Change-UpMarch 06, 2009
2009 AL East Preview (Featuring Pete Abraham)
By Patrick Sullivan

I am reporting from Ft. Myers and heading over to City of Palms Park this afternoon, so it only seems fitting that we would have a look at the AL East today. Last week we previewed the NL East.

To recap:

Here’s the deal. For hitters we take PECOTA and the four projection systems on Fangraphs. Fangraphs, by the way, is awesome. They are doing terrific, differentiated, value-add work and if you are a regular reader of Baseball Prospectus and/or The Hardball Times, you should add Fangraphs to your favorites as well. Anyway, we average all five of these projection systems to give you a sense for how the number crunchers see the players performing this season.

For pitchers, in the interest of keeping things simple and consistent, we go with the three projection systems readily available on the Fangraphs player pages. No PECOTA because the data presentation was not as compatible with the numbers we wanted to display.

We went with depth charts from Some of the players penciled in below will not be starting, and some might not break camp. But we figured this was a pretty good way to go. As we draw closer to Opening Day with the other divisions, we will look to implement as accurate of an indication as possible with regard to who figures to start at each position.

Chipping in from Baseball Analysts today with commentary is Marc Hulet, contributor here and also at Fangraphs. We are also very thankful to have Pete Abraham, Yankees beat writer for the The Journal News.


                 AVG   OBP   SLG
Navarro, D.     .267  .334  .389
Varitek, J.     .236  .328  .390
Posada, J.      .273  .366  .448
Barajas, R.     .243  .303  .392
Wieters, M.     .298  .382  .499

Pete: I think Jorge Posada will bounce back this year offensively. Throwing was never his strength, so he just needs to be able to keep runners a little honest. I wonder how much we'll see of Matt Wieters. It doesn't make much sense for Baltimore to start his clock yet.

Sully: Wieters in the Minors would be an absolute mockery. After he wins the MVP this season, I fully expect him to fix Healthcare and restore economic prosperity in America.

First Base

                 AVG   OBP   SLG
Pena, C.        .254  .370  .500 
Youkilis, K.    .283  .377  .474
Teixeira, M.    .290  .383  .525
Overbay, L.     .265  .343  .419
Huff, A.        .279  .340  .471

Pete: Mark Teixeira will start slow; he always seems to. But will be bounce back in New York? That'll be interesting to watch. I don't think Kevin Youkilis is as good as he was last year. Carlos Pena, either.

Marc: The addition of Teixeira to the AL East obviously has huge implications. It will be interesting to see if Youkilis can repeat his stellar 2008 season, or if he reverts to his still-productive-but-not-a-star former self. I have to disagree with Peter. Offensively, I think Pena will be OK; he's still in his prime and should drive in 100 again.

Sully: Tex is hands down the best in the division and I have to agree with Pete. Youk's slugging jump last year was a blip, and not a new established norm. He's a really nice player, but not a perennial MVP candidate type.

Second Base

                 AVG   OBP   SLG
Iwamura, A.     .270  .346  .389
Pedroia, D.     .307  .368  .456
Cano, R.        .292  .331  .450
Hill, A.        .277  .334  .408
Roberts, B.     .282  .359  .424

Pete: I like Brian Roberts. Not sure I like him for four more years and $40 million. It's too bad Robinson Cano doesn't have the desire to be great that Dustin Pedroia does. The Yankees thought they did the right thing with his deal last year and then it blew up on them. He's a big project for Joe Girardi.

Marc: This position is definitely a strength in the division, with Pedroia, Roberts and Cano. If Aaron Hill is fully recovered from the concussion he suffered last season, you can add his name to that list too. Cano should definitely rebound; he's taken his lumps in the media and has something to prove.

Sully: That four year extension for Roberts was hard to figure for where Baltimore currently stands in the success cycle.

