Sunday, April 05, 2009

2009 Predictions

I write a predictions post every year; it is one of my favorite posts to write and simultaneously one of my least favorite to write. I like it because it is offered completely in the spirit of fun, and there is no need to take any pains to make sure I have the proper coefficient on triples; I dislike it because sometimes it’s impossible to convince people to take an activity of this type in that spirit.

I guide my predictions with a freely available set of projections (usually Marcel) and some very simple assumptions about which players each team will run out on the field, and equally simple assumptions about how to project the outs and innings that are not used up by the regulars. In other words, it’s not completely from the seat of my pants, but it’s not particularly involved. So is there any reason why you should care about what I say? No, none whatsoever, especially since I only use those estimates as a guide.

The other thing I always like to point out is that the team I pick to win is not necessarily one I expect to win. I have picked the Indians to win the AL Central, but if I had to make an even money bet on whether they would make the playoffs or not, I’d take "no". But if you feel the Indians have a 35% chance to win, the Tigers 25%, the Twins 20%, the White Sox 15%, and the Royals 5% (numbers for illustration only), who are you going to pick to win if you can only pick one? The one with a 35% chance, of course, even though that means there’s a 65% they won’t win the division.

"No plan ever survives the first encounter with the enemy", right? Same is true for team predictions. Teams ditch a deadweight you expected them to carry (or do the opposite), key players get hurt, a few individuals on a team manage to have career years, a team makes a huge deadline trade, and all of a sudden you look smart when maybe you shouldn’t have (like when I picked the Dodgers in the NL West last year), or dumb when you couldn’t have known a whole lot better (me and just about everyone else on the face of the earth picked the Yankees to make the playoffs, although by picking them to win it all perhaps I went a bit too far). You’ll also notice that I tend to be fairly conservative in my predictions, sticking largely with teams that had success last year; some of that is due to being guided by a conservative projection system, but some of it is just my nature.

When I get down to predictions for the awards, and who will win the pennant, that’s even more of a crapshoot. So if you want my one sentence opinions on each big league team, and promise not to get upset at what you see, read on. If you don’t, or can’t agree to the second part, please read someone else’s predictions. There are hundreds of sources for much more serious examinations than this.

AL EAST

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

Just as was the case last year, I have the Yankees and Red Sox almost exactly equal on paper. Last year I claimed that I believed the Red Sox had better depth in case of injuries, then proceeded to pick New York to win it anyway. I won’t make that mistake this year (and thus the Yanks will probably win). The Rays are going to disappoint a lot of people this year, I’m afraid. It’s usually a mistake to believe that a team that already won 90+ games has a strong chance to improve even if they are young, and it’s a common mistake. Could the Rays make the playoffs again? Of course; I think they should contend, but my guess would be they fall short. My quick and dirty numbers peg Tampa as the third best team in the AL, but unfortunately the other two are right here as well. The Blue Jays missed a golden opportunity last year as they got brilliant pitching and a Bronx crackup, but their offense was not up to the challenge. They’ve not done much to address it, and now that pitching staff looks like a shadow of itself. The Orioles should be better, and they’re actually starting to collect some interesting talent, but this division is not forgiving.

AL CENTRAL

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

My track record at picking the AL Central is dreadful. The easiest explanation is that it has been a very volatile division, with three winners in three years, plus a very strong wildcard in 2006. Only the Royals have come into the last few seasons without any believers on their side. The other possible explanation is that since my team is in this division, try as I might to analyze it objectively and downplay my fandom, it throws me off.

That may be the case this year as I think the Indians are the strongest team in the division. As I’ve discussed already, I’m not crazy about this team, and I feel they are a weak favorite, but they are my choice. I really don’t see a lot of room between Cleveland and Detroit, and really not a whole lot between the Tribe and Twinkies either. The Tigers are a team that I expect to be overlooked. After all, 2008 was supposed to be their year, with many picking them to win the pennant, and some people tend to get gunshy when they get burned by a prediction. However, I think their pitching is bound to improve and their offense is still a threat. The White Sox are the team I love to hate in MLB at the moment (*), and I have to admit that was the determining factor in a coin flip between them and the Twins. The team I’ve picked to finish fourth in the AL Central has a remarkable tendency to end up winning it. But really, they have taken a step backwards this offseason. I haven’t checked formally, but it sure seems like the Twins might have been the most inactive team in the game. I think this is a big mistake (from a win-now perspective, at least) as they scored many more runs in 2008 than their components indicated they should have. If they’re banking on that again, good luck to ‘em. The Royals went out and added key pieces like Mike Jacobs, Kyle Farnsworth, and Willie Bloomquist, so expect me to look like a fool come October. Seriously, though, some are touting them as "this year’s Rays", and I just don’t see it. For one thing, it’s silly to look for "this year’s Rays", as turnarounds like that are quite rare, which is why they are such a big deal when they occur. And while those aforementioned acquisitions (well, mostly Jacobs and Coco Crisp) are being cited by some as a key factor in the expected surge, I don’t think that much of them. If this team is going to take a great leap forward, a lot of it will need to come from their holdovers. Billy Butler and Alex Gordon could very well take big steps, but I still don’t think it would be enough to win the division as weak as it may look on paper.

