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April 25, 2011

Prospectus Hit List

A Return to Normalcy

by Jay Jaffe

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Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor



From Trash to Treasure: The Yankees climb atop the Hit List thanks in large part to three players picked up off the scrap heap during the team's otherwise inauspicious winter. Russell Martin belts two homers to lead a 15-run onslaught against the Orioles; he now has six on the year, as many as all of last season, and more multi-homer games during his short Yankee career than in five years as a Dodger. Freddy Garcia throws 12 scoreless innings across two starts, while Bartolo Colon steps into Phil Hughes' rotation spot and tosses six masterful innings in his first start since July 24, 2009. Including relief work, Colon now has a league-leading 10.0 K/9. Without those two starters, the Yankee rotation would have a higher ERA (5.47) than innings per start (5.38).


"You can't rob Peter to pay Paul, and you can't pay Paul until Peter gets it done": So says Ron Washington on the subject of moving Alexi Ogando back to the bullpen. Ogando rebounds from a rough outing against the Yankees to toss a career-high 115 pitches in a six-inning, one-run effort against the Royals, lowering his ERA to 2.13. The possibility of returning him to whence he came arises as Neftali Feliz hits the disabled list due to shoulder inflammation. In Feliz's absence, 40-something lefties Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes save back-to-back games, having finally—or perhaps just temporarily—developed the necessary intestinal fortitude to pitch the ninth in their 18th and 20th big league seasons, respectively.


Old Hands, New Life: The Indians jump out to their best start since 1999 before a three-game losing streak brings them back to earth and serves a reminder that this team is more likely a work in progress than a bona fide contender. At the very least, this is shaping up to be Cleveland's best season since 2007, so it's notable that the two Tribesmen who were part of their last playoff run are off to hot starts. Travis Hafner is hitting .348/.395/.580 and bopping homers with around twice the frequency of the past three seasons, while Grady Sizemore is raking at a .357/.400/.714 clip with six extra base hits in his first eight games since returning from nearly a year off due to microfracture surgery on his left knee.


Whole Lotta Nothing: Held scoreless for 20 consecutive innings by the Mariners, the A's erupt for a season-high nine runs thanks to homers from eighth and ninth hitters Kevin Kouzmanoff and Cliff Pennington. The A's will take the power wherever they can find it, even from guys hitting .220/.222/.373 and .246/.286/.316, respectively. They're second-to-last in the league in homers, with just one regular slugging above .400 and four below .300 in OBP, offsetting a pitching staff that's allowing a league-low 3.1 runs per game.


Red Sox
It's the Pitching, Stupid: A 7-1 run gets the Red Sox within hailing distance of .500, thanks largely to a pitching staff that yields just two runs per game over that stretch, after being rocked for 6.6 runs per game prior. Daisuke Matsuzaka lowers his ERA from 12.86 thanks to a pair of one-hit scoreless appearances; he goes seven innings against the Blue Jays, eight against the Angels. Josh Beckett contributes a pair of strong outings as well; he has allowed just three runs in his past 23 innings, and is striking out a hitter per inning thus far. Even John Lackey's getting in the swing of things, allowing one run over his last 14 innings after being rocked for 15 in his first 8.2.


Lost Time Blues: A 12-6 start pushes the Angels into first place in the AL West, but they suffer the indignity of a four-game sweep by the Red Sox in Anaheim, one in which they score just five runs and are blanked in back-to-back games. It's almost as though they were still playing Jeff Mathis and Brandon Wood, but the former has been supplanted by Hank Conger, and the latter is now a Pirate via the waiver wire after Erick Aybar's return from the disabled list. Aybar's hitting .344/.344/.469, but is rusty with regard to the fundamentals of baserunning; he's thrown out at third base trying to stretch a leadoff double into a triple in the eighth inning of a tie game in the series opener.


Go Figure: Rocked for an 8.44 ERA through his first four starts, Brad Penny tosses 5.1 innings of no-hit ball before his bid ends on a questionable call on a bad throw by Brandon Inge. Penny finishes with seven innings of one-hit shutout ball, giving the Tigers their eighth win in 11 games, and pushing them above .500 for the first time all year. The offense is scraping together 4.9 runs per game during that stretch despite hitting just .256/.347/.373; they'll have a tougher task keeping that up after losing Victor Martinez to a groin strain, though at least they'll maximize light-hitting Alex Avila's playing time at a point when his bat is red-hot (.327/.387/.589).


