Monday, March 30, 2009

American League Preview

In the days leading up to the start of the season, we always like to preview each league, with brief overviews of each team and a prediction of how each division will shake out. The tradition has been for me to cover the American League and for my former partner to cover the National League, and we'll look to do the same this year if I can coax Mosvick out of his semi-retirement for a day. For today, a look at the three AL divisions:

AL West

1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels won 100 games last year, and didn't lose much of significance during the offseason. They did a fine job of replacing closer Francisco Rodriguez with the acquisition of Brian Fuentes, and Bobby Abreu figures to be an improvement over the departed Garret Anderson. Ervin Santana will open the season on the disabled list, but keep an eye on him when he returns; he's an emerging ace.

Player to watch: Howie Kendrick, 2B

2. Oakland Athletics
I have questions about the A's starting pitching, but their offense figures to see dramatic improvement this season thanks to the additions of Matt Holliday, Orlando Cabrera and Jason Giambi. This is a team that could really surprise some people this season, but their rotation lacks known quantities past No. 1 starter Justin Duchscherer, so they'll need a few hurlers to step up.

Player to watch: Dana Eveland, SP

3. Seattle Mariners
Under new front office leadership, the Mariners are making baby steps toward returning to competitiveness. They have some nice pieces in place offensively, and the Felix Hernandez/Erik Bedard combo at the top of the rotation can be among the best in the league if both stay healthy. Carlos Silva is definitely in line for a rebound year.

Player to watch: Jeff Clement, C

4. Texas Rangers
It's the same old, same old in Arlington. Once again, the Rangers figure to field a quality lineup, but their rotation is hardly inspiring. Their ostensible "ace," Kevin Millwood, has posted an ERA over 5 in each of the past two seasons and there's a lot of mediocrity behind him on the depth chart.

Player to watch: Nelson Cruz, RF

AL Central

1. Cleveland Indians
The Central is a wide-open division but right now the Tribe seems best poised to come out on top. The addition of Mark DeRosa fills an infield hole and Kerry Wood could cure a long-standing headache at the closer position. Cliff Lee's regression should be offset by Fausto Carmona's improvement, and Anthony Reyes may be on the verge of a breakout season. If Joe Mauer is out for a significant portion of the season, Grady Sizemore is the division's best position player.

Player to watch: Shin-Soo Choo, RF

2. Minnesota Twins
The Twins are neck-and-neck with the Indians in terms of talent, in my mind, but Minnesota just didn't do much to improve on its areas of deficiency during the offseason, putting them a step behind Cleveland. The bullpen figures to be a problem area and there isn't much reliable depth behind the starting five in the rotation.

Player to watch: Jason Kubel, DH

3. Detroit Tigers
The offense remains potent and I actually see the rotation rebounding quite a bit this year. In fact, a starting five consisting of Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Armando Galarraga, Edwin Jackson and Rick Porcello could be very solid, though Porcello is likely to open the season in the minors. Still, the bullpen remains a concern -- particularly if Joel Zumaya can't get healthy -- and the combination of advanced age and lack of depth across the roster could spell trouble.

Player to watch: Rick Porcello, SP

4. Kansas City Royals
Like the rest of the AL Central, the Royals are strong at the top of the rotation thanks to Gil Mecehe and Zack Greinke, but they'll have a tough time winning a bunch of games as long as they're relying on guys like Horacio Ramirez and Kyle Davies in the bottom half. I think they'll score more runs this year thanks to improved play from Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, but the lineup in general is still badly lacking on-base skills. The Royals have the divisions best bullpen, but will have a tough time building leads in the first place. A .500 record is in sight, but not a division title.

Player to watch: Billy Butler, DH

5. Chicago White Sox
The Sox are due for a tumble this year. Mark Buehrle and John Danks are the real deal, but I'm not high on Gavin Floyd. Bartolo Colon isn't likely to light the world on fire, nor are any of his potential replacements, so Jose Contreras is a real wild card for this club. Offensively, the White Sox are just another year older.

