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August 15, 2008

Prospectus Hit List

Streaks and Strings

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Red Sox
71-51
5-2
.614
Up
Zink Stink: More than four years after The New Yorker heralded him as the knuckleball's Next Big Thing, Charlie Zink finally makes his major league debut, but it doesn't go well. Starting in place of injured Tim Wakefield and staked to a 10-run first-inning lead via two David Ortiz three-run jacks, Zink gets pounded (4.1 11 8 8 1 1) and is ultimately chased from a wild 19-17 slugfest which ends with the Sox on top. He's sent back to Pawtucket while the Red Sox try to patch their rotation with Paul Byrd. They'd do well to restore Justin Masterson to the front five, particularly as he's been limited to janitorial duty since moving to the bullpen; his .564 Support Neutral Winning Percentage dwarfs any of the team's other fifth-starter options.

2


Cubs
74-47
5-1
.611
Up
A 6-1 burst helps the Cubs absorb the momentum of the Brewers' latest run, and there's nary a dull moment here. Skipper Lou Piniella gets hot under his collar over Alfonso Soriano's hot-dogging and creates a stir by suggesting that Kosuke Fukudome needs to improve his performance. Mired in a 2-for-29 slump, the right fielder promptly snaps out of it by collecting four hits in a doubleheader, but his .240/.338/.360 performance since May 2 still isn't much to write Chunichi about.

3


Rays
73-47
5-1
.589
Up
The Rays set a franchise record with their 71st win, but it's a painful week as they lose both Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford to the DL. Longoria leads both the Rays and all rookie hitters in VORP, and has a wrist fracture that will sideline him until September, while Crawford, who's having an off season (.273/.319/.400), has a torn tendon in his finger that could end his 2008. The return of Rocco Baldelli may help cover for the latter, but this offense, which is 10th in the league in scoring but third in EqA, needs another big bat more than ever.

4


White Sox
68-52
5-2
.564
Up
With four straight homers by Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, Alexei Ramirez, and Juan Uribe, the White Sox tie a major league record and extend their major league lead in the long-ball department; they have eight more than the Phillies and 23 more than the Rangers, who rank second in the AL. Alas, the Sox lack the power to accelerate the healing of the wounded, so they'll be without Jose Contreras the rest of the way after he tore his Achilles tendon. That's a tough loss, because despite having the rotation's highest ERA by a hair, Contreras is third on the team in SNLVAR and Support Neutral Winning Percentage.

5


Angels
75-44
4-1
.559
Up
West Coasting: It's a breezy week for the Angels, who sweep the Yankees at home and open up a whopping 15½-game lead in the AL West. They're now 11.9 games above their third-order projection, a figure that's tied for fourth all-time and less than one win off the 2004 Yankees' all-time mark of 12.7, all of which should add some suspense as the team coasts to its fourth division title in five years. The Halos are 23-13 in one-run games and an even more impressive 21-5 in two-run games, records that speak well of a bullpen that's second in the league in WXRL.

6


Brewers
70-52
6-1
.556
Up
An eight-game winning streak helps last week's dugout drama blow over as the Brewers assert their hold on the NL Wild Card. Coming up big is CC Sabathia, who shuts out the Nationals (9 5 0 0 1 9) and runs his line to 7-1, 1.55 ERA since being traded from Cleveland; his 6.1 SNLVAR tops the majors. Back spasms keep Ryan Braun from joining the party, but Gabe Kapler's 13th-inning home run eases the pain a bit; the supersub is hitting .304/.337/.490 from off of the bench.

7


Mets
65-56
5-2
.550
Up
Is Manuel's Cap Too Tight? With the pressure of Billy Wagner's absence clearly impeding the flow of oxygen to his brain after a bullpen meltdown, Jerry Manuel threatens to move a starter—either Oliver Perez or John Maine—into the temporarily vacant closer role. This from the skipper of a team that's consulted the Bureau of Missing Persons to locate the likes of Nelson Figueroa, Brandon Knight, and Brian Stokes to patch their rotation. Manuel would do well not to tempt fate with Perez riding a 1.71 ERA and 55/18 K/BB over his last eight starts and Maine having tossed five innings of shutout ball in his return from the DL, albeit against a Nationals lineup that's about as threatening as your niece's tea party nephew's tee-ball team.

