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February 17, 2010

Division Preview

AL East

by Tommy Bennett

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The American League East has produced the eventual AL pennant winner in each of the last three seasons and seven of the last 10. In the 2000s, AL East teams (well, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, really) won four World Series. In six of the last seven years, the AL East has also produced the wild-card team. Almost without question, the AL East is the toughest division to win in baseball.

Our projection system, PECOTA, projects the performance of every player on every team for this season. When combined with our most recent playing-time forecasts, we can project the standings. Traditionally, the Yankees and Red Sox are the behemoths that exert tremendous gravity on the other three teams, effectively weighing down their schedules 36 times a year. Somehow, in this most extreme of competitive environments, new hope is managing to grow.

Boston Red Sox

Projected record: 94-68

Why They Might Win: PECOTA projects the Red Sox to allow just 677 runs, the fewest since winning the World Series in 2007. Their defense, which ranked 18th in the majors last year in our park-adjusted efficiency rankings, has been drastically improved with the additions of Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre. The addition of John Lackey to the pair of aces in Josh Beckett and Jon Lester gives the Red Sox what is probably the strongest three-starter combination in baseball.

Why They Might Not Win: The Red Sox are unlikely to score as many runs this year as they did last year (872)-PECOTA projects them for 808. They have effectively swapped Jason Bay out for Cameron, a downgrade offensively. Marco Scutaro, while an upgrade over the ghosts of Red Sox shortstops past, is not a great hitter. Their offensive core is aging, increasing the risk of injury.

Player Who Could Surprise: Clay Buchholz has tantalized fans with his promise but has yet to find consistent success. Heading into his age-25 season, PECOTA projects Buchholz to pitch 152 innings with a 10-7 record and 3.89 ERA. Behind the top three, Buchholz could provide a nifty bit of production at the back of the rotation.

Player Who Could Disappoint: Scutaro was signed with the hope he would stop the revolving door at shortstop; PECOTA sees him as a competent yet unspectacular player. Although he put up a .379 on-base percentage last season while Red Sox shortstops combined for a .297 mark, PECOTA projects his batting average to slip to .278 and his OBP to drop to .362 while showing hardly any power.

New York Yankees

Projected record: 92-70

Why They Might Win: The Yankees are set to be a run-scoring juggernaut; PECOTA projects them to outscore all other teams, with 821 runs total. A full season of Alex Rodriguez plus the additions of Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson means this lineup will be the toughest to get through in baseball.

Why They Might Not Win: The starting pitching, while helped by the addition of Javier Vazquez, is not as good as Boston's. The Yankees need Vazquez to limit his home runs allowed, which is a perennial problem for the fly-ball pitcher-and Joba Chamberlain needs to bring his good fastball every start. They'll win a lot of slugfests, but they can't win them all.

Player Who Could Surprise: After several on-again, off-again seasons, it appears Robinson Cano has found his groove. PECOTA agrees, and projects a .297/.338/.493 season; you'll see good defense from him in his age-27 season, a time when players often peak.

Player Who Could Disappoint: The Yankees brought back Andy Pettitte for another season, but PECOTA doesn't like the chances of him matching his 4.16 ERA from last season. Instead, he projects for a 4.71 ERA, which would be the worst of his career.

Tampa Bay Rays

Projected record: 91-71

Why They Might Win: The Rays project to be a well-balanced team, scoring 800 runs and allowing 699. They play good defense, have two strong front-line starting pitchers in Matt Garza and James Shields, and are young. They also have enviable depth, with prospects Jeremy Hellickson (P) and Desmond Jennings (OF) raring to make their major-league debuts.

Why They Might Not Win: The back of their rotation is in flux and contains question marks. Andy Sonnanstine was plain awful last season (6.77 ERA), and David Price and Jeff Niemann have yet to fully establish themselves. Additionally, despite the emergence of Ben Zobrist, they only have one legitimate offensive superstar in Evan Longoria.

Player Who Could Surprise: Wade Davis has been ranked by Kevin Goldstein as one of the Rays' top prospects before each of the last three seasons, and this year is no exception, as the right-hander is a five-star prospect. After putting up a 3.40 ERA at Triple-A last season, PECOTA sees Davis pitching 165 innings of 4.55 ERA ball. The only reason he might not do that is because Hellickson (who PECOTA projects for a 3.97 ERA in limited time) is nearly ready to take his rotation spot.

Player Who Could Disappoint: Many fans were hoping Pat Burrell would bounce back after a disappointing 2009. PECOTA is not optimistic. It projects a .241/.371/.443 line, which is an improvement-but not enough to be a productive DH in the AL East.

Baltimore Orioles

Projected record: 79-83

Why They Might Win: In any other division, the Orioles would probably be a contender. Although this probably isn't the year they put it all together, they are tantalizingly close to a return to respectability. They are projected to score 781 runs-fifth in the AL, but fourth in the East. The outfield of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Nolan Reimold might be the best in the division. Starters Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman could have breakouts in their first full major-league seasons.

