The Baseball Savant

where sabermetrics & betting collide with our national pasttime

2012 AL East Preview and Predictions

Typically previews & predictions can be a little bit lengthy, but I’m going to try and shorten them up a little bit with a brief overview and then some key questions that I think will be interesting to watch over the course of the season. I’ll go alphabetically and then give you my predicted order of finish.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Key Questions
1. Can J.J. Hardy reproduce his power output from 2011 and match his career high 30HR?
2. Do Manny Machado, Jon Schoop, Adam Jones & Matt Wieters keep progressing as a core group of hitters?
3. Can Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusuz & Zach Britton take a few steps forward as mid to back end starters?
4. Dylan Bundy! Can the 2011 1st Round pick keep progressing towards being a #1 starter?

For the most part the Baltimore Orioles are a team in a complete mess. Their amateur drafts have been horrific lately producing not much of anything while their attempts are free agent signings haven’t gone all that well either. The Orioles are never going to outspend teams like the Yankees, Red Sox or even the Blue Jays if Toronto decided to open up the checkbook. On the other hand, there might not be a better team in the major leagues right now in developing talent than the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s a frightful combination for the Orioles which isn’t even taking into account that this is the most competitive division in all of sports, not just baseball.

With that in mind all Baltimore can really do is start from scratch and start building from the ground up. New GM Dan Duquette seems to be doing just that. Adam Jones & Matt Wieters give the Orioles a couple of cornerstones with which to build their offense around up the middle at a couple of key positions. Jones hasn’t peaked yet and neither really has Wieters. Manny Machado is the best positional prospect the Orioles have and was playing in High-A ball last year at 18! If he gets to AA this year and AAA in 2013 then he’ll still be just 21 by the time he gets to the major leagues! Machado is a SS now but could move to 3B, LF or RF depending on how his body fills out. Schoop isn’t nearly the prospect Machado is, but he’s good in his own right. He has enough bat to play 2B or SS if Machado moves off the position. These 4 players could form a huge backbone for the Orioles and their development and improvement is absolutely vital to Baltimore’s long range goals of being competitive.

Dylan Bundy’s success is also paramount to Baltimore. The #4 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Bundy’s fastball sits in the mid-90s with easy velocity while being able to hit triple digits. He hasn’t thrown a professional inning yet, but is already considered one of the best 10 prospects in the game. The last time the Orioles had a legitimate staff ace was Mike Mussina which was over 10 years ago back in 2000! Bundy is the heir apparent. With the organizational pitching depth chart being fairly thin, it’s paramount for Baltimore to keep this guy healthy.

Britton, Matusz & Arrieta are interesting guys. With Bundy on the horizon, none of these guys are going to have the “ace” mantle laid upon them. Still, it wouldn’t be awful for Baltimore to find all 3 of them being able to become mid-rotation starters. Britton was a rookie last season with a 3.10ERA in his first 14 starts before falling apart and posting a 6.55ERA in his final 14 starts. He’s opening the season on the DL which isn’t a good sign given how many starters Baltimore went through in 2011, but there is stuff to work with there. Arrieta has pretty good stuff but pretty wild command. He had some elbow surgery last season to remove bone chips so hopefully he’s back 100% this season. Matusz is an enigma in that he completely fell off the face of the earth in 2011! I don’t think Matusz was nearly as bad as his stats suggested. His ERA was 10.69 but his xFIP was 5.22! Matusz is having an outstanding spring for what it’s worth and should open up the season in the rotation. You could also throw Chris Tillman into the mix here, but then the questions start expanding exponentially.

BOSTON RED SOX

Key Questions
1. How will year 1 of the Ben Cherington/Bobby Valentine duo compare to the Theo Epstein/Terry Francona team?
2. Can position players Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford stay healthy all season?
3. Can Adrian Gonzalez & Jacoby Ellsbury sustain their offensive outbreaks from 2011?
4. Will Jarrod Saltalamacchia finally bust out now that he’s not looking over his shoulder at Jason Varitek?
5. Will the starting rotation remain healthy and effective, especially guys like Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront?
6. Will Andrew Bailey be able to pick up right where Jon Papelbon left off and be effective in the Boston baseball fishbowl?

