MLB Punch-Out 2012

WRITTEN BY GREG

The 2012 edition of this post comes on the heels of yet another completed MLB season, one in which my beloved Royals floundered amidst injuries and incompetence.  This post was a ton of fun last year, so here goes for the 2012 season.

MINOR CIRCUIT

glassJoeGlass Joe Division:  Teams here have no talent, no strengths, a myriad of weaknesses, and have nothing in their systems to portend chances of escaping the MLB cellar.  These squads also give up uppercut stars to their opponents to quickly knock them out.

 Houston Astros (56-106).  Those 56 wins are putrid, but it could have been a lot worse for the Astros.  At one point, they were on a path towards about 48 wins, which would only been the 3rd time in the past 50 years a major league team failed to win 50 (1962 Mets & 2003 Tigers).

The have managed to spin off nearly all their usable parts in the past year and a half (Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez, Mark Melancon, etc.), but don’t have much to show for it.

Houston has a new owner and a new GM (from the Cardinals organization) and will be moving to the AL West next year.  They make that leap with some decent players like All-Star 2B Jose Altuve (.290 / .340 / .399) and SS Jed Lowrie (109 OPS+), but nothing much else and despite picking #1 in last year’s draft and this year’s draft, the Astros are bound to be terrible for the foreseeable future.

NL Ranks:  Runs – 16, Avg – 16, Slg – 16, OPS – 16, ERA – 15, BB – 12, K – 13

bWAR: 1.9     pWAR:  5.6

Top Batter:  Justin Maxwell (2.3)                 Top Pitcher:  Lucas Harrell (2.8)

MUCH MUCH MUCH MORE AFTER THE JUMP!

 Cleveland Indians (68-94).  Yes, the Indians set a new record for wins in the Von Kaiser division, but make no mistake, they’re here for a reason.  On July 26, their record stood at a respectable 50-49 after a 5-3 win over the Minnesota Twins.

A little math gives you they went 18-45 thereafter, 3 games worse than anyone else in baseball (next closest was the Red Sox in the AL).  It’s even worse if you consider their record up until September 19:  11-39 (.220 winning percentage).

The Indians were a promising team as they were in first place for 37 days this year and 85 in 2011.  The pitching undermined this team quite a bit, finishing the year dead last in the AL in ERA at 4.79, due in large part to being 13th in walks and strikeouts.

Justin Masterson (79 ERA+) fell mightily from his breakout year in 2011 and last year’s major trade acquisition Ubaldo Jimenez from Colorado was one of the worst starters in the league, going 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA.  No one who started a game for Cleveland finished 2012 with an ERA under 4.24.

The batters were okay in some regards, like Shin-Soo Choo (131 OPS+, 16 HR), Asdrubel Cabrera (16 HR at SS, 115 OPS+) and Carlos Santana (team leading 18 HR, 91 BB, 122 OPS+).  What hurt them a lot was Casey Kotchman’s imitation of black hole at first, slugging on .333 with 12 homers and 24 extra base hits in total, to OPS+ at 73.  No one was able to man left field effectively either.

AL Ranks:  Runs – 13, Avg – 9, Slg – 13, OPS – 13, ERA – 14, BB – 13, K – 13

bWAR: 14.9   pWAR:  -1.5

Top Batter:  Jason Kipnis & Carlos Santana (3.7)  Top Pitcher: Vinnie Pestano (2.1)

 vonKaiser 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 some injuries, have some older elements, or were just plain bad.

Minnesota Twins (66-96).  The Twins find themselves in the Von Kaiser section of MLB once again, despite improving on their record by 3 games this year.  Perhaps they were lucky to have done that well.

They did squeeze 641 plate appearances out of the oft-injured Joe Mauer (.319 / .416 / .446 / 141 OPS +) and his infirmary mate Justin Morneau managed 570 and had an OPS+ of 113.  So no excuses there.  A big plus in the lineup was free agent signees Josh Willingham (144 OPS+ with 35 HR, 110 RBI) and Ryan Doumit (114 OPS+, 18 HR).  And finally a pleasant surprise from 3B Trevor Plouffe and his 24 HR arrived on the scene.  Still that couldn’t translate to wins, as all that offense still only mustered a #10 ranking in the AL in runs scored.

Some of that has to do with the middle infielders Alexi Casilla and Brian Dozier posting identical .603 OPS numbers, but RF Ben Revere “slugging” his way to a .675 number, although he did pilfer 40 bases.  Utility man Jamey Carroll had 537 PA for a .660 OPS.

The real enemy was the pitching staff once again.  Rookie lefty Scott Diamond was solid, going 12-9 with a 3.54 ERA, but no one on this staff strikes anyone out.  And they give up a boatload of hits.  In fact, the Twins ranked dead last in strike outs recorded and hits allowed, a deadly cocktail for any pitching corps.

AL Ranks:  Runs – 10, Avg – 6, Slg – 12, OPS – 10, ERA – 13, BB – 6, K – 14

bWAR: 22.1   pWAR:  -3.3

Top Batter:  Denard Span (4.8)        Top Pitcher:  Scott Diamond (2.2)

Colorado Rockies (64-98).  The Rockies seemed lost at times throughout the year and resorted to a 4 man rotation at one point, going for a stretch of time where no pitcher got through 6 innings.

Retread Jeff Francis, after being released by the Reds organization, somehow led the staff in innings pitched with 113.  Yes, 133 IP.  No one else managed to top the century mark.  Francis had a 5.58 ERA by the way, giving up tons of hits.  That seemed to be a trend amongst the “starters” Colorado trotted out there every day.

Of those pitchers who made at least 10 starts for the Rockies (a total of 8), all but 1 had H/9 above 10.3, or well more than a hit allowed per inning.  Doing so in the light air of Coors Field complicated matters, as the staff was dead last in HR allowed in the NL at 198, leading to a 5.97 home ERA.

The pair of pitchers the Rox acquired for Ubaldo Jimenez last July, Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, wilted in this environment.  White had a 5.51 ERA and had a pitiful 1.25 K/BB ratio.  Pomeranz did a little better, as the lefty had a 4.93 ERA and a 7.7 K/9 rate, but still had far too many walks.

The bullpen wasn’t wretched, even seeing some success from closer Rafael Betancourt (31 saves, 2.81 ERA), but next to nothing to overcome the worst rotation (and it isn’t even close) in the majors.

The hitters were decent, but some of that is due to their home field.  While ranking 3rd in the NL in runs scored, Colorado OPSed 200 points higher at Coors than on the road.

Troy Tulowitzki was shelved much of the year due to injury and his absence was felt by all.  Todd Helton had his worst season ever, getting only 283 PA and hit just 7 homers.  Twins import Michael Cuddyer battled injuries all year, playing in only 100 games and delivering a 99 OPS+.

All-Star Carlos Gonzalez had a fine year, hitting .303 / .371 / .510 for an OPS+ of 119 and 22 HR with 20 steals.  Outfield mate Dexter Fowler (also 26 years old) had a good campaign too, with a 117 OPS+.

NL Ranks:  Runs – 3, Avg – 1, Slg – 2, OPS – 1, ERA – 16, BB – 15, K – 14

bWAR: 5.9     pWAR:  14.5

Top Batter:  Dexter Fowler (2.5)      Top Pitcher:  Rafael Betancourt (2.6)

Chicago Cubs (61-101).  Dales Sveum’s first season in Chicago couldn’t have gone much worse, as the Cubs lost 100 games for the first time since 1966.  Normally, a bad Cubs team gets put in the King Hippo division, but their horrific performance in 2012 warrants inclusion in the Von Kaiser division.

The Cubs offense was all-around pretty poor (ranking 14th in runs scored in the NL), but did have some bright spots:

Anthony Rizzo was a very bright spot in the Cubs season, clubbing 15 homers and 48 RBI in just about half a year of duty.  He came over from the Padres organization for Andrew Cashner, but arrived in San Diego via the Adrian Gonzalez trade with Boston.  At 22, he has tremendous upside and is a cornerstone of whatever club president Theo Epstein plans to do on the North Side.

Alfonso Soriano went and had himself a fairly good year as well.  He did strikeout his customary 150+ times, but belted 32 homers and drove in 108, good enough for a 121 OPS+.  Cubs fans languish over having him in the lineup, but one could do far worse than get a 121 OPS+ back for the $18M they’re paying him.

Shortstop Starlin Castro, while not minding the ‘D’ very much, is on pace for a very good career.  He was carrying an average above .300 for a good chunk of the year, but settled at .283 / .323 / 430, good enough for his 3rd consecutive OPS+ figure north of 100 to begin his career.  He already has 529 hits at the tender age of 22.

Pitching was about in line with the offense, ranking 14th in the senior circuit in ERA.  Jeff Samardzija pitched fairly well, with an ERA of 3.81 and K/9 above 9, with walks and hits at very acceptable rates.  The club traded their 2 best starters, however, in Ryan Dempster (to Texas) and Paul Maholm (to Atlanta), so the final 2 months of the season saw an 18-42 record and an ERA of 4.91.

The bullpen was suspect the entire time, with a shaky Carlos Marmol (20 saves, 3.42 ERA) and a conga line of crap preceding him on most nights.

NL Ranks:  Runs – 14, Avg – 15, Slg – 14, OPS – 15, ERA – 14, BB – 16, K – 15

bWAR: 11.8   pWAR:  -0.1

Top Batter:  Darwin Barney (4.6)     Top Pitcher:  Ryan Dempster (3.3)

pistonHonda1Piston 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 (72-90).  The Royals find themselves in the Piston Honda I Division once again, improving on their solid finish to 2011 by just one game.  They endured an infamous 12 game losing streak to essentially stumble out of the blocks, suffered 4 Tommy John surgeries to vital components of their pitching staff, and saw regression from several key members of the lineup.

Of course, those 4 Tommy John surgeries took the seasons (or most of it) from 3 of their best 4 pitchers.  LHP Danny Duffy was having a pretty good season (3.90 ERA, 9.1 K/9) and was the 2nd hardest thrower in the bigs (behind the Nationals’ Stephen Strausburg), but he wasn’t quite right in his command.  After 6 starts (really just 5), he was done.  Then that TJ bug struck their best hurler, 2011 waiver claimee Felipe Paulino and his 1.67 ERA in 7 starts was shelved at the beginning of June, all stemming from a line drive off his leg.  Yes, baseballs to the leg makes you have elbow surgery.  Who knew?

