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May 2, 2006

Prospectus Hit List

Week of April 30

by Jay Jaffe

Kill the Ump! It's a sentiment nearly as old as the game itself, and while it's not meant to be taken literally, it's nevertheless true that the men in blue are the outlet for a good deal of the frustration we fans express. And--at least it seems these days--with good cause. From inconsistent strike zones to half-assed judgments on those infamous "neighborhood plays" at second base, hardly a day goes by without reports of egregiously blown calls or other controversies. And that's just the major leagues; in the minors, an umpire strike has the game's top prospects playing under the auspices of replacements so ill qualified that their names are being withheld. The situation came to a head with Delmon Young's bat toss, and while there's no excuse--not even bad umpiring--for such behavior, it's entirely possible that bad umping is distorting performances all over the minors. Frankly, that stinks, not only for those of us who depend on the numbers to tell us what our eyes can't, but for all of us who enjoy the game. There's no Howard Beale prescription to offer here, just a lament: WE DESERVE BETTER.
RkTeam
Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor
Trend
Comment

1


Tigers
16-9
4-2
.704
Up
A combined 33-1 beatdown of the Twins, including a pair of routs, helps the Tigers pad their run differential enough to take over the top spot. There's no shortage of muscle behind that ranking; the Tigers lead the majors in homers (39, while allowing the second-fewest, 18), Defensive Efficiency (.754), and ERA (3.22, with four-fifths of their rotation under 4.00).

2


Yankees
13-10
4-2
.688
Up
Celebrity Walkathon: the Yanks are on pace for an MLB record 845 walks, though not all of them are created equal; none of the 14 batters passed by the Devil Rays on April 26 came around to score. That kind of inefficiency helps keep the Yanks 4.8 wins behind their second-order projection. Speaking of projections, expect off-the-charts hype as Johnny Damon (.429/.571/.762 for the week) returns to Fenway in pinstripes for the first time this week.

3


White Sox
17-7
4-2
.657
Flat
Hurly Buehrle: the Sox rotation's 1-2 punch has helped the club to its best April ever. Jose Contreras leads the AL in ERA (1.45) and the majors in pitching VORP (20.8), and he's yet to allow more than two runs in any start. Mark Buehrle trails only Contreras in VORP, and Nate Silver notes that he's been somewhat underestimated by PECOTA. Meanwhile, the much-improved offense features five regulars with OBPs above .375; only Paul Konerko reached that mark last year.

4


Mets
16-8
4-2
.639
Down
Beasts of the East: the Mets' six-game lead is the biggest end-of-April lead in NL East history, and larger than the other five division leads combined. They've got the NL East's only winning record and have already topped last year's total of wins in Atlanta thanks to a pair of gems from future Hall of Famers Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine, two of the Mets' four pitchers among NL's top 15 in VORP.

5


Cardinals
17-8
6-1
.616
Up
Albert Pujols set a major-league record with his 14th homer in April, edging past Ken Griffey Jr. (a baker's dozen in 1997) and Luis Gonzalez (ditto in 2001), and giving the Cardinals a win over the Nats to boot (his second game-winning hit of the week). Pujols has hit nearly half of the Cards' total dingers (29), and there'a mounting consensus he deserves the Barry Bonds treatment of being routinely pitched around.

6


Brewers
14-11
5-1
.609
Up
Your Town No More: the Brewers sweep a series from the Braves for the first time since entering the NL in 1998. Ben Sheets is back in form; he's posted a 25/1 K/BB ratio in 18 innings thus far. Doug Davis should take heed; he's walked 14 over his last two starts, and nearly as many (26) as the rest of the rotation combined (27). But with Davis' first win of the season, at least he's off the schneid.

