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August 2, 2005

Prospectus Hit List

Week of July 31

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Cardinals
66-38
4-2
Flat
No Mark McGwire-sized additions at the deadline, even after names such as Adam Dunn and Brian Giles crossed Walt Jocketty's phone line. With Larry Walker the latest Cardinal regular to hit the DL, it's worth remembering that Walker was a post-deadline acquisition; Jocketty may have a few tricks up his sleve yet. With a 9.5 game lead and a rotation that put up a 2.80 ERA in July (led by Mark Mulder's 2.29), the Cards continue to have plenty of breathing room.

2


White Sox
68-35
4-2
Flat
They didn't lose him to any AL competitors, but neither did the Sox get A.J. Burnett, and with Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, and Jose Contreras combining for a 5.25 ERA on the month, they could have used him as much as anyone. Another bat to cover for the absence of Frank Thomas (done for the year with a fracture in his ankle) wouldn't have hurt either, and no, utilityman Geoff Blum doesn't count. With a 14.5 game lead, the Sox have plenty of time to hope that Carl Everett (.258/.305/.454) can sort himself out without going postal when That Evolution Show hits the airwaves.

3


Red Sox
59-45
5-1
Flat
Remember the Divas: Manny Ramirez's decision to take his scheduled day off after Trot Nixon went down apparently didn't sit well with teammates, leading to a surreal weekend of round-the-clock trade rumors that recalled the worst of the Sox front office's failed attempt to acquire Alex Rodriguez. As it is anytime Leaky Larry Lucchino opens his mouth, this was a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, just as it should have been regarding an occasionally spacy slugger with a distinct lack of hustle but a career line of .313/.409/.598. Chemistry is a three-run homer, and neither Aubrey Huff nor Mike Cameron or any other player fitted for Red Sox by the media would have provided nearly so many than the guy they're "stuck" with. Their only other acquisition of the weekend, Jose Cruz Jr., should approach adequacy as a stopgap in right in Nixon's absence, though the cost was high.

4


Braves
61-44
6-0
Up
Marched into first place in the NL East in impressive fashion, sweeping the reeling Nationals with three one-run victories and then rolling over the Pirates. Chris Reitsma has stabilized the closer situtation, allowing just one run in 14.1 innings in July while climbing up the leaderboard in Reliever Expected Wins Added (he's eighth in the NL, with 2.372). If that's not enough, GM John Schuerholz pulled off one of the weekend's few consequential swaps, acquiring Kyle Farnsworth (10th in the AL in REWA with 2.240) for Roman Colon (5.28 ERA, -0.1 VORP) and Zach Miner (4.23 ERA in Triple-A). Farnsworth will help cover for the loss of Jay Powell, who lasted just 3.1 innings in his return from Tommy John surgery before fracturing his humerus while throwing a pitch.

5


Athletics
58-46
5-1
Up
A for Effort: outscored their opponents by exactly two runs a game in July (5.96 to 3.96), resulting in a 20-6 month and extending their tear to 40-14 since May 29. Billy Beane was quiet over the weekend, but he had the luxury of watching his early trading timetable pay off nicely. Liberated from Boston, Jay Payton has hit .333/.351/.648 with five homers in 57 plate appearances, while Joe Kennedy and Jay Witasick have combined for a 2.60 ERA in 17.1 innings since returning to sea level. If there's a concern, it's in Danny Haren's recent performance; his five July starts produced a 6.35 ERA in 28.1 innings, and his increased workload may be taking its toll.

6


Yankees
56-47
4-2
Flat
Scoff if you will at the walking scrapheap that is the Yankee rotation. Al Leiter, Aaron Small (last seen in "probable pitchers" before Joe Torre had a World Series ring) and Shawn Chacon (rescued from the Rockies, who scored a paltry 2.83 runs per game in his starts) have combined for a 3.54 ERA in their six starts despite walking on eggshells with a 20/17 K/BB ratio. The Yanks were relatively quiet at the deadline, resolutely refusing to move their few geniune prospects, pulling up short in their pursuit of a substandard centerfielder, and settling for Chacon, who cost just a couple of live arms to a system hardly equipped to nurture same. Don't ask about the bullpen, which except for Mariano Rivera put up a 6.07 ERA during July and apart from scraping Alan Embree off the pavement, saw the return of Lefty No Out Guy Wayne Franklin and the departure of disgruntled Buddy Groom.

