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September 26, 2006

Prospectus Hit List

Week of September 26

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Yankees
93-62
3-3
.597
Down
The Yankees clinch their ninth straight AL East title, the earliest they've done so (relative to games remaining) since 2001. Mariano Rivera and Gary Sheffield return to action, the latter at an unfamiliar position, first base; Sheff may see a good deal of time there given that Jason Giambi is suffering from a torn ligament in his wrist and has hit a homereless .185/.365/.262 since August 20. As for Rivera, he's the biggest advantage the Yanks have going for them as they head to the postseason; despite missing three weeks--a move mandated as much by the fact that he's still thrown more innings (72) than all but two closers (J.J. Putz and Takashi Saito) as by his elbow strain--he's sixth in the AL in Reliever Expected Wins Added (5.282).

2


Tigers
94-62
5-2
.589
Up
The Tigers use a pair of big innings against the Royals--ten in the first on Saturday, nine in the second on Sunday--to clinch their first playoff berth since 1987. Magglio Ordonez homers four times on the week, three against his old club, while Placido Polanco goes 3-for-4 in his return after missing 35 games and declaring himself done for the year. In the rotation, while Jeremy Bonderman (4.98 ERA) and Justin Verlander (4.82) have struggled this month, Nate Robertson (1.29) and Kenny Rogers (1.80) are both rolling, and the Tigers look to have the most balanced rotation of the four AL playoff teams.

3


Twins
92-63
4-2
.575
Flat
After getting within half a game of taking over the AL Central lead, the Twins drop back; nonetheless, they're a virtual lock for the postseason at 99.9 percent, and with a magic number of two to make the playoffs and four games agains the Royals on tap next, it's likely that their season-ending series against the White Sox in the Metrodome will matter only with regards to seeding. Boof Bonser continues to shine in the Twins' depleted rotation; he's thrown four quality starts out of his last six and carries a 34/6 K/BB ratio and a 2.84 ERA over that 38-inning stretch. Meanwhile, Brad Radke is targeted for Thursday in his desperate attempt to wring one last playoff run out of his battered shoulder.

4


Mets
93-62
3-4
.571
Down
The Metropolitans clinch the NL East title, officially ending the Braves' 14*-year run atop the division; it's the first Mets title since 1988 and the first time they've been to the postseason since 2000. With all of those distinctions foregone conclusions for most of the summer, the real news is Pedro Martinez's improvement, with four good innings and one shaky one. Even with Pedro, the rotation is the team's weakest link according to Joe Sheehan; they rank just seventh in the NL in SNLVAR (18.7), the lowest of any contender in the league besides the 14th-ranked Phillies. The bullpen, on the other hand, is tops in the NL in WXRL, with nearly a four-win lead. Billy Wagner is still the leader of the pack (5.614 WXRL), Aaron Heilman ranks tenth (3.193), and Guillermo Mota has done a nice job covering for injured Duaner Sanchez, with 0.637 WXRL in 15.1 IP.

5


White Sox
87-69
3-4
.552
Down
Unraveled: last week, former Southsider Frank Thomas put the Big Hurt on Chicago, this week it's Magglio Ordonez going 5-for-12 with three home runs to knock his old Sox off. A disappointing 9-14 September means that the defending champions won't repeat; barring a miracle, they'll be watching the playoffs instead. The bullpen has posted a horrific 6.67 ERA this month, with Bobby Jenks (8.53) and Brandon McCarthy (12.91) the most egregious offenders, while injuries to Jim Thome and Joe Crede have sapped the offense at a crucial time. Crede endures an 0-for-28 slump but ends the week joining Jermaine Dye (43 HR), Thome (41) and Paul Konerko (35) in the team's 30-homer quartet, the eleventh in major league history. Meanwhile, getting a head start on winter vacation is Jose Contreras, who strains a hamstring and is done for the year; Contreras simply wasn't the same pitcher after the All-Star break (5.40 ERA) as he was before (3.38).

