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April 25, 2008

Prospectus Hit List

Millstones and Milestones

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Diamondbacks
16-6
5-2
.697
Up
Easy As 1-2-3: The Arizona offense is second in the league in scoring (6.1 runs per game) and EqA (.282), and is getting the bulk of the attention, but the pitching staff has been even better, yielding an NL-best 3.8 runs per game. Brandon Webb, Micah Owings and Dan Haren reeled off 13 straight quality starts to begin the year, a streak that ended when Haren stumbles against the Dodgers. The trio has combined for a 2.58 ERA, with all three pitchers cracking the top 20 in SNLVAR, topped by Webb at #4.

2


Cubs
15-7
6-1
.638
Up
At 6.14 runs per game, the Cubs lead the majors in scoring, and they've got the league's highest slugging and on-base percentages to thank for it. Having the top OBP is very un-Cub-like; Wrigley's residents haven't led the league in the category since 1945, the last time they won a pennant. Seven regulars had OBPs above .380, topped by Kosuke Fukudome (.463), Geovany Soto (.437), Derrek Lee (.413). The latter is slugging .670 as well and is fifth in the league in VORP.

3


Athletics
14-9
5-1
.605
Up
Big Hurt II, Designated Boogaloo: The A's sign Frank Thomas for a return engagement, returning him to the spot where he resurrected his career with a .270/.381/.545 performance with 39 home runs in 2006. Though Thomas is in an early-season slump, his arrival comes at a time when the A's offfense (.252 EqA coming into Thursday) could use a jolt; as if on cue, they bludgeon the Twins for 11 runs in the Big Hurt's return. The move may eventually mean Jack Cust's, er, last stand, as the Three True Outcomes hero is hitting just .161/.373/.250, but for now, Travis Buck's shin splints force Cust to the outfield, a scary enough proposition.

4


White Sox
12-9
3-3
.598
Up
Much of it is park effects--the team EqA is just .260--but the White Sox offense has returned from the undead to lead the league in scoring at 5.4 runs per game. Key in the resurgence are a pair of players whose 2007 seasons were injury-marred trainwrecks, Carlos Quentin (.246/.380/.538) and Joe Crede (.293/.341/.587). Quentin has five homers, tying last year's total in 184 fewer plate appearances, while Crede has six, surpassing last year's total already and tying with teammate Jim Thome for the league lead. Thome's three homers this week up his total to 513, moving him past Mel Ott, Eddie Mathews, and Ernie Banks, and into the all-time top 20.

5


Braves
11-11
5-2
.581
Up
John Smoltz whiffs Felipe Lopez to notch his 3000th strikeout, making him just the 16th pitcher to achieve that milestone. Four other members of that club are active--Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Curt Schilling, and Pedro Martinez--and while the feat is impressive, it's worth remembering that pitcher strikeouts have been on the rise for decades, giving recent generations a leg up on the charts. Meanwhile, long-time teammate Chipper Jones is raking (.442/.485/.733), riding a 14-game hitting streak that has second in the league in VORP.

6


Red Sox
15-9
5-2
.578
Up
Illin': Boston's 9-1 tear comes to a halt as Josh Beckett's stiff neck and Daisuke Matsuzaka's flu-like symptoms force the Red Sox to scratch their starting pitchers on consecutive days, and they lose both games. The latter comes despite a masterful debut from Justin Masterson (6 2 1 1 4 4). Number 53 on our Top 100 Prospects list, the rookie has a sinkerball that Kevin Goldstein calls "arguably the best in all of the minor leagues," and while he may not be up for long, his ability to provide some rotation depth should put Sox fans at ease.

7


Cardinals
14-9
3-4
.578
Flat
Way to Go, Genius: A combination of injuries, extra innings, and a 13-man pitching staff conspires to put Albert Pujols at second base for several innings, a move that puts the franchise player at risk to wind up on the business end of a takeout slide by Prince Fielder. Pujols is killing the ball (.377/.525/.610) as usual and ranks fifth in VORP, but with five losses in seven games, the Redbirds' fortunes may be coming home to roost.

