Thursday, March 31, 2011

Standings Predictions

Finally, everybody else’s picks have come out, so I have something to compare myself against. I’m going to be looking at noted MLB analysts Jon Heyman (of SI), Keith Law (of ESPN), and Tim Dierkes (of MLBTR). I hope I’ve made this clear, but I want to reiterate that I have tremendous respect for each of these fantastic analysts and I’m in no way saying that I’m better at their jobs than they are. However, I do want to have a baseline, and I’m excited to see how I do compared to these incredible baseball minds.

So with that, let’s jump right in.

AL East
Heyman: Boston
Law: Boston
Dierkes: Boston
My pick: Boston

No surprise here. The Sawx improved more than any other team in the AL this offseason, and are almost certainly the favorite to represent the AL in the World Series next year. They’ll have to stave off the injuries that decimated them last season, but with the additions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox Nation is right to have high expectations for 2011.

AL Central
Heyman: Chicago
Law: Chicago
Dierkes: Chicago
My pick: Chicago

I’m pretty surprised that we’ve got a consensus here, but for me, this was a fairly clear choice. While Detroit’s addition of Victor Martinez made a major splash, I don’t think they have the pitching depth to stay in the race for the whole campaign. Martinez and Cabrera are both great bats, but they’re really the only hitters in this lineup that will put a scare into opposing pitchers. They’re better than last year, but not quite good enough. The defending champion Twins, however, took a step back, Between Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, Brian Fuentes, and Ron Mahay, the Twinkies lost 240.1 solid bullpen innings. Though the return of Joe Nathan will help them weather the storm, he won’t be able to offset the losses entirely. Additionally, Justin Morneau continues to suffer from concussion-based issues, and if he’s not 100%, this lineup is immediately a lot less potent. Chicago was able to pick up Adam Dunn and retain Paul Konerko, as well as add Crain to the back end of their bullpen. Though they lost Bobby Jenks and JJ Putz, I think Matt Thornton will step into the closer role without a hitch and a full season of Chris Sale will produce impressive results. Though the Twins and South Siders will battle it out all summer, the Pale Hose will eventually come out on top.

AL West
Heyman: Texas
Law: Texas
Dierkes: Texas
My pick: Oakland

Now things get interesting. The professionals seem to think losing Cliff Lee won’t be fatal for the Rangers, but I think they took a big step back. Losing one of the best pitchers in baseball hurts your staff. Water is wet. The addition of Adrian Beltre will help the Rangers (as you’ll see, I’m gonna take them to make the playoffs as well), but I think Oakland fairly quietly had the best offseason in baseball in terms of the pure value they got for their money in true Billy Beane fashion. They largely avoided an inflated free agent market, instead adding offense through trades and picking their spots in signing Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour, and Hideki Matsui. I think the strategy works, and the A’s make their first postseason appearance since 2006.

AL Wild Card
Heyman: New York
Law: New York
Dierkes: New York
My pick: Rangers

The experts believe New York will overcome their woes on the mound to make their 16th playoff appearance in 17 campaigns. I’m not so sure. This is going to be close, and the Yankees will certainly be involved, but I believe there’s going to be some deterioration in their lineup as the players connected to their largest contracts continue to age. Additionally, as has been the story all offseason, the back end of their rotation is a big question mark after losing out on Cliff Lee. They’ll try to make a midseason acquisition to solidify the staff, but there aren’t many aces likely to be moved around the deadline. The best they’ll be able to do is a number two type, and even that might be a stretch. In that case, they might not think the value they’ll get back in a weak pitching market is worth the price, which will almost certainly be top prospect Jesus Montero. The Rangers made some shrewd adds, and plugging Adrian Beltre into the lineup as well as the defensive infield will improve the club on both sides of the ball. Adding his infield defense will provide a huge boon to new addition Brandon Webb. Webb’s a bit of a flier, as he’s returning from an injury that has cost him the last two seasons, but in his last full year (2008) he led the league in groundball percentage, with an absurd 64.4% worm-burning rate.

