From the Editor's Vault...: April 30, 2008
Projected 2008 MLB Standings From Diamond Mind Baseball by Charles Wolfson and Luke Kraemer (Imagine Sports)
Diamond Mind is, without question, the finest baseball game on the market, a computer generated simulation that is so comprehensive in its statistical reach and so spot-on with its performance replications, many leading baseball writers use the software as an analytical tool. So it is with immense pleasure that the Baseball Library presents Diamond Mind's annual projected MLB standings, the first in what will be many ventures between the company and this site (more on that in the coming weeks). The Diamond Mind gang admirably refrains from claiming omnicience in matters of prognostication, but our editor has been a devoted fan of the game for the past five years, and he can attest that many of the player performance projections often come so close to what actually happens, he's been tempted to ask the company to pick stocks for his 401-k plan. To learn more about Diamond Mind and the game, which you can play online or in a PC version, click the link in our "Featured Partner" box on the left side of our homepage and watch for the "Diamond Mind Vault" which will be appearing on our site shortly.
Will blockbuster acquisitions Johan Santana and Miguel Cabrera put the Mets and Tigers back in the playoffs? Can Albert Pujols dodge season-ending elbow surgery until October? Will the Cinderella team of 2007, the Rockies, go the way of the 2006 Tigers and 2005 White Sox and miss out on returning to the postseason?
With final roster decisions made and Opening Day in the offing, the best laid plans of major league teams have been subjected to the scrutiny of commentators, analysts, fantasy addicts and everyday fans, who have offered up a varying mix of Sabermetrics, wishful thinking and fatalism with their predictions for the coming season.
This is our eleventh season at Diamond Mind trying our hand at the preseason predictions game. While we’re not into the kind of chest-thumping that seems increasingly common in the baseball analysis world, our approach has produced some reasonably prescient (if, in some cases, sobering) forecasts. For example, in 2006 our system correctly identified five of the six division winners and we were only an NL West tie-breaker away from a clean sweep.
In 2007 we didn’t do quite as well picking the division winners, correctly identifying three of six, but we had our best year measured by how closely all 30 teams came to matching their projected win totals. For example, one projection that had (some of) us scratching our heads was for the Washington Nationals (who many thought might lose 100 games) to win 75 games and edge out the Florida Marlins (who had made a surprise run at the wild card in 2005) by two game in the division standings. In fact, when the dust settled on the 2007 season, the Nationals had won 73 games and the Marlins 71.
Before revealing our final standings for the 2008 season, here’s an overview of how we produced them.
We begin by projecting the 2008 performance of over 1800 players contending for major league jobs. To do this, we take their major and minor league stats for the past 3 seasons, adjusted for factors such as the level of competition (majors, Japan, AAA, AA, etc) and offense in a league, park effects, and whether the DH rule was in use. Then, giving greater weight to more recent seasons, performances at higher levels, and seasons with more playing time, and adjusting for age, we project their performance into the league and park where they will be competing in the coming year.
We don’t merely project the aggregate “headline” stats for each player, but their left/right splits as well. We also assign ratings for skills such as bunting, base running, defensive range and throwing.
After all players have been rated, we set up a manager profile for each team, consisting of a starting rotation, bullpen assignments, projected lineups against right- and left-handed starters, and a positional depth chart. Once these profiles are in place for every team, we play out the season using our Diamond Mind Baseballsimulation game. The computer manager, guided by our manager profile, makes decisions about starting pitchers, lineups, substitutions, and pitch-by-pitch tactics. Because luck can play a major role in any single season for players and teams (both in real-life and our simulations), we run the season 200 times and average the results.
Factors and Non-Factors
To provide you with a bit more insight into the process, factors that we do and don’t take into account in our projections include the following:
• We take past performance in the major and minor leagues, including the Japanese leagues, into account, but not performance in college or high school, independent leagues, winter leagues, spring training, or other foreign leagues.
• We go beyond aggregate projected hitting and pitching stats, taking left/right splits and defense, running, bunting and other skills into account. If a team is imbalanced in some material way, that will show up in its results.
