Thursday, March 29, 2012
2012 Picks -- The Oracle Speaks True!
With the 2012 season set to officially underway (despite it making less than zero sense to force SEA and OAK to play regular season games a in the midst of Spring Training), about the time the most productive Americans are pouring their first cup of coffee, it is time for our contribution to the annual nobody-knows-what-the-hell-they're-doing-but-let-us-just-pretend-we-do-anyways preseason prediction extravaganza! We've scoured the stats, examined our guts, and unearthed our local oracles to come up with our picks for each division, wild card, and playoff advancement. All leading to the inevitable 2012 Champion. Also, for good measure, we've taken the liberty of selecting each league's Cy Young and MVP. Most likely we will be wrong, but it's oh-so-much-fun to be wrong. Here we go!
Dizzy : New York Yankees
Curley : Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays
The AL East is a bit of a toss-up, with three very good teams and the Blue Jays promising a challenge. The Boston pitching situation has me doubting their chances, while all the creaky old knees in New York has me doubting theirs. The Yankees could very well win it, but I like the depth of pitching in Tampa to go along with a monster year from Evan Longoria. And it's difficult to bet against whatever magic Joe Maddon has been conjuring down there.
Dizzy/Curley : Detroit Tigers
The AL Central might be the easiest division to pick this year. The Tigers were a very good team last year, and the addition of Prince Fielder (although he is replacing another formidable hitter in Victor Martinez) should make them even better. Their rotation is solid, their bullpen is deep, and their lineup has pop. They may end up having the worst defense in the history of baseball if Jim Leyland sticks to his threat of starting Cabrera at 3B, but they have plenty of time to let that situation work itself out over the course of a long season.
Dizzy/Curley : Anaheim Angels
The Angels' pitching and Mike Scoscia give them the edge over Texas. Josh Hamilton is waning, and I doubt Michael Young and Mike Napoli can replicate their success last season. And even if they can, Ron Washington won't manage it well. The wild card is Yu Darvish. He could leave us both scraping the egg from our faces.
Dizzy : Texas Rangers/Boston Red Sox
Curley : Texas Rangers/New York Yankees
When picking the Wild Cards in the AL, you might as well take five teams (ANA, BOS, NYY, TB, TEX), put their names in a hat, and pull four of them to see who makes the playoffs. The talent with these teams is very evenly matched, and it should be a blast watching the scenarios play out in the month of September. Any of those teams could end up winning their division, and the ones who do will likely have a bit of luck on their side.
Dizzy : Angels over Yankees
Curley : (Devil) Rays over Angels
Dizzy : David Price
Curley : CC Sabathia
Sabathia has been incredible since becoming a Yankee, even seeming a trifle underrated at times, at least in the Cy Young voting. I expect another superlative year from the big man, with his teammates providing the necessary help in garnering those pretty wins that Cy Young voters tend to favor.
The other big southpaw in the AL East had a bit of an unlucky season last year (at least in terms of wins and losses), but looking beyond that, he has the best K/BB of his career while throwing more innings than he ever has. Run support is tough to come by in Tampa Bay, but voters have been more willing in recent years to look at the whole picture when it comes to Cy Young voting.
Dizzy : Miguel Cabrera
Curley : Evan Longoria
Longoria has been a star since he came up, posting 26.9 fWAR in his four seasons. He missed significant time in 2011, and his BA took a serious hit due to a shockingly low .239 BABIP. That will likely level-out this season, pushing his average closer to the .270-.300 range he's accustomed too. And I am a believer in the age 26-28 peak for great players. It's time for Longoria to put it all together.
Miguel Cabrera has been one of the best hitters in the game since he broke in with the 2003 Marlins. Although it feels like he has been around forever, he's not yet 29 years old, is still in his prime, and he's coming off the best season of his career.
Dizzy : Atlanta Braves
Curley : Washington Nationals
Like in the AL, the East is a mess of potential. The Phillies, Marlins, Braves, and Nationals all have a lot to be excited about headed in the season, but all four are riddled with 'ifs'. The Braves are thin offensively and are reliant on a core of pitching prospects. If a couple come through, and Tommy Hansen stays healthy, they could tear up the division. But prospects tend not to come through, and Hansen tends not to stay healthy. The Phillies have won it five years in a row, but they are old and hobbled. I don't know where their offense is going to come from to back up their Big Three. And I fear Father Time is finally paying a bit of attention to Halladay. The Marlins will make some noise and then flounder. I like the Nationals' pitching, and I anticipate a huge year from a healthy Ryan Zimmerman (that 'ol age 27 magic). In a dogfight, I like the energetic and youthful Nationals. Of course, if Strasburg's arm gets taken home by a fan along the third base line as a souvenir early in the season, I will likely look the fool.
