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April 25, 2006

Prospectus Hit List

Week of April 23

by Jay Jaffe

Homers are up 18 percent over this time last year, at least according to ESPN's Juice Box tracker. Franchise values are up 15 percent, according to Forbes Magazine's annual independent survey of the game's financial landscape. The White Sox' Hit List Factor (HLF) is up 146 points after they ran the table this past week, which means angry e-mails directed at this author should decline by about 80 percent. There's a number for everything, perhaps too many numbers, so this week, as we re-introduce one more feature of the List--the Trend column--we're sticking with pretty pictures instead of numbers. Unlike last year, when the arrows simply indicated change in rankings, the arrows now indicate changes in the HLF. Teams with a green up arrow have seen their Factors increase by at least .003 over the past week, teams with the red down arrow have fallen by at least the same, and teams in that +/-.003 range get the flat arrow (that's a change of roughly half a game over the course of the season, small potatoes here). As a final reminder, the Hit List is based on objective measures, not on our whims. We don't simply have it in for your team, so please refer to the methodology and check their run differentials before grumbling about where they're ranked.
RkTeam
Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor
Trend
Comment

1


Yankees
9-8
3-2
0.662
Up
A Hard Day's Night: now 8-0 in the daylight, and just 1-8 under the bright lights, highlighting just how uneven the Yanks have been thus far. The lineup, led by Jason Giambi (.326/.530/.848), is crushing to the tune of an MLB-best 6.24 runs per game. The rotation has been considerably less supportive; while Mike Mussina (2.67 ERA and 23 K's in 27 innings) and Randy Johnson (who followed an awful outing with a stellar one) have been solid, the other three starters have put up a combined 5.56 ERA. So how do they snare the top spot here? Their 209-point differential between OPS (.888) and OPS allowed (.679) is 59 points better than the Tigers, 85 points better than the White Sox, and 89 points better than the Mets, driving their W2 up to .759. It's the run components, people.

2


White Sox
13-5
6-0
0.656
Up
Put a Sock in It: with eight straight wins by a combined score of 50-13, the defending champs finally start walking the walk--literally--to back their fans' talk. Sox hitters are averaging a free pass for every 8.2 at-bats, 55 percent better than last year's figure of one per 12.7 at-bats; even without Jim Thome's league-leading 20 freebies, they're at one per 10.3 at-bats. Thome continues to crush a lot (.327/.513/.873 and a .436 EqA, the league's second-best) though his streak of scoring a run in 17 straight games (one short of the AL record) ended on Sunday.

3


Tigers
12-7
5-2
0.655
Flat
A hot western swing (no, not that kind) in which they limit the A's and Mariners to 16 runs shows that there's more to the Tigers than Chris Shelton's hot bat. Mike Maroth has yielded just one run on the year (18.1 IP, 0.49 ERA), the bullpen is second in the AL in WXRL (2.037) and Adjusted Runs Prevented (12.3) and tops in Fair Run Average (3.92), while the D leads the league in Defensive Efficiency (.739).

4


Mets
12-6
3-4
0.647
Down
Carlos Beltran's balky hamstring and the Mets' continued struggles against the Braves put a damper on a homer-centric week. History-making shots from Kazuo Matsui (in his first at-bat of the year for the third straight time) and Julio Franco (at 47, the oldest player to go yard) accompany five round-trippers in eight days from Carlos Delgado. Meanwhile, Pedro Martinez tops the 200-win mark and simply keeps rolling.

5


Astros
13-5
5-1
0.615
Up
Winners of seven out of their last eight have put the pity party over who's not here behind them. Morgan Ensberg homers in six consecutive games and eight times in an eight-game span; he's hitting .403/.526/.952 on the year and leads the NL in VORP (20.2). Taylor Buchholz (1.80 ERA in 20 innings, including a combined two-hit shutout)) and Wandy Rodriguez (2.52 ERA in 25 innings) have stepped up to help offset the losses of Roger Clemens and, less famously, Brandon Backe. As a unit, the rotation's 2.97 ERA is the best in the majors thus far.

6


Cardinals
11-7
4-2
0.565
Down
The game's most valuable commodity, Albert Pujols continues to dish out Cream of Whoop-Ass to opposing pitchers (.333/.481/.933 with 11 HR on the year). But the rest of the Cards' lineup is serving up a thinner gruel; they're hitting just .243/.311/.369. Fortunately, Cardinal pitchers have been holding up their end of the bargain; they're second in runs allowed (4.00 per game). Chris Carpenter (1.67 ERA and 25 K's in 27 innings) has resumed his Cy Young form, and even Sidney Ponson (3.31 ERA in 16.1 frames) has been a solid citizen.

