Archive for March 31st, 2011

Thursday: 03.31.2011

2011 Season Preview: AL Central

Other Divisions:

CHICAGO WHITE SOX:

Record – 89-73

Improved playerCarlos Quentin (health has eluded him, even in his best season when he played just 130 games, but he is still at the beginning of his prime and a fully healthy season would yield another .900+ OPS season.)

Improved pitcherEdwin Jackson (it was a small sample at 75 innings, but I’m buying into what I saw from Jackson after his trade to Chicago.  I’m putting faith not only in Jackson’s skill, but also in pitching coach Don Cooper who has done more with less.)

Regression playerPaul Konerko (we saw some vintage Konerko at age 34, but I’m not betting on another 39 home runs or .312 batting average.  Of course, I’m not expecting him to disappear either, just be around his 28-30 home run average with a .270-.280 batting average.)

Regression pitcherJake Peavy (my friend Andrew [@andtinez] pointed out to me how Peavy seems to want to throw his fist at the batter on every single pitch.  I went back and watched some of his starts and saw the exact same thing and that kind of 110% max effort 100 times a game just isn’t a remedy for staying put together and I would be surprised if he threw more than 100 innings or posted an ERA anywhere near his career 3.36.)

Why they will win – They match an excellent lineup with a very strong, diverse (a couple lefties, some hard throws, some soft tossers) rotation that leads right into a very good bullpen making them the odds-on favorite for a very difficult division.

Why they might not win – The lineup’s excellence depends on growth from four spots and sustained quality from four of the top five.  If a few pieces were to falter, things could go south quickly in a division with little wiggle room.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – There is little variance between the top three in this division and it will likely come down to health and in-season moves (whether internal or via trade).  On paper they hold a slight edge, but I have been notified that they will not be playing the games on paper this year. 


DETROIT TIGERS:

Record – 88-74

Improved playerRyan Raburn (he has got to put it together for a full season this time around after two years of resurgent second halves.)

Improved pitcherRick Porcello (Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer give Detroit a dynamic 1-2 that might be the best in the American League, but Porcello will ultimately be instrumental to the team’s fate as the most talented of their remaining three.  He’s not going to become a strikeout artist, but if he can add 1-1.5 per game and rely a little less on an average at best infield defense, he can have his best season yet.)

Regression playerAustin Jackson (I guess he’s the obvious answer because of the gaudy BABIP, but I don’t think he falls off of a cliff as some seem to think.  He will need to improve his skill set to hit .293 or better again, namely cutting down on the massive strikeout total, but if he stays flat then he is likely in for a .275ish season.)

Regression pitcher –  Joaquin Benoit (no matter how strong his peripheral stats were last year, and they were elite, he has to come down from his 1.34 ERA/0.68 WHIP of 2010 as there’s almost no way he can strand 95% of his runners again while allowing a sub-.200 BABIP.)

Why they can win – The middle of the lineup isn’t just Miguel Cabrera as Magglio Ordonez returns from injury and Victor Martinez almost quietly joins the club from Boston as the move happened so early and so quickly that it is kind of overlooked.  The rotation is deep on Opening Day with a solid prospect in Andy Oliver on hand in Toledo just in case.

Why they won’t win – If the table setters (Jackson and Will Rhymes) don’t repeat their 2010 success for the middle of that lineup, runs could be scarce.  The bullpen has plenty of raw talent leading to Jose Valverde, but if they don’t convert the triple digit arms into quality innings, they could lose some leads late.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – This is a definitely a three team race, but Detroit has the star power to stick around all year.  If their complementary pieces of the lineup don’t step up, they will run out of gas by September. 

MINNESOTA TWINS:

Record – 86-76

Improved playerDenard Span (I’m willing to bet that his talent level is more 2009 than 2010, or at the very least I’ll give him another year to prove he wasn’t a product of the Metrodome.)

Improved pitcherKevin Slowey (Nick Blackburn is terrible.)

Regression playerJoe Mauer (Despite being a Tigers fan, I love Mauer.  He’s one of my favorite non-Tigers.  He’s not a hate-able rival like Jordan or Chris Chelios [before he became a long-time Red Wing], at least not for me, so this isn’t Detroit bias.  I’m worried about the knee and just the injury profile in general.  It is the games played we would see regress, not the skill, he remains elite.)

