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June 12, 2008

Prospectus Preview

Thursday's Games to Watch

by Marc Normandin

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Today's Full Slate of Games

Matchup: Rangers (34-33) at Royals (25-41), 1:10 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Eric Hurley (74 2/3 IP, 6.14 RA, 1.54 WHIP, 72 K at Triple-A) vs. Brian Bannister (77 2/3, 5.10, 1.34, 46)
Pythagorean Record: Texas, 33-34 (378 RS, 390 RA); Kansas City, 25-41 (247 RS, 319 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Texas, #17; Kansas City, #27
Prospectus: Hurley makes his debut against the worst offense in the league, and it's a good thing, too, once you take a look at his statistics from Triple-A: 8.7 strikeouts per nine is good, but not when it comes with 1.8 homers per nine (40 every 200 innings). Hurley has been worse in his repeat stint at the level this season, with the homers and 21 additional hits allowed in just 1 1/3 more innings. He won't have any trouble fitting into the Texas environment if those trends continue, as he'll be just another Rangers starter who can't get people out-there's a reason they will be the first team to allow 400 runs this year, and it's that they rank dead last in team SNLVAR. As of today, there are 72 starters in the majors who have accrued more value than the entire Rangers rotation.

Hurley does have his high points, though. Kevin Goldstein rated him as prospect #49 in the Top 100 before the season started, and though he's struggled at Triple-A twice now, he is still just 22 years old. PECOTA did not expect the 6'4" right-hander to succeed in the majors this year, except for at his 90th percentile forecast, which calls for 3.3 SNLVAR and a 4.20 ERA over 130 1/3 IP. His seven-year forecast is a bit shaky, but that's to be expected until he can prove himself in the high minors, or acquit himself well in the majors now that he's found himself there.

Matchup: Braves (32-34) at Cubs (42-24), 1:10 p.m. CT
Probable Starters: Tim Hudson (91 1/3 IP, 3.15 RA, 1.14 WHIP, 54 K) vs. Carlos Zambrano (92 2/3, 3.11, 1.28, 63)
Pythagorean Record: Atlanta, 37-29 (305 RS, 271 RA); Chicago, 42-24 (369 RS, 268 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Atlanta, #5; Chicago, #1
Prospectus: Alfonso Soriano was hit by a pitch on his hand last night, and will be on the shelf for six weeks as a result. The Cubs will need to find a way to replace his production; Soriano has hit .283/.332/.547 on the season, ramping up to a .643 slugging percentage with a .318 ISO since May 1, and though his .435 road slugging isn't quite so impressive, it beats the Cubs overall work away from Wrigley. Amongst Cubs with 100 PA, Soriano's .198 MLVr ranks fourth, although that number also includes his poor April showing of .192/.250/.327. Micah Hoffpauir is expected to get a return call to take Soriano's spot on the roster; he's currently hitting .352/.364/.593 at Triple-A, and his weighted-mean PECOTA forecast puts him at a much more pedestrian .263/.330/.440. It's more likely he'll be riding the pine while Reed Johnson and Mark DeRosa soak up the lost Soriano starts in left. Though Johnson's -.051 MLVr is well below Soriano's production, he's a solid defender that the pitching staff will approve of having afield. The Cubs can also relax a little due to the recent injury to Albert Pujols that may have him sidelined for a few weeks; that should keep the Cards off of Chicago's back for the time being.

