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October 4, 2006

Prospectus Hit List

Week of October 2

by Jay Jaffe

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As the playoffs get underway it's time to bid farewell to the regular season with the final Hit List. It's been a fantastic year, one made especially enjoyable by the influx of so much fantastic young talent into the game; our in-house prospect maven Kevin Goldstein termed it Year of the Rookie while noting that no less than 10 rookie pitchers turned in seasons of 30+ VORP--as many as the previous three years combined--and no fewer than 14 rookie hitters turned in seasons of 20+ VORP, more than in the previous three years combined as well. Taking a weekly spin around the league and searching for something interesting to point out about each team isn't always easy, but that fresh talent certainly makes it more fun. Anyway, thanks to everyone within BP who helped out with the Hit List, from Clay Davenport's diligent maintenance of the Adjusted Standings and the Postseason Odds Reports to Keith Woolner and the data crew's timely answers to silly questions, to Will Carroll's availability to answer my injury questions and Ben Murphy's clutch technical assistance, to Jim Baker adopting the Hit List as his means of determining his weekly Prospectus Matchups columns, to all of the fine authors whose articles provided a topic for discussion here, to Marc Normandin's excellent pinch-hitting, and to the unending patience of my editors for wrangling with this unruly beast every single week (ed. note: no prob). Beyond BP, thanks to my friend Nick Stone for serving as a constant sounding board for good laughs, and finally, thanks to you, the readers, for keeping a sharp eye on this space, sending a shout-out when merited, calling me on some of my dubious assumptions and most of all, challenging me to do better each week. You're a fantastic audience, and it's been an honor to fill this space on your behalf.
RkTeam
Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor
Trend
Comment

1


Yankees
97-65
4-3
.600
Up
In an uneven week that sees them blast out 16 runs one night and then come within two outs of being no-hit the next, the Yanks clinch home-field advantage throughout the postseason while savoring their ninth straight AL East title and celebrating a league record for attendance (4,248,067). Nonetheless, this is a vulnerable team; Randy Johnson's herniated disc emphasizes the Yanks' relative lack of power pitching and less than dominant rotation. But despite wrist injuries that limited Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield to a combined 91 games, the Bombers banged out 930 runs, 60 more than any other team; when you can put forth a lineup with an All-Star in every spot and the league's hottest hitter in the #9 hole, you've got little to complain about. Look out, Detroit.

2


Tigers
95-67
1-5
.577
Down
After holding first place in the AL Central since May 15--leading by as many as ten games as late as August 7--the Tigers blow a six-run lead and are knocked off their pedestals on the season's final day by the Hit List's cellar dwellers, the Royals. Worse, they lose their last five games, including three to K.C., finishing with just a 25-32 record over the season's final two months--hardly a recipe for success against the Yankees, whom they'll face in the Divisional Series. But if three years ago, after 119 losses, you'd suggested that the Tigers would have to "settle" for the Wild Card in 2006, you'd have been laughed out of the room and all the way down to the bus station. Regardless of how far the Tigers get in this year's postseason and their glaring lack of a lefthanded power threat, one has to appreciate the job done by GM Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland, particularly in assembling and shepherding a rotation that led the AL in SNLVAR (26.3), with four starters--including third-ranked Justin Verlander (6.1)--among the league's top ten.

3


Twins
96-66
4-3
.573
Flat
Twin and In: overcoming a 25-33 start, Minnesota storms to a 71-33 finish to win the AL Central in the season's final day. It's the fourth time in manager Ron Gardenhire's five years that they've taken the division flag, and like the first time around, they'll face the A's in the Division Series, but this time with the home-field advantage. The Secret Sauce leader among playoff teams offers up the probable AL Cy Young winner in Johan Santana (MLB leader in VORP and SNLVAR as well the winner of the AL Triple Crown of pitching) at the the front of the rotation. Even lacking Francisco Liriano and with a gritty Brad Radke down to his last shreds of cartilage, one has to like their chances in October, particularly with a pair of MVP candidates in Joe Mauer (the first catcher to win the AL batting title at .347) and Justin Morneau (the first Twin with more than 30 homers since 1987) leading an offense that posted a .352 OBP in the second half, third in the league. As to the Mauer/Morneau debate, the catcher's 10.3 WARP3 trumps the first baseman's 8.3; a vote for Santana (10.8) is far more justifiable than one based on that gaudy RBI total.