Third Base

                 AVG   OBP   SLG
Longoria, E.    .273  .347  .499
Lowell, M.      .275  .336  .444
Rodriguez, A.   .291  .387  .548
Rolen, S.       .263  .342  .434
Mora, M.        .271  .337  .431

Pete: (ed note: submitted pre-injury) A-Rod loves the drama and will have a huge year. Of course he'll then hit .052 in the playoffs. If he starts slow, however, the fans could really get ugly. They're already mad about the price of tickets. I'll be curious to see how Mike Lowell takes Boston trying to get rid of him all winter.

Marc: The injury to A-Rod changes the dynamics of this position with vague reports on exactly when he'll be back. The Yankees definitely did not have a fallback plan for the position. I'm betting 2009 is the year Mora plays like he's 37 years old.

Sully: Lowell's a pro and will handle the situation accordingly. So long as his fielding does not drop off, he will be a very valuable player once again.


                 AVG   OBP   SLG
Bartlett, J.    .274  .332  .366 
Lowrie, J.      .265  .346  .410 
Jeter, D.       .299  .367  .419
McDonald, J.    .231  .278  .312
Izturis, C.     .259  .310  .325

Pete: It speaks poorly of the shortstops in this division that Derek Jeter is still the guy you want over any of the rest of them. It's amazing how the Red Sox can't find a decent answer there. I'd like to point out that I once selected John McDonald to an American Legion All-Star team in Connecticut and gave him a Norwich Bulletin t-shirt.

Marc: Cesar Izturis should impress defensively in Baltimore but his offense will be abysmal. If Jed Lowrie wrestles the full-time job away from Lugo in Boston than the club will likely be better off offensively, but I like Lowrie a lot as a super-sub. The position is extremely weak offensively in Toronto with McDonald and Marco Scutaro, who is going to start regressing soon at the age of 33. It's hard to believe Toronto used No. 1 draft picks on college shortstops in 2002 and 2003 and never did end up with a long-term solution at the position.

Sully: With defense factored, will Lowrie be better than Jeter this season?

Left Field

                 AVG   OBP   SLG
Crawford, C.    .291  .334  .433
Bay, J.         .272  .364  .487
Damon, J.       .279  .352  .423
Lind, A.        .281  .330  .458
Pie, F.         .263  .317  .410

Pete: Johnny Damon is actually a pretty good defensive left field (well, not including throws). I think we're going to see some serious regression at the plate, however. His legs are not what they once were.

Marc: Generally speaking, I am really looking forward to watching the young outfield in Baltimore play, with Felix Pie, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis included. Pie was a steal from Chicago and, if motivated, could be just as good as the other two players. Toronto could have the AL Rookie of the Year with Snider in left, who will share the position (and DH) with Adam Lind, another good, young player.

Sully: Out of Jason Bay and Carl Crawford, I will be interested to see who ends up as the better player at the end of the season according to Fangraphs. Bay has the good stick but can't field, Crawford's offense leaves a bit to be desired but can track anything down in left.

Center Field

                 AVG   OBP   SLG
Upton, B.       .279  .376  .432
Ellsbury, J.    .293  .350  .415
Gardner, B.     .260  .342  .359
Wells, V.       .274  .329  .457
Jones, A.       .274  .324  .420

Pete: Pecota has B.J. Upton not being so special. I can't argue against the math, but I do think what he did in the postseason could vault him forward. You could see him mature every day in October. If Brett Gardner can somehow get a .360 OBP, he'll change the way the Yankees look. But his swing might be too big for that.

Marc: I am a big Jacoby Ellsbury fan. He's going to really step up his game this season. The position in New York is thin... hmm, just like third base. There are a lot of cracks in the roster considering the payroll. Those pitchers better stay healthy. Count me as someone who thinks Upton is going to breakout in a big way this season.

Sully: We have consensus on Upton. I think he goes off in '09.

Right Field

                 AVG   OBP   SLG
Joyce, M.       .247  .324  .448
Drew, J.        .270  .381  .460
Nady, X.        .278  .332  .462
Rios, A.        .285  .338  .459
Markakis, N.    .297  .378  .477

Pete: J.D. Drew showed up hurt, which saves time. I'm surprised Brian Cashman didn't trade Nick Swisher or Xavier Nady. That probably speaks to Hideki Matsui's knees. I'll trust Tampa that Matt Joyce will help them.

