Forecasting the Future (or something like that)

The All-Star game helped to highlight the one truth that we know from 2011. The National League has some good pitchers. Sure, the AL had 4-5 great arms unavailable for various reasons, but so did the NL. Pitching has been the story of the season all around, but I am still amazed at how deep the NL is with pitchers. Soon I’ll have a post up regarding how my pitching ideas factor in the pennant races, but for now here is my gut level feel about the rest of the season:

AL EAST

I’ve been touting the Rays all year and by all appearances they are done but shouldn’t have what it takes to finish in the top 2 in a strong division. Disagree. Still think the Rays have a better shot than the Yankees over the full schedule. Red Sox and Rays as division winner and wild carder, respectively.

AL CENTRAL

So, I picked the Twins at the beginning of the season, then the White Sox, and it makes a ton of sense to choose the Tigers at this point (all the while the Indians remain very much in the hunt and they are the team I’d love to see win it, but I still don’t believe). I might be back in on the Twins, though. 6.5 out. The next two weeks are super important for them. If they tank, they’ll trade some guys and regroup for next year. If they get close to .500 look out, it may be another Minnesota Miracle. I’m going to go out on a very precarious limb and say I’m on the Twins bandwagon. They just might get healthy and hot and take this thing after all.

AL WEST

A minor subplot here is a bet I’ve had since opening day with my friend Kevin. If the Angels win more games than the A’s he gets to write a guest post telling the world what an idiot I am. Right now he’s got to be feeling pretty comfortable. He might even be on his third or fourth draft. The Angels aren’t terrible and I need to look at the pitching numbers to confirm some suspicions I have that they may end up winning this division. Today, though, I’m predicting a slide by Weaver and Haren and the Rangers hold on to win the west again.

NL EAST

Told you the Braves were pretty good right! A lot has gone wrong with the offense and a ton has gone right with the pitching. (This might be blasphemy on a Giants blog, but pitcher for pitcher is there a better staff top to bottom than the Braves? The Phillies have a slight advantage in a couple of statistical areas but that’s a top-heavy staff…I think it’s a good debate: Giants vs. Braves for deepest/strongest staff in all of baseball). Nice work by the Mets and Nationals to be at .500 and the Marlins are coming back a bit after being punished for the sins of Scott Cousins. Best division in baseball? Yes. Phillies win, Braves take the Wild Card easily and have the second best record in the NL.

NL CENTRAL

Here’s a good one. The fourth place Reds are only 4 games out. Anything can happen here and this is the division that might be the most affected by a trade. (Nice job by the Brewers getting K-Rod. He’s a nut job but I think he’ll behave himself, prove he can be a good citizen, and pitch great as a set up man in order to get a big contract this offseason). I don’t think the Brew Crew can pull off much more in the trade market, so we’ll have to see what the other teams do in response. None of these teams have three starters like Grienke, Marcum, and Gallardo and so I still believe Milwaukee is the team to beat in this four horse race. 

NL WEST

Giants win the west, simple as that. More importantly, despite all the rumoring and posturing over the last few days, I don’t think the Giants get Beltran and if they do make a move it will be a minor move (or moves). Even if I’m wrong and they do get Beltran, the fact remains: the Giants need improved production up and down the lineup, especially out of the leadoff spot and at SS, 2B, and C. Carlos Beltran solves none of those problems, so ultimately, big trade or not, the G-men must look internally to get some kind of sustainable offense going.

More to come in the near future as I examine which teams fit the pitching model for a run at the World Series.

(-SB)

Mid Season Evaluation

Well this has certainly been an interesting first half hasn’t it? Between Pittsburg, Arizona, Cleveland and Seattle I don’t know anything about baseball anymore.

AL East: Yes, the Rays are still in this thing, but I think as the season goes along you’ll see that this is going to become a two-horse race between the Red Sox and the Yankees. Boston’s pitching scares me, but not in the good way. Lester is good, Beckett is great, and you got nothing else. But New York doesn’t exactly have the Big 5 either, honestly they are hoping and praying that Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon don’t fall apart and that CC Sabathia can pitch with 1 days rest, because that is what they’ll need to win the Division or the World Series this year. As far as offense goes, New York looks good with Texiera, Granderson and Cano while Boston has a VERY good Adrian Gonzalez. Boston is my pick still to win the division, but I think I’m putting the Yanks as my new Wild Card winners.

