Archive for the ‘Predictions’ Category

In 2010, the Captain’s Blog was a veritable crystal ball when it came to predicting the standings, at least when compared to a universe of experts and projection systems. How’d I do this season? Well, as John Sterling might say, you can’t predict baseball.

2011 Captain’s Blog Predictions Compared to Final Standings

Note: Positive number indicates forecast was above actual total. Negative number indicates forecast was below actual total.

One season after averaging a 6.4-win divergence per team, my predictions deviated from the actual by 8.4 wins. In addition, the combination of exact predictions and “near misses” (defined as being within five wins of the actual total) plummeted all the way from 20 to 12. Meanwhile, projections that were “off the mark” (defined as a prediction 10 games or more from the actual total) increased from eight to 12. What’s more, the magnitude of those significant misses also increased. Whereas in 2010 my worst prediction was a 20-win divergence from the Padres’ final total, this year, two teams digressed from my forecast by at least 24 wins. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on ESPN?


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Another season is upon us, and so too is the time for predictions. Listed below are my forecasts for the regular season standings as well as the major award winners. In addition, a capsule for each team is provided below. For what it’s worth, the Captain’s Blog did a pretty good job predicting the standings last year, so feel free to take these prognostications to Vegas. Just don’t send me the bill at the end of September.  

AL East W L   NL East W L
Yankees 94 68   Phillies 93 69
Red Sox 91 71   Braves 90 72
Rays 84 78   Marlins 84 78
Blue Jays 82 80   Mets 74 88
Orioles 76 86   Nationals 68 94
AL Central W L   NL Central W L
White Sox 91 71   Cubs 89 73
Twins 87 75   Brewers 87 75
Tigers 80 82   Cardinals 83 79
Indians 76 86   Reds 82 80
Royals 60 102   Astros 70 92
        Pirates 67 95
AL West W L   NL West W L
Angels 88 74   Giants 90 72
As 85 77   Rockies 84 78
Rangers 83 79   Dodgers 81 81
Mariners 65 97   Padres 77 85
        Dbacks 69 93

ALCS: Yankees over White Sox
NLCS: Phillies over Braves
World Series: Yankees over Phillies

AL Cy Young: David Price
NL Cy Young: Josh Johnson

AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez
NL MVP: Prince Fielder

AL ROY: Kyle Drabek
NL ROY: Domonic Brown

American League East

Yankees: A lot has been made of the uncertainty in the backend of the Yankees’ rotation, but dire assessments made on that basis seem to ignore that the team had 68 games started by a pitcher with an ERA+ of 86 or lower…and still managed to win 95 games Last year, the team led all of baseball with a wOBA of .347, despite off years from Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, all of whom could rebound in 2011. If Curtis Granderson is able to build on his second half resurgence and Brett Gardner continues to evolve as an offensive player, the combination of a dynamic offense and deep bullpen should be more than enough to keep the Yankees atop the East.


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The hype surrounding the game one matchup between two-time defending Cy Young Tim Lincecum and likely-to-be 2010 Cy Young Roy Halladay has been so intense that is easy to forget the NLCS is actually a seven game series. Not only have both pitchers been among the best in the game over the past three seasons, but they are each coming off historic pitching performance in their respective NLDS outings. So, naturally, the anticipation for this game has been off the charts.

The marquee game one matchup of Lincecum vs. Halladay serves as the opening act for what could be an exciting NLCS (Photo: AP).

After the dust clears on the opener, however, there will still be six more games to go, and many more good pitchers to follow. As Jayson Stark details nicely in his column at ESPN, the Giants vs. Phillies NLCS will bring together one of the most dominant collection of starting pitchers in postseason history. In addition to the season long accomplishments of each team’s top trio, the series also features two “odd men out”, Joe Blanton and Madison Bumgarner, who pitched just as well down the stretch as their more high profile rotation mates. In other words, the NLCS should be long on low scoring games.

NLCS Scheduled Starters, September Performance

Roy Oswalt 4 0 1.12 6 40.1 20 3 12 37
Cole Hamels 4 1 1.82 6 34.2 27 2 11 35
Joe Blanton 3 0 3.19 6 36.2 37 7 11 36
Roy Halladay 5 0 3.44 5 36.2 34 7 4 29
Jonathan Sanchez 4 1 1.01 6 35.2 18 3 19 42
Madison Bumgarner 2 2 1.13 5 32 31 1 4 32
Tim Lincecum 5 1 1.94 6 41.2 31 3 8 52
Matt Cain 3 1 3.29 6 41 29 7 5 33

Source: Fangraphs.com

Of course, the Giants usually play low scoring affairs regardless of who is on the mound because of the relative weakness of their offense. The Phillies, meanwhile, seem to finally have their offense firing on all cylinders after a disappointing summer marred by injuries to their key offensive weapons. Over the last month of the season, the Phillies averaged over 5.5 runs per game, compared to the Giants, who managed to score only 3.6 runs per game over the same stretch. So, even though the teams do not rank that far apart in many offensive categories, the gap is really much larger than indicated by the season-long numbers.

