September 28, 2009

A Season in Review, NL East

This is a little early, as there's still a week left in the season, but I figure to have more time now than in a week, so I'm taking this opportunity to start looking back over my preseason picks. First up is my preseason picks, along with Keith Law's, BP's Pecota, and approximate predicted standings.

NL East W L GB NL East W L GB NL East W L GB
Mets 91 71 --- Mets 89 73 --- Mets 92 70 ---
Phillies 89 73 1 Braves 85 77 4 Braves 87 75 5
Braves 81 81 9 Phillies 83 79 6 Phillies 87 75 5
Marlins 79 83 11 Marlins 78 84 11 Nationals 77 85 15
Nationals 69 93 22 Nationals 75 87 14 Marlins 71 91 21

NL East (Current) W L (Projected) W L
Phillies 90 65 94 68
Braves 85 70 89 73
Marlins 83 73 86 76
Mets 67 89 69 93
Nationals 52 103 54 108

Obviously, everyone was well off on the Mets, due in large part to their injuries; I wrote of their weaknesses before the season started:
"SP overall could easily underperform; will be over the hill at C, 1B, 2B - if Delgado in particular regresses back to his first half stats from last year, the offense may not be able to score enough to overcome mediocre pitching. How would they overcome an injury to one of their big 4?"
I never saw them being as bad as this, but I think that pretty accurately sums up the Mets' season- lots of injuries to the stars, bad starting pitching after Johann, too old (besides their stars) around the diamond, and not much depth (which I didn't mention).

While I was still a bit low on the Phillies, I was the most optimistic of the three, though I can't say I saw the way they'd get there (ok, I was right on Utley, but that's hardly a tough one). Big seasons from Werth and Ibanez, as well as pleasant surprises in Happ and Blanton and the additions of Cliff Lee and Pedro, have all played their role.

I was clearly off on the Braves - I was apparently not terribly enamored with their pitching staff in March, but that appears foolish now. I do think I was absolutely right about the outfield being the major weakness of the team (though they improved it markedly by trading for McLouth reasonably early in the season), and if they can't catch Colorado, that's clearly to blame.

Everyone was a bit low on the Marlins; foolishly enough, I downgraded them 3 wins from my initial predictions after reading an article about how all the statistical analyses were killing them, pegging them in the low 70s. 82 wins would still have been low, but would at least have been a bit more respectable margin of error (and given me a bit more bragging rights on that pick versus the experts and the formulas).

Everyone's got the Nationals in the right spot, if more than a dozen wins too high - it's hard to pick a team to lose that many games. Obviously their pitching was just dreadful this year, both rotation and bullpen.

April 8, 2009

AL East

A couple of days late, but I suspect watching the first couple of games will do nothing but cloud my judgment.  This is clearly baseball's best division, with the 3 best teams in the game and two more half-decent teams that have hope for the future.

Red Sox
Strengths: Deep lineup with Youkilis, Pedroia, Ortiz, Bay, Lowell, and Drew, plus some upside in Lowrie and Ellsbury.  Deep pitching staff with two #1 starters in Beckett and Lester.  Deep bullpen with more arms in the farm system.  Strong defensively.
Weaknesses: Getting old at some positions - there is some risk Lowell and Ortiz will fade this year; Pedroia is a regression candidate; Drew is injury prone, and unsure how much production they'll get from SS and CF.  In a worst case scenario, lineup becomes pretty mediocre.  Beckett, Lester (given workload increase last year), and Penny all have some injury risk, and Matsuzaka and Wakefield are both regression candidates.
Record: It's not hard to come up with scenarios where this team wins 86-89 games and misses the playoffs, but I can't say I see those scenarios as being particularly likely.  96-66.

