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August 8, 2008

Prospectus Hit List

Still Rising in the East

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Red Sox
66-49
5-1
.607
Up
Life After Manny: The Sox move beyond last week's histrionics as Jason Bay makes a strong first impression, scoring the winning run in his debut and collecting hits in each of his first six games for a .423/.500/.692 line. On the other hand, there's concern about David Ortiz, who's just 3-for-25 since Manny Ramirez's trade and feeling a click in his previously-injured wrist. That problem aside, Peter Gammons puts the lie to the myth of Ortiz struggling in Ramirez's absence with data showing Bi>g Papi with an OPS nearly 100 points higher without his dreadlocked compadre.

2


Cubs
69-46
4-2
.605
Up
The Cubs wrap up a stretch of 20 straight games without a day off with a 12-8 record overall and on a 9-2 tear. They owe a lot of that record to their rotation, which posted a 2.98 ERA, 8.6 K/9, and 3.0 K/BB since the break. That's good enough to help them take over the league lead in SNLVAR, with Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster ranking third and seventh respectively.

3


Rays
68-46
5-2
.584
Up
Record on the Ray-dar: A 7-1 tear has the Rays poised to overtake the franchise's previous high of 70 wins in short order. They're 13-7 since the All-Star break, tied for second best in the majors and three games better than Boston. Their week ends on an emphatic note, with Carlos Peña capping a six-run ninth-inning with a walk-off homer. Peña is hitting .242/.364/.548 with six homers since the break, compared to .236/.340/.438 before, part of a larger trend that's seen the Rays slug 29 points higher in the second half.

4


Yankees
63-52
4-3
.555
Up
Another Day, Another Injury: Joba Chamberlain leaves the mound early after a sweltering start in Texas with a shoulder injury that's been reported as rotator-cuff tendonitis. With Chien-Ming Wang apparently done for the year and the team scraping by with Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner (or Dan Giese) in the rotation, Chamberlain's trip to the DL imperils their slim playoff hopes. Any hope remaining for the Yankees-who have enough to worry about as they lose ground to begin a 16-of-19 road swing-rests on the shoulders of early-season disappointments Ian Kennedy (who takes Chamberlain's next start) and Philip Hughes, who's slowly rehabbing his way back to the big club.

5


White Sox
63-50
3-3
.555
Down
The White Sox maintain their spot atop the AL Central, but there's cause for alarm given the recent performances of the pitching staff and defense: 6.6 runs per game allowed over the past month, including 19 unearned runs in 24 games. Even excluding the hapless tandem of injured Jose Contreras and replacement Clayton Richards (both with double-digit ERAs in limited duty), the rotation's other four members have combined for a 5.40 ERA and 1.5 homers per nine. There's room for at least a bit of optimism, however, as John Danks' first quality start in exactly a month helps the Sox win back-to-back games for the first time in 10 days.

6


Angels
71-43
3-3
.549
Down
Walking the Walk: It's only been eight games, but the early returns on Mark Teixeira's arrival have been positive for the Angels offense. They're averaging 6.0 runs per game with him in the lineup on .274/.364/.434 hitting, compared to 4.1 runs per game on .261/.322/.399 hitting prior. The key is a 48 percent spike in their walk rate, from 7.6 percent of their PA to 11.3 percent. Bet on this trend to hold up as the sample size increases; Teixeira's hitting philosophy is much different than contact-oriented Casey Kotchman, and he's already drawn seven unintentional walks as an Angel to Kotchman's 15 with the team.

7


Phillies
62-52
3-3
.543
Down
The Phillies surrender a bit of ground in the NL East race when the Marlins beat Cole Hamels in the rubber match of a three-game series at CBP. Hamels' latest outing is good enough to erase the bad taste left by his two previous starts, but his mini-slump highlights the fact that the notoriously fragile Phillie ace leads the league in innings and is just 17 away from a career high. Elsewhere, the shaky rotation has been doing good work lately, with seven quality starts out of their last nine.

8


Mets
60-54
2-4
.543
Down
An ugly week sees the Mets slip in the NL East race, though David Wright redeems a costly error with a walk-off homer to end on a high note. Of more concern is Billy Wagner's trip to the DL for a recurrent forearm strain, leaving the question of who closes in his absence up in the air. Meanwhile, Nate Silver's number-crunching suggests that the Mets would benefit more than any NL club if they deign to buy Bonds to patch their injury-pocked outfield and offset their recent offensive sluggishness.

