Prediction Reboot: June Edition

June 1st means that we are effectively one-third of the way through the season. The old adage is that a team spends the first third of the season figuring out its identity and needs, the second third getting what it needs to fill the holes, and the final third making a run at the playoffs. If that is true then the next two months will be defined by the moves teams make to help with the final push. Each division remains close with multiple teams in contention…this is shaping up to be a fascinating season. Here’s another prediction reboot as I evaluate my pre-season picks and give my take on each division:

AL East

Order has been restored in the East and as improved as the Orioles are and as fun as the Blue Jays have been, this is and will continue to be a three-horse race between the Sox, the Yanks, and the Rays. The interesting thing about this division is that the Red Sox and Yankees are virtually identical: good offenses, star-studded line ups, veterans who are underproducing, and big questions marks in the back half of the rotations. The Rays are the opposite…they are the AL version of the Giants: pitching, pitching, pitching, and hope for some runs. Still going with my original predictions: Red Sox take the division and the Rays win the Wild Card.

AL Central 

I continue to admit that picking the Twins was one of the worst predictions I have ever made! That said, this division presents a conundrum to many around baseball. Are the Indians for real? They seem to be playing above their heads, especially in the pitching department, and the gap has closed between them and the rest of the division recently. Detroit continues to be the primary adversary to date, and the Twins and Royals are essentially done. That leaves Chicago. They appear to have righted the bullpen issues that plagued them early and I have to believe that their offense will heat up as the weather continues to warm. My money is still on Chicago to get hot and take this division, but I have little confidence in any prediction I can make about the AL Central.

AL West 

The AL West is extremely close and incredibly mediocre. Each team has 27, 28, or 29 wins. First and last are separated by 2 wins (2.5 games). The big surprise has been the Mariners who could be in first place by tonight if things go right. As impossible as it might seem, given their atrocious offense, they might be able to stay in this slowest of  races. The Western divisions are probably the two that will be most affected by mid-season trades. Whoever makes the best moves here will probably prevail. Last year it took 90 wins to take this division, right now the winner is on pace for 87. That’s not great. My thoughts: I have the most confidence in the Rangers to pull off a difference making move, but I am not ready to change my original pick. The A’s will make a move too, and they will also see their starters go on a crazy run and win 15 of 17 at some point this summer to separate themselves from the pack. Oakland prevails.

NL East

One of the best stories of the year has to be the Marlins. They were my NL Sleeper pick back in January and they are making me proud! That said, I still can’t help but think the Braves will overtake them. And now with the news about Hanley Ramirez and his bad back, I feel even more strongly that the Marlins will fade. It will be close though. The Braves squeak by for the Wild Card and the Phillies ride their four horsemen to the division title.

NL Central 

I have to admit that I am starting to believe in the Cardinals. However, not much has changed here as far as my opinion about this division. Still think the Brewers are the team to beat, still think the Reds are/were overrated, still think the Cubs and Pirates are actually close to contending and could be annoying down the stretch. The Cardinals though are really going to make this interesting. Their offense is great as much because of the Allen Craigs and David Freeses and Ryan Theriots even though much credit  goes to the big three of Berkman and Holliday and Pujols (who WILL break out soon). If they make a significant pitching move, it could be enough to make the playoffs. I don’t think Milwaukee can make a big move (ala Jose Reyes) because they lack the prospects (after their two big offseason trades). They will have to do this with what they have. That could be the difference. Nonetheless, I still stay the Brewers take the Central.

NL West

So, the Rockies lose their best pitcher for the season and everyone concedes the division to the Giants. The next day the Giants lose their best player for the season and meanwhile no one really notices that, hey, the Diamondbacks are winning the division! The loss of De la Rosa and Posey means the West is wild and wide open. However, it is pretty safe to say that the Padres and Dodgers aren’t going to join the party. The Rockies are in danger in burying themselves, but even down an important arm I think they are too talented to go away and die. The Diamondbacks are good, young, and talented, but their pitching is a far cry from what the Giants have. I expect the Giants to make significant move and I hope it involves Eric Surkamp and Thomas Neal, not Zack Wheeler or Brandon Belt, and I think that move will be helpful. But at the end of the day, no one in the West pitches like the Giants. It might only take 88-91 wins to take this division and I think the Giants can manage that even sans Buster. Sticking with my boys: Giants win the West.

As you can tell, not much has changed in my opinion here in the last month. Still a long way to go and as we head into trade season much will be illuminated. As it was last year there are a lot of good teams, but no GREAT team and so anything seems possible. It’s going to be a crazy summer!

(-SB)

Nick’s Prediction Reboot

(note: nick’s article was submitted on may 6th, before the completion of the Giants-Rockies series).

