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June 20, 2006

Prospectus Hit List

Week of June 18th

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Tigers
46-24
6-1
.622
Up
Roaring Back: winners of eight out of nine, the Tigers restake their claim on the top spot by beating two of the Hit List's weakest sisters. Those questioning their success thus far (hate to single out a subgroup of pesky South Side fans, but if the white sock fits...) should remember the almost universal tendency to underrate run prevention as compared to run scoring. As Baseball Between the Numbers points out, per the Pythagorean formula, a typical team can gain about one more win per year by subtracting 100 runs allowed than it can by adding 100 scored. Does that mean the Tigers won't regress? Not at all, but until they do, they deserve their ranking here, thanks in part to having four starters among the league's top 17 in VORP, and nearly a four-game advantage in the Support-Neutral rankings. Must read: Nate Silver's look at Justin Verlander's superficially unimpressive strikeout rate.

2


Mets
43-25
4-2
.608
Flat
The Mets run their winning streak to eight straight and their NL East lead to 9.5 games before former Shea denizens Melvin Mora and Kris Benson bring them back to earth. Still, 9.5 games is nice padding to have, particularly when none of the division's other teams is above .500; even better, this is the Mets' best 68-game start since 1988. Carlos Delgado has been red-hot (.444/.500/.722 for the week), as have Jose Reyes (.500/.552/.769) and David Wright (.333/.385/.833). And while Lastings Milledge (.258/.309/.468) has impressed in some areas, it's worth noting that he has yet to draw an unintentional walk in 68 plate appearances--not quite Francoeurian, but worthy of a bus ticket back to Norfolk nonetheless.

3


Yankees
38-29
3-3
.604
Flat
Amid just his second quality start since April 23, Randy Johnson throws at (but doesn't hit) Eduardo Perez in retaliation for a plunking and earns a five-game suspension. Johnson's brushback highlights the fact that the Yanks haven't been in the beanball biz lately; they've been hit by pitches 14 more times than their opponents, a margin second only to the Orioles. With a battered lineup increasingly vulenerable to the loss of one Jeter, a little chin music is apparently the order of the day... Hot in May (.330/.416/.615), Alex Rodriguez has swooned in June (.180/.293/.300 going into Sunday, not to mention a few notable clutch failures--and the occasional screw job), but he believes he's figured out why.

4


White Sox
44-25
6-1
.601
Up
The Ocho: the White Sox score eight runs no less than four times for the week, and all they can do is keep pace with the Tigers, though their competition (Reds and Rangers) is considerably stronger than that of their AL Central rivals (Cubs and Devil Rays). Jose Contreras whiffs 24 (and walks only two) in his two starts; he's third in the AL in VORP (30.2). Jon Garland belts a home run--first by a Chisox pitcher in 35 years--and tosses two good starts, lowering his ERA below 6.00 for the first time all year. The team's biggest pitching news, however, comes when rookie reliever Sean Tracey fails to retaliate for an A.J. Pierzynski beaning and is yanked by an enraged Ozzie Guillen ("Ozzie went nuts. He had the ass, big-time."--unidentified source) and subsequently demoted, though the acquisition of David Riske earlier that day may have been a factor as well.

5


Cardinals
42-26
5-1
.565
Up
With Albert Pujols sidelined (but feeling considerably better), Scott Rolen is picking up the slack, hitting .386/.456/.667 this month. He's now 11th in the NL in VORP (26.1). Stepping up as well is Chris Carpenter, who's put up a 1.89 ERA and struck out 22 in his three June starts (19 IP); the rest of the rotation has yielded a 6.27 ERA this month. Carpenter ranks sixth in the league in VORP (28.7) and SNLVAR.

6


Blue Jays
37-32
3-4
.565
Down
Swept by the Marlins, the Jays are now 0-6 in interleague play this year, the only AL team without a win. Wipe those six losses from the ledger and the Jays would be leading the Yanks by a game and the Red Sox by 2.5. They still lead the majors in Equivalent Average (.287), but one key part of that has been Alexis Rios, who hit .361/.396/.645 through the end of May. He's started the inevitable plummet back to earth, batting just .230/.347/.492 this month--not terrible, but hardly earthshaking. The team had better plan on upping its scoring a bit with the return of Josh Towers (9.00 ERA in 45 innings, -14.5 VORP, third-worst in the majors).

