Making predictions about teams and players before each new baseball season begins can be an incredibly fun way to get to know each team, the players, and many other little things that may otherwise go unnoticed to those who aren’t exploring every possible caveat of an organization that they can to try to make that bold, yet as close to perfect as possible, prediction. Of course everyone who makes predictions is almost always wrong, and sometimes in some highly amusing ways, but that doesn’t stop us from taking part in the fun around this time of the year anyway.
That’s why I’m going to use Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system and their playoff odds report to determine which teams who have been given the lowest odds of reaching the playoffs this year will give the finger to their projection system and make it in anyway. So things don’t get too carried away I’m only going to look at teams that have been given a less than five percent chance of making the playoffs and explaining why they actually do have a shot. In total there are five teams that PECOTA has been incredibly unkind to in regards to their prospects for success this baseball season.
Baltimore Orioles – PECOTA Playoff Odds: 4.8%
The Baltimore Orioles were darlings of the American League, along with the Oakland Athletics of course, after finishing the 2012 regular season with 93 wins and then beating the Texas Rangers in the newly minted Wild-Card play-in game. They were also just one win away from knocking the division rival New York Yankees out of the postseason and advancing to the ALCS.
Even though they didn’t make any big splashes in the free agent market this winter they did manage to re-sign outfielder Nate McLouth, who performed well offensively and shored up left field defensively for the Birds, and are returning essentially the same team that won 93 games last year. Their lack of activity this winter seemed to surprise a good number of fans and media but they were also smart enough to not display the kind of knee-jerk reactionism that typically gets an organization in trouble a few years down the road.
PECOTA doesn’t believe in giving points for not making any dumb decisions though, if PECOTA even has feelings (which is a big fat no, hopefully – certainly don’t want PECOTA to be the dawn of Skynet), and has placed the Orioles playoff odds at just 4.8% and predicts the team to not even finish with a .500 record. Ouch!
While I won’t go so far as to call PECOTA dumb, mostly out of fear and the idea that it’ll come after me if I do, but it does make you wonder how it can give better playoff odds to 16 different teams that didn’t even make the playoffs last year than to a team that actually did.
No one is calling the Orioles World Series favorites by any means but they are sporting increased levels of depth on offense and defense as well as in their pitching staff. They may never repeat, then again no team may ever repeat, their success in one-run and extra-inning games again but that doesn’t mean they don’t boast a solid and deep bullpen, still capable of putting up a top 10 performance overall. Their starting rotation may not boast your traditional, clearly defined, number one and two starters but it does sport a collection of players who have far more upside than most teams whose rotations do consist of that typical ace.
They are returning key members of their lineup such as Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, who are entering their age 27 seasons, and will also have previously injured players such as Nolan Reimold, Nick Markakis, and even Brian Roberts healthy and ready to go once the regular season begins. Their offense was middle of the pack and did enough to support the pitching staff without two, or more, of them throughout all of last season. Are we supposed to believe that the offense is going to be worse upon their return?
Finally, their defense has finally been shored up with McLouth in left field and Manny Machado playing third base. Those two moves alone were enough to take them from one of the worst fielding teams on the left side in all of baseball to a well above average fielding team on the left side, and all over really, from August on. We should be able to reasonably expect that to continue as well.
These are the reasons why PECOTA is incorrect in its assessment that the Orioles will not only miss the playoffs but also play below .500 baseball.
Colorado Rockies – PECOTA Playoff Odds: 4.8%
It would be easy to see why the Colorado Rockies don’t have too many expectations to win this season; they lost 98 games last year, finished dead last in pitching nearly across the board, and have done absolutely nothing to substantially improve their team – on paper at least. That doesn’t mean this team and their fans should go ahead and bite down on that cyanide capsule before the season even begins though.
The Rockies offense was still as dominant as ever as they finished second in team batting average (.274), fourth in slugging percentage (.436), and sixth overall in runs scored (758) and OBP (.330). Say what you want about them playing half their games at home because every team plays half their games at home and if you don’t win the bulk of your games at home then you don’t stand a chance of making the playoffs anyway.
Part of their issue winning at home, though, has been their pitching staff getting clobbered there. They finished dead last in all of baseball in team ERA (5.22), WHIP (1.55), and BAA (.290). However, their ERA at home was an earth shattering 5.97 while it was just 4.41 on the road. I won’t go so far as to say that having a team ERA of even 4.41 is a great thing but with their offense it would’ve been far more manageable.
