Saturday, November 19, 2016

Season 36 NL East Preview


Washington D.C. Nationals
Season 35:  90-72
GM:  chase39

Outlook:  The Nats suffered through some sub-par pitching performances last year (Benavente - 4.19 ERA, Lee - 4.17 ERA, even the 3.63 ERA by Stevenson was uncharacteristically high for him).  So they mostly re-signed their own FA's (Petkovsek), although they did let 1B Tony Diaz leave, and geared up for another run.

D.C. finished a close 2nd (to Montreal) in runs scored last year. The distinguishing feature is a lot of baserunners (league-leading 551 walks - 1B Purcell led with 76).  There's plenty of power, too (218 HR's - 4th), with 6 players hitting 20+ (Petkovsek paced them with 33 HR and 104 RBI).  On top of that, they're a better-than-average running team (139 SB...LF Winston 36 and CF Hughes 35).

The staff is excellent top-to-bottom.  Rotation ace Maicer Comacho had probably his best all-round season last year (22-2, 2.79 in 251 IP).  Benavente, Spruill and Lee are all high-end #2's, and Robinson Velez did a great job as #5 last year.  The pen has 4 absolute lock-down short relievers in Cervantes, Rathjen, Stevenson and Satou.  


The one crack in the armor has been below-average defense (.982 fielding %, 52/54 on good/bad plays), although they've taken some steps to improve it. New SS Rudy Blackley (7 errors in 74 games) will be a big improvement over Odalis Cantu (29 errors). Diaz was a good hitter but a mess at 1B; they didn't improve 1B by moving Purcell there, but the OF defense will be much better with Winston and Petkovsek at the corners.

This year's Nats may be slightly less explosive, but they'll play better defense and the pitching should rebound.  I think they'll top last year's 90 wins easily.



New York Mets
Season 35: 98-64
GM: z0601

Outlook:  The Mets started hot last year and won the Division impressively in GM z0601's first season.  They also made one of the more interesting off-season moves of the year.

Late in free agency, they scooped up the injured and overlooked Deangleo De Aza for 2 years, $1.6MM per.  He'll be available for the last third of this season and the playoffs and all next year for a total of $3.2MM.  Brilliant move.

The Mets also just traded for Milwaukee OF Paulo Telis.  I'm not sure how much action he'll see, but who wouldn't like having a switch-hitter of that cailber on the bench (making $378K at that).


NY's homerun-oriented (221 - 3rd) offense produced 731 runs - 5th in the league.  They expect offense from every position except the Olivo/Kim CF platoon.  RF Jemile Frazier led the team in OPS with .885 (and homeruns with 43), and 5 players topped .800 OPS.  Is it me, or has Cecil Bonilla been a bit of a disappointment with his .878 OPS over 4 seasons? Then again, zbrent and I had the same conversation about Robert Esposito before last season, and he won the NL Triple Crown (I may have just reverse-jinxed the AL East to NY).

The Mets' staff is top-notch, but highly dependent on the Big 3 of Ozuna, Day and Stevenson.  That trio threw 808 of their 1465 innings.  Lefties finally caught up with #4 starter Grant Young last year, pummeling him for an .871 OPS-against.  That won't happen again.  Neither will Ramon Wanatabe's 1.89 ERA - the bullpen is adequate but no the strength of the squad.


Pittsburgh Pirates
Season 35:  90-72, lost to New York in Round 2
GM:  blanch13


Outlook:  The Buccos lost SP Tony Baerga early last year and never quite put it together, although they did slide into the last Wild Card on the last game of the year.


Baerga returns to form Pittsburgh's own Big 3 with Milton Watson and Rolando Roque. #4 Dunham and #5 Brinson posted ERA's of 3.34 and 3.40 - they'll take that all day.  The bullpen, behind Ernesto Johnson (9 wins, 18 saves, 3.37) is good but not D.C.-good.

What might have been had Esposito (.321/52/131) gotten some help.  Expect better seasons from 3B R.A. Hollins, 2B/OF Dayton Asche, LF Brutus Prince and C Diory Esposito.

The Pirates help themselves with the glove - .985 fielding % and 115/24 good/bad plays.  Perennial GG candidate Julio Rojas (SS) leads the D.


