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April 3, 2009

The Season to Come

Projected AL Standings

by Christina Kahrl

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Where the National League might be broken down into three categories-the Cubs, the seven other likely contenders for the other three playoff slots, and the exasperated eight-the American League is even more strangely stratified and more divisionally driven. In the AL East, once again fighting for the two playoff spots that go with the division title and the league's Wild Card, you have the league's three best teams. In the AL Central, all five teams can entertain reasonable hope; in the AL West, at least three of four in the short stack. When at least 11 of 14 teams have statistically reasonable bids for October entry, while you can't call it parity because of the beasts in the East, you can call it entertaining.

If there's a potential surprise anywhere in BP's PECOTA-projected standings for the AL, it might be found in our expectations of a newly mild, mild West. Although the Angels won a franchise-record 100 games last season, that was in no small part because of their outperforming their expected finish by an all-time record 13 games. Operate from that starting point, delete Mark Teixeira, and anticipate a good amount of lost ground from the pitching staff-especially Joe Saunders, but also from a bullpen that helped the Halos finish an MLB-best 31-21 in one-run games-and you've got a .500 ballclub. That let's the A's nose ever so slightly ahead with a much-improved offense, but questions in their rotation as well as ongoing concerns over how healthy injury-prone infielders Eric Chavez, Mark Ellis, and Jason Giambi will be make for top two teams whose bids are fragile enough that the Mariners could easily sneak into the picture should they get out to a good start. Fail that, though, and it's not hard to see new GM Jack Zduriencik start breaking down his team for parts to get something for free agents-to-be like Erik Bedard and Adrian Beltre.

The Central's fun because we're already projecting it to be a relatively tight group. From the Indians' projected 86 wins to the Royals' last-place tally of 75, there is no division quite as competitive top to bottom as this one. The Indians' bid would be a lot more secure if they could guarantee big bouncebacks from Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner, not to mention a speedy arrival of a completely ready Matt LaPorta, to give their lineup some big bats behind Grady Sizemore. Getting those kinds of improvements would make a big difference for a lineup that otherwise has to make do with a certain amount of mediocrity from power positions like first base and left field. Run prevention is also a source of concern, but that's because of uncertainty in the rotation, from the front end to the fifth man-does anyone know what comes next for Cliff Lee, let alone Fausto Carmona? And will this year's bullpen combust as spectacularly as several past pen combinations have, or will Kerry Wood provide the sort of stability that lets Eric Wedge use set-up assets like Rafael Betancourt, Rafael Perez, and Jensen Lewis to good effect? The reductionism of baseline projections make the Indians look like a rather mediocre contender, but there's enough upside play to identify the Tribe as the one team in the Central with a solid shot at 90 wins or more.

For the rest, the Tigers' decision to go monkey-see/monkey-do and make like last season's Rays and go for an infield makeover keeps them closest to the Tribe, but here again, questions over which starters they can count on make them an unpredictable commodity. It's for that reason that the White Sox and Twins can make sustained plays for the title-both teams have quality in the front end of their rotations that you could see propelling either back to the postseason. If the White Sox can get good work from Jose Contreras and/or Bartolo Colon to give another power-driven lineup enough winnable ballgames, and if run prevention doesn't suffer with Alexei Ramirez's move to short, the Sox might have another laugh at the expense of those ready to count them out. If the Twins can find a way to shore up one of the league's weaker offenses, they're also in the hunt, though losing Joe Mauer early reflects how little the franchise has to go on once you get past a very few key hitters. The Royals become least-likely because they have problems on both sides of the ball, with the back three in the rotation all engendering questions that a made-over bullpen can't fix. Getting more offense from slow-developing sluggers like Alex Gordon and Billy Butler could compensate for the shortcomings of Jose Guillen and Mike Jacobs as middle-of-the-order power sources.