But not all is bad for the Royals.  In between a 3-14 start and a 2-9 finish, the Royals played .500 ball, or 67-67.  This was with one of the shakier starting rotations in the majors, lowlighted by the trio of Bruce Chen (5.07 ERA), Luke Hochevar (5.73), and of course, Jonathan Sanchez (7.76).  Sanchez was acquired for All-Star MVP and PED abuser Melky Cabrera in the offseason and was terrible from the onset.

But somehow, right before the trade deadline, General Manager Dayton Moore hornswaggled the Rockies front office into trading straight up for nearly-equally struggling right hander Jeremy Guthrie (6.35 ERA at the time of the trade).

After being shipped east to KC, Guthrie delivered a 3.16 ERA in 14 starts and a WHIP of 1.132.  He instantly became the great hope for next season, and will come back for 3 years after signing a $25M, back-loaded contract recently.

Sanchez, on a side note, was predictably worse in Denver, posting a 9.53 ERA in just 3 starts.

The bullpen for KC was overworked much of the year, but managed to go wire-to-wire with amazing results, including setting the American League record in bullpen strikeouts for the season.  With Joakim Soria sidelined with reconstructive elbow surgery in early April, the Royals turned to Jonathan Broxton to close out games (23 saves, 2.27 ERA), and when he was traded to Cincinnati for a pair of pitching prospects, Greg Holland assumed the role and was dominant (2.96 ERA overall, but 16 saves and 1.98 ERA after taking closer job).

The offense took a big step back from a promising 2011.  With heightened expectations from 1B Eric Hosmer and 3B Mike Moustakas, plus RF Jeff Francouer and CF Lorenzo Cain, the lineup was supposed to at least replicate their 6th place showing in the AL from 2011.

In reality, Francouer turned into one of the worst regulars in the majors (81 OPS+), Hosmer never could get on track (.232 / .304 / .359, 82 OPS+), and Moustakas faded horribly down the stretch (.198 / .252 / .311 after July 22), but did smack 20 homers and played Gold Glove defense.

But, it wasn’t all tears for KC.  Billy Butler had a breakout year (and was already a good hitter):  .313 / .373 / .510 / 140 OPS+ with 29 homers and 107 RBI.  Had he not gone cold from the middle of August to the middle of September, he would have had a shot at breaking Steve Balboni’s club record for homers of 36.

Alex Gordon also was able to replicate his fine season from 2011, having a 125 OPS+.  Alcides Escobar made a quantum leap at the plate, flirting with a .300 average nearly all season, but settled for a .293 mark and 42 extra base hits and 35 steals.  Salvador Perez, hurt with a torn meniscus in spring training, hit for a 117 OPS+ in less than half a season, clubbing 11 homers and driving in 39 while topping .300 in average.  Oh, he also led the league in pickoffs and was near the top in Caught Stealing %.

The Royals, noted for their deep farm system (whose upper levels have been thoroughly mined), have a potential trump card to play as well.  Should he win the job out of Spring Training, minor league player of the year Wil Myers can instantly upgrade the offense by just showing up.  He hit 37 homers in stops at AA and AAA and has a very good eye at the plate.  He’ll have a shot to hit anywhere from 2nd to 6th in the lineup.

Having watched this club play all year, it was quite clear an upgrade in the outfield from the best player in the minors and an acquisition of 2 starting pitchers instantly turns this team into a contender.  Playing over .500 baseball for 2/3 of the season is not easy, and this team did it, with a subpar rotation, injuries, and a terrible rightfielder.

The club’s front office has vowed to bring in starting pitching help.  If the right decisions are made (and Guthrie needs to be among those starters), the Royals will contend for the AL Central title in 2013.  Just ask the White Sox.  The Royals single-handedly kept them out of the playoffs.

AL Ranks:  Runs – 12, Avg – 4, Slg – 10, OPS – 8, ERA – 10, BB – 12, K – 6

bWAR: 15.1   pWAR:  9.6

Top Batter:  Alex Gordon (6.2)         Top Pitcher:  Kelvin Herrera (2.3)

San Diego Padres (76-86).  There really wasn’t an easy decision of where to place the Padres, so they might as well go here.  The 76 wins was easily an overachievement, having traded away their best player (Adrian Gonzalez in 2011) and best pitcher (Mat Latos to Cincinnati).

That haul from the Reds is looking fairly good from the Padres’ perspective, as 1B Yonder Alonso hit well in the worst hitting park in the bigs:  109 OPS+ with 39 doubles.  Top catching prospect Yasmani Grandal hit 8 homers and slugged .469 in just 60 games to set a solid foundation in the lineup for years to come, especially if you add into hat mix to 3B Chase Headley and his 144 OPS+ with 31 homers and 115 RBI.

The franchise did trade away slugger Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs for RHP Andrew Cashner, who made 5 starts in 33 appearances and had a 4.27 ERA for San Diego with an excellent 10.1 K/9.  If Cashner can keep the walks down (3.7 BB/9), he’ll be an anchor in Padres threads for the next decade.

San Diego will almost always rank in the lower half in offensive production in the NL with the marked disadvantage of playing in Petco Park (10th in runs in 2012), the pitching will need to show an outstanding ERA to hold serve.

Instead, the Padres got a 4.01 ERA (10th), hurt by a 12 ranking in walks allowed, despite a 4th ranking in hits allowed.  Clayton Richard had a solid year atop the rotation (3.99 ERA, but only a 4.4 K/9 ratio), but no one else, including Reds acquisition Edinson Volquez (11-11, 4.14 ERA, 5.2 BB/9), had anything better than league average.

The bullpen was good, with All-Star Huston Street tabulating an ERA of 1.85 with 23 saves, but he missed significant time due to injury (just 39 innings pitched).

The Giants and Dodgers theoretically have a stranglehold on this division, but the Padres could make some noise if their system develops some good pitchers and their bats produce more runs at home (28 points lower in OPS at Petco, 27 fewer homers).

NL Ranks:  Runs – 10, Avg – 11, Slg – 13, OPS – 11, ERA – 10, BB – 12, K – 10

bWAR: 19.9   pWAR:  2.5

Top Batters:  Chase Headley (6.0)   Top Pitcher:  Luke Gregerson (1.8)

MAJOR CIRCUIT

donFlamenco2Don 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.

 Boston Red Sox (69-93).  Boston probably deserves to be in the Minor Circuit, but they kind of fit in the Don Flamenco mold to be honest.  They were KO’d in July and skated to a 2nd worst record in the AL after the trade deadline that shipped 1B Adrian Gonzalez, OF Carl Crawford (out nearly all year due to wrist and elbow surgery), and ace Josh Beckett to the Dodgers for pillow fighter 1B James Loney and some assorted junk.

Bobby Valentine’s one year tour of duty as manager ended abruptly, as he was a walking dead man from about the 2nd week of the season.  His demeanor was not well received by anyone in the Red Sox clubhouse, nor in their fanbase, and got him fired from what will probably be his last job in North America.

The Boston faithful didn’t have much to hang their collective hats on in any facet of the game due to injuries and incompetence.  Will Middlebrooks, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Crawford all missed significant time due to injuries.  David Ortiz might have been the lone bright spot in the lineup, as he OPSed at a ridiculous 1.026, or 71% better than the league average, but in just 90 games.

Pitching-wise, the normally adept Red Sox staff was worse than mediocre, compiling a 4.72 ERA, 3rd worst in the AL.  Beckett had a 5.23 ERA before getting traded, reliable Jon Lester struggled to a 9-14 record with a 4.82 ERA.  Clay Buchholz was about as poor, ringing up a 4.56 ERA and only 6.1 K/9, which has been in steady decline the past 4 years from a high of 8.5.

Young Felix Doubront showed flashes of dominant stuff, but came in with a 4.86 ERA despite a 9.3 K/9 rate.  Oh, and Aaron Cook and the corpse formerly known as Daisuke Matsuzaka had a combined 6.51 ERA in 29 starts.

The bullpen was oddly poor as well and due to injuries, could not capitalize on offseason moves to bolster it, namely trading promising OF Josh Reddick to the A’s for their closer Andrew Bailey (7.04 ERA following thumb surgery), and shipping SS Jed Lowrie to Houston for reliever Mark Melancon (6.20 ERA in 41 games due to terribleness).  Closer Alfredo Aceves lost an amazing 10 games in relief and had a lofty 5.36 ERA and just 25 saves.

If Boston hopes to return to dominance in the AL East, it will take their pitchers a quantum leap forward in production and some big time bat acquisitions in the offseason, all in a free agent market that is notably soft this year.  They have already gutted their minor league system in recent trades (i.e. Gonzalez from Padres), but freed up tons of cash in their waiver trade with L.A.

AL Ranks:  Runs – 5, Avg – 6, Slg – 7, OPS – 6, ERA – 12, BB – 11, K – 8

bWAR: 17.7   pWAR:  1.2

Top Batter:  Dustin Pedroia (4.7)     Top Pitchers:  Scott Atchison & Junichi Tazawa (1.7)

king_hippoKing 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.

Philadelphia Phillies (81-81).  Sure, the Phillies finished at .500 and played pretty good ball in the 2nd half to get that far, and were mentioned in the NL Wild Card hunt up to the end nearly.  But so much more is expected from a team with the payroll they had  ($171M) and a starting rotation featuring Roy Halladay ($20M), Cliff Lee ($21.5M), and Cole Hamels ($15M).

And sure, Ryan Howard was out since recording the last out in the NLDS against the Cardinals last year when he ruptured his Achilles tendon jogging to first.  And 2B Chase Utley was hurt (again).

But the Phils struggled to score runs, particularly early in the year, despite a monster year from catcher Carlos Ruiz, who hit .325 / .394 / .540 and OPS+ at 149.  Of the regulars, only Utley (113 OPS+ in 83 games) and RF Hunter Pence (109 in 101 games before trade to SF) topped league average.

Hamels had a good year, going 17-6 with a 3.05 ERA and earned himself a monster 7 year, $140M deal during the season.  Cliff Lee was pretty good too, recording a 3.16 ERA, but only 15 decisions in his 30 starts.  Roy Halladay, at 35, had a terrible year by his standards:  11-8, 4.49 ERA and just 7.6 K/9.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon, signed away from the Red Sox for $50M, was his usual self, with 38 saves and a 2.44 ERA.  The rest of the bullpen was average or worse.