8


Phillies
12-11
4-3
.560
Flat
Phils Pound Pill: With seven homers in seven games, Chase Utley becomes the first hitter on the season to reach double digits in the dinger department. He's leading the majors in VORP and slugging percentage as well, hitting .385/.453/.835 overall. Not to be overlooked, Pat Burrell (.355/.474/.750.) has eight homers as well and hasn't gone more than three games without one. Alas, Ryan Howard hasn't joined the party; he's strugging along at .176/.297/.341, with 34 strikeouts in 85 at-bats.

9


Mets
11-10
3-4
.554
Down
The Skinny: Though he's snapped a 1-for-28 skid, Carlos Delgado has fallen below the Mendoza Line; he's hitting just .198/.290/.272 with the lowest VORP on the team and the fourth lowest of any first baseman with at least 60 PA. Sadly, this isn't a new problem for Delgado. He was in the bottom third among NL first basemen last year, and it's increasingly likely that his days as a middle-of-the-lineup threat may be at an end.

10


Rays
11-11
4-2
.545
Up
Big Deal: Evan Longoria wraps up his first week in the majors with the announcement of a long-term deal, one which may range from six years, $17.5 million to nine years and $44 million. If nothing else, the move obliterates any questions regarding the financial motivations behind his late-spring demotion. With four wins in five games--including a complete-game shutout by Andrew Sonnanstine--and Scott Kazmir making strong progress in his rehab assignment, things are definitely looking up for the Rays.

11


Angels
14-9
4-2
.545
Up
Pitching In: With Kelvim Escobar on the shelf and John Lackey headed to Rancho Cucamonga to begin his rehab, the Angels can thank Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana for holding down the fort. The duo has combined for a 2.40 ERA, with Saunders fifth in SNLVAR and Santana 11th, with quality starts in all four outings (including two on the road).

12


Brewers
13-9
4-3
.536
Up
Gross Out: Gabe Gross scores the winning run in a wild extra-inning game and then is traded to Tampa Bay in anticipation of a roster crunch created by the returns of Mike Cameron and Tony Gwynn Jr. Indeed, the Brewers reach the reductio ad absurdum of roster management when they create the game's first 14-pitcher roster while suspended in limbo between another Ben Sheets injury and the happy return of Yovani Gallardo. The bullpen's bounty nonetheless befuddles the skipper, Ned Yost; not only does he fail LOOGY Matchups 101, he pitches Eric Gagne four days in a row and five out of six, a span that sees the closer blow two more saves.

13


Orioles
13-9
4-2
.524
Up
The Orioles continue to outstrip their dead-even run differential thanks in part to a bullpen that's put the memory of last year's expensive, sub-replacement level debacle behind it. The O's are 7-1 in one-run games and second in WXRL, with new closer George Sherrill second to Jonathan Papelbon individually.

14


Yankees
12-11
3-3
.523
Down
We Discussed This Already and I Said No: Hank Steinbrenner launches a tirade worthy of his father over Joba Chamberlain's role, leaving Brian Cashman to play wet nurse and remind both the Junior Boss and the public that the Yankees have a plan and Chamberlain an innings cap. The exchange comes on the heels of a seven-game stretch in which Yankee starters yield 34 earned runs in 31 innings and get just two quality starts; they're averaging just over five innings per start, last in the league.

15


Marlins
13-9
4-3
.510
Up
Something Fishy: Though they've been outscored thus far this year, the Marlins have spent just about every day since April 5 in first place in the NL East; they're 3.3 wins above their third-order projection, tops in baseball. Though the rotation has been dreadful--second-to-last in the league in SNLVAR and Fair Run Average--the offense is fifth with a .277 EqA, and the bullpen leads the majors in WXRL by a wide margin, with Renyel Pinto second in the league and Kevin Gregg and Justin Miller also in the top 20.

16


Dodgers
9-13
2-5
.495
Down
Picket Fence: The Dodgers manage just a single run in four out of five games, all losses, a performance that more or less coincides with Nomar Garciaparra's return to the lineup. It's been feast or famine for the Dodger offense: they've scored four runs or less in 13 games and have won just two, and they've scored seven or more runs in six games and have won them all. All of which is to say that they haven't gotten much of an advantage from a staff that's yielding just four runs per game, the fourth-best mark in the league.

