Monday, April 10, 2006
Since it appears that the Curt Schilling of 2004 is back and Paplebon is a capable replacement if Foulke v. 04 doesn’t return, then the Sox and MFY are dead even (the Jays are almost a joke). The Sox run prevention (pitching and defense) is better than the NYY, but the MFY offense is sick. Other than an unlikely breakout or comeback performance from the likes of Mike Lowell, Trot Nixon (he can’t stay in the lineup enough), Youk, or from the MFY #3-7 starters, the balance of power will not change. Given that assumption, the five factors below will determine the 2006 A.L. East Champ.
1. One-run game record - A large difference in one-run winning percentage would tilt the scales. Most statistically inclined baseball pundits think that the outcome in one-run affairs is random and/or that a team’s bullpen or small ball skills can affect a club’s record. The MFY’s have a slight advantage at the very back end of the pen with Rivera. But the Manager that is willing to use his best reliever in the eighth when tied or up by only one run could shift the balance of power in the A.L. East.
2. Head-to-Head record – As CHB is known to say, one MFY game is worth two in the standings. I would not go that far, but the games against the MFY are more important assuming the Sox take care of business against their other competitors. But only a big advantage by one club or the other would likely make a difference in the final standings. It doesn’t seem likely. 18 games against the same opponent is a decent sample.
3. Health/Injuries – Both clubs have critical players – Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, the Juicin’ Guys (Giambi and Sheffield), Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Keith Foulke, and Trot Nixon - that Baseball Prospectus has deemed likely to spend time on the DL. The medical staffs of each team will play an important role of keeping the above mentioned risks on the field. Plus, being able to quickly rehab the unforeseen injuries like Coco’s. Any prolonged DL stints could decide the A.L. East.
4. Depth in the system – The Sox clearly have a better 40-man roster than the MFY, but it may not matter if the top 20 MFYs stay healthy. The Sox organizational depth provides insurance against player injuries or a collapse in production. It also gives the Sox more trade bait over the summer, although they might not be able to make any significant deals. The number of partners and mid-season trades has steadily decreased over the past few years as more clubs see themselves as contenders.
5. Roger Clemens – The Texa$$ forty-plus free agent fireballer is the A.L. East wild card. Clemens would tilt the scales in favor of his new employer and everyone knows it. It is highly likely that he will play the Sox off the MFY (the MFY have not only the largest budget, but they also have the most to gain economically and on the field by adding Clemens) establish his market, and then head back to the Astros.
Without Clemens entering the race, the injury situation of each club will be the biggest factor in determining the 2006 A.L. East Champs. Each club has too many crucial players with health issues. The medical staffs may very well determine which horse wins this race.