Tuesday, April 03, 2012

2012 Predictions

Every year I try to disavow these predictions as a serious exercise--this is just me as a baseball fan, having fun. Every year I stress that picking a team first in a rank order doesn’t mean that I necessarily think they necessarily have even a 30% chance to actually win their division. Every year I try to disassociate these predictions from sabermetrics--sure, my thinking on them is influenced by sabermetrics, as is everything else I think about baseball-- but these are decidedly not “sabermetric” predictions, not even in the sense that the PECOTA or CAIRO or Davenport projected standings might be. But despite my efforts, every year some random yahoo on the internet links this post and demonstrates no understanding of any of these points.

So this year I will dispense with all of it, recognizing the lost cause for what it is, and get down to business--no, strike that, fun:

AL EAST

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

I’m sure the Yankees will be the consensus pick, but I’ll be a contrarian and stick with the Red Sox. Yes, their starting pitching is shaky, but at least the guys at the back of the rotation have some upside. Their offense is as good as anyone’s on paper. The Yankees are certainly a force to be reckoned with; however, I think one could very easily overstate the pitching difference between the two teams. Sabathia and Pineda is a good duo (oops!), but the rest of New York’s rotation is hardly rock solid with Kuroda’s age and Nova’s ordinariness. It’s an edge, but it isn’t overwhelming. Tampa Bay remains a threat, and the second wildcard certainly brightens their 2012 outlook, but their offense does not inspire confidence. If Toronto were in the Central or the NL West, I’d pick them second at worst, but such is the nature of the AL East. If things go right for them (Bautista maintains his level, Lawrie plays at a high level, they get some production out of first and left, rotation potential in Alvarez, Morrow, and/or Drabek steps forward), they could surprise. Baltimore...yeah.

AL CENTRAL

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

I would not pick Detroit to win any other division save the NL West, and even there I’d consider them vulnerable. But this is not any other division, and their foes appear incapable of mounting the mid-to-high 80s win total that could topple the Tigers. A lot of things went right for Detroit last year, and outside of Verlander the rotation isn’t special. Outside of Fielder and Cabrera (which is admittedly a big qualifier given the fact that they are both among the best hitters in the game), the offense doesn’t feature any proven high-end performers, so overall it projects as good not great. Alas, no one in the division appears up for the challenge. Chicago has been written off as rebuilding, but there’s still a pretty good pitching staff there, and you can always dream on Dunn and Beckham coming to life and boosting the offense to contention-level. Cleveland is a team that went from solid rebuilder to adrift without a plan in the span of about ten days, although admittedly some of that sentiment may be over emotionalism as a fan. I’ve written about them more in-depth, and while I’m not downgrading them over their spring training woes, there’s no new information that’s come to light since I wrote that piece that has given me reason for optimism (in fact, the Sizemore injury, Chisenhall’s flailing, various minor pitching injuries, and a bullpen that looks shakier than I’d thought have had the opposite effect). I think it’s more likely the Tribe finishes last than first. I’m picking Minnesota ahead of Kansas City on the hope that Mauer and Morneau return to even 75% of their 2010 production, but the Royals certainly have the brighter looking future. Then again, if there’s going to be a team that comes out of nowhere in MLB this year, this is the division that offers the best opportunity.

AL WEST

1. Texas
2. Los Angeles (wildcard)
3. Seattle
4. Oakland

Texas is a terrific team, of course. They lack any huge stars (sorry, Josh Hamilton isn’t consistent enough for this label, and Ian Kinsler’s 2010 power outage makes me pause) but are solid everywhere except perhaps center field. They have enough minor league depth that they should be able to plug leaks as they emerge about as well as anyone in the league. Los Angeles got rid of Tony Reagins (a definite plus), then finally made the huge splash. And it was huge. They arguably have the league’s best pitching staff, shaky fifth starter notwithstanding, and should make this an interesting race. I’m not really sure why I picked Seattle over Oakland, but it shouldn’t matter--neither team has much of a chance. I’d guess that Oakland has a higher variance of expected wins.

NL EAST

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

My predictions make no claims to accuracy, but there are two divisions I have been consistently wrong about--the AL Central and the NL East. Assuming that there’s a cause for those mistakes other than chance, I’ve chalked up the former to the fact that I’m a Cleveland fan and tend to pick them when I think it’s defensible (which does not include 2012). In the NL East, the reason would be a tendency to predict the demise of the dynasty too early. I picked against the Braves consistently near the end of their run, then picked them over the Phillies in recent years.

