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Chicago White Sox

  • Hot Starts: Scoring runs has certainly not been a problem for
    the White Sox this season, due in no small part to the aliens who have
    apparently abducted Juan Uribe and replaced him with a
    clone that doesn’t remember failing to achieve a .300 OBP in Coors Field
    the last two seasons. So far this year, Uribe has been knocking the ball
    around at a .340/.395/.521 pace, greatly justifying his position near the
    head of the Chicago batting order. Combined with the equally surprising
    performance of Willie Harris (.308/.370/.367), the top of
    the Sox lineup has been setting the table with the fine china for the
    sluggers in the heart of the order.

    With nearly three season of experience under his belt, it’s tough to
    remember that Uribe is still only 24 years old. Having been rushed to the
    majors by the Rockies–Uribe only played 77 games above A ball before his
    debut–he’s likely still in the early stages of his learning curve. That
    said, this kind of dramatic jump certainly was not expected and it’s
    likely Uribe will regress as the season goes on, but for the time being,
    Sox faithful are more than happy to watch him learn his craft.

    Once the reason that GM Kenny Williams felt comfortable dealing
    Ray Durham, Harris is a mere year older at 25. While
    he’s never flashed power numbers, Harris has the speed and base stealing
    history that managers look for in a leadoff hitter. Whether that’s your
    cup of tea or not, it’s hard to argue with Harris’ performance in the top
    spot thus far this season. While he’s been sidelined with an ankle injury
    since colliding with Magglio Ordonez last Thursday,
    Harris’ speed should be back in the lineup soon.

  • The Hit Parade: The Sox’s prolific offense can hardly be
    attributed solely to the efforts of Harris and Uribe, however. A quick
    look at BP’s VORP report shows that every Chicago regular except for Joe Crede and
    Timo Perez–if he can be considered a regular–has a
    positive VORP, a consistency unmatched throughout the league. (If you
    like schadenfreude, take a look at that Montreal lineup.) Chicago is
    currently third in the league in Adjusted
    Runs Scored
    ; the recent poundings of Minnesota and Cleveland being
    prime examples of the team’s offensive prowess. The best part is that,
    other than Uribe and Harris, no one is putting up numbers that scream for
    a recount. Assuming Crede comes around and the top two regress back to
    expected levels, the Sox should still be able to continue to bludgeon
    their opponents into submission.

  • “Look at me, I could be…” With Jose Valentin
    back and Harris soon to return from injury, manager Ozzie Guillen will
    have some decisions to make in order to keep all of his hot hitters in the
    lineup. The only positions that appear up for debate are second base and
    center and, with Uribe and Harris in the mix, the solution seems obvious.
    Harris played 61 games in center for the Sox last season, performing a
    mere one run below average according to BP’s defensive metrics. None of the
    replacements candidates–Perez, Aaron Rowand, and
    Ross Gload–have been doing anything with the bat this
    season except slinging it back to the dugout in disgust, and there’s
    certainly no Gold Gloves in waiting in that group. Hopefully, Guillen
    will keep Harris and Uribe in the lineup until they prove they’re playing
    above their heads; but if he doesn’t, there’s nothing quite like watching
    Perez trying to continue to live off his performance in the 2000
    post-season.

  • Two Weeks Notice: Despite taking three of four from the Twins
    over the weekend to move into a tie for the division lead, keeping up with
    the Twins over the next two weeks will be difficult, though, as the
    Minnesota nine gets a soft schedule of Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and Detroit
    while the south siders face up against the AL West. Fortunately, with the
    Twins suffering several key injuries, the Sox have a good shot to get
    through a tougher portion of their schedule without loosing too much, if
    any, ground, a situation that will benefit them later in the season when
    the roles are reversed.

Oakland Athletics

  • That Whole Platoon Thing: Doing their best Minnesota Twins
    imitation, the A’s came into the season with a logjam of similar players
    competing for the 1B and DH spots in the lineup. With Scott
    Hatteberg
    , Erubiel Durazo, and Eric
    Karros
    signed to the major league roster, Oakland looked primed
    for a season of musical chairs as the three cycled through the two spots
    in the order in some sort of three-headed platoon monster. Karros was
    signed for $1 million, a move that was publicly justified by his ability
    to hit southpaws. The evidence for this conclusion was usually his
    .316/.389/.515 line against them over the last three years (as opposed to
    .246/.298/.374 against righties). So far this year, however, Karros seems
    to have adopted a more egalitarian approach at the plate, posting terrible
    numbers against both righties and lefties alike. His .143/.203/.286
    overall line isn’t going to get him his own chapter in any book except the
    unemployment list, and he’s actually been worse against the very pitchers
    he was hired to punish, hitting just .125/.182/.300 in 43 PAs.

    The flip side of this coin is Hatteberg’s hot start of .302/.388/.465,
    well above his three-year averages and his 90th percentile PECOTA
    projection. Interestingly, Hatteberg is also displaying an unnatural
    platoon split thus far, hitting .353/.421/.500 against left-handers in 38
    PAs. Durazo, meanwhile, has continued to quietly post a very respectable
    .284/.358/.493 line highlighted by eight home runs. The two left-handed
    swingers are pacing the A’s in VORP
    thus far this season, narrowly edging fellow lefty Eric
    Chavez
    and righties Jermaine Dye, and Eric
    Byrnes
    .

