Thursday, March 31, 2011

2011 Predictions: Playoffs and Awards

Offered without commentary:

Playoffs (copying ESPN's format):
American League        National League
East: Boston           East: Philadelphia
Central: Chicago       Central: Milwaukee
West: Oakland          West: San Francisco
Wild Card: New York    Wild Card: Colorado
Champion: Boston       Champion: Colorado

World Series: Boston over Colorado

AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez, BOS
AL Cy Young: Jon Lester, BOS
AL Rookie of the Year: Jeremy Hellickson, TB
AL Manager of the Year: Bob Geren, OAK

NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki, COL
NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, PHI
NL Rookie of the Year: Brandon Belt, SF
NL Manager of the Year: Ron Roenicke, MIL

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 Predictions: NL West

Up tomorrow: postseason, awards, and opening day!

1. San Francisco Giants
Last year’s World Series champions are still very good, and will make a serious run at repeating.  Led by Buster Posey, the team’s offense is a bit lacking, but still good enough to compete.  Pablo Sandoval had a bad year in 2010, but should rebound this season.  Aubrey Huff was a nice surprise last year, and although he won’t replicate his 138 OPS+ he should still put up very good numbers.  I’m a bit wary of Andres Torres in the leadoff spot, but I guess they have no real choice.  This team is built to slug.  The pitching, though, is very clearly this team’s proudest and strongest spot.  The ZiPS projections have all five members of the rotation putting in better-than-average seasons, something about which the Giants have to be positively giddy.  Tim Lincecum is one of the best pitchers in the league, Matt Cain would be an ace on almost any other team, Jonathan Sanchez is wild but has great stuff, Madison Bumgarner is only 21 and very good (though beware his arm wearing down), and Barry Zito has shown that he’s perfectly fine for the back of the rotation.
Bottom line: A return trip to the October Classic is not out of the question for this team.

2. Colorado Rockies
If there’s one thing that could get in between San Francisco and another title it’s this team.  The Rockies have a great offense, built around the newly-extended Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki.  The multi-year, multi-million dollar deals that these two players received this past offseason won’t look foolish if these two can avoid the DL and hit like they did last year.  Even if they tail off a bit, as can be expected, the spare parts of this team are plenty decent.  Seth Smith regressed last year after a very good 2009, but even if he puts up numbers in between those two seasons—.270/.350/.480, say—he’ll be a good complement to Tulo and CarGo.  Nobody else in the lineup stands out, but they’re all decent enough.  The pitching has a lot of potential as well, as Ubaldo Jimenez looks to return to his pre-All-Star Game form.  Everything else kind of rests on that.  Jorge de la Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin are very good, but this team would still be a lot better if Aaron Cook were not injured.  If Jimenez, de la Rosa, and Chacin are lights out through early May, when Cook figures to return, the Rockies could make a quite serious October push.
Bottom line: It will be a very close division race, and an even closer Wild Card race.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are good, but clearly not as good as the two teams ahead of them in this division.  Still, they could surprise.  Andre Ethier has established himself as one of the premier outfielders in the game, though he needs his slugging partner Matt Kemp to have a good year.  Without those two at the top of their game, this offense won’t be able to compete with the Giants and the Rockies.  The pitching, meanwhile, is plenty decent.  Clayton Kershaw has very quietly put up two consecutive excellent seasons in a row.  Chad Billingsley is also very good, and these two make a nice 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.  The rest of it is pretty good as well, with the ever-reliable Ted Lilly very capably playing the part of #3 starter.
Bottom line: This Dodgers are not quite as good as the Giants or the Rockies, but could make a run for the playoffs if those teams slump and peripheral players like James Loney and Hiroki Kuroda have good years.

4. San Diego Padres
It’s kind of difficult to understand just how important Adrian Gonzalez was to the Padres, but it won’t be in a few months when you realize just how few runs they are scoring.  Ryan Ludwick is good, but he can’t carry this team.  It’ll be up to players like Brad Hawpe and Chase Headley (among others) to all cobble together above average seasons.  If not, this team just won’t score enough runs to be competitive.  The pitching will be fine, but it’s shaky to rely on Mat Latos and Clayton Richard to carry the rotation.  If both of them, plus Tim Stauffer, turn in solid seasons, this team might be fine.  But I don’t expect that to happen, and neither should you.
Bottom line: Without a top slugger or ace, this team can consider itself in rebuilding mode.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks
This team actually might be decent.  I was very down on them a few weeks ago, but made a re-appraisal and realized that they can actually hit and pitch.  They almost certainly won’t contend this year, but they could pull off 70-75 wins.  Justin Upton is still very young and should rebound from his disappointing 2010 (though it was still good enough).  Kelly Johnson and Stephen Drew form a pretty good middle infield combination.  If Chris Young can play to his potential, the Diamondbacks should be pretty set in the hitting department this year.  The pitching, however, is a bit lacking, though Daniel Hudson flashed his potential with a 7-1 record and a 1.85 ERA over the course of eleven starts at the end of last season.  I don’t think he’ll be remotely that good this year, but should be able to get 13 wins with an ERA south of 3.70.  Ian Kennedy also shows promise, and could match Hudson’s predicted numbers.  Besides them the situation is pretty dire, but there’s a glimmer of hope—if not this year, then for 2012 or 2013.
Bottom line: The Diamondbacks, in typical fashion, have a number of promising young players who probably won’t play to their potential.  Even if they do, the Diamondbacks can’t contend in the NL West.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

