The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

 

Happy Opening Day!

Happy Opening Day, everybody! Though I spent most of my afternoon slaving over my final Fantasy Baseball Index spring update deadline -- interrupted by a fun radio hit for KOGO in San Diego, where I ran down the likelihood of several Padres' players scenarios this year -- I Tivoed the Dodgers' opener, which I was able to watch at night on my new hi-def TV with my dad, who along with my mom is visiting New York City for a few days. What a kick to share in the start of Joe Torre's Dodger debut at the outset of a new season!

Though extra innings from the Tigers-Royals game pre-empted the start, we joined the action in time to catch Jeff Kent's two-run homer, saw Juan Pierre's soul shrivel as his consecutive game streak ended at 434 (score one for Torre, who correctly identified Andre Ethier as the better ballplayer), watched rookie Blake DeWitt collect his first major-league hit as he subs for three-count-'em-three injured third basemen, and wondered if Barry Zito's uniform number (75) was an advertisement for his current fastball speed. Zito had nuthin' as the Dodgers rapped out eight hits and four runs in his five innings, and the Giants compounded that with a bunch of mental mistakes. Brad Penny and the relievers held the Giants to five hits in winning 5-0. Congrats to Torre on his first win as a Dodger; here's hoping for many more.

(As an aside, I really wish I'd been able to see this game, given that I wrote about the 1959 Dodgers' season in the Coliseum in It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: the Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book, which has suffered an ignominious fate in the hands of its publisher.)

The always-controversial preseason Prospectus Hit List went up on Sunday. Derived from BP's state-of-the-art PECOTA forecasting system, the staff's playing time projections, and Clay Davenport's Postseason Odds Report, it has the Yankees ranked first with a 97-65 record and a 64 percent shot at making the playoffs. The Mets are second at 95-67 -- a projection that I think considerably understates their injury risks -- and about a 60 percent shot at October. They're followed by the Indians, Cubs, Tigers, Angels, Red Sox, Brewers and Dodgers. Boston at 91-71 is the only one of those teams not projected to top their division or win the Wild Card, though given the dead heat they're in with the Indians and Tigers projected for 92-70, that one may as well be a toss-up if you're scoring at home.

For each of the comments, I took a hard look at the PECOTA projections underlying the rankings, noting, for example, that Detroit's shaky bullpen (Denny Bautista and his 6.93 ERA as the new setup man) was likely to undo that advantage over Boston, that the Rays' defensive gains over last year were overstated (I like them at .500 assuming Kazmir comes back soon, but 88 wins is a stretch and a half), and that the Rockies' defensive prowess is understated. A few excerpts of the personal favorites around here:
1. Yankees Torre's out, Girardi's in, and everybody's a year older, but the lineup remains a threat to top 900 runs again. Even as Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi battle for playing time, four other hitters figure to top 30 VORP, and nobody's an easy out. The real focus will be on the remade pitching staff, where Philip Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain (71.9 combined VORP projected by PECOTA) will battle inning caps while the Yankee brass fights the temptation to turn them loose to cover for a shaky bullpen. Is Girardi up to maintaining this delicate balancing act?

8. Brewers As close as last year's Brewers came to reaching the postseason for the first time since 1982, they frittered away their chances with a horrid defense, some bad bullpen management, and abbreviated seasons from Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo. They've addressed the defense and thrown money at the bullpen, and from the outset of the season they'll carry one of the game's most enviable cores of young talent; even with Mike Cameron's 25-game suspension, the top seven hitters in the lineup forecast above 20 VORP. The real key is at the back of the rotation, where they'll need Manny Parra and Carlos Villanueva to exceed PECOTA's low expectations.

9. Dodgers Ousted from the Yankees and the perennial two-team battle in the AL East, Joe Torre wound up with the Dodgers in a much wilder NL West. He's got some potential minefields to navigate--a three-injury pileup at third base, and the Andre Ethier/Matt Kemp/Juan Pierre situation in the outfield, which appears may shake out with the Dodgers carrying the league's most expensive fourth outfielder. Beyond that, Torre inherits some of the game's best young talent, including the league's top catcher in Russell Martin, not to mention a pitching staff that blends experience and youth and forecasts to be nearly every bit as good as the unit he'd be guiding in the Bronx if that bug spray had worked.
Anyway, the article is free, so you can enjoy or gripe about the rankings to your heart's content. The staff picks go up at BP tomorrow; I'll link back to them here along with a bit more commentary.

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