AL EAST

Well the Red Sox certainly blew up my prediction for a dominant run at the AL title. That being said I still see them recovering nicely and being in the playoff hunt for the rest of the season. I still think I’m sticking with them for the title since the Yankees seem to be falling apart. As for the Rays, they’ve sold me after a really rough start. That, in addition to the terrible Central and West mean I’m picking them as my new AL Wild Card winners.

AL CENTRAL

I still think the Royals are a few years away, but good lord do the White Sox suck right now. No hitting, no pitching, no nothing. I have no clue what the Tigers really are and I don’t know if I can trust the Twins with Morneau and Mauer out so much. Looking at the Indians I think they’re the real deal, or at least real enough to win the Central.

AL WEST

Not sold on the A’s anymore and I’m changing my pick to the Rangers. Losing Feliz and Hamilton didn’t help, but Neftali is coming back and when Josh returns the offense will continue to swing large. The A’s could make a run and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did, but it’ll be down to those two teams as the Angels don’t seem to have the pieces necessary to win and the M’s are the M’s.

NL EAST

I don’t buy the Marlins at all. I know everyone says that and then they go win a World Series, but I don’t see that pitching and offense outlasting the Phillies or the Braves. That being said I still have the Phillies winning the division but after watching Atlanta this past few weeks, It’s going to be a LOT closer than I thought, close enough that I think the Braves will take the Wild Card in the NL.

NL CENTRAL 

I know St. Louis is playing really well, but honestly I still see this as the Brewers’ division to lose. I’m not picking them to win the NL anymore, but this division should still be there with good pitching and REALLY good hitting.

NL WEST

I just don’t know what to make of the Giants. They look SO bad some times, but they have had no Torres, Pablo, Zito, Wilson, Ross or Casilla and a bad hitting Belt for some or most of the season, and they’re still within a stones throw from the Rockies. The Rockies, on the other hand, are REALLY good. I’m sticking with the Giants out of plain homerism but I wouldn’t be betting against Colorado to win the division at this point.

(-NW)

Tomahawk Chop

The Braves, as of this writing, sit in 3rd place in the East, 4.5 back of the Marlins and 4 back of the Phillies and sitting one game under .500. Not the start they were hoping for, but in a division with very weak Nationals and Mets teams, and a Marlins team that is overachieving, in my opinion, the Braves are looking in pretty good shape, and really look like a team that could make a better run at the division than I initially thought. Let’s take a look at why they’re in good position.

Hitting: This is a group of hitters that has performed much better than I would have predicted this season. You have Jason Heyward doing scary good Jason Heyward things, Brian McCann being the best human catcher in baseball (Buster Posey of course being a Demigod), Chipper Jones pretending he’s 29 and not 39, Martin Prado continuing what he started in his breakout year last season and Freddie Freeman beginning to find his groove after coming into the season than with only slightly less hype than Brandon Belt. The three biggest weak spots for the Braves? Center fielder Nate McLouth, who while not doing really well, is at a MUCH better place than last season, Dan Uggla who has had some big struggles so far, but still has been hitting long balls, and Shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who more than makes up for it with his glove. The only other area that makes me pause when I look at their lineup is a very shallow and weak bench outside of backup catcher David Ross. But seriously: Chipper Jones has been looking scary good this season, it’s incredible considering going into Spring Training that he looked like he was going to retire.

Pitching: With all the talk about the pitching rotation of the Phillies, Giants and Brewers this offseason, the Braves were almost completely ignored, except now that I look at their starting it’s got to be one of the stronger ones in the National League. Tim Hudson is the only one of Oakland’s old Big Three (Hudson, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder) that has been consistently good the last few seasons and he looks really good this year. His ERA is a bit high, but watching him pitch tells you a different story. Jair Jurrjens just came back from the DL, and continues to mow people down as he somehow is the most underrated young pitcher in the NL right now. Tommy Hudson has a great strikeout rate (1 an inning) but a fairly high Opponent Batting Average, but this guy is young and will be the Braves ace for years to come. Derek Lowe, the Braves 4th pitcher, looks more like the old Red Sox Derek Lowe and less like the Lowe of the last few years, leading the team in K’s and the starters in ERA. Brandon Beachy came out of nowhere during Spring Training to win the 5th starters job, and although he hasn’t looked amazing, has looked way better than expected with 31 K’s in 29 innings and 1.09 WHIP. Add in to that a ridiculous back of the bullpen of Eric O’Flaherty, Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrel, and if the Braves have the lead going into the 7th inning, they’ll probably win. That said the rest of their bullpen has proven to be a big time weak spot and you can only hope George Sherrill holds up for so long before you need to go get yourself a solid right hander, or call one of your many AAA prospects to get it done.

Overall: If this team stays healthy there is no reason to think that it can’t win the NL East this year, in fact if the Phillies continue to break down, that’s exactly what I expect to happen.

