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July 20, 2007

Prospectus Hit List

Getting Down to Fighting Weight

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Red Sox
56-39
2-5
.610
Down
A 20-23 record since June 1 has cut Boston's AL East lead to seven games, the smallest it's been since May 12, and the .011 point lead they hold here is the tiniest since they seized the catbird seat here. The rotation has combined for just a 4.57 ERA during their slide; while Daisuke Matsuzaka has been stellar (2.95 ERA, 9.8 K/9), Tim Wakefield has been brutal (6.26 ERA), and Julian Tavarez has fallen apart over his last five starts (7.71 ERA and 2.19 WHIP while reaching the fifth inning just once). With Curt Schilling just beginning his rehab stint, the team will have to hope Kason Gabbard can summon the smoke and mirrors a couple more times.

2


Tigers
57-36
5-1
.599
Up
Gary Sheffield plays the race card with harsh--and somewhat puzzling--words for former manager Joe Torre, and former teammate Derek Jeter; meanwhile, the bill comes due for his umpire conspiracy mumbo jumbo. For all of that, Shef's bat continues to cash the the checks his mouth writes; he's hitting .343/.434/.635 over the last two months and is sixth in the league in VORP, one of four Tigers in the top 15.

3


Padres
53-41
4-3
.563
Down
His start pushed back after some discomfort in his biceps, Jake Peavy shows less than his best against the Mets. After allowing more than two runs only twice in his first 11 starts (1.47 ERA), he's done so in six of his last eight (3.48 ERA). Your team's ace should struggle so mightily.

4


Yankees
48-45
5-2
.561
Flat
With nine wins in 11 games, the Yanks move above .500 and restore hope that their season isn't lost. One key is at first base, where Andy Phillips is hitting .305/.349/.441 since June 28; other Yankee first basemen have hit a combined .276/.331/.412 at a position where .274/.355/.459 is league average. Even with their spree, they still need to play .681 ball to reach 95 wins.

5


Brewers
54-41
5-2
.561
Up
Sheets' Sheath Sick: Ben Sheets will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a partial tear in the tendon sheath of his middle finger. That's a huge blow for the Brewers as they try to fight back the Cubs; Sheets' 3.6 SNLVAR is about as much as Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan, and Claudio Vargas combined. It's pretty much business as usual for the Brewer ace, who hasn't pitched a full slate since 2004. Luckily, highly-touted Yovani Gallardo (2.34 ERA and 31 K in 34.1 innings) picks up where he left off in his return to the rotation.

6


Indians
56-39
4-3
.560
Down
Fresh off signing a four-year, $57 million extension, Travis Hafner is starting to hit like the guy in the catalog. He's batting .304/.391/.544 since June 24, compared to .254/.397/.426 prior. Even hotter is Ryan Garko, who's riding a 13-game hitting streak that included six straight two-hit games. Since June 19, he's a sizzling .406/.463/.710.

7


Dodgers
54-42
5-2
.560
Up
When the Dodgers fired hitting coach Eddie Murray on June 14, they were averaging 4.4 runs per game on .261/.329/.383 hitting. Since then, with Bill Mueller as Lord of the Cage, they're scoring 5.4 runs per game while hitting a searing .314/.378/.447. Note that their isolated power has barely budged; in Rafael Furcal (.085), Nomar Garciaparra (.058), and Juan Pierre (.055), the team has three of the league's six most punchless players.

8


Mets
53-42
4-3
.559
Up
Moises Alou is finally on the way, and while Lastings Milledge is up, he's just 4-for-27 since being recalled. Rickey Henderson is in, but contrary to initial reports that had him taking over from Rick Down as hitting coach, he's the new first base coach, and in his own words, officially retired. Crack the champagne because that's worthy of a toast: Rickey's 178.6 WARP3 is 13th all-time--the last player to retire with a higher total was none other than Hank Aaron--and he's fourth among left fielders in JAWS, behind only Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, and Ted Williams.

9


Cubs
50-44
6-1
.552
Up
Since June 3, they're 27-13 and fogging up the Brewers' rearview mirror. Carlos Zambrano's string of quality starts ends at eight, but you can blame heat, a blowout, and a line drive off his hand for that. He's riding a 15 2/3-inning scoreless streak, and even better for the Cubs, still expects to sign an extension.

10


56-38
3-3
.548
Down
Failures at the back of the Angels rotation have thrown the AL West back into play, as the Angels' eight-game lead has dwindled to 1.5 over the last 17 games. Bartolo Colon has yielded an 8.67 ERA and 1019 OPS over his last nine starts, while Ervin Santana has allowed a 7.31 ERA and 899 OPS allowed over his last 10. The latter's been farmed out in favor of Joe Saunders.

