Looking for breakout teams in 2009


The Tampa Bay Rays surprised us in 2008. Most of us knew that they had plenty of talent in the pipeline, and that in the next few years it would all come together to make them contenders. Few thought that would happen last year. Yet they ended the season with the second best record in the AL and beat out the Red Sox (and the Yankees) for the AL East title. It seems we get a bit of a surprise every year, so Tom Verducci wonders who it will be in 2009.

Verducci begins by discussing the criteria of a breakout team. First and foremost, they had to have losing record the previous year. He notes that 29 of 112 playoff teams since 1995 have had a losing record the previous year. Not only that, but 11 of the last 13 to do it had a record lower than their Pythagorean record. Run prevention is also more important than run production for these teams. Verducci notes that the 2007 Rays scored more runs than the 2008 Rays. In fact, no turnaround team this decade has done so without improving their run prevention from the previous year. Finally, teams with 98 or more losses are basically beyond hope, as the ’99 Diamondbacks have the biggest turnaround, having lost 97 games in 1998 before making the playoffs in ’99.

Finally, onto his picks.

Detroit Tigers. Really? Didn’t Verducci just talk about the value of run prevention? I suppose it’s tough to do worse than they did last year in that department, as they were third worst in the AL, posting a 4.90 team ERA. True, they could see a rebound from Verlander, which would help. On the other hand, their best starter in 2008 was a 26-year-old who doesn’t exactly have a stellar minor league record. Their bullpen is still a huge question mark, too. So they’ll need a bounceback from Verlander, an improbable repeat from Galarraga, a complete comeback from Dontrelle Willis, a solid showing when Jeremy Bonderman shows up, and some solid work out of Nate “6.35 ERA and they let me pitch 168.2 innings” Robertson. I’m not placing any bets here.

Braves. Great choice. They’ve added two quality pitchers in Javy Vazquez and Derek Lowe, plus Japanese import Kenshin Kawakami. They’ve got some arms on the farm, too, in case something goes wrong with their 2008 ace Jair Jurrjens, or if Kawakami ends up being spelled I-G-A-W-A. They could use some help with the bats, sure. As far as run prevention goes, they took definite steps to improving their 4.46 team ERA, which ranked 12th in the NL (though they were within 0.1 of being eighth).

A’s. This is a tough call. Their offense looks pretty set with the additions of Jason Giambi and Matt Holliday. The left side of their infield is still well below average unless Eric Chavez decides that he’s healthy and ready to hit, and even then they have a hole at shortstop with Bobby Crosby. On the run prevention side they’ll have a tough time improving on their 4.01 team ERA (5th in the AL). They’ve got a number of options should a starter fail, but there’s no big-time talent like Rich Harden or Dan Haren among them (at least that I’m aware, unless you’re counting Brett Anderson, who is only 21 years old). So why do I think they can be a turnaround team? Billy Beane obviously spent a lot of time tinkering and creating the team the way he wanted. He’s got a number of options. Plus, the Angels did nothing to improve their team this off-season.

Orioles. Seriously? At least ‘Ducc admits it’s virtually impossible: “Realistically, they have no shot at the playoffs, not in the AL East.” So why did he even bother to add them? Yes, they’re building a quality team and I certainly trust them in the hands of Andy MacPhail. They’re not going to be as bad in 2009 as they were in 2008, but the competition ahead is still stiff. It would take some major issues from the three top teams in the division for the Orioles to even have a chance. I do think, however, that they’ll put the Jays in the cellar this year (and considering the Jays had the best team ERA in the AL last year, that’s saying a lot for the competition in the AL East).

A surprise team doesn’t have to be a winner, though. In 2007 we saw the Chicago White Sox go 72-90 after having the inverse record in 2006 and winning the World Series in 2005. In 2008 that was the Detroit Tigers, who made it to the Series in 2006 and finished with an 88-74 record in 2007. They had an inverse of their 2007 record in 2008. So who are my fall-off-a-cliff candidates for 2009?