Much of what Philadelphia does is based around their starters and since they have such albatross contracts, Hamels, Lee, and Halladay aren’t going anywhere.  So for the Phillies to arise from the ashes of 2012, that trio needs to be lights out in 2013.

NL Ranks:  Runs – 8, Avg – 7, Slg – 7, OPS – 8, ERA – 7, BB – 1, K – 2

bWAR: 15.0   pWAR:  10.8

Top Batter:  Carlos Ruiz (4.4)           Top Pitchers:  Cole Hamels & Cliff Lee (4.2)

Miami Marlins (69-93).  The Marlins’ first season as Miami instead of Florida did not go well, as lightning rod manager Ozzie Guillen could not get his team going once May ended.  In the offseason, the Marlins were buyers, getting LHP Mark Buehrle from the White Sox, trading for RHP Carlos Zambrano, signing closer Heath Bell, shortstop Jose Reyes from the Mets, and an in-season trade with Houston for 1B Carlos Lee.  By the end, they were sellers.

Reyes had a decent year in his first season in South Florida, hitting at a .780 OPS clip and 40 steals to go along with a very good 60 extra base hit total.  Superstar-in-the-making Giancarlo “Don’t Call Me Mike” Stanton had 37 homers and 86 RBI in just 501 plate appearances (knee surgery), but nothing else quite went right.

Hanley Ramirez was shipped to the Dodgers after falling flat the past 2 seasons in a Marlins uniform, playing a little better on the West Coast (102 MIA OPS vs. 112 LAD OPS).

Buehrle was solid, going 13-13 with a 3.74 ERA, and Josh Johnson was decent at a 3.81 ERA, but saw his K/9 go down, .  Anibal Sanchez was dealt to the Tigers for a Top 25 prospect in Jacob Turner (long term, a great deal for Miami), and Zambrano just wasn’t good, with an elevated walk rate (5.1) and a depressed whiff rate (6.5 vs. career average of 7.5).

Bell imploded as the closer (later traded to Arizona), posting an ERA greater than 5.  His replacement, Steve Cishek, was much better, getting 15 saves with a 2.69 ERA and a 9.6 K/9 rate.  All in all, the mediocrity was prevalent in both the rotation and the bullpen, as the Marlins finished 12th in ERA and dead last in strikeouts.

The Marlins made headlines when they traded virtually their entire roster to Toronto for a handful of prospects.  Outgoing are pitchers Johnson and Buehrle, catcher John Buck, Reyes, and OF Emilio Bonifacio.  This cuts the payroll commitment for 2013 to the lowest in baseball and angered a fanbase just one year removed from a new stadium being built.

NL Ranks:  Runs – 15, Avg – 13, Slg – 12, OPS – 14, ERA – 12, BB – 9, K – 16

bWAR: 4.2     pWAR:  11.1

Top Batter:  Giancarlo Stanton (5.4)            Top Pitcher:  Mark Buehrle (3.2)

New York Mets (74-88).  The Mets were right here in the King Hippo Division, but they held their own for quite awhile in 2012, riding the R.A. Dickey train all season, and Johan Santana’s left arm until it came flying off following the franchise’s first no-hitter.

The Mets were a season-high 8 games over .500 on June 3, just two days after Santana tossed that no-no.  As late has July 7, they were 7 games over, at 46-39 and in the hunt for a NL Wild Card spot.

The second half didn’t go all that well for the junior team in the Big Apple.  After being 7 games up on 7/7 (must have angered some number-symmetry god), the Mets went 28-48, which at 20 games under .500 was still better than how the Marlins fared in the NL East, at 28-49.  Only the Marlins, Indians, Red Sox, Cubs, and Astros had poorer 2nd halves.

David Wright led the way on an offense that only had 3 players top 100 in OPS.  He hit a solid .306 / .391 / .492, for an OPS+ of 143 and had 64 extra base hits, including 21 homers, which all earned him a monster contract extension recently.  1B Ike Davis was at a 110 OPS with his 32 homers and 90 runs driven in, but hit just .227.  2B Daniel Murphy smacked 40 doubles for a 102 OPS+.

Several backups with less than 400 plate appearances performed well, most notable amongst them was 32 year old journeyman utility player Scott Hairston, who somehow hit 20 homers, but drew only 19 walks.  He played in the place of the once-great Jason Bay, who in 215 plate appearances over 70 games, managed to hit .165 and slugged under .300.

The pitching staff certainly experienced the rollercoaster ride the Mets were on.  R.A. Dickey was one of the better stories in the big leagues this year, as the reclamation project won 20 games and had a sterling 2.76 ERA and struck out 230 batters in 233 2/3 innings.  The knuckleballer, at age 37, has seemingly bridged his career into a new place and could very well pitch until he’s 50.

Santana never pitched after August 17, capping a 5 start streak dating back to July 6 that saw the lefty give up 6 or more earned runs in every single start, averaging less than 4 innings per start, 43 hits allowed in 19 innings pitched, and 8 homers.  That all adds up to a 15.63 ERA.  In fact, he never was the same pitcher after firing 134 pitches in that no-hitter against St. Louis, finishing 2012 with an 8.27 ERA thereafter.

The rest of the staff was mediocre, although Jonathan Niese was solid at a 3.40 ERA and 13 victories.  They also have some promise in 23 year old RHP Matt Harvey, who delivered a 2.73 ERA in 10 starts and struck out batters at a 10.6 K/9 rate.  Part of the gains seen in the rotation were handed back by the bullpen, however.

Closer Frank Francisco, owner of the same first and last name nearly, had 23 saves.  That’s the good part.  He also had a K/9 at 10.0.  Again, good.  But his ERA was 5.53 and walked 4.5 batter per 9.  Bad and bad.  Manny Acosta was somehow allowed to appear in 45 games, yet post a 6.46 ERA as a righty.  Only Bobby Parnell had an ERA under 3.00 for any member of the bullpen who threw in more than 13 games.

The Mets have some interesting pieces, including some rotation options that could bolster their chances of competing.  The only problem is they still play in the NL East, where Washington and Atlanta only figure to get better.

NL Ranks:  Runs – 12, Avg – 10, Slg – 11, OPS – 10, ERA – 11, BB – 6, K – 6

bWAR: 10.5   pWAR:  9.4

Top Batter:  David Wright (6.7)        Top Pitcher:  R.A Dickey (5.6)

Great_tigerGreat 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.

Seattle Mariners (75-87).  The one shining asset this team has is of course, King Felix.  Felix Hernandez was spectacular for the better part of 2012, and the rest of the pitching staff was pretty effective too behind their leader.  The offense was once again, beyond putrid, submarining the efforts of the hurlers.

First, Hernandez.  His win total of 13 is about in line with what you’d expect from a 3.06 ERA and an offense that gives little run support.  But his peripherals suggest more.  His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was a much more telling 2.69.  In his 2010 Cy Young campaign, King Felix threw 1 shutout.  In 2012, he had 5, including a perfect game.

Furthermore, in his first 9 starts post-break, Hernandez went 7-0, averaging over 8 innings a start and allowed 39 hits, 2 homers, and just 10 earned runs for an ERA of 1.23.  That, my friends, is why they’re in the Great Tiger Division.

Fellow rotation member Jason Vargas, the target of many teams looking to upgrade their starting pitching, went 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA (FIP = 4.66 by comparison).  The lefty doesn’t strike out many batters (5.8 K/9) and a lot of homers (35).  But he does throw a lot of quality innings (217 IP) and keeps his walks and hits allowed under control.

The bullpen was good as well in the Emerald City, with 7 out of 8 pitchers who logged at least 33 games or more in relief posted ERAs less than 4.00, with 5 notching K/9 ratios greater than 9.0.

Why did the Mariners finish 12 games under .500 when their staff ranked 3rd in ERA?  The hitters (and the quality of their division) goes a long way towards answering that question.

Three regulars had OPS+ figures above league average, if you count John Jaso as a regular at catcher.  His 144 OPS+ led the way, with 10 homers and 50 RBI splitting duty with Miguel Olivo, who once again demonstrated he is an OBP sinkhole (.239!).

The centerpiece of the Cliff Lee-to-Texas trade in 2010, 1B Justin Smoak, did hit 19 homers, but slugged .364 for an OPS+ of just 87.  SS Brendan Ryan, noted for his light-hitting but slick fielding game, hit .194 / .277 / .278 for an OPS+ of 61.

Check out some of these interesting statistical tidbits concerning the Mariners’ offensive offense:

.260 – Jesus Montero’s club leading batting average for those players > 450 PA

.316 – Kyle Seager’s club leading on base percentage for the same group of players

.432 – Michael Saunders’ club leading slugging percentage

61 – Points Ichiro’s average rose once traded to New York Yankees

6 – Number of players whose OBP was less than .300

Granted, the AL West was stacked this year, especially considering the emergence (somehow) of the Oakland A’s to complement the usual powers Texas and Los Angeles.  With that said, it will take an offensive revolution for Seattle to compete, as the anemia that has stricken that side of the ledger for the Mariners will cripple them for years to come.

AL Ranks:  Runs – 14, Avg – 14, Slg – 14, OPS – 14, ERA – 3, BB – 4, K – 9

bWAR: 10.5   pWAR:  9.4

Top Batters:  John Jaso & Brendan Ryan (3.3)  Top Pitcher:  Felix Hernandez (4.6)

Toronto Blue Jays (73-89):  The Blue Jays find themselves once again in the Great Tiger Division, this time due to more than just Jose Bautista.  Joey Bats was injured a large portion of the year (must have hung out with the pitchers who were stacked ten high on the disabled list), but Edwin Encarnacion had a career year north of the border to warrant inclusion on this list.

Encarnacion hit 42 homers and drove in 110 runs.  Prior to this year, his career high was 26 HR with the Reds in 2008 and his tops in RBI was 76 in 2007 with Cincinnati.  Last year, he hit 17 bombs and drove in just 55.

Naturally, his on base percentage went very high for the typically free swinging Encarnacion after pitchers had to respect his enormous power.  His career splits between batting average and on-base percentage was usually about 60 to 70 points.  In 2012, it was 104.  His 152 OPS+ number is tremendous, and would have been more had Bautista not gotten hurt and could have provided lineup protection for each other.