Philadelphia Phillies
Season 35:  72-90
GM: tk21775

Outlook:  While their division mates have been battling for (and winning) WS titles, the Phils have been bringing along prospects and staying competitive with older bargain free agents.  That's the theme again this year. 


Dean Whitfield came up last year and looks like he'll bean All-Star CF for years to come.  Karl Floyd arrived as well...don't think he'll have an All-Star bat but the potential's there for multiple Gold Gloves. Same with C Art Scholl, a strong-armed 4th-round DITR from Season 31. 

That's a start...the Phils have 3 top ten draft picks (and 8 #1's overall) working up the minors chain.

Meanwhile, they've assembled a rotation that's at least in the ballpark with their pitching-rich division mates.  With some judicious training and coaching spending, 36 year-olds Alvin Phillips and Robin Buford should still be going strong when all those draft picks arrive.  The bullpen is not the same caliber, but does have some talent in Season 31 supplemental #1 Theo James, 1-year FA signee Jeremi Speaker and Season 28's #1 Ross Rusch.

Philadelphia scored 578 runs last season, and it won't improve drastically this year.  Whitfield will be pretty good, but there's just not enough around him to make a big jump...this year.

Division Outlook
3 different winners the last 3 years...D.C., New York and Pittsburgh are so close it's anybody's guess.  How about a round of "They'll win it if..."


Mets:  They'll win it if they add 2 good bullpen arms (and De Aza's 1)
Nats:  They'll win it if they make one more move to bolster the defense
Pirates: They'll win it if they reshuffle some that young, pretty-good talent into 1 more big bopper at 1B or COF.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Season 36 AL West Preview


Anaheim Angels
Season 35: 70-92,
GM: kennedrj


Outlook:  A rare step backwards last year for the Angels after 17 (you read that right) straight winning seasons.  9-2 start suggests they're back on track...what did they do?

Not much, which means they didn't panic.  Turns out the Halos were victims of a rare rash of bad seasons by almost all their mainstays.

Look, their runs were WAY down last year, to 701 runs from 860 in Season 34 (and 833 in Season 33). That's a monster 18.5% drop from Season 34.  Their best hitter, Enerio Amaro, had a 175-point OPS drop. Dennis Nakajima, 78-point drop.  Lorenzo Saenz, 102-point drop.  Joakim Henriquez (since moved on to the Mets in FA), 91-point drop.  Get it?  Those are some huge downswings.

Pitching...same deal.  Team ERA was up to 4.37 last year from 3.79 in Season 34 and 3.72 in Season 33. Their best pitcher, Luis Osuna, saw his ERA jump nearly 100 points (and innings pitched dive by 70). Al Iglesias' ERA skyrocketed from 3.48 to 4.66.  Erasmo Miranda...3.93 to 4.12.

Crazy...one of the unluckiest seasons ever (in terms of everybody having a bad year at the same time. Comeback time this year.


Seattle Mariners
Season 35:  71-91
GM: crabman26

Outlook:  No way to chronicle all crabman's off-season moves, so let's just look at his trades to try to figure out what he's up to:

Hubbard for Olmansky:  Seattle picks up a bit of a rehab project SP for an OF who won't make the Braves' ML roster.  Probably a good risk for Seattle - Hubbard's a flyball pitcher who struggled in Atlanta's neutral park...someplace like Seattle is the best place for him.


Martin & Lopez for Bravo and Crane:  Martin may end up being a Cy Young candidate in Seattle, and (barring injury) will have the longest remaining career of the 4 in this deal.  Bravo's a fascinating character coming off career highs in BA and HR (at age 30)...with his low contact and eye, he was totally misplaced in Seattle.  With declines coming soon in power, range and arm strength, he doesn't have a long career ahead of him, but certainly fits in Houston's "win now" mode.  Crane would be good anywhere...price you pay for a good SP.  I liked this trade for Houston and I like it for the Mariners too.

Grimm for Lee:  I look at Grimm and see the right kind of OF for Seattle - high contact.  Better eye and speed would help but you rarely get everything you want in 1 player.  Lee is probably not quite at the level of Hubbard - and definitely not Martins' - so this one makes sense.

