Division Preview: AL East

And now the final division preview, just in time for Opening Day. If you missed them, here are the first five:

NL West
AL West
NL Central
AL Central
NL East

Now, wrapping things up with the AL East.

The Projected Standings

Team Wins Losses Division Wild Card World Series
Red Sox 87 75 45% 18% 8%
Blue Jays 83 79 19% 17% 3%
Yankees 83 79 19% 16% 3%
Rays 80 82 11% 12% 2%
Orioles 79 83 7% 9% 1%

The only division in baseball where all five teams have a legitimate shot at winning; the projected spread between first and last place in the AL East is smaller than the gap between first and second place in the NL East. The forecasts have a favorite, but this division is wide open, and nearly any order of finish could be reasonable. On to the teams themselves.

Boston Red Sox

Maybe the Giants and Red Sox have some kind of weird co-deal with the devil, with San Francisco getting the even years and the Red Sox getting the odds? Boston is projected to go worst-to-first for the second consecutive opportunity, as the projections buy into the offensive makeover and a solid bullpen making up for a mediocre rotation. The team’s depth of position players has Rusney Castillo starting the year in the minors, and while that won’t help them on the field in April, the many backup plans the team have in place should keep them from playing too many scrubs this season. While the pre-season focus is usually on a team’s ceiling, avoiding a low floor can often be just as important, and the Red Sox have one of the highest position player floors in baseball.

This team’s fate is likely to be decided on the mound, however. Boston’s front office has made a bet that you don’t need an ace to win in the regular season, especially if you have solid mid-rotation starters from front-to-back. I think they’re right, and while having a dominant starter is important for the postseason, I don’t think you really need one in April, so long as the rest of your roster is strong enough to compensate. Come August, if the Sox are contenders, I’d speculate that Rick Porcello won’t be the team’s #1 starter heading into the stretch-run, but they’ll take their team figuring out what they have before they commit to paying the market price for a #1 starter.

This Red Sox team still isn’t quite a finished product, and I wouldn’t bet on this roster to do that well in October, but Boston has six months to realign things for the postseason tournament, and the current batch of players should be strong enough to keep them in the race for a playoff berth while they figure out what they have.

Toronto Blue Jays

The early winter’s most active team — only later overtaken by A.J. Preller after an apparent overdose of Red Bull — the Blue Jays are another classic stars-and-scrubs team that will likely go as far as their role players can take them. The top-end of the roster is tremendous, with Josh Donaldson joining Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in a line-up may cause many lefties to come down with flu-like symptoms the night before their starts. The Jays have stacked some very strong hitters together, but despite the star power, their line-up also features Justin Smoak, Dalton Pompey, and Devon Travis. These guys all project as slightly-above replacement, so while they aren’t complete black holes, the bottom of Toronto’s order isn’t as strong as you’d expect based on the guys at the top.

And then there’s the pitching. Without Marcus Stroman, the rotation is now leaning very heavily on young hurlers Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez, both of whom may struggle to throw strikes consistently in the majors. Toss in 20-year-olds Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro in the bullpen, and this pitching staff is one enormous bet on stuff over experience. The projections look at these four young hurlers and see a bunch of guys who are probably not ready for the roles they are being asked to fill, but the reality is that if the forecasts are right about these kids, they probably won’t stay in these roles for very long; the upside here is that the Blue Jays are projected to win 83 games despite getting very little from two rotation spots and nothing from two bullpen spots.

If any of the kids are more big-league ready than the projections think, the Jays aren’t far behind the Red Sox, and even if the kids do struggle, it seems likely that Toronto won’t wait too terribly long to swap them out for big league upgrades. This is a team built to win now taking a gamble on some young guys, but they aren’t committed to these gambles for the entire season, and if they don’t work early, they’ll try something else. That’s why I think the forecasts are probably a win or two light here, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Toronto in the playoffs when the season ends. But to get there, they’re probably going to have to have been right about at least one or two of these youngsters.

