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June 27, 2008

Prospectus Hit List

Further Adventures in Interleague Mayhem

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Red Sox
49-32
3-3
.616
Down
Though their rotation ranks a solid fourth in the league in SNLVAR, the Sox starters' margin for error is getting slimmer, as Curt Schilling had to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery, though if he never throws another pitch, his case for Cooperstown is quite solid. Of more immediate concern is Daisuke Matsuzaka, who misfires in his return from a four-week stint on the disabled list, allowing seven runs in one-plus inning en route to suffering his first defeat of the year.

2


Cubs
49-30
4-2
.613
Up
Breezing: The Cubs assert ownership of the Windy City by sweeping the White Sox and running their home winning streak to 14, led by a pair of players on the rebound. Ryan Dempster closed out the sweep, and continues to flourish in his return to the rotation; while his 9-2 record and 2.63 ERA owe a lot to strong offensive support (6.3 runs per game) and a .238 BABIP, he's neck-and-neck with Carlos Zambrano among the league's top 10 in SNLVAR. Meanwhile, Jim Edmonds homers four times in four games, including twice in a nine-run inning and is now hitting .298/.381/.607 since the Cubs picked him up off of the trash heap.

3


Rays
47-31
4-2
.603
Up
Carl Comes Around: Up until the past week, the 2008 Rays' success had little to do with their longest-tenured player, Carl Crawford. Prior to serving a four-game suspension for his role in a June 5th brawl with the Red Sox, he'd hit just .265/.309/.366, in part due to hamstring troubles. With the suspension having given him some much-needed rest, Crawford has been on fire since returning, hitting .394/.444/.758 with three homers, including a pair in a 15-3 rout of the Marlins.

4


White Sox
43-35
2-4
.578
Down
Giving Danks: John Danks combines to shut out the Dodgers, helping the Sox break a skid in which they'd lost four of five. He's second in the league in ERA and SNLVAR and faring much better than the next highest-ranked Sox pitcher in the latter category, Jose Contreras (20th). After a string in which he'd allowed only seven runs over six starts, Contreras has been blistered for 18 runs in his last three outings, eight of them in one inning during the Cubs' sweep.

5


Athletics
43-35
4-2
.573
Flat
Now that they're healthy, Justin Duchscherer and Rich Harden have been thoroughly dominant. Neither has the innings to qualify for the ERA title, but if they did they'd be running first and second in the league; as it is they're seventh and fourth, respectively, in SNLVAR. Harden smothered the Phillies (8 2 0 0 1 11) to continue an eight-start run in which he's struck out 63 while yielding just 32 hits in 52 1/3 innings, good for a 1.72 ERA. Not to be outdone, the Duke has put up a 1.45 ERA in that span.

6


Phillies
43-37
1-5
.557
Down
What is this, a Diamondbacks imitation? Since their 20-run outburst on June 13, the Phloundering Phillies have lost nine out of 11 while remaining in first place, and it's only cost them two games in the standings. Their offense has gone cold, averaging just 2.8 runs per game during the skid, held to two runs or less seven times. Chase Utley went through an 0-for-24 drought and is hitting just .132/.227/.237, while Geoff Jenkins (1-for-31) appears to be swinging blindfolded.

7


Yankees
42-36
2-3
.544
Down
Joba Rules: Joba Chamberlain breaks through the 100-pitch barrier and notches his first win as a starter. Though the competition (San Diego, Houston and Pittsburgh) hasn't exactly been stellar--which helps to explain the team's timing of the shift--he's allowed just two runs in his past 18 1/3 innings, and already ranks fourth on the staff in SNLVAR. As for his spot in the bullpen, Kevin Goldstein suggests help may be on the way.

8


Braves
39-41
3-3
.537
Down
Mark Teixeira becomes the first Brave since Bob Horner in 1986 to hit three homers in a game when he scores the hat trick against the Mariners. Despite the outburst and a productive June, it's been an underwhelming season for the pending free agent; his .271/.365/.471 performance is essentially league-average for the position, which could make that eight-year, $160 million deal he's reportedly seeking a tough sell. Meanwhile, Chipper Jones falls below .400, and a quad strain limits him to pinch-hitting duties.

