With one week of play in the books and the tempers of last week's angry mob of White Sox fans in need of more stoking (2-4 record be damned), it's time to break out the first in-season edition of the Hit List. This week marks the debut of the Hit List Factor (HLF), the underlying figure which determines the rankings of the 30 teams (it was there last year, we just didn't publish it). Normally, the HLF is calculated from the actual, first-, second-, and third-order winning percentages as presented in our Adjusted Standings, but since those magical numbers aren't online yet, we're working with the bathtub gin equivalent: one part actual winning percentage, one part Pythagenpat and one part PECOTA (the same rotgut that gave some of you the dry heaves last week). Ready to fire off another angry e-mail? Hold your fire and instead get giddy over small sample sizes. It's fun to get giddy over small sample sizes. They don't mean much unless you're expecting Chris Shelton to knock 116 homers, but they remind us to enjoy the hothouse flowers before they're wilted by the heat of the pennant races. To everything there is a season, and now's the time for guys hitting .536.
The Jim Leyland era begins with a bang. Chris Shelton (14-for-24, 5 HR, 35 TB) paces an attack that sets three- and five-game records for most homers to open a season, besting the 1998 Mariners on both counts. This may not be 1984, but it sure ain't 2003 either.
Forget the decimated rotation for a moment; a sweep of the Cardinals--their first since June 5-7, 2001--has the Cubs feeling no pain. GM Jim Hendry gets his extension, with Dusty Baker and Derrek Leesoon to follow. With a three-homer, 1.500 OPS week, D-Lee's picking up right where he left off, so why not? Besides the fact that five-year contracts for 30-year-olds aren't such a hot idea, we mean.
Curt Schilling gets the Sox on the good foot with a pair of performances more 2004 than 2005 (14 IP, 3 ER, 9 K). Josh Beckett survives some early drama to win his debut. Terry Francona shows he's unafraid to call Jon Papelbon's number in order to steer clear of further Foulke-ups, though the Boston manager has stopped short of claiming the move is permanent. Only a crunch in Coco Crisp's hand puts a damper on the first week.
Despite the rain and strain of Opening Night, the Tribe rebounds to serve notice to their pale-hosed nemesis that a repeat won't be automatic. Travis Hafner's four jacks and stellar relief work (three earned runs in 18.2 frames) from everybody this side of Fernando Cabrera offer reminders that last year's near miss may yet have a happier ending.
The Rox roll into Petco Park, scoring the most runs (32) of any team there regardless of series length. Cory Sullivan becomes the first player in more than half a century to triple twice in one inning, while Jason Smith (he of the mighty .219/.251/.371 career line) goes yard three times on the series and raises his lifetime OPS 35 points in three days. We're through the small sample size looking glass, people.
Aside from Barry Zito's Opening Day drubbing and Bobby Crosby's spiking, a solid first week for the A's. Notoriously slow-starting Eric Chavez (.248/.335/.468 in his Aprils) whacks three home runs, helping to cover for Dan Johnson (0-for-19) and Frank Thomas (1-for-21 after homering in his first at-bat as an A), while Zito atones with six innings of one-hit shutout ball against the Mariners.
Hold onto your hats; the Snakes have the majors' best ERA (2.68), with Orlando Hernandez' five inning, one-run offering the only non-quality start thus far (yes, Virginia, even Russ Ortiz managed one). Especially interesting was Miguel Batista's seven-inning, 11 K performance, offering hope that the Galaxy's Crappiest Poet (light years worse than the Vogons) can avoid the grim fate (5.45 ERA, 62% Collapse rate) PECOTA foresees.
For all of the doomsaying, the (probably) post-Bagwell, post-Clemens era starts off on a positive note. Never mind that the Marlins (71 wins) and Nats (70 wins) don't exactly project as powerhouses; on a team that started last year 15-30, salting away early wins is always welcome. Preston Wilson fills the void with three homers in his first week, while Craig Biggio puts himself just 200 hits away from the magic 3,000.
Stuck on 708 and hitting just 2-for-12 (albeit with seven walks), Barry Bonds says, "I stink right now," and Will Carroll, for one, agrees, noting the instability at the base of the slugger's swing. Meanwhile, Noah Lowry suffers an oblique strain less than a week after signing a new four-year, $9.25 million deal. Now that hurts.
A pair of blowout victories bookends some meager offense and questionable decision-making. Joe Torre holds Mariano Rivera for a lead that never comes, forcing the opposition to beat his worst--shades of the 2003 World Series--instead of his best, and is reduced to giving Mo garbage time to shake the rust out. The Yankees still can't solve the Angels; they're now 52-57 (postseason included) against the Halos in the Torre era.