To be completely honest I didn’t think there would be this many questions surrounding the Red Sox coming into the 2011 season. Question #1 is the biggest, and while I’m not too worried about how effective Cherington can be, there are already rumors abounding that the Red Sox players are not completely happy with the way Bobby Valentine is running things down in Florida. Maybe that’s just Curt Schilling running his mouth, but apparently Valentine has irked a few people in his short stay leading the Sox. You can debate on just how much influence a manager has on a baseball game, but one thing the manager is responsible for is managing the personalities on the team which is something I think is very underrated by most stat oriented analysts. Keep in mind too that Valentine hasn’t won anything at the major league level. He took the Mets to the 2000 World Series, but they lost while Terry Francona sported two World Series rings and will never buy dinner in Beantown ever again. The East is entirely too difficult for a team to heap on extra problems within the clubhouse on top of playing teams like the Yankees, Rays & Blue Jays. This will be interesting to watch because of the Red Sox start out slow and the grumblings about Valentine increase, he could be out before he ever starts.

The 2nd question is fairly obvious. Youkilis can argue he’s the best hitter in the lineup. Through his first 85 games last season, Youk was hitting 288/403/510. Something happened here which caused him to nosedive and finish the season missing 42 games, but when he’s on, he’s an extremely difficult out to get for the opposition. Take a look at that line and realize too that Youkilis hit .218 for the month of April! A healthy Youkilis makes Boston’s formidable lineup downright scary. Carl Crawford just had a terrible season. In his last 5 years in Tampa, Crawford put up a 303/350/462 triple slash line, but in his first year in Boston he hit 255/289/405. He looked uncomfortable the entire season. He missed time with injury. All in all the season was a complete disaster for the left fielder, so I’m sure Crawford is thinking about some redemption. At their best, Youkilis is a 300/400/500 player who can hit 25HR, score 100R and plate 100RBI. Crawford is a 300/350/450 guy who can hit 18-20HR, score 100R, give you 85RBI, but also steal 35 bases. Boston led the AL in runs scored last year. If these guys come back to full strength, that shouldn’t be a problem again.

Like Youkilis & Crawford, the answer for Ellsbury & Gonzalez are pretty easy. Ellsbury really is this good, but he learned to turn on an inside fastball last year which resulted in him banging out 32HR. Most projection systems this season don’t call for 20HR! That’s a dropoff, but one that is going to be expected. I don’t think pitchers are going to be as willing to give Jacoby the gas this year. Last season, Ellsbury ranked 11th in the majors in % of fastballs seen. He’ll be much further down that list this year, but it’s also an opportunity to see if Ellsbury really has become a legitimate power hitter. He’s going to see a lot more breaking stuff this season and if the taters keep coming then obviously pitchers are screwed. The top-10 hitters in baseball in fastballs seen averaged 5.3HR. Ellsbury hit 32. The questions around A-Gon swirl around his unsustainable BABIP. Heading into the 2011 season, for his career Gonzalez had amassed a .310 BABIP. In 2011, he led the major leagues with a .380 BABIP which led to a 338/410/558 slash line. Some people are bringing up Manny Ramirez as a possible comparable here, but Manny had a .340 BABIP in Cleveland before he came to Boston. In Boston, Ramirez’s BABIP actually decreased to .334 so what Gonzalez is doing is completely an outlier. On the other hand, Fenway is a lot more forgiving a ballpark than Petco so Gonzalez increasing his BABIP certainly seems feasible. It will be interesting to see what Gonzalez does this season, but if he hits .280-.290 it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

As a catcher Salty was highly regarded as a prospect, but so far hasn’t become the All-Star people thought he was going to be. According to Baseball America, Saltalamacchia was Atlanta’s #1 overall prospect going into the 2007 season. His calling card was his ability to hit the baseball which so far hasn’t really translated all that well. Maybe it was him bouncing around from Atlanta to Texas to Boston, but last year we saw a little glimpse of what the big signal caller can do. Last season he posted his best offensive season to date and projects as a 20-25HR hitter if given the playing time. Salty has shown patience at the plate in the past, but he didn’t show much last season, which means we are seeing all the skill set needed for him to be a force, but we haven’t seen it all at one time. Maybe this season is the opportunity he’s been waiting for as the true #1 backstop. He’ll need to make the most of it as prospect Ryan Lavarnway is ready to take over. I don’t think it’s necessary and the Red Sox would probably just love for Salty to make 130-140 starts, but in 2004 & 2007, Jason Varitek averaged 18HR, 70RBI and 110 OPS+. Saltalamacchia is capable of those kinds of numbers.

