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2011 AL East Predictions: A Response to the Baseball Prospectus

The AL East should look a lot different this year (photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET)

The Baseball Prospectus recently released its projections for 2011 regular season records and, unsurprisingly, the Red Sox are slated for 93 wins. What is surprising is that these 93 wins are projected for the most in baseball, even more than the Philadelphia Phillies; they play in an easier division and boast baseball’s best starting pitching rotation in an era in which good pitching equals good baseball.

This is just one of many points of discussion the Baseball Prospectus has blessed us with by releasing its highly debatable and respectable prediction for the entire 2011 regular season.

But before I get into it, and effectively tear apart and criticize someone else’s hard work, I’d like to include the following disclaimer regarding any preseason prediction: commentary in response to a preseason prediction in no way belittles the referenced predictions; it only provides a different point-of-view. I applaud anyone willing to expose themselves to future scrutiny when some of their picks inevitably get ridiculed because they were wrong (the same happened to some of us Sports of Boston writers after we overwhelmingly projected the Seattle Seahawks as NFC West bottom-dwellers before the 2010 season.  Sorry, Seattle fans).

So, here are the Baseball Prospectus predicted regular season records for the AL East and my personal analysis for the likelihood of each.  There’s an area for comments at the bottom, so feel free to insult my selections, competence or personal integrity as you see fit.  I encourage it.

Boston Red Sox – Baseball Prospectus says 93-69.

Clearly, the Sox are set for a rebound year, replacing an obscure 2010 lineup (Nava, Reddick, McDonald) with an all-star team (Gonzalez, Crawford, Ellsbury). And 93 wins is not unlikely for a team that still boasts the best combination of hitting/starting pitching talent in the American League.

But the Red Sox are slated to surpass the Philadelphia Phillies (who will be addressed later) in wins this year. And, while the new additions will undoubtedly lead to a successful year, the remaining question marks make the Red Sox less likely to be a sure-thing for the league’s best regular season record. Gonzalez, Pedroia and Ellsbury are all coming off of serious injuries. The first two are still recovering from surgery, and while Pedroia says he is feeling better, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s trying to bat at the top of the order with a left food held together by steel screws. As for Ellsbury, injured ribs are especially difficult to recover from for a player who makes his living diving across center field, occasionally colliding with walls and teammates.

Skepticism aside, the stars are aligned for a remarkable season in Boston this year.  So, my projection this year is for a 98-64 season. Why not? I’m a fan, too.

New York Yankees – Baseball Prospectus says 92-70.

This was one of the most surprising results coming out of the Baseball Prospectus. Sure, the Yankees are always the Yankees, but after a disappointingly quiet off-season in New York, the 2011 Yankees just aren’t as intimidating as the traditional Yankees.

New York did make one of the year’s most intelligent and overlooked free agent signings in Rafael Soriano, who provides the first piece of the league’s best setup/closer combination and also sets the stage for a reliable replacement for Mariano Rivera. With 45 saves, a 1.37 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP while pitching in the same division last year, Soriano is as close to a sure-thing as the Yankees were going to get.

But the question that remains is whether the Yankees’ starting pitching will allow Soriano and Rivera many save opportunities. CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes are a tough one/two at the top, but the rest of the rotation consists of one bust (A.J. Burnett) and two obscurities (Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre). The 24-year-old Nova only has seven career starts in the majors, with a modest 4.50 ERA and an unimpressive 26 strike outs.  Even more alarming, ESPN’s fantasy breakdown for Nova highlights a glaring issue with durability – his career respective ERA and WHIP in both the minors and majors jumps from 2.57 and 0.96 in the first four innings of each start to 12.46 and 2.65 from the fifth inning on. Putting a 24-year-old pitcher privy to these trends at the fourth spot in the rotation shows the Yankees are reaching deeply for talent this year.

Inconsistent starting pitching will make for a drop-off at the end of the season, at a time when Boston’s recovering sluggers should be operating at full health. Because of this, I’m predicting an 89-73 regular season for the 2011 Yankees.

Tampa Bay Rays – Baseball Prospectus says 84-78

This is a good guess for the AL East’s most unpredictable team going into 2011.

The Rays are in the odd position of a team that appears to be rebuilding (with the loss of Matt Garza and Carlos Pena) but refuses to admit it (with the addition of fellow has-beens Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon).  This can either go incredibly bad or unexpectedly well for the 2011 Rays.  We’ll see how it works out for the Rays this year once we see how they answer the following questions:

Is David Price mature enough to assume the role of a team leader? Will James Shields (13-15 with a 5.18 ERA in 2010) continue to underwhelm? Will Wade Davis continue to develop the way he did late in 2010? Do Boston’s 2004 idiots have enough left in the tank? Can the infield survive with one notable player?

Personally, I don’t have much hope for a young pitching staff that will have limited run support.  My prediction for the 2011 Rays is an even .500 at 81-81, but I won’t be surprised if this is optimistic or underestimated.

Baltimore Orioles – Baseball Prospectus says 81-81

After a second look, this prediction isn’t so shocking.

