2012 wasn’t kind to many players last season. But fortunately for them, 2013 is upon us and with it comes the opportunity to turn around their slump and help their team compete throughout the season. While ESPN recently posted an article listing the players they thought were most crucial to helping their team, we here at FB/CU thought the list focused too much on the big name stars who will likely produce as they always do. Instead, we decided to dive a little deeper and locate the bubble players whose performances should dictate the trajectory of their team’s season.
East: Brian McCann (C) Atlanta Braves
The Braves have a couple candidates that could be listed here since both Uggla and Upton also had subpar seasons last year. While the Braves lineup will be able to tolerate another slumping season from one of them, two slumping Braves could prove costly. Upton will likely improve (since both Uptons will think they’re playing in the schoolyard), and if we assume Uggla slumps again (which has been the case up to this point in spring training), McCann will be the question mark. His 2012 BA and OBP were 50 points under his career stats, leaving him with a WAR of 0.6 for 2012. While most of this was due to nagging injuries throughout the season, McCann is likely to start out on the DL in 2013 because he is recovering from offseason surgery on his shoulder. If he returns to form after the DL stint, expect a high .200BA, 20+ homers, and a 3.0 WAR. These numbers would help balance the bottom of the Braves order, and prove a huge improvement over their backup catcher who averages a WAR of 0 over the last three seasons.
Central: Francisco Liriano (SP) Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates attempted to add some guys in the offseason that could help shoulder the brunt of a 162 game season, something they couldn’t do in 2012 (the team limped to October after being playoff contenders early, with a record of 20-39 in the last two months of the season). Liriano is the acquisition with the most uncertainty, since he has only had two great seasons in his career. He had a WAR above 4 in both of those seasons (2006, 2010) and a WAR under 1 in every other season (2007-2009, and 2011-2012). With that being said, this is his first season in the National League and Liriano should be able to take advantage of having one less bat in the lineup. Additionally, many batters will be facing Liriano for the first time, giving him an advantage that should keep ERA and WHIP numbers low. If Liriano finds a way to keep his walk count down, as he did in 2006 and 2010, he will prove to be a formidable back of the rotation starter, giving the Pirates something that the Cardinals don’t seem to have.
West: Brandon McCarthy (SP) Arizona Diamondbacks
McCarthy’s season was cut short last year when he was hit in the head by a pitch, requiring a 2 hour surgery to relieve cranial pressure. While his stats last season were impressive, there is no doubt that this incident had a psychological impact that could send his 2013 season off course. If this doesn’t happen, expect his transition to the NL to produce a drop in his ERA, which averaged 3.28 over the last two seasons, and an increase in his SO numbers. He’s a great ground ball pitcher who keeps his walks down, and his experience will complement the talented youth that comprises the rest of the rotation. A strong year from McCarthy gives the Diamondbacks an extremely talented pitching staff that could compete for the postseason, and more importantly, displays the strength and determination of McCarthy.
East: Melky Cabrera (OF) Blue Jays
The Jays acquired many new stars in their blockbuster with the Marlins, which we talked about here and also added a Cy Young Award winner to boot, but their success might depend on all of these star personalities gelling together. One potential impediment to that goal might be Melky Cabrera. Melky put up career numbers last year with the help of some herbal supplements but what was telling is that even after his suspension was up, the Giants management (to their credit) did not offer him a spot on their postseason roster. If Melky just does his job and stays out of trouble, then the Jays and all their talent should have a spot in October.
Central: Nick Swisher (OF) Indians
I like what’s going on in Cleveland. The management seems serious about spending money to win. They brought in a proven manager in Terry Francona and the lineup on paper looks like it could so some damage. However, they don’t have any starters that would be more than a 3 or 4 guy on most teams, so the lineup is going to have to produce. That production will have to start with the team’s biggest acquisition of this offseason Nick Swisher. Swisher has hit 20+ homers in every one of his full seasons in the big leagues and helps his team by drawing a lot of walks and getting on base. In New York it was easy for Swisher to draw a walk and let the superstar hitting behind him take care of business, but in Cleveland, Swisher might not have the same kind of protection, so it will be on him to hit in the clutch and be the guy there, whether or not he steps into that role and carries his team offensively might determine whether or not Cleveland is able to contend in a weak division.
West: Yu Darvish (SP) Rangers
In the wild west, the Angels on paper look primed to run away with things, but even though Texas missed the playoffs last year, counting them out would be folly. Texas this year is good, but not great. And what is separating them from that greatness is an ace starter. In his first year in the Majors, Darvish put up a 16-9 record with a ERA of 3.90 in 191 innings. He struck out 221 but walked 89. He has the stuff, but wasn’t able to put everything together last year. Darvish with a year of major league experience under his belt has the potential to be crazy good. If he can get his walk numbers down he won’t dig himself into holes like he often did last year and the Texas lineup will give him enough of a cushion to win a lot of games. If Darvish makes the ascension into ace status this year, Texas could easily find themselves playing October baseball yet again.