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October 12, 2009

Prospectus Hit List

Season Finale

by Jay Jaffe

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RkTeam
Overall W-L
Week W-L
Comment

1


Yankees
103-59
6-3
.619
Flat
The Bombers are Back: The pre-season favorites finished atop the Hit List and the AL East for the first time since 2006, and with their highest win total since 2002. Alex Rodriguez tunes up for the playoffs by bopping two homers on the final day of the season-both in the same inning, for an AL-record seven RBI in one frame-to reach 30 for the 12th straight year. The latter blow, a grand slam, sets a franchise record as the team's 243rd homer of the year. Rodriguez finishes third in the league in EqA (.319), one of five Yankees to crack the top 20; the Yanks roll into the playoffs having gone 90-44 since the slugger's return from surgery.

2


Dodgers
95-67
3-6
.607
Down
Bullet Dodged: The Dodgers wind up with the NL West flag, the league's best record, and the majors' top run differential (+169), but only after a season-high five-game losing streak threatens their hold on all three and trims their division lead to one game. This marks a record-tying 14th time in a row a Joe Torre team has reached the postseason, and the Dodgers' third trip in four years on GM Ned Colletti's watch; discussions of an extension are inevitable. As they move on to face the Cardinals [and ultimately beat them], it's worth remembering that there's no correlation between a playoff team's late-season record and their results in the postseason.

3


Red Sox
95-67
4-6
.569
Down
Despite a six-game losing streak which runs into the season's final week, the Red Sox win the AL Wild Card and reach the postseason for the sixth time in seven years. The playoffs dawn with plenty of concern about their rotation and defense, but less so their offense, which finishes third in the league in EqA, with Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay, J.D. Drew, and Victor Martinez all in the league's top 20. Additionally, there are signs of life from David Ortiz: Papi hit .280/.381/.530 after August 31, and .266/.360/.557 with an AL-best 27 homers after June 5.

4


Rockies
92-70
6-3
.558
Flat
Cookin': With a 74-42 record under interim skipper Jim Tracy-good for the best record in the NL over that stretch by 6½ games-the Rockies not only win the NL Wild Card for the second year out of three, they challenge the Dodgers for the division title right up to the second-to-last day of the regular season. Colorado's bats sprang to life under Tracy, with Troy Tulowitzki (.323/.400/.613), Todd Helton (.325/.429/.481), Carlos Gonzalez (.284/.353/.525), and Seth Smith (.299/.363/.512) the liveliest. Meanwhile, the Rockies' playoff hopes get something of a boost when Aaron Cook, who once appeared to be lost for the season, returns from a five-week absence and allows one run in 13 innings across two starts.

5


Angels
97-65
7-3
.558
Up
The Angles win their fifth AL West flag in six years and become the first team ever to exceed their third-order Pythagenpat projection by at least 10 games in back-to-back years, and to do so by at least eight games in three straight years. Stories will be written about this team overcoming the tragic death of Nick Adenhart and an atypically subpar start, but these aren't the Angels of yesteryear. They finish just midpack in SNLVAR and WXRL due to inconsistency from Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, and closer Brian Fuentes, but set a franchise record for scoring (883 runs) while ranking second in the league, with Kendry Morales (.292 EqA, 34 homers) and newcomer Bobby Abreu (.292 EqA) filling the void created at the center of the offense by Vlad Guerrero's decline.

6


Cardinals
91-71
2-7
.552
Down
Cards Up: Though a 2-8 record over the season's final 10 games costs them a shot at home-field advantage, the Cardinals win the NL Central and return to the postseason for the first time since winning it all in 2006. Projected to win just 83 games, they can thank Albert Pujols, who leads the league in EqA for the fourth time in five years while compiling his record ninth straight .300/30 HR/100 RBI season, dueling Cy Young candidates Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, and the July 24 arrival of Matt Holliday (.353/.419/.604), a point after which they post the league's best record.

7


Phillies
93-69
4-6
.551
Down
The defending World Champions claim their third consecutive NL East flag, this time without the need for a late fade from the Mets. Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibañez, and Chase Utley all reach the 30-homer plateau to power the team to the NL scoring lead, but the pitching is another story. The rotation is rescued from Cole Hamels' post-championship hangover and Jamie Moyer's collapse via a trade for Cliff Lee and some fine work by rookie J.A. Happ (seventh in the league at .601 SNWP), but the bullpen suffers through Brad Lidge's 7.21 ERA, 11 blown saves, and record-setting -3.2 WXLR, leaving a major question hanging in the air as the playoffs open.

