Home / General / 2012 MLB Preview: The Senior Circuit

2012 MLB Preview: The Senior Circuit


East: 1. PHI 2. MIA (*) 3. WSH 4. ATL 5. NYM The window is obviously closing on the Phillies; after their brief run as a tremendous two-way team, they’re become a Giants-like all-pitching team. The one great position player of their dynasty, Chase Utley, is a shell of himself; Ryan Howard will miss a lot of time and even when he’s back is a quintessential old player skills guy coming off two mediocre seasons. They’re vulnerable, and in several other divisions they’d be in deep trouble. But I think their rotation will get them through another year through this division, especially since while they now lack front-line offensive talent they don’t have black holes at a lot of spots either, and while Pence isn’t the star he looked like in Philadelphia last year he’s certainly very good. I think they can score just enough. The Marlins are the opposite of the Phillies offensively — three outstanding players but mostly backed up by dreck, although on balance certainly better. A lot depends on whether Reyes can stay healthy, Ramirez can be adequate at third, and whether Stanton can take another step forward. Given their lack of depth, I think enough will go wrong to keep them from winning, although they could, and I like them to get one of the wildcards. I’m tempted to pick the Nationals — who have also improved their rotation a lot — second, but they have holes like the Marlins on offense without as much front-line talent, even if Harper comes up early and is ROY. Projection systems — which assume that young pitchers will be effective and healthy — seem to like the Braves, but I see the Braves year 2 after Cox as like the Orioles year 2 after Weaver, only since their collapse started early they don’t have a championship to show for year 1. With Hudson out I don’t see their rotation as clearly better than Miami or Washington (or of course Philly), and offensively they have one clearly good player. Maybe Uggla will recover from an off year at age 32 and maybe Hayward (319/389 last year) will emerge as a star, bit you can say the same kind of thing about almost any team. I think they could be in for their first really bad year since 1990. The Mets are a pretty bad team, but with at least a little upside. Adjusted for their brutal park, their offense last year was as good as any in the league except St. Louis, and while they lost Reyes and 400 PAs of Beltran, there’s also a lot of room for improvement — Wright should be better, full years from Davis and Duda, and…well, Bay can’t get much worse. Especially with Santana back, they could be surprisingly respectable. On the other hand, the flipside to their offense being better that it looked is that their pitching was even worse; the only starters who are even arguably good are a guy coming of a shoulder surgery and a 36-year-old journeyman kunckleballer. Frank Francisco is the closer. They could be OK…but they also have the best chance of anybody in the division of approaching 95 losses, especially given the grotesquely bad bench and the defense that involves a first baseman playing second, a DH in right, and minus defenders at third, short, and left.

CENTRAL: 1. STL 2. MIL (*) 3. CIN 4. PIT 5. CHI 6. HOU And of the top three can certainly win and should be in contention. I don’t see any reason that losing Pujols should be devastating to the Cardinals; if Beltran and Wainwright can be even vaguely healthy adding them would be a net improvement. LaRussa (with the now-departed Duncan,of course) is one of that rare echelon of managers with a demonstrable ability to improve performance for more than a year at the time, but while that might have long-term implications in the short-term it shouldn’t be an issue unless Matheny turns out to be inept. Even without Fielder, I still think the Brewers have an offensive core almost as good as Cincinatti’s with better table-setters, plus the back end of the Cincy rotation is ugly (Bronson Arroyo, third starter!) Then comes the gap. I’ll be rooting for the Pirates, but although headed in the right direction they still have little offense beyond McCutchen. If enough of the interesting gambles in the rotation come through they could approach .500, but hoping to get quality innings from Bedard and Burnett is not the sign of a contender. The Cubs are as bad as the Pirates but less interesting for now. The Astros should fight the Twins for the top draft pick again.

West: 1. SF 2. LA 3. ARI 4. SD 5. COL
The old rivals are actually roughly analogous to Philly and Miami in the east; a one-way pitching team against a team with some impressive front-line talent on both sides of the diamond but more holes. I’ll pick the Giants assuming Belt can give them the extra hitter they need; we’ll see. Arizona is about as good as the California teams; I pick them third mainly because of the Plexiglass Principle, but I wouldn’t be surprised by a repeat. The other two I definitely see as less competitive, although I like San Diego’s pickups of Quentin and Volquez. The good-looking team that Colorado seemed to be putting together still has a decent core of talent, but it’s not backup by by much and the pitching has degenerated. Like the East, it’s a pretty compressed division but I can’t really see them winning.

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  • Joe

    “even arguably”

    Niese is “arguably” good. I don’t know about Gee. He was good until he hit a wall and/or teams got used to him. I really doubt the Mets will lose 95 games. With Santana back and even one less big bat being injured & Duda getting a full year in, I think they will get 70 something wins. That is, about what they did for the last two years.

    The Braves did little after their late season collapse. That #4 position fits.

    • c u n d gulag

      If anyone gets hurt, the Mets have NO bench, and are doomed.

      And no likely quality replacements in Triple A.

