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August 22, 2008

Prospectus Hit List

Cramped Quarters

by Jay Jaffe

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

1


Cubs
78-49
4-2
.615
Up
Rich Harden avoids straining any ligaments while thumbing his nose at his critics following his 20th start of the year, his most since 2004. He's put up a 1.50 ERA in seven outings since being acquired from Oakland and now ranks seventh in the majors in SNLVAR and first in Support Neutral Winning Percentage (SNLVA_R + .5). Not that he and his staff-mates don't owe the team's defense a debt of gratitude for that extra-special something; the Cubs lead the majors in Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, and they're now within a half-game of their largest divisional lead of the year.

2


Red Sox
73-54
2-3
.606
Down
Rotation Situation: The Sox slip a little further behind Tampa Bay and into a tie with the Twins in the wild-card race, and their jumbled rotation is to blame. Josh Beckett is pushed back due to mysterious numbness in his fingers, while Clay Buchholz takes another pounding and is finally shipped out after going 0-for-7 in quality starts since his return. The lineup has its own problems, as the team loses Mike Lowell to the DL with an oblique strain and watches J.D. Drew sit with lower back problems. Don't start printing those playoff tickets just yet.

3


Rays
77-49
4-2
.591
Flat
Where Is My Mind? Attention to the Rays' moderate success in patching through injuries to Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and Troy Percival (suffering from cartilage problems in his knee) is diverted by the plight of B.J. Upton, who is benched by manager Joe Maddon for the third time in two weeks for failing to hustle. He then commits another baserunning gaffe that has folks wondering where exactly the 23-year-old center fielder's attention lies. Luckily for the Rays, the likes of Carlos Peņa (.246/.425/.646 this month), Willy Aybar (.295/.358/.525 this month) and Eric Hinske (three homers in a six-game span) pick up the offense, enabling the Rays to widen their AL East lead.

4


White Sox
73-53
5-1
.582
Up
Even an 8-1 tear in which they've buzzsawed through the league's weakest sisters by a 74-18 margin has the White Sox just a half-game ahead of the Twins in the tight AL Central race. While Ken Griffey Jr. ties Sammy Sosa for fifth on the all-time home run list at 609, his first homer as a White Sock highlights the fact that he's been something of a dud on the South Side (.239/.321/.304). More promisingly, Alexei Ramirez bashes three homers and 12 RBI in a four-game span, while Carlos Quentin continues to rake, hitting .478/.636/.957 for the week while pushing his major-league leading home run total to 35. He's fourth in VORP and likely to draw attention in any MVP discussion.

5


Mets
71-57
6-1
.557
Up
The Mets win eight out of nine to retake first place in the NL East, but they're hardly without concern. Billy Wagner's expected return from the DL is pushed back by an inflamed flexor tendon; he may be done for the year, leaving a bullpen that's now 12th in the league in WXRL in disarray. In the rotation, Mike Pelfrey's three-hit complete game comes as a double-edged sword. He's now past last year's total of 152 2/3 innings and may be in danger of workload limitations that threaten the presence of the pitcher who's second on the team and 16th in the league in SNLVAR.

6


Brewers
73-55
3-3
.552
Down
Braun Gone: Ryan Braun homers in his first start since August 9, but enthusiasm is curbed when he re-aggravates the intracostal strain that's hampered him since then. The team VORP leader has drawn just 12 PA over the last two weeks as the Brewers have cooled off. Meanwhile, CC Sabathia's workload comes under scrutiny after he throws a 130-pitch complete game and bats with a six-run lead in the eighth. While manager Ned Yost notes the big pitcher's efficiency, the rest of us can't help recalling his 2007 ugly postseason numbers after a career-high 241 innings last year-a pace he's currently exceeding.

7


Angels
77-49
2-5
.547
Down
It's a rare down week for the Angels, who score just 19 runs on a six-game road trip while hitting a meager .219/.295/.300. They get bad news about Maicer Izturis, who will miss the rest of the season due to a sprained thumb. Of course, there's not a lot separating him from still-healthy fellow shortstop Erick Aybar. In addition to having big-league siblings, both switch-hitters have .253 EqAs and positive FRAAs (+12 for Aybar, +8 for Izturis); Izturis has more steals, a nearly even K/BB (26/27) and the advantage against lefties, Aybar has a bit more power but less plate discipline (14/40 K/BB) and is stronger against righties. Only their manager can tell them apart.

