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July 11, 2008

Prospectus Hit List

Reshuffleuppagus

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Red Sox
55-39
4-2
.613
Up
Though still looking up at the Rays in the AL East standings, the Sox reverse a five-game slide by winning five out of seven via a split in the Bronx and a sweep of the Twins. Along the way they get encouraging news from David Ortiz, whose first batting practice session is pain-free; oddly enough, they're scoring more runs per game without him (5.2) than with him (5.0). Meanwhile, the team announces a plan to recall Clay Buchholz and convert window._ttf = window._ttf || []; _ttf.push({ pid : 53804 ,lang : "en" ,slot : '.contentPad .article > p' ,format : "inread" ,minSlot : 5 ,components : { skip: {delay : 0}} ,css : "margin: 0px auto 20px; max-width: 600px!important;" }); (function (d) { var js, s = d.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; js = d.createElement('script'); js.async = true; js.src = '//cdn.teads.tv/media/format.js'; s.parentNode.insertBefore(js, s); })(window.document); ef">Justin Masterson to a bullpen role; the latter has put up a 3.67 ERA but has allowed 10 runs and 11 walks in his last 18 innings.

2


Rays
55-36
3-4
.603
Down
The hype machine is in full effect as the Rays' worst-to-first story garners added attention with the approach of the All-Star break, but the Rays follow their 11-1 tear with four straight losses that knock them out of the Hit List's catbird seat after just one week. Despite the losses, the team can take heart in the return to form of Carlos Peña, who's hitting .265/.367/.510 since returning from the DL, and in Evan Longoria, who wins the final roster spot on the AL All-Star team; he leads AL rookies in VORP.

3


Cubs
55-37
4-2
.597
Up
Touché: The Cubs waste no time in countering the Brewers' Sabathia deal by trading little of consequence for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin, a deal that basically amounts to a free lottery ticket and an insurance policy for a team that's already the best in the NL. The Cubs rotation ranks second in the league in SNLVAR, and they're adding a pitcher who ranks fifth in the AL in that category despite a month on the DL. Health is the rub, of course; Harden's thrown more innings this year than in 2006 and 2007 combined, and his last two starts have been iffy, with quickly decreasing velocity.

4


White Sox
53-38
4-2
.582
Down
Winners of 11 out of 13, the Sox continue to rock. They've been an especially stubborn 5-1 in one-run games during this streak, and they've used four different pitchers-Bobby Jenks, Matt Thornton, Scott Linebrink, and Octavio Dotel-to nail down the victories due to Jenks' latest back strain. With a bullpen that's second in the league in WXRL, there's little reason for Ozzie Guillen to blow his stack here. We're sure he'll find a way nonetheless.

5


Athletics
50-42
4-3
.563
Down
The A's raise a white flag and more than a few eyebrows as they dispatch Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to the Cubs for a questionable package in which there's no clear best player. Noble as the "Free Matt Murton!" sentiments may be, doing so at the price of a virtually free Harden makes little sense without a forecast of impending elbow or shoulder doom, and that's without pondering the utility of Gaudin. With the A's still showing a much more solid run differential than the Angels, one can argue that they're still very much in the AL West race. Then again, given the quick yield on this past winter's reloading, that may be a sign that Billy Beane does know what the hell he's doing here. [Please note that the Hit List positions and overall records of the A's and Angels were accidentally transposed in last week's guest-written column.]

6


Phillies
50-43
3-4
.553
Down
Howard Powered, Redux: As the Phillies cling to their NL East lead, Ryan Howard is riding a 13-game hitting streak (.353/.431/.824) that's propelling him to the top of the NL leaderboard in a few categories. With seven homers over his last nine games, he ties Chase Utley for the league lead, and his 15 RBI over that span move him into first in that category as well. He's also third in the majors in Three True Outcomes percentage (49.1, trailing Jack Cust at 54.0 and Adam Dunn at 52.5), and on pace for 217 strikeouts, a total that would shatter his record-setting 199 from last season.

7


Yankees
49-43
4-2
.539
Flat
At 34 years old, Derek Jeter may be headed for his worst first-half performance (.286/.349/.389) since his rookie season, but the Yankee captain keys a crucial two-game sweep of the AL East-leading Rays, helping his team retain some momentum after scrambling for a split against the Red Sox. Nonetheless, the pinstriped offense is anything but Bronx Bombers these days; their scoring is down 28 percent relative to last year's team, about 1.3 runs per game. With three regulars-Jose Molina (!), Robinson Cano, and Melky Cabrera-putting up OBPs below .310, Jeter and Bobby Abreu both below .350, and rookie Brett Gardner filling in for Johnny Damon as the latter hits the DL for the first time in his career, it's not hard to see why.

