Note: The starting lineups for tonight's game appear at the end of this post
After noting the various predictions being put forth by experts and fans, I thought I'd weigh in on which players I think will exceed the average expectation and which players I think will fall short of the average expectation. Here are my best guesses, going around the infield, then around the outfield, and finally covering a few of the pitchers. Interestingly, while Blez and I tend to agree more often than not, I think our perspectives differ quite a bit on some of these...
Dan Johnson: Will perform better than the average prediction. I like his disciplined approach at the plate, something which I think will keep him out of sustained slumps. I think he had his "sophomore slump" already, learned the importance of using the whole field in the process, and will provide a solid OBP and slugging percentage over a full season.
Mark Ellis: Will perform better than the average prediction. Most have resigned themselves to a significant regression, but 2005 was somewhere between a "career year" and a "breakout year," and I'm betting on "breakout year." Perhaps I'm a strong believer in the value of maturity, fundamentals, and smarts, or perhaps I see no reason for a player with a great work ethic to start declining at 28 years old.
Bobby Crosby: Will perform worse than the average prediction. Crosby has yet to prove to me that he performs better under the weight of pressure and expectation, and nothing brings down performance like being your own worst critic. Crosby pressed upon replacing Tejada, and he presses with the bases loaded. Someday, he will mature and blossom into a top player, but I'm not banking that his time has arrived just yet.
Eric Chavez: Will perform better than the average prediction. To make this prediction is usually to be wrong; since he broke into the big leagues with success, Chavy has run in place more than he has moved forward. Now there are questions about his shoulder. But Chavy certainly has the ability to have a great season, and I believe that his emergence as a quiet team leader, along with the additions of F. Thomas and Bradley to the lineup, are the right combination to keep Chavy just under the radar enough to relax and rake.
Jason Kendall: Will perform worse than the average prediction. The conventional wisdom is that Kendall will rebound offensively and that his throwing percentage can't get any worse. The latter is probably true, and I expect he will gun down more than 15% this year. But I really don't think he'll hit .300 or garner a .400 OBP. If he bats 9th, he'll be an luxury #9 hitter, and he may be worth his salary for the way he handles the pitching staff. If he hits .300, however, I'll parade around in a Yankees hat and nothing else and allow grover to take pictures.
Nick Swisher: Will perform worse than the average prediction. I think his low 2005 batting average reflected how many holes he had in his approach and I think his learning/maturity curve is simply more gradual than many his teammates'. He might give you 25 HRs and some walks, but unless your goal is to have Rob Deer in left field, you might be disappointed. And if you think playing left-field and right-field are identical, you might also be disappointed in Swish's defense--which didn't really bowl me over in right-field.
Mark Kotsay: Will perform commensurate with the average prediction. Kotsay is pretty consistent and reliable, and I think most will accurately project him to hit for a good but not spectacular average, a good but not spectacular OBP, make a lot of contact and hit well with RISP, play a terrific centerfield, and miss 1/6 of the season with back pain. And there you have it.
Milton Bradley: Will do better off the field and not quite as well on the field as the average prediction. I don't think there will probably be a "big incident" in Oakland, but I also wonder if people are expecting Bradley to be a major power hitter (he isn't) or a "5-tool player" (his speed, power, etc. may be above average but they aren't spectacular). I think Bradley has a chance to help the team a lot, and I think his defense will really solidify the outfield depth, but if fans set their hopes at .300, 25 HR, 25 SB they might be disappointed--just as they might be disappointed if they expect to see him for 160 games.
Esteban Loaiza: Will perform better than the average prediction. I think the A's signed Loaiza primarily for one reason: because they looked at his career from every angle and concluded he would perform very well in 2006. And I trust the A's to know their scouting, whether they are scouting with their eyes or with their stat sheets. Loaiza has a very good arm, has pitched well far more than not since he developed the cutter, and is at an age (34) where hard throwers with good control are often still very effective.
Danny Haren: Will perform better than the average prediction. Most people think Haren is a very good pitcher; I think he's better than that. I'll be more surprised if he wins only 12 games than I will be if he wins 18.
Joe Blanton: Will perform worse than the average prediction. I predicted a rough season in 2005 and was ultimately wrong, so let's try again. Blanton has to be awfully fine with his pitches, lacks a breaking ball of Zito, Duke, Calero, or Street's caliber, and seems ripe for a "sophomore slump". We'll see if he gets the last laugh again.
Kiko Calero: Will perform worse than the average prediction. I like Calero, but I don't believe a pitcher can ultimately live on such a steady diet of breaking balls and I suspect it will take a flurry of setbacks (probably 3-4 of them while pitching to Michael Cuddyer) before Kiko is convinced he needs to throw his fastball more. Calero could be 2006's Rincon: basically effective but too unwilling to trust his fastball to be more than adequate.
Joe Kennedy Will perform better than the average prediction. If used properly--as an expensive LOOGY--Kennedy could surprise a lot of people. On a career basis, when Kennedy throws the ball right-handed hitters are all Gary Sheffield and left-handed hitters are all Laynce Nix. A .238 batting average is really low, and that's Kennedy's career BAA against left-handed hitters.
TONIGHT'S STARTING LINEUPS