9


Brewers
64-51
4-2
.539
Up
Boiling Over: For the second summer in a row, the Brewers take out their frustrations on each other in a dugout altercation, this time between Prince Fielder and Manny Parra. The team quickly patches things up and reclaims the lead in the wild-card race. Bookending the week with a pair of strong performances is Jeff Suppan; after putting up a 9.10 ERA over a six-start span dating back to June 20, he allows just three runs in 14 innings.

10


Blue Jays
59-56
5-2
.535
Up
Gaston II: Blue Jay Boogaloo: They're simply playing out the string while the three AL East teams above them jockey for the postseason, but with a 24-17 record since taking over for John Gibbons, Cito Gaston has earned a return engagement for 2009. The offense has responded particularly well under the interim skipper (4.9 runs per game, up from 4.0) while the pitching staff has more or less held its ground (4.1 runs per game, up from 3.9) despite injuries to Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum. McGowan's gone for the year, but Marcum, back from his elbow woes, takes a no-hitter into the fifth, his first good outing out of four since returning.

11


Diamondbacks
59-56
3-4
.525
Down
Draw, Drew, Draw: One major reason the Diamondbacks have pulled out of their two-month tailspin is a change atop the batting order. Since July 12, the Snakes have been leading off with Stephen Drew, who's batting .348/.398/.494 with hits in 20 of 21 games. The team has scored 5.1 runs per game in that span, up from 4.4 runs per game prior, when the leadoff role was primarily in the hands of Chris Young (.230/.314/.395). Drew has adjusted his approach to draw a pass for every 12.3 PA during this stretch, compared to once every 19.8 PA prior.

12


Cardinals
64-53
3-3
.521
Up
Izzy Out: One week after returning to the closer role, Jason Isringhausen loses the job again, this time to rookie Chris Perez. Izzy's carrying a 6.28 ERA and -2.4 WXRL, worst in the majors and the main reason why the team is 14th in the league. Perez was already considered the heir apparent, but had an uneven two-month stint earlier this summer, putting up a 1.59 ERA and then a gopher-prone 6.57 ERA before being sent back down; walks (4.9 per nine) have been a consistent problem.

13


Dodgers
57-57
3-3
.515
Flat
Despite a key ninth-inning GIDP in his Dodger debut, Manny Ramirez is a huge hit in blue, helping the team split four games with first-place Arizona, hitting .565/.615/1.130 with four homers, passing Mel Ott, Ernie Banks, and Eddie Mathews on the all-time home run list. Alas, Joe Torre's managerial malpractice pushes the Dodgers further from the NL West lead; he fails to use his closer in a tied extra-inning road game and watches recently-shelled Jason Johnson surrender a walk-off homer. (Jeff Weaver says hi.) Worse, Torre not only plays whiny Juan Pierre (.279/.325/.315) at the expense of Andre Ethier (.271/.336/.435), but also maintains the suicidal tendency of keeping the $44 million man in the leadoff spot despite his crippling effect on team scoring. Come back, Grady Little, all is forgiven.

14


Twins
63-51
3-3
.514
Flat
The Twins finally do the right thing by recalling Francisco Liriano, and the six shutout innings he tosses in his return help the team move into a first-place tie with the White Sox. Liriano's return has Livan Hernandez leavin', and leaving behind a young, homegrown quartet whose .544 Support-Neutral Winning Percentage (SNLVA_R + .5) would rank fifth in the majors.

15


Tigers
56-58
1-5
.511
Down
The Gas Can Gang: With six-straight losses, the Tigers' ambitions to climb back into the AL Central race take a major hit via a flammable bullpen. Kyle Farnsworth shows why the Yankees were willing to trade him, blowing back-to-back saves while surrendering three homers and fitting right in with Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya, who have surrendered 12 runs (nine earned) in 12 1/3 innings since July 27. The team is now second-to-last in the majors in WXRL and has gone just 47-19 (.712) in games in which they led or were tied entering the seventh inning. The major-league average in those situations is a .780 winning percentage, so Detroit's performance has them about 4 ½ games below par-the difference between contention and pipe dream.

