Is Max Scherzer poised for a big year? I think so
By: Aidan Flynn

One thing about baseball that makes it the greatest game in the whole world is its unfailing ability to surprise, year after year. Just look no further than last year, when I would have demanded immediate institutionalization for anyone giving an iota of a chance for Baltimore or Oakland to make the playoffs. Naturally, they blew their preseason predictions out of the water, made the playoffs and shocked the entire baseball world in the process. Clearly, I'm no Nate Silver, so these following predictions carry practically no weight at all. Nevertheless, baseball is pretty slow right now, and this represents a fun little exercise we can look back at and laugh at once 2013 is in the books. Today, I have listed five bold predictions for the upcoming season, and Nick will release his bold predictions in the next several days. 

1) Baltimore not only fails to make postseason but finishes last in AL East

     Not to take anything away from the Orioles' magical 2012, but I think their season was based more on good fortune and career years than sustainable skill. Don't get me wrong; I love Matt Wieters, think Manny Machado is a burgeoning superstar, and believe Buck Showalter is one of the best managers in the business. With that being said, I seriously doubt not only their ability to return to the postseason, but also their ability to even escape the cellar of the AL East. The two worst teams in the division last year, the Red Sox and the Blue Jays, both vastly improved, and the Yankees and Rays each have had successful track records over the past several years. Additionally, a patchwork rotation that provided only one pitcher with more than 135 innings is and should be a major question mark. Call me skeptical but all I see is a bunch of middle or back-end rotation types, and playing in the ultra-competitive AL East, that just isn't going to cut it.

2) Gio Gonzalez is worst pitcher on Washington staff

     One year removed from winning 21 games and garnering Cy Young votes, Gio Gonzalez is expected by most to anchor a stacked rotation for a potential pennant-winning team. However, there were several numbers from his excellent 2012 season that appear to be anomalous rather than a sign for things to come. For example, Gonzalez benefited from an extremely low .267 BABIP, a number more than 20 points under his career norm. It is very plausible that more balls will find holes in 2013, and therefore, result in more runs allowed. Also, Gonzalez experienced some additional good fortune in the form of his HR/FB (HR per FlyBall rate). With a career HR/FB around 9%, Gonzalez's 5.8% line from 2012 sticks out like a sore thumb. This offers up a high probability that he will see his home run allowed total to increase a good bit, furthering driving up his ERA. Furthermore, although I expect Gonzalez to regress, the statement above isn't so much a knock on Gonzalez as it is high praise for his rotation brethren. A rotation that includes the likes of the uber-talented Stephen Strasburg,  a frontline starter in Jordan Zimmerman, a promising southpaw in Ross Detwiler, and a good comeback candidate in Dan Haren, is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, the Nationals' staff is my personal favorite for best rotation in baseball. Therefore, with Gonzalez's likely regression and further development of his talented teammates, it is quite possible Gonzalez is the Nat's worst starter.

3) Dodgers drown under pile of cash; finish below .500

     With the arrival of new ownership, the Dodgers have become "Yankees West" with their recent financial splurges and aggressive transactions. To the casual fan, the acquisitions of stars Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, and Zack Greinke  would seemingly cement a playoff berth for the upcoming season. However, I see legitimate concern with the current roster and question  how good they will really be. For starters, the aforementioned Gonzalez and Ramirez, MVP candidates just several years ago, have seen their stars lose its luster and are at the heels of some of the worst seasons of their career. Additionally, star center fielder Matt Kemp was plagued with injuries throughout 2012, giving serious concern to a team that lacks depth if he were to go down again. On the pitching side, the Dodgers undoubtedly possess a quality rotation (lead by ace Clayton Kershaw), but still probably do not match up with the division rival San Francisco, a team, in case you forgot, just happened to win the World Series last year.  The Giants certainly aren't fading away, and a healthy rotation could put Arizona right back in the playoff hunt as well. All told, I think the Dodgers will face the harsh reality that "money  doesn't buy happiness" in 2013.

4) Detroit Tiger starting pitcher Max Scherzer, not Justin Verlander, wins AL CY

     I wholeheartedly believe Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball; I just don't think he'll be the one with the best season this upcoming year.  That honor goes to teammate Max Scherzer. The basis for this reasoning rests on a couple of factors, including Scherzer's insane strikeout rate (11 K/9) and unluckiness in terms of his BABIP (.333) and HR rate, both well above league average. Because of the extremes regarding the previous statistics, Scherzer is a good bet to regress  to the mean; in other words, he should benefit from much better luck this upcoming season. Even with that "unluckiness" in mind, Scherzer managed a 3.74 ERA and 4 WAR season, a solid season indeed. Given Scherzer's current skill set (high K rate, low BB rate) and likely benefit from luck, I see Scherzer having a breakout campaign, one worthy of winning a Cy Young.

5) Yankees fall out of contention and do the unthinkable: trade Robinson Cano for prospects

     I know, I know, this is by far the most bold and most unlikely prediction to occur. That being said I think the Yankees are reaching a period of serious concern, considering the age of the current team and a weak farm system. As the Yankees head into 2013, every single starting position player will be over thirty, with many of them (Jeter, Rodriguez, Teixeira) facing injury concerns that get worse, not better with age. In addition, the best three pitchers on the team (Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte) will be over 32, with two of those pitchers (Sabathia and Pettitte) spending significant time on the DL just last year. 
     As for Cano, he enters 2013 as the best second baseman in the game, and one of a handful of players that can legitimately claim to being the BEST player in the game. However, Cano, a Scott Boras client, is heading into his free agent year, and could very well land a $200 million contract from one of a handful of aggressive bidders (Dodgers?).  If the Yankees falter, they will be faced with a decision that seemed unimaginable just a year ago; should Robinson Cano be moved? Given their current paucity of talent in the minors (with their best prospects in the low minors, years away from fulfilling their potential), Cano could be dealt for a truckload of prospects to rebuild the once proud franchise. What makes this even more possible (still unlikely, just more plausible), is the declared imperative to get underneath the MLB luxury tax threshold, which if surpassed, subjects teams to harsh financial penalties. With hundreds of millions tied up to Rodriguez, Sabathia, Teixeira, and Jeter, the Yankees might find it hard to pay Cano and still manage to stay underneath the luxury tax threshold. So, if the Yankees struggle, don't question the possibility of a Cano blockbuster this summer.



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