Monday, March 18, 2013

2013 Predictions: AL East

With the season just around the corner, I wanted to begin previewing how the season will go. I like to be pretty in depth with my predictions, looking at last year and then what will be different. With that, I looked at each team’s major changes (drawn from this article, although I was kind of hoping Kyle Lohse would be signed by now to give me a complete sense of the additions) and basically what else will be different.

I know I already wrote about the AL East, but this will give a chance to (A) write a non-Orioles-centric article, and (B) test out a new format. So with that, let’s look at the teams, starting with last year’s division winners.

New York Yankees
Record Last Season: 95-67
Key Additions/Retentions: Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Ichiro Suzuki
Key Losses: Eric Chavez, Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez, Rafael Soriano, Russell Martin
Anything Else: Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson are all injured to start the season
Brett Gardner and Michael Pineda were injured all of last year, and will hopefully be back
CC Sabathia will hopefully pitch a bit more than in 2012 too

I’m always cautious about saying the Yankees’ age will catch up to them, as they’ve been old for a while now. Still, this has to be the bleakest outlook for them in a while though. Swisher (at least by Fangraphs) was their second best position player last year (3.9 WAR), and has provided a pretty solid 4 WAR the last few years. That’s a lot to replace, as is 2-win catcher Russell Martin, who will have Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart taking over for him.

A-Rod at least got injured early enough to let the Yankees sign Kevin Youkilis. Granderson and Teixeira will have Juan Rivera and Ben Francisco as their replacements, it appears. Add in that this is a team with Travis Hafner at DH (one season of 100+ games in last five years), 39 year old surgically-repaired Derek Jeter at short, 39-year old Ichiro Suzuki in right, 38-year old Hiroki Kuroda as the number two starter, 41-year old Andy Pettitte as the number three... What I guess I’m saying is that depth and injuries are looking like a real issue this season. I realize that teams rarely have 10-15 game swings in their win totals in one season, but this might be the exception. None of those moves, individually, is a killer. But all together? That’s a lot to withstand.

Baltimore Orioles
Record Last Season: 93-69
Key Additions/Retentions: Um...Yamaico Navarro? Trayvon Robinson? Nate McLouth, I guess
Key Losses: Mark Reynolds, Joe Saunders
Anything Else: Yeah, it was a really quiet off season
Nick Markakis might be injured to start the season
Jason Hammel will hopefully pitch for more than half the season.
The Orioles were really lucky in one-run games
Manny Machado will play his first full season

There is no way the Orioles will go 29-9 in one-run games again. But that’s not to say that the Orioles should have done a lot this offseason. I would say it’s good that they didn’t follow the Royals’ example and sell the farm to compete in 2013. They should still be rebuilding first and foremost.

On top of that, there is still reason for optimism based on last year. Baltimore had a much better run differential in the second half (361-318, to 351-387 in the first half), and made some changes to go with that. Calling up Manny Machado was a real improvement, as was solidifying the rotation. Jason Hammel will hopefully pitch more than 118 innings, and Chris Tillman will hopefully pitch a full season and show that he can be a number 2 starter. Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, and the rest of the cast will hopefully provide an all-around above-average set of pitchers. The Orioles could have done a little more to improve for 2013 (another bat, maybe), but they aren’t in too bad a place to start from.

Tampa Bay Rays
Record Last Season: 90-72
Key Additions/Retentions: Will Myers (and other prospects from the James Shields trade), Yunel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, James Loney, Joel Peralta
Key Losses: James Shields, Wade Davis, JP Howell, Jeff Keppinger, Carlos Pena, BJ Upton
Anything Else: Evan Longoria will be playing a full season
As always, the Rays are a young team with the potential for growth

I’m always high on the Rays’ chances, I feel like. James Shields and BJ Upton won’t be easy to replace. But, on the other hand, this is a team that will be getting an extra half-season out of a healthy Evan Longoria. They have a young rotation in Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and company, as well as David Price serving as the ace. They have a deep farm system, with Myers now at the top. Desmond Jennings has been improving, and Ben Zobrist is an underrated MVP-type player.