8


Braves
86-76
4-6
.545
Flat
No Cigar: A 15-2 run pulls the Braves to within two games of the NL Wild Card-leading Rockies, but their belated playoff bid winds up feeling as convincing as a Homer Simpson tax return. On the positive side, they finish with the league's third-best run differential and second-best rotation, with Jair Jurrjens and Javy Vazquez both ranking in the top six in SNLVAR, and Tommy Hanson 22nd. On the negative side, a largely unproductive outfield and a late-season slump by Chipper Jones (.225/.353/.343 after July 31) wind up spelling another October vacation for the Braves.

9


Rays
84-78
6-4
.545
Down
Ignore the 8-14 start and the 15-22 finish and you've got a team whose .592 winning percentage would have bested the Wild Card-winning Red Sox. Alas, leagues don't keep score that way, so the defending AL champions are golfing and hunting instead of playing October baseball. B.J. Upton's season (.241/.313/.373) might symbolize this team's disappointment, but the record shows he had plenty of help, including an early falloff in the bullpen (which finishes 11th in WXRL after leadng the league last year) and a late fade by the offense (.249/.325/.392 and just 3.9 runs per game after Carlos Peña's season-ending injury on September 7).

10


Rangers
87-75
4-6
.528
Flat
Despite a failed playoff bid, the Rangers finish above .500 for the first time since 2004, an impressive showing given that their PECOTA forecast was for just 70 wins. The arrival of rookie Elvis Andrus helps the team improve by 29 points in the Defensive Efficiency department, allowing the rotation to escape the league's bottom four in SNLVAR for the first time since 1996, but contact issues and low OBPs doom the offense to a meager .254 EqA. Still, with a bevy of young talent already flowering and more prospects on the way, this franchise's future is bright even given the "For Sale" sign.

11


Giants
88-74
6-3
.524
Up
Giant Steps: Though their bid for the NL Wild Card ultimately falls short, the Giants post their first winning record since 2004 despite an offense that finishes dead last in the majors with a .243 EqA, with Pablo Sandoval and Juan Uribe the only regulars above .260. Their strong showing is thanks to a rotation that leads the league SNLVAR via a breakout by Matt Cain (fifth at 7.5), a rebound by Barry Zito (24th at 4.5), and of course a Cy-caliber year by Tim Lincecum, who finishes second in the league at 8.3 while also posting the second-best ERA (2.48) and top strikeout total. Amazingly enough, Lincecum doesn't allow a single homer at home in 124 1/3 innings.

12


Twins
86-76
7-3
.522
Up
Twins Win, Win, Win, Win, Win: Undeterred by a season-ending injury to Justin Morneau, the Twins rally to win 16 of their final 20 games just to force a Game 163 play-in, then win an extra-inning thriller to return to the postseason for the first time since 2006, extending the life of the Metrodome as a baseball facility in the process. Michael Cuddyer rips eight homers in 21 games in Morneau's stead, Jason Kubel belts four in the team's final four games (all wins) including a pair of three-run jacks in Game 162, and Joe Mauer claims his third batting title, leads the league in EqA (.342), and joins the select group of hitters who've won the Triple-Slash Triple Crown (.365/.444/.587).

13


Cubs
83-78
4-5
.519
Down
Forecast to post the league's best record, the Cubs instead wind up falling 14 games behind last year's NL-best total and 7½ behind the Cardinals. For all the endless controversies surrounding Milton Bradley, Carlos Zambrano, and Lou Piniella, the disappointing seasons from Alfonso Soriano (.241/.303/.423), Geovany Soto (.218/.321/.381), and Aramis Ramirez's replacements (.240/.316/.416) bear their share of the responsibility, particularly for an offense that finishes just 12th in the league with a .255 EqA.

14


Marlins
87-75
5-4
.516
Up
Though they can't live up to the expectations raised by their 11-1 start (see Bonifacio, Emilo, .485 batting average and), the Marlins wind up with their best record and highest finish since their 2003 World Championship squad, all on just a $36 million Opening Day payroll. Still, the year isn't without its ups and downs. Hanley Ramirez wins a batting title with another monster season, but becomes the center of controversy when Dan Uggla openly questions his effort despite injury. Josh Johnson emerges as one of the league's top pitchers, Chris Coghlan as a Rookie of the Year candidate, and Cody Ross as a center-field mainstay, but Ricky Nolasco and Chris Volstad take steps back, and Jeremy Hermida disappoints (again). And once again, Jeffrey Loria reminds the world that he's a meddlesome idiot who doesn't understand baseball.

15


Mariners
85-77
5-4
.502
Up
Turning the Boat Around: Under new GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu, the Mariners rebound from becoming the first team to lose at least 100 games with a $100 million payroll; despite being outscored by 52 runs, their record is just two games above their third-order Pythagenpat. Ichiro Suzuki tops 200 hits for the ninth straight year, Franklin Gutierrez, David Aardsma, and Russell Branyan emerge as diamonds in the rough, and Felix Hernandez lives up to his regal billing, finishing second in SNLVAR and ERA, and fourth in strikeouts. Whether the M's can lock up the 23-year-old ace via a long-term extension will be one of the biggest questions any team faces this winter.

