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August 23, 2005

Prospectus Hit List

Week of August 21

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Cardinals
78-46
4-2
Flat
The returns of Yadier Molina (out six weeks with a broken left hand) and Larry Walker (out four weeks with a herniated disc) are offset by the infection in Mark Grudzielanek's knee and the season-ending surgery for Scott Rolen (torn labrum). For what it's worth, however, backup Abraham Nunez has been outhitting the damaged Rolen, with a Marginal Lineup Value rate of 0.083 to Rolen's -0.027. Meanwhile, Chris Carpenter continues his roll; over his last 14 starts, he's put up a 1.32 ERA with a 6.17 K/BB ratio.

2


Red Sox
71-51
3-4
Flat
Curt Schilling's latest hiccup in relief triggers a return to the rotation. Since moving to the pen he's just 0.033 Reliever Wins above expectation, thanks to a 5.18 ERA in 24.1 innings. Mike Timlin (1.73 ERA, 1.416 REWA) will close while Keith Foulke resumes his rehab after a knockout blow delivered by teammate Trot Nixon. It's unclear what the move will mean for rookie Jon Papelbon, who's put up a 2.25 ERA in 16 innings as a starter, but as a former college closer, he gives the Sox some options.

3


Athletics
68-55
1-5
Up
And you thought you had a bad week. Swept by the Orioles, who'd lost 20 of 30, the A's then lost two of three to the Royals, who'd only dropped 19 in a row entering the series. It all added up to a humbling week for what had been America's hottest team. Don't blame the pitching, which yielded just a 2.53 ERA, blame an offense which scraped together a meager 17 runs in that time.

4


Indians
68-56
5-1
Up
Since July 27, the Tribe has won 16 of 22, good enough to take six of the seven series they've played, and to climb within a half-game of the Wild Card. Jhonny Peralta's .321/.403/.595 tear since the All-Star break has put him 10th in the AL in VORP (46.6), and seventh in the league in MLVr (.281). Travis Hafner has recovered nicely from his concussion, hitting in 15 of 16 games to the tune of .355/.444/.565.

5


Angels
71-53
3-4
Up
Monster month: Vladimir Guerrero's hitting .388/.494/.761 with seven homers in August, and both Juan Rivera (.333/.418/.563) and Casey Kotchman (.292/.404/.625) have broken out the whooping sticks as well. Kotchman isn't the only rookie having a big impact on this team. Ervin Santana's posted a 2.80 ERA and six quality starts out of seven since the All-Star break. Five of those starts have been against the Yankees, A's and Red Sox, which helps to explain why he's among the major league leaders in Quality of Batters Faced.

6


White Sox
75-46
1-5
Down
Hitless Wonders: before snapping their seven-game losing streak by salvaging the weekend finale against the Yankees, the Sox had hit just .200/.255/.270 on the week and were outscored 26-8. Some of that drought can be linked to the loss of leadoff hitter Scott Podsednik, who went on the DL with a strained groin on Monday. Meager though his .282/.348/.337 may seem at first glance, Podsednik's OBP gets a nice boost via Nate Silver's Speed-adjusted On Base stat, and it's miles better than the OBPs of the duo tapped by Ozzie Guillen in his stead, Timo Perez (.268) and Pablo Ozuna (.309). Meanwhile, the rumors that the Sox have voted to forfeit last week's washout with the Red Sox, a game with numerous postseason implications, are untrue according to player representative Mark Buehrle and GM Kenny Williams.

7


Braves
70-54
2-4
Down
Thanks in part to Jeff Francoeur (.370/.389/.717 and the top VORP among NL rookie hitters), Braves rookies have the highest cumulative VORP of any NL team and any crop of Braves rookies in the Schuerholz/Cox/Mazzone era. Alas, their first round pick from this year's draft, Joey Devine, got a harsh welcome in his big-league debut, yielding a game-winning grand slam to Xavier Nady. Also, Happy 47th birthday to Julio Franco, who's hitting a robust .299/.359/.503 and outproducing players who were still in diapers when he broke into the big leagues.

