Sunday, March 31, 2013

2013 Predictions

These predictions are offered solely in the spirit of fun. While rudimentary “analysis” has gone into them, they should not be viewed in anyway as a rigorous analytical exercise and they certainly should not be viewed as a reflection on the field of sabermetrics. All responsibility for any horrific predictions lies squarely with the author and no one else.

I’ve grown tired of writing an involved annual disclaimer, so I’ll keep it short. The standard error for predicting W% from aggregate season runs scored and allowed is around four games. That means that even if one could forecast aggregate team performance, playing time, in-season roster moves, and the like perfectly, their resulting win estimates would still have a standard error of four games--and that assumes that all of those components would transfer perfectly to the runs scored and allowed figures. Those who expect sabermetricians (or any other brand of baseball observers) to produce hyper-accurate preseason predictions expect the impossible. (Of course, the same scolding is due those who oversell their predictions when they should know better).

One might agree with my general point and still consider it a bit self-serving given the fact that the two teams I picked to appear in the 2012 World Series each went 69-93.


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

I (starting out by really going out on a limb) consider this the most competitive division in the majors; the only outcome that would surprise me is Baltimore finishing first. Toronto is the buzz team, which is usually a good one to bet against--the team that makes the big moves is always more exciting and thus likely to be a popular pick beyond what’s reasonable. But the Jays made legitimate, wholesale upgrades with Jose Reyes, RA Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle. Add in a healthy Jose Bautista and the forever tantalizing promise of Brandon Morrow and I think they stack up well with the rest of the division.

There are a lot of baseball fans who despise New York and Boston. I am not one of them; I like the Yankees and have no issue with the Red Sox. I find the incessant media coverage of the two teams obnoxious, but I don’t hold it against the teams themselves. But the worst thing that can happen if you hate coverage of New York and Boston is for them to be down, because then the stories become insufferable. Whatever shortcomings the two teams have will be forever exaggerated as they are judged against not the standard of a normal major league team but against the ideal of what a Yankee or Red Sox team should be. The drumbeat has started already this spring, as some Yankee and Red Sox fans trip all over themselves to declare their nine the favorites to bring up the cellar in this division.

Both the Yankees and the Red Sox have obvious weaknesses. New York’s injury problems have brought the advancing age of their mainstays to the forefront, but assuming they can get Teixeira and Granderson back in a reasonable timeframe, there is no need to panic. Boston does not have the pitching to match New York on paper, and while I don’t think their offseason acquisitions (namely Victorino, Drew, Gomes, and Napoli) are long-term solutions, they figure to provide enough offense to keep the Red Sox competitive.

Picking Tampa Bay to finish third is by no means writing them off; the on-paper margin between the top four teams is razor-thin. But the Rays appear to have taken a step back in 2013 talent by trading James Shields, and other than health for Longoria I don’t see any particular reason to expect a significantly improved offense. Baltimore has a much tougher road.


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

Last year I picked Detroit but claimed the inevitability of their victory was being overstated. While the preseason 2012 Tiger backers likely feel vindicated by their pennant, those in my camp can feel vindicated by the arduous slog that was required to overcome Chicago. But this year I do think Detroit stands out as the most likely team in MLB to win their division. What’s changed for me? Verlander’s repeat turn as a super-ace, Fister once again pitching well, Scherzer’s potential, Anibal Sanchez, the additions of Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez, that bad regression from Austin Jackson could be offset by good regression from Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta…This is not to say that Detroit is untouchable, but they are a strong favorite for good reason.

Chicago is the choice for second by default. Cleveland and Kansas City both acted like contenders in the offseason, but the most obvious manifestation of both pushes is a better chance of finishing second. At least Cleveland did it by spending money rather than prospects. Things look bleak enough for the Twins that national writers are already warning the brass that they best not fire the sainted Ron Gardenhire.


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

At least from the Angels fans that I encounter on the internet, it appears that there is a great deal of skepticism regarding their chances in 2013. I suppose that given the Rangers’ late season collapse and passive offseason, there must be a fair amount of pessimism in Texas as well. These team s look really close to me on paper. Los Angeles’ lineup will disappoint relative to what some people expect from Trout/Pujols/Hamilton, but I think the smart money is still that the first two will be in the thick of the AL MVP discussion. Texas may not have made any notable offseason moves, and obviously Hamilton is a big loss, but don’t overlook the impact of having out junkie Michael Young out of the picture. They also have upper level prospects on the doorstep (Profar, Olt, Martin) to provide depth. Oakland took a giant leap forward last year, and while I don’t think it was an illusion, they still appear to me to be less talented than the two teams that have taken turns running this division since 2006 with the exception of the A’s intrusion in 2012.

I try to avoid making predictions I don’t really believe for shock value, but I was oh so tempted to pick Houston ahead of Seattle just to be contrarian (not because I think there’s a very good chance it will happen). The Mariners strategy of collecting 1B/DHs while shedding one of their best offensive assets (who happened to be a catcher) was difficult to understand; pre-extending King Felix has no impact on the 2013 outlook but also strains this author’s understanding. Of course, we all know that Jack Z. operates on a higher cognitive level than we do. Houston is a terrible team, of course, but as is always the case, the extent of that will be blown out of proportion by the media. These are not the ’62 Mets.


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

I’m not bored (or vain) enough to systematically review my predictions, but if I had to guess, the two teams I’ve been wrong on most consistently have been Cleveland and Atlanta. The former is understandable, as even mild fandom can cloud one’s judgment. I have no good excuse in the case of the Braves--I prematurely predicted the end of their run of division titles, but in the last few years have consistently overrated them--except for last year, when they won the wildcard but I picked them to finish third. I may be falling into the same trap this year. Perhaps it’s that they have three of my favorite fifteen or so outfielders. Maybe it’s the suspicion that Washington is due for what Bill James used to call the Plexiglass Principle (Bill had several different flavors of regression to the mean). Maybe it’s a belief that their offense is solid, their rotation is good, and their bullpen is excellent.

Atlanta of course is not an outlandish pick by any means, as they would be seeking a fourth consecutive playoff appearance under the current system. The Nationals are certainly a strong contender as well, and to me the two teams are very close on paper, not just in terms of projected wins but also runs scored and allowed. The Phillies are a high variance team; they could have a last hurrah season in which Utley and Halladay are healthy, Howard is useful, and the like. Or they could waste 500 PAs each on Michael and Delmon Young as Utley goes to the DL, Howard is worthless, Halladay is hurt, etc. The middle ground appears to me to be another .500 season. The 2013 version of the Mets are a mess, but as with the Yankees and Red Sox, the big market will greatly amplify the extent to which that is true. Miami should challenge Houston for the #1 draft pick.


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

I was all set to pick St. Louis to win but backed off after news of Chris Carpenter’s injury broke. This is admittedly an irrational decision, since I never should have been counting on an effective Carpenter over a significant number of innings. In any event, picking the Reds always scares me because I don’t trust Dusty Baker to make good in-season personnel decisions. Last year the Reds got 161 starts from their Opening Day rotation (coincidentally, I happened to attend the one game which was started by Todd Redmond). Still, Baker managed to turn Aroldis Chapman into a traditional closer and give away an extraordinary number of outs by stubbornly leading off with Zack Cozart. With Baker seemingly pulling the strings in the decision to keep Chapman in the bullpen, one can only fathom the amount of damage he could wrought if forced to make difficult decisions in 2013.

The Cardinals don’t have the upside the Reds do, but should be well-positioned in case Cincinnati falters. Their pitching depth and the possibility of Oscar Taveras stepping up in case of injury to any of the bats makes them the safe pick. Milwaukee bringing in Kyle Lohse is not enough to keep them from projecting to jostle with Miami for the NL’s worst run prevention unit outside of Coors. Pittsburgh’s offense outside of McCutchen looks quite suspect to me, with a troublesome lack of OBA, although others see them as middle-of-the-pack. Chicago joins the Red Sox/Yankees/Mets as a team that will be underrated because of exaggeration of their flaws; I really don’t see much to distinguish three through five in this division.


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

One of the easiest ways a team can be overhyped in preseason predictions is to acquire a bunch of big names that outstrip the expected production of the players they belong to. Los Angeles is in that position to some extent, but there’s still enough expected production to make them the favorites in the West. It’s the pitching and not the offense that should shine for the Dodgers, as they have some holes at second and third, and question marks at catcher and in left. San Francisco will be wildly overrated thanks to their postseason success; talk of dynasty is laughable, which is not to say they won’t be in the thick of the race.

Rhetorically, at least, Arizona is positioning itself as the new great hope and symbol for traditionalists. Perhaps instead of running Justin Upton and Trevor Bauer out of town and talking about how they plan to exceed their Pythagorean record as in 2007 and 2011, they should focus more on improving their run differential so that they don’t need to outplay their Pythagorean record. On paper, they appear to be a low-to-mid eighties win team. San Diego has some solid pieces in Headley, Grandal, Maybin, and Quentin, but the supporting cast and starting pitching is not good enough. Colorado can’t get any worse starting pitching then they did last year, but that’s not a ringing endorsement. It’s all been downhill from here.

Atlanta over Los Angeles A

AL Rookie of the Year: CF Aaron Hicks, MIN
AL Cy Young: Yu Darvish, TEX
AL MVP: 2B Robinson Cano, NYA

NL Rookie of the Year: SP Shelby Miller, STL
NL Cy Young: Yovani Gallardo, MIL
NL MVP: CF Matt Kemp, LA

First manager fired: Ned Yost, KC

Best pennant race: AL East
Worst pennant race: AL Central

Most likely to go .500 in each league: OAK, PHI

Team in each league most likely to disappoint mainstream consensus: CLE, PHI
Team in each league most likely to surprise mainstream consensus: HOU, NYA, CHN
Since it’s the Astros’ first year in the AL, I don’t think it’s cheating to list the Yankees as well.

Most annoying stories of the year: Overhyping the struggles of the Yankees and Red Sox; What’s the matter with Mike Trout?; Anything involving steroids, naturally; The attempt to cast Yasiel Puig as the Dodgers’ version of Mike Trout on the basis of some spring training hacking and admittedly freakish feats; Make sure to tune in as natural treasure Tim McCarver ends his career, leaving the distinction between a suicide squeeze and a safety squeeze forever unknown to the masses

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Those of us who are well-versed (or at least like to delude ourselves into thinking we are well-versed) in mathematics have doubtlessly encountered someone who uses "calculus" as a shorthand way of saying "complicated math that I don’t understand". For many people, calculus stands as the last branch of mathematics to which they were exposed in school (the progression might generally be arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, "pre-calculus") and is thus a convenient term under which to amalgamate any sort of math beyond one’s grasp. (I do realize that there exist broad dictionary definitions of calculus which extend beyond the specific branch of math to which the title generally applies).

These sorts of statements are harmless enough--while I certainly don’t want to encourage even more ignorance about math than already exist in popular discourse, a factually incorrect flippant reference to calculus never really hurt anything. I’ve even found one to be a welcome bit of levity for those of us who know a little calculus in the room on a particularly boring conference call.

It can be a little more obnoxious when "calculus" is brought out as a jab against those using quantitative analysis--in this case, of course, I’m thinking about sabermetrics. Those opposed to sabermetrics sometimes include snide references to calculus in the same vein one might talk about slide rules or spreadsheets. Still, these are easy enough to brush off or laugh at--bragging about one’s own ignorance is not impressive.

What prompted this post was not a calculus barb directed at sabermetrics, but one of the reactions to such a barb in a Baseball Think Factory thread: a flat out statement that "calculus has no place in baseball statistics". On one hand, I really should just ignore this. The statement itself is so outlandish as to be difficult to respond to. It’s akin to saying that "cymbals have no place in music" or that "rice has no place in one’s diet". Calculus is obviously not used directly by most sabermetricians, and one can certainly be a practice high-level sabermetrics without using any calculus. But to simply write off the possibility of using an entire branch of mathematics in the discipline is absurd.

At this point I need to issue a disclaimer regarding my own use of calculus. I am not by any means an expert on the topic--my calculus education consists of two years in high school and college. Calculus is an extensive branch of math and what I know only scratches the surface, and thus the sabermetric applications I use might only scratch the surface of what could be possible, but I’m not well positioned to speculate on what other applications might be.

Fundamentally, though, the type of calculus that I use is nothing more complex than examining changes in functions. Any time you have a mathematical function that varies according to one or more independent variables, a change in those variables results in a change in the output of the function. Calculus provides a systematic way to study that change.

It should be noted that calculus does not inherently involve complex computations--it certainly can, but for many simple functions, taking a derivative is a piece of cake. It is certainly easier to take the derivative of the function Y = 3X^2 + 6X - 2 with respect to X than it is to divide 15 into 309, but the former is something done by college students and the latter something done by fourth graders. Granted, the understanding of why the derivative of that function is 6X + 6 involves higher level understanding (by “why” I’m getting at the reasoning behind the rules of differentiation, not the application of those rules), and one can easily cite functions that are impossible to differentiate cleanly. Still, the level of difficultly need not be very high at all.

If you don’t think there are any applications of studying rates of change in functions to sabermetrics, then you must not use any mathematical functions in your practice of sabermetrics. (Which would mean that one would not really be a sabermetrician at all, but hey, let’s not get judgmental about it). In fact, questions of this nature come up all the time. For example, how do OPS and OPS+ value singles relative to walks? While there are a number of ways to infer an answer to such a question (many of which involve pseudo-calculus, such as the "+1 method"), it can be definitively and precisely answered using calculus.

Sometimes, the lengths to which authors of sabermetric articles will go to avoid using calculus defy belief. Take for example this article published at The Hardball Times. I do not wish to make a punching bag of the authors of this piece, but there’s no need for me to make up strawmen when a perfect example has been recently published.

You may read this and say to yourself, "Sure, I concede that calculus is useful for understanding how metrics behave and how they weigh various inputs. But those aren’t baseball questions--those are just math questions involving baseball metrics. Understanding how OPS values doubles tells us something about OPS, but OPS is itself a construct that provides a simplified model of the effectiveness of a baseball offense. Understanding how OPS works does not actually teach us anything about baseball."

To this, my rejoinder is that we create metrics to further our understanding of baseball and to distill the things that we know into a useable format. We know that there is a relationship between runs and wins, and Pythagorean formulas are a way of formally expressing that relationship. If we establish that the Pythagorean formula is a useful model that captures some degree of the real baseball relationship between runs and wins, then by extension we can learn more about that baseball relationship by understanding the equation. If we can’t learn anything about baseball from studying the behavior of the equation, then the equation is by definition not useful and we need to go back to the drawing board.

I do not wish to give the impression that I think the application of calculus is central to the current practice of sabermetrics. Clearly it is not, given the paucity of work applying it to sabermetric questions. But it is another tool at our disposal, and one that is perfectly suited to assist in the types of sabermetric questions that have always interested me. Calculus certainly has vast applications in understanding the mathematical relationships between sabermetric formulas. Why can you predict team runs scored fairly accurately (at least in a normal team context) using a dynamic equation like Base Runs or a linear weights equation? Why does any variant of the Pythagorean family of win estimators match up so well in practice with linear equations that follow the rule that ten runs = one win? Calculus is also inherent in any sort of exercise involving hypothesis testing, even if it is only implicit. After all, the normal distribution is defined as an integral of a particular function.

I will close with a list of links to articles on this blog that have used calculus in some manner. As you will see, the scope of topics that I have applied calculus to are fairly limited--mostly to understand how events are valued in various offensive measures and to estimate runs per win from non-linear win estimators. Hopefully those of you with more imagination and a broader range of research interests can come up with other applications. Even if what I’ve written about did represent the full extent of possible applications of calculus in sabermetrics, it should be clear that there is a place for it. And if there wasn’t a place for a branch of mathematics which has countless applications in the sciences, statistics, and probability in sabermetrics, I’d suggest it would be time to re-evaluate how we practice sabermetrics.

Intrinsic Weights for Steve Mann’s RPA

Intrinsic Weights for Mike Gimbel’s RPA

Runs Per Win from Pythagenpat

Bill Kross’ W% Estimator

Fibonacci Win Points

Intrinsic Weights for OPS and OPS+

Intrinsic Weights for “dq”’s OTSE

Intrinsic Weights for Bases per PA and Out

Intrinsic Weights for Equivalent Runs

Intrinsic Weights for Runs Created

Intrinsic Weights for Base Runs

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Big Push for Second Place

The Indians enter 2013 with an organizational philosophy that from a surface-level, outsider’s perspective appears very different than it did at this time two years ago. The 2011 Indians appeared to be conservative almost to a fault, allowing young players ample chances to develop, avoiding spending money on the free agent market, and backing the manager as steadfastly as the front office itself--after all, this is a team that had announced Eric Wedge’s firing before the end of the 2009 season and allowed him to manage out the last series of the year anyway.

The Indians enter 2013 acting like a different organization. They went on a free agent spending spree the likes of which the organization has not undertaken since the mid-90s, bringing in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn on four-year deals, plus Brett Myers and Mark Reynolds on non-negligible one-year deals. They have a new manager in Terry Francona as Manny Acta was unceremoniously dumped, treated as a scapegoat in a manner that Wedge never was, despite presiding over much several campaigns much more disappointing than 2012 (you see there was 2006, and then there was 2008, and 2009…) And the team has finally cut ties with its mid-aughts contenders, as Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, and the former Fausto Carmona are all gone.

Of course, as an outsider it’s impossible to say how much of this was a change in philosophy versus a change in tactics given changes in the environment. Perhaps Acta had a fatal flaw as a manager that those of us on the outside are clueless too. Perhaps the new CBA, or the sale of Sports Time Ohio to Fox Sports, changed the organization’s computations regarding the value of a win purchased on the market. Perhaps ownership decided that the poisonous atmosphere around the city on sports radio and in the pages of the local rags was too toxic, and that money needed to be spent to change the conversation. I will never know what led to the changes, but it certainly feels different to me.

Carlos Santana will be the catcher and entering his age 27 season, it may be time to celebrate him for what he is rather than as the superstar some once thought he might be. A TTO catcher with a career .384 secondary average is nothing to sneeze at regardless of his batting average, and .247 is plenty high enough to support a strong OBA. If Santana could raise his average while preserving his power and eye, he could yet be a star, but as is he’s one of the top catchers in the AL.

First base appears to be the likely destination for the big free agent catch, Nick Swisher. It remains possible that he could slide to right on a full-time basis if dictated by injury or a lack of performance from Drew Stubbs, but for now it appears that first base is the plan. It is difficult for me to evaluate Swisher objectively, and so I’ll refrain from saying anything more.

Jason Kipnis starts his second full season at second base. His 2012 featured a strong first half (.277/.345/.419) and a powerless second half (.233/.322/.328). On the bright side, Kipnis’ walk rate ticked up as he struggled to hit. His overall season was a strong offensive showing for a 25 year old second baseman, and I’m probably a little more bullish on him than projection systems.

Third base will belong to Lonnie Chisenhall, whose major league career so far has not gone according to plan. He was called up in 2011 in a panic move with the Indians flailing for offense as their ill-advised attempt to win now fell to pieces. Chisenhall’s walk rate, never a strength in the minors, has been abysmal in the bigs, and various injuries have kept him from regular playing time. Chisenhall is young enough to retain promise, but should not be counted on as a major contributor in 2013.

At shortstop, Asdrubal Cabrera is back despite trade rumors that enveloped him all winter. At this point Cabrera is something of a known quality, as he was able to sustain some of the growth in his power to remain a valuable offensive player. In the field, he makes more than his share of spectacular plays, but metrics of all stripes consider him suspect. He’ll remain a prime trade candidate if the Indians fail to contend or in the offseason.

The outfield should be good defensively, featuring three players capable of handling center, but is a less-than-stellar offensive group. Michael Brantley will be in left; he made strides offensively in 2012, but that brought him only to an average level for a corner outfielder. Late surprise signee Michael Bourn will man center and leadoff, giving the Indians their first full-time leadoff hitter that fits the traditional profile since Kenny Lofton (Coco Crisp was never Cleveland’s primary leadoff hitter). Whether Bourn’s value will hold up over the four-year contract term is up for debate, but his addition improves the team’s 2013 outlook. In right, Drew Stubbs will be given the opportunity, at least initially, to revive his offensive game, but his poor hitting against righties could force him into a platoon with Swisher.

Mark Reynolds will serve as the DH and could get significant time at first if Swisher plays right. Reynolds gives the Tribe right-handed power that they have been sorely lacking in recent years, but that power comes at the price of low batting averages (and, most terrifyingly to the traditionally-minded, copious strikeouts). Mediocrity should be the expectation for production out of his spot.

Two sports on the bench are obvious. Lou Marson will be the backup catcher. Marson is a replacement-level offensive player, but in 2012 his usually strong throwing results took a nosedive as he threw out just 14% of runners on 78 attempts. Still, it would be a major surprise if Marson lost his job to Yan Gomes, who would also be an infield corner option. The other bench lock is Mike Aviles, utility man and potential stopgap replacement should Asdrubal Cabrera be dealt in the next two seasons.

Francona appears to be set on putting what’s left of Jason Giambi on the roster, which leads me to believe that Ryan Raburn has an excellent shot at claiming the final bench spot. Since Giambi will not play the field, Raburn’s ability to just about anywhere but shortstop will be more attractive. The other top option is Ezequiel Carrrera, who is out of options but whose center field ability is not as important given that three potential center fielders will man Cleveland’s regular outfield.

On the mound, the Indians desperately need to improve their starting pitching to turn their fortunes around. In 2012, Cleveland ranked third-to-last in MLB in both innings per start and starters’ eRA. While the performance was so bad that regression should be an ally and the Indians made an attempt to address the rotation, it seems doubtful that the situation will improve enough for the team to contend.

As of this writing, the first four spots in the rotation have been made official by Terry Francona with nary a surprise. For the second consecutive season, Justin Masterson has the opening day assignment. Masterson appeared to have turned a corner in 2011, holding lefties to a league-average batting line, but in 2012 lefties once again had their way with him (296/376/450 and a career line of 292/367/432). The question of whether there is the potential for Masterson to get back to respectability against lefties is better left to the PitchF/x type of analysts, but his 2012 performance was good for just 3 RAR.

Next up is Ubaldo Jimenez, who fell deeper into the abyss in 2012, with a strikeout rate of 6.8 versus a walk rate of 4.5 and a whopping 6.07 eRA. While it’s impossible to write off a talent like Jimenez, it’s equally impossible to predict that he will be an effective major league starting pitcher. While I am usually able to set aside emotion when watching the Indians, it’s tough to manage when Jimenez is on the mound given the combination of extraordinarily frustrating pitching and the huge price it took to acquire him.

Brett Myers will slot in as the #3 starter, Cleveland’s attempt to stabilize the rotation with a veteran innings eater (the 2012 version, Derek Lowe, started hot but imploded in a big way). Myers has been below average in terms of run prevention in three of his last four seasons as a starter, and the year spent in relief is not an encouraging sign. He may eat innings, but he shouldn’t be counted on for an effective performance.

The number four spot went to Zach McAllister, who pitched effectively at times for Cleveland in 2012, but for the season was below replacement level with a 5.81 RRA. McAllister has the potential to develop into something more, but counting on that would be a mistake.

The fifth starter job remains open, with the candidates appearing to be Scott Kazmir, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Corey Kluber. Kazmir appears to be the favorite: he has pitched well so far in the spring, would be the team’s only left-handed starter, and at least has a history of effectively pitching in the majors. Matsuzaka has suffered an injury setback that will likely knock him from contention. Carrasco is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and will be stashed in AAA, waiting to vulture one of the other starter’s jobs. The Indians obviously are high on Bauer, making him the centerpiece of the Choo trade, but may be inclined to patience and allowing him to break into the organization at AAA. Kluber is a generic replacement-level type arm who will remain an emergency option.

Cleveland’s bullpen is perceived very differently depending on who you talk to. Indians fans and announcers seem to think it is very good, but a baseball writer who’ll remain nameless cited it last year as the #1 reason why the team wouldn’t contend (which was bizarre given that the rotation looked shaky at the time, even before it was exposed to be an abject disaster). Over the last three seasons it has ranked seventh, seventh, and twelfth in the AL in eRA, which means that what had been average was bad in 2012. The heavy workload didn’t help, and the Tribe had a decent trio at the end of games, but struggled to find middle relief. It comes as no surprise then that the team’s primary offseason bullpen tinkerings were to add middle relief depth. The Choo trade netted Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw while Matt Capps was brought in as a NRI.

The key three pitchers at the end of the game are Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez. Perez may be sidelined at the beginning of the year with shoulder discomfort, but for now I’ll assume he’ll be ready to go. Perez is a fairly average reliever who can be incredibly frustrating when his command deserts him and he pumps straight, hittable fastballs. He’s the type of player that I wouldn’t have expected the Indians to shell out $7.3MM for in the past. Paired with Pestano, he continues the recent Indians tradition of the setup man being the top reliever, best exemplified by Joe Borowski and Rafael Betancourt.

Smith’s sidearm delivery makes him an ideal ROOGY, working 70+ times in each of the last two seasons with just a shade under an inning/game. His LOOGY counterparts, will be new in 2013. For each of the past X seasons, Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp have served as the Indians lefties, although both briefly transcended LOOGY-dom. The pair combined for 100 appearances in 2009, 140 in 2010, 140 in 2011, and 71 last year as Perez was slowed by injury. The duo has been broken up as Sipp was dealt to Arizona in the Choo trade and Perez allowed to sign with Minnesota.

In their place, Rich Hill has been added to the 40-man and thus essentially assured a roster spot. I suppose it was too much to ask the Cleveland bring in an OSU star without sullying the team with a UM product. Nick Hagadone seems likely to join the pen as well, apparently forgiven for the incident in which he broke his hand punching a wall. Hagadone has exciting stuff for a lefty, but has yet been able to harness it (or perhaps stay healthy enough to do so). Scott Barnes and David Huff are other lefty options.

Matt Albers is a pretty good bet to take a generic righty job, which leaves one spot for Cody Allen, Matt Capps, or Bryan Shaw. Capps may be the best bet due to his veteran status and lack of options, while Allen is the more exciting young arm and Shaw falls somewhere in between.

Terry Francona is the new manager; while I was agitated by the firing of Manny Acta, I certainly have no qualms with the choice of Francona. While his time with a non-contender in Philadelphia was not particularly encouraging, that tenure ended thirteen years ago. Francona was successful in Boston and seems to be a relatively saber-friendly skipper, something that was likely sought by both

As for the front office, though, the Jimenez trade marked the beginning of my disenchantment and the phony contention attempt of 2012 with corresponding bluster that was used to justify the Acta filing marked my complete disillusionment. The open wallet in the offseason has been attributed by many observers to the new CBA rules, and the opportunity for teams with protected picks to swoop in on the middle tier of free agents. There’s surely some truth to this, but in the case of the Indians, this observer feels that the most likely explanation is that management realized that fan sentiment had grown toxic and that something had to be done to restore people’s interest in the team.

Most analysts feel that the Swisher and Bourn deals are reasonable, maybe even good values. How they’ll look at the tail end is another story, but the real problem is that Cleveland is still several pieces short from being a true contender. Those several pieces all happen to be starting pitchers. The Indians starters were so dreadful last year that regression is their friend, but they can’t regress to the level of adequacy necessary to put this team in the playoffs. That would take real improvement, and while 2010 Jimenez + 2011 Masterson + rookie of the year Bauer might fit the bill, the odds of that happening are remote. Detroit looks better on paper this preseason than they did last year (at least to me), Chicago almost always finds a way to win in the 80s, and Kansas City preceded the Tribe into this offseason’s contention derby. Even if Detroit falters, the Indians have plenty of competition. Given the weakness of the rotation, it’s hard to pick this team to achieve much. As a baseline guess, I’m going with 76-86, third place.

Predicted lineup (generic):

1. 8 Michael Bourn
2. 6 Asdrubal Cabrera
3. 4 Jason Kipnis
4. 3 Nick Swisher
5. 2 Carlos Santana
6. 7 Michael Brantley
7. D Mark Reynolds
8. 9 Drew Stubbs
9. 5 Lonnie Chisenhall

Bench: C Lou Marson, IF Mike Aviles, UT Ryan Raburn, DH Jason Giambi


1. Justin Masterson (R)
2. Ubaldo Jimenez (R)
3. Brett Myers (R)
4. Zach McAllister (R)
5. Scott Kazmir (L)

Bullpen: Matt Albers (R), Matt Capps (R), Nick Hagadone (L), Rich Hill (L), Chris Perez (R), Vinnie Pestano (R), Joe Smith (R)