MLB Punch-Out!!

If MLB Teams Were Punch-Out!! Boxers

What would it look like if each MLB team was a boxer on the classic NES game “Punch-Out!!”?  Who would be contenders and who would be pretenders?  I will attempt to place the 30 teams with a boxer, culminating in my predictions for the playoffs in the Mike Tyson Division.

Below are the 3 circuits Little Mac has to work through to get to Mike Tyson (or Mr. Dream, depending on when you bought the game), plus the denizens of each circuit. With each boxer is a description of what it takes for a team to pair up with a boxer as well.

MINOR CIRCUIT

Glass Joe Division:  Glass Joe is the worst boxer of them all.  Even getting the game out of the box from the Pamida in Harlan, IA way back in 1988, I was able to beat him on the first try as a 9 year old.  He has no gimics, has no potential, and is from France.

 

Houston Astros (56-106).  The Astros have fallen greatly from their lofty place amongst the NL Central’s top teams.  They aren’t all that young, don’t have much of a minor league system, and have no future.  Their future may very well be in the AL West before too long, but that has yet to be determined.  Gone too are Hunter Pence and Michael Bourne, very good players lost at the trade deadline.

The 106 losses they endured this year was the most in franchise history, having lost 97 and 96 games 3 times apiece in their 50 year history, the most recent coming in 1991.

Linked here is a good article from renowned Royals fan/writer/doctor Rany Jazayerli:  http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/6967153/rock-bottom-h-town

Von Kaiser Division The Pride of Germany is a weathered old fighter without much future and you have to bet smells like kraut, stale beer, and Ben Gay.  Teams that fall into this division have endured a myriad of injuries, have some older elements, or were just plain bad.

I do remember getting yelled at by my mom while trying to beat Von Kaiser and I had to vacuum the main floor of the house as punishment for my temper before I could get my hands back on the Heinie.

Minnesota Twins (63-99).  The Twinkies managed just 63 wins, but that could also be viewed as having just 99 losses, so they avoided their first venture into the Century L Club for the first time since 1982.  They were a MASH unit, losing stars Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer for significant periods of time, had Jim Thome on the roster, and ranked 13th in the AL in ERA.

Baltimore Orioles (69-93) They are old, considering they had Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero on the roster, but did have some youth show flashes of good stuff in the pitching staff.  That same pitching staff submarined an average offense (ranked 7th) by having arguably the worst staff in the AL.  They did keep the Red Sox out of the playoffs (or did Boston keep themselves out?), so they have that going for them, which is nice.

Oakland A’s (74-88).  Employing an aging outfield/DH of Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, and Coco Crisp coupled with poor performances overall on offense puts the A’s in the Von Kaiser grouping.  This group, for all of their Moneyball abilities, was only 12th in the league in OBP/scoring, infuriating Brad Pitt Billy Beane.

Once again, the A’s got good pitching out of their staff, although injuries took them down a notch from where they could have been.  They still finished 3rd in the league in staff ERA, highlighted by 25 year old Gio Gonzalez and his 16 wins and tidy 3.12 ERA with good K/9 figures (8.8).

 

Piston Honda I Division:  As the champion of the Minor Circuit, Piston Honda is the King of All Bad Teams.  Organizations in this division have some redeeming quality (or qualities) about them that made their poor season palatable to their fanbases.  This could include a deep minor league system, a surprise performance for part of the season, or a collection of young studs in their core for which to build upon.

Kansas City Royals (71-91).  A strong September pushed the Royals over 70 wins, surpassing most logical predictions for a team that had a very poor rotation on paper and Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera in the outfield.  But then this duo and Alex Gordon had career years and the offense clicked,  finishing 2nd in doubles and stolen bases.

The Royals went on to have 11 rookies make their debuts this year, with 10 losing their rookie status.  Young stars are budding from the most potent minor league system perhaps ever:  Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Aaron Crow, and others all flashed signs of what is to come for KC.

The Royals put together the best fielding team in the AL if fielding % is used as the sole metric, up from last the prior 2 seasons.  They also ranked 6th in runs scored, 4th in average, and 5th in OPS, something they have not done for ages.

They were also the most unlucky team in baseball, as defined by their -7 wins from their expected Pythagorean win-loss numbers.  This was due to several blown saves out the normally reliable Joakim Soria, who the club hopes will bounce back to prior All-Star form.

Seattle Mariners (67-95).  Having a monumental collapse in July undermined Seattle’s season, losing 17 in a row around the All-Star Break.  They didn’t get much of a season out of Ichiro Suzuki, who failed to get his 200 hits at the age of 37.