To me the biggest problem with Boston might be their starting rotation. They don’t really have a true ace that can log major minutes. The Yankees have CC Sabathia who can log 230IP if needed. Tampa Bay has James Shields & David Price who both can get up over 210IP. The Red Sox didn’t have a single pitcher throw more than 200IP last season. I believe Jon Lester is that type of pitcher, but Lester has a few disturbing trends going on. His K/9 has decreased for the last 3 seasons and his ERA+ has decreased over the past 4 seasons. Lester also can’t really blame his defense as his FIP was 3.83 in 2011. Then again, before his last 4 starts, Lester posted a sub-3.00 ERA for the season before those frightful 4 starts which resulted in an 8.24ERA! Beckett had a pretty good statistical season last year, but he’s spent 11 years in the major leagues and in 2 of them he’s logged more than 30 starts. Clay Buchholz didn’t even throw 83IP a year ago. Boston is also experimenting with Daniel Bard & Felix Doubront at the backend of the rotation. Keep in mind that when Bard was a starter in the minor leagues he couldn’t stop walking 7 batters per 9IP. A move to pen improved his control, but over the last 2 seasons his BABIP out of the pen has been .224 and that isn’t going to stay that way in the rotation. Not even close. Doubront had a 4.33ERA at Pawtucket last season with a penchant for giving up the long ball. There just isn’t much there.

I don’t see Andrew Bailey struggling too bad as closer for the Sox. The media spotlight will be a lot brighter than it was in Oakland, and replacing Papelbon won’t the be the easiest thing, but Bailey was good enough out in Oakland to close for Boston. I think the one problem there is his ability to stay healthy which hasn’t been so good the past couple of years. Boston went out and grabbed Mark Melancon to set him up who had a lot of 9th inning experience last year for the Astros. I think, as with the starting pitching, there is more question marks around Boston’s pitching than there has been in a long time. It’s going to make for an interesting year at the Fens!

NEW YORK YANKEES

Key Questions
1. Can the old guys keep producing or is Father Time going to rear his ugly head?
2. Can the changes Curtis Granderson made against LHP be sustained indefinitely?
3. Will Alex Rodriguez have one more injury free elite year?
4. Was C.C. Sabathia’s end of year run a sign of bad things to come?
5. Will the rotation behind Sabathia be able to sustain a full season?
6. Is David Robertson going to be able to replicate his 2011 season?

It’s no secret that New York’s offense is aging rather quickly. The average age of the projected starting batting order is 33 years with Brett Gardner being the youngest at 28. It seems like Rodriguez is injured a lot and he’ll be 36 this season. Derek Jeter is pushing 40 for crying out loud and it’s important to remember that Jeter was the starting SS for the Yankees when they won the World Series back in 1996! Teixeira will be 32 which is basically the beginning of his post “peak” years. The Yankees went out and got a DH after trading prospect Jesus Montero, but Raul Ibanez is 40! The Yankees were certainly able to score runs. They finished 2nd in the AL in that category so I don’t want to be melodramatic about New York’s prospects. Teixeira had the worst season of his career yet still hit 39HR. A-Rod was having a good season until injuries got to him. Jeter got off to a slow start & wound up on the DL, but he caught fire after coming off the DL and was a definite asset. Curtis Granderson & Robinson Cano are machines. The question remains, however, as to how long it could all last.

The Yankees got a huge boost offensively last season with Granderson’s new found approach against lefties, his nemesis until 2011. Whatever hitting coach Kevin Long did, it worked in spades as Granderson jacked 16 bombs off of lefties in 2011 compared to the 20HR he had hit ins career against southpaws. Granderson put up a 272/347/597 line against lefties which was WAY OUTSIDE OF HIS CAREER norms against them! He only hit 258/372/531 against right handed batters! It truly was an amazing turnaround and oddly enough the Yankees have gone from being a team represented by Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and even Alex Rodriguez to one in which the marquee players are Granderson and Robinson Cano. The Yankees could probably be served even better if Granderson was moved to LF and Brett Gardner was inserted into centerfield because they’d be better defensively. What will be interesting in the coming months will be the sustainability of Granderson’s ability to hit lefties. With this sort of jump in performance we’d be talking about regression to the mean, but Granderson could very well have turned over a new leaf. If so, he’ll once again be one of the most valuable hitters in the AL.

