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May 16, 2008

Prospectus Hit List

Strange Times

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Cubs
25-16
6-1
.638
Up
The Cubs muscle their way into both the NL Central lead and the top slot here by sweeping the Diamondbacks, holding the majors' second-highest scoring team to seven runs in three games. Alfonso Soriano gets off the interstate with a four-hit game against the Snakes and then homers in three straight games against the Padres; he's hitting .464/.483/.893 over his last 28 at-bats. Speaking of the Padres, the Cubs scrape Jim Edmonds off the pavement and ship Felix Pie back to Iowa; the latter hasn't hit well (.222/.286/.286) but he has only 70 PA to Reed Johnson's 141. Dusty Baker would be proud.

2


Diamondbacks
26-15
3-3
.627
Down
A 3-7 skid knocks the Diamondbacks out of the Hit List's top spot and provides them with their first hiccup of the year. They begin righting the ship in a Randy Johnson start, but all is not well with the Big Unit. He's allowed 14 runs in his last 15 innings, raising his ERA to 5.40, and he hurt his hand on a comebacker. Meanwhile, Brandon Webb runs his record to 9-0; he's now fourth in the league in SNLVAR.

3


Red Sox
24-19
1-5
.590
Down
Nailed: Clay Buchholz heads to the DL with a broken fingernail sustained during a seven-run pounding by the Twins. Buchholz's second disaster start in a row raises his ERA to 5.53; he's averaging just 5.3 innings per start, though he's struck out more than a batter per inning. Amid a skid that sees the Red Sox lose five out of six, Manny Ramirez provides a brief respite by belting his 498th homer and politicking for both a Gold Glove and the honor of being called the best Red Sox left fielder ever. Guess he never heard of Carl Yastrzemski. Or Ted Williams...

4


Braves
20-20
2-5
.575
Down
Seven starts into the year, Tom Glavine gets his first win as a Brave since September 19, 2002. Not surprisingly, Chipper Jones homers factor into both of those wins. Jones has now hit .368/.444/.624 over the last 365 days; he leads the league in batting average (.418) and is second in OBP (.479), SLG (.705) and VORP (34.3). Speaking of longtime Braves, there's good news about John Smoltz, who is eying a return within the next 10 days.

5


Rays
24-17
6-1
.573
Up
Hell Freezes Over: The Rays win six in a row to climb into first place and seven games above .500 for the first time in franchise history; even Hank Steinbrenner is singing their praises. The team allows just 10 runs in that six-game streak, highlighted by back-to-back shutouts of the Angels by James Shields' (a one-hitter) and Scott Kazmir and friends spinning (a combined three-hit shutout). Kazmir becomes the latest Ray to sign a big-money extension, joining Shields, Carlos Peņa, and Evan Longoria, and he caps a memorable week with another six scoreless innings that knock the Yanks into the AL East cellar.

6


Athletics
23-19
1-5
.567
Down
One Foot in the Fire, the Other on a Block of Ice: The A's offense has been the definition of average this year, putting up a .260 EqA, but they've done so in extreme fashion. A 12-run outburst enables the team to overcome Rich Harden's rough return to net their lone win for the week, but the team scores just six runs in their five losses while being shut out three times. Over Oakland's last 21 games, it's been a case of feast or famine: the offense has reached double digits four times, scored four runs or fewer 16 times, and put up between five and nine runs just once.

7


Cardinals
24-19
2-5
.548
Down
Not Very Good, Izzy: A 2-7 slide drops the Cardinals to third place in the NL Central, and Jason Isringhausen plays a major part. Consecutive meltdowns knock Izzy out of the closer role while running his blown save total for the year to a major league-high five (tied with Eric Gagne), and his antics nearly send him to the DL as well. He ends the week by failing in a setup role, raising his ERA to 8.00 and lowering his WXRL to -2.460; not surprisingly, the Cards are last in the league in that latter category.