Marc: I am not sold on Joyce, and his injury definitely hurts his chances of making the Opening Day roster in Tampa. Can Alex Rios finally breakout offensively (and consistently)? Please?

Sully: I laughed when I saw Pete and Marc's comments because I can't figure out why you hand Joyce a starting gig on a championship aspirant club.

Designated Hitter

                 AVG   OBP   SLG
Burrell, P.     .245  .368  .464
Ortiz, D.       .281  .387  .543
Matsui, H.      .279  .358  .442
Snider, T.      .262  .330  .462
Scott, L.       .261  .343  .477

Pete: Tampa had a lot of good choices and went with Burrell. Bobby Abreu would have been a good fit. I think Hideki Matsui is close to finished. He can barely run. It's also hard to know what to make of David Ortiz given his health in recent years.

Marc: Heath is definitely the big area of concern with the big two: Ortiz and Matsui. Will Aubrey Huff's big season of a year ago continue? I doubt it. It will be interesting to see how Burrell does in the AL with Tampa.

Sully: Give me the under on Papi and the over on Luke Scott.

Starting Pitching

                 W-L    K/9   BB/9   WHIP   ERA
Shields, J.     13-9   7.23   1.89   1.18  3.70
Kazmir, S.      10-8   9.75   3.86   1.30  3.68
Garza, M.       10-9   6.95   3.12   1.32  3.92
Price, D.        3-4   6.82   3.55   1.40  4.35
Sonnanstine, A. 11-9   6.31   1.94   1.26  4.07
                 W-L    K/9   BB/9   WHIP   ERA
Beckett, J.     13-8   8.25   2.32   1.21  3.68
Matsuzaka, D.   12-7   8.35   3.96   1.33  3.75
Lester, J.      11-8   6.85   3.45   1.37  4.00
Wakefield, T.    9-8   5.70   3.23   1.35  4.32
Penny, B.        8-7   5.76   3.27   1.44  4.30
                 W-L    K/9   BB/9   WHIP   ERA
Sabathia, C.    15-9   8.02   2.20   1.19  3.37
Burnett, A.     13-9   8.77   3.45   1.31  3.81
Wang, C.        11-6   4.63   2.79   1.37  3.96
Pettitte, A.    11-10  6.59   2.69   1.41  4.31
Chamberlain, J.  6-3   9.60   3.36   1.24  3.25
                 W-L    K/9   BB/9   WHIP   ERA
Halladay, R.    15-12  6.54   1.76   1.17  3.37
Litsch, J.      10-10  5.40   2.36   1.29  4.07
Purcey, D.       6-7   7.27   3.63   1.40  4.52
Richmond, S.     5-6   6.43   2.89   1.39  4.57
Janssen, C.      3-3   5.82   2.59   1.31  3.85
                 W-L    K/9   BB/9   WHIP   ERA
Guthrie, J.      9-9   5.98   2.97   1.33  4.09
Uehara, K.       ---------------
Waters, M.       6-8   5.51   4.17   1.55  5.12
Hill, R.         6-6   7.68   4.07   1.38  4.25
Liz, R.          6-7   7.34   5.05   1.58  5.30

Pete: The Yankees could be overwhelming and they have Phil Hughes in reserve. Boston took too many chances. Tampa was freakishly healthy last season.

Marc: New York is the beast in the starting pitching department, obviously. I can't see the A.J. Burnett deal working out in the end; he'll start strong and be dominant early, but the history of inconsistencies and injuries is sure to come back and bite. Boston's depth at starting pitcher is impressive.

Sully: Sort of like San Francisco's offense heading into last season, I am nothing short of astounded at how bad Baltimore's pitching looks. Of course San Fran wasn't the historically bad lineup I thought they would be so maybe there is hope for that O's staff.