AL Central: This division makes less than no sense. Seriously. The only thing I know about this division is that the Royals won’t win it. But the Twins? The White Sox? Both are possible now! What the world. My pick remains Detroit though, but I have a feeling this division will cause me to change my picks about 15 times in the last two weeks of the season. Why Detroit? As much as I love the resurgence of the Indians, they don’t have Justin Verlander. Verlander has been RIDICULOUS this season, and that reason is why Detroit can hold off anyone else to win.

AL West: I don’t even want to write about this terrible division. The Rangers are my pick still. That is all.

NL East: Until yesterday I was 100% confident that the Phillies would win this decision, and while they are still my pick, my doubt is starting to rise. This has nothing to do with the Phillies, and everything to do with the Atlanta Braves, who are still my NL Wild Card pick. The Braves are being led by amazing pitching and some really good hitting, especially from Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman. With how good Atlanta is playing, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this division get very competitive by the end of the season, especially if the Phillies keep playing hurt.

NL Central: This is also a wacky division this season. The Cardinals are good, despite having gone over a month without either Matt Holliday or Albert Pujols on their roster, Lance Berkman suddenly decided to hit home runs this year, and they have no closer (literally no closer. It’s rotated between like, 3 guys), yet are in first place as of this writing. The Brewers are somehow being completely ignored, even though they have amazing hitting and some really good starting pitching. To add to the wackiness, the Reds are still hanging around and the Pirates are playing above .500 baseball for the first time since the 1890’s. (Not a real fact). Brewers still win this because of Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks , Prince Fielder and Shaun Marcum.

NL West: Someone explain to me how the Giants are in first place still? The hitting is atrocious, but thankfully we have one of, if not the best, rotation in the Majors and probably the best bullpen in baseball also. Giants still win this division, but the D-Backs and Rockies will give me heart attacks all the way until October.

First Half AL MVP: Wow. My pick of Adam Dunn was a little off wasn’t it? First half MVP has to be Adrian Gonzalez. Sure you can make a case for Paul Konerko and Jose Bautista, but Gonzalez is putting up some crazy wild offensive numbers and is probably the biggest reason the Red Sox are so good right now.

First Half AL Cy Young: You can make a great case for CC Sabathia, Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, Jon Lester and David Price, among others. I’m voting Verlander. He has a 2.86 ERA, .88 WHIP, 138 K’s, 31 walks (!!!!) and an opponent batting average of .187. ONE EIGHTY SEVEN. Craziness! Weaver is putting up numbers that are just as good, but Verlander also has a no-hitter this season, either way there has been some GREAT pitching in the AL in 2011.

First Half NL MVP: Prince Fielder, no question. You can make a good case for Matt Kemp, and an excellent case for Jose Reyes, but I’m in the unique position of having in-laws who are Brewers fans and have the MLB Extra innings package, so I’ve gotten to see Prince play, and there really is nobody as valuable to his team as him. The Mets aren’t going anywhere this season and neither are the Dodgers (yay!) but the Brewers hitting is anchored by Fielder. Yes, Ryan Braun is a huge asset and Rickie Weeks is going nuts, but without Prince and his NL leading 72 RBI, they aren’t tied for first in the Central.

First Half NL Cy Young: Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Jair Jurrjens are your top NL pitchers, but I think Halladay takes this award. This only reason I’m holding out on Jurrjens is his total K’s are lower (due to injury) and a higher ERA than Roy. Roy is nutty. Just plain nutty on the mound. Crazy good stats, crazy good strikeout rate and is just crazy good. Like have you actually seen him pitch a game? Ridiculous.

(-NW)

Third Time Is {Probably} The Charm

June updates to predictions? DONE! Nick Waltz style…

AL East:

I thought all along that the tales of the Red Sox demise was foolish at best, and now I look like a freaking genius. Sox are still my pick for the AL East but I’m changing my Wild Card pick to the Rays. A few reasons: They’ve played out of their minds since Manny left town, and the reworked bullpen ACTUALLY IS WORKING! Their biggest strength last year became their biggest weakness and now it’s a strength all over again. By the way, look at this lineup: Sam Fuld? Johnny Damon? Kyle Farnsworth as your closer? You’ve got to be kidding me, but it’s WORKING. Amazing. Plus I hate the Yankees.