7


Red Sox
39-28
3-3
.562
Down
Home of the Braves: coming off a 1-5 skid, the Sox get the perfect prescription: a visit to Turner Field, where they sweep a struggling Atlanta squad. Jon Lester picks up his first major-league win; he'll probably stick around now that Matt Clement's shoulder has forced him to the DL; Will Carroll wonders if Clement's elbow is actually the source of the problem. The bullpen has its own DL tag team going in Keith Foulke and Mike Timlin, a net gain for the Sox given the latter's superior performance (2.05 ERA, 1.290 WXRL vs. 5.63 ERA, 0.463 WXRL), but it's really the likes of Rudy Seanez (4.50 ERA, -0.852 WXRL) and Julian Tavarez (6.03 ERA, -0.893 WXRL) doing the damage, not Foulke. Meanwhile, sore knees cause Manny Ramirez to struggle through a 1-for-18 week, a big part of the reason the team scores just 25 runs in six games.

8


Rangers
38-32
4-3
.558
Flat
Little Sarge Taketh Away and Little Sarge Giveth: Gary Matthews Jr. robs Shawn Green of a homer, then hits one himself in the same inning en route to a sweep of the Diamondbacks and a .444/.464/.704 week for himself. Matthews' .312 EqA is tops on the team, as is his 30.4 VORP. Also hot is Michael Young, coming off a 5-for-5 game and hitting .467/.452/.667 for the week. Still, the Rangers' stumble against the White Sox--losing three out of four--causes them to surrender first place in the AL West for the first time since May 19.

9


Dodgers
36-33
1-5
.557
Down
Chad Billingsley--#24 on our Top 50 Prospect list--makes an impressive major-league debut both on the mound and at the plate, but it's a rough week for the Dodgers otherwise. Billingsley's recall only serves to highlight how wretched the back of the rotation has been lately; between starting and (no) relief, Brett Tomko, Jae Seo, and Odalis Perez have yielded 33 runs in 33 innings this month. They've combined for just 1.3 SNLVAR this year, while Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, and Aaron Sele (whose pumpkin chariot is in danger of crashing) have combined for 7.7. In the bullpen, with Eric Gagne back on the DL and headed to a neurologist, 36-year-old rookie Takashi Saito has taken over closer duties; he's fifth in the NL in Reliever Expected Wins Added with 2.176.

10


Indians
31-37
1-5
.525
Down
Lost Tribe: another wasted week culminates in a sweep by the Brewers, knocking the Indians down to fourth place in the AL Central, and to a mere 3.6 percent chance of making the postseason. This time the bullpen is to blame, particularly for a pair of walk-off wins by Milwaukee that negated solid starts. Cleveland's 'pen ranks second to last in the AL in WXRL (-1.022), and third-worst in Adjusted Runs Prevented (-15.5). Unrelated to the bullpen but certainly not helping matters is the loss of Casey Blake to an oblique strain; fluky .304/.388/.519 line or no, he's a better alternative than Todd Hollandsworth (.200/.224/.400) in a lineup that needs all the runs it can muster, and his trade value is probably at its peak as well.

11


Athletics
38-31
6-0
.525
Up
The A's cap a 10-game winning streak with a sweep of the Dodgers, one that includes a 17-inning win. Barry Zito bounces back from two subpar outings by tying his career high of 11 K's; he's sixth in the AL in VORP (29.5). Also good news is that Rich Harden may yet avoid Tommy John surgery, contrary to a previous report here. There's even a silver lining to be had in Frank Thomas hitting the DL with a quad strain, in that Oakland's next nine games are all in NL parks, decreasing his utility. No such happiness for Esteban Loaiza, the latest in a spate of athletes to get charged with a DUI. That $21 million contract ought to buy the occasional taxi ride.

