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2006 American League Preview

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by user Davis21wylie

Well, it's almost time for baseball season again, and since my local Borders still hasn't come through with the new Baseball Prospectus yet (Hey, Borders? Get your shit together. Please.), I decided to take matters into my own hands... Projecting numbers for each of the 2006 season's MLB regulars (and, no, I will not disclose my methods), I ran them through the statistical blender to project standings. So now, without further ado, I present my AL picks. Enjoy...

AL East

1. New York Yankees (96-66) 953 RS, 793 RA

Sure, we're tired of it. Every year, the Yankees. The "evil empire," the team that "embodies everything wrong with modern sports," etc. Still, you gotta give credit where credit is due... Steinbrenner wants to win. He can be misguided as to how exactly wins are produced, but the effort is there. This year's Yankees are no exception, and they're going to be an offensive juggernaut. I have them down as the best offense in the AL, by over a half a run per game, and I project six of their regulars (A-Rod, Jeter, Giambi, Sheff, Matsui, and Andy Phillips) to have an EqA of .280 or better... and Posada's pretty close to that mark at .279. The pitching is pretty ordinary (Shawn Chacon, you've met Jaret Wright, haven't you?), but the offense should carry New York to another division crown.

2. Boston Red Sox (89-73) 880 RS, 795 RA *Wild Card*

Losing Johnny Damon made headlines, but Coco Crisp should approximate him exactly (each are projected to .271 EqA's). Youkilis will flourish in his first full season, Manny/Ortiz are primed for huge years, and though Mark Loretta may never return to his 2004 form, this offense should be great again. This pitching staff, like the Yankees', isn't lights-out, but it has the potential to be, if some of the young arms in the bullpen step up. Either way, this is definitely another playoff-bound Red Sox team.

3. Toronto Blue Jays (80-82) 788 RS, 795 RA

Toronto made some noise in the offseason, adding Troy Glaus, A.J. Burnett, and B.J. Ryan, among others, but it wasn't enough to improve in this division. Just like last year, this is an average-at-best offense, with scrubs like Russ Adams (.251 EqA) and Reed Johnson (.313 OBP) consuming precious outs. The pitching staff should be decent again, as Burnett adds to innings-eaters Roy Halladay, Gustavo Chacin, and Josh Towers. Ryan will improve the bullpen as well, but like I said, this team didn't get appreciably better in the offseason. Look for a carbon-copy of 2005.

4. Baltimore Orioles (68-94) 755 RS, 891 RA

The O's were the talk of baseball during the first half of last season, but they fizzled down the stretch to finish a disappointing 74-88. But, this just proved they have the potential to contend, right? Wrong! Welcome to a bad pitching staff (aside from relievers Chris Ray, LaTroy Hawkins, and Todd Williams, you'd be hard-pressed to find a pitcher on this roster capable of posting a sub-4.00 ERA) and a mediocre offense (Brian Roberts will learn the true meaning of the words "Regression to the Mean"), a sure recipe for an awful year. Even Miguel Tejada figures to regress under my projections (only a .283 EqA), so Baltimore fans can kiss any hope of a winning season goodbye.

5. Tampa Bay Devil Rays (68-94) 776 RS, 913 RA

Poor Devil Rays fans. I know, all six of you. This team's offense could be average if it really, really tried (which is a first for the franchise), but this staff is a joke. Sorry, but that's what it is. Aside from Scott Kazmir, this is the worst group of starters in baseball, and the bullpen (excluding Danys Baez) ain't so hot, either. So that's it. You've got Kazmir and Baez, and then a bunch of replacement-level scrubs at pitcher, rendering anything good done by Carl Crawford, Jonny Gomes, and Aubrey Huff basically meaningless. Here's to another year of "maybe next year," Tampa.