AL Central:

So the Twins are done and the White Sox are looking like it? Amazing. Nothing in the American League Central makes sense this season. I want to stick with the Indians winning the Central (Which was my new pick after picking the White Sox at the beginning of the season), but I have to agree with the great and wise Josh Stover: Tigers look good, and I honestly think they are underperforming right now. Plus there is no way a team could look like one of the 3 worst teams going into the season and ending up being one of the top 3 teams right? Right?

AL West:

So a funny thing happened while no one was looking: The Mariners are 1.5 games back of Texas, and this is happening with Ichiro apparently forgetting he’s one of the greatest hitters ever to play baseball. Amazing. However I’m picking the Rangers to win the division this year. Oakland is looking like they are about to fall down hill fast, and the Los Anaheim Angels of Anaheim have no offense. especially with Morales gone for the whole season yet again. The M’s have no one hitting for them either, which means the Rangers, who were in good shape offensively already before Beltre started  killing it for them this season, will only be better has Hamilton comes back to form, plus you’re looking at a very good rotation still.

NL East:

So the Phillies are still the team to beat, or rather their rotation is, and so they stay my pick for the NL East champs, but what the heck is going on with Florida? They’re making me doubt picking the Braves to win the Wild Card, until I noticed that Josh Johnson is now on the DL and that’ll affect them a LOT. Braves still win the WC but they have some middle relief issues that needs solving, and Dan Uggla needs to stop doing his best impression of Carlos Pena and start getting on base.

NL Central:

The Brewers continue to impress me each time I watch them play. Rickie Weeks is crazy good and Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun have put together incredible offensive season almost completely under the radar, which makes no sense to me at all. Jonathan Lucroy is the hottest young catcher in baseball and Shaun Marcum is showing how good he really is, all this while Zach Greinke isn’t pitching at his peak yet. Brewers still for the win.

NL West:

What in the world? Arizona is in first? This league is crazy. Losing Posey is a huge blow, but the Rockies took a bigger one with De La Rosa out for the year, so instead of a Giants/Rockies chase, it’s not a Giants/Diamondbacks chase. Will Arizona continue to perform this well? Who the heck knows, but I do know that I’d take the Giants pitching over theirs, (and that includes the bullpen) 100 times out of 100, and there is NO WAY the Giants continue to hit so poorly. Hopefully Huff’s 3 HR night breaks him out and when Pablo comes back, watch out. Giants still win this one.

(-NW)

Prediction Reboot: The (correct) Stover Addition

Steve has issued some re-picks as we enter June and I thought I would set him straight on a few…

AL East

Steve is half right here. The Red Sox are back and they are going to win this division. I differ with his assessment of the Rays though. I don’t think you can succeed in that division without more hitting. Yes, they are a very similar team to the Giants, but they don’t play in the NL West (thankfully) and I can’t see them beating the Yankees and the Red Sox. They rank 21st in hitting and I’m not sure that will cut it in that division. In addition, the Yankees actually are ranked higher in pitching stats and I don’t think they are going to lose 1st place to anyone but the Sox.  I’m taking the Red Sox to win it, and the Yankees to win the wild card. One side note, I think Joe Maddon is one of, if not THE best manager in all of baseball. I would want to play for him.

AL Central

Ok so this one is super confusing….still.  Even more confusing is the White Sox. They have turned around, or at least slowed, their awful start. Steve, I like that you aren’t just picking chalk here, but I don’t see a division win in their future. I don’t see it in Cleveland’s either. At some point, Cleveland is going to start playing up, or should I say down to their potential. I’m taking the Tigers in this one.

AL West

This division still lines up clearly for me. The Rangers are winning it. Billy Bean came out today and said he didn’t want his catcher getting run over at the plate so he told him to avoid any home plate collisions. That should keep the A’s from having a repeat of the Buster Posey incident. However, Suzuki isn’t Posey, and the A’s aren’t as good as the Rangers. I’ll still take them to repeat as AL west champs.

