CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe
<< Previous Article
Premium Article We Are All Made of All... (07/12)
<< Previous Column
Prospectus Hit List: W... (07/04)
Next Column >>
Prospectus Hit List: J... (07/25)
Next Article >>
Prospectus Notebook: T... (07/13)

July 12, 2006

Prospectus Hit List

Week of July 9

by Jay Jaffe

Don't ask about the All-Star Game; this scribe boycotted, and it looks like I've got seven more years of same ahead of me. Seven more years of treating the game, its surrounding irrelevant contests, and the inane selection debates with all the consideration of the Simpsons' take on the Grammies. A pox on the houses of both MLB and Fox for their continued efforts to turn the national pastime into grotesque spectacle replete with annoying sound effects, blatant pandering and sheer contempt for its audience's intelligence... And now--swoosh! clank!--let's get that perspective with our new Poxcam. Wow... pus!--swoosh! boom!...
RkTeam
Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor
Trend
Comment

1


Tigers
59-29
3-3
.640
Flat
Holders of the Hit List's top spot for nine out of 14 weeks thus far, including the past four, the Tigers hit the All-Star break having improved by 16 games over last year. More importantly, they're two games ahead of the World Champion White Sox, and eight games ahead of the seemingly-perennial Wild Card slot coming out of the AL East, so they've got a very real shot at October. None of which is to say that they're guaranteed a playoff spot; perhaps the Tigers' biggest danger lies in tender arms reaching new plateaus in innings pitched. Twenty-three-year-old Justin Verlander is 19.1 IP away from his lone pro season's total, Jeremy Bonderman (also 23) is 69.1 away from his high, and Fernando Rodney (a grizzled 29) is 29.1 away from his pre-surgical 2003 campaign total. The strong work of Zach Miner (2.57 ERA in 42 IP, 1.5 SNLVAR) filling in for Mike Maroth offers the promise of some depth, as does the progress of converted starter Joel Zumaya (2.08 ERA in 43.1 IP, all in relief), but there's a lot of uncharted territory left to be mapped. Beats trying to outrun the '62 Mets, though.

2


White Sox
57-31
4-3
.606
Flat
Ahem. The early-season dialogue here about whether the White Sox's 2005 campaign was for real has been answered in the affirmative, and emphatically so. The Sox have matched last season's pre-All Star win total, but they're 31 runs better in terms of raw differential, with a performance that looks much more sustainable. Despite myriad controversies, Ozzie Guillen continues to manage his roster to best effect, even if his bullpen ain't quite what it used to be, and the same might be said about the rotation. The offense is packing a much bigger punch (.288/.354/.476 this year compared to .262/.322/.425 last), leading the majors in scoring (5.91 runs per game) thanks in no small part to Jim Thome (.298/.414/.651, 43.4 VORP, third-best in the AL) and Jermaine Dye (.318/.397/.646, 36.2 VORP, eighth in the AL). Is there any doubt they could pull off a repeat? Not here, not anymore.

3


Yankees
50-36
4-3
.601
Down
A classic half-full/half-empty first half. In the first cup, you've got a team that's four games ahead of last year's sluggish pace, ranked fourth in the AL in scoring (5.57 R/G) despite big boppers Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui missing a combined 110 games, ranked fifth in the league in run prevention (4.72 R/G) despite a horrible first half from Randy Johnson, pumpkin chariot crashes from last year's saviors Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small, a no-show from Carl Pavano, and an expensive enigma in the bullpen in Kyle Farnsworth. In the second cup, you've got a team three games behind the Red Sox but six back in the Wild Card chase, no guarantee of useful returns from either Matsui or Sheffield (further exposing a catastropically lousy Plan B in the outfield, one that's been reduced to scavenging the Royals), a shallow farm system ill-equipped for upgrade chits, a bullpen that already looks threadbare, and an overreliance on exploding Pinto Jaret Wright, their third-best starter. This may not be Cashman and Torre's finest team, but if it can overcome such obvious flaws, well, what do you expect for $200 million?

