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July 13, 2007

Prospectus Hit List

Friday the 13th Edition

by Jay Jaffe

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RkTeam
Overall W-L
Week W-L
Hit List Factor
Trend
Comment

1


Red Sox
54-34
1-3
.620
Down
Bouncing back from last year's late-season collapse and taking advantage of the decline and fall of the Yankee empire, the Sox jumped out to a 36-16 start and looked as though they might chase history; they've held the top spot here for two months now. But since the calendar flipped to June, they're just 17-18, dealing with the cooling of Josh Beckett (4.49 ERA in that span) and the extended absence of Curt Schilling while waiting for the likes of J.D. Drew, Julio Lugo, and Coco Crisp to thaw. Still, Japanese imports Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima have helped stabilize their respective units, and with the rest of the division failing to crack .500, this could be a second half devoid of the usual Boston drama.

2


Tigers
52-35
3-1
.591
Up
The owners of the game's best run differential (+104) have laid to rest the notion that last year's pennant was a fluke, but this year's Tigers are winning more by pummeling the opposition to death with an MLB-best 5.9 runs per game than via the pitching-and-defense recipe they used last year. Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Guillen rank among the league's top eight in VORP, and strong up-the-middle contributions from Curtis Granderson and Placido Polonco (both in the top 25) help offset the weakness of Sean Casey and the sub-replacement Craig Monroe. As for the staff, the return of Kenny Rogers bodes well (1.17 ERA through three starts), but the bullpen's big three of Todd Jones, Fernando Rodney, and Joel Zumaya are a whopping eight WXRL off last year's total, and the likes of Jose Capellan and Bobby Seay aren't enough to pick up the slack.

3


Padres
49-38
1-2
.566
Down
Petco or no, new manager Bud Black's ability to run a pitching staff didn't lose anything in the translation across leagues, as the Pads have stifled opponents (3.4 runs per game) while leading the league in both SNLVAR and WXRL. Still, they've split their last 30 games, and with only three hitters with double-digit VORPs and a team EqA of .254, the offense is wheezing. Upgrades like Michael Barrett and Milton Bradley (if he's ever healthy) may help, but this team needs Brian Giles (5.6 VORP) and brother Marcus (-2.0 VORP overall and just .189/.261/.274 since May 23) to pick up the pace if they're to hold off the Dodgers and Diamondbacks.

4


Indians
52-36
1-2
.563
Flat
Overcoming the fact that Cliff Lee, Jake Westbrook, and Jeremy Sowers--three-fifths of the projected rotation--have combined for -17.8 VORP, the Tribe are contenders once again. Not every facet of Mark Shapiro's master plan has jelled--Andy Marte's in Buffalo, new acquisitions Josh Barfield, David Dellucci, and Trot Nixon are all below replacement level, and closer Joe Borowski just 1.5 runs above it--but Jhonny Peralta and Fausto Carmona have bounced back from traumatic 2006 campaigns, and Victor Martinez and Grady Sizemore rank in the league's top ten in VORP. A run differential that's just over half that of the Tigers suggests they're not quite the equal of their division rivals, but you have to like their chances of reaching the postseason for the first time since 2001.

5


Yankees
43-43
3-1
.561
Up
Don't kid yourselves, Yankee fans--despite the high ranking and the upcoming soft schedule, it's all over but the shouting and pouting, not to mention the laying of bets on whether Joe Torre, Brian Cashman, or Alex Rodriguez will be around for the next step. The team's worst first half of the three-division era has left the Yanks needing to play .684 ball the rest of the way to reach the 95-win level of the last two AL Wild Card winners, not to mention a .737 clip to match Boston's 99-win pace. Injuries, age, and overpriced underachievement are the predominant themes here, and neither Torre nor Cashman deserve a pass for building a weak bench, forgetting first base, or the puzzling bullpen management which has contributed mightily to a 6-14 record in one-run games. For all the finger-pointing, Cashman's efforts to rebuild the organization's pitching depth may pay off down the road, and keeping his head at the trading deadline should merit sparing his neck come October.