NL East

Steve and I are in complete agreement here. Even though Hanley Ramirez is stinkin’ this year, the Marlins are finding a way to win. Pitching is the key to their success, but Josh Johnson is on the DL and they don’t have a lot of proven winners on the staff or in the bullpen. They should come back down soon. The scary part for that division is even when the Marlins are playing great, the Phillies still lead by 2 games. Philly will win this one easily and I am changing my wild card pick to Atlanta. That has more to do with Cincy stinking than with my faith in Atlanta.

NL Central

So I have publicly ripped the Brewers in previous posts and it looks like they listened. They are playing great right now and only 2.5 games out. It looks like they may make my pre season pick correct after all. Here’s a fun fact: they are amazing at home and AWFUL on the road. 21-7 vs 9-19. I don’t know what to do with the Cards. They are surprising, especially noting the slump that Pujols is in. My bold prediction is that he is going to stay in that slump all year. I know he didn’t want to negotiate his contract during the year, but maybe he should reevaluate that stance. Something is bothering him and he says he isn’t injured. I will choose to believe him and say it must be mental. Sign a contract for 26 mil a year for the next 7 years and he’ll be fine.  I’ll keep the Brewers winning the central but knock Cincy off of my previous wild card choice.

NL West

Nobody panic. Arizona isn’t winning the west. Every team gets hot at some point, they just put a couple of hot streaks together. I also don’t believe that Colorado is out of it. I look for the Rockies to be in it until September. I am still concerned about the Giants. I watched the game last night and even though we got 16 hits, I just have no faith in where our offense is coming from. Especially when Huff is up, I have no faith. I am the eternal pessimist when my team is up but I’m still not a believer yet. Trade options are a discussion for a separate post but we need to strengthen our lineup. We have 5 outfielders that Bochy has to try to time their hot streaks (ie Ross and Nate right now) and that isn’t a recipe for success.

Ok so Steve and I agree on a lot of picks.  That is a natural occurrence because we are both very smart males.  I’m really looking forward to this summer.  I broke down and got the MLB package so now I can watch the Giants more.  Blasted east coast time is killing me though.  Enjoy the games!!!

(-JS)

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)

Why the Red Sox Will Not Win the World Series

If you are paying attention you will note that earlier this week I picked the red sox to win the WS (although, to be fair, I was just trying to keep things fresh). Nonetheless, I would like to spend a post on tearing my pick apart.

Earlier in the month I wrote about the importance of pitching to post-season success and also how most of the teams that won in the last 10 years had a huge jump in pitching strength as a result of a major addition to the staff. The Red Sox themselves did this in 2004 (adding Schilling and Foulke) and again in 2007 (healthy Beckett, Lester, Dice-K, Okajima, etc).

We all know the big names the Red Sox have added, but they have primarily been on offense (I’ll discuss the bullpen additions a little later). I’ve also heard a lot about how injured the Sox were last year (and they were ridiculously hampered by injuries), and how being healthy this year might make them unbeatable.

I have no doubt this lineup is going to score a crazy amount of runs and I feel the Sox are a lock to win 100 games. But will they succeed in the post-season with their pitching?

Here’s what they did last year: ERA 4.20, ERA+ 104, K/9 7.5, WHIP 1.36.

That’s not bad…slightly above league average, but still possessing good stuff. The problem: when you break it down they were HEAVILY reliant on great seasons from three guys: Lester/Buchholz/Bard. Everyone else was about average or below league average.

Here’s my assessment of these five guys:

  1. John Lester: some in Boston still think Beckett is the ace, but come on people! At this point Lester is the only real stud in this rotation and I expect him to be great for a while. That being said, Giants’ fans would agree that 2010 was a down year for Lincecum and he and Lester had very similar years when you look at the numbers (similar K/9, ERA+, IP, K). Lester is the only guy I trust in this rotation.
  2. Clay Buchholz: Awesome year kid, but you were a little lucky. I agree completely with this assessment and feel that he will be good in 2011 but come back to earth a bit. I’d take any of the Giants’ first 4 over Clay.
  3. Josh Beckett: This is where it gets ugly. Beckett is a huge name and has a huge contract so he’s an ace, right? Nope. This article suggests that a return to form for Becket is not only unlikely it would be historically unprecedented. What’s even more alarming is that even when Beckett was dealing he struggled against the AL East (read: good teams). That said he is still only 30. But the uncertainty is startling: will he make a full season of starts? Will he stink? Will he bounce back? No one knows!
  4. John Lackey: as a Giants fan I really don’t like Lackey at all. That said, he’s been a good pitcher for a while. When he came over to the Sox a lot was made of his struggles at Fenway and then he went out and was below average (ERA+ of 97) in 2010. My feelings are that Lackey might look pretty good if he were on the Padres or Giants, but in the AL East he is quickly going the way of Zito (or AJ Burnett).
  5. Daisuke Matsuzaka: and then there’s dice-k. For whatever it’s worth I’ve never been a fan and always thought the hype WAY overstated the reality. But here’s something that is actually interesting. Japanese pitchers tend to come over, make a splash for a while, and then flame out. Matsuzaka could buck that trend, but probably not.

