It's still only November, but recent events have us already thinking about 2013, right?
In my own head at this moment, my expectations for the division sort of involve the Yankees at the top of the heap; Toronto and Tampa fighting it out for second place, with the Orioles falling back to somewhere in vicinity of .500, possibly a little better; and the Red Sox along for the ride. Naturally, all this is Extremely Tentative and subject to Further Developments. For further developments there most assuredly shall be.
I wanted to take a fairly narrow look at two of the Jays' competitors: the Orioles and the Yankees
Much of what's been said about the 2012 Orioles has focused on their freakish and flukey record in one-run games. As it should - it was a fluke, it's not sustainable, their good luck is extremely unlikely to stay with them. They were a much improved team nevertheless. Their improvement in 2012 came entirely in the area of preventing the other team from scoring runs - they reduced their runs allowed by 155 (0.96 per game.) Which is a lot.
My instinctive reaction is to think that so drastic an improvement in run prevention is not sustainable either. And that therefore the Orioles are very likely to allow more runs in 2013 than they did in 2012. So I went crawling through the Big Honking Database and identified the 100 greatest improvements in Run Prevention since 1961. The 2012 Orioles are among them, in the middle of the pack (41st place). At the top of the list are the 1997 Tigers, who allowed 1.93 fewer runs per game than the 1996 team, and the 100th team are the 1968 A's, who allowed 0.74 fewer runs than the 1967 team.
Of those 100 teams, 74 of them allowed more runs in the second year; the 100 teams as a group allowed on average about 50 more runs the following season. So that may indeed be something else working against the 2013 Orioles. The tendency of things to bounce back to somewhere in the vicinity of where they were before.
As for the Yankees... I think, as we watch their stars get older and older, that we're all kind of waiting for what happened to the Yankees in 1965 to happen to this group - that they'll get old all at once and fall off a cliff.
I've decided not to expect that to ever happen, at least not until I actually see it happening right in front of me. They're the freaking Yankees, the ordinary laws of space and time may not apply. But I wondered - what actually happened to the Yankees in 1965, when they went from 99-63 and playing in the World Series all the way to 77-85 and sixth place.
I knew 1965 was the year Jim Bouton's arm fell off - after winning 21 and 18 games in 1963-64, Bouton went 4-15, 4.82; but even so... it wasn't the pitching. Bouton's breakdown was pretty much offset by Mel Stottlemyre's first full season in the majors - he went 20-9, 2.63 and gave them 291 IP. Whitey Ford, at age 36 fell off almost as much as Bouton, but Ford still went 16-13, 3.24 in 1965. The Yankees only allowed 27 more runs in 1965 than they had in 1964.
It was the bats that collapsed. Two men in particular. Accounts of the season often point out that Roger Maris missed 116 games, and that his replacements (Hector Lopez and Roger Repoz) were barely league average. True, but Tom Tresh who had been league average in 1964 had the best year of his career, and made up for the missing Maris. Tony Kubek went off the cliff, and was forced into retirement at the end of the year; but Clete Boyer stepped up and had the best offensive season of his career. Joe Pepitone and Bobby Richardson were actually slightly better in 1965 than they had been in 1964.
So it came down to two players. Elston Howard had been the league MVP in 1963. In 1964 he had hit .313/.371/.455. But he was 36 years old in 1965, and he simply crashed and burned, hitting .233//278/.345 - he also missed 52 games, and neither of his backups (Doc Edwards and Jake Gibbs) could manage even a .600 OPS.
And the Mick. Mantle was only 33 in 1965, and he was still a hell of a hitter. But he was breaking down. Johnny Keane played Mantle exclusively in left field in 1965, but he was only able to play 108 games in the field. And at age 33, he began to slip at the plate. A lifetime .309 hitter with an OPS+ of 172 through 1964, Mantle hit just .255 in 1965, by far the lowest BAVG of his career to that point. Granted, his power and his enormous walk totals still gave him an OPS+ of 137, meaning he was still the best hitter on the team. It's just that he'd been the best hitter in the major leagues only one year earlier.