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May 30, 2008

Prospectus Hit List

Look for Lofton

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Cubs
33-21
5-2
.624
Flat
Alfonso Soriano's bat (.346/.385/.673 since his return from the DL) continues to help the Cubs win, but his defensive misplay costs the team a game and sets off rumors of a booing ban in the Wrigley Field bleachers (what would Lee Elia say?). Elsewhere in the outfield, Jim Edmonds' slow start (3-for-24) tries Lou Piniella's patience, which should serve as a reminder that Kenny Lofton remains a phone call away.

2


Red Sox
32-24
1-5
.587
Down
A rough week for the Red Sox, who maintain their ranking despite their offense being held to just 17 runs over six games. Of greater concern than their slumping hitters is the condition of Daisuke Matsuzaka's shoulder; he's likely to miss a start while dealing with fatigue. While he may be tired from walking so many hitters (5.3 per nine), he's actually throwing fewer pitches per start this year. The process hasn't been pretty, but you can't argue with the results: 8-0 with a 2.53 ERA while ranking sixth in the league in SNLVAR.

3


Braves
29-25
3-4
.585
Down
Chipper Jones continues to rake; he's got 16 hits in his last 35 at-bats and is now hitting .420/.500/.670 and is second only to Lance Berkman in VORP. His hot bat continues to overshadow the efforts of the team's pitching staff. Patching around injuries that have forced their hurlers to the DL an MLB-high nine times, the staff leads the NL in combined win expectancy (SNLVAR + WXRL) as well as runs allowed per game, with Jair Jurrjens a surprising and impressive 12th in the league on the Support Neutral leaderboard.

4


Diamondbacks
30-24
2-5
.583
Down
Tread on Me: The Snakes have lost eight of ten while their offense has scored just 33 runs in that span, 20 of them in the two victories. But at least their highlights are something to write home about: Doug Davis triumphs in his return from cancer surgery, and Randy Johnson ties Roger Clemens for second on the all-time strikeout list at 4,672. The Big Unit has pitched well lately; over his last three starts, he's allowed just three runs in 20 innings, with a 24/3 K/BB ratio.

5


Rays
32-22
5-2
.580
Up
Shining: A 7-2 run lifts the Rays to the best record in the AL, and while it's far too early to start printing playoff tickets, it's worth noting that the two areas most in need of improvement from last year's team--the defense and the bullpen--have done their jobs so far. The Rays lead the majors in Defensive Efficiency, and their bullpen is second in the league in WXRL. Troy Percival's hamstring injury may threaten the pen's delicate balance, but he's not the only Rays reliever who's excelled at the heavy lifting thus far.

6


Athletics
29-25
4-2
.572
Up
Save for their week-ending 12-0 blowout, the A's pitching staff has been downright dominant, allowing just 13 runs in their previous seven games. Justin Duchscherer combines on a one-hitter, and Rich Harden continues to prove his health as well; the latter's allowed just four runs over his last three starts following a shaky return from the DL. The A's rotation is third in the league in SNLVAR, topped by two of the pitchers obtained in the Dan Haren trade, Dana Eveland and Greg Smith.

7


Phillies
31-24
4-2
.566
Up
The Great Chase: The Phillies roll up 35 runs in a two-game span, the second-highest back-to-back total of the past 50 years. Leading the way in their 20-run onslaught against the Rockies is Chase Utley, who drives in six runs while bopping his 16th homer; he's now got 17 and is on pace for 50, which would obliterate the single-season major league record for second basemen (42) shared by Rogers Hornsby and Davey Johnson--that is, if Florida's Dan Uggla (16 homers in 52 games) doesn't pass him by.

8


White Sox
30-23
4-3
.563
Down
Hung Up: Orlando Cabrera creates a kerfuffle with his phone calls to the press box and his criticism of manager Ozzie Guillen, but the story is a tempest in a teapot relative to the Sox winning 11 of their last 14, including five out of six against the Indians. The pitching staff has allowed just 40 runs in that span while holding hitters to a .206/.284/.325 line; they now boast five of the league's top 30 pitchers in terms of VORP.

