SweetSpot: Around the league

2012 predictions you couldn't predict?

February, 18, 2012
Last year, You Can't Predict Baseball came up with bold predictions for the year. We had a lot of fun coming up with them, and then laughing at how hilariously wrong they were at the end of the year. This year, we're bringing these predictions to SweetSpot, along with explanations for some of them. Keep in mind, these predictions are supposed to be bold, but not insane -- even we know the Orioles aren't going to the playoffs in 2012.

Los Angeles Angels: Kendrys Morales stays healthy all year.

Houston Astros: Bud Norris is top five in K/9 in the NL. We figured something good had to happen to the Astros, right? Norris actually has a pretty nice career K/9.

Oakland Athletics: Yoenis Cespedes is their starting center fielder by Memorial Day.

Toronto Blue Jays: Brandon Morrow makes the jump to elite starting pitcher. He's struck out more than 10 batters per 9 innings two years running, though his ERAs have remained ugly. We think this is the year his results finally match the stuff, especially considering his declining walk rate.

Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran has more wins than Tim Hudson.

[+] EnlargeRickie Weeks
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWith Prince Fielder gone to Detroit and Ryan Braun facing possible disciplinary action, Rickie Weeks could lead the Milwaukee Brewers in home runs in 2012.
Milwaukee Brewers: Rickie Weeks leads the team in home runs. He was fourth on the team last year, with 20. In front of him were Corey Hart with 26, Ryan Braun with 33, and Prince Fielder with 38. Fielder is gone, and for this prediction we'll assume Braun will miss a third of the year due to a suspension. It's not too bold to think Weeks could pass Hart in 2012.

St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Beltran outproduces Albert Pujols from last year. Albert Pujols was great last year, but not quite best-player-of-his-generation Albert Pujols. If healthy, it's not absurd to think of Beltran outproducing Pujols' 5.1 WAR in 2011.

Chicago Cubs: Matt Garza isn't their best pitcher. It'll be Ryan Dempster, who had great peripherals but bad results last year.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Aaron Hill will be good again. He was great with them in limited time, and Arizona's park is quite hitter-friendly.

Los Angeles Dodgers: James Loney will be a top-three first baseman in the National League. Many thanks to Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness for somewhat alerting us to this one. We just decided to take it semi-absurdly far.

San Francisco Giants: Madison Bumgarner is their best pitcher. In terms of ERA, he already wasn't very far behind Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, and his K/BB ratio eclipsed theirs by quite a bit.

Cleveland Indians: They'll have the best pitching in the American League Central. We're banking on Ubaldo Jimenez, making a major comeback to something closer to what he was in 2010, and the rest of the staff displaying the good that they did in 2011. We're also counting on the Tigers' starters not being very impressive behind Justin Verlander, which is bold but not quite insane, and the pitching of the White Sox, Twins and Royals not being able to keep up with Cleveland's.

Seattle Mariners: Jesus Montero catches 100-plus games. The Mariners probably aren't going to compete, so why not try and play him where he'll accrue the most value?

Miami Marlins: Despite all their new acquisitions and the hype, they still finish fourth in the NL East. When you think about it, this one isn't so crazy. If Josh Johnson isn't healthy and maybe even if he is their pitching still trails that of Philadelphia, Washington, and Atlanta; even with Heath Bell, we don't think their bullpen is as good, either. Their offense might be better than some of those teams', but the Marlins were quite a bit below league average offensively last year and we're not sure how much Jose Reyes is going to make up for that.

New York Mets: Mike Pelfrey is the worst starter in the NL. Pelfrey's been pretty terrible two of the past three years, and now they're moving the fences in at Citi Field. He was far better in his huge home stadium, but we're guessing with the moved-in walls he'll be significantly worse at Citi. Here at YCPB, we actually don't think the Mets are going to be quite as dire as many are saying, even if they do come in last place in the NL East - but Pelfrey won't be a bright spot.

Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg has a 17-strikeout game.

Baltimore Orioles: Matt Wieters is the best catcher in the AL. A lot of people are so obsessed with Wieters not matching the hype that they didn't notice he became a plus offensive performer last year, to go along with very good defense. His taking the next step isn't that bold as predictions go, especially if Joe Mauer has to move off catcher.

