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April 3, 2006

Prospectus Hit List

Preseason Edition

by Jay Jaffe

RkTeam
Proj. WPCT
Proj. Wins
Proj. Loss
Comment

1


A's
.574
93
69
Frozen out of the playoffs for two years in a row by the Angels, the A's appear poised to capitalize on something of a rebuilding year for the Halos. Depth in the rotation (a healthy Rich Harden here, an added Esteban Loaiza in the five-spot there, and the second highest VORP forecast of any starting five), the addition of enfant terrible Milton Bradley (with a pickpocket bonus of Antonio Perez), and a healthier Bobby Crosby (the A's were 55-29 with him in the lineup, 33-45 when he was out) are the keys. Billy Beane's, uh, stuff, has yet to work in the playoffs, but the A's should at least get another shot this year.

2


Yankees
.580
94
68
Another year older and again the top payroll in the league (though perhaps south of $200 million this time around), the Yanks nonetheless are in solid position to chase their ninth straight AL East title. The rotation's depth is already tested by spring injuries to Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright and Aaron Small, and PECOTA thinks Chien-Ming Wang and Shawn Chacon will have a tough time replicating last year's success. Johnny Damon replaces Bernie Williams in center field, but Williams will apparently linger around to collect at-bats at DH and as the fourth outfielder, a lazy solution to a rather glaring weakness. Quibbles aside, the offense will still put 900 runs on the board, and that means action in October.

3


Red Sox
.574
93
69
Their offseason soap operas behind them, the Red Sox move forward with Manny Ramirez still in the fold but minus championship components such as Johnny Damon, Bill Mueller, and Bronson Arroyo. Nobody ever won a World Series on nostalgia alone (though the 2001 Yankees came very close), and with the likes of Coco Crisp and Josh Beckett, the Sox have gotten younger and financially more flexible. But not necessarily healthier--red lights for Beckett, Curt Schilling, and Keith Foulke mean their pitching depth will be tested, and for all the fear that Ramirez and Big Papi strike in the hearts of pitchers, production from the infield may be hard to come by.

4


Dodgers
.537
87
75
Frank McCourt's abrupt curtains for the Paul DePodesta/Jim Tracy regime turned the team into the winter's laughingstock, but new GM Ned Colletti quickly set things right. With a series of short-term deals and admirable restraint in holding onto the team's top prospects, Colletti has patched over last season's injuries without mortgaging the future. The additions have a distinct Boston flavor--Nomar Garciaparra, Bill Mueller and new manager Grady Little)--and more than a little Frisco as well (Mueller, Kenny Lofton, Brett Tomko, even the wrong Ramon Martinez) and anybody harkening back to last year's Opening Day lineup (which returns only Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew) will be completely disoriented. But the return of Eric Gagne and the scraping of so much replacement level gunk from the roster leaves the Dodgers poised to strike in a division where health--particularly of Mr. Potato Head--will be a factor.

5


Mets
.543
88
74
Year two of Omar Minaya's regime finds the Mets aiming at the top of the NL East, with Carlos Delgado, Paul Lo Duca and, uh, Xavier Nady installed in their lineup. None of them came cheap, nor do they correct Willie Randolph's weakness for the low-OBP Jose Reyes at the top of the order or refusal to rule out Kazuo Matsui at the keystone. Pedro Martinez's sore toe is a concern, as is a rotation whose depth was sacrificed at the expense of the bullpen; sure, Anna Benson's a pain and her husband's overrated, but Jorge Julio looks like he may generate fond memories of Mel Rojas, and as interesting as Brian Bannister may be, Aaron Heilman merits another look for innings one through seven. PECOTA may say the Mets will knock off the Braves, but we'll believe it only when we see it.

6


Indians
.543
88
74
Number one on the final Hit List of last year, the Tribe nonetheless conspiculously wound up without an invitation to the dance. That small defeat didn't outshine the giant steps the team has made in returning to contention, and GM Mark Shapiro aims to stay there. He's locked up the up-the-middle nucleus of Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Grady Sizemore through their arbitration years, has a plum prospect in Andy Marte ready for his callup, and closer-in-waiting Fernando Cabrera down in the bullpen. Nonetheless, the failure to shoo off killer B's like Casey Blake, Ben Broussard and Aaron Boone is still worrisome, as is the need for Paul Byrd to emulate Kevin Millwood's fluky 2005.

