2009 MLB Playoff Contender Rankings

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2009 MLB Playoff Contender Rankings
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Last year, on somewhat of a whim, I put together a group of rankings called the Contender Rankings. I took 11 different categories that I believed were crucial to playoff success and ranked each postseason contender in each category. It accumulated into one combined ranking that was supposed to tell us something.

Well, in the end, the top two teams were eliminated in the first round and the eventual World Series champions ended up sixth out of nine teams.

This year, I’ve waited till all playoff teams were set and ranked all eight in 10 of the same categories. I’ve eliminated the 11th; “Most in need of a World Series” because I’ve realized that shouldn’t have much bearing on a team winning it this year. While it sparked most of the debate last year, I think it’s better to nix it.

In fact, the Rays and Phillies finished in the bottom three of that category last year, so we make adjustments.

I also got rid of the factor I rated least important, “Short series danger” and replaced it with “Momentum.” It’s something that is hard to grasp, especially when the playoffs come around, but I believe it’s more inductive to postseason success than a team being dangerous in a short series.

As with most formulas or rankings, repetition and tweaking yields the best results, so I’ve applied one suggestion from last year. I’ve weighted the categories in terms of importance.

Instead of just getting the same amount of points for having the best lineup and the best bench, teams with the better lineups will get more points for a better lineup and less for a better bench.

This will be explained with more details in the Power Ranking portion. For now, here is how each team stacks up in each category, at least according to me.

 

Lineup x9

  1. Yankees
  2. Phillies
  3. Red Sox
  4. Cardinals
  5. Angels
  6. Dodgers
  7. Twins
  8. Rockies

I’m not one to argue with eight hitters collecting at least 18 home runs this season. The Yankees led the entire MLB in runs scored, so I’d be crazy to pick another team. Philadelphia topped this list last year and they are right up there again with their stout top-to-bottom order.

 

Bench x5

  1. Red Sox
  2. Dodgers
  3. Phillies
  4. Yankees
  5. Twins
  6. Rockies
  7. Angels
  8. Cardinals

This is the playoffs, so it’s a given that we have a lot of good teams. But I’m starting to realize just how well-rounded all eight participants are after studying the benches. The Red Sox haven’t decided on Rocco Baldelli’s status yet, but Jed Lowrie is a starter coming off the bench.

With Orlando Hudson not starting, the Dodgers are strong in the extra-player instance. Even though he’s got poor hitting stats, I think the Phillies will miss Eric Bruntlett’s versatility in the first round. I really like the backups Minnesota and Colorado have, but I don’t think I can put them higher.

 

Small Ball Capabilities x3

  1. Rockies
  2. Twins
  3. Dodgers
  4. Angels
  5. Cardinals
  6. Phillies
  7. Red Sox
  8. Yankees

I really believe not starting Orlando Hudson impacts the Dodgers here, but not too much. The Rockies however are a team built to do a lot of that manufacture-runs type baseball with all their speed.

The Twins are a NL Team in an AL Team’s body and the Angels' manager loves to deploy the same tactics as well. The ultimate decider when it came down to last place was the amount of sacrifice flies the Red Sox have produced. In the end, they both had close sacrifice hits as AL teams, but the Red Sox know how to get runners in and use their outs wisely.

Defense x6

  1. Twins
  2. Angels
  3. Red Sox
  4. Phillies
  5. Rockies
  6. Dodgers
  7. Cardinals
  8. Yankees

Is there any two teams more sound defensively than the Twins and Angels? Fundamental baseball preached by their managers gets these two teams at the top of the list. Boston and Philadelphia are right there with them as two teams who have good versatility and defense at just about every position. None of these teams however are atrocious defensively, which should make all these games relatively clean.

 

Starting Rotation x9

  1. Cardinals: Carpenter, Wainwright, Piniero
  2. Angels: Lackey, Weaver, Kazmir, Saunders
  3. Phillies: Lee, Hamels, Blanton/Martinez
  4. Yankees: Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte
  5. Red Sox: Lester, Beckett, Buchholz
  6. Dodgers: Wolf, Kershaw, Padilla, Billingsley
  7. Rockies: Jimenez, Cook, Hammel, Marquis
  8. Twins: Duensing, Blackburn, Pavano, Baker

With a few unknowns, such as who’s the third starter for the Phillies and will some teams go four deep, I had to work with what I was given. I hate to put the Twins last, but they are pretty much the one team that couldn’t set things up the way they would have liked.

The Cardinals in my mind are the slam-dunk number one, with the Angels talented group right behind them. Really, those two and the Phillies are probably as close as you’ll get.

