2011 Spring Training: Attack of the Projections

It is that grand time of year again, the time when the winter of our discontent can finally be ended by a glorious summer of baseball. Sorry for the Shakespeare reference, but finally the time has come. Spring training is the time when Spring hope springs eternal for most baseball fans; in San Francisco the Giants rest on the laurels of victory; in Philadelphia and Boston they pride themselves on a winter of riches; in Los Angeles the Angels fumble further into what is either the great undiscovered baseball strategy for the next century or management idiocy; and in Cleveland and Chicago, the fans will try and convince themselves that maybe this is the year of the championship of which they have been deprived of for so long. Hope truly can spring eternal in February, except in the city of New York.

Moshe Mandel over at the newly forged The Yankee Analysts went over the pessimistic circumstances of the Yankees offseason here. Admittedly, I may have stolen a bit from their article; so be it. Basically, it’s not as bad as we think. What I am going to stress in this article is how unpredictable baseball is, or at least has become.

Go back to last year. The Giants, coming off of a third-place finish, had not been in the playoffs since the legendary days of Bonds and his pornographically high wOBA’s and SLG’s. The team that had gone from Pac Bell to ATnT without going anywhere, from home-run villain Bonds to strike-out hero Lincecum without going anywhere, seemed about as likely to move anywhere in 2010 as the drifters of Haight-Ashbury.

It would be the Yankees. It had to be the Rays. The Phillies were the best. The beasts of the east, it seemed, would dominate baseball for another year. April proved the sages correct; the Rays and Yankees came in first and second, respectively. Robinson Cano was batting .400; Evan Longoria was looking for his cap. May and June moved on, and the Phillies rose from an early onset of springtime mediocrity and were starting to make even the great Bobby Cox, in his last season, fear for his divisional sanctity. In the distant, cool, and in some ways foreign NL West, the Padres were the great surprise of the year; on a small budget, the team used pitching (and… Adrian Gonzales) to give themselves the best record in the league. The Giants continued, it seemed, to continue their streak of suffering by the bay.

You’ve all heard the stories at this point; I’m quite sure if you’ve made it this far, you care enough to know that Buster Posey was the great turning point. The young Giants catcher emerged and seemed to give a gift of life to the team. They started winning. No one noticed; but they were winning.

While in the East great dragons battled it out for domination, the Giants battled with little fanfare against the Rockies and the Padres. Then, the slide. The press finally paid attention only when the Padres lost ten in a row. The war was on; as the season closed out, it was all inter-divisional play. The Giants won the division on the last day, by one game.

And yet still they were not favorites. No, they said, it would be the Phillies, for their rotation was the best. Alak! they decried, it shall be the Rays, for no team has their grit (wtf?). And yet game by game, the playoffs progressed; and then it was two. The Giants and the Rangers. There could be only one. And it was… the Giants.

Statistically, it would make sense that after a year of culminating a narrative about 2010 being the year of the pitcher, the team that actually had the best ERA won. The Giants were not a 2006-Cardinals-like team, that just got hot at the right time. They were arguably the best team in baseball in 2010. And yet it was unheralded. Could one make the case for the Yankees? We won’t know until we get there. But you didn’t pick the Giants in 2010; no one is picking the Yankees in 2011. That said, no one is picking the Orioles either, but you know what I mean. The Phillies and the Red Sox are early favorites. But we may rethink that in November.

I guess what I’m saying is fairly ambiguous; you just can’t predict baseball.

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UPDATED: The AL East in 2010

I know, I made a similar post a while ago. But that was before Hot Stove even began, and a lot has changed since then. More may happen still, but here’s my new predictions.

1: Boston Red Sox (101-61)

2: New York Yankees (93-69)

3: Tampa Bay Rays (92-70)

4: Toronto Blue Jays (85-77)

5: Baltimore Orioles (79-83)

The most competitive division in baseball will get even tougher in 2011, with four teams posting a > .500 record and the fifth one getting close.