8


Dodgers
21-19
2-4
.543
Down
Fresh off a 10-1 run in which their offense scored 7.5 runs per game, the Dodgers lose five straight while being outscored 39-10. Key to the drought is the loss of Rafael Furcal (fifth in the league in VORP) to a lower back strain that could sideline him for three weeks. His absence may go a long way to determine whether the team moves to keep the pending free agent or turns the job over to Chin-Lung Hu, who hasn't hit much (.204/.283/.222) in a utility role thus far.

9


Marlins
23-17
3-3
.533
Up
The Marlins briefly claim the majors' best record before a three-game sweep by the Reds knocks them back to reality. As good as the team has been, their perch atop the NL East has much to do with strength of schedule; two-thirds of the team's games have come against opponents with EqAs of .255 or below. Nonetheless, their current position is reason for optimism, as are reports that Hanley Ramirez will agree to a club-record six-year, $70 million extension.

10


Indians
22-19
6-1
.531
Up
Bakin' Donuts: The Indians ride their rotation into first place in the AL Central, reeling off four shutouts in five games climaxed by C.C. Sabathia's 11-strikeout performance. Sabathia has a 1.49 ERA and four quality starts in his last five, lowering his season ERA from a stratospheric 13.50 to 5.47. Thanks to a 44 2/3-inning scoreless streak by their starters, the Tribe rotation is blowing away the rest of the majors in the SNLVAR department, with Cliff Lee still atop the individual leaderboard.

11


Mets
20-19
3-4
.531
Down
Continuing their middling ways, the Mezzo-Metsos haven't strung together more than two wins or losses together all month, but if there's one thing Mets fans can be unequivocal about this year (other than a general "You suck!" that may as well become their rallying cry), it's that thus far the team's controversial deal with the Nationals is paying off. While Lastings Milledge is hitting just .238/.309/.327 with an -0.6 VORP for the Nationals, Ryan Church is hitting .310/.378/.538 with a team-high 14.0 VORP for the Mets, with Brian Schneider (.318/.385/.400) adding another 4.8 VORP. If only those two guys would grow cornrows...

12


Astros
24-18
6-1
.529
Up
Lance, a Lot: The Astros extend their run to 10-2--includng a three-game sweep of the then-hot Dodgers--while riding the big bat of Lance Berkman, whose 26 hits in a 40 at-bat span ties him for an expansion-era record with the likes of Rod Carew and Pete Rose. Also contributing to the 'Stros' surge is Hunter Pence, who's hit .375/.436/.604 amid a 12-game hitting streak that's restoring faith that he can live up to his impressive rookie season.

13


White Sox
20-20
4-3
.528
Flat
Carlos Quentin's grand slam helps the Sox halt a three-game skid, and his acquisition continues to make GM Kenny Williams look smart. Quentin leads the league in homers, he's second in SLG and third in VORP. Alas, he's one of just six Sox hitters who have positive VORP figures thus far; the offense is at .256 EqA as a team, and has averaged just 3.6 runs per game since the calendar turned to May.

14


Phillies
23-19
3-3
.524
Down
Jimmy Rollins goes 3-for-5 with a homer and a double in his first game back from a month-long absence from the lineup, while Ryan Howard begins to show signs of life, going 7-for-25 with 16 total bases over his last six games. The offense is desperately in need of positive contributions from both hitters. Howard is one of five Phillies regulars with a negative VORP, joining Pedro Feliz, Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino, and Geoff Jenkins in the Sub-Zero Phreezer, with only the Herculean efforts of Chase Utley and Pat Burrell--third and 11th in the league in VORP--attempting to balance them out.

15


Blue Jays
21-22
4-3
.522
Down
Already struggling for runs--they're 13th in the league in scoring, and 11th in EqA--the Jays lose Vernon Wells to a broken wrist that will sideline him for six to eight weeks. They'll try to get by with a recently-acquired platoon of Kevin Mench and Brad Wilkerson in right field and Alex Rios in center, but that's less than ideal; Mench is a proven lefty-masher but Wilkerson (.225/.326/.275 this year) might give Shannon Stewart (.238/.319/.297) a run for the money in the "Washed Up" department. In happier news, Shaun Marcum continues to thrive; he's allowed two runs in his last 23.1 innings wih a 23/4 K/BB ratio, and is now third in ERA (2.22) and fourth in SNLVAR.