But they do have Dustin Ackley at 2B, who registered a 117 OPS+ figure in his rookie campaign, and Mike Carp, another rookie who posted a 122 OPS +.  The Mariners still finished near the bottom in most offensive categories, including a putrid team triple slash of .233 / 292 / .348 and an OPS + of 82.  They must have had Miguel Olivo on their team…oh wait, yup, they did.  They probably led the league in blinking then.

The pitching staff was actually quite good.  Despite the trading away of Erik Bedard and Doug Fister (3-12 despite a 3.33 ERA!) to contending teams, the core is still set nicely in Seattle, with a 25 year old Felix Hernandez (reigning Cy Young winner) and Michael Pineda, a 22 year old with fantastic stuff and a WHIP of 1.099.

Pittsburgh Pirates (72-90).  A look at the Game Results section of their B-R page is quite telling:  http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/PIT/2011.shtml

The Pirates were 54-49 at one point on July 28th, but an infamous call against the Braves put Pittsburgh in the tank and did not enable them to break the longest consecutive losing season streak in the majors, which now stands at 20.  They went 18–41 after this call:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnGomyAGYJQ

The Bucs do have some exciting players, most notably Andrew McCutchen in centerfield, who had a 127 OPS+ season at age 24.  Despite his excellent play, the Pirates still finished 14th in the NL in runs scored.

The pitching staff was 11th in the league in ERA, but had a 3.46 mark in the first half to go with their winning record.  Joel Hanrahan (go Norwalk!) was spectacular, posting 40 saves and a 1.83 ERA.  Paul Maholm, Jeff Karstens, and Charlie Morton all had 162 or more innings pitched and sub 3.83 ERAs.  The Pirates could parlay their first half experience into a whole year next year with that kind of pitching.

 

MAJOR CIRCUIT

Don Flamenco I Division:  Taking a step up into mediocrity!  Be forewarned, some of the teams in this group have similar records to those in the Minor Circuit, but were placed here because despite Flamenco’s inclusion in the Major Circuit, he can be knocked out the fastest.  31 seconds fast.  Teams here are old or has-beens, or fell flat from last year’s finish.

 

Colorado Rockies (73-89).  An always intriguing Colorado team was not very good this year in what was viewed as a wide-open NL West.  Ubaldo Jimenez regressed and was shipped to Cleveland for quite a prospect haul (http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/6819477/colorado-rockies-ubaldo-jimenez-confirms-trade-cleveland-indians-prospects).

Todd Helton aged another year and was power deprived (14 homers), Ty Wigginton was used too much (87 OPS+), and although the Rockies had 6 regulars over league average hitting, finishing 2nd in the league in runs, the team finished 16 games under .500.

The pitchers were Coors-esque, tallying a 4.44 ERA, ranking next to last in the National League.  A 23 year old Jhoulys Chacin was good with a 3.62 mark, but walked too many guys (4.0 BB/9).  Only Jorge de la Rosa had a sub-4.00 ERA as a starter, but he was out for most of the year with Tommy John surgery.

San Diego Padres (71-91).  Coming off a surprise 90 win season the year before, the Padres sold off their most prized asset over the winter by trading Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox for a nice parcel of prospects.

The hitters left in the void created by dealing Gonzalez hit their way to 2nd to last in runs scored, and collective triple slash of .237 / .305 / .349, which while bad, should still be noted is better than the DH-aided Mariners mentioned above.

Pitching-wise, the Padres were pretty good, recording a 3.43 ERA, good enough for 3rd in the senior circuit.  Mat Latos (23) was excellent, with a 1.184 WHIP and a 3.47 ERA, with 8.6 K/9.  Aaron Harang was 14-7 with a 3.64 ERA and probably made a lot of money for himself in the near future, but is 33 already as he hits the free agent market.

Another round of shedding salary/talent is imminent, as several teams may be interested in the Friars stable of pitchers, and may exchange some offensive potential in order to get them.

 

King Hippo Division:  Bloated big market teams can be found here, who normally have the size and financial strength to be competing for division titles, yet fate has them stumbling to sub .500 records.

Poor free agent signings, blah minor league systems, and injuries help put a big band aid on these clubs’ stomachs.

Chicago Cubs (71-91).  Finished 20 games under .500 with a dysfunctional team, which saw the expulsion of starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano in August.  Poor performances all around masked the good seasons had by Aramis Ramirez (136 OPS+), Starlin Castro (111), and even Carlos Pena had a 123 OPS + despire a .225 average.  “That’s what power do”, and 101 walks.