First off, the Orioles will show a marked improvement from their disastrous 2010, with their young players showing improvement and Showalter leading the team to flashes of brilliance through the mediocrity. As a bonus, Brian Matusz will begin to earn a following (though not huge) as one of the better pitchers in the division. That said, the O’s will lack a bona fide ace and a genuine power hitter. But they will get closer.

The Jays will also improve, with the under-performers in the lineup getting better at the plate and their young stock of talented pitchers getting better on the mound. Bautista will never again replicate his marvelous 2010, but will gain a reputation as one of the most powerful hitters in the game. There will be a point in mid-summer when the Jays, on a streak, will be called contenders for the playoffs; this will be gone by mid-August.

The Rays will not quite be as good as they were in 2010;they can’t help that, losing Pena and Crawford is huge. But the rotation will be strong as ever, with Price leading Garza and Hellickson to victory on a frequent basis. Like last year, the Rays will find themselves unable to understand the mysterious instrument known commonly as the bat. Except for Evan Longoria.

The Yankees will remain competitive as always; their lineup will be as feared as any, as Jeter, Granderson and A-Rod will rebound while Cano competes for another batting title (spoiler alert: he loses). The rotation, however, will be an issue for the team all season long. The starters on opening day will be a consistent Sabathia and an improving Phil Hughes, but they will be followed by AJ Burnett on his Road to Recovery, Ivan Nova who will put together 4 stellar innings per start before falling apart, and Sergio Mitre, who is Sergio Mitre. Don’t doubt that the rotation will change as the season progresses; but keep in mind that Nova probably makes about 20 starts by the time everything is said and done. Ultimately, the Yankees will have to be able to out-hit their pitching if they expect to beat the Rays for the wild-card.

The Red Sox, if the team remains healthy, will be the best team in the American League. 101 wins is not difficult for this team to achieve; the maximum potential of the Red Sox will probably lie at over 110 wins. However, it is a team recovering from a plague of injuries, and despite the additions, will have to cope with loss of Martinez and Beltre. The rotation will not be the best in the AL, either. Even so, a championship is not at all out of the equation for the 2011 Sox.

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The best MLB Players, Age 27 or younger as of 2010 – “Stars of Tomorrow” or something.

Important things: The Giants have three players on this list, and the Rays have two. What’s amazing is the abundance of pitchers on the list, which I guess shows the direction in which baseball is headed… for the record these are simply my opinions, and any one of the top four players could probably be reasonably switched to number one.

 

Little children won your World Series. Don't mess.

 

10. Stephen Strasburg: He may well be the best pitcher on this list, a true number one or two. However, the TJ surgery, while tragic, has taken him down more than a few pegs. That said, he could come back stronger than ever… or not. Regardless of future performance, he did dominate the league at 21 (!!!), having an SO/BB rate of 5.41 (!!!). His return will be greatly anticipated.

9. Matt Cain: His biography will be titled “Living in Lincecum’s shadow…” Still, he’s 25 and has shown himself capable of being a bona-fide ace. He’s shown improvement year after year – although it is important to note that he wasn’t great prior to 2009. Still, he, like so many other great, young pitchers, in on the fast-track to ace-hood.

8. David Price: Easily the second-best pitcher in the AL in 2010. Also, he’s only 24 and shows a lot of great peripherals. With that in mind, it is important to note that 2010, while spectacular, was the only good season he’s had so far. There’s no guarantee of repeat success. If he had been performing consistently, you might see him at maybe number 2 or three on the list. That said, he was a Cy Young candidate this year, and he may well be again.

7. Evan Longoria: The 2008 Rookie of the Year is by no means a flash-in-the-pan. He has consistently been better each year, and may very well be an MVP candidate in the coming decade – he is only 24. On top of his consistent bat, he has a great defense at third base, too. He is more than likely the 2nd best third baseman in the AL.

6. Joey Votto: The 2010 MVP is a young man indeed, at only 26. He might be a slightly less-powerful Albert Pujols going forward, a triple-crown candidate who can run, too. He could be higher on the list, but he’s (relatively) old at 26 and has trouble fielding the easiest fielding position. That said, he could still be the second-best 1B in the NL.