8


Mets
48-44
6-1
.537
Up
The Mets edge closer to the top of the NL East, and the hits keep coming for Fernando Tatis, who bats .438/.500/.875 for the week with three homers, including a pair of game-winners. The 33-year-old veteran, last seen with Oblivion of the Nowhere State Independent League, is hitting .303/.336/.459 overall. The Mets are going to need him to keep producing given Ryan Church's return to the DL due to post-concussion syndrome and Moises Alou's season-ending hamstring tear.

9


Angels
55-37
4-3
.532
Up
After averaging just 4.1 per game through the end of June, the Angels are back into the business of scoring runs via an unorthodox lineup shuffle that has the Erick Aybar/Maicer Izturis platoon batting third. Small sample though it may be, it's paying off, as they're scoring 5.9 per game; they've tallied at least seven runs four times in eight games, something they'd done only five times in the previous two months. Perhaps the most lasting effect of the shuffle may be the benching of Gary Matthews Jr., who's hitting just .191/.267/.294 over the last month and ranks in the bottom 20 for MLVr among AL hitters with at least 200 PA.

10


Brewers
51-41
5-2
.530
Up
The Big Deal: With his team having gone an MLB-best 26-12 over the past six-plus weeks to move (briefly) into the Wild Card lead, GM Doug Melvin pulls the trigger on a deal that sends four prospects-including 2007 first-rounder Matt LaPorta-to Cleveland in exchange for CC Sabathia. Though the big man will almost certainly walk at the end of the year, this is nonetheless a bold statement by the post-Selig Brewers, and a shrewd use of resources; the positionally-challenged LaPorta was something of an overdraft last year, but his bat's near-readiness made him an ideal candidate for an interleague swap. The move could mean about three added wins, which may well be enough to break the team's 26-year postseason drought.

11


Blue Jays
45-47
4-2
.526
Up
Dusted: Despite their underpowered offense and internal turmoil, the one thing the Jays could point to this year was a stellar performance from their rotation, now sixth in SNLVAR but less than one win out of third. That may change for the worse, though, especially with Shaun Marcum already on the DL due to elbow problems, and Dustin McGowan apparently done for the year due to a rotator cuff tear. While this might be the hint needed for the Jays to start thinking about 2009, they're getting little help from A.J. Burnett, whose trade value continues to plummet thanks to a 6.91 ERA over his last seven starts, four of them disasters.

12


Cardinals
51-42
2-4
.521
Down
As their two NL Central rivals make major rotation upgrades, the Cardinals can only stand by and watch Mark Mulder fall apart again while waiting for their big guns to get healthy. The bandaged Cards rotation leads the league in SNLVAR, and the team has inched back into the Wild Card lead, but they'll need their offense to hold up their end of the bargain instead of scratching out the 3.0 runs per game they're scoring this month.

13


Braves
43-49
3-3
.520
Up
Just four days after being demoted to Double-A, Jeff Francoeur returns to the majors because of a rash of injuries. Despite homering in his second game back, Frenchy's hitting just .234/.286/.380, one big reason why the Braves' offense is scoring just 3.8 runs per game over the past month and has now lost 24 straight one-run decisions on the road dating back to last August. Also notably struggling is Chipper Jones, whose admittedly long shot at a .400 season has faded. Since being hit in the face while taking BP, he's hit just .230/.373/.443.

14


Tigers
46-45
3-3
.510
Up
With a 20-8 record over the last month, the Tigers creep over .500 and nominally into contention for the postseason berth that was all but handed to them back in the spring. Their rotation has been the key to that run, putting up a 3.41 ERA, averaging 6.2 innings per start, and delivering 17 quality starts. On the other hand, the recently renovated bullpen still presents some concerns, namely regarding Joel Zumaya's 7.7 BB/9, Fernando Rodney's 8.64 ERA, and the ugly results of Todd Jones' last seven outings: six innings, 15 hits, nine runs, one strikeout, two blown saves.

15


Diamondbacks
46-46
3-3
.507
Down
The Diamondbacks briefly slide below .500 and cough up sole possession of first place in the NL West. With their outfield in shambles-Eric Byrnes is done for the year due to hamstring woes, and Justin Upton's out due to an oblique strain-rumors of Barry Bonds in a D'backs jersey surface, but the club appears unlikely to move in that direction. They've got plenty else to worry about as well, such as Brandon Webb's 5.72 ERA over his last five starts, and Micah Owings' 7.71 ERA over his last seven.

