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May 23, 2008

Prospectus Hit List

Central Powers

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Cubs
28-19
3-3
.622
Down
The Cubs' lead atop the NL Central tightens up as they drop a series to the Astros, but both PECOTA and their run differential suggest there's little reason to panic. The offense is cranking out 5.7 runs per game, tops in the majors, and they're getting above-average production at every position except center field, with five positions putting up a .400 OBP or above. Alfonso Soriano isn't among that quintet, but his 21-for-44 performance, including seven homers in six games, is a big reason for the team's recent 9-2 run.

2


Red Sox
31-19
7-0
.618
Up
The Comeback Kid: Jon Lester writes another chapter in his storybook rebound from lymphoma by no-hitting the Royals. It's the 18th no-no in Red Sox history, the second-highest total of any one team (the Dodgers have 20) and the fourth caught by Jason Varitek, a major league record. Lester has allowed just 18 hits over his last 34 1/3 IP and has yielded just a .255 BABIP overall, helping him overcome a less-than-flattering 42/31 K/BB ratio. Elsewhere in the rotation, the team shows off its depth at the hapless Royals' expense via winning starts by Justin Masterson and Bartolo Colon. Curt who?

3


Braves
26-21
6-1
.605
Up
Collision Course: The Braves storm into Shea Stadium and take four straight from the Mets, but Yunel Escobar is injured--fortunately not too seriously--in a collision with Ryan Church while making a game-ending assist. Escobar is living up to last year's performance, hitting .315/.386/.435; he's third on the team in VORP and sixth among shortstops. Meanwhile Chipper Jones continues to top a .400 average (.412/.482/.682), and John Smoltz is zipping his lip regarding the status of his shoulder.

4


Diamondbacks
28-19
2-4
.604
Down
Drying Up? After a red-hot 20-8 start, the Diamondbacks continue to struggle in May; they're just 8-11 this month and have scored only 4.0 runs per game. While Stephen Drew is lighting things up (.319/.347/.594 this month), Mark Reynolds has fallen on hard times (.200/.284/.217), but the slumping-est Snake (hey, that's a perfectly cromulant word) is Eric Byrnes. Not even a brief resurgence--perhaps spurred by a change in his at-bat music from the Outfield to Van Halen ("Jump," so we can't bust on him for preferring Sammy Hagar to David Lee Roth)--can change his tune; he's just 9-for-78 going back to April 27.

5


White Sox
26-20
6-0
.571
Up
The Ocho: An eight-game winning streak carries the White Sox into first place in the AL Central, and they can thank the pitching staff, which holds opponents to just 16 runs in that span, eight of them in one game. Factors of four seems to be the magic numbers for the Sox staff; they're fourth in the league in runs allowed per game (3.9), fourth in combined win expectancy (SNLVAR + WXRL), and have four starters among the league's top 25 in SNLVAR. The offense is a stranger beast, third in scoring (4.8 runs per game) yet below .260 in EqA; as Joe Sheehan points out, they're hitting especially well with runners in scoring position, and much improved over last year's unit when they put the ball in play.

6


Athletics
25-23
2-4
.568
Flat
The A's provide the Angels with a cushion atop the AL West, sinking in the standings due to a 2-9 skid. Offense is the problem; the team scores just 35 runs in that span--12 in one game--while hitting a meager .233/.313/.361. Though Frank Thomas (.320 EqA) and Jack Cust (.316) have been productive, four regulars--Bobby Crosby, Daric Barton, Emil Brown, and Kurt Suzuki--are below .260, and Barton, hitting just .217/.333/.325, has a sub-zero VORP and ranks 28th out of 31 first basemen with at least 100 PA.

7


Rays
27-20
3-3
.561
Down
A bizarro world where the Rays are up and the Yanks down? Here's a picture in case you can't envision it. Evan Longoria helps the Rays nip a losing streak in the bud with a game-winning, 13th-inning homer against the A's. Hitting just .210/.309/.381 at this time last week, Longoria collects nine hits and 15 total bases in a five-game span; his .278 EqA is fourth among Rays' regulars.

8


Cardinals
28-21
4-2
.561
Up
Though they haven't occupied first place in nearly two weeks, the Cardinals snap out of a brief skid to press the Cubs for the NL Central lead. The offense has been curiously inefficient, however. The team leads the league in EqA and OBP, but is scoring about a run per game less than the Cubs, the #2 team in both of those metrics. Digging into their Runs Per Times On Base metric (per the recent work of Derek Jacques), it turns out that the Cardinals rank third-to-last in the league, ahead of only the Padres and Giants in that category, plating just 32 percent of their baserunners.