4


Red Sox
53-33
3-4
.597
Down
A 17-5 streak has the Red Sox storming into the break atop an AL East that may well turn out to be "win or go home." Leading the way are--who else?--David Ortiz (.821 SLG, 13 HR, 30 RBI in that span), and Manny Ramirez (.778, 8, 24, and yes, his sick note excusing him from PNC is legit). Still, the real story in the first half has been the relatively new faces: the resurgent Mike Lowell (.307/.359/.516, 20.1 VORP), the emergent Kevin Youkilis (.297/.407/.467, 23.2 VORP, third on the team), the shaky but generally useful Josh Beckett (4.75 ERA, 12.6 VORP), and the tantalizing rookies Jonathan Papelbon (a major-league leading 4.719 WXRL, 28.3 VORP, and just three runs allowed in 46 innings) and Jon Lester (3.06 ERA in 32.1 innings, 11.0 VORP). If there's a note of caution to be sounded, it's that they're 24-3 against interleague opponents and Orioles, 29-30 against everybody else.

5


Mets
53-36
5-3
.576
Down
Shea Hey! The Mets enter the break with the NL's best record by four games, and with a 12-game lead in the NL East, they're poised to end the Braves' decade-and-a-half dominance of the division. The resurgence of Carlos Beltran (.279/.388/.606) and the emergence of Jose Reyes (.300/.357/.481 with 39 steals) and David Wright (.316/.386/.575) as the game's best left side of the infield (8.4 combined WARP1, compared to Hanley Ramirez/Miguel Cabrera's 7.9, Jeter/Rodriguez's 7.5, and Tejada/Mora's 5.2) have helped the offense score 5.31 runs per game (2nd-best in the NL) via a .269 EqA (third best in the league). The staff, despite Omar Minaya's indefensible infatuation with Lima Time, is second in the NL in Runs Allowed (4.54 per game) and features a retooled bullpen with five pitchers among the NL's top 30 in WXRL, headed by offseason acquisitions Billy Wagner (third at 2.784) and Duaner Sanchez (sixth at 2.506). Is it too early to call them pennant favorites?

6


Blue Jays
49-39
3-4
.567
Down
The Blue Jays shelled out big bucks over the winter, and while A.J. Burnett has been more or less a writeoff thus far (4.58 ERA in 35.1 innings, 2.3 VORP), this team is Toronto's best since its World Series winners back in 1993; one slip by the Yanks or Red Sox and the Jays might finish above third for the first time since 1993. Roy Halladay's strikeout rate is down (5.01 per 9, from 6.77 over the previous three years) but he's resumed his Cy Young form; his 44.0 VORP leads the AL, and his 4.2 SNLVAR is second in the league. B.J. Ryan has held up his end of the deal with 4.074 Reliever Expected Wins Added, good for second in the AL. Meanwhile the offense, safe as milk last year, is second in EqA (.287), with Vernon Wells delivering on the promise he showed in 2003 (.311/.377/.594, 40.8 VORP, good for fifth in the league) and Alexis Rios finally breaking out (.330/.383/.585, 27.9 VORP). Rios' scary leg infection is thankfully under control.

7


Dodgers
46-42
5-2
.542
Up
This beats last year's black-and-blue debacle, but the Dodgers are only six games better than they were at that break (11.8 in the third-order standings). Ned Colletti and Grady Little deserve props for nabbing Nomar Garciaparra (.358/.426/.578 and 36.5 VORP, fifth in the league) and for integrating a bevy of fine rookies (Russell Martin, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Willy Aybar, Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito) into the mix in the face of injuries to Bill Mueller, Jayson Werth, Eric Gagne (quite likely done in Dodger blue after surgery for a herniated disc), Dioner Navarro et al. But Colletti's dealing of Navarro and Jae Seo for Mark Hendrickson and Toby Hall was a botched job, and the permanent installation of offensively-challenged Cesar Izturis at third base (hitting .350 with the glove, my ass) at the expense of the hot-hitting Aybar ain't such hot stuff either, even for a middling defense. The Dodgers still have the components to win the NL West, but the new guys up top are going to have to be a bit more savvy to pull it off.