Strengths: Deep, young, talented lineup, with dangerous bats in Crawford, Upton, Pena, Longoria, and Burrell.  Deep pitching staff headlined by Kazmir and Shields; should get boost from adding David Price to the rotation mid-season.  Very good defensively; some good bullpen arms.
Weaknesses: Bullpen could be deeper/more consistent; no true closer.  Back end of rotation is still a bit of a question mark with Sonnanstine and Niemann - both should be ok, but may be no more than a 4th or 5th starter (mainly a weakness in comparison to Red Sox and Yankees).
Record: 94-68.

Strengths: ARod and Teixeira are the two best hitters in the division; Jeter and Posada are both still well above average, and Cano, Damon, Matsui, Nady and Swisher are all capable of good seasons.  Starting pitching should be both deep and strong, with Sabathia, Burnett, Chamberlain at the top and Wang and Pettite both capable of good seasons; Hughes and Kennedy are good options in reserve.  Rivera is still the best in the business as closer.
Weaknesses: Is Brett Gardner really the answer in CF?  How long will ARod be out, and how effective will he be when he returns from surgery?  Bullpen behind Rivera seems a bit questionable.  How much regression will we see from the older players?
Record: I feel like this is the team of these three that has the most upside and downside.  In the end, missing ARod for a month is going to make just enough of a difference, as they trail the Rays by one game - 93-69.

Blue Jays
Strengths: Very good defense; some potentially dangerous hitters in Wells, Rios, Snider, Lind, and Rolen; Roy Halladay; should be a pretty good bullpen.
Weaknesses: Injuries have destroyed the depth of the starting rotation - relying on multiple rookies.  If Wells and/or the young hitters like Snider and Lind struggle, they will have a tough time scoring runs.
Record: If this team were in the AL Central, I would give them nearly as good a shot as the Indians to win the division; in this division, though, I'll go with 78-84.

Strengths: Also very good defense - plus at all three outfield positions, SS, and 2B (I think - not positive on Roberts).  Should have a solid lineup, especially if young players like Jones and Pie hit (Markakis almost certainly will); eventual call-up of Matt Wieters could give them an All-Star caliber catcher.  Bullpen should have some decent arms.
Weaknesses: Starting pitching is probably, at best, two #3 starters, a #6, and two #7s.
Record: Given their starting pitching and their division, I may be overly optimistic on this team, but I think their defense and offense will be strong enough to get them near .500 - 77-85.

April 6, 2009

Looking back on the NL predictions

In the interests of time, a slightly shorter post looking back on my NL picks before we move on to the AL East ones.  Full picks themselves: East, Central, West.  I also found it interesting to compare these to Keith Law's picks and the BP Pecota picks (both Insider only, I think).  Oh, and here are Rob Neyer's (no win totals).

To summarize, my own on the left, Keith's in the middle, BP on the right:

NL East W L GB NL East W L GB NL East W L GB
Mets 91 71 --- Mets 89 73 --- Mets 92 70 ---
Phillies 89 73 1 Braves 85 77 4 Braves 87 75 5
Braves 81 81 9 Phillies 83 79 6 Phillies 87 75 5
Marlins 79 83 11 Marlins 78 84 11 Nationals 77 85 15
Nationals 69 93 22 Nationals 75 87 14 Marlins 71 91 21

NL Central W L GB NL Central W L GB NL Central W L GB
Cubs 95 67 --- Cubs 94 68 --- Cubs 95 67 ---
Brewers 84 78 11 Cardinals 87 75 7 Brewers 83 79 12
Cardinals 82 80 13 Brewers 84 78 10 Cardinals 82 80 13
Reds 81 81 14 Reds 80 82 14 Reds 79 83 16
Astros 71 91 24 Pittsburgh 68 94 26 Astros 70 92 25
Pirates 68 94 27 Houston 66 96 28 Pirates 64 98 31

NL West W L GB NL West W L GB NL West W L GB
Dodgers 90 72 --- Dodgers 88 74 --- Dodgers 93 69 ---
Dbacks 88 74 2 Dbacks 85 77 3 Dbacks 88 74 5
Rockies 80 82 9 Giants 78 84 10 Giants 76 86 17
Giants 76 86 13 Rockies 78 84 10 Rockies 71 91 22
Padres 64 98 26 Padres 65 97 23 Padres 71 91 22

