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April 19, 2006

Prospectus Hit List

Week of April 16

by Jay Jaffe

As the season's third week starts and the Adjusted Standings return, we're back to computing the Hit List rankings the old fashioned way: with cash bribes... er, actual, first-, second-, and third-order winning percentages. White Sox fans can hoot while we wave goodbye to those PECOTA win projections, while this author tips his cap to those who kept their senses of humor through last week's little e-mail stunt. Even with the sample-size caveats outnumbering the reasons to poke fun at Jeffrey Loria and Jim Bowden, it's all about slicing and dicing what's happening on the field now.
Overall W-L
Week W-L


Significant Digits: Pedro Martinez's toe is fine as the ace clamps down on the drama and the Nationals' hitters, while the rest of the staff--particularly a resurgent Tom Glavine--has some of the league's less offensi>ve teams under their thumb. On the other hand, Billy Wagner's middle finger is a more troublesome story. Still, the Flushing folks have topped their best 11-game start ever, and that's worth a Shea "Hey!"


The 5-0 start has vanished, thanks in part to a sweep by the White Sox, but Tiger pitchers have been the AL's second- stingiest thus far (3.87 ERA), and that'll keep your Hit List boat afloat through a stormy week. As Tax Day passes, it's still Chris Shelton's world with the rest of us just standing by: .479/.500/1.208 with eight homers.


Feast or famine: in the Yanks' six wins, they've outscored opponents 64-21, with a minimum of nine runs scored in each and all but one win by at least six runs. In their six losses, they've been outscored 31-16, yielding more than six runs only once and losing three one-run games. Add it all up and you get the majors' most potent offense, and a very rusty Mariano Rivera, one the Twins were able to beat on Saturday. You also get some very confusing signs from the organization regarding Randy Johnson, but that's a story for another day.


Travis Hafner (.356/.473/.889 with seven HR) continues his tear, Casey Blake's hitting an unlikely .447/.543/.632, and Victor Martinez can't even catch a break because he's so hot. But the rotation's marquee addition has been for the Byrds, and we don't mean the Sweethearts of the Rodeo kind; we're talking a 10.24 ERA in just 9.2 innings from a soft-tossing 35-year-old with little margin for error. All of which makes Fausto Carmona's major-league debut that much more interesting.


Artificial High: the Rox are still riding the run differential of their three-game drubbing of the Padres; in all other contests they've been outscored 48-42. Still, it's rare to see this team with a winning record or a sub-5.00 ERA (4.46 through Sunday), so you'll have to forgive our gawking at anomalies like Jose Mesa's 0.00 ERA or Brad Hawpe's .739 SLG. Like the Two-Headed Goat, such oddities are not long for this world.


Off to another hot start, (.353/.489/.735), Derrek Lee gets his 5-year, $65 million extension, and while it may be overpaying, the combination of Lee's athleticism and broad skill set and the Cubs' contender status makes this a reasonable deal. In the tattered rotation, Glendon Rusch is infested with gophers (seven HR allowed in just 15 innings), but Kerry Wood throws a simulated game as a prelude to a rehab assignment. Too bad about Mark Prior's arm falling off after an 800-pitch side session...


Red Sox
The Big Boys: Curt Schilling continues to roll (1.64 ERA and 16/3 K/BB in 22 IP). David Wells comes off the DL, hears the boos, gets shelled, goes back on the DL for Synvisc injections, and reiterates his plan to retire after the season. David Ortiz gets a four-year, $52 million extension, one which looks somewhat dubious given the aging patterns of full-time DHs. And Wily Mo Pena's oufield play is just brutal.


Ben Sheets returns from his teres major strain, only to run into the Mets' juggernaut. While that, the heroics of Carlos Lee and the fact that Prince Fielder (.417/.500/.528 excluding his first two games) has recovered from his early jitters count as good news, the offense is wheezing along at just 4.0 runs per game, second-worst in the NL. Retro duds do not a Harvey's Wallbanger make.


Mark Mulder helps the Cardinals open their new ballpark in style, while Albert Pujols caps his hat trick with a walk-off shot, pushing his league-leading homer total to eight. At the other end of the scale is Jim Edmonds, whose severely inflamed shoulder has him off to a slow start (.158/.267/.289) and headed to the sidelines.


