Should We Worry about the Rest of the AL East?

The Yankees main adversaries will be the Red Sox, and as the table shows, they are prohibitive favorites over the Yanks as a result of the off-season maneuvering. Offensively and defensively, they lose 7 wins from Adrian Beltre, but the Red Sox will benefit from some more health for Youkilis, Pedroia, Cameron, and Ellsbury, which more than makes up for the loss of Beltre. Add Crawford and Gonzalez, and the position players have really improved from last season, especially if they don’t need to give innings to the black holes of Eric Patterson, Jeremy Hermida, and Yamaico Navarro. The Red Sox paid dearly, but they have a younger, better core of position players than the Yankees. If they stay healthy, they could be devastating.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, the team should also improve their production from the pitching staff. I went fairly conservative on some of the pitchers because of health concerns for Lackey, Beckett, and Matsuzaka, but the rotation looks to be really good. Where the Yankees have the advantage is, oddly enough, depth, and if Red Sox rotation members start going down, they don’t have the same upper-level pitching that the Yankees do. The Red Sox have also spent a fair amount of time on reconstructing the bullpen. Getting Wheeler wasn’t a big deal, but adding Jenks gives them another 1-win reliever while Doubront could be pretty good as well. The improvement isn’t quite as remarkable as the position players’, but the Red Sox still have an excellent rotation and bullpen.

The Red Sox are pretty star-studded. Their line-up could go Pedroia, Crawford, Youkilis, Gonzalez, Ortiz, Drew, Lowrie/Scutaro, Ellsbury/Cameron, and Saltalamacchia, and the pitching staff has quite a few names itself. Additionally, the defense at each position ranges from above-average to plus at every position, which might be the most underrated part of this team. Everyone will rightly talk about how the offense will be outstanding, but Epstein did all of that while adding defensive value to his team. The job he did is just phenomenal.

Tampa Bay Rays

The FANS projection is really low, but that’s because they didn’t project for Jaso, Davis, Niemann, Hellickson, and McGee as well as not having anything for 1B and DH.

The outlook on the Rays is … not as good, but all is not lost. In regard to the position players, they have lost Crawford, which is pretty devastating, but the Rays will silently improve in some other areas. John Jaso needs to be given the every-day job behind the plate, and I really like him, though he may never play in an All-Star Game. Taking Crawford’s spot, Matt Joyce has patience, power, and defensive value that will soften the blow of losing Crawford, though he won’t completely make-up for it. Luckily, the Rays can still make up for it in two other spots that were dark voids last season—1B and DH. If there are league-average players to be found, they usually occupy these spot, and if they grab a couple for these slots, add 4 wins to the total to bring it up to 96. The Rays have some wherewithal to be more creative and make a few heady trades and add more value (see Butler, Billy), but I don’t think they’ll do it. Being more creative alongside those moves, I would rather them put Zobrist at second, Joyce in right, and Desmond Jennings in left, which could give them an extra win or two.

If you thought that was complicated, the pitching staff is worse. The Rays rotation should actually perform better next season, but their ERAs will likely look significantly worse as some BABiPs, HR rates, and bullpen aid worsen. However, some of that will depend on who they choose to place in the rotation as they have six starters worthy of a spot. If the Rays decide to put Hellickson in the rotation, I think he instantly grabs two extra wins (he only has two now because I’m not sure how many innings he’ll get, though I think they will be significant either way) and becomes the second-best pitcher on the staff. Inserting him in for any of the Rays pitchers, save Price, would be an improvement. Switching over to the bullpen, there’s been a lot of ink spilled over losing Soriano, Balfour, Benoit, and Choate, and they gave the Rays around 4.5 wins. Luckily, the bullpen is the easiest thing to rebuild, and while it may not be elite as it was last season, they can still find enough value to only lose a win or two, especially because I like McGee and Howell (I wish they would have protected Aneury Rodriguez and put him in the bullpen as well, but they can still get him back if the Astros don’t hold on to him, though I find that unlikely).

I don’t think the Rays have lost as much value as most people imagine they have, partly because they may not have been that good last season. They certainly lost a lot of star power, but their player development should help ease the pain. That being said, the Rays need to add a 1B and DH, and until we see who they choose, we won’t really know how to fully judge this team. Otherwise, they have uncertainty in the outfield at least one position (LF but could also add RF if Zobrist moves to 2B), the infield at possibly 3 positions (not Longoria and not Zobrist if he’s at 2B), and in the bullpen.

