June 15, 2007

Around the Horn: AL East

Around the Horn goes through all the teams in a certain division, talking about what they've done right, what they've done wrong, and what they need to do to get better. Usually I'll get to about two divisions a week. Today: the AL East.

Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox were the best team in baseball through May, starting their season 36-15. But they've cooled off considerably since then, dropping 9 of their last 14 and losing almost half of their lead on the Yankees. If you're a Sox fan, don't get too worried - Coolstandings.com still gives them an 80% chance of winning the division, and Baseball Prospectus is even more optimistic. Their hitting has been very solid; people are saying Ortiz is having a down year, but that's just not true - his HR numbers are down a bit, but he's still OPSing over 1.000. Youkilis and Lowell having All-Star seasons; they're both slugging over .500. You'd expect more than 8 homers out of Manny so far, but his numbers are still solid: .293/.394/.461 (BA, OBP, SLG). J.D. Drew isn't hitting at all - just a .230 batting average and a putrid .340 slugging percentage - but he's still walking a lot, which is a sign that he'll turn things around soon. Dustin Pedroia's been everything he was supposed to be at second base; despite relatively mediocre power numbers, he owns a good .390 OBP. The pitching is very solid as well; Josh Beckett's 9-1 start has been a little overrated, as he has *only* a 3.39 ERA, but he's been a great pitcher. Aside from Julian Tavarez (5.25) - who will stop getting starts once Jon Lester returns - the rest of the Sox starters all have ERAs of 4.52 or lower. Paplebon's been terrific, and reliever Hideki Okajima - who was brought in mainly to ease Dice-K's transition to America - has been outstanding, giving up just four runs in more than 30 innings.

The two problem areas for Boston have been center field and shortstop. Julio Lugo is hitting just .212, and although he has 18 steals, he's not really contributing anything of value offensively for the Sox in either the on-base (.270) or the power (.316) departments. He's actually been a decent hitter at Fenway, but away from home he's OPSing a historically abysmal .447. Crisp has been even worse - he's following a very disappointing 2006 campaign with an even more disappointing season this year. To be fair, Crisp has been very good defensively in center field. As for Lugo, I haven't heard anything, but he isn't above average in any meaningful fielding statistic.

What are the fixes? They could use a little middle relief help, but so could almost every team; it's not a particular concern of the Red Sox. I wouldn't expect a whole lot out of Lugo this year (or any time in the future), but he should be better than this, and the Sox can't really do much else at short with Lugo signed for the next four years for $36 million. As far as Crisp goes...Baseball Prospectus and PECOTA projected him for a .310 BA this year, but given how poorly he's hit over the past season and a half, I don't see him getting anywhere near that. Still, with the offense they're getting from the other seven positions and the fact that there aren't a whole lot of center fielders avaliable to get this summer, I think they're best just sticking with Crisp and hoping he heats up. Jacoby Ellisbury is one of the Sox's best center fielders, and he will be the starter in 2008, but I don't think he's ready to come up soon (as others have suggested), at least not until much later in the season.

New York Yankees: Although you wouldn't believe it from the media coverage, a lot has gone right for the Yankees. Jorge Posada's OPS is almost 1.000, something I never would have thought possible at the beginning of the season. Jeter and Matsui are both hitting over .300. They're getting pretty consistant offense out of all nine positions, except maybe first base. And, of course, they have that A-Rod guy. Yeah, I'd take a .680 slugging percentage and 25 homers on my team, too. They've won their last 9 games to move back above .500 and to close the gap to 7.5 games behind the Red Sox. Pettite and Wang both have ERAs under 3.50. And their bullpen - although thin - has been pretty competent; Rivera, Proctor, Myers, and Bruney all have thrown well so far, although a couple of their arms may fall off by August if their starters don't start going deeper into games (which they have, during this winning streak).

The worst thing to happen to the Yankees this year has been luck. They gave too many starts to Kei Igawa, and Mussina hasn't pitched well, but the other problems with their pitching have all been injury-related - every starter except Pettite has missed some time. But the biggest problem has been luck in another form - wins versus performance. Their Pythagorean Record says they should have 38 wins so far, while they're actually just 33-31. (For the many of you out there not familiar with Pythagorean Records, the basic premise is that a team's run differential is a better indicator of how well they have actually played than their win-loss record; therefore, their Pythagorean record - based off their run differential - is a better predictor of future performance). So the Yankees' resurgence has been primarily a correction of the bad luck they had earlier in the season.