7


Blue Jays
9-8
3-2
0.558
Up
A pair of high-priced pitchers continue passing like ships in the night, as Roy Halladay returns to action while A.J. Burnett goes back on the DL with more elbow discomfort ("a shark floating in there" in his words). Considerably less separable is the keystone couple, Russ Adams and Aaron Hill, who have tied the knot. Derek Jacques' thinly-veiled suggestion for an appropriate wedding gift: Canadian lessons for the entire team.

8


Red Sox
12-7
4-3
0.558
Down
Jonathan Papelbon's bad hair day hasn't affected his pitching. Subbing for the diminished Keith Foulke, the rookie reliever has yet to allow a run, and he leads the majors in Reliever Expected Wins Added with 1.662. Meanwhile, the Sox offense resembles Big Papi and the Eight Dwarves; while David Ortiz is hitting .293/.391/.680, the rest of the team is hitting just .255/.344/.380 , and Manny Ramirez is slugging an uncharacteristcally feeble .379, even after hitting his first two homers of the season.

9


Cubs
10-7
3-3
0.557
Down
Derrek Lee's wrist isn't broken, it's his arm, says Will Carroll; nonetheless, he's still facing two months on the shelf. Todd Walker will be one of the players filling in for Lee; he's hitting a healthy .408/.464/.612, which beats getting kicked in the head. In other positive news, Greg Maddux is pitching like a man possessed (0.99 ERA and just 15 hits in 27.1 innings, thanks to a BABIP of .192). He can thank a defense that thus far has turned in an MLB-best Defensive Efficiency of .762. Expect a correction, of course, but enjoy this bit of dominance while it lasts, too.

10


Indians
10-9
3-4
0.55
Down
Cleveland Rocked: an ugly week as the Tribe yield 49 runs while dropping a pair of series to the big, bad Orioles and Royals. There's injury to add to that insult, as relievers Rafael Betancourt, Fernando Cabrera, and Matt Miller all hit the DL, with the latter bound for season-ending elbow surgery. Not helping the decimated staff is a starting rotation averaging just 5.65 innings per start, merely 10th in the AL. Considering that their opponents have the fifth-worst PECOTA-forecasted winning percentage of any team (.479), it's a pretty underwhelming showing by the Indians thus far.

11


Reds
12-7
5-2
0.546
Down
Something About the Color Red: for the fourth time in franchise history (but just the fifth in MLB annals), the Reds allow five homers in one inning. Can't blame Official Hit List Whipping Boy(TM) Eric Milton (who yielded 40 jacks last year) or Great American Ballpark (HR factor of 107) for this one; Brandon Claussen was the culprit for four of the five, and Miller Park the venue. Meanwhile, Ken Griffey Jr.'s trip to the DL opens up a lineup spot for Brandon Phillips, who's hitting .372/.372/.698 in 12 games since arriving in a trade with the Indians and winning Player of the Week honors to boot. And that, in turn, has apparently ended the storied Cincy career of Tony Womack.

12


Brewers
9-10
2-5
0.536
Down
Wallbangin': the Brewers become the first team in 40 years to hit five homers in one inning. But with 49 runs allowed on the week, the Brew Crew has been on the wrong end of too many slugfests, and they've now lost four series in a row, squandering their 5-0 start. Still, they've got a positive differential of .090 between OPS and OPS allowed, and that correlates well with the Hit List Factor (r=.942 this year, .958 last year), so expect some improvement. David Bush is making Doug Melvin look smart, and Ben Sheets is starting to look like his old self.

13


Rockies
10-8
3-3
0.526
Down
Guts: A severe, mysterious stomach ailment sends Todd Helton to the DL, while Jose Mesa tries to show intestinal fortitude by renewing hostilities with literary nemesis Omar Vizquel. After a pair of come-from-behind wins against the Giants over the weekend, the Rox own a share of first place in the NL West thanks mainly to decent pitching. Aside from DFA'ed Zach Day (10.80 ERA in 13.1 innings), the rest of the staff has allowed just a 4.19 ERA, and the bullpen is second in the NL in Reliever Expected Wins Added.