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After looking at the three teams, the order of teams is just as it appeared—Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays. If we subtract 6 wins from each projection (yes, that was highly unscientific, but I’ve seen that FANS projections tend to be 6-10 wins too optimistic and I think I’m more conservative than most), the standings have the Red Sox at 102-60, the Yankees at 95-67, and the Rays at 89-73 (I’m adding 3 wins for the 1B and DH spots), which seems to make the standings more realistic (CAIRO has released an early projection as well–they’re less optimistic about the Yankees). The Red Sox have improved dramatically through some heady moves and better health. The Yankees have stayed more-or-less the same. And the Rays have suffered some setbacks, though they remain fairly strong. I would love to see the Rays be bold and trade several prospects and some decent major-league redundancy (Rodriguez, Niemann, Sonnanstine) to reel in at least one 3-4 win player that still has 3-4 years of control left, but I think they’ll be more conservative. For now, the Yankees appear to be playing for the Wild Card, but A) the Wild Card isn’t a bad thing and B) we still have to play the games.

19 thoughts on “Should We Worry about the Rest of the AL East?

  1. Jay M.

    While I thoroughly enjoyed your analysis, Mark, my knee-jerk reaction after reading your headline was, “Um, duh.” The Jays and O’s could turn out to be thorns in everyone’s sides too, and if they didn’t have to play 50+ games against the Big Three, they’d probably be quite competitive. (That brings up another good question: How many games each did the Jays and O’s lose to the Sox, Yanks, and Rays last season?)

    • Mark Smith

      Yeah, perhaps that wasn't the best headline in the world.

  2. Marc2511

    Jay M-I totally agree.

    I really think that both the Sox and Yanks will beat up on each other, and the X-factor will be how both of these teams effectively handle the Jays-who's offense was formidable last year, and the O's who could be upstarts themselves, not necessarily as contenders, but as a solid team slightly maturing.

  3. Will Moller

    Mark,

    A comment on the Sox' defense–

    Their outfield defense is roughly what it was last season–Ellsbury, Cameron, and Crawford are all absurdly good defenders (which almost seems like overkill given that one of them has to play in the smallest LF in the majors half the time).

    But Youkilis being an above average fielder at 3B is no sure thing. In fact, it's a bit of a reach. I imagine that if he ends up being average, Epstein will be quite happy.

    Can anyone else think of a player that succesfully made the switch from 1B to 3B? Not one comes to mind for me.

    Oh, and there's also the whole catcher debacle–Varitek is an awful player all around at this point, and we are talking about the same Jarrod Saltalamacchia who got sent to the minor leagues last season because he lost the ability to throw the ball back to the pitcher.

    And on the offensive front–the Red Sox didn't just lose their best offensive player last season–they lost their TWO best offensive players (Victor Martinez being the second–he vaults over Youkilis when you remove fielding from the WAR equation).

    • Mark Smith

      The thing is that the Red Sox outfield defense was not Ellsbury, Cameron, and Drew last season. Cameron and Ellsbury only played 65 games total, and the rest of the games were given to random assortments of people, none of which were supposed to be great defensively. This season (possibly), they'll have four excellent defenders for the entire season.

      Good point on Youkilis. The samples on his 3B defense are all over the map, but he was a pretty good first baseman. Can he make the switch? I'm not sure, but I don't know that we've seen a lot of guys who could make the switch back to 3B after moving to 1B. Most of the time, they move because they can no longer play third, but that wasn't the reason for Youkilis to do so. So, we really don't know if he can or not.

      If defense is hard enough to evaluate, catcher defense is probably harder, and I didn't include (in my mind, though I should have been more explicit) either of the Red Sox catchers. However, in Matt Klassen's catcher rankings, Varitek was 20th and Salty was 45th with both being average or a little better than average, though certainly not spectacular. Salty seems to have figured out that back to the pitcher nonsense, and if so, I think he'll be okay.

      Offensively, you're right–most of the improvement will come from having a healthier lineup. If you look at FanGraphs, however, they more than made up for Beltre and Martinez (48.9 offensive runs) with Gonzalez and Crawford (70.9 offensive runs and could be better now that both players are now in a hitters park), and they could also get healthier seasons from the other players. I think it's both Gonzalez/Crawford and healthier seasons that have that offense improving.

    • billybeaneismyhero

      "And on the offensive front–the Red Sox didn't just lose their best offensive player last season–they lost their TWO best offensive players (Victor Martinez being the second–he vaults over Youkilis when you remove fielding from the WAR equation)."

      Based on wRAA, Youkilis was worth 34.1 runs above average in 102 games, and Pedroia was worth 15.8 runs in 75 games. Victor Martinez was only worth 18.4 runs. Youkilis was better than VMart despite playing in 25 fewer games. Furthermore, it's likely Pedroia would've been better had he played the full season considering he was worth only 2.6 fewer runs despite playing in 52 fewer games. Also, David Ortiz was worth 28.9 runs above average.

      Calling VMart the RS second best offensive player just isn't true. If anything, he was maybe the fifth best offensive player on the Red Sox after Beltre, Youkilis, Ortiz, and Pedroia.

      • Billy,

        Will look closer when I’m back on a computer, rather than m iPhone. I was taking only one set of statistics into account, and I don’t regularly look at wRAA. I’ll point to one clear disagreement, though. I’d much rather a catcher that hits like Martinez than a DH that hit like Ortiz (just by wOBA.)

