Monday, March 24, 2008

2008 Predictions

Disclaimers first: these are offered in the spirit of fun and BS-ing, not in the nature of serious analysis. If I was trying to be serious, there would be confidence intervals and probabilities of winning the division and all sorts of other stuff. I have no interest in doing any of that.

Last year, I successfully predicted six of the eight playoff teams (the Mets and the Padres let me down, losing out to the Diamondbacks and Rockies). I also correctly tabbed the Red Sox as the World Champions. This is remarkable, since in the previous two years of this blog, a team that I picked fourth in one of the Central divisions went on to the pennant (and in 2005, two of them did). The point: I make no claim to being accurate, I make no claim that you should pay attention to what you read here. They are for my own personal amusement, and you can laugh if you want, but please don’t sneer, because if you sneer, you’re taking it way too seriously. Also, there are enough spaces in this darn thing as it is, so I use one paragraph per division, which results in a couple of run-on paragraphs.

I’m going to switch my usual order and begin with the Neanderthal League:

EAST

1. Atlanta
2. New York
3. Philadelphia
4. Washington
5. Florida

New York will be the popular choice, but Atlanta cannot be overlooked. All three of the top teams were very close in EW% and PW% last year. The Braves may not have improved themselves by losing Renteria and Jones, but the trade for Santana has obscured the fact that the Mets offseason was considered very shaky. The Mets’ pitching has a lot of questions, outside of Johan--Pedro's health, El Duque’s age, and while I like John Maine and Oliver Perez, they’re not quite proven commodities at their 2007 effectiveness levels. The Phillies can certainly be a factor again as well. The Nationals and the Marlins are overmatched, of course.

CENTRAL

1. Milwaukee
2. Chicago
3. Cincinnati
4. Houston
5. Pittsburgh
6. St. Louis

Milwaukee will score a whole bunch of runs, and I like their pitching well enough. Their defense should be improved with the addition of Cameron and the consequent reshuffling of the other positions. That does not mean it will be easy for them to beat out the Cubs, who were better on paper than they were on the field last year. Those two stand out in this division, and I think that they will get some separation on the middle two teams, the Reds and the Astros. I am hesitant to put Cincinnati third, since I have little faith that guys like Votto and Bruce will actually get a fair shot this season. The Astros made a bunch of ill-advised moves that really did not do much for their prospects in the short term, and can’t possibly be justified in the long-term. The Pirates remain the Pirates, but the Cardinals are just a bad baseball team. A rotation that is counting on Looper, Pineiro, Mulder, Reyes, Lohse, etc.? I’m sure they’ll be able to come up with a couple of effective guys behind Wainwright, but they look like a longshot to have a solid starting five. With Pujols’ health in question, look out below. Incidentally, in the last two seasons, neither World Series participant has returned to the playoffs in the following season (Houston and Chicago in ’05, St. Louis and Detroit in ’06). Those two instances are the first time in the history of the wildcard that neither pennant winner qualified for the playoffs a year later (although the ’93 Phillies and Blue Jays were in big trouble when the plug got pulled). Before that, you have to go back to 1990, when Cincinnati and Oakland failed to qualify in 1991. Two years in a row? 1986 (Mets/Red Sox) and 1987 (Twins/Cardinals).

WEST

1. Los Angeles
2. Colorado (wildcard)
3. Arizona
4. San Diego
5. San Francisco

Once again, I don’t see a lot to separate the top four teams. I am going with the Dodgers because I truly think that they have the most talent. Unfortunately, Joe Torre does not inspire optimism that guys like LaRoche, Kemp, and Ethier will get playing time over Garciaparra and Pierre. Their rotation has the potential to be really good. Colorado was not a fluke last year; the Diamondbacks may have been, but they also have the young talent to make a real improvement. San Diego appears to be the weakest of the four, but it is not hard to imagine them being in the mix down to the wire. The Giants are a different kettle of fish. They would fit in much better with the aimless mediocrity of the NL Central.

