Sunday, October 28, 2007

Odds and Ends

Brief regular season summary (pre-season rankings in parentheses):

AL East
1. Red Sox (2): Despite the worst regular (Lugo) getting the second most atbats, the worst pitcher (Tavarez) throwing 134 innings, one of the best pitchers (Papelbon) only throwing 58, and the team underperforming their expected win total (from run differential) by 7, the 2007 Red Sox still tied for the best record in all of baseball. Some things went wrong, but most things went right, as they finished with the best run differential since the 2001 Mariners. In my opinion Boston is in position to play on a different level from the rest of MLB in the next couple years. *Remembers saying the same thing about the A’s 3 years ago*, scratch that, they were a fluke.

2. Yankees (1): After an up and down year with more roster shuffling than was anticipated, the Yankees actually finished 2 wins ahead of BP’s preseason prediction. Much like the Red Sox, lately they’ve had the knack of quickly picking out the young guys who will be immediately productive and letting the rest go. This has kept them afloat despite about 10 disaster contracts clogging the team. There’s a lot of talent, they’ll still be one of the top 10 (at least) teams next year, but there is enough disorganization to keep them chasing the Red Sox for a while.

3. Blue Jays (3): The pitching staff really came together for the Blue Jays in 2007, even after losing B.J. Ryan for the year and beyond. They allowed 50 less runs than 2006, which would have been great except for the fact that the offense got cold and scored 50 as well. They’ve now had a positive run differential of 50 for 3 straight years, as any gain they make seems to always be offset by some other loss. It’s a shame because in the National League they might have made the playoffs each of those years. The Red Sox and Yankees are setting a breakneck pace and don’t seem to want to let up so I don’t see much hope for Toronto.

4. Orioles (4): Wow that was a bad year. In November last offseason Mike Flanagan set out to improve upon a 2006 bullpen that finished 29th in baseball with a 5.25 ERA. He signed Jaime Walker, Chad Bradford, and Danys Baez for a combined $42 million. The result was that their 2007 bullpen finished 29th in baseball again, but this time with a 5.71 ERA. On the one hand I could say Bradford and Walker pitched decently and Baez was clearly injured all year so it wasn’t his fault, but on the other hand I’ll just say if you have a shitty team don’t spend money on the bullpen!!! This team is going nowhere until management changes.

5. Devil Rays (5): This would be the only team to finish behind the Orioles in bullpen ERA, with a remarkable 6.16. And this was with a somewhat capable closer. It’s not all bad in Tampa though, as they now actually have not one but 2 good starting pitchers and several young productive hitters with more soon to contribute. They’re a lot better than they were a couple years ago, but so is the rest of the division. Special 2007 MLB Garbage award goes to Jeff Ridgway, for compiling a 2007 ERA of 189.00 in 3 appearances.

AL Central
1. Indians (4): Who saw this one coming? Well, pretty much anyone who watched baseball in 2006, which evidently I must not have. Anyway lots of things went wrong for the 2007 Indians and it didn’t matter because Carmona came from nowhere to be a dominant starter alongside C.C. There’s plenty of young returning talent for 2008 so it’s a pretty safe bet that they’ll even improve on their run differential from this year.

2. Tigers (2): It’s pretty much a given in baseball that when you pitch way above your head one year, you can expect a lot of injuries and drop-off the next year. The Tigers actually improved significantly on offense thanks to Magglio’s video game season and Granderson’s emergence. The pitching though gave up a staggering 125 more runs. They are a very good young team and more reinforcements are coming, so I expect a return to the playoffs within the next year or 2.

3. Twins (1): Minnesota clearly didn’t take “Offense 101” and they continue to be their own worst enemy by giving tons of at bats to players who wouldn’t make most teams’ rosters. The only guy who gets on base (Mauer) can’t stay on the field so the only guy who slugs (Morneau) has no one to drive in. You’d think a team blessed with so many amazing pitchers would at least notice what nearly every other team in baseball has and improve their on base skills. They just seem very set in their ways of defense first, which is pretty silly considering the strikeout potential on their team. I don’t know if I’d recommend this for any one else, but they really should trade a couple starters for some offense immediately or else their pitching is just going to be a waste until they start losing guys to free agency.

4. White Sox (3): Seeing them fail so miserably this year with nearly the same roster as the 2005 world champions almost makes that whole ridiculous playoff streak bearable, but not quite. I really want to see Guillen and Williams pummel this team into the basement for multiple seasons, then maybe people will say, “Wait, were the White Sox just dumb lucky that year?” The answer is yes, incredibly, absurdly, and unjustly lucky.