7


Angels
60-45
1-5
Flat
Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear: a rough week has the Angels clinging to an AL West lead that looked quite comfortable two weeks ago. Adding an "extra game" to the schedule didn't help; their 18-inning loss to the Blue Jays presaged a pair of bullpen collapses--back to back blown four-run leads against the Yankees over the weekend. Ouch.

8


Indians
55-51
4-3
Flat
A 13-16 July has thinned out the crowd of hipsters touting them as legit Wild Card candidates. Even with Travis Hafner out since his July 16 beaning, the offense hasn't been the problem; it's the pitching--Jake Westbrook, Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia combined for a 5.51 ERA on the month. Sabathia's been bombed to the tune of an 8.14 ERA since June 15, but his most recent start, in which he allowed three runs over seven innings against the Mariners, provided hope that his mechanical difficulties were behind him. More good news: Hafner should return today.

9


Astros
57-48
6-1
Up
Their 13-2 run capped a 22-7 month which saw them outscore opponents 150-88. The staff yielded a 2.48 ERA, with Andy Pettitte's 0.90 leading the way. The big three of Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt and Pettitte now rank first, second, and seventh in the NL in pitching VORP, and have a combined total of 160.4, well ahead of the pace set by the post-1972 leaders (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz for the 1997 Braves, 219.4). On the offensive side, Lance Berkman (.362/.455/.638) and Morgan Ensberg (.300/.391/.627) led the charge, with six of the Astros' ten hitters with more than 50 plate appearances on the month slugging better than .490.

10


Rangers
53-51
5-2
Up
Alfonso Soriano made many a team's most-wanted list, with the Cubs, Twins, and Mets all making overtures, but he was hardly priced to move. The Rangers did pull the trigger on Chan Ho Park (not literally, though you can bet it crossed Tom Hicks' mind), trading him for the Padres' Phil Nevin, a deal Salon's King Kaufman described thusly: "Here, you take our lousy hitter for your hitter's park and we'll take your lousy pitcher for our pitcher's park, and they'll both look a little better." Ridding themselves of Park (5.79 ERA in his 381 Ranger innings since 2002, good for 6.0 WARP at a whopping cost of about $50 million) seems like a good thing until the question of who will eat the innings arises. Kenny Rogers is facing a hard 20, Chris Young is dog tired (8.20 ERA since June 13 while averaging under five innings per start), Ryan Drese is now an upstanding member of the Nationals' rotation, and the other four guys who've started for Texas have combined for a 5.96 ERA in their 19 starts, also averaging under five innings a pop. Even with this week's Platinum Pole Vault award, Rangers fans should assume the crash position.

11


Mets
53-52
2-5
Down
Headlines, Deadlines: no team generated more buzz over the weekend than the Mets, who chased after Manny Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, and Danys Baez but came up empty. Or held onto Mike Cameron and Aaron Heilman as well as BP Top Prospects Yusmeiro Petit (#15) and Lastings Milledge (#19) if you'd prefer to look at the glass as half-full, a good idea given the results of last year's Scott Kazmir-for-Victor Zambrano debacle. As the Mets gave back last week's gains and fell to last in the NL East, it's worth remembering that Manny aside, none of the other moves was a difference maker in a crowded playoff picture, and the marquee one was no bargain either, according to Nate Silver's numbers.

12


Blue Jays
53-51
4-2
Up
Went just 13-12 in a month where they outscored their opponents 152-113 (6.08 to 4.52 on a per-game basis), a shortfall of 3.75 wins according to Pythagoras. Nonetheless, their performance was enough to pass the Orioles and move into third in the AL East. Vernon Wells put together his second big month in a row; he's hitting .330/.368/.606 since May 28 and is in a tight battle for second in VORP among AL centerfielders (25.0). In other good news, Roy Halladay looks to return at the end of the week, less than a month after a line drive fractured his leg.

