A Simple Kind of Fan. AL Preview and Predictions – 3.22.11
Since it is a known fact that the American League is the inferior league, we will start here and discuss who is going to lose the World Series again this November. I see no point in previewing all 14 teams, as everyone knows that the Orioles, Royals, and Mariners are going to be crappy. I am, however, going to discuss the teams with a legitimate shot of winning a World Championship. In addition, I will also be listing the contenders and winners of the MVP and CY Young awards. As an added treat, I will also list 3 players you may not have known, but will by season’s end. Please be advised that all picks are non-binding, unless I am correct.
7. Detroit Tigers. I like the Tigers to be in the race all season, but ultimately fall short. Detroit has some impact players on offense with Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Magglio Ordonez. Despite the quality of those three players, the Tigers simply have too many unproven starters in the lineup and not enough depth to win the division. In addition, the pitching is simply not as deep as their competition in Minnesota. I believe Miguel Cabrera’s complete disregard towards alcohol responsibility, and the subsequent related laws, will continue to be a large distraction for the Tigers throughout the season. I am calling for Detroit to win 85 games in 2011, culminating with an ugly September fade.
6. Tampa Bay Rays. In my opinion, Tampa’s starting rotation of Price, Shields, Niemann, Davis, and Hellickson has the potential to be the best in the division. You might recall the whispers that the Brewers were trying to acquire Davis or Hellickson as a part of the Prince Fielder package. Of course, Tampa wisely resisted and now they are deep in pitching and prospects. However, it is not all roses for the St. Petersburg suburb. The offense lost Carl Crawford and replaced him with Johnny Damon. They also added consummate “professional” Manny Ramirez. Yuck. Tampa simply lacks any impact offensive players outside of Longoria and Upton. The Rays have enough pitching to repeat as division champs, but will struggle to score enough runs to compete with New York and Boston. In a ridiculously tough division, I still see the Rays winning 87 games.
5. Chicago White Sox. Chicago should be as good as the 88 games they won in 2010. They added Adam Dunn and some middle relief pitching this off season. One loss that will definitely hurt Chicago is losing Bobby Jenks. Jenks did have a 4.44 ERA last year, but peering closer reveals that he had a 2.59 FIP, combined with an unlucky .345 BABIP. Alas, Chicago has tabbed Matt Thornton as his replacement and I am sure he will have some growing pains. Despite solid veteran pitching, until Jake Peavy turns back into Jake Peavy, I still like Minnesota to top Chicago and their projected 91 wins.
Wild Card: New York Yankees. Obviously the Yankees have a prolific offense that will carry them all season. They are loaded up and down the lineup. Offensive is not the problem with the Yankees as they will easily make the playoffs again in 2011. Unfortunately for New York, what consistently wins in the playoffs is pitching. Just like last year, I feel that quality pitching depth will be their downfall in October. A.J. Burnett proved last year in the playoffs that he is overpaid (and overrated). Honestly, Freddie Garcia isn’t getting it done in a massive Game 6 either. The loss of Andy Pettitte will be felt especially hard when a big pitching performance is needed from someone other than CC. In a big spot, the Yankees simply do not have the pitching firepower to match up with the other playoff teams. This is the script that will finally allow Minnesota to exercise a decade worth of demons. Mark the Yankees down for 93 wins.
Division: Texas Rangers. The Rangers had many things break their way in 2010. After beating the Yankees in the playoffs, they were playing with house money. Running into a pitching staff that was even hotter is nothing to be ashamed of, but of course that doesn’t remove the sting of losing the World Series. I like the Rangers to win the division primarily because their competition is quite uninspiring this year. Oakland has good pitching, but did very little to improve their dreadful offense. Los Angeles-Anaheim is on a downward slide, they failed to land any impact offensive free agents, and they have dreadful starting pitching depth. Finally, Seattle is terrible. I like the Rangers to win 88 games and lose in the Division playoffs to the Red Sox.
Division: Minnesota Twins. The Twins do everything right, except beat the Yankees in the playoffs. This year I think they finally get that task done. Justin Morneau and his recovery from post concussion illness is one issue pestering the Twins as they await his return. Also, I really like the back end of the bullpen with Capps and Nathan, if Nathan returns healthy from Tommy John surgery. I understand there are a few unproven starters the Twins will be counting on this season. Of course, the Twins will trot out a few players we haven’t heard of, they will undoubtedly play the game the right way and ultimately they will be assets to the team. I will admit I am reaching a bit, but I like Minnesota to win 94 games in the very competitive AL Central.
AL Champs: Boston Red Sox. Boston was obviously not pleased with their unfamiliar third place finish last season. In 2010, the Red Sox were second in the AL with 5.1 runs per game. Despite the offensive success, they went ahead and acquired Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in this past off season. Adding these two players to any team would immediate improve any offense, let alone an already prolific one such as the Red Sox. In addition, Kevin Youkilis will slide to third thus minimizing the loss of departed Adrian Beltre. On the pitching side, the rotation and bullpen is deep and laden with veterans. The unpredictable thing that hurt Boston more than anything last year was injuries. I believe they will be healthier and the improved offense will carry this team to 100 wins and a spot in the World Series.
4. Jared Weaver. For those of you that don’t know, Weaver is straight up nasty. He is a classic example of why I am writing this blog. On the surface, it would appear as if he had an average year. After all, he was only 13-12. Looking closer would reveal a 3.01 ERA (legitimized by a 3.06 FIP), 224 innings at over a strikeout per inning, and a 5.9 WAR. Simply put, he was dominating, while his offensive teammates were not. I look for Weaver’s numbers and luck to improve in the upcoming season.