Despite Bautista’s absence for 60 games, the Blue Jays mashed 198 homers, good enough for 5th in the AL.  Colby Rasmus, traded for in 2011, hit 23, Bautista hit 27 in limited action, catcher J.P. Arencibia smacked 18, 2B Kelly Johnson hit 16, and 3B Brett Lawrie hit 11.

The problem with all of this was no one was ever on base when those homers were hit; the Blue Jays ranked 13th in the league in OBP.   Part of this was average driven, as Toronto did draw the 9th most walks in the American League.

To support that, check out some of these averages:  C Jeff Mathis – .218, Rasmus – .223, Johnson – .225, Arencibia – .233, Bautista – .241.  Encarnacion’s .280 led the team, by 7 points over Lawrie’s .273.

Blue Jay pitchers were bitten by the injury bug about as much as anyone in baseball, rivaled perhaps only by the Royals.  Promising righty Kyle Drabek (son of Doug Drabek, acquired for Roy Halladay) was lost to Tommy John surgery, and several others were lost due to elbow, oblique, and shoulder woes.

Ricky Romero, the staff ace, slid a long ways from his usual solid self in 2012.  He finished at 9-14 with a 5.77 ERA, the worst in the American League for those qualifying for the ERA title.  This was a million light years away from his 2011, when he posted a 2.92 ERA.  He did make 32 starts, so he had that going for him.  Brandon Morrow had a sub 3.00 ERA, but only made 21 starts due to injury.  Drew Hutchinson (11 starts, 4.60 ERA) was also lost to elbow problems.

In the ultra-competitive AL East, the Blue Jays normally tread water fairly well, but they do just that:  tread water.  They are essentially a .500 team each year (43-43 at the break in 2012).  In order to get over the hump, the pitchers must stay healthy and the hitters must find ways to get on base when the homers come.

AL Ranks:  Runs – 7, Avg – 11, Slg – 8, OPS – 9, ERA – 11, BB – 14, K – 11

bWAR: 17.8   pWAR:  5.0

Top Batters:  Edwin Encarnacion (4.6)  Top Pitcher:  Brandon Morrow (3.2)
baldBull1Bald 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.  But also be aware, the Nationals were denizens of the Bald Bull I Division and made The Leap in the following year.

Pittsburgh Pirates (79-83).  The Pirates, once again, failed to achieve a winning season, with their last coming in Barry Bonds’ last year at Three Rivers (1992).  But they’ve been so close the past 2 years, and carried their contention for the 2nd NL Wild Card spot well into September before falling flat on their faces.

There isn’t a ton to like about their offense, although one position is rivaled by very few in either league, and that’s centerfield, manned by All-Star Andrew McCutchen.  The 25 year old topped his 2011 breakout performance (.259 / .364 / .456, 23 homers, 23 steals) in a big way, by mashing his way to a 164 OPS +.  His 31 homers and 96 RBI led the team.  He was joined by breakout player Pedro Alvarez, the 2nd pick in the 2008 draft.  Alvarez played a shaky 3rd (27 errors), but hit 30 homers and drove in 85 while whiffing 180 times.

The only other regulars with above league-average OPS numbers were 2B Neil Walker (114 OPS+, 14 homers) and utility man Garrett Jones (129 OPS+, 27 homers, but only 33 walks).  This was a better offense from a power standpoint than Pittsburgh has seen in a long while (170 homers ranked 4th, up from 107 in 2011, and 126 in 2010).

Players like SS Clint Barmes (66 OPS+, .272 OBP), LF Alex Presley (89 OPS+, 25 RBI in 370 PA), 1B Casey McGahee (8 homers, .297 OBP in 293 PA), and C Rod Barajas (.206 / .283 / .343) caused fewer runners to occupy the bases when those homers were hit, much like the Blue Jays mentioned earlier in the Great Tiger Division.

After letting staff ace Pat Maholm walk to Chicago in the offseason, the Pirates didn’t have much to go with heading into this season.  Then an innocuous trade with the Yankees netted them A.J. Burnett.  All Burnett did (after breaking his face in spring training) was go 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA and 8.0 K/9 rate in 31 starts.  James McDonald, a steal from the Dodgers for Octavio Dotel a couple years ago, faded dramatically down the stretch, but still posted a 12-8 record with a 4.21 ERA, identical to his output in 2011 (eerily, his inning pitched was exactly 171 IP in both years too.

To be honest about McDonald, one has to look at his game log for this past season.  As late as June 21, he was 6-3 with a 2.19 ERA.  His ERA didn’t cross the 3.00 threshold permanently until July 24.  And it didn’t cross 4.00 for good until September 14.  And comparing his production from 2011 to 2012, his WHIP dropped from 1.485 to 1.263.  And his K/BB ratio improved a lot, going from 1.82 to 2.19.

The bullpen was good too, with Norwalk native Joel Hanrahan posting 36 saves and earned himself another All-Star appearance.

Going forward, the Pirates have some extremely good talent coming through with regards to the starting rotation.  Top picks Jameson Tallion and Garrett Cole could find their way to PNC Park in the next year or two, and unfortunately, they struck out on signing their top pick this year in Stanford’s Mark Appel, who was generally regarded as the top talent in the draft, but chose to hold out and return to college.  Had the Pirates signed him, he’d also be in the mix for 2013 (late) or 2014 (out of Spring).

With the freedom of having cost-controlled starters coming up, the Pirates can use some of their precious resources on the offensive side, and build around young studs McCutchen and Alvarez to make some serious noise in the future.

NL Ranks:  Runs – 10, Avg – 14, Slg – 9, OPS – 11, ERA –8, BB – 8, K – 12

bWAR: 15.2   pWAR:  5.8

Top Batters:  Andrew McCutchen (7.0)  Top Pitcher:  A.J. Burnett (1.9)

Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81).  Arizona was an upstart last year under first year manager Kirk Gibson, winning the NL West with 96 wins.  Ian Kennedy won 20 games, flirted with a Cy Young, and Justin Upton realized his potential at just 23 years old, clubbing 31 homers and posting a 139 OPS+.

2012 wasn’t so kind to the Snakes.  Upton was healthy all year, but hit 14 fewer homers and slugged 99 points lower compared to his stellar 2011.  Still, the D-Backs could score some runs, finishing 4th in the NL in scoring.

Some of that was a career year from 2B Aaron Hill, who hit 26 homers and drove in 85 (one of 4 Arizona players with 82 or more RBI) for an OPS+ of 131.  Young 1B Paul Goldschmidt hit 20 homers, rising star catcher Miguel Montero hit 15, drove in 88 and walked 73 times.  Free agent acquisition LF Jason Kubel (Twins) hit 30 homers, but struck out 151 times to do it.

No Arizona regular had an OBP lower than .306 (3B Ryan Roberts, later traded to Tampa Bay) and they managed to squeeze a .302 average out of utility poster boy Wee Willie Bloomquist.

Trevor Cahill, traded for Jarrod Parker from the Oakland A’s had a decent year, going 13-12 with a 3.78 ERA and good peripherals.  Kennedy still won 15 games, but his ERA ticked above 4.00.  Rookie lefty Wade Miley led the club with 16 wins and a 3.33 ERA.

The D-Backs even got some good relief pitching, as former All-Star J.J. Putz notched 32 saves and a 2.82 ERA.  Brad Ziegler and David Hernandez, each with over 72 appearances, had ERAs around 2.50.

In short, Arizona could be one of those squads that bounces between 90 win seasons and a playoff spot and a disappointing sub-.500 campaign seemingly every year, depending on who gets hurt, what pitchers step up, and what the rest of the division does.  Consider their win totals since 2006:  76, 90, 82, 70, 65, 94, 81.  Look for the Snakes to pick up more wins in 2013 as their young offense and young rotation round into shape, as 2010 top pick Trevor Bauer makes his way to the bigs from UCLA.

NL Ranks:  Runs – 4, Avg – 6, Slg – 5, OPS – 5, ERA – 9, BB – 2, K – 11

bWAR: 17.7   pWAR:  13.3

Top Batters:  Aaron Hill (4.6)  Top Pitcher:  Wade Miley (3.2)

WORLD CIRCUIT

pistonHonda2Piston 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.  And it is a crowded place, with 3 teams occupying this division.

Milwaukee Brewers (83-79).  Milwaukee was oh so close to reaching their first World Series since 1982, eventually falling to the champion Cardinals in 6 games.  The loss of 1B Prince Fielder would have lasting ramifications, but the club still employed reigning MVP Ryan Braun in LF and a former Cy Young winner in Zack Greinke in the rotation.

The Brewers didn’t exactly explode out of the blocks to try to build on their “Beast Mode” 96 win team from 2011.  At the end of April, they were 11-12.  After May, they were 23-28.  After June, 35-42.  And finally, after July 29, they were a dismal 44-56, 14 games behind the division leading Reds and 11 games out of the 2nd wild card spot.

But following that day, the Brew Crew registered a 39-25 record and this was AFTER dealing Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels for prospects (namely Jean Segura to play SS, who became the 1st SS to play in Milwaukee all year).  This tied the Reds for the best record in the NL Central and just 1 game back of Atlanta for the best record in the whole league.

From a preseason mired in scandal and a win in arbitration due to suspected PED usage, Braun turned in a spectacular year in Milwaukee once again.  He hit .319 / .391 / .595 to OPS+ at 159.  He stole 30 bases (again) and smacked 41 homers and drove in 112.  Free agent acquisition Aramis Ramirez (Cubs) did quite well in his first year for the Brewers, hitting .300 and had 27 homers and 105 RBI.

1B Corey Hart also hit 30 homers and put forth a solid 121 OPS+ figure.  Perhaps the biggest disappointment was 2B Rickie Weeks, who despite hitting 21 homers, struck out 169 times and hit just .230.  He did manage to walk 74 times to at least give some OBP back to the offense.  As mentioned above, the SS position for the Brewers was a huge question mark since trading Alcides Escobar to the Royals (who emerged as viable on offense this year).  Prior to Segura (22 years old) arriving in the Greinke trade, the Brewers had Cody Ransom (70 OPS+), Cesar Izturis (54 OPS+), Jeff Bianchi (52 OPS+), and Edwin Maysonet (73 OPS+) man that position.  Segura only hit .264 and OPS+ was at 75, but he did better than the rest.

