Monday, April 3, 2017

MLB 2017 Season Predictions


In the aftermath of the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016, it feels weird we're even still having baseball. It feels way too soon for a new baseball season to begin. We still need more time to recover and contemplate that Game 7. The fucking Cubs won the World Series! We're in a post-Cubs-shattering-their-108-year-drought period now, a whole new cosmic epoch. Oh, and in other news we've got a new president, the first one in more than 100 years to decline to throw out the season's first pitch. 

So here we are, a new season begins already. I don't quite feel ready for it and actually feel less enthused about baseball than I have in forever. This explains why last year I read a dozen baseball books and this year I've barely read one. It's why after writing up a set of predictions for all 30 baseball teams before opening day in each of the last seven years, I've neglected to do so until now, with games already underway.

Other factors contributing to my relative unpreparedness for baseball season: I bought a house, have been renovating it for a month, and am packing to move next week. It's been one of the busiest and most stressful periods of my life. So during any slivers of free time I've had lately I've tried to engage in marathon writing, both to maintain sanity and assure continued writing progress in this chaotic time.

So here, as quickly as I can prepare them, are my predictions for each MLB division and team. (Presented in the usual format of choosing Over/Under for the team's 2017 win projection from Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA as of March 31, 2017.)



*AL East*
Hardest division in baseball to pin down. Sox are an obvious favorite but the rest can shake up any which way.

1. Red Sox
PECOTA: 87 wins
My pick: Over
 
Even after losing Big Papi who was by far their best hitter, the Sox look like a powerhouse. The offense is loaded with young talent all blooming at once, led by 24-year-old Mookie Betts who's already among the best handful of players in baseball. I'm curious to see if 22-year-old Andrew Benitendi (.295/.359/.476 last year in 34 games) is the real deal. Jackie Bradley had a legit breakout campaign last year with 26 home runs in his age 26 season and the 23-year-old shortstop Xander Bogaerts remains my favorite of the crop. As for the run prevention, hard to top Chris Sale/David Price/Rick Porcello as a top 3. I love the abundance of lefties in the rotation (Sale, Price, Drew Pomeranz, and Eduardo Rodriguez) though it seems an odd roster strategy with the short Green Monster porch in left... 

2. Blue Jays
PECOTA: 81 wins
My pick: Over

Does this version of the Jays have one last stand in them? The core took a hit with Edwin Encarnacion leaving and the remaining sluggers (Joey Bats, Josh Donaldson, and Tulo) are all on the wrong side of 30. They're definitely not a scary offense anymore, but I dig their run prevention. Marco Estrada (fewest hits per nine in AL last 2 years) and J.A. Happ (2.51 ERA in his last 258 innings) seem to have legitimately figured out how to baffle hitters; Aaron Sanchez is a Cy Young candidate; and groundball machine Marcus Stroman is due for a bounceback based on his run metrics last year (4.37 ERA but a 3.41 xFIP). Defensively, they've got a solid foundation up the middle with Kevin Pillar in center, Russell Martin behind the plate, and (if they're healthy) Tulo and Devon Travis around the keystone. Josh Donaldson can pick at it third, too. They ought to be in the wild card mix, at least.

3. Rays
PECOTA: 85 wins
My pick: Under

Last year I wrote that the Rays had put together their best lineup in years and could compete for the wild card if they scored 700 runs. They experienced an offensive jump but only reached 672 runs scored with a perfectly average 100 OPS+ offense which, combined with some flukey pitching and terrible luck, led to a forgettable 94-loss season. Once again, they've made marginal improvements to the lineup and their enviably endless batch of young arms makes them a solid team but I think they'll end up around .500 and outside the playoff picture.


4. Orioles
PECOTA: 74 wins
My pick: Over

Same old story: a blend of home runs, bullpen depth, solid defense, and a sharp if stubborn manager try to overcome a shitty rotation. I don't think the former will be nearly enough to outproduce the latter this time around. They added some desperately-needed OBP to the lineup and with Manny Machado around I guess anything's possible, but I'm not betting on this team to surpass the 82-84 win range.

5. Yankees
PECOTA: 82 wins
My pick: Under

One of the season's most fascinating teams for me. Transitioning into their next era unlike we've ever seen them do. Blending lots of young talent with their typical array of aging vets (Matt Holliday joining Jacoby Ellsbury, Chase Headley and pals). I think with good health in the rotation, they could compete for a wild card but don't count on that. They were among the worst offensive teams in baseball last year and the pitching, both in the rotation and bullpen, is front-loaded with little depth. I'm expecting something similar to last year with a midseason selling off of parts, but this time no surprise above-.500 finish. Yes, this will be the first time since 1994 that the Yankees finish with a losing record. Book it.


*AL Central*
On paper, it's MLB's most boring division. All about the Tribe. Serious contention for the division crown from anyone else would be a shock.