NLCS Offensive Comparison

Giants 0.321 0.408 95 -13 0.318 55/32 4.3 3.6
Phillies 0.332 0.413 99 37 0.328 108/21 4.8 5.5

Source: Fangraphs.com and Baseball-reference.com

Does that mean the Giants have no chance to win the series? Well, not quite. As the old adage goes, “good pitching beats good hitting”. In this series, we can take it even a step further and say “great pitching shuts down all hitting”. As a result, if both rotations pitch to their potential, the Phillies edge on offense could be significantly mitigated. In other words, the Giants can’t win with good pitching performances, but their potential for great ones should give them a chance in the series.

Because runs should be at a premium, and starters should go deep into games, the late inning bullpens of both teams could be the deciding factor. In this regard, the Giants should have an overall edge, but once again not as great as the season numbers indicate because the Phillies’ three core relievers have all pitched well over the last month. Still, the diversity of the Giants bullpen, as well as the question marks that still seem to hover around Brad Lidge, give San Francisco the better chance to hold leads late in the ballgame.

NLCS Bullpen Comparison

Giants 8.65 3.92 2.2 0.57 1.31 0.79 2.99
Phillies 8.14 3.78 2.15 0.79 1.39 0.74 4.02

Source: Fangraphs.com


Key Members of the Giants and Phillies Bullpen, September Performance

Brad Lidge 9.49 6.57 1.44 0.00 1.22 0.87 0.73
Ryan Madson 8.80 4.11 2.14 0.59 1.04 0.90 1.17
J.C. Romero 6.00 9.00 0.67 0.00 2.00 0.85 3.00
Jose Contreras 7.59 2.53 3.00 1.69 1.31 0.71 4.22
Chad Durbin 9.53 5.56 1.71 0.79 1.68 0.68 5.56
Sergio Romo 13.50 0.96 14.00 0.00 0.43 1.00 0.00
Ramon Ramirez 5.40 0.90 6.00 0.00 0.30 1.00 0.00
Guillermo Mota 5.40 3.60 1.50 0.00 0.60 0.67 0.00
Santiago Casilla 6.60 1.80 3.67 0.00 0.73 0.92 0.60
Brian Wilson 9.39 2.35 4.00 0.59 0.78 0.94 1.17
Javier Lopez 9.53 0.00 6.00 0.00 0.71 0.75 1.59
Jeremy Affeldt 6.75 2.25 3.00 0.00 1.38 0.83 2.25

Source: Fangraphs.com

The Giants biggest advantage in the series is the scheduled game four matchup between Blanton and Bumgarner, not only because the latter has pitched better of late, but also because the former has hardly pitched at all. The matchup that most favors the Phillies will take place when Cole Hamels faces off against Matt Cain, against whom Philadelphia has had considerable success. Of course, each of those matchups could be shifted based on the course of the series.

Giants’ Starters vs. Current Phillies’ Batters

Tim Lincecum 159 28 6 9 45 0.192 0.244 0.363 0.607
Jonathan Sanchez 133 17 1 18 37 0.150 0.278 0.239 0.517
Matt Cain 91 23 6 9 21 0.280 0.352 0.622 0.974

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Phillies’ Starters vs. Current Giants’ Batters

Roy Halladay 164 42 1 6 34 0.269 0.299 0.314 0.613
Roy Oswalt 229 52 4 12 43 0.246 0.288 0.355 0.643
Cole Hamels 143 33 6 9 34 0.250 0.298 0.462 0.760
Joe Blanton 104 23 5 2 24 0.237 0.255 0.454 0.709

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Prediction: Phillies in Seven

Something tells me that the Lincecum versus Halladay confrontation is going to disappoint. Heralded pitchers’ duels have a habit of doing that. However, the rest of the series should feature a riveting succession of close games with scrutinized plays and strategic second guessing. Ultimately, Philadelphia’s offensive edge, home field advantage (which favors their power-laden lineup) and likely favorable game seven pitching matchup should result in the fightin’ Phils’ third consecutive National League pennant.

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Tonight’s ALCS opens deep in the heart of Texas, and the Rangers will be looking to settle the score for three recent postseason eliminations suffered at the hands of the Yankees. Even though the storyline seems similar to the just completed ALDS against the Twins, the challenge facing the Yankees this time around should be much greater.