I'm not really sure what the fixes are for the Yankees; like I said, the best way for them to improve is to just be patient and wait for their luck to balance out. I'm not really sure there are any fixes out there for their rotation - Roger Clemens is getting himself into shape, and Phil Hughes is coming back sometime later in the summer. The one area they could improve is first base - Josh Phelps can hit lefties, but he needs a platoon partner; Miguel Cairo won't cut it (and Mientkeywizecjeakcz isn't much better). They aren't really a candidate for the top first basemen on the trading block, namely Mark Teixeria. There were rumors of a Bobby Abreu-for-Jermaine Dye trade, which doesn't really make a whole lot of sense for either team, but those died quickly. I've seen Todd Helton mentioned, but I dn't really think the two teams could work out a deal. There'll be someone the Yankees go after this summer, but I don't really know who it might be.

Toronto Blue Jays: I'm actually kind of surprised that this team has a .500 record; they haven't had much good news. Troy Glaus has been playing really well since returning from a wrist injury (especially against lefties - a ridiculous 1.322 OPS vs LHP), but at this point, he may be most valuable to the Blue Jays through a trade. Alex Rios and Aaron Hill are having good seasons, but they're pretty much the only standouts on a mediocre roster. Vernon Wells isn't doing much to earn his new $126 million contract, with just a .246 BA thus far. And their pitching staff has been completely decimated by injuries; star closer B.J. Ryan is done for the season, and although Roy Halladay has been pitching for most of the season, he hasn't been doing it well; he owns a startlingly mediocre 4.28 ERA, and his K rate is down. Their bullpen has actually been exceptional, making the loss of Ryan much easier, but their pitching staff has not had nearly as much success. A.J. Burnett has a respectable 4.00 ERA, and Dustin McGowan is improving, but most of the other starters have numbers in the fives.

With a bad rotation and a mediocre lineup, the Jays are probably sellers at the trade deadline. They probably won't give up many of their good players, as they can probably contend next year with an upgrade or two, but I do wonder if they might move a reliever or two. They've been shopping Tomo Ohka and Josh Towers, but that's a bit like going to a car show and offering to sell your 10-year-old broken tricycle. Glaus could fetch a pretty penny in a trade, and if the right deal comes along, they might do it.

Tampa Bay: As usual, the Devil Rays are sellers in the trade market, although the prospects of a major deal are probably slim. However, this year offers something new for Devil Rays fans - hope. B.J. Upton is having a stellar season at the plate - although his high K rate suggests that his numbers may decline soon - and they have other talented position players, such as Carl Crawford, Delmon Young (who will come around soon, I promise), and Japanese import Akinori Iwamura. And, for the first time in a long time, the D-Rays have some promising pitching - James Shields, Andy Sonnasnstine, and Scott Kazmir have all showed promise, though the latter has yet to pitch at the ace level he was projected to. Al Reyes has been one of the game's best closers through two months as well. By the way, the Devil Rays demonstrate the flip side of Pythagorean Records (see the Red Sox section for explanation) - the Rays have a respectable 29-35 record, but their run differential says they should only have about 25 wins. So it is likely that their record will drop even more from what they have.

The D-Rays look like they will contend for a playoff berth by 2009 or '10, but they could use some infield prospects and some more pitching prospects. They'd love to move talented outfielders Rocco Baldelli and Elijah Dukes, but neither has any trade value at the moment, due to injuries and off-the-field problems, respectively. They'll probably try to move Reyes and hot-hitting first baseman Carlos Pena, and Ty Wigginton could be a servicable third baseman for a team such as the Twins.

Baltimore Orioles: Unlike the Devil Rays, the Orioles have actually played significantly better than their record would indicate - they are eight games below .500, but they have scored basically as many runs as they have allowed, so one would expect them to have about a .500 record. However, they still shouldn't play well enough to be contenders from here on out. There isn't a single player on their roster with an OPS above .800, which isn't a good sign. Brian Roberts, Miguel Tejada, and Nick Markakis will hit, but probably not enough to bring this below-average lineup into shape. Their starting pitching has been pretty good - Erik Bedard seems to be thriving under Leo Mazzone, and he will probably become a top-15 pitcher in baseball within a year or two. Steve Trachsel has an ERA under 4.00; he could definitely get traded. Daniel Cabrera has lots of talent, but typically doesn't get much out of it - his 5.16 ERA isn't far off his career norm. Their bullpen has been very disappointing. Closer Chris Ray has been very inconsistant all year, and none of the other relievers have done much better.

The Orioles are also sellers this year, though they aren't far off from contending. Roberts and Tejada both have a couple years left in their prime, Bedard is maturing into an ace, and Markakis is only 23. They could definitely use some bullpen help, but that's probably best left to the offseason and free agency. I'd expect that you see the requisite Miguel Tejada rumors (especially with the Angels), but I would doubt that he's going anywhere. Trachsel could definitely go somewhere, but as MLB Trade Rumors points out, his ERA should rise soon. I'm not exactly sure who the Orioles would target in a trade - they'd love to have young guys with potential that can play in the big leagues right now, but teams don't like to give away those kinds of assets.

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