I think Alex Rodriguez is at a crossroads. He hasn’t had a healthy season since 2007 when he won his third MVP award. That’s 4 seasons riddled with injury and you almost get the feeling that A-Rod could indeed battle legacy issues. He only hit 16HR last year meaning if he kept up that pace, he’d need 8 more seasons at 16HR just to tie the career HR record of 762. That would also put A-Rod at age-43 before it happened! Ridiculous! At this point Rodriguez has almost become a media figure more than anything else. He’s known more for his ridiculous contract he signed in Texas and the even more ridiculous extension he signed with the Yankees. He’s now a known steroid abuser which paints everything in a bad light. It’s too bad really and the one way A-Rod could quiet all that down is by having another elite season before he settles into predictable decline. It’s not unusual for an all-time great to post one last hurrah before becoming a supporting player or even a liability, & you have to wonder if A-Rod will be able to pull it off. I know baseball is a team game and one player simply can’t will his team to win championships. It’s an unfair metric, but give how much credence A-Rod has put on that very metric, it seems almost disappointing to know he might have just one ring to show for a 20-year career. I guess that’s one more than Ted Williams & Ernie Banks combined, but you get the point.

The 2012 Baseball Prospectus Annual  brought up a controversial point about CC Sabathia. Manager Joe Girardi put Sabathia back out on the mound after a 30 minute rain delay on July 26th against the Mariners. Sabathia was dominant going 7IP with 14K, but it’s certainly a line of demarcation in Sabathia’s season. Let’s look at the two:

2011 thru July 26th: 7.6H/9, 8.3K/9, 3.5K/BB, 2.4BB/9, 0.3HR/9, 2.56ERA, BABIP = .291, FIP = 2.65
2011 after July 26th: 11.4H/9, 9.7K/9, 4.6K/BB, 2.1BB/9, 1.4HR/9, 4.06ERA, BABIP = .396, FIP = 3.87

Clearly the culprits are BABIP and HR/9. While the 1.4HR/9 was way out of character in the latter part of the season, the 0.3HR/9 was just as much out of character as Sabathia’s career HR/9 is 0.8. It’s interesting to note that this did happen after Sabathia was put out there after a decent rain delay, but once again this feels like poor writing on Baseball Prospectus’s part. Sure the ERA & HR/9 went up, but Sabathia got horribly unlucky with this BABIP while simultaneously regressing a bit with his HR/9. After the Seattle game, Sabathia actually became more dominant with better control when looking at strikeouts and walks. How can you explain that. Even still, I suppose it is worth noting and watching, but my feeling is that this was lazy writing at its best. Wow BP has fallen hard and fast.

New York finds themselves a little bit in Boston’s situation regarding the rotation. Sabathia is the stalwart, but after him it’s a cluster of uncertainty. Grabbing Michael Pineda from Seattle in exchange for Jesus Montero was a pretty solid move considering it game the Yankees a potential ace to go with Sabathia at the top of the rotation, but Pineda was a rookie last year and certainly no sure thing. It looks as if Pineda is going to start the year on the DL forcing the Yankess to move Freddy Garcia into the rotation. Hiroki Kuroda is an interesting addition. He put up stellar numbers for the Dodgers the last couple of seasons, but the NL West isn’t the AL East, Chavez Ravine isn’t Yankee Stadium, and Kuroda is going to be 37-years old. It’s risky. Phil Hughes is coming off of injury and don’t let the 2010 season fool you. Sure Hughes was 18-8, but his ERA+ was 103 which means Hughes was league average. Ivan Nova had a good rookie year last year, but he’s not got the kind of peripherals that scream stud starter at you. He’s a 3rd/4th starter at best. Garcia is the same as Nova. He doesn’t have the peripherals any longer to get it done anymore than a backend starter would be expected. That leaves Sabathia and a bunch of question marks.