5. Royals (5): Hooray for the best Royals team since 2003! They’ve got some good starters (Meche and Greinke and Bannister sort of), some good relievers (Soria, Greinke, Gobble, and Riske), and not much hitting. Most unfortunately they only have one Greinke, and he can’t fix both the bullpen and the rotation at the same time so perhaps just maybe they might want to keep him a starter where he can contribute more innings? Just a thought. They could finish 4th in 2008 pretty easily, and only light years behind the Twins.

AL West
1. Angels (2): They prove once again that the most flashy way to score runs is through dumb luck. Trust me no amount of aggressive (bad) baserunning can score the 6th amount of runs in baseball with only the 14th best OPS. They won’t repeat the offense next year. They will make the playoffs however, thanks to their pitching which never seems to slow down year to year. This could be a team that adds a lot in the offseason and turns from very good to great.

2. Mariners (4): I had no idea how annoying Mariners fans were before this year. Now I list them right up there with fans of any team. This team was pretty annoying as well, but I think what they proved is that if everyone on the team is only kind of crappy, and no one is absolutely horrible, then the overall sum of the parts isn’t as bad as you might once have thought it would be. Batista, Washburn, Weaver, Beltre, Sexson, Putz, Johjima, Broussard, Ibanez, Guillen, Ichiro, and Vidro are all getting older and most are pretty average. This team looks a lot like the Giants did a couple years ago before the bottom dropped out. Except they don’t have a Bonds to prop them up, so they might just fall even harder.

3. Athletics (1): Looks like Beane’s shit doesn’t work in the regular season anymore either. Just kidding, this team would have been a playoff contender if not for a stunning parade of injuries that made you think something must be in the water. They need to do that thing again where they draft 3 number 1 starters. Or the players they have could just stop getting hurt. Since that probably won’t happen we may see a dismantling happen soon. Not a total dismantling, just a Billy Beane style dismantling where he actually increases the talent level exponentially while everyone else screams “you traded Mulder and Hudson??? You monster!” And then some random weirdness happens causing the A’s not to win the World Series.

4. Rangers (3): The Rangers really suck at everything. Don’t be fooled by the respectable run differential, they have little to no upside. They rival the Pirates for the least talented roster in baseball. Now that Teixeira is gone the only reason to talk about them is Ian Kinsler, who might be one of the better hitters in the AL pretty soon.

NL East
1. Phillies (3): Jimmy Rollins: 1, sabesin2001: 0. Rollins backed up his pre-season boast with a career year, Pat Burrel had his best half of baseball ever in the second half, Howard had a strong year, Rowand had a career year, and Utley was an MVP candidate when he was playing. All that offense didn’t really offset the bad pitching, but the Mets were so underwhelming that it was enough to squeak into the playoffs just to get destroyed by a better Rockies team. They’re going to have to keep hitting a ton if they want a repeat as division champs.

2. Mets (1): When baseball players get old and die, they either go to heaven or they go to the Mets. Sure it is fun to endlessly replay late 90s allstar games, but at some point you need to let go and move on. Without uber-talent David Wright propping up the discheveled group of has-beens and never will bes then it’d be an easy call to blow it all up, but as is Minaya will probably keep buying up whoever he wants and the Mets will stay competitive, in the way that Michael Jordan was competitive in his 3rd un-retirement.

3. Braves (2): Second best run differential in the National League gets them 3rd place in their own division. Hmmm what was going on here? There was quite a bit of bad luck but there was even more bad starting pitching. Many other years J.S. would have acquired an arm late in the year and pushed them into the playoffs, but with most of the good arms in baseball signed up at the moment for multi-year deals instead they added Teixeira, who unfortunately didn’t throw any nasty curveballs (though he did pretty much everything else). With as talented a lineup in all of baseball, the Braves really need to add some pitching.

4. Nationals (5): Perhaps thanks to their very good manager, the Nationals outperformed all pre-season predictions. They’re still not much to look at though. Not much pitching, and not much hitting. Without Ryan Zimmerman the lineup is downright pathetic. If they keep re-signing guys like Dmitri Young then expect more of the same for the next 5 years.

5. Marlins (4): When it rains, it pours. Three of their projected starters were injured for almost the whole year, and the supposed ace was terrible. And people were worried about the closer in spring training… Since the hitting is decent, this historically up and down team could return to be competitive next year if the health improves.

NL Central
1. Cubs (3): Sort of the NL equivalent of the Blue Jays, the Cubs never seem to be able to get characteristic years out of more than half their roster at any one time. It didn’t matter though because 85 wins got them the division in 2007. Perhaps getting destroyed by an inferior Diamondbacks team will motivate them to spend even more money this offseason?