16


Blue Jays
75-87
6-3
.502
Up
Despite a fast start (27-14), the Blue Jays finish with their lowest win total since 2004 thanks to a 31-41 second half and an abysmal 26-46 record in the AL East. That showing, along with payroll difficulties (the release of Alex Rios, the $107 million still owed to Vernon Wells) and a failed attempt to trade Roy Halladay, costs general manager J.P. Ricciardi his job; assistant Alex Anthopoulos takes over. Still, the season isn't without its silver lining thanks to breakthroughs by Adam Lind, Marco Scutaro, Aaron Hill, and 2005 first-round pick Ricky Romero, though whether the latter can survive the grisly record of young Jays pitches getting injured remains to be seen.

17


Tigers
86-76
4-6
.500
Down
Motor City Mourning: Despite owning at least a share of the AL Central lead since May 9, the Tigers lose 15 of their final 26 scheduled games to force a one-game playoff, where they fall to the Twins. In losing, their Playoff Odds plummet all the way from 96.0 percent, and they become the first team ever to blow a three-game lead with four to play. Miguel Cabrera and Jim Leyland wear the goat horns, the slugger for an 0-for-11 showing against the White Sox which accompanies an arrest for alcohol-related domestic violence, the skipper for starting rookie Alfredo Figaro in the season's penultimate game and leaving Fernando Rodney-who had yielded 14 runs in his previous 15 innings-to throw 48 pitches during the play-in. Ouch.

18


White Sox
79-83
6-3
.493
Up
Amid the disappointment of their second sub-.500 finish in three years, the White Sox upset the AL Central applecart by beating the Tigers four times out of six over the final two weekends. Jake Peavy tosses 15 scoreless innings and allows eight hits in a pair of combined shutouts. Freddy Garcia tosses a gem as well on the season's second-to-last day, helping him earn a return invitation for next year. Still, it's the offense which needs the real off-season attention after a .250 EqA (mere 12th in the league) relegates the team to spoiler duty rather than contention.

19


Athletics
75-87
2-7
.489
Down
Favored in at least one circle to win the AL West, albeit with an 84-win PECOTA projection, the A's instead stumble into the basement thanks to a slow-starting, underpowered offense (.246/.316/.371 in the first half, dead last in the league in both slugging percentage and homers), an uneven performance by a very young rotation, and no shortage of injuries (third in both days lost and percentage of payroll lost). Still, their second-half showing (38-38, +38 runs) offers some hope, particularly via the post-break performances of Brett Anderson (3.48 ERA, 8.8 K/9), Ryan Sweeney (.319/.378/.463), Rajai Davis (.325/.372/.450), and even Daric Barton (.287/.386/.434).

20


Brewers
80-82
5-4
.474
Up
Flat Brew: A four-game losing streak during the season's final week pushes the Brewers below .500 for the year, snuffing their nascent streak of winning seasons at two. As has been harped upon before, they wind up with the league's worst rotation, but the offense leads the league in EqA thanks to top-five seasons from Prince Fielder (.340) and Ryan Braun (.323) and despite an injury to Rickie Weeks and the ineffectiveness of J.J. Hardy (.236). The latter may be the key to rebuilding the team's pitching staff, albeit via a destination beyond Miller Park, since neither Fielder nor Braun are going anywhere.

21


Diamondbacks
70-92
4-5
.469
Flat
D'backs Lack Attack: The Snakes slump to their lowest win total since 2004 amid a season gone pear-shaped from the moment Brandon Webb departed his Opening Day start due to shoulder stiffness, never to return. The rotation winds up with just two starters with SNWPs above .500, the bullpen bumbles its way to 14th in the league in WXRL, but the real problem is this franchise's continued inability to build an effective offense. The Diamondbacks haven't topped a .260 EqA since 2002, haven't been above .255 since 2005, and won't be so long as the team builds around duds like Chris Young (.245), Stephen Drew (.254), and Chad Tracy (.237); in all, the team gives over 57 percent of its plate appearances to hitters who finish under .260.

22


Reds
78-84
6-3
.461
Up
In the Red: After making some noise early in the year, the Reds wind up with their ninth straight losing season, and they can thank Dusty Baker's managerial malfeasance. Not only does he will(y)ingly suffer a combined .245/.301/.354 performance out of the top two spots in the lineup-a major reason why the team finishes second-to-last in the NL with a .250 EqA-but his harrowing track record with young pitchers rears its head via Edinson Volquez's loss to Tommy John surgery after just nine starts and Johnny Cueto's second half-collapse. To be fair, injuries to Joey Votto, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jay Bruce don't help their cause, but the team does show some late-season life, going 27-13 over the final quarter of the season.