Which brings us to the question for the junior circuit in the East-between the now-traditional Bronx vs. Boston tilt, and now with those Florida arrivistes, the Rays, upsetting that applecart and winning last year's pennant, three teams enter, but only two teams leave. Which one gets left behind? The cream of the league is so tightly grouped that it's easy to envision any scenario that involves play-in games after the regular season, and all three teams can already be second-guessed before we've played a single game: Going without an A-Rod replacement during his injury-induced absence? Sending down David Price? Missing Manny? All three teams will spend the season under the microscope, but where the Rays are a young team built to last and the Red Sox have a core of veteran talent that should be shored up in-season with reinforcements like John Smoltz, the Yankees have to hope this year's hasty pudding gels fast. With this winter's big-ticket free agents added to aging pillars Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte, can they make our expectation that theirs is the game's best pitching staff stand up? If A.J. Burnett comes up short of our projections or Joba Chamberlain breaks down, you can kiss that league-best record good-bye, bank on another Bomber-free October, and watch and wonder if next winter's the offseason of the long knives in the Bronx.

Even the teams you have to feel for have reasons to feel good. While the Jays and Orioles are damned and doomed to the bottom of baseball's best division, both feature worthwhile prospects worth following-starting off with Matt Wieters in Baltimore and Travis Snider north of the border-with more to come at the tail end of the season. The Orioles and Rangers can't really anticipate changing fortunes until two of the best collections of young pitching anywhere in baseball begin to come up towards the end of the season, while the Jays have to hope another season squandered on long-term deals with offensive mediocrities doesn't whittle down what interest remains in any pitching staff that can boast Doc Halladay's latest bid for a Cy Young.

East        W-L     RS   RA   AVG/ OBP/ SLG
Yankees    99-63   801  634  .264/.337/.413
Red Sox    95-67   846  715  .268/.346/.434
Rays       94-68   814  690  .255/.336/.418
Blue Jays  76-86   713  755  .254/.320/.405
Orioles    75-87   822  891  .268/.336/.431

Central     W-L     RS   RA   AVG/ OBP/ SLG
Indians    86-76   818  774  .260/.336/.420
Tigers     80-82   789  802  .262/.327/.421
White Sox  76-86   779  828  .253/.322/.431
Twins      76-86   746  792  .264/.326/.394
Royals     75-87   737  792  .262/.321/.407

West        W-L     RS   RA   AVG/ OBP/ SLG
Athletics  84-78   781  755  .252/.332/.406
Angels     81-81   777  777  .264/.326/.410
Mariners   77-85   719  753  .260/.318/.399
Rangers    70-92   795  909  .261/.327/.430

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  The Call-up

35 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Al Skorupa

"The cream of the league is so tightly grouped that it's easy to envision any scenario that involves play-in games after the regular season, and all three teams can already be second-guessed before we've played a single game: Going without an A-Rod replacement during his injury-induced absence? Sending down David Price? Missing Manny?"

Missing Manny...?

Apr 03, 2009 10:54 AM
rating: -2

For the Rangers to fail to score 800 runs several things would have to happen. 1) injuries to Chris Davis, Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz, 2) An earthquake forcing the movement of Rangers home games to Oklahoma City. The Rangers playing less than 140 games on the season.

Apr 03, 2009 11:59 AM
rating: 3

Agreed. I'm not saying the Rangers are going to win the pennant, but I don't think there's a snowball's chance in hell they are the worst team in the AL come October. 7 games worse than the Mariners? Come on!

Apr 03, 2009 12:06 PM
rating: 4
Cory Schwartz

Really? How 'bout:

* Chris Davis strikes out once a game and is more Richie Branyan than Jim Thome;
* Hamilton's second half is his true level;
* Kinsler misses another 30+ games with injuries;
* Cruz is exposed as a 29-year-old fifth-year AAA repeater;
* Michael Young continues his four-year decline;
* Teagarden and Saltalamacchia combine for a .250 average and 150 K's;
* Elvis Andrus plays;

Of course all of these things aren't going to happen together but is it so hard to believe that at least a couple of them could and this turns into a very average offensive team?

Apr 03, 2009 14:25 PM
rating: 3

No way. That lineup is sick.