13


Marlins
53-49
4-2
Up
Took Joe Sheehan's advice and held onto A.J. Burnett, who helped blank the slumping Nationals even as he waited for his boarding pass to be printed. The Fish are back in the thick of things, not only doing stuff like winning series from Washington and Pittsburgh but also by acquiring a real-live lefty reliever in Ron Villone (3.16 Fair Run Average). Thus far this season, southpaw Marlins relievers have allowed a 6.56 ERA in 48 innings (good for a -4.7 VORP), with Valerio de los Santos' 19 frames making him the dean of that particularly futile collection. And in the "You're Still Here?" department, the Fish can take solace that Mike Lowell's July numbers (.301/.348/.470) should either make him more useful to Jack McKeon or more paltable in a post-deadline waiver deal.

14


Twins
54-50
1-5
Down
Torii Hunter's broken ankle is a big blow to a team that's already struggling for runs, having scored just 28 over their last nine games. They're 6-12 since the All-Star Break, having won just one series out of five while hitting .233/.305/.355 in that span, and they've got plenty of company in the Wild Card hunt. Hunter's injury will likely cost him a month but could do him in for the year. With the Twins steering clear of any deadline deals, they're left hoping that Lew Ford, who will slot into center, can regain his stroke in Hunter's absence; he's hitting just .248/.329/.362 on the year for a paltry 3.1 VORP, and in the midst of a 4-for-43 slump since the break. Unable to break a slump was Bret Boone, whose .170/.241/.170 line translated into a pink slip.

15


Orioles
51-53
1-6
Down
The steroid dragnet nets its first high-profile villain in Rafael Palmeiro, recently celebrated for passing the 3,000 hit milestone and not too long ago claiming before Congress that he'd never used. His 10-day suspension will hurt a team in the midst of a 9-25 skid and looking more like dead ducks everyday. Aside from Palmeiro and Miguel Tejada, the O's offense has been running on fumes, scoring just 3.77 runs per game on the month, with leadoff hitter Brian Roberts an especially gassed .218/.304/.366 in July. Bruce Chen has regressed to career norms, B.J. Ryan's been bombed (8.68 ERA in July), and they can't rid themselves of Sidney Ponson (5.80 ERA, -6.5 VORP, and even less charm). The best they could do at the deadline was to ship Larry Bigbie to Colorado for Eric Byrnes, which should add a bit more punch and a better glove to the outfield. In light of all the bad news, that seems like an afterthought, as does the Golden Anvil award.

16


Cubs
53-52
3-4
Down
There's still plenty of hope to be had in the Windy City, even as the Cubs sputter and putter. Flipping Jason Dubois for Jody Gerut and ultimately Matt Lawton was a nice bit of horse trading on the part of Jim Hendry, helping to add some OBP to the top of a lineup critically lacking exactly that. Furthermore, Nomar Garciaparra, Kerry Wood, and Scott Williamson should all return later this week, the former displacing His Nefiness, and the latter two to a bullpen that can use the depth. While having Wood in the rotation would obviously be preferable, new additions Rich Hill and Jerome Williams have combined to put up a 4.07 ERA in seven starts (42 innings), more than a half-run lower than their injured star has managed.

17


Phillies
55-51
3-4
Up
From Baseball Prospectus Theater's production of Hamlet, starring Ed Wade: "To trade or not to trade, that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune like trading Ryan Howard and Billy Wagner for what's behind door number two, or to take arms (man, do we need a starter) against a sea of troubles like the NL East and by opposing end them...." That's as far as this Shakespeare wannabe got before claiming Authorial Indifference.

18


Brewers
52-54
4-3
Up
With little incentive to deal, GM Doug Melvin stood pat while the Brewers kept their heads down and played ball. Ben Sheets completed a great month (2.66 over 44 innings in his six starts, with a K/BB ratio of 39/5), as did Geoff Jenkins (.379/.459/.653). Closer Derrick Turnbow is unscored upon in his last 16 outings, a string extending all the way back to June 23. He now ranks third in the NL in Reliever Expected Wins Added with 3.352, and third in Fair Run Average (the New York Times' favorite of our reliever tools) with 1.45.

