When trying to determine the most fundamentally sound team in the league, one could make the rankings based off of any number of fielding or hitting statistics. How many errors did a team have? Do they hit-and-run successfully? How much does a team use sacrifice plays? What is their stolen base percentage?
The point is this—it's very hard to determine what is and isn't a fundamentally sound team. Sure, teams might not always bunt runners over, but then again, is there always a need for that given the power in the game today? Match-ups can also play a factor in this.
For the most part, teams that are fundamentally sound and do all the "small things" important in the game will likely be the better teams in the league.
It's quite hard to put the Pirates anywhere but last on this list. When you haven't finished over .500 since 1992, there isn't much going right with your franchise. I root for the Pirates to surpass the .500 mark every year, but it's hard to see them doing so in the next year or two.
While they do have some great young talent like Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Neil Walker, they still have many holes on the roster to fill. Even if they play great fundamentally sound ball this year, they still play in the very deep National League Central that almost guarantees another losing season.
For those that might not know, that's young phenom, Bryce Harper pictured. The Nationals are a similar case to the Pirates. They have some very good young players, but they haven't figured out how to win yet.
One thing the Nats have over the Pirates is a willingness by the front office to bring in high priced free agents. Jayson Werth going to Washington was the surprise move of the offseason, especially given the length and amount of his contract.
Pudge Rodriguez will make his pitching staff better just being behind the plate, but the rest of the team must improve their fielding and timely hitting to move out of the cellar in the NL East.
The Diamondbacks may have made an addition by subtraction with their trade this offseason of third baseman Mark Reynolds. They signed Melvin Mora as a replacement and that means a better defender and more discipline at the plate.
Much like the Pirates and Nats, the Diamondbacks possess some very nice young talent. Can Justin Upton and company mesh with the veterans of the team? If yes, then they might be able to make some noise in the NL West, otherwise they are likely destined for a very long, losing-filled season.
Speaking of a long, losing-filled season, meet the 2011 Kansas City Royals. The Royals have the best farm system in baseball but don't expect all the team's woes to turn around this year.
The Royals got some talented young players by trading away former ace Zack Greinke, but they don't have any All-Star caliber players on their roster for 2011 except for Billy Butler and Joakim Soria. Manager Ned Yost has been in charge of managing young teams and helping them develop into complete ballplayers before, but this year might be even too much to overcome for the patient Yost.
Although the Astros had a losing 2010 season in which they traded away long time stars Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, they rebounded and were quite competitive by the end of the year.
Carlos Lee is an awful defender. He can still swing the bat pretty well, but the 'Stros defense will continue to struggle as long as Lee roams left field in Minute Maid Park. Luckily, Michael Bourn can cover-up much of Lee's defensive struggles.
If Houston can field and some of their young players continue to develop, they could again surprise in 2011 and maybe make the NL Central a five team race.
The common theme for most of the teams so far has been a lot of young talent. The Cleveland Indians are no different. Trades over the past few years have sent away veteran talent like CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez.
With those trades, in addition to established stars like Grady Sizemore (when healthy) and Shin-Soo Choo, the Indians should be fine at the plate. Will they be able to field the ball well enough to compete in the AL Central? Probably not but the future does look bright in Cleveland, especially if their young pitching can develop.
The Cubs have talent, there's no doubt about that, but they are still a mess of a franchise. No one wants to take their big-money contracts, so they have to make the best of a bad situation.
Starlin Castro is the future of the team and there are other pieces around him to build on. Carlos Pena needs more plate discipline if the Cubs want to be contenders in 2011 however. Of course they are a Carlos Zambrano outburst away from completely imploding on and off the field. If nothing else, 2011 should be entertaining for the Cubbie faithful.
After a surprising 2009 season, the Mariners tumbled mightily in 2010. They have the talent to turn things around in 2011, especially with the Texas Ranger departures this winter.
Seattle has a solid foundation of veterans, but they might be depending too much on first baseman Justin Smoak to have a big year. If he comes through, they'll be in the division hunt.
The pitching and defense are solid, so much of the team's success will be determined by Smoak, Ichiro and the rest of the offense's performance.
No one is really worried about the Brewers scoring runs, they'll do that. It would be nice, however, if they didn't rely so much on the home run to score their runs. Timely hitting will be important for the 2011 team.
The Brewers are a mess defensively. Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar were their two best defenders last year, but they both got shipped off to Kansas City in the Zack Greinke trade. If the starters could strike out 20 a game, the Brewers would easily win the NL Central.