8


Rangers
45-43
4-2
.539
Up
Fimrly in the thick of the AL West race despite some relatively uninspiring baseball (13-17) over the last month, and surprisingly mediocre showings from Mark Teixeira (.275/.353/.445, 9.4 VORP, with just 9 HR as compared to 43 last year), Kevin Mench (.271/.331/.451, 3.9 VORP) and injury-addled Brad Wilkerson (.238/.337/.456, 2.7 VORP) to date. What's most surprising is the Rangers' pitching; for once they appear to have some. Sure, they're eighth in the league in Runs Allowed (4.85 per game), 11th in SNLVAR (8.6), and 12th in WXRL, and their numbers may go south in the blistering Texas heat, but those are considerable improvements over last year, (5.30 runs per game, 11.2 SNLVAR all year). It's worth recognizing the job GM Jon Daniels has done in turning over the rotation completely and compensating for the loss of Adam Eaton; Vicente Padilla, Kevin Millwood and rookies John Koronka and John Rheinecker (both acquired in a three-way deal on March 31) all have posted double-digit VORPs. Eaton should return later this month, further arming this team for its division race.

9


Indians
40-47
3-4
.537
Up
Failure to Launch: it's already a lost season for the staff favorite to edge out the White Sox in the Central; instead the Indians are mired in fourth place, 18 games out. They linger in the Hit List's upper half with a +45 run differential, but they're already 10.1 games off their third-order win projection. What happened? We've harped on the equation of low strikeout-rate rotation (5.0 K/9 for everybody beyond C.C. Sabathia) in front of a subpar defense (.694 DER, and a combined -23 runs according to Davenport) and accompanied by an atrocious bullpen (-1.759 WXRL); bad showings in one-run games (7-13) and interleague play (8-10, one game off the worst pace) aren't helping either. Jhonny Peralta's been awful (.253/.328/.396), doing nothing to justify the five-year, $13 million deal he signed in March, while Victor Martinez has been so bad behind the plate (.79 SB/G, 14% CS) that he's now playing first base. The real trouble can be traced to the winter; even the relatively paltry $15.9 million spent on newcomers Paul Byrd, Jason Johnson, Guillermo Mota, Jason Michaels, and Todd Hollandsworth has netted just 4.8 WARP1, and that's coming from 2/5 of the rotation, the top setup guy, and Coco Crisp's replacement. And don't even get us started on the wisdom of keeping Aaron Boone (.254/.314/.360) at third instead of Andy Marte...

10


Padres
48-40
5-1
.534
Up
After topping the NL West with all of 82 wins last year, this year's Pad squad look considerably more balanced. As Joe Sheehan pointed out, once adjusted for their run-suppressing environment, the Padres are a slightly-above league-average offense (.264 EqA) backed with a very good pitching staff that leads the NL in SNLVAR (13.3) and is second in WXRL, with a stellar defense (a league-leading.720 DER) lending a hand. While Jake Peavy has had his struggles (4.46 ERA and "only" 17.3 VORP), Chris Young has emerged as a bona fide front-line starter (33.1 VORP and the fifth-best SNLVAR in the NL at 4.2); meanwhile, Trevor Hoffman has regained his old form, leading the NL in WXRL (4.149) while pitching in some tight spots (2.48 Leverage). The offense has, of course, lacked for power (.406 SLG), but between Mike Piazza, Josh Bard, and Rob Bowen (and briefly, Doug Mirabelli), they've gotten 16 homers, a .317/.378/.529 line while catching, and a total of 39.6 VORP. Not too shabby.