6


Blue Jays
82-73
3-3
.545
Flat
As we went to press, the Jays closed a half game behind the Red Sox in their attempt to capture second place in the AL East, but to pass the Sox they'll have to go without Roy Halladay, as he's been shut down due to a forearm strain. That means that instead of the pitcher with the AL's second-best VORP (68.0), they'll send out the one with the league's worst (Josh Towers, -20.2), not once but twice. Good luck with that, and while we're at it, the odd decision to cut corners in player development by eliminating one of their two short-season clubs, a move that might save the Jays a few pennies but may also significantly crimp their talent pipeline.

7


84-71
4-1
.539
Flat
Heaven Can Wait: the Angels' Postseason Odds may be around a buck, but they take two out of three from the A's over the weekend to stave off elimination and the sight of a celebration. Leading the way on Sunday is Vladimir Guerrero, who's hit a very quiet .325/.379/.541 this year--quiet, perhaps, because it's taken a red-hot second half (.359/.429/.582) to make up for a relatively ho-hum first (.299/.340/.503). Still, that slugging percentage and his .228 MLVr would both be Vlad's lowest since 1997; in those two categories he currently ranks 11thand ninth in the AL, respectively. Plus, questions about his defense have started in the wake of 11 errors (though he's reached double-digits six times before, with a high of 19 in '99). Tough year for the Impaler.

8


Padres
83-72
5-2
.534
Up
For Whom the Bell Tolls: Trevor Hoffman surpasses Lee Smith to become the all-time leader in saves; more pertinent is that he's first in the NL in Reliever Expected Wins Added (5.636). But he may be remembered as much for the one that got away, a two-pitch ka-boom that's part of the first four-consecutive-homer string since 1964. Despite relinquisihing first place to the Dodgers via that game, the Padres finish the week with a commanding 1.5-game lead in the NL West, and their Postseason Odds are at 89.0 percent. Chris Young takes a no-hitter into the ninth to lead an important sweep of the Pirates, the second no-no bid by Young to go at least seven this year. He's eighth in the league in SNLVAR (6.1).

9


Athletics
90-65
4-3
.530
Down
Not in My House: the A's miss a chance to clinch the AL West on their home turf by losing to the Angels on Saturday and Sunday. Still, it's a banner week for the A's if only because Rich Harden returns from a three-and-a-half month absence and shows no ill effects after his three-inning stint. Meanwhile, as Bobby Crosby expresses hope of returning from his back woes if the A's make the AL Championship Series, it's worth pointing out that Marco Scutaro (.257/.333/.387, -.092 MLVr) has significantly outhit the man he replaced (.229/.298/.338, -.251 MLVr), though Crosby does get the edge with the leather (89 to 82 in Rate2).

10


Dodgers
82-74
4-3
.530
Flat
Nomar Garciaparra bookends the Dodgers' topsy-turvy week with a pair of dramatic walk-off homers. The first caps a thrilling comeback that includes a record-tying four consecutive home runs in the bottom of the ninth--three on three straight pitches, the latter two off of Trevor Hoffman--prior to his two-run bomb in the 10th, and lifts the Dodgers into first place... temporarily. The second, a grand slam, merely allows the team to frantically keep pace in division and Wild Card races they're now trailing (by 1.5 and 0.5 games, respectively). In between, there's a whole lot of ugliness--at home, against sub-.500 teams--thanks to a rotation that's managed just eight quality starts out of 23 this month, six of them by Derek Lowe and Hong-Chih Kuo. Turning up every five days is B(r)ad Penny, whose ERA since starting the All-Star Game is 5.99, more than double his first-half ERA of 2.91; the NL leader in wins (cough, cough) can't even manage six innings per start (5.84), and he's just 20th in SNLVAR (4.7). If the Dodgers are to make the playoffs (odds just 47.2 percent, the lowest they've been since August 7), they'll do it the hard way; all of their remaining games--including a season-ending series in San Francisco--are on the road, where they're just 33-42 this year. Gulp.