AL Central

1. Cleveland Indians (89-73) 850 RS, 770 RA

Watch out, defending World Champs. Cleveland, after a watershed 93-win season in 2005 that saw them almost outduel the eventual WS-winning White Sox for the Central, looks to expand on that effort in 2006, thanks to an all-around solid lineup and staff. Obviously Travis Hafner (one of the game's most productive hitters a year ago) and Victor Martinez (baseball's best catcher, anyone?) stand out, but there are few weak spots in this offense, which figures to be among the best in the AL. Pitching-wise, the starters will devour massive amounts of innings (look for 200+ IP from five guys on this staff), while Bob Wickman and Co. hold down a very good bullpen. They should take this division, barring another South Side miracle.

2. Minnesota Twins (82-80) 771 RS, 757 RA

The 2006 Twins will feature great pitching, as they are led by the dominating Johan Santana and a host of other talented arms, including starters Brad Radke, Kyle Lohse, and Scott Baker. On the relief front, Joe Nathan heads up what should be one of baseball's top bullpens, with Juan Rincon and Jesse Crain also ready to spring into action at a moment's notice. Also -- what's that you're saying? What about the offense? Um, what offense? Aside from Joe Mauer, these guys will struggle to put runs on the board. Shannon Stewart, Luis Castillo, Rondell White... this would have been a great lineup -- about four years ago. As it stands today, the Twins just don't have the firepower to realistically compete. Sure, they may win this division by default if Cleveland or Chicago falters, but don't hold your breath for any hardware.

3. Chicago White Sox (81-81) 750 RS, 746 RA

Well, it was fun while it lasted, huh? The 2005 White Sox played so far over their heads that they needed oxygen masks... all the breaks went their way: according to runs scored vs. runs allowed (the pythagorean formula) , they should have won only 91 games a year ago, but they managed to win 99, and rode that luck all the way to a ring. Well, the party's over. If you thought the Twins were weak offensively, allow us to introduce you to the Sox, who should be the worst non-Kansas City-based offense in baseball this year. Jim Thome and Paul Konerko should be a formidable duo, but no other batter tops a .267 EqA, according to my projections. And while Chicago should boast a very good pitching staff (2nd-best in the AL behind Oakland), it will not be enough to get them into the playoffs again.

4. Detroit Tigers (77-85) 853 RS, 892 RA

Slowly, the Tigers are making their way back. Just three seasons removed from fielding what may have been the worst team in baseball history, Detroit now has young talent (Curtis Granderson, Chris Shelton) and a clear direction. Despite playing in cavernous Comerica Park, theirs should be a dynamite offense, one bolstered by the addition of Placido Polanco and a full season from Magglio Ordonez. Pitching could be an issue, however. Staff ace Kenny Rogers had a fast start last year, but became known more for his off-field outbursts than his play in the second half. While Troy Percival and the bullpen are pretty good, the quest for decent starters will yield another sub-.500 year. But at least it's another step in the right direction. See me next year, Detroit, and then we may have something.

5. Kansas City Royals (61-101) 725 RS, 936 RA

Ugh. Do I even have to do a paragraph on these guys? Mark Grudzielanek? Reggie Sanders? Doug Mientkiewicz? Come on, is that the best they could do? Just a few years ago, it looked like the Royals were really going somewhere (83-79 in 2003!), but they quickly reverted to form soon after (57 wins average, 2004-05). Are Kansas City fans cursed or something? That's right, folks, it's the "Bill James Curse." Punishment for the way he shook up baseball's establishment, I guess. Anyway, all you need to know about the team is that, aside from Mike Sweeney and maybe two others, they're a bunch of replacement-level hitters who would have trouble winning games in AAA. And the pitching staff's a joke: Scott Elarton (projected ERA: 5.32) is their ace, and they project to allow about 20 more runs than the second-worst staff, Tampa Bay. Can we move on now? I think that this paragraph has jinxed my writing...