As noted, Greinke’s departure was felt in the rest of the rotation, as he was 9-3 with a 3.44 ERA and a K/9 at nearly 9.  What may have been felt more was the elbow problems Shawn Marcum experienced, starting only 21 games.  And the woeful performance of lefty Randy Wolf, who made 24 starts and delivered a 5.69 ERA.  Of the regular Brewers starters, no one had an ERA above 3.74, so being 2 full points above the rest of the rotation is quite terrible.

Yovani Gallardo was once again the rock of the rotation, winning 16 games and posting a 3.66 ERA with really sold peripherals (1.1 HR/9, 8.2 H/9, 9.0 K/9).  No other starters had winning records though.

The bullpen had more woes than the rotation, starting with normally reliable closer John Axford.  He saved 35 games, but put in a 4.67 ERA, and despite a great K/9 of 12.1, waked 5.1 batters per 9.  Walks were a major problem in the bullpen, as 4 of the 5 relievers who carded the most appearances had BB/9 figures above 3.9, with 3 above 5.1.

In the post Prince & Greinke era, the Brewers will need to have a better bullpen and get more production out of their middle infielders, and hope for continued great starting pitching to win.  The minor league system was decimated by the Greinke acquisition, the Marcum trade, and earlier, the C.C. Sabathia trade (2008).  It will be tough to fill from within.

NL Ranks:  Runs – 1, Avg – 5, Slg – 1, OPS – 2, ERA – 13, BB – 11, K – 1

bWAR: 23.4   pWAR:  6.0

Top Batters:  Ryan Braun (6.8)  Top Pitcher:  Yovani Gallardo (2.8)

Los Angeles Dodgers (86-76).  Many interesting things happened throughout the course of the 2012 season for the Dodgers, many of them not so good.  First, they fired out of the gates, sporting a 30-13 record on May 22, putting them a full 7 games in front of San Francisco in the division and 4 games in front of the Nationals for home-field advantage

in the NL.

Matt Kemp, the should-have-been MVP from a year ago, was on the DL, but came off a week later with hamstring issues.  He was hitting .359 / .446 / .726 at that point with 12 homers and 28 RBI.  Then he came back for 2 games, reinjured his hammy, then went back on the DL until after the All Star Game, in which he captained the NL squad by hitting 1 homer.

Post DL-sting, Kemp’s production was nowhere near his superhuman performance from earlier in the season, and the Dodgers’ effectiveness dwindled along with their best player.  He hit .280 / .331 / .461 with 11 homers in 305 plate appearances and for long stretches of time, the offense just could not score any runs.  Oh, the team was a mediocre 38-36, good enough for only 4th in the division after the break, and 8 ½ games back of the Giants.

All of this was in spite of acquiring some high-quality names before and after the July 31 deadline.  Hanely Ramirez was traded from the Marlins to post a solid 112 OPS+ from the SS position that Dee Gordon (Flash’s kid) had recorded a 56 OPS+ before his arrival.  Shane Victorino arrived from the Phillies at the deadline for virtually nothing (and almost got nothing in return; Victorino hit for an OPS+ of 85).

After the deadline, they pulled off a massive waiver trade with the Red Sox, essentially taking a salary dump from Boston (Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto, and Josh Beckett) for disappointing 1B James Loney, oft-injured pitcher Rubby De La Rosa, and quasi-prospect OF/1B/DH Jerry Sands.

Loney was slugging .344 when traded, with 4 homers in nearly 360 plate appearances.  Gonzalez slugged nearly 100 points higher, but undoubtedly will do more in the future.  Crawford underwent season-ending elbow surgery already, so there was no contribution from him.

The Dodgers did get solid efforts from Andre Ethier in right field, hitting 20 homers and driving in 89.  He will feel the love from having both Kemp and Gonzalez in the lineup full time in 2013.  Catcher A.J. Ellis was also very good, OPSing at a 118 clip, with 13 homers and 65 walks in 133 games.  Black holes existed at 1B, SS, and LF for much of the year however.

It is amazing the Dodgers were 10 games over .500 with a disappointing offense and the injuries involved, but also because of their starting pitching.  Yes, Clayton Kershaw, the reigning Cy Young winner in the NL was very good, going 14-9 with a 2.53 ERA.  But retreads Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang turned in better-than-expected results, combining for a 22-22 record and and ERA of 3.67.

Joe Blanton, also acquired from the Phillies in a waiver deal, was just plain bad, having an ERA just one tick below 5.  Beckett was much better, going 2-3 with a 2.93 ERA and returned to a nice K/BB ratio of 2.71, but had a slightly elevated WHIP of 1.327.  Chad Billingsley, down with elbow surgery, was also effective with a 3.55 ERA.

The Dodgers were #3 in ERA in the NL.  If they can get the offense on the right track with the superstars that dot the lineup, I have no doubt they will make a playoff spot next year.  Just keep Kemp healthy.

NL Ranks:  Runs – 13, Avg – 8, Slg – 15, OPS – 13, ERA – 3, BB – 12, K – 4

bWAR: 12.4   pWAR:  19.4

Top Batters:  Andre Ethier (3.5)  Top Pitcher:  Clayton Kershaw (6.2)

Tampa Bay Rays (90-72).  Most analysts would have thought the AL Wild Card race with two spots would include either the Rays or the Angels.  In the end, of course, neither went to the postseason.  That doesn’t mean Tampa was a poor team, it just means they fell short.

The pitching (the starters at least) weren’t quite as strong as most baseball people were expecting, but still really good.  Most of that has to do with James Shields, who regressed from his very strong 2011 with a 3.52 ERA in 227.2 IP (compared to 2.82 in 249.1 IP).  His 11 complete games in 2011 fell to 3 this season…but all nothing to sneeze at.

Matt Moore, a lefty rookie whom the world was expected of, was 11-11 with a 3.81 ERA, walking 4.1 batters per 9 innings, much too high no matter what the other metrics suggest.

David Price was phenomenal however, going 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA.  He won the AL Cy Young award.

The bullpen for the most part was lights out.  Closer Fernando Rodney backed up those in the baseball commentary community who repudiate the need for a proven closer by producing a 0.60 (!) ERA to go with his 48 saves.  No one reliever who backed him up with 35 or more appearances had an ERA above 3.63.

The offense was once again below average, but slugging 3B Evan Longoria missed more than half the year with injuries, but produced a 149 OPS+ in the time he did play.  B.J. Upton hit 28 homers, but hit under .250 and saw his OBP fall below the “Betancourt Line”, thus forever known as a .300 on base percentage.

Ben Zobrist was a great all-around player, hitting 20 homers and had an OPS+ of 138, and utility man Jeff Keppinger hit a lofty .325 in 418 plate appearances.

But…sloth-footed catcher Jose Molina (slowest man in the world hit .223 (.286 OBP), 1B Carlos Pena in this 2nd tour of duty in Tampa hit .197 / .330 / .354, SS Elliot Johnson had a .242 average (84 OPS+) and DH Luke Scott also was under the Betancourt Line at .285.

The Rays have a winning formula…great starting pitching from home-grown talent (i.e. cheap), terrific bullpen from cheap options (never overpaying for any spot), and timely hitting.  Those first two points can and will win lots of games in any league in any time.

AL Ranks:  Runs – 11, Avg – 12, Slg – 11, OPS – 12, ERA – 1, BB – 7, K – 1

bWAR: 18.6   pWAR:  22.5

Top Batters:  Ben Zobrist (5.5)  Top Pitcher:  David Price (6.4)

sodaPopinskiSoda 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.

St. Louis Cardinals (88-74).  We’ve seen this before.  The Cardinals limp into the playoffs, or squeak in, and then start marching towards a World Series appearance.  2011 followed that script, after an epic collapse by fellow Soda Popinski resident Atlanta.  2012 was a little different, but still required some falls down the stretch to sneak into the playoffs.

What the offense did without perennial MVP candidate Albert Pujols is utterly amazing.  Possessing what can be described as the best lineup in the NL, the Cardinals scored the 2nd most runs in the league, and had top 5 finishes in average, on-base, slugging, and OPS.

Newcomer Carlos Beltran had a terrific campaign, hitting 32 homers and drove in 97 while OPSing at a 128 level.  4 other Redbirds hit 20 or more homers:  Matt Holliday (27), Allen Craig (22), Yadier Molina (22), and postseason hero David Freese (20).  All but 2B Daniel Descalso and SS Rafael Furcal (with Pete Kozma now playing) had an OPS+ above 113.

On the mound, St. Louis was able to reach the postseason despite getting only 3 starts from workhorse Chris Carpenter, and middling performances from Adam Wainwright (3.94) and Jake Westbrook (3.97).  Kyle Lohse led the staff in ERA at 2.86 and Lance Lynn (3.78) won a team-high 18 games.

Converted catcher Jason Motte and his beard saved 42 games, with setup man Mitchell Boggs giving a fine effort with a 2.21 ERA.  There were some rough times in the bullpen too, as Fernando Sales, Marc “Scrabble” Rzepczynski, and Victor Marte all had ERAs above 4.24 and 48 appearances.

As this team ages, it will be interesting so see how much production will be retained to make repeated runs into the playoffs.  Beltran will be 36, Holliday 33, Freese and Molina 30, Carpenter 38, Lohse 34, Westbrook 35, and Motte 31.  Somehow, I think they’ll be just fine, because they always are.

NL Ranks:  Runs – 2, Avg – 2, Slg – 4, OPS – 3, ERA – 6, BB – 4, K – 9

bWAR: 27.7   pWAR:  11.5+

Top Batters:  Yadier Molina (6.7)  Top Pitcher:  Kyle Lohse (3.9)

Atlanta Braves (94-78).  A year removed from an epic September collapse did not prevent the Braves from moving on and moving forward in 2012.  They qualified for the 1st NL Wild Card spot by a full 6 games over the Cardinals, and just 4 games behind the Nats for the division title.  They did it with youth and one old Chipper.

Only 2 members of the everyday lineup in Atlanta were over the age of 29, and Dan Uggla at 32 was the next senior member behind 40 year old Chipper Jones.  Jones had previously announced 2012 was his last go-round in the majors and experienced a resounding send-off in every stop on the schedule, including a standing ovation at the All-Star Game in KC.  He was his usual solid self, hitting at a 124 OPS+ clip, with 14 homers and 23 doubles in 112 games.

