Saturday, April 2, 2016

2016 MLB Season Preview: NL East

Baseball begins on Sunday. Rather than blasting an overwhelming tsunami of information on our faithful readers, we are going to release our 2016 MLB Season Preview in more digestible installments. The first one explores the National League East...

Atlanta Braves
East Coast, NL, and alphabetical order bias gets us started with arguably the worst team in the big leagues. PECOTA projects only the Phillies to win fewer games (66) than the Braves (69). ZiPS projections on Fangraphs are slightly more bearish, with 64 and 68, for each team respectively. In our humble opinion, the Braves will be worse than the Phillies at the Major League level this year.

Hector Olivera will be in LF in '16
If you're a Braves fan, and you need something to feel good about with this 25-man roster, we would focus on two particular aspects of the team: 3/5ths of their starting rotation (Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, and Manny Banuelos) and a couple of 31-year old Cuban batters on the left side (Left fielder Hector Olivera and 3rd baseman Adonis Garcia). The countrymen need to show this season if they are worthy of everyday at bats in a Major League lineup. They could be busts or All Stars, but they should be the most interesting batters on the Braves until they call-up Dansby Swanson.

On the pitching side, Braves games started by Teheran, Wisler, or Banuelos should at least be watchable to observe their development. Once the team tires of Bud Norris and Williams Perez, they can call up more exciting arms like Aaron Blair or Mike Foltynewicz (who may be better suited for the bullpen).

For shame! Casey Kelly had a pitiful 2015, and at 26-and-a-half years old, he is trending into the scary realm of former-prospect. He gave the big league camp 4 innings this Spring Training, and he gave up 8 hits. If he makes it back to the big leagues, it will be one heck of a rise from his current standing.

To finish the Braves' team capsule on a positive note, the Braves may have found something in right-handed starting pitcher John Gant, who is one of the two minor leaguers they acquired from the Mets in exchange for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson last summer. This is dripping in a small sample-size warning, but look at Gant's 2015 Double-A numbers with the Binghamton Mets and then with the Mississippi Braves after the trade:

John Gant 2015 Splits by Double-A Team
Mets: 11 starts, 59.3 ip, 38 runs allowed, 16.2 K%, 3.62 FIP
Braves: 7 starts, 40.6 ip, 11 runs allowed, 27.4 K%, 2.54 FIP

This Spring, John Gant pitched 8 1/3 innings, across 4 appearances, allowing just one run on six hits and a walk.

Miami Marlins
Projecting the 2016 Marlins season might be one of the most difficult. We see them as a team with particularly large error bars from a win projection and could see them win from 66 to 86 games. The acquisition of Wei-Yin Chen was one of the best offseason signings of the winter. Their outfield triumvirate is one of the best in Baseball, but I feel they lack the depth, particularly in the bullpen to make Don Mattingly's first season with the fish an roaring success.

Capps was extraordinary in 2015, will
he get close to that again by 2018?
The Marlins took a big hit with the news of soreness in Carter Capps's elbow. Carter Capps, a 25-year old flamethrower from North Carolina, has as exciting a blend of deception and velocity as any pitcher in baseball. Unfortunately, he saw Dr. James Andrews and is out until at least May 2017.

Southpaw, Adam Conley, was solid last year (3.76 ERA/3.81 FIP in 67 innings) and is a reasonable bet to be a league-average pitcher who makes the league-minimum.

Giancarlo Stanton is the most exciting player on the Marlins, but on days when Jose Fernandez is pitching, the lights shine brightest on the Marlins' ace. Fernandez has a 17-0 career record in home starts.

New York Mets
Cespedes is back in Queens
How far will deGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard, Colon, Matz, and Wheeler take this club? Those are their top six starters. As long as four of them stay healthy, they should be in postseason position. It's nice that Cespedes fell back into their laps at a bargain rate, and they have a solid bullpen.

Our favorite Mets player is Hansel Robles

The smart money is on the Mets and Nationals competing for the division title, with the Marlins finishing closer to .500. All three of these teams will benefit from beating up the Braves and Phillies all year. At least one Wild Card should come out of this division. The Braves and Phillies are considerable worse than the doormats of the NL Central (Cincinnati and Milwaukee) or anyone in the NL West.

Philadelphia Phillies
From what we are hearing, the mess that Rubén Amaro made in the city of brotherly love is getting cleaned up pretty quickly by Andy MacPhail, Matt Klentak, and the knowledge that they have money to spend when the time is right. The Phillies are still at least two years away from competing, 2018 or 2019 should be when their window begins to open. The new collective bargaining agreement could determine will come at a time when this team is rebuilding everything. It will be interesting to see how the Phillies' strategy aligns with the new CBA's structure for spending on draft picks, post-arbitration players entering the market, and international free agents.

Looking at the Phillies on the field this year is a complete disaster. We'd probably get most excited for Vincent Velasquez starts and Maikel Franco at bats if forced to root alongside any Phanatics.

Vincent Velasquez went to Philly in the Ken Giles trade.

Washington Nationals
Nationals fans who've read Bill James are hoping his plexiglass principal proves itself once again, regressing the team's disappointing 2015 season into a playoff-bound 2016 campaign.

National League 2015 BaseRuns Winning % Leaders
1. Dodgers .589
2. Cubs .579
3. Pirates .562
4. Nationals .556
5. Mets .554

One of the more volatile x-factors on the Nationals is Tanner Roark. He was a full-time starter in 2014, pitching 198 2/3 innings delivering 5.1 WAR according to B-R and 3.1 on Fangraphs. Last year, when the Nationals signed Max Scherzer, it bumped Roark into the bullpen. He pitched 111 innings in 40 appearances, 12 stars. His FIP ballooned from 3.47 in 2014 to 4.70 in 2015, and he pitched worse than replacement level: -0.7 on B-R and -0.2 on Fangraphs. Most pitchers' stuff plays up when allowed to throw in shorter bursts out of the bullpen. Tanner Roark regressed in either role in 2015.

Tanner Roark Splits by Role/Year
2014 (Starter): .236/.281/.351, 17.3 K%, 4.9 BB%
2015 (Reliever): .256/.306/.433, 18.1 K%, 6.4 BB%
2015 (Starter): .285/.337/.477, 12.9 K%, 5.0 BB%

For what they're worth, Tanner Roark's 2016 Spring Training stats have been stellar against decent competition.
ERA IP H R BB SO OppQual
0.64 14.0 14 1 3 13 8.6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/2/2016.
"Hola, me llamo Ollie."

Oliver Perez is always a treat.

Shawn Kelley is their best reliever.

Lucas Giolito is the best pitching weapon that any contender has in the minors. If the Nationals call him up to bolster the bullpen late-summer and postseason, he has the pitching arsenal to be a difference maker.

Dusty Baker is back in the manager's seat. He'll give Bryce Harper the Barry Bonds treatment, and Harper will continue his rise in this history books, once again as the best player in the National League.

Stay tuned for additional previews in yet to be determined formats.

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