9


Dodgers
25-21
4-2
.539
Down
The Dodgers' streakiness continues; despite dropping the Freeway Series, they've won six of eight. Given all the drama surrounding the team's lineup (who's on third? why is Juan Pierre playing? where's Russell Martin today?), the pitching staff's performance has flown under the radar. The team is sixth in runs allowed per game at 4.4, but just 13th in SNLVAR, though Chad Billingsley continues to roll. He's put up a 1.97 ERA over his last five starts and is now in a virtual tie with Hiroki Kuroda for 28th place in SNLVAR--the highest-ranking Dodger starters.

10


Phillies
27-22
4-3
.539
Up
Powering Up: Jayson Werth bashes three homers and drives in eight runs against the Jays, tying a single-game franchise record with the latter mark. Ryan Howard breaks out as well, clubbing five homers in an eight-game span. While he's still below the Mendoza Line (.195/300/.443), he's hitting .275/.339/.706 over his last 13 games, and faring better than his Office namesake.

11


Marlins
27-19
4-2
.539
Up
Not the Prettiest Fish: The Marlins maintain the lead in the NL East, and lately they have Dan Uggla to thank. He's hitting .526/.587/1.158 with six homers in his last 11 games and now ranks third in the league in VORP and SLG, and second in homers. Meanwhile, skipper Fredi Gonzalez appears ready to move Hanley Ramirez back to the leadoff spot; he hit .322/.395/.591 there through May 1, but has slumped to .268/.386/.357 since being moved to the #3 spot.

12


Blue Jays
24-25
3-3
.520
Flat
Overshadowed by the Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy inflicted upon the Blue Jays' offense by J.P. Ricciardi is the performance of their pitching staff. The Jays are third in the league runs allowed per game but tops in combined win expectancy (SNLVAR + WXRL). Shaun Marcum ranks fifth in SNLVAR, with Roy Halladay and Dustin McGowan also in the top 25, and both Marcum and Doc rank in the top 10 in pitcher VORP as well.

13


Angels
28-21
4-2
.508
Up
With a slump by the A's and a win over the Dodgers in the Freeway Series, the Halos pad their AL West lead despite an infield that resembles a MASH unit. Howie Kendrick has been sidelined since April 13 by a strained hamstring, Maicer Izturis did a recent stint on the DL for a lower back strain, and just as Chone Figgins returns from missing time for his own bad hammy, Erick Aybar goes down with a dislocated pinky. Save for Kendrick's torrid performance over 38 plate appearances, the team's jumble of second basemen, shortstops, and third basemen--which also includes Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez, and Matthew Brown--has hit just .245/.313/.309, with Figgins (8.6) and Aybar (1.7) the only players with positive VORP marks.

14


Mets
22-23
2-4
.507
Down
Jose Reyes homers in back-to-back games and Johan Santana reminds the Yankees of what might have been as the Mets take an abbreviated Subway Series from the Yanks. Reyes is hitting .372/.413/.558 over his last 10 contests, snapping out of a .225/.305/.383 funk over his previous 49 games, a span dating back to the Mets' 17-game slide last September. Still, the team is unable to wash the bad taste of collapse and discord out of their collective mouths. As Willie Randolph suggests a connection between race and the negative coverage of his team, you can start the countdown on his numbered days.

15


Astros
27-22
3-4
.505
Down
Lance Berkman's 17-game hitting streak and Hunter Pence's 16-gamer both come to an end at the hands of the Cubs, but the Astros take the series to edge closer to the top of the NL Central race. Berkman now leads the league in VORP by a wide margin, and his .500/.571/.931 performance this month ranks among history's great tears. Still, there's concern about Roy Oswalt, who exits one start with a groin problem and is then rocked in his next one; his ERA is now 5.61 and he's allowing 11.1 hits per nine.

16


Rangers
24-25
4-3
.492
Up
Still rehabbing from a hamstring injury, Hank Blalock volunteers to shift from third base to first base. It's a curious remedy that appears designed to accommodate the sizzling performance of hot-corner replacement Ramon Vazquez (.337/.423/.482), displace the unthreatening first-base platoon of Chris Shelton and Frank Catalanotto, and paper over the team's hasty decisions to jettison Jason Botts and Ben Broussard. That said, Ranger first basemen are hitting a combined .208/.289/.363, which simply won't cut it when you're trying to support a staff that's now last in the majors in runs allowed per game.