If the defense can be average, that may be enough to make a playoff push. Even that may be asking a lot though.
The Marlins have the potential to be a playoff team. They have great starting pitching and some super young hitters on their roster.
Much like the Brewers, defense will be the key for the Marlins. Although they have talent at the plate, the talent doesn't transition to the field. The loss of Dan Uggla will also hurt them, especially losing him to the division rival Braves.
The White Sox can pitch and they can hit the long ball. Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn should be launching a ton of homers on the Southside the summer. Mark Buehrle will lead a very deep staff that goes five deep.
Once again, it's all about the defense with a team. With Ozzie Guillien as their manager, they are well versed in playing small ball if needed, even if they prefer to swing away. If the defense can just be in the middle of the pack, the White Sox will be a serious threat to the Twins in the AL Central.
The Tigers can hit, pitch, and with Johnny Damon no longer in left field, they should be much better in the field. They also had a very good winter adding Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit.
Can they stay healthy this season? Injuries hit them hard last season. If the offense can produce even a few runs a game, the Tigers should be in good shape. Their bullpen is very good but relievers have been known to lose command at any moment.
The Colorado Rockies had a down year in 2010, but fans should expect a bounce back season this year. There's no reason why the Rockies can't compete for the NL West.
Their roster is loaded with athletes. They can hit and field. Though they were an average team in the field, they should be improved this year. Carlos Gonzalez can play any position in the outfield and Dexter Fowler can run down any fly ball hit to him in center.
The low rotation is a concern, so the Rockies will need to be carried by their top couple starters and hope Huston Street can stay healthy.
New Dodgers' manager Don Mattingly has quite the task ahead of him. Can he turn around one of the league's great franchises with instability in the ownership position?
The Dodgers have all the ingredients needed to win. They have good pitching, a solid bullpen, and they field pretty well.
If only Donnie Baseball could be inserted into the line-up and play first. The Dodgers might be a threat to win the NL West then.
It's hard to rank the Mets. They were very good in the field, and they have some very good offensive players. If Johan Santana can make it all the way back relatively soon, they also have a decent rotation.
The Mets biggest problems are in the front office. It's been reported just about every player is on the trading block because of the team's financial mess. Getting rid of the players would have a huge impact on where they rank and how successful they'd be in 2011.
Buck Showalter did an amazing job with the Orioles last season. After he took over, Baltimore was actually one of the best team's in baseball.
Defensively they were good last year, but they should be even better this season with the addition of Derrek Lee at first base. Offensively they should score runs as well. Their rotation may be a question, but there is talent there as well.
The worst part for the Orioles? They play in the AL East.
Does anyone outside of North Texas expect the Rangers to make it back to the World Series this year?
They have a great foundation and can hit with any team in the league. They should also be superb in the field. However, Cliff Lee's departure will be devastating for the team.
That's not to say they don't have quality arms on their staff because they do. But Lee is a bonafide ace and can do things the rest of the pitchers can't. His loss to the Rangers may be the biggest single loss by any team this winter.
The Bobby Cox era may be over in Atlanta but that shouldn't change to much going forward for the Braves. Fredi Gonzalez is more than capable of continuing success that Cox started two decades ago.
The Braves are a very good team but do have a hole at first base. If Freddie Freeman is capable of taking over and doing an adequate job, the Braves should make the postseason. Chipper Jones' health will also be key to the Braves competing in 2011.
If they continue to do all the small things like they have in the past, there's no reason why the Braves can't build on 20 years of success.
The Blue Jays also lost a great manager at the end of the season in Cito Gaston.
I don't think anyone expects Jose Bautista to duplicate his 54 home runs from last year but he should need to. The Blue Jays are a very good team. They hit, field, and pitch quite well. Did anyone think they could win 85 games last year after trading away Doc Halladay?
Like the Orioles, the biggest problem for the Blue Jays is the division the play in. Even with the good team they have assembled, it's hard to imagine them finishing above the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees.
The Angels are below average defensively but can usually make up for it with solid pitching and good hitting.
Under Mike Scioscia as manager, the Angels are continual threats to make the playoffs. He teaches an aggressive style of play and utilizes the hit-and-runs and steals quite well. Plus, you can't really argue with the fact that his understudies have been successful as well.
2010 was a down year for the Angels and they may have had a rough winter, but they should be in the hunt for a division crown once September rolls around.
No team has done more to improve their club this winter than the Red Sox. Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez will do wonders for Boston's offense and defense. Additionally, Crawford's speed at the top of the lineup will put added pressure on opposing pitchers.