I am not learning from past mistakes and am picking Miami to win their first division title. The Marlins are really easy for me to hate, with the uniforms and the home run fountain and Jeff Loria and Ozzie Guillen. The top three are all very close and so I am picking what would annoy me the most. I also think they are the most balanced between offense and defense, which doesn’t translate to wins but also means it’s harder to point out the Achilles heel. Do you like that segue? Ryan Howard is the least of the Phillies concerns, as Chase Utley is and always has been a more valuable player, and now a bigger loss to injury. The offense is old and was only average in 2011. The starting pitching is tremendous, but the bullpen nothing special. Atlanta would be easier to like if they had a shortstop or another big bat, but I wouldn’t count out Jason Heyward in the latter role. They should be in the hunt. Washington still looks more like a .500 team than a contender to me, but they’re close enough that good fortune could put them in the playoffs. New York remains a mediocre team more than a bad one, but that won’t stop us from having to read the lamentations of Mets fans. I realize it’s tough to see the crosstown Yankees win consistently and the Dodgers escape ownership purgatory, but toughen up guys.

NL CENTRAL

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

The Reds stood pat after making the playoffs in 2010, which not surprisingly resulted in a step backwards. This year, they decided to go for it, trading for Mat Latos and signing Ryan Madson. The latter move has flopped thanks to no fault of the team, but in this case, it really is the thought that counts. They have a capable offense and if they are willing to make hard choices (like sticking with Aroldis Chapman and relegating Bronson Arroyo to long reliever if need be), I think they can do it. In other words, I’m putting my division pick in the hands of Dusty Baker. Gulp. St. Louis lost Pujols, but signing Beltran is about as good of a response as one could expect, and I wasn’t penciling in Carpenter and Wainwright for more than 350 combined innings anyway. Milwaukee is obviously a weaker offense without Prince Fielder, but in this division they remain firmly in the contenders tier. I was (relatively) bullish on Chicago in 2011; that was a mistake but mediocrity is good for the top of the second division in the NL Central. It must be really frustrating to be a Pirates fan; not for the obvious reasons, but for the little things. The team had a hot three and a half months last year which gave their fans a semblance of hope and fun, and they finally have a divisional rival that is much worse off than they are. So of course MLB strongarms that rival to move to the other league. The Astros new front office is easy to like, but would be more so if they hadn’t moved Brett Myers to the bullpen, a move that I don’t understand on any level.

NL WEST

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

Picking the Giants feels wrong, as I object to picking an organization that seems to view scoring runs with contempt. But this division isn’t very strong and the terrific pitching has overcome this punchless offense before. Arizona’s starting pitching has the potential for serious regression from Kennedy, Collmenter, or Cahill and their offense while solid doesn’t seem to offer a lot of upside. Jamie Moyer is a great story and I wish him all the best (who wouldn’t love to see a legitimate 50 year old non-knuckleball pitcher in 2013?), but his presence in the rotation really encapsulates what you need to know about Colorado. The Dodgers exceeded expectations last year and the ownership change should foster optimism for the future, but Ned Colleti’s bizarre offseason does the opposite for the immediate future. San Diego is not a horrible team, and the trade for Carlos Quentin indicated that Josh Byrnes may not be as committed to a rebuild as Jed Hoyer was.

WORLD SERIES

Boston over Miami

AL Rookie of the Year: SP Matt Moore, TB
AL Cy Young: David Price, TB
AL MVP: 1B Albert Pujols, LAA
NL Rookie of the Year: C Devin Mesoraco, CIN
NL Cy Young: Zack Greinke, MIL
NL MVP: 3B Hanley Ramirez, MIA

First manager fired: Jim Tracy, COL...just kidding, he’s manager for life (Dan O’Dowd’s life, at least). So, in a mercy firing, Brad Mills, HOU.
Best pennant race: NL East
Worst pennant race: AL Central
Worst team in each league: BAL, HOU
Most likely to go .500 in each league: CHA, WAS
Team in each league most likely to disappoint mainstream consensus: CLE, ARI
Team in each league most likely to surprise mainstream consensus: BOS, MIL

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