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April 6, 2009

Prospectus Hit List

Opening Day Edition

by Jay Jaffe

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The Prospectus Hit List is back for its fifth season, and we at BP are determined to put our best foot forward when it comes to predicting the 2009 season, and the foundation of our predictions is PECOTA. Once we've taken the basic weighted mean projections, our staff adjusts for expected playing time, strength of schedule, reliever leverage, and team defense to generate the Projected Standings, which have been updated daily throughout the spring based upon the latest news and analysis. The Hit List Factors below are the Pythagenpat winning percentages derived from the latest runs scored and runs allowed projections, which are included in parentheses at the end of each team capsule. As you quibble with the rankings-I certainly have-remember that projections are not destiny; they're a shorthand for a wider range of probabilities centered around the stated won-loss records. We're proud of our system's track record, but we're just as eager to put the theoretical behind us and watch the season unfold. With that said, let's play ball!

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

1


Yankees
99-63
-
.606
Flat
A $441 million spending spree brought the Yankees the winter's biggest haul, but their self-loving $300 million slugger-a former steroid user, in case you hadn't heard-starts the year on the DL as the team moves into its charmless $1.3 billion new ballpark, the House That Ruthlessness Built. This is the third consecutive year the Yanks top the pre-season Hit List, but money guarantees nothing in the top-heavy AL East. (800 RS/635 RA)

2


Cubs
95-67
-
.583
Flat
Hype of the Century? A Nation League-high 97 wins and final #2 ranking did nothing to end their 100-year title drought, so the Cubs enter this season bearing a weight of expectations on par with the Big Apple teams. Beyond adding Milton Bradley, losing Mark DeRosa, and replacing Kerry Wood with Kevin Gregg, they're largely the same club, one that should run away with the NL Central, but they'll need the continued health of Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, and their new right fielder to go further. (862 RS/723 RA)

3


Red Sox
95-67
-
.580
Flat
Where the Yankees spent big dollars on free agents, the Sox paid a pretty penny ($119 million) to lock up Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Jason Varitek while taking flyers on the rehabbing Brad Penny, John Smoltz, and Takashi Saito. The burning question isn't those pitchers' health, but whether they can keep David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, and Mike Lowell-a trio that totaled 121 DL days last year-healthy and productive. PECOTA thinks they can, forecasting the Sox to have the league's top offense, and though the lineup lacks the staff's depth, the fruits of the farm system provide fodder to deal for an upgrade if necessary. (846 RS/715 RA)

4


Rays
94-68
-
.577
Flat
Their Cinderella season is now history, but the Rays' invitation to the dance stands. Returns to health from B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford, a full season of Evan Longoria, and the additions of Pat Burrell and Matt Joyce should make for a more formidable offense than last year's. Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding David Price' initial destination only underscores the fact that the pitching staff has depth galore, and the minor league system is bursting at the seams with talent. (814 RS/690 RA)

5


Dodgers
93-69
-
.568
Flat
Fresh off their first NLCS appearance in 20 years, the Dodgers pared payroll significantly while raising expectations as the spring has progressed. Since our initial projection-driven projections, the NL West race has swung 12 games, thanks largely to the signings of Orlando Hudson and Manny Ramirez. The offense projects to have the league's second-best OBP, not to mention fewer corners for Joe Torre to back himself into, while young studs Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, and Jonathan Broxton forecast to be part of the league's top run-prevention unit. (820 RS/710 RA)

6


Mets
92-70
-
.565
Flat
Between Citigroup's struggles and Bernie Madoff's connections to the Wilpon family, bad money mojo surrounds the Mets, but is that any worse than fumbling playoff spots on the season's final day two straight years? For all of that, the Mets are favored to christen brand-new Citi Field with a division title. Despite question marks in their rotation and their outfield corners, the arrivals of Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz correct last year's most glaring flaw, and the trio of David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran forecast to be among the league's five most valuable hitters according to WARP. (827 RS/721 RA)

