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Baseball predictions in February? Hey, it's never too early

So, I have been playing around with a new baseball prediction system. I would like to tell you that it's complicated... and it is extremely complicated. But I don't want to confuse the word "complicated" with "stupid." I suspect my system is both.* It's versatile that way.

*I suppose it's complicated in the same way that my childhood version of Monopoly was complicated. The first person to land on Free Parking had to sing the entire first verse of REO Speedwagon's "Take it on the Run," and if he could sing it in its entirety then he could take any single property EXCEPT Park Place and Boardwalk, and the person who pulled the one-eyed jack out of the chance pile (because we had playing cards in there) had to try and get a Yahtzee small straight or else he would have to ride the Reading Railroad until someone else got the suicide king... and so on.

In my prediction system, I basically use a statistical and scouting bouillabaisse to rank the players on each team. And then I... well, look, I can't remember the whole thing right now. All I can tell you is that I rank players, add some stuff together, subtract some stuff, multiply by pi (or divide by pi)... and... voila... a baseball prediction system!

It's the perfect Hot Stove system... perfect, because it's pointless and ridiculously flawed and I'm fairly certain (and fairly hopeful) that people will have forgotten all about it long before the baseball season actually begins.

I should tell you that a big part of the system involves the ranking of players. I ranked each team's top three starters, closer and everyday players on a 20-80 scouting scale, with 80 being Albert Pujols and, well, here's a little cheat sheet:

80 -- Albert Pujols

75-79 -- The best of the best not named Pujols. Only a handful of players in baseball in this group. Joe Mauer is a 78.

70-74 -- Great players. Chase Utley is a 73.

65-69 -- All-Star caliber players. Kevin Youkilis is a 68.

60-64 -- Very good players. Raul Ibanez is a 61.

55-59 -- I'd say 55 is about an average every day player. I have Cleveland's Jhonny Peralta as a 55.

50-54 -- Now, we're getting into below average territory, but these guys can be very useful. Mark Teahen is a 53.

45-49 -- The worst every day players. For various reasons, I did not allow any everyday player to score lower than 45. So, yes, Yuniesky Betancourt was a 45 for me.

I won't bore you with all the ratings, but I do list off the players who ranked highest at each position in each division*. I then used those ratings to calculate some predictions. Like I say, complicated and ridiculous. But it's February. And, really, something has to get us through the winter months.

*Quick note: From early reader response, it seems that people miss the point that I really do rank players BY POSITION. So I rank No. 1 starters, No. 2 starters and No. 3 starters. Obviously Joe Saunders is not the third-best starter in the AL West, but I have him as the best third starter. Same with outfield -- I rank right fielders and left fielders separately.

So now that you are thoroughly confused... here we go.

Best players, by position:No. 1 pitcher: Roy Halladay, PhiladelphiaNo. 2 pitcher: Cole Hamels, PhiladelphiaNo. 3 pitcher: Jair Jurrjens, AtlantaCloser: Francisco Rodriguez, MetsCatcher: Brian McCann, AtlantaFirst baseman: Ryan Howard, PhiladelphiaSecond baseman: Chase Utley, PhiladelphiaShortstop: Hanley Ramirez, FloridaThird baseman: Ryan Zimmerman, WashingtonRight field: Jayson Werth, PhiladelphiaCenter field: Carlos Beltran, MetsLeft field: Jason Bay, Mets

Best pitcher in the division: Halladay just edges Johan Santana. Well, there are extenuating circumstances. Santana is coming off surgery. And most people feel that Halladay, who was so dominant in the slugging American League East, will really thrive in the National League. I tend to agree.

Then again, I also think it's easy to underrate Johan Santana. Since 2003 he is 111-51 with a 153 ERA+ and 1,504 strikeouts against only 354 walks. He won the Cy Young in 2004 and 2006, and easily could have won it in 2005 and 2008. The thing is, he's still reasonably young -- he turns 31 in March, making him only about a year older than CC Sabathia and two years younger than Roy Halladay.

Best player in the division: Hanley Ramirez. Other candidates are Utley, Howard, Zimmerman and the Mets' David Wright. Especially if Wright regains his power stroke.

And the predictions:

Philadelphia: 96-66Comment: My system has Philadelphia as the best pitching team in the division (just ahead of Atlanta) and also has them as by far the best offensive team. The Phillies rank as the best team in the National League by quite a bit.

Atlanta: 88-74Comment: If Tim Hudson is healthy, that 1-2-3 of Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Jurrjens, with Derek Lowe as a fourth, looks awfully good. It's Bobby Cox's final year... and if he gets that kind of good starting pitching then I think the Braves are a good bet to win the wild card. And wouldn't it be justice if after all the close calls, Cox and the Braves win a World Series when they are clearly NOT the best team?