23


Mets
70-92
5-4
.453
Up
No Mercy: As a 5-17 September skid shows, the Mets could hardly wait for the season to end. Amid all their gaffes both on and off the field-enough to raise Casey Stengel's eternal question-the Mets do at least produce a note from their doctor regarding MLB-leading totals of 1,451 DL days and $52.2 million salary lost, a whopping 34.9 percent of the Opening Day payroll. But even as the team ponders ways to rebound from this year's horror, the misery continues; out since May 20, Jose Reyes reinjures his hamstring while trying to test it, requiring surgery.

24


Padres
75-87
4-4
.445
Up
Thanks for Your Super Work, Now Get Lost: After 14 years as general manager, a span covering four of the franchise's five postseason appearances, Kevin Towers is fired by new owner Jeff Moorad. While one can sort of understand the new owner wanting an exec who's beholden to him and still maintains that new GM smell, Towers appeared to have the team on a promising course after a wrenching year spent paring payroll. The Padres' 33-25 record after July 31-the point at which injured Jake Peavy was traded-suggest they're on the right track, with rookies like Kyle Blanks, Everth Cabrera, Will Venable, Mat Latos, and Luke Gregerson showing plenty of promise.

25


Indians
65-97
4-6
.439
Down
Wedged Out: With 26 losses in their final 33 games, the Indians complete their worst season since 1991. To nobody's surprise, they finally axe Eric Wedge, but to everybody's surprise, he stays in uniform during the season's final week as a dead manager walking. There's no blaming the loss of Grady Sizemore or the trades of Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez for this trainwreck. Their placement in the basement is because of a total failure on the pitching staff; they finish second-to-last in SNLVAR and rotation ERA (5.30), and dead stinking last in WXRL.

26


Astros
74-88
3-7
.427
Down
Cratering: Following an improbable 86-win season in which they exceed their third-order Pythagenpat by over 10 games, the Astros try milking one more winning season out of their stars-and-scrubs nucleus. Predictably, the dysfunctional mess crashes back to earth, ultimately costing manager Cecil Cooper his job. While Wandy Rodriguez breaks out, Roy Oswalt finishes with a career-worst season. Even with a more typical performance from their ace, the sad fact is that any team relying upon Brian Moehler, Mike Hampton, Felipe Paulino, Brandon Backe, and Russ Ortiz to make exactly half its starts ain't goin' nowhere.

27


Royals
65-97
2-7
.419
Down
KC Blues: The Royals' wretched season comes to an end with nine losses in their final 11 games. It's the franchise's sixth losing season in a row and 14th out of their last 15, but what's worse than even the league's worst run differential (-156) is the 10-win dropoff from 2008. As a franchise, they're failing to heed even the most basic lessons for 21st century success, and thus moving in the wrong direction. Zack Greinke does provide the rare bright spot; he finishes 16-8 with 242 strikeouts and the league leads SNLVAR (9.4) and ERA (2.16)-in all, one of the decade's best seasons and hopefully enough to win the AL Cy Young.

28


Orioles
64-98
4-6
.410
Flat
Lucky 13: A 13-game losing streak pushes the Orioles into a tie with their 2001 predecessors for the franchise's highest loss total since 1988. But even as they cap their 12th straight losing season, they do end things on an upbeat note with four straight victories, the second of which is keyed by a three-run homer from Matt Wieters. His .333/.395/.486 September/October showing pushes his final numbers to .288/.340/.412, respectable by any standard except his own inflated PECOTA forecast, and a hopeful prelude to next year.

29


Nationals
59-103
7-3
.408
Up
Losers of their previous 21 of 27, the Nationals' nightmare ends on an optimistic note via a seven-game winning streak, their second-longest of the season. The run begins with 2007 first-round pick Ross Detwiler earning his first big-league win in his 13th start; he'll presumably join 2009's first overall pick, Stephen Strasburg, in the rotation next year. As to who will have the honor of managing this juggernaut, it just may be interim skipper Jim Riggleman, who will draw consideration for the permanent job after piloting the team to a 33-42 record in the second half.

30


Pirates
62-99
6-4
.396
Up
The Bucs Stop Somebody: Andy LaRoche goes 5-for-5 with a pair of homers and six RBI in an 11-1 rout of the Dodgers. LaRoche finshes the year 14-for-29 with a .931 SLG against his former team, but just .244/.320/.363 against everyone else. The win gives the Pirates a 3-1 series victory, forestalling the Dodgers' clinching of the NL West flag and ultimately helping the Bucs avoid a 100-loss season, but not their record 17th consecutive losing season. Yeeeaargh.


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 Thursday.

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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