11


Twins
47-39
2-4
.526
Down
It's been a tale of two seasons for the Twins. Through the end of April they were six games below .500 and 51 runs to the bad, yielding a whopping 6.17 runs per game while scoring just 4.04. Since then: 14 games above .500, +77 runs, scoring 5.24 per game while allowing 4.00. That might make for a feelgood comeback story or a run at the playoffs in most years, but the Twins are nine off the Wild Card pace and 11 out of the Central lead. Their season was irreparably charred by the arson of Kyle Lohse and Carlos Silva (combined ERA: 7.18), not to mention a front office that proffered the dessicated remains of Rondell White, Tony Batista, Ruben Sierra, and Juan Castro as solutions over Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Bartlett. There's plenty of happiness to be had with Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Francisco Liriano living up to the staggering amounts of hype, but this organization's inertia has consigned them to being third in what could have been an historically interesting three-horse race.

12


43-45
6-1
.513
Up
Three weeks ago, the Angels looked dead (ranked #23 here) and buried (seven games back in the AL West). But the return of Bartolo Colon (the real Bartolo Colon), the fortuitous injury to Darin Erstad (which hurts more, the bone chips or the truth?), and the swapping out of the Weaver brothers--combined with some sluggish play by the A's and Rangers--have the Halos just two games back at the break. Credit a deep rotation, one that's fourth in the league in SNLVAR despite almost nothing from Colon or Jeff Weaver (whose -9.3 VORP is about three wins behind Jered's 21.1). Runs are still scarce for the offense; these are the Angels after all, bound and determined to go several bridges too far with Garret Anderson (.261/.308/.405). But a second-half upgrade of Howie Kendrick (.369/.409/.627 at Salt Lake) over Adam Kennedy (.259/.315/.353) should help, and it wouldn't kill them to scare up an outfielder in trade or at least take a look at Reggie Willits (.315/.432/.420 at SLC).

13


Cardinals
48-39
4-3
.512
Flat
Ranked #4 here as recently as May 21, the Cardinals have gone just 14-20 since June 1, falling behind a couple of teams left for dead in the early going (Angels and Twins), and more importantly, letting the Reds, Brewers, and Astros back into the division race. Injuries have been the problem; Albert Pujols missed 15 games due to a strained oblique, derailing him from a chase for the single-season home-run record, Jim Edmonds has joined the Ailment of the Week club, and Mark Mulder has been sidelined by shoulder issues. Not that a healthy Mulder was doing all that much (-3.2 VORP). Basically, this rotation is two deep if you count rookie Anthony Reyes, and the arrival of Jeff Weaver won't do much to change that. Pujols has regained his stroke, and Scott Rolen has had a fantastic season (.331/.398/.577, 31.8 VORP), but with a less-than-stellar supporting cast, these Birds look ripe for the plucking.

14


Giants
45-44
3-4
.504
Down
Barry Bonds is clearly no longer the hitter he once was (.249/.474/.497, 22.4 VORP); perhaps the most telling stat is that he's hitting just .236 on balls in play, compared to .313 in 2004, the last year he was healthy. Bonds still draws plenty of respect from opposing pitchers (31 IBB), but that's mostly because the rest of the offense here is so unthreatening (.256 EqA, 13th in the NL). Still, with some amount of health from the big man, a capable first baseman to swap out for Lance Niekro (-4.9 VORP), continued dominance from Jason Schmidt (second in the NL in VORP and SNLVAR) and some consistency from Matt Cain (5.12 ERA but a pair of one-hitters), this team could make a run at things. Can Brian Sabean scrape together enough to give the Giants one more shot as the sun likely sets on the Bonds era? Tune in later this month.

15


Rockies
44-43
2-4
.503
Down
Have they finally cracked the Coors Field code? The Rockies' scoring environment (RS + RA) of 9.31 runs per game is sixth-lowest in the majors, placing them among such pitcher's park-dwelling teams as the Padres (8.66 per game, lowest in MLB), A's, Tigers, and Giants. No fewer than three Rox pitchers--all homegrown--are in the league's top 20 in VORP. Aaron Cook (32.5 VORP) makes his living on the ground (59.8 GB%, the fifth-highest rate in the league), Jeff Francis (23.5 VORP) is one of the league leaders in Infield Flies (9.8 Popup%, fifth in the league and just behind teammate Josh Fogg), and Jason Jennings... well, he's about league average in both of those categories (and in strikeout rate), so perhaps the generalization only goes so far. In any event, despite one of the league's worst offenses (their .252 EqA tops only the Cubs), this team has a shot at being the franchise's first above .500 since 2000, and that might be enough to keep them in the NL West race.

