Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Short notes

Opening Day inches ever closer, and there is excitement in the air. Just a few short new items out of Spring Training:
  • IN Demand cable has offered to match Direct TV's bid of $700 million to carry baseball's Extra Innings package, thereby keeping it available to cable subscribers. Since the (premature) announcement that Direct TV would be the exclusive home of out-of-market baseball games, the deal has met with a lot of opposition, not just from common fans, but from government officials. While it still looks like the DirecTV deal will go through, there's still room for hope for the rest of us, and that's good news. Either way, it's encouraging that the fierce negative outcry from the fans actually had some effect on the baseball Lords.
  • On the field, it looks like Ken Griffey, Jr. will be moving to right field to start the season. The Reds are apparently making this move because of Griffey's injury, but it's a move that they should have made two or three years ago regardless. Griffey can no longer handle the center field job, and it can't be having a good effect on his health.
    The only problem with this arrangement is that it's doubtful that Griffey will hit well enough by right field standards. In 2005, Griffey compensated for his bad defense by hitting 301/369/576 in 128 games, good even for Cincinnati. But last year, Griffey hit 252/316/486, probably the worst season of his career. A batting line like that isn't bad for center field (even adjusting for the hitter-friendly G.A.B.), but it's dismal for a right fielder. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA prediction system projects Griffey to hit 275/344/506 this season, a bit better than in 2006. But it also predicts that he'll lose nearly 100 plate appearances due to injuries and age. Putting Griffey in right field would probably help him get more playing time in this system, but it would also drastically reduce his value. A right fielder who hits 275/344/506 in a hitter's park isn't bad, but he's not worth millions either.
    The unfortunate thing is that this is the best the Reds can do. They've got Griffey, and with his contract, he's not going anywhere. This state of affairs may not be very satisfactory, but under the circumstances, the move to right field is the best the Reds can do. It would have been even better if they'd done it a year or two ago.
  • In a horrifically familiar turn of events, the Associated Press is reporting that both Kerry Wood and Mark Prior may not be ready in time for Opening Day. Wood strained his right triceps earlier in Spring Training, so his status is doubtful, even as a middle reliever.
    Luckily, the Cubs weren't counting much on a healthy Kerry Wood, whose injury history is legendary. But they were hoping to get a healthy and slightly effective Mark Prior. Prior has struggled in Spring Training, but as Lou Pineilla wisely points out, it's a small and insignificant sample size. The Cubs don't need Prior in the starting rotation right away, not with their fleet of free agents, but it would help. The same AP article notes that Prior has only reached the mid-80's in velocity, which is pretty discouraging.
    If anyone's in the market for a play about star-crossed Cubs, here's the perfect storyline.
  • The Red Sox are again shuffling through the deck to look for a closer. When they signed former Mariner Joel Pineiro, it was assumed that they would be converting him into the role. Eventually, even the Red Sox realized how insane that idea was. Last I heard was that they were slotting in Mike Timlin for the role, because he's an old reliable guy who's "been there." Well, the news today is that Timlin will start the season on the DL, scuttling those plans. But then that's probably for the best.
    The Sox are scrambling -- again -- to try and put together something to acquire another closer. There have been rumors about a trade with the Nats for Chad Cordero, but those have been flying around for months. The Giants are shopping around Armando Benitez, but most teams are wisely keeping their distance from him. Oh well. Anything's better than Joel Pineiro.
  • The two big unlikely comebacks of Spring Training are progressing fairly well. Sammy Sosa, in camp with Texas, has had a great spring, hitting 417/421/778. Spring stats are notoriously fickle, but this is a good sign for Sosa and the Rangers. Sosa may be pursued by rumors of steroid use, but his experience shouldn't be nearly as bad as Barry Bonds'. If I were the Rangers, I'd be very reluctant to get my hopes up about Sammy. But on a team with a pretty weak outfield and no set DH, there's room for Sammy to make a difference, even as a part-timer.
    The other big comeback is that of Josh Hamilton. Hamilton, formerly of the Devil Rays, is the former star prospect whose life fell apart due to drugs. The Reds got Hamilton in the Rule V draft, hoping he could resurrect some of his former prospect-ness. And so far, Hamilton has been the biggest story in Reds camp by far, hitting 487/543/692 in 14 Spring Training games. But I'm forced to point out what so many others already have -- 14 Spring Training games aren't enough to change our minds about Hamilton. Hamilton has just 89 at-bats above Class A in his entire career, he'll be 26 in May, and he's only played 15 games since 2002.
    To say the odds are against Josh Hamilton would be a hideous understatement. But his "story" is such a great human interest hook that the media has already resurrected him as a success. To be fair, he has been something of a success; to go through what he has and return to baseball at all is a great accomplishment. But it's far, far too early to expect him to produce at the major league level. It's not impossible for someone who used to have great baseball skills to come back from a long layoff and still retain something. But, realistically speaking, I'm more likely to win the lottery.
  • Former commissioner Bowie Kuhn passed away last week at age 80. Kuhn's tenure saw more change than arguably any other executive who's held the office. It was under Kuhn that free agency, the amateur draft, and the player's union all came about. Unfortunately, Kuhn is mainly remembered for the futility of his tenure, as he tried and failed to stop most of the changes that took place during the era. In the end, Kuhn managed to alienate both the players' union and his employers, the owners. The union (and Marvin Miller) hated Kuhn for his sense of entitlement and his meddling. The owners, on the other hand, thought Kuhn was too soft on the players and resented his interference in labor disputes. Therefore, there was really no one left to say anything nice about Kuhn.
    This isn't to say that the criticisms of Kuhn weren't valid. And I'm not in favor of whitewashing the records of the recently deceased. But Rob Neyer probably paid Kuhn the best compliment when he said that, all else aside, Kuhn really was looking out for the best interests of the game. He may have interpreted those interests narrowly, and he may have had an overinflated sense of his role in enforcing them, but he was a man who acted with the best of intentions.
    Perhaps the biggest insult to Kuhn was that he was the first real commissioner not inducted into Cooperstown. (Kuhn was preceded by Gen. Spike Eckert, but I think we can all agree that Eckert doesn't really count as a baseball commissioner). However, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Happy Chandler, and Ford Frick were all enshrined as executives in Cooperstown. It was Kuhn, really, that broke the tradition of honoring former commissioners, and none since Kuhn have been inducted, either. It was an unfortunate insult from the players and the owners towards a man who just tried to do he thought was best.