Every team enters a season with “ifs”…if they stay healthy, if so-and-so bounces back, if this prospect emerges, and on and on. However, the Red Sox have significant ifs with four of its five starters (the part of the team that is most closely tied to post-season success), and I think that will be a serious problem for them, especially in October.

Now, the bullpen. Aside from injuries this was the major downfall of the 2010 team. They have definitely fortified the pen: Wheeler and Jenks will help, Papelbon is back, and Bard is the man. With the depth they now have in the ‘pen there will be pressure taken off the rotation. Some would argue that a better bullpen would have especially helped Laceky who stayed in too long in too many games. (This article is more about the starters, but I also have some qualms about Pap and Jenks: signs of health issues and decline with both.)

The question, though, is are these the kind of moves that help a pitching staff make the jump that can propel a team to a championship?

Statistically the Red Sox profile almost exactly like the 2008-2009 Yankees. If they get the same production from their staff this year that they got last year, with their superior lineup they should prevail.

The key, though, is getting the similar production, and I just don’t think that’s a given. The Red Sox are locked in to two declining pitchers for a lot of time and money (Beckett and Lackey) and I just don’t see this staff holding up and dominating in the playoffs.

I may be way wrong on this one, but I do not think the Red Sox will be holding a trophy over their heads and pouring champagne on each other at the end of October.

(-SB)

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)

Why Repeating is So Difficult, Pt. 2

This ended up being a lot longer than expected so we’re going to do a three parter. The premise of part 2: winning a world series is all about pitching. It takes a big jump in pitching production from the year before to win the championship and in the last ten years that jump has been unsustainable for reasons I will try to explain in part 3.

I recently reread Baseball Behind the Numbers by the Baseball Prospectus guys. Having just watched the Giants surprising postseason run I was eager to review the study where they unveil the factors that lead most directly to success in the postseason.

According to BP, the only four factors that have any kind of statistical significance (and it’s not that much statistically speaking) are: 1) strong starting pitching (and more specifically, power pitchers who can strike batters out and get swings and misses), 2) dominant relief pitching (especially from the closer), 3) defense that doesn’t make mistakes (doesn’t have to be great in terms of range but NO errors), 4) to a much lesser extent than the first three, power hitting (i.e. home runs).

Just based on that you can see why the Giants 2010 run makes a lot of sense. Their findings form the basis for the premise of this post and the importance of pitching:

Winning in the postseason, and thus the World Series, is, based on the stats, all about pitching. My observation is that over the last ten years the WS champions have seen a major addition or jump forward in their pitching talent, and then an inability to sustain that the next year. I am way more adept at reading statistical baseball analysis than performing it, so what follows is pretty elementary, but hopefully you will see my point.

Let’s look at the last 10 World Series Champions, how their pitching fared in the year before, the year of, and the year after their win, and their key staff additions (through trades, free agency, or a young talent emerging). I’ll be using K/9, ERA, ERA+ (note that an era+ score of 100 is league average), and WHIP data from BaseballReference.com.

2001 Arizona Diamondbacks

  • 2000 83-79 (3rd in NL West): 7.6 K/9, 4.35 ERA, 110 ERA +, 1.34 WHIP
  • 2001 92-70 (1st): 8.0, 3.87, 121 (11 pt increase), 1.24
  • 2002 98-64 (1st): 8.1, 3.92, 117 (4 pt drop), 1.23

The Diamondbacks had 2 key additions in 2001: a full season of Curt Schilling and Miguel Bautista. They also had some great subtractions (no Omar Daal). They actually had a better regular season in their repeat year, but got swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the Cardinals. Thus begins the trend I hope to highlight here: it is very difficult to get the same production out of a pitching staff two post-seasons in a row. Especially staffs that are super top-heavy (It was Johnson and Schilling and then smoke and mirrors the rest of the way).