A couple reactions - I appear to be a little on the optimistic side on the Phillies and definitely pessimistic on the Braves.  It wouldn't surprise me if the Phillies end up a bit lower - they certainly have a lot of potential areas for regression - but in the end I think they and the Mets are the class of the division.  I'm holding firm on the Braves - that rotation just doesn't impress me all that much, and I don't think they're going to get production from their impressive farm system until next year.  Their best outfielder might be league average, and while Escobar, Johnson, and Kotchman are nice players, they're not the 3rd, 4th, and 5th best hitters on a real contender.

For the NL Central, I was amazed to see how much my picks mirror the BP projections.  The only semi-outlier of interest in this group is Keith on the Cardinals; if players like Ludwick, Ankiel, and Rasmus produce and Carpenter comes back healthy, I could certainly see that happening, but I'd call it the 75/80th percentile of their performance.

Not too much difference in the NL West - I'm a bit optimistic on the Rockies, and in retrospect I think I'm probably overestimating them, and they should be at least a couple wins lower; I think at that point I was looking to make some interesting picks, and they're a team that has been under the radar.

AL East and a wrap-up of the AL teams coming soon - I'm putting off looking at the AL BP projections until I've made those picks.

UPDATE: Added one win to the Mets, Nationals, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Padres in order to make my overall wins and losses (including AL) add up to be equal.

April 5, 2009

AL Central

Previous picks: AL West, NL East, NL Central, NL West
More mediocrity here - really, the AL is three great teams and a bunch of middling ones.

Cleveland Indians
Strengths: Grady Sizemore.  Solid lineup with very good upside if Peralta, Martinez, and Hafner hit like they have in the past and a few of the kids step up (such as Choo and Cabrera).  Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona could make a very good 1-2 in the rotation, and the bullpen could be excellent.
Weaknesses: Huge questions in the rotation after Carmona, and even he and Lee are no sure things, given inconsistencies over the past couple years.  Some downside in the lineup, especially if Hafner continues to decline.
Record: 85-77

Detroit Tigers
Strengths: Cabrera, Ordonez, Granderson, and Guillen make for a dangerous top of the lineup, and Polanco and Laird provide a bit of depth to that.  Rotation has upside, with a potential Cy Young candidate in Verlander, and decent young arms in Jackson, Galarraga, Miner, and Porcello, plus Ryan Perry in the pen.
Weaknesses: Rotation is relying on largely unproven arms; bullpen is suspect at best.  Cabrera and Guillen are potentially defensive disasters.
Record: I didn't expect to be optimistic about this team, but I think their young arms may actually make them into a contender.  With that said, I can't really go higher than 82-80, but that's a big step up from last year.

Chicago White Sox
Strengths: Solid rotation depth; potential to score some runs with Carlos Quentin, Thome, Konerko, Alexei Ramirez, and Dye.  Some hard-throwing arms in the pen behind Jenks.
Weaknesses: Rotation doesn't have a #1... or really a #2.  Heart of lineup is aging and could begin to collapse (Thome, Konerko, Dye, and Pierzynski).  How much will they get from Dewayne Wise, Josh Fields, and Chris Getz at CF, 3B, and 2B?
Record: I like the depth of their rotation enough that I don't think they'll collapse, but I think we're more likely to see the downside of the lineup than the upside. 78-84

Minnesota Twins
Strengths: Joe Mauer, Morneau (to a lesser extent), depth in the starting rotation, Joe Nathan.
Weaknesses: When will Mauer be healthy? Injuries also at the top of the rotation; where does the offense come from after Mauer and Morneau?
Record: I wanted to be more optimistic on this team, but without Mauer they just look anemic on offense and I don't see the pitching staff making up for it.  77-85.

