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May 16, 2006

Prospectus Hit List

Week of May 14

by Jay Jaffe

It takes a real man to swing a pink bat. The sight of some of the game's most fearsome hitters--Adam Dunn, Jim Edmonds, Prince Fielder, Jason Giambi, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome--among dozens of ballplayers wielding specially-painted Louisville Sluggers on Mother's Day to raise breast cancer awareness tickled us pink and served as a reminder that once in a blue moon, MLB gets it right. And speaking of the fairer sex, she's not a mom yet, but a special hats-off to my wife Andra, who's had to fill many a solitary Sunday and manic Monday while I compile the Hit List. This column wouldn't be possible without her incredible love and support. Happy one-year anniversary, honey!

RkTeam
Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor
Trend
Comment

1


Tigers
24-13
4-1
.655
Flat
Back for their third non-consecutive stint at the top of the list, and if they're not exactly young lions, they're hardly paper tigers either. "Stingy" is the best word to describe the club who leads the majors in ERA (3.26, a half-run better than the next-closest AL team); all five starters are among the AL's top 30 in VORP, led by Kenny Rogers at 18.0. "Lucky" may also be an applicable word, given their MLB-best Defensive Efficiency (.737) and middling strikeout rate (5.96 per 9 IP, ninth in the AL). Sooner or later, they can expect some regression.

2


Yankees
21-14
3-3
.649
Down
A costly week for the Yanks, as Hideki Matsui's broken wrist, ends his consecutive game streak at 1,768 (518 with the Yanks, a record to start an MLB career) and forces him to join Gary Sheffield (who refused a cortisone shot) on the DL. Godzilla could be out longer than three months, and while the Yanks lack an adequate replacement (Melky Cabrera? Kevin Reese? the undead Bernie Williams?), they'll search from within first. Meanwhile, Randy Johnson's mechanics are a mess, and so is his stat line; he's yielded a 6.89 ERA over his last six starts. In the bullpen, Tanyon Sturtze's woes force him to the DL in favor of a pitcher so bad he makes Jose Lima retch: Scott Erickson.

3


White Sox
24-12
2-3
.612
Down
A pinched nerve sidelines Jose Contreras, who leads all pitchers in VORP (24.4), and the Sox turn to knuckleballer Charles Haeger for a short-lived experiment (4.2 IP, 5 ER, 6 BB). They'll try Brandon McCarthy (5.21 ERA in 19 IP) next time around. Hot hitter besides Jim Thome: Scott Podsednik, batting .370/.437/.511 since April 14 after a 2-for-34 start.

4


Mets
23-14
2-4
.606
Down
Beware of Lima Time: their NL East lead has dwindled to a single game as the Mets have lost five of seven since activating Jose Lima (9.31 ERA and 19 baserunners in 9.2 innings). Even with a rotation decimated by injuries, Willie Randolph and Omar Minaya refuse to consider Aaron Heilman for a start. Heilman's part of a bullpen that's third in the NL in Reliever Expected Wins Added (3.304), which is worth something, but with the way this team is dredging up starters, expect Minaya to start fawning over scouting reports on Dwight Gooden from the Florida Prison League soon.

5


Cardinals
24-14
4-2
.602
Up
The Race is On: with 19 homers, Albert Pujols is well ahead of the record-setting paces of Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. For what it's worth, the slugger likes his home cooking; he's hitting .373/.510/.920 in the new Busch Stadium, "only" .275/.406/.706 on the road. The pitching staff, despite a league-leading 3.47 ERA, has been taking its lumps. Sidney Ponson's strained flexor muscle has his solid comeback (2.81 ERA, 11.0 VORP, zero altercations with Aruban judges) on hold, while Ricardo Rincon is headed for multiple surgeries and done for the year.

6


Blue Jays
21-16
5-2
.577
Up
Not only has B.J. Ryan been dominant (0.51 ERA, 19/3 K/BB, six hits in 17.2 innings and 1.579 WXRL, good for fourth-best in the league), he's been used in an aggressive manner by manager John Gibbons, notes Joe Sheehan. In the rotation, Josh Towers saves his job with a strong performance, but Gustavo Chacin is shelved by an elbow strain (another WBC casualty?).

7


Red Sox
21-14
2-2
.573
Up
The Red Sox top the Yankees in the two teams' first completed series of the year, and they now hold a 3-1 season lead on their AL East foes. Josh Beckett gets his groove back after a three-start slump, but Curt Schilling has looked decidedly mortal for his past three turns; the Big Shill has surrendered 12 earned runs in 18 innings since his 133-pitch start against Cleveland on April 25. A pair of rained-out Rangers games should shield the team from its weakest link in the rotation, but those doubleheaders are starting to pile up.