9


Cardinals
32-23
4-2
.562
Flat
It's no surprise to see Albert Pujols near the top of the NL VORP leaderboard; he's hitting .359/.483/.630 and driving away those concerns about his elbow. The surprise is that Ryan Ludwick is in the league's top 10 as well thanks to a .327/.409/.701 line, and he's neck-and-neck with Phat Albert in MLVr, trailing only Lance Berkman and Chipper Jones. Ludwick has started just 33 games, however, and with Chris Duncan showing a distinct lack of pop (.252/.356/.386), Tony La Russa's lineup patterns are generating some heat.

10


Blue Jays
30-26
6-1
.561
Up
Dirty Dozen: The Jays cap a 7-1 run with a 12-0 pummeling of the A's, marking the first time since April 15 that the team's moribund offense has reached double digits. Those 12 runs represent one more than the team allows over the entire eight-game span, but one less than the offense scrapes together over the previous four games. How soon before the outfield's deck chairs get reshuffled given the combined .215/.267/.301 performance by Kevin Mench and Brad Wilkerson? That duo has surpassed Frank Thomas and Adam Lind in total plate appearances, and they're still here.

11


Marlins
30-22
3-3
.526
Down
Oh, Scotty O: After starting the season like an ace--a 2.22 ERA through his first six starts--Scott Olsen's been beaten like a rented fifth starter lately, allowing six homers and 16 earned runs in his last 20 1/3 innings. He's the least of the staff's problems, as the team is third to last in SNLVAR, and aside from Olsen and Mark Hendrickson, the rest of the rotation nets out at replacement level in that category.

12


Mets
26-26
4-3
.522
Up
Willie Randolph barely avoids a pink slip amid a 1-7 slide, but Fernando Tatis rises from the dead to help turn things around by driving in five runs in back-to-back wins against the Marlins, including a 12th-inning walk-off double. Tatis, in the lineup due to Ryan Church's concussion, hasn't had more than 100 big league at-bats in a season since 2003; that he represents one of Randolph's more viable options off the bench is a problem that owes more to GM Omar Minaya than to the manager.

13


Angels
32-23
4-2
.516
Up
The Halos remain atop the AL West, but the shine has definitely worn off their offense. After hitting .279/.339/.427 during the season's first month, they're batting just .225/.297/.342 in May, and their scoring has plummeted from 4.8 per game to 3.6. The plague of injuries in the infield hasn't helped, but outfielders Gary Matthews (.209/.317/.337), Torii Hunter (.239/.330/.375), and Vlad Guerrero (.241/.284/.460) have all struggled this month, and Hunter is the only Angel in the outfield with a VORP above 5.6.

14


Dodgers
26-27
1-6
.516
Down
Top pitching prospect Clayton Kershaw dazzles in his major league debut (6 5 2 2 1 7), but his outing provides the Dodgers' sole highlight for the week. The team's offense continues to struggle in the absence of Rafael Furcal; they've scored just 3.1 runs per game since he went down. Chin-Lung Hu (.170/.240/.205) is having a tough time filling Furcal's shoes, and Jeff Kent (.248/.292/.395) is acting his age; the latter's struggles have the team pondering ways to shoehorn both Blake DeWitt (.293/.366/.463) and Andy LaRoche (.268/.462/.427 at Las Vegas) into the lineup.

15


Astros
30-25
3-3
.502
Flat
Though they close the week having cooled off slightly, the 'Stros approach the end of May with a 17-9 record thanks to the white-hot performances of Lance Berkman (.474/.557/.876) and Hunter Pence (.361/.417/.598). Whether they can stay in contention is another matter, particularly given a pitching staff that's 13th in combined win expectancy (SNLVAR + WXRL). The return of Wandy Rodriguez should help by pushing Chris Sampson and his 6.04 ERA to the bullpen, but this team will need Roy Oswalt (5.45 ERA) pitching like the Oswalt of old to have a fighting chance. Oswalt's been plagued by gophers; he's allowed 16 thus far, two more than last year, and his rate per nine has more than tripled to 1.9.