8


Yankees
67-55
4-3
Flat
Jaret Wright was solid in his return from nearly four months on the shelf. Shawn Chacon keeps on keeping on, with a 14.5 VORP and a 1.64 ERA since arriving from Colorado. But Joe Torre's ridiculous fixation on strike zone-addled Al Leiter (4.84 ERA, 0.92 K/BB, 2.0 VORP) at the expense of hot-handed Aaron Small (3.10 ERA, 1.67 K/BB, 8.9 VORP) may well cost him a shot at October. Equally damaging is the team's 4-9 record against the Devil Rays; 4.5 games worse than the Red Sox's 8-4 record against them. George Steinbrenner's worst nightmare might turn into Torre's worst one, too.

9


Astros
66-58
3-4
Up
Since reeling off a 15-2 run that put them at the head of the Wild Card pack, the Astros are back to their mediocre ways, having lost 10 of 17. Why, Roger Clemens allowed five earned runs for the first time all year, and we aren't even in September yet. Clemens has been struggling with both back pain and his anti-inflammatory regimen, and no matter how good Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt and the rest of the staff--second in the league with a 3.57 ERA--pitch, losing the Rocket would be a critical blow to the team's postseason chances.

10


Mets
63-60
4-2
Up
Seo What? Since returning from the minors, Jae Seo (21.1 VORP) has allowed just one run in 23.1 innings. Of course, he'd allowed only four in his first 18 innings before being sent down three months prior, raising the question of just why it took the Mets brass 16 starts to decide that Kazuhisa Ishii (-0.6 VORP) didn't belong in the rotation while Seo languished in Norfolk. In the can't buy a break department, this week it's Mike Piazza fracturing a bone in his wrist. As he plays out the string, he's hitting just .259/.326/.444, essentially the same as backup Ramon Castro's .250/.317/.444.

11


Twins
66-58
6-1
Up
By winning nine of 11, the Twins have reinserted themselves in the Wild Card hunt. Lew Ford picked the right time to get hot; he's hitting .307/.365/.477 since Torii Hunter went down and has homered in three straight. Also riding a hot streak is Joe Nathan, who hasn't allowed a run since July 10, a span of 14 innings. Nathan ranks third in the AL in Reliever Expected Wins Added (3.613), while fellow Twins Jesse Crain (sixth at 3.424) and Juan Rincon (12th at 2.499) are among the league leaders as well.

12


Marlins
65-58
5-2
Flat
Reeled off a 28-inning scoreless streak, though against NL West patsies like the Padres and the Dodgers, that's not quite the impressive feat it would otherwise be. The team's big three chalked up the bulk of those shutout innings, but rookie Jason Vargas impressed as well, sealing the Dodger series with a complete-game win on Sunday. Since his recall when Al Leiter was DFA'ed, Vargas has put up a 2.43 ERA in five starts and four relief appearances totalling 37 innings, striking out 33. He's already fourth among NL rookies in VORP at 12.3.

13


Blue Jays
63-60
2-4
Down
Essentially negated a 7-2 run by being swept and outscored 29-13 by the Tigers over the weekend, falling four spots to earn themselves this week's Golden Anvil award. The losses of Roy Halladay and Ted Lilly have hit the rotation especially hard; their replacements, Scott Downs and Dustin McGowan, have combined for a 6.89 ERA while averaging under five innings per start. Not that Lilly, he of the 5.52 ERA and 5.22 innings per start, can claim much high ground either. He'll begin a rehab assignment this week, while Halladay's setbacks have pushed his return back to September.

14


Phillies
67-58
4-3
Up
Just as the plug was pulled on Jim Thome's season, the Phils have gotten hot enough to take the lead in the Wild Card race, though our Postseason Odds page shows them has having a 29.1 percent chance of playing in October, compared to the Astros' 34.4 percent chance. One big key to the team's persistence in the race has been the resurgence of Vicente Padilla, who's put up a 1.89 ERA and allowed just two homers since July 6, a span of eight starts. Along with avoiding the gopher ball, improved control--a 36/23 K/BB ratio, compared to 37/33 before that--has been a big factor in lowering his ERA from 6.96 to 4.47.