1. Indians
PECOTA: 93 wins
My pick: Over 

Having dragged a broken down, leaky version of the Tribe vessel all the way to extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series last year showed this team is the real deal and can win with a variety of looks. Maybe the rotation will be healthy and carry them all year. Maybe the offense will explode with the addition of the one of the game's most steadily reliable sluggers in Edwin Encarnacion and a full recovery from Michael Brantley. No matter what, I feel fairly certain that the presence of young sparkplug Francisco Lindor atop the lineup and ol' Tito Francona leading from the dugout pretty much assures this team will be back in the mix for the World Series again, regardless how the rest shakes out.

2. Tigers
PECOTA: 79 wins
My pick: Over

I feel tentative about this one because it feels like this core is on the verge of a decline soon and they've always been a team lacking in the depth to make up for that. If they falter, they'll probably sell off parts and then finish with a bad record. Their lineup was among the best in baseball last year but that's with a full season of relative health from the entire core of Miggy, Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, and V-Mart. I don't expect that to happen again. J.D. Martinez is already hurt. Last year felt like the absolute peak this group is capable of achieving with the healthy and powerful offense, a dominant one-two pitching punch with Verlander and Michael Fulmer, and even a not-so-terrible bullpen. All that and they struggled to win 86 games. That feels like their ceiling this year and I don't expect them to reach it.

3. Twins
PECOTA: 78 wins
My pick: Under

A boatload of raw talent, sure, but this win projection seems surprisingly high. 


4. Royals
PECOTA: 72 wins
My pick: Under

They're in ride-or-die mode with that two-time pennant-winning core (Hosmer-Moustakas-Cain-Escobar-Gordon) but collectively those guys were never that good anyway and the surrounding cast is weak. 

5. White Sox
PECOTA: 76 wins
My pick: Under

A preposterously high win projection. This team is going to suck, then trade players, then suck some more.

*AL West*
Kind of a dice roll at the top. I'll take all three for the playoffs.

1. Astros
PECOTA: 93 wins
My pick: Under

Everyone's trendy pick to make it to the World Series this year and I'm on the bandwagon. I've had the privilege to witness this team in person a few times the last couple years and they're one of the most entertaining teams in baseball, especially in that bandbox ballpark of theirs. They made a bunch of moves in the offseason to augment their young core with veterans and shore up some weaknesses. The starting rotation doesn't look great, but it's got a pretty high floor and I like Dallas Keuchel's chances of returning to something closer to 2014-15 levels of excellence after a shaky 2016. The division foes are so good I don't think they'll win 95 games, but they're a good bet to come out on top of the scrum.


2. Rangers (Wild Card)
PECOTA: 84 wins
My pick: Over 

I personally don't like this team, but I respect the organization. Jon Daniels has built something akin to a dynasty, with five playoff appearances in the last seven years including four division crowns. They're the team to beat in this division. They've had the Astros' number for a while now and Houston will need to overcome that if they're intent on being serious contenders this year. Star-caliber pitching at the top of the rotation (Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels are as good a one-two bunch as any team can boast) and a deep offense with some positional flexibility make them interesting. I've bet against them often in the past. Not this year.

3. Seattle (Wild Card)
PECOTA: 86 wins
My pick: Over 


Must respect GM Jerry Dipoto's feverish efforts to tweak this team in the hopes of ending the org's league-leading playoff drought. They've got a nice, versatile roster with plenty of power to go with lots of speed. There's a number of question marks in the rotation, most importantly whether King Felix can regain something akin to his true form, but I think they've got a strong enough defensive unit to cushion the blow from any pitching problems that might crop up.

4. Angels
PECOTA: 76 wins
My pick: Under

World's best baseball player Mike Trout and a whole lotta meh. I really like the Danny Espinosa addition, he'll form a fine defensive double-play combo with Andrelton Simmons. But this team has a lot of holes. Weird how far away 2014 looks. King Felix had a 2.14 ERA that year. The Angels won 98 games. Seems like ages ago. With some health in the rotation (Garrett Richards, in particular) and a little bit of luck, they might find their way into the playoff mix. But I think .500 is a more realistic goal and they'll struggle to approach it.

5. A's
PECOTA: 75 wins
My pick: Under

I've historically been an A's fan capable of irrational degrees of optimism, but this projection seems way too high. This roster is garbage and lots of pieces will either be broken or traded off by midseason. Will be a looooong year in Oakland.


*NL East*
Home of the best current rivalry in baseball, this side of Dodgers-Giants. Plus two rebuilding construction zones posing as baseball teams and a would-be contender with tragically gaping hole.