In fact, he led a fairly mediocre offense with that 124 number.  Jason Heyward recovered somewhat from the sophomore jinx he was playing under last year to hit .269 / .335 / .479 with 27 homers and 89 RBI at the tender age of 22.  Hard to imagine, but he’s just completed his 3rd full season in the bigs.

Brian McCann (.230 / .300 / 399, 20 HR) and Uggla (.220 / .348 / .384, 168 Ks) had relatively horrific seasons at the plate, keeping the Braves offense down and limiting the effectiveness of 2nd year player 1B Freddie Freeman, who hit 23 homers and had a 113 OPS+.

The rotation was middling at times, but had a big boost from the 12 starts Kris Medlen provided down the stretch, going 10-1 for a 1.57 ERA.  Brandon Beachy had 13 starts at a 2.00 ERA until he succumbed to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.  Deadline acquisition Paul Maholm (Cubs) pitched very well in the 11 starts given to him, compiling a 3.54 ERA and solid peripherals.  Tim Hudson also posted a 3.62 ERA in 28 starts, winning 16 of them.

The bullpen was the real strength for the Braves and getting 94 wins.  Closer Craig Kimbrel, still just 24 years old, had a microscopic ERA of 1.01 with 42 saves.  His most impressive stat might be the 16.7 K/9 figure he put up, or the 3.9 H/9 number, both ridiculously great.  His setup men all had ERAs under 4.00, led by Eric O’Flaherty (1.73), Chad Durbin (3.10) and Jonny Venters (3.22).

If they can get Beachy back, keep Medlen on the winning track, and get Mike Minor to harness his immense potential, the Braves can ride their pitching staff to multiple playoff appearances over the next 5-7 years.  The lineup and pitchers are young enough to made that all happen.

NL Ranks:  Runs – 7, Avg – 11, Slg – 10, OPS – 9, ERA – 4, BB – 5, K – 8

bWAR: 27.7   pWAR:  11.5+

Top Batters:  Michael Bourn (6.0)  Top Pitcher:  Kris Medlen (4.3)

baldBull2Bald 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 late season collapses to lose playoff spots or disappointed mightily from preseason expectations.

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.

Chicago White Sox (85-77).  To be honest, contending for a division crown wasn’t necessarily in the White Sox forecast when the season began.  Detroit was projected by everyone with half a brain or more to take the AL Central, with noise coming from Kansas City and Cleveland.

With rookie manager Robin Ventura (absolutely no managerial experience prior to taking over for Ozzie Guillen), the White Sox capitalized on a slow start from Detroit and the Royals to jump out to a 3 game lead by the break.  They were up by that same margin (but never more) as late as September 18, but a loss to my Royals triggered a dismal 4-11 finish to the year and a Tigers divisional crown.

The offense saw a marked resurgence from several stars from the past, most notably Alexis Rios in left field (.304 / .334 / .516, 124 OPS+, 25 HR) and Adam Dunn (.204 / .333 / .468, 112 OPS+, 41 HR), who struggled so much in 2011, it appeared their careers where over.  Granted, Dunn hit just over the Mendoza line, but his 41 homers and 105 walks (and 222 strikeouts) were vast improvements over his abysmal previous season.

A.J. Pierzynski had a career resurgence as well in 2012 behind the dish, hitting a career-high 27 homers and slugged .501.  Paul Konerko was once again spectacular at age 36, hitting 26 homers and had a 128 OPS+.  Young outfielder Dayan “Tank” Viciedo, age 23, had a breakout season, bashing 25 homers and 78 RBI.

The pitching staff was once again overseen by longtime pitching coach Don Cooper, and he worked his magic with several hurlers.  Jake Peavy may have pitched his way into another nice contract, going 11-12 with a 3.37 ERA and an 8.0 K/9 ratio in 219 innings. Lefty Jose Quintana was also effective, with a 3.76 ERA in 22 starts.

But the biggest contributor to a decent pitching staff was lefty Chris Sale.  Sale posted a 3.05 ERA (surprised it was that high) and won 17 games while whiffing 192 batters in 192 innings pitched.  That’s big workload after working the bullpen the last 2 years (and jumping almost immediately from college to the majors).

The bullpen sunk the White Sox somewhat, as closer Addison Reed saved 29 games but had an unsightly 4.75 ERA.  Hard-throwing Nate Jones was a nice addition as a setup man, with a 2.39 ERA and Twin retread Jesse Crain had a nice campaign as well, striking out 11.3 batters per 9 and delivering a 2.44 ERA.

With Ventura’s calm leadership and a nice base to build around, the White Sox will probably keep competing in the AL Central.  If the Tigers stumble and the Royals don’t realize their potential, the White Sox will be going dancing in October 2013.

AL Ranks:  Runs – 4, Avg – 8, Slg – 4, OPS – 5, ERA – 7, BB – 10, K – 5

bWAR: 16.0   pWAR:  21.8

Top Batters:  Alex Rios (4.2)  Top Pitcher:  Chris Sale (5.7)

Anaheim Angels (89-73).  To be fair, the Angels did have a better record than the Tigers did, and they made the playoffs.  But to spend the kind of money Los Angeles spent in the offseason (Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson), a deep run into the playoffs was expected, let alone a token trip to October.

The Angels got off to a very poor start and could never fully recover.  In April, they were 8-15.  As late as May 30, they were a .500 team.  A strong June and a strong September were not enough to overcome that April start and a subpar August, finishing 5 games behind the A’s for the divisional lead and 4 games behind the Rangers for the Wild Card.

While Pujols started slowly (.197 / .235 / 275, 1 HR through May 14), he did have a Pujols-esque final line of .285 / .343 / .516 with 30 homers and 105 RBI, preserving a streak of 12 straight years of 30 or more homers to start his career (and only last season was below 100 RBI, finishing at 99).

The big story in Anaheim was the emergence of 20 year old phenom Mike Trout in centerfield.  A legitimate MVP candidate at such a tender age, Trout exploded for a .326 average, slugged .564 and had 30 homers and 83 RBI in 139 games played.  He also stole 49 bases and played a superb outfield.  His WAR of 10.7 easily led the American League, well above the figure posted by his direct MVP competitor Miguel Cabrera.

Mark Trumbo (he of launching baseballs on top of the Hall of Fame roof in left field at Home Run Derby in KC) had a nice year too, belting 32 homers while finding a place in the outfield after his move to third to accommodate Pujols failed.  Torii Hunter (.313 / .365 / .451) had a terrific 2012 as well, but at 36, is not likely to repeat it.

Wilson was never supposed to be the ace of the Angels staff (that belonging to Jered Weaver), and he acted that part:  13-10, 3.83 ERA, 4.0 BB/9, 1.344 WHIP.  The $100M contract he signed will probably be a vast overpayment, especially considering his already 31.

Weaver did have a great year, winning 20 games in 30 starts and posted a sterling 2.81 ERA.  His K/9 numbers have drifted below is career average of 7.6 to 6.8 and down drastically from his 2010 high of 9.3 when he lead the league in strikeouts.  This is something to monitor going forward as Weaver turns 30 in 2013.

The Angels did acquire Zack Greinke from the Brewers for Jean Segura and other prospects, and while his first few starts were rocky, he finished very strong, with a 6-2 record in 13 starts with a 3.53 ERA, but did allow 11 homers in just 89 innings (compared to 19 for Wilson in 202 innings).

Ernesto Frieri, acquired from the Padres, became a reliable closer with 23 saves and a 2.32 ERA while striking out 13.3 batters per 9.  The whole of the Angels bullpen was average though.

Success for the payroll the Angels employed (and may employ in 2013 if Greinke is signed to the third mega contract on the roster) can be nothing short of a World Series title.  With talks of trimming the starting rotation by 2 starters (Dan Haren and Ervin Santana), the Angels might have some cash to work with to keep Greinke, but they will have to do much better than 89 wins and missing the playoffs to justify the expense.

AL Ranks:  Runs – 3, Avg – 1, Slg – 3, OPS – 3, ERA – 7, BB – 9, K – 10

bWAR: 37.9   pWAR:  21.8

Top Batters:  Mike Trout (10.7)  Top Pitcher:  Jered Weaver (3.7)

donFlamenco1Don 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.

Oakland A’s (94-68).  Talk about the embodiment of the Don Flamenco II division.  The A’s were written off before the year, written off during the year, written off after Bartolo Colon’s PED suspension, and then just went out and won the AL West over the Texas Rangers.  As late as June 10, they were 9 games under .500.  After this date, they were an astounding 68-33, good for a .673 winning percentage.

The A’s did it with rookie starting pitching (along with some help from veterans along the way), but had to do so after trading away two valuable pieces from their rotation in the offseason:  Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals and Trevor Cahill to the D-Backs.

Oakland and GM Billy Beane made a surprise splash in the international free agent market by signing Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, a risky move that paid off handsomely in 2012.  Cespedes (26) played LF and in 129 games hit .292 / .356 / .505 with 23 homers and 82 RBI.

A crafty trade of closer Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox for OF Josh Reddick also brought 32 more homers and 85 more RBI into the fold of an otherwise anemic offense, so many hat tips to the Oakland front office.

It still is kind of amazing what a good pitching staff can do for a team in terms of wins and losses, because the offense on the east side of the bay was terrible outside of Cespedes and Reddick.  Coco Crisp, finally healthy, was solid in center, with 46 steals and a 105 OPS+, and they got some decent production out of Brandon Moss at 1B, who hit .291 and had 21 homers and 52 RBI in limited duty as a 28 year old.

But a full 9 players who logged 200 or more plate appearances while in Oakland threads hit at or under .241, including Reddick.  In fact, the A’s finished with the next-to-last batting average in the league, with the 12th best OBP.

On to the pitchers, because this is where Oakland made its hay.  Only Tyson Ross (6.50 ERA) had an ERA above 4.00 among starters who made at least 6 starts in 2012.  Tommy Milone, acquired for Gio Gonzalez, won 13 games and had a 3.74 ERA.  Jarrod Parker, obtained in the trade for Cahill, also won 13 and had an even better ERA of 3.47.