7


Astros
16-8
3-3
.584
Down
A pair of blown saves on the week by Brad Lidge stirs up uncomfortable reminders of his trio of postseason failures from last fall. The Houston closer's ERA now stands at an ugly 6.39, but that indicator, distorted by his allowing a grand slam to Nomar Garciaparra, is less alarming than the 10 walks he's yielded in 12.2 innings (compared to 23 in 71.2 last year). Speaking of indicators, it's a bit early to get too excited about Wandy Rodriguez, cautions John Erhardt. Still, the Astros reach their 16th win 22 games sooner than last year, and it's now open season on the services of Roger Clemens.

8


Reds
17-8
5-1
.579
Up
The New Big Red Machine? Thanks to a six-game winning streak, Cincy sets franchise record for most wins in April despite the continued absence of Ken Griffey, Jr. GM Wayne Krivsky's acquisitions are making him look pretty smart, as Bronson Arroyo combines on a one-hitter against the Nats, Brandon Phillips crushes to the tune of .349/.382/.587, and the first base tandem of Scott Hatteberg and Rich Aurilia is hitting .343/.434/.573 thanks to the former's 13/4 BB/K ratio and the latter's .784 SLG in that role.

9


Indians
13-12
3-3
.555
Up
With 44 runs on the week, the Tribe takes over the MLB lead in scoring (6.32 per game). Ben Broussard's four home runs on the week--including a 2-HR, 8-RBI performance against the Red Sox--have helped the first-base platoon hit a combined .387/.431/.731. Despite the offensive onslaught, the Indians are having a hard time keeping clear of .500 because the pitching remains a mess. Aside from Cliff Lee and Jason Johnson, the rotation has yielded a 6.13 ERA, though the pending return of C.C. Sabathia should help.

10


Rockies
15-10
5-2
.555
Up
Rox on Road: the Rockies have reached 10 victories away from Coors Field, a total it took them until July 22 to achieve last year. They're 6-3 in the absence of Todd Helton and sitting pretty atop the NL West, thanks in part to Brad Hawpe hitting .375/.457/.625 in that span. Helton has been diagnosed with acute terminal ileitis, and that counts as good news; he's expected to rejoin the team Wednesday. More good news is the stellar return of Byung-Hyun Kim (6.2 5 1 1 9), sidelined by a hamstring injury sustained in his only spring-training appearance.

11


Blue Jays
12-11
3-3
.536
Down
For years the Jays have been dogged by underachieving outfields, but with Vernon Wells (.396/.437/.740), Alexis Rios (.362/.368/.725), and the Frank Catalanotto/Reed Johnson platoon (.423/.563/.577) all off to scorching (if unsustainable) starts, they have hopes of turning the page. A.J. Burnett may be afraid of such strenuous activity as page-turning; he's physically sound but in no hurry to return.

12


Diamondbacks
12-13
4-2
.528
Up
Brandon Webb leads the NL in Expected Wins (4.0) and is second in pitching VORP (18.0). The rest of the rotation remains desert roadkill, with a 5.63 ERA and just 4.9 Expected Wins, but help is on the way. Russ Ortiz and his 6.91 ERA have been exiled to the bullpen in favor of Juan Cruz, whose first start, though in defeat, is better than just about anything his godforsaken predecessor has managed over the past year.

13


Rangers
13-12
3-3
.525
Up
It's Gotta Be the Shoes: Kevin Mench becomes the first righty hitter to homer in seven straight games. Though that streak comes to an end on Saturday, he's still nursing a 14-game hitting streak for which he's batting .393/.397/.804. Meanwhile, the Ranger bullpen is reeling; Francisco Cordero's struggles (11.46 ERA, 3/6 blown saves, -1.710 WXRL) have cost him the closer's job; Akinori Otsuka takes over.

14


Dodgers
12-13
3-3
.512
Up
A ninth-inning collapse deprives the Dodgers of a sweep against the Padres and stops them from assembling their first streak--winning or losing--of longer than two games. Still, these are happy days when Nomar Garciaparra's hitting .292/.400/.625 through his first seven games, producing memorable moments and, more importantly, remaining in one piece. Even better is that Eric Gagne has resumed throwing, though it's anybody's guess what to expect when he returns.