9


Cardinals
45-35
3-3
.535
Up
It's Always Darkest Just Before Dawn: Tony La Russa resorts to starting Adam Kennedy at first base for the first time ever, and the Replacement Level Killer makes a crucial error in a one-run loss. In defense of his offense, Kennedy at least has been hitting lately (.340/.377/.460 in June). Furthermore, the injury-plagued Cardinals get a spot of very good news as Albert Pujols returns from his strained calf after a minimal stint on the DL, a week ahead of schedule.

10


Blue Jays
38-42
3-3
.533
Up
Ship Sunk: Amid a seven-game losing streak and a slide into last place in the AL East, J.P. Ricciardi pauses from criticizing another team's player long enough to fire manager John Gibbons and rehire Cito Gaston, who skippered the team to a pair of World Championships but hasn't managed since 1997. Gaston's arrival suggests Ricciardi's own days are numbered, a pity given the easy target he makes in this space. Meanwhile, the team gets a scare as league SNLVAR leader Shaun Marcum heads to Birmingham; he's DL-bound with a strained forearm ligament, but he won't need surgery.

11


Angels
48-31
5-1
.533
Up
The Angels win five in a row on the road and push their meager run differential back into double digits. They're an MLB-best 8.1 wins above their third-order projection thanks to a 15-10 record in one run games and a 17-4 record in two run games. As you'd expect, the bullpen is the key; the Halos are second in the league in WXRL, with Francisco Rodriguez topping the individual leaderboard, Scot Shields rebounding from injury to crack the top 10, and rookie Jose Arredondo slips into the top 25 as well. Despite less-than-vintage peripheral stats, K-Rod is on a record-setting pace to top Bobby Thigpen's single-season mark of 57 saves.

12


Brewers
43-35
4-2
.519
Up
Though their run differential is at zero, the Brewers have surged back into contention by going 20-8 since May 25. Ben Sheets spins a four-hitter (9 4 1 1 0 7) against the Braves, his league-leading third complete game of the year. The Brewer ace has allowed more than two runs in only one of his last seven starts and is now second in SNLVAR, third in ERA, and fourth in wins, numbers that will play big when he tests free agency after the season.

13


Diamondbacks
40-39
1-5
.514
Down
Another lousy week has the Diamondbacks threatening to fall to .500; they're now 20-31 with a -50 run differential since the beginning of May, and the majority of their rotation is struggling. Brandon Webb has been roughed up for 15 runs (12 earned) while lasting just 15 1/3 innings over his last three starts, while Micah Owings has been on the skids even longer, allowing 24 earned runs over his last 25 1/3 innings. At least Randy Johnson offers hope of shaking a three-start Big Ugly slump (17 earned runs in 18 innings) as he gives the club his first quality start since May 25, but the bottom line is that this team needs to shape up.

14


Mets
38-39
3-3
.502
Down
Switch to Manuel: Though they're a ho-hum 4-4 since Willie Randolph was fired, the Mets remain within striking distance in the NL (L)East. Largely lost amid the histrionics is that they've been getting pretty good starting pitching this month, posting a collective 3.95 ERA. Johan Santana's 1.87 ERA is distorted by five unearned runs (including the four from Felix Hernandez's grand slam), but John Maine (3.90) and Mike Pelfrey (2.84) have come around. The weakest link of late is Oliver Perez, who has a sub-zero VORP overall and just one quality start in his past seven while putting up a 6.75 ERA; his spot may be on the line this weekend.

15


Tigers
38-40
4-2
.501
Flat
Happy Returns? All year long the Tigers have hoped that the recoveries of their top set-up men would shore up a bullpen that's 12th in the league in WXRL, but the returns of activated Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya haven't been particularly rewarding. In conjunction with Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse Casey Fossum, the once-dynamic duo trigger a crucial eighth-inning meltdown in Zumaya's first outing back, and they have been charged with seven runs in four combined innings thus far. More promising is Gary Sheffield, who goes 6-for-13 with two homers and a game-winning single in his first three games off the DL, but it's worth remembering that the 39-year-old had hit just .223/.347/.364 in 101 games over the last 365 days prior to returning.