Back with more soon. Until then, consider the deification of Josh Hamilton by those who should know better.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Baseball Prospectus 2007

Ah, Spring. When a young geek's thoughts turn to the next Baseball Prospectus annual. Last year, I took the opportunity to discuss the annual, including some of their interesting articles and some of their humorous anecdotes. This year's annual is gigantic -- about 100 pages more than the 2006 version. The added bulk comes from more players, more analysis, and more prospects.
The key to Baseball Prospectus is that not only do they provide an excellent statistical overview of the season, they work within a broad framework that allows them to incorporate many different angles and perspectives. I don't agree with everything they have to say, obviously, but I can't dispute the fact that most of what they say is very sensible.
Some of the interesting discussions in this year's annual:
  • Keith Woolner, one of the architects of the "Pitcher Abuse Points" stat, revisits the formula behind it by incorporating the broad play-by-play data now available.
  • Will Carroll and Jay Jaffe study the use of amphetamines in baseball, looking at the ban that went into effect before the 2006 season.
  • New addition to BP Kevin Goldstein rates the top 100 prospects in baseball. Goldstein represents a more hybrid scouting/stats writer with a specialty in prospects. His addition to the BP staff offers them a much broader perspective on these issues (Goldstein's #1 is, no surprise, Alex Gordon of the Royals).
  • In the team-by-team essays, the BP staff discusses the tougher challenge faced by Billy Beane in the new, smarter baseball environment; the bold and productive rebuilding process run by Dave Dombrowski in Detroit; the success of the new youth movement in Arizona, etc. They also do an excellent job of succinctly tearing the Pirates organization a new bunghole. "It is important to note just how obtuse the management of personnel in this organization can be," they say, before finishing their remarks with this statement:
    There is not even a pretense of trying, perhaps not even of caring. The organization is a hollow shell, extant only because of a few age-old reasons; Baseball has roots in this city going back to the 1880s, the league requires an even number of teams to keep the schedule manageable, and someone was dumb enough to build them a stadium. The only rational response to the Pirates' apathy is apathy.