2002 Anaheim Angels

  • 2001 75-87 (3rd in AL West): 5.9 K/9, 4.20 ERA, 108 ERA+, 1.38 WHIP
  • 2002 (99-63 Wild Card): 6.2, 3.69, 120 (12 pt increase), 1.28
  • 2003 77-5 (3rd): 6.2, 4.28, 103 (17 pt drop!), 1.35

A classic case of key additions (Kevin Appier which sent Scott Schoenwies to the bullpen) and the emergence of young talent (John Lackey, K-Rod, Scot Shields) providing a huge, but unsustainable, bump in production. The 2002 Angels actually saw a bigger salary increase from 2001 to 2002 than the infamous 1997 Marlins team. As a result, they got better in a lot of areas, not just pitching. In 2004 they saw a similar bump when they added Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar and won the division before getting bounced from the playoffs in dramatic fashion by David Ortiz (I mean the Boston Red Sox).

2003 Florida Marlins

  • 2002 79-83 (4th in NL East): 6.8 K/9, 4.36 ERA, 93 ERA+, 1.43 WHIP
  • 2003 91-71 (Wild Card): 7.0, 4.04, 105 (12 pt increase), 1.35
  • 2004 83-79 (3rd): 7.0, 4.10, 101 (4 pt drop), 133

Looking at this makes me mad because it reinforces what a flukey team this was. They were obviously helped by the additions of Donrelle Willis, Matt Redmond, and Uegeth Urbina as well as getting full/emergent seasons from Carl Pavano and Josh Beckett. But they were essentially the same (fairly average) staff all three years with a small spike in performance in 2003. One caveat (and some foreshadowing) injuries really hurt them in 2004 as none of their 5 main starters pitched a full season.

2004 Boston Red Sox

  • 2003 95-67 (Wild Card): 7.0 K/9, 4.48 ERA, 104 ERA+, 1.36 WHIP
  • 2004 98-64 (Wild Card): 7.0, 4.18, 117 (13 pt increase), 1.29
  • 2005 95-67 (Wild Card): 6.0, 4.74, 96 (21 pt drop!), 1.39

The Red Sox were really good through this three-year window, yet they represent the best example so far of the cycle of major additions, big bump in production, followed by post-championship drop off. The 2004 team saw a huge jump because they added Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke. And the 2005 team suffered greatly the loss of Schilling (injury kept him out most of the season) and Pedro Martinez to the Mets. The 2005 additions of David Wells and Matt Clement weren’t enough to overcome the letdown. (The ERA numbers also show how hard it is to pitch in the Al East.)

2005 Chicago White Sox

  • 2004 83-79 (2nd in AL Central): 6.4 K/9, 4.91 ERA, 97 ERA+, 1.42 WHIP
  • 2005 99-63 (1st in AL Central): 6.3, 3.61, 125 (28 pt increase!), 1.25
  • 2006 90-72 (3rd): 6.3, 4.61, 103 (22 pt drop!), 1.36

The White Sox trump the ’04 Red Sox in my pitching cycle theory. The addition of Orlando Hernandez, healthy/full seasons from Freddy Garcia and Jose Contreras, and the emergence of Jon Garland and Bobby Jenks help partially account for this crazy spike in ERA+ followed by a tremendous drop. The interesting thing about the White Sox is how the K rate stayed the same, but the other numbers changed so dramatically. This probably shows that in ’05 they had an exceptional year defensively and got a bit lucky (if I had more time I’d look into some other numbers like BABIP). The 2005 Chicago White Sox: the poster-children for my pitching theory.

