Sunday, March 23, 2008

The AL East: Ego and Super Ego, Revenge of the Bad Picks

So once again, Eric and I are gonna go head to head and discuss the AL East. His opinions are the ones based on numbers and graphs and junk… mine (Robin) are in italics and are correct.

After my AL West preview generated so much positive energy and because I revel in the idea of creating as much controversy as possible (you’re a doof and think the A’s are gonna do better than the Mariners), I've once again decided to use Baseball Prospectus's depth charts as the basis for my AL East preview. Don't like it? (Nope!) The comments await your written scorn. (Why wait? I’ll skewer you here!) Let's get started:

Fifth Place: Baltimore Orioles

Don't look now, but the Orioles are still terrible. Fortunately (or unfortunately - as a fan I like more competition, but as a Sox fan I'd like it to be somewhere outside of the AL East), they're taking steps to fix the problem: trading Tejada and Bedard for 10 players almost guarantees some sort of payback down the road, and the O's built in some insurance, too: after Brian Roberts (who's also heavily rumored to be heading somewhere National), off-season acquisition Adam Jones is the team's best hitter, while Luke Scott and George Sherrill will do a serviceable job filling holes in the outfield and in the bullpen. But all of these small changes won't make the Orioles winners any time in 2008: when your best starter is Daniel Cabrera and his projected WHIP of 1.47, forecasting a baseball-worst 66 wins and 96 losses in the tough-as-nails AL East doesn't seem like too much of a stretch.

Hmmmm, he started strong. I agree that the Orange Bird boys have “jack and squat” and even those guys aren’t hitting better than .210 this year. I think Baltimore is going to be in a “rebuilding year” for the next decade. Trading your best big name hitter (Tajeda) and best young pitcher (Bedard) in the off-season is a great way to stick it to the fans with the Cal Ripkin tattoos. I expect the Royals to laugh at this crew as they pass them in win totals.

Fourth Place: Toronto Blue Jays

No doubt you're now confused: you're probably wondering how the Jays could fall to fourth place when they made more improvements to the potent (if injury-prone) 2007 edition of their club. While it's true that David Eckstein and Scott Rolen might be improvements over Troy Glaus (maybe in terms of grit?), the Blue Jays still lack the offensive punch to score runs, and their predicted OPS and SLG numbers paint a very clear picture of placement in the run-happy East. Combined with the expected 4+ ERAs of fourth-fifths of their starting corps, suddenly a fourth place finish for the Jays doesn't seem so far fetched.

Here we go. The only thing you are right about here is your first sentence: I AM confused. How is this team going to slip into second to last place? They have an ace in Halladay, they are getting B.J. Ryan back from injury and this could be the year that Burnett puts together a healthy season. I expect these guys to finish second with hope for the future. I can’t believe this is your 4th place team… who did you pick to win the NCAA tourney? Portland State?

Third Place: Tampa Bay Rays

In the decade since Major League Baseball put a baseball team in the middle of a body of water, the hapless Rays have never finished above fourth place, and have only avoided the cellar once, in 2004. So what are they doing in third place in 2008? New year, new name, new ballgame, baby. Seriously though: after years of ridiculously effective farm development with nothing to show for it, things are finally starting to fall into place for the Rays. Carlos Pena will have a breakout year batting cleanup, and supported by Crawford and Upton will anchor a lineup strong enough to generate the type of offense that would garner them second place in a several other divisions. On the rotation side of things, James Shields and Matt Garza will both put up very respectable numbers, and Scott Kazmir will have the kind of dominating year that will almost guarantee he'll be in pinstripes (or maybe red socks?) in a few years. Unfortunately for Tampa, the Rays still haven't solved their bullpen issues; Troy Percival isn't the kind of closer you need to anchor a relief staff. If they address that problem, they could very well push their way to second place, especially in a weak year.

For the love of all that is holy… it’s the DAMN RAYS! Yeah they got their name changed from a killer fish to a sunbeam, but they still play in an oil drum in Tampa and they still are gonna be a joke. Kazmir is starting the year HURT and even YOU pointed out that Percival the Horrible is going to attempt to close games for them. Like most rational people, I don’t see them doing this well… but I think I am going to get a bit irrational when I read your next pick.

Second Place: Boston Red Sox/First Place: New York Yankees

Normally I wouldn't combine two finishing spots, but this year's edition of the biggest rivalry in sports promises to be the best we've seen in a few years. Off the field, Hank Steinbrenner has taken up the Boss' fallen torch, wading into the fray with a host of inflammatory comments picked up by a gleeful media. Is Steinbrenner a blow hard? Sure, but the Sox/Yanks rivalry has been missing someone with that kind of outspoken attitude (to put it euphemistically) for a while, and I'm glad it's back. It was getting tough to hate the Yankees for a while, and we really can't have that. In the clubhouses, both Boston and New York are relying heavily on a group of young players to fill vital roles, creating an element of uncertainty. Will Pedroia flop in his sophomore year (the magic eight ball says no, but don't look for him to be quite as big of a powerhouse this year, either)? Will Ellsbury and Joba Chamberlain live up to the incredible promise they showed last year? How about Buchholz and Lester, or Hughes and Kennedy? Are they rotation ready?On the plus side, all of these side plots feed into two teams who should keep their race as close and interesting as a fan could ever hope. Unfortunately for us Sox fans, though the offensive numbers for Boston and New York are nearly equal, and though the Sox will have the better group of starters and the better closer by Value Over Replacement Player, they're still expected to give up more runs than the Yankees. In the end, those additional runs will spell six fewer wins, relegating Boston to second and a fight with Detroit for the Wild Card.

I don’t even know where to begin. I think I’ll start with a quote from Billy Madison:

“…what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever
heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to
anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is
now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have
mercy on your soul.”

Whew. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, we can continue. The Yankees are done. Call me a homer, call me a hater, call me whatever… but the Yankees have had their time in the spotlight and now it’s time to move on. Someone tell this New Boss (same as the old boss) that his words are hollow and fall on deaf ears. They are a third place team with JUST over 80 wins. The vets are too old, the rookies are too green and the depth is just not there. They have 4 guys that are better off being DHs (Giambi, Matsui, Damon, and Abreu) and that leaves Melky Cabrera and Shelley Duncan in the outfield… not exactly Mystique and Aura. They have a young unproven pitching staff in a division that is hyper competitive and a bullpen… that beyond Joba… is a disaster. But sure, GIVE them first place…

Meanwhile, the Red Sox are the Champions of the World. They are the incumbent and deserve to be treated with some damn respect. It’s idiotic to think that they will be fighting for the Wild Card with the Tigers… because BOTH of these teams will be winning their divisions. The Sox have a deep bullpen, grade A starters and hitting that will be even better than last years Championship team. Ortiz is healthy now, Manny is in great shape and this Jacoby guy you may have heard about is going to be a phenomenon. Yes the injury to Schilling and the start in Japan is worrisome early on (even though they seem to be rock stars in Japan), but this is a group of guys who have proven that they can win even in the roughest situations. I don’t want any flack from the stat heads that I respect… but you can stick your VORP up your ass. The Sox with 96 wins… win the division. Now beating the Tigers in the playoffs? That’s another story…