My main problem with this year's annual isn't so much the content as the editing. The book was one month late shipping, arriving in early March after an announced release date of early February. One would think that this would allow them to catch any glaring inconsistencies, but this is not so. For every player listed in the book, there is a series of stats, along with the PECOTA forecast for 2007, and a short paragraph of commentary. The problem is that the commentary doesn't match the numbers. Apparently, the editors decided to update the PECOTA entries at the last minute, without realizing that this would also change the commentary. There are about a dozen players whose text references numbers or players in their PECOTA forecasts who aren't there. It takes the reader a while to catch up when the text refers to a player's top 4 comparables by name, even though the 4 actually listed above are quite different. I do like up-to-the-minute accuracy, but I much prefer when the two parts of a player's entry actually match. I'm willing to forgive a few typos, but this was a pretty glaring problem.

All that aside, the book is worth reading (as always) and is the best baseball annual out there by a mile. I'll finish with a few examples of the BP humor. They overdid it a bit this year with the geeky references, but there were still some good laughs:

LaTroy Hawkins: "If dogs come home to die, and cats leave, pitchers go to Colorado. The $3.5 million the Rockies will pay for the privilege seems like a lot for a shovel and a hole."

Denny Bautista: "In one of his rare good starts in 2006, he induced 16 groundball outs in six innings. That's what the Rockies are after, but they might as well try to catch love in a butterfly net or spend 60 years teaching a pigeon to peck out 'Turkey in the Straw' on the xylophone in the hopes that it might one day play 'The Goldberg Variations.'"

Mike DeJean: "DeJean has made it known that he wants to retire as a Rocky, marking him as a man of singularly low ambition."

Ray King: Okay, BP didn't have much to say about him. But I still can't get over this resemblance.

Juan Morillo: "If you took him to the carnival and had him throw for the speed guns there, he could win you a lot of teddy bears . . . The Rockies will likely try him in the bullpen to see if they can harness his arm for more than just an array of stuffed octopodes."

Jayson Nix: "Jayson Nix has never adjusted to hitting in the upper levels of the minors. He and brother Laynce are both in danger of washing out of baseball due to a lack of strike zone recognition, but once they do, they could always donate their extra Y's to needy minor leaguers."

Jason Vargas: " Even though the Marlins had a really nice date with him in 2005, Vargas found himself buried in the pitching staff's Little Black Book last year. So, whatever, he totally didn't need them, and if Florida did decide to call, he'd let it ring a few times before picking up so as not to seem desperate. So what if he had a little walk trouble this year? Do you break up with someone over a few extra walks? Do you? And don't give him the whole 'It's not you, it's us; we just need more time to think' thing. He totally tried to be himself last year, and if he came off as something other than what he was, then so what? That's not his fault, right? The Mets called and asked for him by name, so he's with them now. Only when the Marlins finally come to town, it's going to be, like, so awkward."

Lance Berkman: "Berkman would like everyone to know that he hates the 'Fat Elvis' nickname some have tried to hang on him. He's right, too -- fat Elvis didn't have this many hits."

Terrence Long: "When Terrence Long was called up, Torre said, 'He brings us experience and has base-stealing ability. He's got some things that can probably help us.' Torre had gotten Terrence confused with Herman Long of the Boston Beaneaters. T-Long packed a lot of not hitting and poor fielding into 12 games. Herman, being quite dead, would have done less harm."