• We take injuries into account in two ways when we project player performance: by discounting past performance that may have been adversely affected by a player attempting to play through injury, and by taking playing time away from a player we know is beginning the season with an injury. However, we don’t attempt to project the likelihood of a player getting injured over the course of a season. Every player has the same chance of injury in our season simulations.
• We don’t attempt to emulate the tactics of specific managers. The computer manager manages each team according to the strengths and weaknesses of its roster. Nor do we attempt to rate managerial ability. We just haven’t seen the evidence over the years to indicate that particular managers’ teams consistently over- (or under-) perform their projected results.
• We don’t factor preseason hype (so-and-so has added a new pitch, is in the best shape of his career, has a more focused and determined attitude, etc.) into player projections.
• Strength of schedule necessarily comes into play in our methodology, so teams with relatively weaker divisional opponents or inter-league schedules have an advantage. Player match-ups come into play also, so, for example, a right-handed starter with extreme left-right splits pitching in a division loaded with left-handed hitting is going to have a relatively tougher time of it.
It is important not to take our team and individual player projections too literally. Many of the most noteworthy events of a baseball season – the breakout performances and fantastic flops by individual players, the teams for which everything goes right or everything goes wrong, the crippling injuries – are things that might occur in individual seasons that we’ve simulated, but are unlikely to appear in the averaged results for 100 seasons. There is a large element of luck involved in baseball, and any given season, real or simulated, will produce a larger spread of runs and wins than are reflected in our projected standings. That’s because averaging the results of 200 simulated seasons will tend to smooth out the catching-lightning-in-a-bottle features of any real baseball season.
Projected 2008 Standings
Here are the projected final standings for 2008, averaging the results of the 200 seasons we simulated on March 23, based on each team’s manager profile as of March 20. Anything that happened after March 20 in the way of roster decisions, trades and injuries was not included in our manager profiles, unless we already had anticipated it. So, for example, we expected that Reed Johnson would be cut by the Blue Jays and had Shannon Stewart slotted in as their left fielder, but we had Jon Lieber, not Ryan Dempster, nailing down a spot in the Cubs rotation.
The manager profiles are both a snapshot of where teams stood on March 20, and a prediction of likely personnel moves during the season. Reviewing our player performance projections, along with other information at our disposal, we sometimes see players slated to begin the season in the minors or on the bench who, by our reckoning, would be upgrades for their teams. We may assign such players a bigger role in their team’s manager profile than they’ve got on Opening Day, on the assumption that their teams will come to this realization as well during the course of the season.
W, L, Pct, GB – average wins, losses, winning percentage, games behind division leader
RF, RA – average runs for and against
Div, WC – Seasons (out of 200) winning division and wild card (fractions for ties)
Postseason Qualifiers and Other General Observations
The trend toward parity that we noted in our preseason predictions article for the 2007 season looks to have bottomed out, with the pendulum beginning to swing the other way in 2008. Our projections suggest that fully one-third of the 30 major league clubs enter 2008 with virtually no hope of reaching the postseason.
In the American League, our projections confirm the elite status of the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers and Indians, one of which necessarily will miss out on the postseason. In the National League, the Mets top the projected winners, with the surprising Rockies right behind them.
Divisional Races and Team Comments
The Yankees were our projected winners in 2007, but they fell two games shy of both the Red Sox and the 96 wins we projected for them. We have them returning to the top of the division again in 2008 with a major league best 97 wins. Moreover, the AL East has once again supplanted the Central as baseball’s toughest division.
New York Yankees (1st, 97-65, division title 125/200, wild card 34.3/200)
A-Rod’s monster season was not quite enough to offset injuries to the Yankees pitching staff, as the team was forced to use 14 starters in 2007. A younger, deeper, healthier staff in 2008 is projected to hold opponents to just 741 runs allowed, down from 777 in 2007 and third best in the league.