(*) I have no inherent dislike for any major league team, with the sometime exceptions of the Tigers depending on how many UM hats I see in the crowd when they are on TV. I happen to be unable to stomach Ozzie Guillen (for a litany of reasons which I’ll spare you), and the treatment of Nick Swisher last year only intensified my disdain for the man. It’s sort of chic among a certain element of the stathead crowd to bash Kenny Williams too despite the ChiSox’ recent success; not wanting to appear petty, I simply blame him for agreeing to work with Ozzie. In the early part of the decade, I used to pull for the White Sox in the annual White Sox/Twins pseudo-playoff race. Honest.

AL WEST

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

The Angels are in a place where I almost feel compelled to pick against them, even if I do think they have the best shot at the division, just to be a contrarian. But none of the other three teams are particularly inspiring either, and LA gets brownie points from me for acquiring a player I really like (Bobby Abreu) in place of one I have disliked for many years (Garrett Anderson, and nothing personal). Apparently Billy Beane thinks the A’s have a shot (or just felt Matt Holliday was being offered for a song), and far be it from me to tell him he’s nuts. It’s not that hard to construct a scenario in which Oakland contends--Eric Chavez is reasonably healthy and productive, Trevor Cahill and/or Brett Anderson step in as rotation pieces, Brad Ziegler remains dominant--but I can’t justify picking them over the Halos. Seattle has always been a team I loved to hate, but my early impressions of the Zduriencik regime are positive, and if you openly hire Tom Tango as a consultant, you can’t be all bad, right? The Rangers are my pick for worst AL team. They lost Milton Bradley, I’m still not completely sold on Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler at their 2008 levels, and their pitching is the same as it ever was.

NL EAST

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

The National League offseason mystified me. Maybe this is a sign that I am stupid, and should quit attempting to figure this stuff out, and stick to writing about esoteric sabermetric topics. For the sake of making this interesting, I’ll take the tack that it truly was mystifying. Omar Minaya acted like a post-game radio caller who only remembers the last thing he saw, working on upgrading the bullpen while letting a rotation stay fairly thin and apparently ignoring offense in the corner outfield spots. That aside, the Mets’ core of stars (Beltran, Reyes, Santana, Wright) is the most impressive in all of baseball (yes, I’d take them over Jeter-Rodriguez-Sabathia-Teixiera, although who wouldn’t love to have either), and having Francisco Rodriguez and JJ Putz is not a bad thing. Atlanta used to be the team I picked against just because, but last year I picked them to win and they collapsed. Frank Wren addressed their rotation weakness adequately in the offseason, and if they could ever stay healthy, Gonzalez and Soriano would be a scary left-right bullpen punch. Unfortunately, the Braves have apparently concluded that outfield offense is not important, or that they are content to wait for Jones, Heyward, and Schaefer. Continuing the theme of NL head-scratchers, the Phillies somehow decided it was a good idea to give up a first-round draft pick to downgrade in left field, at a higher price and longer contract to an older player than their incumbent got, while adding yet another left-handed bat to the lineup. My numbers say the Phillies are still the logical wildcard pick, but if you want to go by the numbers, go see what PECOTA or CHONE or the like have to say--they're starting from a better base anyway. I really don’t want to pick the Marlins fourth, but they’ve made me look dumb before, and they have some intriguing young talent. The Nationals are finally free from Jim Bowden, and while climbing soapboxes isn’t really my thing, I find the associated scandals more distasteful many times over than any steroid revelations.

NL CENTRAL

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

I hate this division. No, not the teams, but the inherent unfairness of having to beat five teams instead of three or four. This is what happens when you switch to three divisions with expansion on the horizon. Maybe you should have thought about that, Bud and co.? What would be so bad about having two divisions with two wildcards? Or, gasp, no divisions and four playoff qualifiers? In fairness, the long-term trend in all pro sports is for more divisions, not less, but that doesn’t make it any dumber.

Rant aside (although I have a longer version already written up for a dry spell of post ideas--with probabilities!), the Cubs join the NL "What were they thinking?" list. What was the point of trading Mark DeRosa and the last year of his contract to install Aaron Miles at second? Why Mr. Hendry did you make Jake Peavy your white whale? What on earth did you gain by trading Ronny Cedeno and Garret Olson for Aaron Heilman? Petty quibbles aside, the Cubs are clearly the best team in this division on paper, and I think they rival the Mets for league-wide honors. Last year I was way too pessimistic about the Cardinals; this may be overcompensation, and their pitching still scares me, but the other clubs have taken a step back. The Brewers could stay in the mix, if Gallardo and Parra can step up, as their offense remains solid if unspectacular. The Reds are squandering some decent talent on the notion (not solely, but it paints the picture) that a group consisting of Willy Taveras, Chris Dickerson, Jacque Jones, Norris Hopper, Jonny Gomes, and Laynce Nix is capable of filling one outfield spot, let alone two. If everything goes right the Astros could be a fringy contender type again, but those odds aren’t good. With the Steelers’ Super Bowl win, I’ve seen a little of the meme that the Steelers and Pirates illustrate the difference between the NFL and MLB vis-à-vis small market competitiveness. Sure. Let the Steelers draft like the Bengals for fifteen years and see how many Super Bowls they win.