New York Yankees

I think I’ll take the under here. This .500ish forecast includes a +3 WAR performance from Masahiro Tanaka, who is already publicly stating that he’s expecting to throw in the high-80s this year. Maybe Tanaka will be one of the first guys to figure out how to pitch through an elbow problem successfully, but I don’t think he’ll throw 150 innings for New York this year, and I don’t think he’ll be as good as the projections think when he is on the mound. And if you take him out of the picture for an extended period of time, this rotation does not look good enough to make up for a pretty mediocre offense.

I think the Yankees top four position players — Jacoby Ellsbury, Chase Headley, Brett Gardner, and Brian McCann — are probably underrated, and they’re all solid pieces who can easily play on a contender. But you don’t really want any of these guys to be your best position player, and there’s a huge gap between these guys and whoever you think is the fifth best everyday player on the Yankees. Maybe Carlos Beltran has a big comeback year. Maybe Didi Gregorius figures out how to hit lefties and becomes a star at shortstop. Maybe A-Rod hits 40 home runs and becomes a media darling. Anything is possible — okay, not that last one — but these are long-shots at best, and assuming several of these bets fail, there isn’t enough at the top of the roster to carry the Yankees, especially without Tanaka.

If Nathan Eovaldi takes a huge step forward while Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova prove healthy, a Wild Card run isn’t out of the question. But this team is a far stretch from the days of the Yankees having star players around the diamond; you have to squint to even find one, really, and there aren’t enough above-average role players to make up for the lack of a true franchise player anywhere on the field.

Tampa Bay Rays

In a world where Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly can both give the Rays 200 innings, I’d find the Rays case as a Wild Card contender pretty interesting. At that point, they’d have one of the strongest pitching-and-defense combinations in baseball, and maybe just enough hitting to be the 2015 version of the Kansas City Royals. But Cobb and Smyly are both starting the year on the disabled list, which will force the team to try to win low-scoring games with Nate Karns and Erasmo Ramirez on the mound. That’s a tougher sell, and unless the team’s magical pitcher-fixing abilities are about to turn Jake Odorizzi into an #1 starter, the April version of the Rays could actually be pretty terrible.

And if the hole becomes sizable enough early in the season, then a team in the Rays position will have to start thinking about selling, which likely starts shipping all the good relievers out of town and leads to a second half where the team is simply evaluating talent rather than trying to win. That’s the danger of starting slowly for a team that can’t afford to wait too long to make their in-season buy/sell decisions, and losing Cobb and Smyly early in the year make it more likely that the team ends up as sellers, pushing them down below their pre-season win total from the forecasts.

That isn’t the only way this season goes, of course. Smyly and Cobb could come back at 100%, the outfield defense could be amazing enough to make even inferior pitchers look great, and perhaps the numerous job-shares end up being more effective than one would expect based on the individual parts. There is a chance for this team to put it together and make a run this year, even while the Rays mostly look towards the future.

But that would require the team to turn a lot of lemons into lemonade. And as a wise man once said, if you don’t also have sugar, your lemonade is going to suck.

Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles have spent the last few years making the pre-season projections look silly. They’ve even made the in-season models look dumb, as those of us who have believe in the predictive power of things like BaseRuns keep pronouncing that regression is coming, only it never really has. Despite all kinds of statistical markers downplaying their strengths, the Orioles have won 274 games over the last three years, fourth most in baseball.

So I understand completely if Orioles fans don’t particularly care that the algorithms still don’t buy in, and are projecting yet another sub-.500 season. I imagine these tools have little credibility in Baltimore at the moment, and that won’t change until the Orioles actually play like the projections expect one of these years. And it is possible that the models are broken and the Orioles are the franchise who have figured out how to exploit those holes. But it’s also possible that it’s just been how baseball works, and the Orioles outstanding 2012-2014 run might not be the sign of a team that has a sustainable ability to beat the forecasts.

As with the last few years, the Orioles are again betting that their defense and Buck Showalter’s magnificent bullpen usage can make up for a weak starting rotation, and that they’ll be able to get enough offense out of undervalued pieces like Travis Snider and Alejandro De Aza to compensate for the bats that left via free agency. If Chris Davis has a big rebound season — he doesn’t even have to be the 2013 version to be quite valuable — and the O’s can get J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters on the field for most of the season, the Orioles certainly have a chance to make another run.