16


Braves
53-62
3-4
.508
Down
Area Pitcher Avoids Fractures, Tears, and Organ Failure In Latest Outing: Rocked for 10 runs in nine innings by the Phillies and Cardinals, Mike Hampton finally notches his first major league win in nearly three years at the expense of the lowly Giants, a team that couldn't hit its way out of a wet paper bag. Don't weep for the man, who's earned about $43 million since his last win while attempting to injure every major body area. The chronological list, according to fantasy site KFFL: back, elbow, knee, oblique, elbow (again), hamstring, groin, pectoral, biceps. Hey buddy, you missed a spot...

17


Athletics
53-61
0-7
.503
Down
0 for Oakland: Losers of 10 straight and 17 out of 19 since the break, these A's are starting to resemble their Philadelphia and Kansas City ancestors more than a Billy Beane team. The enfeebled offense has been outscored 103-53 in the second half while hitting .217/.290/.320 and now rank last in the AL in scoring. Frank Thomas is back from the DL but ineffective (3-for-19), while Eric Chavez is done for the year after just 95 PA, leaving Jack Hannahan (.226/.312/.337) to do his replacement-level shtik.

18


Marlins
61-54
3-3
.496
Flat
Armed: The Marlins take two of three from the Philles to cap a seesaw week in which they neither win nor lose two in a row. They're sticking around the NL East hunt like chewing gum on cleats thanks to their three recent additions to the rotation-Chris Volstad, Josh Johnson, and Anibal Sanchez-who have combined for a 3.16 ERA in 12 starts. With Scott Olsen and Ricky Nolasco, the current Marlins starting five has a .539 Support-Neutral Winning Percentage (SNLVA_R + .5), a rate which would would rank fifth in the NL, instead of their overall ranking of 15th at .452.

19


Rangers
60-56
4-3
.490
Flat
With Milton Bradley already sidelined for the past nine games by a quad strain, the Ranger offense takes another hit when David Murphy runs into a brick wall named Pudge Rodriguez and strains a knee ligament. The Murph had been on a 10-for-20 tear that elevated him to fourth among AL rookies in VORP. By the time he returns in two to four weeks, fellow rookie Chris Davis will likely have passed him; Davis has clubbed 11 homers in 141 PA since debuting on June 26.

20


Indians
49-64
2-4
.477
Down
Must Have Been All Those Hot Dogs He Ate: Masa Kobayashi caps another lousy week for the Indians by surrendering a three-run walk-off homer to Carlos Peña. The Tribe bullpen is not only the majors' worst according to WXRL, they're the worst by nearly five wins. On a much-needed positive note, Cliff Lee continues to sail. He leads the league in SNLVAR and wins, and is second in ERA.

21


Orioles
54-59
3-3
.477
Flat
Departures and Arrivals: A broken foot may end Adam Jones' season, freezing his final line at .279/.320/.405, a .264 EqA in the adjusted for all-time flavor-not horrendous for a 22-year-old, though his 92/19 K/BB ratio obviously needs improvement. Jones' replacement on the roster, Luis Montanez, homers in his first major league at-bat; he was leading the Eastern League in all Triple Crown categories, which isn't terribly impressive for a 26-year-old. Meanwhile, another questionable call-up, Chris Waters, blanks the Angels in his major-league debut (8 1 0 0 3 3).

22


Rockies
52-65
3-4
.468
Down
They may have the best record in the NL since the All-Star break, but the Rockies' pretense of contention isn't exactly holding up these days, as the team loses three out of four to the Nationals to drop 12 games under .500. Claiming Livan Hernandez, the world's most hittable pitcher, off waivers looks like one from the Big Book of Bad Ideas. Chapter 3, in fact: "Though shalt not put a fly-baller in a home-run haven, nor in front of a defense that ranks among the league's bottom quartile in Defensive Efficiency..." This won't end well.