17


Rockies
10-12
3-4
.489
Up
Corpas Delicti: Manny Corpas loses his job as closer after his third blown save in four appearances; his ERA has balloons to 7.50 and he's walked more hitters than he's whiffed. Replacing him is Brian Fuentes, the former All-Star who lost the closer job last summer after a similarly rough stretch (blown saves in four straight outings, soon followed by a six-week stretch on the DL). Despite Corpas' performance, the Rox bullpen has been solidly middle-of-the-pack as a unit, with setup men Taylor Buchholz and Matt Herges ranking in the WXRL top 20.

18


Tigers
10-13
5-2
.488
Up
If at First You Don't Succeed...: The Tigers announce a plan to switch Carlos Guillen and Miguel Cabrera at the infield corners, but the lineup has yet to take the field in that configuration. Even with that situation unresolved and both Placido Polanco and Gary Sheffield on the sidelines, the offense rolls up 29 runs in two games against the Rangers, including 11 in one inning during Curtis Granderson's season debut. The Tigers aren't out of the woods yet--some effective starting pitching would be nice--but they've run off a 10-6 record since opening the season with seven straight losses.

19


Indians
10-12
4-2
.486
Up
C.C. Steps Up: With Jake Westbrook sidelined by an intracostal strain, and Fausto Carmona befuddled by the strike zone (11/22 K/BB thus far), C.C. Sabathia finally returns to form with a six-inning, 11-strikeout performance against the Royals which lowers his ERA to 10.12. Sabathia aside, the rotation has been doing fairly well, with Cliff Lee, Carmona, and Westbrook in the league's top 20 in SNLVAR, and Lee leading the league with a 0.28 ERA.

20


Blue Jays
10-13
2-5
.483
Down
Blue Jay Way: The Jays bench and then unceremoniously release Frank Thomas, punting the player projected for the team highs in homers, SLG, and VORP as well as his $8 million salary and a chance at an admittedly dubious vesting option that GM J.P. Ricciardi should have been smart enough not to dish out in the first place. In part, the move is an overreaction to an early-season slump of the type that the Big Hurt has made a habit of climbing out of recently, and a Band-Aid on the team's real problem, an unproductive left field arrangement that's already cost them Reed Johnson at the expense of Shannon Stewart, now hitting a crisp .229/.334/.292. Now free to manifest their offense's intended mediocrity, the Jays rank 10th in the league in scoring, and eighth in EqA.

21


Astros
11-12
5-2
.474
Up
With five straight wins, the Astros pull within a game of .500, a level they haven't reached since last May 19. The centerpiece of the streak is a three-game outburst for 30 runs that puts their run differential back in the black, and at the center of that outburst is Miguel Tejada, with back-to-back four-hit games. He's hitting .348/.385/.584 overall and if you're still wondering about the fallout of his rapid aging, we've got you covered on the PECOTA and legal fronts. Meanwhile--cheap joke of the week and historical allusion to George Brett alert--Kazuo Matsui returns to the lineup and scores scores seven runs on eight hits in a five-game span, thus proving that his problems are behind him.

22


Reds
9-14
2-5
.470
Down
Scape That Goat: The Reds fire GM Wayne Krivsky and replace him with special assistant Walt Jocketty, a move that's been telegraphed since Jocketty arrived after leaving the Cardinals' GM post over the winter. You can't make chicken salad out of this maneuver, which frees Jocketty of accountability for a team that he didn't build and a manager he didn't hire while giving the Reds their fourth GM in six years. Krivsky's two-and-a-half-year tenure was a decidedly mixed bag, but his high points--the acquisitions of Brandon Phillips, Josh Hamilton, Jeff Keppinger, and Edinson Volquez--combined with the (somewhat forestalled) arrival of top prospects Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, and Jay Bruce have made the Reds a compelling team with at least some shot at contention this year even after a 9-12 start. Boo!

