SWING THEORY

The new postseason setup, sleeper teams, future free agents and ballpark birthdays: everything you need to know for 2012—starting with a change in the balance of power
March 26, 2012

LEAGUES APART

This off-season 147 players who appeared in the majors last year switched leagues: 87 moved from the National League to the American; 60 took the reverse route. It wasn't just in quantity that the AL came out ahead—there's been a talent exodus out of the NL, particularly among sluggers. With Albert Pujols (Cardinals to Angels) and Prince Fielder (Brewers to Tigers) jumping leagues, here's how the AL now outmuscles its senior sibling.

[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]

AL

8 2

10 largest current contracts

8 5

Active MVPs

7 3

Active home run leaders (top 10)

NL

251 140

Home runs transferred this off-season (2011 totals)

1,002 667

RBIs transferred this off-season (2011 totals)

.546 .454

Interleague winning percentage, 2007--11

The New Magic Number

Beginning this season there will be two wild-card teams per league—they will face each other in a one-game playoff, with the winner advancing to the Division Series to face the division champ with the best record. The expanded postseason gives hope to teams that under the old system could only dream of playing in October—we're looking at you, Toronto and Washington. So how much easier will it be to call yourself a playoff team? Here's how postseason trends would have looked if the new system had been in place for the 16 full seasons played under the single wild-card setup (1996 through 2011). Past performance is no guarantee of future success—but playoff aspirants should aim for 89 wins.

Average wins by first wild-card winner

AL 94.7

NL 91.5

Average wins by second wild-card winner

AL 88.8

NL 89.1

Fewest wins needed for second wild card

AL 84 (1997 ANGELS)

NL 85 (2006 PHILLIES)

Most wins needed for second wild card

AL 93 (2003 MARINERS, 2005 INDIANS)

NL 96 (1999 REDS)

Sleeper Agents

Who will get into the new October tournament? Good question—see page 64 for our predictions. But it's close to a lock that the party will be crashed by at least one team that had a losing record in 2011. Since the wild card was added in 1995, every postseason except one has featured a club on the rebound from a sub-.500 season—there have been 33 in 17 seasons, or nearly two a year. (Last year's quota was filled by the Brewers, who went 77--85 in 2010, and the Diamondbacks, who were 65--97 in '10.) There were 16 sub-.500 clubs in 2011. SI's picks for this year's turnaround teams, in descending order of 2011 record.

NATIONALS

INDIANS

REDS

ROCKIES

MARLINS

ROYALS

The Draft That Keeps on Giving

The 2005 draft class, already regarded as the best ever, is now the richest. In the past month Ryan Zimmerman, Cameron Maybin and Andrew McCutchen ('05 first-rounders all) signed multiyear deals to delay their free agency eligibility. That means nine of the 48 '05 first-round picks are playing under long-term deals (list below). The number will increase soon: Royals leftfielder Alex Gordon (the second overall pick), Red Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (23rd) and Cubs righthander Matt Garza (25th) will likely earn megadeals when they become free agents after the 2013 season—if not sooner.

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PITCHER 2012 AGE ERA INNINGS JUMP
Derek HollandRangers 25 3.95 +71 1/3
Jaime GarciaCardinals 25 3.56 +57
Yovani GallardoBrewers 26 3.52 +41 1/3
Daniel HudsonDiamondbacks 25 3.49 +382/3
Jeremy HellicksonRays 24 2.95 +37 1/3
Matt HarrisonRangers 26 3.39 +36 1/3
PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONPhoto Illustration by GLUEKITMIKE CASSESE/REUTERS (CORDERO); TOM DIPACE (MELANCON, GONZALEZ); MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/AP (LOWE, CAHILL); JOHN BIEVER (PUJOLS, IANNETTA, CUDDYER); CHUCK SOLOMON (PENA, FIELDER, KURODA, THOME, PAPELBON, BUEHRLE); MARK LOMOGLIO/ICON SMI (IBANEZ); KYLE TERADA/US PRESSWIRE (SANCHEZ); BRAD BARR/US PRESSWIRE (BURNETT); BRAD MANGIN (QUENTIN, CABRERA); CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES (KUBEL) PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH (MAYBIN) PHOTOGREG NELSON (HAMILTON) PHOTOERICK W. RASCO (UPTON) PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (BOURN) PHOTOROBERT BECK (ETHIER) PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (WELLS) PHOTOJOSHUA GUNTER/THE PLAIN DEALER/LANDOV (JIMENEZ) PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYER (FENWAY) PHOTODARREN CARROLL (HOLLAND)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)