4


Mets
97-65
4-3
.567
Down
On the eve of a postseason appearance that's been inevitable since around Memorial Day, the Mets reveal sobering news: not only is Pedro Martinez doubtful for the first round due to a calf strain, he has a rotator cuff tear that will require surgery, costing him much of next season (eight months? yeah, surrrrre). Whether the calf injury was a smokescreen for the shoulder problem or a cascade, the end result is the same: a weakened postseason rotation that likely includes John Maine--my math says a 4.40 total ERA using Nate Silver's Quick ERA formula. Still, with the league's best offense (.273 EqA), its second-best defense (.708 Defensive Efficiency), its top bullpen (17.792 WRXL) and more Secret Sauce than any other NL squad, the Mets are the favorites to represent the NL in the World Series, and they deserve a ton of credit for their season-long waltz through the Senior Circuit.

5


Blue Jays
87-75
5-2
.548
Up
Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria... the Jays offer a further sign of the apocalypse, upsetting the natural order of the AL East by finishing second, their highest placement since 1993. Riding an 18-10 September and taking advantage of a Red Sox collapse, Toronto finishes in the money, though they dished out plenty of it--a 57 percent payroll increase--to get there. At least their big-ticket items performed well: B.J. Ryan finishes fourth in the league in WXRL (5.987), Roy Halladay finishes second in the AL in VORP (68.2) and SNLVAR (6.4), and after missing a third of the season with elbow trouble, A.J. Burnett winds up with respectable totals in both categories (25.4, 3.1). The big question as they head to the offseason is whether they'll shell out to extend Vernon Wells' contract past 2007 on the heels of a season that sees him place 12th in VORP while hitting .303/.357/.542. Wells sounds happy to stay, but J.P. Ricciardi has no intention of giving him a Carlos Beltran-type deal.

6


White Sox
90-72
3-3
.548
Down
The World Championship calls Ozzie Guillen in the Jacobs Field dugout and tells the fiery White Sox manager it's time to see other people. So despite actually finishing higher than they did on last year's Hit List the Sox are left facing a winter of discontent, thanks to a 33-41 second half on top of a 57-31 first. What happened? A major offensive collapse saw the Sox decline from 5.9 runs per game in the first half on .288/.354/.476 hitting to 4.7 per game in the second half on .270/.327/.450 hitting, with Scott Podsednik (.241/.296/.297 after the ASB) leading the Milk Carton Brigade, and A.J. Pierzynski (.265/.292/.430) and Juan Uribe (.234/.248/.457) adding additional easy outs to the lineup. Couple that with a bullpen that was more than six wins worse than last year (6.160 WXRL as compared to 12.769) and a much more competitive AL Central, and you've got an unhappy coda to last year's storybook season.

7


89-73
5-2
.547
Flat
Though they'd already lost the AL West to the A's, the Angels nonetheless give their California counterparts something to remember them by as they head into the playoffs, beating Oakland in three of their final four games and making them stay late on the season's final day to avoid a sweep. That's the Angels in a nutshell, the only AL team to post a winning record against all four playoff clubs. Had it not been for a completely lost season from Bartolo Colon (5.11 ERA and -1.7 VORP in just 56.1 innings) they might have repeated as AL West champs for the third straight year, and they'd have been dangerous, if the Secret Sauce numbers are any indication. In any event, a fond farewell to Tim Salmon, whose final week includes one more round-tripper, the 299th of his career. To hell with round-numbered milestones.