Regression pitcher – Guess. Rhymes with Snick Crapchurn.

Why they can win – …because they are a well-run organization able to make deft moves to fill holes as the season progresses.  Of course their history as a smart franchise is what boggles my mind so much with the Blackburn/Slowey saga and even the fact that Scott Baker had to fight for a spot.  If Delmon Young continues to ascend as I believe he will, they’ll have three superstars in the heart of their lineup.

Why they won’t win – …because their two superstars are two of their biggest question marks from a health concern and they seem to hate their best pitcher (Francisco Liriano, not Slowey this time!) to the point that they are rumored to have him on the block.  Bizarre moves with their pitching from an otherwise stable franchise.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – I refuse to count them out as I think the talent will win out in their rotation and they have the makings of a really strong lineup especially if Tsuyoshi Nishioka steps right into the fold.  For now, they are a tick below the other two because of bigger question marks. 

KANSAS CITY ROYALS:

Record – 69-93

Improved playerAlcides Escobar (predominantly from a fantasy angle as I believe he will run a ton improving his value at a thin position, but I also think we’ll see this 2-time top 20 prospect start to hit closer to the .293 figure he posted in the minors.)

Improved pitcherJeremy Jeffress (watch him emerge into a dominant 7th/8th inning guy with blistering heat and a devastating breaking pitch.)

Regression player – No one.  (their older guys are stagnant and I don’t see any of their younger guys falling off.)

Regression pitcherBruce Chen (no way this crazy luckbox has another 4.17 ERA rabbit in his hat.)

Why they can win – …because the lineup really isn’t awful as currently constructed and if Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain were up to supplement it by mid-May, they’d have something.  Of course the pitching would need a total makeover and Mike Montgomery and the entire AA-Northwest Arkansas staff would need to come up and take over for their current staff.

Why they won’t win – …because they aren’t really playing to win in 2011, nor should they.  Debut a few of the blue chippers from the jump (Jeffress, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow), pull a few more up as the season rolls along and then a few more in Spring Training of 2012 and see if this is going to come together as many suspect it might.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – This is a historically great minor league system, but not all of them are going to pan out, certainly not to full potential anyway.  Some are going to bust completely, some are going to be average everyday regulars (which isn’t necessarily a failure), some of the heralded starters are going to fail there and shift to the pen and succeed.

It’s going to a be a smorgasbord of success and I just hope the fans realize that instead of expecting Hosmer to be Adrian Gonzalez, Mous to be Evan Longoria and the top arms to be the second coming of Philly’s 2011 rotation.  My biggest concern is whether Dayton Moore can adequately surround these prospects with the right major league pieces as they do become ready.

I wouldn’t bet on it, so KC fans might want to hold off on those 2014 playoff ticket deposits for now (note that despite my negativity re: Moore, I’m actually pulling for this class to perform at or above expectations, even though it’ll make life harder for my Tigers). 

CLEVELAND INDIANS:

Record – 65-97

Improved playerLonnie Chisenhall (not yet with the big league club, but it won’t be long and I think he hits the ground running.)

Improved pitcherCarlos Carrasco (well-chronicled love for C2 this year, but in case you missed it, check out my favorite 2011 SP piece.)

Regression player – No one. (It was Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Santana and a bunch of flotsam.  I don’t see the former two regressing so that doesn’t leave anything.)

Regression pitcherFausto Carmona (I just don’t trust that flimsy skill set.  He had no business with a 3.77 ERA and he’d have to get pretty darn lucky to do so again with those peripherals.)

Why they can win – Umm… hmm… OK, let’s try this: Grady Sizemore only misses a little bit of time in April and then comes back and plays like his old self, Travis Hafner has one more excellent season hitting 30 bombs and driving in 100, Michael Brantley displays great plate patience atop the lineup with a near-.400 OBP and Matt LaPorta finally does something with his life and smacks 25 home runs.  Those four combine with Asdrubal Cabrera, Choo & Santana for a helluva lineup.