15


Tigers
60-62
5-1
Up
Winners of seven of eight, five of them by one run. Pack that with a 17-6 shellacking of a tired Toronto staff and you've got yourself this week's Platinum Pole Vault winners. Carlos Guillen's swollen right knee--the surgically repaired one--sends him to the DL, but organizational whipping boy Carlos Pena chips in with three homers in his first nine at-bats since being recalled. He's still a whisker below the Mendoza Line (.199/.319/.360), suffering from the condition known as Vorpus negativi, and mired behind Chris Shelton (.324/.393/.544), but perhaps six weeks of competent hitting in spot duty will make him a desirable commodity in the winter market.

16


Rangers
57-66
1-5
Down
When I say, "Hello, Mr. Thompson," and press down on your foot, you smile and nod: six years, one day, and four arm surgeries later, Justin Thompson returns to the majors. Alas, for a Rangers' staff that's put up a 6.76 ERA in August, such happy tales are few and far between, unless you prefer the schadenfreude route. In that case, Kenny Rogers' 7.00 ERA in his three-post suspension starts will do nicely.

17


Cubs
60-64
3-3
Down
Nomar Garciaparra's hitting .348/.400/.543 since his return from Groinland, Kerry Wood's tossed nine innings of one-run relief, Mark Prior's body parts are right where he left them, Neifi Perez is hitting like Nomar (.354/.404/.542 on the month), and Carlos Zambrano's allowed just three earned runs all month. Guess what? The Cubs are still seventh in the Wild Card standings, mostly because the non-Zambrano starters have allowed a 6.42 ERA on the month as the team's fallen below .500.

18


Orioles
60-63
3-3
Down
Rafael Palmeiro keeps up the Johnny Tightlips act, passes through waivers, and misses time with an ankle sprain, enabling him to maintain the league lead in schadenfreude. So long as he's under the magnifying glass, why not burn him, too?

19


Brewers
61-64
4-3
Down
Still plonking along in the general vicinity of .500, and if that's all this year ends up being remembered for in Milwaukee, it's still a big step forward. Chris Capuano has emerged as a legitimate front-line starter; he leads the staff in VORP with 30.2, barely edging Ben Sheets (29.0). Meanwhile Brady Clark's trip to the DL for bruised ribs opens up a spot for Prince Fielder, and with Lyle Overbay scuffling (.286/.325/.325 in August) it would be interesting to see Little Big Daddy get some more at-bats.

20


Nationals
65-59
3-4
Up
The bleeding has stopped, but the Nats are still paying back Pythagoras. They've outscored opponents 87-67 on the month, but have just a 9-10 record to show for it. One pressing concern is Livan Hernandez. Since his 145-pitch outing on July 31, the game's most abused pitcher has lasted just 21.2 innings over four starts, yielding a 7.89 ERA. On a more positive note, Preston Wilson has found a groove, hitting .328/.403/.594 on the month, and top draft pick Ryan Zimmerman, hitting .305/.343/.510 in 200 at-bats at Double-A Harrisburg, may join the team this week.

21


Padres
61-62
3-3
Down
Just 13-21 since the All-Star break, and outscored by an average score of 5.20 to 3.65, the Padres continue to taunt the rest of the weak NL West with a firm grip on first place despite their ineptitude. Only Miguel Olivo (.304/.339/.607) and Mark Sweeney (.418/.476/.600) have managed to post an OPS above .780 in that span. Brian Lawrence and Woody Williams, counted on to stabilize the rotation as Adam Eaton rehabs, have combined for a 6.51 ERA since the break, and Chan Ho Park has been pitching worse than he did in Texas, which takes some special (in the short-bus sense) talent to pull off.

22


Reds
57-67
3-4
Flat
Despite losing four straight to the likes of the Brewers and Giants, the Reds are 22-14 since the All-Star break. Aside from Official Hit List Whipping Boy (who should take over the NL pitching VORP basement soon), they've been getting reasonably good starts, with the other four members of the rotation combining for a respectable 3.90 ERA and 0.8 HR/9 in August. Meanwhile, Sean Casey's been en fuego (.391/.451/.656) this month, and Ken Griffey Jr. (.356/.392/.658) continues to hit despite the constant swirl of trade rumors.

23


Mariners
53-70
4-3
Up
Four starts into his major-league career, Felix Hernandez is already fourth among Mariner pitchers in VORP (13.9). He's yielded just 16 hits and four walks in 29 innings while striking out 30. Alas, not everything is sunshine in the Emerald City. The team finally cut the cord on Scott Spiezio, having gotten all of 2.1 WARP for their $9.15 million. And an even unkinder cut will come from the surgeons who will repair the left knee of Chris Snelling for the fifth time.

