I thought I might take a few minutes and review my pre-season expectations as we wind down to the post season. Below are my picks from Spring Training.
NL EAST: Phillies
I’ll admit, I really hope I end up wrong on this one. It would be a nice story if the Braves could win one more for Bobby Cox. As of last night, the Phillies have taken over first place in the NL East by 1/2 game. I’m not sure the Braves’ offense, sans Chipper Jones, has enough to retake and hold the lead against a healthy Phillies squad down the stretch.
NL CENTRAL: Cardinals
Here’s another one where I’m happy to be wrong–I like to see an underdog win (especially given baseball’s extremely uneven playing field). Votto is for real, and the Reds won the all the games they needed to win (even if they tend to struggle against the upper-echelon teams). I think there starting pitching is too thin for the playoffs, but they are a great story.
NL WEST: Giants
As of today, the Giants are two back in the loss column to the surprisingly good Padres. I do think the Giants will take them–but this in large part relies on what the Padres do with their young stud Latos. I’ll assume anyone reading this knows the Verducci Effect. Latos threw 120 combined minor league and major league innings last season. He’s already over the Verducci guideline–throwing 160.2 thus far in 2010. History would advise the Padres shut him down now. Chances are, given the economic situation in San Diego, they will pitch him into the ground over the next month. I also think he should be a frontrunner for the NL Cy Young, but I’ll save that for a future post.
NL WILDCARD: Braves
Yup. If the season ended today, then I would have called it. Again–I’d rather see them win the division and secure home field.
AL EAST: Rays
Please, Tampa, please–don’t blow it. You are pretty much my only hope.
AL CENTRAL: White Sox
I originally liked the Twins in the spring–but I drank the White Sox kool-aid and bought into the possibility of a resurgent Jake Peavy. I thought the White Sox could win 90 games–and it looks like they will. What’s unexpected is the Twins winning 95 or 95 games. I thought the central would be a stronger division (what happened to the Tigers? Oh yeah, injuries).
AL WEST: Angels
I didn’t like any team in this division–and I’m happy for the Rangers for the same reason that I’m happy for the Reds. I also wonder how this pitching staff will hold up in the playoffs against high powered offenses; thier pitching numbers get padded in an offensively challenged (read: historically inept) Al West. Any chances the Angels had broke with Morales leg.
AL WILD CARD: Red Sox
I have already cathartically released my disappointment for the Sox this season–but it wasn’t meant to be. Now the Rays will likely win the Wild Card, and the Yankees the division. The Yanks are relatively healthy this year, like last year; even if Pettitte can’t contribute in the playoffs, I think the Yankees have to be the favorites. Oh sweet baseball gods, what have I done to deserve this two years in a row?
Ok, so I opened last post saying how I prefer stories to predictions. And I offered some stories. But that doesn’t mean I am immune to the case of prediction-itis so contagious this time of year. I’ll keep it short, at least.
NL East: Phillies
Great pitching and a deep line-up. I don’t think their potential bullpen struggles will keep them from winning an improved division. 95 wins (+2 over last year).
NL Central: Cards
Albert Pujols might produce more runs than the Pirates. A strong rotation and capable bullpen should translate into 90 wins (-1 from last season) in a rather weak-pitching division.
NL West: Giants
Most of the experts are picking the Rockies–and I do like Jiminez and that rotation. But, if Aubrey Huff and Edgar Renteria can be better than terrible (and I think they can/will), then I believe the Giants offense will be improved enough to win 95 games. They can pitch. Well. 91 Wins (+3 over last season).
NL Wildcard: Braves
So I’m leaving the Rockies out of the playoffs. The Braves had a lot of issues last season, and still managed to win 86 games. This off-season, they added some nice pieces to give Bobby Cox one last run at a second ring. If everyone stays healthy, I like their chances [note: I acknowledge that as a super-tremendous “if”] to win 91 games (+5) and win the wild card.
AL East: Rays
Yes. You read that properly. I think the Rays will be motivated this season (i.e., many contract years) and that their young pitchers will produce (well, I’m not sure about Wade Davis, but the other four should be good). A deep starting pitching staff and dynamic offense will put up somewhere around 95 wins (+12 over last season).
AL Central: White Sox
Hey did anyone else notice that this team got Jake Peavy? As in, the Jake Peavy? The really dominant guy who pitched in the middle of nowhere for half a decade? Yeah, they got that guy. 90 wins (+11 over last season).
AL West: Um… Angels or Mariners? Maybe the Rangers? Oakl… nevermind, the A’s Stink
Ok, I know I have to pick one. But this is an ugly division. Even the Rangers could win–although I don’t think they can survive the heat (literally, it just wears them down). I really like the Mariners, but Cliff Lee’s early injury has me concerned. Ultimately, I think the Mariners make for a good story, but the Angles have the better, more experienced, and more consistent roster. Even without Lackey, they find a way to win 89 games (-8 games).