Carlos Lee: "If at some point during the season the Astros suddenly and unexpectedly put Chris Burke on the DL, it might not be that he's hurt, but that Lee ate him."

17 days 'til Opening Day.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

2007 AL West Predictions

Los Angeles Angels (94-68) 92-96 win range
Oakland Athletics (92-70) 90-94 win range
Texas Rangers (84-78) 82-86 win range
Seattle Mariners (72-90) 70-74 win range
2006 W-L Record: 89-73 (2nd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 84-78
2007 Projection: 94-68
Strengths: Pitching staff; young hitters, Vlad Guerrero
Weaknesses: Impact hitters; offensive depth
Biggest Change from '06: Their top rookies are either in the majors (Weaver, Kendrick) or getting close (Wood)
One Reason:
One Reason the Angels will win in '07 is that their pitching staff is top-notch. The Angels are heading into 2007 with probably the best starting rotation staff in the league. They don't have a big ace (although John Lackey is underrated), but they've got several guys strongly above-average, such as Lackey, Jered Weaver, Kelvim Escobar and Ervin Santana. Bartolo Colon will take the #5 spot, and although he has the potential to perform well, it's doubtful given his health status. Either way, the Angels' starting rotation should give them a chance to win every night, even with their offense.
One Reason the Angels will lose in '07 is -- speaking of that offense . . . The Angels' lineup consists of Vlad Guerrero and a lot of hope. Their other veterans are either expensive guys who are vaguely productive (Gary Matthews, Jr., Orlando Cabrera) or guys with little left to offer (Garret Anderson, Shea Hillenbrand). They do have some quality guys like Juan Rivera and Chone Figgins who have already established themselves in the majors. But the lineup will succeed or fail based on the success of the young talent. And judging from the past couple years, that's not much to hang your hat on.
While I'm less than bullish about the Angel's offense, I think their pitching staff can carry them to October. And Mike Scioscia has been able to win with some thin, slap-happy lineups in the past (though none quite this bad).
The other reason I'm picking the Angels to win the division is that I think they're better than the A's, the only other contender in the AL West. Oakland has a more well-rounded ballclub and is certainly capable of repeating as division champions, but they're a worse team than they were last year and still have a lot of questions surrounding their roster, particularly in terms of injuries. So I'm picking the Angels to win by default.
2006 W-L Record: 93-69 (1st)
2006 pW-pL Record: 85-77
2007 Projection: 92-70
Strengths: Well-rounded roster; pitching depth
Weaknesses: Thin offense; few star pitchers
Biggest Change from '06: The loss of Barry Zito, followed closely by the loss of Frank Thomas
One Reason:
One Reason the A's will win in '07 is that they've done a great job of overcoming obstacles over the past seven years or so, and there's no better example than 2006. They had a disappointing lineup then with lots of injuries. They also had a pitching staff with good depth, but no real stars. They beat out the Angels last year despite these flaws, and they're perfectly capable of doing it again this year.
One Reason the A's will lose in '07 is that they're just not as good as they were last year, and they can't keep pace with the Angels by moving backwards. I completely agree that Barry Zito is overrated, but he's still a hard guy to replace in your rotation (although a healthy Rich Harden would help). Frank Thomas was an offensive star last year, and it's hard to see the A's making up for his loss, even with the signing of Mike Piazza.
The A's would get a big boost if they could keep even half of last year's walking wounded healthy this year. Rich Harden is priority #1, but they also lost a lot when their middle infield went down (as evidenced in the playoffs, when they started D'Angelo Jimenez at second base). Marco Scutaro is a great backup, but he shouldn't be getting more than 300 at bats.
The A's are also counting on some declining stars to fill in the gaps. There's little chance of Jason Kendall or Mark Kotsay turning things around for a career year, even though they're two guys who can at least be counted upon to stay healthy. Esteban Loaiza wasn't that bad in 2006, but he's not going to fill Barry Zito's shoes.
No, as much as I think the A's will be competitive, I don't see them making the postseason.
2006 W-L Record: 80-82 (3rd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 86-76
2007 Projection: 84-78
Strengths: Infield offense; stabilized pitching staff
Weaknesses: Outfield offense; quality and depth of pitching staff
Biggest Change from '06: Nothing significant, other than switching out John Danks for Brandon McCarthy
One Reason:
One Reason the Rangers will win in '07 is that the Angels and A's engage in an on-field brawl that results in full-season suspensions for all 50 players involved.
One Reason the Rangers will lose in '07 is that they're simply not as good as the Angels or A's. Their offense is strong, but not as strong as the ballpark makes it seem. The Rangers are still running out a bare outfield, and they can't count on a lot of production from catcher (Laird) or third base (Blalock) either. Their pitching staff is improving, but it's still not good enough to push this team much past .500.
The Rangers will have a tough time simply maintaining what they accomplished last year. Granted, there is room for improvement; Brad Wilkerson and Mark Teixeira should have better years, and the addition of Brandon McCarthy gives the team a reliable #3 for the first time in recent memory. But although this team is taking baby steps forward, they're still not really contenders.
2006 W-L Record: 78-84 (4th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 78-84
2007 Projection: 72-90
Strengths: Infield corners; Outfield; Rotation depth
Weaknesses: Power; Rotation quality; Middle relief
Biggest Change from '06: Added depth of Miguel Batista and Jeff Weaver
One Reason:
One Reason the Mariners will win in '07 is by forfeit.
One Reason the Mariners will lose in '07 is if they just keep doing what they've been doing.
I may be too pessimistic about the Mariners. Yes, they improved their starting rotation in the offseason (but at what cost?). And yeah, their offense isn't that bad. Or is it? Really, they've got a star in Ichiro, a few solid players (Sexson, Beltre, Johjima, Ibanez) and then nada. Adding in Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro isn't going to help anything.
And it should be said that the Mariners gave up Rafael Soriano for nothing (viz: Horacio Ramirez), thereby hurting their middle relief prospects. And while the M's did improve their rotation, it was pretty bad to begin with, and no one would call Miguel Batista and Jeff Weaver money in the bank.
GM Bill Bavasi was trying to save his job, and I doubt it will result in much headway out on the field.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