Offense Comparison, Season Totals

Yankees 10.40% 20.40% 0.350 0.436 0.169 5.3 865 132 0.347
Rangers 8.10% 17.50% 0.338 0.419 0.143 4.9 785 61 0.333

Source: Fangraphs.com

Texas Hold ‘Em

If the numbers above look familiar, it’s because the Rangers offense is very similar to the Twins’, but with one significant exception: speed. Unlike the plodding Twins, the Rangers stole 123 bases in 161 attempts and have a lineup that can include as many as six stolen base threats. That could be bad news for the Yankees, who trailed the league in nabbing would-be base stealers, particularly in games started by the right handed Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett. Lost amid all the talk about the Rangers’ speed, however, is the fact that the Yankees actually do that part of the game better. Not only did the Bronx Bombers flex their muscles in 2010 with 201 HRs, but they also stole 103 bases in 133 attempts, a success rate six points better than the Rangers’. Nonetheless, the Yankees will need to do a better job holding runners close in late game situations as the Rangers are undoubtedly planning to test the arm of Jorge Posada.

Ironically, one area in which the Rangers do standout is in terms of the number of sacrifice bunts employed. In a sure sign that these aren’t your daddy’s Rangers, Ron Washington had his offense lay down a sacrifice in a league leading 53 situations. Considering the Yankees’ overall offensive superiority, if Washington continues to play for one run, he could be putting his team at a disadvantage.  

Key Offensive Players

A popular misconception about the Rangers is their lineup is vulnerable to right handed pitchers. However, the team actually had a much higher OPS against them (.772 vs. .718 versus lefties). A big reason for that split was Josh Hamilton, whose OPS against righties was a sparkling 1.163. Also pitching in against righties have been David Murphy (.847) and Mitch Moreland (.869), but Hamilton’s real partner in crime has been Nelson Cruz (.941). Because Cruz also handles lefties with ease (.976), his presence in the lineup serves as a much needed counterweight, regardless of what kind of pitcher is on the mound.

In a lineup as deep as the Yankees, it’s hard to single out any one hitter, but in this series, it could be Robinson Cano. In 2010, Alex Rodriguez pummeled the Rangers to the tune of .360/.515/.720 in 33 plate appearances, including eight walks. As a result, you can bet Rangers’ pitchers will be loath to let Arod beat them. As his protection in the lineup, Cano is likely to find himself in several key situations, and his performance in them could go along way in determining the Yankees’ success in the series.

Pitching Comparison, Prospective Starters in 2010

Yankees 110 51 3.78 1272 2/3 1.27 8.43 1.00 3.00 7.31 2.44
Rangers 75 58 3.64 1155 1/3 1.19 7.81 0.82 2.91 7.73 2.66

Note: Cliff Lee’s numbers with the Seattle Mariners are not included. The statistics for pitchers tentatively scheduled to throw a second time have been counted twice.
Source: Fangraphs.com 

Return of AJ

The Yankees emerged from the ALDS with fewer questions about their starting rotation, but the ALCS reintroduces perhaps their biggest concern…A.J. Burnett. The Yankees enigmatic right hander is currently scheduled to go in game four (although he could be pushed back if the Yankees decide to use Sabathia on three days rest), which coming on the heels of Cliff Lee’s start in game three, could make Burnett’s performance a pivotal factor in the series. It would be wrong, however, to let one start by Burnett overshadow the matchup advantages that the Yankees will enjoy because of the Rangers’ need to hold Lee back until the third game, especially if Burnett is opposed by Tommy Hunter, whose pitch-to-contact approach from the right side doesn’t usually bode well against the Yankees.

Key Pitching Matchups

Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia will not be facing each other in the ALCS.  Instead, CJ Wilson will square off against Sabathia. Although Wilson had a very good season, he was 0-3 with a 5.65 ERA in 14 1/3 innings against the Yankees. There will be no such margin for error against Sabathia, who has yielded only a .533 OPS against to the current Texas’ roster, so the Rangers need Wilson to reverse that trend. Meanwhile, the Yankees should feel a little more comfortable with their counter to the Ranger’s ace. Although Lee has arguably been one of the most dominant postseason hurlers, Pettitte has been the most prolific. Interestingly, many of the big name hitters in each lineup have done well against both lefties, so each confrontation could be more about limiting the damage than shutting down the opposition.

Colby Lewis has mostly relied on a fastball and slider combination to fuel his successful return to the majors, but that plays directly into the Yankees hands as the Bronx Bombers rank third and first, respectively, in terms of runs above average generated against each pitch. What’s more, Lewis’ tendency to allow fly balls could also get him in trouble against the power laden Yankee lineup. Opposing Lewis in a games 2 and 6 will be Phil Hughes, who also is also prone to the fly ball. Unlike Lewis, however, Hughes’ has a more diverse arsenal, and the Rangers have not been particularly successful against his cutter/curveball combo. Ultimately, who keeps the ball in the park most could determine the outcome of the games in which Hughes and Lewis pitch.

