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April 18, 2008

Prospectus Hit List

Welcome Back

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Diamondbacks
11-4
4-2
.688
Down
Randy Johnson comes off the DL and makes an uneven season debut (5 3 3 0 4 7) in a losing cause; perhaps more importantly, he's pain-free the next day. Meanwhile, Justin Upton, who was just a year old when Johnson made his major league debut, continues to rake. He's hitting .351/.400/.667 with five homers, four of which have come against the Rockies.

2


Mets
8-6
4-2
.597
Up
No Place Like Home: having journeyed as far as Mexico and Taiwan to pitch professionally, journeyman Nelson Figueroa notches a W--his first in the majors since 2003--in his first start in front of a hometown crowd, and delivers a quality start in his second. For a team who could certainly use it, there's more good news at the back of the rotation, as Mike Pelfrey throws seven shutout innings, the best of his 19 major league starts so far.

3


White Sox
9-6
4-3
.584
Up
Grounded: one big reason for the White Sox's success thus far has been their stinginess in the home run department. After finishing 12th in the AL in homers allowed last year, PECOTA ticketed them for the league's worst in that department, but thus far, the Sox staff has yielded just five longballs, four fewer than the next-best AL team, and they're the only staff in the league with a ground-ball percentage above 50.. Meanwhile, the 22 homers they've hit is tied for the league lead.

4


Dodgers
7-8
3-3
.579
Up
Big Blue Wrecking Crew: the Dodger offense kicks into gear, as the team's three wins on the week come by a combined score of 30-4. Leading the way is Rafael Furcal, who tops the majors in VORP after a red-hot week (.440/.517/.840). Also en fuego is James Loney, who's hit safely in every game thus far and is batting .364/.406/.545 overall. At the other end of the spectrum, however, is Andruw Jones, whose .157/.259/.235 line is in danger of becoming a weighty matter.

5


Cardinals
11-5
4-2
.576
Up
The Cards continue to rack up early-season wins; their 11-4 start is the team's best since 1968. Doing his best Bob Gibson impersonation is Kyle Lohse, who begins the year with a string of 15 scoreless innings. He's carrying a 1.48 ERA and ranks second in the league in SNLVAR.

6


Phillies
8-8
4-2
.562
Up
Though they've taken their last two series, the Phillies' offense is sputtering without Jimmy Rollins, scoring just 27 runs in their last seven games and topping five runs just once. Rollins has been limited to just three at-bats since April 8 due to an ankle sprain, and he may continue to be sidelined. Such absences have been a complete rarity since Rollins entered the lineup; he's averaged 157 games a year since 2001, never dropping below 154, and he's put up the four highest VORP marks of any Philly shortstop in that span.

7


Cubs
9-6
3-3
.547
Down
A Hop, Skip, and Jump to the Sidelines: Alfonso Soriano's quirky style in the field draws attention as he strains a calf and heads to the DL. He's hitting a minuscule .175/.230/.298 thus far, but the Cubs are second in the league in scoring thanks in part to a torrid performance by Derrek Lee (.379/.432/.742), who's fifth in the majors in VORP.

8


Braves
6-9
3-3
.541
Up
The Braves' pitching staff continues to get banged up, as Tom Glavine leaves a start without retiring any of the four hitters he's faced, and temporary closer Peter Moylan heads to Dr. Jim Andrews with elbow trouble that may jeopardize his season. On a happier note, the left side of the team's infield has been tearing it up; Chipper Jones and Yunel Escobar are second and 10th, respectively in the NL VORP rankings.

9


Red Sox
10-7
5-2
.541
Up
David Ortiz is still on the schneid (.111/.222/.159 thus far) but he's got more hits (four) in the four games since his jersey was unearthed in the bowels of the new Yankee Stadium than he had prior. Manny Ramirez, on the other hand, isn't struggling at all (.343/.405/.701); he hit three homers in a pair of series against the Yankees, including two off of Mike Mussina Thursday night, to climb to 495 career dingers.

10


Yankees
9-8
4-3
.536
Up
The Yankee rotation has been a very mixed bag, as typified by Chien-Ming Wang's two-hitter against the Red Sox last Friday night and his shellacking earlier this week. Wang (3.81 ERA) and Pettitte (3.38) have been more than acceptable overall, but the rotation's Fair Run Average is just 11th in the league. Youngsters Philip Hughes and Ian Kennedy have combined for an 8.87 ERA thus far, with only one quality start apiece.

11


Angels
10-7
4-3
.534
Down
Mighty Casey? Casey Kotchman knocks three homers and drives in 11 runs over a seven-game span. He's got four homers so far after hitting just 11 in 508 plate appearances last year, though his .467 SLG was 24 points higher than the league positional average. PECOTA is still skeptical about his ability to keep turning those doubles into homers, forecasting a weighted mean SLG of .431, with last year's mark equaling this year's 75th percentile projection.