16


Orioles
40-37
3-3
.496
Flat
Left-Hand Luke: Much is being made about Luke Scott's recent presence in the linuep against southpaw starters; he's gone 6-for-14 against them while starting four out of six times. While his line against lefties this year (.250/.327/.386) is well below his pre-2008 showing (.259/.372/.431), he may be on his way to shedding the platoon label. Meanwhile, the Orioles' lackluster rotation (12th in SNLVAR) takes a double-barreled hit as they scratch Brian Burres due to stomach problems, only to watch replacement Matt Albers depart with shoulder discomfort five batters into the game.

17


Rangers
40-40
3-3
.489
Flat
Max Power: If there's a silver lining to Gerald Laird's hamstring injury, it's the chance for the Rangers to showcase their impressive array of catching prospects. With Jarrod Saltalamacchia already on hand but mired in a 4-for-37 slump, rookie Max Ramirez collects his first two major league hits, including a go-ahead homer off of Roy Oswalt, to lead the Rangers to victory over their cross-state rivals. The least-heralded of the three catchers (Taylor Teagarden is the other) due to his smallish size and less-than-stellar defense, Ramirez was hitting .363/.457/.662 with 17 homers at Double-A Frisco before being called up.

18


Twins
43-36
6-0
.486
Up
Twinning Streak: The Twins close in on the AL Central lead as Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher hit back-to-back homers off of Trevor Hoffman to cap the seventh of their nine wins in a row. Harris and Buscher have both been keys to this streak; the former is hitting .407/.467/.852 over his last eight games while the latter, who has taken over third base from Replacement Level Killer Mike Lamb, is hitting .429/.452/.571 with 10 RBI over that same stretch.

19


Dodgers
36-42
2-4
.486
Down
As the Dodger offense continues to wheeze in the absence of Rafael Furcal (3.3 runs per game on .244/.296/.351 hitting), Joe Torre raises eyebrows with his truthiness. Torre cites the plate approaches of Juan Pierre and Jeff Kent--the two regulars with the lowest EqAs this side of Andruw Jones--as preferable to those of the Dodgers' youngsters. In reality, Matt Kemp is the only one in question who has fewer pitches per plate appearance than either of those two, and he and slumping Blake DeWitt are the only ones swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone.

20


Marlins
40-38
1-5
.483
Down
Despite five losses in six games, the Marlins maintain a close second place in the NL East, and the return of Josh Willingham from a 50-game absence due to back woes can only help. Willingham still ranks fourth on the team in VORP, and while he's unlikely to maintain his initial, torrid .341/.406/.637 pace, he should provide more punch than Luis Gonzalez (.276/.358/.416, and well on his way to his fifth straight season of declining SLG). Firepower isn't the Marlins' problem, however, as they lead the NL in homers and are second in SLG.

21


Indians
36-43
3-3
.476
Up
Hitting Bottom: With six losses in seven games, the Tribe slide into last place in the AL Central for the first time since April 24, 2004. The root of their troubles is an AL-worst 5-10 record in interleague play, seven games worse than the rising Royals. The offense has hit a meager .237/.308/.392 against NL opponents, primarily due to a lack of production from the occupants of three key offensive spots: first baseman Ryan Garko is hitting .231/.268/.250, right fielders Shin-Soo Choo and Franklin Gutierrez are a combined .143/.222/.204, and DH David Dellucci is just 2-for-22.

22


Astros
37-42
4-2
.458
Up
The Astros emerge from their tailspin long enough to string together consecutive victories for the first time in a month, but the euphoria is short-lived as Shawn Chacon draws an indefinite suspension (and then his release) when his heated conversation with Ed Wade over the GM's manner of demoting him to the bullpen turns violent. With a 6.66 ERA over his last 10 starts, Chacon's been one of the reasons for the Astros' slide, but his overall numbers are relatively indistinguishable from those of Roy Oswalt and Brandon Backe, which says plenty about where the Astros are today.

23


Giants
34-45
3-3
.451
Up
Barry Zito beats the Indians--yes, that's one good start in a row, against a slumping team no less--which means it's time to whip on somebody else, and with the subjects of Indians and slumps in the air, how about ex-Tribesman Omar Vizquel's 8-for-79 doozy? Vizquel's .164 EqA is rapidly approaching Brian Bocock's .159; hell, his slugging percentage is below the Mendoza Line! At this point, handing the playing time at short to slap-happy rookie Emmanuel Burris (.286/.353/.352) might be worth a shot; he's got more extra-base hits in 105 PA than the other two do in 227.