Apr 03, 2009 14:51 PM
rating: 0

I'm not saying the Rangers will win the pennant, or even contend for it. However this is insane. Production from 3B, DH (some), C, and 1B should all be better in 2009 than in 2008. Bradley is a hit to the offense, but with the zone Cruz is in I have faith in him being at least league average.

That doesn't even speak to the defensive improvement having Young/Andrus in the lineup gives the Rangers. Salty is also apparently improved defensively, and we know what Teagarden brings.

Again, the Rangers may not be good but they arent going to be fighting for the top pick in 2010.

Apr 04, 2009 22:43 PM
rating: 0

...and the bullpen should be better. CJ Wilson was hurt. Frank Francisco is settling in. Guardado should theoretically be around all season.

If Millwood/Padilla/Benson are healthy that theoretically should be 3 near league average pitchers. Plus Matt Harrison and Brandon McCarthy theoretically should improve.

Really, I'm just speechless. I can't conceive of Texas only winning 70 with Feliz/Holland/Smoak/Borbon/Kiker/Hunter/Ramirez sitting in AAA and AAA.

Apr 04, 2009 22:46 PM
rating: 0

The last time the Rangers scored less than 800 runs in a full season was 1992. By the way, that was when their best hitter was 22 years old(Juan Gonzalez), Pudge was 20 years old, and Rafael Palmeiro hadn't started juicing yet.

Apr 03, 2009 12:15 PM
rating: 0

I'm surprised that the Red Sox are tied for best team AVG (and tied with the offensive powerhouse Orioles, no less), have the best team OBP and the best team SLG in the AL. I see the Red Sox having trouble with an aging DH and C to go with an offensively unspectacular outfield.

Apr 03, 2009 12:38 PM
rating: 2

The RedSox projection doesn't make sense to me. I think the offense might be slightly diminished, but the pitching is very good and very deep - 1 to 16.

Apr 03, 2009 12:48 PM
rating: 0

They're forecast to be the best offense and 3rd best pitching staff in the league. How much better could they be?

Apr 03, 2009 13:21 PM
rating: 3

I don't think it's a matter of whether or not they're better than their projected standings, but how they get there. I find it hard to believe that the Yankee's pitching staff will prevent over 70 more runs than the Red Sox. Even if CC and A.J. hit their projections AND Chamberlain pitches a healthy, complete season, will they amass enough K's to prevent a well below average defense from sandbagging an otherwise well balanced team?

Injuries are inevitable, and a team like the Yankees will be burned if one of their high-profile rotation guys go down. Hughes is a very qualified 6th starter, Kennedy is not. Beyond that, both teams have very deep bullpens as well as possible reinforcements for their bullpen should someone come up lame/useless.

Yes, there are some serious questions regarding Red Sox offensive producers (Ortiz, Drew, Lowell, Varitek), but they should be able to overcome any drain in offense with more than adequate pitching.

Apr 04, 2009 16:22 PM
rating: 1

That "well below average" defense actually projects to be average (or even slightly above, if they'd use more Swisher and less Nady). Abreu and Giambi were really, really bad. Nady/Swisher and Teixiera are major upgrades. Gardner in CF is a wildcard (great numbers in a tiny MLB sample, sick speed, questions about his routes, arm is solid but not Melky's), and of course Jeter could easily do worse than he did last year (he was surprisingly not-awful). Cano seems to fluctuate all over the place. I think he will bounce back, but you could argue otherwise.

The defense is still behind that of the Sox and the Rays, yes. But it's been improved.

Apr 06, 2009 06:10 AM
rating: -1

ballpark effects?

Apr 06, 2009 12:30 PM
rating: 0


The A's don't have the pitching the win the West. The top three in the East will not be separated by 5 games, and the Twins will win far more than 76 games.

Apr 03, 2009 13:48 PM
rating: -2

Yea, it seems like the Twins are projected to lose every season, yet they always win with a team loaded with overachievers. I think it was Ozzie Guillen who said it is so frustrating playing the Twins..."they are like little pirhanas that nibble and nibble at you until your dead in the water".