7


Phillies
.531
86
76
The Pat Gillick regime began with the bang of trading Jim Thome for a healthy dose of outfield defense in Aaron Rowand and an unimpeded Ryan Howard in the lineup. Since then the returns have diminished: too many years for Tom Gordon, too much reliance on Arthur Rhodes to do a Flash imitation, and too much Ryan Franklin for anyone in a homer-heavy ballpark, though that last mistake may be mitigated by the late victory of Gavin Floyd in the fifth-starter derby. Chase Utley is a stud and Jimmy Rollins offered a glimmer of hope that he might live up to his contract, but if Bobby Abreu's second-half collapse (.260/.376/.411) continues to linger, things could get ugly.

8


Cardinals
.531
86
76
After Tony LaRussa's gang dominated both the NL Central and the Hit List rankings (14 weeks ruling the roost), some regression to the mean is in the, uh, Cards. Albert Pujols is still the man and the return of Scott Rolen is in their favor, but any offense with So Taguchi, Larry Bigbie and/or Juan Encarnacion in place of Larry Walker or Reggie Sanders is a big step back. Expecting Chris Carpenter to toss another 240.2 innings with a VORP of 67.8 is a stretch, and the rebuilt bullpen doesn't fill PECOTA with confidence. Factor in improvements from the Cubs and Brewers, and the Central could be a real scramble.

9


Braves
.525
85
77
The forecasts may say "third in the NL East," but until somebody actually knocks the Braves off of their perch for the first time in the Schuerholz/Cox era, the division title runs through Atlanta. The offseason was a mixed bag of good (not overpaying for a closer, committing to the Brian McCann/Todd Pratt backstop tandem), bad (failing to move Chipper Jones off the hot corner, punting Andy Marte for Edgar Renteria) and ugly (maintaining Horacio Ramirez's spot in the rotation). The biggest question is how well the pitching staff can cope with the departure of Leo Mazzone; everything else, from the Jones boys to the plate discipline of Jeff Francoeur, will sort itself out in due time.

10


Twins
.519
84
78
Make no mistake; the Twins know their pitching, from Johan Santana to the control freak duo of Brad Radke and Carlos Silva to the game's top pitching prospect, Francisco Liriano, not even cracking the rotation, but at least bumping the LOOGY off the roster. Joe Mauer aside, offense is a mystery to the Twins in the same way disease was a mystery to those who lived prior to Louis Pasteur, and here comes Terry Ryan with a not-so-fresh batch of leeches named Tony Batista and Rondell White to provide some extra blood. Resurgence from Justin Morneau, Lew Ford, Michael Cuddyer and/or Jason Kubel would go a long way towards restoring the team's standing in the AL Central.

11


Cubs
.525
85
77
Last year's squad led the majors in underachievement, a shortfall of 10 games by PECOTA's reckoning. Their crosstown rivals' contrasting overachievement only throws the Cubs' championship drought into sharper relief. Yet even with the rotation already resembling a M*A*S*H unit, there's a good deal of talent on hand, especially considering the Juan Pierre and Ronny Cedeno upgrades over Corey Patterson and Neifi Perez. None of which is to say Dusty Baker won't find a way to exacerbate the rotation situation, or that the offense can get by if Derrek Lee's performance slips back to merely good; PECOTA sees four wins worth of regression on his ledger alone.

12


Brewers
.519
84
78
Having reached .500 last year to cap a dramatic organizational turnaround, the Brew Crew now finds the weight of expectations resting squarely on their shoulders. Rookie Prince Fielder is the big story in more ways than one, but he's joined by a young keystone duo--Rickie Weeks and J.J. Hardy--who should improve over last year's performances. Still, it's the pitching that's paramount, particularly the health of Ben Sheets and the continued success of last year's feel-good stories like Chris Capuano and Derrick Turnbow. The 2006 season may not get it all done, but the take-home message is this: out of the shadow of Bud Selig, this organization has some overdue sunshine headed its way.

13


Tigers
.512
83
79
The Tigers flirted with .500 for three quarters of 2005, but a 10-29 finish and the loss of the clubhouse cashiered manager Alan Trammell. GM Dave Dombrowski has coaxed Jim Leyland out of retirement to reap the rewards of a maturing pitching staff that will feature top prospects Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya along with Jeremy Bonderman. Full years of Placido Polanco and Curtis Granderson will be a boost, but the offense needs better health from Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez, and better plate discipline and attitude from Ivan Rodriguez if Motown is to roll.

14


White Sox
.506
82
80
PECOTA doesn't love the World Champions, but credit GM Kenny Williams for not standing pat in the wake of the Sox title. The acquisitions of Jim Thome and Javier Vazquez are bold strokes that may pay off with another trip to the postseason, and the rotation has the highest VORP forecast of any starting five. But there's a ton of uncertainty in the bullpen, from Bobby Jenks' control to Dustin Hermanson's back to the repeatability of Ozzie Guillen's golden touch, and if you want to talk about repeatability, don't bank on another 35-19 record in one-run games, either. Just because all of the breaks fell the Southsiders' way last year doesn't mean they will again, almost by definition.