Even with Pena’s 101 walks, the Cubs still finished 15th in the NL in free passes, pushing their other rankings down too, ending up right in the middle (8th) in runs scored.  The pitchers didn’t help make this an average team, as they are ranked 14th in the NL in ERA, and dead last in walks given up.  With no walks being taken and a lot given out, Cubs fans must have been pretty tired all year.

Onerous contracts and age limit the upside of this squad, and they will need to take some desperate measures to get the ship pointed in the right direction.  The hiring of a new GM will do a lot to make that a reality.

Chicago White Sox (79-83).  The squad formerly captained by Ozzie Guillen got to 4 games under .500 based solely upon their pitching, which was league average with a 4.10 ERA, and the 2nd fewest walks in the AL.  The rotation was a picture of averageness, as Phillip Humber, Edwin Jackson, and Jake Peavy all finished at .500, and putting Mark Buehrle and Gavin Floyd together makes a pitcher who is 25-24.

The hitters finished 11th in runs scored and had the albatross of the major leagues in Adam Dunn, who poisoned the lineup with his .159 average and 11 homers, on his way to an OPS + of 56.

Dunn is signed for 4 years and $56M, or through 2014, and his first season is absolutely terrible.  He’s only 31, and his next worst OPS+ in his career was his age 26 year, when he posted a 114, or 40 homers and 106 RBI.  Nightmares are ahead for the White Sox with him on the roster.

New York Mets (77-85).  The Mets were better than some projected them to be.  Jose Reyes won the NL Batting Crown at .337, and few other things went well in Queens.  The offense was a decent 6th in runs scored, and were 2nd in both average and OBP.

The pitchers compiled a 4.19 ERA, only good enough for 13th in the league.  Dillon Gee, a rookie, finished with 13 wins, but had a 4.43 ERA while walking too many batters.  Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey was 8-13 with a nice 3.28 ERA, but no one else excites me as potentially big-time players on this team.

The Mets are still stinging from the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme fallout, as the Wilpon family is hurting for cash.  They are also still reeling from poor free agent signings and trades in the recent past, as would-be rotation anchor Johan Santana has been seemingly more absent than present.  He didn’t play at all in 2011 and was paid $22.5M, with another $55M guaranteed over the next 3 seasons.  Yikes.

 

Great Tiger Division:  Organizations prowling through this division are mediocre at best, but have some outstanding tools, sometimes even the best in the majors.  But despite possessing these outstanding pieces, they were unable to convert their contributions into wins and make the playoffs.

Great Tiger’s Whirlwind Punches are mesmerizing, but the rest of his game is shoddy.

Los Angles Dodgers (81-79).  Interestingly enough, the Dodgers never made up 2 games and are over .500 despite winning exactly enough games to finish right there.  Who are the Dodgers shining stars, the envy of the league?

Clayton Kershaw won the NL Pitching Triple crown, winning 21 games, posting a 2.28 ERA, and striking out 248 (9.6 K/9).  He will undoubtedly win the Cy Young for his league.  So good, and so young:  Kershaw is only 23.

Kershaw is joined by CF Matt Kemp of Dodgers who will potentially be bringing home some impressive hardware.  Kemp nearly won the batting triple crown, something not done in the National League since the 1930s.  He hit 39 homers, drove in 126 runs, and only batted .324 to finish well behind Jose Reyes of the Mets.  His OPS+ of 171 is outstanding.

LA finished 9th in runs scored and were only 12th in slugging and could never do enough to keep up with a very good pitching staff, good enough for 5th in ERA in the entire league.

Toronto Blue Jays (81-81).  Of course, the Blue Jays have the keys to one Jose Bautista, who turned in another great season.  He hit .302 / .447 / .608 on his way to leading the AL in homers and finishing with an OPS + of 182.

The Blue Jays have always had some player that is the envy of the league, like Roy Halladay of a few years ago, but is of course, gone now.  But they do have Brett Lawrie, a 21 year old third baseman was impressive in his 171 plate appearances, notching a 153 OPS+ with 9 homers in just 43 games.  They obtained him from the Brewers for pitcher Shawn Marcum last offseason.

Lefty Ricky Romero was solid in the rotation, ending his year with a 15-11 record and a 2.92 ERA.  Flamethrower Brandon Morrow, formerly of the Mariners, was a strikeout machine, topping 200 Ks but had a 4.72 ERA during an 11-11 campaign.