Kansas City Royals
Strengths: Some good young talent in Gordon and Butler.  Nice top of the rotation with Greinke and Meche; Soria is nasty closing.
Weaknesses: Most of the rest of the team.  Sidney Ponson is supposedly the #4 starter.
Record: There are reasons to be optimistic, but far more reasons to be pessimistic.  Apologies to Joe Posnanski, but 73-89 (UPDATE: bumped up one win to make the numbers work better).

AL West

Other picks: AL Central, NL East, NL Central, NL West

The common consensus seems to be that the NL West is the weakest division in baseball, but I think it's going to be better than the AL West, and depending on how one measures division strength, it could rival both the AL and NL Central.  In any case, the AL West projects to be a mosh pit of mediocrity this year, as the Angels got awfully lucky with their win total last year (relative to their run differential) and have taken steps backward over the offseason between losing out on Teixeira and the injuries to their pitching staff.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Strengths: When healthy, their starting pitching has top-flight talent and depth; their bullpen is always effective (doubtless a reflection of manager Mike Scioscia), and promises to be so even with Brian Fuentes replacing KRod.  Their lineup could be strong and deep - as long as the veterans can stay healthy and the kids realize their full potential.
Weaknesses: Their top 2 starters are starting on the DL, and could be missing significant time; without them, the rotation is pedestrian at best.  The whole outfield is aging quickly, and it's not too hard to envision the lineup falling into mediocrity with their decline and ho-hum performances from Kendrick and Morales.
Record: 85-77.  As long as this team makes the playoffs, they could be dangerous if Ervin Santana and Lackey are healthy and effective by the end of the year.  I doubt they'll come in as favorites, but they're capable of pulling off an upset.

Texas Rangers
Strengths: Lineup - they have young talent all over the field, anchored by Josh Hamilton in CF, Ian Kinsler at 2B, and to a lesser extent Michael Young at 3B.  They'll score runs in bunches.
Weaknesses: Pitching - when your #1 (Millwood) had an ERA over 5 last year, and your #3 hasn't pitched in the majors since 2006, you know you're in trouble.  The question is whether they can keep it low enough for the hitters to win it.
Record: 80-82; I think this team surprises and keeps it interesting until near the end of the season. UPDATE: Bumped up one win to make the numbers work out.

Oakland Athletics
Strengths: Made some nice offseason additions to improve a moribund lineup from last year, adding Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera, and Nomar as a backup - they should score enough runs now, if not tons.
Weaknesses: Injuries are derailing the starting pitching, so that they have to rely on young guns with very little major league experience - they have about 400 major league innings in their 5 starters combined.  A couple of them may have strong years, but it's pretty unlikely all, or even most, will.
Record: I just don't trust the pitching, and the hitting will be no better than solid. 76-86.

Seattle Mariners
Strengths: A new front office.  Felix Hernandez and Eric Bedard; some good young talent, including Clement, Balentien, and Morrow.
Weaknesses: Pretty much everywhere else on the diamond, with the possible exception of Beltre at 3B and Gutierrez in RF.
Record: Poor Seattle fans will have to endure another miserable season, yet one not quite bad enough to end up with the top pick in the draft.  68-94.

April 3, 2009

NL West

Onwards to the NL West, home of my favorite team, the Dodgers (not that I'm being biased in my predictions, of course...)

Dodgers:  I've covered their strengths and weaknesses in more detail here.
Record: 89-73

Strengths: Brad Webb and Dan Haren at the top of the rotation; a lot of young talent on the field - the Justin Upton in particular is a star in the making.
Weaknesses: Starting rotation is underwhelming after Webb and Haren; bullpen looks fairly mediocre.
Record: This looks like a pretty solid team across the board, with the very strong front end of the rotation making up for the questionable back end.  If they get breakout performances from some of their young position players or if the 3-5 starters perform better than expected, this could be an awfully good team.  Perhaps it's blind hope, but I'm banking on small, not large steps forward from the young hitters overall, and an 87-75 record.

