Monday, May 5, 2014

AL East: Can Red Sox repeat?

The Boston Red Sox, who seemed resigned to scratching out a down season, ended up winning the whole thing. Having David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury for the full season helped a lot. But Ellsbury has jumped to the New York Yankees this year, and that might be enough to usher in a new winner.


Of all the offseason moves in this division, none changes the balance like Jacoby Ellsbury jumping from the Red Sox to the Yankees (Parkerjh at the English language Wikipedia/Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license).

By BILL PETERSON
Big Leagues in Los Angeles

Entering 2013, no one figured the Boston Red Sox would win the American League East. Entering 2014, no one figured they won't.

However, considered entirely from the standpoint of 2013 WAR value, the transactions of the offseason have considerably narrowed the gap between the Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles. The Red Sox lost Jacoby Ellsbury and Jerrod Saltalamacchia, while the Orioles gained Nelson Cruz and David Lough.

The club that finished tied last year with Baltimore, the Tampa Bay Rays, are looking 85ish in the win column based on 2013 WAR value, but we all know better than to believe the Rays won't be there at the end.

A more interesting case is the New York Yankees, who gave up on their grand plan to come in below the $189 million luxury tax threshold by signing free agents Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran as major league free agents. With all that, the Yankees still have a relatively small amount of 2013 WAR value, but that doesn't take into account the signing of Japanese right hander Masahiro Tanaka.

Again, the AL East appears to be the strongest of the divisions from top to bottom. The worst team here, the Toronto Blue Jays, would be a third- or fourth-place club anywhere else.

Following is a list of each team in the division, giving each club's "top half" position players by 2013 WAR, its "second-level" position players, its top-level pitchers and second-level pitchers. For the top-half position players, we give the player's position and where he ranked at the position across big league baseball in 2013 WAR, then the actual WAR value for the player. For every other category, we give the player's overall 2013 WAR ranking, understanding that pitchers and position players are ranked separately.

More about all of this, including some important clarifications, can be found here. Bear in mind, though, that the 2013 WAR totals for each club only include these top players, and every club will have players with little, no or negative WAR value that actually would drag down its totals.

Boston Red Sox (49.1 in 2013 WAR)

Top-half position players — 1B: Mike Napoli, 8, 4.1; 2B: Dustin Pedroia, 2, 6.5; RF: Shane Victorino, 1, 6.1; LF: Daniel Nava, 7, 2.9; DH: David Ortiz, 1, 4.4. Totals: five players, 24.2 WAR.

Second-level players — A.J. Pierzynski, 164; 1.6. Mike Carp, 185; 1.3. Jonny Gomes, 190, 1.2; David Ross, 244, 0.7. Totals: four players, 4.8 WAR.

Top-level pitchers — Clay Buchholz, 20, 4.3; Koji Uehara, 30, 3.6; Jon Lester, 48, 3.0; John Lackey, 56, 2.8. Craig Breslow, 116, 1.6. Totals: five pitchers, 15.3 WAR.

Second-level pitchers — Edward Mujica, 123, 1.5; Jake Peavy, 131, 1.4; Junichi Tazawa, 179, 1.0; Felix Doubront, 190, 0.9. Totals: four pitchers, 4.8 WAR.

By 2013 WAR, the Red Sox have two players — right fielder Victorino and designated hitter Ortiz — who were the best across the big leagues at their positions. Reliever Uehara finished with the highest WAR among all Major League relief pitchers. Second baseman Pedroia was No. 2 across the majors.

It's easy to see how the Red Sox could have won the World Championship — and did. The Red Sox also have a firm No. 1 starter in Buchholz, while Lester and Lackey both were No. 2 starters by WAR. Very nice club, across the board.

Baltimore Orioles (44.1 in 2013 WAR)

Top-half position players — 1B: Chris Davis, 4, 6.4; SS: J.J. Hardy, 6, 3.7; 3B: Manny Machado, 3, 6.5; CF: Adam Jones, 7, 4.4; LF: David Lough, 8, 2.7. Totals: five players, 23.7 WAR.

Second-level players — Nelson Cruz, 140, 2.0; Ryan Flaherty, 208; 1.0. Totals: two players, 3.0 WAR.

Top-level pitchers — Chris Tillman, 18, 4.4; Ubaldo Jimenez, 58, 2.7; Darren O'Day, 85, 2.1; Miguel Gonzalez, 86, 2.0; Bud Norris, 86, 2.0; Tommy Hunter, 88, 2.0. Totals: six players, 15.3 WAR.

Second-level pitchers — Ryan Webb, 161, 1.2; Brian Matusz, 214, 0.7. Totals: two pitchers, 1.9 WAR.

