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July 25, 2008

Prospectus Hit List


by Marc Normandin

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Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor


Red Sox
Clay Buchholz gave us a mixed bag this week, with an eight-run outing versus the Angels that ended after just 4 2/3 IP followed up by a start against the hapless Mariners with 7 K in 5 1/3 IP and three runs allowed. The Sox bats (slugging .345 in 206 AB) didn't do the team any favors during their 3-3 week, as the team was outscored 25-22 despite four games with four or fewer runs allowed by the pitching.


Going 3-4 over your last seven normally shouldn't be too much of a problem, but with the Brewers winning eight straight and the Cardinals keeping pace with the Cubs just a few games out, things are starting to look problematic on the North Side. Ryan Theriot was the offense this week, hitting .391/.481/.522, while the club as a whole hit a mehtastic .223/.273/.381, thanks to Geovany Soto (.083/.083/.083) and Aramis Ramirez (.040/.077/.040), among others.


Thanks to a loss to the Royals last night, the Rays and Red Sox are once again tied up for first in the AL East. Things are getting interesting thanks to the Yankees' hot play after the break, as they are now just three games back of the two powerhouses. They were 4-3 the past week in spite of their offense (.236/.329/.398) thanks to a strong showing by both their rotation and their bullpen (.222/.299/.362). They had a tough time coming back once they fell behind, hitting just .192/.264/.323 while trailing and .183/.280/.282 off of relievers. With three more against the Royals and a series against the Jays to close out the month, they may be able to reverse that trend.


White Sox
The rotation had a solid week, holding opponents to .239/.289/.408, but the bullpen did their best to ruin those efforts, because the opposition pushed them around (.292/.391/.458). This essentially wasted not only a good showing from the starters, but also one from the offense (.281/.375/.490), which explains their .500 record since the All-Star break. The pen will need to curb their wastefulness this next week, with a series against the Tigers and a four-game set with the Twins coming up right afterward.


The Yankees have been making headlines in the tabloids, but the team on the field deserves credit for their six-game win streak where they outscored opponents 38-12 thanks to a .236/.286/.284 opponent line. The starters were good, but the bullpen was filthy, allowing just a .206 SLG over 63 at-bats. They might need all the wins they can get now, with both Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui potentially lost for the year; there's no guarantee that Barry Bonds is going to play the role of knight in shining armor for the Bombers, but his addition could shake things up in the East as long as he's in playing shape.


It's tough to lose when your offense's OBP is 100 points higher than what your pitching staff is allowing, so it's no surprise that the Brewers have won all eight games since the All-Star break ended. If there was any effect from Ryan Braun's participation in the Home Run Derby on his performance, it has been positive, as he has a pair of dingers and an .893 SLG post-break. The only regular who isn't hitting is Jason Kendall, but that's almost a given, and even with his struggles the Brew Crew smacked the ball around at a .289/.369/.525 clip.


Mets starters, normally a strong unit, had a rough go of it this week, but they still managed to take two of three from the Phillies and start the weekend in first place out East. After looking done last year and at the beginning of this one, Carlos Delgado had eight hits against the Reds this week and a game-winning RBI in extras, and he's hitting .289/.348/.512 away from Shea and .294/.380/.603 everywhere since June 15. He still needs a platoon partner against southpaws (610 OPS against), but the Mets will take anything from him given the horrors of the previous year-plus of play.


Joe Blanton's first start for the Phillies was less than satisfactory, with a lone strikeout against three walks, two homers, and five runs over six innings. With Blanton most likely another five- or six-inning guy in the rotation, the bullpen—tops in the NL in WXRL—is going to need to stay productive down the stretch to pick up the slack. They failed at that task over the past week, with opponents slugging .452 against them and reaching base at a .427 clip; that contributed to the 2-4 record on the week for the team, and now the Phils find themselves one back of the Mets, a 4-game swing since the beginning of the month.


The A's haven't done themselves any favors since Billy Beane started waving the white flag, with the offense hitting .209/.274/.284 on the week (if you can call that hitting) and the team going 1-5 since the break because of it. With the dealing away of Joe Blanton, Beane has thrown almost every vestige of 2007's rotation out the door; Joe Kennedy's tragic death aside, seven of the 10 starters who appeared last year are pitching elsewhere, and the entire group would have been turned over if not for Lenny DiNardo and Dallas Braden making three starts between them this year.


