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March 30, 2008

Prospectus Hit List

Opening Day

by Jay Jaffe

We here at Baseball Prospectus are determined to put our best foot forward when it comes to predicting the 2008 season, and the foundation of our predictions is PECOTA. Once we've taken Nate Silver's basic projections, our staff adjusts for expected playing time, and then Clay Davenport plugs the revised numbers into his his Postseason Odds Report generator. The rankings presented at the end of each capsule (percentage chance of winning the division/wild card/reaching the postseason) are based on Clay's odds. If you note a disconnect between the projected winning percentage and the Average Won-Loss record, don't adjust your screen--the records are derived from Clay running a million seasons for the team, while the winning percentage is a club's projected third-order winning percentage. Keep in mind that not every last-minute development--Kelvim Escobar's injury, for example--was accounted for in these odds. Finally, please note that I've slotted the W3 percentage in the HLF factor slot and followed last year's format.
RkTeam
Overall W-L
Week W-L
<>div align="center">Hit List Factor
Trend
Comment

1


Yankees
97-65
-
.599
Flat
Torre's out, Girardi's in, and everybody's a year older, but the lineup remains a threat to top 900 runs again. Even as Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi battle for playing time, four other hitters figure to top 30 VORP, and nobody's an easy out. The real focus will be on the remade pitching staff, where Philip Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain (71.9 combined VORP projected by PECOTA) will battle inning caps while the Yankee brass fights the temptation to turn them loose to cover for a shaky bullpen. Is Girardi up to maintaining this delicate balancing act? (47.7/16.7/64.4)

2


Mets
95-67
-
.580
Flat
The addition of Johan Santana (forecast for an MLB-best 59.7 VORP) trumps any lingering memories of last September's historic collapse, but the combination of this spring's spate of injuries and the roster's lack of depth threaten to topple this projection like a house of cards. Getting nearly 1100 plate appearances from Los Dos Carlos seems like a pipe dream given their spring maladies, but so long as David Wright (69.6 projected VORP, second in the majors) and Jose Reyes (46.2 VORP, 12th) are healthy, the offense should remain afloat. The real news is the leeway given by this projection's only calling for 215 combined innings from Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, albeit very good innings (combined 38.2 VORP) that are hardly guaranteed. (48.6/11.0/59.6)

3


Indians
93-69
-
.568
Flat
One win away from a trip to last year's World Series, the Tribe are primed for another run. While PECOTA doesn't expect the C.C. Sabathia/Fausto Carmona tandem to match last year's combined numbers (410 innings, 81.0 VORP, down from 456 innings, 129.2 VORP), they still forecast to be the AL's best one-two punch, and this time around the pitching staff leaves the gate with Asdrubal Cabrera instead of Josh Barfield at the keystone, a major upgrade behind a staff that lets the ball get hit into play so often. With a bounceback from Travis Hafner, the offense should be more than solid, with a handful of options to upgrade their weakest link, left field, as the season progresses. (43.8/11.6/55.4)

4


Cubs
93-69
-
.562
Flat
The NL Central still forecasts as the league's weakest division (with a combined .495 winning percentage), but the Cubs look to have raised the bar beyond last year's 85-win division title. The addition of Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome gives the lineup four 30.0+ VORP hitters at its heart, and even if there's too much Ryan Theriot here for anyone's good, Geovany Soto and Felix Pie should provide upgrades if Lou Piniella leaves well enough alone. All eyes will be on Kerry Wood in his new guise as closer, but the supporting cast is strong enough to pick up the slack if he's limited by health. (42.7/11.1/53.8)

5


Tigers
92-70
-
.562
Flat
They were the winter's big winners thanks to the Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis acquisition, and the effective swap of Edgar Renteria for Sean Casey is an upgrade as well. But as devastating as the lineup--forecast for second-best in the AL--may look, there's plenty to be concerned about on the pitching staff. Jeremy Bonderman and Kenny Rogers both need to rebound, and Willis has looked awful this spring, though moving him in front of a competent defense and shaving 20-30 innings off his workload should help in the long run. The real question mark is the bullpen, where the absence of Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya leaves Denny Bautista and his 6.93 career ERA as the top set-up man in front of Todd Jones, who may be cooked by the time you read this. (39.7/11.9/51.7)

6


87-75
-
.537
Flat
The Halos are a good bet to claim their fourth division title in five years, but you can knock at least an extra win off their chances here with Kelvim Escobar lost for the year. That injury comes with John Lackey already sidelined for the first month, but the good news is that the Angels have plenty of pitching depth to withstand these blows, particularly in a division lacking a serious alternative for the top spot; they'd would rank 11th based on Pythagorean projection alone here. The big issue is whether the crowded shortstop and outfield situations are resolved without dragging down the offense with single-digit VORP stiffs like Erick Aybar and Garret Anderson; as good a manager as Mike Scioscia is, his track record casts doubt in that regard. (47.3/3.2/50.4)