Yankees’ Starters vs. Current Rangers’ Batters

Andy Pettitte 173 5 21 17 27 0.327 0.390 0.497 0.886
C.C. Sabathia 155 3 14 8 34 0.182 0.232 0.301 0.533
Phil Hughes 42 0 1 2 8 0.100 0.143 0.150 0.293
AJ Burnett 238 7 24 20 50 0.207 0.286 0.352 0.638
Total 608 15 60 47 119 0.226 0.291 0.364 0.655

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Rangers’ Starters vs. Current Yankees’ Batters

Cliff Lee 354 11 44 20 62 0.269 0.314 0.456 0.770
CJ Wilson 146 2 18 21 35 0.248 0.372 0.355 0.728
Colby Lewis 21 2 3 3 5 0.167 0.286 0.500 0.786
Tommy Hunter 32 0 1 1 3 0.333 0.355 0.333 0.688
Total 553 15 66 45 105 0.264 0.327 0.421 0.749

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Whose Pen Is Mightier?

Both the Yankees and Rangers featured strong bullpens. In fact, their performance was nearly identical. In Texas’ first round series against the Rays, however, the much relied upon trio of Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland and Darren Oliver struggled a bit, so if their woes carry over to the ALCS, the late game advantage could swing in favor of the Yankees. Although Mariano Rivera remains as the Yankees ultimate late inning edge, it should be noted that the Rangers hung two blown saves on the great closer back in September.

Bullpen Comparison, 2010 Totals

Yankees 3.47 7.69 3.61 2.13 0.92 1.25 77.00%
Rangers 3.38 7.58 3.63 2.09 0.86 1.27 77.90%

Source: Fangraphs.com

On defense, both teams feature outfields with plus range along with infields that are somewhat below average, although both Cano and Feliz appear much better to the eye than defensive metrics like UZR/150. The Rangers’ greatest advantage in the field is behind the plate, at least on nights when Bengie Molina is catching.

Prediction: Yankees in Five

The Yankees and Rangers are evenly matched in pitching, both starting and the bullpen, and defense, but the Bronx Bombers do have a decided edge with the bats. As a result, the Yankees should have more of a margin for error against pitchers not named Cliff Lee. That luxury, combined with Sabathia’s historic dominance over the Rangers, should be enough for the Yankees to wrap the series up in five games. If that doesn’t happen, you can bet the Yankees will want to get it done by game six because even with Pettitte slated to go in the finale, the specter of beating Lee with all the marbles on the line seems daunting.

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The NLDS matchup pitting the Giants against the Braves also happens to feature two of the most promising rookies in all of baseball. Atlanta’s Jayson Heyward and San Francisco’s Buster Posey will battle it out for the National League Rookie of the Year Award in November, but their performance in October could wind up being the bigger story.

Although neither team is an offensive juggernaut, Heyward has a lot more help in the Braves lineup, even with the losses of Martin Prado and Chipper Jones. In addition to the late season acquisition of Derek Lee, the bench contributions of Eric Hinske, Omar Infante and Brooks Conrad have helped pick up the slack. However, the Braves depth has not been able to compensate for the lineup’s relative lack of power. Only catcher Brian McCann topped 20 HRs for the Braves, so runs could be hard to come by against the stingy Giants pitching staff.

Without Buster Posey, the Giants would likely not be in the NLDS. However, the rookie catcher wasn’t the only late addition to the team who made a difference. The midseason acquisition of Pat Burrell proved to be a major pickup for the Giants. Before both Posey and Burrell came on board, the lineup was almost single handedly supported by the resurgent Aubrey Huff. Eventually, the development of Andres Torres and further addition of Cody Ross helped round out the lineup, but the Giants’ offense remains a below average unit.

With Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez, the Giants have the edge in starting pitching, but a lot of that has been mitigated by the September dominance of Derek Lowe (5-0 with 1.17 ERA). Behind Lowe, the Braves are well represented by sophomore Tommy Hanson and fellow veteran Tim Hudson. Combined with the relative lack of offense on each team, the quality arms being featured in the series seems to suggest a low scoring NLDS. Ultimately, the series could turn on which team’s rookie hurler (the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner and the Braves’ Brandon Beachy) pitches better in game 4.

The Giants may have an edge in the starting rotation, but the teams are near even in the bullpen. Brian Wilson and Billy Wagner both turned in dominant seasons closing games, but it is the depth that made each team’s bullpen so strong. For the Giants, righties Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla have carried the load, while the Braves have received strong contributions from the likes of Johnny Venters, Peter Moylan, Takashi Saito and Eric O’Flaherty.