Mets. Yes, they improved one of their biggest 2008 weaknesses, the bullpen, in a big way. The rest of the team has issues, though. Their starting outfield is Fernando Tatis, Carlos Beltran, and Ryan Church. That’s not bad, but it also contains two guys who didn’t get to 350 at bats last year. That means Nick Evans will get some time out there, and he’s anything but a sure thing. They’ll need another big year from Carlos Delgado, and at 37 years old that’s a big question. In the rotation they have Santana, which is a force you cannot deny. Beyond that they have a guy who walked 105 hitters last year (and who was league average in overall performance), a guy who saw a 48-inning increase over his previous year, a guy coming off rotator cuff surgery, and Tim Redding. There’s potential for a fall there, especially in the NL East.

White Sox. They have so many questions. Who plays center, and can he be league average? Can Alexei Ramirez post a league-average OBP (and can he not get caught in 9 or 22 steal attempts?), can Konerko have a full, quality year as he did in 2007? Can Josh Fields handle third? Can one of their prospects handle second? Can Bartolo Colon hold up over the course of the season? Can the Sox find a useful fifth starter from their internal options? Was 2008 Gavin Floyd for real? I’m not saying these will all go wrong for them, but I think they’re deep questions that could lead to a team with some serious flaws.

Dodgers. If they bring back Manny, I suppose the story changes. However, if he walks they might have some problems in the West. Not that their peers have improved substantially. But the Rockies and Giants have decent-looking teams, as do the Diamondbacks. In any case, an infield of Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal, James Loney, and Blake DeWitt doesn’t sound too inspiring, especially when you start to think about injury issues. They’ll also be heavily reliant on youngsters in their rotation, and a repeat performance by Hiroki Kuroda.

Brewers. A 90-win team in 2008 likely won’t be in 2009. We know of their losses this off-season, and it was all on the run-prevention end. If they get Sheets back and he’s healthy they’ll have a shot in the central, or at least at the Wild Card. Absent that, though, they’re looking at Yovani Gallardo as their ace, followed by Jeff Suppan, David Bush, and Manny Parra. Yeah, Sheets would help a lot.

Categories : Analysis


  1. Matt says:

    I like the A’s to win the West and the Braves could take the east if they add another bat. I also think that if the Giants end up with Manny, Dunn, or Abreu, they could contend in that division.

  2. Manimal says:

    I’d put money on the Rangers. Great offense and adding sheets would at least not make their rotation embarrassing.

    BTW, Mets beat the Tigers in the World series in my MLBFOM game for what its worth.

  3. jsbrendog says:

    haha. when you look at the mets outfield and realize they’re right side of the diamond is near worthless it is going to be AWESOME toturing met fans for finishgng 4th this year

    • Mike Pop says:

      I really don’t think the Mets are that bad. They would of won 96 or more games last year if their pen wasn’t crazy, ridiculously bad.

      • jsbrendog says:

        yes last year with a revitalized delgado and big contributions in small sample sizes from young unproven or not that good players (see evans, murphy, tatis)

        there is a reason tatis was out of baseball a few years ago. there’s also a reason no one wants luis castillo even if they p[ay his contract. their right side infield defense is old and slow and unless delgado defies time logic and history there is no waay he replicates last year and castillo is a slap hitter based on speed who has bad knees. sell

        plus as stated above they have the johan and then……tim redding, who we had a few years ago and dumped because he was awful. there’s a reason he didnt stick in the majors until last year with washington (granted he had a good year). perez’s peripherals are scary. if they get good ollie then they are much better, but the iffyness puts them behind. then maine is ocming off injury and pelfry (i think it was him) had what was it ~50 innings mroe than his previous high?

        schneider is average ok and wright and beltran >>>>>> average. reyes is good too.

        but they didnt get any beter other than the 8th/9th inning and got older slower and crashed and burned again.

        The braves got muuuuch better, the marlins are getting back sanchez and all their pitching studs are one year older and they have multiple allstars and no old/slow/defensively challenged guys holding down a spot. the phillies didnt do that much either but are still a better team.

        i just dont see the mets doing well this year.

  4. Ross says:

    So, he just named pretty much every team in MLB that isn’t top tier, but isn’t a basement dweller. Good job, Tom Verdouchey.