 

Bullpen x8

  1. Dodgers
  2. Yankees
  3. Twins
  4. Red Sox
  5. Cardinals
  6. Phillies
  7. Angels
  8. Rockies

The Dodgers for the second straight year top my list of top bullpens. In the end, they’ve got the closer and arms leading up to him and the numbers to back it up. The Phillies are ultimately hurt by having unrest at the closer position where as the top five teams all have closers you can rely on. Remember though, this just isn’t about the closers, it’s about the entire pen.

 

Manager x8

  1. Joe Torre, Dodgers
  2. Terry Francona, Red Sox
  3. Tony LaRussa, Cardinals
  4. Charlie Manuel, Phillies
  5. Mike Scioscia, Angels
  6. Ron Gardenhire, Twins
  7. Jim Tracy, Rockies
  8. Joe Girardi, Yankees

Remember this encompasses postseason experience just as much as anything else. I’ll start off by saying this was by far the hardest category to rank because of all the top managers included in this years postseason. Five of these managers have won it all and two of them are slam dunk Hall-of-Famers. Really, I wouldn’t have a problem if anyone had a beef with this ranking. It was not easy. Ron Gardenhire sixth? As if he wasn’t underrated enough.

 

Home Field x2

  1. Twins
  2. Yankees
  3. Red Sox
  4. Rockies
  5. Angels
  6. Phillies
  7. Dodgers
  8. Cardinals

This category has a mix of different factors, from home records to just overall quirks of the ballpark. The three quirkiest parks are right at the top with the Twins and their dome, the Yankee Stadium right porch and the green monster in Fenway. Boston and New York hold the best home records as well. No one wants to play the Rockies at Coors because they’ve got the best home record amongst National League playoff participants.

Clutch Hitters x4

  1. Albert Pujols, Cardinals
  2. Ryan Howard, Phillies
  3. Mark Texieira, Yankees
  4. Victor Martinez, Red Sox
  5. Joe Mauer, Twins
  6. Andre Ethier, Dodgers
  7. Kendry Morales, Angels
  8. Todd Helton, Rockies

It’s a new breed of clutch hitters. Gone are Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Not to say they aren’t clutch, but they have been outdone by some teammates this season. On top this list is no doubt Albert Pujols, who was avoided like the plague this year by pitchers with 44 intentional walks.

Due to his continued walk-off winners, Andre Ethier gets the slight nod over Ramirez. Here’s something to chew on. Kendry Morales led the entire majors in RBI with runners in scoring position and two outs. That is the most clutch-hit in baseball you can get.

 

Momentum – x2

  1. Twins
  2. Rockies
  3. Yankees
  4. Angels
  5. Red Sox
  6. Phillies
  7. Dodgers
  8. Cardinals

Is there any argument that the Twins have the most momentum going forward? The team always fighting for the lives till the very end is in a battle mode. The Rockies have been lighting the world on fire and have to feel good about their chances as well. The Yankees didn’t just end up the best team in the game; they ended the best team in the second half as well. The Cardinals aren’t entering the season on the best note, but they should be fine.

 

Power Rankings

  1. Red Sox (308)
  2. Phillies (290)
  3. Dodgers (273)
  4. Yankees (265)
  5. Cardinals (262)
  6. Angels (240)
  7. Twins (236)
  8. Rockies (142)

If a team ranked first in a category, they received eight points and so on and so forth. From there, each number was multiplied by the number I’ve put next to the category. So for instance, in momentum, the twins received 16 points, the most you can receive. In lineup, they received 18 points, the second least you can receive in that category.

After all these numbers were calculated and multiplied, each team had their scores in each category added up and those were the results. Boston tops the list by 18 points over the Phillies. The Rockies come in very low with just 142 points and the team with the best record, New York comes in right at the center of it all.

I’m far from a numbers guy. But when you can combine personal opinion and rankings and all that fun stuff I love to do, then I’m game for anything. But one thing to take into consideration here is that you can tweak these numbers to say whatever you want. I can go in and change a few things and end up with Boston and Philadelphia being much closer.

I don’t know how much you can expect this to be accurate after last year. I know the two teams that finished fifth and sixth went to the World Series and strangely enough, out of pure coincidence, the teams that I picked for the World Series are fifth and sixth this year.

Because I only had quick comments on certain rankings, I encourage anyone to bring up any disagreements. Such as, “Why did you have this team at the bottom in a certain category?” I’m always willing to defend something and go into greater detail behind my madness.

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