Perhaps the biggest gap between the two teams is on defense. While the Giants rate near the top of the National League on defense, the Braves rank near the bottom. In particular, the Braves have struggled to catch the ball on the infield, which doesn’t match up well with Lowe and Hudson, both of whom are extreme ground ball pitchers.

  wOBA ERA+ Starters ERA Relievers ERA Def Eff UZR/150
Giants 0.318 121 3.54 3.11 0.706 8.3
Braves 0.327 110 3.80 2.99 0.687 -5.7

Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

Prediction: Braves in four

Because neither team has a dynamic offense, this series will be decided on the mound. Although the talent of the Giants’ young starters can not be denied, they also lack experience. The Braves, meanwhile, can rely on the playoff tested Lowe and Hudson. In particular, Lowe has proven to be a streaky pitcher who can get on an extended roll, especially in the post season. I look for Lowe to match Lincecum in the opener and then for the Braves to polish off the series when it returns to Atlanta

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I am as superstitious a fan as they come. I also tend to be a lot more guarded in my expectations, at least in comparison to the unmitigated arrogance expressed by the more casual Yankee fan. However, no matter how hard I try to be more even handed in my assessment of tonight’s ALDS, I still can’t help coming to the same conclusion: the New York Yankees are a much better team than the Minnesota Twins. Whether its hitting, pitching or defense, the Yankees seem to have the edge.

At the plate, Yankee batters posted a major league leading wOBA of .347, a good pace ahead of the Twins at .334. In addition, the Yankees have a more diversified offense. Not only did the Bronx Bombers belt 60 more homers, but they also stole 35 more bases while only being caught two more times. What’s more, the Yankees even play small ball as much as the Twins: the two teams were only separated by five sacrifice bunts. About the only thing the Twins do appreciably better is put the ball in play (967 strikeouts to the Yankees’1,136), but, then again, that has led to a league leading 159 double plays, compared to the Yankees’ 124.

Offense Comparison, Season Totals

Yankees 10.4% 20.4% 0.350 0.436 0.169 5.3 865 132 0.347
Twins 8.9% 17.4% 0.341 0.422 0.148 5 785 66 0.334

Source: Fangraphs.com

Much has been made of the thin Yankees rotation, but what about the Twins’? Even including the disastrous seasons of AJ Burnett and Javier Vazquez, the Yankees’ pitching staff still recorded a better ERA+ than the Twins, albeit by a slight margin. However, if you break the comparison down to only include the individual stats of each prospective starter, the edge once again seems to swing more in the Yankees’ favor, especially when you consider the park factors for each team’s home stadium.

Pitching Comparison, Prospective Starters in 2010

Yankees 82 28 3.41 908.5 1.25 8.18 0.90 2.85 7.35 2.58
Twins 65 46 3.83 894.6 1.28 9.16 0.78 2.29 6.69 2.92

Note: The statistics for pitchers scheduled to throw a second time have been counted twice.
Source: Fangraphs.com

On an even more granular level, the Yankees have a decided advantage when comparing the relative performance of each team’s current roster against the scheduled starters in the series. Based on the charts below, perhaps the Twins would have been wise to go with Carl Pavano in the series opener? In any event, C.C. Sabathia gives the Yankees a considerable edge.

Yankees Starters vs. Current Twins Batters

Sabathia 214 5 18 9 54 0.229 0.272 0.353 0.626
Pettitte 184 4 17 8 29 0.277 0.313 0.416 0.729
Hughes 40 0 3 5 6 0.333 0.400 0.394 0.794
Total 438 9 38 22 89 0.258 0.290 0.383 0.673

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Twins Starters vs. Current Yankees Batters

Liriano 156 6 17 13 46 0.266 0.338 0.475 0.812
Pavano 120 4 12 6 26 0.245 0.288 0.409 0.697
Duensing 58 2 9 9 5 0.292 0.397 0.479 0.876
Blackburn 156 4 19 14 19 0.305 0.368 0.447 0.815
Total 490 16 57 42 96 0.276 0.333 0.450 0.782

Source: Baseball-reference.com

In the bullpen, the two teams are relatively comparable from a statistical perspective. However, with all due respect to Jon Rauch, the Yankees have a monumental advantage in the ninth inning. Mariano Rivera’s post season performance has been historic to say the least, and until he proves otherwise, there is no reason to suggest that he won’t continue his dominance this October.

Bullpen Comparison, 2010 Totals

Yankees 3.47 7.69 3.61 2.13 0.92 0.232 1.25 77.0%
Twins 3.49 6.74 2.95 2.28 0.87 0.254 1.29 75.9%

Source: Fangraphs.com

Probably to the surprise of many, the Yankees are also a better defensive team than the Twins, according to defensive efficiency (.707 to .688). Although UZR/150 favors the Twins as a team, it is worth noting that the Yankees have a decided edge in the outfield (8.6 to -3.7). Considering the spacious outfield in Target Field, the Yankees ability to run down balls could prove to be a deciding factor.

Yankees, Twins Outfield Defense

Yankees Innings UZR/150
Brett Gardner 1211 28.7
Curtis Granderson 1120 10.3
Nick Swisher 1103 -0.9
Austin Kearns 236 5.7
Greg Golson 75 29.2
Twins Innings UZR/150
Denard Span 1349 5.9
Delmon Young 1277 -10.8
Jason Kubel 801 -19
Michael Cuddyer 550 -18.6
Jason Repko 306 51.5

Source: Fangraphs.com

Prediction: Yankees in three games

It would be easy to hedge my bet and give Minnesota Twins a game or two, but all of the data and every instinct suggest that the Yankees could be poised for another sweep of the Twins. Of course, being baseball, anything can happen. The Twins are, in fact, a very good team…just not as good as the Yankees. If they were to win the series, it certainly wouldn’t send shockwaves, but make no mistake, it would absolutely be an upset.