2006 St. Louis Cardinals

  • 2005 100-62 (1st in NL Central): 6.1 K/9, 3.49 ERA, 122 ERA+, 1.27 WHIP
  • 2006 83-78 (1st): 6.1, 4.54, 98 (24 pt drop!), 1.38
  • 2007 78-84 (3rd): 5.9, 4.65, 95 (3 pt drop), 1.41

If the ’05 White Sox are my well-behaved/front row students, then the ’06 Cardinals are my unruly/spit wad shooting/back row/trouble makers. Thanks for killing the drill guys. That said, keep in mind that the Cards had GREAT teams in 2004 and 2005 and that the ’06 team was basically the same core. Also, you do see a drop in the repeat year, mostly having to do with losing Chris Carpenter for the season (notice a big injury following a Championship has a lot to do with the depressed repeat season stats). However you slice it, this was a weird Championship team, period.

2007 Red Sox

  • 2006 86-76 (3rd in AL East): 6.7 K/9, 4.83 ERA, 99 ERA+, 1.44 WHIP
  • 2007 96-66 (1st): 7.2, 3.87, 123 (24 pt increase), 1.27
  • 2008 95-67 (Wild Card): 7.4, 4.01, 116 (7 pt drop), 1.33

The Red Sox stats show that they had the best chance of anyone to repeat in the last 10 years. They went to 7 games against the Rays in the 2008 ALCS and from their statistical steadiness that should be no surprise. The big additions in ’07 were the Japanese imports (Matsuzaka and Okajima), plus Becket had the best year of his career as he fully adjusted to life in the AL East. Papelbon also benefited from his first full season in the closer role. The Sox did add a full season of John Lester in ’08 which helped, but the big problem with repeating was Becket broke down as the season wore on and pitched with half a shoulder in playoffs. Again, the injury problems to key starters in the year after a WS win is a major reason why teams have struggled to repeat.

2008 Philadelphia Phillies

  • 2007 89-73 (1st in NL East): 6.5 K/9, 4.73 ERA, 97 ERA+, 1.45 WHIP
  • 2008 92-70 (1st): 6.7, 3.88, 113 (16 pt increase), 1.36
  • 2009 93-69 (1st): 7.1, 4.16, 101 (12 pt drop), 1.35

Record wise, the Phillies have gotten better each of the last 4 years (including 2010). And they seem to be the team that takes my theory “most seriously,” having added Cliff Lee in 2009 to try to repeat, Roy Halladay/Oswalt in 2010 to get back on top, and Cliff Lee again this offseason. Hats off for improving the most important part of the team four years running.

The 2008 championship team featured the key addition of Brad Lidge (who had the year of his life posting a 226 ERA+) which allowed them to put Brett Myers back in the rotation. 2008 also saw the emergence of Cole Hamels (ERA+ of 142). However, despite the addition of Lee in ’09, Lidge had a major setback that year posting an abysmal ERA+ of 59, and Hamels struggled with mental and physical issues all year (ERA+ of 97). Bullpen struggles have really hampered them the last two seasons.

2009 New York Yankees

  • 2008 89-73 (3rd in AL East): 7.1 K/9, 4.28 ERA, 104 ERA+, 1.36 WHIP
  • 2009 103-59 (1st): 7.8, 4.26, 108 (4 pt increase), 1.35
  • 2010 95-67 (Wild Card): 7.2, 4.06, 106 (2 pt drop), 1.31

The Yankees are an interesting case. First, it’s clear that their success is more closely tied to offense than any team in the last 10 years. Despite some significant additions over the last three years, they have had essentially the same staff production each season. Each staff had one guy who had a great year (Mike Mussina in 2008…look it up, it was legit…and then CC Sabathia in ’09 and ‘10), one other guy who stepped up as a legitimate number 2 (Andy Pettitte in ’08, AJ Burnett in ’09, Phil Hughes in ‘10). The big difference in 2009 was Pettitte offered a solid third option, which they sorely lacked in 2008 and 2010. 2010 had a lot to do with injuries, per usual, with Pettitte/Javier Vasquez/Burnett all missing time or lacking effectiveness due to being hurt.

That’s it for part 2. Sorry for the length! Tomorrow we’ll wrap it up by looking at the 2010 Giants, drawing some conclusions, and deciding if this spells doom or not for 2011 Giants.

(-SB)

Windows of Opportunity?

There is much debate over the validity of “windows of opportunity” for major league franchises. Yankees fans will point out that their window is always open, and fans of, say, the Pittsburgh Pirates, will roll their eyes as they’ve heard rumors of this proverbial window for two decades now but have yet to see anything like it.