Player to watch: Matt Thornton, RP

AL East

1. New York Yankees
The Bombers aren't looking to get used to spending their Octobers at home, so they went out and spent ridiculous money this offseason to bring in some top free agents. Unlike the typical Steinbrenner winter splurge, I actually think the Yankees made some good moves this offseason. Mark Teixeira is a tremendous offensive talent, C.C. Sabathia should slot well at the top of this rotation and Nick Swisher is a great fit for this club. A.J. Burnett could prove to be a force if he stays healthy, and if he doesn't the Yankees have some pretty good starting pitching depth to back him up.

Player to watch: Joba Chamberlain, SP

2. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays seemingly came out of nowhere to capture the AL pennant last year, but their formula is not one that is conducive to a one-year wonder. The Rays feature lots of great young offensive talent, boast a rotation that is very strong one-through-five, and play excellent defense. They're probably the second-best team in the AL, but they'll have to settle for a Wild Card while playing in the same division as the Yanks.

Player to watch: David Price, SP

3. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox are one of three stellar teams in this division, but I see them as the odd one out because they're just not quite as good as the Yankees or Rays. The Red Sox won't have trouble scoring runs with David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay filling the middle of the lineup, and they boast a strong rotation along with a great bullpen, but to me they don't quite stack up to the two other sluggers in this division.

Player to watch: Jed Lowrie, SS


4. Toronto Blue Jays
There's a pretty substantial drop-off from the Red Sox to the Jays. Toronto has one of the AL's best starter headlining its rotation in Roy Halladay and I like Jesse Litsch, but the back end of this rotation doesn't do much for me and the lineup lacks punch.

Player to watch: Adam Lind, LF1

5. Baltimore Orioles
I was tempted to rank the Orioles ahead of the Jays because I like the young talent they've got assembled on offense. Nick Markakis can be a true star in this league, Adam Jones has tremendous athleticism and Matt Wieters is capable of stealing Joe Mauer's "Best Catcher in the AL Title" as soon as this season. But, this pitching staff is just horrendous. Their No. 1 starter is Jeremy Guthrie, a guy who posted a 3.63 ERA last year and is due for some regression. Adam Eaton and Danys Baez figure to be starters for this team. Yeesh.

Player to watch: Matt Wieters, C

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Anyone watch Carlos Silvas' shellacking in the WBC semi-final? I seriously doubt his chances of having a rebound year.

Nick N. said...

I don't put a lot of stock into WBC performances. I'm not saying Silva will be great this year, but he's bound to improve on that utterly abysmal campaign from last year and has a decent chance of returning to his role as a decent back-of-the-rotation guy.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the Angels lose a pretty good first baseman?

Nick N. said...

The Angels were 65-40 (.637) before they acquired Teixeira last year and went 35-22 (.614) after his arrival. I'm not saying he didn't make them a better team -- he certainly did -- but they've proven capable of winning without him. I don't think they'll win 100 games again, but shouldn't have much trouble coming out on top of a pretty weak division.

Brady said...

This was an interesting read, but overall I feel like you took an approach that assumes health for almost everyone - even players that are already experiencing problems. John Lackey is hurt, Duschesher isn't 100%, Jeremy Bonderman is a mess. These three examples would put three different rotations into shambles potentially for the beginning month or two.

Nick N. said...

That's a fair point.

It's hard to account for health, especially on the pitching end. CC Sabathia could break down due to his extreme usage over the past two years and in that case I like the Yankees a lot less, but I can hardly plan around that. Bonderman's shoulder issues might render this a lost season, or maybe he'll come back in a few weeks, regain his velocity and put together the solid year his ability suggests he's capable of. There's really know way of knowing how long Duchscherer will be out at this point.

It's so tough to account for every injury, and to estimate who will be out and for how long, that I just tend to ignore that aspect, unless it's in the case of huge historical injury risks (A.J. Burnett, Rich Harden, etc). Mostly I just judge these teams based on the quality of their starting five and assume that ultimately injuries will affect each team equally, even though that's never actually the case.

For what it's worth, if Lackey, Duchscherer and Bonderman all miss the entire season, I still think their teams will finish in the same place I've projected them.

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