Saturday, April 9, 2011

Early (Because Pre Has Passed) Season Preview

Pre-season previews are a dime a dozen, and no one truly enjoys the straight "these teams will their divisions and here are the awards winners" type of stuff. They're boring, full of careless guesses, and can be done by a grandma pointing at teams in a newspaper. Seriously, they are boring as shit.

That's why I admired what ESPN the Magazine did this year, in approaching the preview from a different prospective. Instead of the traditional rankings based on roster strengths and new acquisitions, they decided to look at the balance of each team's schedule between home and away, overall difficulty based on last year's winning percentages, and length of toughest road trip. For coming from such a crummy magazine, it was refreshing, and surprisingly, when they lined up everything, the projections were fairly savvy - unlike SI, who think that the Cardinals will finish 4th in their division.

Taking ESPN's approach, I tried to hatch up a scheme of ranking teams myself this week. When I began thinking about it, the player who actually impacts the roster the most is definitely not the superstar who puts up a 8 or 9 WAR, but rather the last guy on the roster. These last men off the bench define the team by saying how truly crappy it is as well as what kind of culture they are trying to establish.

Plus, everyone knows in playoff time, that the random dude of the bench is what always wins the World Series (see Jim Leyritz, Matt Stairs, Scott Spiezio, and Cody Ross).

So I have gone through the teams, and placed them into tiers based on the worst guy on their roster. It wasn't the most scientific, but if a team had more than one player that was super shitty and caused me to have a tough time deciding who was worse, that team was eliminated from contention and wound up in one of the bottom tiers. A team cannot be giving two roster spots to guys who should barely even have one, in theory. Another factor that eliminates a team from contention is if it has its worst player playing a major role on the team. That player should definitely not be in the starting batting lineup on a daily basis, nor should a pitcher have a major role in the bullpen or even starting. The last strike against a team/player is if an old, unusable veteran is taking time away from youngsters that could be developing.

When everything shakes out, the results actually aren't half bad. As you will see, the playoff teams I generate are not insanely questionable. There are surprises, however. But hell, let's just look at what happens:

BOTTOM OF THE BARREL

Houston Astros - Carlos Lee
Not only did I have a difficult time picking someone on this roster (only Hunter Pence and Wandy Rodriguez deserve major roles on any other team, everyone else would be role players), but their worst player is, in fact, their highest paid player and clean-up hitter. No bueno. This entire team, and especially Carlos Lee, needs to be taken out into the field and put out of its misery.

Seattle Mariners - Nate Robertson
They are in a similar boat as the Astros, where only a handful of players should even be getting big playing time. The roster is loaded with shitty players, but I had to pick Robertson for his goggles. 

Cleveland Indians - Adam Everett
Mark Shapiro went on a bender of buying up washed up infielders this offseason, and Everett is the cream of the crap.

Arizona Diamondbacks - Melvin Mora
Any time a team is giving decent time to a rotting corpse, it will end up here.

Kansas City Royals - Jason Kendall
Although Kendall is on the DL now, you know that Ned Yost is dumb enough to make him his starting catcher when he comes back.

AT LEAST WE WILL MIGHT BE ABLE TO SELL A FEW TICKETS

Pittsburgh Pirates - Matt Diaz 
I have discussed with plenty of people how Diaz makes no sense on this roster. Garret Jones is about 80 bajillion times better than him. Diaz, on the other hand, has never ever been good or shown an ounce of talent.

Washington Nationals - Matt Stairs
Although I previously praised him, there is no reason for the Nationals to have Stairs. As an upcoming and coming team, this roster spot needs to be used on a either a youngster or a veteran who is actually capable of helping the team and not eating all of their chicken wings.

Toronto Blue Jays - John McDonald
McDonald falls into the same category as Diaz but is receiving less overall playing time, thank god. He is a no talent ass clown that has stuck around because he shows up on Web Gems every two weeks. Ooo.. so impressive.

New York Mets - Chris Capuano
Best example of the worst player being counted on too much as the Mets are going to use him as a fifth starter. Capuano should not even be starting in a slow pitch softball league since that pitching might be too strenuous on his glass arm.

Florida Marlins - Wes Helms
Helms is not actually a bad worse player to have. In fact, he may be perfect for it with his ability to pinch hit and play a few different positions. However, the Marlins bullpen is filled with the most random collection of crap I have seen in some time.

THE SURPRISINGLY BAD

This is the last tier where I had trouble distinguishing who the worst player would be, and thus, based on this highly scientific process, eliminate them from title contention. This middle ground is where we start seeing a few surprises.

Milwaukee Brewers - Mark Kotsay
Any time you can acquire a guy who was a starting-ish DH with an OPS of .683 the previous year, you have to do it, right? (Although I suspect the presence of Kotsay's wife at the ballpark had a part in the deal) Pair him with the worst bullpen in baseball (after seeing Axford this first week, I have a gut feeling last year was a bit of a fluke), and you have the potential for this great offense to get wasted.

Detroit Tigers - Carlos Guillen
Maybe this isn't so surprising, but some have been picking this team to compete in the AL Central. Not so when Guillen competes with Mora and Kendall as the deadest person in the majors.

Los Angeles Dodgers - Aaron Miles
This roster is truly horrendous. And why are teams still handing Aaron Miles contracts? He needs to be coaching T-ball instead.