      If healthy, they might stay near 500. If Wright, Duda, or Davis get hurt, they’ll be in a world of “hurt,” and could easily lose 90-95 games.

    • I’m with Joe. I don’t think the Mets contend, but a .500 season is not out of their reach (as opposed to grasp, else what’s a heaven for?)

      The Mets have some pretty decent middle lineup potential if Wright’s back is healed and Murphy and Davis produced the way they did last year (in Davis’ case, 2010). Tejada is a bookmark, Thole can flatout hit, so the infield is less of a question mark offensively than it is defensively.

      The outfield, however, is s-l-o-w. Bay is not the player he once was, and will struggle to hit his weight, or even his IQ. Duda, I do not like in rightfield, but the only alternative is to put him at first, which ruins Davis as a hitter.

      And Torres’ injury at least proves the team is already in mid-season form! :-)

      The bench is shallow but not non-existent: Baxter & Turner showed late last season they can play at this level and Hairston…well, let’s just say his hits are timely, and be polite.

      The pitching is a concern of course, but more from question marks than from proven failures. Santana stabilizes the top end and if they can get twenty quality starts from him, I think there’s a good chance they’ll trade for younger players. Niese is solid for innings, and rarely has a really bad outing, altho he rarely has a really great outing like yesterday, either. Pelfrey will get you through to the summer, and then the Mets need to dump him or shorten his leash. Dickey might go either way, but he’s a knuckleballer, so I’d like to see him in the pen while Pelfrey picks up his ten quick wins, then move to the rotation.

      Dillon Gee is the wild card, but he’s a better than .500 pitcher and could conceivably be moved up in the rotation to the number 2 starter after he proves himself this season.

      The bullpen is nothing spectacular but nothing to sneeze at either and if the Mets can grab early leads, it will make Collin’s job much easier. Parnell looked good in camp this year, which is unheard of for him. He’s a good set up man when he’s on and when he’s really on, can even close.

      But as we know, you could stick a ham sandwich out as closer and still win 95% of those games.

      • Oh. And Scott, you might want to keep an eye on the fact that Citifield had its fences moved in eight feet this season and the left field fence lowered by six feet, as well. Davis, Wright, Duda and Bay were pretty consistent doubles hitters in “old” Citifield.

      • Joe

        The ham sandwich part didn’t seem the case a couple times late in the season in recent years. But, I agree with your overall analysis though don’t know about Gee.

        A lot of key players on an already mediocre team were injured last year and they still won 77 games. What is different this year really? Beltran? He had a great four months, but Duda could fill in much of the slack as can even one more bat in the line-up not getting hurt. This still allows one or two being hurt. And, puts aside someone else being a surprise instead.

        The team’s pitching very well might be better, even if Francisco has problems. After all, K-Rod was not there for two months last year. As to depth, a problem, but Turner and a couple others provide fixes. The real issue is they need another starter, though by mid-season someone might be ready. The lack of a sixth starter for a few months however is not a back breaker.

        The obvious biggie is Reyes. But, I think Santana alone probably can give you a couple more wins. At worse, Reyes leaving will cost you a few games. You won’t get to 95 loses even with him gone.

  • Scott Lemieux

    Eh. Niese had an ERA over 5 on the road last year. I’m pretty dubious about him being good, although he’s OK.

    • Snark

      ERA, cool stat bro.

    • Anonymous

      Niese had an xFIP of 3.28 last year. He’s a very good young pitcher.

  • i’m not the biggest admirer of wins above replacement, but what it demonstrates (as so many other statistics also do) that an individual star in baseball is only worth so much (and so i too agree that there’s no reason that losing pujols should take the cards out of contention, just as, a few years ago, i argued that i was much less interested in whether the yanks retained a-rod than in what their rotation was going to look like!).

    but i’m posting on the national league preview to make my regular plea for the baseball fans here to read jim brosnan’s “long season” (1959) and “pennant race” (1961), the first true player’s diaries. a lot of people prefer ’59 because of its newness and its insider portrait of mediocrity, but i myself favor “pennant race” and its insider’s account of the reds’ upset emergence as the national league pennant winner.

    • mpowell

      I guess this is all relative, but Pujols has been worth 8+ wins most of his career. 8 extra wins gets a .500 team to 89 wins, which is in the hunt for a wild card (and anything can happen in the playoffs). So if you are talking about Pujols, I think it makes a big difference. An aging Arod who is only getting you 4 wins is half as valuable, of course. And Pujols may be to old to pencil in for an 8 WAR performance every season, but I still think a single player putting an otherwise .500 team into the playoffs is damn impressive.

      Of course this is nothing compared to the NBA where there might be 5 players in the league worth 20+ wins.

      • c u n d gulag

        Both of Brosnan’s books blow away Bouton’s “Ball Four” – except for the salacious parts about ‘Beaver-shooting,” and ‘Greenies.’

        • c u n d gulag

          Oh, and making Mickey Mantle something less than a Baseball idol, and making him more of a ‘human’ idol!