  5. Ross says:

    Nevermind, I see that the final teams were ones you added as fall off the cliff teams. Sorry for my insult towards Tom Verdouchey.

  6. Mike Pop says:

    I like the Braves and Tigers as the best bets to make the playoffs. I still think the Angels have a leg up on the A’s and the rest of that division. (But they really should have signed Manny or Dunn by now)

    • Matt says:

      Brian Fuentes can hit now, too. Don’t worry.

      Seriously, dude is a walking elbow injury. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had some big injury time this season.

      • Mike Pop says:

        Psssh, Arredondo, Shields, and even if Escobar comes back as a reliever. They will be okay.

        • Matt says:

          Yeah, I think having Shields and Arredondo makes the Fuentes signing more or less excessive. Either one of those two could’ve done the job just as well, leaving money to re-sign Tex or bring in another hitter.

          • Mike Pop says:

            They still have money, it’s so stupid and I would be pissed if I was an Angels fan. They werre throwin 160 (rumored to be that but maybe even more) at Tex and gave 30 to Fuentes. They have more money to spend and in this market you could probably get Dunn for 30 million, probably less. It’s a win win. I could understand not wanting to deal with Manny but I don’t get why they haven’t signed Dunn. Maybe he doesn’t want to play there, I guess. But I stick him at DH and outfield a couple times a week. I could live with his defense for the production he brings to the table.

            • jsbrendog says:

              see: matthews jr, gary; hunter, tori; rivera, juan; guerrero, vlad.

              4 of, one of which sucks ass, one of which is prob not that good and one or two of which need most of the dh at bats and 2 of which are extremely grossly recklessly overpaid

              • Mike Pop says:

                Ya, well I think that could be worked out. Vlad and Dunn can play the outfield and alternate at DH. Rivera and Matthews can split 4th outfielder duties. It would be worth it. If Dunn would be willing to play a bit of 1b it would make things easier.

                • jsbrendog says:

                  woudl DEF be worth it but that’s prob what they’re going with. pissed as all hell they overpaid for someone who sucks, matthews, someone who will break down, hunter, and that they resigned rivera so early before the market developed and now as a result are SOL on dunn and mannny

                  Front office manager FAIL

              • If I’m the Angels, with Sheids and Arredondo, I’d rather have the 33rd pick in the draft back instead of Brian Fuentes.

                I never got that signing.

                • Mike Pop says:

                  Eh, they got the 25th and 26th from the New York squads. The chances that the 33rd pick are going to be more valuable to them than Fuentes will be in the next 3 years are slim. No big deal. Never can have to many arms for the bullpen.

                • Yes, but Cruz makes sense for us because we’re only giving up a pick in the mid-hundreds. Fuentes cost them the 33rd pick in the draft. The don’t NEED Fuentes; the guy they draft with the 33rd pick could easily be way better than Fuentes for the next 10 years.

                  Plus, Fuentes’ money is probably keeping them from adding Dunn or Manny. Bad allocation of resources compounded by the loss of a valuable high pick.

                • Mike Pop says:

                  Well, it would remain to be seen. It would be pretty awesome to have 3 of the first 33 picks in the draft. I don’t consider it a bad deal though. The money they gave Fuentes isn’t keeping them from getting Dunn or Manny. It’s just they don’t want Dunn or Manny for some dumb reason.

                • Mike A. says:

                  Nah, I can understand it. They have first first round picks, so it’s not like they’ll be shut out of the draft for a while.

  7. Relaunch says:

    Completely off topic but Kim Jones was at the table next to me while I was having lunch today. Man, talk about scary.

  8. A.D. says:

    Cardinals under the “non loosing record” surprise category.

    If they can get their pen straightened out, they have the best hitter in the game & 2 talented prospects in Rasmus & Wallace with the possibility of helping the team, if necessary in the coming year,

  9. E-ROC says:

    San Francisco Giants!!!!!!

    Here’s Jeter: http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/ne.....;type=lgns

  10. Andy says:

    I agree with the breakouts and failures, but I will say this – the most likely candidate to plummet this year from last is Armando Galarraga of the Tigers. If he is in the roation mid-season I’ll be surprized.

  11. jim p says:

    You can’t talk run prevention, or ERA, without considering defense.

    Another reason I’d take an excellent fielding Gardner over adding a bat like Dunn’s to our lineup.

  12. Macphisto says:

    I am surprised there isn’t more talk about the Reds. They have kids that are about to break. They already have guys like Bruce, Votto, Encarnacion, Phillips performing in the majors with a better than average pitching staff with young guns like Cueto and Volquez. And a pretty good bullpen to boot. I always thought they would be a good trade partner for Nady if Cash went that route. Guys like Frazier or Valaika along with an arm wouldn’t be a bad grab for Nady. I think they finish ahead of the Brewers this year and maybe even compete for the Wild Card.

    • Mike Pop says:

      Definitely. They have a nice team there. Cueto has to step it up though. Jay Bruce for the whole year. Maybe some young guys coming up. Better than average lineup. Average rotation.

      I think the NL ends up like this

      Braves-wild card

  13. Phil McCracken says:

    Not to derail this topic, but there was a good interview today with Mussina on Francesa’s show today. If anyone missed it you can hear it on wfan.com

  14. Thomas says:

    Joe, I believe you meant to write ” 9 of 22 steal attempts,” not “9 or 22 steal attempts.”

    Oh yeah, and I think it is Tim Reddings, not Redding.

  15. Kevin says:

    Those were some bad choices I think. I’d say the Reds, Royals, Rockies, and Rangers are the most likely break out teams. The Reds have some great talent with Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Aaron Harang, Edinson Volquez, and Jhonny Cueto. If those guys all perform they will make a strong team. As a frequent attendee at Rockies games, I know they are going to break out this year. Ryan Spilborghs truly has talent and will thrive in an everyday role. The possible use of Joe Koshansky or Jeff Baker everyday is a great thing. A full season of Tulo will do wonders for the team. And Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Franklin Morales all have enough talent to make a strong rotation. Josh Fogg could thrive by returning to the familiar environment of Colorado. Chris Ianetta should be an offensive force all season, and consistency at catcher will definitely help the pitching staff. The Bullpen will be strong with Huston Street, Manny Corpas, and Taylor Buchholz among others. The Royals are going to be good. With Gil Meche and Zach Greinke, they have a strong 1-2 punch. If Brian Bannister rebounds he could be a strong member of the rotation as he was a year ago. Aviles, Gordon, Teahen, Jacobs, Shealy, Buck, Dejesus, and Crisp can all be good offensive players. The Royals messed with their bullpen a little, and signing Farnsworth was a terrible move, but if they can trade one of their 1B/DH guys for an arm or two, they could be a surprise in the AL central. The Rangers have a great offense, even with the departure of Milton Bradley. Davis, Young, Kinsler, Blalock, and Hamilton are all great hitters. The Rangers have lots of pitching prospects and if they can perform at the big league level the Rangers could become an important player in the AL West.

  16. RollingWave says:

    So amoung the 8 teams he picked, 3 made the PLAYOFFS LAST YEAR, and another was a few games away, and yet another was a heavy pre – season favorit. nice picks there Tom.

  17. Hawkins44 says:

    I would think that a team in the AL Central or the NL West would be the best candidate to rebound. I’m thinking the Indians and/or the Giants. Check out the Giants starting pitching…if they get any hitting they could content. The AL Central is so bad that the Indians, White Sox, and/or the Twins could easily win… Tigers have way to many holes to contend.

    • Joseph P. says:

      Unfortunately, the Indians finished at .500 so they were disqualified from Verducci’s column. But you’re certainly right, they have a far, far better chance of winning that division than the Tigers.

  18. Bo says:

    The Mets could be looking at 4th place if things break wrong for them.

    If Delgado plays like he did the first half of the yr. If Pelfrey doesn’t become a #2 and with his K rates the odds arent great. If Maine is still recovering from his injury. The corner OF’s are brutal. The catcher can’t hit. Is Putz really healthy?

  19. john says:

    great post hillarious.

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