8


Dodgers
88-74
6-0
.542
Up
The plucky Dodgers win six straight road games to secure the NL Wild Card, losing the NL West title only on the basis of a tiebreaker (they were just 5-13 against the Padres) but returning to the postseason for the second time in three years. Sweeter still, they do it by clinching on their archrivals' field, chasing the ghosts of Joe Morgan's 1982 home run away. James Loney's nine-RBI game and Greg Maddux's stellar start on three days' rest key a dramatic week punctuated by the cool-as-ice performance of 36-year-old rookie closer Takashi Saito (third in the NL in Reliever Expected Wins Added at 5.469). The Dodgers will face the Mets in the first round, and their rejiggered rotation--which now includes Hong-Chih Kuo instead of Chad Billingsley and ahead of ailing Brad Penny--comes in at a 3.81 Quick ERA; given the battered state of the Mets rotation, this matchup has upset potential.

9


Padres
88-74
5-2
.539
Up
Thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker, the Padres win the NL West for the second year in a row and the fourth time in Bruce Bochy's 12-year tenure. But not before Trevor Hoffman makes things interesting in the ninth inning of the final game by allowing back-to-back solo homers to cut a 7-4 lead to 7-6, then profiting from a reversed call on a game-ending play. Still, a 20-9 September enables the Pads to carry momentum into a rematch with St. Louis; they'll benefit from having a healthy, resurgent Jake Peavy (2.64 ERA over the past two months) leading second-best bullpen per WXRL. And if one wonders about Hoffman's sore shoulder, consider that the four high-profile homers he's allowed this month (two in that Dodger game) are the only runs he's surrendered since July 27.

10


Indians
78-84
6-1
.530
Up
Despite a strong finish--winning eight of their final nine and 31 out of 51--the Indians close the door on an odd, disappointing season in which they were the staff favorites to win the AL Central. At .481, theirs is the lowest actual winning percentage of any top ten team on the Hit List since 1984, when the 80-82 Astros ranked sixth, and their 10.7-game shortfall in the third-order wins department is the 19th-worst since 1901 and the worst since the 2001 Colorado Rockies. What happened? In a nutshell, the Tribe lost the close ones and won the blowouts. They were 18-26 in one-run games, 27-38 in games decided by two to four runs, 20-17 in games decided by five to eight runs, and 13-3 in games decided by nine or more runs. For all of the complaints about the team's weak rotation, the Indians finished third in the AL in SNLVAR thanks to strong second-half performances from Jeremy Sowers (2.72 ERA), C.C. Sabathia (2.97), Cliff Lee (3.96) and Jake Westbrook (4.15); on the other hand the bullpen--worst in the majors at -1.571 WXRL, with only one pitcher (Rafael Betancourt) above .193--is where the blame for all too many of those close losses lies.

11


Athletics
93-69
3-4
.527
Down
Over-A-Chievers: finishing atop the AL West for the first time since 2003, the A's wind up 10.2 games above their third-order winning percentage; that's tied with the 1936 Cardinals and 1977 Orioles for the 14th-highest total since 1901 and the fourth highest in the Divisional Play era (1994-present). For that they can thank a 32-22 record in one-run games, the most wins of any team (though many had higher winning percentages), the third-best bullpen in the AL (14.088 WXRL) and some good situational pitching (.760 OPS allowed overall, .748 with runners on, .736 with runners in scoring position, .690 with runners in scoring position and two outs). The A's will have to overachieve some more in the playoffs, as Sunday's reshuffling atop the AL Central means they'll face the Twins, the majors' hottest team, instead of the Tigers, the AL's coldest playoff team.

12


Rangers
80-82
2-4
.520
Down
A 3-8 finish leaves the Rangers with their sixth sub-.500 season out of seven, and with owner Tom Hicks considering whether to pink-slip Buck Showalter with three years remaining on his contract. What went wrong? The Rangers outscored opponents by 51 runs, yet fell short of their third-order projection by 6.7 wins, the second-largest deficit in the majors. A 17-26 record in one-run games is a big reason, and the largest chunk of the blame falls on a rotation that finished 12th in the league in SNLVAR; like the Braves, the Rangers had half of a rotation that was serviceable (Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, and Robinson Tejeda combined for a 4.48 ERA) and the rest was dreck (5.86 ERA and just five innings per start), stressing a bullpen that was just 10th in the league in WXRL. Couple that with the offense's mysterious power outage noted last week and it's clear GM Jon Daniels has his work cut out for him this winter.

