Friday, March 29, 2013

Predicting the 2013 Season—American League

Even though they're almost always wrong, human society just can't help but predict baseball. It's just too much fun. Yes, injuries will sap the talent of at least one of my playoff picks and prevent them from hitting .500. Yes, there will definitely be at least one Cinderella team that no one thinks is going to be any good. But hey, if one-in-nine-quintillion odds don't stop millions from filling out silly basketball brackets, I'm gonna try to call some MLB seasons.

Here's how I'll do it this year: I'll predict each team's win-loss record, like last year. But instead of giving a full preview, I'll make a few "fearless predictions" (read: statements that have a 50/50 chance of being completely false in six months) for each team that attempt to justify my predicted record for them. In case you're curious, here is how I performed on last year's picks, which are located here, here, here, here, here, and here.

AL East

1. Tampa Bay Rays (95–67, 1st playoff seed)
  • Tampa's offense will actually improve without BJ Upton and his atrocious .298 OBP. Helping in this endeavor will be bounceback years from Kelly Johnson and James Loney. Desmond Jennings will also take a step forward to become one of the league's better young leadoff men.
  • Wil Myers will be up from the minors by June 1, and he'll still hit 20 home runs. He'll anchor the lineup behind Evan Longoria.
  • James Shields's loss won't hurt the pitching staff, either; Matt Moore will take the next step into dominance, and you haven't heard the last of Jeff Niemann. Both will have lower ERAs than Shields will in Kansas City.
  • After their flirtation with Roberto Hernández (a.k.a. Fausto Carmona) goes horribly, horribly wrong, the Rays will turn to Chris Archer in the fifth slot by the All-Star break. He too will finish the season with an ERA lower than Shields's.

2. Toronto Blue Jays (92–70, 1st Wild Card)
  • The Jays will be made or broken by Josh Johnson. During the half-season I predict he'll be injured, Toronto will sputter. When he's active, he'll pitch like the Josh Johnson of old and the Jays will see at least one double-digit win streak.
  • Without PEDs, Melky Cabrera won't be anything resembling productive. Why would you sign a two-year contract for the most guaranteed money (instead of a one-year bounceback deal) if you're confident you can perform at an elite level even without drugs?

3. New York Yankees (87–75)
  • Injuries to Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodríguez, and Mark Teixeira will make for a fallible offense early in the season, and the Yankees may struggle in April and May. But the trio should return by summer, and in the second half the New York lineup will be back to showing, once again, that age is just a number.
  • Unlike your grandpa's Bronx Bombers, what will keep the Yankees in the hunt in 2013 will be the pitching. You won't see any hiccups out of Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, and a trade-deadline deal for a fourth quality starter will help fuel New York's furious, but ultimately futile, September push.
  • Mariano Rivera will win Comeback Player of the Year. You can pretty much give him the award right now.

4. Boston Red Sox (83–79)
  • The hiring of a pitching coach as manager will finally staunch the bleeding of the Red Sox pitching staff. Clay Buchholz will see his ERA drop by a full run. Jon Lester will post the best ERA of his career.
  • The less money the Red Sox spent on an offseason free-agent signing, the better he'll end up being. Koji Uehara will end the season as closer; Mike Napoli will make Boston wish they had locked him up long-term with an OPS over .900. Meanwhile, Shane Victorino will prove to have lost it for good, and Ryan Dempster will be the team's worst starter.
  • John Lackey will pitch 150 innings, but, with Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster impressing in September callups, this may prove the 2013 Red Sox' worst development.
  • José Iglesias will finish with a higher WAR than Stephen Drew.

5. Baltimore Orioles (78–84)
  • That pesky Orioles run differential—which was negative for most of 2012—will finally catch up to them. Their Pythagorean record last year (82–80) will start to look desirable as their pitching reverts to the worst in the division.
  • The three things the Orioles excelled at in 2012 (success in one-run games, success in extra-inning games, and bullpen success) are also three of the most volatile from year to year. They will not see anywhere near the same level of success for any of the three. A lot of the reason why will be the exposure of closer Jim Johnson.
  • On the up in 2013: Manny Machado, who will be the only Oriole to have a better 2013 than 2012. On the down: Jason Hammel and Miguel González, who will be useful innings-eaters but not aces. On the way, way down: Nate McLouth. He'll struggle to find a job next offseason and will retire.

AL Central

1. Detroit Tigers (93–69, 2nd playoff seed)
  • I still don't like this defense, but an offense that adds two elite hitters (Torii Hunter and Victor Martínez) and the Central's best pitching staff in 2012 can't be denied.
  • Enough with the "best rotation in baseball" stuff. Verlander and Fister are great, but Aníbal Sánchez is a mid-rotation guy being paid like an ace and Max Scherzer can be wildly inconsistent. They were eighth in MLB in starter ERA last year, and I expect them to be eighth again this year.
  • Detroit will have no trouble with their bullpen, which is deep even without an established closer. If they really need one, you can also trust their solid ownership and baseball ops team to go out and get one mid-season.