15


Giants
.494
80
82
Barry Bonds' knees, elbow, past transgressions and march towards 714 and 755 threaten to overshadow everything else about this team. Even if GM Brian Sabean continues to misunderstand the Winn Now mandate, the NL West is tight enough that a few breaks, strains or tears could swing things in a number of ways. Nonetheless, the extreme combinations of young and old and corresponding lack of prime means the Giants need more luck than most.

16


Angels
.500
81
81
Fret not, Angels fans. PECOTA forecasts the Halos with the third-best rotation in the majors, Mike Scioscia runs a bullpen as well as any manager in the game, and the team has a ton of talent in the pipeline. If the crystal ball isn't so sanguine about the offense, well, at least the Darin Erstad Experience is nearly over, Casey Kotchman's power appears to be arriving, and they've got the depth and flexibility to confront a number of different scenarios. The Angels may wind up looking up at the Athletics in this transitional year, but they're a good bet to exceed this forecast, and the future is rosy.

17


Astros
.500
81
81
Roger Clemens and Jeff Bagwell are likely gone, and when the trickle-down means more innings for Wandy Rodriguez and Ezequiel Astacio, or more at-bats for Jason Lane and Chris Burke, a return trip to the World Series is out of the question. Even with the third amigo of their near-historic trio waffling into another retirement, Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte forecast as the NL's best 1-2 punch, helping to keep things respectable.

18


Rangers
.494
80
82
New GM Jon Daniels quickly put his imprint on the club, overhauling the rotation and jettisoning Alfonso Soriano to make way for Ian Kinsler. But there's still a lot of dogmeat on that pitching staff: the front five forecasts to the fourth-worst in the majors, and that's before the fickle finger of fate pointed Adam Eaton back to the DL. Just as bad, the main Soriano bounty, Brad Wilkerson, is already showing signs that last year's injuries are anything but behind him. Once again, runs will be scored in Arlington, just not enough of them by the Rangers.

19


Padres
.481
78
84
Last year's winners of the Mild, Mild West made some nice upgrades this winter by acquiring Mike Cameron, Mike Piazza and Chris Young. But the rotation--including Dewon Brazelton (!)--looks shaky behind Jake Peavy (one man's choice for the NL Cy Young) and Young, and the injuries--to Cameron and Ryan Klesko, particularly--are already starting to mount. In a division where health was the deciding factor last year, that's not a good omen.

20


Diamondbacks
.475
77
85
Former Red Sox assistant GM Josh Byrnes has made a favorable impact in shoring up a team that had to overachieve to win 77 games last year. Byrnes has cleared the way for touted prospects like Conor Jackson and Stephen Drew (if not Carlos Quentin) to break into the lineup, acquired another one in Chris Young, upgraded the infield defense with Orlando Hudson, and secured the team some much-needed payroll flexibility. The rotation behind Brandon Webb is still in rough shape, projecting as the third-worst in the game, and the bullpen isn't much better, but sunnier days are ahead for the Snakes.

21


Pirates
.488
79
83
So just what does Jim Tracy see from this vantage that he didn't in Chavez Ravine? Aside from downtown Pittsburgh, diminished expectations and the underside of the NL Central standings, we're not sure. True, the Bucs have promising youngsters such as Zach Duke and Paul Maholm in the rotation, Ryan Doumit behind the plate, and either Chris Duffy or Nate McLouth in the outfield. They're also daft enough to acquire mediocrities like Jeromy Burnitz and Sean Casey while marginalizing Craig Wilson, their second-best hitter after Jason Bay, and Dave Littlefield has already shown that the deadline game of Flip-the-Vet offers only middling returns. If the youngsters come together and if Oliver Perez--who lost 57.2 runs of VORP from 2004 to 2005, thanks in part to self-inflicted injury--can revert to form, there may be more to smile about than that Joe Randa-for-a-live-arm deal Littlefield has planned for July.

22


Blue Jays
.488
79
83
They've committed $102 million to two pitchers over the next five years, added a big bopper who lucked into health last year, shored up their third-base logjam and can offer a healthy Roy Halladay at the front of a rotation that forecasts as the seventh-best. Color us unimpressed nonetheless. Even in a division where the titans threaten to be a bit more Titanic this year, the Jays still feature too many .270/.330/.430 hitters masquerating as pillars of production, and that won't cut it.