But they’re going to need Buck Showalter’s magic to actually be a thing. If they win 90 games again with this roster, it will likely be time to admit that the Orioles have something figured out.

We hoped you liked reading Division Preview: AL East by Dave Cameron!

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newest oldest most voted
everdiso
Guest
everdiso

why are pedroia, napoli, hanley, and ortiz all projected to stay exact same as they were last year, as opposed to the dramatic declines that they’re all clearly experiencing?? and the projections are just supposed to make us believe that bogaerts will magically become a 2.5 war player after basically being replacement level last year?

i’m sorry but these projections just don’t pass the sanity test. i’d much rather have a young guy with upside like smoak at 1b then bet on an again napoli to somehow reverse his clear downward spiral. ditto for saunders in lf as opposed to hanley. and don’t even get me started at c. projecting blake swihart (a poor man’s jp arencibia) for 0.4 war before he’s taken a major league at bat is ludicrous

and just a friendly reminder:
2014 war of current red sox starters: 6.6
2015 projected war of those starters: 6.9

how the projections systems somehow got that all of the red sox starters would take a huge leap from their 2014 performances is beyond me

Chowjuch
Guest
Chowjuch

You can certainly be skeptical, and you may even be right. But the flipside of the coin says: Mike Napoli has a healthy finger and is sleep apnea free, Dustin Pedroia has a healthy wrist and thumb, Ortiz had a bad luck on balls in play last year, and Bogaerts should improve somewhat (maybe not all the way to 2.5 but still somewhat). That’s how the projections must see it, and I am actually inclined to agree.

safds
Guest
safds

All the things you’re inclined to agree with appear to be somewhat sunny projections/interpretations. Given the injury problems those players have had, their increasing age (w/the exception of Xander), and what is arguably some age related decline that was already going on a safer bet would probably be somewhere in the middle – which would suggest at least the projections for those four players are a little optimistic right now.

Minja
Guest
Minja

Pedroia: regression (upwards) to the mean vs. age-related decline.

Napoli: health vs. age-related decline.

Hanley: health vs. age-related decline.

Ortiz: steroids.

Bogaerts: everdiso is nuts.

Smoak over Napoli? Everdiso is nuts.

Rotation: I would expect slight improvement from Porcello and Miley based on improved defense alone. Buchholz may be in line for a huge improvement if he can stay healthy. Think that the projections are overrating Kelly and probably being overly optimistic on the health of Masterson, but the Sox have enough behind him (Wright, Owens, Rodriguez, Workman, Barnes, etc.) and enough in trade ammunition that I think the Sox on the net are better situated w/ SPs than last year. 6.9 vs. 6.6 sounds about right, except that I think there’s considerably more upside this year.

General Pepper
Guest

Let it noted that on this day, April 6, 2015, noted fangraphs commenter everdiso found irrefutable evidence of pro-red sox bias in mathematically-derived projections through use of several poignant anecdotes. Thanks for your contributions to the world’s understanding of statistics, projection, and prediction of future baseball performance. We are forever in your debt.

Mean Mr. Mustard
Guest
Mean Mr. Mustard

Say there, lad! You’ve the wrong appellation on, you have. Sergeant is a perfectly noble profession. Nick Fury did it, as did York. On th’ other hand…there is Bilko and Gomer Pyle.

Carry on, general.

villapalomares
Guest
villapalomares

Not Gomer Pyle. Sergeant Carter. ?

CrazyPants
Guest

Let it also be noted that “the projections” are the gospel and they should be taken as the absolute word of GOD. I jest but this is what the response seems like to everyone that has some question about anything found in any computerized model. And to anyone that insists on “showing your work” or any other trite remark, these are opinions. And we only have to show how horribly wrong the models have consistently been with a team like the O’s to shut down that argument.

And of course the O’s are once again laughably underrated. I just wonder if the models themselves will be re-examined if the O’s blow the projection away yet again.

sportsczar
Member
sportsczar

Maybe you don’t understand WAR? 6.9 WAR is essentially statistically the same as 6.6. It is less than half a win difference and far from a “huge leap.”

