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June 29, 2011

Prospectus Hit List

AL: Welcome to the Party

by Jay Jaffe

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Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor



Switching It Up: Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada bop back-to-back home runs on Old Timer's Day to erase a 3-0 deficit, helping the Yankees beat the Rockies while Joe Torre and Bernie Williams look upon their old team. Since being swept by Boston, the Yanks are on a 13-4 run th>at carries them back to the top of the heap with their switch-hitters doing a big share of the damage: Swisher (.351/.459/.702 with five homers, four in the past eight games), Posada (.341/.375/.545 and his first two homers since April 23), and Mark Teixeira (.222/.347/.571 with six homers, lifting him into a tie with Jose Bautista for the MLB lead with 24). Even hotter: Alex Rodriguez (.411/.493/.643), despite playing through a minor knee injury.


Red Sox
More Rust Than Rest: Josh Beckett is pounded for a season-high five runs against the Phillies in his first start in 13 days; since firing a one-hit shutout at the Rays, he has missed a turn and been pushed back due to a severe stomach flu. The loss is Boston's fifth in six games following their sizzling 14-2 run, a slide which costs them first place here and atop the AL East standings. It comes as the team is patching its rotation with Tim Wakefield, Alfredo Aceves, and Andrew Miller, none of whom began the year among the starting five. The latter helps secure the team's lone win during the span with a strong effort (6 5 2 1 2 4) against the Pirates.


Complete Game James: James Shields goes the distance for his third straight start and major league-leading sixth time this season while three-hitting the Astros. He's been dominant in that stretch with a 24/4 K/BB ratio, 12 hits, and just two runs (one earned) allowed. Coming off a rough 2010, Shields is in the top 10 in most rate stats—strikeout rate, walk rate, K/BB, hit rate (thanks to a .252 BABIP), ERA—and because he's only gone above 110 pitches in two of his starts, he's just 24th in Pitcher Abuse Points. With his help, the Rays are on a 9-2 run, tightening up the AL East race once again.


Ol' Blue Eyes Is Seeing Red: The returns of Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz were supposed to give the Rangers plenty of breathing room in the AL West, but since May 23, they're just 18-15 with a +7 run differential while gaining 1.5 games in the division standings. Cruz is hitting an uneven .258/.283/.591 since returning with 11 homers but an appalling 38/4 K/BB ratio, while Hamilton is hitting .286/.338/.549 thanks to a more recent 13-for-34, four-homer burst. The reigning AL MVP is just 6-for-53 in day games, and one optometrist believes it's because he has blue eyes, which let in more light and thus produce unwanted glare; while there are plenty of blue-eyed success stories, for Hamilton, the difference is literally night and day as far as career numbers go (.334/.391/.586 versus .238/.309/.413). An experiment with red-tinted lenses goes awry as he whiffs four times, so he'll try sunglasses instead.


Dial V for Victory: Justin Verlander strikes out a career-high 14 in eight shutout innings against the Diamondbacks, kicking off a three-game sweep that lifts the Tigers back into first place in the AL Central. It's Verlander's third double-digit strikeout start in his last four, a span during which he's yielded just two runs and 15 hits in 34 innings with an astounding 41/3 K/BB ratio. Dating back to his May 7 no-hitter, the Tigers have won nine of his last 10 starts while going 28-18, the league's second-best record. Elsewhere in the series, the team finally gets around to retiring Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson's number 11; it's a crying shame they didn't do it while he was still alive.


Crowd Favorite: Vernon Wells's three-run homer lifts the Angels to a Freeway Series win over the Dodgers. It's the second of three homers in a seven-game span for Wells; he now has five since returning from the DL on June 7 while hitting a vaguely lifelike .250/.271/.471. All five of those homers have come on the road; in fact, Wells is hitting just .155/.191/.190 with one homer in Anaheim, compared to a still-disappointing .238/.271/.468 with eight homers elsewhere—just the kind of split that will endear himself to Angels fans over the remaining three and a half years and $75 million on his deal. In any event, the Halos are on a 10-5 run that gets them back to .500 and into second place in the AL West.


White Sox
No Danks: The White Sox continue their slow crawl towards .500; they're 27-20—one game off the pace of the Tigers—since May 6 after starting the year 11-22. Alas, they lose John Danks to a mild oblique strain at a time when the unlucky lefty had been throwing the ball well, yielding just five runs (three earned) in 22 innings over his previous three turns. Picking up the slack is Jake Peavy, who fires four shutout innings in relief of Danks—and a bullpen gassed from the previous night's 14-inning affair—on two days' rest in his second appearance since returning from the DL.