(-NW)

New Monk/New Post

introducing atlanta-based nick waltz, our newest monk. today nick offers a guide for the displaced Giants’ fan.

As a displaced baseball fan, you run into this problem sooner rather than later: going to a ballgame in which your favorite team is not playing. So what do you do when that happens? How does one conduct themselves, especially if one lives in a foreign town, like Atlanta as I do? Fear not baseball-monk readers, as I’ve compiled a list of do’s and don’ts for your behavior at said games, whether in Boston, Atlanta, DC, San Diego, LA, or any other city you may live in. (Note: I use the Braves as my example, feel free to substitute your own team.)

Rule 1: You must ALWAYS cheer for the Giants when they come to town. No exceptions.

Rule 2: You must ALWAYS boo the Dodgers and the Anaheim Angels. (I refuse to call them by any other name.) The Dodgers should be clear. The Angels because through their shenanigans and tomfoolery, they managed to get the 2002 World Series cancelled after they realized the Giants would sweep them.

Rule 3: You may wear a modest amount of Braves team apparel. A hat is appropriate, as is a t-shirt, sweater, etc. Wearing a combination of apparel is appropriate in moderation. For example: A hat/t-shirt combo is fine. A jersey under a jacket with a hat while wearing your Braves sweat bands and track pants would be considered excessive, and unfaithful to your home team.

Rule 4: You are allowed to participate in various home town activities, such as betting on the Milwaukee sausage race during the 5th inning, or doing the Atlanta tomahawk chop as long as you do not do so in an excessive manner.

Rule 5: You may vote for Braves players to be represented in the All-Star game, but ONLY if your favorite team’s option is injured with no chance to play. Even then, you need to think long and hard about possible write-in options before punching out the box of your next choice.

Rule 6: If both the Braves and the Giants make the playoffs, there is NO excuse for missing the Giants game on TV, even if you manage to score sweet, free tickets to see the Braves. The only exception to this is if you plan on sabotaging the Braves in order to set up a more favorable matchup for the Giants in the next round.

Rule 7: Sabotaging your new hometown team is forbidden in all other circumstances.

Rule 8: If a player that you despise is signed by the Braves, you may, in moderation, boo said player, even if you are given evil stares by the fans around you. (For example, if Shane Victorino signed with the Braves, I would be obligated to make signs and say unflattering things to him, while still appreciating the team as a whole. It’s a balancing act.)

Rule 9: Enjoy yourself, but do not make a fool of yourself. Remember, you represent the Giants and you don’t want to give others a bad impression about us. Unless you’re a Yankee fan, in which case it’s impossible to make anything BUT a bad impression on others.

Rule 10: If your favorite team does not make, or is knocked out of the playoffs, you may cheer for your new hometown team to win the World Series, but only by making it clear to friends and co-workers that your favorite team would have totally kicked your new team’s butt if they were both still playing.

Stick to these 10 simple rules and you’ll easily be able to enjoy baseball in person wherever you live!

(-NW)

Why Repeating is So Difficult, Pt. 3

Alright, this is the end of it…some of us have real jobs that we need to get back too =)

We ended the last post with the 2009 Yankees, so lets move on to the Giants!

2010 San Francisco Giants

  • 2009 88-74 (3rd in NL West): 8.1 K/9, 3.55 ERA, 121 ERA+, 1.28 WHIP
  • 2010 92-70 (1st): 8.2, 3.36, 121 (no change!), 1.27 WHIP

First off, how nasty has the Giants’ pitching been the last two years?! Lets review: the only team we looked at to post even one K/9 rate over 8 was the Diamondbacks. The Giants did it two years in a row! Those same Diamondbacks, who had two Hall of Famers on their staff, matched the 121 ERA+ but only did it once. The Giants did it two years in a row! The 2005 White Sox had the best ERA+ at 125, but nowhere near that in ’04 or ’06. The 2007 Red Sox had an ERA+ of 123, but couldn’t quite match it the next year. The Giants broke 120 two years in a row! And, the best ERA of any other team, regardless of year belongs to the 2005 Cardinals (3.49) which was matched essentially matched by the Giants’ in 2009 and bested this last season.

By my simplistic methods, no Championship team in the last 10 years pitched as well as the 2010 Giants. (fun fact: in 2009, when the Yankees won, CC Sabathia posted an ERA+ of 137 and won 20 games…that same season Tim Lincecum crushed Sabathia with a 173 ERA+ and Matt Cain bested CC at 148…how many games did they win? 15 for Tim and 14 for Matt.)

The Giants are a true outlier in my model for a couple of reasons. 1) They didn’t make any significant additions to their staff in 2010…yes they added Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla, but it was mostly bullpen tweaks. Their big addition: Todd Wellemeyer (we all know how that ended up).

