Who doesn’t love a rookie? Whether it’s a highly touted prospect making his not-so-long-awaited arrival, a green stopgap fresh off the turnip truck, or a lifer finally catching a break, nobody grabs our attention like the new guy. Who knows what you’re going to get that first time around the league? We chase after that initial glimpse where potential becomes actualized as we sit bolt upright and say to each other, “Wow! Did you see that? The kid belongs!” Around the majors we’re seeing a swell crop of rookies right now, from the seemingly endless stream powering the Dodgers to the ones helping the Big Apple’s pricey teams stay afloat, from those tantalizing Tiger hurlers offering triple-digit heat and filthy stuff to the equally exciting pair trying to help salvage Minnesota’s season. It’s only appropriate we tip our caps to the freshmen on a day where the seeds for a whole new crop of them will be planted: Draft Day.
Rude Awakenings: the Tigers surrender the top spot after coming within one inning (and one Mo back spasm) of being swept four straight at home by the Yankees, then dropping a series to the Red Sox. Blame their hitters’ easily exploited hacksmanship; the Tiger offense’s K/UIBB ratio of 2.76 is second-worst in the majors, and their walk rate (.067 UIBB/PA) is 26th. Their main source of strength–a deep rotation which leads the majors in SNLVAR (10.5), and in which all five starters rank among the top 30 in VORP–will be tested now that Mike Maroth will miss 2-3 months due to bone chips in his elbow. Still, there are worse places to be than reeling along with a .649 winning percentage.
David Wells hits the DL again after a ball hits him, Josh Beckett serves up meatballs, David Pauley pitches like the second coming of Lenny DiNardo, and Matt Clement shaves his ERA (if not his godawful facial hair) all the way down to 6.68 before leaving mid-batter. Meanwhile, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez combine to hit .179/.407/.564 with 14 walks and five homers, while Wily Mo Pena hits the skids; he’ll lose a hamate bone and likely his power stroke for the rest of the year. The Sox shed 10 points off their Hit List Factor, yet climb two spots in the rankings while clinging to the AL East lead as they head into Fort Bambino: Da Bronx. Say this: never a dull moment with this team.
Hot Snakes: four homers from Damion Easley—three in one game–help the Diamondbacks sweep the Braves and continue a 15-5 roll that’s kept them atop the NL West and ahead of the surging Dodgers. Eric Byrnes chips in with four homers for the week as well, lifting his season line to .318/.376/.588. Even hotter is Brandon Webb, who’s riding a 25-inning scoreless streak that’s taken him to the pinnacle of the pitching VORP (38.5) and Support-Neutral ranks. Jim Baker spins more Webb tales.
Not In the Cards: Albert Pujols‘ run at the single-season home-run record dies a gruesome death as the big slugger with 25 homers heads to the DL with a Grade 2 oblique strain (“a tear big enough to feel with your finger,” yarggh) that could cost him six weeks. According to Marginal Lineup Value rate, that’s .651 runs per game the Cards have to replace. Also going down is the team’s leading pitcher, Chris Carpenter, doing 15 on the DL for an inflamed bursa sac. Meanwhile Jim Edmonds is trying to stave off his own trip to the DL due to a strained abdominal wall that still might be a sports hernia. Add it up and Cards could have 35 percent of their VORP sidelined in that trio. As if having Timo Perez on your roster–effectively (or not) as Pujols’ replacement in the lineup–wasn’t bad enough already.
Volatile: that’s how best to describe a team playing in the highest run environment of any in MLB (11.02 per game), one whose daily run differentials this past week were -11, +1, +5, +4, -7, +12 and -12. Can’t these guys make up their minds? One day it’s Travis Hafnercelebrating his 29th birthday with his third grand slam of the season, the next it’s ace C.C. Sabathiabeing scraped off the pavement after taking a pasting from a team whose offense is so weak (Angels) you could drown it in a bathtub. Or it’s the bizarro lineup where Casey Blake (.318/.397/.542) and Ben Broussard (.361/.399/.578) hit like gods while Jhonny Peralta (.236/.321/.350) slaps like Neifi. Really, it all comes down to the rotation, where the non-Sabathia hurlers have combined for a 5.52 ERA (nobody else is below 5.00) and 5.0 K/9, with a below-average defense (.686 Defensive Efficiency, nine points below the team as a whole, and 14 points below league average) behind them.