19


Tigers
50-54
1-5
Down
Who's the Closer? Not Troy Percival; he's done for the year. Not Ugueth Urbina; he's in Philly. And not Kyle Farnsworth, who's now a Brave. In dealing Farnsworth, the Tigers got themselves the proverbial "coupla live arms"; our transaction maven Chris Kahrl pegs Zach Miner as the sleeper in the deal. Those of you into fantasy already know that Fernando Rodney will get first crack at the statistical cookie. He's third on the team in Adjusted Runs Prevented behind Farnsworth and Urbina, so it seems only fitting.

20


Nationals
56-49
1-5
Flat
Since completing a sweep of the Cubs in the first weekend of July, the Gnats are just 6-18, and the balance of power in the NL East has swung eleven games in the Braves' favor. Blame the feeble Gnat bats; they haven't scored more than five runs in a game since July 8, and sluggged just .330 on the month. Blame Jim Bowden, who spent his last nickel on Preston Wilson, who's hit .228/.353/.386 since coming down from the Rocky Mountains, helping the team score all of 2.76 runs per game since the trade (though Nick Johnson's absence didn't help). Blame the 29 other self-interested owners, who wouldn't let the Nats stretch the budget any further after the Wilson trade. Blame Frank Robinson, who's too afraid of hurting Cristian Guzman's feelings by benching the majors' worst hitter; quoth the manager, "How can you have a 25-man roster and take a person out that started for you, sit him down and forget about him? You can't do that. If you do that, you might as well get rid of the player." And if you don't, you might as well get rid of the manager, or the GM who signed him to the dumb contract in the first place.

21


Padres
51-54
1-5
Flat
Their 1-12 slide took them below .500 and finally out of first place in the NL Worst West. Ramon Hernandez elected surgery, and after making Phil Nevin squat for his supper, GM Kevin Towers shipped him to Texas for Chan Ho Park while netting Dave Ross and Miguel Olivo to handle the catching duties until Hernandez's return. Park should benefit from spacious Petco, but not by leaps and bounds; his Ranger career featured a 5.98 ERA in Arlington, 5.52 on the road. It should be taken as a cry for help that neither Tim Stauffer nor fellow Ranger refugee Pedro Astacio offer appreciably better resumes at the rotation's back end; beyond Jake Peavy and the long-lost Adam Eaton, the starters' ERAs are an astronomical 5.30. Good luck getting beyond .500 with that.

22


Diamondbacks
52-55
4-3
Up
Survived another bout of Authorial Indifference to mosey past the hapless Padres and take first in the NL West, sub-.500 record and all. Jose Cruz Jr. is gone, netting a reasonable return in prospects and opening a spot for BP Top Prospect Honorable Mention Conor Jackson, who will see time at first base, shifting Chad Tracy to right field and Shawn Green to center. That could get interesting, but credit the Snakes for boldly injecting some more youth into the lineup.

23


Mariners
45-59
3-4
Down
It is an Ancient Mariner, and He Stoppeth Two of Two: 42-year-old southpaw Jamie Moyer reportedly invoked his 10-and-5 rights and nixed two chances to be traded to contenders (the Astros and the Braves). Meanwhile, Bill Bavasi's other deadline deals drew mixed reviews; a decent haul from the Marlins for Ron Villone, a paltry return on Randy Winn and Miguel Olivo that at least should mothball Pat Borders (who already smelled like your grandmother's closet) in favor of Yorvit Torrealba, and some live arms that may or may not pan out, with Natanael Mateo the best bet. Winn's departure opens up a spot for Chris Snelling, the Australian Lenny Dykstra clone who ought to give M's fans some entertainment value during this lost season.

24


Reds
47-58
5-2
Up
Having moved Joe Randa last week, the Reds watched the deadline come and go without clearing their logjam of outfielders, though GM Dan O'Brien is banking on the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. and Sean Casey clearing waivers due to their large contracts. Meanwhile, the Reds have gone on a 12-5 run since the All-Star break, scoring 6.29 runs per game and slugging .546 in that span. Javier Valentin (.444/.500/1.185) led the way, and Adam Dunn (.317/.414/.817) continues to bash as well, while BP's #22 Top Prospect Edwin Encarnacion (.304/.333/.565) has looked good in his first stint as a regular.