New York: 82-80Comment: Questions galore. Will David Wright regain his power? Will Jose Reyes stay healthy? Will Carlos Beltran get healthy? Will Jeff Francoeur play as well as he did in the second half of last season? Will Mike Pelfrey develop into a legit No. 2 starter? Will the Mets really sock the ball? Knock those home runs over the wall? East side, West side, will they all come down? To meet the M-E-T-S Mets of New York Town?

Florida: 81-81Comment: Terrific young pitching, led by potential Cy Young Award winner Josh Johnson, but even with the remarkable Hanley and Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan, the system says that runs could be hard to come by.

Washington: 65-97Comment: I actually like the direction of the Nationals... and if Stephen Strasburg makes a huge splash I think they could be a surprise. But the system pegs them for another last place season.

Best players, by position:No. 1 pitcher: Chris Carpenter, St. LouisNo. 2 pitcher: Adam Wainwright, St. LouisNo. 3 pitcher: Ryan Dempster, ChicagoCloser: Francisco Cordero, CincinnatiCatcher: Yadier Molina, St. LouisFirst base: Albert Pujols, St. LouisSecond base: Brandon Phillips, CincinnatiShortstop: Ryan Theriot, ChicagoThird base: Aramis Ramirez, ChicagoRight field: Hunter Pence, HoustonCenter field: Andrew McCutchen, PittsburghLeft field: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee

Best pitcher: Adam Wainwright. I wasn't sure whether to list Carpenter or Wainwright as the Cardinals No. 1 starter. I ranked Carpenter No. 1 out of respect for his comeback and because he was so dominant when he pitched last season. For health reasons, though, I think Wainwright is the best bet in the division to have a great year. Chicago's Carlos Zambrano and Houston's Roy Oswalt are a couple of other candidates.

Best player: Albert Pujols. Who else? I have only two other 70s players in the division, both from Milwaukee: Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun.

And the predictions:

St. Louis: 93-69Comment: I think Colby Rasmus might be the most exciting young player in the division -- him or McCutchen in Pittsburgh.... I wonder if Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan will pull off some magic with starter Brad Penny. It's amazing how Duncan simplifies things and teaches pitchers to stick with their strengths. I have no idea what, if anything, Penny has left, but I think he picked the right team.

Chicago: 86-76Comment:Derrek Lee is one of the more underrated players in baseball. Since 2000 he has a 130 OPS+. He had the amazing 2005, when he had a season that was basically interchangeable with MVP Albert Pujols. Lee had what was probably the second-best year of his career in 2009 -- .306/.393/.579 with 35 homers. And he has had four or five other years that were just about as good.

Cincinnati: 77-85Comment: The Reds are one of the media's hot preseason picks. And I can see why -- they seem to have a nice blend of youth and experience on the pitching staff, and Joey Votto is some kind of hitter. But the system sees them having another blah year because of a consistent inability to score runs.

Milwaukee: 77-85Comment: Pitching is the big question... if Yovani Gallardo can take a step forward, if Randy Wolf can repeat his Dodger success, if Doug Davis can again be the solid pitcher he was in Milwaukee for a time, if... well, you get the iffy point.

Houston: 72-90Comment: You would think with Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, with Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee that things could turn around. And maybe they can. At least the Astros are not...

Pittsburgh: 61-101Comment: It's going to take time.

Best players, by position:No. 1 starter: Tim Lincecum, San FranciscoNo. 2 starter: Matt Cain, San FranciscoNo. 3 starter: Edwin Jackson, ArizonaCloser: Jonathan Broxton, Los AngelesCatcher: Russell Martin, Los AngelesFirst base: Adrian Gonzalez, San DiegoSecond base: Freddy Sanchez, San FranciscoShortstop: Troy Tulowitzki, ColoradoThird base: Mark Reynolds, ArizonaRight field: Justin Upton, ArizonaCenter field: Matt Kemp, Los AngelesLeft field: Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles

Best pitcher in the division: Lincecum. But Dan Haren is awfully, awfully good. If Brandon Webb comes back healthy -- a real question, but if he does come back healthy -- I think Webb-Haren is an even better 1-2 punch than Lincecum-Cain.

Best player in the division: Tulowitzki barely edges out Gonzalez, Upton and Kemp in my scoring system. Barely.

And the predictions:

1. Los Angeles: 94-68Comment: You know who is turning into a really great player? Matt Kemp. I suppose that's obvious, but I must admit that I always kind of grouped those young Dodgers players together -- Kemp, James Loney, Andre Ethier. And all three are good. But Kemp is emerging as that five-tool guy -- and he's only 25.

