-2
Up
As the team shops A.J. Burnett on baseball's equivalent of QVC (Orioles? White Sox? Red Sox?), it's worth noting that Dontrelle Willis has yielded 23 runs over his last three starts, lasting just 14 innings against the Cubs, Phillies and Giants, hardly the league's powerhouses. Once the NL's leader in pitching VORP, Willis has fallen to sixth (36.7). Happier news comes from Josh Beckett, who was strong in his first outing off the DL, Mike Lowell, who hit .324/.314/.500 while the team put out an APB on teams willing to eat his contract in exchange for Burnett's services, and Miguel Cabrera, who hit .522/.577/1.261 with five HRs on the week and would likely take over third base duties if Lowell departs.

17


Tigers
49-49
5-3
Flat
Held their own against the top two teams in their division, taking series from both the White Sox and Twins this week. Magglio Ordonez is riding a 17-game hitting streak, currently the longest in the majors; he's hitting .373/.424/.590 since his return from the DL. Also en fuego is Chris Shelton, who's solved the Tigers' first base woes while allowing them to disappear Carlos Pena; Shelton's hitting .363/.399/.591 and leads the team in VORP despite having only 183 plate appearances, nowhere near enough to qualify for a batting title.

18


Phillies
52-47
4-2
Down
Hold the Phone: with a 7-3 record since the All-Star break, the Phils are right back in both the NL East and Wild Card races and more likely to be buyers than sellers as the trade deadline approaches (unpack your bags, Billy Wags). In Jim Thome's absence, Ryan Howard is living up to the hype; he's hitting .284/.367/.567 with five homers on the month, including a 10th-inning walk-off off of the Dodgers' Yhency Brazoban. Thome will begin a rehab assignment later this week, but it's anyone's guess as to whether his health can be trusted enough to decide one way or another about Howard's future in Philly.

19


Brewers
48-51
3-4
Flat
Though nobody should confuse them with serious playoff contenders, the Brewers have won 13 out of 22, holding their own against good teams such as the Cardinals, Braves, Nationals, and Marlins. GM Doug Melvin is likely to do more watching and listening than buying or selling as the deadline approaches, perhaps giving up a spare part for some future help around the margins. Lyle Overbay will draw the most interest, but as he's not even arbitration eligible until after the 2006 season, the Brewers have little incentive to move him, Prince Fielder be damned. Speaking of the young 'uns, rookie J.J. Hardy has hit .273/.365/.418 on the month, finally crossing the Mendoza Line.

20


Nationals
55-44
2-5
Down
Weird in Washington: Just 5-12 over the last three weeks and now tied with the Braves for the NL East lead, and with strange distractions afoot. First, Livan Hernandez's tiradein which the workhorse (leading the majors in Pitcher Abuse Points and eighth in the NL in pitcher VORP) threatened season-ending knee surgery after losing to the Rockies and complained of a beef to be named later. Then the revelation that the power alleys of RFK are 15 feet deeper than marked. What next, luring a Cooperstown-caliber shortstop out of retirement to replace the majors' worst hitter?

21


Padres
50-49
0-6
Down
Losers of seven straight were outscored 37-11 on the week, taking their run differential into the red, where they join every other NL West team. That would be worth a Golden Anvil award if they hadn't already won this week's honors. Amid the drubbing, GM Kevin Towers has shaken up the team, demoting Sean Burroughs and his .298 SLG, trading for Joe Randa, who's hitting .289/.356/.491 and is fourth among NL third basemen in VORP (26.6), and trying in vain to ship Phil Nevin to Baltimore for Sidney Ponson. Sure, the rotation has posted a 4.97 ERA in July and Adam Eaton may be three weeks away from returning, but Aruba's most famous thug (5.91 ERA and a -8.0 VORP) isn't the answer. Pad fans should thank Nevin for exercising his no-trade clause to quash the deal.

22


Mariners
42-55
1-5
Flat
If there's a team with "SELL" written all over it as the deadline approaches, it's the Mariners. Most likely to depart is Randy Winn, whom the Yankees eye as a potential stopgap in centerfield. Never mind the fact that his offensive stats (.270/.338/.384) are only slightly better than those of Bernie Williams; Winn's a much better centerfielder at this stage, even if he's playing mostly leftfield this year. Last year, he put up a 99 Rate2 as the regular CF; Williams is at 93 this year. And if you want pitching, Bill Bavasi's got a deal for you... Jamie Moyer, Gil Meche, Jeff Nelson, Eddie Guardado, Ron Villone and Shigetoshi Hasegawa, lefties, righties, starters, relievers, all shapes and sizes. No reasonable offer will be refused...

