Sunday, April 2, 2017

2017 MLB Season Preview

The reader's enjoyment of a blog post is negatively correlated with the length of the introduction. This is our season preview.

AL West Predicted Standings
Houston Astros
Photo: Karen Warren, Houston Chronicle
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners
Oakland A's
Los Angeles Angels

Houston has loaded up on offense. Their middle infielders form the best* tandem in the game. We're hopeful James Paxton takes big strides this year. He has the stuff to become Seattle's best starting pitcher this year. Their best pitcher is Edwin Diaz, their closer who throws easy at 99+. Seattle needs more pitching to make the playoffs, Ariel Miranda and Yovani Gallardo figuratively carry many question marks. Oakland has not been terribly successful lately, making us think they're due to set a new trend. The A's pioneered intense focus on OBP fifteen years ago, were one of the first teams to identify defensive production as a market inefficiency in free agency, and most recently have relied on platoons more than other clubs. This year, we are looking to see if the A's try to shorten regular season ballgames, with a postseason strategy of pulling starting pitchers before their 3rd time through the order. Their 25-man roster on Opening Day might carry eight relievers, which could give them the arms to rely on a couple of long relievers. Frankie Montas is a potential starter who may shine in their bullpen.

*top 5 middle infield tandems ( right now)
1. Astros (Correa/Altuve)
2. Red Sox (Bogaerts/Pedroia)
3. Dodgers (Seager/Forsythe)
4. Indians (Lindor/Kipnis)
5. Cubs (Russell/Zobrist)

AL West 2017 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: Jonathan Lucroy, Rangers
1b: Mike Napoli, Rangers
2b: Jose Altuve, Astros
SS: Carlos Correa, Astros
3b: Kyle Seager, Mariners
LF: Jarrod Dyson, Mariners
CF: Mike Trout, Angels
RF: Kole Calhoun, Angels
DH: Nelson Cruz, Mariners
SP: Yu Darvish, Rangers
RP: Edwin Diaz, Mariners

The state of First Basemen in the AL West is weak af.

It was hard to take Adrian Beltre off 3rd base, but his calf injury and advanced age might be enough to have his production dip beneath Seager's.

AL Central Predicted Standings
Cleveland Indians
Photo: Seth Stohs, Twins Daily
Kansas City Royals
Detroit Tigers
Minnesota Twins
Chicago White Sox

The window to win in Cleveland is now. The Royals and Tigers are fading. What's unclear is if the young players on the Twins or White Sox will overtake them in the standing in 2016 or '17. A lot should be determined at this year's trade deadline, as buyers and sellers separate the contenders from the pretenders.

AL Central 2017 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: Salvador Perez, Royals
1b: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
2b: Ian Kinsler, Tigers
SS: Francisco Lindor, Indians
3b: Jose Ramirez, Indians
LF: Michael Brantley, Indians
CF: Byron Buxton, Twins
RF: J.D. Martinez, Tigers
DH: Edwin Encarnacion, Indians
SP: Corey Kluber, Indians
RP: Andrew Miller, Indians

Lorenzo Cain was snubbed. We bet on the skills and youth of Buxton.

AL East Predicted Standings
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
New York Yankees
Baltimore Orioles
Tampa Bay Rays

Probably the most interesting division at the moment, at least when it comes to the Wild Card. Unless the Red Sox lose David Price and Chris Sale to injury, Boston will probably win the division easily. The next four teams can probably finish between 77 and 87 wins.

It’s a make-or-break year for right fielder, Steven Souza. He turns 28 on April 24th and has yet to play more than 120 MLB games in a season. This could be his career year (20/20 season?), but he needs to hit the ball more frequently and stop striking out more than once out of every three plate appearances. People put a lot of pressure on Souza because he’s the most visible player the Rays received in the 3-team trade that had them send Wil Myers and more to San Diego, while brokering Trea Turner and Joe Ross from San Diego to Washington. Trea Turner had an unsustainably phenomenal debut last season and should be a superstar after his numbers regress back to earth. Joe Ross has already pitched two solid years for the Nats in ’15 and ’16, with strong WAR and FIP numbers. Some of the pressure on Souza is unfair because the other prospects the Rays received, particularly Travis Ott and Jake Bauers, have yet to see the spotlight.

