2012 AL East Predicted Standings
1. Toronto Blue Jays
2. New York Yankees
3. Boston Red Sox
4. Tampa Bay Rays
5. Baltimore Orioles
2012 AL East Actual Standings
1. New York Yankees (95-67, +136)
2. Baltimore Orioles (93-69, +7)
3. Tampa Bay Rays (90-72, +120)
4. Toronto Blue Jays (73-89, -68)
5. Boston Red Sox (69-93, -72)
Toronto Blue Jays
Now introducing the pick we made ourselves look the dumbest with! Admittedly, we knew we were drinking the Canadian kool-aid when we predicted a first place Toronto team, saying, “This pick makes us nuts, just nuts, but we don’t care. StanGraphs is down with the Canadians, and we’re not ashamed to say it.” Well, we’re ashamed now. Very ashamed. While we stand by the notion that fleeing to Canada is always an excellent last resort option for one looking to start a new life, we cannot stand by the notion that this was a good team in 2012. They were, in fact, a decidedly bad one. Let’s count the ways things went wrong for baseball’s lone international franchise.
First, they couldn’t hit. Jose Bautista was en route to turning a deceivingly slow start around when he suddenly couldn’t play anymore, and in the end he managed 27 homers in just over half a season’s worth of appearances. Edwin Encarnacion did everything he could to pick up the slack for the rest of the team, and although he did have an incredible year no one would ever have thought he was capable of (.941 OPS, 4.4 WAR), it wasn’t enough. Brett Lawrie failed to follow up a fiery freshman campaign with a serviceable sophomore effort, Colby Rasmus flashed some power but otherwise continued the downward trajectory of his disappointing young career, Yunel Escobar had more success hating on “faggots” than he did hitting on baseballs, and Kelly Johnson turned in a season that was considerably worse than the player he was traded directly for a year ago (Aaron Hill). Pretty much worst case scenario, right?
There’s more (we’ll have you know we used that line as well in the season preview, but in that case it was meant in a positive way; not this time). The once reliable Ricky Romero train came completely off the rails in 2012, posting a 1.67 WHIP and a 5.77 ERA in 181 innings, and he barely managed to strike out more batters than he walked in the process. Brandon Morrow was the only Blue Jay starter who didn’t have an awful year — combined, Toronto starters were fourth worst in baseball. The bullpen wasn’t much better, especially outside of closer Casey Janssen and Darren Oliver, both of whom pitched very well in relief.
Yes, we were wrong about the Blue Jays, but they had the talent to do much better. We admit to getting a little caught up in the moment, but there’s no doubt bad luck played a part in this team’s nightmare season. It did not, however, play enough of a part to keep this pick from being a bad one. We were wrong, readers. We were wrong, and we will now enter the Canadian wilderness with no food or shelter and find our way back to civilization without help of any kind as punishment. Note: this means we will die very, very quickly. StanGraphs doesn’t know much about survival skills.
New York Yankees
It never fails. When we pick the Yankees for second place, they invariably finish first. Admittedly, it’s not very safe to bet against them to begin with — since 1998, the Bronx Bombers have failed to finish in first place exactly three times. That said, they’ve only had one World Series appearance since their 2003 loss to the Marlins, and for this proud franchise, that’s a pretty big bruise. We’ll beat this drum over and over again: the Yankee roster is aging.
Look no further than Alex Rodriguez — who is still owed roughly $837 billion — and his shocking .783 OPS this season. Across the diamond, Mark Teixeira is a shell of his former self as well, although he at least kept his OPS above the .800 mark. Thanks to good fielding at first, Teixeira checked in at 2.9 WAR to end the year, while A-Rod wound up at 2.2. This isn’t terrible production by any means, but it’s not what the Yankees want out of their respective investments. Robinson Cano is unequivocally the team’s best hitter now (.394 wOBA), and he’s actually earning the respect he gets these days. Cano even walked in 8.8% of his plate appearances in 2012, a rate that marks a career high and is over 3.0% higher than his career mark. Eric Chavez also put together a fine season in a part-time capacity, proving he still has some value left if used properly.