16


Reds
45-44
1-6
.497
Down
Though the Reds haven't been able to capitialize on the Cardinals' recent struggles--they're just 9-20 over the past month, while the Cards have gone 13-15--they can still hold their heads high for a well-played first half. Particular kudos go to new GM Wayne Krivsky (unfairly dissed in the preseason Hit List); deals for Bronson Arroyo and Brandon Phillips (for Wily Mo Pena and a half-eaten vat of chili containing the remains of Schottzie, respectively) have done no less than provide the team with its pitching and hitting VORP leaders (39.7 and 20.9, respectively). Other Krivsky moves netted Dave Ross (12 homers in just 119 ABs, good for a .681 SLG and 18.6 VORP) and Scott Hatteberg (18.5 VORP, bouncing back from a sub-replacement showing last year). Even Eric Milton, the previous regime's bete noir, has been semi-useful, apparently by coaxing his pet gopher onto the hamster wheel of success. No more, as he's yielded seven homers in his past 22 innings, compared to eight in his previous 58.2. They may not catch the Redbirds, but a Wild Card berth is hardly out of the question.

17


Mariners
43-46
1-5
.492
Down
A 14-4 interleague record made the Mariners look like contenders in a suddenly underwhelming division; they actually crossed the .500 threshold--where they hadn't been this late since 2003--before their bats decided to take the All-Star break about 10 days early (23 runs in nine games, 2-7 record). Subtract that interleague showing and you've got a team that's played at a .408 clip; welcome to Bavasi Country. Despite some recent signs of life, Bavasi's signature free agents, Adrian Beltre (0.9 VORP) and Richie Sexson (-5.9), have been thoroughly underwhelming, as has highly-touted soph hurler Felix Hernandez (4.95 ERA, 3.9 VORP). But Kenji Jojima (13.3 VORP) has been a nice pickup, Jose Lopez (17.7) dramatically improved over last year (.259 EqA, compared to .232), and on any given night, Ichiro Suzuki (.343/.398/.447, 33.3 VORP) makes this mess all worth watching.

18


Athletics
45-43
3-4
.479
Down
The Hit List's preseason #1 based on the PECOTA-driven Postseason Odds Report hasn't lived up to expectations. Instead the A's find themselves mired in a tight division race and the Hit List's lower half. Amid a constant barrage of trade rumors, Barry Zito has returned to form; his 4.0 SNLVAR ranks fourth, as does his 36.5 VORP. Dan Haren's been close behind, ranking seventh in VORP (34.7) and eighth in SNLVAR (3.7). But injuries (including a Tommy John surgery scare) have limited Rich Harden to just 35 innings, Esteban Loaiza's been a bust on the mound (6.43 ERA) and the police blotter (DUI), and the offense--despite a breakout performance from Nick Swisher (.258/.378/.510, 19.2 VORP)--has hit just .243/.323/.389, with thoroughly disappointing performances from Eric Chavez (.240/.350/.435) and Bobby Crosby (.238/.295/.356), and seven players with at least 100 PA hitting below replacement level. Based on the talent on hand, the A's might still recapture the AL West, but they're in for a dogfight instead of the cakewalk our crystal ball foresaw.

19


Diamondbacks
43-45
3-3
.478
Flat
Aside from a 3-20 stretch in June, the Diamondbacks have played ball at a .615 clip that would easily outpace their NL West rivals. That skid and its timing--the Jason Grimsley HGH scandal broke before its second game--is likely what will live on from this season, but the Snakes still have a chance to emerge from a crowded NL West picture. Brandon Webb deserves a place in any Cy Young discussion; he leads the majors in both SNLVAR (5.0) and VORP (51.2). He'll have to get more help from his rotation-mates to pull this off; the other eight (!) pitchers who've started--including the since-discarded Russ Ortiz--have managed just a 5.52 ERA, 4.8 SNLVAR, and just 5.1 innings per start. The offense is nothing to write home about; they're 14th in EqA (.255), and aside from Eric Byrnes (.292/.352/.522, 22.8 VORP), no hitter's VORP even tops 11.6.

