Saturday, April 15, 2006

John's "Take 'em to the Bank" Predictions

Ben did a top notch job with his preseason predictions, I must say I don’t disagree hugely with anything in there, I'll try to point out what does differ. Normally I do mine the first day of the regular season but I’m a little behind this year. I also never pick preseason Cy Young, MVP, or ROY since those all tend to be decided too much on the most flawed of baseball stats. How would I even begin to predict what pitcher would get the run support, who would hit for the highest average, etc? I hope that my predictions here haven’t been influenced by what’s happened so far, but here goes:

AL East:

1. Yankees

If there is one thing I’ve learned about baseball from years of watching the results, it’s that if something keeps happening repeatedly that seems to defy mathematical or intuitive reason, the reasoning is probably faulty. The fact that the Yankees continue to finish first in the AL east year after year despite having slightly weaker teams than the Red Sox seems to be one of these things. And the fact that they have won it two years in a row with a great offense but with an utterly offensive pitching staff leads me to believe that this similarly put together team will do the same.

2. Red Sox (Wild Card)

This is not to say the Red Sox will not stay right with the Yankees as they do most year. The Red Sox have an extremely talented team. They might be one of the dominant teams if not for the fact that they are about a year and a half from all of their young pitchers coming together and they are a couple years too late for other pitchers who no longer seem to be as consistently effective (Schilling, Wells, Foulke). If they manage not to lose much offense the next few years they could finally get over the hump and take the division, but I don’t see it happening yet.

3. Blue Jays

A third place team most likely, but how much would really have to go right for them to be 1st or 2nd? I think it would take Wells, Glaus, Halladay, Burnett, and Lilly all being healthy for the entire year. If this happens then there could very well be three 90 win teams in the AL East, but even if not, this is still as strong as the division has been in years.

4. D-Rays

An endless stream of outfield talent from the minors still cannot bring this team up from 4th place. It’s almost as if they are playing in a different times, they hit for average, but don’t get on base enough. And they just have no pitching staff. Their extremely raw hitting talent will keep them out of the cellar but this is their destiny until some moves are made for starting pitching to complement Kazmir.

5. Orioles

Can anyone tell me what the Orioles are doing? Their “crop” of young pitching “talent” is laughable at best, and their lineup is a of mish mash of over the hill, overpaid, and slow-footed sluggers. This roster is an example of fluky hitting stats in a hitting park skewing the team’s perception of its own hitters. As guys like Mora and Roberts come back to earth and Tejada finishes his peak offensive output years, this team is just going to get worse and worse.

AL Central:

1. Indians

Your daddy’s AL Central this is not. The talentless void of the early 00s has been replaced with 4 strong teams. Leading the way is the sequel to one of the best teams of recent memory to not make the playoffs. Barring another huge unexplained slump, the Indians will take this division. Their lineup is the greatest ensemble of young but established hitters since…well…the Indians of the mid 90s. The pitching should round out nicely as well, Sabathia, Lee, and Westbrook are a fine top of the rotation to go along with the deep bullpen and big time lineup.

2. White Sox

Ugh do I really have to talk about the White Sox? Ok here goes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more misunderstood team than the 2005 White Sox. In the 2004 offseason the White Sox let go Ordonez and Lee in an effort to “shake things up”. Previously the White Sox had for years had trouble keeping pitchers healthy and/or effective and getting beaten squarely by the more well-rounded Twins who could just outpitch them year after year. Instead of improve what was lacking on the team, all the White Sox did was weaken their offense somewhat so as to appear more like the Twins lineup (small ball, if you will). Kenny Williams got tired of losing the same way essentially, and to change it, he let 2 of their best hitters go. So what happens instead of the team getting worse? Nearly every member of the pitching staff has a career year all at once and stays healthy, plus they both score more runs and allow fewer runs than their peripheral stats should indicate, and win 1 and 2 run games at a .750 clip (mostly luck here). This puts their record about 15 wins higher than it should have been, although some people would have even been surprised with a 90 win team going into the year. The White Sox did go into 2005 as being slightly underrated though, since years of not playing up to expectation obscured their true talent.