OK, so far we see crabman picking up starting pitching and defense, and swapping out power hitters for the high-contact Grimm.

Odor for Clark:  Not sure I get this one.  OK, Odor is probably at best a backup OF/1B, but why pick up a 30 year-old power hitter with contact and eye ratings exactly the opposite of what you want in Safeco?

Bush for Becker:  Bush might have been a viable #5 starter or LR for Seattle, but no matter; guys like that are pretty easy to come by and Becker is at least a rare lefty-hitting 3B.

Cook and Harville for Castillo:  Once again, the right kind of hitter for Safeco with that extreme batting eye.  Cook and Castillo both could make it to the majors (IF they get closer to their projections than most prospects do).  Reasonable deal for Toronto to make in rebuild, and a good trade for Seattle.

So those trades give us a decent idea of where the Mariners are headed:  contact/batting eye hitters, good defense, and pitching that's able to get away with flyballs.  

Except that the Clark trade tells me I have no idea what I'm talking about, so we'll see as the season progresses.



Arizona Diamondbacks
Season 35: 86-76, lost to Minnesota in Round 1
GM:  drichter


Outlook:  The Division Champs only lost some aging vets in free agency, and picked up 3B Lenny Taylor and RP Dom Humphries, so the prospects for another successful season should be good.  


Arizona features a balanced power attack that plated 831 runs last year (3rd in AL).  By "balanced" I mean no less than 12 players hit double-figure HR's (Luis Mendoza led with 32), and 6 drove in 70 or more (1B Carmen Woods led with 91).  With the FA departure of D.J. Nicholson, it looks like Vince Hawkins will man CF.  I've always thought he could be an MVP contender in his best seasons...maybe playing multiple positions will get him more voter attention (if it doesn't keep him off the ballot altogether).

The Snakes have won the West 2 years straight despite having their pitching staff rank in the lower half of the AL in ERA.  Erv Daley certainly lived up to his potential last year (15-6, 2.68), but Patrick Hunter, despite winning 15 games, continued to disappoint (4.51 ERA) in his 4th full season.  If he ever puts it together (6.75 ERA so far this year, but only 3 starts), Arizona will immediately become the team nobody wants to face in a playoff series.  I also think Martin Clayton will improve in his 2nd full season, and there's no way Midre Espinosa lays another egg like that one (4.70 ERA last year was by far the worst of his career).  They certainly have yet to actually do it, but this is potentially the AL's best rotation.  


Humphries certainly won't hurt the lackluster pen, but this team's fortune will rise or fall with their starting 5.



Oakland Athletics
Season 35: 72-90
GM:  billhowell75


Outlook: Oakland continues it rebuild, letting veterans walk in free agency and filling in with almost-ready prospects.  

1B Stevie Foltynewicz (.274/22/95) and C Tony Chirinos (.282/21/86) remain their top run producers, although 3B Juio Crespo contributed 62 extra basehits last year.  The outfield is not very productive, but Andino (LF) and Torrealba (CF) should both at least draw enough walks to be respectable.  

#1 starter Al Rosado remains a top SP...I'm sure he'll be the ongoing subject of trade rumors, with only his salary delaying potential trades.  The rest of the rotation is pretty solid, and is probably the component most responsible for keeping the A's competitive.  Season 32 #1 pick (#23 overall) Greg Simmons looked pretty good as a rookie; he joins Hector Romero to form the core of their "bullpen of the future".

Divison Outlook:

The Angels will be back, but I think the Diamondbacks have surpassed them.  I like what Seattle did in the off-season, but it's not quite enough to move into the top 2.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Season 36 AL North Preview

Chicago White Sox
Season 35:  106-56, won Division, lost to Minnesota in 2nd Round
GM: pfontaine
   

Outlook:  6 straight 100-win seasons and a World Series...how do they do it?

Always in the top 3 in scoring, mostly by getting on base (league-leading .344 clip last year), but they were also 3rd in Slugging % and steals.  3-time MVP Magglio Rodriguez and CF Elvis Snow pace the on-basers (111 and 76 walks, respectively).  6 hitters routinely top 20 HR's (Shawn Quinn tops with 31)...Snow actually led the team with 116 RBI.