San Diego Padres: Luke Gregerson is a top-three closer in the NL.

Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels is their best starter. And this isn't meant to be a slight to Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, but considering their ages and the fact that Hamels is pretty darn good himself, plus a possible boost from a contract year...

Pittsburgh Pirates: Charlie Morton is their All-Star.

Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish isn't their best starter -- but he's still good. And we think he'll be pretty good, we just think Derek Holland will become more consistently good, or Matt Harrison will put up numbers like his 2011.

Tampa Bay Rays: James Shields will have no complete games. Predicting someone to have no complete games might not seem bold, but it is when it's a guy who was known as "Complete Game James" last season. Shields did have 11 complete games in 2011, an almost unheard-of number these days, but he had no complete games in 2009 or 2010.

[+] EnlargeJames Shields
Kim Klement/US PresswireAfter none in either 2009 or 10, James Shields pitched 11 complete games for Tampa Bay in 2011.
Boston Red Sox: No one hits 30 home runs. This might seem crazy when you consider their great offensive numbers last year, but only one player on their team hit 30 home runs and it was Jacoby Ellsbury with 32.

Cincinnati Reds: Brandon Phillips is the best second baseman in the NL.

Colorado Rockies: Jamie Moyer will have the best HR/9 on the staff.

Kansas City Royals: They reach .500. While their pitching won't be great, their offense will take a big step forward this year. Combined with the rest of their division being the Tigers and some dumpster fires, it's not that difficult to see it happening.

Detroit Tigers: They score fewer runs than they did in 2011. Yes, that’s even with Fielder. It's not improbable that Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila and Delmon Young regress quite a bit from their numbers with Detroit last year, and that Prince Fielder's production "only" makes up for the offensive loss of Victor Martinez in 2012. They'll still have a very good offense, though.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer hits 15 home runs.

Chicago White Sox: Robin Ventura gets ejected more times than Ozzie Guillen. Look at the state of the White Sox. We'd get ejected too.

New York Yankees: Hiroki Kuroda leads the team in ERA.

You Can't Predict Baseball is an affiliate of the SweetSpot network.

Vincent bashes Cuban

June, 15, 2011
Didn’t Fay Vincent’s 15 minutes end already, or is he just great at keeping booking agents hip-deep in donuts?

Listening to baseball’s accidental former commissioner talk about Mark Cuban and potentially “troublesome owners” is something like listening to a misanthrope complain about people. Give this man time, and there is perhaps no owner he wouldn’t chalk up as “difficult,” at least not after first exposing them to his brand of ham-fisted stewardship of their industry.

Lest we forget, and instead of perpetuating the myth of martyred St. Fay the Last, this is the ex-commissioner who alienated and annoyed a good chunk of the National League over his happily stillborn realignment scheme -- something that brought on a lawsuit from at least one club, the Cubs. It’s notable that realignment was achieved without friction by his replacement, Bud Selig, with Czar Bud’s characteristic consensus-building among his cohorts, and without railing about employing his “best interests” power to have his way. Vincent was also the czar who did himself no favors with the American League’s owners with the 1993 expansion, making the American League a full participant in the expansion draft for the National League's new entries in Denver and Miami -- something that was not the case in previous MLB expansions -- while apportioning just 22 percent of the expansion fees to the AL. After alienating owners in both leagues, is it any surprise he wound up with two entire leagues’ worth of “troublesome owners,” and a quick invitation to unemployment?

The follow-up question on "The Herd" was spot-on, in that what Vincent was asked, about Cuban’s investment in his actual product -- his team, the thing that people are expected to shell out money for, as opposed to some archaic sense of noblesse oblige -- highlighted the extent to which Vincent is at best an anachronism, and at worst irrelevant while playing make-believe over the purportedly gentlemanly conduct of the likes of Gussie Busch. (Let alone the examples set by clumsily inadequate stewards like Bowie Kuhn or Peter Ueberroth.) That Vincent would bundle Cuban’s various run-ins with the NBA over the "maverick" owner of the Mavericks with George Steinbrenner’s Spiragate reflects the extent to which he has little or no sense of proportion. Where George Steinbrenner sought to slime an employee (Dave Winfield) by unsavory means, Cuban is guilty of airing complaints about his league's product, or in its officiating, or in his desire to improve his team, or what Americans might consider an above-board matter of exercising his freedom of speech.