Lance Berkman (.356/.426/.822 with six homers) and Morgan Ensberg (.400/.529/.800 despite battling a staph infection) continue their early-season assault on opposing pitchers, but the rest of the team, save for Preston Wilson and his four homers, has been punchless (.238/.310/.343). Meanwhile, Brandon Backe hits the DL with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament that's fallout from this spring's back troubles; he could miss six weeks. As May Day looms, the return of the Rocket would sure come in handy.


Bronson Arroyo goes deep off of Glendon Rusch for the second time in a week, yet manages to withstand the same winds that helped five of his teammates' shots soar over the ivy. The Reds are unwilling to throw caution to the wind when it comes to Ken Griffey Jr., however, sitting him four days in a row for a minor knee problem before it turns into something bigger.


Blue Jays
Lingering forearm tightness puts Roy Halladay on the shelf for one start, so we're told, but Under the Knife reads worse omens in the tea leaves.A.J. Burnett has an inauspicious debut as a Jay. That $95 million worth of investment aside, the offense--particularly Vernon Wells, Troy Glaus and Alex Rios--is sizzling, with the latter, who had 11 homers in his first 979 PAs, already up to four in his first 36.


In which last year's replacement-level dreck becomes this week's offensive saviors, starring Jason Repko (.333/.417/.524 thus far) and Cody Ross (.500/.500/1.143, including a two-homer, seven-RBI outburst against the Pirates). Not all of the misfit toys are so lucky; Yhency Brazoban's headed for Tommy John surgery, yet another casualty of a team that just can't keep its players healthy.


Chipper Jones' knee and ankle injuries force him to the DL, and now--surprise, surprise--Edgar Renteria is hurting too. On the positive side, Ryan Langerhans (.333/.447/.641) is providing some much-needed support, and Jeff Francouer is coming around (.375/.375/.750 last week after a 2-for-29 opener), though, of course, he's still yet to draw a walk.


White Sox
Step one for how to top that 82-win projection that had White Sox Nation howling is for Jim Thome to beat his PECOTA's projections of 341 PA and 16.5 VORP. Having already matched last year's injury-addled total of seven homers and reached 14.6 VORP (second in the majors), so far so good. Step two is for the rotation to approach last year's lofty standards; with a combined ERA of 5.72, that hasn't happened yet, and the bullpen isn't holding up its end of the bargain either.


Daniel Cabrera rekindles fond memories of Bobby Witt with his five-inning, nine-walk, 10-strikeout performance, and with 16 free passes in 6.1 innings thus far, he must have Leo Mazzone rocking himself into a catatonic state. Hell, considering that the rest of the staff is walking 3.7 batters per nine innings, it's a solid bet that somewhere George Stallings is spinning in his grave.


The Bizarro-backs are still among the NL's best in ERA (4.01, good for fourth), with Brandon Webb (2.14 ERA in 21 innings) leading the way. Through the other side of the looking glass, the team's .234 EqA is the lowest in the NL, with Shawn Green (5-for-35) particularly brutal but by no means the lone offender.


A big week from Justin Morneau (.348/.400/.652 including a game-winning hit off of Mariano Rivera) offers hope that the first baseman can return to being a pillar of the team's offense. The Twins need all the runs they can get these days, especially with Johan Santana (5.71), Brad Radke (6.63) and Carlos Silva (7.11) yet to hit their strides. Also stinking up the joint: Rondell White (4-for-47 with 16 K's and no walks).


Vladimir Guerrero is still the Impaler (.444/.468/.644), but the rest of the offense is wheezing and in need of an inhaler (.253/.292/.420). Speaking of inhaling, don't hold your breath waiting for Bartolo Colon to get past last fall's shoulder injury, and don't hyperventilate if Kelvim Escobar is closing ballgames if Francisco Rodriguez goes on the shelf.


The fun continues for Barry Bonds: 4-for-23 without a homer thus far, 10 to 12 bone chips in his swollen left elbow, and a grand jury investigating whether he perjured himself in the BALCO hearings. Aside from rhythm and music, who could ask for anything more? Meanwhile, what's left of the Giants' offense produces just ten runs on the week, and while they escape with a winning record, that hardly bodes well.


Devil Rays
Everybody Hurts: with Julio Lugo, Aubrey Huff, and Luis Ordaz all on the DL, Jorge Cantu banged up, and futilitymen like Tomas Perez and Ty Wigginton (.293/.370/.683 with five HR) holding down the fort, this would appear to be an ideal opportunity to recall B.J. Upton. Yet the Rays are strong in their resolve not to further advance his arbitartion clock by promoting him, so Upton remains mired in Triple-A Durham, where he's made seven errors in 11 games, as Kevin Goldstein notes. Fear not, the Rays do have a plan: more cowbell.