15


Red Sox
14-11
2-4
.506
Down
They're tied for the AL East lead and their record is above .500, but the Red Sox find themselves with a negative run differential this late in the season for the first time since 1996. Josh Beckett has yielded six homers and 13 earned runs in 11 innings over his past two starts--the latter a 15-3 shellacking by the Indians--Matt Clement has been knocked around to the tune of a 6.14 ERA, and Tim Wakefield has gotten just two runs of support over his last three starts.

16


Angels
12-13
2-4
.488
Flat
Kelvim Escobar may or may not have retaliated for last year's ALCS results by drilling A.J. Pierzynski. It's insult added to injury when the White Sox sweep the Angels, with Escobar forced to leave his start--and likely shelved for the next one--due to a blister. Meanwhile, Howie Kendrick is fitted for the proverbial Size Four Collar in his big-league debut.

17


Cubs
13-10
3-3
.487
Down
Outscored 27-8 by the Brewers over the weekend, sending their run differential south of the equator. The Cubs are hitting just .216/.299/.349 and scoring a meager 3.67 runs per game in Derrek Lee's absence. Still, things aren't as bad as they could be with Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood all yet to post a W, Jerome Williams farmed out, and Glendon Rusch (8.46 ERA) arrested for impersonating a pitcher dropped from the rotation. Wood has begun his rehab assignment, and Prior is tossing BP, but Zambrano remains more of a mystery; he's just one of many World Baseball Classic participants who've struggled since the tournament. All the more time to appreciate Greg Maddux (1.35 ERA and the league's third-highest pitching VORP (17.2).

18


Giants
13-11
3-3
.471
Up
The heat is on for Barry Bonds he belts 710 and 711; he's now hitting .277/.547/.574. Still, Major League Baseball won't celebrate him passing Babe Ruth, a non-story even if Barry's harboring a Ruthian grudge. In non-Barry news (must we?), Noah Lowry's rehab stint isn't going especially well, but a staff with a 5.21 ERA (15th in the NL) will take what it can get.

19


Braves
10-14
1-5
.467
Down
Off to their worst start since 1990, and if that's not an omen, it hardly qualifies as mere coincidence. Jeff Francoeur's performance has been a big part of the problem; even after a huge day (5 2 4 5, HR), he's still hitting just .216/.230/.371 and has yet to draw a walk while whiffing 19 times; Doctor Joe Sheehan's prescription is a return trip to the minors.

20


Athletics
12-12
4-1
.465
Up
They've clawed their way back to .500, but the pitching--even with all of that depth--is a problem. Rich Harden leaves his start with back spasms and heads to the DL. Esteban Loaiza is terrible--again--in a game washed away by rain(an absurd rule that has Rany Jazayerli up in arms; wait 'til he hears about Loaiza's retro DL move). Barry Zito and Joe Blanton have ERAs in the vicinity of 6.00. Huston Street remains sidelined. And Ken Macha is meeting with Billy Beane to perform some much-needed triage. Brad Halsey, please pick up a white courtesy phone...

21


Orioles
13-13
2-4
.451
Down
Losers of six out of their last eight, the Birds have been bitten by the injury bug. Brian Roberts is down with a groin strain, the worst of four injuries sustained on "Black Saturday." At least Miguel Tejada (hyperextended knee) is healthy enough to DH and keep his consecutive game streak alive at 944, though his 14-game hitting streak is history. Tejada is batting .422/.459/.618 and is tied for second in the AL in VORP (21.0).

22


Nationals
8-17
1-6
.426
Down
Rumors abound that the Nats have finally been sold--to the Lerner group, not one with the puppy-killing anti-Semite or the carpetbagging ex-Mariner owner. But an announcement of the sale fails to materialize, sort of like a Nats offense which manages just 20 runs on the week while hitting .211/.285/.315. Look, you guys can't all pretend to be Cristian Guzman...