7


Red Sox
91-71
-
.562
Flat
The defending World Champions were the best team in baseball by a few major measures, but the combination of PECOTA and the Posteason Odds sees them on the outside looking in when it comes to this year's playoffs. The root of it is a rather weak projection for the Manny Ramirez/Jacoby Ellsbury/J.D. Drew outfield--a combined 45.9 VORP, and if one factors in Coco Crisp, they still come out two wins worse than last year's unit. The back end of the rotation is considerably more exposed with Curt Schilling out or done, but once you account for the possible overstatement of the Rays' chances and the Tigers' precariously patchworked bullpen, it's tough to believe this team won't find their way back to October. (26.0/17.8/43.8)

8


Brewers
89-73
-
.543
Flat
As close as last year's Brewers came to reaching the postseason for the first time since 1982, they frittered away their chances with a a horrid defense, some bad bullpen management, and abbreviated seasons from Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo. They've addressed the defense and thrown money at the bullpen, and from the outset of the season they'll carry one of the game's most enviable cores of young talent; even with Mike Cameron's 25-game suspension, the top seven hitters in the lineup forecast above 20 VORP. The real key is at the back of the rotation, where they'll need Manny Parra and Carlos Villanueva to exceed PECOTA's low expectations. (31.1/11.5/42.6)

9


Dodgers
87-75
-
.537
Flat
Ousted from the Yankees and the perennial two-team battle in the AL East, Joe Torre wound up with the Dodgers in a much wilder NL West. He's got some potential minefields to navigate--a three-injury pileup at third base, and the Andre Ethier/Matt Kemp/Juan Pierre situation in the outfield, which appears may shake out with the Dodgers carrying the league's most expensive fourth outfielder. Beyond that, Torre inherits some of the game's best young talent, including the league's top catcher in Russell Martin, not to mention a pitching staff that blends experience and youth and forecasts to be nearly every bit as good as the unit he'd be guiding in the Bronx if that bug spray had worked. (32.2/7.2/39.4)

10


Braves
86-77
-
.525
Flat
Bobby Cox's potential swan song squad offers a robust offense powered by the one-two punch of Chipper Jones and a full season of Mark Teixeira, a combo that should rank among the game's best. But even with Tom Glavine back in the fold, the pitching staff is far removed from the Braves' dynasty days; beyond John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, the Braves need extremely good luck in the health department for a starter to break 10.0 VORP, whether that's Chuck James rehabbing a damaged rotator cuff or Mike Hampton pitching like it's 1999. You can stop laughing now. (20.9/10.1/38.0)

11


Diamondbacks
87-75
-
.531
Flat
They mocked Pythagoras last season, finishing 12.2 games above their third-order projection and becoming just the sixth playoff team in history with a negative run differential. It's safe to assume that they won't get turn that trick again, though replacing Livan Hernandez with Dan Haren is a pretty neat one to have already turned. However, the bullpen could take a step back with the loss of Jose Valverde (Brandon Lyon won't last the summer at closer), the lineup this side of Chris B. Young and tantalizing 20-year-old Justin Upton hardly looks exceptional, and the competition within the division hasn't sat still. (30.9/7.1/38.0)

12


Rays
88-74
-
.543
Flat
Get the Devil out! So they have a new name and a new long-term outlook thanks to an insane bounty of prospects--five of the top 25 on our annual list, of which only Evan Longoria will be a factor this year. A defense much improved from the majors' worst should help a young staff find some semblance of respectability at the back end, though PECOTA's projection of allowing the third-fewest runs in the majors seems overly optimistic, especially in the AL East. Still, if the Rays crack .500, it will be both an historic season and a portent of even better days ahead. (20.3/15.6/35.8)

13


Phillies
86-76
-
.531
Flat
Even with Brett Myers back in the rotation and an offense that boasts three hitters projected above 40 VORP, the Phillies will be hard-pressed to match last year's phrenetic phinish. For starters, at least half of the team's starts might be made by pitchers projected to have ERAs above 5.00--that is, unless Kyle Kendrick can repeat last year's Houdini act while striking out less than four batters per nine. Even then, they're stuck with a terminal case of Adam Eaton, not to mention a bullpen depending on the fragile bodies of Brad Lidge and Tom Gordon. (22.8/10.6/33.4)

14


Athletics
81-82
-
.494
Flat
Billy Beane has led the A's into full-on rebuilding mode, swapping Dan Haren and Nick Swisher to rebuild the system in impressive fashion. Alas, that doesn't leave a particularly rosy outlook for 2008; PECOTA sees an offense that will be one of the league's lowest-scoring, with four lineup regulars carrying single-digit VORPs. The pitching looks considerably better, but how soon before Beane pulls the trigger and sends Joe Blanton and Rich Harden yonder as well, particularly after the latter's stellar season debut (6 3 1 1 3 9)? (26.0/3.2/29.2)