It’s worth mentioning David Robertson I think. Amazingly enough Robertson was the most valuable relief pitcher in a bullpen that included Mariano Rivera! His 2.8WAR was stellar although it came with some extreme luck. Robertson walks almost 5 batter per 9 innings, but he gets away with it because he strikes out 14 hitters per 9IP! What’s interesting about Robertson is that his HR/9 last season was 0.14 which was way out of line with his previous levels and his HR/FB% was a paltry 2.3%! Getting even luckier, Robertson’s LOB% was 89.8% which is just ridiculous! All of these numbers scream regression which would be unfortunate for the Yankees given how much they’ll need their bullpen to buttress the starters while we wait and see how the starters work out. It might not seems significant talking about a set up reliever, but the AL East is a different kind of beast and those 3 wins above replacement are extremely important, even for the Yankees. If Robertson regresses then the Yankees will have to find a couple of wins from somebody else, which might not be all that easy.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

Key Questions
1. Can Desmond Jennings remain healthy & effective for the entirety of the 2012 season?
2. Is this the year Evan Longoria plays 160 games and “peaks” at age-26?
3. Does Matt Moore wind up a front of the rotation starter by year’s end?
4. Can Jeremy Hellickson keep up his Houdini act and is it really a Houdini act?
5. Can Luke Scott & Carlos Pena provide plenty of offensive firepower to supplement Longoria, Zobrist, Jennings, & Upton?

It seemingly took forever, but Desmond Jennings finally made it to Tampa Bay and stayed. With Carl Crawford leaving for Boston and Jennings having spent so much time in Durham, the thought was that it was finally time for Jennings to come up and stick with the Rays in 2011. Instead he was shipped to Durham. With Sam Fuld starting off hot and Jennings suffering an injury while playing with the Bulls, his arrival in the AL East took a bit longer, but Jennings made the most of it when he finally got the call. In his first 34 games, Jennings hit 354/440/646, making many people wonder why Jennings wasn’t called up years earlier! Unfortunately he cooled off hitting 154/261/231 in his final 29 games. Jennings hasn’t been an overtly healthy player in his career as a professional. He did play in 152 games last year between Durham & Tampa which is a good sign, but you now have to wonder if he was worn down or if major league pitchers adjusted to his ability and shut him down. He’s a 20HR/50SB guy waiting to happen and the Rays could certainly use that sort of offensive production at the top of their lineup, but Jennings is going to have to show he can grind through a major league season and adjust to opposing pitchers the same way they appeared to adjust to him.

Don’t let the .244 batting average fool you. Longoria is an offensive beast that was tamed by a .239 BABIP almost certain not to repeat. It’s not even a question of whether or not Longoria is good. That’s already established, but now it’s interesting to see when Longoria is going to put it all together and have truly a season for the ages. Just 26, you could argue he’s still a year away from his prime, but when you look at his skill set you can envision a season where he hits .320-45-135 with 120R and potentially 10SB. He’s the best 3B in the majors right now and he looks to stay that way for the next 6-7 years. It’s possibly Brett Lawrie could have something to say about that, but for now Longoria is the man and he’s not intent upon giving up the crown. Longoria is going to produce at an MVP level. We know what. What we don’t know is if he’ll turn in a Hall-of-Fame season. That will be what will be fun to watch in 2012 and in the future. When is that gigantic step forward going to take place and how awesome will it look?

A quick look at Matt Moore’s minor league stats basically tells you all you need to know about this guy. He’s a front line starter just waiting for the opportunity to embarrass opposing hitters. How quickly he makes that jump is a question most Rays fans have coming into 2012. The 22-year old Moore started 2011 in AA where he destroyed the opposition. He did the same in AAA. His first start in the majors came against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. He only went 5IP but he struckout 11 hitters and only allowed 4 hits while nary a run crossed the plate. That’s not a bad way to start out your career as a major league starter. On pure stuff alone Moore is the most talented pitcher in the Rays rotation which is downright ridiculous considering David Price & James Shields also call the Rays rotation home. Moore doesn’t have to be the #1 starter on the Rays staff. That will come in time, but for 2011, Price & Shields can take care of those duties. What’s interesting about whether or not Moore becomes a front end starter is how that affects Tampa’s chances in the postseason. If Moore does hit the ground running then the Rays could potentially throw out 3 #1 starters in a short series, which could make them virtually unbeatable.