        • howard

          cundgulag, i agree: much better than bouton’s book, and frankly, for their time, much more daring (and it’s also from brosnan that we can know how well established greenies were by 1959-61).

          i typically re-read pennant race every year in honor of the start of the season, and i always enjoy it.

      • howard

        mpowell, it is all relative, particularly since the replacement may or may not simply be “replacement level” and other players may be improving or coming back from injury.

        i mean, i take nothing away from pujols, but unlike the situation in the nba, i’d rather have 8 good everyday players than 1 great, 4 good, and 3 adequate.

        • “, i’d rather have 8 good everyday players than 1 great, 4 good, and 3 adequate.”

          Well if we were to game that out by WAR with, say, 7+ being great, 4+ being good, and 2+ being adequate, then 8 good players gets us to 32 wins above replacement, while the latter alignment leaves us with 29.

          The difference, however, is that the latter has room to grow by virtue of replacing the three adequate players with something better. The former would likely need to be significantly remade to add any value at the margins to that starting lineup.

          • howard

            true enough, brien, but of course, the issue is: once you pay up for a great player, do you have the budget to upgrade the other spots, so to speak?

            and even if you do in terms of your everyday lineup, do you have enough money left over to have a championship calibre pitching staff?

            i’m not against having great players on my team, but because there’s very little you can do to – in basketball terms – increase the touches of a great player, i think any team managing to a budget has to think long and hard about the tradeoffs.

            after all, word is that even the yanks want to avoid the luxury tax….

    • urban meemaw

      Amen to that! I treasure my dog eared copies of those books which I’ve had since 19hmmmumptyump. Brosnan was an insightful writer. And the references to widespread use of “greenies” back in those days is also instructive.

  • Timb

    Arroyo, Bailey, and Chapman is a pretty decent back-end

  • rea

    As the resident Tiger fan, can I ask that we go back to talking about the AL so I can gloat?

  • The LaRussa comment seems contradictory — if LaRussa was really adding X number of wins, then not having him should be a problem. I say this understanding the Houk-Bob Lemon-Altobelli rule, which I don’t think applies here.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Two things: 1)managers — even ultimately unsuccessful ones — generally improve a team in the first year, which would mitigate the effect, and 2)while there’s obviously not a large enough n to be meaningful teams have generally not collapsed immediately after a great manager leaves. Once you get into a second year with a new manager, of course, that’s a different story.

      • A better way to put it would be that the acquisition of Beltran and the return of Wainwright basically makes up the difference in losing Puols (barring injuries, of course) and that managers do not, in fact, add very many wins at all over the course of 162 games.

      • I don’t really agree. I just think the Cards are sui generis. They’ve won two titles in the last few years by teams with unimpressive regular season records. LaRussa has clearly consistently kept them in the mid- to high 80-win territory. The point is that the Cards have the rep of an ass-kicking team but without the record to match, exactly (except for the two titles). The team has changed just enough that the “first year” thing may not apply to the same degree. If they had retained Pujols, I think it probably would apply. But if you change the manager AND the personnel, then the effect of the manager is diminished. As I see it, it’s a little like buying a McDonalds franchise but with the intent of introducing your own food, you don’t get the benefit of the rep. I don’t have strong feelings about it, I just have this sense that the Cards lose the manager who made it all stick, and for whatever reason also don’t get the benefit of the new manager. We’ll see.

  • Joey

    Arroyo is the number 3 simply because he has a big contract and is a veteran. Dusty loves him some veterans. The four/five will probably be Chapman/Leake most of the year, which isn’t bad at all. Assuming Chapman pitches with the same control he’s shown all spring and thus far from the pen (big assumption, I know), it’s actually a pretty damn good back end.

    I’m also assuming that Homer won’t pitch well enough to keep Chapman in the pen. I like Homer, but Aroldis has been pitching like a man possessed, and Leake has been nothing but solid/good since his whole career. I don’t really expect him to pitch his way out of the rotation.

    • Woodrowfan

      Also, I think the Reds management would be willing to pull the trigger trading for another starter midseason if need be.

      Although, I don’t like Bailey. He strikes me as a meathead who is very, very hard to teach and so is developing a lot slower than necessary.

      • Joey

        He’s ran into the injury bug several times too. I think the “difficult to teach meathead” tag definitely applied his first first few years. From what I’ve heard, however, he’s been much better the past couple of years.

        And I definitely agree with you on a trade. Management and ownership have already shown they’re willing to go all in for the next couple of seasons. If Bronson/Leake/Homer/Chapman isn’t able to keep the back end of the rotation sailing smoothly, I have no doubts they’ll be looking outside the organization to find somebody who can.

        • Sherm

          Bailey was very good in August and September last year. I drafted him on two fantasy teams with the hope that his late season surge was a harbinger of things to come. In any case, the Reds look like legitimate contenders to me. Their lineup is excellent, the starting pitching is solid and the bullpen should be good enough, even without Madsen. If they would fire Dusty Baker and play Heisey and Mesoraco everyday, they would be the clear favorite to win that division in my eyes.

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