23


Dodgers
44-54
3-3
Flat
No Surrender: having watched the Padres fall flat on their faces this past week, the Dodgers can justifiably say they're not out of the NL West race. In losing a weekend series to the Mets, they welcomed back Milton Bradley, who showed midseason form during his final rehab appearance, from an eight-week absence. While there's noise about a possible deal for Adam Dunn, with Antonio Perez and former phenom Edwin Jackson headed to Cincy, GM Paul DePodesta needs to give the bullpen some relief if the team is to compete. Closer Yhency Brazoban has been tagged for 14 runs in his last 12 innings, taking the loss four times; turn those games around and the team is two under .500 and only 1.5 behind the Padres.

24


Diamondbacks
48-52
3-3
Flat
The Grand Canyon: nature's biggest hole, except perhaps for the -88 run differential which has dragged the Diamondbacks down to the lower reaches of the Hit List even as they fight for the NL West crown with their sub-.500 record. Down so low, they're practically below the underbelly of a snake, somewhere in the vicinity of #2 hitter Royce Clayton's OBP. "Don't beat the Snakes," beg Arizona fans united in a basso profundo reminiscent of Barry White in that classic Simpsons episode... Whew, is it time to hand out the Authorial Indifference award already?

25


Reds
42-56
4-3
Up
Why Is This Man Smilin'? Joe Randa escapes from Cincinnati, but the Reds didn't fare too badly in trading him to the Padres. For just over $1 million, the 35-year-old third baseman put up a half-season with an EqA of .286, 21 points better than his career norm--in other words, a guy who had "second-half decline" written all over him. In return the Reds receive Justin Germano, a 22-year-old righty who's put up a 3.70 ERA, 8.04 K/9, 3.12 K/BB, and 1.05 HR/9 in Triple-A Portland; the inhospitable Pacific Coast League's collective ERA is 4.86. Meanwhile, Austin Kearns has returned from the minors, Ryan Freel's back from the DL, and the Reds have won seven of 10 since the All-Star break by scoring 66 runs and slugging 22 homers, five by Javier Valentin and four apiece by Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn. Alas, beleaguered Reds pitchers have allowed 57 runs and 18 dingers in that span, eight of them by Brandon Claussen. Nice ballpark ya got there...

26


Pirates
43-56
3-5
Flat
Rookie Zach Duke continues his mastery, allowing just one unearned run in his latest start to lower his ERA to 0.93; he's already second on the team in pitching VORP (14.5) In the past week, Duke's been joined by fellow Triple-A Indianapolis teammates Brad Eldred (1B) and Chris Duffy (CF), giving Bucs fans something to take their minds off of the team's 13-26 record since That Day At .500. Expect GM Dave Littlefield to make more room for the rookies as starters Mark Redman (3.99 ERA and 24.4 VORP, tops on the team) and Kip Wells (4.77 ERA, 3.3 VORP) are likely to be dealt.

27


Giants
42-55
2-4
Down
As the Giants sink further and further into the NL West sunset, and with Barry Bonds nowhere to be found, the most interesting question surrounding the Giants right now is whether they'll deal Jason Schmidt. Though he's in the midst of a disappointing season (4.74 ERA, 5.9 VORP), Schmidt's allowed just four runs in 13 innings while striking out 17 in his two post All-Star starts. He missed time earlier this year with a shoulder strain, but his K rate is healthy (8.89 per 9); his biggest woes appear to be a 4.66 BB/9 and a .326 batting average on balls in play. The Sox, both Red and White, are rumored to be interested, though actually consummating a deal is a longshot.

28


Royals
36-62
4-3
Flat
At long last, Zack Greinke is starting to regain his form; since the All-Star break, he's allowed only two runs in 12.1 innings, most recently blanking the Indians for seven frames. For all of that, his ERA still stands at 5.66, he reached last season's walk total in 47 fewer innings, and he's striking out 0.84 fewer hitters per nine. Also rounding into form is Jose Lima, who's put up an entirely reasonable 4.01 ERA in July (24.2 innings); perhaps Allard Baird can foist him on a pitching-thin contender. With enough incriminating photos (and spare outfielders), anything is possible.

29


Devil Rays
35-64
4-2
Up
Don't look now, but the Rays are 7-3 since the break, taking two out of three series from their AL East overlords including a sweep of the plunging Orioles. Scott Kazmir, Casey Fossum have combined to allow just five runs in 31.2 innings (1.42 ERA) in that span while striking out 27; the two starters are neck-and-neck for the team lead in pitching VORP, with Kazmir holding a 15.6-15.1 edge. Meanwhile, after a lousy first three months (.252/.319/.361), Aubrey Huff is showing enough life (.295/.329/.564 in July) to restore some trade value, even if GM Chuck Lamar is infuriating other GMs with his absurdly high demands.

30


Rockies
34-63
3-4
Down
For the Birds: already among the league leaders in days lost to the DL, the Rox lose Jason Jennings for the season with a fractured middle finger. Though just fifth on the team in pitching VORP (5.3), Jennings had posted a 2.16 ERA over his last four starts (25 innings) and defeated the division-leading Nationals and Padres.

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 Sunday.

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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