The Orioles' late free-agent signing of Cruz for $8 million not only was the steal of the offseason, but he gives depth to an every day lineup that would be lacking without him. Cruz looms especially large with Machado missing the early portions of the season.

The Orioles also made a needed late free-agent signing in Jimenez, without whom they wouldn't have a real No. 2 starter according to 2013 WAR. O'Day and Hunter both hit good WAR totals as relievers in 2013, but it remains to be seen how Hunter will fare as the club's closer.

Tampa Bay Rays (37.9 in 2013 WAR)

Top-half position players — 1B: James Loney, 13, 2.7; 2B: Ben Zobrist, 4, 5.1; SS: Yunel Escobar, 9, 3.3; 3B: Evan Longoria, 4, 6.3. Totals: four players, 17.1 WAR.

Second-level position players — Desmond Jennings, 85, 3.0; Wil Myers, 143, 2.0; David DeJesus, 170, 1.5; Jose Lobaton, 174, 1.4; Matthew  Joyce, 191, 1.2; Jayson Nix, 223, 0.8. Totals: six players, 7.9 WAR.

Top-level pitchers — Alex Cobb, 24, 4.0; David Price, 54, 2.8; Matt Moore, 62, 2.6; Chris Archer, 76, 2.2. Totals: four pitchers, 10.6 WAR.

Second-level pitchers — Grant Balfour, 139, 1.4; Erik Bedard, 193, 0.9. Totals: two pitchers, 2.3 WAR.

The overall WAR totals from 2013 aren't great, but the Rays do have 10 position players ranking this high, against eight for an average club. So, there's depth in this everyday lineup.

The pitching staff lines up with four starters who slot in one through four, and Balfour passes as a quality closer by 2013 WAR. The rest of the bullpen is a puzzle, but it's always a puzzle for this club and manager Joe Maddon always puts it together.

New York Yankees (34.1 in 2013 WAR)

Top-half position players — RF: Carlos Beltran, 13, 2.4; CF: Jacoby Ellsbury, 5, 5.8; Brett Gardner, 9, 4.2; LF: Alfonso Soriano, 13, 2.4; C: Brian McCann, 14, 2.2. Totals: five players, 17.0 WAR.

Second-level position players — Ichiro Suzuki, 172, 1.4; Kelly Johnson, 182, 1.3; Francisco Cervelli, 221, 0.8; Brian Roberts, 241, 0.7. Totals: four players, 4.2 WAR.

Top-level pitchers — Hiroki Kuroda, 22, 4.1; Ivan Nova, 31, 3.5; David Robertson, 68, 2.4. Totals: three pitchers, 10.0 WAR.

Second-level pitchers — Adam Warren, 160, 1.2; Vidal Nuno, 211, 0.7. Totals: two pitchers, 2.9 WAR.

As an indication of how little the Yankees had going offensively last year, three of the players listed here (Beltran, Ellsbury and McCann) weren't with the club at all, and Soriano was only with the club for the last couple months of 2013. The Yankees lost Robinson Cano's star power and big production, but they now have more bats throughout the lineup.

The factor not accounted for here on the pitching staff, of course, is Tanaka. If he's for real, this might add up to a nice club. If not, then the Yankees will struggle to make the playoffs out of this very deep division.

Toronto Blue Jays (32.8 in 2013 WAR) 

Top-half position players — 1B: Edwin Encarnacion, 9, 4.0; SS: Jose Reyes, 13, 2.6; RF: Jose Bautista, 7, 4.1; CF: Colby Rasmus, 6, 4.8; C. Dioner Navarro, 15, 2.0. Totals: five players, 17.5 WAR.

Second-level position players — Adam Lind, 148, 1.9; Ryan Goins, 176, 1.4; Munenori Kawasaki, 185, 1.3; Moises Sierra, 240, 0.7. Totals: four players, 5.3 WAR.

Top-level pitchers — Mark Buehrle, 84, 2.1; R.A. Dickey, 91, 2.0. Totals: two pitchers, 4.1 WAR.

Second-level pitchers — Aaron Loup, 122, 1.5; Casey Janssen, 139, 1.4; Brett Cecil, 152, 1.3; Santiago Casilla, 176, 1.1; Steve Delabar, 229, 0.6. Totals: Five pitchers, 5.9 WAR.

Hard to believe, but the best player at any position for this club, based on 2013 WAR, is Rasmus in center field. A full season from Reyes at shortstop would certainly push him well up in the ratings.

The pitching was a huge disappointment last season, with only Buehrle and Dickey making it into the top level of these rankings. And Buehrle added up as barely a No. 2 starter, while Dickey added up to a No. 3 by 2013 WAR. This club didn't really have an ace, and probably still doesn't.

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