23


Mariners
.475
77
85
A full year of King Felix Hernandez and a possibly rejuvenated Ichiro, fresh off his team's triumph in the World Baseball Classic, make for two great reasons to tune in to the Mariners. Speaking of the WBC, Adrian Beltre was swinging the bat well for a couple of weeks there, wasn't he? Beyond that, the occasional jack from Richie Sexson, and some slick fielding at shortstop, there's not much to get excited about here unless you dig the skid row of broken prospects that is the back of the Mariners' rotation. Oh, and all the Willie Bloomquist you can stomach.

24


Reds
.481
78
84
New GM Wayne Krivsky came in and acted decisively, trading Sean Casey so he could clear his outfield logjam by moving Adam Dunn to first base. He liked decisiveness so much, he traded Wily Mo Pena to Boston so he could move Dunn back to the outfield and free up a spot for Scott Hatteberg, last seen decomposing in Oakland. Worse, in Bronson Arroyo he added another flyball pitcher to a staff that's going to lead the league in sore necks. Plus he's let Tony Womack linger around the roster within reach of Ryan Freel's starting job. That's not just decisive, that's decisively stupid.

25


Rockies
.457
74
88
The Rox still haven't figured out how to build a winner in mile-high conditions. For all of the inflated scoring their enviroment produces, they're content to putter around with sub-adequate hitters; of their top 15 according to PECOTA VORP projections, only four figure to have EqAs higher than the tick-above-league-average .262. Their best one, Todd Helton, is on the downslope but still owed more than $100 million on his contract. The pitching, with full seasons from groudballers like Jason Jennings and Aaron Cook, might not be as bad as you think, but there will be plenty of 5.00 ERAs to go around.

26


Orioles
.475
77
85
The landslide winners of the 2005 Hit List Crash and Burn award scored one of the offseason's biggest coups when they plucked pitching coach Leo Mazzone from the Braves. There's no Maddux, Glavine or Smoltz here, but Rockin' Leo has some promising young arms to work with (Daniel Cabrera, Erik Bedard, Chris Ray), and the staff should exceed expectations in ways that PECOTA can't foresee. The offense boasts some solid contributors, including medical miracle Brian Roberts, but Melvin Mora has to put aside his contractual distractions, Miguel Tejada needs to lose the thousand-yard stare, and someone in the outfield--Corey Patterson? Nick Markakis? the undead Kevin Millar?--needs to step up.

27


Marlins
.438
71
91
In which those princes of darkness, Jeffery Loria and David Samson, punish the miserly taxpayers of Miami-Dade County by stripping the roster of all but its two brightest stars, restocking with questionable Double-A "talent," (Reggie Abercrombie? Dan Uggla? a half-baked Hanley Ramirez?) and threatening to take their business elsewhere. Yawn. Take the "Under" on those 71 wins and check back in 2009, when a plucky group of Wild Card underdogs will bring Loria's successors another title while further alienating the local fan base as the team threatens to embark for that Reggie Abercrombie of major league markets, San Antonio.

28


Nationals
.432
70
92
Another year has passed, and the Nats are still wards of the other 29 teams, still stuck with boy genius Jim Bowden forcing square pegs like Alfonso Soriano into round holes like left field and choosing the likes of Brandon Watson over Ryan Church. On a team where Royce Clayton is considered an upgrade over injured Cristian Guzman and where Jose Guillen's joints are already aching, scoring will be a problem, but rookie Ryan Zimmerman--#3 on our Top Prospect List--offers at least one reason to watch.

29


Devil Rays
.426
69
93
At first glance, this looks like the same old same old that's dogged the franchise since its inception. A quick look at that rotation (a combined VORP forecast of 41.0 runs, second-worst of the 30 teams) supports that notion. But there's a new day rising in Tampa Bay. With an outfield crowded enough to knock Aubrey Huff back to the hot corner, the game's top prospect(Delmon Young) and a pretty fair one shorn of his rookie status back in 2004 (B.J. Upton) on the farm, the Rays have plenty of talent at their disposal, and no Chuck LaMar around to screw it up. That's not quite the same as getting it right, but it's the freshest start this team could have hoped for.

30


Royals
.377
61
101
The season hasn't even begun, yet there are plenty of reasons to be blue already: Zack Greinke's prolonged absence, Runelvys Hernandez's demotion, a replacement-level projected rotation, an infield whose right half you can't spell, a general manager content to undo a decent deal to reacquire an affabile futilityman, and an owner whose Wal-Mart aesthetic of offering cut-rate crapola at rock-bottom prices rules the day.

The preseason version of the Prospectus Hit List is derived from the PECOTA-driven Playoff Odds report. The regular-season Prospectus Hit List rankings are derived from Won-Loss records and several measurements pertaining to run differentials, both actual and adjusted, from the 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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