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Cincinnati Reds (91-71) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (97-65)

Game 1: Edison Volquez vs. Roy Halladay
Game 2: Bronson Arroyo vs. Roy Oswalt
Game 3: Johnny Cueto vs. Cole Hamels
Game 4*: Edison Volquez vs. Roy Halladay
Game 5*: Bronson Arroyo vs. Roy Oswalt
*Projected and if necessary.

Because the Phillies have so many impact left handed hitters, the idea that the Reds will be hampered by their all-righty rotation has emerged as a popular misconception. Despite the presence of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez in the middle of the lineup, the Phillies still managed to record a higher OPS against southpaws (.767 vs. .736 against righties). Part of the reason for this contradiction is the Phillies’ lefties do not mash righties. In fact, right handed swinging Jayson Werth is the only regular with an OPS above .900 against them. Meanwhile, the Phillies big lefties seem to handle southpaws just fine. In the regular season, Utley had an OPS of over 1.000 against lefties, while Ryan Howard checked in at .826. Their production added to the .900-plus OPS output of guys like Victorino and Ruiz make the Phillies much more formidable when facing pitchers throwing from the port side.

In addition to preferring lefties, the Phillies lineup also seems to enjoy the fastball. According to fangraphs.com, six of the Phillies’ regulars feast on number one. Unfortunately for them, the Reds’ starters are not very big on throwing heat. Both Johnny Cueto and Edison Volquez threw around 55% fastballs in 2010, while Arroyo only went with the express 39.5% of the time. Because all three Reds’ pitchers making their living with off speed pitches, it could spell trouble for the fastball hungry Phillies lineup.

Phillies Lineup, by Pitch Value

  wFB wSL wCT wCB wCH
Jayson Werth 20.2 0.3 1.6 1.1 7.5
Ryan Howard 19.3 3.7 -3.9 4 -4.7
Chase Utley 16 4.1 0.6 4.8 0
Shane Victorino 15.3 -0.5 1 -2 -8.3
Carlos Ruiz 12.2 0.9 -0.3 0.3 1.3
Placido Polanco 8.1 -5.7 -2 2.5 -1.7
Jimmy Rollins 0.1 1.9 -1.2 -0.4 0.8
Raul Ibanez -2.7 -2.8 -0.9 4.5 7.6

Source: Fangraphs.com

Reds Rotation, by Pitch Selection and Value

  FB%  SL% CT% CB% CH%
Bronson Arroyo 39.5% 13.6% 7.3% 14.6% 25.0%
Johnny Cueto 55.2% 26.7% 8.2%   10.0%
Edinson Volquez 56.7% 1.4%   19.1% 22.8%
  wFB wSL wCT wCB wCH
Bronson Arroyo 5.7 5.7 0.9 10.4 4.1
Johnny Cueto -0.5 -1.7 6.9   3.4
Edinson Volquez -2.1 0   2.3 1.4

Source: Fangraphs.com

The Phillies aren’t likely to dominate the Reds with their bats, but that’s not really how they played all season. Although the team did experience a significant increase in offense performance over the final month, the Phillies were still a middling offense over the entire regular season. Instead, what fueled the two-time defending NL champions was an outstanding starting rotation. In the NLDS, however, they will be facing the NL’s best offense in terms of runs per game, slugging and OPS+, among other stats. Even more impressive, they have performed well above league average against both righties and lefties. Led by potential MVP Joey Votto, the Reds feature a malleable lineup of veterans and youngsters. The Reds also bring one the strongest and most tested benches into the post season, as five “backup players” have produced around or above league average in at least 180 plate appearances. As a result, Dusty Baker could have the upper hand when it comes to late game substitutions.

Another advantage for the Reds lineup is it features an eclectic group of hitters. Unlike the Phillies who feast on the fastball, the Reds lineup consists of hitters who handle a variety of pitches. Because the Phillies projected three starters also do not rely on the fastball, the Reds’ offensive flexibility could prove to be another important competitive advantage.