23


Astros
55-59
5-2
.452
Up
Winners of eight out of 11, the Astros owe it all to Darin Erstad. The 'Stro streak has coincided with Ol' Punty's entry into the lineup to cover for Michael Bourn's sprained ankle, and while Erstad's performance (.297/.303/.297) has been thinner than prison gruel, it's better than Bourne's sub-replacement level showing. Furthermore, he leads the league in Game Face and Uniform Dirt Factor, as evidenced by the team's 19-18 record with him in the lineup. Like Wile E. Coyote, Ed Wade's a genius, and if you need additional proof, note the growing legend of recently-acquired bullpen ace LaTroy Hawkins.

24


Royals
53-62
3-3
.450
Up
Cleaning Up the Meche: The Royals split with the pair of Sox, as Gil Meche keeps Boston at bay to win his fourth straight start. He's very quietly been on a roll for the last two months; after an unsightly 5.54 ERA and 1.3 HR/9 through his first 13 starts, Meche has yielded a 2.69 ERA and 0.4 HR/9 over his last eight thanks to a better job of pitching inside by taking a bit of heat off his fastball.

25


Reds
52-64
1-6
.428
Down
The Bad, The Worse and The Ugly: Losers of 11 out of 13 including a sweep at the hands of the lowly Nationals, the Reds resort to the dreaded players-only meeting in an attempt to shake things up. Defense has been a huge problem, with crucial errors and the majors' worst Defensive Efficiency, a problem not helped by the shortstop curse that's claimed Alex Gonzalez, Jeff Keppinger, and Jerry Hairston Jr. Meanwhile, Homer Bailey puts up his fifth disaster start out of his last seven; he's carrying a 7.93 ERA this year and 6.48 lifetime through 76 1/3 innings.

26


Mariners
45-70
4-3
.423
Flat
Now a relatively-respectable 19-23 under interim manager Jim Riggleman, the Mariners continue to play for next year. They finally farm out Brandon Morrow to convert him to the rotation, a move that produces the usual hand-wringing exercises while ignoring the fact that the bullpen, even with Morrow's efforts, has been one of the majors' worst. Elsewhere, the M's finally ditch Jose Vidro, whose abysmal performance (.234/.274/.338) was the worst among designated hitters according to VORP.

27


Giants
48-65
4-2
.423
Up
Barry O: Barry Zito pitches his best game of the year, tossing eight scoreless-innings of three-hit ball against Jake Peavy and a Padres lineup that surprisingly includes no tubercular orphans, indigent mothers, or other charity cases to tarnish the feat (beyond the fact that it was in Petco Park, of course). Zito's put up a 3.77 ERA with three quality starts out of his last five, and when the fog over the San Francisco Bay lifts, he can at last see replacement level.

28


Pirates
52-62
2-4
.413
Down
Near-Perfect Present: While the Pirates' deadline-related deals were all about building for a much brighter future, they have to be pleased with Jeff Karstens' performance thus far. The former Yankee has put up 15 scoreless innings for the Bucs against two first-place teams, including taking a perfect game into the eighth against the Diamondbacks before settling for a two-hit shutout. Amid the rest of the week's ugliness, fellow newcomer Andy LaRoche belts his first home run for Pittsburgh... and sits with a minor thumb injury.

29


Padres
44-71
2-4
.402
Flat
Chop Shop Stopped? Losers of six out of eight, including two thwarted ninth-inning comebacks against the Mets, the Padres have little to do but carve up their roster in the service of a rebuilding effort-and even then they've got troubles. Greg Maddux clears waivers, but plans to trade him to the Dodgers unravel when the Pads are asked to pick up most of his remaining salary. Brian Giles is claimed by the Red Sox, a move that may represent more of a desire to block him from reaching the Rays than a wholehearted effort to provide insurance for David Ortiz. Giles' no-trade clause could hold up any deal to Boston, so don't hold your breath.

30


Nationals
44-71
6-1
.391
Up
It's a rare winning week for the Nats, who sweep the Reds and take three of four from the Rockies. Shorn of some deadwood, the majors' worst offense collects at least eight hits in every game while batting a combined .314/.384/.475, a performance all the more surprising given injuries to Cristian Guzman, Elijah Dukes (DL-bound for the third time this year due to a calf strain), and Ryan Zimmerman-two of their top three VORPers plus the player projected to be the leader. The offense might have an even better chance if Manny Acta kept playing team home-run leader Ronnie Belliard, but perhaps he's just sparing us the sight of Belliard's tongue.


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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