16


Yankees
26-27
4-2
.499
Up
The Sleeping Giant Awakes: The Yankees are 6-3 and averaging 6.3 runs per game since the return of Alex Rodriguez, and their slumbering hitters are coming to life. Remember when Jason Giambi's release was being debated? He's hitting .382/.507/.818 since May 6 and is now 13th in VORP. Robinson Cano hasn't been quite as hot, but his .316/.353/.481 performance since May 4 is a ringer for last year's showing. More help is on the way in the form of Jorge Posada, who could be in the lineup by this time next week.

17


Indians
24-29
2-4
.488
Flat
The Tribe's slide continues; they've lost 10 out of 12. Losing Fausto Carmona to a hip injury is the least of the team's problems, as their rotation has been the majors' most productive. The real trouble is an offense that's now 13th in the league in EqA, with Ben Francisco and Grady Sizemore the only hitters on the team above .252.

18


Rangers
27-28
3-3
.487
Down
Try as they might, the Rangers just can't break even; despite winning 18 of their past 28 to dig out of a season-opening hole, they're 0-4 in games that would put them above .500. If that isn't odd enough, note Josh Hamilton's recent feast-or-famine pattern. He's collected 32 hits over his last 19 games (.395/.420/.728), collecting multiple hits in 13 of those games--including a big day against the team that drafted him--while going hitless in the other six. Any way you slice it, he leads the league in VORP, with Milton Bradley second and Ian Kinsler sixth.

19


Orioles
26-26
2-4
.473
Down
Migratory Birds? The Orioles follow up a 7-1 tear with a 3-7 slide, one in which it appears that the offense has flown south for the summer. The O's have scored just 40 runs in that 10-game span, 22 in two poundings of the Yankees, and the team's EqA has sunk to .252, 11th in the league. They're squandering runs at the offense-first positions; their first basemen have hit a combined .249/.342/.399, their DHs .233/.288/.437--hey, Boog Powell could probably top either of those in his age-66 season--and they've got three other positions with OBPs below .300.

20


Twins
28-25
5-1
.472
Up
The Twins' offense won't win any awards, but it's shown signs of life in May; the team's scoring has risen from 3.8 runs per game to 5.5. Justin Morneau (.350/.414/.500) has been swinging a hot bat, and Joe Mauer (.346/.449/.395) has been an on-base machine, but the big surprise has been the performance of Carlos Gomez. While skipper Ron Gardenhire may wish he wouldn't give away company secrets, Gomez is hitting .297/.354/.462 this month after a .265/.279/.373 April, and his K/BB ratio has improved from 25/2 to 26/6.

21


Reds
25-29
4-2
.469
Up
The Bruce is Loose: Our long national nightmare is over, as the Reds relent and recall Jay Bruce from Triple-A to replace the execrable Corey Patterson (.200/.240/.352). The new center fielder--who topped our prospect list this spring--reaches base five times in his debut and seven times in his first eight PA. Rounding up the Reds' other high-profile youngsters, Joey Votto continues to thrive (.297/.362/.551), and Edinson Volquez leads the league in SNLVAR, strikeouts and ERA (despite a questionable relief appearance), but Johnny Cueto has been tattooed for a 6.88 ERA over his last seven starts.

22


Tigers
22-31
2-4
.466
Flat
Just when it looks as though the Tiger offense is coming to life--scoring 53 runs in a five-game span, capped by a 19-run outburst--the well runs dry, as they tally just nine more over their next four games. Carlos Guillen's not feeling so hot (where's HIPAA when you really need it?), and Gary Sheffield finally hits the DL with an oblique strain that's all the more painful given that he'd hit .391/.417/.565 over his previous five games, bringing his VORP into the black for the first time all year.