There is plenty of hope though, seriously. Their offense and defense is set as they are getting players back who were injured for parts of last season and they have finally found their catcher for the future in Wilin Rosario. There is even hope for the starting rotation to improve their overall performance, quite a bit actually, this year as well.
The Rockies top three starters in their rotation last were Jorge de la Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, and Juan Nicasio. They combined for just 28 starts due to injury and that not only put a great strain on the pitching depth they had in the minors but also destroyed any real chance their bullpen had of being somewhat fresh for the second half of the season.
With all three of them returning from injury and completely healthy to begin this season those 28 combined starts should, hopefully, turn into at least 28 starts apiece. At any rate, 80+ starts combined from the three of them will go a long way towards further stabilizing their starting rotation and keeping the bullpen fresh and effective all season long. The fact that De la Rosa is really only a year and a half away from having put up some pretty impressive numbers for pitching in Coors Field is pretty impressive if he’s able to get back to that.
The two pitchers with the most upside though, and upside that wouldn’t be surprising to see realized this season, is Chacin (who has already proven to be an effective starter in the Rockies rotation) and Nicasio who has some pretty impressive K/BB ratios under his belt already and experienced his own success in Colorado back in 2011. With a healthy starting rotation and a top five offense this is a team that could easily see their fortunes turn around and earn themselves a postseason berth.
Miami Marlins – PECOTA Playoff Odds: 1.7%
The Miami Marlins were the darlings of last winter when they signed Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell but things went very bad very quickly once the regular season began. They went 8-14 in April to begin the season and all of baseball began to talk that perhaps all of their new acquisitions for their new ballpark just simply weren’t going to work out. Things quieted down a bit after posting a 21-8 record in May but it didn’t stay that way for long. They went 40-71 the rest of the way and finished 29 games out of first place.
The problem, surprisingly enough, was their offense as they finished 24th overall in batting average (.244), 26th overall in OBP (.308), 24th overall in slugging percentage (.382), and 29th overall in runs scored (609). Had their offense been able to put up at least league average numbers then they would have likely been no worse than a .500 team but more than likely competing for a wild card spot.
Given the crushing failure of their bid to spend big and make the postseason the Marlins did what they do best after spending a little money – they had a fire sale and everything and everyone went with exception of Giancarlo Stanton and the often cited “tacky” home run sculpture beyond the centerfield wall. So what exactly do the Marlins have left over from their fire sale and who exactly did they get in return that could help them win this year?
The answer to that question is that the Marlins will have a very young, but very athletically gifted team this season. They only have six players on their roster, that projects to be a part of their active roster once the regular season begins, 30 years of age or older. This is a team that has all of their starting position players under the age of 25 with exception to center and left field as well as third base, depending on the health of Placido Polanco.
Ricky Nolasco, the other remaining holdover from the fire sale, appears set to lead a rotation that will have plenty of youth in it as well. That youth is very talented though as guys like Jacob Turner, Henderson Alvarez, and Nate Eovaldi have high ceilings and appear very capable of proving they can hang at the major league level on a consistent basis.
When looking over their roster they appear to be a team that has the perfect mix of veterans and young players who simply don’t really know any better, and that whole not knowing any better could really serve this team well in regards to surprising the masses this season. Other than seemingly having that perfect mix of veteran leadership and youthful enthusiasm, this team’s real strength is defense and a speed/power combination that could prove very potent on offense.
Minnesota Twins – PECOTA Playoff Odds: 1.5%
Where it was the offense that prevented the Marlins from really taking off, last season it was the starting rotation that crushed the hopes and dreams of Twins fans. Their offense was in the upper half of most offensive categories but their pitching was at or near the bottom three in just about every pitching related category. It was so bad last year that they spent the entire winter retooling their starting rotation and come into spring training with potentially four new faces in the rotation this season.
The key to their starting rotation improving enough to keep the team in games long enough to win will be health. Vance Worley, the one with arguably the most upside in the rotation, had his 2012 season cut short after having surgery in September to remove a loose body and bone spur. Recent reports suggest he is healthy and ready to go and if that’s true then the Twins will have a guy that will help solidify their rotation.
Mike Pelfrey is coming off of Tommy John Surgery but he indicates that he will be 100% ready to go by Opening Day and that is certainly encouraging news. If he is in fact fully recovered, and effective, then he is someone that could feasibly pitch around 170 and 180 innings for the team and could become a solid number three starter in the rotation.