Toronto’s only fault this year was a questionable rotation outside of those 2, en route to an 11 ranking amongst AL teams in ERA, but they competed in the AL East, which produced 3 of the top 5 teams in the entire big leagues.

 

Bald Bull I Division:  The champ of the mediocre teams, these clubs may not have the flash and pizzazz of the Great Tiger teams, but they possess enough young players and good enough minor league systems that a near .500 finish might pave the way for them to make big gains in 2012.

Bald Bull teams can fall quickly flat on their face, so beware.

Cleveland Indians (80-82) The Indians took the AL Central by storm, right out of the gate.  In fact, it was a battle between the Indians and Royals, two teams expected to be fighting for the cellar and not the top of the division up until the middle of May.

Cleveland held on longer than the Royals and only truly faded when Detroit kicked it into Verlander Drive and after the Indians sold the store for Ubaldo Jimenez, dumping their top 2 pitching prospects in the process.

Rookie Carlos Santana, a 25 year old switch-hitting catcher acquired for Casey Blake from the Dodgers a few years back had a good year, posting a 124 OPS + in spite of his .239 batting average.  27 homers will help that, as will 97 walks.  He will only get better with experience.

Asdrubal Cabrera has established himself as a top-flight shortstop offensively and defensively, submitting a 119 OPS+ for Cleveland fans’ approval.  Shin-Soo Choo had a down year by his standards and Travis Hafner (surprise!) was again hurt and could not contribute past 94 games.

Justin Masterson has the stuff to be an ace for years to come, posting a 3.21 ERA.  Josh Tomlin had a season few would have predicted:  12-7, 4.25 ERA, 1.077 WHIP, which would make his ERA a product of bad luck more than anything.  The bullpen was solid as well.

A little fortune from what is left of the minor league system (Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis included) and the Indians could compete with the Royals as the next upstart in the AL Central.

Washington Nationals (80-81).  Steven Strasburg came back from reconstructive elbow surgery late this year and was the winning pitcher in the Nats’ last game.  He is essentially the face of the franchise and where they want to go.  Young stud in the wings, Bryce Harper, figures heavily into the Nationals plans over the next several years.

In the present, Washington had a very good season in a pretty good division, finishing essentially at .500.  26 year old John Lannan had a respectable season with a 103 ERA + and Jordan Zimmerman was even better with his 125 ERA+.  The Nats finished 2011 6th in the NL in ERA at 3.58 (thanks to a very good bullpen with Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard), but this wasn’t enough to overcome the 12th ranked offense (based on runs scored).

Big free agent signee Jayson Werth was terrible in his first year in the nation’s capital.  He hit .232 / .330 / .389 for the season, but did cash all of his paychecks.  Michael Morse, a 29 year old journeyman and 2000 3rd round draftee, had a great season as Washington’s first baseman.  He hit .303 with a 147 OPS+ and had 31 bombs.  Wilson Ramos (catcher, 113 OPS+) and Ryan Zimmerman (3B, 118 OPS+) also had nice years.

It will be tough to compete in the NL East, but with a good minor league system ready to restock the major league club, the Nationals did a lot of things right in 2011 to make way for a run at the division in 2013.

 

WORLD CIRCUIT

Piston Honda II Division:  Old Piston finds his way into the World Circuit, be it the doormat of that division, but still in the Big Show.  This division is reserved for teams that were contenders last year, but fell on hard times due to injury, incompetence, or regression to the mean.

Think of teams that did quite well last year, weren’t laughing stocks this year, but just didn’t quite get it done.

San Francisco Giants (86-76).  Last year’s surprise World Series champions fell off the pace this year as their meager lineup couldn’t keep up with their pitching staff, as they proved pitching beats hitting, but you still need to score to win games.

The loss of Buster Posey, the 24 year old catcher, was a big blow to their hopes of repeating.  Truth be told, the Giants needed more than what Posey would have brought, as they finished dead last in runs scored in the NL at only 570 runs.

Mid-season acquisition Carlos Beltran cost much more than what he was probably worth in the long run, but he was good enough for a 157 OPS+ in his days in Giant orange.  “Kung Fu Panda” Pablo Sandoval was outstanding at 3B after losing a ton of weight, literally.  He hit .315 with 23 homers on his way to a 154 OPS+.

Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelson, and Madison Bumgarner all recorded ERAs under 3.25 and pitched nearly 200 innings average apiece.  The putrid offense kept them from having any more than 13 wins for any one of them.