2011 Predictions: NL Central

1. Milwaukee Brewers
Last year the Brewers were a disappointment, stumbling to a 77-85 record.  This past offseason they majorly shored up their pitching, bringing in Zack Greinke (once he recovers from his injury) and Shaun Marcum.  Those two will combine with Yovani Gallardo to create the NL’s third best rotation.  While all should go to plan there, the offense remains basically unchanged from last year.  Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are two of the best players in the league at their respective positions, but the supporting cast is very weak.  Corey Hart is hurt, and his return timetable is unclear.  Nobody else is very good (you know you’re in trouble when you’re counting on Rickie Weeks) so the pressure will be on the big guys to carry all the weight.
Bottom line: The Brewers should be able to take advantage of a weak division, but they could easily be overtaken.

2. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds can certainly hit and pitch, but they don’t overwhelm in either category.  They’re solid enough in both to be serious contenders, but they don’t have any dominant players outside of reigning NL MVP Joey VottoScott Rolen and Jay Bruce round out the heart of the team’s lineup, however the team is lacking in peripheral players that can elevate them to an elite team.  (Look for them to be pushing the Mets pretty hard for Jose Reyes in July.)  The pitching is also pretty good, but there’s no Joey Votto to provide that solid core.  If Travis Wood can build on his strong half-season in 2010 he will combine with Johnny Cueto to make a decent 1-2 punch.  Beyond that, however, I am skeptical.
Bottom line: The Reds are very good, but are lacking the makeup of a traditionally great team that might prevent them from reaching the playoffs.

3. St. Louis Cardinals
Any team with Albert Pujols automatically has a more than adequate offense.  Luckily for the 2011 Cardinals, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman will be very good complements to Sir Albert.  The other parts are a bit weak (save for Colby Rasmus, assuming he isn’t excommunicated) but they aren’t bad enough to negate the power in the middle of the lineup.  The pitching, however, is not strong.  Without Adam Wainwright, pressure is on Chris Carpenter to carry this rotation.  Jaime Garcia can’t be counted on to replicate his 2010 success, and the other three pitchers have limited upside.
Bottom line: The Cardinals shouldn’t be good enough to contend, though you never know in this division.

4. Chicago Cubs
The good news here is that Carlos Pena can’t be any worse than he was last year.  The bad news is that that doesn’t mean that he, or any of the other Cubs hitters, will be any good.  This is a very old team whose sources of power dried up years ago.  There is some promise in shortstop Starlin Castro, but he needs a supporting cast in order for this team to succeed.  The pitching is up in the air, in that it will either be average or bad.  Ryan Dempster should be fine, but he’s the only one in whom I have a modicum of confidence.  Adding Matt Garza was nice, I guess, but he’s certainly not ace material.  Carlos Zambrano is… well, who knows?  And Randy Wells is a #3 starter at best, and is certainly not the solution to this team’s pitching woes.
Bottom line: How annoyed do you think Jim Hendry will be if the Yankees’ Mark Prior reclamation project is a success?  Also, this team probably can’t contend until at least 2013 due to a lack of good prospects and a preponderance of overpaid veterans.

5. Houston Astros
And now we’re in the dregs of not just the NL Central, but of all the MLB.  The Astros are god-awful, saved only by the Pirates being even worse.  Hunter Pence is the only player who can hit (maybe Carlos Lee).  Seriously, this is a lineup that took a bit hit when Clint Barmes went on the DL.  Aside from Pence and Lee there is absolutely nobody who can even marginally above average.  Michael Bourn as the leadoff hitter has to be a joke, right?  J.R. Towles—he of the 0.1 career WAR—is a nice one too.  Okay, fine, I’ll stop insulting the Astros’ hitters and move on to insulting their pitchers.  Wandy Rodriguez is fairly good, and should battle it out with Pence to be the team’s lone All-Star representative.  Brett Myers is serviceable, and that’s basically where this team’s pitching depth ends.  They have three #5 starters comprising the rest of the rotation, and barely have anybody to step in if any of them go down (oh, sorry, they have Gustavo Chacin; the Astros’ season is saved!).
Bottom line: It’s sad to see this once-great organization in such dire straits, but they should be able to get back on track within a few years.  Maybe even by the end of the decade?