8


Brewers
19-19
3-3
.553
Down
Bill Hall delivers his mom a Mother's Day bouquet in the form of a walk-off homer with a pink bat. Hall is hitting .292/.339/.642 on the year and seeing time at four positions (2B, SS, 3B, and CF); he's eighth on the team in plate appearances but fourth in VORP (11.4) and third in MLVr (0.351). Elsewhere in the lineup, Prince Fielder is mashing lefties just like Big Daddy learned him, hitting .405/.450/.865 with five homers in 37 AB; vs righties he's hitting .291/.354/.437 with three homers in 106 AB. Against LOOGYs specifically summoned to face him, he's 5-for-9 with two homers and a walk. Then again, when it's Darren Oliver...

9


Padres
22-16
6-1
.543
Up
Winners of 14 out of 15, though sweeping the seven-game season series from the flatlining Cubs in that timespan tempers that accomplishment. The rotation, which leads the league in SNLVAR (6.2) is rounding into shape, with Chan Ho Park tossing 15 scoreless innings, Clay Hensley notching his first shutout, Jake Peavy whiffing 13 and paying tribute to Satchel Paige, and Dewon Brazelton and his double-digit ERA sent to a place where he can do the club's chances no harm: Portland.

10


Dodgers
19-19
4-2
.540
Up
With a five-homer week, Jeff Kent raises his season line from south of awful to a still-lousy .219/.329/.391. Bill Mueller heads for arthroscopic knee surgery; he'll miss six weeks while Willy Aybar (.326/.448/.453 last September) mans the hot corner. Aybar's error contributes to a four-run ninth inning for the Giants, Danny Baez's fourth blown save in a row. Baez is now last in the NL with -1.207 Reliever Expected Wins Added. Eric Gagne will begin a rehab assignment this weekend; expect him to resume closer duties ASAP.

11


Reds
23-15
2-4
.538
Down
Ken Griffey Jr. returns with a bang, launching a walk-off homer in his first game back from a month on the DL. But a sweep at the hands of the Phillies knocks the Reds out of first place in the NL Central. They've now lost seven out of 11, scoring one run or less in six of those games, and managing just five against a Philly staff that came in allowing 5.12 runs per game.

12


Astros
22-16
3-4
.536
Down
With a 6.11 ERA, 16 BB in 17.2 IP and -0.291 WXRL, Brad Lidge has been relieved of his closer duties on the heels of more misadventures. Manager Phil Garner will use him in the middle innings as he irons out his mechanics, while Dan Wheeler--who relieved Lidge twice on the week--or Chad Qualls handle save opportunities. As a unit, the Astros bullpen has been mediocre but not awful; they rank ninth in the league in WXRL (0.906), sixth in Fair Run Average (4.64), and 12th in Adjusted Runs Prevented (-3.7).

13


Rangers
19-17
2-2
.535
Down
The Rangers remain in the AL West lead despite no extraordinary developments to report regarding Kevin Mench's oversized head or undersized shoes this week. But Hank Blalock is in a nice groove; he's hitting .336/.405/.526, with substantial improvements in his walk rate (up from .072 to .098 per PA) and K/BB ratio (1.13, down from 2.59). Also grooving is Gary Matthews Jr., batting .310/.368/.530 with hits in his last 12 starts and solving the team's longstanding center field dilemma.

14


Diamondbacks
20-17
2-3
.532
Down
Brandon Webb shares the NL lead in VORP (22.8, tied with Bronson Arroyo), but his fellow Snake starters have combined for just 2.8 VORP, with Orlando Hernandez (-6.3) the biggest offender. El Duque has racked up four disaster starts (more runs than innings pitched) out of seven this year and is looking more like Wile E. Coyote than a wily veteran. He's been pushed back in the rotation, but with Russ Ortiz headed for a long rehab spell, is in no immediate danger of losing his rotation spot.

15


Indians
17-21
0-6
.528
Down
Currently handling the weight of preseason expectations like Wile E. Coyote wields an anvil, which is to say that losing six straight looks twice as bad when half of those losses are to the Royals. Even worse, the Tribe has played just .333 ball over their past 24 games, and in a division with the defending World Champs, the Hit List's top team, and last year's harsh lessons, it's getting late early. The offense continues to lead the majors in scoring (5.92 runs per game), but the defense is the AL's second-worst(.682), which isn't helping those low K-rate starters (Jason Johnson, Paul Byrd, and Jake Westbrook: combined 4.42 K/9 and 5.94 ERA).

