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October 7, 2007

Prospectus Hit List

Season Wrap-up

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Red Sox
96-66
5-3
.624
Flat
They don't win 100 games, but the Red Sox cap the regular season atop the Hit List (which they led since early May) and the AL East (their first title since 1995) while earning home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Despite some late-season shakiness in the rotation (Daisuke Matsuzaka's 7.14 ERA since August 15) and the bullpen (Eric Gagne's -1.408 WXRL with Boston), not to mention the 24-game absence of Manny Ramirez, any second-half letdown ascribed had far more to do with perception than reality. Josh Beckett wins 20 games, David Ortiz sets career highs in EqA (.339) and OBP (a league-best .445) despite knee and shoulder woes, and Dustin Pedroia paces the circuit in VORP among rookie hitters.

2


Yankees
94-68
6-3
.591
Flat
The Yankees' nine-year reign atop the AL East ends, but after starting the year 21-29, they finish out the schedule at a .652 clip and coast to the AL Wild Card. Led by major-league VORP leader Alex Rodriguez (.314/.422/.645 with MLB-best 54 homers and 156 RBI) and a stellar year from Jorge Posada (.338/.426/.543), they average 6.34 runs per game over that 112-game stretch and wind up scoring more runs (968) than any Joe Torre team. The staff, despite the late-season contributions of rookies Philip Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, is decidedly mediocre enough to cause worries for their October fate.

3


Indians
96-66
5-4
.566
Flat
Bouncing back from an agonizing miss in 2005 and a subpar year in 2006, the Tribe win the AL Central for the first time since 2001, leaving the Tigers in the dust with a 36-20 record after July 31. This one is more about the pitching than the offense, which survives a 49-run falloff from Travis Hafner. C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona finish 1-2 in AL pitcher VORP--the latter bouncing back from a nightmarish rookie season to earn a spot in the Cy Young discussion--while the bullpen finishes second in the league in WXRL thanks to the excellence of setup men Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez. Alas, the Secret Sauce report doesn't like that particular bullpen recipe.

4


Rockies
90-73
8-1
.556
Up
Thanks to an improbable 13-1 run capped by 6 1/3 innings of one-hit ball from rookie Ubaldo Jimenez, these Cardiac Kids force a one-game playoff with the Padres to determine the NL Wild Card, then forge a three-run rally to win in 13 innings on a controversial play in which Matt Holliday may not have touched home plate. All in all, it's the third-best "Buzzer Beater" comeback according to Nate Silver. Holliday states his MVP case by winning the NL batting and RBI titles and finishing fourth in VORP and WARP, the latter thanks to +14 FRAA defense. Meanwhile, there's plenty to be said for the play of the team's rookies down the stretch, from Jimenez and Franklin Morales (2.83 ERA in 25 September innings) to Troy Tulowitzki, whose 8.3 WARP leads all freshmen.

5


Mets
88-74
3-6
.551
Down
Blowing a seven-game lead with 17 to play by going 5-12 (including 1-6 on their season-ending homestand), the Mets miss the postseason entirely to complete a grisly collapse that ranks as the second-worst in major league history based on Clay Davenport's Postseason Odds methodology. Plenty of blame points to Willie Randolph, but it's Jose Reyes (.156/.206/.375 in the final week, not to mention lapses afield and in the box) and the pitching staff (6.01 ERA over the final 17 games, with Tom Glavine the master of disaster over perhaps the last three starts of his career) who deserve more short-term scrutiny. And despite an MVP-caliber year in which he racked up 11.1 WARP, finished second in VORP, and joined the 30-30 club, David Wright's failure on a force play may stand as this team's defining moment.

6


Angels
94-68
3-5
.550
Down
The Halos coast to their third AL West title in the last four years thanks to a strong rotation and a pesky if somewhat punchless offense. John Lackey tops the circuit in SNLVAR and ERA, with Kelvim Escobar seventh and eighth, respectively, but this year's model of the bullpen is nothing special thanks to the collapse of setup man extraordinaire Scot Shields (7.36 ERA and 1.80 WHIP after the break). That, plus the nagging injuries of Escobar, Vlad Guerrero, and Gary Matthews Jr., may make for a short run this October.

7


Tigers
88-74
4-4
.548
Up
Last year's AL champs wind up on the outside looking in this year thanks mainly to an 11-18 August swoon. Magglio Ordonez wins the batting title and is second in VORP--one of four Tigers among the league's top 17--to pace a potent offense that runs second in the league in scoring. The downfall is the pitching: from a combined win expectancy (SNLVAR + WXRL) standpoint, the team declines from an AL-best 36.8 to 12th in the league at 23.5, as injuries to Kenny Rogers (just 11 starts) and Jeremy Bonderman (8.23 ERA over his final 10 starts) destabilize the rotation, and those of Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya key the bullpen's demise.