20


Braves
40-49
5-2
.472
Up
Oh, mama, can this really be the end? Likely so, at least when it comes to the Braves' NL East dominance. Lately, we've flogged the pitching to death in this space--actually a reasonable prescription given such uncharacteristically poor showings in both SNLVAR (11th place at 9.1) and WXRL (dead stinkin' last at 0.230). But it's apparent the team is paying for its unwillingness to do what it should have done last winter: move injury-addled Chipper Jones from third base to first to get Wilson Betemit's bat in the lineup instead of Adam LaRoche's (a gain of .19 runs per game according to Marginal Lineup Value rate, and that's without considering the undead Brian Jordan). Not helping matters any is Jeff Francoeur's failure to learn the strike zone; he's drawn just five unintentional walks against 73 strikeouts in 384 PA while hitting .260/.281/.447, good for a -5.8 VORP. The possibility exists that the team could trade mainstays such as John Smoltz and Andruw Jones and devote themselves more fully to rebuilding, but that may be asking too much of a regime that's known nothing but success for the past decade and a half.

21


Marlins
38-48
3-5
.467
Down
Gnash your teeth all you want at the manipulative stadium politics behind their cashing out, but the Marlins clearly know how to go about this rebuilding business. Their winter fire sale has already reaped serious dividends; since May 21, the Fish are 27-17, their overall run differential is only -11, and they're poised to give the underachieving Braves and Phillies a run for second place in the NL East. The case can be made that the NL's top three rookies come from this team; Dan Uggla's 30.0 VORP is the best of any second baseman this side of Chase Utley (and he's +16 with the leather), Joshua Johnson is 0.1 IP shy of qualifying as the league leader in ERA (2.21), and Hanley Ramirez, despite a June swoon (.510 OPS) is still hitting a respectable .271/.337/.413 with 26 steals.

22


Astros
43-46
3-4
.462
Flat
Rocket to Nowhere: the Astros may have Roger Clemens back in the fold, but they're just 6-11 since his return, scoring a paltry 4.29 runs per game in that span (3.75 in Clemens' four starts). Even if Clemens lives up to the impossibly high standards of last season, this team bears scant resemblance to those NL champs, what with poor showings by Andy Pettitte, Brad Lidge, and more or less the entire outfield. The 'Stros are only a half-game behind the Brewers, and the sport a much healthier run differential (-27, compared to -74), but I'm less optimistic about their second-half chances than the Brew Crew unless Taylor Buchholz, Wandy Rodriguez, Preston Wilson and Jason Lane drop the replacement level schtick. The Postseason Odds report shares my pessimism, pegging the Astros at 8.4 percent as compared to the Brewers' 13.4.

23


Brewers
44-46
4-3
.457
Flat
At first glance, the Brewers appear to have underachieved based on preseason expectations. But when one considers that despite a rather ugly -74 run differential, just 20.1 (mostly bad) innings from Ben Sheets (and another 34 from Tomo Ohka), they're just two games under .500 and three out in the Wild Card chase, the first half hasn't been half bad. Prince Fielder hasn't quite been all that and a bag of chips (.183/.247/.382 since June 1, but still slugging .479 overall), but Rickie Weeks continues to develop, Chris Capuano has taken the mantle of the staff ace, the Lyle Overbay trade has been a big win thanks to David Bush and Gabe Gross, and pending free agent Carlos Lee (.290/.353/.563) will either keep carrying the team or fetch a nice return on the open market. As Sheets heads for a rehab assignment, the Brewers carry more than a flicker of hope into the second half.