16


Rockies
21-17
2-4
.526
Down
Matt Holliday is hitting a torrid .375/.412/.854 with six homers for the month, but the rest of the Rox apparently left their bats in April. Apparently using assorted garden implements, canes and prosthetic limbs, they're hitting just .205/.277/.296 with three homers for the month and have beeen outscored 50-39, sending their run differential into the red. Particularly woeful is Clint Barmes' slump; he's now hitting just .215/.245/.307 since returning from Venisongate. Oh, deer!

17


Phillies
22-15
5-1
.511
Up
Truckin': Aaron Rowand smashes into a wall in spectacular fashion, making the catch but breaking his nose, fracturing his orbital and heading to the DL for a gain of about 2.84 runs. Enigmatic prospect Cole Hamels (an Honorable Mention on our Top 50 Prospect List this year, #39 last year) tosses five shutout innings in his stellar debut, giving an underperforming rotation a boost. The loosened-up Phillies have won 13 out of 14, tightening the NL East race, but their run differential is still in the red, hence the middling ranking.

18


Braves
17-20
4-2
.504
Up
Adam LaRoche's lack of effort in making a game-turning error draws the ire of the Atlanta crowd, but it may be linked to the first baseman's Attention Deficit Disorder. In more positive news, Jeff Francoeur draws his elusive first walk of the year in his 136th plate appearance, but his walk-off grand slam means more to the team. He's hitting .309/.321/.564 with 17 RBI for the month, while fellow soph Brian McCann is at .441/.512/.647 for May.

19


Athletics
18-19
2-4
.479
Up
With Rich Harden, Esteban Loaiza, and now Justin Duchscherer on the disabled list, Billy Beane goes out and acquires Steve "Hearsay" Karsay? The man with the fifth-highest total of DL days (712) ever? The man whose last injury-free season was 2002, who's thrown all of 82.1 innings (just 28.1 in the majors) since? The man whose four-year deal bought the Yanks all of 116.2 innings and 5.1 WARP3, or $4.14 million per marginal win? A shrewd Moneyball play; clearly, Beane senses that washed-up, injury prone relievers are the newest highly undervalued commodity, the cornerstone of the A's next run at winning the AL West with a tiny payroll. Expect the Michael Lewis excerpts to start running any day as the women's auxiliary mobilizes in protest.

20


16-22
2-4
.450
Down
Losers of 12 out of 16 have literally hit rock bottom of the AL West, falling behind even the moribund Mariners. Jeff Weaver is in danger of losing his job after another drubbing; he yielded 12 runs and six homers in just 10 innings on the week, and his ERA stands at 7.40. Aside from Vladimir Guerrero (.353/.404/.608 in May), the team is hitting a mere .207/.286/.316 this month, and their VORP has fallen below zero. Casey Kotchman has been DL'ed due to his bout with mononucleosis, and Howie Kendrick demoted (he went 3-for-26), with Dallas McPherson recalled after a homer binge in Triple-A.

21


Mariners
17-22
4-2
.449
Up
The M's escape the cellar by taking two out of three from the Angels to cap a rare winning week. Ichiro Suzuki and Yuniesky Betancourt (.407/.467/.481 and .350/.350/.650 for the week, respectively) lead the offense and Felix Hernandez puts forth his best start of the year. Manager Mike Hargrove has been living up to his closer-by-committee approach since removing Eddie Guardado from the role; J.J. Putz, Emiliano Fruto, Jake Woods and Rafael Soriano have combined to save five of the team's six wins this month, with Putz leading the team in WXRL (1.062).

22


Giants
18-20
4-3
.441
Up
Curse of the Bambino? A homerless week for Barry Bonds as he goes just 1-for-18 with eight walks while gunning for homer number 714 in front of the hometown fans; he's hitting just .217/.476/.458 for the year and will have to take his circus act on the road for the next week. Noah Lowry returns to a rotation that could use the help, given the struggles of Matt Morris (6.20 ERA) and rookie Matt Cain (7.04), who will remain in the big leagues as he tries to reverse his struggles.

23


Nationals
13-25
2-4
.439
Up
A rough week for the Nats as they're victimized twice in three days by walk-off homers. Pitching is a problem all the way around; the bullpen ranks dead last in the NL in WXRL (-1.153) and third-to-last in SNLVAR (2.7). Livan Hernandez's ERA has ballooned to 6.52; he's been getting lit early, yielding a .478/.519/.870 line in the first inning, good for 19 runs in his eight starts.

