Eric Karabell and I briefly raised this question a couple weeks ago on a SweetSpot TV: Which team is most collapse-proof? Or, to rephrase it, which is least likely to go all 2012 Red Sox on us? At the time, we mentioned the Reds, but I'm not so sure that's the right answer.
What makes a team collapse-proof? Here are some of my criteria:
Rotation depth. Good pitching can mask a lot of deficiencies. Five good starters is important but few teams make it through a season with just five starters, so those sixth, seventh and even eighth starters can end up playing vital roles.
Durability. What's the injury history of your position players and top starters?
Star players. Obviously, stars are less likely to have off years. That's why they're stars.
Age. Too many key players over 30? A red flag.
Quality of bullpen. A deep bullpen can help you overcome a mediocre starter or two.
Division. A weak division can help.
OK, here are the teams I think are most collapse-proof, which isn't quite the same thing as saying they're the best teams in baseball. Basically, these are teams with the highest floors.
Strengths: Quality and depth of rotation (Drew Smyly would be a No. 3 on many teams); durability of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder (Cabrera has played at least 157 games each full season of his career, and the year he didn't he played 150; Fielder has missed 12 games in his career); age is only a minor concern (Torii Hunter is 37, Victor Martinez is 34); weakness of division.
Why they could collapse: Bullpen implodes, Justin Verlander gets hurt, Cabrera and Fielder go on midseason diets, lose 35 pounds and stop hitting.
Strengths: Age of lineup (Dan Uggla is only regular position player over 28); star potential (Jason Heyward, Justin Upton); lineup depth (Evan Gattis, Chris Johnson already filling in and playing well); rotation depth (especially when Brandon Beachy returns); bullpen arms (already surviving loss of Jonny Venters); division could be weak with awful Marlins and mediocre Mets and Phillies; already off to a 13-3 start.
Strengths: Rotation quality/depth (rookie Tony Cingrani is already filling in for Johnny Cueto, Sam LeCure could be a good starter); good bench (Chris Heisey, Devin Mesoraco, Jack Hannahan, Billy Hamilton waiting in the minors); Joey Votto's .500 OBP; bullpen depth; weak division.
Why they could collapse: May not score enough runs if Votto doesn't start hitting for power and Jay Bruce doesn't find his power stroke; bullpen has struggled early on; Dusty Baker could screw it up.
And now three contenders with collapse potential (well, besides the Yankees, whose potential for collapse has been well documented):
Why they could collapse: The team's rotation depth was supposed to be a strength, but they've already traded Aaron Harang, Zack Greinke is out and Ted Lilly's rehab assignment hasn't gone well. You realize how much this team is counting on Clayton Kershaw to be dominant and healthy. The left side of the infield has been terrible and Hanley Ramirez isn't necessarily the solution at shortstop. Matt Kemp may not be Matt Kemp circa 2011. Age (five regular position players 31 or older). NL West could be tougher if the Rockies are better than expected.
Why they could collapse: Just 15 games in to the season we're already seeing the potential flaws creep up. The rotation was already questionable and now ace Jered Weaver will miss some time. The starting nine is very good but has no depth. (Brendan Harris playing shortstop? Really?) Albert Pujols is hobbling around. Josh Hamilton is still swinging at everything. Mike Trout may merely be very good instead of all-world. Peter Bourjos doesn't hit. The bullpen isn't even mediocre but bad.
Why they could collapse: I still think they have the highest ceiling of any team in the majors, but you don't have to stretch things too far to create a collapse scenario. Dan Haren is washed up and another starter goes down, exposing the lack of rotation depth. Ryan Zimmerman continues to have throwing problems and doesn't hit. Second base remains a problem area all season with Danny Espinosa struggling. Two regulars, Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth, are 33 and 34 and have injury histories. The bullpen has struggled early on. The more you look at the lineup you realize how heavily it's counting on 20-year-old Bryce Harper. So far, so good, but you don't want to need a 20-year-old kid to be your best player.