Monday, March 12, 2007

2007 Predictions, Part 1 of 8, AL East

And here we go. Obviously 6 of the parts will be each division and the placement of teams. The 7th part will be standings and postseason, and the 8th part will be award winners.

But it all starts with the AL East.

1st Place - New York Yankees

I think the Yankees will have an easy time with first place this season. The Red Sox starting pitching would have to be off the charts for the Red Sox to overtake the Yankees this year. The Yankee lineup is a monster lineup, with only a weakness at first base. Even that I'm sure they can fix later in the year if they so choose, or put Giambi back at first with Melky joining the starting lineup.

I think Cano is going to develop a lot more power this year, like he showed at the end of last season.

The rotation is extremely steady at the top with Wang, Pettitte, and Mussina. Mussina actually finished ahead of Wang last season in ERA.

I think Wang will win 20 if he stays healthy this year. He was extraordinarily consistent last season losing 1 game each month of the season, for a 19-6 record. However, at the beginning of last season he could not get men out pitching from the stretch. That made for an ERA of 4.80 for April (and only 1 win in April), and an ERA above 4 in May. Once Guidry got those problems worked out with him, Wang's ERA the final four months of the season were staggeringly consistent, with a low of 3.03 and a high of 3.48 during those 4 months. Look for him to have his ERA somewhere in the 3.03 to 3.48 range for this season. For Wang that should easily translate to 20 wins, as he always has astonishingly low pitch counts (that's what not walking or striking anybody out will do for you), so he goes late into games and should get enough decisions to win 20.

I think Pettitte will have a record somewhere around 19-7, with a 3.82 ERA. One could question why I would have him with a lower ERA this season in the AL East than what he had in the NL Central last year, however, he had a miserable start to the season last year. Pettitte's post all-star game ERA was 2.80, which followed his 2.39 ERA in 2005. So I do think his ERA will go up significantly from those levels. The reason I arrived at 3.82, was that was his ERA over his final three years with the Yankees (he had a 49-23 won-loss those years). I don't think he has dropped off from that level, and since he's on the Roger Clemens workout routine, I think it is reasonable to say he can still pitch at a level he used to without age taking too much of a toll.

Mike Mussina is Mike Mussina.

Kei Igawa, I have no idea what to expect from him. One of the reports on him that I read is that he gives up too many fly balls. If this is true, look for him to do significantly better at Yankee Stadium than he does on the road. I think he'll be better than Gil Meche. Of course being in the AL East isn't a good thing for a pitcher, although the Red Sox don't hit lefties particularly well (more on that later).

Carl Pavano, again, who really knows. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch tonight against the Red Sox lineup. I'm just hoping he can show enough that he pitches well in April and May, and the Yankees can trade him before he gets hurt.

What may make trading him a lot easier, besides that they have 5 legitmate options in their AAA rotation could be Roger Clemens.

I've been thinking about where Clemens will sign, and I do think it will be the Yankees, and it comes down to three reasons:

1) He called last season a "waste" because he did not get to the postseason. Of the three teams he'll consider, the Yankees are obviously the most likely to get to the postseason, as they are the only ones who did last season (as well as their 12-year runs).

2) I don't think he'll start until July this year, meaning the fact that he won't be home like he is in Houston, won't be a big deal, as he's not going to be away from home for that long.

3) Andy Pettitte. They've now pitched the last 8 seasons together. They are playing golf together during spring training. I think it's enough.

If the Yankees do get Clemens, the fact that they have Hughes, Karstens, Rasner, Sanchez, and Ohlendorf in AAA means that even if both Pavano and Igawa implode, or they have other injuries, they are more equipped than ever to handle them.

The bullpen is pretty solid. Rivera leads the way of course. He'll likely be joined by Proctor, Farnsworth, Vizcaino, Myers, Britton, and Villone to start. With Bruney and Colter Bean (or possibly Karstenes or Sanchez) when there or injuries or implosions. It's not a spectacular bullpen, but it should be very solid, esepecially without the overload of work they took on last season with Chacon and Wright both in the rotation and almost never going more than 5 innings a piece. And going with a 7-man bullpen should also lighten the workload and let Torre do a lot of picking and choosing.

I think if you add Clemens to Wang, Mussina, and Pettitte, the Yankees may be set up better for a postseason run than they have been in years.

2nd Place - Boston Red Sox
If things break wrong for the Red Sox, like last season, they could end up in 4th place this time. The first thing that can't go wrong for them to compete is Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz need to stay healthy. There's not much reason to think they won't (assuming Manny wants to be healthy).

The three hitters the Red Sox would have most liked to see have good spring trainings, Jason Varitek, Coco Crisp, and Dustin Pedroia, all seem to be overmatched this Spring. The Red Sox don't hit lefties well. Of their starting 9, only Manny and Ortiz had an OPS better than .800 (and Youkilis was the only other one above .740) against southpaws (good news for Pettitte and Igawa).