NL East
Heyman: Philadelphia
Law: Philadelphia
Dierkes: Atlanta
My pick: Philadelphia

Nothing to see here. When you put together four aces and one of the more potent offenses (slightly overrated with the bats, but still a strong lineup) you’re gonna have high expectations. Though the Giants are the defending champs, all eyes are on the Phillies to win the NL. Though Atlanta’s lineup got a lot more dangerous with the addition of Dan Uggla, I don’t believe they’ll have what it takes to keep up with the arms put together by the Phils. It’s a ballsy pick by Dierkes, but one that I don’t believe will pay off in the end.

NL Central
Heyman: St. Louis
Law: Milwaukee
Dierkes: Milwaukee
My pick: Cincinnati

Heyman thinks the Cardinals will take the division down despite the loss of Adam Wainwright, but I don’t believe they’ll be able to fill the gap in their rotation well enough to compete in this suddenly strong division. I think it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to retain Albert Pujols next season, so they could have a tough few years ahead of them. Milwaukee added some great pieces, especially in their rotation, and I don’t think Greinke’s injury will affect him for more than the first couple weeks of the season. However, they’ll be playing what fantasy baseball players might call the “stars and scrubs” method, hoping their superstars’ excellence can offset the mediocrity found elsewhere on the roster. They need each of their stars to come up huge in order to be a winning ballclub. That’s probably too much to ask. Cincinnati will take down the division once again, as they’re young, good, and only getting better. Joey Votto was simply absurd last year, and I don’t think you can expect him to put up another MVP year. However, this regression will be offset by Jay Bruce’s transformation from good to great, as well as what I expect to be a breakout year for Drew Stubbs. Stubbs is highly underrated and will bring some serious production to a lineup that put up an NL-best 790 runs last year.

NL West
Heyman: San Francisco
Law: San Francisco
Dierkes: San Francisco
My pick: San Francisco

We’re all in agreement that the World Champs will once again represent the NL West in the playoffs. They didn’t make any major adds in the offseason besides plugging in one ageless (and rangeless) shortstop for another (Tejada for Renteria), but a full year of Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner immediately makes both the lineup and the rotation much more dangerous. Top prospect Brandon Belt also played his way into a spot on the big club with a ridiculous Spring Training, and while this may not make much sense in terms of service time, as a baseball decision it makes the team better immediately. They wouldn’t start him in the bigs if they weren’t going to play him, so I’m very curious to see how they shuffle Belt, recently resigned Aubrey Huff, and their outfield logjam.

NL Wild Card

Heyman: Colorado
Law: Atlanta
Dierkes: Philadelphia
My pick: Atlanta

Colorado might have the best one-two offensive punch in the league in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, but their pitching behind Ubaldo Jimenez will be too inconsistent for them to take the fourth playoff spot on the Senior Circuit. The Braves’ offense is an absolute powerhouse, especially if Chipper Jones can stay healthy, and their rotation is good enough to stay close to the Phillies in the NL East race. Their bullpen will also be extremely strong, especially if the pairing of Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel at the back end is as strong as it currently appears.

Next time, I’ll make some picks for the postseason awards and show you who the experts think will take home the individual honors.

Finally, I wanted to voice my support for MLB’s new 7-day DL option for victims of concussions. I had an argument with my friend last night about why steroids are bad for baseball when they help players play at a higher level and make play more exciting. I strongly believe it is the responsibility of baseball to protect the players that make the sport possible, whether that means understanding the long-term risks of chronic concussions or avoiding a situation in which players feel they need dangerous substances to play at a competitive level. Kudos to MLB for recognizing the dangers related to concussion issues and creating an option for teams that will allow them to give concussion victims time to recover while not forcing them to think twice about deactivating players because they'll be sidelined for longer than is necessary.

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