The bullpen was once again very good and enabled the squad to come in 2nd in ERA throughout the whole NL.  Most fans knew this was possible, but with the terrible offense San Francisco possessed, they were doomed to just being above average.

Cincinnati Reds (79-83).  Perhaps a little higher up than one would expect, the Reds failed to repeat as NL Central champions.  They still have a good core of players, headlined by 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto (157 OPS+), 24 year old Jay Bruce (120 OPS+), and several pitchers younger than 27 that should continue to produce.

Johnny Cueto was good, posting a 2.31 ERA in 24 starts.  Mike Leake (23) had a fine season as well, going 12-9 with a 3.86 ERA.

With the Brewers taking firm control of the division but facing a collapse of their core due to signability issues, the Reds could jump back into the fold next year with a little luck.

 

Soda Popinski Division:  Residents of this division have good futures due to good youth, have overachieved this year, and should be competing for division titles over the next several years.  They find themselves in good fortune due to the shortcomings of their rivals within their division or league.

Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim (86-76).  The Angels came up just short in their dual races to unseat the Rangers in the AL West and then the wild card race to outpace the Rays and Red Sox.  For a time, it looked like the Angels had more than a puncher’s chance to get back to the postseason, but just didn’t have the gas.

The Angels live and die by pitching these days, and Jered Weaver was outstanding this year, going 18-8 with a 2.41 ERA and had nearly 200 strikeouts after leading the league last year.  They led the American League in ERA with a 3.57 mark, highlighted by very good years from Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana.

Rookie Jordan Walden anchored a very good bullpen, going for 32 saves and a 10.0 K/9 ratio.  Lefty veteran Scott Downs was dominant, with a 1.34 ERA and a 1.006 WHIP in 60 appearances.

The offense was not quite as good, ranking 10th in the AL in runs scored.  Rookie Mark Trumbo, despite some OBP issues (.291), led the club with 29 homers and 87 RBI from first base.  Trade acquisition Vernon Wells racked up 25 dingers, but hit only .218 / .248 / .412 on the year.

Not one player on the entire roster hit over .300 who had more than 5 plate appearances, so the Angels have some work to do to shore up their lineup, but expect it to happen when top prospect Mike Trout makes the roster full-time.

Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68).  Yes, a division winner with 94 wins is only in the Soda Popinski Division, but one could argue they came out of nowhere and rode on the backs of their good young players and capitalized on a division in flux to win the NL West.

From what was ranked as the top farm system just a few years ago and what pushed the D-Backs to the postseason in 2007 (despite having a negative run differential) is what propelled Arizona to a surprise finish in 2011.

Players like Justin Upton (age 23) had big years, as he went .289 / .369 / .529 with 21 steals and 31 dingers.  Yankee castoff Ian Kennedy proved why the Bronx Bombers had so much faith in him early in his career:  21-4, 2.88 ERA, 8.0 K/9.

24 year old Daniel Hudson won 16 games, 25 year old Josh Collmenter won 10 with a 3.38 ERA, and former All-Star J.J. Putz saved 45 games.  Even with all of these great performances, Arizona still only ranked 9th in the NL (right in the middle) with their 3.80 ERA, and were 14th in strikeouts.

This club should be a tough out in the playoffs, and perhaps even better next year.

 

Bald Bull II Division:  Ahh, the grouping for the mighty who have fallen.  Specifically, the Bald Bull II Division is reserved for those teams who had monumental, historic collapses in September, worse than any other late-season decline experienced in the 125 years of major league play.

Think of how hard Bald Bull falls when you knock him down.  He charges hard out of the gate, but lands like a lead whale doing a belly flop on his way to the canvas.  That’s what these Wild Card losers looked like over the last 4 weeks.

Atlanta Braves (89-73).  The Braves’ fall from the top of the Wild Card standings of 10+ games over the Cardinals as of late July was fueled by a relapse in hitting and run scoring, plain and simple.

Over the last 7 days, Atlanta hit             .185 / .229 / .298

Over the last 14 days, they hit:              .207 / .282 /.323

Over the last 28 days, they hit:  .228 / .291 / .343

The Braves did have a relatively rough year from an offense perspective, ranking 10th in the NL in that category.  Super prospect Jason Heyward experienced the Sophomore Jinx by registering a .227 / .319 / .389 year (95 OPS+), Martin Prado fell off his 2008-2010 (pace of a 119 OPS + average for 3 seasons) by putting forth an 89 OPS+ year.