6


Angels
53-35
1-2
.557
Down
The 2007 Halos' pitching prowess isn't a surprise, except perhaps in the context of Bud Black's departure for the pastures of Petco. The big surprise is an offense that's in the league's upper half thanks to the emergence of Reggie Willits and Casey Kotchman, not to mention a remarkable turnaround from Chone Figgins (.461/.496/.574 in June); mothballing Garret Anderson and Shea Hillenbrand certainly didn't hurt. Going forward, the key to this team maintaining its spot atop the AL West is getting productivity out of the back of the rotation, and if that means swapping in Dustin Moseley and Joe Saunders for the struggling Bartolo Colon (6.44 ERA) and Ervin Santana (5.97), then the Angels should consider themselves lucky that they have the depth to solve such a significant problem from within.

7


Dodgers
49-40
1-2
.556
Down
Ned Colletti's big-ticket items from this past winter--Juan Pierre, Jason Schmidt, Nomar Garciaparra--have been embarrassing busts, but the emergence of Russell Martin as the league's elite catcher and the injection of youth provided by Matt Kemp and James Loney (a combined .365/.420/.554 since their June recalls) have propped up an underpowered offense. On the hill, DePodesta stalwarts Brad Penny and Derek Lowe (first and 11th in SNLVAR) have carried the rotation, while a lights-out bullpen has been among the game's best. Their second-half fate rests on Chad Billingsley settling into a starting role and a healthy enough Randy Wolf recapturing his early-season form, though resurgences from Garciaparra (shifted to third base, though his .233 EqA can't touch Wilson Betemit's .278) and Rafael Furcal would sure help.

8


Mets
49-39
2-2
.555
Flat
For the first two months of the season, the Mets looked as though they'd wrap up last year's unfinished business despite a patchwork rotation; at 34-18, they ranked #2 here through June 1. Since then, the team has skidded to 14-21 while putting the NL East back in play, as the starters have struggled with both health and performance, and a biblical plague of injuries has decimated the outfield.; on the latter front, the remainders have hit a combined .224/.268/.361. Lastings Milledge and a rehabbing Pedro Martinez may provide some help down the stretch, but this team will need Omar Minaya to summon further reinforcements if the Mets are to prevail.

9


Brewers
49-39
1-2
.553
Down
Their surprising hot start is a distant memory now; the Brew Crew has gone a flat 25-29 since their initial burst out of the gate, allowing their weak sisters in the NL Central to maintain some hope. Still, there's a staggering amount of young talent here--NL home run leader Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, Ryan Braun--and the emergence of Yovani Gallardo gives the Brewers enviable pitching depth. Whether Ned Yost and Doug Melvin have the chutzpah to sweep either Jeff Suppan, Chris Capuano, or Claudio Vargas--who've combined for a 6.52 ERA and 1.7 HR/9 over the last two months--to make room for Gallardo may be the difference between a cautionary tale and the Brewers' first postseason appearance since Harvey's Wallbangers.

10


Cubs
44-43
1-2
.531
Down
For all of the early-season brawls and squalls, the Cubs are 22-12 since Lou Piniella's infamous tirade, putting them well within range of a Brew Crew that's been playing sub-.500 ball over the past two months. Not coincidentally, the turnaround coincides with that of Carlos Zambrano, who's dealt seven straight quality starts since his own dustup, stabilizing a rotation that's seen the early works of Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis lose their luster. The bullpen is nobody's favorite, but the emergence of Carlos Marmol (0.96 ERA, 12.9 K/9) has accompanied the improvement of Ryan Dempster (scored on in just one of his last 15 outings) to at least stop the bleeding. Second-half sleepers? The Cubs are your best bet.

11


Athletics
44-45
0-4
.531
Down
It's been an odd blend of breakthroughs and breakdowns from the A's, who find themselves in unfamiliar territory--a distant third in the AL West, and fourth in the Wild Card hunt. Despite the departure of Barry Zito and a maddening series of injuries to Rich Harden, the rotation has been the game's most productive thanks to the emergence of Dan Haren as one of the league's elite, not to mention SNLVAR top five surprises from Joe Blanton and Chad Gaudin. But with a bullpen that's minus Huston Street in the short term and Justin Duchscherer for the year, and an offense that's got far too many sinkholes, this isn't looking like the Green and Gold's year.