Why they won’t win – …because none of the above is going to happen.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – Their farm isn’t as heralded as KC’s, but it is pretty good and this is a team on the rise, too.  Their young major league parts (Carrasco, Santana, Brantley and Cabrera) will be the core supplemented first by Chisenhall in ’11, but then Jason Kipnis, Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Jason Knapp and Nick Weglarz soon whether it’s late ’11 or next spring.  Depending on how the current trio atop this division holds up in the near future, this could become a ridiculous 5-team race soon.

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Thursday: 03.31.2011

2011 Season Preview: AL East

Other Divisions:

BOSTON RED SOX:

Record – 96-66

Improved playerDustin Pedroia (a health prediction as he was limited to 75 games last year.)

Improved pitcherJohn Lackey (wasn’t as bad as many perceived last year.)

Regression playerMarco Scutaro (already regressed a bit in ’10, could see another step down in ’11 opening the door for Jed Lowrie.)

Regression pitcherClay Buchholz (but probably not as much as some believe; think 3.30-3.55 ERA as opposed to something near or above 4.00.)

Why they will win – because they won 89 with an injury-ravaged team and they’ve added two All-Stars (to replace Victor Martinez & Adrian Beltre) in addition to getting the injured players back full-time.

Why they might not win – Lackey and Josh Beckett regress further and Buchholz does fall off as far as many think leaving them with essentially a one man rotation and too many 8-7 games in an ultra-competitive division.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – It may be boring, but they are the best team heading into Opening Day and it’s by a clear margin.  Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez aren’t pure additions because of the losses, but those two are better than what they lost.  Throw in full seasons of Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis to 89-win team and they could push 100 with the right breaks. 

NEW YORK YANKEES:

Record – 90-72

Improved playerAlex Rodriguez (his “down” seasons are still well above average, but I think he has at least another MVP-caliber season left in his career and it could be 2011.)

Improved pitcher Joba Chamberlain (this looks like a strong bullpen on paper, but they will need Joba to be Daniel Bard/Luke Gregerson-esque and anchor those middle innings getting to Sori & Mo especially as the rotation works itself out behind C.C. Sabathia.)

Regression playerRussell Martin (nothing in his profile suggests resurgence, in fact it stands to get worse which could open the door for super-prospect Jesus Montero sooner than later.)

Regression pitcherFreddy Garcia (did yeoman’s work in 157 IP last year at 35, but the skills were flimsy and 2011 sets up to be worse than his 4.64/1.38 numbers last year.)

Why they can win – …because the team we see right now is almost assuredly not the team they will end up with by season’s end whether they add reinforcements from their farm or outside of the organization using their farm depth to get the missing ingredients.

Why they won’t win – …because the back-end of that rotation, and by back-end I mean #2-5, is shaky and there may not be enough reinforcements available to fix it, especially since Manny Banuelos likely won’t be ready to be a major contributor at any point this year having pitched just 15 innings above High-A.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – They have a stacked lineup, a true ace and a strong bullpen, but too many wildcards in the rotation makes it tough to compete with the league’s best team and two others who aren’t terribly far behind them.  Don’t rule out a major trade with this team, though, which would change the game entirely. 

TAMPA BAY RAYS:

Record – 87-75

Improved playerManny Ramirez (I think he beasts out for one more season.  Not quite 2008’s explosion, but about 80% of it.  He’s not done.)

Improved pitcherJames Shields (well he can’t get any worse and his skills are just far too good for another 5.18 ERA season.)

Regression player – I don’t really have one for them, I think we will see improvements from some (Manny, Longoria, Upton) and just “as-is” performances from the rest with any major disappointments.

Regression pitcherJeremy Hellickson (not really a regression since he’s a rookie, so I’ll go with “Disappointment” here.  Rookie pitchers more often pitch like David Price did [4.42 ERA/4.59 FIP] than Tommy Hanson [2.89 ERA/3.50 FIP] and Hellickson would be an exception to the rule with an impact season.)

Why they can win – The loss of Carl Crawford is filled in differently (power as opposed to speed & defense), but adequately from a wins standpoint by Ramirez, Johnny Damon and Upton’s improvement.  The rotation is strong 1-5 even if Hellickson “only” pitches to a 4.20-4.40 ERA as a rookie.