24


Dodgers
56-67
3-4
Flat
Another mixed week, marred by clubhouse discord as well as--what else is new?--injury. This time it's Odalis Perez (4.73 ERA, 6.8 VORP) with a strained oblique that threatens his season. In his place, the Dodgers recalled Edwin Jackson, BP's sixth-ranked prospect in 2004 but #45 on this year's Top Prospect List. Like some third-rate crooner, Jackson bombed so badly in Las Vegas (8.62 ERA, 2.11 HR/9, 0.89 K/BB in 55.1 IP) they sent him away, but he appears to have righted himself in Double-A Jacksonville (3.48 ERA, 1.02 HR/9, 2.44 K/BB in 62 IP). Consider this an audition for next year's rotation--the Dodgers' or somebody else's.

25


Diamondbacks
58-67
2-4
Down
Since briefly taking over first place in the NL Worst, the D-Backs are just 6-12, their pitching staff having been pounded to the tune of a 6.31 ERA, and their deficit another 41 runs deeper. Despite every indication that Russ Ortiz's stuff wasn't capable of getting hitters out both before and during his rehab, they brought back their $45 million man from his eight-week trip to the DL and watched him allow 11 runs in 8.2 innings. He's now at -10.3 VORP on the year. Not to be outdone, Javier Vazquez and Brad Halsey have combined for a 7.68 ERA over 41 innings in that span as well, which should make Yankee fans feel a little better about Randy Johnson's recent woes.

26


Pirates
53-71
2-5
Flat
The rookies continue to impress. Brad Eldred hit .400/.429/.850 on the week and has now homered in five of his last eight games. Ryan Doumit has shaken off a slow start to hit a scorching .439/.489/.585 in August. Chris Duffy is back in action after missing most of a week with hamstring and dehydration woes. And Zach Duke bounced back from two rough starts to throw seven innings of two-hit shutout ball at the Mets. In just 57.2 innings, he's racked up a 23.4 VORP, still tops among NL rookie pitchers. The team says it may limit Duke's innings rather than shut him down.

27


Giants
54-69
4-3
Flat
Armando Benitez is back from a hamstring tear that cost him nearly four months, and he's retaken the closer role just in time for Tyler Walker to head to the DL with a sore shoulder. With a 4.86 ERA and -0.114 Reliever Expected Wins Added, Walker's been no godsend, but there's plenty of blame to go around on the staff whose ERA ranks 13th in the league, ahead of only the inhabitants of extreme hitters' parks in Arizona, Cincinnati, and Colorado.

28


Devil Rays
51-73
5-1
Flat
Now 23-12 since the All-Star break, the Rays have won eight out of nine, sandwiching sweeps of the Indians and Rangers around another beating of the Yankees. They've tormented the Bronx Bombers this year, having taken 9 of 13 thus far. Eduardo Perez gets high marks on the degree of difficulty scale, having hit three of his nine homers off of Randy Johnson, and adding a game-tying shot off of Mariano Rivera as well. Since the break, Jonny Gomes has hit .296/.399/.583 with 10 homers; he's third among AL rookies in VORP (22.7).

29


Rockies
47-77
3-3
Flat
Aaron Cook has cranked out four quality starts after a rocky (sorry) 2005 debut. He's got a 4.25 ERA on the year and has yet to allow a homer despite pitching all of his games in either Colorado or Arizona; his sinkerball has been working especially well, as attested to by that 2.78 G/F ratio. Meanwhile, Todd Helton has been hot since coming off the DL on August 10, but the tear he's on goes back much further; since June 21, he's hitting .392/.492/.649 in 164 plate appearances.

30


Royals
40-82
2-4
Flat
They could have been contenders for the worst losing streak in AL history, but like everything else this year, the Royals mucked that up too. You know it's bad when a headline like "The Chase for .400" evokes not nostalgia for George Brett's great summer of 25 years ago but panic at the monumental task of salvaging the dignity that only a 65-97 (.401) season can bring. If the Royals can win 25 out of 40 to reach that goal, every reader who saves this entry wins a date with Matt Stairs.

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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