Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 MLB Season Preview

It's been a brutally cold winter across most of the Northern hemisphere this year, with feeble warmth from the hot stove. We are ready for warm weather and ballgames. At least the ballgames start this week. Let's look forward to the upcoming season with predictions on standings, the postseason, and awards. Please add your predictions to the comments. Enjoy!

NL East Predicted Standings
Washington Nationals 91-71
Will 2014 be the Year of Strasburg?
(Jonathan Ernst / Getty Images)
Atlanta Braves 84-78
New York Mets 78-84
Philadelphia Phillies 75-87
Miami Marlins 66-96

Each division in the National League has a clear favorite. Washington has separated itself from Atlanta in recent weeks because the Braves pitching staff has been decimated by injuries. Their current starting rotation looks like Julio Teheran, Ervin Santana, Alex Wood, and a couple of question marks to be filled by David Hale and Aaron Harang. The Nationals, on the other hand, boast a 1-2-3 as good as any in the game with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez. Washington addressed one of their greatest weaknesses from last season by building a stronger bench. This year, with Anthony Rendon penciled in at 2nd base, Danny Espinosa will bring his bat to the bench. Add to that, a decent tandem of 4th and 5th outfielders in Nate McLouth and Scott Hairston.

Imagine music from an awards show orchestra playing, and we begin to wrap this up...

The Nationals are built to win now. Atlanta was built to win now, and will need to make more moves to replenish their lost pitching depth. The Mets are slowly getting better, hoping to compete by 2015 and be a serious threat in 2016. The Phillies are getting worse, with no hope while the current regime is in charge. One of these years, in Miami, the Marlins will reintroduce their fans to Major League Baseball.

Continuing our tradition, our preseason divisional All-Pro teams:

NL East 2014 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: Wilson Ramos, Nationals
1b: Freddie Freeman, Braves
2b: Chase Utley, Phillies
SS: Andrelton Simmons, Braves
3b: David Wright, Mets
LF: Bryce Harper, Nationals
CF: Denard Span, Nationals
RF: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
SP: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
RP: Craig Kimbrel, Braves

NL Central Predicted Standings
St. Louis Cardinals 94-68
Over the top at 6'6" is intimidating
(Photo credit: Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Pirates 85-77
Cincinnati Reds 81-81
Milwaukee Brewers 78-84
Chicago Cubs 67-95

As a Cubs fan, I'm afraid the Cardinals are the best team in baseball. They've shown a track record for regenerative competitiveness than any other team in baseball the past two decades. Michael Wacha is particularly scary, unless you're a Cardinals fan.

In Pittsburgh, we have a blossoming youth movement conflicting with the plexiglass principle. The Pirates went from 79 wins in 2012 to 94 last year, when their run differential was good for 88 wins. Laws of regression suggest they will finish shy of the 90+ wins they had last year. We have them making the Wild Card Game with 85 wins, but will the improvement of their young club, plus the addition of prospects, including Gregory Polanco, buck the trend and propel the Pirates to the class of the National League?

Cincinnati has a lot going for itself. Joey Votto might be the best hitter in the National League. There's a lot of excitement for Billy Hamilton's speed, while so much of his success rests on his ability to get on base - not unlike every offensive player. It's more a case of Hamilton not showing much ability to get on base, aside from extremely small sample sizes last October and this Spring. Bryan Price looks like a sharp, new manager, but it could take him a while to get this team past their Dusty dysfunction.

Milwaukee is treading water with Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, and a pretty decent starting rotation. Wily Peralta is a post-hype sleeper who's available in most fantasy leagues.

The Cubs have enough charm to get away with openly tanking at the Major League level. It's a wise move, considering that one of the few competitive advantages rebuilding teams can achieve is a larger draft budget (maximum spend on all draft picks), which is based on draft order, and that is based on the Major League team's Win-Loss record.

NL Central 2014 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: Yadier Molina, Cardinals
1b: Joey Votto, Reds
2b: Neil Walker, Pirates
SS: Jean Segura, Brewers
3b: Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
LF: Matt Holliday, Cardinals
CF: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
RF: Ryan Braun, Brewers
SP: Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
RP: Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals

NL West Predicted Standings
Los Angeles Dodgers 97-65
Ryu looked good last night, too
San Francisco Giants 83-79
San Diego Padres 82-80
Arizona Diamondbacks 81-81
Colorado Rockies 79-83

The Dodgers are one of the best teams ever assembled, particularly in the pitching staff, health permitting with Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu forming a 1-2-3 to compete against that of the Cardinals, Nationals, or anyone. The bullpen is a collection of former closers (Wilson, Perez, League, Howell), former starters (Maholm, Wright), and younger power arms from each side (Rodriguez and Withrow). The Clayton Kershaw injury is plenty scary. As much as the team wants to call it inflammation of an upper back muscle, the muscle that is hurt is in the back part of his shoulder. A couple of weeks could be enough, and he's hopefully a quick healer.

One of the teams to most greatly benefit from Atlanta losing wins with their pitching injuries, it's the San Francisco Giants. PECOTA loves the Giants, projecting 87 wins. I'm not one to go against PECOTA, but that seems a bit high.

If you saw the Opening Night game between the Dodgers and Padres, you saw how impressive Andrew Cashner was.