Good News, Bad Choos: Losing five out of six costs the Indians first place, but they get some instant gratification when five-star prospect Lonnie Chisenhall goes 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI in his major league debut, a win over Arizona. The 21-year-old third baseman was hitting .265/.352/.427 in Triple-A but had heated up to win International League Player of the Week honors recently. Alas, there's bad news in the form of Shin-Soo Choo's fractured thumb, which needs surgery and could cost him 8-10 weeks. Not that he was helping much, hitting .244/.333/.353 with five homers—none in his last 143 plate appearances—and blaming his woes on self-induced pressure following his DUI arrest.


Ack Ack Ack! Dustin Ackley keys an extra-innings win over the Marlins via a leadoff double and a run scored on a wild pitch. The win gives the Mariners a series victory over the Marlins, though it doesn't prevent them from slipping back under .500. Ackley's hitting .303/.378/.545 in his first 10 games since being recalled, but the team is just 4-6 in that span with the rest of the offense "hitting" just .207/.261/.282.


Blue Jays
Powering Up Again: After homering just once in 22 games—a span during which he hits .269/.400/.333—Jose Bautista goes yard in back-to-back games, the former of which provides the Jays' only run, but the latter of which is a game-winner. Alas, with the Jays' offense wheezing along at a .228/.293/.380 clip in June while averaging just 3.96 runs per game, manager John Farrell shifts Bautista to third base to bench Jayson Nix (.140/.194/.246 in June) and make room for callup Eric Thames (.309/.367/.473 in limited duty this year). Bautista homers again in his 2011 hot corner debut, keeping him tied with Mark Teixiera for the major league lead at 24.


MelvinBall: You know it's bad when a six-game winning streak gets you only half the distance to .500; spent by that effort, the A's lose four out of their next five by a combined score of 12-8—and this is with a lineup that's supposedly rounding into shape with Jemile Weeks (.309/.356/.471) and Scott Sizemore (.327/.397/.462). The team does lose Josh Willingham (.231/.307/.410 with a team-high 10 homers) to an Achilles strain and demotes Daric Barton (.212/.325/.267) to Triple-A, but replacing the latter with a platoon of Mark Ellis (.217/.253/.290) and Conor Jackson (.265/.346/.326) while letting Chris Carter get splinters on the bench (one plate appearance in his first four games) is only making life harder.


A Rough Introduction: It's bad enough that Brian Roberts is out, but worse is that his latest replacement, 27-year-old Blake Davis, lets one through the wickets in his major league debut en route to a series loss against the Pirates. Davis recovers to go 4-for-7 with a two-run triple in his next two appearances, both wins over the Reds; the O's take the series in large part thanks to a pair of Derrek Lee homers, including a walkoff shot. Lee's hitting .375/.390/.625 with six extra-base hits in his last nine games, compared to 10 in his previous 66.


Six Horsemen of the Apocalypse: A 1-8 skid knocks the Royals to a season-high 14 games under .500, and with the team now last in the league in overall run prevention (4.92 per game), starter ERA (5.11), and quality start percentage (43 percent), Dayton Moore and Ned Yost somehow reach the conclusion that more is more. They opt to return Kyle Davies to the rotation despite the fact that his 7.46 ERA is the highest of the sextet. While some of that may owe to a .364 BABIP rather than skill (this year's 4.82 SIERA is actually fourth in that group), Davies' 5.60 career ERA takes the cake as well, at least if we're talking about crappy cakes. This won't last forever, not if Bruce Chen gets his well-deserved ticket to a better ballclub, though his own return from a strained lat is nothing to write home about.


Dial M for My God, What Next? The Twins drop six in a row after winning 15 of their previous 17; their deficit in the AL Central dips back into double digits, but at least one wag is breathing easier about a potentially premature burial. As if they needed more problems, the team's depth is tested by injuries to Delmon Young and Justin Morneau; the latter will need neck surgery, the former may need screws implanted in his ankle. Both have struggled mightily thus far (Morneau .225/.281/.338, Young .256/.281/.324) but the latter had at least been heating up this month. Meanwhile, although Joe Mauer has been taking grounders at first base, his post-return performance (.176/.200/.235 in 35 PA since returning) has been indistinguishable from that of Drew Butera, who only figures to get more reps in such a configuration.

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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