Why They Might Not Win: Their starting pitching is not yet where it needs to be. Kevin Millwood isn't as good as his ERA made him seem last year, so PECOTA projects Brad Bergesen to be the Orioles' starter with the lowest ERA at 4.40. This is not a formula for success.

Player Who Could Surprise: Jones started last year strong (.303/.357/.481 before the All-Star break), but cooled in the second half. PECOTA thinks he can do it all season this year, pegging him for .294/.350/.501. Even more noteworthy is his high "Breakout" score, which suggests a good probability that his production will improve by at least 20 percent over his established level of performance.

Player Who Could Disappoint: Millwood, despite a superficially strong ERA last season, has lost the ability to strike out batters at a high rate. PECOTA sees the writing on the wall and projects him for a pedestrian 4.71 ERA and just 5.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

Toronto Blue Jays

Projected record: 71-91

Why They Might Win: The Blue Jays have an uphill battle, but they've got a couple of young bats in Adam Lind and Brett Wallace, who could blossom into excellent hitters. If young pitchers Brandon Morrow and Marc Rzepczynski reach their potential, the team could catch potentially catch fire.

Why They Might Not Win: It would take just about everything going their way for them to win this year, including a turnaround from former top prospect Travis Snider and the emergence of someone to fill the large void left by trading ace Roy Halladay. They project to score just 702 runs, fewest in the AL, while playing in baseball's toughest division.

Player Who Could Surprise: Lind is on the cusp of superstardom. On the heels of a 35-homer season, PECOTA projects for more of the same: .279/.340/.495 with 31 homers. His top comparables include former All-Stars Harold Baines and Ryan Klesko.

Player Who Could Disappoint: Ricky Romero is a former first-round draft pick (chosen between Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki), so when he dazzled in his major- league debut last season, many fans hoped his promise had finally been realized. However, PECOTA-taking into account a minor-league track record that was not particularly strong-envisions a 4.82 ERA, which suggests he may not spend the whole season in the rotation.

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

Related Content:  PECOTA,  The Who,  Year Of The Injury

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

BP Comment Quick Links

pokeysplayers27

You say the Yankees are going to be a run scoring juggernaut, with a PECOTA projection for 821 runs. But a couple paragraphs earlier, your concern about the Red Sox was that they might not produce offensively. But their projection of 808 runs is 13 of the Yankees. What gives?

Feb 17, 2010 09:56 AM
rating: 0
 
Rob_in_CT

821 runs scored for the Yankees seems low, considering they scored 915 last season. I get that you have to project dropoffs for Jeter and Posada in particular, but I'd be pretty surprised if they didn't score roughly 900 runs again. ARod should be healthy (they had a money of Cody Ransom last year). Nick Johnson is the wildcard, because if healthy that ~.400 OBP will be fanatastic, but he's often... not healthy. Granderson seems like a good fit for the Stadium (so was Damon, but he gave away runs with the glove). So subtract runs b/c of regression from Jeter and Posada, figure Cano stays roughly the same (though he's entering his prime, hopefully), Swish should be about the same, Johnson & Granderson could match or even exceed Damon & Matsui's 2009 production, ARod and Tex should be excellent again. That leaves Gardner versus the Gardner/Melky mix from 2009. Even if you project a dropoff there and adjust for Boston's improved pitching (does Toronto losing Halladay compensate, at least partially?), I just don't see the Yankees scoring 94 fewer runs.

So I think the words make sense (Yankees - offensive juggernaught with some pitching questions, Red Sox have excellent pitching and a much improved defense but will score fewer runs) but the numbers don't really.

Feb 17, 2010 10:19 AM
rating: 3
 
Rob_in_CT

Arg. A month of Cody Ransom, not a money of Cody Ransom. Sleep deprivation is uncool.

Feb 17, 2010 10:20 AM
rating: 0
 
Tommy Bennett

The Red Sox are still going to score plenty of runs. But if there's a clear reason to think they might not win the toughest division in baseball, it's that they might not score ENOUGH. That's all.

Feb 17, 2010 10:33 AM
rating: 0
 
pbconnection

Typical BP watered down for ESPN...

Lind and Cano would be good surprises by posting seasons worse than last year?

Ugh.

You should put the ESPN Insider warning at the top so I'm not wondering all article why this seems like such a shallow analysis.

Feb 17, 2010 10:02 AM
rating: 0
 
Tommy Bennett

Most above average players are projected to post seasons worse than they had the season before. That's the nature of regression to the mean. But what is surprising is how little they are projected to regress as compared to their seasons last year.

Feb 17, 2010 10:35 AM
rating: 0
 
pbconnection

I still don't see where the "surprise" comes in. The predicted PECOTA seasons are very close to what I'd expect from Lind and Cano.

It's not just me. If you look at the Fans projections at FanGraphs, most fans believe that Cano and Lind with outperform PECOTA.