Rather than a dominant ace and a clear #2, the rotation features 5 pretty interchangeable starters (although each can have outstanding seasons, as CY's for Johnson and Ayala demonstrate).  They spread the saves around, although middle relievers Esmil Gonzalez and Kevin Chong get the bulk of them (and the bulk of the innings).

The defense is solid (.985 fielding %, 65/35 on good/bad plays), although considering the quality of the lineup it's outstanding.  Snow, 3B Jake Nelson and 1B Stan Duran annually post double-digit + plays.


Detroit Tigers
Season 35:  95-67, Wild Card, lost to Tampa Bay in Round 1

Outlook:  New owner jsturgis sparked a 15-win improvement and a playoff berth in his first season.

How's the encore looking?

Well, it's a challenging start with Manuel Cano's 100-day elbow.  Pedro Nunez steps into the #1 slot...he certainly brought it last year with a 19-9, 2.55 ERA in 247 innings.  The rest of the staff (with the exceptions of relievers Park and Palmeiro) doesn't look particularly impressive, but it delivers - they tied the Twins' staff for top AL ERA last year (3.45).

You'd expect scoring runs to be tough in Comerica...703 is actually a pretty impressive total.  It's a contact-oriented (.266 BA - 4th) station-to-station attack (14th in both HR's and SB's).  Multi-position guy Sid Swann (.301/14/56) is probably their best all-round hitter, with LF Philip Schultz the top HR threat with 24.

I don't know how many wins their defense gets them, but it's a positive number.  .987 fielding % and an impressive 98/7 +/- split...SS Al Vincente had 19 good plays versus no bad plays.



Minnesota Twins
Season 103-59: Wild Card, advanced to ALCS and lost to Boston
GM:  zbrent716

Outlook:  The Twins play incredible D (World-leading +111 (122/11) on good/bad plays last year), and steal bases at double the rate of their nearest competitor (366, although that's down from their 400+ of the previous 4 seasons), although they seemed to get a little more conventional with their pitching last year by going with a 4-man rotation (and they tied for the league ERA lead with 3.45).

Looks like they've gone back to their Petit/Williams 2-man rotation and 6 innings of matchups with their tough relievers.  

As good as their defense is, it's pretty amazing they get as much production as they do (821 runs - 4th). They mostly do it by getting on base frequently (.334 OBP - 4th), and of course, stealing.  But slugging % is right at the league average - KEY TO THE SEASON:  1B Michael Aoki has OPS'd .900+ the last 2 seasons, and they really need him to come through again.

About that ridiculous +/- split:  22 different players posted good plays for the Twins!


Toronto Blue Jays
Season 35:  76-86
GM:  coltonrocks

  

Outlook:  Lost in the 3-playoff team performance of the AL North last year was the 21-win improvement of the Jays.  


Repeating that may be tough, as it's virtually an entirely new lineup this season.  Gone are longtime faces of the franchise Jimmie Castillo, Joe Hughes, Bruce Smith.  

Indication of a rebuild (not a bad idea when your 3 division mates could all win 90+ again):  they wisely filled in with older, low-budget free agents like Rodney Simmons ($2.3MM) and Yuuta Abe ($3.5MM) and kept the total payroll under $60MM.

Their best prospects (Richie Clifton, Earl Cook, Matty Spillbourghs, Brett Milton, Perry Sutton) are all in the low minors, so we may see a couple of seasons of this.  Let's hope their pitching staff can repeat their 5th-ranked 4.05 ERA of last year.


Division Outlook

Not sure the Tigers can hang with Cano out for so long.  Logic says the conventionally-dominant White Sox win again, but I'm picking the crazy base-stealing, relief-pitching, defense-playing Twins in an upset.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Season 36 AL East Preview

Boston Red Sox 
Season 35:  95-67, won Division, won World Series
GM: Spistol


Outlook:  Why mess with a winning combination?  The Sox had some older free agents this year, and elected to bring back many of them to try to recreate the Season 35 magic.

What can you say about Peter Magnusson?  The Season 31 #11 overall pick has 2 MVP's and a ROY in his first 2 seasons, and now a WS ring.  He's the straw that stirs the Red Sox, but he's not alone.