13


Phillies
85-77
3-4
.514
Flat
After appearing to punt the season at the trading deadline, the Phillies remain in the Wild Card hunt until the season's second-to-last day, but in the end, the fates align against them. From Chase Utley's home run being ruled foul on Tuesday to an epic, draining 14-inning victory on Wednesday to a getaway night game delayed for 4.5 hours by rain on Thursday, the Phils just can't buy a break, even with the money they saved by offloading Bobby Abreu. Karmic justice, perhaps, for their insensitive handling of the Brett Myers domestic abuse arrest back in June; it didn't really matter who Myers beat on the season's final day, and if the big creep hadn't needed to take a three-week powder to sort his life out in the first place...

14


Red Sox
86-76
3-3
.509
Flat
Despite a third-place finish--their lowest since 1997, the dawn of the Jimy Williams era--the Red Sox end their season on a relatively high note. In just his second big-league start, 28-year-old Nicaraguan rookie Devern Hansack tosses five innings of no-hit ball in a rain-shortened game. That comes a day after Manny Ramirez homers in his first start since September 9, and Jonathan Papelbon throws batting practice, his most strenuous pitching activity in a month, and two days after Julian Tavarez cracks everyone up with an odd pickoff attempt. Nonetheless, there's no getting around the fact that this was a trainwreck wrapped in calamity inside a debacle for the Sox, one in which they miss the playoffs for the first time since 2002, though in a season more reminiscent of 2001's late flop (22-34 after July 31 then, 23-35 now). To put it another way, take away interleague play (where the Sox went 16-2) and the Orioles (14-3) and you're left with a team that went 56-71. Oof.

15


Astros
82-80
5-2
.507
Up
The Astros' valiant, improbable dash for the NL Central title--keyed by an 11-2 run and a corresponding Cardinal collapse--ends on the season's final day at the hands of a team they eliminated last year, the Braves. Alas, even the defeat is overshadowed by an ominous, ill-timed reportin which both Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte are fingered as users of performance-enhancing drugs by former Yankee teammate Jason Grimsley. It's an ignominious fate for the defending NL champions, but the finger points squarely at an underperforming offense (12th in EqA at .259) that got sub-replacment level production at both shortstop and catcher, and barely more than that in right field.

16


Braves
79-83
4-2
.499
Up
While the big story is the Braves' first sub-.500 season since 1990 and the end of their run of playoff appearances, this season was nowhere near as dire as the final record looks. Subtract a 6-21 June and you've got a team that played .541 ball while outscoring opponents by 89 runs, a level that would have easily kept the Braves in the Wild Card hunt instead of confining them to the role of spoiler. Ultimately the blame falls on GM John Schuerholz's failure to restock a thin pitching staff last winter in the wake of the departure of pitching coach Leo Mazzone. Beyond John Smoltz and a disappointing Tim Hudson (he posted a career-worst 4.86 ERA), no pitcher made more than 18 starts, and aside from those two and rookie Chuck James, the rest of the rotation managed just a 5.60 ERA and five innings per start. Pile that on top of an atrocious bullpen--dead last in the league in WXRL (1.205) even with the acquisition of Bob Wickman (1.605 WXRL)--and you've got a recipe for disaster. Don't expect the same mistake to be made twice; the Braves will be back.

17


Cardinals
83-78
3-4
.497
Flat
The Cardinals avoid a collapse of historic proportions, nearly (but not entirely) squandering a seven-game lead in the season's final two weeks before Houston's magic runs out, allowing St. Louis to back into the postseason. They're just the fourth team to make the playoffs with a sub-.500 Hit List factor. If there's any upside to be had for a team that's lost nine of its last 12 games and 36 of its final 61--not to mention ts closer and center fielder to injuries--it's that the Astros' early troubles on Sunday allow Tony La Russa to tab Anthony Reyes as his starter instead of Chris Carpenter, saving the latter (third in the NL in VORP at 67.2) for the Division Series opener. Oh, and that Albert Pujols' two season-saving home runs put the icing on what should be the man's second straight MVP award.