San Francisco Giants - Guillermo Mota
Here's big surprise number one since lots of people have them winning it all again. I'm just not so sure how they are going to do it, and this process eliminated them easily. Mota throws beach balls out of the 'pen along with a few others. Barry Zito, who was in strong contention for the worst player title, is yet again sitting in the team's fifth starter slot. And I have questions about the outfield - Huff is actually playing there? Is Andres Torres a one year wonder? Pat Burrell? The backups? Too many problems for a team that has to play every game with a target on their back. Thankfully for them, they get a lot of time to pad their record with games against the Dbacks, Padres, and Dodgers.

Oakland Athletics - David DeJesus
Not terribly surprising that this team was caught in this category, but some will surprised with my pick. I have never liked DeJesus, he floundered forever in Kansas City without showing much and probably will continue to do so forever. I just don't see why teams keep giving him a starting role.

St. Louis Cardinals - Miguel Batista
The Cardinals are terrible this year. The infield outside of Pujols is a joke (Nick Punto will save us!). No Wainwright. The bullpen will be a sore spot all year (Ryan Franklin has run out of luck, if you ask me). And Lance Berkman will be shooting for the all-time worst UZR in RF all year long. On top of that, we have Miguel Batista, the only pitcher to ever be unwanted by every team in the entire world. Heavy drinking for me will ensue this November when Albert dons a new hat because we didn't feel like paying him. Fuck...

THE SURPRISINGLY GOOD

Everyone from here on out is in contention based on my asinine system as I could only point to one player being the "worst," which is good. The quality of that "worst" player will determine the ranking from here on out. 

Chicago Cubs - John Grabow
Outside of Grabow, this is actually a pretty solid roster. I don't know if I am saying that because living in Lakeview has brainwashed me or because I am so down on the Cards this year. But the line-up isn't too shabby. For the NL Central, the rotation is solid. And Quade will do some good things for this team. I honestly would not be surprised if they gave the Reds a run for their money this year.

Baltimore Orioles - Derrek Lee
It really is too bad that this team plays in the AL East right now. They would win the AL West and contend in the AL Central. The pitching staff is reaching Rays levels of crazy good and young, and the line-up doesn't have too many easy outs. If only they didn't have to start Lee...

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - Brandon Wood
I know that Brandon Wood probably isn't that bad, but it's the same story as David DeJesus, only worse. He has not shown anything that will make him useful in the majors. And unfortunately, the Angels are well past the timeframe of trading him away. He will be left to rot away on their bench forever.

San Diego Padres - David Newhan
Newhan is a solid last guy off the bench - veteran presence who will not demand any playing time because he knows how much he sucks. This team will surprise plenty with their scrappiness and ability to grind out games. What would you expect from a team from white-as-shit, rich, David-Eckstein-loving San Diego?


JUST ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE PLAYOFFS

Minnesota Twins - Jim Thome
I know that I just totally fucked the entire system because Thome is easily the best "worst" player (That sentence right there proves that this entire thing has melted the intelligence out of my brain.) But the rotation and bullpen except for Capps/Nathan is just not good enough to push them past the White Sox this year.

New York Yankees - Luis Ayala
Luis Ayala defines what is wrong with this team this year - the pitching staff and bullpen (man, I have been really huge on bullpens sucking this year, did like every good reliever leave the game, or were all of them that roided up a few years ago?). The line-up will smash all year long, but the entire rotation after CC is a question mark this year, which is no bueno.


THE PLAYOFF TEAMS

Atlanta Braves - Brooks Conrad
Can someone say "pity roster spot?"

Tampa Bay Rays - Dan Johnson
Until around 4 pm as of yesterday afternoon, Manny was slotted to be in this spot. Unfortunately, I don't get to spend a few dozen words talking about him now, damn. However, his retirement means that the inevitable move of Zobrist to first and start Desmond Jennings full-time will happen soon. (They have to call up Jennings to take Ramirez's roster spot - right?) That's bad for other teams because Maddon was shooting himself in his new specks by trying out that whole Joyce/Johnson platoon thing.

Cincinnati Reds - Miguel Cairo
Seriously, he is the absolutely perfect last guy off the bench. He's made an entire career out of it.

Philadelphia Phillies - Pete Orr
The second coming of Miguel Cairo.

Colorado Rockies - Jason Giambi
I think this team is going to slaughter the NL. With everyone looking at the Giants, they will sneak up on people, and before its all said and done, being sitting pretty with 95ish wins at the end of the year. They will have good ole Jason Giambi to thank for that. Then they will probably choke against the Braves in the first round of the playoffs. They will probably have Jason Giambi to thank for that, too.

Texas Rangers - Dave Bush
A worst player that's a spot starter/long reliever with a hilarious last name? Win win win.

Boston Red Sox - Jason Varitek
The age of this roster is bound to catch up with them again, like it did last year. Seriously Theo, you are counting on Mike Cameron and JD Drew... again? Didn't learn the first time around? But the additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford will be too much for other teams to keep them down.

That's right, that means...

Chicago White Sox - Will Ohman
When your worst player is a lefty specialist out of the 'pen that knows he sucks and shouldn't be used, so he won't be used - good things are bound to happen. Please tell me a weakness in this line-up that you are going to attack. Let's also not forget that the staff and bullpen are strong, and the minors are quite stocked. I think Kenny Williams built himself a juggernaut without others looking and is just sitting in his pimp chair snickering. They are my pick based on this ridiculous system to win it all.