AL Wild Card: Red Sox
I think the new rotation will hold up, and that the bullpen will be stronger than many realize. The offense is not as light as people think. The real issue here, of course, is that I am leaving the Yankees out of the playoffs. I’ll make a case that this is not merely wishful thinking. The Yankees keep getting older. Last year no one thought the Yankees’ pitching staff could survive 162 games. I know they added Vasquez, but he comes with AL question marks (and comes from one of the lightest hitting divisions in baseball last season). Just because Pettitte and Burnett made it through a complete season last year doesn’t make it more likely that they will this year. Very few people in the professional media are willing to bet against the Yanks. I am. Injuries hurt their rotation. Red Sox 93 wins (-2). Yankees 92 (-11) wins. The AL Beast should provide one hell of a show.
So I suppose I should write a quick something about who will beat who in that other season after the real season. Hmm. AL: Red Sox beat White Sox. Rays beat Angels. Red Sox beat Rays (Rays have more quality starters for the regular season, Red Sox have more horses built for the playoffs). NL: Giants beat the Braves. Phillies beat the Cards. Giants beat the Phillies [blue plate upset special].
World Series: Red Sox Beat the Giants
Now that would be a nice story.
Lunch break is over–off to grade some papers (while I listen to some baseball). Apologies to Cubs fans.
Last night’s massacre leads me to craft a round about defense for John Smoltz. Not that I necessarily want him to make another start, but that I think–and yes, I am really writing this–this season’s Yankee team isn’t receiving enough attention. Preseason questions surrounding their pitching staff, A-Rod’s rhetorical debacles, and a few early injuries have in some ways blinded the media to how good this team actually is. As Peter Gammons suggested last night, the only thing that can seemingly stop this team is an epidemic flu.
Put in a simple, declarative sentence: this might be the best offense ever assembled. They are on pace to challenge one of the vaunted baseball milestones, 1000 runs. So far, this has only been accomplished by 7 franchises: the 1930, 1931, 1932 and 1936 Yankees, the 1930 Cardinals, the 1950 Red Sox (maybe the most remarkable since this was a pitcher friendly era), and the 1999 Indians. A few other teams have gotten dreadfully close–several of them closer to our era: the 1996 Mariners, the 1998 Yankees, the 2000 White Sox, and the 2003 Red Sox. The 2009 Yanks are only on pace to score 928, but that doesn’t factor in an A-Rod less March and April.
The real danger of this offense is its consistency top to bottom. It is, quite simply, deeper than any other line up ever. A quick comparison of OPS+ and OPS from the historic 1000 runs club, and a few other noteworthy clubs, to this year’s Yanks makes this apparent. While I expect everyone to be familiar with OPS, I’ll offer a brief definition of OPS+: it is a sabermetric evaluation of a player’s performance relative to other players in the league that season, so a baseline OPS+ of 100 equates to an average player. There have been 59 OPS+ seasons over 200 in baseball history, many of them recorded by the same small group of likely suspects: Ruth, Gerhig, Williams, Mantle and Bonds. Here’s a historic breakdown of some of the top scoring teams in terms of OPS and OPS+:
|Year||Franchise||Runs Scored||+115 OPS+||+200 OPS+||+.838 OPS||+1.000 OPS||-100 OPS+||-75 OPS+|
A few random non-Yankee thoughts:
- One has to wonder how bad the defense was in 1930 if the Cards and Cubs could score that many runs with mediocre production
- Tip your cap to Teddy, Dom, and that incredible 1950’s offense for breaking 1k in a pitchers era. They are the only team on this list between 1936 and 1999. Also, notice their overall balance, with 7 players above the .838 OPS.
- Notice that after the 1930’s, there’s not a single top offense with a +200 OPS+. I probably should have set the bar lower here, and looked for the number of +175 or +150 players
- The asterisk on the 2003 Red Sox marks that they had a significant 4 players over a .938 OPS, including Bill Mueller, their number nine hitter.
In terms of the 2009 Yankees, you could put an asterisk in their favor next to almost every category:
- Their ninth starter, Cabrera, has an OPS+ of 111.
- Their only other impact player (i.e., projected to have more than 300 PA) is Brett Gardner–his OPS+ is 99. Thus, they are only a combined 6 OPS+ points away from having nine starters above 115 and ten players above league average.
- Jeter is the one OPS+ 115 or better player to have an OPS of less than .838; he has a paltry .833. Thus this team could have 8 players over an .838 OPS.
- It is surprising that this team does not have a single player with an OPS+ over 150. The highest they have is Texeria’s 146.
This lineup, beyond all proverbial cliches, will kill you nine men deep. The major leagues have never seen a lineup like this before. There are no weak spots, no easy outs, no respite for a pitcher. For many years the Yankees paid out enough in salary to field an all-star at every position. This is the first year, however, that they are actually doing it.
God I hate them. God they suck.