16


Twins
51-41
4-3
.505
Down
Denard Span goes 4-for-4 and keys a game-tying ninth-inning rally that helps the Twins get off on the good foot in their three-game series against the Tigers. The win leaves the Twins with a 20-7 record since June 10, tops in the majors, and it may mean even more for Span, who's 14-for-30 since being recalled at the end of June. In two stints spelling Michael Cuddyer during the latter's trips to the DL, Span is hitting .361/.466/.475, and manager Ron Gardenhire likes the cut of his jib enough to keep him around once Cuddyer returns.

17


Dodgers
45-47
4-3
.504
Flat
Despite their sub-.500 record, the Dodgers briefly move into a tie for first place in the NL Worst West behind near-perfect efforts from Hiroki Kuroda (9 1 0 0 0 6) and Derek Lowe (7.2 2 1 1 1 4). The two pitchers combine for a 3.4 GB/FB ratio in their outings, notable particularly because of their starting shortstop: Nomar Garciaparra. Fresh off the DL and in his original position for the first time since August 2005, Nomah hits like the shortstop of old, going .294/.400/.588 in five starts.

18


Rangers
48-45
4-3
.496
Flat
Josh Hamilton's walk-off blast off Francisco Rodriguez breaks an 18-game homerless drought for the Comeback Kid while pushing the Rangers four games over .500 for the first time since September 2006. Though he's still third in the league in long balls and first in RBI, Hamilton's shot at the Triple Crown appears out the window, as he's fallen out of the top 10 in batting average. Teammate Ian Kinsler's taken over the league lead in that category, and more importantly, he's now got the VORP lead, with the Milton Bradley second. Speaking of which, we can't wait until the New York Times' newest blogger squares off against the ever-irate Buzz Bissinger.

19


Orioles
44-46
1-5
.490
Down
A five-game losing streak drops the Orioles below .500 and into last place in the AL East. The pitching staff is looking rather threadbare lately; they're third to last in combined win expectancy (starters 11th in SNLVAR, relievers 13th in WXRL) and allowing a 6.13 ERA this month. The woes of Radhames Liz and Garrett Olson stretch out even further. Both have compiled astronomical ERAs (7.04 and 8.38, respectively), while averaging less than five innings per start over the past month, which isn't helping the bullpen's cause.

20


Marlins
48-44
4-3
.485
Down
Like gum on cleats, the Marlins continue to stick around the top of the NL East standings, though they've gone just 11-15 over the last four weeks. Their rotation, never the most robust unit during the best of times (they're second to last in SNLVAR) is on the skids. Or at least four-fifths of it is; Ricky Nolasco has delivered a 2.09 ERA amid a string of six quality starts, while the rest of the starters have put up a 6.27 ERA. Warm bodies are on the way, but classifying the contributions of the post-operative Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez as help could be a stretch, even in this context.

21


Indians
38-53
1-5
.460
Up
After falling just one game short of the 2007 American League pennant, the Indians raise a less festive flag when they trade reigning Cy Young winner CC Sabathia to the Brewers for a package of four prospects. The deal comes amid a skid of 10 in a row and 16 out of 20, but don't blame the rotation, which is fourth in SNLVAR even having lost Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook for significant periods. Blame the offense, which is scoring just 3.8 runs per game over that 20-game freefall. Grady Sizemore aside, the team's top eight VORP leaders from last year have combined for just 14.7 VORP this year.

22


Astros
42-50
2-4
.446
Up
Lance Berkman sits due to a sore eye no doubt induced by watching too much of this eyesore, which has now lost seven out of nine and 27 out of 39. Perhaps Berkman's malady is caused by the stench emanating from the carcasses of Miguel Tejada (.194/.256/.312 over that 39-game span) or Hunter Pence (.199/.227/.327). Perhaps it's a reaction to Brad Ausmus retaking the starting catcher job (.243/.354/.286 including a stirring four-game hitting streak), or tears shed over the all-too-brief tenure of Runelvys Hernandez (4 13 10 10 4 3). One can never be too sure here.

23


Reds
44-49
4-2
.445
Up
Given a performance from Aaron Harang along the lines of his last three seasons, the Reds might well have a record better than their current one. Instead, Harang is struggling along with a 3-11 mark and has put up a 7.43 ERA over his last nine starts, and if that's not bad enough news, his tight forearm may portend even bigger troubles. As it is, the Reds have plenty of problems on the other side of the ball; prior to Thursday's 11-run outburst, the offense had scored just 3.3 runs per game over the past four weeks, with Jay Bruce hitting a frigid .182/.229/.318.