Reds Lineup, by Pitch Value

  wFB wSL wCT wCB wCH
Joey Votto 39.3 8.2 1.2 0.9 4
Ramon Hernandez 9.9 -4.1 1.4 0.6 -2.5
Jonny Gomes 8.1 -1.7 5.4 0.8 -5.4
Scott Rolen 7.1 -1.2 -0.9 5.9 7.7
Brandon Phillips 6.4 -5.8 0 -0.5 8.2
Jay Bruce 5.3 -5.1 2.5 4.3 4.2
Miguel Cairo 4.9 -2.5 -1 0.6 1.2
Laynce Nix -0.2 0.4 1.8 0.3 -1.4
Ryan Hanigan -0.9 7.5 -0.3 1.6 -1.9
Orlando Cabrera -2.2 -4.2 -1.8 0.4 -2.8
Chris Heisey -2.5 6.2 1.9 -4.2 -1.7
Drew Stubbs -2.9 14.2 -0.6 -4.4 -1.2
Paul Janish -3.5 0.9 1.8 -0.5 0.7

Source: Fangraphs.com

Phillies Rotation, by Pitch Selection and Value

  FB%  SL% CT% CB% CH%
Roy Oswalt 55.4% 11.5%   12.7% 20.3%
Cole Hamels 54.3%   14.7% 8.2% 22.8%
Roy Halladay 37.4%   34.2% 16.9% 11.5%
  wFB wSL wCT wCB wCH
Roy Oswalt 11.8 2.1   0 9.5
Cole Hamels 11.5   -1 1.3 8.8
Roy Halladay 6.5   18.1 8.9 6.1

Source: Fangraphs.com

While the Phillies have a decided advantage in terms of overall talent, the matchups seem to favor the Reds more than one would think at first glance. As a result, this series could come down to which bullpen is best able to hold a lead in the late innings. For the Phillies, that means Brad Lidge must maintain his second half resurgence. Since the All Star Break, Lidge has earned 21 saves while holding opposing batters to a .532 OPS. Meanwhile, a secret weapon for the Reds could be Aroldis Chapman. Although the Phillies have had success against lefties and as a group seem to prefer hitting the fastball, they’ve likely never seen a pitcher like Chapman. With his 100-plus mph fastball, Chapman has the potential to become an important part of the Reds’ bullpen, much in the same way Francisco Rodriguez burst on the scene for the Angels in the 2002 post season.

Prediction: Reds in Five Games

Roy Oswalt has pitched excellently since being traded over from the Astros, but while in Houston the right hander surrendered nine runs in 12 innings against the Reds. A mostly fastball and changeup pitcher, Oswalt could be vulnerable to a Reds lineup that has several hitters who perform well against both pitches. As a result, look for the Reds to win both games he is tentatively scheduled to start, meaning Cincinnati will need to either steal one game from Roy Halladay or find a way to beat Cole Hamels. Either task won’t be easy, but with a deep lineup like the Reds, I’ll take my chances for one late game comeback.

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For some reason, the Rays have emerged as a decided favorite in their ALDS showdown with the Rangers, despite the two teams being relatively equal in most facets of the game. In fact, based on ERA+ and wOBA, the Rangers actually come out ahead. Although the Rays rate better on defense, their advantage is not to the degree that would mitigate all other factors.

Tale of the Tape

  wOBA ERA+ UZR/150
Rays 0.333 110 5.0
Rangers 0.328 104 1.6

Source: Fangraphs.com

Of course, season long performance loses a lot of its relevance in a short series. In this case, the most important factors for the Rangers (the acquisition of Cliff Lee and health of Josh Hamilton) would be disguised in the regular season statistics. Meanwhile, for the Rays, their most prominent regular season strength (the depth of their pitching staff) seems as if it started to crumble down the stretch. Because the teams are really so closely matched, this series seems as if it has the potential to turn on the performance of each teams’ best player.

Key Player for the Rays: David Price

While the rest of the Rays rotation was crumbling in September, David Price was a rock. However, Price is now entering unchartered territory as the lefty approaches a 50 inning increase over his previous season’s workload. As the innings continue to mount on Price’s young arm, it’s hard to say how he will respond. With Cliff Lee being his game one mound opponent, even a slight slip in his game could prove costly to the Rays. In the event Tampa should drop game 1, they’ll then have to turn to the veteran duo of Matt Garza and James Shields. The only problem with that strategy is both were awful coming down the stretch. In September, Garza and Shields posted ERAs of 5.88 and 7.59, respectively.

Key Player for the Rangers: Josh Hamilton

The Rangers offense does not feature the same dynamic lineup of year’s past. Instead, much of the power is centered around the trio of Nelson Cruz, Vladimir Guerrero and Hamilton. As the only lefty of the group, Hamilton has emerged as the focal point of the Rangers’ attack. Without him, the team struggled in September, so for the Rangers to win, they’ll need their MVP candidate to be fully healthy. Otherwise, Texas will find itself vulnerable to the Rays preponderance of right handed pitchers.

Prediction: Rangers in Three

If Cliff Lee pitches anything like he did in the 2009 post season, the Rangers could be in line for a sweep. The biggest problem for the Rays is even if Price can pitch as well as Lee, he isn’t as likely to pitch as long. Because both teams have relatively strong and diverse bullpens, the series will likely come down to which rotation holds up its end of the bargain. Considering Shields’ and Garza’s late season struggles, a loss in the first game could quickly snowball into a sweep. Game one will definitely be a close one, but if Lee can prevail, I like the chances of that happening.