The Yankees pitched quite capably as well, although their real forte was hitting — no team in baseball posted a higher wRC+ as a team, although they weren’t much defensively. They chose to prevent runs not with the leather, but by firing baseballs at opponent hitters effectively. Both the starting rotation as well as bullpen were rock solid, top 10 level units, and that’s even without the services of Mariano Rivera, he of the legendary cutter. Hilariously, Mo was worth nearly half a win in all of 8.1 innings of work. What the hell kind of pace is that, anyway? Is that even possible? Kudos to CC Sabathia for putting together another fine season; the big man (somehow) slips under the radar a lot these days, but he’s doing an excellent job of earning that big contract the Yankees handed out to him. His raw WAR total didn’t look as good as it should have because he missed a few starts, but don’t be fooled; Sabathia had a great year. Fellow rotation member Hiroki Kuroda did as well, acing a difficult transition from the NL West to the AL East in the process. Rafael Soriano pitched well in Rivera’s stead as the Yankee closer, and David Robertson was worth nearly 2.0 WAR used strictly out of the bullpen. That’s impressive.
Boston Red Sox
Whoa, just whoa. How the hell were we supposed to know this would happen? Who knew Adrian Gonzalez, even with his suspicious 2011 success, would tank that badly? Who knew Carl Crawford would rebound somewhat but then need Tommy John surgery? Who knew Jacoby Ellsbury would go back to being bad? Okay, we did kind of suspect that one. Who knew the Red Sox would wind up pulling the plug on the entire operation and jettison several of their biggest contracts, a few of which were just signed yesterday, off to the west coast and fire their annoying manager after one year?
It was that kind of season for the now unrecognizable Red Sox, and it must be said, the way things have gone for this organization the past few seasons, a fresh start is far from a bad idea. A few good things did happen to them in 2012, but it won’t take long to discuss them. David Ortiz continues to defy the laws of aging, fat hitters and rake like he did in his prime after what appeared to be an obvious drop-off in production several seasons ago. Dustin Pedroia is a very fine all-around player, and he continued to be in 2012, albeit not quite at the same level. Young Will Middlebrooks showed considerable pop in his rookie effort and allowed the Sox to part ways with long-term fixture Kevin Youkilis. Oh, and Cody Ross somehow contributed 2.4 WAR.
The bullpen wasn’t terrible, either. Scott Atchison, a 36-year-old guy we’ve never heard of, logged over 50 innings of sub-1.00 WHIP baseball, former top prospect Andrew Miller showed he may actually have a career in the majors as long as it’s out of someone’s bullpen, and Junichi Tazawa had a really cool name, a 1.82 FIP, and a 9-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Not bad, Junichi Tazawa. That’s just fun to type; you should try it sometime. The rotation wasn’t great, and Jon Lester really did have a semi-disappointing year, but let’s ease up on the guy. His ERA (4.82) was a full run higher than his xFIP, everyone that reached base off him came around to score, and he still managed to contribute 3.3 WAR at the end of the season. Plus, he looked really nice in that commercial about standing up to cancer where he gently pitches meatballs to that helpless little kid you know he could have blown away if he’d wanted to. Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz were solid as well.
Tampa Bay Rays
Okay, this is perhaps the best third place team we’ve ever seen — ever. The Rays won 90 games in 2012, and according to their Pythagorean record, they should have won 95 instead. We knew their pitching was going to be good, and in hindsight, we shouldn’t have bet against them. We shouldn’t have bet against any team in the AL East apparently, including the awful Orioles. They all should have finished first except for the Blue Jays, damn it! Are you happy now?
The Rays have assembled an absolute death squad of homegrown pitchers, and all of baseball should be envious. David Price won 20 games (like that matters) and struck out nearly a batter per inning in his continual ascent to superstar status, James Shields played a very capable second fiddle (4.3 WAR), and Matt Moore didn’t disappoint in a very solid rookie showing in which plenty of hitters went down on strikes. While he’s not exactly homegrown (or good, one might have said in many other seasons of his career), it has to be pointed out what Fernando Rodney did in 2012: 2.4 WAR, 0.78 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 0.60 ERA. That ERA is just ridiculous, by the way, and we only mentioned it instead of the much more reasonable 2.13 FIP for shock value. We love shocking people here at StanGraphs, and speaking of shocking, we would have shot you with a taser gun if you’d tried to tell us Rodney would pitch a full season in relief with an ERA of 0.60 at season’s end. Then we’d feed you to Victor Marte. By the way, Jake McGee and Joel Peralta were also unbelievably good out of the Tampa Bay pen as well. That relief corps was just disgusting — the best in baseball, for our money.