8


Phillies
89-73
5-3
.544
Flat
The Phils deliver on Jimmy Rollins' preseason swagger, and not a moment too soon; their 13-4 run propels the club past the fading Mets and into the postseason for the first time since 1993. After throwing just eight innings over a six-week span, Cole Hamels comes up aces, while Jamie Moyer snaps out of a second-half slump (6.16 ERA) on a day when fellow grizzled soft-tosser Tom Glavine can't. Credit to Charlie Manuel for patching his decimated staff all season long and for staying out of the way of the league's best offense, one with four players--Chase Utley, Rollins, Ryan Howard and Aaron Rowand--among the league's top 13 in VORP.

9


Braves
84-78
4-4
.536
Flat
For the second year in a row, the Braves miss the playoffs, and not by a little; after their odds peaked at 49.0 percent on August 16, they close with a 20-22 finish. While there's much to be said for the old guard--John Smoltz finishes fifth in SNLVAR, with Tim Hudson second, and Chipper Jones winds up third in VORP, narrowly missing a batting title--the team ends an era by deciding to cut bait on pending free agent Andruw Jones, whose .222/.311/.413 isn't offset by the stellar defense of years past (-1 FRAA).

10


Padres
89-74
4-6
.533
Down
One out from clinching a playoff berth, the Padres' season comes unraveled when Trevor Hoffman surrenders a game-tying triple by--wait for it--Tony Gwynn, Jr. They lose that game and the next to fall into seventh in the league in VORP27">a one-game playoff for the Wild Card versus the Rockies, survive a shaky outing from the majors' SNLVAR leader Jake Peavy, and take a two-run lead into the bottom of the 13th inning, only to lose again when Hoffman can't hold the lead. In the end, it's a collapse that tops even that of the Mets based on the speed in which their Postseason Odds fall from 90 percent to zero, though Nate Silver ranks it "only" the 10th-worst.

11


Cubs
85-77
4-4
.529
Up
Overcoming a 22-31 start and a 2-4 finish, Lou Piniella's club wins the NL Central to return to the postseason for the first time since 2003. Leading the way are the $237 million duo, Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano. The Big Z is aces in the clincher, continuing a string of 13 scoreless innings over his final two starts to cap an uneven season. Backing him is Soriano, bashing his sixth leadoff homer for the month; he adds another game-opening shot on the season's final day to finish with 33 homers on the year, 14 of them in September.

12


Blue Jays
83-79
5-4
.528
Flat
Another year, another third-place finish for the Jays in the AL East; that's eight in the past decade, if you're counting. This year's club will be remembered, if at all, for a moribund offense (12th in the league in EqA), lost seasons from the expensive Vernon Wells (2.6 VORP on the heels of a $126 million extenstion) and B.J. Ryan (TJ'ed after 4 1/3 IP), and, much more happily, the development of Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGovern, and Jesse Litsch into bona fide major-league starters. Thanks to the latter trio--not to mention Doc Halladay and Occasionally Available Burnett--the team leads the league in SNLVAR, a feather in the cap for J.P. Ricciardi and his minions.

13


Dodgers
82-80
3-5
.522
Down
With three straight losing months capped by a seven-game bellyflop from September 16-22, the Dodgers fritter away a shot at winning the hypercompetitive NL West and end the season squabbling over whether they had enough veteran-y goodness. If the team's failures were leadership-related, start with they guy whose big-ticket signings Juan Pierre, Jason Schmidt and Nomar Garciaparra combined for just 3.2 WARP, or the guy who gave the club's top two hitters, James Loney and Matt Kemp, a combined 686 PA. The Dodgers have a ton of talent both on the field and in the front office; purging the tired old hands and getting the right players to the fore on both fronts is an absolute necessity for this team's future success.

14


Brewers
83-79
4-5
.516
Flat
Having squandered a 24-10 start and 121 days in first place, the Brewers still make an admirable showing as they play out the string, finishing September at 16-12, clinching their first winning season since 1992, and forcing the Padres--the team that eliminated them--into a one-game playoff for the Wild Card. The disappointment of missing the playoffs aside, this team is on its way up; their top five hitters--paced by 50-homer bopper Prince Fielder and rookie VORP leader Ryan Braun--average 23.8 years old, while young hurlers Yovani Gallardo and Carlos Villanueva rank among the majors' best in September. The real question is whether Ned Yost is the manager to take them to the promised land after piloting them out of the 94-loss doldrums; GM Doug Melvin doesn't appear particularly convinced.