Relief Pitching

                K/9   BB/9   WHIP    ERA
Percival, T.   7.42   4.06   1.29   3.94
Wheeler, D.    7.81   3.03   1.23   3.63
Balfour, G.   10.82   2.56   1.23   3.12
                K/9   BB/9   WHIP    ERA
Papelbon, J.   9.70   1.99   1.02   2.49
Okajima, H.    8.08   3.08   1.22   3.36
Masterson, J.  7.60   3.76   1.33   3.75
                K/9   BB/9   WHIP    ERA
Rivera, M.     8.33   1.71   1.04   2.67
Marte, D.      8.85   3.87   1.32   3.65
Bruney, B.     8.24   5.21   1.46   4.09
                K/9   BB/9   WHIP    ERA
Ryan, B.       9.09   3.85   1.27   3.45 
Downs, S.      7.36   3.47   1.30   3.54
League, B.     6.33   3.48   1.39   4.02
                K/9   BB/9   WHIP    ERA
Sherrill, G    9.17   4.45   1.35   3.76
Ray, C.        7.98   3.54   1.27   3.77
Johnson, J.    6.10   3.62   1.44   4.32

Pete: The Red Sox made some smart moves here. Don't sleep on Brian Bruney of the Yankees. He's not as colorful as Joba Chamberlain but he could be every bit as effective.

Marc: Mariano Rivera is a robot. I am convinced of that; he'll still be dominating the AL East in 15 years. Baltimore will be helped by getting Chris Ray back (Tommy John surgery). The closer role could be a weak spot in Tampa, as well as Toronto - if B.J. Ryan cannot regain some consistency.

Sully: Personally, I think Bruney's walk numbers will plague him. Justin Masterson will be one to watch this year.


Pete: The Yankees treat the bench like an ashtray in a $100,000 car. It's there but they really don't pay much attention to it.

Marc: New York's bench will be almost non-existent. The Rays club has the best depth on the bench, with the likes of Ben Zobrist, Willy Aybar, Gabe Gross, etc. Toronto should have a lot of versatility. The Kevin Millar addition is growing on me, as long as it doesn't take at-bats away from Adam Lind and Travis Snider.

Sully: Rocco Baldelli, Josh Bard, Julio Lugo....Boston does a nice bench.

Who are the awards candidates from the AL East?

MVP: Upton
Cy Young: Matsuzaka
Rookie: Price

Marc: I like Snider as the AL RoY (followed by David Price). C.C. has to be given mention as a Cy Young candidate, as does Halladay - although he'll get forgotten about by a lot of people when Toronto has a terrible season. AL MVP sleeper: Nick Markakis.

Sully: Sabathia for the Cy, Teixeira for MVP, Price for ROY.

Any surprises this year?

Pete: I think the Blue Jays could lose 90 games They have a chance to be dreadful.

Marc: If the Yankees continue to have injury woes, the depth is not there to patch the holes. Even with the starting rotation, I can see them finishing third in the division... but more likely they'll be in second place.

Sully: I am with Pete. Toronto is going to be horrendous.


1. Yankees
2. Red Sox
3. Rays
4. Orioles
5. Blue Jays

1. Boston
2. New York
3. Tampa
4. Baltimore
5. Toronto

Sully: As I get ready to head over to the Red Sox-Marlins game, is it any surprise that I am with Marc here?


Special thanks to Pete for taking time out of his busy schedule. NL Central is up next week...


I just don't buy the Jays-being-awful hypothesis. Admittedly I'm a Jays fan so if you wish to discount what I say no matter what, stop reading here.
Their offense is never better than average at any position and pitiful at short and catcher and potentially third base. However, they have good defense at 4 infield positions, catcher and one outfield spot - Rios - and should be average in CF and LF.

Starting, Halladay is a rock. Litsch, Jansen, Cecil will be at least mediocre with the D behind them and Purcey, well, yeah the D won't help him if he keeps walking guys like he does.
Where the rotation tails off the bullpen arms abound in quality and quantity.

If the Jays do loose 90, it won't be because they're horrendous, but rather because the 2 giants and TB are flat out amazing.