The Yankees have a much more balanced lineup. I took last year's splits for the starting 9 for both teams, and 5 of the 9 Yankees were above .800 versus lefties last season, with 2 of them over 1.000 (Manny was the only Red Sox player over 1.000). While 3 of the Red Sox were below .700 against lefties, only Matsui (in 53 at bats vs. southpaws) was under .700 of the Yankees.

Against right handed pitchers, Mientkewiecz was the worst Yankee against righthanded pitching at .764. The next lowest Yankee vs. rightis was Johnny Damon at .832. 5 Red Sox broke the .800 level against righties. 5 Yankees topped .900 against them.

One of the people who is supposed to help the Red Sox when it comes to lefties is Wily Mo Pena. Historically he's been much stronger against southpaws, but not last season. Last year he hit just one home run and had a .660 OPS versus lefties. I think having JD Drew as the #5 hitter isn't very good since he had only a .716 OPS and 3 home runs versus lefties, and that probably won't get any better in Fenway. That means late in games you bring in a lefty and hope for the best against Ortiz, walk Manny and either get to face JD Drew or have the Red Sox replace their #5 hitter.

I think Julio Lugo is a bit overrated as an offensive player. however I think his #'s will significantly rise this year. He's a career .340 OBP, .402 SLG, and I would expect those or a tiny bit lower numbers on the road. However, he'll have a career year slugging percentage wise and home run wise, as he is a player who I think will have gaudy home numbers. Look for him to really take advange of Fenway Park.

If you go position by position, 5 Yankees were better against both righties and lefties. 2 positions, first base, and rightfield were split. Two positions, DH and leftield, the Red Sox had higher versus both righties and lefites. Ironically, the two Yankees to have an OPS over 1.000 versus righties were the leftfielder and DH, but Matsui's numbers and Giambi's still came up short.

The Red Sox bullpen looks like a disaster waiting to happen. Right now the relief pitchers healthy enough to compete for roles in the Red Sox bullpen are getting hit hard in the Grapefruit League.

I don't doubt that the Yankees will outhit the Red Sox, and I don't doubt that the Yankees will have a stronger bullpen. This leaves the Red Sox starting rotation to try and compete.

This means two guys over 40, 2 guys who haven't started a big league game in the major leagues, and 1 guy with an ERA over 5 last season.

Okay, that was a harsh way of putting it, and if I didn't think it would turn out okay, I would have them in 4th place.

I believe Schilling has enough left in the tank. I think he'll have a fine year. He's obviously an injury risk like so many others in the league. Matsuzaka, I'm still undecided on. I think he'll start well. But it's just so hard to say coming from facing Japanese lineups to the loaded AL East. I do think he'll pitch well at Fenway, and be an above average pitcher. I'm just not sure how above average.

Jon Paplebon is an interesting case as well. As a closer you get to use just your best pitch when it's as good as his. However, one not only has to ask how good will his other pitches be, but how good that pitch will be in the 6th or 7th inning, when lineups are seeing him for the 3rd or 4th time, and he may have lost a mile per hour or 2.

While Paplebon had 5 saves against both the Orioles and Blue Jays last season, and 6 against the D-Rays, he had only 1 save (and one blown save) against the Yankees. The Yankees haven't faced him much. Johnny Damon is the only Yankee to have gotten more than 2 at bats against him last season (Jeter had 3 plate appearances, which ncluded a hit and a walk, and actually Melky was best against him with a walk and a double in 2 plate appearances).

How will he do when he faces this lineup 6 or 7 times plate appearances in the course of 2 weeks. Or the other lineups in this division. I think Papelbon will be an above average starter since he does throw the fastball so hard and locates it so well. But I'm really not sure how well he'll do as a starter. It's just very different than the closer role.

I do think Papelbon will have some dominating performances, but I also think he's going to have some struggles. If the struggles come early enough in the season, the question will be non-stop about a return to the bullpen.

We'll see if Beckett bounces back from last season. I'm not sure. Was it the transition to the AL East or the transition to high pressure Boston? I think he'll be a bit better than last season.

Wakefield is Wakefield. Not bad at all for a #$ starter.

If the Red Sox are going to make a playoff run, they are going to have to do something about their bullpen. The Yankees, Orioles, and Blue Jays all have significantly better bullpens than the Red Sox, and all three teams can hit. Meaning, while the Red Sox were safe late in games last year, and Ortiz able to get them victories from defeat, they may lose a lot of games late this upcoming season, ruining starts and stats of their rotation.

Look for somebody in (maybe Lester) or out of the organization to help this current roster if they are to make the playoffs.

3rd Place - Baltimore Orioles

I tried this last season and it didn't work at all. And what's worse, I'm trying it for the same reason, Leo Mazzone. I'm using the WBC as my scapegoat. Most WBC pitchers struggled the first half of last season, and all the Orioles pitchers were there, and even worse not working with Leo during that time.