Vincent's sense of what the game deserved is perhaps what is truly telling: his choice for a replacement, Steve Greenberg. Greenberg, a former player agent, got himself sued by one of his clients, Bill Madlock, and was only found not guilty because of the statute of limitations, not apparently because of the absence of actual guilt. Really? That's the guy you want to run an industry that employs players, a guy accused of screwing players?

So, for those of you keeping score at home, you’re supposed to value the input of a former commissioner, despite the fact that he was someone who demonstrably lacked the diplomatic skill to work with the people within the baseball industry he was employed by -- the owners -- to achieve what was demonstrably achievable, like realignment, and a man and with questionable judgment when it came to selecting his lieutenants. Sure, no problem -- you first.

Admittedly, Mark Cuban may never get past Bud Selig and company when it comes to passing muster as a potential big-league owner. Given awful past choices such as Carl Lindner or Jeffrey Loria, or now war profiteer Jim Crane with the Astros, not being found of like quality by the lords of the game may be the sort of compliment that Cuban might relish. But to also be condemned by Vincent, one of the game's true front-office failures? I would suggest that the best course is to consider the source, and to value the merits of Vincent’s charges on the basis of his own horrendous track record when it comes to his judgment and his happily brief stewardship of the game.

Winningest college coach retires at 85

June, 2, 2011
You've probably never heard of Gordon Gillespie, but he was one of the greatest baseball coaches in the history of the game. Gordie, as we called him, officially announced his retirement this week after 59 years of coaching baseball. He leaves behind a legacy that includes 1,893 wins, the most by any coach in college baseball history. But more important than the wins was Gordie's approach to the game and the way he taught and loved the players he coached. This is something I can personally vouch for, having played under his wing for four seasons while attending Ripon College in Wisconsin.

In many ways, Gordie was old school. No facial hair during the season. All players wore their uniforms the same, socks up or socks down. However, in many ways, Gordie was ahead of his time. He believed wholeheartedly in the importance of pitching and defense. On offense he always looked to play for the big inning. Gordie was not the type of coach who would bunt a runner over in the first inning and he never let up or allowed his players to stop playing the game, no matter what the score. He preached plate discipline and frequently scolded his hitters for swinging at first-pitch breaking balls.

[+] EnlargeGillespie
Courtesy Charlie SaponaraCharlie Saponara with Gordie Gillespie, who won more than 2,400 games coaching four different sports.
Gordie never used a curse word and his antics could be comical at times, but when he needed to get his point across, you listened and you listened hard. Sometimes just one look from his antique eyes told you everything you needed to know.

More than anything, however, Gordie put his trust in his players and stood behind them 100 percent, through slumps and hot streaks. You always knew exactly where you stood with Gordie, and if things were going bad he'd always have something positive to say to try to pick you up. As long as you worked hard in every practice and played hard in every game, you'd always have a place on his team. One of my favorite memories of playing ball under Gordie was when our smallest player, Rick Pell, perhaps 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds when his hair grew out, got into a blowout game his senior year and did something he had never done before.

Rick had been one of the hardest workers on the team for all four years. His playing time was sporadic, but this never stopped him from working his butt off. I remember being in the on-deck circle when he got the call to pinch hit. On a day where the wind was blowing out and baseballs were leaving the yard like a Josh Hamilton home run derby show -- for our team at least -- Rick told me he was just going to go for it and try for a home run, something he had never done in his life going all the way back to Little League. When the ball flew over the right-field wall the entire team went crazy. It was like we had just won the Division III World Series. That's how Gordie's teammates felt about each other and that's how Gordie felt about his players. You could see the immense pride in Gordie's eyes and the warmth in his heart as Rick rounded the bases.

Gordie loved his players. While winning was always the team goal, making sure all of his players performed in the classroom and grew as men was always his personal goal -- a goal he achieved with brilliant frequency. He was also a successful high school football coach, leading Joliet (Ill.) Catholic to four straight Class 4A state titles from 1975-78.