As a Toronto fan, I'm getting used to reading articles like these. Here's hoping that even if we do lose 90 games...Rios, Lind and Snider have breakout years and I always enjoy watching Halladay pitch. It's nice to watch a ballgame where it takes you longer to drive to it than the actual length of the game. He's a horse.

One thing to take into consideration about Toronto is the strength of schedule. By the numbers, they were the 4th best team in baseball last year. They could easily be a top 10 team this year and still finish 5th in the division.

Decent analysis here... though the projection of Chris Waters in the O's rotation is not going to occur.

I have attached a link a few blog entry of mine, which was a short interview with Mr. Lederer on the O's.


Snider and Price over Wieters for AL RoY?? Seriously??

It pains me to say this as a Yankees fan, but I think the Sox and Rays are both better teams top to bottom. Luckily for the Yanks, they decided to build this team around the pitching staff, not a collection of current/former All-Star sluggers. If their pitching staff (middle relief included) can live up to expectations, the Yanks could get into the playoffs. Although, pitching wasn't their problem in 2008 even with all the injuries. It was horrendous situational hitting.

BTW, what's the estimate on Joba's innings? He's listed here as having the lowest expected ERA of every starter in the AL East.

I think Toronto would suprise everybody this year. Watch out...

Their biggest concern of starting rotations is turing out to be strong parts with depth...

I can't wait to see blue jays this year...

I don't think it was ever the intention for Joyce to be the regular right fielder in TB. Even before the injury the plan was a platoon of Kapler/Gross.

I am also guessing that Price starts the year in Durham although he will probably be promoted by mid-May if things work out as the Rays hope. Meanwhile, that rotation spot will likely be Hammel with Niemann in the bullpen, although that is still very much an open question.

I don't think the predictions for standings are unreasonable, but perhaps you still underrate the Rays. The other two beasts have more superstar players, an important distinction I agree (although even that may be somewhat overstated if Longoria, Upton and Kazmir live up to expectations), but they also have at least 1 or 2 spots that are pretty definite weaknesses on offense, defense or pitching. The Rays have a near-average to superior player at every position and layers of solid backups to replace injured or slumping players. So not only are they less vulnerable to age or injury related declines, but they are probably better prepared to deal with them should they occur.

Regarding the Jays:

the offense figures to improve from last year; it pretty much HAS to, considering the regression/down years from most players, the revolving DH spot that's been solved by Snider's arrival and the Cito Gaston effect on hitters (check the stats after his arrival).

The bullpen figures to be in the same range as the past few years: very good to stellar. Don't believe me? Bank on at least one or two of: a full year from League, return of BJ Ryan's slider/control, Accardo not being atrocious/disabled, Janssen working out. There is so much depth in the bullpen it is un-real (even if this Downs injury is bigger than advertised).

Defense? Same, if not better. (Potential) full year from Rolen, Rios is still improving, Hill has proven to be top-caliber (missed most of last season), etc.

The rotation is where the question marks lie. Behind Doc and Litsch there are youngsters competing for spots. Neither Janssen nor Richmond figure to be a factor. Think more along the lines of Brett Cecil and Brad Mills (who are thus far very impressive in camp), with McGowan coming along midseason to temper their workload. The rotation IMO has the highest risk, but also the highest reward possibility.

The 90 loss prediction is far too pessimistic in my opinion...the Jays' rotation as-is is so far better than the O's that it shouldn't be a discussion, not to mention the relative upside.

The past couple of years people have been saying that everything has to go right for Toronto to compete, which is true. But everything has to go terribly, terribly wrong for them to lose 90 games, and that's for luck and the season to decide, not you guys.

Dump the beat and mainstream writers. Or, add a blogger dedicated to each team to provide assessment. There are great statistically minded blogs out there now for just about every team. Despite not having credentials such as "writer for the New York Post", the bloggers usually provide greatly value to the article.

It's the old argument of the guerrilla versus the soldier. Like in the Godfather II.

I think 2009 is the year Matsuzaka's obscene walk rates will catch up with him. Obviously, his K rates are healthy, but he has a too many tight rope innings.