8


Yankees
67-60
3-3
.542
Flat
The Most Hallowed Position in Baseball? With their Postseason Odds dwindling below five percent, the Yankees demote Melky Cabrera, who has put up the fourth-lowest VORP among any AL hitter with at least 400 PA and hit just .225/.273/.279 since May 4. His replacements offer a decidedly mixed bag, as Brett Gardner delivers a walk-off hit and Johnny Damon drops two balls in a single game, sending the Yankees to defeat. Come back, Bernie Williams, all is forgiven!

9


Blue Jays
66-61
4-1
.539
Up
For the second time this year, A.J. Burnett strikes out 13 Yankees, halting a three-start stretch in which he was rocked for 12 runs in 17.2 innings. With a career-high 16 wins, the AL lead in strikeouts, and his first season clear of a stint on the disabled list, Burnett is poised to opt out of his contract and re-enter the free agent market this winter. His 4.51 ERA and .516 Support Neutral Winning Percentage are nothing to write home about, though we'd be lying if we thought J.P. Ricciardi had a better way to spend the $24 million Burnett's departure would save. Extensions for David Eckstein and Lyle Overbay may not be too far off...

10


Twins
73-54
6-1
.536
Up
Francisco Liriano struggles with his control, but he helps the Twins keep the heat on the division-leading White Sox while drawing even with the Red Sox in the wild-card race. Liriano's allowed just six runs (three earned) in 23 2/3 innings since being recalled, but he and his staffmates could use some help from the men behind them. The Twins are second-to-last in the league in Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency thanks in part to numerous injuries in the infield, far out of character for an organization that emphasizes fundamentals, pitching and defense.

11


Diamondbacks
67-60
5-1
.534
Up
Getting it Dunn: Adam Dunn hits a pair of key homers in back-to-back one-run victories over the Padres, and thus far he's made the deal with Cincinnati look like a steal. He's hitting a searing .308/.514/.615 and the Snakes are 6-2 since his his arrival, scoring 6.6 runs per game while drawing 6.3 walks per game. Meanwhile, the team is planning for the pending logjam of corner players triggered by Justin Upton's return by having Mark Reynolds take grounders at second base and they're considering Dunn for first base, even though he hasn't played there since 2005.

12


Phillies
68-59
4-2
.534
Flat
Though they're not back in first place, the Phillies rebound from an ugly week by beating up on two of the league's most enfeebled teams, the Padres and Nationals. There's still a bit of ugliness as Jimmy Rollins feeds the boo birds by calling Phillies fans "frontrunners" and suggesting that their behavior drives potential free agents away. On a brighter note, Brett Myers tosses his first shutout in four years. Since his trip to the minors, Myers has allowed a 1.94 ERA and just two homers in 41 2/3 innings, compared to a 5.84 ERA and 2.1 HR/9 beforehand.

13


Cardinals
71-58
3-2
.533
Up
Albert Pujols continues to have his usual MVP-caliber season, leading the league in VORP, WARP, and SLG, but the focus remains on the Cardinals' injury-riddled pitching staff. Chris Carpenter continues to rehab in the hopes of returning, and while Jason Isringhausen's season is done due to a torn flexor tendon, Adam Wainwright's is about to restart, with the emphasis on start. The strong performance of closer-of-the-future Chris Perez (4-for-4 in save opportunities, seven scoreless innings since returning from the minors) appears to have deterred the Cards from returning Wainwright to the ninth-inning role, and you don't need us to tell you that's a better use of a pitcher with his talent.

14


Dodgers
65-62
3-3
.526
Flat
For the second time in three years, the Dodgers make a mid-season trade for Greg Maddux to bolster their rotation. The 42-year-old, 353-win future Hall of Famer is basically a League Average Inning Muncher these days, but with Brad Penny possibly done for the year and Clayton Kershaw closing in on an innings cap, the Dodgers need all the help they can get. Kershaw has been stellar since returning from the minors, putting up a 2.65 ERA and 31/12 K/BB ratio in 34 innings, and his .576 Support Neutral Winning Percentage trails only Chad Billingsley among the rotation's mainstays.