24


Royals
41-52
2-5
.441
Down
He may be the darling of the cognoscenti because he talks a good game, but Brian Bannister hasn't pitched one in quite awhile. He's been bombed for 19 runs in his last 16 1/3 innings, and his ERA since his stellar three-start streak to open the year is an unsightly 6.22, with just five quality starts out of 16. His VORP has dropped into the red, as has that of fellow starter Luke Hochevar, who's been getting similarly lit up (19 runs in 22 2/3 innings) of late.

25


Rockies
39-54
4-3
.440
Down
"It's like a nightmare, isn't it? It just keeps getting worse and worse." That's Troy Tulowitzki's season in a nutshell. Just 13 games into his return from an eight-week stay on the disabled list, Tulo's back on the sidelines after a shard of a bat smashed in anger lacerates his palm. Coming off a storybook rookie season, he's hitting just .166/.246/.298 and keeping company with designated outmakers Tony Peña Jr. and Omar Vizquel, with the third-lowest MLVr of any player with at least 150 PA.

26


Giants
39-53
1-5
.438
Down
In a unique form of charity, the National League West appears to have collectively decided that if the Giants cannot get to the division lead, the division lead will be brought to them. Even more surprisingly, the Giants appear incapable of complying; by going a fairly typical 10-17 over the past month, they've fallen one game further in the division "race." Meanwhile, there's a bit of concern to be had about recent Sports Illustrated cover boy Tim Lincecum; he's allowed 16 runs in his past 31 innings and has managed just two quality starts out of five.

27


Mariners
36-56
3-4
.422
Up
The 2008 Burnt Toast Award goes to the Mariners, whose release of Richie Sexson comes about a year too late. Hitting .218/.315/.381, he ranks 26th out of 30 among first basemen with at least 200 PA, a scant improvement on last year's 39th out of 41. Good thing they've shown the foresight to arm themselves with a solid Plan B like, um, Miguel Cairo; apparently Bruce Bochte was unwilling to come out of retirement. Elsewhere the most tradeable Mariner, Erik Bedard, hits the DL again, this time due to shoulder tightness. At this rate, they'll be lucky to get the other Adam Jones back in trade.

28


Pirates
43-48
3-4
.421
Down
It's not often that a staff's win leader is optioned to Triple-A, but then again it's not often a pitcher with a 6.57 ERA leads a staff in wins in the first place. That's the score for Tom Gorzelanny, whose backsliding after a nominally respectable five-start stretch prompts the move. He'll be back sooner or later, which is more than can be said for 2002's first overall pick, Bryan Bullington, lost to the Indians on waivers without ever winning a single game for the franchise which selected him ahead of Zack Greinke, Jeff Francis, Joe Saunders, Scott Kazmir, Cole Hamels, Jeremy Guthrie, Joe Blanton, Matt Cain... and that's just the pitchers. Hitters? B.J. Upton, Prince Fielder, Nick Swisher, James Loney... Sleep well, Dave Littlefield, wherever you are.

29


Padres
36-56
3-3
.410
Up
Powerful Vortices of Suck: With Chris Young still on the DL due to a skull fracture sustained by being hit by an Albert Pujols liner, the Padres needed another blow to the head like... well, you know. Alas, Michael Barrett-no stranger to cringe-worthy injuries-fouls a ball off his face and fractures his nose, requiring surgery. Barrett, Josh Bard (still DL'd himself) and their various replacement backstops have combined to hit just .188/.266/.260, and that 526 OPS is the lowest to be found on any team at any position this side of the shortstops for the Royals (.192/.224/.280) and Giants (.201/.282/.234), and-take a bow, John McLaren-the Mariners' designated hitters (.188/.247/.278).

30


Nationals
35-58
1-5
.366
Flat
Insult, Meet Further Injury: In the midst of a five-game losing streak and already minus Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman, the Nats lose Elijah Dukes for at least six weeks due to knee surgery. One of only two Nationals hitters with a double-digit VORP, Dukes had hit .304/.396/.528 since June 1 and had homered three times in a four-game span just before going down. The Nationals' postseason odds are now rapidly approaching zero, raising the question of how often Clay Davenport's Monte Carlo simulations see Walter Johnson rising from the grave to give the team even a minute chance of reaching October.


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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