Every year, there seems to be some trendy prediction that everyone loves to make before the season. For example, last year, everybody (myself included) seemed to think the Mariners were looking like a playoff team. Or the year before that, when several people were convinced that the Royals had a shot to be that year’s Rays. Granted, sometimes, these risky, yet trendy picks do actually work out, such as two years ago, when several writers were picking the Rays to be 2008’s “this year’s Rays team” before we actually had that term (because, you know, that was the year it first happened). In any case, I have been seeing a couple of predictions recurring much more than they should be for 2011, and I just want to be the person with enough foresight to say why they won’t happen before they happen. Because I pointed these out, they’ll probably all happen just to prove me wrong, but nonetheless, I will begin.
Maybe these predictions are just specific to the team’s fans (although this probably applies more to later slides), but this is one I’ve seen quite a bit. The thinking goes that, since the Giants won the World Series last year, and spent the offseason locking up their players, they’ve become likely to, at the very least, make the playoffs again as NL West Champions.
The are far from locks, just because of how much they stand to lose. It isn’t that they lost any particularly important parts, so much as it is the parts are as likely to do as well next year. Granted, they did lose Juan Uribe, who was an above-average starter, and replace him with a 37-year-old Miguel Tejada. That’s not great, but it shouldn’t be a game-changer. No, the real game-changer is in the rest of the roster. The Giants won 92 games last year on some surprise seasons they aren’t likely to see again.
For example, Aubrey Huff was one of last year’s best offseason pick-ups. The Giants essentially took a flier on him, and were rewarded with a career year. Huff posted His highest on-base percentage ever, and his his best OPS+ since 2003. Unfortunately, 34-year old first basemen are particularly good bets to repeat or improve on career years, particularly ones with Huff’s history. One good reference stat I’ll refer to frequently is WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, which sums a players total contributions, compared to how a AAA player would do (also, for reference, WAR is a counting stat and takes into account context, such as home field and league; all WAR from Fangraphs). A team of all-replacement players is estimated to win around 40-45 games, and the Giants overall posted 46.6 WAR last year, which would equate to 91-92 wins. They also won 92 games; okay, you get the point. Huff posted a career high last year, with 5.7 WAR; in the five years prior to that, he had one other season of 4.0 WAR, one of 1.3, and three more of less than 1. Even assuming a middle ground of two, that’s nearly two fewer wins. Andres Torres, a 33-year-old journeyman minor leaguer with a breakout season of 6.0 WAR, is also unlikely to repeat his performance. 34-year-old Pat Burrell gave the Giants 2.7 WAR, but also put up a year and a half of negative WAR with the Rays just before that. On average, we may be looking at a 5-7 Win drop; worst-case scenario, maybe even a 12-15 Win drop. Furthermore, we can’t be sure if Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner will improve or hit a sophomore slump, or if their rotation will be able to handle pitching deep into the postseason (a problem common with young staffs).
Yes, the Giants may still make the playoffs, but with an aging line-up and roster with plenty of uncertainties, it’s hard to project them as favorites to even finish first in the tight NL West.
The Cardinals failed to sign a new deal with Albert Pujols before his Spring Training deadline. This assures that Pujols will not be playing with the Cardinals next year, or possibly even by the end of the season.
The one most likely to be wrong is the trade deadline one. St. Louis still has reason to believe they can resign Pujols, apparently. And if they’re still in contention at the deadline, they’ll have little reason to trade their best player. In this situation, best case scenario is they make the playoffs, win the World Series and convince Albert to stay; worst-case scenario, they fall short, the Cardinals offer arbitration and Pujols leaves, and the Cardinals at least get draft picks. And furthermore, apparently the understanding is that Pujols would veto any trade using his no-trade clause, so the trade is a definite no-go.
There is still reason for Cardinals fans to hope. They still get a short time after the season to try and work out a deal exclusively. And there’s nothing stopping them from trying for him as a free agent. And for everyone who says St. Louis can’t pay for a big enough contract to woo their slugger away from the big spenders, I seem to recall another story from last year about another local star playing for his hometown team who was certain to leave when bigger markets offered him more. And that didn’t quite work out that way. At the very least, there’s something resembling precedent to give Cardinals fans a reason to be optimistic.
Over the winter, the Red Sox made huge upgrades by signing Carl Crawford and trading for Adrian Gonzalez, making themselves favorites to make the playoffs and win it all.
This one is a little more difficult to understand. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford were huge deals, and the Red Sox probably are favorites to win the AL East. However, it won’t be because of those two signings, specifically because of what they lost. Adrian Beltre had an MVP-type season, posting 7.1 WAR, and Victor Martinez had a great season as well, posting 4.0 WAR. Granted, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez had WARs of 6.9 and 5.3, respectively, and are more likely to repeat their all-star level seasons than Beltre and Martinez are. However, that still only represents a gain of 1.3 wins, hardly enough to make them stand-out favorites, considering they finished seven games behind the Rays and 6 games behind the Yankees.
What makes the Red Sox favorites, more than the fact that they have replaced the players that left, is that they should gain plenty of value from having a healthy roster. Last season, Kevin Youkilis (102 games), Dustin Pedroia (75 games), Jacoby Ellsbury (18 games), Mike Cameron (48 games), and Josh Beckett (21 starts) all missed significant time last year; despite all of these setbacks, the Red Sox won 89 games. With more games from these players, the Red Sox look to be the favorites of the AL East.
The Astros were awful last year, but showed signs of life late in the season. Despite some experts predicting them to finish last, the Astros will remain competitive late into the season.
Maybe this one’s just a regional thing, but I’ve seen this one several times, so I figured I should address it now. It is true the Astros played well enough after their disastrous start to the season to finish in fourth in the NL Central, with a 76-86 record. However, even that is slightly misleading; their expected win-loss record based on the number of runs they scored and allowed placed them fifth in their division.
Cincinnati and St. Louis were both stronger than the Astros last year, and look to be better than them this year. Milwaukee and Chicago both made significant upgrades over the offseason (and Milwaukee was already ahead of Houston in 2010). And, most importantly, the Astros look to have an atrocious line-up this year. Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn are both solid players, but Carlos Lee’s best days are well-behind him (he actually posted a WAR of -0.8 last year, meaning he actually cost his team value). Clint Barmes and Bill Hall both figure to start in the middle infield, yet both were spare parts last year for other teams. Promising young catcher Jason Castro is out for the year. According top ESPN scout Keith Law, most scouts have given up on former top prospect Brett Wallace’s ability to hit inside pitches, which doesn’t bode well. And third baseman Chris Johnson is promising, but only has 105 games at the major league level, and seemed rather lucky in 2010-his batting average on balls in play was .387, well above the low-.300 it was in the minors. As fewer hits drop in, his batting average will fall. Overall, the Astros do not seem strong enough to topple more than maybe one of the four teams at the head of the NL Central.
The thinking goes that, with the addition of Vernon Wells, the Angels have greatly improved their offense, and will now sport one of the game’s most potent outfields.
It’s easy to forget in the optimism of spring training, but Wells was untradeable as recently as last offseason for a reason. Wells did have a bounce-back year in 2010, posting a 4.0 WAR and a 127 OPS+. However, he alternated between bad and unplayable for the three seasons prior, providing 1.5, 1.5, and 0.0 Wins from 2007 to 2009. Furthermore, Wells is 32; players are more likely to see their numbers drop at that age than they are to see them increase. In reality, the Angels haven’t done nearly enough to match the A’s or Rangers, particularly on offense.