17


Indians
22-25
0-6
.491
Down
Cliff Lee comes back to earth, allowing six runs in a loss to the Reds, one more than he had in his first seven starts combined; the pounding kicks his ERA from 0.67 to 1.37. That's hardly the team's only problem, as they're swept by their cross-state rivals on the way to a five-game losing streak. The team is hitting just .208/.281/.341 this month while scoring 3.3 runs per game; they're now virtually tied for last in the AL in EqA, which is a Royal embarrassment. Meanwhile, the bullpen is last in the league in WXRL by a wide margin, thanks in part to Rafael Betancourt's recent woes.

18


Orioles
24-22
3-3
.489
Flat
Say all the nasty things about the Orioles that you want--hey, I rarely hesitate--but the team wouldn't be defying its run differential to remain above .500 were it not for the showing of their bullpen. After ranking second-to-last in WXRL last year, the O's are eighth in the league this year; their Fair Run Average has dropped from 6.15 to 3.65. Leading the way is George Sherrill, who's tops in the AL in WXRL, with rookie James Johnson also in the top 10.

19


Yankees
22-25
2-3
.481
Down
A dismal week for the Yankees ends on a high note with the return of Alex Rodriguez (4-for-11 with two doubles and two homers after a 17-game absence) and strong performances from Darrell Rasner and Ian Kennedy. The former puts together his third straight quality start, lowering his ERA to 1.89, while the latter finally gets his ERA down to Boeing territory (7.27) with just his second quality start out of seven. More help is on the way for the Yanks, who begin Joba Chamberlain's conversion to the rotation; while the move will be second-guessed by some wags, the Yanks simply need him there; their rotation is 10th in SNLVAR and last in innings pitched per start, while the bullpen seventh in WXRL.

20


Tigers
20-27
4-2
.469
Up
Jim Leyland tears into recently-traded reliever Jason Grilli over reports that the team's clubhouse chemistry was damaged by the loss of Sean Casey. Lost in the equation is Grilli's sub-replacement level performance in the Tiger pen, but then with a rotation as bad as Detroit's these days, that's small beer. On that note, the decision to send a rehabbed Dontrelle Willis to the bullpen is a no-brainer, since replacement Armando Galarraga's performance (3.06 ERA, 0.9 SNLVAR) has been that unit's sole bright spot thus far.

21


Twins
23-24
3-4
.457
Down
With 13 unearned runs surrendered over the past five games, and a number 12 ranking in the AL in Defensive Efficiency, the Twins' D has problems--particularly so behind a pitching staff that's just 10th in the league in strikeouts, and an offense that's hardly worth a bucket of warm yak spit beyond Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Benching Brendan Harris (-4 FRAA coming off a starring role in last year's disaster in Tampa Bay) is a good start, but losing Adam Everett to the DL for a second time doesn't help, and with Mike Lamb failing to produce on either side of the ball (-5 FRAA and -4 BRAR, for a -0.8 WARP), it's clear that this team has more questions than answers.

22


Brewers
22-25
2-4
.454
Up
Ned Is Red: A five-game losing streak, including a three-game sweep by the Red Sox in Fenway that culminates with Ryan Braun calling out his teammates' lack of confidence, generates an erroneous report from non-sports blogger that manager Ned Yost is about to be fired. Meanwhile, a pitching staff that's third-to-last in combined win expectancy (SNLVAR + WXRL) undergoes a shakeup, as David Riske hits the DL, Eric Gagne is shut down, Carlos Villanueva sent to the bullpen and--perhaps most frighteningly--Seth McClung joins the rotation.

23


Reds
21-27
3-4
.448
Down
The Reds reel off a season-high six-game winning streak that includes a sweep of the Indians, but they squander that momentum by dropping three straight to the Dodgers. As you might expect, there's good and bad news here, particularly for an offense that's 12th in the league in scoring. Adam Dunn homers in five straight games, nearly doubling his season total; he now has the top EqA on the team. Corey Patterson continues to stink ((.220/.262/.386), and while Jay Bruce impresses Walt Jocketty, it's not enough for the new GM to actually promote him or even to acknowledge the detrimental work of the incumbent center fielder. For what it's worth, Bruce is mashing at Louisville (.369/.397/.661), but his 41/7 K/UIBB ratio is as ripe for criticism as the decision to keep him on the farm.