15


Tigers
62-65
3-3
.504
Down
Drinking and Fishing: that's Jeremy Bonderman's routine these days, which beats watching this club play out the string-particularly if it means avoiding the sight of Nate Robertson surrendering five homers in one outing. Armando Galarraga continues to provide the rare bright spot; he leads all AL rookie pitchers in VORP (don't tell Dave Dombrowski who leads the NL rookies), and will likely finish the season with a higher VORP than the projected starting five of Bonderman, Robertson, Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers, and Dontrelle Willis combined.

16


Indians
59-67
5-1
.503
Up
A sizable portion of the lineup around him has gone to hell in a handbasket, but Grady Sizemore, like The Dude abides. His four-hit, seven-RBI effort caps a three-game sweep of the Royals and propels him into the league lead in VORP. Meanwhile, Shin-Soo Choo (.284/.378/.484), Kelly Shoppach (.290/.389/.613 with a team-high seven homers), and Jhonny Peralta (.320/.361/.536) are putting together strong second-half performances. Peralta may soon shift to third base given the return of Josh Barfield and the utter failure of Andy Marte (.185/.239/.286) to amount to even a bucketful of lukewarm yak spit.

17


Orioles
61-65
3-3
.489
Up
The Oriole offense reaches double digits for the fourth time in seven games, as Melvin Mora's baserunning and bat-swinging trigger a pair of big innings. Mora has been en fuego since the All-Star break (.411/.444/.752 with 10 homers and 47 RBI) after a miserable first half (.234/.302/.388). That-and the $10 million or so remaining on his contract-may not be enough to extricate him from Baltimore, but at least the quintuplets won't go hungry.

18


Braves
56-72
1-6
.487
Down
Tom Glavine gets good news about his elbow, and that counts as a highlight amid a bleak 1-9 stretch. Somewhere in the blur of losses, Jair Jurrjens' streaks of five straight quality starts and 50 homer-less innings come to an end, but he leads NL rookie pitchers in VORP.

19


Marlins
65-63
2-4
.487
Flat
Rotting Fish: Six losses in eight games have the Marlins sinking in the NL East race. Don't blame the surprisingly improved defense or the revitalized rotation, as Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad and Anibal Sanchez have combined for a 3.42 ERA in 16 starts. This one's on the bullpen, which allows the Giants to beat them in the ninth inning on back-to-back days, and the offense, which has scored just 3.5 runs per game in this stretch while hitting .203/.304/.340, with Mike Jacobs leading the way with an 0-for-26 stretch.

20


Athletics
58-69
3-4
.479
Down
The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves: The A's continue to lose, lose, and lose like their Philadelpia and Kansas City forebears, and have now dropped 25 out of 31 since the All Star break. There's not a lot of good news here, particularly with staff VORP and SNLVAR leader Justin Duchscherer leaving a game due to hip pain and key trade acquisitions Gio Gonzalez (acquired in the Nick Swisher deal) and Sean Gallagher (acquired in the Rich Harden trade) are both torched; the latter surrenders 10 runs in five innings and will skip his next turn. Though the A's are still fourth in the league in SNLVAR, with the Duke's season threatened, it's quite possible the pitchers responsible for more than half that total may not make another start for them this year.

21


Rockies
59-70
5-1
.475
Up
A 5-1 road trip has the Rockies holding out hope for another miracle. Their 20-13 second-half record is tied for fifth-best in the league but just 1.5 games from the top, and their offense leads the league in scoring (5.7 R/G) in that span. Matt Holliday is leading the way with a .363/.456/.702 showing, while Brad Hawpe (.381/.436/.651) and Ian Stewart (.330/.444/.602) aren't far behind. In addition to his devoted service as the sixth Rolling Stone, Stewart has hit like vintage Todd Helton though he's playing the hot corner while Garrett Atkins shifts to first in Helton's absence.

22


Rangers
63-65
2-4
.472
Flat
A 2-11 skid knocks the Rangers back below .500 for the first time in nearly two months, and amid the blur of poundings taken by the pitching staff, the team suffers an even bigger blow. Ian Kinsler is likely (but not definitely) done for the year due to a sports hernia, a crushing blow given his MVP case as the AL's best position player this year; he leads in both VORP and WARP. Meanwhile, fellow MVP candidate and AL RBI leader Josh Hamilton turns heads by drawing a bases-loaded intentional walk to put the tying run on base, though it goes for naught.