A.J. Griffin (3.06), Brandon McCarthy (3.24), and Travis Blackley (3.86) were also very good on the bump for Oak Town.  McCarthy will no doubt be a free agent after these season, with the A’s not really interested in retaining an expensive, injury-prone starter when they have plenty of in-house options who make the league minimum.

Grant Balfour headlined a very solid bullpen, saving 24 games and posting a 2.53 ERA.  A full 6 pitchers who made at least 30 appearances had ERAs under 2.60.  It all goes to show closers are overrated and anytime you can trade one and get a piece like Reddick back, you need to do it.

One could see Oakland regressing next year and falling in line behind Texas and Los Angeles, probably where they deserve to be.  They are too hard-pressed to score runs and just aren’t the total package like the other squads in their division.  2012 was a great year, but don’t expect it to become the norm.

AL Ranks:  Runs – 8, Avg – 13, Slg – 9, OPS – 11, ERA – 2, BB – 2, K – 12

bWAR: 19.4   pWAR:  23.0

Top Batters:  Josh Reddick (4.5)  Top Pitcher:  Jarrod Parker (3.8)

Baltimore Orioles (93-69).  The Orioles were undoubtedly the feel-good story of the 2012 MLB season, arising from the ashes of 14 straight losing seasons (dating back to 1997’s ALCS losing team, and 98 wins) and competing in a place they were not supposed to compete:  the vaunted AL East.

While the Birds were the luckiest team in the majors this year (+11 Luck Factor, based on Pythagorean winning percentage model), they did play well from start to finish in 2012, having never spent one day under .500.  In fact, Baltimore threatened the Yankees’ seeming stranglehold on the division crown, down by 10 games as late as July 18.  But, just 47 days later, the O’s had pulled even with New York.  Yes, they eventually fell, losing the division by 2 games, but that wherewithal earned plenty of praise for a franchise who had been written off long ago.

To that luck part, the Orioles were an amazing 29-9 in one run games, and 16-2 in extra inning affairs.  It will be hard to repeat that going forward, as Baltimore’s run differential suggested an 82-80 squad.

On to the real players.  Announced recently, the O’s had gold glove winners at catcher (Matt Wieters), shortstop (J.J. Hardy), and centerfield (Adam Jones).  All 3 players were as effective at the dish as they were in the field.  Wieters his 23 homers and drove in 83 runs.  Hardy blasted 22 homers and Jones had a fine season, going for a 125 OPS+ with 32 homers and 39 doubles.

All in all, the Orioles hit 214 homers, the 2nd most in the majors.  In addition to the trio mentioned above, Mark Reynolds (23) and Chris Davis (33, stolen from the Rangers for Koji Uehara) hit over 20 homers, giving Baltimore 5 players doing so, and another 2 hitting 12 or more.  That prolific power output came at a price:  7 Birds topped the century mark in strikeouts, with two over 150.

More than anything though, the Orioles benefited from a get-me-by rotation and a lockdown bullpen, with the latter utterly important.  Jason Hammel, traded for Jeremy Guthrie to Colorado in the offseason, made 20 starts and put forth a 3.43 ERA and an 8.6 K/9 rate.  Youngster Chris Tillman won 9 games in 15 starts, with a 2.93 ERA and a ridiculously low 6.9 H/9.  Miguel Gonzalez made the most of his 15 starts after getting called up, posting a 3.25 ERA on his way to winning 9 games as well.

The bullpen, led by closer Jim Johnson, made it possible to win all of those one run games and extra innings contests.  Johnson saved a franchise record 51 games and coupled that with a 2.49 ERA and a WHIP near 1.000.  The top 5 O’s in games appeared in (Johnson, Luis Ayala, Darren O’Day, Pedro Strop, and Troy Patton) all had ERAs under 2.65.

The Orioles have a nice minor league system with Manny Machado’s call-up in August leading the way.  Young right hander Dylan Bundy could be in the rotation coming out of Spring Training after his September call-up.  Righty Kevin Gausman, the top pick in this summer’s draft, could also be a quick mover.  I don’t see them repeating their successes next year, but they might make the AL East much more competitive going forward.

AL Ranks:  Runs – 9, Avg – 10, Slg – 6, OPS – 7, ERA – 6, BB – 8, K – 6

bWAR: 11.4   pWAR:  23.0

Top Batters:  Adam Jones (3.4)  Top Pitcher:  Miguel Gonzalez (2.9)

mrSandmanMr. 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.

San Francisco Giants (94-68).  The Giants are always going to be a threat to win a playoff spot and do some tremendous damage once they get into October due to their superb pitching staff.  Even with injuries to their closer Brian Wilson, San Francisco was able to power through the Dodgers in the NL West by August and win the division.  Typically an offense-weak team since Barry Bonds left town, the Giants were able to more than hold their own with the bats in 2012.

Speaking of those bats, the Giants sport the National League MVP in Buster Posey, fresh off an injury-plagued 2011 where his leg was broken on a play at the plate.  Posey posted a great line of .336 / .408 / .549 (172 OPS+) from his catcher spot.  He led the team in homers with 24 and RBI with 103.

The Giants finished 6th in runs scored in their league, but somehow did this with no one else on the roster topping 12 homers (Pablo Sandoval) or 63 RBI (Sandoval).  Left fielder Melky Cabrera, obtained in an infamous trade with the Royals for lefty Jonathan Sanchez, was on pace to do great things in the final stats, but was busted for steroids after posted a .346 / .390 / .516 line with 11 homers and 60 RBI after 113 games.  That .346 average was on pace to led the NL.

So, it had to be the pitching that put San Francisco over the top, right?  Correct, but one wouldn’t know from the collective WAR generated by the whole staff of just 5.5.  For comparison purposes, the Royals had a pWAR of 9.6!

Matt Cain had a perfect game in 2012 after receiving the largest contract for a right-hander in history (potentially 7 yrs / $136M if all options exercised) and delivered a 16-5 record with a 2.79 ERA.  Youngster Madison Bumgarner and veteran Ryan Vogelsong each posted identical 3.37 ERAs and a combined 30 wins.  Heck, even Barry Zito kicked in 15 wins and a 4.15 ERA.

The name notably missing from the list is two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, who struggled to a 5.18 ERA and 15 losses  Lincecum’s highest ERA in a season he made 30 or more starts previous to 2012 was 3.43…the next highest was 2.74!  Is something more wrong with The Freak than an increase in walks and a large spike in hits allowed?  Time will tell, but he is due an enormous salary ($22M) in 2013 for a rather putrid production output.

The bullpen backed up the rotation quite nicely after Wilson was lost to Tommy John surgery, the third notable closer to fall to that fate in 2012 (Soria and Madson the others).  Santiago Casilla (2.84 ERA, 25 saves) and Sergio Romo (1.79 ERA, 14 saves) filled in admirably, along with nice performances by veterans Jeremy Affledt (2.70 ERA) and Javier Lopez (2.50 ERA).

The World Series win was a product of timely hitting and outstanding pitching, something that worked in 2010 as well.  Depending on what Lincecum does, the Giants could very well find themselves in the thick of a title hunt (and 3rd in 4 years) in 2013.

NL Ranks:  Runs – 6, Avg – 3, Slg – 8, OPS – 7, ERA – 5, BB – 7, K – 7

bWAR: 28.9   pWAR:  5.5

Top Batters:  Buster Posey (7.2)  Top Pitcher:  Matt Cain (3.5)

 Detroit Tigers (88-74).  The Tigers find themselves once again in the Mr. Sandman Division (not a bad place to be), but finished a full 7 games off their 2011 pace.  This was after plunking down a dump truck load of cash for Prince Fielder, but after DH Victor Martinez blew his knee out.  It was also a product of a shakier bullpen in 2012 compared to previous year, when closer Jose Valverde predictably could not convert every save opportunity for a whole year.

The bats in Detroit were parts great and part poor.  Firstly, Triple Crown winner (first one since 1967 and Carl Yazstremski) Miguel Cabrera was phenomenal and won the AL MVP award over Mike Trout from the Angels.  Cabrera hit 44 homers, drove in 139 runs, and batted .330.  He played a brutal third after moving across the diamond to accommodate Fielder at first, but was serviceable enough.

Fielder’s first season in the new league was quite good:  .313 / .412 / .528 with 30 homers and 108 RBI (and winning the HR Derby at the All-Star game).  Austin Jackson had a nice season out in CF too, hitting .300 with 16 homers, but leading the team in whiffs with 134.

Now the bad.  Catcher Alex Avila, an All-Star in 2011 slipped to a .243 average and just 9 homers.  The Tigers’ second basemen were collectively awful, with Omar Infante leading the pack with a .283 OBP.  SS Jhonny Peralta hit just .239 with 13 homers.  And DH Delmon Young got on base at less than a Betancourt-line pace (.295).

Pitching can always overcome middling offense, and Detroit was able to do just that.  Ace Justin Verlander was just a tick worse than his stellar MVP season in 2011, winning “just” 17 games.  He still put in a 2.64 ERA and 239 strikeouts in 238 IP.  What really boosted the Tigers was the efforts of Max Scherzer, who’s 11.1 K/9 was much better than what Verlander posted.

Trade deadline acquisition Anibal Sanchez (Marlins) was good down the stretch, with an ERA of 3.74, but even better in the postseason. Add in 26 starts of Doug Fister with a 3.45 ERA, and Detroit had a solid rotation.

The bullpen was good but not great.  Only one regular reliever (50 or more appearances) had an ERA below 3.57 (Brayan Villarreal’s 2.63) and despite 35 saves from Valverde, he blew 5 saves and was banned from closing in the playoffs after a very rough stretch and ended with an ERA of 30.38!

The Tigers seem to be able to dawdle about for months at a time and then just ride Verlander to a division title in the end.  Should they get better challenges from the White Sox or another contender (please be KC!), they may fall apart with their shoddy defense and semi-questionable lineup outside of their big thumpers Cabrera and Fielder.

AL Ranks:  Runs – 6, Avg – 3, Slg – 4, OPS – 4, ERA – 4, BB – 2, K – 2

bWAR: 13.7   pWAR:  23.2

Top Batters:  Miguel Cabrera (6.9)  Top Pitcher:  Justin Verlander (7.6)

Texas Rangers (93-69).  The reigning American League pennant winners failed to win their division in 2012, falling on the last day of the season to the upstart Oakland A’s.  They then fell to the Baltimore Orioles in the first wild card play-in game in AL history.  This doesn’t hide the fact that the Rangers were a pretty salty team on both offense, defense, and on the mound.