11


Rangers
78-78
2-4
.527
Down
There's No Place Like...: though they've still got a shot at a winning record, the Rangers ensure their first losing record at home since 1997. With just 39 wins in The Ballpark Formerly Known as The Ballpark at Arlington, the Rangers will finish with the league's second-worst record at home--ahead of only the Royals--if the Indians can win two of their final seven in Jacobs (as if anything the Indians have done this year is a foregone conclusion). It's unclear whether the team's home record is related to another anomaly: a dramatic 31 percent drop in the number of homers hit in TBFKATBAA, just 178 this year (93 by the Rangers) compared to 233 last year (153 by the Rangers). Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock have suffered the most; the former fell from 30 to 12, the latter from 20 to eight.

12


Indians
72-83
3-4
.520
Flat
At -12.6 games, the Tribe's third-order delta would rank as the sixth-worst of any team since 1901. Perhaps even more oddly, only three of the other 24 teams with negative double-digit D3s even won 70 games. So they've got that going for them. As the team counts down to next year--with 17 rookies on the expanded roster--Fausto Carmona is showing signs of improvement. A failure as closer (-1.503 WXRL and three blown saves without a single success), Carmona has returned to the rotation, and he's surrendered just three runs in 11 innings against the Twins and A's over his last two starts, thought that 5/7 K/BB ratio suggests a bit of luck on his side.

13


Phillies
82-73
5-1
.514
Up
In-Phil-Tration: the Phillies sneak into the NL Wild Card lead by winning 11 out of 13; they're 42-26 since the All-Star break, and 33-19 since trading Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle. Ryan Howard smacks his 58th homer; he's hitting .417/.578/.889 this month, with nine homers. MVP? He trails Albert Pujols by three wins (11.3 to 8.3), and Carlos Beltran (9.9) is no slouch. Howard isn't the only Phil who's crushing a lot these days; Chase Utley hits .539/.600/.923 for the week including a two-homer effort to help overcome an early four-run deficit against the Marlins. The Phils still have their work cut out to make the postseason (odds 63.71 percent); after a makeup against the Astros on Monday, they close with three apiece in Washington (where they're 3-4 this year) and Florida (4-2), but they are seven games above .500 on the road this year.

14


Red Sox
83-73
2-4
.511
Down
Dead Sox: Boston is eliminated from postseason contention for the first time since 2002. Like clockwork that heralds the arrival of finger-pointing season, including the annual calls for the club to make a self-defeating trade of Manny Ramirez. History's greatest monster has been limited to one pinch-hitting appearance since September 9 and just 20 PA all month due to patellar tendonitis and, apparently, a nefarious plot to singlehandedly sink the Red Sox season. (How this helps David Ortiz's MVP case, we're not exactly sure.) Ortiz, for his part, reaches 53 homers, breaking Jimmie Foxx's 68-year-old club record, but finds little joy in Mudville. Meanwhile, Matt Clement and Coco Crisp will both undergo surgery, ending their disappointing seasons.

15


Astros
77-78
6-1
.504
Up
The Astros stay alive in the NL Central by sweeping the Cardinals in four straight; they've still got a 3.3 percent chance of taking the division. Leading the way are a pair of high-impact players who've seen only limited duty with the 'Stros, Roger Clemens and Luke Scott. Clemens allows just one run in 11 innings over two starts, the latter, perhaps the final home start of his career, against the Cards on three days' rest. The Rocket has allowed more than one run just once in his past seven starts, and despite throwing just 107.1 innings, his 40.0 VORP is 16th in the league. Given how he's dominated the NL over the past three years (combined VORP of 181.3), it's tough to believe any speculation that Clemens would pitch in the AL next year if he decides to return at all... Scott's two homers, the second a walk-off, provide the fuel for Saturday's win. His 36.3 VORP is second on the team and third-best among rookie hitters despite being amassed in just 217 PA.

