Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 25, 2002
BASEBALL: 2001 In Review

Originally posted on Projo.com

Before we bid good riddance to 2001 I thought it would be useful and fun to
do a little navel-gazing and take a look back at my own various predictions
for the season, and see how things worked out and what can be learned from
them. (You will have to bear with me, since many of the preseason
predictions were made on the Boston Sports Guy website, and are no longer
posted on the internet). Probably the biggest lesson was that I shouldn't
have been so hard on age-32-and-up veterans. I'll go column-by-column:

12/13/00: Free Agents Roundup

Most of the pre-2001 signings were pretty easy calls. I was very harsh on
the Kevin Appier signing, but Appier now looks more like the post-surgery
Orel Hershiser and less like the post-surgery Fernando. He's still overpaid
at $10 million a year, but Appier now looks like a dependable if
unspectacular starter. He benefitted hugely from the new strike zone,
jumping his K/BB ratio in one year from 129/102 to 172/64, and as a result
cut a run off his ERA and dropped his baserunners allowed per 9 innings from
13.91 to 10.67. (Getting out of Oakland wasn't the difference; Appier's
improvement was all in his road appearances). Another guy I missed the boat
on was Jose Mesa, who revived in Philly to the tune of 42 saves in 46 tries
and a 2.34 ERA. On the other hand, Mesa allowed almost a hit an inning and
coughed up 8 unearned runs in 69 innings, so he wasn't as effective as the
numbers look at first glance.

On the positive side, I predicted that Frank Castillo would be "a good
candidate for a Joe Kerrigan-inspired 3-month hot streak," and sure enough
Castillo opened the season 7-4 with a 3.45 ERA through June 17 before the
wheels came off. He eventually regained some effectiveness after the stint
on the DL, but the damage was done. I also thought the Rangers had acquired
too many old, injury-prone infielders and that Derek Bell was "completely
done as a major league regular," but then those were hardly radical
opinions. There's a reason Cam Bonifay lost his job in Pittsburgh, although
he's still puzzled why Bell didn't hit.
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/page3/20011007cam1007p3.shtm

1/26/01: The New Strike Zone

I made a lot of predictions here based on the history of what types of
hitters got destroyed by past strike zone changes, most of which were
spectacularly unsuccessful. I predicted doom for John Olerud, Mark Grace,
David Segui, Garret Anderson, Ray Lankford, Jeff Conine and to a lesser
extent Rafael Palmiero, Paul O'Neill and Edgar Martinez; they all did fine.
Others I identified as possible problems included guys like BJ Surhoff, Jay
Bell, Dante Bichette, Troy O'Leary and Steve Finley, who didn't fall off any
more than you would expect for a player their age. On the other hand, I
also warned about Todd Zeile, Derek Bell, Rusty Greer, Joe Randa, Travis
Fryman, Herbert Perry, Ken Caminiti and Jay Payton, although most of those
guys were hurting. Most interestingly, the best under-30 players I flagged
as potential strike zone risks were Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu, both of
whom opened the season in miserable slumps, although Abreu recovered to have
a good year and Damon recovered to have a good second half. It's not
unreasonable to suggest that those two guys had some adjutsment problems.
On the whole, however, I'd have to throw out the playbook from this column:
it just didn't work.

Pitching-wise was mixed. I thought Roger Clemens "should be one of the
biggest beneficiaries" as well as Al Leiter and Curt Schilling; Leiter
mostly pitched well, and the other two obviously had seasons beyond anyone's
highest hopes. I picked Randy Johnson to finally break the single season K
record; he missed by 11. I forecast good years for Armando Benitez, Billy
Wagner and Troy Percival; two out of three isn't bad, and even Benitez saved
43 games before blowing the pennant race against the Braves. But I
predicted that Mike Hampton and Derek Lowe wouldn't be affected (maybe they
weren't, but Hampton was off some even when you adjust for the Coors
effect).

2/16/01-2/22/01: Red Sox 2001 Preview

Nostradamus couldn't have predicted the full scope of the train wreck that
was the 2001 Red Sox, but I did argue before the season that the risk of
injuries to Nomar, Everett, Manny, Offerman and Pedro was the Sox' Achilles
heel and the thing most likely to keep them from winning the 90-93 games
they'd need to give the Yankees a run. Actually, Offerman had other
problems, but the injury bug was really the biggest of the Sox' many
problems. I hedged my bets on Hideo Nomo being helped by the new strike
zone and picked him to go 15-10; despite some magic moments, Nomo's 13-10
record reflected about how well he pitched. I was more enthusiastic about
Tomo Okha, who was a disaster, and while I expressed some concern about how
long Derek Lowe could keep up his workload, I never saw the horror of 2001
coming. I argued that Jimy should move Arrojo to the bullpen, and he did
well there for much of the season. I said I'd be shocked if Cone stayed in
the rotation with an ERA below 4.50, and I was.