Awards show wrap it up music...

The Padres, Diamondbacks, and Rockies are three of the most variable teams in all of baseball. It feels like any of these teams could win 68 or 88 games.

NL West 2014 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: Buster Posey, Giants
1b: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
2b: Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks
SS: Troy Tulowitzku, Rockies
3b: Pablo Sandoval, Giants
LF: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
CF: Angel Pagan, Giants
RF: Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
SP: Madison Bumgarner, Giants
RP: Kenley Jansen, Dodgers

NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
NL RoY: Billy Hamilton, Reds
NL Mgr: Mike Matheny, Cardinals

AL East Predicted Standings
Tampa Bay Rays 89-73
Boston Red Sox 87-75
Baltimore Orioles 81-81
New York Yankees 80-82
Toronto Blue Jays 79-83

Could all five AL East teams finish above .500?

AL East 2014 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: Brian McCann, Yankees
Tony Pena: "McCann is a monster"
1b: Chris Davis, Orioles
2b: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
SS: Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
3b: Evan Longoria, Rays
LF: Brett Gardner, Yankees
CF: Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees
RF: Wil Myers, Rays
DH: David Ortiz, Red Sox
SP: David Price, Rays
RP: Koji Uehara, Red Sox

AL Central Predicted Standings
Detroit Tigers 86-76
Kansas City Royals 85-77
Cleveland Indians 83-79
Chicago White Sox 72-90
Minnesota Twins 70-92

Prince looks a little too happy.
(Ron T. Ennis / Star Telegram)
The Tigers keep feeding the roster with payroll and have improved their infield defense by trading Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler. They will be challenged more this year than in the past by Kansas City and Cleveland.

Perhaps, I'm just rooting for them, but I think this could be the Year of the Royals. Yordano Ventura alone deserves a national spotlight. His starts could be the biggest appointment watching baseball of the season. He may not be as effective as Jose Fernandez, but watching him pitch is electrifying. Their bullpen was the best in modern bullpen history last season. They will need someone (Wade Davis?) to step up and replace the injured Luke Hochevar this year. The Royals have a core of young hitters that will score a lot of runs if everyone clicks. If some players falter, like on most teams, they have decent depth with Danny Valencia and outfielders Jarrod Dyson and Justin Maxwell.

We wrote a lot about the Cleveland Indians here.

The White Sox have a couple of stars in Chris Sale and Jose Abreu, but there's not enough pitching. The Twins are really bad. Even if Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes combine to win 40 games, the Twins won't be in the postseason.

Al Central 2014 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: Salvador Perez, Royals
1b: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
2b: Jason Kipnis, Indians
SS: Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
3b: Carlos Santana, Indians
LF: Alex Gordon, Royals
CF: Austin Jackson, Tigers
RF: Torii Hunter, Tigers
SP: Chris Sale, White Sox
RP: Greg Holland, Royals

AL West Predicted Standings
Oakland Athletics 85-77
Look out for Sonny Gray
Credit: Getty Images
Texas Rangers 84-78
Los Angeles Angels 83-79
Seattle Mariners 80-82
Houston Astros 65-97

The AL West is fascinating and only getting better. Oakland has succeeded with a philosophy of having the best 25-man team, with great depth and ability to platoon players for batting splits and defensive platoons - good defensive infielders for groundball pitchers, speedy outfielders for flyball pitchers. Sonny Gray is a guy we expect great things from this season. Rookie of the Year + October success?

The only team that has suffered more debilitating injuries this Spring that Atlanta are the Texas Rangers. PECOTA and ZiPS have adjusted their projections so much that they have the Angels in 2nd place. We won't go that far, but our Opening Day projection does have the Rangers missing the playoffs, in favor of Oakland in the division and Boston and Kansas City for the Wild Card.

How much better can this guy get?
(Allen J. Schaben / LA Times)
Mike Trout is the best player of at least the past two generations. Seeing him in the postseason would be a lot of fun. Can the Angles build a competitive team around Trout with bad contracts all over the clubhouse?

In spite of signing Robinson Cano, it's likely the Mariners will get worse before they get better. Geoff Baker's surreal piece detailing dysfunction in the Mariners' front office rings so true that success out of Jack Z's team would be shocking.

Houston is going to be great as soon as 2016.

AL West 2014 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: Jason Castro, Astros
1b: Prince Fielder, Rangers
2b: Robinson Cano, Mariners
SS: Elvis Andrus, Rangers
3b: Adrian Beltre, Rangers
LF: Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers
CF: Mike Trout, Angels
RF: Josh Reddick, A's
SP: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
RP: Craig Kimbrel, Braves

AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, White Sox
AL RoY: Sonny Gray, A's
AL Mgr: Joe Maddon, Rays

2014 Postseason Predictions

The fact that the postseason is 6 months away makes these even less valuable than the virtually worthless predictions made right before the postseason begins.

Wild Card Games
Joe Maddon is the man.
(Photo: Jason Nickle)
NL: Pirates over Braves
AL: Royals over Red Sox

Division Series
NL: Dodgers over Pirates
NL: Nationals over Cardinals
AL: Rays over A's
AL: Royals over Tigers

NLCS: Nationals over Dodgers
ALCS: Rays over Royals

2014 World Series
Rays over Nationals

World Series MVP: David Price

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