Now, at 85 years of age, Gordie Gillespie hangs up his cap and steps away from his post at the University of St. Francis to spend time with his wife and family. Eight years ago, he used to tell his people, "At my age, I don't buy green bananas anymore," a phrase I'm sure he still uses to this day. I hope he finds piece in life without coaching, though I'm certain there will be a little hollow feeling inside when baseball season comes around.

Someday someone might break Gordie's all-time wins record, but no one will ever replace what he has given to his players. I never enjoyed playing the game of baseball as much as I did during my four years at Ripon College. For that, I will forever be in debt to Coach Gillespie, the greatest coach I have ever known.

Charlie Saponara writes for the Red Sox SweetSpot affiliate, Fire Brand of the AL. For more on Gordie Gillespie's career, click here.
Our friends at The Platoon Advantage waxed poetic the other day about Royals reliever Tim Collins, prompting them to come up with the all-time all-tall team and the all-time all-short team. It's not just a list of the tallest (or shortest) players, because they went position-by-position. For example, who is the best tall shortstop or second baseman ever? Read on! Other links to check out
  • It's About the Money takes a look at 2011 payrolls. The Yankees (shocker!) are No. 1, followed by the Phillies (the new bully on the block), Red Sox, Angels (surprising) and White Sox (just ahead of the Cubs). These payrolls are from USA Today, which calculates based only on Opening Day rosters, so the Mets' figure ($118.8 million) doesn't include the $12 million for Oliver Perez or the $6.25 million for Luis Castillo. The Rays are next-to-last; no wonder they're 0-5!
  • Gordon Edes writes on another Red Sox loss. Will fans boo when the Red Sox return home?
  • Don't miss Jim Caple's fun look at rejected MLB promotions.
  • Eric Karabell checks out Wednesday's action, including Brian Wilson's 2011 debut, in Box Score Bits. Insider
  • Joe Torre on Mike & Mike discussing his new role for MLB, instant replay and the Red Sox.
  • Tim Kurkjian also on Mike & Mike talking about the Red Sox and other baseball stuff.
  • Buster Olney sends in a video on Michael Pineda and what he means for the Mariners.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.
I'll be chatting every Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET. Late notice for today's session, but here's the link if you want to join the fun and festivities: Click here to get in your questions and comments.
David O'Brien, who covers the Braves for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, tweeted the following:
"A bullpen catcher of a team (not #Braves) says baseballs are harder this year, believes they've been juiced to aid attendance in bad economy."

ESPN's Buster Olney reached out to Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney, who responded, "There has been no change whatsoever on the composition of the baseball or the process in which they are made."

That said, offense is up through the small sample size of 52 games played (just more than 2 percent of the schedule):

2011: 4.67 runs per game
2010: 4.38 runs per game

2011: .260/.324/.421 (BA/OBP/SLG)
2010: .257/.325/.403

2011: 119 home runs in 3,563 at-bats (one every 29.9 at-bats)
2010: 4,613 home runs in 165,353 at-bats (one every 35.8 at-bats)

A few notes:
  • While conventional wisdom says scoring is usually lower in April due to cold weather, that wasn't the case in 2010, when the average team scored 4.55 runs per game. The cumulative major league OPS was .738 (compared to .745 so far in 2011), the highest of any month in 2010.
  • Digging further, we see the increased scoring is coming from the American League. The National League is hitting .257/.322/.398, compared to 2010 figures of .255/.324/.399. The AL is hitting .263/.327/.446, compared to .260/.327/.407.
  • The strikeout rate is about the same: 7.1 K's per nine innings in 2010, 7.0 in 2011.

Of course, the Texas Rangers, who have smacked 13 home runs in four games (a pace of 526 over a full season), are a major reason for the AL surge. They're averaging eight runs per game, hitting .308 and slugging .722. In other words, they're sort of like the 1927 Yankees, only if Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth were cloned and filled all eight spots of the lineup.

