Thursday, March 31, 2011

Over/Under: American League East's Best

With Opening Day upon us, I would be remiss if we did not set our crystal ball to the American League East, to see if spring training and past performances can shed any light on how the season itself will play out. Using existing lines from, let's play a little game of over/under for total wins of the AL East's Big 3.
Tampa Bay Rays: 84.5 wins


Despite the team losing such valuable commodities as Carl Crawford, Matt Garza and their bullpen, the 2011 Rays still have many potential weapons.

Notice what they did not lose: Evan Longoria, David Price, B.J. Upton, and the team's most underrated young star, catcher John Jaso. The Rays also have more mature versions of starters Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson.

This is certainly what sports folks call a rebuilding year for Tampa Bay, even though it does not fall under those exact standards. (Most rebuilding years do not call for aging stars of the rest of the leagues division to join the team for one last hurrah.) We will know this as more of a developmental year for the Rays, where the rest of the league catches glimpses of how good Hellickson and Davis will be in another year.

The crazy thing about the modern AL East is that you can still win a crazy amount of games in a rebuilding year. Last season the Red Sox still won 89 games despite injuries in a year that they were not supposed to contend. The rest of the league still has to play the Rays, so they will get their wins. Heck, even the replacement fielding players' WAR (wins above replacement) suggests that they have adequately replaced those that left.

The starters absent from the Rays batting lineup this year are Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, Jason Bartlett and Willie Aybar. Combined last year, those four had a WAR of 7.2.

Filling the place of Pena this season is Dan Johnson, who, in 40 games last season, had a WAR of .5. Johnson is 27 and can certainly match that production over more games played. If we multiply it by three for 120 games played, he should have no trouble reaching 1.5. (In his last full season as a starter, his WAR was 1.2, so this seems about right.)

Replacing Crawford in left field is Johnny Damon, a man who posted in 2008 and 2009, his last two seasons in New York, WARs of 4.5 and 4.4. This tailed way off last season in Detroit, down to 1.1, and given his age, I am more comfortable keeping it there.

Replacing Jason Bartlett is Reid Brignac, who, while playing multiple positions last season in only 113 games posted a WAR of 1.1. With more games played and the stability of playing a single position, I do not see why this could not improve.

Finally, replacing Willie Aybar at DH is Manny Ramirez .Ramirez only played in 90 games last year, while battling injuries and steroid suspensions, yet was still able to post a WAR of 1.5. Heck, with that production, even if he only plays only 120 games this year, he could still get up to 2.

Tally them up:
2010 players' WAR 7.2
2011 players' projected WAR 6.2

Seems to me that losing those fielders is only costing Tampa one game. Drop them down from 96 to 95 for that. Meanwhile, the rest of the young team is improving, and as a collective should be able to make up that one game. Batters = just fine.

Pitchers ... I'm not so sure about, and the projected closer is Kyle "You'd better wear two batting helmets" Farnsworth, but I am still confident that the team can reach 85 wins.


Hmmm. Though you immediately have to respect anyone who brings WAR into the equation — or Kyle Farnsworth — I’m going to have to tell you to calm down. While you’re right that the Rays did not lose as much as people think, let’s take a step back from the advanced stats world and look at a few anecdotal truths.

(…Fearing the rampage that is sure to come from the stat community that has zero tolerance for anyone who believes in the statistical value of an RBI …)

First of all, the Rays will take an unavoidable step back this year in wins simply because they are the only American League East team that did not improve. Let’s say your stat geekiness is correct and the Rays only marginally decreased in their talent level from last year — this past season’s Tampa Bay club would not 96 games in this year’s A.L. East. The Red Sox added Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the Blue Jays are another year forward in their (latest) rebuilding project, the Orioles are going to get a full year of Buck Showalter, and the Yankees still have the best one-through-nine lineup in baseball; the Rays are the only team that cannot boast about expected improvement from last year in baseball best division.

Second of all, the Rays do not have the pitching arms to compete this year. Matt Garza did not have a fantastic year last year, but good luck relying on full seasons from talented but unproven guys like Davis and Hellickson

This is not to say the Rays will be bad this year, but something right around .500 seems likely given the competition of the division. If they were in the A.L’s Central or West, I’d probably go over.

Red Sox: 95.5


My Red Sox friends back in Massachusetts are delighted by this squad, and seem to feel it in infallible, but there are some uncertainties that need to be addressed. Namely: Josh Beckett coming back from a bitter 2010 and not performing well in spring training; Matsuzaka's feast or famine approach to pitching; the rumors surrounding Jonathan Papelbon; and Youkilis and Pedroia coming off of major injuries last season.

If I am a Red Sox fan, I would not uncork the champagne just now. The game is not played on paper. That being said, I think this number is dead on, but I will go with the over, at 96 games exactly.