12


Reds
37-32
1-5
.524
Down
They're still running second in the NL Central, but the Reds have lost eight out of nine and been outscored 59-33 since sweeping the Cardinals to taste first place. Hit the hardest is Brandon Claussen, who gives up nine runs to the White Sox, then goes on the DL with shoulder tendonitis. With a 6.19 ERA and -4.4 VORP Claussen's been doing more harm than good; he's allowed a team-high 14 homers (1.63 per 9) , and his .508 SLG allowed is ninth-worst in the league. Even worse news for the Reds: his replacement is Joe Mays, who last pitched well back when Tom Kelly was still managing.

13


Padres
36-33
4-2
.518
Up
Beat LA! Beat LA!: the Padres take series from both teams who call the City of Angels home (don't start...) and claim a share of first place in the NL West for the first time since May 18. Jake Peavy takes a loss but with better results than his previous three starts; still, opinions are mixed on the wisdom of his gutting it out. Less ambiguous is Dave Roberts' collision with a wall ("the human version of the front crumple zones you see in car ads," says Will Carroll); he's got a deep thigh bruise and could miss up to six weeks. That's a tough loss given that Roberts is hitting .295/.365/.432, leading the team in VORP (13.5) and is second in EqA (.288, one point behind Brian Giles).

14


Giants
34-35
2-4
.503
Down
Taking advantage of a rare opportunity to DH, Barry Bonds homers in back-to-back games to run his total to 718. But it's his game-ending strikeout against J.J. Putz--on an apparent mistake pitch--that proves his most memorable highlight of the week as the Giants are swept by the Mariners. They've lost seven of nine, failing to capitalize on the troubles of the Diamondbacks and Dodgers. Bonds isn't the only one of the Giants' ancient outfielders in the news. Back spasms hamper Moises Alou on his way to a 1-for-18 week, while Steve Finley becomes just the sixth major leaguer ever to rack up 300 steals and 300 homers, joining Barry and Bobby Bonds, Willie Mays, Andre Dawson and Reggie Sanders. That's fast company.

15


Diamondbacks
35-34
1-5
.495
Down
Correlation doesn't prove causation when it comes to the Diamondbacks' miseries, but there's no denying that the off-field problems seem to love the company of the on-field ones. Losers of 11 out of 12 amid the Jason Grimsley maelstom, the Diamondbacks now have to contend with general managing partner Ken Kendrick throwing Luis Gonzalez--only the most storied hitter in the franchise's short history--under the bus, not to mention setting a new MLB record for sunk costs ($22 million) with the release of Russ Ortiz. Just desserts for inflicting that hideous purple and teal combo on an undeserving nation, perhaps.

16


Rockies
34-35
4-3
.489
Up
Rocky Road: after rolling to 35 runs in a four-game sweep of the Nationals at RFK, the Rox manage just seven while being swept by the Cardinals at Busch II. If there's any comfort to be found, it's that the team's performance this month looks a bit more "Rockies-esque": a staff ERA of 5.30 (knocking them back to a middle-of-the-pack 4.40 overall) and a scoring rate of 5.44 per game (nearly a run better than their overall mark of 4.48) via a .289/.346/.449 batting line. More typical: of their ten most frequent hitters, three (Matt Holliday, Garrett Atkins, and Jamey Carroll) have an OPS over 1.000 for the month, while five are under .700. Only Jose Mesa's eight scoreless frames and Todd Helton's puny-by-comparison .475 SLG (off of a .339 AVG) are providing the charming brand of cognitive dissonance we've become so accustomed to here lately--frankly, that's much more fun to analyze.

17


Brewers
35-35
5-1
.488
Up
Like Mother, Like Father: just as Bill Hall capped a memorable Mother's Day with a walk-off homer, so too did Carlos Lee put the finishing touch on Father's Day to complete a sweep of the Indians and cap a week which sees the Brewers climb back to .500. With three homers on the week, Lee now has 23 for the year, fourth in the NL, and he's one of four Brewers among the NL's top 30 in VORP. While things are still quiet on the Ben Sheets front, Carlos Villanueva's impressive first start offers hope that the team's back-of-rotation nightmares may be behind them.