6. Pittsburgh Pirates
Unlike the Astros, the Pirates have some hope for the near future.  Let’s start with the core of that hope: Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez.  These two players will be the heart of the Pirates for years to come, and should put up some nice stats this year.  The rest of the team is basically on hold until prospects arrive (Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie haven’t even played in the minor leagues yet, so this could take a while…).  Speaking of pitchers, let’s look at this team’s rotation!  Oh god, turn away!  It’s not safe!  Paul Maholm is the ace?  They’re counting on James McDonald and Ross Ohlendorf?   Kevin Correia is a key cog in the rotation?  Oy vey.
Bottom line: Wait ‘til 2013 at the earliest, Pirates fans.

Monday, March 28, 2011

2011 Predictions: NL East

1. Philadelphia Phillies
Maybe it’s the optimistic Mets fan in me, but I believe that it’s entirely possible that this team could disappoint.  Chase Utley?  Injured.  Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino?  On the decline.  The other non-Ryan Howard parts of the lineup?  Severely underwhelming.  If everything goes wrong—not even horribly wrong, but just not as well as the Phillies would like—the Phillies’ once-great lineup becomes very mortal.  Yes, their pitching will almost certainly negate whatever their lineup manages, but even great pitchers have off years.  What if Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt (for example) don’t perform as well as the Phillies would like?  All of a sudden we could be looking at a wide open NL East.
Bottom line: There’s a 95% chance that the Phillies will mop the floor with the NL East on their way to a World Series appearance.  But what if…?

2. Atlanta Braves
While the Phillies’ offense has great potential, but a lot of room within which to fail, the Braves’ lineup is just plain great.  Brian McCann, Dan Uggla, and Jason Heyward provide a solid foundation, while all the peripheral parts have high performance ceilings (especially touted prospect Freddie Freeman and Nate McLouth, who’s looking to rebound from an atrocious 2010).  The pitching, however, is in a bit sorrier shape, with far too much reliance placed on veteran Tim Hudson and novice Tommy Hanson.  Even if these two replicate (or at least, produce something close to) their 2010 seasons, that doesn't make up for the lack of depth in the rest of the rotation.
Bottom line: The Braves can and should be good, but will find it difficult to compete for even the Wild Card if one of their pitchers doesn’t step up as a true ace.

3. New York Mets
(Author’s note: I am a diehard Mets fan.) Why all the negativity?  Due to the disappointment of the last few years it’s trendy to say that “the Mets suck,” or some variant on that theme, but this team decidedly does not suck.  The offense is packed with potential, from the great David Wright, to the rebounding Jason Bay, to the very underrated Angel Pagan, to sophomore slugger Ike Davis (not to mention Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, who are looking to recapture the magic of years gone by).  The pitching is, obviously, filled with uncertainty.  With Johan Santana out until at least the All-Star Break, Mike Pelfrey is playing the ill-fitting role of ace.  Despite no true great pitcher on the staff, Chris Young and Chris Capuano were excellent pickups by GM Sandy Alderson.  Look for one or both of them to get injured, but not before giving the Mets solid pitching.  And if they manage to miraculously survive the season without getting hurt?  This team could be in the thick of the Wild Card hunt.
Bottom line: With low expectations, this team should surprise everybody and contend well into August, if not beyond.

4. Florida Marlins
While the Marlins have a good deal of promise, I can never find it in my heart to pick them.  Consider: while Hanley Ramirez will be great as usual, the rest of their offense relies heavily on young players who haven’t consistently produced (or even had the chance to do so) at a Major League level before.  Their pitching should be solid, assuming Javier Vazquez can revert to his pre-2010 form, and the non-Josh Johnson starters can build on strong 2010s.  While I think that all can happen, I’m not that bullish on it being good enough to overcome their offensive failings.
Bottom line: This team will probably be able to go .500, though if their offensive clicks more than I think it will they could claw their way to second place.  It’s a strong division….