First of all, the Orioles have a surprisingly deep lineup. While Miguel Tejada may be the only scary hitter in the lineup, they have an awful lot of guys who can handle that bat. They have Ramon Hernadez behind the plate, and Millar, Roberts, and Mora filling out the rest of the infield. Jay Gibbobs, Corey Patterson, and Nick Markakis (who was unreal in July and August last year), make up the outfield with Huff at DH. Patterson isn't a good hitter, but in the #9 spot that's not bad. Markakis had a miserable September (yet still had an .896 OPS after the All-Star break). His spring training has been really good, so I'll take September as a bad month and think his July and August were the beginning of a very good career.

While their backup catcher can't hit at all (of course in the AL East there isn't a decent hitting backup catcher amongst the teams), they have decent backups in the infield and outfield with Chris Gomez and Jay Payton. Other than Ramon Hernandez and Miguel Tejada, they can afford an injury to anybody else in their lineup without too much stress.

Eric Bedard leads their rotation, and he could turn into a legitimate ace.

However, it's Daniel Cabrera who I think is in for a monster season. And I base this off of 5 spring training innings.

I know that might sound rediculous, but in those 5 innings he hasn't walked anybody. And while Warren, I don't know how much you've seen him pitch, I'm sure Sully that you have. His stuff is electric. I was so frustrated watching him against the Yankees one time last year where they had so many people on base against him and couldn't do anything to get them home.

If Mazzone can work the walks out of him, he could very quickly be one of the best starters in all of baseball. If I were doing a fantasy baseball team, this is the guy I'd try to get on my team right now.

I'm not very high on Adam Loewen, who is their #3. Steve Trachsel is #4, and I've always seen him as a guy who knows how to pitch, but he may face a cruel reality in the AL East. Jaret Wright is a good #5. He was 11-7 with a 4.49 ERA last year.

The Orioles have a good bullpen, however, if Cabrera doesn't get his walks under control, they will be overworked in a heartbeat. I don't envision Loewen getting to the 7th inning too often and we know Trachsel and Wright won't. So that leaves only Bedard unless Cabrera gets his pitch count down.

With Chris Ray as the closer, Baez setting up, along with Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker, this team can finish games if the starters can get them the lead.

This is a professional hitting team, that should be strong, with guys like Mora, Roberts, and even Patterson, at scratching out runs in close games, and with a strong bullpen and if Mazzone could work his magic, the Orioles could easily be a National League playoff contender.

4th Place - Toronto Blue Jays

If I said I have a team with one of baseball's few legitimate aces, a pretty good #2 starter, a top closer, and a very good lineup, in the National League I'd call it a playoff team, in the AL East I call them the 4th place Toronto Blue Jays.

While their lineup is very good, with Greg Zaun and Royce Clayton they do have a couple of easy outs. I think Alex Rios and Reed Johnson played over their heads last season. I was shocked by Frank Thomas' 2006 season, and would mark him down, but he is playing in a better ballpark for hitters. He's not the type of player who keeps himself in stellar shape though, so I still think he'll have a bit of a drop off.

The rotation starts out great with Roy Halladay. I'm not a big AJ Burnett fan, but when he was healthy he did adjust well to life in the AL East. Gustavo Chacin is the #3 starter. I like his stuff and I think he could be a legitimate #3 guy, but he did have an ERA over 5 last season.

Then it gets ugly. The chances of either John Thompson or Tomo Ohka having an ERA under 5 I think is slim at best. Both of them had ERA's of 4.82 in the National League last season, and I strongly believe will get buried in the AL East. Expect the Blue Jays to go through a lot of different people at the back end of their rotation next season, and that is why I think they will end up in 4th place in this tough division.

BJ Ryan leads the bullpen, but he doesn't have much to lead. Bradon League had a good 2006. But the best of the bullpen is just thrown together.

5th Place - Tampa Bay Devil Rays
I think the D-Rays are in stall for a very rough year. Possibly a 100-loss season. The Rays do have some of baseball's best young hitters, and they also have a few spots in their lineup that probably won't hit at all. Thier young hitters will probably try to do too much and some will struggle (epsecially BJ Upton in the super reserve roll).

Thier pitching is hideous. They have Scott Kazmir (which scares me a bit for opening day), but the fact that Casey Fossum has a strong hold on the #2 spot in their rotation, tells you all you need to know about their rotation.

Fortunately, if the Yankees do fall behind the D-Rays on opening day, their chances of catching up late are phenomanal. The Red Sox do not have the worst bullpen in the AL East. The D-Rays will lose so many games late, it actually will be pretty funny (unless you're one of the 846 Devil Ray fans). Seth McClung, yes the one with an ERA well over 6 last year, went to Spring Training as the leading candidate for the closer role. Not suprisingly he may lose it before the Spring is out.

Thier bullpen is horrible and that will play with the confidence of this young team, especially considering the division it is in.

There you have it, the AL East. That was exhausting. Only 7 parts to go.

1 comment:

Warren said...

Just in case you're wondering, I'm purposely avoiding looking at your predictions until I'm done with mine so I don't go too far the other way just to balance you out :)