16


Cardinals
80-74
1-6
.498
Down
A dreadful road swing by the Cards--culminating in a four-game sweep by the Astros--keeps the NL Central flag in play. While their weak week only lowers the Cards' Postseason Odds from 99.1 to 96.0 percent, these birds are looking more like clay pigeons as the playoffs approach; they're 22-32 since July 26, and just 9-13 this month, though they have outscored opponents 98-91 in September. David Eckstein returns from a month-long absence and has back-to-back three-hit games but leaves Sunday's game with a mild hamstring strain. Adding insult to injury, Braden Looper, subbing for Jason Isringhausen, blows his first save opporunity, which only serves to point out that even though Izzy last pitched on September 6, the Cards haven't even had opportunities to blow a save in that span.

17


Rockies
74-82
5-2
.493
Up
Home Run Baker: September call-up Jeff Baker hits five home runs and drives in 13 runs in an eight-day span; he's hitting .356/.370/.867 this month. Indeed, it's almost like old times at Coors Field, as the Rox drop 64 runs on their opponents this week--including 20 on the shell-shocked Giants--while hitting .361/.447/.639. Of course it wouldn't be like old times unless they were giving runs up as well, so they oblige by surrendering 46. If you're scoring at home--and brother, the Rockies are--that's a per-game rate 58 percent higher than this season's humidor-induced "norm." Think of it as an extension of Sunday's tribute to Vinny Castilla; not that we wish to rain on Vinny's parade, but the numbers speak for themselves: .294/.340/.529, 18.1 PA/HR in a Colorado uni (the bulk of which were admittedly compiled in his Age 25-31 seasons), .249/.292/.396, 36.2 PA/HR wearing other colors.

18


Marlins
76-80
2-5
.491
Down
"Zero Chance": that's the report on Joe Girardi's odds of managing the Marlins in 2007. Though the Fish have exceeded expectations and put Girardi in the Manager of the Year discussion, Dead Ball Joe's inexplicable decision to bring back Josh Johnson after an 82-minute rain delay--followed by forearm cramping and a season-ending strained ligament for the NL's top rookie pitcher--was apparently the final straw. In any event, Maury Brown points out that on a per-marginal-win basis, the Marlins are paying 1/20th of what the Yanks are paying, making them the biggest overachievers of the last 30 years.

19


Braves
75-81
3-4
.490
Flat
Having already relinquished the NL East title, the Braves are officially eliminated from making the postseason for the first time since 1990. Back then, a turkey was known as a walking bird, but that didn't help six-year-old Jeffrey Francoeur grasp the concept of plate discipline, and neither have the intervening years. In fact, Francouer's K/UIBB rate is worse than last year (8.47 vs. 8.29), as is his UIBB/PA rate (.023 vs. .029) and just about every other rate stat connected with him this side of "number of steps taken to combat this problem by the Atlanta brass per wasted year of service time." WARP1 total for 156 games: 1.0. Blech. A happier story belongs to fellow six-year-old-in-1990 Brian McCann. He won't get that batting title (he's seven points short and needs 31 PA to qualify), but .333/.391/.570 from a catcher, even with slightly below-average defense (97 Rate2), is pretty tasty; in fact, McCann leads all NL catchers in VORP by 20 runs (52.0 to Michael Barrett's 32.1).

20


Diamondbacks
73-82
2-4
.485
Flat
Snakes on a Wane: a 9-13 record in September, punctuated by Nomar Garciaparra's walk-off grand slam, sends the Diamondbacks to the NL West basement for the first time since July 8. The team hasn't been playing that badly lately; they've outscored opponents 96-87 this month, but they're 1-4 in one-run games. In any event, the final month of the season has been all about the rookies; Carlos Quentin (.283/.358/.567), Stephen Drew (.319/.396/.553) and Conor Jackson (.348/.410/.522) have had big months, while Alberto Callaspo and Chris Young have had their moments as well. Drew is 15th in VORP among rookie hitters (18.2) despite just 210 PA, while Jackson is 20th and Quentin 25th.