2. Kansas City Royals (85–77)
  • The offense will roar to life, with career years from Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Salvador Pérez leading the way. The trio will combine for 80 home runs. Add them to Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, and that's a scary lineup.
  • Even as a starter, Wade Davis will look more like his dominant relief-pitcher self than the version who was a mediocre starter for the Rays two years ago. James Shields likewise will outpitch his 2012 road ERA (4.54), which many naysayers are harping on.
  • If any team is going to experience the Orioles' crazy 2012 luck with one-run games in 2013, it'll be the Royals. They will have the best bullpen in the American League.
  • This isn't any kind of proveable assertion, but this club has the talent to win this division. It won't because Kansas City management will often deploy that talent in ways exactly opposite to what's best.

3. Chicago White Sox (82–80)
  • Atrophy will be the downfall of this Chicago club; slightly fewer runs scored and slightly more runs allowed than in 2012 will create a slightly different feel on the South Side.
  • Between injuries to John Danks and Jake Peavy, José Quintana and Dylan Axelrod will receive a combined 50 starts—and that's bad for the White Sox. Their mediocrity for 40% of games, exacerbated by the inexperience of their new catcher Tyler Flowers, will make getting on any kind of winning streak impossible.
  • Alex Ríos and Jeff Keppinger were mirages last season. They'll both be merely average in 2013, leaving the only legitimate lineup threats Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn.

4. Cleveland Indians (70–92)
  • The Indians have to add 13 wins to last year's total just to make it to .500. That's unrealistic. An improvement of just two wins may seem low, but their Pythagorean record last year was only 64–98; they should have been the AL's worst team.
  • As long as they keep Trevor Bauer down, Cleveland will repeat last year's feat of having the AL's worst pitching. As much as I like Scott Kazmir, he won't last the whole season in the rotation, while Ubaldo Jiménez and Justin Masterson will further convince us that their one good season each was just a fluke.
  • Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn will be a positive influence on the patience of the Indians lineup, which will rank in the top four in the AL in OBP. Unfortunately, the lineup has one too many speedsters and will struggle to actually drive in those runners.

5. Minnesota Twins (63–99)
  • If Cleveland doesn't have the AL's worst pitching, their division rival Minnesota will. Kevin Correia in particular will prove an ill-advised addition.
  • Minnesota is simply entrusting its fate to too many unproven commodities. While I expect Aaron Hicks to hold down center field, will Brian Dozier produce in the majors, and can Trevor Plouffe reproduce his out-of-nowhere power surge? (Hint: I think the answers are "no.")
  • In addition to simply playing in a much-improved AL Central, internal organizational turmoil will cause the Twins to play even worse than their talent level. Ron Gardenhire will be let go in the middle of the season, and a mini–fire sale will take place at the deadline.

AL West

1. Texas Rangers (90–72, 3rd playoff seed)
  • Both the Angels and Rangers will be good but flawed—except the Rangers will be a little less flawed. The difference will be in the starting rotation, which for Texas will be both deeper and better. Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish are aces capable of registering ERAs below 3.00; it will also be surprising if Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando aren't above average. Colby Lewis will also provide a boost when he returns from the DL.
  • Sure, the loss of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli will hurt. But in Lance Berkman and AJ Pierzynski, the Rangers will recoup at least 60% of that production. With an AL-high 808 runs scored last year, Texas can also take the hit.

2. Los Angeles Angels (90–72, 2nd Wild Card)
  • On the last day of the regular season, the Angels will be forced to burn Jered Weaver to tie the Rangers for the division. They'll lose the play-in game because neither Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas, or Joe Blanton will be reliable, with season ERAs above 4.00 for each of them.
  • At least one metric will find that the Angels' Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, and Albert Pujols will have been three of the MLB's five most valuable position players in 2013.
  • At least one metric will find that Peter Bourjos will have been more valuable than one of those three in 2013, thanks in part to his fantastic defense.

3. Oakland Athletics (85–77)
  • Some luck from 2012, like Brandon Moss's and Josh Reddick's power, will not carry over. But some—virtually all of it pitching-related—will, resulting in a respectable season by the Bay. Brett Anderson will challenge for the Cy Young Award.
  • The Oakland staff will be good, but when you control for park factor, they'll actually be a shade worse than the Rangers' pitching. Without the matching offense, Oakland will have a hard time catching Texas and Los Angeles.
  • The outfield will be so much more productive than the infield that Bob Melvin will try Josh Reddick at first base. The addition of Jed Lowrie will help, but as usual, he'll be on the DL half the time. Hiroyuki Nakajima will take a year to get used to American pitching.

4. Seattle Mariners (74–88)
  • All that spring-training success will vanish once the games start to matter. Franklin Gutiérrez will get hurt again, and while Michael Saunders will flash some impressive power with the fences moved in, that won't help his out-making problems (.283 career OBP).
  • It won't matter that Seattle doesn't have a place to put Jason Bay or Raúl Ibáñez; they're both finished as productive major-leaguers.
  • Tom Wilhelmsen is a very nice story, but I just don't think a career minor-leaguer can hold down a major-league closer job. The rest of the bullpen is dicey, too.
  • Joe Saunders will have his worst season to date with the dimensions of Safeco Field shrinking; only the invincible King Felix and ground-ball pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma will be unaffected.

5. Houston Astros (53–109)
  • The league change won't matter, for better or for worse. Despite predictions that this will be an historically bad team, its level of play will be essentially unchanged from last year.
  • No Houston batsman will eclipse 20 home runs.
  • The pitching has a chance to be decent, but their ace, Bud Norris, will be someone else's fifth starter by year's end.

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