23


Astros
64-63
2-4
.469
Down
A rough week deals a severe blow to the Astros' crackpipe dream of a postseason berth, as the Postseason Odds Report now estimates their chances at 0.13 percent. Even Brad Ausmus is ready to admit that the end is nigh, at least as far as his epic tenure with the club is concerned. The scary thing is that the 39-year-old catcher's .219 EqA is actually the best of the team's three backstops; along with Humberto Quintero and J.R. Towles, Astro catchers have combined for a .207 EqA and a -19.4 VORP, which isn't the worst ever, but it certainly belongs in the family photo.

24


Giants
55-72
5-2
.425
Up
Dissed in this space last week because of a grim PECOTA forecast-we call that Stars and Scrubs chart "Bloody, Apocalyptic Sunset Over the Valley"-Travis Ishikawa collects six hits in his first four starts, including his first major league homer; someday he may make Giants fans forget Lance Niekro. Meanwhile, Tim Lincecum shows he's healthy after a comebacker bruised his knee in his previous start. He leads the league in ERA, strikeouts, VORP and SNLVAR, but his low win total (13) may endanger an Cy Young case.

25


Royals
55-72
1-5
.422
Down
Hang Ten: Brian Bannister surrenders a double-digit helping of runs in one-plus innings against the Yankees. It's the latest pummeling in a brutal stretch that's seen Bannister put up a 9.50 ERA and 2.4 HR/9 over his last nine starts. And if that's not a good enough metaphor for the 1-8 skid that's driven the Royals well under .500 for the second half, you can at least look forward to Tony Pena Jr. Bobblehead Day on September 6. Somewhere even the Jason Tyner bobblehead will be snickering.

26


Reds
56-72
2-4
.417
Down
Red Letter Day: With their season down the tubes, owner Bob Castellini and GM Walt Jocketty pen an open letter to the team's fans, expressing disappointment in the team's showing, attempting to explain the trades of Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn... but failing to apologize for inflicting Corey Patterson-or for that matter Dusty Baker-on the unsuspecting masses. While there's more with which one can take issue, it's worth pointing out the struggles of Jay Bruce; since that torrid first week, he's hit just .226/.262/.361 in 282 PA, and his overall VORP (0.1) and EqA (.247) suggest he won't be part of any Rookie of the Year discussions.

27


Pirates
57-70
2-4
.408
Flat
Ian Snell dominates the Cardinals after drawing inspiration from watching CC Sabathia's fastball-based attack the previous night. Snell's been sporting an improved delivery which has helped him avoid tipping his pitches, and the results have been positive; a 2.37 ERA over his last three starts, compared to a 6.14 ERA over his first 22. Alas, he's still in the red, VORP-wise, and he's got company: the Bucs have given a staggering 83 starts this year to pitchers who have performed below replacement level.

28


Padres
48-79
1-5
.407
Flat
There's No Place Like...: Petco Park continues to be cruel to the Padres, who after their latest loss to the Phillies have dropped nine straight home series and 20 of 27 games. The team has been outscored 260-222 in their own ballpark despite a batting line (.233/.309/.360) that's imperceptibly uglier than that of their opponents (.245/.309/.365), and while their opponents have a huge advantage in stolen bases (73 out of 92, compared to 15 out of 21), the net run advantage gained on the bases probably accounts for less 20 percent of the difference.

29


Mariners
46-81
0-7
.398
Down
Wild Blue Yonder: Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey ties a major league record by throwing four wild pitches in an inning. Not content with that performance, the Mariners push Dickey to the rotation three days alter after Carlos Silva hits the DL with elbow tendonitis; he's pounded for eight runs in two innings. Dickey has now allowed 18 runs and four homers in his last 10 1/3 innings to drive his ERA to 5.55, but with Silva down and Erik Bedard facing a potential shutdown, he'll continue to get the ball.

30


Nationals
45-83
1-5
.366
Down
Dirty Dozen: The Nationals' losing streak reaches 12 games, and with it, the team not only clinches its third straight losing season but leaves themselves within range of reaching the club record for losses before the month's end. The offense is shut out for the 19th time this year, six more than the next-closest team. They're hitting just .225/.276/.309 during this skid, but don't blame Lastings Milledge (.370/.432/.658 with five of the club's 11 homers) or Ronnie Belliard (.444/.483/.574). Unless the latter shows off his tongue again, of course.


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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