21


Giants
75-80
1-6
.484
Down
The Giants Is Dead: Barry Bonds tops Hank Aaron's NL record with his 734th homer, but it's his team getting hammered this week, yielding 73 runs to two of the league's more decrepit offenses (Colorado and Milwaukee). Noah Lowry is shellacked for 15 runs in 6.1 frames, including nine as part of a 20-run debacle; his September ERA stands at 14.36. Even Matt Cain, who'd surrendered just one earned run in his previous 42 innings, is torched like a failing restaurant. In all, the Giants have been lit for a 6.69 ERA this month and lost 10 out of their last 13, dropping their Postseason Odds to .00056 percent, well below the threshold of human sight.

22


Mariners
75-81
4-3
.483
Up
The fork is in Jarrod Washburn, and Joel Pineiro has been mercifully excused, but there's actually some interesting stuff going on in the rotation here. Jake Woods has put up a 3.66 ERA in six late-season starts, showing much better control (18 K/11 BB) there than he did out of the bullpen (40/39) and yielding just one homer in 32 IP, compared to eight in 63. Cha Seung Baek has managed a 3.67 ERA, including three quality starts out of four this month. Meanwhile, the Mariners decide to give Felix Hernandez one more start after a rain delay limits him to just 67 pitches. The move raises his imposed innings limit for the year (including spring training) from 200 to 205, and it also perhaps-none-too-coincidentally adds another home start for the popular 20-year-old. We're just sayin'...

23


Reds
76-79
3-3
.475
Flat
The Wile E. Coyote Foundation has announced this year's Genius Grants, and Wayne Krivsky has received one for proactively deciding to spend the entire $2 million award on a two-year contract extension for Juan Castro. Yes, that's the same Juan Castro whose two-year contract with his and Krivsky's previous employer, the Minnesota Twins, played a pivotal role in ending that team's three-year run atop the AL Central and nearly snuffed their 2006 season before Memorial Day. "Those who forget the past," said a triumphant, undeterred Krivsky, "are doomed to enter the season without a surehanded shortstop who maybe gives up something with the bat. Aside from sore-armed middle relievers whose abilities are questionable even when healthy, those are the rarest commodities in all of baseball, and we felt it was worth tying up a spot on the 40 [man roster] through the winter--even at the risk of losing a player we like in the Rule Five draft--to protect somebody of Juan's caliber for the next couple years."

24


Brewers
73-83
6-1
.458
Up
A positive week for the Brew Crew as they swipe a series from the slumping Cardinals and hammer a few nails into the Giants' coffin, rolling up 32 runs in three days. With the team in Next Year mode, a couple of interesting developments are transpiring. Carlos Villanueva has allowed just one run in 13 September innings, including seven scoreless against the Cards in a 1-0 win. Along with a nice season (128.2 IP, 120 K, 3.22 ERA) split between Double- and Triple-A, he's put up a 3.35 ERA in 40.1 big-league innings and might be rotation-worthy for next year. Also, Geoff Jenkins, phased out earlier this summer, has hit .396/.475/.755 in September--including a walk-off homer in that 1-0 game--perhaps ending his Milwaukee career on a high note and creating a stronger market for his services this winter.

25


Nationals
68-87
3-3
.441
Flat
Jinxing Johnson: last week's column noted that Nick Johnson would make it through the season without a trip to the DL, but unfortunately, Yogi Berra's most famous maxim strikes again with a vengeance, as Johnson breaks his femur in an outfield collision, requiring surgery. In lighter news, Ryan Zimmerman becomes the first rookie since Hideki Matsui in 2003 to reach 100 RBI; he's hit a respectable .282/.347/.463, and while he's seventh among rookie hitters in VORP (25.9), we'll take the soon-to-be 22-year-old's future over most of the six ahead of him.

26


Orioles
68-88
4-3
.440
Up
"Free the Birds!": over 1,000 Oriole fans stage a mid-game walkout to protest the state of the franchise as it plays out the string of its ninth straight losing season. The fans may have missed a comeback victory (a/k/a the entirety of the team's 2006 highlight DVD), but it's clear that owner Peter Angelos, who called the protest "irresponsible" has missed the point. Payroll has stagnated during this run as Angelos' meddling has increased, and while the owner may boast of low ticket prices, attendance in one of the majors' top parks is down 72 percent from their heyday. You get what you pay for, Pete... Or not, at least when it comes to ballpark safety; Jay Gibbons hits his own wife with a foul ball on Saturday. The O's player rep has complained about the height of the screen before, but apparently the Orioles' busy R&D department has discovered yet one more way that the team can alienate fans while emphasizing the consequences of their willful impoverishment.