12


Mariners
50-36
4-0
.527
Up
Mike Hargrove's sudden resignation aside, it's been a banner first half for the Mariners, even if--or perhaps because--they're a whopping 5.8 games above their third-order projections and lurking in the weeds of the Wild Card race. Ichiro Suzuki's heroics have him third in the league in VORP, and Emerald City fans can rest easy now that he'll be around for the second half and beyond. Felix Hernandez's new grip gives them that much more reason to smile, as does Jeff Weaver's 1.67 ERA since returning from the DL.

13


Twins
46-43
3-2
.520
Up
Last year's AL Central champs deserved better than to break camp with a rotation that featured Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson instead of Matt Garza, Scott Baker and/or Kevin Slowey, and while the latter trio has combined for just a 5.57 ERA, that still beats the 6.18 proffered by the former, at a considerably cheaper price. Were those the Twins' only troubles, this team would be poised for another run, but the offense has too many holes to give them a shot; beyond the big four, the Twins are 14 runs below replacement level. Maybe they'll trade for Adam Dunn or Jermaine Dye... or maybe monkeys will fly out of Terry Ryan's butt.

14


Braves
47-42
2-1
.514
Up
They're in the thick of the NL East race because stellar seasons from Chipper Jones, Edgar Renteria, Kelly Johnson, and the Matt Diaz/Willie Harris platoon have overcome injuries to Chipper Jones and Brian McCann, the vortex of suck at first base and the total collapse of Andruw Jones. The trio of Tim Hudson, John Smoltz and Chuck James has been more than solid, but the back end of the rotation has put up a 6.63 ERA, and if Smoltz can't bounce back, you can slap a stamp on this team's chances and mail them to next year.

15


Blue Jays
43-45
2-2
.514
Down
B.J.'s been T.J.'ed, and now J.P. has buyer's remorse over A.J. too? Tough to believe Ricciardi still has a job when more qualified GM types like Gil Gunderson or that wino in front of your corner deli don't get to try their hand at spending Ted Rogers' money. For all of that, the pitching staff's litany of injuries has given young hurlers like Shaun Marcum, Casey Janssen, and Dustin McGowan a shot, with happy results. Another second-place finish in the AL East is hardly out of the question, but a run at the Wild Card is still a pipe dream.

16


Rockies
44-44
2-1
.501
Up
Despite a 1-9 road trip from hell that curbed some enthusiasm, the Rockies are still 26-17 since May 21, and if they're not in the thick of the NL West race, they can at least see it without binoculars. As their streakiness would suggest, this is a difficult team to figure out, particuarly with Coors Field playing more as it did in its high-altitude heyday; Rox tilts feature 5.2 runs per game at home, 4.6 on the road. So what we have here is a team that improbably leads the league in OBP yet has just middling power, and a rotation where Jeff Francis is the only starter with an RA+ above 1.00. Yeehaw, sounds like your basic .500-ish ballclub.

17


Orioles
38-50
1-3
.493
Flat
They've split their 18 games since canning Sam Perlozzo, but the inventory is largely the same: an underwhelming offense pocked with deadbeats at key positions, an overpriced, ineffective bullpen, and the team's most tradeable bat sidelined well past the July 31 deadline. That said, there's evidence that Leo Mazzone's magic is working in the rotation; the team is second in the league in SNLVAR, and for once the front office can to take a bow for the free-talent pickups of Jeremy Guthrie (the AL's fourth-best SNLVAR) and Brian Burres. If Andy MacPhail's first move is hiring a new manager, his second should be extending Mazzone past 2008.