24


Phillies
40-47
3-3
.446
Up
The Brett Myers debacle casts a pall on this already underachieving organization; even after president Dave Montgomery belatedly came to the same conclusion that the rest of us reached in four seconds, some pholks are still in denial for less-than-savory reasons (marketing, trade value, etc.). What's undeniable is that this team has drastically underperformed relative to expectations; the preseason Playoff Odds report had their chances at 38.2 percent, third-highest in the NL. Today they're at just 1.8 percent, and Charlie Manuel is being fitted for the noose (maybe Larry Bowa wants to come home?). While injuries at third base and catcher have hampered the offense, the starting rotation has been the weakest link. Myers aside, the rotation's collective VORP is -6.8, and even with him, they're last in the NL in SNLVAR (5.3).

25


Orioles
41-49
3-4
.440
Down
Removing the "interim" from Sam Perlozzo's title as manager hasn't changed a thing, even with boyhood pal Leo Mazzone by his side as pitching coach. The Orioles are still plagued by the Curse of Davey Johnson, headed for another 74-win season indistinguishable from the previous eight since Peter Angelos forced the Manager of the Year out. Mazzone's charges haven't performed at a level that's even acceptable, let alone up to the standards of his Atlanta tenure; they're 13th in the AL in SNLVAR (5.8), 10th in WXRL (3.287), and 13th in BB/9 (4.07). Meanwhile, the lifeless DH/1B/LF jumble of Javy Lopez, Jeff Conine and Kevin Millar has produced just 8.7 VORP in 798 plate appearances; if it weren't for productive up-the-middle hitters like Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts (thankfully healthy, if nowhere near his 2005 form), Ramon Hernandez and Corey Patterson, this team might be in the mix for an International League playoff slot.

26


Devil Rays
39-50
4-3
.429
Up
Some bad behavior among top prospects Delmon Young, B.J. Upton and Elijah Dukes notwithstanding, the post-Vince Naimoli, post-Chuck LaMar Devil Rays are off to a respectable start. Since June 1, they're 18-18, holding their own in series against the Red Sox, Yanks, and Tigers. The new regime has done a solid job of sifting through the old guard's follies, casting off or demoting failed projects like Jesus Colome, Seth McClung, and Doug Waechter, fleecing the Dodgers the moment they bought Mark Hendrickson's "I can actually sort of pitch" schtick (their Danys Baez trade hasn't borne much fruit, however). Scott Kazmir is developing into a legitimate ace worthy of a million Victor Zambrano jokes a year until the end of the decade; he's second in the AL in strikeouts (125 in 115.1 innings) having improved his K/BB ratio from 1.74 last year to 2.84 this year, and sixth in SNLVAR (3.9).

27


Nationals
38-52
3-4
.426
Up
Last year the Nats overachieved by 6.1 games (per their third-order projection) en route to a .500 season, but Pythagoras isn't letting them out of his clutches this year. This is a bad ballclub, albeit one beset by injuries, particularly to the pitching staff. Starters Tony Armas Jr., John Patterson, Shawn Hill, Pedro Astacio, Ryan Drese and Zach Day have all served time on the DL, relievers Luis Ayala and Joey Eischen are already done for the year, and warhorse Livan Hernandez (5.94 ERA, -6.4 VORP) simply ain't what he used to be. All of which drastically impinges upon the team's upcoming fire sale, which has been reduced to Alfonso Soriano, Jose Guillen, and the less-favored of Jim Bowdon's two wastebaskets (the other one functions as his in-box, which is where some of those injured starters came from in the first place). On the positive side, Ryan Zimmerman (.287/.349/.478, 15.3 VORP) hasn't disappointed in the least, and Michael O'Connor (4.32 ERA, 9.8 VORP) has jumped to the majors after just one month above A-Ball. If we gave out a Nibbie Award to the most productive player Not In our annual Book, O'Connor would be in contention.

28


Cubs
34-54
4-3
.405
Up
Could it get any worse for the Cubs? Kerry Wood and Mark Prior have more Under the Knife appearances than innings pitched, and not by a little; they've combined for just 40.2 innings of 5.98 ERA ball thus far. The offense died on the vines once Derrek Lee went down, desperation acquisitions of Tony Womack and Phil Nevin went about as well as could be expected, youngsters like Matt Murton and Ronny Cedeno haven't played up to expectations, and the vultures continue to circle around Dusty Baker. Oh, and that other team in town just keeps winning. Yes, a fine half season on the North Side...