AL West

1. Oakland Athletics (90-72) 833 RS, 744 RA

Billy Beane did it again. After dealing away two of his best starters preemptively, many pundits declared the "Moneyball Era" over. Finished. Kaput. After a brutal start (19-32) to 2005, it looked like they were correct, but the A's ship soon righted itself in a major way, and they went 69-42 down the stretch (a .622 winning %!!) to ultimately contend for the AL West crown. One year later, that group is basically intact (if not better -- they added my favorite mid-1990's player, Frank Thomas!) and ready to win this division after a two-year drought. As was the case during the halcyon days of 2000-2003, pitching will be key. Like I said under the White Sox section, Oakland projects to have the best pitching in baseball, thanks to their talented starters, led by the prodigious 1-2 punch of Barry Zito and Rich Harden. Huston Street was a revelation a year ago, and he headlines a very good bullpen that features a mix of converted starters (Kirk Saarloos, Joe Kennedy) and specialists (Kiko Calero, et al.). The offense is average, but they should do enough to convert great pitching into wins. Will Milton Bradley behave himself? He will if they're in contention. Which should happen.

2. Texas Rangers (85-77) 859 RS, 817 RA

Another year, the same old tune for the Rangers. The offense, thanks in no small part to Ameriquest Field, should put together one of the top performances in the league, but the pitching will again be the weak link. Other than Kevin Millwood, who enjoyed a career renaissance with Cleveland last season, this is a very ordinary staff without a clear idea of who their 4th and 5th starters are. Top-shelf hitters like Mike Young, Mark Teixera, Hank Blalock, and the recently-acquired Brad Wilkerson will make this one of the most exciting teams to watch, but it won't lead to success at the source of real excitement: the standings.

3. Los Angeles Angels (84-78) 808 RS, 776 RA

Since 2000, the AL West has seen some great duels between the Angels and the A's, including last year's photo finish. The two teams are a study in contrasting philosophies: Beane's A's are obsessed with playing the percentages, being conservative, being patient. Mike Scioscia's Angels, on the other hand, love to play freewheeling, risk-laden baseball. It seems like the perfect experiment, then, pitting these two against each other in the same division, and so far they're about even: Anaheim has 2 division titles and a world series, Oakland has three division titles, but no WS wins (hell, no postseason series wins). So, what about this year, you ask? Well, L.A. will struggle to score despite the continued presence of Vladimir Guerrero, one of the greatest players of all time (there, I said it). The pitiful performance of scrubs like Orlando Cabrera (.244 Equivalent Average) and Darin Erstad (.247 EqA) will be offset by quite a good pitching staff (all of their starters project to have ERA's under 4.14), but the arms can only take them so far. When you take risks like Scioscia's teams do, you have to be prepared for what happens when they don't pay off. Risks: Cabrera, Erstad, Casey Kotchman, playing Jose Molina full-time, and a fading Garret Anderson... Punishment: The division's crown goes back to the Bay Area.

4. Seattle Mariners (83-79) 774 RS, 751 RA

It's been a weird half-decade in the Emerald City. Under Lou Piniella, the M's always contended, and they even put up an MLB-record 116 (!) wins in 2001 under Sweet Lou's guidance. Lou's in Tampa now, of course, and Bob Melvin (for whom the team played well in 2003 and not-so-well in 2004) has come and gone as well. But while Melvin's last team was old and generally crappy (no starters under 30), last year's Mike Hargrove-led squad infused new youth and excitement into the team, even if the record didn't reflect it. This year's Mariners are primed to make a big leap forward, and though it won't be into the playoffs (or even out of last place), it should be encouraging to fans who were wondering, 'What exactly happened to my team since 2003?' For the 2006 version, it's all about the pitching: Felix Hernandez and the ageless Jamie Moyer lead a good rotation, and the bullpen is even more potent than the starters, with lights-out RP's Eddie Guardado and Rafael Soriano. All in all, Seattle's pitching staff should contend with Chicago, Oakland, and Minnesota for the right to be called the AL's best. The offense is anemic, though, as Richie Sexson and an aging Ichiro are the lone threats in a sea of replacement-caliber losers (Carl Everett? Ha!). For Seattle, all of this means last place in baseball's toughest division, but the signs of life are there. Anaheim is getting old, and Texas is spinning their wheels in neutral, so Seattle could overtake their division opponents as early as next season.

Stay tuned for my equally awesome NL preview...


Sat 03/04/06, 11:17 pm EST

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