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April 24, 2008

Prospectus Preview

Thursday's Games to Watch

by Marc Normandin

Today's Full Slate of Games

Matchup: Angels (13-9) at Red Sox (15-8), 1:35 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Joe Saunders (291/3 IP, 20 H, 7 R, 12/6 K/BB) vs. Justin Masterson (19 2/3 IP, 14 H, 2 R, 23/5 K/BB in Double-A)
PECOTA Projection: Angels, 85-77 (1st, AL West); Boston, 91-71 (2nd, AL East)
Hit List Rankings: Anaheim, #11; Boston, #9
Prospectus: The Angels snapped the Red Sox six-game win streak yesterday, on a night where the flu rampant in the Sox clubhouse latched itself onto scheduled starter Daisuke Matsuzaka. Jon Lester pitched on three days' rest in his place, moving up a night, so today Justin Masterson will make his major league debut against Joe Saunders tonight. Masterson, the 3rd-best prospect in the Sox system according to Kevin Goldstein, is a sinkerballer, and unlike Monday's spot starter, David Pauley, he can locate his sinker as well. Saunders has yet to lose this season, despite striking out just 3.7 batters per nine. He's succeeded thanks to handing out only six walks over 29+ innings while limiting base hits as well; his .194 BABIP is not going to last, since Saunders won't hold opponents to a 10 percent liner rate the more innings he logs. Regardless, if he can keep the ball on the ground-and currently his GB% is currently at 50 percent-the Angels defense can help keep him as an average pitcher. His QuikERA is 4.84, despite the low strikeout total.

Erick Aybar (.400/.400/.533) and Torii Hunter (.308/.379/.500) have been the hot hitters for the Angels over the past week, who have gone 7-3 in their past 10 games. Aybar's production has helped to pick up some of the slack left by Howie Kendrick's (.531/.559/.750) departure for the disabled list. Overall, the Angels are hitting .295/.352/.453 as a team and have scored 109 runs, third in the American League. The Red Sox lead the AL in runs scored despite their recent problems with illness as well as David Ortiz's slow start. In the past week, Jacoby Ellsbury (.345/.513/.655) has been on fire. Dustin Pedroia (.486/.525/.800) turned it on after a slow start, and Manny Ramirez (.343/.418/.657 on the season, .414/.500/.862 the past week) has hit enough for himself and the struggling Papi.

Matchup: Cubs (15-6) at Rockies (9-12), 2:05 p.m. MT
Probable Starters: Jason Marquis (16 1/3 IP, 18 H, 8 R, 11/7 K/BB) vs. Aaron Cook (26 IP, 20 H, 10 R, 12/8 K/BB)
PECOTA Projection: Chicago, 91-71 (1st, NL Central); Colorado, 82-80 (3rd, NL West)
Hit List Rankings: Chicago, #7; Colorado, #20
Prospectus: This game should be entertaining thanks to Marquis' propensity to dish out homers; despite a low fly-ball rate this year, he's still managing to give up homers on 14.3 percent of his fly balls. His 3.86 ERA belies his performance thus far, as a 1.53 WHIP and 1.1 HR/9 are not pretty peripherals; Marquis is allowing almost four walks per nine, but the Cubs .725 Defensive Efficiency has kept his BABIP to "only" .313. The top team in Defensive Efficiency last year rated at a .714, and only 10 teams finished at .700 or better, so look for Marquis to start giving up more hits as the season progresses-perhaps even today in Coors Field. His opponent, Aaron Cook, has pitched well this year, with a 60.2 ground-ball percentage and just 8.3 percent HR/FB. As always, Cook could stand to strike out a few more hitters, but his current K/9 of 4.2 would be a career high for him, and he's managed to keep the walks down well enough that his performance translates into a QERA of 4.84. His line-drive rate (10.8 percent) can only go up, though and that's something to watch for as the season progresses.