NL WEST

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

The Dodgers finally let their young guys play last year (except Andy LaRoche, who I still hold out some hope for but also can’t blame LA for pushing aside), and it paid off. They still weren’t any sort of juggernaut, and I do believe this division has improved, but I give them a slight edge. I bit my tongue last year when the Diamondbacks started hot and were hailed as baseball’s best team, which means I can’t gloat too much about what ended up happening. A lot of people came up with a lot of reasons as to why the Pythagorean record was wrong, but to the extent that the next season’s results can reflect (which admittedly is not as great as it is sometimes made out to be), it wasn’t. Yet they have too much young-ish talent to be written off, and I was tempted to pick them to edge out LA. I love how Eric Byrnes’ awful contract led to the awful, but reasonable under the circumstances decision to not offer arbitration to Adam Dunn. The Giants have assembled a pretty impressive rotation, yet they insist on bringing a popgun to the shootout. The Rockies are retreating back to "most boring team in baseball" status, but the 2007 pennant will preclude that from being official for at least a couple more years. I think the Orioles have inherited the mantle; maybe the Royals or Pirates, but they are a little too inept at times to qualify. There aren’t a whole lot of good things to say about the 2009 edition of the Padres, but I respect the organization a great deal so I’ll refrain from snark. And I don’t think they’re as bad as the mainstream consensus seems to think they are.

WORLD SERIES

Boston over New York (N)

In ’07 I picked the BoSox in the East and as world champs (the one time in my life I was actually correct); in ’08 I switched to the Yankees, and the alternating years plan will continue here.

AL Rookie of the Year: C Matt Wieters, BAL
Yes, I know he’s starting in AAA. See Longoria, Evan.
AL Cy Young: Daisuke Matsuzaka, BOS
I think I may have picked him last year. Cut the walk rate, please.
AL MVP: CF Grady Sizemore, CLE
I was going to pick ARod just as an "In your face, drug warriors!" pick, but the injury takes that possibility from infinitesimal to zero. Eventually Grady will luck into a .300 average and the rest of the world will realize that he’s a tremendous ballplayer.
NL Rookie of the Year: OF Colby Rasmus, STL
NL Cy Young: Ubaldo Jimenez, COL
It’s boring to pick Sabathia and Santana and company all the time. My Cy Young picks mostly just reflect my skepticism of the "WBC ruins pitchers!" heme.
NY MVP: 3B David Wright, NYN
He should have one already; I’m going to keep picking him until he gets it.

First manager fired: Dave Trembley, BAL
Best pennant race: AL East if you like good teams, AL Central if you prefer trainwrecks
Worst pennant race: NL Central
Worst teams in each league: Texas, Pittsburgh
Most likely to go .500 in each league: Oakland, Milwaukee
Teams most likely to disappoint (mainstream consensus*): Minnesota, Florida
Teams most likely to surprise (mainstream consensus): Detroit, Atlanta
Best free agent value (among big names): Bobby Abreu, LAA
Worst free agent value (among big names): Raul Ibanez, PHI
Will the Neanderthal League finally win the All-Star game?: flip a coin
Will Neanderthal League partisans extol the moral purity of pitchers hitting?: Not THAT much--only on every last day of interleague play
Will Jake Peavy be traded?: No
Most obnoxious stories of the year: anything involving ARod or steroids will lap the field as usual; complaints about slow starts by WBC participants will also be in contention
Over/under on in-season blog posts: 20--I've managed to build up a decent backlog of posts that aren’t time sensitive, so most weeks should see something posted in this space

(*) I used the predictions from three preview magazines (Lindy’s, Athlon Sports, and The Sporting News) to define maninstream consensus. Those publications all pick Minnesota to win the AL Central; pick Florida second (wildcard), third, and fourth respectively; pick Detroit third, fifth, and fifth respectively; and pick Atlanta fourth, fourth, and third respectively.

3 comments:

  1. These are legitimate picks and really great analysis. I pretty much agree with all your picks, except I have the White Sox winning the AL Central. I’m looking forward to this year’s season, should be another good one. I made a top ten list of my projections for the regular season results: http://www.toptentopten.com/topten/projected+baseball+teams+2009+regular+season. I think my picks are solid, if you don’t agree you can actually change the order by voting.

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  2. Guess these were a little bit off. Texas is probably the #1 offensive team in the AL and the Rays have failed to disappoint... most of your subjective analysis was pretty dead on though

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  3. The worst prediction (to date) by far was "Most obnoxious stories of the year". I failed to include "Should Joba start or relieve?" which seems to be discussed on MLB Network after every Yankee game, whether they win or lose, whether the starter pitches well or gets lit up, etc.

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