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The Pre-Season Predictions: 2012 Edition

April 4, 2012
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The time has come to make bold predictions that will invariably be shown to be false over the course of the season. I have done the standard awards along with a few others and standings for the upcoming season, with a short explanation on each. More than anything these are based on hunches (as is any real prediction), I did not use any statistical modelling, I didn’t run through any simulators, I just took what I know about the players, their past statistical performances, incorporated that with some players having changes of venues affecting their park factors, and went with it. I did look at a lot of projections but ultimately I agreed with some, didn’t see eye to eye on others. So here without further adieu are my picks for the season may I be perfectly correct.

American League West

1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – It pains me to put them in first place. They and the Rangers are not separated by much. While there is a part of me that says the Rangers still are largely the same, the Angels certainly are not. I am the #1 anti-fan of C.J. Wilson but his subtraction from the Rangers and addition to the Angels makes the Angels rotation that much better. Even if Wilson regresses and he is the fourth best behind Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana this rotation is great. The bullpen will benefit from the addition of LaTroy Hawkins and while I question Jordan Walden, the middle relievers look to be good again. Offensively the Angels look solid and will benefit from the return of a player I really enjoy watching in Kendrys Morales. Of course, the addition of Albert Pujols will not hurt one iota and improves the lineup. I have to think Vernon Wells will improve. Peter Bourjos remains one guy I think is a phenomenal and exciting player to watch and that says nothing of Mike Trout who is Bourjos-plus. In the addition by subtraction column the Angels will love the loss of Jeff Mathis.

2. Texas Rangers – Rangers aren’t far off, hey they are two time American League champs now coming within an out of the World Series title what 82 times last October? I didn’t like the pitching last year and I really don’t like the pitching this year. So much hinges on Yu Darvish. Darvish could be great, but he also could be just so-so. I expect him to be great, which will help this club because I think Derek Holland and Matt Harrison are both subpar. World Series and Division Championship clubs aren’t headed by number one pitchers in Colby Lewis, hence Texas is a number two team. Offensively they cannot go wrong. Scary lineup. Scary bench. But pitching wins ballgames and Los Angeles has pitching.

3. Oakland A’s – Just as the Angels and Rangers aren’t separated by much neither are the A’s and M’s. But I give the A’s the edge, their offense is a little bit more refined than it was in the past and their pitching is solid. I think the A’s have a bit more depth, particularly in the outfield/DH spots. It won’t be a great year in Oakland, but it will be an interesting team to watch. Tommy Milone will be a real surprise and potential Rookie of the Year candidate, along with the more obvious Rookie of the Year candidate in Yoenis Cespedes. If Jarrod Parker or Brad Peacock really excel this team could find themselves with excess pitching by the time Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson return.

4. Seattle Mariners – There is no offense on this team. I expect Ichiro Suzuki to continue his decline. I expect Chone Figgins to show no signs of life. I do like Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero could be a very exciting ballplayer and I expect some breakouts from Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders. But there are too many question marks on this team. The bullpen is shaky outside of Brandon League, it is only a matter of time before people sit on Tom Wilhelmsen‘s offspeed stuff. Outside of Felix Hernandez the M’s don’t really sparkle with their pitching.

American League Central

1. Detroit Tigers – There is no way any team other than the Detroit Tigers wins this division. Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera form a fearsome combo and with Justin Verlander heading the rotation the Tigers arguably have three of the American League’s best players. No one else in this division is even close. I expect Brennan Boesch to really break out this year and the very underrated bullpen is improved with the addition of Octavio Dotel. I like the rotation even though the fifth starter spot is unresolved. This is a good team.

2. Kansas City Royals – The Royals will be a thorn in everyone’s side. Not yet ready to contend, they will be a tough competitor and while ultimately they will be far behind the Tigers they will be exciting and we will see plenty of glimpses of what is to come. Eric Hosmer‘s continued development along with that of Mike Moustakas will take center stage but Lorenzo Cain had a great spring and looks ready to be a big contributor in center. The Royals have locked a bunch of these guys up which is great as I’ve always had a soft spot for Kansas City. The rotation has some big question marks. Bruce Chen hasn’t been good for a long time and yet the Royals will need to lean on him. Danny Duffy and Luis Mendoza look to be interesting but I am not entirely sold on either. Not entirely sure why they don’t try to put Aaron Crow in the rotation, but I can leave that to Royals blogs to explain.

