2012 Division Preview – American League East

It’s been the best division in baseball for years.  It is home to the biggest spending teams in the game, and one of the most well run teams as well.  It is also home to one of baseball’s biggest sleeping giants, our beloved Blue Jays.  Oh, and Baltimore plays here too.

Today 500 Level Fan concludes the 2012 Divisional preview series with a look at the big, bad AL East.

Defending Champion

New York Yankees

Past Five Champions

2011 – New York

2010 – Tampa Bay

2009 – New York

2008 – Tampa Bay

2007 – Boston

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 97.8

Best Player

Jose Bautista, Blue Jays

You can call me a biased homer, you can point out other superstars that play here, but for my money Jose Bautista is the best player in the AL East.  He lead the league in HR (43), Walks (132), Slugging (.608), OPS (1.056), OPS+ (181), Intentional Walks (24), and WAR (8.1).  He went from a one-dimensional home run hitter in 2010, to an all around threat in 2011, raising his batting average 42 points, and his OBP 69 points.  He is a smart base runner, plays two positiions well, and is a true clubhouse leader.  He is poised to finally lead Toronto back to the postseason.  

Honourable Mention: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox; Robinson Cano, Yankees

Best Pitcher

CC Sabathia, Yankees

How can it be anybody else?  While other pitchers in the division have been dominant for stretches (Beckett, Buchholz, Price, Shields, Romero), nobody can match the consistency of Sabathia.  In 2011 he went 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA and an 8.7 K/9 ratio.  Since joining New York, the lefty has gone an incredible 59-23, 624 K, 3.18 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 8.0 K/9, all while pitching in a hitters park in baseball’s toughest division.  He is good, and at 31 years of age, he likely has many, many years left.

Honourable Mention: David Price, Rays; Jon Lester, Red Sox

Three Storylines For 2012

1. Is This the Year for Toronto?

1993.  19 years ago.  A lot has happened in 19 years, but there is one thing that hasn’t – a Blue Jays playoff game.  The team has been close a few times, but has always fallen short of the postseason.  Despite having great players (Delgado, Halladay, Clemens, etc.) the Jays have not been able to get over the hump.  This year could be different.  Toronto has a stocked minor league system.  They have young, talented players at every position.  They have a rebuilt bullpen.  And, for the first time, there is an extra Wild Card spot available.  The task is still daunting, what with Tampa, Boston, and New York still ahead of them, but for the first time in many years, the Jays can see paydirt.  2012 could be the year they finally cross that playoff threshold.   

2. Boston’s Recovery

The last time we saw Boston on the field, they were concluding an incredible September collapse.  On the morning of September 1st, Boston was in 1st place in the AL East, 1.5 games up on the Yankees, and 9 up on Tampa.  On the morning of September 28th, they were 7 back of New York, and tied with Tampa.  Of course, they would go on to blow a 9th inning lead against Baltimore and be eliminated.  And that was just the beginning.  Fried chicken, beer drinking in the clubhouse, off-field power struggles…the Red Sox were a team out of control.  Now in 2012, there is a new manager, a new GM, and a whole lot of unanswered questions.  What will happen this year is anybody’s guess.

3. The Aging Empire

By the All Star break this summer, Derek Jeter will be 38.  Alex Rodriguez will be weeks away from his 37th birthday.  Mark Teixeira will be 32 (but he’s been playing like he’s 42).  Mariano Rivera will be 42.  In other words, several key members of the defending AL East champs are old.  Yes they have Cano, Granderson, and Gardner in their prime years, and some key pitchers who are young (Pineda, Nova, Robertson), but will the advanced age of the rest of the team finally catch up to the Yankees and keep them out of October?

Interesting Stat

The Baltimore Orioles have not had a winning record since 1997.  The biggest reason why?  Starting pitching.  The Oriole starters have been bad.  Very bad.  Since 2005, Baltimore starters have posted five of the eleven worst starting pitching ERA’s in the American League.  In 2011, the Orioles starters posted a ghastly 5.31 ERA.  The second worst staring pitching ERA last year belonged to Minnesota, over a third of a run lower at 4.96.  The rest of the starting pitching stats are just as bad.  Wins: tied for last with 46.  Losses: second last with 72.  Quality Starts: dead last, by a mile, with 60.  IP per start: dead last with 5.4.  In all, 12 different pitchers started at least one game for Baltimore last season, and the very best ERA posted by any of them belonged to Jeremy Guthrie at 4.37 – and he now plays for the Rockies.  It’s obvious to see what needs to change in Baltimore.

Who Should Win

New York. 

Will they?  Find out in my season prediction column

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