23


Mariners
11-12
2-4
.468
Down
J.J. Putz returns from the disabled list, and not a moment too soon. The Mariner bullpen is second to last in both WXRL and Fair Run Average, offsetting a strong performance by the rotation, which leads the league in those equivalent categories. Individually, Felix Hernandez is pacing the circuit in SNLVAR, with Carlos Silva fourth.

24


Twins
10-12
3-3
.430
Down
Francisco Liriano's comeback from Tommy John surgery has been a big plate of ugly (11.32 ERA) with a side of trouble (7/13 K/BB ratio); he's knocked around for six first-inning runs before being chased by the A's. He's not the only one experiencing growing pains; a 6-for-44 slump (including a 13/0 K/BB ratio) sends Carlos Gomez to the bench; after hitting .326/.356/.417 through April 11, he's down to .230/.247/.310 overall. His struggles typify an offense that continues to putter around at 3.6 runs per game, next to last in the league.

25


Royals
9-13
0-6
.387
Down
Not Meche-ing: As great as Zack Greinke and Brian Bannister have been, they can't take the ball every day, leaving something of a problem for the Royals. While Brett Tomko's been competent, John Bale, Gil Meche, and freshly-recalled Luke Hochevar have yielded 43 runs in 47 innings. Worse, the offense has risen from the Deadball Era, scoring 3.2 runs per game and slugging .348 with a major league-low 11 homers. Among their regulars, only Alex Gordon (.488) is slugging above .400, and only Gordon and Miguel Olivo have more than one homer.

26


Giants
10-13
4-3
.378
Up
Barry Zito falls to 0-5 with a 5.61 ERA and a 10/12 K/BB ratio; he has yet to put together a quality start and has the fifth lowest SNLVAR in the league. Not helping, of course, is an offense that's cranking out runs at the speed of an octogenarian's drool. The Giants have managed just seven runs in Zito's five starts and are averaging just 3.2 per game overall, and they can look forward to more Brian Bocock (.180/.296/.197, with 21 Ks in 61 AB, and those 10 walks attributable soley to hitting eighth) if Omar Vizquel's knee problems continue to linger.

27


Padres
9-14
1-6
.368
Down
The Padres end their 106-inning homerless drought and bash seven in a four-game span, but it's to no avail, as they lose six out of seven--including an interminable 22-inning affair that we swear was still going on when last week's Hit List went to press--while scoring just 27 runs. The Pad squad is averaging just 3.2 runs per game while hitting a feeble .234/.302/.3336, and only three hitters with more than 20 PA have positive VORP marks. Meanwhile, another blown save has people wondering if the bell is tolling for closer Trevor Hoffman.

28


Nationals
7-16
3-4
.347
Up
Saving Grace: Fears that Chad Cordero might be lost for the season with a torn labrum have been quelled by a visit to Dr. Andrews--how often does that happen?--but the bigger problem is that the Nationals haven't had many leads to protect. Their offense is a sea of red; no Nat has more than two homers, and among hitters with over 12 PA, only Cristian Guzman, Lastings Milledge, and Nick Johnson have positive MLVrs, with the latter hitting a very wobbly .209/.365/.403.

29


Rangers
7-16
0-7
.343
Down
Losers of seven in a row, the Rangers yield 67 runs amid a week from hell that includes an 11-run inning amid a 19-6 pasting by the Tigers. The staff is now allowing a league-high 6.2 runs per game, and after some early-season success, the rotation's Support Neutral ranking has assumed its all-too-familiar position; while Kevin Millwood, Kason Gabbard, and Vicente Padilla have combined for a tidy 3.31 ERA, but Jason Jennings and Luis Mendoza have been torched for a 7.97 ERA, and that's without including seven unearned runs.

30


Pirates
9-13
2-5
.338
Down
Nate McLouth's season-opening 19-game hitting streak comes to an end, though the Bucs do snap a five-game losing streak in the process. McLouth is hitting .349/.429/.593 and ranks 10th in the league in VORP, but the Pirate offense can't do enough to offset the pitching staff's MLB-worst 6.3 runs allowed per game. Both Tom Gorzelanny and Matt Morris are carrying ERAs above 9.00, with the performance of Dave Littlefield's last "Uh-oh" sparking talk of a buyout.


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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