The Yankees have made 13 straight trips to the postseason, but they haven’t reached the World Series since 2000, and have been knocked out in the Divisional Series the last three seasons. It remains to be seen whether, in Wang, Pettitte, Hughes, Kennedy, Mussina, and possibly Chamberlain, they now have the front-line starting pitching that can deliver postseason success.
Boston Red Sox (2nd, 93-69, division title 59.5/200, wild card 68.8/200)
Prior to the 2006 season we projected 86 wins for the Red Sox, which is exactly how many games they won. We projected the same total in 2007, but instead they won 97 games and another World Series.
Pitching was the difference in 2007, with the Red Sox staff allowing a league-low 657 runs, 42 runs less than the second-best Blue Jays and a massive 184 runs less than we projected. In 2008, however, their runs allowed are projected to come back to the middle of the pack. Whether they are fighting for a division title or wild card berth, a three-game set at Fenway against the Yankees to finish the regular season has the potential for high drama.
Toronto Blue Jays (3rd, 86-76, division title 15.5/200, wild card 21.3/200)
The Blue Jays lost ground in 2007, and their key roster changes for 2008 (Scott Rolen for Troy Glaus, David Eckstein for John McDonald, and Shannon Stewart for Reed Johnson) are hardly difference makers. If the Blue Jays are to compete with the “Big Four” (Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers and Indians) for a spot in the postseason, they certainly will need a return to form by Vernon Wells and a healthy season from A.J. Burnett.
Tampa Bay Rays (4th, 79-83, no division titles, 3.5/200 wild card)
In 2008 Rays fans can revel in a new name, new talent (and old, in the form of a rejuvenated Troy Percival to bolster the bullpen), a new park in the offing, and a new and lofty first-time finish out of the division cellar. With all that buzz, how shortsighted is it of the team’s front office to start the season without top prospect Evan Longoria at third base, for what appears to be purely financial reasons?
Baltimore Orioles (5th, 68-94, no postseason appearances)
The Orioles spent a fair bit of money prior to 2007 on journeymen like Chad Bradford, Jamie Walker, Danys Baez, Aubrey Huff, Jay Payton, and Kevin Millar, and the results were even worse than we had projected. Reality has finally taken hold and the rebuilding has begun, but 2008 will not be a pretty season.
The AL Central went from being the weakest division in baseball in 2003 to the strongest in 2006. However, with the decline of the Twins and White Sox, it is now very much a case of the haves and the have-nots, with a bigger projected gap (13 games) between the second and third-place teams than in any other division. The Twins, Royals and White Sox combined failed to win the division a single time, and captured the AL wild card just 2.5 times, over our 200 simulated seasons.
Detroit Tigers (1st, 95-67, division title 138.5/200, wild card 22.8/200)
Injuries were the story for the Tigers in 2007, with Kenny Rogers and Joel Zumaya out for much of the season, and Gary Sheffield and Jeremy Bonderman ineffective over the latter half. All but Zumaya are healthy again to start 2008.
The Tigers are not without question marks, particularly their bullpen and whether Dontrelle Willis (who struggled in the spring) can bounce back from a horrid 2007. But the lineup, with the additions of Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Renteria and Jacque Jones, is fearsome, projected to score 893 runs, but certainly capable of being the first team since the Indians in 1999 to reach 1,000. In fact, the Tigers won their division in our simulations more often than any other projected first-place finisher.
Cleveland Indians (2nd, 90-72, division title 61.5/200, wild card 33.8/200)
There is an obvious relationship between a team’s runs scored (RS) and runs allowed (RA) and the number of games it wins. The 2005 and 2006 Indians so underperformed their RS/RA that it led us to speculate in our 2007 projections article that there might be some peculiar feature of that team that defied conventional analysis.
As we’ve noted in our annual “Team Efficiency” reviews, teams that are unusually efficient (or inefficient) at turning events into runs and runs into wins tend to revert to the norm the following season. In the case of the Indians, it took them two seasons: the 2007 team ranked third in the league in scoring efficiency and did even better turning those runs into wins, tying the Red Sox for most regular season wins with 96.