24


Orioles
18-20
4-1
.438
Up
Royal Whupping: the O's halt a 2-9 slide by sweeping the majors' worst team, with Javy Lopez bashing a three-run homer in his first game back from the DL. But not all is well in O-Town. Daniel Cabrera hits the DL with shoulder inflammation, but with 39 walks in 41.1 innings--including seven or more in four of his starts--maybe that's for the best. At the very least, Cabrera is tired of the subject: "...I walk people all the time. I'm tired of hearing it all the time. Walks, walks. I walk people all the time. That's nothing different to me." We're guessing Sam Perlozzo and Leo Mazzone are tired of it, too.

25


Twins
17-20
4-2
.417
Up
Now 8-5 since the calendar turned to May, but the rotation continues to get bombed; Johan Santana (1.71 ERA and 30/2 K/BB in 21 innings) is the only starter with an ERA under 5.60 this month, and the starters as a unit are still carrying a 6.44 ERA. Francisco Liriano, fourth on our Top 50 Prospect list, will join the rotation having compiled a 3.22 ERA with 32/4 K/BB in 22.1 innings, while Carlos Silva (8.80 ERA) heads to the bullpen. Given that the offense needs every run it can get, it's worth asking why Jason Bartlett (.326/.348/.500 in Triple-A) and Jason Kubel (.289/.336/.485) continue to languish in Rochester while Juan Castro (.240/.269/.280), Rondell White (.185/.194/.223) and Lew Ford (.228/.299/.304) sabotage the offense.

26


Marlins
11-24
3-3
.416
Up
A pair of wins against the Pirates helps the team stop a 3-11 skid, but these Fish stink on ice, particularly the rotation, which has yielded a 5.83 ERA and has just a 0.8 SNLVAR, last in the majors. Dontrelle Willis' mechanical struggles continue, as do the beatings; the D-Train has allowed 21 earned runs over his last three starts (14.2 innings), inflating his ERA to 6.22 and dropping his VORP below zero (-4.7), where he joins fellow Marlins starters Brian Moehler (-12.3) and Jason Vargas (-5.4). As Sergio Mitre hits the DL, the Marlins will get a look at Yusmeiro Petit, #33 on our Top 50 Prospect list.

27


Cubs
15-22
1-6
.375
Down
Code Blue: losers of 14 out of 16, the Cubs have scored just 30 runs (2.14 per game) while allowing 76 (5.43 per game) in May, suggesting that Dusty Baker may have been witnessing the future back in spring training. Not that the Cubs manager actually has the power to do something radical like drop Juan Pierre (.225/.269/.291) from the leadoff spot. Kerry Wood returns this week, but unless he can swing the bat (and at .166/.191/.243 for his career, let's face it, he can't), the bleeding will continue.

28


Devil Rays
15-23
2-4
.348
Down
Mayday! Mayday! The Rays are just 4-9 this month, having been outscored 61-33 while hitting a bare .197/.257/.291. Jonny Gomes is the only regular with an OPS above .595 for the month. Ty Wigginton has turned back into a pumpkin (7-for-43), while Aubrey Huff is just 3-for-31 since coming off the DL, and Julio Lugo 6-for-33 since returning. On the positive side, Scott Kazmir has allowed just two earned runs over his last three starts, and since his Opening Day shellacking has put up a 2.00 ERA in 45 innings. Somewhere Rick Peterson should be weeping.

29


Pirates
11-27
2-3
.331
Up
Be Careful What You Wish For: Jim Tracy can't handle the harsh glare of the Pittsburgh spotlight or those lofty, unreasonable expectations that his team won't suck Royally. Life is good when you see eye to eye with your GM, who procures only the finest veteran talent--ain't it? Oliver Perez (7.71 ERA) gets skipped, Jason Bay gets dropped in the order, yet sainted Jeromy Burnitz (.185/.236/.341 in the midst of an 8-for-70 slide) must play? Yes, this does beat LA...

30


Royals
10-25
3-3
.309
Up
A sweep of the Indians gives the Royals as many victories against the Tribe (five) as they have against every other team combined while offering hope that they may be better than the 1962 Mets (if not the 2003 Tigers) after all, but being swept by the Orioles quickly crushes any optimimsm that a corner has been turned. Owner David Glass is sitting on his hands when it comes to making necessary changes, Justin Huber is sitting on the bench while Stinky Minky plays, and the team is poised to screw themselves Royally on Draft Day, says Kevin Goldstein. Hey, at least they're using PECOTA...


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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