5. Washington Nationals
Let’s start with the good: Jayson Werth is an adequate (though obviously overpaid) replacement, and then some, for Adam Dunn’s bat.  Ryan Zimmerman is still one of the best third basemen in the game.  Rick Ankiel and Mike Morse, if productive, can take the lineup from adequate to good.  And… that’s it.  Their offense will be fine, but it’s the pitching that should give Nats fans major cause for concern.  I’m excited to see what Jordan Zimmerman can give over a full season, but let’s be honest here: this is a rotation that is almost wholly comprised of back of the rotation starters.  The upside for this bunch is very limited, with Livan Hernandez as the only real hope for non-mediocrity (fine, maybe Jason Marquis, but I am unconvinced).
Bottom line: Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg playing together in 2012 will be awesome.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

2011 Predictions: AL West

1. Oakland Athletics
Perhaps the most improved team from last year to this one, the A’s have scary good potential.  They completely overhauled their offense, bringing in Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham, and David DeJesus to give them some serious punch.  Last year’s parts are all fine and dandy, but it’s this trio of players that will give the A’s the offense they need to be a real player in the hunt for October.  Their pitching, in true A’s fashion, is comprised of players who are young, unknown, and—most importantly—dominant.  Trevor Cahill, the team’s opening day starter, is looking to build on his amazing 2010 (18-8, 2.97 ERA).  The other pitchers are no slouches either, but none of them are as solid as any of the keys from the A’s rotations of yore.  If they—bolstered by a fantastic bullpen—can keep it together (and there’s no reason to think that they can’t) the A’s are a good bet to take the NL West.
Bottom line: Their foundation is a bit shaky, but this team can capitalize on an unusually weak division to take a playoff spot.

2. Texas Rangers
I am very much unconvinced of the Rangers’ ability to repeat their 2010 successes.  Their terrible offseason—losing Cliff Lee and Vladimir Guerrero, and making up for that by overpaying Adrian Beltre—did them no favors.  Seriously, their pitching is terrible for a supposedly good team.  C.J. Wilson as the ace?  If Brandon Webb could get it together they’d be all right, but his recent injury takes away any claims of pitching depth they might have been able to make.  Their offense, meanwhile, is more or less unchanged from last year, except they have to rely on Adrian Beltre (he of three good seasons out of thirteen) for power.  Fine, yes, there’s Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, and Nelson Cruz—don’t get me wrong, this team can flat-out hit—but it’s not enough to elevate them above their mediocre pitching.  We are not impressed.
Bottom line: Pray that Jon Daniels makes a deadline deal for a pitcher.  Otherwise, it’s going to be hard for the Rangers to contend in strong AL West and Wild Card races.

3. Los Angeles Angels
Led by speedster Carl Crawford and ace pitcher Cliff Lee, the Angels are a sure bet to be thick in the playoff hunt.  Led by the old and overpaid Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter, the Angels are a sure bet to spend 2011 thinking “where did we go wrong?”  Their lineup, missing the improvements it needed for this season, is massively underwhelming, and way too reliant upon players who haven’t been good in a few years.  Fine, I’ll admit that Dan Haren and Jered Weaver lead a pretty good starting rotation, but it isn’t a stretch to suggest that Joel Pineiro and Ervin Santana will regress next season.  Frankly, this team just isn’t built as solidly as Angels teams of years past.
Bottom line: Instead of yet another trip to October, I expect the Angels to hobble to .500, saddled down with expensive players they can’t trade after the season.

4. Seattle Mariners
The Jack Z rebuilding process continues!  After being pegged to contend last year, the Mariners rocketed to a 61-101 record.  Oops.  While they wait for Dustin Ackley to work his way through the minor leagues, a journey that might even end at some point in 2011, the Mariners will probably have to content themselves with another bad season.  Their offense continues to be very bad, and there’s nobody besides Ichiro Suzuki who can hit (although I do expect Chone Figgins to be good again).  The pitching begins and ends with Felix Hernandez, though it should be fun to watch top prospect Michael Pineda.
Bottom line: They certainly won’t contend this year, though having Ackley and Pineda in the majors together would create some good baseball.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

2011 Predictions: AL Central

1. Chicago White Sox
Maybe I’m being blinded by the Adam Dunn acquisition, but I really like this team’s chances.  Dunn gives them the big slugging bat they’ve lacked since the decline and departure of Frank Thomas, and he should slot nicely into an already formidable lineup.  Although they seem to have had a bit of a down season last year, the Sox were actually pretty good.  If you give last year’s team more power (Dunn) and better seasons from Carlos Quentin, Alexei Ramirez, and Gordon Beckham, they could have won the division.  Surprisingly enough, this is what I think will happen this year.  The pitching should be pretty good too.  I’m a big Mark Buehrle fan, though the big deciding factor here is surely Jake Peavy.  Can he stay healthy?  If so, this rotation is excellent.  If not, it’s still quite good (John Danks makes a quietly great #3 starter).
Bottom line: If everything falls into place, as I (perhaps optimistically) expect it to, the White Sox have a real chance to bring a title to the South Side.