The Indians transformed a weakness into a strength with improvements to their bullpen prior to last season, and have further bolstered the pen by signing Japanese closer Masa Kobayashi. The rotation still is topped by double aces C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, with plenty of depth behind them. It’s no wonder Tigers manager Jim Leyland insists that the Indians, not his team, are deserving of favorites status in the division.
Minnesota Twins (3rd, 77-85, no division titles, wild card 1.5/200)
Kansas City Royals (Tie 4th, 72-90, no division titles, wild card 1.0/200)
Last year’s projection article noted a number of positives for the Royals, with the biggest negative being the fact that they were looking up at the other four teams in the division. The positives continue in 2008, while two of their intra-division competitors are weaker. On the mound, Gil Meche proved a solid free agent signing, and Brian Bannister and Joakim Soria were revelations. At the plate, Jose Guillen was signed to a big free agent deal and Billy Butler is a potential middle-of-the-order stud.
Chicago White Sox (Tie 4th, 72-90, no postseason appearances)
For a team that has seen its fortunes wane since 2005 as its starting pitching has declined, trading Jon Garland to the Angels was another of those Kenny Williams moves that leaves some observers scratching their heads. Perhaps Alexei Ramirez will provide some excitement for Sox fans during what looks to be a difficult season.
Once again, if a team in the AL West wants to play in the postseason in 2008, they’d better win the division, because our projections offer them slim hope of a wild card berth.
Los Angeles Angels (1st, 87-75, division title 125.8/200, wild card 4.5/200)
Although projected to win just 87 games, the Angels nevertheless are odds-on favorites to prevail in the West. John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar were set to miss substantial chunks of the season when we ran our simulations, so those injuries have been taken into account, although they could bite harder than anticipated, particularly if Escobar undergoes season-ending surgery.
Oakland A’s (2nd, 83-79, division title 58.8/200, wild card 7.0/200)
We projected the A’s to “slip” to 84 wins in 2007, despite giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming relatively healthy and productive seasons from, amongst others, Bobby Crosby, Eric Chavez and Rich Harden. These players, of course, were anything but healthy and productive, and the A’s ended up winning just 76 games. (The drop-off from 93 wins in 2006 was not as extreme as it appeared, however, as they outperformed their RS/RA by eight wins in 2006, but underperformed their RS/RA by four wins in 2007.) Our projection of 83 wins for 2008 is not subject to the same degree of injury risk, and if Rich Harden can take the ball every fifth day throughout the season and pitch like he did against the Red Sox in Japan, there could be a few extra wins in it for the A’s.
Seattle Mariners (3rd, 78-84, division title 14.0/200, wild card 1.3/200)
Seattle, one of the surprise teams of 2007, won 88 games, 11 more than we had projected. However, they achieved that result despite having been outscored by their opponents by 19 runs over the entire season.
Even with the addition of Erik Bedard (who, notwithstanding his unimpressive spring, averaged 14 wins and a 3.18 ERA in our simulated seasons), we project the Mariners to have a disappointing sub-.500 season. The primary culprit will be the offense, which scored an average of just 718 runs per season in our simulations, second worst in the league. While the starting pitching was reinforced by the addition of Bedard and Carlos Silva, absolutely nothing was done to boost the team’s offense (which may even be weaker, with Brad Wilkerson replacing Jose Guillen).
Texas Rangers (4th, 72-90, division title 1.3/200, no wild cards)
The Rangers will open 2008 with a starting rotation of (last season’s W-L ERA): Kevin Millwood (10-14 5.16), Vicente Padilla (6-10 5.76), Kason Gabbard (2-1 5.58) and Jason Jennings (2-9 6.45). In last season’s projection article, our comment on the Rangers consisted of year-by-year excerpts from previous seasons, which shared the common refrain that the team had done nothing to fix its woeful starting pitching.
In 2007 the Rangers finished 5th in the league in runs scored, but 11th in runs allowed. So, what did the Rangers do to improve themselves for 2008? They traded starter Edinson Volquez, who has been a sensation this spring, to the Reds. They did get emerging star Josh Hamilton in return, but the point is that this team’s number one need for years has been starting pitching. Yet, on the rare occasion they develop a starter (like Chris Young, who was traded to the Padres after his promising 2005 rookie season, and Volquez), it almost seems like they can’t get rid of him quickly enough.