12


Royals
9-7
3-4
.533
Down
Smothers Brothers: As a team, the Royals are allowing an MLB-best 3.2 runs per game. Zack Greinke and Brian Bannister are a combined 6-0 with a 0.80 ERA, with Greinke leading the majors in VORP and also the leader in SNLVAR, and Bannister placing in the top 10 as well. However, the foundations of their success have been on balls in play instead of missing bats; Greinke is yielding a .219 BABIP but whiffing just 3.4 per nine, while Bannister is at .175 and 5.6.

13


Rays
7-9
3-4
.532
Up
The Rays step into their bright future by promoting two of their highly-touted former first-round picks in one weekend. Evan Longoria--third on our 2008 Top 100 Prospect List--notches four hits, including a homer, in his first nine at-bats, while Jeff Niemann--25th on our 2007 list--holds the Orioles to one run over six innings in his debut. Despite the Rays' sunny PECOTA forecast of 88 wins, the foundation of that prediction--a defense anticipated to show historic improvement over 2007's historically abysmal showing--may be shakier than previously thought.

14


Blue Jays
8-8
4-3
.529
Flat
A.J. Burnett is forced into action on his throw day, taking the loss in a 14-inning game. Burnett's off to a rough start; he's put up a 7.27 ERA and 4.7 K/9 while averaging just over innings per start. Meanwhile, the rest of the rotation has put up a 3.60 ERA and 7.3 K/9, helping them to a tie for fourth in SNLVAR... Oh, and in monkey news, there's no truth to the rumor that John Gibbons was the one who sicced a pet lemur on Shea Hillenbrand's son.

15


Brewers
9-6
3-3
.517
Down
Welcome Back: fresh off a year managing the Red Sox's Sally League affiliate, Gabe Kapler has been a smash in his return to the majors. Filling in for the suspended Mike Cameron and an injured Tony Gwynn Jr., Kapler is hitting .407/.433/.926 with four homers, including a pair off of Johan Santana and Oliver Perez that helped the Brewers take a series in Shea Stadium. That's three more homers than Prince Fielder, who finally connected in the team's 15th game; he's hitting just .241/.354/.370, prompting calls to abandon his newfound vegetarianism.

16


Reds
7-9
1-5
.511
Down
A five-game losing streak tempers some of the early enthusiasm surrounding the Reds, as Johnny Cueto takes his lumps against the Pirates, and Dusty Baker takes a few of his own skippering against the Cubs, his former club. Which isn't to say there aren't positive signs here, particularly among the team's high-profile youngsters. Joey Votto has started five of the last six games and homered in two of the last three. Meanwhile, Edinson Volquez has put up a 1.17 ERA through three starts, striking out 16 in 15 1/3 innings.

17


Mariners
9-8
5-2
.497
Up
Unhip: After being scratched from a start for the second time already, Erik Bedard lands on the DL with what may be a small tear in his acetabular (hip) labrum; he may miss only a couple of starts, but surgery looms as a possibility as well. In better news, Felix Hernandez is pitching like a King; after going the distance against the A's, he's allowed more than two runs in just one of four starts and is carrying a 1.47 ERA.

18


Athletics
9-8
3-4
.486
Down
Rich Harden and Justin Duchscherer may be down, and Dan Haren is gone, but the A's have been getting excellent pitching; they're tied for second in the league in SNLVAR, and third in WXRL and runs allowed per game. Among the early surprises thus far are a pair of former Diamondback southpaws acquired in the Haren deal, Dana Eveland and Greg Smith. The former, now in his fourth year of trying to hold down a big league roster spot, has put up a 2.00 ERA through three starts, a damn sight better than the burdensome 7.55 ERA he schlepped into the season. The latter has given the A's two quality starts while showing off his excellent pickoff move.

19


Orioles
9-7
3-4
.480
Down
Earthbound Birds: After flying high on the first week's Hit List, the Orioles drop to a level more appropriate to expectations. The rotation sinks to third to last in the league in SNLVAR, while the offense, which was forecast to be the 10th-worst in the majors by PECOTA, scores just 19 runs over a seven-game span. Still, the team does have two of the league's top 10 hitters in Equivalent Average, Nick Markakis and Luke Scott; the latter is vying to be the first Orioles left fielder to finish with a positive VORP since Larry Bigbie in 2004, which speaks volumes about this franchise's recent ineptitude.

20


Rockies
7-8
3-3
.477
Up
Troy Tulowitzki is suffering through an early sophomore slump (.154/.241/.212) and has the fourth-lowest VORP in the league, but he's not the only Rockie who's struggling. The offense is tied for 12th in the league in runs per game and is 14th in Equivalent Average, while the pitching is 14th in runs allowed per game, 15th in starter Fair Run Average, and 13th in reliever FRA.