18


Rockies
76-86
2-4
.487
Down
Somewhere amid the ridiculous 19-11 slugfest that helped lift the Dodgers to the NL Wild Card berth, broadcaster Vin Scully related a story that the Rockies had recently run out of "properly" humidor-ed baseballs before the end of the season, and had switched to newer balls that didn't have time to absorb the moisture. Apocryphal, perhaps, but if true, it's not tough to spot a sharp break in scoring at Coors Field. Prior to August 4, the Rox and their opponents had scored 8.96 runs per game both at Coors and on the road. After that, scoring in Colorado increased to 14.26 runs per game (a 59 percent rise) and the Rox went 16-11 at home (an improvement from 28-26 beforehand). Scoring jumped on the road as well, to 10.04 runs per game (a 12 percent increase), but the surplus ended up almost entirely on the pitching staff's tab; their RA rose from 4.57 to 5.61, and the team slumped to 8-20 after a 24-29 start. The suggestion--conjecture based on an arbtrary division in a small sample size keyed by an anecdote from a 78-year-old man, admittedly--is that the team's pitchers had a tougher time returning to sea level than the hitters did. Extrapolating from this back-of-the-envelope exercise, one might surmise that the Rox are indeed on the right track by watering down the baseballs to introduce a more normal scoring environment at home; they just need to make sure they don't run out of the damn things the next time around. (Thanks to Dave Metz for initial data gathering.)

19


Marlins
78-84
2-4
.485
Down
Joe Girardi's tenure as Marlins manager comes to an end after just one season, despite guiding a lineup and rotation full of rookies to a 67-53 record over the final three quarters. Rookies, rookies everywhere: three of the top four hitters according to VORP, including leader Hanley Ramirez (55.9), Dan Uggla (40.0), and Josh Willingham (28.0), and three of the top fourteen pitchers (in an exceptionally bountiful year) including fifth-ranked Josh Johnson (40.5), Anibal Sanchez (36.6) and Scott Olsen (24.8). In all, the rooks account for 67.9 percent of the team's hitting VORP and 60.2 percent of the team's pitching VORP, with major contributions by mainstays Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis making up much of the rest. With a few minor upgrades and a new manager in place, this team could be in for another run or two at the Wild Card on a shoestring budget. Nonetheless, as their dead-last attendance tally of 1.16 million shows, ownership has continued to alienate the team's fanbase, so expect the off-field sturm und drang to continue.

20


Diamondbacks
76-86
3-4
.484
Flat
The Snakes take the Padres' quest for an NL West flag down to the game's final, bizarre play, but not before Brandon Webb gets rocked, costing him the NL ERA title, a shot at a league-leading 17th win, and perhaps the NL Cy Young award as well. Webb finishes second in VORP (68.6) and fifth in SNLVAR (7.2), with Roy Oswalt (71.8, 7.7) topping both categories. In any event, it's not just the end of a season for the Snakes, it's the end of an era as they bid farewell to the last links to their 2001 championship team in Luis Gonzalez, Craig Counsell, and Miguel Batista. The first two got their jersey numbers painted on the field; there's no truth that Batista was deprived of a similar honor due to the incomprehensible subtitle of his new book: The Avenger of Blood: A Plot Where Real Facts and Evidences Face Faith. Literary advice for Batista: stick to the league-average inning munching.

21


Mariners
78-84
3-3
.482
Flat
"It gives you a good feeling that the front office trusts the guys we have," veteran Willie Bloomquist said Friday, a day after Mariner CEO Howard Lincoln announced that GM Bill Bavasi and manager Mike Hargrove would return in 2007 despite the team's third consecutive cellar-dwelling campaign. Uh, yeah, Mr. .247/.320/.299 Futilityman; it's settling for players like you that's the reason Lincoln should have skipped the vote-of-confidence niceties and swung the axe, nine-win increase over 2005 or no. Thanks to a 14-4 record in interleague play, the M's made a mid-season run at .500, but their 2-17 record against the A's and a major-league record 20 consecutive lossses within the division signal that the Bavasi/Hargrove regime continues to bring knives to the AL West gunfight. Despite a few nice stories--the emergence of J.J. Putz (fifth in the league in WXRL), the acclimation of Kenji Johjima, the late-season salvage work by Adrian Beltre (a .285/.340/.552 second-half) and Richie Sexson (a .322/.399/.613 second-half), we're talking about a team that allowed 4.9 runs per game while calling the league's most severe pitcher's park (949 Park Factor) home. Blech.