That being said, there seems to be some validity to the fact that teams build towards something. My hometown Giants have been building a post-Bonds franchise around pitching and defense, suspecting their window to be 2010-2012 (an era where their young pitchers would mature and where some homegrown position players would emerge). They just happened to strike gold in the first year of that window. Even here in Boston, GM Theo Epstein controversially labeled 2010 a “bridge year” indicating that while the team could be competitive (and they likely could have won the division this year if healthy) they were really working towards making a splash and big push for 2011 and beyond (and boy was that the understatement of the decade).

So now we come to the hand-wringing over the Zack Greinke-to-the-Brewers trade. For some reason I know a lot of people from Missouri who grew up rooting for the Royals and they, to a person, seem to see this trade as “classic Royals.” “Just when we get a good, homegrown player who has had some success and who we like, the team trades them or lets them go in free agency claiming some future payoff down the road.” They will then cite the all-star team of players who were prospects with the Royals but played their prime years elsewhere: Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Beltran, etc, etc.

There is also hand-wringing in Milwaukee, where some see this move as another overpay for a small window of opportunity (i.e. trading several prospects to Cleveland for three months of CC Sabathia in 2008 when they made the playoffs but got swept out of the first round). The window, they argue, is only for one year, and when Prince Fielder leaves after the 2011 season, others (Greinke, Marcum, Weeks) will soon follow leaving a few good players (Gallardo and Braun) with no prospects left to fill in the blanks. It’ll be ugly!

I would argue, though, that this is exactly the trade both teams should be making given where they are at in their “window” cycle. It is, quite possibly, the most perfect baseball trade in recent memory. This is not a small market team dumping a soon to be expensive player in the laps of a perennial powerhouse with resources to absorb the financial hit. Nor is it a mid-market team trying to make a foolish off-season splash to generate interest among its fan base. It is EXACTLY the kind of move each team should be making right now.

There are other articles out there on the interweb that explain each team’s situation better than I will here, but consider this while I build to the point I want to make about the Giants.

1) Milwaukee: There is a very good chance that they lose Fielder at the end of the year. I get that. However, even if they do they still will have three guys in their rotation who are beasts (Greinke, Marcum, Gallardo). They also will still have a middle of the order force in Ryan Braun. If 2011 even goes remotely to plan and they can get in the playoffs, the revenue bump should make keeping Greinke/Weeks/Marcum a whole lot easier especially if they DON’T go all in on Fielder (just think of the cheap and decent 1B options out there right now and it’s easy to see how they could deal with his loss). As Ken Rosenthal points out, the Brewers have every small and mid-market teams dream: a core of under 30 pitchers and position players together for a 1-2 season run at glory (possibly longer if they play this right). This is the window that every team in their situation is working towards and they should be commended for going for it even if 2013 could be awful.

2) Kansas City: Despite the track record, the Royals are actually doing things the right way behind the scenes. Drayton Moore has been building a farm system that is now the envy of baseball. Just as the Rays did from 2008-2010 and the Twins have done for years, the Royals are about enter into a phase starting in 2012 where they will roll out excellent young players at almost every position (and throughout the starting rotation). Nothing, obviously, is guaranteed, and my cynical KC friends will tell you that the Royals will figure out a way to mess this up, but they just added four pretty good guys to a mix that could flip the power structure of the AL Central around over the course of the next five seasons. This is exactly the kind of move the Royals should be making [note: some will point out that the Royals could have received better players from other teams who were interested, but it seems that Greinke would not have been a fit with those teams, either because of wariness on the part of other other team (Yankees), or Zack not wanting to go there (Blue Jays, Nationals)].

What does this have to do with the Giants? This is all about a team accurately assessing where it is at in its competitive window and being able to make shrewd moves given the current market situation. My argument is not that this was a good or bad trade vis a vis the players involved, but that it is the PERFECT type of trade given where each team is at in its window.

In my last post I debated whether the Giants have done enough this off-season. My conclusion (given the market and what was available to them in resources) is: yes. That being said, since they are right in the middle of their window of opportunity there is some logic to leveraging their situation and getting even better. I just don’t know that there has been as perfect a situation for the Giants as the one the Royals and Brewers just took advantage of.

(-SB)