27


Cubs
63-93
2-4
.426
Flat
As the Cubs limp towards the finish line, big questions about 2007 predominate the conversation. Will Aramis Ramirez depart? The 28-year-old, who leads the team in VORP, has three years and $33.5 million left on his contract (including a mutual option that vests with 270 games played in 2007-2008) but has an out clause that could allow him to test the market. Who will replace Dusty Baker? The news out of Florida that manager Joe Girardi will not return sets off a flurry of calls for the former Cub to step in for Dusty as the latter's contract expires. In other news, Carlos Zambrano socks his sixth homer, the most by a pitcher since the Rockies' Mike Hampton hit seven in 2001.

28


Pirates
65-91
2-4
.418
Flat
The Bucs celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day by sending Jim Tracy's former team--still hungover after an epic comeback the night before--one step down the plank. Tracy's scurvy dogs do even more to send the Dodgers to Davy Jones' Locker by managing just four runs against the Padres in a weekend sweep and narrowly avoiding a no-hitter (signing Joe Randa = Dave Littlefield, Genius). With the contenders now out of the way (no, Houston doesn't count), the biggest questions remaining for the Pirates are whether they can avoid the NL's worst record (they have a two-game edge on the Cubs), whether Freddy Sanchez can win the batting title (he's hitting .342, six points ahead of a fading Miguel Cabrera), and whether Salomon Torres can surpass Kent Tekulve's franchise record of 94 appearances, the second-highest total of all time. Torres is fourth in the NL in WXRL (4.473) and is 10-for-10 in saves since inheriting closer duties from injured Mike Gonzalez; Tracy is clearly on board with a run at the old train conductor.

29


Devil Rays
60-95
3-3
.401
Up
OK, being the second-best starter on the Devil Rays is about as distinctive as being the second-best ice skater in the Sudan (nobody's topped Manute Bol yet), but James Shields deserves praise for completing a solid rookie season. Shields is shut down after his Friday start against the Yanks, having reached 186 innings on the year between Triple-A and Tampa (kudos to the Rays for smart management there). Though his final three starts tarnished his stats, he posted a 4.38 ERA, 7.6 K/9, and 2.8 K/BB ratio from May 31 to September 1, and even with September thrown in, his season looks about 75th percentile, PECOTA-wise, with a big breakthrough in Stuff score (17) that bodes well for the future... At the plate, Rocco Baldelli has enjoyed a hot month, hitting .329/.360/.720 with seven homers, including a pair of leadoff homers against the Yankees (he's got five of those on the year). Speaking of guys who don't take walks, somebody's apparently been scouting Delmon Young, who goes just 3-for-26 this week, and yes, he still has just the one walk in 105 PA.

30


Royals
58-97
0-5
.382
Down
A winless week and a six-game losing streak cost the Royals any real shot of escaping the Hit List basement this year, and with seven remaining road games against the AL Central's top two teams, their third consecutive 100-loss season is virtually assured. But the team's record has taken a back seat for the moment as manager Buddy Bell undergoes surgery to remove a growth near his left tonsil. On the field, perhaps the biggest question facing the Royals--OK, not the biggest, but really, who cares?--is whether the team can sweep the basement of the AL VORP rankings. At -16.1 VORP, Angel Berroa "trails" Tomas Perez by 2.7 runs; interim manager Billy Doran actually shows more common sense than Bell by--here's a revolutionary thought--taking Berroa out of the lineup. On the hill, since-traded Joe Mays (-16.9 VORP) "trails" Josh Towers by 3.3 runs, but the latter has two starts left due to the injury to Roy Halladay. The basement sweep has been "accomplished" seven times since 1960, most recently by Eddie Williams and Todd Van Poppel with the 1996 Tigers.


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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