During last week’s live chat, friend-of-the-site Jeff G. inquired as to who I expected to overachieve and underachieve in 2011. At the time, I hastily replied that the Athletics and Brewers could qualify as overachieving candidates. As for the underachievers, I went with the Orioles; despite some their free agent spending (i.e. – Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy), I still envision them ending up in fifth place and hovering around 90 losses, thanks in large part to a rotation littered with question marks not named Brian Matusz. After mulling it over a bit further, I’ve decided to revise some of my picks and elaborate on my reasoning. So in the spirit of irresponsible-preseason conjecturing, here’s the first installment covering my predictions of the American League.
Overachievers | Buy some Tigers stock; it’s certainly cheap enough! I know preseason is a time for renewed optimism, but I’m already prepared to pencil the Indians and Royals into the abysmally-hopeless-loser bracket in 2011. In a division where only three teams will realistically compete for supremacy, a few key improvements can go a long way which is obviously excellent news for Dave Dombrowski’s crew. By adding veteran-slugging “catcher,” Victor Martinez (let’s be honest, he’s really more of a 1B/DH at this point), into a lineup featuring Austin Jackson, Magglio Ordonez, and Miguel Cabrera (assuming he can keep out of trouble on the field), the offense becomes that much deeper.
Perhaps the most compelling reason for believing in Detroit, though, rests in the young arms of their rotation. Led by freak-of-nature Justin Verlander, the rotation will rely on solid production from touted rookies, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. Of course should either of them discover hard times while Phil Coke and Brad Penny fill out the back end of rotation — who are we kidding with Coke and Penny? — success may be merely a mirage at best. Long story short, I don’t expect them to surpass the Twins as the pride of the AL Central, but I’m expecting them to surpass their Chicago-based rivals and become an actual contender.
Underachievers | It’s a sad day for those boys in Arlington; and just for the record, this choice has nothing to do with Chuck Greenberg’s comments. But let’s be honest, reaching the World Series twice in two consecutive years is a challenge. The rotation took a large step backward the second Cliff Lee chose the Phillies. While C.J. Wilson (4.6 bWAR in 2010) and Colby Lewis (3.6 bWAR in 2010) are very respectable in their own right, my confidence wanes drastically in Brandon Webb’s (who knows if he’ll even be able to pitch let alone pitch well!), Tommy Hunter’s, and Derek Holland’s ability to provide meaningful production.
While I’m not overly concerned with Guerrero’s and Young’s (potential) departure in terms of overall offensive contribution, the team will absolutely feel the sobering effects of any regression or extended injury on Josh Hamilton’s behalf. Signing Adrian Beltre was a nice touch, although I’m not convinced the Rangers will benefit from the 2010 vintage (.321/.365/.553, .919 OPS) that the Red Sox enjoyed. Rather, I expect to see Beltre’s performance more closely mirror that of his time with the Mariners (.266/.317/.442, .759 OPS). The good news: postseason contention is at the very least plausible, if not probable.
Dark horse | I’m going with the Athletics here. Their rotation, comprised of Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden, and Brandon McCarthy should remain relatively reliable. One interesting point to consider though is Cahill’s 2010 ERA (2.97) was considerably lower than his FIP (4.31). For what it’s worth, CAIRO projects substantial regression on his part in 2011 (4.13 ERA, 4.68 FIP). CAIRO is also fairly bearish about some of his rate stats (5.6 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9) which aren’t exactly what one wants to hear about the team’s “ace.” While the walks per nine are undesirable, at least the lousy strike out rate is partially pacified by the 51.8% ground ball ratio. With that being said, I like the addition of Hideki Matsui to the lineup as he’ll provide the offense with some much needed power assuming his legs don’t fall off.
Feel free to share your own picks and stay tuned for Part II (NL picks).
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