15


Diamondbacks
90-72
3-5
.500
Down
Despite being outscored by 20 runs, the Diamondbacks finish with the NL's best record and become just the sixth team to make the postseason with a negative run differential. They can thank their bullpen, which finishes second in the league in WXRL and helps them to a 32-20 record in one-run games, 15-9 record in two-run games, and a 13-7 record in three-run games. A quick-and-dirty calculation shows that teams that finished above .500 this year won at .521, .526, and .533 clips, respectively, in such contests, putting the Snakes about 9.6 wins ahead of the pack in those tight affairs. Individually, three Arizona relievers--Brandon Lyon, Jose Valverde, and Tony Pena--finish among the league's top seven.

16


Mariners
88-74
6-3
.498
Up
In a season full of huge collapses and great comebacks, the Mariners' year may wind up being remembered for one of the more stunning late-season plummets from contention, but they top .500 for the first time since 2003, exceed their PECOTA projection by 15 games and their third-order projection by 10. But whatever their strengths (J.J. Putz leading the majors in WXRL, Ichiro Suzuki running seventh in the league in VORP via his seventh-straight 200-hit season), the rotation's showing (13th in the league in SNLVAR, wtih 68 starts squandered on four pitchers who combine for a 6.50 ERA) suggests this team has major work to do to become bona fide contenders.

17


Athletics
76-86
2-5
.496
Down
Kept at Bay: thanks to a 2-10 close, the A's finish with their worst record since Billy Beane's inaugural season in 1998; they play just .406 ball after June 20. A litany of injuries--familiar names like Crosby, Chavez, Duchsherer, Harden, and Kotsay--hamstrings both the offense and the pitching staff; that quintet combines for just 5.4 WARP, down from 12.2 last year and 24.1 two years ago, suggesting that Beane's failure to upgrade or at least provide contingencies played no small part in the downfall. Even with emerging talents like Nick Swisher, Travis Buck, Jack Cust (finally!), Dan Haren and Joe Blanton--the latter duo sixth and 11th, respectively in SNLVAR--the job of keeping the A's in contention isn't getting any easier.

18


Twins
79-83
4-5
.487
Down
Favored by PECOTA to repeat their AL Central title, the Twins instead slump to their first losing season since 2000. While Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau decline from 118.9 combined VORP to 59.0, their woes are a drop in the bucket on a team that tolerates sub-replacement level production from third base and DH, gets little more than that from leftfield and second base, and mucks up the early-season rotation with Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson. With Terry Ryan departed, new GM Bill Smith is left holding the bag on Torii Hunter's pending free agency and the prospect of dealing a discontented Johan Santana. Gee, thanks.

19


Giants
71-91
4-4
.467
Up
Barry'd: losers of 18 out of their final 28, the Giants tumble to their first last-place finish since 1996 and part ways with Barry Bonds--who finishes second in the league in MLVr even at age 43--after fifteen seasons. Bonds' home run exploits aside, it's a sorry season for the Jints, who finish with the lowest EqA in the league and just three hitters with double-digit VORPs. The feeble offense helps Matt Cain finish with the fourth-lowest Luck score since 1959.

20


Rangers
75-87
4-4
.464
Flat
Surprise! It's a sub-.500 season for the Rangers for the seventh time in eight years, one starring their fifth last-place in that span. As bad as that may seem, it could have been worse; the team's 52-45 record after June 13 is the fifth-best in the AL, and GM Jon Daniels may have justified his contract extension with a strong showing at the deadline. Still, with the AL's worst rotation by a support-neutral mile and a roster where nine of the top 14 hitters still with the team finish with negative MLVr's, the Rangers aren't exactly on the express route to relevance.

21


Cardinals
78-84
7-2
.459
Up
For the Birds I: the defending World Champions miss the postseason thanks to a 2-14 skid that began September 6, when they were just one game out. Not only is it the end of a championship reign, it's the end of an era in St. Louis, as GM Walt Jocketty is forced out after 13 years, seven playoff appearances and two pennants. While he had much success, his 2007 blueprint went up in flames, with a rotation that ranks 15th in the league in SNLVAR, with a 5.59 Fair Run Average, and a roster not built to withstand injury-riddled seasons from Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, who combine for just 9.0 VORP. Possibly departing as well: Tony La Russa.

22


Reds
72-90
1-7
.459
Down
Even with a 41-39 showing under interim skipper Pete Mackanin, the Reds finish with their seventh-straight losing season. Dropping seven of their final eight doesn't help, nor does seeing a strong bounce-back seasons from Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn end in pain. Beyond those two, the lineup shows glints of Wayne Krivsky's occasional genius (Brandon Phillips, Josh Hamilton, Jeff Keppinger), but the pitching, particularly the league's worst bullpen, is as homely as a mule's butt.