Matchup: Orioles (32-32) at Red Sox (41-27), 6:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Jeremy Guthrie (90 IP, 3.80 RA, 1.20 WHIP, 59 K) vs. Jon Lester (82 1/3, 3.83, 1.37, 54)
Pythagorean Record: Baltimore, 31-33 (278 RS, 290 RA); Boston, 39-29 (346 RS, 292 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Baltimore, #21; Boston, #2
Prospectus: Guthrie's 2007 success story had more to do with his first half than his second, as he pitched wonderfully before the All-Star break (2.74 ERA, 102 IP, 6.4 K/9, 0.8 HR/9) and terribly after (5.03 ERA, 73 1/3 IP, 6.3 K/9, 1.7 HR/9). The long ball was a particular problem, but to combat it Guthrie has been throwing his changeup far more often; whereas he threw it just over five percent of the time last season, he's gone with the off-speed offering nearly 13 percent of the time in 2008. He'll use it at any point during an at-bat until he reaches three balls. Now, with three reliable pitches and a fourth that he mixes in on occasion, Guthrie has been able to find a halfway point between his dominating first half of 2007 and his awful second. Even better, his performance matches up well with his 75th percentile forecast, meaning the Orioles can expect more of this in the future as long as he can keep hitters guessing.

Matchup: Twins (32-34) at Indians (30-36), 7:05 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Livan Hernandez (86 1/3, 5.84 RA, 1.61 WHIP, 27 K) vs. Aaron Laffey (51 1/3 IP, 3.51, 1.17, 24)
Pythagorean Record: Minnesota, 30-36 (302 RS, 333 RA); Cleveland, 34-32 (289 RS, 280 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Minnesota, #22; Cleveland, #18
Prospectus: Last season, the Indians hit .267/.342/.426 as a club, good for an EqA of .260, 27th in the majors with a .247 team EqA, and hitting .242/.321/.383 overall. The Tribe has picked it up somewhat in June, with a .277/.348/.438 showing that will need to be sustained if the team plans on contending in the Central. Rallying hitters include Ryan Garko (.405/.469/.548), Grady Sizemore (.317/.417/.634), David Delluci (.276/.382/.552), and Casey Blake (.378/.452/.622).

Blake was the focus of a fantasy piece on RBI a few weeks ago, and it was said that his awful line at the time could have been adjusted to .267/.355/.420 to account for his poor luck on balls in play. Now that he's reached something very close to that mark in a very short span of time, we can see that there's still room for improvement: he remains 31 points below his expected BABIP, so an additional jump in Blake's triple-slash stats should not surprise us. The Indians need for him to keep at it, especially when guys like Victor Martinez--who was supposed to be money in the bank--slug .333 after 217 PA, dragging the offense down.

Matchup: Cardinals (40-27) at Reds (31-36), 7:10 p.m. ET
Probable Starters: Joel Pineiro (44 IP, 4.70 RA, 1.36 WHIP, 23 K) vs. Bronson Arroyo (73 2/3, 6.47, 1.70, 71)
Pythagorean Record: St. Louis, 38-29 (320 RS, 276 RA); Cincinnati, 30-37 (301 RS, 344 RA)
Hit List Rankings: St. Louis, #9; Cincinnati, #19
Prospectus: The Reds find themselves in possession of an abundance of young starting pitching talent thanks to the additions of Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, and Homer Bailey to the rotation during the first three months of the season. That youth has not been reflected in the quality of their performance as a unit, though, as they rank 23rd in team SNLVAR. In fact, Edinson Volquez currently leads the majors in SNLVAR with 4.0, the same total as the Reds entire cadre of starters this year, which goes a long ways towards showing you just how much everyone else has struggled. The future is bright for the Reds thanks to an abundance of highly rated prospects, but outside of Volquez's stellar campaign, the pitchers have yet to show much of their potential in action.

Although Cueto looks dominant at times, as he's struck out 8.1 hitters per nine while walking only 3.5, his major issue has been homers: two bombs per nine puts him on pace for 45 over 200 innings pitched. His lofty HR/FB rate of 18.2 percent is in part a product of his environment, but Cueto is giving up homers on fly balls at around the same rate that Adrian Gonzalez is hitting them--that's not a recipe for success when you're on the mound. Bailey has once again failed to impress in his first major league action of 2008, but just as alarming as his poor performance is a dip in his fastball velocity, from 92.4 mph last year to 89.8 mph this year, although it's in just ten innings.

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