16


Angels
24-19
2-5
.498
Down
John Lackey pitches like the guy in the catalog during his first start back from the DL (7 6 1 1 1 4), but Scot Shields yields a grand slam to spoil the homecoming. The Halos have gotten good work from their rotation in Lackey's absence--they're fifth in SNLVAR, with Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana both in the top 10--but the bullpen is just eighth in WXRL and 13th in Fair Run Average, putting the Halos one run in the red, scoring-wise.

17


Yankees
20-22
2-4
.496
Down
Yammering Hank: In a further attempt to prove himself the measure of his old man, the old Boss, the Yankees' new boss compares his team unfavorably to the Rays as the latter holds the Yanks to six runs in a four-game series which knocks the pinstripes into last place in the AL East--the latest in a season that the team has been in the cellar since 1995. The outburst places pending free agent Brian Cashman directly in the crosshairs just as the team prepares to face Johan Santana in the Subway Series. Not helping matters is Ian Kennedy's return from the minors to deliver more of the same; he has just one quality start out of seven.

18


Orioles
21-19
4-1
.486
Up
Jay Payton's grand slam off of Hideki Okajima caps a fine week for the Orioles, who break out of a 2-9 skid by taking series from the Royals and Red Sox. Lost amid the Orioles' rollercoaster of a season thus far has been the strong work of Daniel Cabrera, who's put together seven straight quality starts, only one of which has seen him walk more than three hitters; he's 12th in the league in SNLVAR.

19


Reds
18-23
4-2
.466
Up
Kneecapped: Jeff Keppinger fouls a ball off of his knee, fracturing his patella--the second Reds shortstop to suffer that injury this year. Unable to roust Dave Concepcion or Barry Larkin from retirement, the team recalls Paul Janish from Triple-A, and the rookie gets a game-winning hit in just his second big league at-bat. Janish may need to muster more heroics, as Keppinger, the team VORP leader, may be sidelined two months. Of course, it wouldn't hurt if the Reds' outfield could start hitting; Adam Dunn, Corey Patterson, and Ken Griffey Jr. have combined for just 4.4 VORP.

20


Twins
20-20
3-4
.465
Down
A three-game sweep by the Jays knocks the Twins out of first place in the AL Central, but the news gets even worse, as the team loses Pat Neshek to a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. He won't undergo Tommy John surgery, but he's done for 2008, a big blow for a team whose bullpen has been one of the league's better and most overworked units. In fact, they're one of only two AL teams whose bullpen win expectancy (WXRL) outweighs that of their starters (SNLVAR).

21


Rangers
20-22
4-2
.461
Up
In the grand tradition of blind chickens finding kernels of corn, the Rangers' staff--last in the majors in runs allowed per game--reels off a 33-inning scoreless streak amid a 6-1 run. As human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, and mass hysteria ensue, the team loses Kevin Millwood to the DL due to a groin strain, and then yields a dozen runs in consecutive outings, thus restoring a bit of order to this topsy-turvy world.

22


Royals
19-21
4-2
.451
Up
Pummeled for 20 hits over his previous two starts, Brian Bannister combines on a two-hit shutout. "Just had to let my BABIP regress before I started dealing again," he tells Joe Posnanski. With all the attention on Bannister and rotation-mate Zack Greinke, the work of rookie Luke Hochevar has flown under the radar. Through five starts, he's put up a 3.94 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings, and while his opponents all have EqAs under .260, he's faced tougher hitters than any other Royals starter besides Greinke.

23


Brewers
20-21
4-3
.451
Up
Always Be Closing? Eric Gagne loses his job as the Brewers' ninth-inning man, having blown five out of 15 saves. Going back to last year's trading deadline, he's put up a -1.972 WXRL via a 6.51 ERA with 23 walks in 37 1/3 innings. Whatever he has might be catching; the Brewers are 13th in the league in WXRL. In happier news, the team closes a record eight-year, $45 million deal with Ryan Braun. Fresh off back-to-back two-homer games, he's now mashed 44 taters and racked up 194 hits through his first 153 big league games while hitting .313/.356/.614.