18


Mariners
34-37
3-3
.479
Up
Putz Out: while the Mariners haven't exactly had a boatload of games to save, new closer J.J. Putz has been doing a stellar job, highlighted by his two game-ending strikeouts of Barry Bonds over the weekend. In 34 innings, Putz has struck out 46 while walking only six, he hasn't been scored upon in his last nine outings, and he's now tenth in the AL in WXRL (2.017). Pitching well at the front end of the equation is Gil Meche, who's put together a 3.79 ERA since the end of April via six quality starts out of his last nine. He leads the staff in SNLVAR (2.2), is second in VORP (17.5) and, as a pending free agent, might net the Mariners a solid return on the open market come the trade deadline.

19


Marlins
29-37
6-0
.476
Up
Fish Tale: the Marlins have won eight straight and 17 out of 23 since May 21. A trio of rookie pitchers is leading the way; Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen, and Ricky Nolasco have combined for a 2.31 ERA, 7.77 K/9 and 3.0 K/BB ratio in 97.2 innings in that span, with Johnson's 2.01 ERA leading the National League (at least until he slips back under the 1 IP/G qualifier). Dontrelle Willis' roll has lasted even longer; since May 15, he's shown the "kids" (average age: 22.3 to his 24) how it's done by puttting up a 2.54 ERA in 46 innings, good for five quality starts out of six. Not rolling: Hanley Ramirez, suffering through back trouble and an 0-for-29 slump.

20


Twins
34-34
6-0
.471
Up
Finally regaining his stroke, Jason Kubel homers in three straight games (including a walk-off grand slam) to lead the Twins to a sweep over the Red Sox on their way to a season-high seven-game winning streak. Kubel's hitting .333/.357/.648 this month, just one of many positive signs for the Twins. The staff has a 3.05 ERA in June, with Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano combining for a 1.69 ERA and a 49/6 K/BB ratio in 48 innings; Brad Radke (1.93 ERA) and Carlos Silva (4.76) appear to be turning things around as well. Even better, the team has cut the cord on both Tony Batista (.236/.303/.388, -3.5 VORP) and Juan Castro (.231/.258/.308, -6.9), though that good move has been long since negated by having them around at all.

21


Phillies
34-35
1-5
.471
Down
Charlie Manuel's club is "not playing for no damn wild card", and after a six-game losing streak plunges the Phils below .500, he's got that right. Pitching continues to be the big problem, particularly the rotation, which has combined to allow a 6.88 ERA this month and ranks 29th out of 30 in SNLVAR. Even staff ace Brett Myers has been getting pummelled, yielding 11 earned runs and lasting just 5.2 innings in his last two starts; with 15 non-homer hits in those starts, it's fair to say he hasn't been getting much support in the field--a continual problem on a team that ranks second-to-last in the league in Defensive Efficiency (.681).

22


31-38
4-3
.470
Up
Bartolo Colon returns from two months on the DL, a move that leads the Angels to demote Jered Weaver. This despite the latter's 1.37 ERA in 26.1 innings, not to mention the fact that his 13.1 VORP is fourth on the staff and nearly two wins better than brother Jeff's -5.3. Also returning from injury but with considerably less chance of elevating his subzero VORP (-3.7) is Darin Erstad; if he's truly ready to help the team win, he'll start asking Angels fans if they'd like fries with that.

23


Astros
36-34
4-2
.467
Flat
Revving Up: even having dropped a series to the Royals, the Astros have won nine out of 12 to reclaim a spot in the NL Wild Card hunt, and they can look forward to the return of Roger Clemens on Thursday (matched up against Francisco Liriano, so set your TiVO); Clemens' final tuneup in Round Rock went as planned. Roy Oswalt's already back from his back troubles, and Morgan Ensberg (bruised shoulder) and Chris Burke (bruised elbow) return from their respective owies, with the latter hitting .476//.607/.761 for the week.

24


Nationals
32-39
2-5
.463
Down
A pair of comebacks against the New York Yankees--one from seven runs down--takes some of the sting out of the five-game losing streak that preceded it. Still, it's an ugly week for the Nats, as they dismiss bullpen coach John Wetteland and force manager Frank Robinson into schoolmarm mode. Robinson's tiff with Damian Jackson highlight's the team's persistent woes in center field; Jackson, Marlon Byrd, Ryan Church, Brandon Watson and Alex Escobar have hit a combined .218/.298/.340 in that role, and only Church's fluky three homers in seven ABs as a right fielder lift any of that motley assortment above replacement level as far as VORP is concerned.