Chone Figgins hit .222/.250/.296 the past week, continuing his trend of awful plate production since returning from injury in June (.232/.309/.280 in 125 at-bats), but that's not enough to slow down the Halo's bats (.325/.359/.524 the past week). The outburst helped propel them to a 5-1 week, which opened up a ten-game lead out West and finally put some space between their RS and RA.


Blue Jays
Adam Lind may be free for good—until he has an 0-for-4 night and the front office overreacts, anyways—as he's hit .377/.391/.656 on the month. He'll need to work on his plate discipline once he cools off in order to keep pitchers from burying him with adjustments, but at least it's a start to a career that's had a hard time getting started through little fault of his own. With three teams in front of them and a few remaining holes in their lineup, chances are good that the Jays won't make a serious push for the playoffs, but a hot Adam Lind is something they didn't have in the first half.


Armando Galarraga was the star last week, throwing 13 2/3 innings over two starts with 13 punchouts, only one walk, and six runs allowed despite giving up three homers; just 12 baserunners in nearly 14 innings will do that for you. Even with Joel Zumaya around, the bullpen still can't get it together, however: they were hit for a .289/.385/.526 line on the week, with an extra-base hit allowed every seven at-bats to go along with their 15 walks and four HBP, so naturally they still rank with the dregs of the league in WXRL.


The Cardinals looked good out of the gate from the break, taking four straight from the Padres—then again, who hasn't looked good against San Diego this year?—but they had their legs knocked out from beneath them by the streaking Brewers. Kyle Lohse was the only impressive starter for the week, with 11 strikeouts in 15 innings against just a pair of walks and five runs allowed. The rest of the rotation combined for an RA of 6.45 in their 31 1/3 innings of work, though Jaime Garcia's debut wasn't all bad, with four Ks in five innings and three runs allowed.


Mark Teixeira has started to heat up, just in time for the trade deadline if the Braves decide to move him rather than attempt to re-sign the slugging first baseman. He's hit .296/.447/.630 in the past month (81 at-bats) and has even started to hit from the left side (.254/.389/.576), a sore spot during most of the first half for the switch-hitter.


With LA just one game out, the D'backs need more performances like the ones they had this past week. The starters combined for a 2.48 ERA, and even that's misleading since Doug Davis gave up eight of those 11 runs during his two starts. It's surprising they didn't give up more with opponents slugging .424 off of them for the week, but again that's mostly on Davis.


The Twins have dropped four straight, so they've been unable to take advantage of division-leading Chicago's 4-6 record over their last 10 and sit 2 games back in the Central. They continue to be an average team who has done moderately well in one-run games (20-16 on the season), thanks to one of the better bullpens in the majors: they have outscored their opponents by just five runs this month, and though that has helped their run differential slightly, they are still just +15 on the season, a far cry from the White Sox' +83 mark.


Nomar is back from injury, and it's been so far, so good for the Dodgers' new shortstop. He's hit .304/.346/.592 since taking over at short on Independence Day, and though it's too early to make anything of his defensive data after just a few weeks of play, both John Dewan's Revised Zone Rating and his FRAA data say he's been average, which is surprising given his considerable history with mobility-reducing injuries. The Dodgers infield defense is already pretty poor, so if Garciaparra can keep things from falling apart for just a few more months, it would be a boost to the ground-ballers on the staff.


The Marlins needed to make a splash in the standings coming off the All-Star break, with series against the Phillies, Braves, Cubs, and Mets all on the docket before they could put July in the books. They've struggled to do so halfway through it, going 3-4 since before even getting to the now division-leading Mets; these things happen when you hit .205/.291/.358 as a team. Since they are already playing with house money (given their Hit List ranking and expected record), a poor weekend could effectively knock them out of things with the Mets on the rise and the Phils a legitimate contender.


The Rangers are now just a half-game back of an Athletics team that has had praises heaped upon it, and they've done it in a much tougher environment for pitchers. Of course, part of this is due to their 20-11 record in one-run games helping them to beat out their expected W-L record. Josh Hamilton might still be exhausted from his week with the media and his impressive first round of the Home Run Derby: he cobbled together a meager .200/.273/.350 showing, helping to drag down the sputtering offense.


The Orioles hit .303/.373/.563 on the week, but still just managed to go 3-5 thanks to the pitching staff (.299/.382/.490). They scored eight runs in three contests since the All-Star break, and lost two of them, and were then outscored by a combined 12-2 during Thursday's pseudo doubleheader against the Blue Jays. The most embarrassing stat for the week may be that Jeremy Guthrie was the only starter to avoid walking at least six hitters per nine during his starts.