Kenny Williams makes bad moves hoping he will be seen as trendy, and his team works like magic (think the 2002 Angels). The same thing kind of happened in the 2004 Red Sox year, Nomar was traded and a few weeks later the team took off. Did they take off due to improved defense? Hah the Twins wish defense was that important. No, they were just a stacked team that took a while to achieve their expected output. Taking into account why the White Sox succeeded in 2005 one might think a repeat performance is unlikely, but this time Kenny Williams changing things up was a good thing. He either realized that his team wasn’t as good as advertised or he just likes making a lot of moves nomatter what happens. But in either case the team improved on paper a lot in the 2005 offseason, which should keep them in the hunt this year even if some guys come back to earth and the inevitable injuries to pitching occur.

3. Twins

Like the great Torii Hunter says, ownership just does not want to win in this case. It’s a shame because of the incredible pitching and outfield talent developed in Minnesota the last 5 years. Instead of trading excess for what was needed (a home run hitter please!!!), the Twins instead settled for logjams of talent at a few positions, unable to add any payroll, even if they had the minor league talent to trade for players to put them over the top. They could have won the World Series one of the last few years if only some established hitters were added (and I’m talking guys better than Shannon Stewart) or even if only they could have paid for David Ortiz. They still remain a very good team however, with a strong pitching staff and a couple mega-talented but raw hitters. Unfortunately opponent offenses have picked up in the AL Central recently, so they can’t just throw strikes anymore and hope to win 2-1 against everyone. Last year their lack of hitting really showed for the first time. Morneau and Mauer need to pick it up and quick to make the playoffs in 2006.

4. Tigers

Not a bad talent base on this team. But why oh why are they so preoccupied with throwing money at waaaay over the hill “veterans”. Let’s make a list of some players just since 2003 that made the roster based on accomplishments from the early/mid 90s: Dean Palmer, Steve Avery, Rondell White, Ugueth Urbina, Fernando Vina, Troy Percival, Kenny Rogers, and the list goes on (also Juan Gonzalez not too long ago). All players nearly useless at their age. And the bigger signings of late: Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Dmitri Young, all guys with big question marks or on the wrong side of 30. It’s almost as if the Tigers haven’t trusted their player development enough, because they have plenty of young talent now starting to make names for themselves, and hopefully there’s enough money left to sign them up so they can make a run at the Indians sometime soon.

5. Royals

Not much to say here, every effort at rebuilding fails miserably. The latest crop of young pitching, Hernandez, Affeldt, Greinke, etc. has fallen flat on its face once again. Signing Elarton, Mays, Elmer Dessens and company to improve the pitching is like pouring gasoline on a fire to put it out, but old gasoline, and overrated gasoline. If being horrible isn’t bad enough, the Royals have also been the least lucky mlb team at winning 1 run games the last 5 years, meaning instead of settling with 90 loss teams, the Royals annually threaten the century mark. There are a couple young guys to keep a look out for, and that’s it, this team is trying to tread water in quicksand with thousand pound weights on their legs.

AL West

1. A’s

I must say I agree whole-heartedly with Ben’s assessment of the A’s as being the team to beat in mlb this year. For all the moneyball misinterpretations out there, Billy Beane continues to find what is undervalued by his fellow gms and mercilessly acquire it. The A’s also seem to have a knack for spotting young pitching talent, as their staff is stocked to the brim with it, even after letting go co-aces Mulder and Hudson. It will take some real bad luck for them not to win 100 games 2 out of the next 3 years. I really think they’ll win this division running away this year and they will be a force to contend with come playoff time. T-minus 6 months before Rich Harden is a household name.

2. Angels

Where is this team going? I’m not exactly sure. I don’t think it’s up though. They keep coming up empty on some players who could really help, and everyone keeps getting older without the young guys really threatening to pick up the slack. I think this team could fall hard and fast given a carefully placed injury (VLAD!), but if everything goes according to plan their starting pitching will be decent, their relief work stellar, and their lineup eh… This team isn’t as bad as Gritz would have you believe though, there is a lot of value for a team’s W-L from a pitching staff that refuses to walk people, but as long as the lineup also doesn’t walk or protect their precious few baserunners the Angels won’t see 1st for a while.

3. Rangers

Fast becoming recognized as the Rockies of the AL, the Rangers seemed destined to not being able to win with their park. Their hitting stats are widely divergent on the road and home, and that hot Texas heat and small ballpark are murder on their pitchers. No one wants to pitch there but some do it if given enough money, not the best ones though unfortunately. A couple good seasons from starters (step it up Millwood!) could get them to 85 wins or so since the bullpen and lineup are strong, but there will be no playoffs this year for the Rangers.