2) They did have a major contributor emerge over the course of the season in Madison Bumgarner (his 136 ERA+ was actually the best of any of the starters in ’10). That said, MadBum didn’t explode on to the scene they way Pavano did in 2003, or Lackey in 2002, or Garland in 2005 (this is actually a good thing, as I will explain later, but essentially he wasn’t extremely overworked as the 4th starter).

3) Like the Yankees the year before, the Giants break the mold a bit in that their ability to get to the postseason had more to do with their offense than pitching. It is in the regular that a good offense really shows up as significant predictor of success. The real important additions were Huff, Burrell, Posey, Torres, and Ross who allowed the Giants to scrape together enough runs to get four more wins. Once in the playoffs the Giants ridiculous pitching took over (which fits the BP model for playoff success to a T).

Conclusion:

I said in yesterday’s post, the pattern for World Series Championships tends to be this: an average staff makes a couple of key additions, sees a few young arms emerge, and experiences a significant bump in production. This bump caries the team to the title, but it also has proven to be unsustainable. Many championship teams have seen a major drop off in pitching production in their title-defending season torpedoing their ability to repeat.

Most of this drop off has to do with injuries and fatigue and a lack of the same type of talent infusion the team experienced the season before. For example, the 2004 Red Sox saw a huge bump in production (13 pts of ERA+) with the additions of Curt Schilling, Bronson Arroyo, and Keith Foulke. They added more arms the next year in Matt Clement and David Wells, but neither provided the same bump. On top of that, the Sox lost Schilling for most of the year due to the injury (bloody sock) he suffered in the 2004 playoffs, Pedro Martinez to free agency, and saw the beginning of the end of Keith Foulke (who pulled a Robb Nen in sacrificing his shoulder for the sake of the WS).

For teams hoping to make the jump to the WS it would behoove them to add pitching. If they are lucky enough to pull it off, they then need to add even MORE pitching and hope their guys stay healthy and strong for another long season.

Concerns

Based on these findings, I see a ton of red flags for the 2011 Giants. They have made no significant additions to their staff. Furthermore, Lincecum and Sanchez profile as the type of pitchers who might not rebound as well from their extended seasons. Tim Kawakami wrote a great article back in August about Lincecum’s astronomical pitch numbers, and it was clear to anyone watching (and confirmed here) that Sanchez ran out of gas at the end of THIS season, which doesn’t bode well for the next. The Giants’ staff seems poised for a classic post-World Series hangover drop in production.

Reasons for Hope

1) The Giants are clearly unique in their pitching superiority. No other team trying to repeat in the last 10 years has (a) been able to bring all the key players back and (b) had such a nasty staff. One of the things that made the Giants so good is their lack of a weak link (Zito is the obvious objection, but as a 5th starter he is unparalleled, both in quality and salary). Even if the Giants regress a bit as a staff they will still be better than a lot of the staffs that won WS in the last 10 years.

2) The Giants’ offense could potentially be a lot better over the course of the whole season this year. A full season of Posey/Ross/Sanchez, repeat performances by Burrell/Huff/Torres, a bounce back season from Sandoval, and the emergence of Brandon Belt could produce a better than league average offense for the first time since Bonds left. Improved offense and a regression on the mound could balance out to the same regular season results. Then the G-men will just have to hope for the magic in the postseason.

3) I have legitimate concerns about Sanchez, but I continue to marvel at Lincecum. Everything about him and how he’s been used to this point screams tommy john surgery in the near future. However, maybe he really is a freak. He is in great shape and has never had an arm injury, ever! Perhaps he’s just blessed in bizarre ways and 2011 will be business as usual.

Predictions

We will have full prediction posts in March when the season is a lot closer, but here’s where I am at currently. I do think the Giants pitching will regress overall but not significantly (think an ERA+ of 112 and a K/9 of 7.5). As good as they were last year they did give 15 or so starts to Todd Wellemeyer and had some bullpen issues early (Romo and Affeldt struggled early and Affeldt never came close to his 2009 form…if he comes back healthy and strong that will provide another significant internal addition).

I also think the Giants will score a lot more runs this year with a nice season for Pablo, depth in place at the start of the season (not just at the end), and the jolt Belt will provide when he does his Posey imitation this summer.

That said, I see them running out of gas in the postseason. Several NL teams have followed “my plan” well this offseason. The Phillies are the obvious offenders, but watch out for the Brewers (big additions), the Reds (big emergence potential), and even the Cubs (especially if this is true), Marlins (addition and emergence), and Dodgers (addition and emergence). Also, don’t forget about the Rockies/Braves/Nationals who all improved in various ways over the offseason, plus they have some young players who should continue to mature. Also, the Cardinals still have a few good players.

All that to say, the NL is going to be TOUGH this year, which means the Giants probably need to improve on both sides of the ball. The problem: that just hasn’t happened with returning Champions in a long time.

(-SB)