Friday, May 9, 2008

Checking In on My Preseason Predictions

Right now we are almost a quarter way through the baseball season. I must admit, the Sox are looking much better than I anticipated, especially offensively and they should be in great shape if they can find a way to get Dice and Lester consistently pitching into the seventh inning.

Anyway, because there really is not too much interesting to dissect or make provocative statements about at this moment, let's look at how my preseason picks for good/bad teams, MVP, Cy Young, etc are looking at this moment. I'll divide things up into three categories, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and present them in reverse order.

The Ugly

I was REALLY riding the Mariners train at the beginning of the year making Erik Bedard my Cy Young pick, Adrian Beltre my Sleeper MVP pick, and JJ Putz my Super Sleeper MVP pick. Right now, they sit in last place of the AL West. Of these picks though, the only ones that can be legitimately panned at this point are the Putz and Beltre selections as Bedard despite starting the year on the DL has pitched pretty well. Meanwhile, Adrian Beltre has hit .262 with 6 homers, 13 RBI, 4 steals, and an OPS of .841 to date (through 5/7, as are all stats quoted here). Those numbers are obviously nowhere near MVP caliber but he is tied for tenth in the AL in homers and fifteenth in OPS so it's not like he has been awful. Still, his team is in last place right now and he is hardly setting the league on fire for a bad team so I have to throw him in the "ugly" category.

JJ Putz who as noted above started the year on the DL has pitched in 6 innings in 6 games so far and been pretty much terrible allowing five earned runs and ten hits. Yes, he has had his hallmark high K numbers - 10 in these 6 innings - but the other numbers are awful. He could rebound I guess, but I based my preseason MVP thoughts for him on him saving 50 games and right now that looks pretty unlikely.

While JJ Putz has been bad so far this year, he's really got nothing on my Super Sleeper Cy Young Pick, Francisco Liriano. Liriano started the season in the minors to continue working on his arm strength, then was summoned to the big leagues for three starts in which he got rocked (only 10 1/3 total IP with 15 hits, 13 walks, and 13 runs allowed over that short span), and then was sent back down to the minors again. Even for a Super Sleeper Pick which has to be a long shot, that one turned out real bad.

In regards to my NL picks, none of them were horrible so I'll take a bow there.

The Bad

My Sleeper picks for NL Cy Young and MVP in Aaron Harang and Aramis Ramirez have not exactly justified my faith in them to date but neither has been awful either. Harang is currently second in the NL in K's with 47, first in IP with 55 1/3, and has posted a very respectable 1.10 WHIP and 3.09 ERA. Because he plays for a last place team though he just has 1 win to show for all that. Even so, he still possesses all the traits that you want in a number one starter (eats innings, strikes guys out, does not allow a lot of base runners) but it just so happens his team this year is a lot worse than anticipated. I initiated the Harang bandwagon hoping that his team would be better and right now they are not therefore making my pick "bad" even if Harang's pitching has not been anywhere near that.

As for Aramis, he is a historically semi-slow starter and this year is not that much different. His numbers are good right now (.279/6/23 with a .936 OPS) but not outstanding as he is not in the NL's Top 10 in any of these categories. Like I said though, he usually starts out slow and if he heats up later on in the season and the Cubs finish the year with one of the NL's best records as I think they will then I think he can hop up a notch here and put himself in the MVP discussion.

In the AL, my Sleeper Pick for Cy Young was Scott Kazmir. Right now, the only thing keeping him from "The Ugly" category is the fact that he has just made one start this year. Granted his one start was pretty bad against the Red Sox, but I refuse to damn the guy after only one outing which was also his first since coming off the DL. We'd be foolish to judge Josh Beckett if we said his season would be a bust after his first post-DL start against Toronto right? I still think Kazmir will end up having a pretty good year. He may not put himself in the Cy Young discussion, but I don't think that calling him a Sleeper Cy Young candidate will look stupid in September. I could be wrong.

Also in the AL, I championed A-Rod as my pick for MVP under the auspices of he should be the favorite for MVP every year that he enters a season healthy. A-Rod entered the season healthy. And then he got hurt. Because of that, he probably won't have the requisite numbers at the end of the year to put himself in that conversation but by no means do I consider this a bad pick. Sure it was the logical, easy, and boring pick. But it was not a bad one at the time, it just won't work out this year.

The Good

Because I am so smart, this is my most stacked category. What I'm going to do here is project each player's numbers over the remaining course of the season to reflect their full year's stats using their current per game averages. Granted, most of these stats probably skew a bit high but no matter it bears looking at anyway.

As for the teams, I'm going to put their current W/L record as well as their current rankings in runs scored and runs against so that we can see whether or not their current start looks sustainable for better or worse.

AL Cy Young, Neil's Pick - Erik Bedard

28 GS/176 IP/140 K/75 BB/1.99 ERA/1.07 WHIP

These projections I think are a bit on the low side for Bedard. I think his K rate should go up and his walks down (last year he struck out 221 in 182 IP with just 57 walks) while his ERA goes up to around 3.00 and his WHIP stays about the same. Keeping his current pace won't get him in the Cy Young talk unless his ERA stays in the sub-2 level, but if the other factors I mention happen then I think he'll be right there. His lack of innings could hurt him though.