The bats in Texas are always good, right?  They led the league in runs scored, behind MVP candidates Josh Hamilton (43 homers, 139 OPS+) and Adrian Beltre (36 homers, 137 OPS+).  Several other players had nice homer seasons, but the Rangers surprisingly were mediocre in average and on-base percentage outside of their Big Two.

Catcher Mike Napoli fell off from a shockingly great OPS+ campaign in 2011 by hitting only .227 despite hitting 24 bombs.  Ian Kinsler had an OPS+ under 100 (.256 average but 19 homers), and Nelson Cruz was just league-average in RF but managed 24 dingers.  1B/DH Michael Young (35 years old) may be showing his age, as he only hit .277 / .312 / .370 for an OPS+ failure of 78.

The Rangers have an interesting problem coming up with regards to their shortstop situation.  Elvis Andrus, an All-Star and only 24 next season could be challenged by 20 year old top prospect Jurickson Profar.  The youngster was called up in September and while he struggled, he could be positioned next to Bryce Harper and Mike Trout in the next wave of exciting players under 22.  Could a trade be on the horizon?

C.J. Wilson’s departure in the offseason left yet another hole in the Rangers’ rotation, one they also experienced the prior year with the loss of Cliff Lee.  Japanese import Yu Darvish had 16 wins, made the All-Star team, and fanned an impressive 10.4 batters / 9 innings in his rookie year.  Matt Harrison took to the leader of the rotation role with 18 wins and a 3.29 ERA.

Derek Holland (4.67), Scott Feldman (5.09), and Ryan Dempster (Cubs acquisition, 5.09) had fairly poor seasons, but managed to win a collective 25 games.  Rumors abound they will seek the contract of Zack Greinke for 2013 to solidfy a decent rotation, but will likely lose Dempster.

Neftali Feliz’s experiment in the rotation ended in just 7 starts due to injury.  When he returns, he may find his way back to the backend of the bullpen, currently occupied by Tommy John recoveree Joe Nathan, who saved 37 games at the age of 37.  Alexi Ogando could find his way back to the rotation, as his 3.27 ERA and 9.0 K/9 and success in 2011 could translate for 2013.

The Rangers have a nice farm system and have the financial resources to compete for years to come.  It will be interesting what happens in free agency.  Texas might be able to woo Greinke to Dallas, but they might lose Hamilton in the process.

AL Ranks:  Runs – 1, Avg – 2, Slg – 2, OPS – 2, ERA – 7, BB – 3, K – 4

bWAR: 13.7   pWAR:  23.4

Top Batters:  Adrian Beltre (6.7)  Top Pitcher:  Matt Harrison (6.2)

superMachoManSuper 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.  P.S. Super Macho Man = VP Joe Biden.

New York Yankees (97-65).  Back-to-back appearances in the Super Macho Man Division is a good thing.  Bowing out before the World Series is not.  The Yankees’s bats wilted in the playoffs, failing in a sweep to Detroit.

That’s not to say they were poor in the regular season though.  Robinson Cano was once again spectacular from his second base position, clubbing 33 homers, driving in 94 and hitting .313.  The ageless Derek Jeter hit .316 to lead all shortstops, and Curtis Granderson smashed 43 dingers, but struck out a Yankee-record 195 times (besting his own record from just last year of 169).

In fact, all but catcher Russell Martin (92 OPS+, 21 HR) posted league-average or better OPS+ seasons.  Even trade-deadline acquisition Ichrio Suzuki hit well enough (114 OPS+) to earn a potential 2nd tour with New York at 39 years old.  And each “regular” in the lineup managed to hit 15 or more homers.

Sabathia led the rotation when he was healthy and able to, making 28 starts.  37 year old Hiroki Kuroda pitched better than Sabathia in some ways, besting him by 0.06 in ERA, posting a solid 3.32 mark.  His WHIP of 1.165 was also very, very good.  Phil Hughes won 16 games to match Kuroda, but had a middling ERA of 4.23.

2nd year man Ivan Nova regressed in his ERA, seeing rise all the way to 5.02 from 3.70.  However, his non-impressive 5.3 K/9 rate rose significantly to 8.1 and his walk rate actually fell.  Why the jump in ERA?  His HR rate doubled, and he allowed 10.3 H/9, a big jump over the 8.9 recorded in 2011.

Ageless Andy Pettitte (40) won 5 games and had a sparkling 2.87 ERA in 75 IP, working around a leg injury.  Speaking of leg injuries, the bullpen was hit hard by the loss of closer Mariano Rivera (42) when he blew out his ACL shagging fly balls in KC in May.

Rafael Soriano (acquired from Tampa Bay) locked down the closer spot, saving 42 games and delivering a 2.26 ERA.  David Robertson couldn’t sustain his ridiculous ERA from 2011 (1.08), but was more than serviceable with a 2.67 mark and 12.0 K/9.

The Yankees always seem to need to address a weakness in their team and almost always do so via free agency.  Will they try hard to sign Greinke, or be happy with Sabathia, Kuroda, and Pettitte headlining their staff?  If so, who gets left out in the money grab?  Ownership has already stated they want to shed salary.  It will be interesting to see what happens in the Bronx and if they can hold their spot atop the standings with Baltimore and Tampa breathing down their neck.

AL Ranks:  Runs – 2, Avg – 4, Slg – 1, OPS – 1, ERA – 5, BB – 1, K – 2

bWAR: 27.2   pWAR:  20.7

Top Batters:  Robinson Cano (8.2)  Top Pitcher:  Hiroki Kuroda (5.2)

Cincinnati Reds (97-65).  Cincinnati is in rarified air on the back of an outstanding pitching staff, coming partially from a stable rotation and partially from a shut-down bullpen.  The offense is just good enough to win a lot of games, and that’s just what the Reds did last year.

Any look at the Reds’ offensive production must begin with 1B Joey Votto.  After signing a 10 year contract extension that keeps him put into his 40s, Votto his .337 / .474 / 567 in 475 plate appearances due to injury.  He’ll put up great numbers for another 7-10 years, as he is only 28.

OF Ryan Ludwick had a nice bounce back campaign with a 128 OPS+ after smacking 26 homers and hitting .275.  Jay Bruce in RF hit 34 homers and drove in 99 and Brandon Phillips hit 18 from second base.  Scott Rolen appears to be ready to retire, but the Reds can insert Todd Frazier in his place, as the 26 year old hit 19 homers filling in for the veteran at 3rd while his OPS+ sat at 115.

Johnny Cueto led a staff that saw its 5 starters make all but one start, racking up 1,015 total innings from the Reds rotation.  That makes the bullpen’s job much easier, right?  Cueto won 19 games with a 2.78 ERA, with Padres import Mat Latos (14-4, 3.48), Homer Bailey (13-10, 3.68), and Bronson Arroyo (12-10, 3.74) providing great depth.

Aroldis Chapman unleashed some wicked 100+ mph fastballs en route to recording 38 saves and a tidy 1.51 ERA.  His H/9 of 4.4 was ludicrous, as was his 15.3 K/9 figure.  Five members of the Reds bullpen had ERAs under 3.00, while all who threw more than 14 games had ERAs under 3.50.  That is getting the job done.

There is a good chance the Reds will be contending for NL Central titles for years to come if their pitching can hold up.  The bats probably will have a better year in 2013, making the pitchers’ jobs even easier.  Add that into a weak division (although Houston is jettisoned to the AL West), and it’s a recipe for victories.

NL Ranks:  Runs – 7, Avg – 9, Slg – 6, OPS – 6, ERA – 1, BB – 3, K – 5

bWAR: 14.3   pWAR:  26.4

Top Batters:  Joey Votto (5.6)  Top Pitcher:  Johnny Cueto (5.8)

Washington Nationals (98-64).  Talk about a franchise on the rise, the Nats are probably a year ahead of schedule when it comes to competing, but 2012 marked the first time the Expos/Nationals franchise had made the playoffs in over 30 years.

The lineup used was very good and fairly young too, especially 19 year old phenom Bryce Harper in CF.  The youngster hit .270 / .340 / .477 with 22 homers in 597 plate appearances.  The sky is the limit for Harper.  Adam LaRoche pounded 33 homers, SS Ian Desmond smacked 25 and 3B Ryan Zimmerman clubbed 25.

What pushed Washington over the edge this year was pitching.  Acquiring lefty Gio Gonzalez from Oakland was a big part, as he went 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA to earn Cy Young nods.  But Stephen Strasburg (limited innings and all) went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.

Jordan Zimmerman was also great with a sub-3.00 ERA and 12 wins as a 26 year old.  Something interesting of note, is that no one, not even Gonzalez, recorded 200 innings pitched in the rotation.

That means the bullpen had to do a moderate amount of work to preserve those MLB-leading 98 wins, and for the most part it did a good job.  Tyler Clippard saved 32 games with a 3.72 ERA, but the 5-some of Craig Stammen (2.34), Ryan Mattheus (2.85), Sean Burnett (2.38), Mike Gonzalez (3.03), and Tom Gorzelanny (2.88) were all outstanding.

With improved performances from Harper and others, the Nationals will continue to perform well in the NL East.

NL Ranks:  Runs – 5, Avg – 4, Slg – 3, OPS – 4, ERA – 1, BB – 10, K – 3

bWAR: 20.6   pWAR:  20.2

Top Batters:  Bryce Harper (5.0)  Top Pitcher:  Gio Gonzalez (4.5)

mikeTysonMike Tyson Division:  The playoffs.

Baltimore Orioles defeat the Texas Rangers in AL Wild Card game.

New York Yankees defeat Baltimore in 5 games of ALDS.

Detroit Tigers defeat Oakland A’s in 5 games of ALDS.

Detroit Tigers defeat New York Yankees in 4 games of ALCS.

St. Louis Cardinals defeat Atlanta Braves in NL Wild Card game.

San Francisco Giants defeat Cincinnati Reds in 5 games of NLDS.

St. Louis Cardinals defeat Washington Nationals in 5 games of NLDS.

San Francisco Giants defeat St. Louis Cardinals in 7 games of NLCS.

San Francisco Giants defeat Detroit Tigers in 4 games of World Series.

~ by goetgre on November 30, 2012.

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