23


Orioles
69-93
4-5
.453
Flat
For the Birds II: losers of 28 out of their final 39 games, and not by a little; the O's surrender 7.90 runs per game in that span while scoring just 4.74. Not surprisingly, they're the Unofficial Second-Half Hit List cellar dwellers, a perfect capstone to a decade of futility. Promising assets like Erik Bedard--the league leader in Support-Neutral Winning Percentage (SNLVAR_R+0.5)--Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Roberts, and Nick Markakis are strewn among the wreckage of misallocated resources. Take the Gibbons/Huff/Millar/Payton crapfest that hits .259/.324/.405 and provides 7.4 WARP in over 1900 PA at the premium offensive positions, or the $43 million bullpen trio which helps the team finish 15th in the league in WXRL, please!

24


Marlins
71-91
5-3
.452
Flat
Despite a robust offense--third in EqA, with Hanley Ramirez leading the league in VORP and Miguel Cabrera placing sixth--the Marlins finish with a record seven games worse than last year and six below their PECOTA projections. They're haunted by the Ghost of Joe Girardi as they wind up with the majors' worst rotation; no pitcher who started a single game for the club finishes with a VORP above 8.0, and 94 starts go to pitchers below replacement level, with Dontrelle Willis adding 35 more at 0.7 VORP.

25


Astros
73-89
5-3
.439
Up
If the first step towards recovery from the NL Central doldrums is admitting you have a problem, the second is putting the right people in place to lead that recovery. Instead, the 'Stros opt for yes-man Ed Wade, who's charged with revitalizing a nearly-barren system by committing to amateur drafting and scouting and clear-cutting the lineup's deadwood. Good signs: Hunter Pence finishing second in rookie VORP despite missing a month, Wandy Rodriguez becoming a viable starter, and Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Luke Scott putting up solid years. Bad signs: how much time have you got?

26


Nationals
73-89
5-3
.436
Up
For a team expected to lose at least 100, the Nats' 2007 campaign qualifies as a major success, particularly regarding their 64-64 finish after a 9-25 start. Not to mention the fact that their play over the final two weeks--5-1 versus the Mets, with all five wins featuring at least nine runs, and 2-5 versus the Phillies--plays a huge role in the outcome of the NL East race. This team needs a ton of work, but they can smile at numerous positives--a strong bullpen, competent rotation work from Shawn Hill, Tim Redding, and Jason Bergmann, Comeback honors for Dmitri Young, the heist of Wily Mo Peņa, and solid second-half showings from their outfielders--as they head to their new ballpark.

27


Rays
66-96
3-5
.430
Flat
Stop me if you've heard the one about the Devil Rays compiling the majors' worst record. An historically awful bullpen finishes with the lowest Adjusted Runs Prevented total and (virtually) the highest Fair Run Average since 1959, helping the team finish nine games off their third-order projection. Breakout seasons from B.J. Upton, Scott Kazmir, James Shields, AL Comeback Player of the Year Carlos Pena (fifth in VORP, and Brendan Harris offer plenty of hope, but Delmon Young's dud of a rookie campaign (5.7 VORP, and an end-of-year outburst), the sour memory of Elijah Dukes, and struggles from Rocco Baldelli, Dioner Navarro, and just about every other pitcher remind that this team is only a few steps down the road of their thousand-mile journey toward success.

28


White Sox
72-90
5-3
.427
Up
PECOTA hits the bullseye as the White Sox conclude an embarrassing season that pushes Ozzie Guillen to the brink on a seemingly weekly basis. The offense finishes last in the AL in runs scored, with just three players--Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, and Jermaine Dye--carrying double-digit VORPs; that trio shed 89.8 VORP off last year's totals. The rotation--about which PECOTA was most skeptical--is a mixed bag, but it's the bullpen (12th in the league in WXRL, and culpable for 10 meltdowns amid a 5-19 stretch in the first half) which did some real damage.

29


Royals
69-93
3-6
.426
Down
Their final record may not look like much, but this is genuine progress as the Royals snap a three-year string of 100 losses, topping their PECOTA projection by a game to boot. A surprisingly solid season from Gil Meche, a heartwarming comeback from Zack Greinke , and strong rookie campaigns from Brian Bannister (22nd in SNLVAR), Joachim Soria (seventh in WXRL), Alex Gordon (.272/.321/.458 after May 15) and Billy Bulter (.301/.364/.465 after July 1) suggest Dayton Moore's team is headed in the right direction. Shedding deadweight like Mike Sweeney and Odalis Perez--their two most expensive players besides Meche--and kindly old caretaker Buddy Bell can only help.

30


Pirates
68-94
2-6
.415
Down
All Together Now, "Arrrrrrrgh!": after his team limps home with a 2-13 finish to cap their 15th consecutive losing season, Jim Tracy gets it in the neck to complete the purge that begins with the ouster of Dave Littlefield. Bad rotation, bad bullpen, bad offense--the Bucs have earned their spot in Davy Jones' Hit List Locker, and new GM Neal Huntington has his work cut out to replicate the success of his former team in Cleveland.


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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