2. Minnesota Twins
Okay, let’s get to the heart of it: this team lives and dies with Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer.  If they succeed, they could win the division.  If they are injured, or slump, a long winter could be ahead.  Granted, they managed to skate into the playoffs with Morneau having a down year last season, but the AL Central of 2010 was a lot weaker than 2011’s incarnation.  The peripheral parts of their lineup are good, but not great.  The outfield of Delmon Young-Denard Span-Michael Cuddyer has the potential to surprise, but none of them can pick up the slack from either of the M’s.  Hopefully for them they won’t have to.  The pitching is iffy, with reconstructed ace Francisco Liriano leading the way, backed by Carl Pavano and Scott Baker.  I seem them being good, but not quite as good as the White Sox.
Bottom line: Overall this team is really solid, and is a fair pick for the Wild Card, but I just don’t think this is their year.

3. Detroit Tigers
I don’t know about you, but I was (pleasantly) surprised by the Victor Martinez pick-up.  The Tigers have quite a nice lineup this year, though it’s precariously perched on the aging shoulder of Magglio Ordonez and the troubled shoulder of Miguel Cabrera.  If they can keep it together and have productive seasons, this team will challenge for a playoff spot.  Sophomore Austin Jackson should also be fun to watch, as he looks to build on his great 2010.  The pitching, led by longtime ace Justin Verlander (he still seems young to me, but he’s apparently been in the MLB since 2005), is actually pretty good.  Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello are excellent 2+3 starters, and I really like the addition of Brad Penny.
Bottom line: If—and that’s a big if—this team can hold all of its parts together, they could challenge for a spot in the top tier of this division.

4. Cleveland Indians
O for 2007!  This team, once with such promise, has fallen into disrepair (yes yes, it’s very Clevelandish, we get it).  All hope is not lost, however.  The return of a healthy Grady Sizemore is much welcome, and combining him with Shin-Soo Choo and phenom catcher Carlos Santana should give the Indians’ lineup some potency.  Their pitching is really nothing special, though it would be nice to see one-time ace-of-the-future Fausto Carmona regain his ability to pitch well.  Beyond him, however is a mixture of young guys, none of whom are top prospects.
Bottom line: Not this year, Indians fans.  I’d suggest going on a fire sale, but there’s nothing left to sell….

5. Kansas City Royals
Now that they have Jeff Francoeur, how can this team not win this division?  No, umm, they’re bad.  Like, really bad.  But that’s okay because they have a stacked farm system and are going to be cleaning up (especially in this relatively weak division) in about two years.  While the Royals await the impending arrivals of Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Montgomery, they will have to content themselves with a lineup anchored by the likes of Melky Cabrera, the aforementioned Frenchy, and Billy Butler.  Their pitching, I’m sorry to say, isn’t much better, though I like the Jeff Francis signing (even if his health is questionable at this point in time).
Bottom line: If you’re a Royals fan, you should either: go into hibernation until 2013, or move to Omaha and/or Northwest Arkansas, where all the hot prospects will be spending time over the next years.

Friday, March 25, 2011

2011 Predictions: AL East

1. Boston Red Sox
So, uhh, nice offseason there, eh?  The Red Sox have an absolutely dominant lineup, bolstered by new acquisitions Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, that will wreak havoc on the AL's pitching.  That much is undeniable.  This team's rotation, while strong, is their wild card.  Josh Beckett hasn't been ace-level since 2007, John Lackey was somewhat of a disappointment last year, and who knows if Daisuke Matsuzaka can stay healthy for any extended period of time.  Thank heavens for Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, though if they can't repeat their 2010 successes this team could be poised for disappointment
Bottom line: This team can be one of the all-time greats if their pitching falls into place.

2. New York Yankees
This team makes me very nervous, and not in a way that their fans would like.  Is it nice to have Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Robinson Cano in the same lineup?  Of course it is.  The number of questions, however, outweighs the number of certainties.  For instance: who do they have beyond that aforementioned big three?  What happens if age continues to catch up with Derek Jeter?  And what the hell is Andruw Jones, who arguably hasn't been good since 2006, doing in this lineup?  Color me skeptical.  As for the pitching, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett have to turn in big years, or this team is screwed.  C.C. Sabathia can't do it all alone, you know?  Honestly, if things don't click quite right for this team, we could see them fall down to third place in the division.
Bottom line: A team that has more questions than answers, and way too much riding on a small number of iffy players, can't be counted on for much.  And yet, they are the Yankees....