5. Buster Posey: He just might be the best offensive catcher in the NL. At the age of 23, all signs are that he may have a Mauer-like career, perhaps trading in Avg. for Slugging. After winning the 2010 rookie of the year and world series – in no small way because of him – this young’un deserves some serious attention for the future. Anyone who can hit in ATnT should garner respect.

4. Joe Mauer: A good candidate to be number one on this list, the three-time batting champion and 2009 MVP is still only 26. He is on the fast track to Cooperstown. The only area where he’s lacking is power; besides that, he is not a star of tomorrow, he is very much a star of today.

3. Tim Lincecum: The already two-time NL Cy Young award winner is still only 26; with that is mind, it may be important to note that 2010, a pitchers year in a pitchers park, was not kind to him. He will inevitably rebound next year and return to his former Cy Young-ness.

2. Clayton Kershaw: The argument could very well be made that Kershaw should be number one on this list also; He is, after all, only 22, and easily one of the best pitchers in the NL. He has put up two very good seasons now, this past year putting up 2.97 ERA, and striking out 212 in 104 innings. He is a sure bet to win some major awards some day, and with the Dodgers careful handling, he could last well into his thirties. Again, he’s 22, an age when most players are at AA.

1. Felix Hernandez: At age 24, this kid has shown that he can dominate at a big-league level. For two straight years now, he has put up an ERA under two and a half, pitched nearly five-hundred innings and struck out almost as many. Is he the next Doc Gooden, quick to burn out with age? I don’t know. But if he stays healthy, he may be an all-time great pitcher. What probably scares people the most is that his 2010 was similar to Roy Halladay – except Halladay’s 8 years older and has nearly a decade of experience. The question then arises that if Felix is great now, what will he be in five years?

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The Steroid Era and the Hall of Fame

In the coming years, a slew of steroid users with monster numbers will be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez and probably several others that I missed put up MVP and Hall of Fame quality numbers – but did so on steroids. Here, I will speculate their likelihood to make it on the first ballot.

 

Manny Ramirez: Up for Consideration: ? (2016 – 2018 at the latest).

Career numbers: .313/.411/.586 555 HR 1830 RBI 155 OPS+

Verdict: First-Ballot HOFer, without a doubt.  Between 1995 and 2008, he was one of the most feared hitters in the game not named Rodriguez. Along the way, he helped the Boston Red Sox to two world championships as the clubs clean-up hitter, and boy did he clean up. Unfortunately, it was during this period in which he was probably using steroids. In spite of that, without the roids, he probably winds up at .300/.400/.540, and maybe 400-450 home runs – easy hall-of-fame numbers. The two rings don’t hurt, either.

Mark McGwire: Been up for consideration since ’06.

Career numbers: .263/.395/.588 583 HR 1414 RBI 162 OPS+

Verdict: Nope. His numbers would, steroid free, make him the greatest 3-true-outcome hitter ever, way beyond Reggie Jackson. Unfortunately for him, he did use steroids, and without the home-run totals, including his record-breaking 1998 season, he doesn’t make it.

Sammy Sosa: Up for Consideration: 2012 (unless he comes back again to piss his way past Ken Griffey Jr).

Career numbers:  .273/.344/.534 609 HR 1667 RBI 128 OPS+

Verdict:No way. If McGwire can’t do it, then neither can Sosa. Essentially, these two can be grouped into the same group – and Sosa’s the weaker one. a 128 OPS+ just isn’t cutting it.

Roger Clemens: Eligible for Consideration: 2012

Career numbers: 354-184 3.12 ERA. For shits and giggles, 7 Cy Young’s

Verdict: Oh God, he should, but probably won’t. Clemens is one of the top-five pitchers ever, and possibly the greatest of all time. Unfortunately, he kind of shot himself in the foot on this one. Because of the controversy he has created, the curmudgeonly BBWAA probably aren’t letting this man in.