The downsides? Well, right now, they have Luke Scott at DH, James Loney at first, Kelly Johnson at second, and Yunel Escobar at short. Johnson and Escobar were both pretty mediocre last year, but they’re also both a season removed from being much better than that. They may be bounce-back candidates, and if they flounder, Ben Zobrist can move back in from right field to cover either middle infield slot. James Loney and Luke Scott are more problematic. Neither has been useful in as long. If Tampa could have brought in, say, Lance Berkman or Melky Cabrera (or really, anyone with more upside) for those two spots, I would be a lot more confident in them. They have done some incredible stuff in the past, though, even coaxing value out of Casey Kotchman. It could happen.

Toronto Blue Jays

Record Last Season: 73-89
Key Additions/Retentions: Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonificio, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, RA Dickey, Josh Thole, Melky Cabrera, Maicer Izturis
Key Losses: Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar, Brandon Lyon, a bunch of prospects, Carlos Villanueva, Jeff Mathis
Anything Else: Jose Bautista should play more
Same with Brandon Morrow
Ricky Romero mysteriously got awful last year; maybe he’ll revert back to 2011 form?

The Blue Jays got crushed by pitcher injuries last year, so they responded by hoping Morrow recovers and Romero bounces back. Also, they got Johnson, Buehrle, and Dickey in case that doesn’t work.

Any way you slice it, the Jays had an impressive off season. Is it enough to make up 20-odd games in the standings though? Well, those three starters are more or less all replacing 0-WAR pitchers. If you want to guesstimate that they’re all about 4-WAR pitchers to start with, that’s a solid 12-win pick up just from those three. An extra two wins each from Bautista (about 3 WAR last year), Reyes (replacing the 2-WAR Yunel Escobar), Cabrera (replacing the replacement level Adam Lind), and whoever wins the second base job between Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio (replacing 1-win Kelly Johnson) gets you a 20-win improvement overall.

Maybe you don’t believe in Edwin Encarnacion’s breakout 2012, but even then, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie bring some solid room for improvement with them. It’ll be an interesting year, to be sure.

Boston Red Sox 
Record Last Season: 69-93
Key Additions/Retentions: Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, David Ross, Johnny Gomes, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew, Joel Hanrahan, Shane Victorino
Key Losses: James Loney, Cody Ross, Mark Melancon
Anything Else: They also miss half a season of Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez
John Lackey returns from Tommy John surgery
David Ortiz might be hurt to start 2013
Jacoby Ellsbury should be healthier
Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz were less good than expected last year for reasons that aren’t totally clear

The Red Sox should be more respectable this year, if nothing else. Ryan Dempster is a solid rotation presence. John Lackey and Clay Buchholz will probably have at least one solid pitcher between the two of them. If Jon Lester can get back to ace status, that would be a huge win for Boston.

There really just isn’t a lot to be excited for on this team, though. I mean, their corner outfielders are Shane Victorino and Johnny Gomes. Ellsbury, Ortiz, Napoli, and Drew all come with injury questions. I guess I can see them as a middling team, though, and that’s not a bad place to be.

Final Predicted Finish:
Toronto Blue Jays
Tampa Bay Rays
Baltimore Orioles
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox

This is a little different than my first preview. The Yankees have lost Teixeira and Granderson to injuries in that time, though, which isn’t inspiring any confidence in me. Moving them down seemed fair, especially since I expect this to be a very competitive division. Even the winner probably won’t get too far past 90 wins (I’m thinking 93-ish at the moment).

And even the bottom of the division, I expect to be pretty not-awful. I think the Astros and a majority of the AL Central will soak up a lot of the AL’s total losses this season. I initially have the Orioles and Red Sox at pretty close to 81 wins, but I’m taking the over on that for the Orioles and the under for the Red Sox. The Yankees I was originally going to place in the mid-to-upper-80s, but as more and more issues crop up, I keep docking them more and more, although I’m a little worried that I’m over-docking them.

In the end, it looks like I prefer to bet on potential. I like the larger upside of Toronto, Tampa, and Baltimore over the more limited ones of Boston and New York. This sounds dangerous, now that I look at it-I am predicting the Yankees and Red Sox to hold the AL East cellar, after all. Maybe I’m being too optimistic for the other three teams in the division, but in the end, I’m going to stick to it.

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