22


Giants
76-85
1-5
.477
Down
The Bitter End? The Giants finish below .500 for the second year in a row, closing the season by being swept at home by the Dodgers, who clinch a playoff berth in the second-to-last game. Manager Felipe Alou departs, and son Moises is one of 11 free agents who may leave as well. Of course, the most prominent of those is Barry Bonds, who intends to play next year so as to break Hank Aaron's record (he's 21 homers shy at 734); he hit .270/.454/.545 this year thanks to a .319/.437/.652 showing in the final two months. But he won't be the centerpiece if he returns, and he'll have to take a pay cut, according to GM Brian Sabean; that doesn't bode well for Jason Schmidt, who's also in limbo; Schmidt was eighth in the NL in VORP, rebounding from an off 2005 campaign.

23


Reds
80-82
4-3
.477
Flat
Despite spending time atop the NL Wild Card race and remaining in the hunt until the final weekend of the season, the Reds finish under .500 for the sixth year in a row because their bats started the winter early; the team is shutout by Marty McCleary, Shane Youmans, and other future Hall of Famers on the season's final two days. Though Wayne Krivsky's pathological need to Do Something ("Hi, I'm Eddie Guardado! You may remember me from such films as The Verdict Was Tendonitis and Is That a Thumbprint on the MRI, or Is This Guy Just Finished?") served as a distraction, the real story here is the offense's disappearance following the trade of Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez for the proverbial Truckload of Suck. They manage just 4.12 runs per game, a 22 percent dropoff from the 5.03 they were pumping out before, and by the end of the season, the luster has dimmed even from such Krivsky's masterstrokes as Brandon Phillips (.243/.287/.416 in the second half) and Scott Hatteberg (.268/.363/.380). Of course Adam Dunn's trading places with Frank the Tank, the latter of whom hit just .169/.312/.318 from August 11 on, didn't help matters either.

24


Brewers
75-87
2-4
.454
Down
The bad news is that the Brewers failed to live up to expectations; the good news is that the expectations were so lofty to begin with, as the Brewers were a hip pick to contend in the weakened NL Central following an 81-81 season. Injuries to Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy and Corey Koskie--that's three-quarters of the starting infield done for the year by late July--plus ace Ben Sheets derailed that bid, but the Brew crew refused to pack it in, effectively KO'ing the Giants last week and then forcing the Cardinals to sweat it out until the season's final day. The as-advertised performance of Prince Fielder (.271/.347/.483), the late-season emergence of both Corey Hart (.283/.328/.468 in 256 PA) and Carlos Villanueva (2.73 ERA in four late-season starts), the return to form of Francisco Cordero (1.69 ERA, 1.714 WXR) following the Carlos Lee trade, and the solidification of Bill Hall's credentials (.270/.345/.553, 45.0 VORP) as a versatile thumper suggest that this team has most of the parts in place to reload for another chance at rising above mediocrity, so there's no reason to panic this winter.

25


Orioles
70-92
2-4
.438
Flat
Winners of the Hit List Comedy Goldmine award; mediocrity and stupidity are the gifts that keep on giving when it comes to cranking this column out week after week, and when it comes to both, Peter Angelos is a very generous man. Alas, there's very little to laugh about in Baltimore; not only does the team's ninth straight losing season end on a perfectly apt note--five innings of being no-hit by a rookie before the game was called due to indifference rain--but there's also the matter of a report that former O Jason Grimsley implicated Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons as performance-enhancing drug users, the second time in as many years Tejada's been implicated... Speaking of Miggy, we've got the funny after all: the idea that the perpetually malcontent Tejada might lure Alfonso Soriano into the hellhole he's been trying to escape for the past year. That's rich.