3/13/01: Crank's Top Twenty

My top 7 players were decent predictions, although Pedro may have been too
much of an injury risk to be #1, and Andruw Jones (#4) didn't step up. I'll
still defend picking Bonds #8, but he clearly turned out to be the best
player in the game in 2001. After that we have a bunch of people who got
hurt (Alfonzo, Nomar, Ivan Rodriguez, Kevin Brown), and Sammy Sosa should
have been higher than #20. Doing the list after the season it would have
included Luis Gonzalez, Schilling and maybe Ichiro, but the evidence for any
one of them before 2001 was sketchy. My breakout-year candidates almost
all broke down: JD Drew (well, he did hit great), Glendon Rusch, Ben
Grieve, Bartolo Colon, Preston Wilson. I still stand by picking Todd Walker
to hit .340, which one reader reminded me of again at the season's end; he
was traded out of Coors Field after a month-long slump dragged him down from
.330. I had a hunch Jeff Bagwell was due for an off year, but he wasn't off
that much.

3/30/01: Preseason Predictions

NL East: Braves, Mets, Phillies, Marlins, Expos. Missed by 4 games. I
thought the division would catch up with the declining Braves and Mets, but
the Mets fell even harder than that.

NL Central: Cards, Astros, Reds, Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, with the Astros as
the wild card. Not bad, but the Reds should have been downgraded even more.

NL West: Rockies, Giants, D-Backs, Dodgers, Padres. I was too hard on
Arizona, but then their lineup still didn't impress me AFTER the regular
season.

AL East: Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, D-Rays, Orioles. Missed by 1.5
games. The idea that "Tampa could threaten .500" went about as far as the
idea that Afghanistan was impossible to invade.

AL Central: Indians, White Sox, Twins, Tigers, Royals, with the White Sox
as the wild card. Missed by 2 games (except the White Sox missed the wild
card by 19), although "No bad teams in the Central" was a little optimistic
given that the Tigers lost 96 games and didn't finish last. I compared the
Indians to the 1972 Tigers, 1983 Phillies and 1992 A's, and they had that
one last run in them after all. The White Sox (as I predicted) were done in
in part by pitching injuries. I though the Twins' offense and LaTroy
Hawkins would scuttle their starting rotation's best efforts to contend, and
those turned out to be the problems down the stretch. I picked Roger Cedeno
to walk off with the steals title by 15-20, and only 2 rookies came within
16 steals of him, although Ichiro was one and led the league. I had Matt
Anderson coming into his own, and eventually he did: Through April 20,
Anderson had a 25.07 ERA after his first 8 appearances, highlighted by 7
runs in a third of an inning on April 11. The rest of the way, over his
last 54 appearances, Anderson posted a 2.98 ERA, allowing 40 hits and 16
walks while striking out 50 in 51.1 innings. I got some grief from a reader
who was stunned when I said Joe Randa would hit .254 again; he hit .253.

AL West: A's, Rangers, Mariners, Angels. "[T]he A's are the only team in
the majors that doesn't need a miracle to have a realistic shot at 100 wins
this season . . . " Well, they were one of only 2 to win 100, and I guess
you could call Bret Boone hitting .331 with 37 homers a miracle, but picking
a team to finish third that ties the all time win record is a pretty big
mistake. Boone was unforeseeable and Ichiro unpredictable, but the guy I
and most of the preseason pundits missed the boat on was Mike Cameron, who
was just all-around outstanding without dramatically departing from his 2000
stats. Also, the M's benefitted hugely from getting their #1 starter
(Freddy G.) back healthy. It still staggers me that a team nobody saw
coming - none of the press, none of the stathead analysts, nobody -- won 116
games.

I predicted that "Kenny Rogers could win 20 games with this lineup," and
wound up regretting drafting him for $12 on my roto team - my apologies to
any reader who did the same (having Joe Mays for a buck softened the blow).

Postseason: Cards over Braves in NLCS, A's over Yankees in ALCS, A's beat
the Cards in the Series. Since Oakland and St. Louis were the hottest teams
in baseball entering the postseason, this still looked OK in October; both
teams fell an inning short of getting out of the first round.

4/19/01: Opening Month Notebook

I called Jay Gibbons "a legitimate major league hitter," and he hit .236,
although he did hit 15 homers in 225 at bats. I called the Angels' young
rotation (Ortiz, Schoenweis, Wise and Washburn - Schoenweis collapsed in the
second half), Rick Reed, Greg Maddux, Curt Schilling and Wade Miller as big
beneficiaries of the new strike zone based on the early returns, but also
Esteban Loiza.

8/17/01 - The 2001 AL Pennant Race

The contenders rated as A's-Yanks-Mariners-Red Sox-Twins-Angels-Indians.
The first half was right: the A's finished better than anybody. But I
still didn't see the storm clouds over Boston, while the Indians finished OK
despite lousy pitching. Kenny Lofton actually got hot down the stretch
after I stuck the fork in him.

10/19/01 - Gotta Get To Mo

This column argued, two games into the ALCS, that "nobody beats [the
Yankees] until they beat Rivera." I rest my case.

10/26/01 - Notes Before The 2001 World Series

"Yankees in five" -- OK, I gave up hope too soon . . .

QUOTE OF THE YEAR: "We're like Menudo: You reach a certain age and you
can't play here anymore"

--A's GM Billy Beane on having to replace Jason Giambi with 24-year-old
rookie Carlos Pena

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