A sweep of the Astros helps the Reds assert themselves as Most Likely to Succeed in the NL Central Due to the Absence of Albert Pujols. Not that they’ve been ripping it up lately; in fact, Cincy had lost 12 out of 18 prior to the sweep, punting series to patsies like the Pirates and Cubs. That funk coincides almost exactly with the return of Ken Griffey Jr. to the lineup. Recall that Junior hit a walk-off homer in his May 11 return, but he hit just .217/.262/.400 in the next 15 games. A .407/.429/.630 week has him and the team back on the good foot, not to mention the trade radar, particularly for a certain pinstriped team that could swallow the $37 million he has left on his contract.
Show’s Over, Folks: the dust settles on 715, as Barry Bonds takes a breather and moves on through a completely unremarkable week (.273/.429/.273). The rest of the team follows suit, splitting six games on the road. Encouraging signs come from young and old, with 21-year-old Matt Cain continuing his recent run of success (4 ER in 19.2 IP since being skipped), 27-year-old rookie Eliezer Alfonsohomering in his big-league debut, and 41-year-old Steve Finley (9.0 VORP, up from last year’s -8.1) continuing his resurgence with a .320/.393/.520 week.
A dreadful week for the Braves as they drop back below .500 after climbing a season-high four games above. Pitching is the culprit, with 51 runs and 13 homers allowed on the week, including a 7.71 ERA from the bullpen. With performances like that it hardly matters whether your closer is Chris Reitsma, Ken Ray or Ray J. Johnson, unless you can call the latter “John Smoltz circa 2003.” In the rotation, John Thomson produces two disaster starts and has now allowed 23 earned runs in his last 18.2 innings. If there’s a positive note to be sounded about the staff, it’s that Horacio Ramirez has yieldied just one earned run in 14 innings since returning from the DL. Banking on that to continue is a quick ticket to the bottom of the NL East.
Jason Kendallhomers for the first time in 247 games and 961 at-bats, helping to halt a 1-10 skid that sees the A’s drop a series to the Royals and lose Mark Ellis for six weeks with a broken thumb. But things start to look up thanks to a pitching staff that holds the Royals and Twins to four runs in a five-game span; Rich Harden has returned, and Barry Zito has limited opponents to a 1.12 ERA over his last seven starts (54 IP), with all six runs coming on homers. In the big picture, Nate Silver thinks the A’s need to keep Zito, isn’t so sanguine about assets like Bobby Crosby and Daric Barton, and finds that the team can’t afford to give up on the season yet. Particuarly so in a division that’s now drawing well-deserved AL Worst jokes.
Beware of Falling Rox: a 2-10 tumble has taken the Rockies from the top of the NL West to the bottom in just two short weeks. This just in: neither God nor video iPod had any more to do with the team’s success than Rod and Todd Flanders do with their recent failures. Instead, the finger points squarely at an offense that has scored just 22 runs (compared to 63 allowed) in that 14-game span while “hitting” .223/.282/.330. Sounds like it’s time to start praying to Jobu if you ask us.
Winners of 11 out of 14 since May 19. Alfonso Soriano is the biggest reason for that; he’s hitting .421/.500/.877 with seven homers in that span, running his season total to a not-quite-Pujolsesque 21, including 11 in 23 home games. Indeed, the Nats have gone homer happy with 71 dingers through 57 games, a per-game rate that’s 72 percent higher than last year; their pace at home (25 in 23 games) is 91 percent higher than 2005. Score one for Jim Bowden as he fattens Sori for a midsummer marketplace that should be booming due to a shortage of healthy, productive outfielders (*cough* not Brad Wilkerson *cough*).