Last season we correctly picked the Phillies to win the NL East. This season, with the addition of Johan Santana and a rejuvenated Pedro Martinez, the Mets look like finishing back on top with a league-best 92 wins, with the Phillies slipping all the way to third behind the Braves.
New York Mets (1st, 92-70, division title 134/200, wild card 21.3/200)
We projected a weak starting rotation to hold the Mets to just 82 wins last season. The rotation actually did much better than we projected, at least until their late-season meltdown. Johan Santana, however, ably assisted from Day One by Pedro Martinez, should ensure the Mets return to the postseason in 2008. In 130 of our 200 simulated seasons, Santana registered seasons worthy of Cy Young consideration, with Martinez chipping in seven of his own.
Atlanta Braves (2nd, 85-77, division title 38.0/200, wild card 36.8/200)
The Braves are now two years removed from their 14-year run of division titles. Although Mark Kotsay has replaced Andruw Jones in centerfield, there are more positives than negatives for the Braves entering the 2008 season, like impressive rookie starter Jair Jurrjens (acquired from the Tigers in the trade for Edgar Renteria), having Mark Teixeira on board the entire season, the promising signs of a return to health by Mike Hampton, and the sensational spring play of Yunel Escobar. However, while the Braves should be right in the hunt for the NL wild card in 2008, our projections suggest that they will be hard-pressed to challenge the Mets for the East title.
Philadelphia Phillies (3rd, 83-79, division title 27.5/200, wild card 14.7/200)
Jimmy Rollins said the Phillies would win the East in 2007, so did we, and they parlayed a strong finish with the collapse of the Mets to do just that. However, a repeat performance in 2008 appears unlikely.
The Phillies let Aaron Rowand walk after the season, though the line-up may be marginally improved overall with the additions of Geoff Jenkins and Pedro Feliz. The pitching may also be modestly better with the acquisition of Brad Lidge to close, allowing Brett Myers to return to the rotation. But these moves pale in comparison to the addition by the Mets of Johan Santana.
Washington Nationals (4th, 72-90, division title 0.5/200, wild card 0.5/200)
As I put the finishing touches on these comments, Ryan Zimmerman has just won the first game ever played at Nationals Stadium with a dramatic walk-off home run. Although Washington won just 73 games, considering that many thought they would be lucky not to lose 100, the Nats were one of the surprises of 2007.
There are some players to build on, like Zimmerman and Nick Johnson, who appears fully recovered from the broken leg that kept him out all of 2007, and there are some promising youngsters, like Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes. Still, though, this is a team with a long way to go.
Florida Marlins (5th, 70-92, no postseason appearances)
The Opening Day payroll of the Florida Marlins is just $21 million, a figure unlikely ever to be approached in future seasons by another major league team. (Next lowest is the Rays at $42 million.) This salary squeeze is not driven by necessity either. Before selling a single ticket, the Marlins pocket $30 million in revenue sharing from other teams and another $30 million in local and national TV money. One writer has described the team’s payroll as an insult to its fans.
On the other hand, the Marlins would not be the first team to rebuild from the ground up, nor to develop younger players by giving them playing time on the major league firing line, rather than keeping them in the minor leagues while paying veteran retreads to put a “presentable team” on the field. Nor are the Marlins projected to be the worst team in the NL 2008; that dubious distinction belongs to the Pirates.
One thing that should fool no one is the fact that Florida posted the second-best record in this year’s Grapefruit League (19-11). There is little or no correlation between spring training and regular season results. The 1996 Tigers, for example, posted a 20-10 spring mark, then went 53-109 in the regular season, while the 2001 Mariners went just 13-19 in spring training, then won 116 regular season games.