2007 AL Central Predictions

Cleveland Indians (94-68) 92-96 win range
*Minnesota Twins (93-69) 91-95 win range
Detroit Tigers (90-72) 88-92 win range
Chicago White Sox (88-74) 86-90 win range
Kansas City Royals (63-99) 61-65 win range

2006 W-L Record: 78-84 (4th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 89-73
2007 Projection: 94-68
Strengths: Offense, Pitching depth
Weaknesses: Rotation star quality; Bullpen
Biggest Change from '06: Not a lot; full year of Jeremy Sowers, Josh Barfield at second base, stronger outfield offense
One Reason:
One Reason the Indians will win in '07 is that they were good enough to win it the last two years, but had everything go wrong for them. There's a strong possibility that there's more than bad luck to this, but you can't deny the Indians' big-time talent.
One Reason the Indians will lose in '07 is that their pitching staff is the 4th-best in their division. They've got several solid guys in the rotation, but no real ace and a lot of questions at the back of the pack (Paul Byrd?). Their bullpen is a work in progress once again, and could prove to be the difference between making the postseason and finishing just short -- which would be an eerie repeat of 2005.
The Indians have a top-notch, solid young offense. They've got impact players in Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, and Victor Martinez. They've also added a stronger supporting cast, especially in the outfield, where the addition of Trot Nixon and David Dellucci should add strong depth at a reasonable price. There's also some high hopes for Ryan Garko at first base, if he ends up in the role full-time.