2. Colorado: 87-75Comment: Last year I picked Zack Greinke to win the AL Cy Young Award ... probably my best baseball pick prediction ever. This year I'm thinking a lot about Ubaldo Jiminez. The league hit .229 against him last year. With Colorado now having a much more sane home park -- that humidor has done wonders for Coors Field -- Jiminez is a threat to have a monster year.

3. San Francisco: 83-79Comment: I don't see the Giants scoring enough runs to get into the playoffs. But, of course, they could. And if they did sneak into the playoffs NOBODY would want to face a team that with Lincecum and Cain.... The Giants' web site lists Barry Zito as the team's No. 2 starter. Zito does show signs of being a useful pitcher again -- he was 5-4 with a 2.83 ERA in his last 15 starts -- but putting him ahead of Cain seems a bit over the top.

4. Arizona: 81-81Comment: With the Diamondbacks, so much depends on Brandon Webb. There really isn't another pitcher in baseball quite like him. When healthy, he basically throws his fastball three quarters of the time and even so consistently gets about 65% ground balls. His pitch just has a different sink on it from any other pitchers. When you are getting 65% ground balls and striking out 180 batters, you are going to be really good.

5. San Diego: 70-92Comment: I'm not sure why anyone would pitch to Adrian Gonzalez with that Padres lineup.

Best players, by position:No. 1 starter: CC Sabathia, YankeesNo. 2 starter: Josh Beckett, BostonNo. 3 starter: John Lackey, BostonCloser: Mariano Rivera, YankeesCatcher: Victor Martinez, BostonFirst base: Mark Teixeira, YankeesSecond base: Dustin Pedroia, BostonShortstop: Derek Jeter, YankeesThird base: Alex Rodriguez, YankeesRight field: Nick Markakis, BaltimoreCenter field: Adam Jones, BaltimoreLeft field: Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay

Best pitcher in the division: Sabathia. Edges Boston's Jon Lester and Josh Beckett.

Best player in the division: I have Alex Rodriguez just a notch ahead of Teixeira, but they're really pretty close. There are great players everywhere in this division: New York's Jeter, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria and Crawford, Boston's Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, Baltimore's Adam Jones, Toronto's, um, well, Jesse Barfield? Actually, even in rebuilding Toronto, Adam Lind looks like an offensive star in the making.

And the predictions:

1. New York: 103-59Comment: Loaded. And loaded. And on top of that: Loaded. Take last year's team -- maybe the best team of the decade -- and add Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez. Did I say loaded?

2. Boston: 98-64Comment: Also loaded... I think the Red Sox have slightly better pitching than the Yankees and their defense should be awfully good. But the Yankees offense seems a notch better.... OK, I have to take a moment to talk about Jacoby Ellsbury's defense. You probably know that last year he was voted as the Defensive Player of the Year by the fans on MLB.com. And you probably know that last year the advanced stats suggested that Ellsbury was, er, let's call it overrated. He scored minus-15 on the Dewan plus-minus. His Ultimate Zone Rating was minus-18.6.

Whenever you have such a wide gap between what you see and what the numbers record, there will be skirmishes, disagreements and complaints, and the Internet was littered with people who either mocked Ellsbury's grand defensive reputation or, much more likely, mocked the convoluted statistics that seemed to besmirch that reputation. Take your UZR and shove it!

And that's fine. Except for this: The Red Sox went out this offseason and signed 37-year-old Mike Cameron. And the plan seems to be this: Put him in center field and move Ellsbury out. So, apparently, the Red Sox believe the defensive stats might have had a point.

3. Tampa Bay: 86-76Comment: The Rays have a handful of players -- David Price, B.J. Upton, Matt Garza, Ben Zobrist, Carlos Pena -- who have the potential to have superstar seasons in 2010. And they have a couple of other players -- Longoria and Crawford -- who probably WILL have superstar seasons. If all goes right, this team could win 100 games. But this is baseball. And it so rarely happens that all goes right.

4. Baltimore: 74-88Comment: I met a nice guy -- a Washington Wizards assistant coach -- and he told me he is a huge Orioles fan. We both agreed that the Orioles seem to be improving their minor league system. We both agreed that Matt Wieters is an exciting young player. And then... well, we found that we pretty quickly ran out of stuff to talk about.

5. Toronto: 69-93Comment: Um, a Blue Jays comment. OK. Um. I like John Buck. He's one of my favorite people in baseball. You know, he and his wife had twins. Yeah. Great guy. I really like John Buck. And Adam Lind can really crush the ball. Wait, I already said that about Lind? OK. I like John Buck.