Season 30 #5 overall Ronnie Burns is a near carbon copy of Magnusson.  The 2 are interchangeable at 2B and CF, and both look to be perpetual 40-HR boppers for years to come.

1B Matt Lawrence (.284/30/95) and DH Curtis Smith (.271/38/112) are the secondary run producers behind the dynamic duo.  

Boston's pitching was a surprising 9th in the AL last year with a 4.28 ERA (a bit better in the playoffs at 4.02).  Their approach is more to trade punches rather than try to shut you down.  At least until the late innings, when Damaso Martinez (3.56 ERA in 98 IP)and Dan Lambert (27 saves, 2.37 ERA) come in to protect leads.

They do help their pitching out wit solid defense - .985 team fielding percentage and 90/36 on good/bad plays.


Cleveland Indians
Season 35: 60 102
GM: jgnjr


Outlook: The Tribe looks to be entering a rebuild...or maybe more accurately a decided youth movement...as it jettisoned a number of aging free agents and traded for younger vets in the off-season.


Cleveland traded an older prospect for O.T. Grieve, got a pair of nice DH candidates in Rudy House and Kendry Fernandez.  They also concentrated their FA signings on older, low-budget players (frequently the best values out there, by the way).

House becomes Cleveland's best hitter (assuming he gets promoted, of course)...maybe 1A with LF Phillip Rose (does it surprise you that he had a .290/36/120 line last year?).

The Indians' staff posted a 4.54 ERA last year, 14th in the leauge.  Only Scot Bradford on the rotation bettered 4.00, and it will be pretty similar this year. Season 32 IFA John Chiba may help a bit, but the staff needs an across-the-board overhaul to be seriously competitive.

Rebuild or a youth movement alongside an attempt to squeak out a shot at a wild card?  How about a 1-year massive housecleaning and come back strong next year?  I'm a big fan of bold moves.



Baltimore Orioles
Season 35:  77-85  

GM:  NormanW5


Outlook: The Birds have landed in that 77-win never-never land for 2 seasons...competitive but not threatening a wild card.  


There's some good talent on the ML roster, and it's predominantly young talent.  Season 30's #3 overall, 2B Keith Townsend, struggled last year but still hit for power with 28 HR and 108 RBI.  Season 33's #3, Chip Caminiti, looks like another promising power-hitting infielder (but is woefully overmatched at SS, as his .930 fielding % last year attests).  Flip Harris finally put it together in his 4th season and won 15 games with 3.20 ERA.  And there are a few other youngsters capable of contributing to a playoff run.

But not this year.  Too many Josmil Cordero's on the roster (his hot 3-appearance start notwithstanding...all too soon, his line will look like Season 35's).  

Seems like Baltimore is closing in on something good - let's hope they grab it soon.

New York Yankees
Season 35:  72-90
GM:  fsubwj

Outlook:  The Yanks have been rebuilding since the mikeymel era, patiently drafting and signing IFA's.  A few of those choices have now made their way to the majors...let's take a look:

Vin Gumbs (Season 32 #1 overall) famously made the jump to the Bigs after just 100 minor-league innings.  Last year, he made the All-Star team and entered the CY conversation with a 19-8, 2.52 ERA campaign.

Yovani Romo ($26MM Sea 34 IFA) has also been fast-tracked to the Majors (sense a pattern here?)...just 129 minor-league AB's.  Set to be the SS for the next dozen years.

Brace Wooster (Season 33 #10 overall) got 68 MiL innings and then right to the Majors.  Struggled in Season 34 and improved big-time last year.

And there are others like OF's Frank Bong and Geraldo De La Rosa, and C Frank James.  Perhaps the best of all of them, Bryant Mulder, is at AA.

The youngsters sparked a 13-win improvement last year.  They'll undoubtedly improve again - the only question is whether it will be enough to contend. 86 wins has gotten an AL Wild Card each of the last 2 seasons.

Division Outlook:  Boston looks like the favorite again, with an onrushing Yankees team about to ignite an intense rivalry.

Should the Portland Mavericks replace the Nashville Sounds when the opportunity arises?