3. Cleveland Indians – Some people view this team as a sleeper. I think they have some glaring holes. This is a team that considered Bobby Abreu for left field not a week ago. I am not convinced he is better than Shelley Duncan but that is not a compliment at all on Duncan’s resume. The rotation looks very weak after Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson, but even those two guys don’t look particularly strong. This is a team that has a lot of key pieces with huge health concerns and Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner and Carlos Santana have to be healthy for this team to even sniff third base. After Detroit, the teams really could be drawn out of a hat, but if those three go down for any length of time, Cleveland instantly sinks to the basement.

4. Chicago White Sox – Not much I like about this team. Not much I like about the Twins either. I see the White Sox pitching as better. Of course a lot of that is dependent upon the health of Jake Peavy, terrible thing for a team to be dependent upon. I’d like to see Dayan Viciedo make some strides, but am unsure that he will. Chris Sale could become a very good pitcher and if he is this rotation starts to not look too bad with John Danks and Gavin Floyd. This bullpen is an absolute mess. The starters better go long and this team is still hamstrung by bad contracts like Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.

5. Minnesota Twins – The Twins just look lost: a two year contract to Jamey Carroll for $6.5M? Um… no thank you. Josh Willingham signed a decent deal but it seems the Twinkies plan on using him in the outfield. Er… yikes. Is Justin Morneau ever going to be anywhere near the ballplayer he once was? I’m beginning to doubt it. Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn, Liam Hendriks and all these like innings eating low K/9, low BB/9 guys all seem like #3-#4 starters on winning teams. Francisco Liriano is a crapshoot and perennial injury risk. Can’t see the Twins going anywhere anytime soon.

American League East

1. Boston Red Sox – Someone has to win this divison. Between the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays and Yankees there are a lot of good teams in this division. Why the Red Sox who just lost closer Andrew Bailey? The Red Sox are written off because of their epic collapse of 2011, the fact remains they were the best team in the American League for most of the summer. This team had down years from Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and so on. Those guys will not stay down. This team instantly becomes scary again. This is a great team. I think there is less pressure given the collapse last year and the reduction of expectations. There isn’t great depth, I’d prefer to see Josh Bard in the bullpen shortening games with Mark Melancon rather than in the rotation but I don’t think this team is all that bad. I think they eek out a win over the Rays.

2. Tampa Bay Rays – The Rays are just a pesky good team. Really like Desmond Jennings and the return of Carlos Pena gives them some nice middle of the order thump to go with Evan Longoria. The rotation looks really good too and I like their bullpen. The thing this team has however really is depth. There are so many guys on the outside looking in at Durham that are high quality that this is a team that can quickly solve any problems – think catcher – with trades. The Rays are doing everything right, this club is a pleasure to watch.

3. New York Yankees – Everyone on this team is getting old. Mariano Rivera: 42, Derek Jeter: 38, Alex Rodriguez: 36, Freddy Garcia: 35, Eric Chavez: 34. Other guys like Curtis Granderson, C.C. Sabathia and Nick Swisher are all on the wrong side of thirty. I don’t like it. It isn’t 2003 anymore where people’s primes are their late 30’s. This is a team destined to fall. They can always buy more talent but will much be available midseason? I really think I could put the Yankees behind the Jays and feel good about it but somehow these reclamation projects always seem to work out for New York so watch Raul Ibanez (40) somehow be an All Star.

4. Toronto Blue Jays – This is the best fourth place team in baseball bar none. I love Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, then I feel a whole lot less comfortable with the rest of this team. They will be a very good team, very soon but not just yet in 2012. Jose Bautista seems to be the real deal, I am finally coming around on this. But it is Brett Lawrie who could be the best player on this team very soon. I also expect a bounceback from Colby Rasmus who is too talented to not be a near star, though I question why they went after Mathis and why they have J.P. Arencibia at catcher when they conceivably could make room for Travis d’Arnaud. They’ll have an impressive bullpen so with that helping shorten games they could potentially compete for a wild card spot if all goes right and things go a little wrong for the other three AL East powers.

5. Baltimore Orioles – What a mess. Nick Markakis is someone who looks really good because he is surrounded by such garbage. Adam Jones is largely overlooked as a good ballplayer but aside from those two there are absolutely no Orioles regulars I’d want on a championship contending team. The rotation too looks to be comprised entirely of fourth and fifth starters headed by Jake Arrieta… yikes. To describe this organization as rudderless would be an insult to rudders. I don’t know what that even means, but these Orioles make one lose one’s mind.