Free agent acquisition Dan Uggla did hit 36 homers, but struck out 156 times and his only .233 to just sneak to an above average OPS+ of 109.  Brain McCann got hurt and never full recovered.

The pitchers were good for most the year, with a 3.49 staff ERA, good enough for 4th in the National League and they also led the senior circuit in strikeouts.  Flamethrowers Craig Kimbrel (14.8 K/9, 2.10 ERA) , Eric O’Flaherty (0.98 ERA), and Jonny Venters (1.84 ERA)  anchored a terrific bullpen.

Tim Hudson, even at 35, turned in another good campaign, with a 16-10 record and an ERA of 3.22.  Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beach, and Tommy Hanson all contributed good seasons to the Braves, but old man of the staff Derek Lowe (38 years young) struggled to a 9-17 record and a 5.05 ERA.

They will be back to the postseason before too long due to some outstanding young arms and a still vibrant minor league system.  The sting of losing the Wild Card race may not go away before next year and may motivate current players to play harder and get better results.

Boston Red Sox (90-72).  The Red Sox famously stumbled out of the blocks to begin the year 2-10, but then rattled off a great string of victories, arriving at a series at the Yankees 82-51, or winners of 80 of the last 121 games, an absurd .661 winning clip, or translated to a full season, 107 wins.  Then the wheels started to fall off.

Unlike the Braves, Boston can point to their shoddy pitching performances throughout the final month of the year.

Over the last 7 days, Boston had this line:          5.34 ERA / 1.419 WHIP

Over the last 14 days, they had this line:            5.33 ERA / 1.422 WHIP

Over the last 28 days, it looks like this:  5.74 ERA / 1.498 WHIP

Overall, when the Red Sox were good, they were good.  In their 90 wins, they had a 2.51 ERA.  In their 72 losses, they had an 8.52 ERA.  By contrast, the Yankees had a 2.21 ERA in wins and just a 6.68 mark in losses.  A team like the Royals (whom I can speak the most on) had a split of 2.45 in wins and 7.93 in losses.

Despite all of this, the Red Sox can look forward to having better luck to start and end the season next year, and better performances from players like Carl Crawford  (sub .300 OBP), an upgrade over J.D. Drew in right (who comes off the books this offseason), and getting to watch impact players like Jacoby Ellsbury (146 OPS +, 32 homers, 105 RBI, 39 steals) and Adrian Gonzalez (155 OPS+, .338 average, 117 RBI).

 

Don Flamenco II Division:  The improbable resurgence of Don Flamenco from Major Circuit whipping boy to challenger for the World Circuit belt can only be described as amazing.

Teams that have gotten to the DFII have exhibited great moxie and comeback ability in their fighting back from huge disadvantages earlier in the season.

Maybe even having to pull of the improbable 9 game turnaround in the final month of the season…

St. Louis Cardinals (90-72).  Remember when the Cardinals’ season began with news from Spring Training that their ace Adam Wainwright was done with Tommy John surgery?  And how Albert Pujols was going to be a distraction due to his impending free agency?

Well, for 5 months of the year, all of that rolled up to a mediocre St. Louis squad that just didn’t have the “it” factor to keep up with the Brewers (or the Pirates) in the NL Central.  The had a good April (16-10), a good May (17-12), but fell upon averageness in the middle months of the season, only good for a 39-42 record before September.

But then, the Redbirds starting winning.  And winning.  And winning.  Their hot streak started with a  3-1 split of a series at home against the Pirates to close out August, then went on to win 18 of 26 in September to win the NL Wild Card outright from the struggling Atlanta Braves.

Several Cardinals had great seasons.  5 players finished at or above 120 in OPS +, including Yadier Molina (126), Pujols (150), David Freese (120), Matt Holliday (153), and Lance Berkman (166).  Berkman’s resurgence in St. Louis is basically what got them back to the postseason, as his .301 / .412 / .547 line is remarkable for a 35 year old with career doubts coming into the season.

A league-average staff held up long enough to get St. Louis to October.  Can they get them to the World Series?  Chris Carpenter (11-9, 3.45 ERA) leads the staff, but they will rely heavily on lefty Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, and Edwin Jackson to carry them in the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Rays (91-71).  The Rays began the season with both a 1-8 record and Manny Ramirez.  They ended 2011 with neither.  Being 9 games out at the beginning of September requires a nice run by one team and a total collapse by the organization in front of them.  We’ve already outlined what happened to the Red Sox, what happened to the Rays?