2. Brewers (1): Stocked with young studs all over their roster in the bullpen, rotation, and lineup, it’s pretty hard not to imagine the Brewers a perennial playoff threat for a while. The “failures” of 2007 came thanks to some pretty bad managing and some even worse pitching by the back end of their rotation. Adding a solid pitcher could really push the Brewers into the elite of teams for next year.

3. Cardinals (2): I’m sure I’ll miss something, but here goes anyway. What went wrong for the 2007 Cardinals: Josh Hancock died in a substance-induced car accident, Tony La Russa was caught asleep and drunk in his car, Chris Carpenter missed the entire year after his opening night start, Braden Looper to the rotation experiment went very badly, Anthony Reyes (2006 World Series hero) fell off the planet and was sent to the minors, mid-season hopeful Mark Mulder showed that he was still very much injured and ineffective to boot, Kip Wells was awful, late addition Mike Maroth was as bad as the guys he was replacing, the 2nd base Aaron Miles/Adam Kennedy was punch-less/injured the whole year, Eckstein missed a third of the season, Pujols didn’t miss many games but had the second lowest slugging percent of his career due to injury, Rolen missed a third of the year and slugged under .400 when he did play, Scott Spiezio (pinch-hitter extraordinaire and clubhouse glue) missed half the year due to rehab, Chris Duncan (the Cardinals best outfield hitter for most of the year) gave himself a hernia in a weight lifting competition with his brother (who received the same injury), Jim Edmonds missed a third of the season recovering from surgeries and only slugged .403 when he played, Juan Encarnacion had his left orbital bone shattered and eye permanently damaged by a foul ball while standing in the one deck circle and that was after missing half the year already with a knee injury, Preston Wilson only had 64 atbats due to knee surgery, and the one bright spot Rick Ankiel (who hit way too many of his homers for the AAA team) was de-railed by HGH allegations at a time when he was one of the hottest hitters in baseball. That all spelled a -50 run differential and 3rd place finish. They’re not getting any younger and might not get all that much healthier so I’d say they are in trouble for next year as well.

4. Astros (4): Hunter Pence looks pretty special, everyone else looks kind of old or really bad. I don’t know why the Astros have such a problem with moving on, but keeping Biggio on their team for at least 3 too many years typifies the Houston Astros experience. The 2008 Astros get my “not a contender” stamp of disapproval.

5. Reds (5): Keep an eye on Edwin Encarnacion. And also watch for when Dusty Baker first calls out Adam “the franchise” Dunn for striking out too much.

6. Pirates (6): Really bad. Why sign Matt Moris? Moving on…

NL West
1. Diamondbacks (3): You know how I know this was all luck? Because in 2008 the Diamondbacks will probably be even better than this year and they won’t even sniff the playoffs. I do expect they will dominate the division once all the young talent starts producing, but I don’t expect the overrated bullpen to keep at it in the short term.

2. Rockies (4): Talk about coming together at the last minute possible. The Rockies received no respect all season despite playing very well, especially against good teams, but that all changed with an absurd September run to make the playoffs. Better yet, the additional revenue generated from that run and the subsequent postseason victories might be enough to keep a lot of their young players away from free agency in the future. All the sudden this division is getting pretty competitive.

3. Padres (1): They spent almost the whole year in a very good position to make the playoffs, but it all came crashing down the last month or so. It started with the Chris Young injury, and ended with the Milton Bradley incident. This was one of the strangest divisions I’ve ever seen as the Padres were the best team in the NL for a lot of the year and finished 3rd, the division winners were outscored on the year, and the 2nd place finisher Rockies were buried in 4th place for most of the year, but at the same time always had one of the best run differentials in the NL. As has been true for a while, the Padres’ hopes for next year rest mostly on the shoulders of Jake Peavy.

4. Dodgers (2): Another team that should have finished ahead of the Diamonbacks, the 2007 Dodgers were the worst team in baseball at situational hitting. It was perhaps due to the youngness of many of their hitters, or more likely just a luck thing. Someone has to be the least lucky each year afterall. On the one hand you have to like the Dodgers’ young hitters like Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Andre Ethier. On the other hand none of those guys scream superstar, and there is not that much pitching here anymore. The Dodgers might be getting passed while standing still in this division, or they could still be contenders if they catch some breaks next year or acquire some help (like A-Rod for instance) in the offseason.

5. Giants (5): I’m just going to go with my pre-season prediction here “They pay Zito $100 million and finish last. Barry Bonds breaks the most hallowed record in baseball and everyone boos. What a year…”



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