7


Diamondbacks
88-74
-
.543
Flat
Last year's collapse is so last year. Despite a tight-fisted winter that saw the departures of Randy Johnson, Orlando Hudson, and Adam Dunn, the Diamondbacks return the game's best one-tw rotation punch in Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, not to mention a potent lineup featuring 21-year-old Justin Upton and five hitters in their age 25-29 seasons. Once again, the Snakes will be in the thick of both the division and Wild Card races. (815 RS/744 RA)

8


Braves
87-75
-
.536
Flat
Coming off their lowest win total since 1990, the Braves added the winter's second-best pitching tandem in Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez. Between that, the arrival of top prospects Jordan Schafer (who opens the year in center field) and Tommy Hanson (who should be up in the first half), and a lineup that boasts three hitters-Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, and Kelly Johnson-who forecast to be either the most or second-most productive players at their positions, the Braves should force their way back into the NL East picture. (796 RS/738 RA)

9


Phillies
87-75
-
.535
Flat
The defending World Champions have a tough act to follow, particularly given the likelihood of Cole Hamels falling far short of last year's 227 innings, and of bullpen studs Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson regressing as well. The Raul Ibanez-for-Pat Burrell "swap" is a step in the wrong direction, but a healthy Chase Utley amid an imposing lineup should give the division's pitchers nightmares once again. (828 RS/770 RA)

10


Indians
86-76
-
.526
Flat
Will their up-and-down pattern continue? Since 2001, the Indians have averaged 78 wins per year in the even-numbered years and 87 wins in the odd-numbered ones. A similar showing could capture this year's tightly packed division, but the Tribe needs strong rebounds from Fausto Carmona, Travis Hafner, and Victor Martinez, while Cliff Lee, Kelly Shoppach, and Shin-Soo Choo show that last year wasn't a fluke. Skepticism over all of those wishes coming true isn't unwarranted. (818 RS/774 RA)

11


Athletics
84-78
-
.516
Flat
Despite the losses of Justin Duchscherer and Joey Devine, and a rotation that features Dallas Braden as its Opening Day starter and two rookies (Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson) with just a dozen combined starts above A-ball, the A's appear poised to take advantage of the Angels' woes. The return of Jason Giambi and the arrival of Matt Holliday provide patience and punch to a team that finished in the bottom two in both OBP and SLG, and the upgrade of Orlando Cabrera over Bobby Crosby won't hurt either... unless you're Bobby Crosby. (781 RS/755 RA)

12


Brewers
83-79
-
.515
Flat
After tasting Oktoberfest suds for the first time in 26 years, the Brewers kept their mugs on the table as CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets departed. A healthy Yovani Gallardo should help offset that loss, though he'll be capped around 150 innings, and Braden Looper, their most prominent off-season acquisition (!), is nobody to pick up that slack. Nonetheless, with six productive regulars between the ages of 25 and 29, the Crew retain a respectable outside shot at the Wild Card, if not the division. (778 RS/754 RA)

13


Cardinals
82-80
-
.508
Flat
Having averaged a mere 82.3 wins per year over the past three, the Cards once again get a forecast as a middle-of-the-pack team despite Chris Carpenter's return, Colby Rasmus' arrival, and the continuing excellence of Albert Pujols (projected weighted mean WARP: 9.7). The pitch-to-contact staff will need plenty of Dave Duncan magic to overcome a brutal defense where the shift of Skip Schumaker from the outfield to second base is hardly the only problem. (780 RS/767 RA)

14


Angels
81-81
-
.500
Flat
One-hundred wins and thereby record-setting overachievers last year, the Halos begin the season with both John Lackey and Ervin Santana-two of the league's top eight in Support Neutral Winning Percentage-on the disabled list, a blow strong enough to bump them behind the A's in our projections. Worse, their lineup lacks a centerpiece, and while they spent more on free agents than any AL team except the Yankees, neither Bobby Abreu nor Kendry Morales can offset the loss of Mark Teixeira. (777 RS/777 RA)