Lind is predicted at .279/.340/.495 by PECOTA and .299/.366/.535 by fans. Cano .297/.338/.493 and .313/.346/.503

Who would be surprised? Certainly not me or most other fans. I completely fail to see the point you're trying to make. Surprise comes when a player reaches a new level of performance.

Feb 18, 2010 06:43 AM
rating: -2
 
Tommy Bennett

I'm sorry that you are not surprised.

Feb 18, 2010 10:29 AM
rating: 0
 
timhulettfan

Nice line TB.

But seriously, who are these people rating pbc's comments as negative? Even if you disagree, they're well thought-out and argued effectively. BP readers are so temperamental.

Feb 19, 2010 14:49 PM
rating: 0
 
Saroff

I agree with pbconnection. Will there be a more previews of the AL East (and the other divisions)? I'm not sure if it is because of your ESPN relationship or other reasons, but this is not a particularly in-depth review of what promises to be the most fascinating division in MLB.

Thanks.

Feb 17, 2010 12:13 PM
rating: 1
 
pjvent

So what happens when the PECOTA numbers change again?

Feb 17, 2010 10:29 AM
rating: 2
 
Aaron/YYZ

I find it somewhat surprising that you are so up on Brett Wallace and yet down on Travis Snider. I would think there's a significantly higher likelihood that Snider is an impact bat for the Jays this season than there is with Wallace.

Feb 18, 2010 06:37 AM
rating: 3
 
ZachAttack123

"Additionally, despite the emergence of Ben Zobrist, [the Rays] only have one legitimate offensive superstar in Evan Longoria."

You don't consider Carlos Pena an offensive superstar? He had a higher OPS than Longoria did last year. I'll give you that Longoria is more valuable overall (awesome defense, younger, lower price tag, and plays at a position with fewer quality hitters), but if you're talking about pure offense, Pena is pretty much Longoria's equal. And Carl Crawford's not too far behind.

Feb 18, 2010 09:21 AM
rating: 1
 
Tommy Bennett

I think you can include Pena. The big problem with Pena's game is his on base ability. His career OBP is .355, which is what he put up last year. His EqA was lower than Longoria's and Longoria only projects to improve with time. It's not that I don't think Pena is a very good player, I just don't think the "superstar" label quite fits him.

Feb 18, 2010 10:33 AM
rating: 0
 
bmnortha

Got to second the Wallace/Snider thing. Snider is a year and a half younger, and had a much, much better year in triple a (.340 .410 .650 or so vs. .295 .360 .450).

Snider also has a 300+ at bat apprenticeship in the big leagues where he was about league average. A very typical start for a big left handed slugger, actually a bit better then Thome, Adrian Gonzales, Delgado, Lind.

Not sure why Snider loses points for what seems to be a typical start for his type of player....

Feb 18, 2010 10:01 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

"Their offensive core is aging, increasing the risk of injury."

This line was under the Red Sox, but I think you meant to (or should have) placed it under the Yankees heading. The Red Sox "offensive core" off the top of my head would probably be Pedroia (26), Martinez (31), Ortiz (34), Youkilis (31), and Drew (34) for an average of 31 years old. The Yankees would be Posada (38), Jeter (36), A-Rod (34), Teixeira (30), and Cano (27) for an average age of 33 years old.

Feb 18, 2010 11:03 AM
rating: 1
 
awayish

with modern medicine and care, i don't think historic decline patterns remain valid. at least, there will be exceptions.

Feb 18, 2010 11:37 AM
rating: 0
 
donaldekelly

All this is based on beta projections. Many people are saying the offensive projections are off. When do the projections get finished?

Feb 18, 2010 19:37 PM
rating: 1
 
buddaley

I don't think it likely that Sonnanstine will be in the Rays' rotation. In fact, there is a real chance he won't even be on the 25 man roster. The most likely rotation is Shields, Garza, Price, Niemann, Davis. And should a problem develop, Hellickson is probably first in line. Right now, Sonnanstine seems to be in a competition for a bullpen slot, and with Soriano, Howell, Balfour, Wheeler and Cormier probably definites, that leaves him in competition with Choate (who is also likely to make it) and newly acquired Benoit for the last 2 spots which also feature a number of other legitimate contenders.

Feb 20, 2010 05:22 AM
rating: 0
 
offbase99

My guess is that Sonnanstine's numbers reflect a generic number of sixth-starter fill-in starts that every team (well, except the '08 Rays) typically needs over the course of the season -- you know, when Matt Garza has dead arm for a week, or there's a rainout doubleheader, or whatever, and you don't want to jerk Hellickson around from AAA and back.

17 starts seems about right, and if the team gets a 4.84 ERA with decent peripherals out of that spot, they'll be pretty happy with that.

BTW, Wade Davis is now projected for 27 starts, third-most on the team, even though he's listed as a "spot" starter.

Feb 22, 2010 09:03 AM
rating: 0
 
rich1489

Why do PECOTA cards still show 2009 forecasts?

Feb 21, 2010 20:47 PM
rating: 0
 
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