11


Braves
51-45
4-3
.528
Up
Jarrod Saltalamacchia gets his first non-platoon start at first base. It's a move that makes sense from a long-term standpoint, given that Salty's 6'4" and a bit big for a backstop, not to mention that Brian McCann is already in front of him at catcher. Even after cooling off, his .278/.331/.414 is an upgrade over incumbent Scott Thorman's .213/.254/.383, so this is a no-brainer move. Meanwhile, the ageless Julio Franco returns for spot duty as well.

12


Twins
49-46
3-3
.527
Up
With Torii Hunter a free agent at the end of this season, and Johan Santana's contract expiring after next, the idea of trading the affordable Joe Nathan ($6 million club option next year) to free up some cash has been floated. Under this scenario, Pat Neshek--who at sixth in the league in WXRL outpaces Nathan--would take over closer duties. Crucial to this admittedly far-fetched scenario is the submariner's platoon differential. Small sample sizes notwithstanding, last year Neshek's OPS allowed to lefties was 431 points higher than to righties, but this year hitters from both sides have been equally hopeless, hitting a combined .133/.208/.234.

13


Mariners
53-39
3-3
.518
Down
Ichiro Suzuki signs a five year, $90 million deal, with $25 million in deferred payments stretching all the way to 2032. The MORP numbers suggest this is a bad play for the M's, with Ichiro worth just $24 million over the next four years, but they hardly account for the unique value Ichiro holds as the franchise's signature player. With Ichiro third in the league in VORP, and the M's now just two games behind the Angels in the AL West and 1.5 back in the Wild Card race, it's hardly the time to quibble.

14


Athletics
45-50
1-5
.512
Down
Mired in a nine-game losing streak and 5-18 slide that has them much closer to the AL West outhouse than its penthouse, the A's foist Jason Kendall--the major leagues' second-most most inept hitter (-12.0 VORP)--on the Cubs. Now if they could just ditch Mark Kotsay (-6.7) and Bobby Crosby (-5.9), they might have something resembling an offense. No wonder Billy Beane's thinking about doing it soccer style.

15


Blue Jays
46-49
3-4
.511
Down
Though he looked liked the Doc of old onTuesday night, Roy Halladay has been struggling lately; over his previous four starts, he'd allowed 18 runs in 23 2/3 innings. Halladay is just third on the team in VORP behind surprising youngsters Shaun Marcum and Casey Janssen, and at 4.46, he's putting up his worst ERA since that doube-digit debacle in 2000.

16


Rockies
48-47
4-3
.505
Up
The strained lat that triggered Brian Fuentes' pre-break meltdown (10 earned runs and four blown saves in 4 2/3 innings) and drove the Rox closer to the DL also sent the team's WXRL tumbling down to 15th in the league. It's not as though Fuentes set the fire alone; of the Rockies' five most-used relievers, three (Fuentes, LaTroy Hawkins, and Tom Martin) have negative WXRLs, while Jeremy Affeldt is barely above zero. Only substitute closer Manny Corpas has been effective enough to crack the league's top 30.

17


Phillies
47-48
3-4
.500
Up
Having reached the illustrious level of that 10,000th loss, the Phils immediately start the journey towards their next 10,000. Tom Gordon pitching through a torn labrum seems like an excellent way to chase that dream.

18


Orioles
42-52
4-2
.498
Up
Everything's coming up Milhouse for the O's if they want to deal at the deadline. Kevin Millar is hitting .372/.484/.577 since June 14, while Miguel Tejada is reportedly pain-free and chomping at the bit to return to action, and Danys Baez is riding a scoreless streak of... wait, scratch that last one. That doesn't leave much, but then this is Team Milhouse we're talking about.

19


Marlins
45-51
3-4
.467
Flat
The misery continues for Dontrelle Willis. Over his last six starts, the southpaw has put up a 7.30 ERA while averaging barely more than four innings per start, though forearm tightness and a rain delay have caused a couple early exits. The numbers are even worse of late, with the D-Train allowing 19 hits and 14 runs (nine earned) over 6 2/3 innings in consecutive shellackings by down-list clubs (St. Louis and Washington) amid work to iron out his delivery.

20


Diamondbacks
50-47
3-4
.462
Down
While Joe Sheehan's busy pouring the Kool-Aid regarding this team's playoff hopes, I'll point out that the Snakes' 6-15 slide has driven their run differential to -36, ninth-worst in the majors. The offense, which ranks 29th in scoring in a hitters park, has averaged just 3.5 runs per game in that span on .238/.302/.383 hitting, but then that's only a small step down from the .250/.319/.404 they were hitting prior to the skid. Don't be surprised if their seven-plus third-order cushion deflates to sink them below .500.