This is the 100-year anniversary of the Cubs’ 1908 triumph over the Tigers in the World Series, which was the last time they won one. (Their last appearance in the World Series was 1945, also against the Tigers, which they lost.) We haven’t simulated the postseason, so can’t say what the chances are that this century-long dry spell will end in 2008, but we do project the Cubs to finish atop the NL Central, although they are the narrowest of our division favorites in what looks to be the tightest top-to-bottom divisional race.
Chicago Cubs (1st, 86-76, division title 86.3/200, wild card 17.8/200)
We projected the Cubs in 2007 to win 83 games (a 17-win improvement on their 66-96 debacle in 2006) and finish runners-up to the Cardinals. They outdid our projections with 85 wins and a first place finish in the division. Our 2008 projections have them repeating last season’s success.
There’s some buzz around this team, with key players like Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano and Kerry Wood beginning the season healthy and hungry. Our projections, however, already include strong seasons from all four. Nevertheless, the Cubs clearly are the team to beat in the crowded and competitive NL Central.
St. Louis Cardinals (2nd, 83-79, division title 45.8/200, wild card 9.7/200)
With all that went wrong for the Cardinals last season, the fact that they worked their way back into the divisional race before a final fade was a real accomplishment, if cold consolation. In trying to bounce back in 2008, they’ll have to overcome weaker fielding and lack of starting pitching depth, and, most importantly, hope that Albert Pujols makes it through the season intact.
Our simulations assumed that Pujols would last the season and start about 90% of the Cardinals’ games. With a batting order that has former pitcher Rick Ankiel hitting clean-up behind Pujols, and Yadier Molina, Adam Kennedy, the pitcher, and Cesar Izturis occupying the six through nine slots – in that order – losing Pujols for any length of time could be catastrophic.
Milwaukee Brewers (3rd, 82-80, division title 34.5/200, wild card 12.3/200)
For an up-and-coming team like the Brewers, why they would let free agent closer Francisco Cordero walk, only to pay Eric Gagne $10 million, is one of the puzzles of the past off-season. Ryan Braun looks set for a huge year, averaging .312/117/42 in our simulated seasons. With Chris Capuano out indefinitely, Yovani Gallardo opening the season on the DL, and Ben Sheets bound to wind up there at some point as well, Manny Parra (who filled a spot starting role in our simulations, but has won a regular spot in the rotation) could make a difference.
Houston Astros (4th, 80-82, division title 26.8/200, wild card 14.5/200)
The pitching consists of Roy Oswalt and a bunch of other guys, and more defense has been sacrificed for offense with the addition of Miguel Tejada and Ty Wigginton. The revamped line-up averaged only 774 runs per simulated season, but Astros fans can at least hope for more, and that a guy like Shawn Chacon, who wasn’t in the rotation in our simulations, can outperform late cut Woody Williams, who was (and posted an average season of 8-13 5.45).
Cincinnati Reds (5th, 73-89, division title 5.5/200, wild card 1.0/200)
Top prospects Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey are back in the minors, their spots being filled by Corey Patterson and Josh Fogg. Youth nevertheless will be served, with Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez (who cost the Reds Josh Hamilton) in the starting rotation and Joey Votto manning first base. Still, for a team that has endured seven straight losing seasons, but believes it is ready to contend in 2008, 73 wins would be a disaster. Much criticism no doubt would deflect onto Dusty Baker as well, particularly given that his last managerial stint ended with the 66-96 Cubs catastrophe in 2006.
Pittsburgh Pirates (6th, 68-94, division title 0.8%, wild card 1.3%)
The Pirates have a new GM, Neal Huntington, who has impressed the Sabermetrics crowd. But it’s the changes on the field that have Pirates fans buzzing. To be more precise, it’s the lack of changes, and that buzzing is about all the anger Pirates fans can muster after 15 consecutive losing seasons. The line-up that finished 12th in the league in scoring in 2007 returns intact for an encore in 2008. The promising young pitching staff touted by the Pirates as their ticket to respectability in 2007, which ended up 14th in the league in runs allowed, pretty much is back as well. Perhaps we should coin a new saying for the Pirates: the more things stay the same, the more things stay the same.