Alex Rodriguez: Up for consideration: 2022(!!!!) (tentatively)

Career Numbers: .303/.387/.571 613 HR 1831 RBI 145 OPS+

Verdict: Definite. Between 1996 and 2009, was there a more feared hitter overall in the league? Think about it. According to officials, Rodriguez only used steroids in Texas, even if you halve his home runs in those years, he still comes out to 535. Alex is only 35, yet could retire today and be a hall of famer.

Barry Bonds: Up for consideration: 2012

Career numbers: .298/.444/.607 762 HR (record) 181 OPS+ 2558BB (record)

Verdict: Duh. Bonds is the greatest hitter in baseball history not named Ruth, and the greatest power-speed combo ever, period. His OBP is third highest in the liveball era, right behind Williams, Gehrig and Ruth. In the period 2000-2004, Bonds was not only the best hitter in baseball, he was flat-out dominant, hitting .339/.535/.781, with 258 home runs and a whopping 872 walks. Those numbers – put together IN FIVE YEARS – are liek a combination of the careers of Tony Gwynn and Don Mattingly (one of those men is a first balloter; the other should have been). Even without steroids, Bonds probably lands behind Williams, Ruth and Gehrig on the lists, and still winds up with 600 home runs at least. Easy first-balloter, and probably one of the top-ten  or five players ever.

 

 

 

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2011 MLB Predictions part I: The AL East

Okay, here goes:

AL East:

1)Yankees (99-63)

2) Rays (95-67) Wild Card Winner

3) Red Sox (94-68)

4) Blue Jays (85-77)

5) Orioles (77-85)

The AL East will remain ridiculously competitive. The Orioles will show improvement and a step in the right direction under Showalter, and they will see improvement from their youth – particularly, Catcher Matt Weiters. But that will not suffice in the East, and they will remain the division’s beanbags. The Blue Jays will make strides towards being one of baseballs elite clubs. Jose Bautista will have another great season but with some regression to the mean, not hitting more than 45 homers. He will lead a fiery offense that will show great vigor for the first half, before falling off in the second. The Blue Jays will be held by the youth of their pitchers, who will show the best potential in baseball but fail to fully deliver.

Go Yankees.

The Red Sox will be a powerhouse and finish with one of the best records in baseball, but will fail to make the playoffs again. Their pitching will be held up by Lester on the mound and Bard in the pen, but the Sox’s adoration of Papelbon and Beckett will hold them back. David Ortiz will have a slightly above average season, but Ellsbury will come back hot. Youkilis and Pedroia will be good, but will suffer from their injuries. The Rays will have trouble in the first-half as they try to cope with the loss of some key free-agents and trades, but will come on fire in the second half as their youth settles in, making for a huge race with the Sox in the season’s final days. The offense will be average, led by another stellar season from Longoria, but the team’s true strength will lie in the pitching. David Price will win the Cy Young, and Jeremy Hellickson will be murder to batters across the league. Matt Garza and company will make good #2’s. The Yankees will have the best record in the league. Jeter, Rodriguez and Teixeira will all bounce back, with Teixeira making a dry run for MVP. Robinson Cano will be as good as he was in 2010, and be a real MVP candidate again. The real star will be Catcher Jesus Montero, who will win Rookie of the Year for a strong showing at the plate. Sabathia will be very good (not great, however), but Cliff Lee will finish with a sub-3 ERA in pinstripes. Burnett won’t suck, either.

 

In conclusion, I am a home-town fan.

 

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Oh My Jesus.

Jesus Montero, that is.

 

Blessed be his name.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, the New York Yankees have announced that in 2011 our starting catcher could be the chosen one himself, Jesus Montero.

For those of you who don’t know, Jesus is the Yankees best hitting prospect since Jeter at least, and possibly since Mantle himself.

His defense is a bit shaky, but with how Jorge was, the Yankees are willing to take the risk.

In conclusion, this may be the single most anticipated event of my life.

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