National League West

1. San Francisco Giants – There are a lot of problems with the San Francisco Giants. They do not hit and their defense isn’t the most impressive. Furthermore, they seem to perpetually have some of the oldest baseball players on the planet. That all said, their pitching is phenomenal. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner comprise one of the top three top of the rotations in baseball (think Philadelphia and Los Angeles Angels as perhaps the only rivals). Their bullpen too is very good. This team has won before without much offense, and I look at this team and am very unimpressed (Emmanuel Burriss and Aubrey Huff shouldn’t be starting for division winning teams) but with a weak division, San Francisco can take advantage and I expect them to do so.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks – Kirk Gibson has to prove last year wasn’t a fluke. It shouldn’t be too hard, I do like this team a lot and it is coin-flip between them and the Giants really. I see the Giants as about an 86 win team, and if the Dbacks finished at 85 wins I wouldn’t be shocked. I like their pitching a lot. Ian Kennedy is good, Daniel Hudson is even better and then that allows them to use Trevor Cahill as the more middle of the rotation pitcher I think he is best suited to be. Offensively, I don’t like the decision to replace Gerardo Parra with Jason Kubel but perhaps that gives the Dbacks some flexibility to fill holes midseason, I am thinking holes like Willie Bloomquist at shortstop. Bench isn’t so bad though with Parra, John McDonald and Lyle Overbay.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers – The Dodgers aren’t great. They spent the offseason getting old signing guys like Chris Capuano, Mark Ellis and Aaron Harang. The Dodgers also spent the offseason getting new owners so they won’t be “not great” for long. Matt Kemp should’ve won the Most Valuable Player Award and he has convinced me he is a decent ballplayer. James Loney hasn’t, Andre Ethier is looking like he might not be as good as suspected. This team is a weird team. They won’t be great to watch. They likely will go around a bit sometimes being very impressive and other times looking very old and bad. That all said, Clayton Kershaw will continue to be a pleasure to watch and will again enjoy pitching in pitcher friendly Dodger Stadium. I think Chad Billingsley continues to improve, he has quietly been a pretty decent pitcher for a few years. I really think Dee Gordon is something special, but he will be overlooked because this Dodger team will not be making anyone’s highlight reels.

4. Colorado Rockies – This is a team with a bazillion starting pitchers, yet it looks like 49 year old Jamie Moyer will be their number two. The rotation is headed by Jeremy Guthrie and also will include Juan Nicasio (great comeback story, good for him) and Jhoulys Chacin. Color me unimpressed. Not really thrilled with the lineup or the bullpen. This team is really sort of uniformly underwhelming outside of Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki.

5. San Diego Padres – Acquiring Carlos Quentin but dealing Mat Latos? Acquiring Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal when you already have Anthony Rizzo (later flipped to the Cubs) and Chase Headley (who they extend)? What is the plan? Edinson Volquez at the top of the rotation – yikes. The one guy I really like on this team is Luke Gregerson but with the Padres its just a matter of time before they trade him for what? It could be an older piece like Quentin or someone who you already have someone stationed at like Grandal. The Padres front office is like a solider in the jungle firing bullets indiscriminately figuring the enemy is somewhere around them. Like that solider, most of the bullets seem to miss the intended target.

National League Central

1. Cincinnati Reds – The Reds lost Ryan Madson for the season, big deal. They just extended Joey Votto to a deal they will quickly regret, big deal. Why is it a big deal? Because the Reds will win the Central and that’s what they are playing for. Latos was a nice pickup and now this rotation looks a lot better, still nothing to write home about but more than enough to handle the run support they will get from the likes of Votto, Brandon Phillips and company. How long before Devin Mesoraco becomes the starting catcher probably not too long, and he and Zack Cozart can be some really exciting young players. I still can’t believe Dusty Baker is using Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen, so if anyone in that rotation causes him concern, I could see the Cuban Missile ready to get in and solve the crisis.

2. Milwaukee Brewers – Gotta go with the Brewers over the defending World Champs. They lost Fielder, huge loss. I think Mat Gamel will be a decent replacement and a good ballplayer. Ryan Braun‘s avoiding a 50-game suspension puts Milwaukee in second, otherwise their very good top of the rotation with Zack Greinke and what I perennially think is one of baseball’s most overlooked pitchers in Yovani Gallardo would be wasted on a third place finish. Aramis Ramirez was a nice pickup to solidify third base though I liked Casey McGeehee and Rickie Weeks is great at the top of the order. John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez really make games seven innings for Brew Crew opponents. Good little club in Milwaukee flying under the radar.