In 2007, the West served up the closest of three close divisional races in the NL. In our simulations for 2008, however, the Rockies proved they were no fluke, distancing themselves from the pack.
Colorado Rockies (1st, 91-71, division title 123.6/200, wild card 4.8%)
Last season the Rockies finished 2nd in the league in scoring with 860 runs, while allowing an 8th best 758, their lowest total ever (other than in strike-shortened 1994). In 2008, we project them to do even better, holding opponents to just 736 runs, 4th best in the league, while scoring a 3rd best 826.
As was the case during their super stretch run last season, the key to the success of the Rockies pitching is the bullpen, led by closer Manny Corpas and former closer, now top set-up man, Brian Fuentes. The occasional rumor still appears from time to time about teams that need a closer enquiring about Fuentes; the Rockies would be mad to listen to them when they do. Colorado’s line-up features probably the league’s best combination of offense and defense.
Los Angeles Dodgers (2nd, 85-77, division title 51.1/200, wild card 28.5/200)
Fans may need some time to get used to Joe Torre in Dodgers blue, and he in turn may need some time to get used to the fact that the offensively-challenged Dodgers bear little resemblance to the Yankees powerhouses he managed for so many seasons. Starters Brad Penny, Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley performed well in our simulations, and the bullpen was dominating. A better than projected performance (11-12 4.62) from Japanese signee Hiroki Kuroda, and an early and effective return by Jason Schmidt, could be difference-makers.
San Diego Padres (3rd, 80-82, division title 14.3/200, wild card 14.2/200)
The Padres allowed a league-low 666 runs in 2007, bettering their league-best mark of 679 in 2006. They led the league again in our 2008 projections, albeit with a somewhat higher total of 712 runs allowed. Unfortunately, the offense is nearly as weak as the pitching is strong, averaging a next-to-worst 707 runs scored.
Top prospect Chase Headley led the team in hitting in the spring, but will start the season in the minors. We projected him to hit .288 with 19 HR and an OPS of .861 were he to play full-time for the Padres in 2008. It may not be too long before he is called to PETCO, once the team has tried all of the various outfield combinations possible of Scott Hairston, Jim Edmonds, Brian Giles, Jody Gerut, Paul McAnulty, Justin Huber and Callix Crabbe.
Arizona Diamondbacks (4th, 79-83, division title 9.6/200, wild card 8.0/200)
We concluded our comment about the Diamondbacks last season this way: “If there’s a consensus about this team, perhaps it’s that they’re a year away, but if a belief takes hold that this team is good enough to win in 2008, that could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy that propels them to success right now. They definitely will be exciting to watch if they get a sniff of contending.” Nevertheless, in our 2007 simulations they were outscored on the season by 15 runs and won 79 games on average.
By the end of the 2007 season the Diamondbacks had indeed been outscored by 20 runs, yet they somehow managed to win 90 games and the division in the process. For 2008, we again project them to be outscored by a similar margin and consequently to win just 79 games. Is this sheer stubbornness on our part? Can lightning strike twice? Perhaps, and perhaps in 2008 Brandon Lyon can replicate Jose Valverde’s league-leading 47 saves in 2007. On second thought …
San Francisco Giants (5th, 72-90, division title 1.5/200, wild card 2.0/200)
It is a testament to how good the Giants’ pitching is that, even with their horrid offense (projected to score a major league low 664 runs, 33 less than the next lowest total), they actually won or tied for the West division lead or capture the wild card four times in our 200 simulated seasons. Has any team ever had a worse 3-4 combination in their line-up than Randy Winn (who averaged .282 with 6 HR in our simulations) and Bengie Molina (.273 and 12 HR)?
In a sense, this team is the Bizarro Marlins. Would the columnist who found Florida’s roster of low-salaried youngsters insulting, prefer Dave Roberts in CF, or Rich Aurilia at 1B perhaps? The Giants might be willing to part with them. The only question is whether they still come into the front office occasionally to check their messages. A team opening the season with Aurilia and Jose Castillo manning the corner infield positions really isn’t even trying anymore.