24


Royals
21-26
2-5
.443
Down
The Royal Zero: Jon Lester's no-hitter marks just the second time in franchise history that the Royals have been left hitless; Nolan Ryan's 1973 gem was the first. Not that the no-no was a particularly foregone conclusion even given KC's offensive ineptitude. Despite being last in the league in EqA and scoring, the Royals are seventh in the league in batting average, and fifth against lefties, with a 15-point platoon advantage in AVG, and 50 points in OPS.

25


Pirates
22-25
2-4
.434
Down
Nate McLouth's 4-for-4 night helps the Pirates snap a three-game skid, and it's not his only highlight of the week; his ninth-inning homer off of Carlos Marmol--his third jack in five days--gives the team a dramatic win over the Cubs. McLouth is hitting .314/.393/.611 and is seventh in the league in VORP. His team is now 11-9 this month, which may not seem like much, but the Bucs have managed just one winning month in each of the past six years, March and October scraps not included.

26


Rockies
18-29
3-3
.426
Up
If there's been a silver lining to the loss of Troy Tulowitzki--and at 11 games under .500, 10 out of first place, the Rockies have to look hard for them--it's been in the play of Clint Barmes. Already pressed into service at second base once the team demoted Jayson Nix, he's batted .388/.431/.642 since taking over at short for the injured Tulo at the end of April. He's now second on the team in VORP, as well as 20th in the league. As for Tulowitzki, he appears to be ahead of schedule in his recovery from a quad strain, and could be back sometime next month.

27


Giants
19-29
2-4
.400
Flat
Magowan Goin': The Giants announce that Peter Magowan will step down as managing partner at season's end. While it's fair to skewer Magowan for bleeding the team's association with Barry Bonds for all it was worth at the expense of the its future--to say nothing of his role in enabling Bonds' misdeeds--it's also worth remembering that he's the man who kept the team in San Francisco when it appeared bound for St. Petersburg, and built [Insert Telecom Name Here] Park, the only privately funded major league stadium built since Dodger Stadium opened in 1962... Elsewhere, a belated Hit List farewell to Brian Bocock, optioned to Triple-A two weeks ago with the return of Omar Vizquel. With his .143/.258/.156 performance, the farkakte Bocock brought new meaning to the words "futility infielder" during his all-too-brief major league stay.

28


Mariners
18-30
2-4
.388
Down
The Mariners' ship continues to take on water. Lest anybody mistake Bill Bavasi's recent decision to make over the team's offense for an actual plan, Bavasi demotes Jeff Clement after just 56 plate appearances and a recent pair of multi-hit games, reinstating the desiccated corpse of Jose Vidro (.208/.254/.304) to a lifeless lineup that's averaging just 3.4 runs per game while losing 16 of its last 21. Though Clement hit just .167/.286/.250, he's hardly the worst offender in that offense; nine of the team's regulars or semi-regulars have put up OBPs of .289 or below in that span.

29


Nationals
20-28
2-4
.384
Down
The Out-Field: At the outset of the season, the unit of Lastings Milledge, Wily Mo Pena, Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns, Willie Harris, and Rob Mackowiak lookedŠ interesting. Volatile, perhaps, but versatile, with a good deal of upside. Alas, it hasn't worked out that way; the Nationals' outmakers outfielders have hit a putrid .205/.292/.283 with just six home runs, while Peña, Dukes, and now Kearns have done time on the DL due to injuries. The latter will miss three to four weeks due to arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow, which may explain why he's last in the league in VORP.

30


Padres
18-31
3-4
.380
Up
Worst. Week. Ever: The Padres continue to burrow deeper into the NL West and Hit List cellars. Adding to that insult is a pair of chilling injuries to the team's sole area of strength, its rotation. Jake Peavy hits the DL with what's believed to be an elbow strain, while Chris Young is drilled in the face by an Albert Pujols line drive, sustaining a broken nose and a concussion; Pujols then proceeds to take out catcher Josh Bard with a collision at home plate, spraining the catcher's ankle. The time for the Padres to punt this season may be nigh, argues Joe Sheehan, and at the very least, GM Kevin Towers says that changes are likely.


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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