18


Phillies
44-44
1-2
.490
Down
Thogh they've clawed their way back from a dreadful 3-10 start, the Phils have been unable to make significant headway beyond .500, let alone the top of the NL East. While Cole Hamels has emerged as one of the league's top starters, season-ending injuries to Jon Lieber and Freddy Garcia have made the rotation surplus a distant memory, and it remains to be seen whether Tom Gordon and Brett Myers can stay healthy enough to augment a bullpen that's exceeded the USRDA of Antonio Alfonseca. If they can't, butter Charlie Manuel on both sides and call him toast.

19


Giants
38-48
2-1
.483
Down
Barry Bonds is four homers away from tying Hank Aaron atop the all-time list, but his drawn-out chase has been little more than a distraction for a team that's just 14-26 since May 23. Take away Bonds' 41.6 VORP and you've got an offense that's right at replacement level, and while the rotation's been more than respectable, big ticket Barry Zito's been a bust (4.90 ERA and the lowest VORP of any Giants starter this side of Russ Ortiz). For this, Brian Sabean gets an extension?.

20


Diamondbacks
47-43
0-3
.469
Down
For all of the buzz regarding the NL West's three-team race, the D-Backs' 3-11 crash-and-burn at the end of the first half--not to mention their -30 run differential--suggests that this young team may not be ready for prime time yet. Severe underperformances from Carlos Quentin, Stephen Drew, Chris B. Young (Crispy?), and Conor Jackson (0.5 VORP combined) have left the offense scoring just 4.1 runs per game in a hitters' park, costing hitting coach Kevin Seitzer his job. Worse, Randy Johnson's third trip to the DL this year suggests the Big Unit's days on the hill are numbered. There's enough talent here for a turnaround, but until those young bats heat up, this team's presence in the race is more an indictment of the Padres and Dodgers than an accurate measure of progress.

21


Marlins
42-47
2-1
.465
Up
The good news is that the offense has been one of the league's most productive, with Hanley Ramirez leading the league in VORP and Miguel Cabrera a hefty fourth. The bad news is that the rotation has been the league's least productive, and that includes both the the refugee camp passing for the Nationals' starting five and the parade of relievers carrying the banner for the defending champs in St. Louis. That Sergio Mitre is not only the team's top starter but the only one better than league average suggests that Josh Johnson isn't the only one suffering from a Joe Girardi hangover, though the team's 13-point drop in Defensive Efficiency isn't helping either.

22


Reds
36-53
3-1
.453
Up
The twin resurgences of Ken Griffey Jr. (now tied with Frank Robinson on the all-time list) and Josh Hamilton have provided a bundle of homers and two of the season's best feel-good stories. But after promising beginnings, a 20-38 tumble plunged the Reds' season into the abyss while costing manager Jerry Narron his job. The bullpen's been the league's worst, while the rotation aside from Aaron Harang has put up a 5.08 ERA, with Bronson Arroyo failing to equal last year's stellar performance, and Homer Bailey struggling to live up to the hype. The team is 5-1 since interim skipper Pete Mackanin took over, but aside from the countdown to Junior's 600th, there's little more to do than hope that GM Wayne Krivsky comes back with more than sore-armed relievers when dismantling this squad.

23


Cardinals
40-45
1-2
.449
Up
The defending World Champions endured a nightmare first half of death, DUIs, DL trips, and declining performance from their star players. Nearly every offseason move has backfired, not that the penny-pinching blueprint of converting multiple relievers to the rotation had much merit in the first place; the Chris Carpenter-free rotation is second-to-last in the NL in SNLVAR. That said, Chris Duncan has built on last year's surprise, the team has won 20 of its last 36 games, Carpenter is on the mend, and the NL Central is anything but sewn up. It's probably not enough, but the Cards might keep things interesting for awhile.

24


Rangers
38-50
2-1
.447
Flat
The wheels fell off the wagon before new manager Ron Washington even had a chance to get comfortable, and not even a 15-8 run leading up to the All-Star break can disguise the fact that team is an unmitigated disappointment. The rotation has been a house of horrors (1.1 SNVAR, 6.85 FRA, both MLB worsts by a considerable margin), hitters like Michael Young and Nelson Cruz have fallen far short of expectations, and Sammy Sosa (.245/.296/.451) is more sideshow than serious asset. The play of folks like Eric Gagne, Akinori Otsuka, and Mark Teixeira may well determine the playoff picture--from new addresses, that is. Given the shaky track record of GM Jon Daniels, that should be even less of a comfort than for your average deadline seller.