24


Pirates
20-21
5-2
.448
Up
Winners of eight out of 10, the Bucs climb to within a game of .500; though they matched that 20-21 record in 2004, they haven't had a better start than this since 1997. Alas, the road forward will be that much harder without Ryan Doumit, who's sidelined by a broken thumb. Doumit (.350/.382/.573) is third on the team in VORP, and the step down from him to a frigid Ronny Paulino (.210/.286/.274) is 0.693 runs per game as measured by the two backstops' current MLVr. Yeearrrrgh.

25


Tigers
16-25
1-4
.437
Down
Schmotown: A sweep by the Royals runs the Tigers' losing skid to 10 of their last 12, the same record they opened the season with; they went 12-5 between those twin towers of suckitude, but that hardly matters now. As more or less predicted in this space last week, Gary Sheffield's time in left field is short-lived, as his shoulder still isn't right; he continues to ride the interstate (.196/.359/.314). Meanwhile, Matt Joyce, the man who replaced departed Jacque Jones on the roster, hits the first three homers of his big-league career in a four-game span, equaling the combined total of Jones and Sheffield--but his teammates scrape together just four additional runs and drop all four games. So it goes.

26


Rockies
15-26
1-5
.420
Down
Uncooked: Aaron Cook's string of eight straight quality starts comes to an end at the hands of the Diamondbacks, running the Rockies' string of futility to 18 losses in their last 26 games. Despite Cook's recent outing, he can hardly be blamed for the team's woes; they won each of those previous eight starts, accounting for more than half of the team's wins. He's ninth in ERA and 15th in Support Neutral Winning Percentage (SNLVA_R + .5).

27


Mariners
16-26
2-4
.402
Flat
Richie Sexson draws a six-game suspension (reduced to five) for charging the mound and throwing his helmet at Rangers pitcher Kason Gabbard. That's about as much offense as Sexson (.202/.294/.420) has provided all season; he'll be this week's guest on the TV game show Finished, Done, or Totally Washed Up?. Meanwhile, Felix Hernandez's struggles continue. After putting up a 1.67 ERA and 2.6 K/BB through his first five starts, he's allowed a 6.08 ERA and 1.4 K/BB over his last four, though the fact that the Mariners' offense has generated just five runs of support in that span hasn't helped.

28


Giants
17-25
3-4
.402
Up
Doubling Up: Matt Cain collects both his second win and second homer of the year in the same game; he's only three off the team lead in the latter category. Elsewhere in the rotation, a bullpen meltdown costs Barry Zito his first win of the year, but at least Tim Lincecum continues to roll--he's delivered a quality start in every outing this year and is second in the league in ERA, third in strikeouts, and seventh in Support Neutral Winning Percentage.

29


Nationals
18-24
3-4
.389
Down
The Softball Girls: Derided by Mets pitcher Nelson Figueroa for their dugout cheering, the Nationals take three out of four in Shea Stadium, capped by a five-hit shutout spearheaded by Jason Bergmann, who deflates his double-digit ERA following a four-week stint in the minors. Alas, the good news is balanced by Nick Johnson's latest injury, a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist that marks his ninth consecutive season (including the minors) with a stint on the DL. Luckily for the Nats, Dmitri Young is slated to return from his DL stint this weekend.

30


Padres
15-27
3-4
.373
Up
The Fifth Time's the Charm: Greg Maddux collects win number 350; it had been three weeks and four starts since his previous W, a span during which the Padres had gone 5-18. In spite of their struggles, the team's rotation is second in the league in SNLVAR and fourth in Fair Run Average, but the once-vaunted bullpen's been middle-of-the-pack in WXRL, with a league-worst Fair Run Average... Hey look, Google Boy has a blog.


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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