The Cubs lead the majors in runs scored, and besides Mike Fontenot's .105/.150/.158 line last week, the next least impressive showing is Reed Johnson's .393/.455/.464 line; for shame Reed, for shame. Ryan Theriot led the charge at .481/.533/.815, while Kosuke Fukudome (.423/.545/.577), Aramis Ramirez (.357/.514/.679) and Derrek Lee (.364/.417/.636) all earned their paychecks. The Rockies have not been as lucky on offense so far, as they have been outscored by opponents 111 to 93, which matches up with their 9-11 record well. Garrett Atkins (.351/.368/.703) finally started hitting well, but the rest of the team hasn't been very explosive during the past week. On the season, the Rox are hitting .251/.325/.396 as a club, a poor showing for a team with talent who plays half of their games at Coors. That should even out with more games, but with Arizona taking no prisoners and the Dodgers also looking to run up a championship banners, the Rockies need to shift into gear as soon as possible.

Matchup: Indians (8-12) at Royals (9-11), 5:10 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Cliff Lee (22 2/3 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 20/2 K/BB) vs. Brian Bannister (26 IP, 19 H, 8 R, 14/6 K/BB)
PECOTA Projection: Cleveland, 91-71 (tied for 1st, AL Central); Kansas City, 73-89 (5th, AL Central)
Hit List Rankings: Cleveland, #25; Kansas City, #12
Prospectus: This is the game for those who love pitching, as Cliff Lee attempts to continue his early domination of the league against a Royals lineup that might not be able to fight back. On the other side, Brian Bannister continues his quest to exploit BABIP for his own benefit. Lee has some stats that won't hold up-he's given up just 8 hits over 22 2/3 innings, and allowed a pair of walks-but he has also struck out 20 opponents and has not allowed a homer as of yet. Even when his .154 BABIP starts going up, if he can keep the homers and walks down, the Indians will get the benefit of one of Lee's better campaigns, perhaps even his best. Lee has been a quality pitcher in the past, so this isn't as far-fetched as it may sound for those only familiar with his recent work. Bannister isn't striking out hitters at the same rate, but his 4.9 K/9 is passable thanks to 2.1 BB/9 and no homers allowed. Bannister has done a poor job of stranding baserunners so far this year, with a below-average LOB percentage of 69.2. His batted-ball data is already around the same place as the last two seasons, meaning that he should be able to survive a jump in his BABIP later on.

Neither lineup has been impressive so far, with the Indians scoring 94 runs, good for just third in their own division. Casey Blake is the lone hot bat in the lineup, at .360/.448/.720 over the past week, though Victor Martinez (.406/.424/.469) has done his part since returning from an early injury. For the season, David Delluci has been the most productive hitter via rate stats, at .275/.396/.500, but he's only a part-time player. The Royals wish they had the Indians offensive problems, though, as they have just 64 runs scored on the season. Alex Gordon (.324/.368/.479) and Billy Butler (.333/.397/.435) have been the lone bright spots; beyond them, Jose Guillen (-8.6 VORP), Tony Peņa Jr. (-7.6), Joey Gathright (-3.0), Esteban German (-2.5), John Buck (-1.9), and Ross Gload (-0.8) all have negative VORP scores. That shouldn't last all season for most of these guys, though Peņa will continue to be a point in space from which offense does not emerge.

Matchup: Yankees (12-10) at White Sox (11-9), 7:11 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Philip Hughes (16 1/3 IP, 25 H, 17 R, 10/10 K/BB) vs. Gavin Floyd (19 1/3 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 10/8 K/BB)
PECOTA Projection: New York 97-65 (1st, AL East); Chicago, 77-85 (3rd, AL Central)
Hit List Rankings: New York, #10; Chicago, #3
Prospectus: Today gives us a battle of two former prospects on the mound. Hughes has struggled out of the gate, with more runs allowed than innings pitched and an even K/BB of 1.0. The .409 BABIP isn't helping issues, but the hits are not the reason he hasn't been able to consistently find the strike zone. Hughes hasn't fooled anyone when he does find the strike zone, with over 31 percent of his batted-balls going for liners. He's yet to give up a home run, which can be viewed as both a positive and a negative-even without the homers, opponents have hit .357/.434/.443 against him. Floyd is on the other end of the luck spectrum, with a 1.40 ERA thanks to a .136 BABIP (despite Chicago ranking 17th in Defensive Efficiency) and a strand rate of 86 percent. If that's not enough, he's punched out just 10 hitters versus eight free passes, and has somehow escaped giving up more than a pair of homers despite a fly-ball rate of 53.7 percent. Given his career HR/FB of 15.3 percent, I'm going to go out on a limb and say his current rate of 6.9 isn't sustainable, especially with a GB/FB ratio of 0.7.