25


Braves
30-40
0-6
.455
Down
Shoveling Dirt: with seven losses in a row and 17 in 20 games, the Braves are now 14 games back in the NL East, far enough for pundits to begin eulogizing their 15-year dynasty (not so fast on that postseason roster talk, because they've never come from more than six games back). Once known for their pitching, the Braves are having a hard enough time finding healthy bodies to take the ball; their latest woes have Horacio Ramirez drilled in the head, John Thomson blistered and Chris Reitsma suffering from ulnar neuritis, causing numbness in the fingers. Numbness, blistering and severe blows to the head--for that kind of abuse, they could have just tuned into some Royals games.

26


Orioles
32-39
3-4
.445
Flat
Orioles Entry by Numbers: start with the part about Jay Gibbons and the disabled list. Then move to the line about an underperforming member of the rotation getting bitchy for no good reason; boy, that Leo Mazzone, et cetera. Yadda yadda about another sub-.500 week, falling further in the AL East standings, then toss in the part about the former O with the performance-enhancer connection casting more bad light on the organization. Close with a random Simpsons reference that seems vaguely apropos: "So the caterpiller has emerged from its cocoon as a shark... with a gun for a mouth." Some teams make this job easy.

27


Pirates
26-44
1-5
.418
Down
Arrrgh: fresh off an 11-6 streak, the Pirates make another break for Davy Jones' Locker, and here's a typically fresh idea from Dave Littlefield: an extension for Sean Casey in the ballpark of three years and $18 million, running from his Age 32 through 34 seasons (Casey's birthday is on July 2, missing the standardized cutoff by one day). Still, there's good news to be had here despite Littlefield's best intentions. Kip Wells is returning ahead of schedule from a blocked artery, Chris Duffy is back in the fold after nearly a month AWOL, and Jose Bautista (.235/.344/.520) may have found a home in center field; along with Ronny Paulino (.311/.360/.396) and Freddy Sanchez (.350/.387/.495), that's three youngsters who've played their way into the lineup on Jim Tracy's watch.

28


Cubs
26-42
0-6
.390
Down
Bleak Week: the Cubs serve up their second winless week of the young season, their third losing streak of at least six games, and the news just gets worse from there. Derrek Lee's return isn't progressing as quickly as hoped; earlier timetables were overly optimistic, but he may not be back until just before the All-Star break. The Cubs are now 17-37 (.315) since he went down. Mark Prior is bombed (3.2 IP, 8 R, 4 HR) in his long-awaited season debut, and while the rotation may soon get Kerry Wood back, it's only because the team doesn't think he can help in a bullpen role. Oh, and like a vat of mayonnaise left to warm in the Wrigley outfield, Tony Womack has predictably curdled; he's hitting just .185/.290/.296 in June.

29


Devil Rays
29-41
3-4
.388
Up
Rocco Baldelli is hitting .366/.409/.537 in 41 at-bats since coming off the DL, and Carl Crawford (.386/.407/.772 this month) and Julio Lugo (six HR in June) have been hot as well, helping the Rays to a respectable 8-9 record since the calendar struck June. Still, these aren't all happy days in Tampa. Just as Delmon Young prepares to return from a 50-game supension, B.J. Upton's DWI charge makes him the latest (but not the only) D-Ray prospect to run afoul, a situtation that has manager Joe Maddon fuming.

30


Royals
19-49
3-4
.300
Up
Credentialgate rages on, tainting Dayton Moore's shiny new adminstration--you know, the one that looks on Brandon "Chuck and" Duckworth (career ERA: 5.31) as the rotation's latest panacea. OK, that's unfair given the hand Allard Baird and the Glass Jaws dealt him, and the upcoming junk sale is more likely to provide suspects for a police lineup than prospects for a baseball one. Still, it's hard to have even an ounce of pity for this organization right now so long as they try making chicken salad out of chicken guano, both on the field and in the media. Best to hope they can commemorate this spectacularly awful season by living up to the worst run differential since the 1899 Cleveland Spiders.


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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