Lost in all the Matt Moore, David Price & James Shields talk is the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson. Hellickson was touted as a future #1 starter while coming up through the Rays system, but he didn’t show the swing and miss stuff at the major league level despite having great superficial stats. It’s hard to hammer a rookie starter on a playoff team who goes 13-10 with a 2.95ERA, but Hellickson’s FIP was 4.44 and his xFIP was 4.72! Hellickson got extremely lucky posting a BABIP of .223 which screams out regression. His BB/9 at 3.43 wasn’t fantastic and his HR/9 was 1.0. Neither number is particularly impressive. Another interesting thing about Hellickson is that he led the AL in IFFB% (Infield Fly Ball%). A fly ball pitcher for the most part, Hellickson’s FB% included 16.2% of infield pop ups. Pop ups are ridiculously easy to take advantage of so you can see how Hellickson’s BABIP would be suppressed a bit. Throw in Tampa Bay’s outstanding defense and you can see why Hellickson outperformed his FIP by as much as he did. The trick is wondering if all of that is repeatable!? Is inducing pop flys on the infield a legitimate skill that Hellickson is a master at exploiting? It’ll be interesting to watch in 2012.

The Rays don’t typically make huge splashes in free agency and rather allows the market to come to them, but I think they did a pretty good job going out and grabbing Carlos Pena & Luke Scott. Pena is coming back home to Tampa after spending a year with the Cubs. He was the Rays starting 1B when the Rays went to the World Series in 2009 and during his 4-year run with the Rays, Pena averaged a 135OPS+ with 36HR & 102RBI. Given the apparent lack of power in the Rays lineup before Pena & Scott came on board, coming back home must have been a welcome sight for both the Rays & Pena. Even though the Cubs were out of contention all season last year, Pena still stayed healthy, walked 100 times, hit 28HR and posted a 123OPS+. If he can replicate that production this season, the Rays will be more than happy. Luke Scott was dogged by a bad shoulder last season that resulted in surgery. He also had LASIK surgery on his eyes. Scott can hit and getting him out of the field could be a good thing for him as well. Remember that in 2010, Scott posted a 144 OPS+ for the Orioles. It’s going to be hard for the Rays to compete with Boston & New York offensively, which is why how these two players do is of vast importance. A healthy & effective Luke Scott & Carlos Pena can go a long way with BJ Upton, Desmond Jennings, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist & Matt Joyce. That’s 7 lineup spots which is good enough to allow the pitching staff to worry about the rest.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Key Questions
1. Can Travis d’Arnaud, Anthony Gose & Jake Marisnick take big steps forward in the minor leagues to force the issue for 2013?
2. Is Colby Rasmus ever going to convert on his prodigious amount of talent?
3. Can Dustin McGowan finally get a year where he’s not inundated with injury?
4. Will Toronto have anything to show for their starting pitching besides Romero & Morrow?

There aren’t as many questions for the Jays as their might be for Boston, New York or Tampa Bay, and that reflects a couple of things. The first is that they aren’t quite up to the Big 3’s level of play just yet. The second is that they aren’t THAT FAR away like the Orioles might be. The Jays have been one of the more interesting teams to watch over the past few years. They have a stellar front office and I think John Farrell is going to make an exceptional manager. They should be able to spend more money being in Toronto, but for whatever reason the Blue Jays have not caught the imaginations of the hometown faithful since the early 1990s when the Jays won back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993, meaning attendance isn’t exactly booming.

Clearly the Jays are into growing their home grown talent which speaks to question #1. With J.P. Arrencibia emerging last season behind the plate, it seems odd to talk about the next catcher in Toronto, but d’Arnaud is forcing the issue. Already a better defensive catcher & a better hitter, d’Arnaud ripped up the Eastern League last year hitting 311/371/542 in AA ball. He was in position to make a run for Toronto’s roster out of the gate, but he’ll start the season in AAA. He might not spend much time there. Anthony Gose didn’t tear up AA the way d’Arnaud did, but he was just a 20-year old and hit 253/349/415 with 70SB! Gose also hit 16HR which indicated he turned some of his enormous tool potential into legitimate baseball skills. He projects as Toronto’s future CF which is interesting now that Colby Rasmus is on the roster. He should open the year up in AAA and push for some time with the Jays if Rasmus implodes. Potentially the player with the most superstar potential is Jake Marisnick. A legitimate 5-tool CF, Marisnick went crazy on the Midwest League last season hitting 320/392/496 with 47 extra base hits, 77RBI and 37SB! He’s 6’4/210lbs and might do a little growing. He should have enough bat to carry a corner OF spot should Rasmus/Gose solidify themselves in CF. Clearly prospects are just that, but with guys like Lawrie, Bautista, Escobar & Encarnacion already at the major league level combined with the bats on the way could mean a legitimately tough offense for opponents, even in the AL East, to worry about.