The Orioles flew under the radar with some significant additions this off-season. Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero and Justin Duchscherer all bring big names to a city that hasn’t had a big-name player in years. This could do a lot for morale in a locker room full of players who haven’t received much recognition for their talents in recent years, such as Nick Markakis, Luke Scott and Jeremy Guthrie.

Throw in a couple of young players with high potential to break out this year – Adam Jones, Matt Weiters and Brian Matusz – and the Orioles are in a similar situation to the Rays this year.  The addition of several old players on a team filled with young stars makes for an unpredictable combination.

But, it is a pitchers’ league these days, and while the Orioles’ top three pitchers (Guthrie, Matusz and Duchscherer) are definitely better this year than in the past, the rotation isn’t good enough to get them to .500. Combined with the injury risk involved with starting four hitters who are older than 32, not to mention introducing major league baseball’s strikeout king to a pitcher-heavy division, Baltimore appears set for another disappointing season this year, at 75-87.

Toronto Blue Jays – Baseball Prospectus says 76-86

It appears John Farrell entered Toronto and a sad situation for a team that showed a lot of hope last year.

In 2010, the Blue Jays featured a talented, young starting pitching rotation that could have been good enough to build a team around.  Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Shaun Marcum were all younger than 30 and showed hope last year. Then Marcum left for greener pastures in Milwaukee, in which he fits in perfectly with a rebuilt and talented rotation, and John Farrell’s rebuilding project was made that much more difficult.

The situation behind the plate isn’t much brighter. Adam Lind, previously predicted as Toronto’s next big star, can not be relied upon after closing out 2010 with a .237 average and 72 RBIs. And everyone seems to be against Jose Bautista, who stunned the league and made a lot of fantasy baseball owners look smart with 54 home runs and 124 RBIs last year. Not many people, myself included, believe Bautista will do it again.

However, the situation could be a good one for Farrell’s long-term plans in Toronto. Every pitcher in the rotation is 26 years old or younger, and the addition of Yunel Escobar and Rajai Davis give some hope at shortstop and center field. Each player left a situation in which they didn’t fit in with the team’s organization or game plan. Some consistency in Toronto could allow each to break out this year, while providing stability to a young team that needs to develop across the board.

Because of this, and John Farrell’s superior coaching ability with young, developing players, exemplified by his work with Jon Lester, Clay Bucholz, Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard, Toronto will once again surpass Baltimore in the AL East, if only slightly. I’m predicting a 79-83 season, with an optimistic future.

Baseball Prospectus Predictions:

Boston Red Sox 93 69 800 676 .267 .349 .430
New York Yankees 92 70 815 703 .266 .347 .439
Tampa Bay Rays 84 78 715 684 .247 .337 .404
Baltimore Orioles 81 81 760 758 .268 .334 .431
Toronto Blue Jays 76 86 720 771 .258 .315 .435

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5 comments for “2011 AL East Predictions: A Response to the Baseball Prospectus”

  1. Add at least 10 wins to the Red Sox, subtract a bunch from the Yankees, and I’d say you’d have something more accurate then. Though I’m leaning a bit towards knocking the Rays barely down to 4th with Damon and Manny’s age and all their key free agents leaving.

    Posted by John | February 21, 2011, 5:50 pm
  2. I could see the Blue Jays taking 3rd place too. The division after the first two spots is a wash.

    Pencil the Sox and Yankees in for at least 95 wins each, with the Sox taking the division by a game or 2.

    Posted by KC Downey | February 22, 2011, 1:45 am
  3. The Red Sox should win the division barring injuries. They finally caught the Yankees, although being very hypocritical about “buying a pennant.”The Yankees could fall to third place if Burnett continues his downward spiral.They have no left handed pitching to counter a heavy handed Boston line up. Gardner should lead off and drop an aging Jeter to the 2 spot. The only hope for the Yankees is a miracle season from Garcia or Colon – wishful thinking at best. The rest of the division is a wash.

    Posted by doug malott | March 14, 2011, 10:56 am
  4. While I do think the Sox will win 96 or so and the Yankees seem like more of a 92 win team, I’d caution anyone who writes off the Rays. Crawford is a big loss that can’t be replaced, but Damon is serviceable enough. Carlos Pena’s power will be tough to replace, too, but his .196 average wasn’t exactly doing the team any good. Brignac is a talented player who can definitely replace Bartlett, Garza had an ERA near 4.00 when everything was said and done so Hellickson won’t be much of a dropoff, and I’d expect Wade Davis to get better too. Count on a better year from Zobrist as well, and I think Longoria is better than he 22 homers he had last year. The bullpen lost a lot of arms, but just because the guys they have back there now are unproven doesn’t mean they aren’t good. Adam Russell and Jake McGee are good relievers. While Tampa will need a lot to go right to challenge Boston or New York, I think they’re an 88 win team that will lock up the third spot easily.

    Posted by Bryan | March 14, 2011, 6:49 pm
  5. If anyone thinks the Red Sox or any other team in this division is going to win upwards of a 100 games you are not paying attention.
    The days of beating up on the Orioles and Rays are over while the Orioles are still not world beaters they still will improve to at least an 78-80 win team , and that might be the worst team in the division if the worst team has 80 wins how is any team going to win 100 or more games.

    Posted by Paul D | March 25, 2011, 8:08 pm

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