Strengths: Tulowitzki could be the next great shortstop, especially defensively.  Pitching staff has potential if talented young pitchers like Jimenez and Morales step up.  Corpas and Street in the 8th and 9th innings is a nice combo.
Weaknesses: Outfield is questionable, and whole lineup may struggle to hit, especially if Tulo's not what he was his rookie year and Helton continues to decline.  Despite some talent, pitching staff has plenty of question marks.
Record: 80-82

Strengths: Starting pitching - Lincecum, Cain, Johnson is a very nice top 3; Sanchez has potential, and we'll see if Zito can be a serviceable #5 for $17 million.
Weaknesses: Hitting - Benjie Molina batted cleanup frequently last year, which is just pathetic.  They've added an over the hill Edgar Renteria and a couple of pretty solid hitting kids on the corner infield spots in Sandoval and Ishikawa, but that still doesn't leave them with much.  Sandoval and Renteria look like they'll be brutal defensively on the left side of the infield.  Jeremy Affeldt was a nice bullpen pickup, but I still wouldn't be too trustworthy of their bullpen as a whole.
Record: The Giants have a lot of young talent between the majors and minors; I don't think this is the year, though.  At earliest, we'll see them start to break through next year, and I think 2011 is more likely.  76-86.

Strengths: Jake Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez
Weaknesses: Everyone else - ok, maybe not Brian Giles.
Record: Seriously, this team is bad.  When you're putting pitchers the Nationals dumped into your rotation, that's  a bad sign.  And of course, they may end up trading Peavy as well.  We'll go with 63-99.

March 31, 2009

NL Central

Other predictions: AL Central, AL West, NL East, NL West

Onwards to the NL Central, home of the NL's best team by a good margin:

Strengths: Deep and talented rotation; Soto, Aramis Ramirez, Soriano, Bradley, and Lee make for a dangerous middle of the order; back end of the bullpen should be pretty good with Marmol, Gregg, and Heilman (and possibly Samardzija).
Weaknesses: Some concern about starting pitchers underperforming - Harden is injury prone, Dempster had a career year (in a contract year), Zambrano has a lot of miles on his arm.  Center field platoon looks questionable both offensively and defensively.
Record: 95-67

Milwaukee Brewers
Strengths: Lots of talent, most of it young, on the field - Braun, Fielder, Weeks, Hart, Hardy.  Yovani Gallardo
Weaknesses: Not great fielding team; starting pitching after Gallardo is mediocre at best (and that's generous), relief pitching is worse.  As a team, don't get on base particularly well.  Everyone is still waiting for Weeks to "break out."  Gallardo missed most of last year due to injury.
Record: Gallardo can't overcome the loss of Sabbathia and Sheets, and the rest of the pitching staff is just older and worse.  84-78

St. Louis Cardinals
Strengths: Albert Pujols. Albert Pujols. Albert Pujols.  There are whispers that starting pitching could be surprisingly good, led by healthy Carpenter; they always do seem to get a lot out of retreads in the rotation.
Weaknesses: I'll believe it when I see it.  Several candidates for regression to the mean.
Record: Barry Bonds showed how much difference one amazing player makes, and I think Pujols does that for this team.  LaRussa always seems to get the most out of his players, but even with all that, I can't go higher than 82-80.

Cincinnati Reds
Strengths: Pitching depth; some good young talent around the field (especially Jay Bruce).
Weaknesses: Looking at little offensive production from SS, LF, and CF, so their young players will have to step up big time to carry the offense. Dusty Baker.
Record: They're a popular sleeper pick because of their pitching depth, but I don't see it being good enough to carry a weak offense to contention.  81-81

Houston Astros
Strengths: Berkman, Lee, Pence, Oswalt.  Valverde should be a solid closer.
Weaknesses: Everyone after Oswalt in the rotation.  C, 2B, 3B, CF
Record: In line for a major disappointment after last year's deceptively good record - 71-91.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Strengths: They're young, so there are plenty of breakout candidates.
Weaknesses: Most of the team.
Record: 68-94