4. Mariners

Remember when Seattle won 116 games in the 2001 regular season? Jamie Moyer was there, so was Joel Pineiro. Actually that team’s success said more about the AL talent base in 2001 than their actual strength. It was a team that got on a hot streak and refused to get off the wagon. Since riding their 5 starters hard that year, everyone got old and real fast. The team today is a mix of youth and the elderly. There just aren’t enough solid players around the youth to give them any shot of competing this year. Sluggers Beltre and Sexson just do not fit in this pitchers park that requires patient contact hitters to build an offense around, not swing and miss home run hitters. This will probably be another 90 loss season unless some players have bounce back years. Now before I finish, it is pretty impossible to talk about the Mariners, nay baseball in general, without mentioning Felix Hernandez. He is the pitching prospect that comes along once in a generation. The last one was Dwight Gooden, and he flamed out as fast as he started, so it’s been a long time since a guy like King Felix was around. He has a moving 100 mph fastball with good control, a ridiculous big sweeping curveball that has caused minor leaguers to fall down in fear as it bends back over the plate, and a very good changeup that he will throw anytime but usually doesn’t even have to. He has already dominated 4 minor league levels where he was the youngest player in the league, and it won’t be long before he’s doing the same in the majors. His only weakness is his tendency to try to overthrow when things aren’t going well. He’ll learn to trust his stuff in the majors quickly though. Pitchers in the future may strive to win the Felix Hernandez award.

NL East:

1. Braves

The talent pool of the Braves pitching staff has been steadily and painfully eroding the past few years. Digging deeper into last year’s numbers makes for much worrying, as I plan to write a blog about soon. Position player strength has been increasing steadily though, as their very young hitters continue to mature. The question is, can a team with a pitching staff held together by duck tape and a whole lot of raw hitting talent win the NL East over the Mets? Probably not, but with Bobby Cox at the helm anything seems possible. This year is the most likely one yet for their string of 15 straight divisional titles to end but I’m going to pick them for 1st one last time.

2. Mets (Wild Card)

After spending ridiculous amounts of money 2 years straight the Mets finally have a contender. What they have is a kind of “let’s win now and pick up the pieces later” kind of team stocked with over the hill talent. It’s the widely spaced young studs (David Wright chiefly) that will take them where they’re going though. This team should not miss the playoffs, and very well may win the division. The coming years should be very interesting as their pitching and sluggers continue to age quickly, the question will be whether they will be able to rebuild around Wright and Reyes.

3. Phillies

Finishing only 2 games out of the division title last year was this teams last hurrah. The window is closed for the playoffs until they get some pitching. After coming up empty looking for a #1 starter, this team is destined to play another year like the Rangers, never being able to score enough to offset the terrible pitching. It’s too bad because Utley, Howard, Abreu, and Burrell is one of the best middle of the lineups out there.

4. Nationals

This team has good enough pitching to keep it somewhat interesting, it’s the hitting that is terrible. Gritz is right the stay at the top of the division in 2005 was a fluke, but not the overall pitching the Nats received, which should keep them out of last in 2006. Nick Johnson would be a serviceable #3 or excellent #5 hitter in a lot of lineups, but in Washington he is just pitched around. Low obp guys like Soriano and Guzman (or worse yet his fill-in Clayton) are the norm here, meaning they’re not going to score more than 3-4 runs most nights. Patterson is a fine young pitcher, but there’s not much else to be excited about for the future of the Nat’s pitching. The young Ryan Zimmerman is a faint ray of hope at 3rd.

5. Marlins

How can you predict a team’s success when nearly the entire roster has been turned over? Well it’s pretty easy when all the replacements are prospects who probably shouldn’t even be in the majors yet. The pitching on the other hand is more a bunch of retreads behind Willis than promising youngsters. They do have Cabrera and Willis for the time being, and this is the talent thin NL we’re talking about, so they won’t lose 115 games this year. An even 100 sounds about right.

NL Central

1. Cardinals

I don’t necessarily see this as a weaker team than last year’s 100 win team. I think any regression will mostly be due to the division strengthening and less important parts of the lineup not being as good. The main pieces of the juggernaut of the last few years are still here, so I expect nothing less than a division title along with a strong playoff showing. The big worry would be if all those innings finally started to catch up with Carpenter.

2. Brewers

This team is good. They’re better than your neighbor thinks they are, and they’re better than most baseball fans think. Good starters, good lineup, good bullpen, a balanced team that doesn’t wow you with any part, but nearly every part is steadily improving. Like the Blue Jays in this way, they only need one of their elite talents to step it up to push them over the top into the limelight. If Ben Sheets can just stay healthy, then he may push for the NL Cy young this year, and the Brewers definitely threaten 90 wins. The team is in a very good position right now, young players all over the diamond along with increased fan interest/revenue from a winning team should propel them into playoff contention for the next several years.