We are observing a rare event in the Bronx, as the Yankees go for their 25th consecutive winning season. According to mcube.net, below are the longest all-time and current MLB streaks of team winning seasons...

All time
New York Yankees, 39 years (1926-1964)
New York Yankees, 24 years (1993-2016)
Baltimore Orioles, 18 years (1968-1985)
Chicago White Sox, 17 years (1951-1967)
Boston Red Sox, 16 years (1967-1982)

Current
New York Yankees, 24 years
St. Louis Cardinals, 9 years
Los Angeles Dodgers, 6 years
Baltimore Orioles, 5 years
Washington Nationals, 5 years

The most interesting Yankees storylines this spring have revolved around Greg Bird, Dellin Betances, and Masahiro Tanaka. The greatest variables in Baltimore appear to be Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman provide Blue Jays' fans with more optimism than even Gausman and Bundy give to Orioles' fans. We are in the minority, but we prefer Roberto Osuna to Zach Britton.

AL East 2017 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: Russell Martin, Blue Jays
1b: Chris Davis, Orioles
2b: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
SS: Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
3b: Manny Machado, Orioles
LF: Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox
CF: Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
RF: Mookie Betts, Red Sox
DH: Kendrys Morales, Blue Jays
SP: Chris Sale, Red Sox
RP: Roberto Osuna, Blue Jays

NL West Predicted Standings
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres

Clayton Kershaw might be the best starting pitcher of all time. We may *only* need him to give us a couple more years at his career average level to make it a common belief. With Bruce Bochy managing Posey, Bumgarner, and the underappreciated Brandon Belt, San Francisco will have a puncher's chance. Colorado has some good players, particularly on the offensive side. Nolan Arenado may be the best player in the league, LeMahieu won the batting title last year, Trevor Story was a revelation before and after injuries last year, and their outfield features three dynamic talents. The Rockies' front office makes odd transactions and has hung on to CarGo in spite of intense trade rumors for many years.

The new administration in Arizona is performing a rebuild on a rebuild. There’s scar tissue after the damage Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart did to this franchise. They have a stars and scrubs 25-man roster, with an ace starting pitcher, Zack Greinke, who’s dealing with decreased velocity. Paul Goldschmidt is one of the dozen or so best players in baseball, and if A.J. Pollock is healthy, he’s probably a top 50 overall talent. A strength of the rebuilding Diamondbacks should be the youth of their starting pitching depth. Beyond ace Greinke, who turns 34 in October, the rest of their potential starters are aged 24 (Taijuan Walker), 25 (Robbie Ray), 26 (Shelby Miller), 27 (Patrick Corbin), 24 (Archie Bradley), 23 (Anthony Banda) and 25 (Braden Shipley). They also have a very young gun in the lower minors, who looks like he could be a terrific left-handed starting pitcher, Cody Reed. There’s another Cody Reed currently pitching for Cincinnati, but this Cody Reed is a 6’3” 245 lb southpaw from Alabama who turns 21 this June and has career 7.5 H/9, 0.6 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9, and 10.3 K/9 in 171 minor league innings (44 appearances; 39 starts) across 3 seasons. Last season, in 39 2/3 innings for the Kane County Cougars, Reed started 7 games, had a 1.82 ERA, gave up 1 HR, had 55 strikeouts and 3 walks.

San Diego is also trying different strategies, with a maverick front office that has recently gambled heavily on prospects, particularly international signees.

NL West 2017 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: Buster Posey, Giants
1b: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
2b: DJ LeMahieu, Rockies
SS: Corey Seager, Dodgers
3b: Nolan Arenado, Rockies
LF: David Dahl, Rockies
CF: Charlie Blackmon, Rockies
RF: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
SP: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
RP: Kenley Jansen, Dodgers

How 'bout that Rockies' outfield?