25


Dodgers
47-58
3-4
Down
As the team moves further south of .500, there are no deadline deals for Paul DePodesta this year, but some new faces nonetheless. After Ryan Freel ran up five steals in a single game on catcher Jason Phillips, the team recalled Dioner Navarro from Triple-A, and brought up pitcher Jonathan Broxton (3.36 ERA, 9.79 K/9, 3.41 K/BB) from Double-A at the expense of roster deadweight Scott Erickson (6.02 ERA, -2.2 VORP). They also got Jose Valentin back from the DL on Sunday, but as the DL giveth, it taketh away, this time in the form of Jayson Werth (.241/.335/.397); fittingly, Valentin will play some outfield to keep Antonio Perez's hot bat (.314/.386/.441 and 17.6 VORP, good for third on the team) in the lineup. This team needs all the help it can get.

26


Giants
45-59
3-4
Up
Surveying the wreckage of the sub-.500 NL West, GM Brian Sabean apparently misunderstands a directive from higher up as "Winn Now," emerging with a light-hitting leftfielder with a career SLG of .408; not exactly Barry Bonds territory. Randy Winn didn't cost them more than a backup catcher (Yorvit Torrealba) and a damaged-goods TNSTAAPP exhibit (Jesse Foppert), but it's tough to see how he'll help the Giants claw their way back to .500, or how he's better than Michael Tucker (hitting .260/.342/.399, easily distinguishable from Winn's .275/.342/.391) or rookie Jason Ellison (.276/.331/.385), should they dare slot him in centerfield. Meanwhile, Jason Schmidt stays put and continues to sort himself out. Over his last five starts (34 innings), he's posted a 3.17 ERA and a 35/12 K/BB ratio.

27


Pirates
44-61
1-5
Down
For a team expected to do a lot of business as the deadline approached, the Pirates were awfully quiet if not quietly awful. Jody Gerut is cheaper than Matt Lawton and easier to salt away on the bench as the youth movement, uh, moves, but lacking that OBP goodness that placed the latter in a demand that should have netted far more. Beyond that, the Pirates are left holding rather costly bags in Jose Mesa, Mark Redman and Kip Wells, and while some of that may make for waiver booty, that's hardly the name of the game when you're one of the few clear sellers in a seller's market. And so, for the 453rd time in this column's history, the verdict on the Pirates is "Arrrrgh."

28


Devil Rays
40-66
5-2
Up
And the winner of the Overplayed Hand Award is Chuck LaMar, whose exorbitant demands (22 weeks paid vacation, a different colored Ferrari for each day of the week, and a Top Five prospect just for returning your phone call) led the team to hold onto Aubrey Huff, Danys Baez, and Julio Lugo as the team readies for its annual Parade to 100 Losses. Really, it's sporting of LaMar to accept his share of the blame for a decade of complete and total failure, but at this point it looks as though he deserves no better than to wallow for another 10 years--without parole--in this mess.

29


Royals
38-67
2-5
Down
As Steven Goldman recounts in his excellent biography of Casey Stengel, Forging Genius, the Dodgers' inactivity over the winter of 1933-34 led rival manager Bill Terry to inquire, "Is Brooklyn still in the league?" With Allard Baird having watched the trade deadline come and go without making any deals, the same question might be asked of the Royals. While Jose Lima, Terrence Long, and even Matt Stairs may slink through waivers (imagining Stairs actually slinking through anything is pretty entertaining), the chances of the Royals exacting revenge by knocking someone out of the playoff picture on the last weekend (as the Dodgers did to Terry's Giants) are nil, and even less likely to make for a compelling account seven decades down the road.

30


Rockies
37-67
3-4
Flat
Shawn Chacon generates a modest return in live arms from the Yankees, but with Jason Jennings done for the year and Joe Kennedy rescued by Oakland, that rotation's getting awfully thin. It's worth noting that Byung-Hyun Kim has put up a 4.52 ERA as a starter, good enough for second-best on the team behind Chacon, but beyond him and Jeff Francis, you'll be seeing plenty of double-digit scores from opponents. Meanwhile, a strained calf (moo-hoo?) has Todd Helton headed to the DL, the latest in a litany of struggles for the first baseman, whose .468 SLG is a whoppping .148 below the career mark he brought into 2005.

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. 
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