The Red Sox weren't a great defensive team last year but they have a deep enough pitching staff to make up for any fielding mistakes. They should also score a ton of runs.
Plus, when you are a good team breaks tend to fall your way. Terry Francona is in prime position to manage his third World Series champion in 2011.
The San Diego Padres were a win away from making the playoffs last season, something nobody gave them a shot to do prior to the season.
The Padres have very good pitching and play outstanding defense. They committed just 72 errors last season, tied for second best in all of baseball. If they can score runs, they should be right in the thick of the NL West.
They are the epitome of a scrappy team that always plays hard and will scratch and claw their way to a win.
Despite not having a large payroll, Billy Beane continues to put together quality teams in Oakland. He's got a great pitching staff that will carry the team this year.
They are decent in the field and at the plate, but they should be looked at as a viable contender in the AL West for 2011. If they can win the division this year, it will be the pitching that carries them there. Plus, don't be surprised to see Beane make another shrewd move to bolster the team if they are in contention in July.
Teams can always use good starting pitching, but if there was one team this winter that could have gotten away with not signing Cliff Lee, it was the Phillies. Unfortunately for the rest of the National League, Lee went back to Philly and they are in prime position to make another run at the World Series.
The Phillies may have the most talent of any team in the league, and that allows them to win games in a variety of ways. They can outscore teams or win a 1-0 pitchers' duel. They are a great defensive unit and have a nice influx of young and veteran players.
Injuries may be the only thing that can keep the Phillies out of the World Series this year.
The Rays may have lost more talent than any other team this winter but don't expect them to revert back to the Tampa teams that played for the first decade of their existence.
They play good defense, have outstanding pitching, and still have a very good offense. If they could ever get fans to come watch them, they'd have a nice home field advantage as well.
Even playing in the ultra-competitive AL East, the Rays should still challenge for a playoff birth in 2011. Joe Maddon will make sure his team is always ready to play and do the little things needed to win over a long, six month season.
There aren't many managers in the history of the game better than Tony LaRussa. Along with pitching coach Dave Duncan, LaRussa and his teams are always well prepared for every game they play. It also doesn't hurt having two great starting pitchers and the best player in the game either.
LaRussa isn't afraid to juggle his lineup or give up an out in a key situation just to get a runner into scoring position. The NL Central may be contested by several teams this year, but almost every fan and pundit is certain of one thing—LaRussa and his Cardinals will have as good of a shot as any team to win their division in 2011.
Like the Atlanta Braves, the Twins have been blessed to have great coaching for several decades now. First Tom Kelly and now Ron Gardenhire.
The Twins had the fifth fewest errors in the Majors last season. They also have a solid, but unspectacular, pitching staff. There offense does enough to win, and they are able to score runs multiple ways.
Minnesota should once again compete for the American League Central title, but they still need their pitching to come through in October the way it does between April and September.
The Reds were a surprise team to many in 2010. After years of hoping their young talent would come together, it finally did and they won the NL Central.
Cincinnati's defense is very good, only the Yankees committed fewer errors than they did. They have an outstanding pitching rotation and a lock-down bullpen. To make the playoffs again in 2011, they will have to continue to produce at the plate like they did in 2010.
Dusty Baker rides his players hard, so there's always a chance one of his young arms will go down to injury. However, his players love him and buy into his system. They will slug or play small ball in order to win a game.
Despite those that criticize Derek Jeter and his lack of range at shortstop, the Yankees are still a great defensive team. They committed just 69 errors as a team last year.
Also, their offense is as good as any other team in baseball. C.C. Sabathia is still one of the best pitchers in the game despite racking up over 1,000 innings pitched the last four seasons. Mariano Rivera is back and no one wants to face him in October with the game on the line.
The question for the Yankees in 2011 will be the rest of their starting rotation. Can Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett pitch well enough over the season to keep the Yankees in the playoff hunt? Brian Cashman may very well have to make a trade this summer to bring one more quality arm to New York to win another title.
The Giants are the World Champions and have earned the right to be number one on this list. Pitching and defense wins championships and San Francisco has plenty of both. Their great pitching is already well known but they committed only 73 errors last year.
Throw in some timely hitting and a willingness by Aubrey Huff to throw down a sacrifice bunt, and that's why the Giants won their first world title since moving to the Bay Area. They may not be the most pretty team to watch but no one ever said a team had to win in a beautiful fashion—they just have to win.
You can expect the Giants to continue to pitch and field very well, but they'll need a bit more from their offense this year if they expect to win another title, let alone win their division.