2006 W-L Record: 96-66 (1st)
2006 pW-pL Record: 93-69
2007 Projection: 93-69
Strengths: Impact players; young pitching, Johan Santana
Weaknesses: Offensive depth, back end of rotation
Biggest Change from '06: No Francisco Liriano
One Reason:
One Reason the Twins will win in '07 is they are, all-around, one of the strongest clubs in baseball. Each of their weaknesses is somewhat compensated for. The lack of experience of their young pitchers is compensated for by the fact that there are several of them, and each of them has very good potential. There's also Johan Santana, the superstar rock of the pitching world. Their lack of offensive depth is made up for by the presence of MVP-caliber players such as Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
One Reason the Twins will lose in '07 is that they just barely made the playoffs last year, and it's hard to believe that they're a better team this year. They've lost Francisco Liriano, an excellent pitcher, and will have to deal with the likely regression of hitters such as Michael Cuddyer, Nick Punto, and Justin Bartlett. It will be very hard to bridge this gap in a division where there's no room for taking a step back.
The Twins have a good chance to stay in the race all season, and in my opinion, they've got what it takes to win the Wild Card. This isn't without a few caveats; I'm counting on some strong performances from the Twins' young starters (Garza, Bonser, etc.) as well as a strong lineup up and down the order. It's a lot to ask for, but I think that with Santana, Mauer, and Morneau, they've got a head start on everybody else.

2006 W-L Record: 95-67 (2nd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 95-67
2007 Projection: 90-72
Strengths: Young pitching; power
Weaknesses: Patience; Fluke factor
Biggest Change from '06: Gary Sheffield: power + patience in one surly package
One Reason:
One Reason the Tigers will win in '07 is that they could end up winning just as they did in 2006 -- with dominant pitching and big power. There's room for improvement, with Gary Sheffield added and Joel Zumaya (hopefully) closing by season's end. If Placido Polanco and Carlos Guillen can stay healthy, the Tigers will contend.
One Reason the Tigers will lose in '07 is that there's also a lot of room for regression. Like the Twins, the Tigers got into the playofffs last year by a nose, and it's not clear that they've improved a lot in the offseason. Adding Sheffield helps, but he's getting more and more brittle, and his MVP days are probably behind him. There's a lot of room for regression in the rotation, too, with Justin Verlander entering an uncertain sophomore season, Kenny Rogers another year older, and guys like Nate Robertson and Mark Maroth not exactly inspiring confidence.
Unlike the Twins, the Tigers don't have any real impact players, and neither do they have the same farm systen depth to compensate for underachievers. It's a close call, but I'm picking the Tigers to just miss the playoffs.

2006 W-L Record: 90-72 (3rd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 88-74
2007 Projection: 88-74
Strengths: Pitching durability, power
Weaknesses: Lineup holes, Thinned-out rotation
Biggest Change from '06: Loss of Freddy Garcia
One Reason:
One Reason the White Sox will win in '07 is that they're a well-rounded ballclub. They've got a pretty good bullpen with a good (if volatile) closer, a good starting rotation that goes deep into ballgames, and several legitimate offensive threats.
One Reason the White Sox will lose in '07 is that they've taken a step back from '06. Replacing Freddy Garcia with Gavin Floyd is a loss in the short-term, and there are still big questions surrounding Juan Uribe's ability to play every day while facing murder charges in the Dominican. With John Danks, Ryan Sweeney, and Josh Fields, the Sox have the impact players to step in and produce in the majors. But there's just not much evidence that the Sox are significant better than they were in 2006. And in this division, treading water just isn't enough.
The Sox are a pretty reliable 85-90 win team, but it's tough to project beyond that. Any scenario that sees them winning more than 90 games requires a rebound by starters Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland as well as solid production from their young prospects.

2006 W-L Record: 62-100 (5th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 63-99
2007 Projection: 63-99
Strengths: Young hitters
Weaknesses: The entire pitching staff, skilled defensive positions
Biggest Change from '06: The ascension of Alex Gordon
One Reason:
One Reason the Royals will win in '07 is that their hitting prospects reach the majors and make an immediate impact.
One Reason the Royals will lose in '07 is that their pitching staff is abysmal and not likely to get much better.
The Gil Meche contract is what everyone will be focusing on this year. And once it goes down in flames, we'll be able to move on and look at the mess that is the Royals' pitching staff. With their young hitters, the Royals have the chance to field a league-average offense quite soon. But there's little prospect for improvement in their pitching staff, which is probably why management got desperate and signed Meche. And while Meche is a notch above the other Royal starters, that's a very dubious honor.