The AL is averaging 5.06 runs per game; not including the Rangers, that figure is 4.80 runs per game. That's still an increase from the 4.45 of 2010. Last season, the AL averaged a home run every 35.1 at-bats; this season, it's averaging one every 25.3 at-bats (28.8, not including the Rangers).

So, are the balls harder? Does baseball really have an incentive to increase attendance by trying to increase the number of home runs? Are the Rangers the greatest offensive team of all time?

The answer, of course: It's 104 games. Let's see how the Rangers hit away from the friendly confines of The Ballpark. It's also likely that offense in the AL will increase anyway. From 2001 through 2009, runs per game ranged from 4.76 (2005) to 5.01 (2004). The 4.45 rate of 2010 was perhaps an aberration. The NL averaged 4.33 runs per game in 2010 -- its lowest total since 1992, but only a small drop from the 4.43 runs of 2009.

So let's wait a bit before declaring that the era of slow-pitch softball is back.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.
MLB Fantasy PicksESPN.com
MLB Infographic (HR Parks)ESPN.com
MLB Infographic (Season Predictions)ESPN.com
OK, enough with predictions from the so-called experts. How do you see the season playing out? Vote in the following polls and we'll see if the fans agree with the pros.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.

X factors: Team-by-team keys

March, 29, 2011
We asked the SweetSpot bloggers to weigh in with a vital element to each team's success in 2011. Click on each link for their analysis or to check out their site.

AL East
Baltimore Orioles -- Zach Britton
Boston Red Sox -- Josh Beckett
New York Yankees --A.J. Burnett
Tampa Bay Rays -- Starting rotation
Toronto Blue Jays -- Aaron Hill and Yunel Escobar

AL Central
Chicago White Sox --Gordon Beckham
Cleveland Indians -- Matt LaPorta
Detroit Tigers -- Phil Coke
Kansas City Royals -- The prospects
Minnesota Twins -- The bullpen

AL West
Los Angeles Angels -- Kendrys Morales
Oakland A's -- Brett Anderson
Seattle Mariners -- Youth movement
Texas Rangers -- C.J. Wilson

NL East
Atlanta Braves -- Nate McLouth
Florida Marlins --Javier Vazquez
New York Mets -- Cash flow
Philadelphia Phillies -- Jimmy Rollins
Washington Nationals -- Ian Desmond

NL Central
Chicago Cubs -- Aramis Ramirez
Cincinnati Reds -- Paul Janish
Houston Astros -- Middle infield
Milwaukee Brewers -- Yuniesky Betancourt
Pittsburgh Pirates -- Pedro Alvarez
St. Louis Cardinals -- Jaime Garcia

NL West
Arizona Diamondbacks -- Justin Upton
Colorado Rockies -- Chris Iannetta
Los Angeles Dodgers -- Left field
San Diego Padres -- Cameron Maybin
San Francisco Giants -- Brandon Belt
Opening Day WinnersESPN.com

ESPN Stats & Information provides a statistical breakdown of teams, players and MLB history.
Some recommended reading ...

From the SweetSpot Network
Around ESPN ...

Eric Karabell and Mark Simon tackle the issues of the day in Thursday's Baseball Today podcast , including:

  • Buck Showalter's comments: Much ado about nothing?
  • Brian Wilson and the Giants' bullpen.
  • Brandon Webb's injury status and what the Rangers should do with Neftali Feliz.
  • Brandon Morrow to start the season on the DL.
  • Players who've never received an MVP vote: Who will get one this year?
  • Greatest active pitcher: Halladay or Rivera?

  • I'm going to weigh in on that last question: The answer is not Mariano Rivera. Look, Rivera has been unbelievable, a dominating closer, a class act, clutch in the postseason (although also the possessor of a few vital postseason blown saves that nobody likes to mention) ... but he's a closer. He's thrown 1150 innings in his career, most of them in one-inning stints. Roy Halladay has thrown 2297 innings in his career.

    How many starters would become dominant closers? Random example: Justin Verlander, very good, top-shelf starter. Imagine him throwing 100-mph heat for ONE inning at a time. You don't think he'd be as dominant as Rivera? This isn't meant to belittle Rivera's accomplishments, but to point out that the best closers aren't closers: they're starting pitchers.