21


Rangers
7-9
2-5
.469
Down
New Kids on the Block: Their five-game losing streak isn't much to write home about, and the offense as a whole has yet to click, but newcomers Josh Hamilton (.308/.382/.554) and Milton Bradley (.333/.452/.471, with a live 12-game hitting streak) are off to hot starts. Jason Jennings, not so much; through three starts, he's surrendered 15 runs in 14 1/3 innings, with a 7/10 K/BB ratio, and he's carrying a 9.73 ERA while yielding 3.0 HR/9 in 53 2/3 innings since last year's All-Star break.

22


Padres
8-8
3-3
.456
Down
Greg Maddux notches his 349th win with a 1-0 gem over the Dodgers; he's ninth on the all-time list, for those who like that sort of thing. Thus far the Padres rotation has been the best in the majors, with a Support-Neutral Winning Percentage (SNLVA_R + .5) of 67.3; they led in that category last year as well at 55.6.

23


Twins
7-9
3-4
.454
Down
Francisco Liriano is rocked in his return to a major league mound after a 17-month absence after Tommy John surgery, though the start comes in less-than optimal conditions (including a 29 degree wind chill factor). The Twins are getting solid work from their rotation--the starters are sixth in Fair Run Average--but the offense looks typically enfeebled. The team's .246 EqA is 12th in the league, and among the regulars, only Brendan Harris, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, and Joe Mauer are above .260.

24


Marlins
9-6
3-3
.449
Down
Rakin' Jake: Mike Jacobs takes over the home run lead (six); he's hitting .462/.481/1.038 with four jacks in his last six games, prompting reminders of his scalding cup of coffee back in 2005. Jacobs has been something of a disappointment since coming to the Marlins in the Carlos Delgado deal; among first basemen with 400 PA, he ranked 21st out of 27 in VORP last year and 23rd out of 25 in 2006.

25


Indians
6-10
2-5
.430
Down
C.C. = Cause for Concern? Free agent-to-be C.C. Sabathia gets bombed for 18 runs in 7 1/3 innings over two starts. After walking 37 hitters in all of last year, he's walked 14 already, and his -16.6 VORP is the worst in the majors. Meanwhile, there's a changing of the guard in the bullpen, as Joe Borowski hits the DL with a tear in his triceps, and MISER Rafael Betancourt takes over the closer role.

26


Pirates
7-8
4-2
.414
Up
It's the Pitts: Despite chalking up a four-game winning streak this past week, the Pirates sink to last in the league in runs allowed per game thanks to a two-game, 19-run onslaught by the Dodgers. They've got real problems at the moment, as they're second-to-last in the NL in Defensive Efficiency and last in strikeout rate. The Bucs do make one nice play on the week, hiring BP staffer Dan Fox to be their Director of Baseball Systems Development. In his all-too-brief time at BP, Dan greatly enhanced our understanding in areas as diverse as pitch visualization, value added via baserunning, outfield throwing, and historical levels of play. Though he'll be missed in these quarters, we wish him all the best in his new digs.

27


Astros
6-10
3-3
.410
Flat
Aging Before Our Very Eyes: Miguel Tejada is two years older than previously thought; in what is now his age-34 season, he's hitting .328/.375/.586, and while the near-term forecast for his performance probably doesn't change much, the discrepancy will cost him millions when he's a free agent after next year. Meanwhile, the Astros can only hope that Roy Oswalt's rough start is old news; he puts up his first quality start of the year, lowering his ERA to 6.85.

28


Tigers
5-11
4-3
.410
Up
Once Every Century: These aren't your 1984 Tigers, to be sure, but the team's 5-11 start is nowhere near their worst of this young millennium. The Tigers and their followers may wish to think warm thoughts about their counterparts of 100 years ago. The 1908 club--Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, Wild Bill Donovan--started off with the same record, but still won the AL pennant. The current crop will have to get much better starting pitching to have a chance at a similar fate, but for now they're last in the league in SNLVAR, and minus Dontrelle Willis due to a hyperextended knee.

29


Giants
6-10
2-4
.352
Up
People, It's Bad: James Brown didn't have the Giants' offense in mind when he used that phrase to subtitle his 1974 hit "Funky President", but he may as well have. Of the 12 hitters who have logged the most plate appearances, eight of them are in the red VORP-wise. And among the nine hitters with positive VORP marks, four are pitchers who have combined total of 22 PA. There's no truth to the rumor that the other five were borrowed from a nearby Little League.

30


Nationals
4-12
1-5
.338
Down
Since starting the year 3-0, the Nats have lost 12 out of 13. Amid that skid, the pitching hasn't been great (5.15 ERA), but the offense has managed just 3.1 runs per game. Emblematic of the struggle is Ryan Zimmerman, who after homering twice in the first three games, is hitting just .204/.237/.259. He's hardly the only one to blame, as the team is getting production below replacement level at five positions.


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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