Let Us Not Get Ahead of Ourselves: Alex Gordon is hitting .356/.402/.522 and riding an 18-game hitting streak, while Jeff Francoeur is nursing a sterling .325/.370/.566 line. That's how you know this is all too good to last, and indeed, the Royals' facade of invincibility is crumbling as they lose six of eight. Not convinced? Consider that this team's 12-10 record is their best at this point since, gosh, 2009, when things worked out so well that the Royals won 65 games. The cavalry of Moustakases and Hosmers will be on the way soon enough, but it's a bit early to expect this club to factor into the AL Central race given the current talent and one winning season in the last 16.


The Return of Big Game James: James Shields tosses a four-hit shutout against the Blue Jays, his second complete game in a row and just the seventh of his career. Thanks to improved pitch sequencing, Shields' 2.35 ERA is less than half of last season's mark, as is his 0.7 HR/9. The Rays are now 10-3 since starting the year 1-8, due in large part to Shields and his mates, who are holding opponents to just 3.1 runs per game during that stretch.


Blue Jays
Joey Bats Is Back: Jose Bautista drills four homers and scores 10 runs in a four-game span against the Yankees and Rays, kicking off a streak of 10 straight times reaching base. He's hitting .359/.506/.750 with an AL-high seven homers; additionally, he's either first or second in all three slash stats, walks, and runs. Speaking of outbursts, Brett Cecil is taking his to Las Vegas, where he'll presumably play the slots in an effort to win back his lost velocity.


White Sox
Stinky Sox: You know you've hit rock bottom—in the AL Central and in life in general—when you're nearly no-hit by Brad Penny, and shut out again the following day. The team is hitting a collective .193/.256/.282 during their 1-10 slide while being outscored by an average of 2.8 runs per game. Typifying the slump is Adam Dunn, who's just 4-for-41 since returning from his appendectomy, and 3-for-37 since the slide began; he's hitting just .145/.288/.2981 overall. Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham are both 3-for-33 during the skid, with the former hitting .160/.253/.210 on the year, the latter .208/.253/.338; if that's not bad enough, Brett Morel's at .217/.230/.267 even with that gift of a call to end Penny's no-hit bid.


The Offense and the Pitching, That's Just Two Problems, Right? Justin Morneau goes 2-for-5 with a pair of RBI in a victory over the Indians, his first action since missing five games with the flu. He's still hitting just .224/.274/.310, one of five regulars with an OPS below 600; not surprisingly, the Twins are last in the league in scoring at 3.4 runs per game. Meanwhile, the rotation's one-two punch of Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano are carrying gaudy ERAs (5.37 and 7.40, respectively), and Joe Nathan is out as closer after blowing saves in consecutive appearances; he'll work in lower leverage duty while Matt Capps works the ninth.


The Incredibly Strange Team That Stopped Winning and Became Mixed-Up Zombies: Their 6-1 start a distant memory, the Orioles find themselves in a 2-10 freefall. The pitching staff is yielding 4.9 runs per game, 13th in the league, while the offense is sputtering at 3.9 per game (10th), in part because newcomers Vlad Guerrero ( .265/.265/.398), Derrek Lee (.211/.294/.276), and Mark Reynolds (.179/.263/.343) are stinking up the joint, as are holdovers Adam Jones (.229/.267/.414) and everybody's favorite free-speaking, gun-toting birther, Luke Scott (.213/.283/.383).


My Hero, Zero: Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, and the Mariner relief corps spin back-to-back shutouts against the A's. The rookie Pineda has yielded just three runs over his last three starts and allowed just 27 baserunners in 25.1 innings en route to a 1.78 ERA. Limiting the opposition to zero runs is about the only way the M's can win, given an offense so erratic that their 13-run outburst against the Tigers comes amid an eight-game stretch in which they score just 27 runs in all.

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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