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At the beginning of the season, I took a stab at predicting the final major league standings as well as the winners of the major awards. So, without further ado, just how well did those “educated” guesses turn out?

Listed below are my predicted standings taken from the link above. Also added to the chart is a differential column displaying how far the forecast was from the actual result.

AL East     Diff   NL East     Diff
Yankees 97 65 -2   Braves 91 71
Rays 92 70 4   Phillies 89 73 8
Red Sox 90 72 -1   Marlins 81 81 -1
Orioles 76 86 -10   Mets 75 87 4
Blue Jays 72 90 13   Nationals 67 95 2
AL Central         NL Central      
Twins 88 74 6   Cardinals 90 72 -4
White Sox 85 77 3   Reds 84 78 7
Tigers 81 81   Brewers 82 80 -5
Indians 77 85 -8   Cubs 80 82 -5
Royals 66 96 1   Pirates 70 92 -13
          Astros 66 96 10
AL West         NL West      
Rangers 87 75 3   Rockies 87 75 -4
Angels 84 78 -4   Dbacks 83 79 -18
Mariners 80 82 -19   Dodgers 82 80 -2
As 77 85 4   Giants 81 81 11
          Padres 70 92 20

In the American League, all four of the playoff teams were correctly predicted, although I had the Yankees winning the division instead of the wild card. Furthermore, eight of the 14 teams were pegged within four games of the actual total, while nine were correctly placed in the standings. There were big misses, however. The Mariners underperformed my prediction by a whopping 19 games, while the Orioles and Blue Jays each deviated from the forecast by double digits, albeit in different directions. Who knows, if Buck had been hired a couple of weeks early, I might not have been so far off the mark.

In the National League, I wasn’t as prescient, this time only predicting two playoff teams, although not in the correct order. The Phillies late surge upset what otherwise might have been a dead-on forecast for the NL East, but nothing could have saved my blurry view of the NL West. In that division, the forecast was off by double digits for three teams, including a 20 game under estimation for the champion San Francisco Giants. In the Central, I had the Reds properly highlighted as a team poised for improvement, but Dusty Baker got his team to do even better than I had predicted. At the bottom of the division, the Pirates grossly underperformed an already low expectation, while the Astros proved to be much better than the league worst team I had forecast.

So, how well did I really do? It wasn’t the original point of this exercise, but as things turned out, pretty darn good. In fact, I came out ahead of an entire selection of experts (for the original data, click here, and for the calculations, click here), based on average absolute value for each predicted total. Below is a ranking based on that criteria, as well as a look at how many individual predictions were either “dead on”, “near misses” or “off the mark”.

Captain’s Blog vs. the Experts

Website Name Avg. Difference Dead On Near Misses Off the Mark
Captain’s Blog williamnyy 6.4 2 18 8
ESPN Law 6.6 2 17 6
Yahoo! Henson 6.6 4 13 7
NJIT Bukiet 6.6 1 17 7
Yahoo! Brown 6.7 2 15 6
O/Us Pinnacle 6.7 0 16 7
Expert Average 6.9 2 12 5
Rotowire Sheehan 6.9 2 14 10
via RLYW CAIRO 7.2 1 13 7
ESPN Neyer 7.4 1 18 9
via RLYW Marcel 7.6 3 11 7
BPro PECOTA 7.6 1 14 11
S. Smith CHONE 7.6 1 12 9
via RLYW Oliver 7.8 0 11 9
Yahoo! Passan 8.0 0 14 10
ESPN ZiPS 8.8 1 10 9

Dead On refers to exact predictions, or where a simulator was done, those with an absolute value rounding to 0.
Near Misses refer to prediction within five games of the actual total.
Off the mark refers to prediction 10 games or more from the actual total.

Ok, fine, I didn’t say my predictions were head and shoulders above the experts. In particular, ESPN’s Keith Law’s predictions came with a small percentage of my average, while also tying Yahoo!’s Tim Brown for the fewest forecasts that were off the mark. Fellow ESPN analyst Rob Neyer did not perform as well on average, but his 18 near misses tied my total for most among the experts.

Most of the forecasts bringing up the rear were generated by projections systems like CAIRO, PECOTA, CHONE and ZIPS. The most unimpressive predictions from a human came from Yahoo!’s Jeff Pasan, who missed by an average of eight games per forecast and had 10 guesses miss by a wide mark.

Despite missing two playoff teams in the NL, both of my LCS matchups are still in play, so there is still hope for the Yankees vs. Braves rematch that I predicted. My CY Young predictions of Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez also look very good, but those weren’t exactly long shots to begin with. My MVP choices of Alex Rodriguez and Chase Utley were also chalk selections, but injuries derailed both players. Finally, my NL ROY selection of Jayson Heyward seems like a good bet, but my wildly optimistic expectations for Scott Sizemore now seem somewhat silly.

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