The Rays had 5 winning months, only having July (11-15) fall below .500.  But in August and September, Tampa Bay was 18-10 and 17-10 for a 35-20 mark, or a .636 winning percentage.

The pitching staff (already ranked 2nd in ERA in the AL), stymied opposing offenses to the tune of a .225 batting average, and an OPS of .673.  That’s getting it done.

The rotation was stocked full of young arms, including David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and Wade Davis, plus staff ace James Shields (16-12, 2.82 ERA, 11 CG!), and the Rays have gone nearly 4 plus years since throwing someone older than 30 in a start.

35 year old relievers Kyle Farnsworth (25 saves, 2.18 ERA) and Joel Peralta (2.93 ERA), coupled with 32 year old Juan Cruz (3.88 ERA) to deliver a solid bullpen.  It should be noted that J.P. Howell (6.16 ERA) was bad, but these 4 combined to appear in 236 games, and all are former Royals.

Rays hitters were mediocre at best, ranking 8th in runs scored, and 12th in batting average.  Evan Longoria, who powered Tampa Bay into the Wild Card by hitting an extra-innings bomb, disappointed with a .244 average, but made up for it with good power and patience, ending with a 139 OPS+, which could have been much better.  58 of his 118 hits went for extra bases.

The rich Tampa Bay minor league system should continue to pipe prospects to the big league team, and if current players come due to sign big contracts, the Rays demonstrated last season they are willing to receive draft pick compensation by letting players leave town rather than spend the money to retain them.

 

Mr. Sandman Division:  Mr. Sandman is an intimidating, imposing presence in the ring and presents a challenge to you as a fighter.  He is strong, quick, and tough to bring down.

Teams in this bracket exhibit all of those qualities and have one or two pieces to the puzzle that could trump other teams that may be perceived as slightly in front of them in odds to win the World Series.

Milwaukee Brewers (96-66).  The Brewers showed what a team could do that was a pitcher or two away from contending, as they acquired Shawn Marcum from the Blue Jays for Brett Lawrie and Zack Greinke from the Royals for Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jeremy Jeffress, and top pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi.  They added a 29-13 record with a sub 4.00 ERA to Yovanni Gallardo’s 17-10, 207 K, 3.52 ERA season.

The Brewers have been bashers for quite some time, with Prince Fielder (in his last year in Milwaukee) and his 164 OPS+ (38 homers, 120 RBI, 107 BB) teaming up with Ryan Braun (166 OPS+, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 33 SB) to create a terrifying middle of the order.

This team can and will do some damage in the playoffs.  When they reached the postseason as the NL Wild Card in 2008, they did not possess the type of pitching they have now, where they can run 4 deep and be as good as anyone not playing in Philadelphia.

They also have a narrow window they had to climb through this year, as the ability to re-sign players will become an issue (Fielder) and the minor league system is a wreck.

Detroit Tigers (95-67).  The Tigers also made some splashes during free agency this past offseason, signing Victor Martinez away from Boston and Joaquin Benoit away from Tampa Bay to solidify the bullpen.  Both helped Detroit to a #4 ranking in total offense and  a #7 ranking in ERA.

But all one has to do is look at Justin Verlander to see why the Tigers are so dangerous.  The right-hander went 24-5 to lead the majors in wins, a 2.40 ERA, 250 Ks, and a ridiculously low WHIP of 0.920.  He is a beast and can propel the Tigers past anyone in a playoff series.

Joining Verlander is Max Scherzer (15-9, 8.0 K/9), Rick Porcello (still only 22 years old, 14-9), and trade deadline pickup Doug Fister from Seattle (8-1, 1.79 for Detroit, 2-12, 3.33 for Seattle).  Jose Valverde converted every save opportunity given him in 2011 and cobbled together a tidy 2.24 ERA in 75 appearances.

Miguel Cabrera was again a huge force in the Tigers lineup, recording a whopping 182 OPS+  and a PlayStation line of .344 / .448 /.586.  Alex Avila, an All-Star catcher who is only 24 also had a fantastic season, reaching a 143 OPS + figure.  Martinez contributed a 132 OPS+ while driving in 103 runs.

Texas Rangers (96-66).  The reigning American League pennant winners improved by 6 wins over their magical 2010 campaign, albeit quietly.  The offense ranked in the top 4 in most offensive categories, including #3 in runs scored, but no regular topped the 129 OPS+ mark, save for Mike Napoli (171, but in only 432 plate appearances).

Many of the big bashers in this lineup lost time due to injury, as 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton only got into 121 games and fellow outfield mate Nelson Cruz reached the lineup 124 times, the same numbers as free agent signee Adrian Beltre.