Now, the home of truth, justice, and the Designated Hitter, long live the American League:

EAST

1. New York
2. Boston (wildcard)
3. Toronto
4. Tampa Bay
5. Baltimore

The division of bays, Jays, and Rays may look the same on paper as it has for a while, but it’s a lot more interesting than a cursory glance might indicate. The popular consensus seems to give the BoSox the edge over the Yankees, but I’m not so sure. These two weren’t that far removed last year, and I think people have overrated Boston’s offense based on their October performance. They’re very good, no doubt, but the Yankees’ is better, and if they can avoid all the pitching problems of last year, this could be very interesting. It does seem like Boston has more depth to plug any injury problems, but the front-line talent for these two is close enough that I’m going to be a contrarian and pick New York. Toronto remains a team that could, with good fortune and others’ misfortune, find their way into October, but also remains a team that has to be picked third. I would nominate “Rays” as the worst team name in the post-1900 history of the game, but the Boston Bees might have something to say about that. Of course, they would stand no chance against the giants of the nineteenth century--the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, the Cincinnati Porkers, the Cleveland Infants. And of course I’ve stuck with big city teams--no Union Association teams in Altoona, or National Association teams in Rockford (those two didn’t have bad names, but the Elizabeth Resolutes is another matter). Their name may be historically bad, but the team is making strides, and their moves should shore up their pitching and defense. I would tag them as team that might be able to stay in the hunt in September if they did not play in this killer division. The Orioles are my choice as the worst team in the AL.

CENTRAL

1. Detroit
2. Cleveland
3. Minnesota
4. Chicago
5. Kansas City

As much as I hate to do it, I am picking the Tigers to win, but I think they will be overrated in the public perception. Their offense is being touted as a juggernaut, and adding Cabrera obviously helps, but Polanco, Granderson, and Ordonez are all good bets to be less productive than they were a year ago. Predicting them to score 1,000 runs is downright silly. However, their pitching figures to be better than last year, and Cleveland’s figures to be worse. The Indians have a good shot, but I just can’t tab them as the favorites. Minnesota should be able to get better production from third base, left field, and shortstop, which will help keep them afloat despite some serious losses. Chicago seems to think that they are a contender, but they also seem to think that Ozzie Guillen is the kind of guy who you give a long term contract to. Unfortunately for my dislike of them, the acquisition of Nick Swisher means that I have to cut them a little slack. The Royals are still the Royals, at least for now. But they have a real shot at beating out Minnesota and/or Chicago, and that’s progress.

WEST

1. Los Angeles
2. Seattle
3. Texas
4. Oakland

The Angels have the clearest path to a division crown in all of baseball. I have never been wild about their team, but they definitely outclass their division rivals, although their recent injuries in the rotation give one pause. The Mariners are a team that I am hesitant to comment about, since there is a very vocal group of supporters who get upset and go to extreme lengths to justify the Mariner’s outperformance of their basic component statistics. Let’s just that I don’t think they are as good as they think they are, and leave it at that. I was the idiot who thought Texas would be a factor in this race last year. It saddens me to see Nick Swisher cast off from the A’s and sent to the White Sox of all teams, but I think the rebuild was a wise choice. It is an interesting rebuild, trading pieces that are still young and under contract for a few years, rather than those who are about to become free agents. It could pay dividends, though, since the return ratio is greater than if you wait (compare the package the A’s got for Haren to the one the Twins got for Santana).

WORLD SERIES

New York (A) over Los Angeles (N)

The World Series pick should be taken far less seriously than the divisional picks (which puts it pretty low on the serious scale). I think last year was the first time in my prognosticating life (going back to 1995) that I correctly identified the World Series champion.

I can’t justify picking the NL champ to win, and by picking the Yankees to win the East, I painted myself into a corner and have to pick them to win it all.

NL ROY: Kosuke Fukudome, CHN
NL Cy Young: Johan Santana, NYN
Take a guy who was the fifth-best pitcher in the AL during an off-year in 2007 and move him to a moderate pitcher’s park in the NL.
NL MVP: Mark Teixiera, ATL
Being a relatively new face, he’ll get a lot of credit when the Braves are a mild surprise.
AL ROY: Evan Longoria, TB
AL Cy Young: Daisuke Matsuzaka, BOS
Just as Josh Beckett took a big step forward in his second year in Boston, so will Matsuzaka.
AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, DET
I’m staying with the “credit the new guy” approach to prognosticating the MVP winner.

Most annoying story of the year: Steroids and related witch-hunts
Most predictable stories of the year: “White Sox continue slide, Guillen upset”; “Tigers’ offense not as dynamic as anticipated”; “ARod chokes in /insert situation here/”
First manager fired: Tony LaRussa quits in St. Louis, but as far as a firing goes, I don’t have a good candidate. Of course, I should note that these predictions on the bottom involve even less thought and are even more in the spirit of fun than the standings predictions.

Over/under on posts on this blog during the season: 20

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