25


Astros
39-50
2-1
.439
Up
With the Craig Biggio 3,000 milestone now in the rearview mirror, the Astros are finally free to focus on the fact that their season is a wreck. Getting to last year's NL Wild Card-winning total of 88 wins requires a .671 clip going forward, and on a team where an admittedly improved Wandy Rodriguez is the second best starter, that ain't gonna happen. Worse, with the league's second-oldest lineup--only Hunter Pence is younger than 29--and a barren farm system, the Astros' decision tree comes down to buying property in this neighborhood of the Hit List or simply lying back and waiting for the robopocalypse.

26


White Sox
40-47
3-2
.432
Flat
As discussed last time around, the White Sox's systematic failure hasn't exactly matched the doom and gloom forecasted by PECOTA at the outset of the season; the rotation has been solid, while the bullpen and offense have been far worse than imagined (then again, any imagination that features Darin Erstad as part of the solution has to be questioned). The second half's order of the day is figuring out which players are part of the team's future--Mark Buehrle's a yes, Scott Podsednik a no--while saying goodbye to some success stories of the recent past.

27


Royals
38-50
2-1
.423
Up
The offense is second-to-last in the league in VORP, but the pitching staff has been solidly middle-of-the-pack, and in the Hit List's nether-regions, that counts as progress. Even more importantly, the likes of Alex Gordon and Zack Greinke have turned things around after inauspicious beginnings, the former by hitting .296/.350/.440 since June 1, the latter by putting up a 39/7 K/BB ratio and cracking the WXRL's top 12 since shifting to the bullpen. The combination of Mike Sweeney's demise and Billy Butler finding his stroke since recall (.319/.360/.574) only adds to the reasons to pay attention here.

28


Pirates
40-48
2-1
.422
Up
Despite a similar run differential and ranking, the Bucs' record is 11 games better than it was at the break last year. The all-homegrown rotation has taken its lumps, but for once this team appears to have some semblance of a whiff of an idea of a plan. If the likes of Jason Bay (7.0 VORP), Freddy Sanchez (5.9) and Adam LaRoche (4.0) hadn't fallen off the table, there might be some real hope of the team's first .500 record since the days of Bonds, Bonilla and Leyland, but as it is, you're looking at a 1997-ish ceiling at best.

29


Nationals
36-52
2-1
.392
Up
The rotation's no prize, but it hasn't been quite the mess anticipated from the winter cattle call and the subsequent injury to John Patterson; when healthy, Shawn Hill, and Jason Bergmann have acquitted themselves well, and Matt Chico's been admirably solid. But the offense is another problem entirely; you know it's bad when the done-for-the-year Cristian Guzman is the team's second most productive hitter, but that doesn't explain why the likes of Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez, and Ryan Zimmerman have tanked any more than the lack of a high school diploma explains Homer Simpson eating those fancy bathroom soaps.

30


Devil Rays
34-54
1-3
.386
Down
A 5-20 skid over the past month has taken the shine off hopes that a bevy of fresh faces would help the Rays turn over a new leaf. For all the promise of James Shields or pre-injury B.J. Upton, there's the disappointment of Delmon Young (.278/.308/.412) not to mention the walking disaster area of Elijah Dukes, and 6.00+ Fair Run Average debacles in both the bullpen and rotation can't make up for smart scrap heap plays on Carlos Pena, Brendan Harris and Al Reyes. And given the showings by Dioner Navarro (-15.2 VORP), Edwin Jackson (-18.9 VORP), Jae Seo (-19.0), Joel Guzman (.262/.300/.436 at Durham), and Sergio Pedroza (.261/.347/.440 at Vero Beach), perhaps GM Andrew Friedman should let Ned Colletti's next phone call go directly to voicemail.


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.

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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