26


Nationals
71-91
3-4
.438
Down
The Frank Robinson era comes to a close after the Nationals' third last-place finish in a row, but not before the team hobbles the Phillies in their last-ditch pursuit of the Wild Card by beating them two out of three times in a surreal series that includes a 14-inning, 4:53 affair followed by a 4.5-hour rain delayed game that ends after 2 AM. So here's to you, Mr. Robinson, for keeping your team competitive long past its bedtime, and here's to the Nats finally having a proper ownership and the ability to move forward with a blueprint that's all their own.

27


Cubs
66-96
3-3
.429
Flat
Dusty in the Wind: the curtain falls on the Cubs' nightmare campaign, and with it the Dusty Baker era. Between injuries to the rotation--Kerry Wood and Mark Prior limited to just 13 starts and 63.1 innings, leaving a corp(e) that finished second-to-last in the league in SNLVAR--and a failure to walk the walk (a bases-on-balls differential of -290, and an NL-worst .319 OBP), this is a team in need of a serious makeover, and with team president Andy MacPhail also hitting the door, the pressure will deservedly fall on GM Jim Hendry no matter who he taps as a replacement (Joe Girardi? Bob Brenly? a reanimated Frank Chance?) as the Cubs enter their 99th year without a championship.

28


Pirates
67-95
2-4
.419
Flat
An eight-game losing streak leaves the Pirates needing to win their final two games just to match last season's pitiful record, but they manage that--shutting out Cincinnati in back-to-back games--and in doing so finish the second half with a winning record (37-35) despite being outscored 323-280. Still, that's their first winning second half since 1992. Other good news: they also manage their first winning record at home since PNC Park opened in 2001, Freddy Sanchez wins the NL batting title (.344), and Salomon Torres ties his mentor, Kent Tekulve, for the second-most appearances by a pitcher (94) in a season. But the progress report is mixed here; a young rotation including Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm, and Tom Gorzelanny combines for a 3.96 ERA in the second half after a 5.07 first half, but GM Dave Littlefield's big-ticket items--$22 million squandered on Joe Randa, Jeromy Burnitz, Sean Casey, and Kip Wells--net the team a grand total of 3.4 WARP3.

29


Devil Rays
61-101
1-6
.395
Down
Just as the Tigers and Twins took it down to the wire, so to with the Devil Rays, who nab the majors' worst record (if not the bottom spot here) by losing six of their last seven games and 16 out of their final 20. Thanks to the Royals proving themselves incompetent even at losing when it's in their self-interest, that means the Rays stumble into the top pick in next year's draft; here's hoping they choose a Delmon Young (#1 in 2003, .317/.336/.476 in a September cup of coffee slightly soured by a 24/1 K/BB ratio) instead of a Josh Hamilton (#1 in 1999, 15 games in the New York Penn League, his first since 2002 after returning from numerous drug-related suspensions). On that last note, one might want to check the prescriptions of manager Joe Maddon, who says of his first year, "On a personal level, the mind expansion has been great."

30


Royals
62-100
4-3
.389
Up
Screwing Themselves Royally: Kansas City sweeps the Tiger in their final series of the year, knocking Detroit out of first place and into the Wild Card slot on the season's final day. Hurrah for playing out the string, integrity of the game, yadda yadda, but it comes with a cost for the Royals: by overcoming that six-run deficit on Sunday, they've cost themselves the first pick in next year's draft. Atop the list of draft expert and long-suffering KC fan Rany Jazayerli's rules is "Draft Rule #1: The greatest difference in value between consecutive draft picks is the difference between the first and second picks in a draft." Ouch. Still, with Dayton Moore at the helm, next year can't help but be better for a team that's just become the first non-expansion club since the 1952-1954 Pirates to lose a hundred games three years in a row (the 1977-1979 Blue Jays did so in their first three seasons of existence).


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. 
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