For once, the Indians' pen outperformed the rotation, though neither had an admirable week: the bullpen allowed just a .300 OBP, but gave up plenty of extra-base knocks with a .455 SLG. The rotation couldn't keep runners off the basepaths, with a .356/.400/.497 week. This wasted an uncharacteristically good week from the offense, who had nearly half of their 57 hits go for extra bases. That's what helped them go 7-3 over their last ten, putting them just a half-game behind the fourth-place Royals, but still 7 in back of the third-place Tigers.


The Rox only played at home this week, so they beat the hell out of the ball, slugging .619 as a team with a combined .250 ISO. For the season though, that home/road split has been killer: the Rockies are 31-22 at home, giving them a home winning percentage that matches up with all takers except the Rays and Cubs, but are 14-36 outside of Colorado thanks to a .238/.309/.354 showing by the offense. Matt Holliday may not be a Rockie come next week's Hit List, and is slugging .459 on the road, which isn't bad, but isn't anything like the .677 he casually pumps out a mile above sea level.


Homer Bailey continues to try to convince the Reds he's ready for the majors, throwing 6 1/3 against the Padres while giving up three runs. Of course, he only struck out a pair in the contest, and it was San Diego, so we'll need better evidence. Since his awful May, Edwin Encarnacion has turned things around: he's hit .317/.424/.667 from June 1 onward, and he carried the offense with a .913 SLG this week.


It's incredible that the Royals have gone 3-4 since the All-Star break, as the pitching staff was beat senseless in nearly every contest. Opponents outslugged the Royals .486 to .330 this week, partially thanks to a 19-4 drubbing at the hands of the Tigers. The rest of the week was pretty even though, with 33 runs allowed against 28 scored, despite the odd run distribution per game. With the Indians playing solid baseball as of late, the Royals need to get back into gear to avoid sliding back into last place in the AL Central.


If you ignore facts, it's easy to convince yourself that your thought process is flawless. For example, the Astros think that with two months left in the season they are going to overtake the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates, and make the playoffs. This is why they acquired Randy Wolf for the stretch run, even though he has a 6.63 ERA and 1.3 HR/9 this year outside of the friendly confines of Petco Park. They could have just called up Chad Reineke, the player dealt, to give him a trial; he may even be on par with the risky and ineffective Wolf, and nothing beats a working, relatively inexpensive in-house solution.


The Brewers took three straight from the Giants, who then took their frustrations out on one of the few teams with a bleaker 2008 than they by winning three. A .500 showing isn't bad for a team with an overall record worse than that, and they also moved themselves out of some poor company by bringing their month's OPS up from 595 this Sunday (the fifth-worst monthly OPS of the decade) to 622. There's still time to drop back under 600 and onto the list once again, but either way, their July performance at the plate has done away with much of the good that their strong rotation has accomplished.


The break-even week was the product of four straight losses while visiting Colorado, followed by three straight wins versus the Astros and a series-opening win versus the Padres. Pittsburgh's a few games over expectations thanks to a quality bullpen that has helped them in one-run games (19-14 on the year), but their victories this week were a different story: they outscored the opposition 34-13 after the Rockies slapped them silly for 28 runs over four games.


There's nothing like your pitching holding opponents to a 755 OPS, only to have your offense miss out on that by 60 points. Seattle won their first game after the break, but since then the Indians and Red Sox have taken turns stealing their lunch money and beating them up for kicks. Strangely enough, while the offense was busy losing games, Jose Vidro hit for once (.444/.474/.667). Mariners fans will need to find a new player to rag on, at least until his next spell of Vidro-ness comes up; Kenji Johjima "hit" .062/.062/.062 for the week, nominating himself for the vacated position.


Padres pitchers outperformed most of the offense with the bat this week, hitting .286/.333/.500 in 14 at-bats, but not all was bad for the lineup. Scott Hairston continued his successful season at the plate with a .333/.444/.733 showing, and though Adrian Gonzalez only slugged .400, his elder brother Edgar made up for it with a .500/.533/.750 week. If the Padres are serious about dealing Kevin Kouzmanoff to make room for Chase Headley at third base, he's been doing his best to make himself attractive to other teams, slugging .517 for the week with a .207 ISO.


It was a rough week for the Nationals starters, with 22 runs allowed over 35 innings pitched. Considering John Lannan only allowed a single run in his six innings of work, there were four guys who didn't carry their weight. The Nats are 2-4 since the break, and things probably won't get better with series against the Dodgers and Phillies coming up, especially if their pitching—one of the lone bright spots on the season—doesn't get itself back together.

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.

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