3. St. Louis Cardinals – The Cardinals of 2011 were one of the worst World Championship teams in recent memory, only the 2006 Cardinals immediately strike me as worse. A fluke of a year from Lance Berkman and some insane luck down the stretch and in the postseason helped them elevate the championship trophy. But they did win it, and like the Giants of 2010, the hangover will be severe. The 2010 Giants were a hugely flawed team that won and it was easy to overlook the flaws and see everything that went right. Same is true of the Cardinals and they will fall. They lost Pujols, they are without Chris Carpenter, we aren’t certain Adam Wainwright will return to form and their pitching staff currently includes Kyle Lohse way earlier than one should be seeing him. I just don’t like this team and expect them to deliver to my expectations.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates – The Pirates look to avoid 20 consecutive losing seasons, my gosh I feel bad for Pirates fans. It is amazing to think, a kid can legally drink – by driving to Canada only three hours or so away from Pittsburgh – yet has never been alive to see their hometown ballclub have a winning year. Unthinkable. Sadly, I think it will be 20 this season. The club is absolutely moving in the right direction, and their rotation isn’t horrible led by Erik Bedard who I think’ll do ok in the low-stress environment, and followed by Jeff Karstens, James McDonald and Kevin Correia. Once A.J. Burnett recovers from his injury I think he too like Bedard will benefit playing in the overlooked environs of the Steel City. But sadly, none of this will help them avoid a losing season but Andrew McCutchen will continue to be fun to watch.

5. Chicago Cubs – Brighter times are ahead for Cubs fans with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer at the helm but 2012 is a year of disappointment. They managed to get Carlos Zambrano off the books but still have Alfonso Soriano sucking up payroll. There is a lot not to like on this team but there are some interesting pieces as well. Starlin Castro could be a very good player very soon and I really like Bryan LaHair to surprise and be a fan favorite in Chicago before long. Aside from Matt Garza, I don’t find anyone to get excited about in the rotation but Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood make for a very nice back of the bullpen.

6. Houston Astros – Can you name eight of the guys on the 25-man roster without looking? I am pretty sure I can’t. Not much to say here. They will be the worst team in baseball. They have the 1st overall pick in the amateur draft locked up.

National League East

1. Philadelphia Phillies – I really don’t think the Phillies are as good as they are hyped. Take a look at their Ryan Howard and Chase Utley-less lineup and it really isn’t great. Shoot, to begin with Howard himself isn’t that great. Jimmy Rollins is good but getting older and I really think the star on this team is the overlooked Shane Victorino. I’ve never been high on Hunter Pence, but he is admittedly a decent ballplayer. The Phillies’ strength though lies in their pitching. Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are all legitimate number ones. Joe Blanton and Vance Worley are not prototypical four and five guys. The bullpen is weaker than they have been recently but are solid at the backend with the ridiculously overpaid Jonathan Papelbon. Here, I will say it, they know how to win. The other teams with talent in the NL East don’t and for this year at least that helps the Phils keep their division title streak alive.

2. Washington Nationals – I like the Nats. They have some lineup issues – ok, in fairness quite a few, though I think their bench is interesting. But I love their pitching. Stephen Strasburg is great. Gio Gonzalez is solid – don’t like his walks, but can’t complain about him and his guaranteed 200 quality innings. Jordan Zimmerman is great, and while I do not like Edwin Jackson, as a number three or four starter he is being put into a very good and suitable role. They have John Lannan in Syracuse, Chien-Ming Wang out with a strained hamstring, so they only can get better too and have great depth. Even more than their rotation, I love their bullpen. One of the better bullpens in baseball, especially when Drew Storen comes back. Brad Lidge isn’t my favorite closer but getting to him teams that get through the good starters have to get through the likes of Tyler Clippard baseball’s best middle reliever and Henry Rodriguez‘ raw power. Tom Gorzelanny makes for a very nice swingman, which seems totally superfluous given the rotation depth.

3. Miami Marlins – There are legitimate stars on this team. Guys like Giancarlo Stanton (formerly Mike) who have gone unnoticed playing at Pro Player/Joe Robbie/Landshark/Whatever It Was Last Called Stadium. With their new (and awfully outfield wall colored) stadium possibly they get some attention. Jose Reyes joins Stanton, as does Mark Buehrle who I will miss in the American League for his ability to shorten games by working so fast. Josh Johnson, Rick Nolasco, Anibel Sanchez and Zambrano make for a good rotation. Heath Bell as the new closer is nice, though Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez) would’ve been fine to keep around except he is now on the restricted list care of lying about his name, age of birth and a whole slew of other things to both the Marlins and one would think more importantly (and more permanent banworthy) the United States Department of Homeland Security.

4. Atlanta Braves – I just never buy in to the Braves, but this fourth place is less about the Braves and more about the Nats and Fish. I’m not really bowled over by Atlanta’s lineup. I am not really bowled over by the career of Chipper Jones though when I look at the lineup I feel I should have been and his retirement in my mind will be the only really interesting thing in Atlanta this summer. I’m no longer crazy about the rotation, the loss of Tim Hudson to back surgery will loom large. Craig Kimbrel cannot possibly put up another year like last year, but I still wonder what it is that he exactly will do.