You could say the Yankees have been hot at the plate lately, as their team line the past week is .279/.366/.459, led by Bobby Abreu (.290/.353/.516 ), Hideki Matsui (.360/.515/.520) and Johnny Damon (.321/.424/.643). Despite this, they have scored only the fourth most runs in their own division, and have been outscored on the season, 102 to 100. The White Sox have scored a handful of runs more than the Yanks, but have allowed 21 fewer (107 to 81 RS/RA). It's hard to imagine a scenario where their offense keeps it up, especially with A.J. Pierzynski already losing sight of his hot start (.185/.185/.296 the past week). They hit .265/.366/.456 as a team the first week of the season, but the league has not been kind to them since: .227/.315/.388. If you're searching for a reason why, go through their lineup and pick out the names of the impact hitters. That short exercise should answer your questions.

Matchup: Diamondbacks (15-6) at Dodgers (9-12), 7:10 PT
Probable Starters: Edgar Gonzalez (14 IP, 15 H, 7 R, 8/6 K/BB) vs. Chad Billingsley (14 2/3 IP, 18 H, 11 R, 20/11 K/BB)
PECOTA Projection: Arizona, 87-75 (tied for 1st, NL West); Los Angeles, 87-75 (tied for 1st, NL West)
Hit List Rankings: Arizona, #1; Los Angeles, #4
Prospectus: Although tonight's pitching matchup isn't ideal, the D'backs/Dodgers matchup will be worth watching all season long, thanks to the talent they have both assembled, and the stakes they're playing for. PECOTA had the two clubs tied for first in its pre-season projections, but the D'backs early hot start has given them some space between themselves and a Dodgers club that's a few games under .500 to start the year. Edgar Gonzalez has not put up impressive peripherals so far-5.1 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 1.9 HR/9-but his hit rate has been kept under control by an Arizona defense sporting a ridiculous .743 Defensive Efficiency. That won't last, but for now Gonzalez has that for a security blanket. Gonzalez's major issue so far is his homer rate; he gives up a home run on 12 percent of his fly balls, which isn't extreme on its own, but he's allowed 54.3 percent of his batted balls in the air so far. It'll be a tough life in the majors if he can't improve on that and cut down on his homers soon. Billingsley has pitched better than his 6.14 ERA so far, with 12.3 K/9 and 0.6 HR/9, but the walks are a serious issue, although after last season's performance (3.9 BB/9), that's probably the small sample size talking. His .443 BABIP has caused a 67.6 percent strand rate; given the number of baserunners he's putting on via walk, that's a problem.

Arizona is second in the majors in runs scored, with a team line of .283/.362/.491. They have hit decently on the road as well (.252/.334/.439), though nowhere near what they have done in 'Zona-.310/.385/.535 as a team is insane, even if it is in a park that inflates offense. Conor Jackson has put together a nifty week at .406/.472/.844, and Justin Upton continues to tear up the league with a .355/.394/.548 showing. Upton is quickly becoming a favorite for fans and analysts thanks to a .375/.416/.650 overall showing in what should be his first full year in the majors. His .439 BABIP will go down, but he has enough power (.275 ISO) and patience (eight percent BB/PA) to offset a drop in batting average. The Dodgers have not hit nearly as well so far-just .264/.339/.401 on the season-and have had a few players in slumps the past week, notably James Loney (.181/.171/.182) and Nomar Garciaparra (.182/.308/.318). Rafael Furcal (.455/.514/.727 the past week) has done his best to erase last year's awful campaign from recent memory, while Russell Martin (.348/.531/.652) continues to make a case for his being the best catcher in all the land. With Gonzalez on the mound tonight, the hot streaks might continue and a slump could end.

Related Content:  A's,  The Who,  Hit List,  Year Of The Injury,  Matchup Stats

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