15


Rockies
82-80
-
.506
Flat
The Cinderella-story NL champs were hardly PECOTA's darlings last year, and there's reason to be skeptical about this projection as well, given that our vaunted system is forecasting a scoring environment that's eight percent higher than their 1600-ish run level of the last three years. Led by Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki, the offense may well top the leaderboards with a high-altitude assist, but even with reason to be wary of stretch-run stars Franklin Morales and Ubaldo Jimenez, the spate of ~.315 BABIPs forecast for the staff simply doesn't jibe with a team that led the NL in Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. (19.9/5.8/25.7)

16


Reds
80-82
-
.494
Flat
On paper, this is quite possibly the mismatch of the millennium, with Dusty Baker inheriting a club with four of our top 41 prospects. Of that quartet, only Johnny Cueto and Joey Votto--the latter likely on a very short leash--will start the year with the big club, while #1 overall prospect Jay Bruce and pitcher Homer Bailey have been farmed out in favor of the less-than-inspiring Corey Patterson and Josh Fogg. Still, after averaging 73 wins a year over seven straight losing seasons, there's suddenly reason to hope here, particularly in the game's weakest division. (11.1/6.1/17.2)

17


Mariners
75-87
-
.463
Flat
In which Bill Bavasi fails the Rorschach Test, seeing last year's 88-win club as one big move away from unseating the Angels instead of unlikely to match the overachievement that saw them beat last year's PECOTA projection by 15 games and their third-order Pythagorean record by 10. Swapping in Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva (combined projection of 55.9 VORP) for Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez (combined -32.5 VORP last year) is a major upgrade, but that advantage is lost on an offense which projects as the AL's worst, with five of the lineup's nine regulars--including DH Jose Vidro, first baseman Richie Sexson, and right fielder Brad Wilkerson--projected for single-digit VORPs. (15.0/2.0/17.1)

18


Padres
78-84
-
.481
Flat
The Padres' precipitous final-weekend collapse may have been a portent of things to come, at least if PECOTA is right. The lineup has its high points in Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Khalil Greene and Josh Bard, but their rickety outfield creates problems for a rotation that has minimal upside beyond Jake Peavy and (cough) a potential Mark Prior resurgence. While their system is much improved over last year, the eventual arrival of Chase Headley won't offer enough help to keep pace within a division featuring three of the game's top player development factories. (12.0/3.9/15.9)

19


Rangers
73-89
-
.451
Flat
Despite Jon Daniels' solid work in rebuilding the system last summer, there's not a lot to be optimistic about in the present tense. Even with the arrivals of Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley, the lineup lacks punch as far as PECOTA is concerned, featuring just one hitter (Ian Kinsler) projected above 18 homers, 10 steals, or 25.0 VORP. Back that with a staff that projects as the second-worst in the league, with only Kevin Millwood andC.J. Wilson above 10.0 VORP--and with only Millwood above 100 strikeouts, for cripes' sake--and you've got the makings of a hot and miserable summer for the Rangers. Again. (11.7/1.6/13.3)

20


White Sox
76-86
-
.475
Flat
In the wake of last year's PECOTA bullseye, the Sox are in store for another long and ugly season. The acquisition of Nick Swisher notwithstanding, the offense still looks lousy, with five regulars projected for single-digit VORPs. However, possible in-house upgrades of Cuban import Alexei Ramirez (21.6 VORP) over Juan Uribe (6.6) and Josh Fields (12.4) over Joe Crede (2.8) do present the option for more firepower. But given the dismal rotation behind Javier Vazquez and Mark Buehrle, this team could easily have the majority of its games started by pitchers with ERAs above 5.00, in which case Ozzie's going to need a whole lot more than Santeria to get through the season. (7.7/4.5/12.2)

21


Blue Jays
76-86
-
.481
Flat
North of the border, up Canada way, is apparently where mediocrity comes out to play. Despite the great strides made by Toronto's young hurlers last year, PECOTA is skeptical of their low-strikeout ways, but not nearly so skeptical as it is of J.P. Ricciardi's ability to assemble a compelling lineup with much potential; five regulars forecast for single-digit VORPs, with only Frank Thomas and Matt Stairs (80 years old and quite possibly 500 pounds between them) above 20, and that's without considering the potential health problems of this aged team. For all the hoohah regarding the Jays' recent attempts to catch the Yankees and Red Sox, they're closer to being lapped by the Rays than they are to challenging for a playoff spot. (5.2/5.6/10.8)