All those numbers look really low. Only 11 wins for Wang?? He has won 19 last two years. Now with all the pressure off he will even better. It may be fun to call Jeter's defense bad...but hes not that terrible. I think the Yankees depth isn't that bad either with Melky/Gardner, Swisher/Nady, Cody/Angel plus the platoon of decent arms just a short call away in the champions Scranton (who by the way are going to tear it up again in AAA).

So the Jays bullpen is going to be a problem because Ryan has issues of "Consistency"? What is this, the Joe Morgan blog? The Jays had the #1 pen in the majors last year with Ryan at less than 100%. They have the same principles in the pen, and more depth than most teams can dream of. I wouldn't worry about their bullpen, or Ryan for that matter. Still a fair amount of upside if Accardo is healthy and League gets a full season in the majors.

Some minor problems with your analysis - Scutaro is the starting SS, not McDonald. I don't expect him to be one of the best defensive SS's in the majors this year, but his 19.7 UZR/150 last year was very impressive. Brett Cecil is very likely to make the rotation over Scott Richmond. He's got terrific ratios in the minors - 9.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9. I don't want them to give him more than 150 innings, but he's got tremendous upside.

I wouldn't consider the O's better than the Jays. Baltimore is a lot like the Rangers - solid bats but absolutely no pitching. At least the Jays have some nice upside in Cecil & Purcey, and should have McGowan back by/around June.

There's pretty much no chance they win the division, but they're still a much better team than the O's. There's a ton of risks (Wells/Rolen's health, Litsch's potential regression), but there's also a ton of upside (Purcey, Cecil, Janssen, Snider, Lind). They're still one of the better teams in the AL, but they've got no shot against the clearly superior Rays/Yanks/Sox.

Wait - so you guys are projecting that no starter in the division is going to win more than 15 games? Ridiculous.

Thanks for the comments, all.

Rafa, we think bringing together different perspectives is a good thing. You can check out previous years' division preview entries and decide for yourself which format is better.

Arjay, we aren't projecting anything. These are the averages of various projection systems out there. Things like playing time, wins, runs, RBI, Saves, etc are so dependent on variables that are difficult to project that I wouldn't place much stock in them. If anything, focus on the rate numbers.

The Jays were more than +100 runs last year. Even dropping 100 runs would result in a team that is far from horrendous. McGowan will be back by May or June too.

In regard to their starting pitching, Peter Abraham wrote, "Boston took too many chances."

I have to say, I'm not sure what he's referring to. As it stands now the Sox starting rotation consists of four guys who were in last year's rotation. The fifth and only new member is currently Brad Penny, but if not him then Justin Masterson or John Smoltz or Clay Buchholz or Michael Bowden are all waiting in the wings. Two of these players have been brought in from outside the organization, and none of the hold-overs are coming off of major injuries. So can someone enlighten me, just what is Mr. Abraham talking about?

This was pretty poorly done. It reads like a a few beat writers from northeastern papers or the Baseball Tonight crew got together to talk about the division. As usual the Rays are the invisible little brother that everyone forgets. Uptonn gets love, but no mention of the best 3B in the division (now that A-Rod's hurt)? Pena wasn't as good as he was last year? I know no one knew the Rays existed in 2007, but Pena had a phenomenal year. I would expect more with Hulet making an appearance.

Lester is going to be third in the Cy Young voting.

Pete is a good beat guy, but a poor analyst.

I do think the Rays are due for some regression, but they've got all sorts of breakout candidates as well. Injuries will decide this thing. The Yanks have already suffered a big one - ARod. How will Posada's shoulder hold up? Does Matsui have knees? Is Papi all the way back from the wrist injury? JD Drew doesn't seem very healthy. Will the Rays starters hold up again (they got a crazy # of starts from their top 5 last year)?

For now, I'd say Sox-Yanks-Rays, but I expect it to be close. I still think the Os suck, despite clear efforts to do smart things (finally). I think the Jays will be 4th again, but this time a more "deserving" fourth (last year, based on run differential, they were better than the Yanks).