3. Tampa Bay Rays
The 2011 incarnation of the Rays is clearly inferior to the Rays of years past.  Evan Longoria anchors a fairly weak lineup that's counting on big contributions from Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon (which is something of a tenuous prospect).  The rest of the lineup consists of semi-promising players who haven't really been able to get it together.  (Burning question: is this the year B.J. Upton finally breaks out?)  The pitching is a bit more formidable, with ace David Price looking to continue his 2010 dominance.  Past him, though, the Rays are hoping that Jeff Niemann can recapture his pre-All Star break magic, and that top prospect Jeremy Hellickson can deliver.
Bottom line: I don't really see a way that this team beats the Red Sox or the Yankees, but the Rays have surprised before.

4. Baltimore Orioles
I always pick the Orioles to do well and they never do.  This, though, may finally be the year.  Okay, maybe "well" is a strong term, but I don't think they'll finish in the basement!  An already-strong lineup got better with the additions of Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy, and Vladimir Guerrero.  While these three won't save the team alone, they should be nice complements to the regular crew (Roberts, Jones, and Markakis).  If Matt Wieters finally shows the potential that has been so written about, look out.  The pitching is not very good, but has some promise with Brian Matusz and Jeremy Guthrie.   Beyond them, though, is a hodgepodge of young guns who the Orioles are hoping will impress.
Bottom line: If their hitting delivers, and their pitching surprises, they could be a team to watch.  If not?  This could be just another disappointing Orioles team in a long line of them.

5. Toronto Blue Jays
I love the direction this team is taking, but that doesn't mean that they'll be any good this year.  Their lineup is comprised of late-20s retreads, save for newly-anointed superstar Jose Bautista, and their rotation consists of near-rookie question marks.  The Blue Jays have a ton of promise for the future, but I don't think that future is now.  The best outcome to the season is the Jays' prospects delivering the team a surprising fourth (or even third?) place finish, signaling a bright future for the team.
Bottom line: Enjoy your stars of the future, Jays fans--just don't expect too much from them yet.

Top 10 One Hit Wonders

I'm back from the dead!  Returning to school was a lot tougher than I thought it would be, and so I haven't been able to update in a (very long) while.  I still can't promise normally-timed updates--that will certainly commence once the season rolls around, however--but I will do my best to get out at least one post per week.  And so, without further rambling, I give you the top ten one-hit wonders.
  • Note 1: A "one-hit wonder" is described as a player who had one season that is far greater than all of his other ones.  Two great seasons is a dis-qualifier, as would be one great season and a lot of above average ones.  A good general benchmark was to examine what percentage of a player's career WAR was contained in his best year, though that, of course, is still never an exact science.
  • Note 2: All active players are excluded.  Who knows what the future will hold for them?
  • Note 3: These are ranked both in terms of how good the season was, and how good it was relative to the rest of their career.  There's no statistical method for this.  Remember, guys: subjective baseball.

1. Bill James, SP, 1914 (BSN): 7.4 WAR/150 ERA+/1.90 ERA
No, this obviously isn't the famous statistician.  Nor is it even "Big Bill" James, a fellow deadball era pitcher.  The Bill James (nicknamed "Seattle Bill") to which this entry refers had himself a heck of a season in 1914.  Pitching for the Boston Braves, James posted a 26-7 record with a 1.90 ERA, and led the league in WAR (7.4) and W-L % (.788), and finished second in ERA (to Bill Doak's 1.72) and wins (Pete Alexander had 27, that dastard).  So... cool.  We've established that James had a good season.  Great, even.  And he was only twenty-two years old at the time!  Clearly he had a bright future in the majors, right?  Not exactly.  His 1915, in which he only started nine games and pitched to a 5-4 record with an ERA+ of 89, was decidedly mediocre. Then World War I hit, though James still managed to play a year of minor league ball for the Portland Beavers in 1917.  In 1919, after the allies had finished off the Central Powers, he was back in the majors... for one game.  And that was it.  James pitched in the minors until 1925, when he retired and lived happily (one hopes) until 1971.  There are a lot of players on this list (nine, in fact) who had a few decent seasons to compliment their great one.  James, however, didn't have that luxury.  For his excellent 1914, and complete lack of other productivity, I am happy to declare Bill James to be the ideal one-hit wonder.