3. David Price. Price has been dominant in his short career thus far. Last year he really shined with a 19-6 record over a surprising 209 innings pitched. He also had a 2.72 ERA (3.42 FIP) and a 4.3 WAR. He was very, very impressive in his first full season as a starter. Price’s fastball sits in the mid 90’s and he threw it nearly 3 out of 4 times in 2010. Considering that young flamethrower has only had 144 innings of career minor league seasoning, I think he can and will be even better with more experience in year three.
2. Felix Hernandez. King Felix generally leads any discussion of an American League Cy Young race. His stuff is dominating and he is extremely durable. Hernandez had the least run support of any starting pitcher in the AL (Felix had 12 starts in which he allowed two earned runs or fewer and did not win.) Despite winning only 13 games, opposing batters managed to only hit .212 against the young workhorse spanning 250 innings. I project Hernandez to have another similar year and he could run away with this award with any offensive help from the Mariners.
Cy Young: CC Sabathia. When CC left Milwaukee for greener pastures, he signed a huge 7 year- $161M deal with New York. However, CC was smart to include an out clause in his contract after this season. Why? I suppose he wanted some assurances he could leave if he didn’t like New York, which is understandable. Of course, CC has come into camp much slimmer and ready to make some $$$ in what is essentially a contract year. He says he will not exercise the clause, but denial is the quickest way to eliminate a potential daily distraction. CC will have tremendous run support and should put up another solid 20 win season and bring home a Cy Young.
4. Josh Hamilton. Hamilton is a feel good story as he makes his triumphant comeback complete over his addiction to drugs and alcohol. He had a great MVP season in 2010 that was loaded with eye popping numbers. For instance, Hamilton led all players with an 8.0 WAR, .359 average, .633 Slugging, and a 1.044 OPS. It is worth mentioning that Hamilton was very lucky as well with a .390 BABIP. It is almost certain that the reigning MVP will suffer some sort of regression statistically across the board in 2011, based on simply not being as lucky as he was last season. I look for Hamilton to continue to be consistent and a force in the MVP race this upcoming season.
3. Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez was a somewhat anonymous player that is now being thrust into the spotlight and into the best rivalry in baseball. Gonzalez will no longer have to be the main bat in the order, as now he is just one of many powerful members of the Red Sox lineup. Gonzalez has proven to be durable, as he has averaged almost 160 games a year in each of the last five years. I project Gonzalez to once again hit near .300 and hit over 30 home runs. Considering that he is now playing in hitter friendly Fenway, and no longer in pitcher friendly Petco, his numbers could be even better. If so, he is sure to get a big push from his new big market team for MVP.
2. Joe Mauer. Anytime a catcher leads an offensive category (especially in the AL) it deserves extra merit. A left fielder may have to jog out to their position eight times and catch 3 fly balls all game. Mauer has to catch 8 innings, a HUGE DIFFERENCE. Mauer led all players in batting average and OBP in 2009. In 2010, he suffered from a bit of a power outage, but he still led all catchers once again in average and OBP, but also in hits, doubles, and runs. The Minnesota native is still the man. I think you can attribute the drop in power number due to Target Field and lacking Justin Morneau for protection in the lineup. While the Twins aren’t moving anytime soon, I think Morneau will be back and help Mauer have another MVP caliber season.
MVP: Robinson Cano. Cano had a huge year in 2010. He led all second basemen with a 6.4 WAR, 200 hits, 109 RBIs, .534 Slugging, and .914 OPS. Robinson was also New York’s most consistent offensive performer and perhaps even their most valuable player. What makes Cano so valuable is that he brings the ability to hit for average and power, plus he plays a position predominantly defined by defense. Players like Chase Utley, Rickie Weeks, Dan Uggla, and Cano are redefining the offensive expectations for second basemen. I anticipate Robinson will continue to produce offensively and will separate himself from the rest of the competition at his position. For this reason, I believe he will win the MVP award in 2011.
3 Players You May Not Have Known, But Will by Season’s End.
Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays. I was extremely excited when Hellickson’s name was connected with Prince Fielder trade rumors at last season’s All Star break. He pounds the strike zone and limits his walks. He started 25 games between AAA (21) and Tampa Bay (4). He went 16-3 in those starts. Tampa Bay is going to give him the opportunity to start everyday and I believe that decision will result in Hellickson winning the Rookie of the Year award.
Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals. The Royals are VERY DEEP in prospects and Moustakas is as good as any of them. In 2010, he hit 36 Home Runs between AA and AAA. That is impressive at any level. Of course, the Royals will attempt to hide him in the minors until June so they can avoid a year of service time. I am projecting Moustakas to have a debut similar to Braun when he came up. I am not saying he will win the Rookie of the Year award, but I am saying he will come up and rake immediately.
Gio Gonzalez, Oakland A’s. The A’s are loaded at pitcher and have high hopes for continued success out of Gonzalez. Last season, he pitched over 200 innings and had a very good 3.23 ERA (3.78 FIP). To improve, Gio has to cut down on the walks and exhibit better command. I think he will do that and build on his success in 2010 to become a staff leader for the A’s in the upcoming season.
Dates Appearing Closer on the Horizon
March 31st. The Brewers open the regular season on the road versus the division champs.
April 8-10. Cubs v. Brewers, Act One.
Shameless Self Promotion
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