15


Tigers
79-83
-
.492
Flat
Desperately Creative: Hamstrung by bad investments, the Tigers are making bold moves. Adding Adam Everett and returning Brandon Inge to third base should make for a major defensive turnaround, shedding Gary Sheffield will provide lineup flexibility, and the arrivals of Rick Porcello and Ryan Perry-neither loved much by PECOTA thanks to the steep translations from A-ball-beat watching another Nate Robertson pounding. The Central is winnable if Jeremy Bonderman can return to form. (789 RS/802 RA)

16


Reds
79-83
-
.492
Flat
The core of youngsters-Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, Edwin Encarnacion, Brandon Phillips, Edinson Volquez, Joey Votto, and yes, even Homer Bailey-remains intriguing, and if Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo rebound, this team might really be cooking with gas. On the other hand, Dusty Baker's threat to those young arms and his inability to comprehend the damage wrought by Willy Taveras in the leadoff spot suggests plenty of danger in investing hope in this team. (762 RS/775 RA)

17


Mariners
77-85
-
.478
Flat
The Mariners turn the page from the ignominy of being the first 100-loss, $100 million payroll team by importing Brewers scouting guru Jack Zduriencik to be the GM. Jack Z's stopped the hemorrhaging with a few solid moves, though the valedictory for Ken Griffey Jr. at the expense of Jeff Clement raises some eyebrows. The division's low bar means this team has an outside shot, though stripping for parts to further the rebuilding effort may be the summer's plan of action. (719 RS/754 RA)

18


Giants
76-86
-
.478
Flat
Giant Mistake? The front-line starters-Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and 45-year-old free-agent Randy Johnson-can compete with anyone, and the pitching staff as a whole forecasts to be the league's second-best in run prevention despite carrying the dead weight of Barry Zito. Alas, even with full seasons of Pablo Sandoval and Travis Ishikawa, the distinctly punchless offense is slated to finish second-to-last in runs scored. Had they snatched Manny Ramirez from under the Dodgers' noses, they coulda been a contender, almost. (683 RS/717 RA)

19


Nationals
77-85
-
.476
Flat
Ol' Leatherpants is gone amid the taint of a Washington scandal in baseball instead of guv'ment, but not before adding Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham to the team's already absurd stockpile of outfielders. How they'll sort out the playing time, at least for the brief moment that Nick Johnson remains healthy, should be a sight to behold, but the real interest here is the arrival of 2007 second-rounder Jordan Zimmermann, at least until he's overshadowed by the pursuit of Stephen Strasburg. (780 RS/820 RA)

20


Twins
77-85
-
.474
Flat
Joe Mauer's absence due to back woes should remind BBWAA voters who the real MVP of the Twins is, but with or without him the lineup forecasts to be the league's least powerful. Worse, PECOTA's skepticism about the return of Francisco Liriano to ace status, not to mention the way the staff's pitch-to-contact control freaks get things done, has the Twins projected to take nearly as steep a fall as their play-in opponents, the White Sox. (750 RS/793 RA)

21


Blue Jays
76-86
-
.473
Flat
Even more than the Orioles, the Jays are a stacked division's sitting ducks. Injuries and free agency have dispersed the impressive rotation that enabled the strongest fourth-place team of the Wild Card Era, and if that's not bad enough, even with full seasons of promising youngsters Travis Snider and Adam Lind, the offense is forecast to score the fewest runs in the league, in part because not a single regular projects to have an OBP above last year's league average. (712 RS/755 RA)

22


White Sox
76-86
-
.470
Flat
Unwise: Despite winning last year's AL Central title, the South Siders forecast to finish well below .500 for the second time in three years. Thanks to their ballpark, the lineup will produce plenty of pop, but the insertion of OBP-challenged DeWayne Wise and Alexei Ramirez atop the order will cost them, as will a shaky infield defense featuring the latter at shortstop. Add to that a whole lot of regression for Gavin Floyd (projected for a 5.00 ERA) and an ugly back end of the rotation, and it could be a long season on the South Side. (779 RS/829 RA)