Why they won’t win – The bullpen is entirely rebuilt (unless you count Andy Sonnanstine and the currently injured J.P. Howell) and I have zero faith in Kyle Farnsworthless as a potential closer regardless of his otherwise strong peripherals the last three years.  I’m even less sold on Joel Peralta after a 49-inning sample of quality at 34-years old.  Shaky bullpens can ruin seasons and if theirs doesn’t work out, they could finish as low as 4th.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – The talent is there for another run, but they would need a lot to go right for another division title or even a wildcard berth.  I think there is slight regression for this club in 2011.  However, per usual since their rise in 2008, reinforcements are on the way in droves so they won’t be “down” long even if they do just have an over-.500 third place season. 

TORONTO BLUE JAYS:

Record – 83-79

Improved playerTravis Snider (I’ve had him on the Adam Lind Path to Stardom for a few years and I was hoping he could skip a year and breakout last year, but it wasn’t so making 2011 his eruption season.)

Improved pitcherBrandon Morrow (this obviously assumes limited time missed on his current injury, but all signs point toward just one missed start.  We could see a mid-3.00s ERA and 200 strikeouts in approx. 180 innings.)

Regression playerJose Bautista (easy, obvious, but also very probable.  I don’t think he falls off the map though, with 36-41 home runs and a strong on-base percentage despite a middling batting average.)

Regression pitcherKyle Drabek (as with Hellickson, this is a disappointment call more than a regression because Drabek is also a rookie with just 17 major league IP under his belt.  I think the expectations need to be tamped down a bit for both.)

Why they can win – …because they have gobs of power throughout their lineup (Adam Lind and Aaron Hill improving back to their mean level should cover Bautista’s comeback) and two very good starters (when Morrow returns) atop their rotation.  Their bullpen, once whole, has four guys with closing experience who have had success at various times (Frank Francisco, Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Jason Frasor) along with other useful parts.

Why they won’t win – What if Morrow doesn’t come right back?  Then you’re left with Ricky Romero, who I love, but then a series of question marks.  Heck, even if all the “why they can win” comes true, the competition might still be too fierce to overcome.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – An improving team with an excellent fantasy baseball lineup and some intriguing rotation parts, but they are still at least a year away from viable contention in their remarkably difficult division. 

BALTIMORE ORIOLES:

Record – 70-92

Improved playerMatt Wieters (the former #1 prospect in all of baseball can’t keep disappointing, right?  No more excuses about learning to catch, no more excuses about adjusting to the big leagues, it’s time to put up or shut up for the talented backstop.)

Improved pitcherBrian Matusz (it is cheating a bit to pick him given how well he did down the stretch, but we need to see a full season if he’s to be trusted as a budding ace and I think we will despite the stiff competition of the AL Beast.)

Regression playerBrian Roberts (only played 59 games last year, but even a full season is likely to carry some regression to average or slightly below for aging, fragile second baseman.  I don’t think he falls off the map entirely, but he’s no longer one of the best of his position.)

Regression pitcherJeremy Guthrie (I just don’t believe in this guy and I know perhaps I should after three sub-4.00 ERA seasons out of four despite skills that suggest much worse.  Call me stubborn, but I prefer risk-averse, he’s just not that good.)

Why they can win – …because the lineup could really surge as the youth ascends and the quality veterans return to their former glory for at least another year.   Combine that with their non-Matusz top pitching prospects (Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton) all paying dividends this year and they could shock the Junior Circuit.  In other words, it’s a longshot.

Why they won’t win – …because they just don’t have the pitching to compete in that division.  Even in a crop of multiple blue chip prospects, you can’t expect all of them to hit big so it could be that Tillman and Arrieta don’t develop to a level commensurate with their minor league track record.  It looks like Matusz is going to be the star and I think Britton is going to be a quality 2-3 type which leaves the odds strongly against either of Tillman or Arrieta becoming All-Star quality.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – They are making strides, but they are still a good bit away.  I like the veteran fill-ins that could make them competitive in stretches throughout this season, but too many question marks in the rotation leave them in cellar for at least another year.  I do look forward to Britton coming up because I think he will emerge and give them a strong 1-2 youth punch with Matusz breeding hope for the future.