Then of course we have Rich Harden who has had shoulder and arm issues for about eight years now and hasn’t made 30 starts in a season since 2004. He says that he is now feeling the best he has felt, health wise, in nearly six years. That’s another bit of encouraging news for the Twins because when he’s on he is nearly unhittable and actually has more strikeouts (949) over his career than innings pitched (928.1) – impressive.
The final piece that the team added for the rotation through free agency was Kevin Correia, who has spent his entire career in the National League and has been fairly up and down performance wise. He’s recently become more of a groundball pitcher and if he can continue that then he should have some moderate success with the Twins. He’s a guy that has made 25 or more starts four seasons in a row now and there’s nothing to suggest he won’t have another healthy year in 2013.
One of the biggest bright spots in the rotation from last season, who should also continue to develop and improve, is Scott Diamond and he should already have his rotation spot locked up as he posted a 3.54 ERA over 27 starts and 173 innings pitched, but more impressive was his groundball rate (53.4%) and that will help him continue his success in the rotation. He’s someone that could legitimately pitch well enough to make 30 starts this season and hit 200 or more innings. I’m not sure if he’ll maintain an ERA as low as last year’s but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did hit the 200 innings pitched mark and put up another sub-4.00 ERA.
With an offense that should, once again, rank in the top half of baseball there is hope that the Twins could surprise many – especially their own division – with an improved rotation that could push them into the conversation for a wild card spot if nothing else. Twins fans and media alike would certainly be surprised as well but this team isn’t completely devoid of talent as some suggest and a playoff run isn’t entirely out of the question.
Houston Astros – PECOTA Playoff Odds: 0.4%
PECOTA Playoff Odds has the Astros chances of making the playoffs so low that it makes me wonder why they even bothered listing them at all. Better yet, if you think so little of this major league team then why not just ignore them in your projection system with the hope that they simply go away? Sure, it’s incredibly easy to dismiss this team as not having the slightest chance in hell to make the playoffs but then where would be the fun in pointing and laughing at PECOTA (and hopefully hurting its non-feelings) if the Astros prove the cold-hearted/coded thing wrong?
Their roster is a who’s who of prom night and a large number of other players who probably haven’t spent a whole lot of time away from home. They have a new manager, a new owner, and are in a whole new league and division. That new league being the American League, a tougher league overall because of the DH rule, and one of the (now) toughest divisions in all of the American League, but most likely all of baseball. So what’s not to like with this team?
Well, right off the top of my head what’s not to like with this team is their performance from last season which had them finish at the bottom in offense and pitching. But we’re not here to talk about the past, now are we? Nope. And that’s why I’m going to talk to you about what this team has going for them this season and why they could shock everyone, including my wallet in a good way by placing a crafty bet or two.
After having played .500 ball from September through the end of the season in 2012 this team comes into the 2013 season with, essentially, all of their pieces settled firmly into place. They may be incredibly young and largely inexperienced with the game at the major league level but they are a gritty and talented bunch. As long as they don’t buy into the negativity surrounding them and remain positive and confident in their ability to perform up to their talent level then all should go fairly smooth for Houston.
Even though this Astros lineup lacks any real speed outside of second baseman Jose Altuve they do boast some great power potential. Five players that should see regular playing time in the lineup could easily hit 20 or more homeruns this season, and moving to the higher run scoring environment of the American League West should only help facilitate that even more. The long-ball will help keep them in, or get them back into, more games this season and that means we should expect to see some late-inning excitement.
The starting rotation, while not exactly filled with household names, does have two pitchers in Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell that should be able to eclipse the 200 innings pitched mark and another two in Jordan Lyles and Philip Humber that should be able to get to around 170. As long as they can cover those innings then their bullpen should stay rested enough to perform well enough to not blow any late inning leads the team has throughout the season and that would be a huge improvement over last year.
Even though they are now in a division with the AL West champions, and one of the two biggest surprise teams of 2012, Oakland Athletics and the Texas Rangers and truly back on the map Los Angeles Angles the beauty of this scenario is that no one will see them coming. What usually happens when someone underestimates their opponent on a regular basis? That’s right, they get knocked around a little bit and by the time they’ve realized they got punched in the mouth and are bleeding a little bit the damage has already been done and it’s likely too late to come back from it.