23


Royals
75-87
-
.466
Flat
Some may see the Royals as surprise contenders in the compressed AL Central, but from here it looks as though GM Dayton Moore and manager Trey Hillman are bent upon doing things the Max Power way. Mike Jacobs at first base? Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez in the rotation? Nine million dollars for Kyle Farnsworth? Three million dollars for Willie Bloomquist? Take the under, no matter how promising Zack Greinke, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler may be. (737 RS/792 RA)

24


Orioles
75-87
-
.459
Flat
The good news is that the Orioles' offense is forecast for second in the league thanks to the arrival of top prospect Matt Wieters and the continued development of Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. The bad news is that it won't be nearly enough to outscore opponents, as the investment in team defense (Cesar Izturis, Felix Pie) may only go so far given the frightful rotation behind Jeremy Guthrie (Mark Hendrickson? Adam Eaton? Better luck with Mark Eaton). It adds up to the Orioles' 12th straight losing campaign, but with the aforementioned youngsters and a full nest of promising pitchers on the way, this team's days of being for the birds are numbered. (821 RS/892 RA)

25


Padres
71-91
-
.445
Flat
The dismantling of the Pad squad amid owner John Moores' divorce proceedings hasn't been pretty. While PECOTA sees them rebounding from last year's 63-99 record, the combination of a subpar defense, Chris Young's health, and the motley assemblage of starters behind him could mean another run at 100 losses if they pull the trigger on a Jake Peavy trade. (678 RS/763 RA)

26


Marlins
71-91
-
.444
Flat
This hook is tough to swallow. Last year's Marlins won 84 games off of a 70-win projection, and this time around they'll have full seasons from Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, and Chris Volstad (health permitting), plus major upgrade Cameron Maybin in center. Sure, the infield's Fab Four are butchers, and yes, this team deserves comeuppance for its miserly ways, but it's tough to imagine this roster being this bad. (731 RS/823 RA)

27


Rockies
71-91
-
.440
Flat
Losing Jeff Francis for the season is a blow, but PECOTA's extreme pessimism about this pitching staff is unwarranted-a 5.08 ERA for Aaron Cook, who hasn't been above 4.28 since 2003? A 7.01 ERA for Franklin Morales? The offense will miss Matt Holliday, but with Dexter Fowler playing his way into a homegrown up-the-middle core already featuring Chris Iannetta and Troy Tulowitzki, this team could push towards .500. (842 RS/951 RA)

28


Astros
70-92
-
.435
Flat
Surprise contenders for the NL Wild Card a year ago, the Astros are poised for the largest drop-off in either league at 16 games. Some of it's simply regression from their being nine wins above their Pythagorean record, but an inflexible mid-market payroll with around 60 percent tied up in four players, the game's worst farm system, and a rotation populated with zombies like Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz has all the makings of a true disasterpiece. (707 RS/811 RA)

29


Rangers
70-92
-
.435
Flat
There's plenty of good stuff on the farm, but rabid Rangers fans want the future to start today, with good-glove, no-hit shortstop Elvis Andrus anchoring the turnaround of a defense that was the majors' least efficient last year. Perhaps it will, but the offense, which has OBP issues, still won't score enough to make this team competitive. (795 RS/909 RA)

30


Pirates
64-98
-
.400
Flat
Projected to rank 13th in the NL in scoring and 15th in runs prevented, the Pirates' 17th consecutive losing season is a foregone conclusion even if Ian Snell and Zach Duke can rediscover some semblance of the form that once made them enticing. Hope is on the horizon, with Pedro Alvarez in the system and Andrew McCutchen in Triple-A, but there are better ways to bring young talent into the system than this. (708 RS/875 RA)


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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