Apr 03, 2009 14:13 PM
rating: 2

Exactly. I say they win that division. Their top three in the rotation are very good. They have one of the best closers in the game and the lineup is underrated.

Apr 03, 2009 14:50 PM
rating: -2

Having comments is going to be fun when the season finishes up and we get to evaluate Bombardiers, Woodchucks, etc alongside Pecota. I wonder if readers will be as gracious in error as BP writers seem to be.

Apr 03, 2009 14:13 PM
rating: 2


I say Boston wins the East, Minnesota the Central, LA the West and the Yankees win the WildCard.

Apr 03, 2009 15:03 PM
rating: -2

"If A.J. Burnett comes up short of our projections or Joba Chamberlain breaks down, you can kiss that league-best record good-bye, bank on another Bomber-free October, and watch and wonder if next winter's the offseason of the long knives in the Bronx."

Eh. I realize that both might be prone to injury, but can't we say this about any contender losing two of their best three pitchers?

Apr 03, 2009 14:22 PM
rating: 1
Al Skorupa

We know for a fact that Joba can't pitch a full year this year. That's different than saying "Kazmir could get hurt."

Apr 04, 2009 10:22 AM
rating: 0
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Save these projections, because BP is monumentally wrong about them.

Apr 03, 2009 14:53 PM
rating: -5

...and Woodchuck is monumentally correct about most things baseball.

Apr 03, 2009 18:23 PM
rating: 2
Brock Dahlke

WHAT?! You mean everything on the internet isn't guaranteed correct? How can you say that?.......:)

Apr 03, 2009 19:05 PM
rating: 1
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Fuck you.

Apr 04, 2009 10:01 AM
rating: -17

that was directed at Dave, not Brock

Apr 04, 2009 10:02 AM
rating: -1
BP staff member Dave Pease
BP staff

Please stop with the f-bombs. The comments threads aren't Romper Room, and we don't want to muzzle posters, but this is the kind of thing that makes us consider it.

Apr 04, 2009 12:54 PM

Alright. My apologies to all.

Apr 05, 2009 11:28 AM
rating: 2

I have no clue how A's rotation is going to look like. I need to go to baseball reference minor league page to get an idea who is the opening day starter, which is indeed kind of cool if you look at it differently.
Rangers is not going to win much game. Their pitching is a disaster, their hitting lineup are very overrated -- and their very best hitter is gone to Chicago.

Apr 03, 2009 19:35 PM
rating: -1

Bradley is better than Hamilton?

Apr 04, 2009 10:04 AM
rating: -1
James Martin Cole

He was last year.

Apr 05, 2009 08:48 AM
rating: 1

I cannot see the yankees winning 99 games. sure, burnett could win the cy young with that stuff but he's more likely to be almost as good as the combined number the sox get from their 5 starter (penny/smoltz/bucholz). also, they definitely have the worst outfield in the division (i'm including the o's and jays) both offensively and defensively. i'm thinking sox and rays 1+2 (in either order) cos they clearly have better pitching and offense.
the yanks may get nothing from posada as well, though i think he'll be an asset. the only advantage they have over the rays is bullpen. and i think longoria and a-rod are a push due to his missing the first month. the yankees are a very old and flawed team.

Apr 04, 2009 10:27 AM
rating: 1

The PECOTA lovefest with Oakland and Cleveland continues!!!!

The way I see it, these two teams combine for 2 starting pitchers I have any confidence in. I mean, Pavano is the Tribe's third starter!!

Apr 04, 2009 10:37 AM
rating: 2

John Dewan recently pointed out that defense is half as important as hitting. Yet, I don't see defense factored into this analysis.

Apr 04, 2009 11:18 AM
rating: 1

At the Orioles FanFest today, Andy MacPhail commented that he didn't think scoring runs would be the problem this year. "Even Baseball Prospectus projects us as scoring the second most runs in baseball"

Guess you guys have a reader in the O's front office.

He identified starting pitching as the area the O's need to improve, and pointed to the pitching in the minor leagues.

Apr 04, 2009 12:15 PM
rating: 0
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