14


Rangers
10-9
5-1
0.517
Up
Your Feet's Too Big: Kevin Mench discovers he's been wearing the wrong shoe size, causing him foot woes; we'll suggest there's a little too much vacancy in that size 8 1/4 head. Whatever. Though he's yet to draw a walk, Mench is pounding the ball (.381/.381/.905 on the week), helping the rangers win four in a row and move into a first-place tie with the Angels.

15


Braves
9-9
3-2
0.507
Down
Sub Mission: once again, the Braves are showing their depth, winning with three infield subs while Chipper Jones, Marcus Giles, and Edgar Renteria heal, with Wilson Betemit (.292/.370/.500) again playing the hero. On the hill, John Thomson has put up a 0.53 ERA with 15 K's in 17 innings since Horacio Ramirez went down. May we suggest giving Chuck James a look in the rotation now that Jorge Sosa's pumpkin chariot seems to have crashed? The latter holds a 10.80 ERA and hasn't lasted more than four innings in any of his three starts, which does the bullpen no favors.

16


Dodgers
9-10
3-3
0.507
Down
The Dodgers continue to overwhelm the rest of the NL West with their mediocrity, but at least Nomar Garciaparra's a hit in his belated debut, and more importantly, Grady Little can now field something resembling the team's projected starting lineup (sans Jayson Werth). On the hill, Brad Penny is starting to look like the guy that Paul DePodesta took so much heat for acquiring: 1.88 ERA and a 25/2 K/BB ratio in 24 innings. He's among the league leaders in both VORP (11.8) and SNLVAR (1.2).

17


Diamondbacks
8-11
3-4
0.495
Flat
Luis Gonzalez becomes the 21st player to reach 500 doubles and 300 homers; while that may not be enough for Cooperstown, he still rates as one hell of a return in a challenge trade for Karim Garcia... Speaking of trades, the Snakes haven't gotten such a hot return out of the Troy Glaus deal; Miguel Batista's ERA stands at 5.16, while Orlando Hudson is not only busier maiming himself with foul balls than actually hitting fair ones (.243/.303/.343), he's failed to anchor a defense that's 13th in the NL in Defensive Efficiency (.679).

18


10-9
4-3
0.488
Up
Adam Kennedy may lead all Angels in the triple-slash categories at .373/.406/.542, but expect prospect mavens to turn cartwheels with the promotion of Howie Kendrick to replace Maicer Izturis during the latter's DL stint. Fifth on our Top 50 Prospects list, Kendrick came into the year with a career minor-league batting average of .359 and has hit .386/.403/.586 at Triple-A Salt Lake City. With Kennedy a pending free agent, this could be the team's chance to audition their future keystone cornerstone. Speaking of the youth movement, Casey Kotchman is just 3-for-32 since April 14, dragging his overall numbers down to .155/.210/.172; he's drawing criticism for his defensive lapses as well.

19


Nationals
7-11
3-2
0.472
Up
Frank Robinson wins his 1,000th game as manager, while Jim Bowden proves capable of producing embarrassment off the field as well as on. But at least one of Bowden's Follies(TM) starts to pay off, as Alfonso Soriano belts three homers in one game against the Braves. By that calculus, a PCP bender culminating with Bowden riding a tactical nuke, Slim Pickens style, might bring the Nats replacement-level production at shortstop.

20


Orioles
11-9
4-3
0.47
Down
Outscored 46-36 on the week, yet still managed to split their six games. Leo Mazzone's staff continues to take its lumps and then some, but at least Erik Bedard (2.77 ERA in 26 innings) and Kris Benson (3.70 in 24.1 innings) have produced acceptable results. With the lumber, Brian Roberts (.320/.381/.427) and Miguel Tejada (.425/.453/.600) offer a bittersweet reminder of last year's hot starts; this story simply has to have a happier ending than that one did.

21


Giants
10-8
3-4
0.454
Flat
Barry Bonds finally goes yard for the first time, but in a game played a mile above sea level in which Omar Vizquel (hitting a robust .390/.493/.508) had just done so, how impressive is that? And what are the odds that those two players would be central to of a pair of beanball wars one week apart? Even at 709 and counting, Bonds is starting to doubt his body can hold up long enough to catch Hank Aaron. Meanwhile, Armando Benitez's body holds up long enough for him to get back to the basics of blowing saves.

22


Padres
8-10
4-3
0.446
Up
Josh Barfield racks up no fewer than four three-hit games in six days, finishing at .394/.429/.697 for the week and helping the Padres get back to their winning ways. Still, Barfield's two homers represent half of the Pads' tally on the week; they're slugging a meager .372 overall (.331 home, .411 road). The return of Mike Cameron, who made his season debut on Sunday in the same park where his 2005 season nightmarishly ended, should help, though he's not exactly Albert Pujols.