NL Central Predicted Standings
Chicago Cubs
Photo by Rob Tringali
Pittsburgh Pirates
St. Louis Cardinals
Milwaukee Brewers
Cincinnati Reds

The Cubs are doing things right and should be competitive at least until 2020. Hopefully, it'll be a sustained run like we've seen in the Bronx. Pittsburgh still has a good team that can win a Wild Card. It feels odd to count the Cardinals out, but something seems off about them. Mike Matheny is one of their bigger problems. What's interesting is that the Brewers look like the next great team that will seriously challenge Chicago. The Brewers have made a lot of low risk, high reward gambles, and early returns suggest that enough of the bets will be winners.

It’s not a good sign when your starting rotation takes a couple of big hits before April 1st, but that’s where the Reds find themselves. Homer Bailey is hoping to return in June, and Anthony DeScaflani has a sprained elbow with no timetable for return. Where can the Reds find replacement innings? A couple of young arm look promising. Amir Garrett is a top prospect, has a good slider, but his changeup is not where it needs to be.

NL Central 2017 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: Yadier Molina, Cardinals
1b: Joey Votto, Reds
2b: Ben Zobrist, Cubs
SS: Addison Russell, Cubs
3b: Kris Bryant, Cubs
LF: Kyle Schwarber, Cubs
CF: Starling Marte, Pirates
RF: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
SP: Carlos Martinez, Cardinals
RP: Seung Hwan Oh, Cardinals

Look for Jose Peraza to establish himself as the new 2nd baseman in Cincinnati.

It's hard to believe how different the Cardinals' hopes could be if they still had Alex Reyes, who reasonably could have been expected to perform even better than Carlos Martinez.Their rotation has a little more volatility than the average team. Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha have waffled from unhittable or unplayable. Mike Leake and Lance Lynn are really just asked to eat innings and keep the games relatively close. Carlos Martinez is phenomenal, but we are in a day and age where his velocity could be a red flad, just as Alex Reyes’s flame throwing flamed out his UCL. C-Mart may want to tone it down a bit and live at 94-95 instead of upper 90s for 100+ pitches. Luke Weaver is the Ace up their sleeves in the Minor Leagues. The 2014 first round pick was relatively unimpressive for St. Louis in his debut season last year, but he seems like he’ll be an above average starting pitcher in the Major Leagues if you scout his Minor League statline.

The Cardinals have six infielders who could make an argument for playing every day: Matt Carpenter, Aledmys Diaz, Kolten Wong, Jedd Gyorko, Jhonny Peralta, and Matt Adams may find themselves in an everyday roll at some point this season, and the Cardinals will be fine with that.

In about a year or two, we should see the transition from starter to backup and mentor for Yadier Molina and the future Cardinals backstop, Carson Kelly.

NL East Predicted Standings
Washington Nationals
Photo by Steve Mitchell 
New York Mets
Miami Marlins
Atlanta Braves
Philadelphia Phillies

This division looks about the same as it did last year. The Nationals need Strasburg, Scherzer, and Harper to take them to the top. The Mets' rotation has huge patchy spots of this ice. One ship that has sailed is the one that had Matt Harvey as a dominant pitcher. He's back end of rotation fodder if and only if he can stay healthy enough to even pitch. A bright spot in Queens should be that Robert Gsellman looks like he will actually be a good starting pitcher. If Gsellman, deGrom, Wheeler and Matz can combine for 600 quality innings, and Syndergaard continues to challenge Kershaw for best pitcher in baseball, they will have a chance again in October.

NL East 2017 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: J.T. Realmuto, Marlins
1b: Freddie Freeman, Braves
2b: Daniel Murphy, Nationals
SS: Trea Turner, Nationals
3b: Anthony Rendon, Nationals
LF: Yoenis Cespedes, Mets
CF: Christian Yelich, Marlins
RF: Bryce Harper, Nationals
SP: Noah Syndergaard, Mets
RP: Hector Neris, Phillies

Wild Card Games
NL: Mets over Pirates
AL: Blue Jays over Rangers

Division Series
NL: Cubs over Mets
NL: Dodgers over Nationals
AL: Red Sox over Indians
AL: Astros over Blue Jays

AL/NLCS
NLCS: Cubs over Dodgers
ALCS: Astros over Red Sox

2017 World Series
Cubs over Astros