We'll finish up with the NL West soon.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

2007 American League Predictions

New York Yankees (96-66) 94-98 win range
Boston Red Sox (91-71) 89-93 win range
Toronto Blue Jays (88-74) 86-90 win range
Baltimore Orioles (75-87) 73-77 win range
Tampa Bay Devil Rays (69-93) 67-71 win range

Cleveland Indians (94-68) 92-96 win range
*Minnesota Twins (93-69) 91-95 win range
Detroit Tigers (90-72) 88-92 win range
Chicago White Sox (88-74) 86-90 win range
Kansas City Royals (63-99) 61-65 win range

Los Angeles Angels (94-68) 92-96 win range
Oakland Athletics (92-70) 90-94 win range
Texas Rangers (84-78) 82-86 win range
Seattle Mariners (72-90) 70-74 win range

AL MVP: Travis Hafner, Indians
AL CY YOUNG: Johan Santana, Twins
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Alex Gordon, Royals
ALCS: Yankees over Indians
WS: Yankees over Dodgers
2006 W-L Record: 97-65 (1st)
2006 pW-pL Record: 95-67
2007 Projection: 96-66
Strengths: Offense, disposable cash
Weaknesses: Rotation star quality; bullpen depth; first base
Biggest Change from '06: Kei Igawa
One Reason:
One reason the Yankees will win in '07 is the same reason they've won for years: a strong offense supports a merely capable pitching staff.
One reason the Yankees will lose in '07 is that their lineup isn't as strong as it looks. Everyone's getting older, and replacing Gary Sheffield with Doug Mientkiewicz is pretty significant. The same could be said of their rotation, with questions surrounding Andy Pettite, Chien-Ming Wang, and Kei Igawa, not to mention whomever fills in at 5th starter until Phillip Hughes comes up. Switching out Randy Johnson for Igawa at least gives them fewer age-related issues.
The Yankees are, as always, strong favorites to reach October. For all the questions and concerns there are surrounding the Yankees, we have to remember that the Yanks have similar issues every season for a while now and have still managed to weather the storm and make the postseason. They've got the money, they've got Phillip Hughes, and they've got a much better-run front office with Brian Cashman calling the shots. It will be a tighter race than it was last year, but I think the Bombers still have the edge.
2006 W-L Record: 86-76 (3rd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 81-81
2007 Projection: 95-67
Strengths: Impact hiters, pitching depth, Dice-K
Weaknesses: Bullpen, offensive depth
Biggest Change from '06: Dice-K
One Reason:
One Reason the BoSox will win in '07 is that they've got the impact hitters and the impact pitchers. The supporting cast may not be what it was in 2004, but they've got Manny & Papi in the lineup and Schilling-Matsuzaka-Papelbon-Beckett in the rotation.
One Reason the BoSox will lose in '07 is because their supporting cast really is an issue. The Sox' batting order is strong 1-6 (Lugo, Youkilis, Papi, Manny, Drew, Lowell), but they've got big questions surrounding Jason Varitek, Coco Crisp, and Dustin Pedroia. If those three come through, then the Sox could have the best offense in the league. But if even two of them come up empty, then the Sox will struggle like they did down the stretch last year. The same is true in the bullpen, where Joel Pineiro (I'm still convinced this is a crazy plan) is anchoring a less-than-stellar lot.
(If you read my NL entry and wonder what happened to my prediction that the Sox would win the Series, I changed my mind when I started preparing this entry. Ask me again tomorrow and I may change my mind, but with Boston's bullpen troubles and lineup holes, I don't think they can beat out the Twins, White Sox, A's and maybe even Tigers).
Just like last year, the Sox are a volatile team. If everything goes right, from Matsuzaka's debut to Schilling's conditioning, to Beckett's homers, to Papelbon's transition, to Drew's health, to Crisp's recovery, to Pedroia's debut, to Pineiro's role change, then the Sox are contenders. But that's a whole lot of conditions to meet, and the Sox will have to meet nearly all of them to win the Wild Card.
