- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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I'm with Steve Berthiaume: Predictions are generally a big pain in the neck. Read Steve's column and understand: If I don't pick your team, it doesn't mean I hate them or root against them or like the Yankees better than the Red Sox or vice versa. Last season, I infamously projected the Phillies to win 90 games and miss the playoffs ... OK, I was only off by 12 wins. Hey, I could defend my analysis -- Vance Worley's surprise season, Chase Utley returned sooner than expected, the bullpen was great, Cole Hamels had his best year, the Hunter Pence trade -- but bottom line: I was wrong.
And that's good. As Steve writes, baseball wouldn't be so great if we were always right.
What I did was project each team's runs scored and runs allowed and project their win-loss record from there. Of course, the runs scored and allowed totals have to add up to same number. Not every team can exceed it's over/under line. Overall, I project 21,055 runs scored, a 247-run increase over 2010 (there were 21,308 runs in 2010). Note, of course, that in reality every team doesn't match its projected runs scored/allowed wins total. Last season, for example, the Tigers and Diamondbacks exceeded their Pythagoren record by six wins.
So here are my surely-to-be-wrong predictions ...
I know, I know ... I couple weeks ago I declared the Red Sox the team to beat in the AL East. Since then Andrew Bailey has landed on the DL after thumb surgery and Josh Beckett has some sort of thumb injury as well. It doesn't sound serious, but those are two red flags. No matter how you slice it, the division should be a terrific three-way race. The Yankees and Rays have more rotation depth but I like Boston's lineup. And don't discount the Blue Jays. If Colby Rasmus rebounds, Adam Lind has a better season and Brett Lawrie lives up to expectations, this lineup could score 800-plus. It just needs the back of the rotation to produce and the Jays could be a sleeper contenders if one of the favorites falters.
I went on record earlier as picking the Indians to win the AL Central, so I now apologize to all Cleveland fans as I change my mind. I just couldn't make the math work and Ubaldo Jimenez's spring struggles and state of mind are a huge concern. Still, I do believe the Tigers are vulnerable; look, if Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello take a big step forward the Tigers will run away with the division, no matter how grounders slip past Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. For now, I still those two as inconsistent 3-4 starters and I suspect that regression from Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta may cancel out some of the offensive gains Fielder will provide. Some people like the Royals, but I don't see a .500-caliber rotation and I'm lukewarm about the offense once you get past Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler. Even with some bounce-back from Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, the White Sox will struggle to score runs. Their rotation could be interesting, however. And the Twins ... well, they're just one season removed from 94 wins.
No surprise here: should be a great two-team race. The Rangers had a run differential 144 runs better than the Angels last year; that's a lot of ground to make up. Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and perhaps Kendrys Morales will produce a large chunk of that and the Rangers may regress a little, but the Angels will need to find improved offense somewhere else (and we mean you, Vernon Wells). The A's were actually closer to the Angels in run differential a season ago than the Angels were to the Rangers, but this is still a lineup with Coco Crisp hitting third to start the season. The Mariners will score more runs, but that isn't saying much. Safeco Field will help the pitching staff look better than it is, but Mariners will be watching Double-A Jackson with nearly as much interest as the big league club.
So I was talking to a Phillies fan here in the office and told him I was picking them despite the Ryan Howard and Chase Utley injuries. His response: "We don't want you." Nice! I sense some pessimism in Phillies land, and while understandable to a small degree, YOU STILL HAVE ROY HALLADAY, CLIFF LEE AND COLE HAMELS. Anyway, any of the top four teams can win this division. The Marlins may actually have the highest upside if everyone stays healthy, Ricky Nolasco's ERA matches his FIP and Carlos Zambrano actually pitches well. But with several injury-prone players, I'm a little more cautious. Same with the Braves; the good news is Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman should improve on 2011, but there are injury concerns in the rotation, shortstop is a question mark, third base could be a problem and the bullpen may again have to carry a big workload.
Here's what worries me about the Cardinals: Lance Berkman, David Freese, Rafael Furcal, Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday have all battled various injuries in the past season or two. Adam Wainwright is back, but Chris Carpenter is out for an unknown period of time. Can they win the division? Of course. I actually think the team most likely to run away with the division is the Reds, if everything breaks right, especially in the rotation. But my safe pick is the Brewers. Or maybe they're not so safe; not many have jumped on the Brewers' bandwagon this year but I love the Zack Greinke-Yovani Gallardo duo. It's hard to project much for the Cubs, Pirates and Astros, although maybe the Pirates could challenge .500 if Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett stay healthy and pitch well.
Even with regression from Ryan Vogelsong and uncertainty in the fifth spot, the big three of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner and a lineup that has to score more runs than 2011 makes the Giants slight favorites over the Diamondbacks. Plus ... I couldn't pick EVERY division winner to repeat. In fact, recent history tells us half of each season's playoff teams won't make it the next year. So maybe that opens the door for the Dodgers, Rockies or Padres in a surprise finish in the always unpredictable NL West.
AL MVP: Evan Longoria
Since the wild-card era began in 1995, 29 of 34 MVPs played on playoff teams and 31 of 33 position players to win hit .300 (the exceptions being Jimmy Rollins in 2007 and Alex Rodriguez in 2003). Longoria has not .300, but he did hit .294 in 2010 so he has a .300 season in him. Could end up being a "Defense matters!" debate between him and Miguel Cabrera.
Sleeper: Shin-Soo Choo. If the Indians shock the world.
AL CY YOUNG: David Price
He finished second in the 2010 voting and I believe he's a better pitcher now -- higher strikeout rate and lower walk rate in 2011. Run support may be an issue.
Sleeper: C.J. Wilson. Had a 2.31 road ERA in 2011.
AL ROOKIE: Yu Darvish
Sleeper: Addison Reed. Could end up as the White Sox closer and rookie closers have historically done well in the voting (Craig Kimbrel, Neftali Feliz, Andrew Bailey and Huston Street have won in recent years).
NL MVP: Ryan Braun
Joey Votto was my initial pick, but since I have the Brewers winning the division ahead of the Reds, I'll go with Braun.
NL CY YOUNG: Roy Halladay
Sleeper: Zack Greinke. Well, hard to call a guy who's won before a sleeper. Looks for his ERA to come close to his second-half from 2011 -- 2.59.
NL ROOKIE: Zack Cozart
The NL rookie crop isn't quite as exciting as the AL's, but the Reds have two strong candidates in Cozart and catcher Devin Mesoraco. But while Mesoraco will share time with Ryan Hanigan, Cozart should play every day at shortstop and put up decent numbers.
Sleeper: Trevor Bauer. If Josh Collmenter falters, Bauer may be up quickly for Arizona.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
I'm with Steve Berthiaume: Predictions are generally a big pain in the neck. Read Steve's column and understand: If I don't pick your team, it doesn't mean I hate them or root against them or like the Yankees better than the Red Sox or vice versa.