24


Royals
36-43
5-1
.451
Up
The Royals sweep the Rockies to run their interleague record to 12-3, tops in the majors, while their 10-1 run allows them to escape the AL Central cellar. They can thank a stellar effort from their rotation, as the starters deliver 11 quality starts versus NL opponents while yielding a 3.38 ERA and averaging over six innings per start. The offense has been no shame either, scoring 5.8 runs per game, with Jose Guillen (.350/.371/.633), David DeJesus (.333/.410/.593), and Mike Aviles (.340/.373/.596) doing the heavy lifting.

25


Rockies
32-47
1-5
.439
Down
Rotational Road Rash: Despite the returns of Troy Tulowitzki and Clint Barmes, it's another ugly week for the Rox, as they're swept by the Royals in KC. The road has been a particularly cruel place for the defending NL champs, whose .300 winning percentage (12-28) is the second worst in the majors. That's primarily due to the rotation; Aaron Cook is the only starter with an ERA below 5.91 away from Coors, and the unit has combined for a 6.11 ERA and 1.28 K/BB on the road, compared to 4.36 and 1.88 at home.

26


Reds
36-44
3-3
.434
Down
Losers of seven out of nine, the Reds get a respite from their woes when they return to the Bronx for the first time since 1976. Starters Edinson Volquez, Daryl Thompson, and Johnny Cueto combine to allow just three runs in 17 innings, with Thompson tossing five shutout innings in his major league debut. On the other hand, Bronson Arroyo is bombed by the pathetic Blue Jays (1 11 10 10 1 1), raising his ERA to 6.52; he's one of four pitchers in whom the Reds have invested a total of 30 starts and gotten a cumulative -43.0 VORP for their troubles.

27


Pirates
37-41
3-2
.424
Flat
While their pitching may be a disaster--and with Ian Snell and Phil Dumatrait making trips to the DL, it may get worse before it gets better--the Bucs have the most potent outfield in the majors. The Pirate pasture patrol is hitting a combined .287/.369/.504 and leading in both OBP and SLG thanks to Nate McLouth's development, Jason Bay's rebound, and Xavier Nady's sudden ability to take a walk. Nady is only two off from matching last year's season total, and excluding intentionals, he has a free pass for every 13.7 PA, compared to one every 22.4 last year--although that might be primarily the result of batting ahead of a struggling Andy LaRoche.

28


Padres
32-48
1-5
.413
Down
Pad Pen Prob: Trevor Hoffman's woes continue as he yields back-to-back homers to send the Padres to their seventh defeat in eight games. The 40-year-old all-time saves leader now has five losses plus another blown save that led to a loss, and he's yielded five homers in 26 frames. He's got a WXRL of just .1041, and the Padre bullpen is now 12th in the league in WXRL, with a Fair Run Average of 4.94.

29


Mariners
28-50
3-3
.393
Up
Less Than Grand: Felix Hernandez homers off of Johan Santana--with the bases loaded, no less, making him the first AL pitcher in 37 years to hit a grand slam--but departs after spraining his ankle covering home plate following a wild pitch. He may miss his next start. On a happier note--and aren't the oblivion-bound Mariners entitled to a few of those now and then?--R.A. Dickey stifles the Mets with seven scoreless innings. That's his first success as a starter since turning to the knuckleball; in his previous three shots he'd been torched for 17 runs in 11 1/3 innings.

30


Nationals
31-49
2-4
.363
Flat
Worse: With seven losses out of eight, the Nationals dig themselves even deeper into the Hit List basement, and with the latest bad news, they may want to inquire about lower rates for a longer-term lease. Nick Johnson is done for the year after playing just 38 games due to a torn ligament in his wrist; replacement Dmitri Young is hitting .273/.367/.391 but has just four RBI over the past month, which tells you all you need to know about the gNats' already-flagging offense. The rotation takes a blow as well, as Shawn Hill appears bound for the DL with more forearm trouble after being clobbered for his second straight disaster start and third out of five; he's got a 9.00 ERA over that span.


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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