The loss of Cliff Lee over the winter to the Phillies created a huge void in the starting rotation, but it was filled surprisingly by the likes of Alexi Ogando (13-8, 3.51 ERA), 24 year old Derek Holland (16-5, 3.95 ERA), and 25 year old Matt Harrison (14-9, 3.39 ERA).

The Rangers have enough pitching to reach the World Series again this year and have a level, steady lineup that can also position them for postseason success.

 

Super Macho Man Division:  A place that is very difficult to get to, only the very best teams from the very best divisions are able to achieve the level of success required to tangle with the SMM.

With one super uppercut, these top-tier teams can quickly pummel their opponents into submission and block the path of any challenger from reaching the Promised Land of the World Series (and/or Mike Tyson).  Plus, they shake their pectoral muscles at you.

New York Yankees (97-65).  Aside from C.C. Sabathia and rookie Ivan Nova, the starting rotation limped their way to the finish line.  This still didn’t prevent the Yankees from posting the best record in the American League.  The #2 offense by measure of runs scored and the #4 run prevention pitching staff was more than enough to do just that.

While Sabathia is a legitimate ace, Nova’s season would have been passé in the lesser places of the American League, as he only struck out 5.3 batters / 9 innings and his WHIP of 1.331 is average at best.  After the 24 year old’s turn in the rotation, the Yankees must turn to either Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62 ERA), ancient Bartolo Colon (8-10, 4.00 ERA), or the struggling A.J. Burnett (11-11, 5.15 ERA).  Their path to the World Series must hinge on their bullpen and their prolific lineup.

41 year old Marinao Rivera kept getting it done in 2011, posting 44 saves (breaking the career record held by Trevor Hoffman in the process) and a low 1.91 ERA.  But even he couldn’t match the season turned in by righty David Robertson, who had a 1.08 ERA and a whopping 13.5 Ks / 9.

The lineup mentioned earlier is held in place by a surging Curtis Granderson, whose 41 homers finished 2nd in the AL behind Toronto’s Jose Bautista.  Robinson Cano’s 129 OPS+ is solid, as is the 116 or higher registered by Alex Rodriguez (116), Mark Teixiera (117), Nick Swicher (117), and Robinson Cano (129).

Philadelphia Phillies (102-60).  The wins put up by the Phillies this year was expected, and it could have been better.  Prior to the season-ending series with Atlanta, the Phillies put it in neutral and coasted to the end of the season after clinching the division.  But expect the hugely successful starting rotation to carry this club to the World Series.

The highest ERA amongst the regular rotation members was 3.69.  Yes, 3.69.  The highest ERA amongst the 5 top relievers (as judged by 30 or more appearances) was 3.63.  You read that right, 3.63.  With those numbers, it is no shock that Philadelphia finished atop the NL in ERA, walks, complete games, shutouts, and #3 in strikeouts.

Roy Halladay was 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA to follow up on his first NL Cy Young season a year ago.  The return of Cliff Lee saw him go 17-8 with 6 shutouts.  Homegrown product Cole Hamels was 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA, and 23 year old Vance Worley was 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA.  Nice rotation, even with Roy Oswalt’s pedestrian 3.69 mark.  All 4 mentioned before Oswalt had K/9 figures above 8.0.

The offense was average, ranking 7th in runs scored.  Hunter Pence’s arrival at the trade deadline from Houston sparked the offense, and supplemented a lineup of good, but not great performers, with no one topping 129 in OPS+ , but only 2 under 100.

The Phils should have no problem reaching the World Series, but will need to find some runs to beat the likes of Verlander, or Shields, or Sabathia.  It should be fun, but I see them pulling it off like they did in 2008.

 

Mike Tyson Division:  The predictions.

I will go with my Mega Bracket submissions…

DET over NYY, TB over TEX, DET over TB

PHI over STL, MIL over ARI, PHI over MIL

Phillies defeat Tigers in 6.  007 – 373 – 5963

~Greg

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~ by goetgre on September 30, 2011.

4 Responses to “MLB Punch-Out!!”

  1. What about the Mr. Dream Division?

    Like

  2. You know your baseball…

    And your video game boxers…

    Well done!

    Like

  3. This is great stuff! When football is over, will you do the same thing comparing the NFL season to Tecmo Bowl? Not Super Tecmo Bowl, but the original circa 1987.

    Like

  4. I may only be able to do STB as that was the one I had and still play every season.

    Like

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