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Back in the Sausage Factory

As is my custom, every summer I take BP reader inside the sausage factory that is the Hit List. Usually it’s done during the All-Star week, but for some reason I waited with this year’s model:

It happens every week: a reader sees his favorite team trailing one of its division rivals in the Hit List rankings despite leading in the actual division race and fires off a snarky email or comment questioning the validity of the list, often while attempting to divine the current location of my head, and usually while making reference to last year’s division race or postseason results. Well into my fifth season of writing the Hit List, I’m far more amused by such occurrences than I am offended, but the weekly give and take serves as a reminder for the occasional need to explain the list’s workings in greater detail. As such, I annually set aside a column called the Hit List Remix to walk readers through the process.

First, a quick refresher course on the Hit List’s basics. It’s BP’s version of the power rankings, created by me back in 2005 and based upon an objective formula which averages a team’s actual, first-, second- and third-order winning percentages via the Adjusted Standings. To go into a bit more detail:

• First-order winning percentage is computed (via Pythagenpat, Pythagoras’ slightly more sophisticated sibling) using actual runs scored and allowed.

• Second-order winning percentage uses equivalent runs scored and allowed, based on run elements (hits, walks, total bases, stolen bases, etc.) and the scoring environment (park and league adjustments).

• Third-order winning percentage adjusts for the quality of the opponent’s hitting and pitching via opposing hitter EqA (OppHEqA) and opposing pitcher EqA (OppPEqA), both of which Clay Davenport recently added to the Adjusted Standings report for those of you curious enough to care.

With the exception of an injection of preseason PECOTA projections during the season’s first month, those numbers are all that go into the rankings, which are averaged into what I’ve called the Hit List Factor (HLF). There are no subjective choices to be made, no additional tweaking to favor the A’s or hurt the Phillies or fit into any of the other 28 conspiracy theories our readers might think of offering. No recent hot or cold streaks or head-to-head records are accounted for, either, despite the frustration of readers wondering why their team hasn’t vaulted to the top thanks to a 5-2 week against their division rivals. It’s all about runs, actual ones and projected ones, because run scoring and run prevention give us the best indication of a team’s strength going forward. Using all four percentages is a way for correcting for teams that over- or underperform relative to the various areas examined.

After running through the basics, I took a look at the relative strength of each division and dug deeper into the nuts and bolts of a few races where a team’s ranking outdid their division standing such as the Rays being ahead of the Red Sox on the Hit List but behind them in the AL East. The article is free, so take a look.

The Hit List itself was a freebie as well. Once again, the Dodgers and Yankees were 1-2:

[#1 Dodgers] Knuckling Down: An extra-inning loss to the Rockies shaves the Dodgers’ division lead to two games, but they rebound to win the series behind a solid debut by Vicente Padilla, recently released by the Rangers. The Dodgers are getting good results from the pitchers they’ve pulled off the scrapheap; knuckleballer Charlie Haeger combines to shut out the Cubs earlier in the week. For all of their recent rotation woes, they’re second in the league in SNLVAR, and while the team is just 14-17 since July 25, they’ve outscored opponents by 18 runs in that span.

[#2 Yankees] Godzilla and Friends: Hideki Matsui’s pair of two-homer games help the Yankees stave off the Red Sox by taking two out of three in Fenway; he drives in seven amid a 20-run deluge in the opener. Matsui’s’ 23 homers rank second to Mark Teixeira’s 31, and with Robinson Cano contributing a pair of shots (and reaching a new career high), the team now has six players with at least 20 blasts, the third time in franchise history (1961, 2004) they’ve reached that plateau. Jorge Posada (17) and Derek Jeter (16) could help them surpass the 1996 Orioles, 2000 Blue Jays and 2005 Rangers, who had seven reach that mark.

[#22 Mets] Escape From New York: Just two innings into his comeback from Tommy John surgery, Billy Wagner gets traded to the Red Sox for a pair of PTBNLs, making him lucky enough to avoid the soaring body count, not to mention Omar Minaya’s continued reign of error. The Mets lose both Johan Santana and Oliver Perez to season-ending surgery, the former due to bone chips in his elbow which have contributed to a 4.02 ERA and a 5.4 K/9 over his last 15 starts, the latter to patellar tendon tendinosis which turned his season into a 6.82 ERA, 7.9 BB/9 nightmare. Jeff Francouer could join the party as well due to a torn thumb ligament; his .305/.331/.500 line since being acquired includes just three unintentional walks in 175 PA.

Tough to believe the nightmare that is this year’s Mets. Can’t recall a more pungent combination of insult and injury.

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