Best players, by position:No. 1 starter: Zack Greinke, Kansas CityNo. 2 starter: Mark Buehrle, ChicagoNo. 3 starter: Gavin Floyd, ChicagoCloser: Joe Nathan, MinnesotaCatcher: Joe Mauer, MinnesotaFirst base: Miguel Cabrera, DetroitSecond base: Gordon Beckham, ChicagoShortstop: Asdrubal Cabrera, ClevelandThird base: Brandon Inge, DetroitRight field: Carlos Quentin, ChicagoCenter field: Grady Sizemore, ClevelandLeft field: Ryan Raburn, Detroit

Best pitcher in the division: Greinke. Justin Verlander, Jake Peavy and Mark Buehrle are awfully good.

Best player in the division: Joe Mauer.

And the predictions:

Minnesota: 91-71Comment: What is wrong with Orlando Hudson? I mean, the league is not exactly overloaded with Gold Glove second basemen who punch up above average OPS+. And yet, the Blue Jays traded him away, the Diamondbacks did not seem especially interested in re-signing him, and the Dodgers seemed thoroughly unimpressed by him -- and benched him in the postseason. And teams were not exactly jumping over each other to sign him this offseason. Strange.

Chicago: 84-78Comment: Good starting pitching, but it's a weird-looking lineup. One guy to watch: Mark Teahen. I know, I've been the leader of the Mark Teahen fan club for a while. But he's back at his favorite position, third base, and he figures to play every day, and that ballpark could help make him a 20-25 homer guy.

Detroit: 78-84Comment: Will be weird to see the Tigers without Curtis Granderson in center field. But there will be a lot of power pitching with Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer going 1-2-3 in the rotation.

Cleveland: 70-92Comment: Here's a pretty meaningless statistic for you: No player in American League history has had 30 homers, 30 stolen bases and 100 walks in a season. The closest was Grady Sizemore in 2008 with 33 homers, 38 stolen bases and 98 walks. Here's hoping he's healthy again; a healthy Sizemore is a special player. And the Indians really don't have much else going for them. That pitching staff... yikes.

Kansas City: 64-98Comment: Here's what I tell Kansas City fans: Any team that has Zack Greinke starting, Joakim Soria closing and Billy Butler in the middle of the lineup can get better pretty quickly. But the Royals' off-season was baffling.... The Royals really are counting on Alex Gordon to emerge.

Best players, by position:

No. 1 starter: Felix Hernandez, SeattleNo. 2 starter: Cliff Lee, SeattleNo. 3 starter: Joe Saunders, AngelsCloser: Andrew Bailey, OaklandFirst base: Kendry Morales, AngelsSecond base: Ian Kinsler, TexasShortstop: Elvis Andrus, TexasThird base: Chone Figgins, SeattleRight field: Ichiro Suzuki, SeattleCenter field: Torii Hunter, AngelsLeft field: Josh Hamilton, Texas

Best pitcher: King Felix over new teammate Cliff Lee. Not a lot of great starting pitching in this division, though Ben Sheets could be a force for Oakland if he's healthy.

Best player: Ichiro. There are not too many big-money talents in the division -- best I can tell there are only four every-day players making eight-figure salaries in 2010. Hunter will make $18 million, Ichiro $17 million, Texas' Michael Young $16 million and, lamentably for Oakland, Eric Chavez will make $12 million. Seattle's Eric Byrnes will make $10 million, but Seattle will pay a tiny fraction of that.

And the predictions:

1. Seattle: 87-75Comment: The Mariners rather famously have gone after defense... and they should again be a spectacular defensive team. And with the acquisition of Figgins, Casey Kotchman and Milton Bradley they should score more runs. But while the Mariners are everyone's favorite, including my own, going into the season, it is worth remembering that Seattle scored just 640 runs last year, dead last in the league by a longshot. That 640 runs was only better than TWO National League teams -- and at last check they let the pitchers hit in that league.

2. Los Angeles: 85-77Comment: The Angels lost staples Chone Figgins, Vlad Guerrero and John Lackey, not to mention Kelvim Escobar and basically replaced them all with a 35-year-old Hideki Matsui. Still, with the lack of star power in this division, the Angels still have a chance to win a fourth straight title.

3. Texas: 80-82Comment: The Rangers have so much promising young pitching... and of course it comes just at a time where their once fearsome offense seems to be fading. Last year the Rangers finished out of the Top 5 in runs scored for the first time since 2000.

4. Oakland: 71-91Comment: Those of us who admire GM Billy Beane -- and it's a large group of us -- keep waiting for something exciting to happen for this team. Three seasons of 76, 75 and 75 wins indicates a team running in place. The pitching staff is young and has some talent. Some of the hoarded prospects could be ready to emerge. But my system still predicts another crummy season.

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