29


Pirates
30-60
2-5
.399
Up
"Say, when is the Pirates' major-league affiliate going to call up Jason Bay?" asked Joe Sheehan a couple weeks back, and really, there's no reason to stop with the barbs regarding a franchise that's 10.5 games worse than a year ago despite hiring a marquee manager. Jim Tracy's dubious choice of employment venues is an easy target for this Dodger fan, but the real trouble is Dave Littlefield's mismanagement of the Bucs' bucks; they're paying a combined $18.5 million to Jeromy Burnitz, Sean Casey, and Joe Randa (average age 34.7, combined WARP1 1.3)--not even including the rumored extension for Casey--yet too attached to those players to commit to 29-year-old Craig Wilson (9.8 VORP, fifth on the team). Meanwhile, the pitching has seen drastic regressions from Zach Duke (5.17 ERA) and Oliver Perez (6.63 ERA and a mailing address in Indianapolis), and it's not like Paul Maholm (5.10 ERA) has been much to write home about either. Youngsters like Freddy Sanchez, Jose Bautista and Ronny Paulino may have found a home, but Bay was right: this team needs serious changes.

30


Royals
31-56
4-3
.363
Up
As recently as four weeks ago, it looked as though the Royals might make a run at epic futility, but now they're just headed for bland, old bad--and that's OK. This may wind up as another season of cellar-dwelling misery for the Royals, but the team is a respectable 18-19 since dead man walking Allard Baird was fired on May 31, replaced by Dayton Moore. The staff has posted a 5.23 ERA in that span, and if you think that's bad, don't ask about the 6.22 ERA prior, just start working on your fastball because this team needs all the pitching help it can get. As for the hitters, they've cranked out a solid 5.30 runs per game via a .274/.346/.412 line in that span, much better than the 4.0 runs per game and .258/.315/.396 showing prior. Leading the offensive charge: David DeJesus (.336/.434/.493), Mark Teahen (.304/.370/.513) and--sacre bleu!--Doug Mientkiewicz (.325/.397/.487); whether Moore can turn the latter (and assorted other stiffs) into a few magic beans at the deadline remains to be seen.


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

0 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article We Are All Made of All... (07/12)
<< Previous Column
Prospectus Hit List: W... (07/04)
Next Column >>
Prospectus Hit List: J... (07/25)
Next Article >>
Prospectus Notebook: T... (07/13)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Expert FAAB Review: Week 22
BP Bronx
Premium Article Notes from the Field: August 30, 2016
What You Need to Know: Werth Is Back, For th...
Premium Article Prospect House: Isan Diaz is a Monster
Rubbing Mud: Incremental Improvement In Denv...
Cold Takes: How The Marlins

MORE FROM JULY 12, 2006
Prospectus Today: All-Star Game Diary
Premium Article We Are All Made of All-Stars
Fantasy Article Fantasy Focus: RotoWire Barometer, 7/12/06

MORE BY JAY JAFFE
2006-08-09 - Prospectus Hit List: Week of August 6th
2006-08-02 - Prospectus Hit List: Week of August 2nd
2006-07-18 - Prospectus Hit List
2006-07-12 - Prospectus Hit List: Week of July 9
2006-06-27 - Prospectus Hit List: Week of June 25
2006-06-20 - Prospectus Hit List: Week of June 18th
2006-06-13 - Prospectus Hit List: Week of June 11
More...

MORE PROSPECTUS HIT LIST
2006-08-09 - Prospectus Hit List: Week of August 6th
2006-08-02 - Prospectus Hit List: Week of August 2nd
2006-07-25 - Prospectus Hit List: July 25
2006-07-12 - Prospectus Hit List: Week of July 9
2006-07-04 - Prospectus Hit List: Week of July 3
2006-06-27 - Prospectus Hit List: Week of June 25
2006-06-20 - Prospectus Hit List: Week of June 18th
More...