    While it’s unlikely that either Karros or Hatteberg will continue their
    current paces, the expenditure on Karros–questionable at the time–looks even worse heading into June. Many A’s fans pointed quickly and loudly at Sacramento superstar Graham Koonce as a cheap
    and deserving alternative to Karros as the designated
    bat off the bench. Koonce, last year’s PCL MVP, is once again performing
    well (.287/.374/.539) a short drive down I-80. While his numbers aren’t
    as gaudy as 2003 and, at 29, he hasn’t been a prospect for a long time,
    he’s exactly the type of player that the A’s usually insert into fungible
    roster spots instead of spending extra money on the free agent market.
    This kind of organizational depth is one of Oakland’s biggest assets (see:
    Blanton, Joe), but it’s one that they ignored in this case, choosing to spend an extra $700,000 for a player on pace for 250 PAs.

  • Thinking Ahead: Speaking of first basemen, Dan
    Johnson
    is continuing his march towards the majors. Currently
    seventh in the PCL in EqA, Johnson solidified his status as the A’s top first base prospect with a
    .290/.365/.504 season in Midland last year at age 23. The A’s seventh
    round pick in 2001 out of Nebraska, Johnson is belting the ball to the
    tune of .310/.423/.511 in Sacramento this year. Highlighted by 19 XBH
    (39% of his total hits) and excellent plate discipline (31/16 BB/K),
    Johnson looks as if he’ll be ready for major league action by next March
    at the latest.

    While it’s still early in the season, Johnson’s continued progress
    gives the A’s options for the offseason. With Hatteberg signed through
    2005 and Karros likely gone after his one-year contract expires after this
    year, the main choice will come down to Durazo versus Johnson. Durazo was
    awarded a healthy $2.1 million salary in arbitration before this season
    and he may have finally gained enough name recognition that he’ll be
    overvalued on the market next season. Again, it’s still too early to tell
    what the A’s plans will likely be, but at least they have too many options
    instead of too few.

Philadelphia Phillies

  • There’s No “K” in “Prospect”: While Cole Hamels
    and Gavin Floyd give the Phillies two of the top young
    pitchers in the game, the Philadelphia system is curiously bereft of any
    players resembling a top hitting prospect. The fastest turtle in this
    race is Ryan Howard, currently pacing the Eastern League
    with 13 home runs, coupled with a respectable .278/.360/.583 line through
    Saturday. This kind of power surge is not out of line with his previous
    two seasons (.280/.367/.460, .304/.374/.514) and while he’s not likely to
    come through on his pace to hit over 40 round trippers, it’s this kind of
    sudden increase in extra base hits that reminds us that power is
    frequently the last skill to develop in prospects.

    Naturally, things are not perfect in Reading. Howard is a first baseman
    and, despite his noble toils and significant improvement, he remains a
    poor defenseman there. He’s also 24 and has been just slightly too old
    for his level at each stop along the Phillies’ organizational ladder to be
    considered a real prospect. But most importantly, he strikes out. A lot.
    The last two years, 27.3% and 25.7% of his plate appearances ended, like
    Eliot’s world, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Looking through the
    past seven years of minor league numbers, almost no one who strikes out as
    often as Howard has made the major leagues. Russell
    Branyan
    , Joe Borchard, Jack
    Cust
    , and a few others are the only exceptions, and if that’s the
    upside, then that’s not a prospect.

    So far this season, Howard is up to his usual tricks. He’s whiffed in
    51 of his 151 ABs, but, as mentioned above, he’s still powering his way
    through the league. As much as teams like to believe their players are
    the exception to the rule, the chances of Howard developing into a major
    league regular are slim at best. With Jim Thome blocking
    Howard’s path to the majors, the Phillies’ plans for him remain clouded.
    His value, while modest, will never be higher than it is now and
    Philadelphia’s best course of action is to sell high before those
    strikeouts catch up to him in the higher minors and majors.

  • Turnaround: Remember when the Phils were 1-6, Larry Bowa’s job
    was on the line, and the crowds were threatening to tear down Citizen’s
    Bank Park in a fit of rage? Didn’t think so. Having righted the ship,
    the Phillies are 14-7 in May and finally moved into the division lead
    Sunday afternoon before the Marlins tied things up with a win yesterday.
    After averaging a measly 4.2 runs per game in April, the offense has
    finally picked up and mustered 6.4 RPG thus far in May.

    While we lamented the lack of offense surrounding Thome in this space
    last
    time
    , the rest of the offense has responded with Bobby
    Abreu
    (.352/.473/.704) and Pat Burrell
    (.362/.453/.710) leading the charge this month. Not far behind those two
    is the apparently rejuvenated David Bell. After a season
    that begged for a treatment from Lacuna, Inc., Bell has rebounded so far with a
    .280/.360/.462 season that’s easily outpacing every season in his career
    and his 90th percentile PECOTA projection.

    Also pitching in where they can are Chase Utley and
    Ricky Ledee. While Utley’s still having trouble drawing
    walks (just one in 47 PA), he’s flashed some of that rumored power with four
    roundtrippers to compliment his four doubles and a triple and kept his
    strikeouts total to three. Ledee has also shown a preference to power with three
    homers, but he’s complimented it with seven free passes in 43 PA. Ledee isn’t
    likely to inherit a starting position unless someone goes down with an
    injury, but he’s an excellent bat to have sitting on the bench. Combined
    with Bell and Burrrell’s resurgence, the Philly offense is finally
    starting to look like the juggernaut that everyone expected last year.
    Oakland: