Friday, March 28, 2014

2014 Predictions

In lieu of a general disclaimer about the whole prediction game, from now on I can just point you to this piece. As a more specific disclaimer, please note that the missive that follows is only loosely based on objective sabermetric analysis—I do not have my own projection system, nor have I constructed detailed depth charts of each team, and thus my guesses are not in any way comparable to those of serious analysis. While there is no way I can approach making predictions without considering sabermetrics (since sabermetrics is a fundamental part of how I view anything in baseball), these are in no way “sabermetric predictions”. If Milwaukee loses 95 games, it’s not because sabermetrics have failed, I just would have made an awful guess. That has happened before (this in particular was a bloodbath) and it will happen again:

AL EAST

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

Picking this division is not fun; I’m assuming here that Tampa Bay can maintain a reasonably steady level of performance, that Boston will regress a bit, and that all of New York’s free agents will only serve to paper over the loss of Cano and perhaps achieve underlying quality at the level of 2013’s actual record. It’s not at all hard to envision scenarios where the Rays’ decline in minor league depth leave them unable to overcome injuries and they end up as sellers, or where the Yankees get a rebound from Sabathia, improvement from Nova, a resurrection of Pineda, and end up with a fearsome starting rotation. What I’m more confident about is that Toronto and Baltimore would need a lot to go right. Picking Toronto ahead of Baltimore may feel wrong, and may be an opportunity to chide sabermetricians about overlooking the Orioles again, but the 2013 Orioles were essentially what their statistics said they should have been. A late flourish to add Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez only slightly pushes their projection forward, and is pretty much wiped out by potential regression/injury woes for Manny Machado. A lot of people (myself included) were way too high on the Blue Jays last year, but a lot went wrong and a .500 season is a reasonable target.

AL CENTRAL

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

The potential cracks show in the Tigers: their now ugly shortstop situation, the growing reliance on Miguel Cabrera in the middle of the order, aging complementary hitters; but given the competition, they are still among the safest bets to win a division. The Royals figure to be the new leader of the chase pack if their starting pitching patches (most importantly Yordano Ventura) can deliver. I’m not at all convinced that picking the Indians third with 80 wins was a good idea--the closer it is to the season, the worse I feel about the rotation and the more the possibility of one of those annoying White Sox resurrections looms. I attempt to be as neutral of a baseball observer as possible, but I can’t help but be biased towards the Indians. Among the other teams, there are none that I have any particular antipathy against, with two exceptions (sure, at the moment I find Philadelphia and Arizona insufferable due to various management personalities, but I hold no inherent ill-will towards those franchises). Those two are the Tigers, simply because of the collegiate loyalty of many of their fans, and the White Sox, the one team I just flat out don’t like. So I now tend to view the White Sox as possessing black magic. Jose Abreu could be a more reasonable explanation should they overplay expectations. I plan on seeing the Twins in Baltimore at the end of August, maybe they could call up Byron Buxton for me then?

AL WEST

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

I keep waffling on this division, and the pitchers keep getting hurt. The Angels have fooled me each of the past two seasons, but made a valiant effort to deepen their staff with the Trumbo trade. With the carnage going on in Oakland and Texas, it’s not outside the realm of reason to suggest that Los Angeles may have the most stable group of pitchers in the division. It’s also easy to forget that Pujols is only a year removed from being a down-ballot MVP candidate. Things haven’t gone great for the Rangers since Josh Hamilton was on fire and they were hailed by some as the greatest team since the 1998 Yankees (May 2012 or so). While this has been amusing, it would be easy to overstate the extent of their struggles given that they have made the playoffs once and barely missed in 2013. The trade for Fielder and signing of Choo make a lot of sense for the short-term; the biggest obvious concerns are the injuries that have piled up and a more general thinning of the starting pitching, but none of the other AL West contenders are free of such questions. I’ve never fully bought in to the 2012-13 A’s, but that’s a reflection on me, not the team. They’ve stocked the bullpen, but the injuries to Parker and Griffin have thinned the starting ranks, and Scott Kazmir is one of the still-healthy pitchers. Uh-oh. The Mariners are good enough that positive deviations from expectations can put them in the hunt for a playoff spot, but to this outsider #6org appears to be in job preservation rather than strategic planning mode. Maybe they’ve finally found their own competitive edge in black magic to destroy their opponents’ pitching staffs. The Astros are still not good, but the league/division shift obscured the fact that even from a W-L record, they were no worse in ’13 than ’12 (CTR ticked up from 46 to 48). I was a tad too optimistic about their 2013 record, but people who are picking them to once again be historically bad are being a little silly. The bullpen alone is easy pickings for improvement, let alone players like Dexter Fowler and Scott Feldman brought in as placeholders.

NL EAST

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

The 2013 Nationals were a wonderful lesson in why it’s dumb to pick teams to win 100 games, in why it’s dumb to ignore the plexiglas principle, and why if everyone is picking one outcome, you can often look smart by picking anything else. The 2014 Nationals appear to me to present a wonderful lesson in why one should not get hung up on the previous year’s performance in picking the next season, and in the benefits of playing in a weakened division. I’m picking them to win the World Series not because I’m convinced they are the best team in MLB (although they certainly could be), but because of the strongest teams, they’re the ones with the best combination of talent, weak-ish division, and playing in the inferior league. I was going to pick the Braves second even before the UCLs started popping, but I might have picked them for a wildcard spot before Beachy and Medlen went down. The hope is there for a Jason Heyward monster season, but the loss of McCann and the loss of luster of the Upton brother combination make the offense a bigger question mark. No team is ever more underrated than a poor team playing in a huge media market; you’d think the Mets were closer to 1962 than 2001 based solely on media and fan kvetching. They seem like a perfectly normal mediocre team to me. It might be wise to pick the Phillies ahead of the Mets, but it’s more fun to do it this way. The Marlins look lousy on paper but have to be one of the higher variance teams widely picked to have the worst record in their league.

NL CENTRAL

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

The Cardinals organization is drawing high praise from all over the map, and for good reason--there is no other team that appears better positioned to weather injuries or implosions. Still, the smart money would bet on a decline in record from 2013, and in the mainstream narrative they are benefitting a bit from the halo of postseason success. They are still very well-positioned in the NL Central. Everyone should be granted one off-the-wall pick and mine is Milwaukee as a wildcard team. The addition of Garza makes their rotation quite respectable and they can easily gain a few wins on paper simply by using a non-Betancourt humanoid at first and avoiding last year’s second base meltdown (either Weeks or Gennett should be able to handle that on their own). And while it has nothing to do with a rational evaluation of their chances, the absurd suspension of A-Rod makes Ryan Braun the de facto symbol of the forces of resistance against the steroid totalitarians, and gives him and the Brewers the moral high ground. A lot of things went right for the Pirates in 2013, and I really don’t like their team better than Cincinnati’s, but the Reds have very little depth, particular offensively. An injury to Votto or Bruce would be disastrous, as the rest of the lineup features declining veterans (Ludwick, Phillips), a thoroughly unremarkable Frazier, and a cadre of youngish guys with questionable on base ability (Mesoraco, Cozart, Hamilton). The most interesting thing about the Cubs season will likely be the countdown to Baez & Bryant, but bounce back seasons from Castro and Rizzo are just as important to the long-term plan.

NL WEST

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

The Dodgers are an interesting case, as they appear to me to be highly overrated even by objective systems (BP calls for 98 wins, a figure which I find shocking). A healthy and full potential Dodger team might indeed be a juggernaut, but they have plenty of star players with big question marks (Kemp, Ramirez, Puig, Crawford), and a couple very sketchy offensive positions (second and third base). I’m not saying they shouldn’t be clear favorites in the NL West, and maybe I’m just missing something (and I picked them to win last year, which while hardly bold was not nearly as mundane as it is this year), but a 90% playoff probability doesn’t compute. The Giants will attempt to continue their even year success, and I think they have a pretty good shot to do so; a reasonably effective Tim Hudson and return to form from Matt Cain may be key. The Diamondbacks improved last year, they just don’t realize it because the Pythagorean fortune didn’t persist. When your big moves are to trade for Mark Trumbo and sign Bronson Arroyo, staying at .500 begins to feel ambitious. The Padres have taken over the mantle of the most boring team in baseball; it’s hard to see how they contend without a temporary blip like they experienced in 2010. The Rockies offer some more boom potential if for no reason other than Tulo, but contention is still a longshot.

WORLD SERIES

Washington over Tampa Bay

I believe that were this to come to fruition, it would be the most southern World Series in history, between two cities that are in no way southern.

AL Rookie of the Year: SP Yordano Ventura, KC

AL Cy Young: Yu Darvish, TEX

Assuming he only misses a start or two.

AL MVP: 3B Evan Longoria, TB

NL Rookie of the Year: 2B Kolten Wong, STL

NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, WAS

NL MVP: OF Jason Heyward, ATL

Worst team in each league: HOU, MIA

Most likely to go .500 in each league: TOR, ATL

Over/under on media personalities who will have to choke back tears re: Derek Jeter on national television: Seven

Will at least one sane human being have a brain hemorrhage as a direct result of Derek Jeter overload?: Yes

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