23


Marlins
5-11
2-3
0.423
Up
Last week found the Marlins trying to bamboozle taxpayers in Miami and San Antonio to get a new ballpark; this week, rumors surface that they've tried to pry David Wright--the game's second most-valuable commodity--from the Mets for Dontrelle Willis (who ranks a still-respectable #42 on said list). Not that the Fish are underrepresented there; Miguel Cabrera is fourth, Jeremy Hermida (recently sidelined by a strained hip flexor) is 47th, and in an as-yet-unpublished segment, Reggie Abercrombie (on a park-aided jag that's lifted his line to .190/.227/.310) is 2,897th.

24


Athletics
8-11
2-4
0.413
Down
Nick Swisher (.328/.397/.787 with eight homers) continues to deliver on the hype, but otherwise it's a painful week for the A's as they lose four out of six. Huston Street is sidelined by a strained chest muscle, and the bullpen coughs up a lead in his absence. Bobby Crosby is felled by a strained triceps, while a back spasm gets the best of Esteban Loaiza. And don't even start about the pain the Big Hurt is inflicting on this lineup with his .167/.231/.400 performance...

25


Mariners
7-13
1-6
0.404
Down
In a battle of pitching phenoms, the M's and Felix Hernandez lose to the Tigers and Justin Verlander despite the King's best start of the year (7 6 3 1 1 9). The rest of their week has considerably less to recommend it beyond the novelty of losing to three different teams from three different divisions. The entire offense is producing below replacement level, with the big three of Ichiro Suzuki, Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre hitting a combined .224/.303/.307.

26


Devil Rays
8-11
1-5
0.396
Down
New regime or no, the Rays are still giving up far too many runs (6.37 per game, worse than all but the Royals) to remain competitive for long. They lose five out of six on the week despite four homers from Jonny Gomes and three from Ty Wigginton. Even their sole victory, with Scott Kazmir continuing his mastery over the Red Sox (3-1 with a 2.64 ERA and 43 K's in 44.1 IP for his career), is marred when the team's ace leaves his start with a thumb cramp.

27


Twins
7-11
1-5
0.389
Down
Free Francisco Liriano! Johan Santana's first quality start of the year goes for naught, while the rotation's ERA balloons to an unsightly 6.98, with Kyle Lohse (11.57) its most egregious offender. Meanwhile the top-ranked pitcher on our Top 50 Prospects list has allowed just one run in 10.1 innings, striking out 15. We're just sayin'... The staff isn't the only part of this team hemorrhaging runs; the defense is dead stinking last in the AL in Defensive Efficiency (.658), while stiffs like Juan Castro (.280/.308/.300) and Rondell White (.149/.157/.164)--both easily replaced with a call to Rochester and a request for Jason (Bartlett and Kubel)--continue to drag down the offense.

28


Phillies
7-10
2-3
0.387
Down
The Phils are currently last in the majors in Defensive Efficiency (.657), which isn't helping their groundball pitchers (Jon Lieber, 7.99 ERA, .373 BABIP) any more than the homer-friendly Citizens Bank Park is helping its flyballers. Even with Ryan Howard launching tape-measure shots (496 feet!) and Bobby Abreu back to looking like the guy in the catalog (.305/.442/.576), that's not getting the job done.

29


Pirates
5-15
1-5
0.328
Down
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Each With a Better Last-Place Club): the Jim Tracy Pirates quickly sink to the depths of Lloyd McClendon's squad, getting off to their worst start of the last 50 years. An inexperienced rotation is the main culprit; they have the league's worst combined ERA (6.39) and BB/9 (4.60), and second-worst HR/9 (1.80). Even the team's putative aces, Zach Duke (4.50 ERA in 24 innings) and Oliver Perez (6.75 in 20 innings) are getting raked, to say nothing of rookies Paul Maholm (7.40 in 20.2 innings) and Ian Snell (7.71 after his first quality start of the year). Arrrgh.

30


Royals
4-13
2-4
0.29
Up
The Opposite of Shame is Less Shame: the Royals snap an 11-game losing streak and double their season total for victories and series wins. Zack Greinke reports to extended spring training and the Fat Elvys will soon take his turn. Still, the buzzards are circling Kauffman Stadium, with even Allard Baird's staunch supporters calling for his head.


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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