5. New York Mets – The Mets operate in New York. They operate as though they are in Topeka. The newly small market Mets are awful. If there were a third team in New York, unless they were the Astros, but even if they were an expansion team they would undoubtedly be better and more entertaining than the Mets. Meet the Mets? Don’t do it this year. Look for ligature marks around Mr. Met’s big baseball head, it is going to be a long year in Flushing.

American League Most Valuable Player

The Rays season depends largely upon how one player performs, that player is Evan Longoria. Longoria is a great player having put up at least 5.5 WAR in each of his MLB seasons. That is the baseline for this kid. He had a down year last year at 6.1. Longoria is a great defender, team leader, great player and the most value of any player in baseball. But this year he breaks out. He is the MVP.

American League Cy Young Award

It is hard to go with anyone other than Justin Verlander. I like Weaver, Haren, can’t ever go wrong with King Felix or C.C. Sabathia and I could even see a darkhorse like Romero making this a race. But until he proves otherwise, my vote is in Detroit with Verlander.

American League Rookie of the Year Award

Matt Moore is a conventional pick but the right one. Moore looked phenomenal in limited work last year and with the Rays in the mix in a tight high powered division race all year he will get the attention he deserves to win this race. Cespedes will get a lot of attention in Oakland but probably will be a little feast or famine at the plate, and Milone will be overlooked despite the fact he will be very good. Darvish could get some votes but there are some voters who don’t vote for Japanese professionals who come over and that to me will give Moore an edge if they have anywhere near comparable years.

American League Surprise and Bust Players

No way to officially gauge if I am right or not on this but just a general thought on who is underrated and who is overrated. My surprise player is Brennan Boesch of the Tigers. I think he will have a breakout year and really turn heads as the Tigers motor and then cruise to a division title. The biggest disappointment will be C.J. Wilson. Wilson is not an ace. He is in my mind Los Angeles’ fourth best starter. He is very good for a fourth starter but Angels fans expect ace-like returns that he won’t deliver. A 4.30 ERA from Wilson still gets the Angels to a division title.

National League Most Valuable Player

I am not crazy about Joey Votto but he is crazy good and he will lead the Reds to a division title while putting up his typical numbers. No one really stands out to me in the National League and maybe a pitcher could run away with this somehow, but if I am putting $100 on anyone, I put it on Votto.

National League Cy Young Award

There is no way anyone can with a clean conscience say Roy Halladay isn’t a good pick. Halladay will put up Halladayesque numbers, will they be enough to top Kershaw or Lincecum? Probably though either of those would be completely fair and reasonable picks as well. Halladay is just an incredible fearless pitcher and being the ace of the division champs and standing out among that group of pitchers won’t hurt his odds one iota.

National League Rookie of the Year

I was going to go with Bryan LaHair but it turns out he is not a rookie so I am going with the Reds’ Devin Mesoraco. Mesoraco will be the starting catcher before too long and with the spotlight on the Reds as they win the Central, he will get the added attention required to rise above a somewhat weak field.

National League Surprise and Bust Players

LaHair is my pick here. Initially, I thought he was a rookie but he is not otherwise I’d have him as Rookie of the Year. My bust is Carlos Beltran with St. Louis. He is a great ballplayer but injuries, age, being on a team with a World Series hangover (again), these aren’t things that’ll help Beltran make his year a good one. He is but one piece of a broken lineup.

The Wild Cards

This year is baseball’s first with two wild cards. In the American League I suspect those two teams will be the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers. In the National League my money is on them coming from the same division, the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals. Not sure the statistical odds on that given the unbalanced schedule but, I’ll go with it anyway.

The Divisional Series

I think it is the Tampa Bay Rays and Washington Nationals winning their wild card games – how crazy is it to predict one game never a good propisition in baseball what? six months out? – and the Rays will fall to the Tigers in their series while the Nationals will beat the Reds in theirs. The other two matchups will see the Angels beat the Red Sox and in a great series see the Phillies edge the Giants.

The League Championship Series

I like the Tigers to defeat the Angels in a long and exciting series – having Verlander neutralize a Weaver is a powerful weapon and the Tigers will be used to winning all season long. In the senior circuit, I see the Phillies handling the Nats with relative ease.

The World Series

Tigers will win. Verlander versus Halladay will be a matchup for the ages, perhaps thrice. The Phillies could benefit from longer rest, but… their offense just can’t keep pace and their bullpen is more suspect. There you have it. Now all the players have to do is go out and play these games.

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