21


Giants
39-54
1-6
.460
Down
Barry Bonds hits homers 752 and 753 to snap an 0-for-21 slump that had him overturning laundry carts and calling himself an "embarrassment." His recent absence from the lineup--whether due to a bad ankle or the desire to break the record at home--has fueled speculation that the slugger's carrying out an anti-ESPN vendetta. As for the rest of the team... wait, there is a rest of the team?

22


Reds
41-55
5-2
.459
Up
They're 9-4 since Pete Mackanin took over the helm, and Bronson Arroyo's showing signs of life. Including his seven shutout innings against the Braves--who are rumored to be interested suitors--Arroyo has put together five straight quality starts, with a 2.60 ERA and 0.5 HR/9. Meanwhile, it's a big week for Ken Griffey Jr., as he passes Frank Robinson for the sixth spot on the all-time home run list and collects hit number 2,500.

23


Rangers
41-54
3-4
.448
Flat
The Rangers have won 18 of 29 since June 14, and their two hottest hitters in that span have been Kenny Lofton (.391/.467/.587) and Marlon Byrd (.337/.395/.538); those two are second and third on the team in VORP. Byrd hasn't done much with the bat in the bigs since his rookie campaign in 2003, and will see more time in center field, suggesting that Lofton may pack his bags at the deadline. Just a hunch: he's not Bronx-bound.

24


Cardinals
43-49
3-4
.445
Down
Red Cross: the defending champs appear to be spending more time in the waiting room than on the field. Chris Carpenter suffers a serious setback and will undergo Tommy John surgery, Scott Rolen gets a cortisone shot, and Scott Spiezio has an infected finger. But at least Jim Edmonds should be back soon--back on the DL soon after being activated is the guess here. With Carpenter out, this season is shot.

25


White Sox
43-51
3-4
.433
Flat
GM Kenny Williams has taken to traveling with the team, a sure sign that changes are nigh. Unfortunately, the fruit he's most intent on peddling looks more than a little overripe. Jermaine Dye is hitting just .230/.284/.446 and is below replacement level (-0.7 VORP), as is Jose Contreras (-3.4 VORP), who's gone 9-20 with a 5.35 ERA and just 5.6 K/9 going back to last year's All-Star Break. In fact, 24 of the 37 players to suit up for the Sox have been below replacement level, while only five have reached double digits in VORP. Blech.

26


Astros
40-55
1-5
.430
Down
Jason Jennings isn't as bad as his 1-6 record would indicate; he's the eight unluckiest pitcher in the majors, in part because the Astros have averaged just three runs per game in his 12 starts. That said, the 'Stros are getting killed on their trade with the Rockies. Jennings' 5.4 VORP is dwarfed by Colorado's unspectacular but positive returns on Willy Taveras (13.2), Jason Hirsh (9.4) and Taylor Buchholz (3.8), to say nothing of the financial implications and the thin state of the Astros' farm system.

27


Royals
41-53
3-3
.424
Flat
Rookie Joakim Soria is riding a 19 2/3-inning scoreless streak; he's now eighth in the league in WXRL, and stands to inherit the closer role if/when Octavio Dotel is traded later this month. The Royals have won 22 out of 40 since June 1, and the bullpen is perhaps the biggest reason why; they've put up a 2.34 ERA in that span and are now seventh in the AL in WXRL.

28


Pirates
40-54
0-6
.405
Down
The good news is that the Bucs have set 82 wins as their goal in an effort to avoid having a shot at tying the all-time record for sub-.500 seasons next year. The bad news is that said decision comes amid a six-game losing streak and requires the team to go 42-26 (.618) the rest of the way. Doubtless the addition of Cesar Izturis to the great Pittsburgh shortstop tradition of Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughan, Dick Groat, Dale Berra, and Jack Wilson is the first building block of that goal.

29


Devil Rays
37-57
3-3
.400
Up
Carlos Pena reels off a 14-game hitting streak (.360/.484/.740). He's at .293/.401/.617 overall andleads AL first basemen in VORP--not bad for a player who's on his fourth team since spring training of last year. Meanwhile, B.J. Upton is picking up where he left off prior to missing five weeks due to a quad strain; he's 8-for-14, hitting .332/.418/.544 overall, and still in the league's top 20 in VORP despite the absence.

30


Nationals
40-55
4-3
.397
Up
The stock of Jim Bowden's deadline chits is rising rapidly. Ronnie Belliard is 18-for-43 with 32 total bases over his last 11 games, while Dmitri Young is 16-for-38 with 29 total bases over his last 10 games. Young is batting .342/.393/.523 for the season, and is first in batting average, not to mention third among NL first basemen in VORP. With Nick Johnson's rehab reaching the desperation stages, Bowden may choose to keep Da Meathook, but don't be surprised if words to that effect are merely a bluff to boost his value.


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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