        The main point I was making (and that has been made by brien before) is that the sox have replaced beltre and Martinez with Gonzalez and Crawford, which is a net positive, but not nearly as significant a step forward as many are making it out to be.

        Longest iPhone comment ever.

        Will

        • billybeaneismyhero

          You're right. It's not going to be the huge net positive that most Sox fans and media types are making it out to be. Still, Beltre isn't going to repeat his 6.9 fWAR in 2011. Even though Crawford and Gonzalez aren't likely to post fWARs too far above their 2010 totals, I have no doubt that the Crawford-Gonzalez combo outperforms the Beltre-VMart combo in 2011–perhaps even by as many as 4 fWAR.

  4. Will Moller

    Which isn't to say that they're not really good. Just that they're not actually all that improved. Most of their improvement will come from their own players who probably won't be as injured as they were last year, rather than from the acquisitions of Crawford and Gonzalez, who are replacing two very season's worth or performance in Beltre and Martinez's 2010.

  5. Mark Smith

    You really can't use one-year samples on defense. The creators have even said so. Regardless, Ellsbury rates very well otherwise, especially in his time at the corners. I'll need to find the link, but FanGraphs, I believe, once said that when you switch from CF to LF while not losing anything, you should gain about 10 runs on UZR/150 (though you lose much more from the positional adjustment). Thus, looking at Ellsbury's corner stats, he should lose 10 runs when he switches back from the corners to center, and he has more than double-digit UZR/150s at each position. Of course, these are still too small, but they also suggest Ellsbury may actually be rather good. We'll have to wait and see.

    • Mike

      The article referred is the first link listed for fangraph Ellsbury. If one discredits the evaluation of several (four) different defensive metric systems on a full season of data, then one must further discredit the values used for the COF positions because he has 2000+ innings in CF, 500 innings in LF, and 200 in RF. How is it logical to derive his talent in CF by using a third of the sample for an indirect calculation? Furthermore, Fenway, of all places, has the least homogenous OF territory, completely taking away and validity from translating LF to RF to CF performance.

      Yes, his one poor season in CF is just one season, and people who invented the metrics themselves say you need at least 3 seasons to draw a solid conclusion. Because he hasn't been around for long and has been often injured, or switching positions, there isn't anything else to use other than the limited sample. Its a rudimentary baseline projection, particularly when there isn't anything to suggest the contrary that he's some wonderful elite center fielder (the only position he will play significantly with Crawford and Drew on the roster). Average is probably within the standard error from the largest sample available.

      • Mark Smith

        I wasn't advocating it. The corner spots are too small as well. I was making the point that within the limited data that we have, it also indicates that Ellsbury could be just fine. The one full season in center may be the best piece of evidence that we have, but it's still incomplete. That's why I said that we'd have to wait and see. If everything suggested (or the pattern in the other spots) that he was bad, I would be more inclined to believe the one full season in CF, but because it suggests otherwise, I believe it is also possible. We'll know more after this season, but I've heard he's supposed to be quite good defensively, which doesn't yet jive with the metrics.

        Yes, four systems may have seen the same thing, but with such a strange outfield, there may have been some problems with how it was measured. I'm not saying you or the systems were wrong. I'm just saying that they have also suggested that he's not that bad.

        • Mike

          It's definitely true that the vectors and zoning used for Fenway outfields may give misleading values and this is yet to be optimized. You're also probably right given that I haven't looked for scouting evaluation on his skills prior the the majors and he gives an impression of a range-y athletic fielder.

          • Mark Smith

            He does give that impression, and his speed may lead me to doubt the stats more than I should. As I said, I'm not sure who's right.

            The article below is a good one and represents the difficulties with defensive metrics. In 2009, Ellsbury may have been hurt by some missed plays that were not due to his "defensive skills", or perhaps the other years and positions saw too small of a sample to see things clearly. The crux of the problem is this: we need defensive stats so that we can define the totality of a player's value, but the metrics we have available are really only accurate after a few years and are probably best if used post-career to ruminate on the player's defensive prowess, or lack thereof. This isn't an easy question to answer, and it leaves us with similar debates to the one we've just had. Hopefully, Field f/x along with Pitch and Hit f/x will aid in solving it soon.

          • Mike

            the prospect of the other f/x's excites me. merry new year!

    • Mike

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/theo-ell

      good article, despite the mixed messages and odd bias that ( I think) Dave Cameron has.

  6. billybeaneismyhero

    Great analysis. Only beef is that I don't think the Red Sox will crack 100 wins. Maybe I'm being a little conservative, but I have them pegged at 98 wins with the Yankees at 94 and Rays at 87. Those numbers are subject to change though.

  7. Mike Atkins

    Just when I thought this blog couldn’t get any better, we get a reference to Meg’s superpower nails!

    • Mark Smith

      I am so glad someone appreciated that. Mike Atkins, you are my favorite commenter ever.

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