23


Mariners
11-15
4-2
.418
Up
It's a winning week for the Mariners as they take series from the White Sox and Orioles. But it's a mixed bag for Felix Hernandez; despite notching a W (yawn), he's hit so hard that the team suspects he's tipping his pitches, and at the very least his mechanics are regressing. Meanwhile, Ichiro Suzuki is turning things around with a nice .400/.423/.480 showing on the week, and eight multi-hit games in his last 11.

24


Marlins
6-16
1-5
.409
Down
Close, But No Cigar: the Marlins are just 1-7 in one-run games, having dropped another pair in the process of being swept by Colorado. As you'd expect, the bullpen is a culprit. Despite a respectable looking 3.89 ERA (disguising a 5.28 Fair Run Average), they're last in the NL in Reliever Expected Wins Added (-0.987) and below the (Ramiro) Mendoza Line in Adjusted Runs Prevented (-1.5). A meager offense which ranks 14th in the NL in scoring (4.27 runs per game) isn't helping matters, but the return of Jeremy Hermida should help.

25


Phillies
10-14
3-4
.404
Up
You know it's bad when the Phils can't even claim superiority in the state of Pennsylvania, having dropped two of three to the Pirates over the weekend; speculation that manager Charlie Manuel's job is in danger has even begun. At 10-14, the Phils have the same record that they did at this point last year, but they've played a disproportionate number of home games (15), and against relatively weak competition (a combined winning percentage of .471, fifth-lowest of the 30 teams).

26


Padres
9-15
1-5
.389
Down
A Sunday win keyed by a five-run ninth-inning rally--matching their total for the previous five games--is all that stands between the Padres and a totally lost week in which massage therapist Kelly Calabrese gets most of the attention. The team is hitting just .226/.301/.338 on the year, with enough stink lines to obscure Mike Piazza's 400th homer. As if the offense's woes weren't enough, the rotation's problems now include Chris Young's numb pitching thumb.

27


Devil Rays
11-14
3-3
.388
Down
Jonny Gomes claims the league lead in homers with 11, Scott Kazmir continues his mastery of the Red Sox, Mark Hendrickson has yet to allow an earned run, and Jorge Cantu goes on the shelf with a broken bone in his foot. Yet all of that pales in comparison to the big Devil Ray news of the week: Delmon Young throwing his bat at an umpire after being ejected. Young, tops on our Top 50 Prospect List, has been suspended indefinitely and should be looking at a 90-day vacation complete with anger management counseling, argues Kevin Goldstein, while Steven Goldman cracks open the history books in search of precedent.

28


Twins
9-15
2-4
.323
Down
Twin Killing: victims of a severe three-game beatdown in which they were outscored 33-1 by the Tigers, and it's simply all going to hell in a handbasket for the Twins. Opposing hitters are batting .322/.367/.515 against the staff, three-fifths of the rotation has ERAs above 8.50, and even Johan Santana's first W of the year requires the Royals to play patsies. On offense, Torii Hunter is hitting .189/.240/.378, Justin Morneau a meager .208/.274/.416, and somebody should call an ambulance for Rondell White (.136/.143/.148). Off the field, while the Minnesota House approves financing of a new ballpark, a Viking raid threatens the Twins' chances in the Senate.

29


Pirates
7-19
2-4
.320
Down
If runs were Vitamin C, then these Pirates would be the scurviest dogs of them all. Their seven-game losing streak is history, but the Bucs have scored just 19 runs over the past 10 games, never topping three in a single game. Of the 10 players with the most PA on the team, six of them have negative VORPs, and aside from Jason Bay, the team as a whole has put up a 3.58 K/BB ratio. Yarrr, that's not attractive.

30


Royals
5-17
1-4
.290
Flat
No Laughing Matter: injured in a chucklefest last week, Kerry Robinson joins the lineup as Shane Costa joins David DeJesus on the DL. That's the Kerry Robinson, the showcasable Kerry Robinson, he of the career .237 EqA in 728 plate appearances, he who must be better than Chip Ambres and Aaron Guiel, who remain struggling on the farm. Uh-huh. In happier news, Fat Elvys returns, providing the team's lone victory on the week. If only he'd worn a jumpsuit...


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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