Whew, this was exhausting. Again, one or two of these players will likely exceed league-wide expectations and live up to the otherwise misguided belief of their hometown faithful, while the rest become a source of rivals' mockery for seasons to come.
Milwaukee: Doing this project has made me take a closer look at all the teams in the league, and I can see why the Brewers are a favorite sleeper pick for the NL Central this year. They have one of the top three or four rotations in the NL, a promising nucleus with real talent up the middle at second and in center, and probably at least league average production from their catcher and young shortstop. Their main weakness is getting on base, as only Prince Fielder projects to have an OBP over .350, and consequently they could be hard pressed to score enough runs to take advantage of the awesome pitching staff.
Of their projected starters, the position that's most troubling to me -besides the open audition for the last corner outfield slot- is third base, so Corey Koskie gets my nomination, although I could see why others might go a different direction. The amount of games Koskie's played in has declined for six seasons in a row, and while his production in this limited play had a spike last season, his overall trend has been pointing downward. There are $6.5 million reasons to expect him to bounce back this season (his team option for 2008) but with Ryan Braun still unready, the drop-off to backup Tony Graffanino is steep in the likely event of Koskie's health issues continuing.
New York Mets: Because Mets fans have such high regard for their average players as well as their legit superstars, this should be like shooting ducks in a barrel: Sean Green being counted on to produce? You know somebody is. El Duque of mas años? There's probably somebody out there who likes him. Jose Valentin seems to defy this convention, and there are enough Mets fans suitably skeptical of a repeat of 2006 so I'll shy away from choosing him. Instead, I'll go with catcher Paul Lo Duca instead. Here are the ZiPS projections of two NL starting catchers:
All-Star Catcher A: .283/.326/.381
Second Division Catcher B: .272/.327/.378
Lo Duca's the All-Star, you can clearly see he's the better one (wink wink,) the other is Ronny Paulino of the Pirates. PECOTA sees LoDuca suffering an even a bigger drop relative to the league, seeing his value a full win and a half below that of our own Rockies catcher, Chris Iannetta (4.6 WARP to 3.1.)Former Rockie John Thomson recently even put Lo Duca's vaunted defense under scrutiny, citing his lack of confidence in Paul as one of the reasons he opted to sign with Toronto. So if Paul, doesn't hit, and doesn't have good defense, what does he have going for him?
Philadelphia: Onward and upward. Since I chose Lo Duca for the Mets, I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge a similar weakness behind the plate with their main rivals this season. Carlos Ruiz might win out primary catching duties, but he'd only be a mild upgrade over Lo Duca. Worse is the possible scenario that Rod Barajas is the team's starter when it breaks camp from Florida. Barajas as a backup is fine, he's got some power that should be useful off the bench, and I was fine with the Rockies pursuing him for that. The danger is that he's a veteran, long time starter, and Phils management might be tempted to use him over the better, but more inexperienced Ruiz.
Even if this happens, I think Philly is my choice for the NL East this season. They have the superior rotation to the Mets this time around, and their lineup is just about as deep, but I suppose I can wait for a full preview for predictions.
Pittsburgh By moving NL batting champion Freddy Sanchez from third to second, the Pirates plan to turn him from a potential liability compared to his divisional peers, into an asset. Unfortunately, they had to fill third with utility man Jose Bautista, who's even less likely to fit the offensive role of corner infielder. This isn't even the worst of the Pirates offensive woes, however. That distinction belongs to "lead-off" hitter Chris Duffy. Duffy's an out machine at the plate, and one more reason why Pittsburgh will remain entrenched at the bottom of the Central until Dave Littlefield and his crew are replaced.
St. Louis: Former World Series Champion St. Louis (I say former because they don't seem too keen on defending right now) has had a somewhat awkward and bumbling offseason, as the few needs that have been addressed via free agency have been done so fairly underwhelmingly. Still, assuming positive contributions in the rotation from Reyes and Wainwright relative to 2006, it's hard to write off the Cardinals' chances just yet. Because the drop-off from the top trio in the Cards rotation to Kip Wells is so steep, I decided to pick him as there is considerable sentiment that Dave Duncan will resurrect his career. While Duncan's been successful in the past, to automatically assume miracles every time is folly.
San Diego: Perhaps the most difficult to understand PECOTA projection I've seen belongs to Terrmel Sledge. For some reason the BP website has him comparable to Jim Edmonds (ranked #3 on his list) and clocking in this year at a .282 EqA. PECOTA loves those that can take walks, and this is perhaps the one plus skill that Sledge has, although he's got serviceable power. At a glance, Sledge is the one player on the Padres I think most opposing fans would point to as a weak link, but I can see why Padres fans have reason to be optimistic. The Rockies saw Terrmel as much as any major league team last season, and I have a hard time believing the projections based on what I saw. Be careful reading too much into his MLE from the extended stint in Portland last season, his splits show abnormally high BABIP relative to past performance, and a flukish reverse to normal split versus lefthanders. In other words, I've got a feeling that last year was a hidden spike year in Terrmel's career arc, and he'll come back down to earth in the majors this season.
San Francisco: What would you do if you woke up one morning and you noticed this strange lump on your forehead, and when you tried squeezing it, it would squirt out $100 bills? Let's say it grew throughout the day, and kept on oozing out the money, would you start to worry? What if it got to be as big as the head of a small child and you noticed an eyeball growing in it, and maybe what looks to be the beginnngs of a mouth. You notice it hampers your ability to score with the women and win a World Series. You go to a doctor and he says, "Well, I can get rid of it for free, but if you want to keep it, you have to pay me $15.8 million dollars." Just then it spits out more money. That's definitely a mouth coming in, with teeth. If you're the Giants, then you say, "Okay, let's keep it, and by the way, how much is it to keep this one down here on my butt I call 'Pedro Feliz'?"
And then there's my choice for this post, Randy Winn.
Washington: Probably pretty much anybody besides Zimm and Kearns, is my guess. They have a decent closer, too, don't they? Yeah, I don't think the Nationals need any more negative reinforcement right now, they've got a long way to go to respectability.