Dizzy/Curley : Cincinnati Reds
Even without Ryan Madson, the Reds have a solid bullpen and an interesting rotation. Cueto has a lot to prove but has shown his stuff stands up to the best. Mat Latos will pair with Cueto at the top of the rotation, providing the Reds with two studs in the #1 and #2 spots. Votto will be great, and Bruce will come into his own. The main question marks for this team are whether Scott Rolen can stay healthy and contribute, and what can the Reds get from rookie SS Zack Cozart and rookie C Devin Mesoraco. The Central has three very weak teams that the Reds should beat up on. Of course, Dusty Baker is not impervious to foolishness, which could stymie the Redlegs. Aroldis Chapman should be in the rotation, if he is not, it's a sign of Baker regarding the trees rather than the forest.
Dizzy/Curley : San Francisco Giants
The Arizona Diamondbacks came out of nowhere to surprise everyone and win the NL West crown. Their 29 win improvement from 2010 to 2011 is something to marvel at, but one of the principles of Sabermetrics is regression to the mean. Teams that make that great of a leap in one season to the next tend to fall back the next year, a phenomenon Bill James dubbed the Plexiglass Principle. The Giants and D'backs should be in a close race, with little competition from the Dodgers, Padres and Rockies, with the Giants taking back the division by a few games.
Dizzy : Philadelphia Phillies/St. Louis Cardinals
Curley : Philadelphia Phillies/Milwaukee Brewers
Their potentially anemic offense aside, Halladay and Hamels, and Lee should be enough to get the Phillies close. The Brewers still have a good team with good pitching. I expect Braun to respond to his unfortunate offseason by winning a lot of ballgames. If Aramis Ramirez stays healthy, and Zack Greinke maintains his composure, the Brew-Crew will be right there. The Cardinals have some bad knees in the lineup and some worrisome right arms in the rotation. If things break right for them, they'll find their way back to the postseason.
Dizzy : Braves over Reds
Curley : Reds over Giants
Dizzy : Cole Hamels
Curley : Madison Bumgarner
Bumgarner's talent is off the charts, and he's got great command for a 22 year-old. Lincecum and Cain may be better right now, but Bumgarner's coming on strong. He has the benefit of pitching lower in the rotation, so he will likely avoid matchups against Kershaw, Kennedy, and other #1 starters. His stuff could get him to the Cy Young on its own, but the extra wins he'll potentially pick up facing off against #3 or 4 starters will give him the edge in the minds' of many Cy Young Voters.
Cole Hamels would be an ace on most teams in baseball, yet he is stuck playing third fiddle to Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee (not a bad problem to have). He had a big spike in GB% last season, lowering his BABIP, HR/9 and ERA. Like Bumgarner, Hamels will be matched up against the opposition's ace less frequently as the number three starter and should be able to garner more wins. Hamels is also pitching for a new contract this year, something that while not easy to quantify, can oftentimes be a positive factor.
Dizzy : Justin Upton
Curley : Joey Votto
Picking the NL MVP in a now Pujols and Fielder-less league is a tricky task.
Votto is simply one of the five best players in the game. Last year the league adjusted to his greatness, and the man still managed a .309/.416/.539 line. He admittedly got a little impatient being pitched around last season, a problem he will solve this year. Jay Bruce coming into his own will only help.
Justin Upton is the type of five-tool player that baseball writer slobber over. His monster (6.7 fWAR) season last year was a huge contributor to the D'backs success in 2011. A couple more dingers and points on his batting average could have him hoisting the Kennesaw Mountain Landis trophy on Opening Day 2013.
Dizzy : Angels over Braves
Curley : Rays over Reds
The playoff structure is such a mess. Making picks is just plain silly. Things break so many ways. The Rays pitching depth will get them there and lead them over the Reds, who will get there by sheer determination and Dusty Baker's decisions accidentally making him look like a genius. However, the Reds will falter in Tampa when they cannot refuel their mojo on Goetta Dogs and Skyline 5-ways. The Rays win their 1st World Series. Only 11,000 people show up. David Price gets torn apart in the local media for criticizing fan support. No premiere free agent ever signs a long-term deal to play there. Ever. 11,000 fans wonder why.
Meanwhile, in another universe:
The Braves make a surprise run and win the division, making it past the Reds in the NLCS. They go on to face the Angels in the World Series where the rotation of Weaver, Haren, Santana and Wilson proves to be too much. The signing of Albert Pujols pays off (for now), and Jerry Dipo looks like a genius (for now).