They managed to hit a little, too, but no one player stands out too much. Ben Zobrist walks all the time, shows a little power, and plays solid defense, and that combination was worth 5.9 WAR in 2012. Desmond Jennings wasn’t much with the bat, but his fielding prowess ensured he also had a fine season overall, and thanks to his prodigious power, B.J. Upton managed to be relatively productive despite a .298 OBP. When healthy, Evan Longoria was his usual fantastic self, but his last two seasons haven’t shown much in the way of durability. By the way, anyone left aboard the Carlos Pena train can kindly jump off now. Power and patience is great, but the ability to hit over .100 is not really optional.
We have nothing but respect for this team, and had the Orioles finished with the record they deserved, the Rays wouldn’t have missed out on the playoffs — the way it should have been. There are far worse teams that make the playoffs every year, and few better in the modern era that don’t.
Let’s see. How do we say this without bringing in the Oriole fans again? We’ll be diplomatic. Your team was a nice story, and they did play legitimately solid baseball in the second half of the season. Considering the talent level on the roster, it’s truly amazing the way things ended for Baltimore! We’re happy to say all these things, but come on. There’s no way this team was better than Tampa Bay. No way they deserved to finish below Toronto or Boston, but second place is a bit lofty, and don’t get us started on what we might have said if they’d finished first.
Hear me out! What player on this team is an undeniable superstar? Adam Jones? He had a nice season, a nice 4.6 WAR season despite not having UZR in his corner, and that’s very impressive for a center fielder. He also walked 4.9% of the time and has a career .775 OPS at the age of 27. What about Matt Wieters? Sure, he’s a well above average hitter — for a catcher. Thanks to considerable pop and highly rated defense, Wieters was worth 4.1 WAR himself in 2012, and that’s pretty damn good. That said, no one with a .331 wOBA deserves the superstar mantle. We don’t think there’s any point in arguing over whether or not J.J. Hardy, Chris Davis, or Nick Markakis are superstars, although each of them had fine seasons as well.
Let’s look at the pitching side of the ledger. Is Jason Hammel a superstar? What about Wei-Yin Chen or Jake Arrieta? What’s that? No, no, and no? But those are the three most productive Baltimore pitchers in 2012 per FanGraphs! Again, all three turned in nice little seasons, and it’s not at all a bad trio to have in a starting rotation, but there’s little star power to be found. For what it’s worth, we like Arrieta a lot and think you’d be hard pressed to suffer through much worse luck than he did in 2012, but he’s no superstar, at least not yet. In fact, there isn’t one single wow any of the players we just mentioned should elicit from anyone, even the most steadfast of Oriole fans. Honestly, the roster has the look of a team that may finish about 85-77 if everything goes well. Instead they won 93 games while their Pythagorean record says they should have won 82.
“But silly StanGraphs, baseball is a team game!” the enraged Baltimore backer might be screaming even now, dropping bits of the blue crab he was chewing on all over his prized copy of The Raven. Well, that’s true, Baltimore backer, but as a team, the Orioles didn’t hit that well (96 wRC+) or field well at all (-19.6 UZR), and they ran the bases worse than almost every other club in the game (-10.6 BSR). The bullpen was solid enough (3.68 FIP), but the rotation was as pedestrian as the rest of the team, finishing just 19th in terms of total WAR. Baltimore wasn’t a bad team in 2012, and we have nothing against the franchise or Edgar Allan Poe, but they saw a little bit of good fortune in the process of winning 93 games and slipping into the playoffs. As the roster currently stands, it’s unlikely we’ll see a similar performance in 2013. That’s all we’re saying, so hopefully we can remain on friendly terms with our friends to the northeast.