22


Cardinals
75-87
-
.463
Flat
Stars and scrubs forever! Apparently the lesson that you can't defend a championship with a rotation kludged together out of relievers, lemon rinds, surgical thread, and thumbtacks didn't take, because the Cardinals once again leave the gate with a unit that, save for Adam Wainwright, would make for a better bullpen. With Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds now gone, Phat Albert Pujols is now the alpha and omega of this offense, so the Cards have to hope that his bum elbow holds out. Even if it does, Tony La Russa's most creative platooning and pitcher-batting-eighth tactics won't be enough to contend. (6.2/3.8/10.0)

23


Pirates
73-89
-
.451
Flat
There's a new regime in Pittsburgh, but until the top prospects arrive, it's the same old lineup, solid but hardly inspiring; PECOTA sees all eight regulars as relatively underpowered and short on on-base skills, and posting VORPs between 13.7 and 28.3. The real question is whether the new staff can restore luster to some of the homegrown pitching talent, particularly Zach Duke, and build an effective bridge between the rotation and Matt Capps. Good luck with that. (4.8/2.9/7.7)

24


Nationals
72-90
-
.444
Flat
The Nats may not be good so much as they'll be interesting, thanks to a new, more hitter-friendly park, Jim Bowden's willingness to take risks on Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes, and Manny Acta's desire to go by a different book. The return of Nick Johnson and the maturation of Ryan Zimmerman (PECOTA's 16th-ranked hitter, according to VORP), can't hurt either. Still, even if last year's staff replicates its surprising competence, any rotation where Odalis Perez is the Opening Day starter is tough to take seriously. (4.4/2.7/7.1)

25


Twins
72-90
-
.451
Flat
Sans Terry Ryan, Johan Santana, and Torii Hunter, a new era of Twins baseball begins with a less-than-promising team, at least for the moment. While the (eventual) return of Francisco Liriano and growth from the other young hurlers should keep the rotation respectable, PECOTA sees an offense that will rival the Mariners for the league's weakest, with Joe Mauer as the only hitter breaking 20 VORP--though newly-acquired Delmon Young should come close--along with two positions below replacement level. One of them is center field, where Hunter's replacement and Santana's bounty, Carlos Gomez, looks anything but major league-ready (-5.1 VORP). (4.5/2.6/7.1)

26


Royals
72-90
-
.444
Flat
Though there's much to be said for the way Dayton Moore has begun righting the ship, new skipper Trey Hillman has little to work with here; only Alex Gordon and Billy Butler appear likely to clear 20 VORP, with six positions forecast for single digits. The pitching staff's path to respectability largely depends on a pair of possibilities well worth pulling for: Zack Greinke building on last season's comeback, and Brian Bannister converting theory into practice to reach the upper levels of his projection. (4.3/2.6/6.8)

27


Giants
71-92
-
.438
Flat
You ain't goin' nowhere with a squad like this, Bud can skip handing down punishment to Brian Sabean and Peter Magowan. Barry Bonds is gone--vanished without a trace, apparently--as is his plate discipline antipode, Pedro Feliz. That's 48 of the last year's squad's 131 homers--third-lowest in the NL--off the books, and even with the addition of Aaron Rowand, the lineup projects as the weakest in baseball, lacking a single 20-homer hitter. The pitching staff is a bit more than just "Lincecum and Cain and pray for rain," but even with Brian Wilson as their closer, there isn't much reason to Smile. (5.0/1.7/6.6)

28


Astros
72-90
-
.444
Flat
With Miguel Tejada and J.R. Towles in the lineup instead of Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus, the Astros have hinted at a healthy desire to get out of the business of giving away outs. Alas, giving away outs appears to be Ed Wade's approach to assembling a rotation behind Roy Oswalt, without whom the proper answer to where this team might finish this year would be Galveston. (4.1/2.5/6.6)

29


Marlins
70-92
-
.438
Flat
Post-Miguel Cabrera, the Marlins' offense should remain respectable; only two hitters can top Hanley Ramirez's projected VORP, and with Cameron Maybin properly farmed out, the offense should be devoid of sinkholes. But the infield defense--Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu, and Ramirez--will resemble a butcher shop, only without the tasty slabs of meat, something which certainly won't help a pitching staff where only Andrew Miller projects to top 10.0 VORP. (3.3/2.1/5.3)

30


Orioles
64-98
-
.407
Flat
Last year's unoffical second-half Hit List cellar-dwellers should feel right at home as the Curse of Davey Johnson enters its 11th year. Yes, there are flickers of the signs of a turnaround here. Miguel Tejada and his thousand-yard stare are gone, as is the brilliant but brittle Erik Bedard, though only the latter deal brought much back--Adam Jones, some pitching prospects, and a potentially fungible closer-in-training. It won't be enough this year; PECOTA foresees the worst pitching staff in baseball, one where Daniel Cabrera is the staff VORP leader. Ouch. (0.9/1.1/1.9)


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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