2. Mark Fidrych, SP, 1976 (DET): 8.5 WAR/159 ERA+/19-9
You all know him: he's Mark "The Bird" Fidrych!  As previously discussed in the article on the ten best rookie seasons, Mark Fidrych's 1976 was amazing.  He led the league in ERA (2.34), pitched an astounding 24 complete games, won the Rookie of the Year, finished second in the Cy Young voting, and helped engineer the election of Jimmy Carter (one of these things is untrue).  After that year, however, he fell apart--and it's not hard to understand why.  Here, let me spell it out for you: he pitched 24 complete games in his rookie season.  Impressive?  Yes, very.  But, as we've come to appreciate more recently with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, early-career dominance can be a double-edged sword, easily derailed by an overeager manager.  That's not to blame Ralph Houk for Fidrych's appearance on this list.  He had an electric ace who people loved to watch, and who won the team a lot of games.  But remember, kids: don't throw 250 innings when you've never pitched in the majors before.

3. Dick Ellsworth, SP, 1963 (CHC): 10.3 WAR/167 ERA+/22-10
In the twelve years of his career that weren't 1963, Dick Ellsworth had a 3.97 ERA (94 ERA+) with a 93-127 record, a K/9 of 4.6, and a WHIP of 1.379.  Not horrible, but certainly below average.  His best WAR during that period was 3.8 in 1961, when he had ten wins and an ERA+ of 109.  Let's now look at what Ellsworth managed to do in 1963: aside from the stats listed above, Ellsworth had a WHIP of 1.025, a K/9 of 5.7, and an ERA of 2.11.  He didn't lead the league in many categories, mostly due to the presence of one Sandy Koufax, but Ellsworth placed in the top five for many stats (WAR-2nd, ERA-2nd, wins-5th, WHIP-4th, CG-3rd, HR/9-4th, and WPA-3rd) and led the league in ERA+.  Ellsworth, he of the mediocre career, was far and away one of the best pitchers in 1963.  He earns the number two spot on this list for his stellar play during his one-hit wonder season, as well as how much better he was in that year than in any other.  (Also, his WAR is tops on this list.  Maybe somebody can explain that stat to me some day so I can understand what that really means.)

4. Dutch Leonard, SP, 1914 (BOS): 7.9 WAR/279 ERA+/19-5
Continuing my fascination with WAR, this just proves how little I understand that stat that I love to use.  Despite having the second-lowest WAR on this list, I still put Leonard #3 (a very good ranking, considering the strong competition).  His 1914 was amazing, whereas the rest of his career was rather pedestrian.  Just how big was the gap?  His next best ERA+, 123, came in his 1913 rookie season.  Out of the ten seasons in which he started at least 15 games, he had an ERA+ over 100 seven times, and an ERA+ over 120 only twice.  So it's clear that his 1914 was far and away his best year, with none of his other years coming close.  Let's now examine that season.  If the 279 ERA+ didn't already tip you off, Leonard was fantastic in 1914.  His WAR was second in the AL, and he led the league in WHIP (.886), ERA (0.96), K/9 (7.05), and, of course, ERA+ (Walter Johnson was second with a mere 164).  Despite never coming close to replicating his numbers, Leonard will forever be remembered (by me, anyway) for his fantastic 1914 season.

5. Marcus Giles, 2B, 2003 (ATL): 8.2 WAR/136 OPS+/.316 AVG
As a Mets fan in the 2000s, Marcus Giles was a constant object of my hatred.  Perhaps that's why I remember him having been very good for a decent amount of time, when in reality he only had one good year.  In 2003, after having been a scrub for the Braves for two years, Giles broke out by being on the NL leaderboard in the following categories: WAR (3rd), AVG (8th), OBP (4th), OPS (9th), doubles (2nd), triples (9th), and OPS+ (7th).  For a young second baseman to do all of this was nothing short of incredible, and it seemed as if Giles would be a major force for many years to come.  Unfortunately for him, his success would be shortlived.  He puttered to an OPS+/WAR of 111/3.0 and 114/3.8 over the next two seasons, which he then followed up by two very bad years with the Braves and Padres in 2006 and 2007.  And then, almost as quickly as he had emerged as a star, he was out of baseball.  Let's examine his numbers, not including that magical 2003 season: .268 AVG, .751 OPS, 95 OPS+, 8.5 WAR.  Also, while Giles was good for a FV of 22 in 2003, he only contributed a total FV of four in the other six years of his career.  While Giles may have never panned out to his potential, he is clearly deserving of a prominent spot on this list.