NL Cy Young, Neil's Pick - Jake Peavy

33 GS/220 IP/218 K/73 BB/2.22 ERA/1.03 WHIP

I think these numbers look right about in line with what I'd expect for Peavy. His only drawback is playing for a bad team so winning 15 may be tough for him and we all know how much Cy Young voters love win totals.

NL Cy Young, Super Sleeper - Ben Sheets

30 GS/190 IP/159 K/53 BB/2.29 ERA/0.89 WHIP

Honestly, I think these numbers are pretty legit. My guess would be for his K's to finish a bit higher than this and his WHIP to be right around 1 but other than that I think this seems right. One big factor in Sheets' favor is the fact that he plays for a good offensive team so wins should be easier for him to come by. One negative factor is that at this moment, the Brewers closer is Eric Gagne pretty much negating the previous. Oh yeah, and Sheets is only slightly less injury prone than walking DL stint, Rich Harden so you have to consider that too. But, if he can make 30 starts and keep up what he is doing now, he will definitely be there in the end.

NL MVP, Neil's Pick - Hanley Ramirez

160 games/.328 AVG/128 Runs Scored/32 HR/96 RBI/64 SB/.413 OBP/.565 SLG/.968 OPS

Yes, the Marlins are in first place now, and no I don't think that will last, but I do not care. If Hanley keeps up this pace - and I think he absolutely can - then I see no way to not include him in the top, top tier of MVP Candidates.

NL MVP, Super Sleeper - Matt Kemp

150 Games/.328 AVG/90 Runs Scored/16 HR/128 RBI/48 SB/.355/.509/.863

Other than the 48 steals, I think these all look pretty legit. I also think his homers will go up some. Somewhere within the 25/25 range for HR and SB seems about right to me.

Lately the Dodgers have been tearing it up and he has been the big reason. When I wrote my preview I said I thought he would key a late season push by the Dodgers and that would propel him to the MVP. Right now I'm feeling pretty good about this pick even if at the moment it will seemingly take an act of god - or an injury - to keep the NL MVP trophy out of the hands of Chipper Jones or Chase Utley both of whom are playing out of their minds.

AL Surpise Team, Good - Twins

Right now the Twins have scored the second fewest runs in the league, are second to last in team OBP, and fourth from last in OPS. Meanwhile their pitching staff is fifth in ERA, fifth in runs allowed, and have issued the fewest walks in the league. However they have also struckout the fewest amount of batters. Because they allow so few walks they can compensate for what they lack in K's but it's still an uphill battle when balls are being put in play that much. Either way, their pitching always seems to hang around and be decent so I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt here based on track record as much as anything else.

And guess what else? They are in first place in the AL Central with a 17-15 and a scoring differential of +1. As I said, like it has in the past, I think their pitching will keep them afloat and respectable but I don't think their run in first will last much longer. I still think however that their win total will be somewhere in the low 80's which is pretty good for a team that traded it's two biggest attractions and stars in the offseason.

NL Suprise Team, Good - Marlins

The Marlins currently rank tenth in the NL in runs scored, ninth in OBP, and fifth in OPS. As for their pitching staff, well they are tenth in ERA, ninth in runs allowed, have issued the seventh most walks in the league, and have struck out the second fewest. Oh yeah, and their run differential is -7. Despite all this they are currently in first place in the NL East somehow with a 19-14 record. This seems like a fluke to me, but I predicted that they'd win in the 70's range which was better than anticipated after trading away two of their marquis players (Miggy Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis) and I think that prediction will probably hold. I'd say they could crack 80 wins, but with those stats mentioned above I do not know how long they can keep this going.

AL Surprise Team, Bad - Detroit

Why are the Tigers so bad?

Well, their one good pitcher heading into the year, Justin Verlander has not been good, the rest of their staff has been even worse, some old guys in their lineup have started to show their age, and the superstar they acquired in the offseason who has had a history of apathy has put things on cruise control since inking a $156 M contract prior to the season.

The ugly numbers...

The Pitching:

- allowed the second most runs in the AL (1 less than Texas)

- last in ERA

- have issued the third most walks and struck out the sixth least

The Hitting:

- scored the third most runs

- second in OBP

- second in OPS

OK, so the hitting has actually been pretty good. But it has not been good enough to make up for their atrocious pitching. Also, they have the second highest payroll in MLB devoted almost exclusively to offensive players, and pundits in the preseason were foolishly drumming up "they could score 100 runs" hype. That aint happening. Neither is them making the playoffs because right now their run differential is -23 and unless they can somehow miraculously transform their staff into a competent group they are going to be fighting against the grain all year and relying far too much on their offense.

NL Surprise Team, Bad - Rockies

Why are the Rockies so bad?

Their pitching, which carried them to and through the postseason last year is back to it's familiar stomping grounds of the bottom of the NL and their offense has not been much better.

The pitching:

- allowed the second most amount of runs to score

- second to last in ERA

- struck out the third least and walked the most

The hitting:

- eleventh in runs scored

- eighth in OBP

- tenth in OPS

Okay, so they can neither pitch nor hit and sport a staggering run differential of -36. That is pretty bad folks. Could they push 100 losses? I don't know about that, but I think 90+ is certainly within the realm of possibilities.

So there you go. The season is young, but my predictions for the most part are looking so far, so good. I am quite proud of myself honestly.

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