23


Brewers
26-28
4-3
.460
Up
As predicted earlier this season, the Brewers' righty-heavy lineup has struggled against righthanded pitching; the team is batting just .245/.315/.391 against righties, compared to .266/.344/.428 against lefties. But few could have foreseen the odd performance of Bill Hall, who's hitting just .164/.228/.328 against righties, well off his career mark (.262/.310/.461) and enough to force him into a platoon with Russell Branyan. Vocal about his unhappiness with the situation, he sparks a game-winning rally with a single off--you got it--a righty, though it's not enough to get the Brewers back above .500.

24


Giants
23-31
4-2
.436
Up
The Giants show a bit of life in winning five of seven, and Barry Zito gets the monkey off his back by finally notching a win after losing his first eight decisions. Zito's been pitching a bit better since his brief bullpen exile, putting up a 3.49 ERA despite a still-unflattering 21/16 K/BB ratio, and it helps that the enfeebled Giant offense has scored 12 times in his last two starts, one run less than they managed in his previous nine.

25


Pirates
25-28
3-3
.434
Flat
The misery continues for Tom Gorzelanny, as he's KO'd in the first inning for his fourth disaster start of the year, raising his ERA to 7.38. The Bucs' rotation has been a disaster in and of itself; they've put up a 5.83 ERA and are last in the majors in SNLVAR. When Phil Dumatrait is the only starter with a VORP above 5.0, you know things are out of hand.

26


Royals
21-33
0-7
.401
Down
Oh, Babies: The Royals' losing streak reaches 10 in a row after the team blows an 8-3 lead in the ninth, prompting Jose Guillen to lash out at his teammates. Guillen would do well to look in the mirror, as the offense sucks Royally; they're last in the majors in scoring and 29th in EqA, while he's one of six regulars or semi-regulars with VORPs below 1.0. Meanwhile, another of those struggling regulars, Billy Butler, has been farmed out after hitting just .263/.330/.339 so far.

27


Rockies
20-34
2-5
.399
Down
Just when it appeared things couldn't get much worse for the Rockies, they place Brad Hawpe, Matt Holliday, and Clint Barmes--the latter two the team's most productive hitters--on the DL within a 24-hour period. Adding insult to injury, the Rox set a franchise record for most runs surrendered in a road game when the Phillies drop 20 runs on them. More ugliness: Greg Reynolds' eight-walk, zero-strikeout performance. Be glad you didn't sit through it.

28


Padres
21-34
3-3
.386
Up
Double the Digits, Double the Time: Adrian Gonzalez's homer off Edinson Volquez helps the Padres win an 18-inning epic that lasts nearly six hours. The game marks the first time all year that the Padres score at least 10 runs; only the Royals have failed to do so now. And just as KC is last in the AL in scoring, so it remains with the Padres, though once you adjust for ballpark, their EqA is 27th out of 30 teams. So they've got that going for them.

29


Nationals
23-32
3-4
.382
Flat
As if the Nationals' offense--last in the majors with a .234 EqA--needed further handicap, they've been minus Ryan Zimmerman for the last four games due to an injury in his non-throwing shoulder. Will Carroll says there's no evidence yet that Zim actually has structural damage in the shoulder, but it's not as though even a transitory problem will help improve his ugly .257/.291/.427 line either. In happier news, Jesus Flores now has a stranglehold on the catching job; since Johnny Estrada and Paul LoDuca both went down earlier this month, he's hitting .340/.421/.540 and is second on the team in VORP despite accumulating just 69 PA so far.

30


Mariners
20-34
2-4
.380
Down
Amid a winless road trip and a seven-game losing streak, GM Bill Bavasi declares himself shocked, shocked! at the team's underperformance, claiming higher expectations "based on any analysts' evaluation of our players' individual track records and their age." Must have forgotten his password to our PECOTA projections. The Mariner offense has been as bad as advertised, but the team has fallen into the Hit List cellar because of pitching and defense; they're last in the league in combined win expectancy (SNLVAR + WXRL) as well as Defensive Efficiency.


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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