6. Terry Turner, SS, 1906 (CLE): 8.4 WAR/123 OPS+/.709 OPS
Oh good, another deadball-era player nobody's ever heard of.  We get a lot of those on this site, don't we?  Anyway, Turner played for seventeen mediocre seasons, amassing a career WAR of 30.2 and OPS+ of 89.  I know that there wasn't a lot of offense from 1904-1919, but those numbers are just sad.  In 1906, however, Terry Turner was far from pathetic.  He ranked fourth among all NLers in offensive WAR, as well as first in defensive WAR.  While he didn't dominate the league in any offensive categories, his stats (10th in RBI, 8th in XBH, 9th in RC) were clearly solid, especially for a shortstop not named Honus Wagner.  Terry Turner might not have obviously overwhelmed with his game, especially in the other years of his career, but his 1906 was a splendid aberration.

7. Tommy Harper, 3B, 1970 (MIL): 7.7 WAR/146 OPS+/31 HR
Tommy Harper was mostly known for his speed.  In his career he stole 408 bases (including 73 in 1969 and 54 in 1973), but only hit .257 with 146 home runs and an OPS+ of 101.  He was, by definition, an average player.  In 1970, however, he had his normal speed (38 steals) as well as power (31 home runs) and average (.296 AVG) that never came together in any of his other seasons.  He had career-high numbers in every category (except for stolen bases) in 1970  His 146 OPS+ wasn't huge, but it was sixth in the league (behind three hall of famers and two very good players, no less) which is still pretty good.  Also, his next highest OPS+ was 112 in 1972 and 1973.  Clear improvement, there.  His 7.7 WAR in 1970 stands in stark contrast to the WAR of 17.3 that comprises the other fourteen years of his career.  He loses some points because his peak season wasn't as high as the others on this list, but make no mistake: Tommy Harper is a great example of a one-hit wonder, and is well deserving of a spot on this list.

8. Chris Hoiles, C, 1993 (BAL): 7.2 WAR/162 OPS+/1.001 OPS
Wow, that was a good season.  I had heard of Hoiles, but when I saw his WAR I assumed it was due to defense (I don't know why).  As it turns out, it was because he tore it up in 1993.  His offensive WAR was 6th in the AL, sandwiched between Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez (among others).  His OPS was filthy, and he placed in the top five for both OBP and SLG, a nice feat.  He doesn't rank in the top ten in many other categories, but regardless of rankings his numbers can still be appreciated as quite good: .310 AVG, 29 HR, 82 RBI (and all in just 126 games, due to being a catcher).  Hoiles was rewarded with a $1.65M jump in salary from 1993 to 1994, but the Orioles' faith was not rewarded.  While Hoiles was serviceable in his nine other seasons (some complete, some not), he never recaptured the glory of 1993.  His next-highest WAR is 3.5, and in that year he hit .250 with 19 HR and an OPS+ of 114--clearly a step down from his 1993.  A one-hit wonder, indeed.

9. Justin Thompson, SP, 1997 (DET): 7.2 WAR/152 ERA+/15-11
Thompson is a very interesting case of who should and shouldn't qualify for this list.  On one hand, he earns his place here due to his arm basically falling apart the year after he tore up the league with his pitching.  Yet, on the other hand, I can't give him a pass due to misfortune, mostly owing to the fact that his non-1997, pre-injury years were just not that good.  His 1997, though, was truly great: his W-L record might be underwhelming, but he was in the top five for many pitching categories that actually matter (WAR, 4th; ERA, 5th; WHIP, 4th; ERA+, 5th).  As for the rest of his career?  He was a very mediocre pitcher in 1996, 1998, and 1999 (combined WAR: 5) and then resurfaced in 2005 to make two relief appearances for the Rangers.  His 1997 WAR is 60% of his career WAR (12), an impressive feat that gives him good cred for this list.  No, his case isn't overwhelming, but that's partly due to the competition falls off after the top six.  That, however, shouldn't take away from Thompson's stellar 1997, and how good it is when compared to the rest of his muddled career.

10. Irv Young, SP, 1905 (BSN): 7.0 WAR/106 ERA+/20-21
"Okay," you might say, "in 1905 Young lost more games than he won and had a very underwhelming ERA+.  His WAR might have been third in the league, but so what?  That doesn't mean anything if he doesn't have the stats to prove it."  Well, friend, have I got a rebuttal for you!  He started 42 games and completed 41 of them.    Yeah, wow.  In addition to that accomplishment, he finished fifth in strikeouts, second in shutouts, sixth in WHIP, and third in K/BB.  And that 7.0 WAR looks a lot better when compared to the -1.3 WAR he amassed over other five years of his career.  His ERA statistics may not be impressive, but his other numbers are filthy enough to land Young the tenth and final spot on this list.