3. Cubs

The Cubs and question marks, two things that were made for each other. Will Prior be healthy? Will Wood finally get healthy? Will Miller recover from surgery? Will the bullpen work together? Can Pierre bounce back and provide stability at the top of the order? Those are just the big things, meaning there are very few sure things on this team. I don’t think they will contend unless they get all the breaks this year, and when was the last time that happened for the Cubbies?

4. Astros

Barring a Clemens return the rotation is much weaker here. It’s just unlikely that Pettite and Oswalt are going to duplicate their spectacular seasons and make this team a contender. This they could easily finish 3rd but I think there is going to be a rapid dropoff pretty soon (like the Mariners team a few years ago that suddenly got old).

5. Reds

Great hitting, terrible pitching, what else is new for the Reds? I don’t think they’ll be cellar dwellers just because their hitting is that good. The pitching might actually not be as terrible as recent years, since Harang and Arroyo are at least average starters, not something the Reds have had a whole lot of in recent years. There are also some young effective arms in the bullpen for once. The Reds could get real hot at times, but shouldn’t finish any higher than this.

6. Pirates

Think the Brewers two years ago. That means there is finally some talent on the farm and some very young talent on the major league roster. It’s not going to produce many wins this year, but it is nice to finally see them start to go in the right direction. They do have one of the better all-around outfielders in baseball in Jason Bay too, so at least there’s a reason to watch right now as well.

NL West

1. Padres

By far the hardest division in baseball to pick, there just simply is not much talent in this division, any team that wins it is going to do it despite having serious flaws. Take the 2005 Padres for example: a horrible back end of the rotation, a barely mediocre offense, and a division title. I think it will end up this way again because I do think they had the best team last year and were held back somewhat with injuries, and if anything they improved the roster over the offseason. Just look out, if Peavy is not at top form they are in serious trouble.

2. Dodgers

None of these picks are easy, since you can make a case for every single team here to win the division. The Dodgers, compared to everyone else here, probably have the best talent available. The problem is that so much of it is injured. Gagne’s injury problems change the whole complexion of the bullpen. If the lineup could ever stay healthy together (namely if Drew and Garciaparra could play 150 games each) runs would not be a problem. Lack of a dominant rotation hurts more due to the likely weak lineup, and this should keep them struggling for .500 as opposed to leading the division.

3. Giants

The team with the oldest position players in baseball needs Bonds to be healthy to be considered a playoff contender. The roster is essentially in place the way it is because of Bonds, if he wasn’t around the organization would have gone younger a long time ago. Guys like Alou and Vizquel remain as valuable producers to compliment Bonds but without him the lineup’s numerous problems are completely exposed. Similarly the pitching is good enough with a healthy Schmidt but suspect otherwise. A tough pick to make, the Giants could run away from the pack with healthy years from their stars, but since that is looking less than likely I think a 3rd place finish is a pretty good bet.

4. D-Backs

Only in this division would Arizona be seen as a plausible threat. The major league team is still a mess leftover from the World Series winning team of 2001. Webb is a bonafide ace but the rest of the rotation is suspect as best (an injury to the useless Ortiz would be seen as a good thing). The hitting has a chance to be ok (also relying on old middle of the lineup players here in Gonzalez and Green), but lacks in the power department sorely after trading Glaus in the offseason. The minor league system has actually been redeveloped surprisingly quickly in recent years, loading up on an amazing number of talented outfield mashers for the future. Fourth place is likeliest I think but with a few breaks and an aggressive deadline deal or two for some pitching could thrust them into playoff contention. The front office probably won’t mortgage the future though, since the current state of the team is not one to win any titles until the team’s major league core turns younger.

5. Rockies

Sure they’re bad, but they might not be as bad as you think. The pitching (bullpen and starters) might be about as good as it’s ever been, and there are a few young lineup pieces to watch. It appears there just isn’t enough hitting here, which is exposed with their play on the road. Tightening up the pitching and defense on the road would really go far. That combined with a bounceback year from the injured Helton could get this team within 10 or so games of .500, a notable accomplishment in their uneven history.

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Blogger ben said...

I took them to the bank, but they uh, they told me that baseball predictions don't qualify as currency.

4:51 PM  
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3:24 PM  

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