That 2006 Pythagorean record scares me. Have the Sox really added 15 true wins this offseason?
2006 W-L Record: 87-75 (2nd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 86-76
2007 Projection: 88-74
Strengths: Star pitchers, middle of the order
Weaknesses: Back of rotation, middle infield
Biggest Change from '06: Frank Thomas
One Reason:
One Reason the Jays will win in '07 is that they keep anything big from going wrong. Their offense looks strong, and while they're getting zero production from the middle infield, they should be pretty potent none the less, especially when Adam Lind gets a full-time job. Their rotation isn't very impressive after Halladay and Burnett, but the Jays have several guys (Chacin, Thomson, Ohka) who can at least keep the team in games. The Blue Jays may survive not because they're better than the other teams, but because they have much less potential to suck.
One Reason the Jays will lose in '07 is that they're in the wrong league. It used to be that they were in the wrong division, but with the ascension of the AL Central and the A's-Angels twin towers out west, the Jays aren't going to catch any breaks when it comes to reaching the postseason. It's highly unlikely that the Jays will be the best team in their division, which means they're going to have to compete against four or five other teams in the Wild Card race who are just as good and probably better.
The Jays did finish second last year and show promising improvement that's supported by the Pythagorean numbers. It wouldn't be a terrific surprise if they won 95 games, but they're much less likely to do it than most teams in the race.
2006 W-L Record: 70-92 (4th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 69-93
2007 Projection: 75-87
Strengths: Young Pitching, Nick Markakis, Miguel Tejada
Weaknesses: Everything else
Biggest Change from '06: A full season of Nick Markakis
One Reason:
One Reason the Orioles will win in '07 is they go see the opera "Faust" and get an idea.
One Reason the Orioles will lose in '07 . . . one reason?
It's not the like the Orioles aren't doing anything right. They've graduated some quality arms to the big leagues and have an impact player in right fielder Nick Markakis. But after Tejada, Brian Roberts and Ramon Hernandez, the lineup is pretty drab. Plus there are no guarantees about the potency of their young pitchers, especially Daniel Cabrera. Their farm system has some gems at the lower levels but no one ready to fill holes in the big leagues. There's no reason to expect the Orioles to contend in the near future.
2006 W-L Record: 61-101
2006 pW-pL Record: 65-97
2007 Projection: 69-93
Strengths: Young hitters, farm system
Weaknesses: Pitching staff, mismanagement of prospects, general sucktitude
Biggest Change from '06: (Hopefully) Getting B.J. Upton and Delmon Young in the majors
One Reason:
One Reason the Rays will win in '07 is that their offensive prospects step in and add potency to a depressingly bad lineup. Even with Carl Crawford and a healthy Rocco Baldelli, the '06 Rays finished a distant last in runs scored (4.25 R/G) in the AL. There's a long way to go before they can become a real threat, but they've got the top-notch talent (Upton, Young, Akinori Iwamura) to make a significant impact right away.
One Reason the Rays will lose in '07 is that their pitching staff is equally awful, but with little prospect for improvement. The Rays finished 12th out of 14 AL teams in runs allowed last year (5.28 RA/G). Part of that is due to a bad defense, yes, but even so, there are no saviors in the farm system to help them out here. There is some hope, but nothing like a B.J. Upton or Delmon Young.
Even if the Rays' offense skyrockets up to 4th or 5th place in the league, their pitching is still so bad that it wouldn't guarantee them more than 80 wins or so. The 2007 version of the Devil Rays could be the best ever for the franchise, but that standard is so woefully low that it's hard to get excited about.
Back later with the AL Central.
He deserved this.