Six home games, 6.33 team ERA, and a league-leading 21 balls into the seats between the two teams--yeah, that looks about right, so hope GM Wayne Krivsky has some extra boxes of balls at the disposal of his gopheriffic staff. Score That E-6: as several readers pointed out, last week, I muffed the chronology of the Reds' trade of Sean Casey (Dec. 8, 2005) and hiring of Krivsky (Feb. 8, 2006). Still, I stand by the larger point: if Adam Dunn is being kept in the outfield to squeeze Scott Hatteberg into the lineup, this one's going to end in tears.
An all-or-nothing opening week for the Cards in which the sweeper of the Phillies is in turn swept by the Cubs. Since Opening Day, the Redbirds have managed just a .222/.316/.317 showing at the plate. On the positive side, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and even Aaron Miles have hit well, and the new Busch Stadium opened on April 10 to rave reviews.
In which the Roger McDowell era begins bearing more resemblance to the new pitching coach's Las Vegas staff (2005 ERA: 6.21) than to anything Leo Mazzone ever laid his hands on. Everybody's getting smoked--Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, the rest of the rotation (10.09 ERA combined), and especially young Joey Devine (career ERA through seven appearances: 21.00). Also causing worries is Chipper Jones' double whammy of a sprained knee and a sprained ankle coupled with Marcus Giles' quad strain. If only Andy Marte hadn't shuffled off to Buffalo...
I'll level with you, dear readers: I always leave the Blue Jays' entry until the butt end of the Hit List process. No matter which slot between 12 and 18 they invariably occupy, theirs is the entry where my fatigue meets total disinterest chez mediocrity. When the admittedly small beer of J.P. Ricciardi surrenderingGuillermo Quiroz for five stinking at-bats worth of Jason Phillips' services is the only thing about the franchise that gets my pulse racing (good or bad), then it's not me, it's you, Jays.
The big guns--Bartolo Colon and John Lackey--are roughed up (a combined 15 earned runs and 24 hits in 11 innings) but the rest of the staff carries their considerable bulk (3.29 ERA in 41 innings). Still, Will Carroll doesn't like what he's seeing in Francisco Rodriguez's mechanics. In happier news, Tim Salmon caps his long, upstream return by homering twice in his first four at-bats, then laying 6,000 eggs, of which only two will themselves survive to reproduce. Wait, that last part came from science class...
Yes, dear readers, you too can send an irate email berating our staff's lack of respect for the South Siders; just click here and watch your team cakewalk its way back to the top. Word to the wise: remember that aside from the 1998-2000 Yankees, no team since the 1992-1993 Blue Jays has repeated as World Champions. Trust us, it's Ed Sprague you need, not Jim Thome.
One blowout win aside, Joe Girardi's Wet Behind the Ears gang is struggling to score; the Fish plated just 10 runs in their four losses. Offense and bullpen have conspired to waste two very good starts from Dontrelle Willis (2 ER and 8 H in 13 IP), but at least Hanley Ramirez, Mike Jacobs, and Josh Willingham are in the swing of things.
Knuckling Under: R.A. Dickey is scorched for a (post-1900) record-tying six homers in a single appearance, serving to remind the Rangers that the knuckleball is a fickle bitch goddess best learned on the farm (Dickey was demoted the next day). "If you look for positives, some of the homers were solos, but I'm really reaching," said manager Buck Showalter of Dickey's performance. On a more positive note, rookie second baseman Ian Kinsler's first week (.444/.545/.722) offers hope that he's left the farm for good.
Rallied back from a 6-0 deficit to claim their first win and ultimately their weekend series from the defending World Champions. Most likely it's all downhill from here, but at this pace the Royals won't lose 100 games, which would be an accomplishment after reaching that nadir three years out of the last four.
The Jim Tracy era gets off to a less-than-auspicious beginning; at 0-6, their worst start since 1974, and the worst of any incoming Bucs manager. That doesn't stop GM Dave Littlefield from getting paid, though when you're reduced to Victor Santos as your stopper, we have to wonder exactly why.
Jimmy Rollins' hit streak ends at 38 (putting him just shy of Marilyn Chambers, with Marilyn Monroe totally out of reach, says our resident Marilynologist Jim Baker). The Phils continue with an unflattering streak of their own, though the last time they started 0-4 at home, they won 101 games and rolled to the NL East crown. Last we checked, David Bell was no Mike Schmidt, though.
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. For more on the Hit List, see this article.