After trading David Dellucci to thin the outfield's ranks at the outset of the season, Ranger outfielders have hit just .191/.225/.283 with one homer and a 52/5 K/BB ratio this year, leading to silly talk of a curse. Of no laughing matter, particularly, is Brad Wilkerson's .185/.214/.315 performance and league- leading 23 K's after struggling with a sore shoulder this spring. Meanwhile, roookie second baseman Ian Kinsler's dislocated thumb may cost him a month of action and carry further ramifications for his swing once he returns.


So much for that post-World Baseball Classic optimism about Adrian Beltre (.109/.226/.109) and Ichiro Suzuki (.196/.274/.286). On the other hand, when was the last time fellow WBC participant Joel Pineiro (3.66 ERA and a combined shutout of the Red Sox) put up two good starts out of three? OK, the answer is a trio of starts from last September, but shaving your ERA from 5.59 to 5.30 for a team destined to lose 93 games doesn't really count, and for a guy making $6.8 million this year, that question shouldn't even have to be asked.


We'll be the first (OK, not the first) to tell you that batting order isn't worth getting overly worked up about, and that theories of lineup protection don't hold much water either. Yet we still have to wonder what the hell Ryan Howard--projected for 41 homers by PECOTA, not to mention the team's top EqA, MLVr, VORP, etc.--is doing hitting #6, followed by the likes of the undead David Bell. Of course, we still have to wonder why Philly fans booed Mike Schmidt. Must be the water.


A miserable week for the A's as they're swept by the Twins and then cough up a series to the Rangers when Huston Street is torched for four runs in the ninth. The week's sole highlight was a three-pitch sequence which produces consecutive homers by Eric Chavez, Frank Thomas and Milton Bradley off of Vicente Padilla in the team's lone win over their division foe. But the Big Hurt is struggling (.171/.244/.439), as is the team's most expensive offseason acquisition, Esteban Loaiza (11.42 ERA in 8.1 innings over two starts).


The odious Jeffrey Loria renews his threat to make San Antonians sleep with the Fishes unless those lousy stinking Floridans personally apologize to him by coughing up the scratch to replace Wayne Huizenga Smallpox-Infested Blanket Stadium, and pronto. Meanwhile, rumors swirl that the team may deal Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. On the field, an 0-4 record in one-run games has things looking a bit more Uggla than they might otherwise be, but give it time.


Jim Tracy finds a way to get Craig Wilson into the lineup after all--a double-whammy on Sean Casey that leaves the first baseman with two fractures in his lower back and a six-to-eight week (or more) vacation. Fortunately, Wilson--the odd man out in a silly offseason binge that left the Bucs with Casey and Jeromy Burnitz clogging his two points of entry into the linep--goes berserk by hitting four homers on the week, giving him six (topping last year's total) in just 33 at-bats. We'd say Dave Littlefield owes somebody an apology, namely the team's hottest hitter.


Seriously, Dewon Brazelton? Take away the former D-Ray's two starts (6.1 innings, 17 runs, 24.16 ERA) and you've got a team that's scored as many runs as it's allowed, albeit one with some odd stat lines from the Museum of April Oddities (Khalil Greene hitting .190/.227/.500 with half of the team's eight homers, Jake Peavy with a 5.50 ERA). Add Brazelton back in and you've got some questionable decision making to go with an anemic offense (.234/.308/.367) and a rotation with a 7.02 ERA. Injuries have thrown the Mild, Mild West wide open again, but a repeat looks pretty unlikely for the Pad people as currently constituted.


The Nationals go back to Church, and on a day for redemption, their faith is doubly rewarded. Still, it takes far more faith to believe that Jim Bowden can find religion, that this team can resurrect itself as a legitimate contender after spending the weekend merely shooting Fish in a barrel, or that MLB is savvy enough to find a potential Nats owner who doesn't have the blood of an innocent puppy on his hands.


Freefalling: with the speed and grace of a lifeless body tossed down a flight of stairs, the Royals land in the Hit List basement after a perfectly horrific week in which they're shown the Bronx (swept three straight while being outscored 30-15) and razed by the Rays (another sweep, 22-10 combined). On a pair of sorely-needed positive notes, Mark Redman is back in action, if not in top form, and Zack Greinke's return is on the horizon.

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.

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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