I’m not looking to argue or take sides, but if the numbers are correct (6.6 & 6.9), then perhaps you should revisit, as a friendly reminder, what the definition of WAR is.

K
Guest
K

He isn’t interested in statistics or data except to the degree than can be used to validate his deep, Bellevue-caliber fixation – not even with his favorite team, one he roots as part of a healthy, happy existence – but with a team he roots against so much that he spends all his idle time yelling at people as they walk by.

In short, he is not a person you can talk to. You can only squint, nod assuringly, or laugh and, realizing the tirade isn’t going to stop any time soon, drop your spare change in his RED SOX CONSPIRACY-scribbled cup and continue on your way.

Will Graham
Guest
Will Graham

Justin Smoak is a young guy with upside? Did I fall into my time machine to 2011?

dom
Guest
dom

*yankee fan cries over Seattle choosing Smoak package for Cliff Lee* That was a shift of 2 pennants right there.

Hendu for Kutch
Guest
Hendu for Kutch

I read this article after it was posted and then said to myself, “I bet if I refresh this page, there’ll be an everdiso rant about the Red Sox all being overrated.” Nailed it!

“bogaerts will magically become a 2.5 war player after basically being replacement level last year” vs. “young guy with upside like smoak at 1b”. Never change everdiso. Never change.

safds
Guest
safds

The Smoak over Napoli nonsense isn’t worth a damn but one doesn’t have to be a hater to think that projection systems might be overrating the red sox.

Hendu for Kutch
Guest
Hendu for Kutch

Certainly not. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a “hater” and hasn’t proven it over and over again.

A substance-free critique is not worth a damn just because a critique with substance that reaches the same conclusion also exists.

K
Guest
K

First part: “Why aren’t these projections acknowledging the age of these older players! Age matters!”

Second part: “Why are these projections acknowledging the age of this very-young top prospect? Age doesn’t matter!”

Jacob Leong
Member
Jacob Leong

You really just compared Blake Swihart to J.P Arencibia, favoured Smoak over Napoli, said that Hanley is worse than Saunders in one comment? Wow.

everdiso
Member
everdiso

another effective preemptive strike by the red sox fan everdiso troll replere with intentionally bad stats. man you work hard at this. i can’t even keep up with you.

now for a real everdiso comment:

Do we realize that every single red sock starting pitcher and position player is projected for either identical or better war rate pace than they had least year….except for mookie?

on top of that, the collective bench and bullpen are projected to near identical paces as they put up last year, too.

that’s right – the only startung sox player to be projected to decline in performance is the guy with the negligible sample size who is still projected to put up the most war of any full first year player.

The projections don’t see one significant decline on the entire roster, despite the majority of it being on the wrong side of 30, with significant health concerns too. That is, at the very least, extremely unlikely.

now, no matter how hard the pseudo everdiso works to divert attention, this is still truly amazing stuff from the projections that shouldn’t be ignored by any objective observer. including the pseudo everdiso.

John
Guest
John

You realize projections aren’t just based on one year right? Projections have been proven to be superior to just using last years stats. Many Red Sox players last year underperformed compared to career norms and many suffered bad BABIP luck. This means a huge majority of them are going to be projected to be better than they were last year.

Visitor
Guest
Visitor

Everdiso is annoying enough without having to have clearly fake verions on every single article. Let him make his own ludicrous rants.

Wags (@wags721)
Guest
Wags (@wags721)

Not sure why replying, but comparing Swihart to Arencibia is the most absurd thing ever slipped into a trolling comment. If Swihart busts, it won’t be because of a 30% K rate or because he’s a terrible defensive catcher who shouldn’t be catching.

Wags (@wags721)
Guest
Wags (@wags721)

Not sure why replying, but comparing Swihart to Arencibia is the most absurd thing ever slipped into a trolling comment. If Swihart busts, it won’t be because of a 30% K rate or 3% BB rate or because he’s a terrible defensive catcher who shouldn’t be catching.