The fans have sat through their rebuilding year, and the bandwagoners have begun to fall off, despite last year being one of their most fun seasons to watch. (I don't mean that because they were constantly injured and I am a Yankees supporter. I mean that despite the AAA guys called up to fill in and the patchwork lineup, the team stayed competitive right up through September.) Yet, while going to the game remained a status symbol, generating a similar though smaller attendance, local television ratings dropped significantly, dropping them from first in the nation to fifth.

The team needs to be at the top to keep its viewers, so if there is any struggle, I expect them to be major movers before the deadline, despite being one of the most loaded teams in baseball. The fans need to be assured a postseason spot, and with the Yankees in the division, you will need to top 95 wins to clinch the division.

KELLY: Under

I’m an admitted New York Yankee homer, so it delights me that I get to take the under on this one. I’m not totally sure that I think that the Red Sox will go under, but, if they do, here is why …

Like you said, Youkilis and Pedroia are both coming back from major injuries, so anyone who thinks they can guarantee production from either of them carries as much water for the Red Sox as I do the Yankees.

Staying with the hitters, I think Carl Crawford is a lock for solid production, but we need to see Adrian Gonzalez if is the real deal or another NL-to-AL flop. That the former San Diego Padre did not hit a home run in Spring Training until March 26 was not the most encouraging sign for a Red Sox Nation looking for signs that Gonzalez’s surgery-repaired shoulder is ready to go.

Moving on to pitching, I really question the Red Sox’s staff’s ability to be consistent. Look at it — they’ve got Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon and John Lackey all coming off sub-par years. Also, all four of those guys are either already 30+ years old or they will turn 30 during this year.

Now, is it possible that the Red Sox’s offense may be so potent that they can overcome multiple starting pitchers with ERAs in the high 4’s to win in the high 90s? Possibly, but I would not bet on it happening in a season in which the offense’s top three players are coming off of surgery/injury.

New York Yankees: 92.5


The Yankees rotation is scaring fansoff, and people are pointing out how old the core of Jeter, Posada and Rivera are getting and where the production of each (even Rivera) is at.

While I understand their concern, I feel that most don't see that production being replaced. Gardner, Cano and Phil Hughes will continue to get better, and even if they can only match the production that Jeter and Posada are giving up, then this team is still as good as the one that came so close to reaching the World Series last year.

Plus, the Yankees have the Red Sox this year to push them on. Everyone is picking the Sox to be incredibly dominant (unless they are trying to jinx them like I may have earlier) and the Yankees players have acknowledged (see Thursday's Saratogian sports section) that they are not the team to beat. You think that will not fuel a bunch of guys who hear it louder from fans than any other club? That "nobody believes in us" stuff goes a long way.

The Yankees also have the means to make mid-season moves like I mentioned with the Red Sox, especially since they have been hyping up Jesus Montero and keep playing him at catcher, even though he likely will never play the position for New York. The kid smells overwhelmingly of trade bait, and the Yankees will pick up a valuable piece for him.

I see the Yankees playing like a late 90's Texas Rangers team during the regular season, piling on runs and hoping A.J. Burnett can keep opponents below 6 ... is 7 too much to ask? But, come post-season, it's business as usual, and New York will be in every game thanks to their improved bullpen and experience. I give them 91 wins, making the playoffs as a wild card, but not threatening the Red Sox at all after September, and certainly in no way reverse jinxing the team, specifically A.J., so they will do much, much better.


Good, I get to be the homer again!

I actually really do think the Yankees will get into the mid-90s for wins, with an outside shot at getting to 100. Here’s why ….

The playoffs are all about pitching, but the regular season — at least in the American League — is still all about hitting and the Yankees still have the game’s best 1-to-9 lineup. New York scored a league-best 859 runs last season, despite off years from Derek Jeter and (for the most part) Curtis Granderson. I think we can safely assume Jeter to bounce back (or at least not hit .270) and Granderson already showed us at the end of last season that he’s back on the upswing.

At the very least, the Yankees’ 3-4-5 in the lineup (Teixeira-Rodriguez-Cano) is the game’s best three-man unit and likely good for something in the ballpark of 100 home runs and 325 RBI on its own.

I’m not sure I agree with you that Montero is trade-bait, but what the Yankees do have is a sampling of elite prospects to infuse the team with energy and talent come July/August, especially on the pitching side. I have the benefit of writing this after the Yankees’ first game, in which I got to see the team’s three-headed monster of a bullpen dominated the game’s final innings — but, can you image this team’s pen come August when the team maybe calls up someone like Dellin Betances or Manny Banuelos? Either one of them could be Joba-in-2007 all over again.

I’ll say 96 wins for the Yankees and another year in the postseason.

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