An eight-game losing streak in which they’ve been outscored 64-21 has dropped the Brewers below .500. The team’s failure to patch through the absences of Ben Sheets and Tomo Ohka has been its undoing; Dana Eveland, Jorge de la Rosa and Ben Hendrickson have combined for an 11.68 ERA and just 35.2 innings in nine starts, only one of which the Brewers have won, and the short stints force Ned Yost to serve up Cream of Bullpen (an MLB-worst -27.2 Adjusted Runs Prevented despite a middling 1.148 Reliever Expected Wins Added, because those runs are coming in such low-leverage situations). Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if Doug Davis (5.23 ERA) and David Bush (4.95 ERA) could keep opponents under five runs per game, either. Sheets may not be back until early June. Better hope that the offense, which is second in the NL with a .271 EqA, can kick it up a notch to keep them close until then, or it’s going to be a long summer.
Four straight series wins and an 8-3 record have stopped the bleeding for the Angels, and it’s another good week for the Brothers Weaver. Jered whiffs eight Indians in his second win; he’s now yielded two earned runs in 13.1 innings. Jeff has put together two quality stars in a row after a trio of bludgeonings, lowering his ERA from Boeing territory and making a case for him to remain in the rotation. Speaking of which, Kelvim Escobar will be sticking around for the next three years after a contract extension, and when Bartolo Colon returns, he may be minus several MPH on his fastball.
Despite a season-high six-game losing streak wrecking most of their week, the M’s have reason to smile on at least one front. Adrian Beltre is showing signs of life, hitting .368/.400/.579 during a nine-game hitting streak, including homers in back-to-back games. That doubles his season total to four and lifts his line to .236/.299/.335, which is like being committed to Neifi Perez for another four years and $54 million. As for Felix Hernandez or Richie Sexson, ummmm… Beltre’s hitting the ball real well, and so is Ichiro Suzuki (.560/.621/.760 this week), and golly, that Jamie Moyercan still pitch, can’t he?
The O’s pound out 40 runs on the week, hitting .312/.372/.521 as a team despite losing Jay Gibbons to hip and knee strains. Ramon Hernandez (.417/.444/.750) and Miguel Tejada (.423/.464/.577) are the stars, unless you’re watching the latter play defense, in which case you might want to poke him with a stick to make sure he’s still moving (that consecutive-game streak is the biggest scam since Amway). Meanwhile, the rotation remains in dire shape, sporting a 6.01 ERA and just 2.7 SNLVAR, worse than every other team except the Royals, who don’t even have Leo Mazzone helping them.
D-Train Kept A-Rollin’: Dontrelle Willisnotches his first W in six weeks, and more importantly, puts together his fourth good start in a row, a span during which he’s allowed eight earned runs in 30 innings. D-Trade rumorscontinue to swirl most of them worth even less than the Marlins’ pallid denial of any interest in moving him. In any event, it’s a good week for the Fish as they take two series from the NL West’s weaker teams; they’ve now won nine out of 12 to clear themselves of the Throneberry Line.
In which the Twins take a couple pages from their miserable April, dropping a series to the fallen Angels and managing just four runs in four games against the A’s. The offense, with just 17 runs on the week and a .185/.268/.250 showing against Oakland, truly offends, though Joe Mauer (.355/.411/.500) continues to tear it up and Jason Kubel (6-for-22 with a double and a homer) finally offers a bit of hope. Meanwhile, the rotation shuffle continues, with Scott Bakerdemoted and Carlos Silva back from the bullpen, albeit none too impressively. As a unit, the starting five’s ERA is still 5.80, and that includes the fine works of Francisco Liriano (0.56 ERA in 16 IP) and Johan Santana (3.24 ERA). Easily the AL’s most disappointing team to date.
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.