8


Yankees
64-57
1-5
.540
Down
Farnsworth's Revenge: The Yankees deal themselves a crippling blow by going 3-7 on "the worst road trip since the Joad family went to California." They've now lost 12 of 18, a span during which their Playoff Odds have shrunk from 34.8 to 4.6 percent. Ian Kennedy flops in his return to the battered rotation and winds up back in Scranton, but the bigger trouble is the bullpen, which is torched for an 8.78 ERA on the trip, including a 10-run meltdown in Anaheim that drops them to seventh in the league in WXRL.

9


Phillies
64-57
2-5
.534
Down
Phlop: A four-game sweep by the Dodgers knocks the Phillies out of first place in the NL East for the first time since July 29. The rotation's best efforts (3.52 ERA this month) are going to waste between an offense that has picked the wrong time to cool down (3.3 runs per game on .206/.312/.371 hitting) and a bullpen that's showing signs of wear (4.46 ERA), with Brad Lidge resting his shoulder, Tom Gordon nearing a point of reckoning on his elbow and the remaining unit frittering away leads. Not good.

10


Cardinals
68-56
4-3
.529
Up
Red Alert: The Cardinals' playoff aspirations take a hit in the standings and the training room as they lose ground to torrid Chicago and Milwaukee clubs and are forced to scratch Chris Carpenter from at least one start due to a strain at the back of his shoulder. The 2005 Cy Young winner has compiled a 1.88 ERA in three abbreviated starts since his return from Tommy John surgery, but the rest of the rotation has failed to back him up; they've yielded a 4.94 ERA since the All-Star break while surrendering 1.8 HR/9, and the team is now just 15-13 in the second half.

11


Blue Jays
62-60
3-4
.527
Down
Rolen Downhill: Scott Rolen goes on the shelf with shoulder pain on the same day that Vernon Wells returns from the DL. As with Wells, it's Rolen's second stint of the year; he missed the first 23 games with a finger injury and five of his previous 11 with his latest woes. In the challenge trade that sent Troy Glaus to St. Louis, Rolen has been handily outplayed, 5.7 WARP1 to 2.5, and he's threatening to put up his third single-digit homer season out of the last four.

12


Dodgers
62-59
5-2
.526
Up
The Manny Show: He flouts Joe Torre's order to cut his dreadlocks; au contraire, the Dodgers are planning to market his 'do. He takes mid-game trips to the bathroom that have his teammates searching for his whereabouts. And he's continuing to rake (.438/.542/.813 with five homers since the trade) while the Dodgers reclaim a share of first place, so it's all smiles for Manny Ramirez—and so much whine in Boston that they could open a vineyard. Speaking of former Red Sox, Nomar Garciaparra swaps places with Andruw Jones on the DL, plugging the gaping vortex of suck at shortstop, and promptly hitting a walk-off homer to cap a six-run comeback.

13


Diamondbacks
62-59
3-3
.522
Flat
O-No: The Diamondbacks try to keep pace with the Dodgers' acquisition of Manny Ramirez by trading for a big bat of their own in Adam Dunn, but unless he can play second base, the week's transactions are a net loss for the Snakes. Orlando Hudson is now done for the year (again) due to a wrist injury that requires two surgeries. The O-Dog is the most valuable member of the D-Back lineup according to WARP; he's second in EqA and 16 runs above average in the field, the secret ingredient to ground-baller Brandon Webb's success, and his loss is hardly a trivial matter in a tight race.

14


Twins
67-53
4-2
.518
Up
The Twins take two of three from the Yankees behind their young rotation, and Delmon Young's three-homer week offers hope that the former top prospect, who'd hit just four home runs prior, may have located his long-lost power stroke. Further optimism comes via Alexi Casilla, who two weeks ago appeared to be losing the rest of his season to surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right thumb. Instead he'll return next week, though the switch-hitter will be limited to batting right-handed, his weaker side (.286/.309/.364 this year, compared to .325/.370/.452). When the alternatives are Brendan Harris and Nick Punto, it's worth a shot.

15


Tigers
59-62
3-4
.514
Up
Going Nowhere: It's not a sour-fest until Gary Sheffield has his say, and so with the Tigers' season slipping away, Shef and manager Jim Leyland trade barbs about the once-feared slugger's limited role. Not-so-coincidentally placed on waivers, Shef responds by hitting a pair of homers, but his .220/.322/.387 performance, $17.5 million price tag (including next year), and stylish Samsonite collection suggest he's staying put. Meanwhile, the team finally gets some relief from struggling Joel Zumaya when his shoulder pain turns out to be tearing scar tissue instead of a rotator cuff or labrum injury.

16


Braves
55-66
2-4
.501
Down
Mark Kotsay hits for the cycle, but his performance is overshadowed by Tom Glavine being torched in his first start after a two-month stay on the DL. Pitching through a partially torn flexor tendon, Glavine's poor showing may herald the beginning of the end for the 305-game winner, who has put up a 6.84 ERA over his last 16 starts. Not all returns are so unhappy; Chipper Jones homers in his first game back off the DL; he's still fourth in the league in VORP despite missing 27 games.

17


Athletics
55-65
2-4
.492
Down
Brad Ziegler's scoreless streak comes to an end just after he ties the single-seson record for consecutive shutout innings by a reliever at 39 (Al Benton of the 1949 Indians is the co-holder). Alas, the run comes in another A's loss, which is nothing new; they're 4-21 since the All-Star break. At least they doubled their second-half win total this week, right?

18


Marlins
63-59
2-5
.490
Down
Despite the efforts of a remade rotation that's helped the staff post the league's third-best ERA since the All-Star break, the Marlins can't seem to make much headway in the NL East race because they haven't won (or lost) more than two games in a row in the second half. The offense is hitting just .239/.325/.392 in that span, with Hanley Ramirez and Josh Willingham both slugging below .380 and Dan Uggla—perhaps traumatized by the Midsummer Classic—hitting an uggl-y .198/.294/.344 while falling well behind Chase Utley in the Great Second Base Home Run Chase of '08.

19


Indians
54-66
5-2
.487
Up
High on the list of where things went wrong with the 2008 Indians is the performance of Asdrubal Cabrera, whose late-2007 showing was a key upgrade that helped the team reach the ALCS. The 22-year-old second baseman got off to a wretched start this year (.184/.282/.247 through June 8), earning him a refresher course in Buffalo, but he's shown signs of life (.289/.386/.474) since being recalled, most notably this week's eight-hit spree that helps the Tribe win four straight. Elsewhere, the dismantling continues, as Paul Byrd follows CC Sabathia and Casey Blake out the door via a cash deal to Boston.

20


Orioles
58-62
4-3
.485
Up
Chad Bradford's gone, but the rest of the waiver bait is still here, with George Sherrill staying but Aubrey Huff, Kevin Millar, Jay Payton, and Jamie Walker having cleared. Huff is the prize, leading the team in VORP and currently threatening to set a career high in EqA, but he's got $10 million remaining on a contract that runs through next season. Speaking of money, the organization is reportedly getting nowhere in their attempts to lock up Nick Markakis, who's hitting a robust .306/.403/.499 and looking like he'll be worth every penny if and when they eventually do.

21


Astros
62-59
7-0
.477
Up
An eight-game winning streak vaults the Astros back over .500, but the team's microscopic Playoff Odds, which have remained below one percent despite a 17-8 second-half record, take a major hit with the loss of Carlos Lee. El Caballo, who's second on the team and 11th in the league in VORP breaks his pinkie on the heels of a stretch that had seen him hit .381/.446/.690 over the past two months. On a more positive note, Lance Berkman snaps a 33-game homerless string with two in a three-game span; he'd hit a very uneven .252/.403/.324 between jacks.

22


Rangers
61-61
1-5
.474
Down
The Rangers score a combined 32 runs over a two-game stretch, snapping a four-game, four-run drought. Alas, they win only one of those games, their sole victory in a brutal eight-game stretch that concludes with a genuine Boston massacre. Kicking off (note the football reference) with a 19-17 loss in which they stake the Red Sox to 10 first-inning runs but come back for a 15-14 lead, they surrender 36 runs in a three-game span, with starters Scott Feldman, Luis Mendoza, and Tommy Hunter combining to allow 29 (22 earned) in just 7 2/3 innings. Mendoza now has the lowest VORP of any AL pitcher since 1959; he might just join quasi-cousin Mario with his own line of futility.

23


Rockies
54-69
2-4
.460
Down
Rock and Roll Over: Losers of six out of eight, the Rox just can't get the hang of this contention thing after all, not that anyone who took them for a legitimate threat a week ago will be convinced otherwise now that even a 13-game winning streak wouldn't take them to .500. Jeff Francis' two starts since returning from a six-week DL stint actually bump his ERA higher, Livan Hernandez's debut is as rocky as you'd expect (2.2 7 9 9 4 1), and there's word on the street that Todd Helton's back woes will prevent him from returning this year. The only flag the Rockies will be waving for 2008 is a white one.

24


Royals
54-67
1-5
.435
Down
The Royals dig deep into those couch cushions but only scrape up enough offense to score 11 runs for the week, including just two in a three-game set against the White Sox. Their lone victory comes when .153-hitting Teeny Tiny Tony Peña Jr. tries unsuccessfully to call time before lashing a game-winning single in the 12th. As with Peña's spectacular mop-up relief, I suppose we should be grateful to the Royals for harboring such a pathetic underdog who provides the occasional offbeat entertainment to paper over another dismal stretch, though I fear their long-suffering fans may deserve a less intriguing, more talented player.

25


Reds
54-68
2-4
.421
Down
Dunn Gone: Losers of 15 out of 18, the Reds ship Adam Dunn and cash to the Diamondbacks for two PTBNLs (one of them reportedly Micah Owings) and an A-baller coming off Tommy John surgery. Paired with the recent trade of Ken Griffey Jr., the moves have done little to improve the franchise, unless indulging Dusty Baker's bizarre fetish for playing Corey Patterson (.196/.227/.347) in center field instead of Jay Bruce counts. Might as well send Patterson to the plate with Dusty's toothpick for all the good it's doing this team.

26


Mariners
46-74
1-4
.418
Down
Just for future reference, the Mariners might want to rethink this free agency thing. Carlos Silva's lashing out, apparently unaware that his 5.93 ERA leaves little room for moral authority. Miguel Batista's at 6.75, and even Mariner fans would probably rather listen to him read his sub-Vogon poetry instead of pitch. Jose Vidro's gone, but Raul Ibañez and Jarrod Washburn are staying, having been claimed on waivers but not traded. In other news, the club will have to keep a stiff upper lip with Willie Bloomquist being lost for the season. As in injured, not just in the batter's box (.279/.377/.285—yes, that's one extra-base hit to show for 165 at-bats).

27


Giants
50-70
2-5
.416
Down
Sub-Zero: Barry Bonds is in the house but not to play, merely to soak up some applause and survey the team's current mess. Perhaps shamed by their lack of offense, the Giants shuffle the deck chairs on their sinking ship, replacing a pair of sub-replacement-level corner infielders in Jose Castillo (.244/.290/.381) and John Bowker (.247/.296/.397), the latter tied for second on the team in homers despite having none since July 2. They'll be replaced by some guys Brian Sabean found at the bus station (you know, their "minor league system") and really, you'll scarcely be able to tell a difference.

28


Pirates
55-66
3-4
.411
Flat
Shorn of Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, the post-deadline Bucs are having some stick troubles. They're hitting .236/.299/.345 in August while scoring just 3.1 runs per game, and the new guys are in quite a funk. Andy LaRoche is just 4-for-29 while dealing with the effects of being hit on the thumb, Brandon Moss is showing why playing him every day is a stretch (.191/.296/.383), and Steven Pearce has yet to find a groove (.229/.270/.314). It'll get better for the Pirates, particularly if they can wrap up Pedro Alvarez before he turns into a pumpkin, but the near term doesn't look pretty.

29


Padres
47-74
3-3
.408
Up
Hell No, I Won't Go: Brian Giles vetoes a waiver deal to the Red Sox and helps the Padres wile away another forgettable week in a season all too full of them. Giles takes advantage of a trip to the anti-Petco, bopping two doubles and two homers in a three-game series at Coors Field. He's hitting .316/.399/.476 on the road this season, compared to .269/.371/.391 in their offense-smothering home, numbers that suggest he's a lock to have his $9 million option picked up.

30


Nationals
44-78
0-7
.372
Down
Nothing to Crow About: Fresh off their best week of the season, the Nationals roll over and lose seven straight to a pair of contenders, getting shut out three times and managing just 11 runs in the process. The less said about that the better, unless it's to distract attention away from the situation regarding first-round pick Aaron Crow. With the signing deadline approaching at midnight on Friday, the two sides are playing chicken. The pitcher is asking for a big-league contract and a bonus two or three times over slot, and has signed a deal with the independent league Fort Worth Cats.


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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