Colby Rasmus is an interesting player. It’s amazing that the Jays were able to get this guy from St. Louis in the first place especially considering the fact that the Cardinals are now without Tony LaRussa, who seemed to clash with Rasmus qutie a bit. LaRussa is an interesting fellow because apparently he clashed with Scott Rolen too which is interesting. Anyway, let’s not forget that Rasmus will only be 25-years old this season and in 2010 he posted a 132 OPS+ for the Cardinals! Right or wrong, Rasmus has this thing about feeling relaxed in his atmosphere and Blue Jays fans can only hope he feels relaxed and at east now playing north of the border. At his best Rasmus is a 5-tool CF who has prove just how valuable he can be at the major league level. He strikes out too much, but he can take a walk. It’s not inconceivable to think this guy turns out like Curtis Granderson, only better, but Rasmus has to focus & commit 100% to baseball. If he becomes a 130OPS+ CF with good defense, then the Jays immediately get an MVP talent for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of potential, how about Dustin McGowan? After going through more surgeries than a histrionic woman with Munchausen Syndrome, people wondered what McGowan would show in his time back with the Blue Jays in 2011. His fastball sat in the mid-90s. He struck out 20 hitters in 21IP. The stuff was clearly there. What also was there was difficulty controlling his stuff and giving up a few too many home runs. McGowan is now 30-years old and is a starting pitcher who has never thrown more than 170IP in a single season. He certainly has the potential to be a #2 starter if he can put everything together and is finally done with his prolific injury issues, but that is a huge if. You never like to see a player with this much skill be hindered because his body is breaking down, but that seems to be the case with McGowan unless he can reverse the trend. Unfortunately as of this writing, McGowan is scheduled to start the 2012 season on the DL. With Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow & Henderson Alavarez locking down 60% of the rotation, all McGowan needs to do is be a back end starter. If he can regain his stuff, that would make the Blue Jays exceptionally happy. Being a fan of pitchers and especially one that is as talented as McGowan, seeing him succeed would make me exceptionally happy.

Like everyone in the East except for Tampa, the Jays enter the year with questions surrounding their rotation. Ricky Romero & Brandon Morrow are firmly ensconced in their roles atop the starting hierarchy, but after that duo things begin to get murky. Brett Cecil’s averaged fastball velocity last year was around 88mph. He’s backend material miscast as a #3 starter for Toronto. Kyle Drabeck can’t stop walking hitters. Dustin McGowan is already on the DL and Henderson Alvarez is just 22-years of age. Even Romero & Morrow have their issues. Romero is more a #2 starter, but Morrow hasn’t quite taken the leap to #1 starter status yet despite having more than enough “stuff” to be an elite #1 starter. There certainly is a lot to like especially if everyone pitches to potential & McGowan can stay healthy, but who knows if that can happen?

PREDICTIONS

1. Tampa Bay Rays
2. New York Yankees
3. Boston Red Sox
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Baltimore Orioles

The Rays have the best rotation in the East and possibly the entire AL while Carlos Pena & Luke Scott will combine with Longoria, Jennings, Upton, Joyce & Zobrist to give them more than enough offense to win the East. The calls of New York’s demise are greatly exaggerated, but I do think the question marks in the rotation will ultimately doom the Bombers even though I don’t think the age of the starting lineup will be as big an issue as people believe. Boston is going to hit and going to hit hard, but I already get the feeling that the Bobby Valentine experiment might be going awry before the season even begins which will ultimately kill team chemistry and hurt Boston’s chances. Toronto is closer than what you think, but the starting pitching simply isn’t there although this team should hit with authority and be the team nobody wants to face. It’ll be fun to keep an eye on the younger players, but the Orioles are a mess and only a miracle would put this team within 10 games of contention.

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April 1, 2012 - Posted by | A.L. East, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Previews, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays

1 Comment »

  1. […] on with my previews and predictions, I’m staying in the East after having completed the AL East. I’ll stick the same format by listing the teams in alphabetical order and then listing a few […]

    Pingback by 2012 NL East Preview and Predictions « The Baseball Savant | April 2, 2012 | Reply


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