1. Mets
PECOTA: 87 wins
My pick: Over


The Mets and Nats look to be pretty closely matched by most measures. Take a look at what the different win projection systems have spit out:








PECOTA is the only one that likes the Mets better than the Nats and I tend to agree. My obsessive Mets fanhood certainly contributes to that assessment, but normally I can honestly say I approach a Mets season with extremely cautious optimism. This year I feel pretty substantially hopeful and optimistic about the Amazins, though. Watching them last year I really got the sense that they looked burnt out from the miracle World Series run of 2015 on the backs of their young pitchers. In 2016, they took their licks, had a ton of injuries, still somehow made the playoffs and then ducked out early. (I chronicled the long, scarcely endurable, ultimately redeeming epic novel of the 2016 Mets season HERE.) I think that extra rest in the offseason will be beneficial for them. With a healthy Matt Harvey joining a healthy Jacob deGrom and (fingers and toes crossed) a healthy Noah Syndergaard, this team will be extremely tough to beat. Anything beyond those guys would be gravy. A healthy Zack Wheeler (finally!), improvement from Robert Gsellman, and anything from Steven Matz would be some very delicious and nutritious gravy, indeed. Offensively, this is actually the deepest lineup the Mets have had in a long time. Sucks that there's no clear spot for Michael Conforto, but he adds to the team's depth.* I'm also going to boldly predict that Lucas Duda and Travis d'Arnaud have healthy productive seasons in 2017 to help lead the Mets to a division crown and an epic clash against the Cubs in the NLCS.

*I'd love to see the Mets get creative and turn Conforto into a super-utility infielder-outfielder. We know he can play any outfield position, why not teach him how to handle the infield corners while he's still young? His value would increase tremendously.


2. Nats (Wild Card)
PECOTA: 86 wins
My pick: Over

This organization really wants to get past the first round of the playoffs and you've got to give the front office credit for trying. The lineup and rotation look fearsome, especially if Daniel Murphy maintains anything like his new MVP level of offense. PECOTA is pretty bearish, projecting a .270 True Average for the guy who was at .352 TAv last year. Regardless, this lineup is loaded with weapons. The addition of Adam Eaton in the leadoff spot is scary for a Mets fan---he's the ultimate pest to play against. There's also an enviable batch of young offensive talent reaching full bloom, led by Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, and Trea Turner. The loss of Wilson Ramos feels pretty significant even if his replacement, Matt Wieters, is fairly comparable. Ramos felt like a key piece for the Nats. I wonder if his absence will have any noticeable affect on their vaunted starting rotation.   

3. Braves
PECOTA: 76 wins
My pick: Over

Surprising to see they've already cobbled together a nice little team. There are some actual major league players here, enough of them that I think the Braves might actually approach 80-82 wins playing in their new ballpark. Speaking of which, fuck the Braves.

4. Marlins
PECOTA: 78 wins
My pick: Under

A sad state of affairs in Miami. There is a gaping hole at the heart of this Marlins team that no one can overlook. Jose Fernandez was the heart and soul of this organization, besides being one of the very best pitchers in baseball. It feels weird to even talk about their on-field performance otherwise.


5. Phillies
PECOTA: 74 wins
My pick: Under

Kudos to the new front office for assembling a respectable collection of young talent. The turnaround will come soon. But, certainly not this year.


*NL Central*

1. Cubbies
PECOTA: 92 wins
My pick: Over

Easiest pick on the board. They aren't a perfect team; the back end of the rotation could use some help and Kyle Schwarber is a major liability in the outfield. But overall the collection of talent here is silly and they've got a rich and brilliant braintrust hell-bent on improving the team throughout the season. Repeating another full run through the playoffs will be extremely difficult, but they'll certainly give it a shot.


2. Cards

PECOTA: 77 wins
My pick: Over

The Cards will always shock you. The rotation kinda sucked last year outside of Carlos Martinez (135 ERA+ for Martinez, 86 ERA+ for the other guys) but they still won 86 games. They turned meager utility guy Jedd Gyorko into a slugger with 30 home runs. Aledmys Diaz, while an iron-handed shortstop in the field, crushed 28 homers and put up vintage A-Rod batting line. Cardinals Devil Magic is very real and you should be very afraid because it will probably come back with a vengeance this year. Our only hope is stone-faced and thick-skulled manager Mike Matheny, who's an easy bet to cost his team a few games every year. 

3. Pirates
PECOTA: 82 wins
My pick: Under

I really don't know quite what to make of this team. There's a bunch of exciting young talent here, but they're putting a lot of pressure on kids with barely any major league experience to lead them in a division race with the Cubs and Cardinals. We also have no idea what to expect from Andrew McCutchen. They're one of the smartest and most resourceful organizations in baseball, so it would be a shock to nobody if they put together an innovative winning strategy this year. But it's not easy to project that.

4. Brewers

PECOTA: 78 wins
My pick: Under

An extremely fascinating team, loaded with raw talent and a fun gamble on ex-MLB-scrub/ex-KBO-superstar Eric Thames. They'll be lots of fun to watch, but there's not nearly enough pitching here to put them anywhere near contention.

5. Reds
PECOTA: 74 wins
My pick: Under

Uhhh, NOPE.


*NL West*

1. Dodgers
PECOTA: 97 wins
My pick: Under

PECOTA always fawns over the Dodgers. They do have the look of a powerhouse, though, right up there with the Cubs, Red Sox, and Indians as potential best teams in baseball. It all starts with Clayton Kershaw, a perennial MVP candidate as a pitcher. His young shortstop, Corey Seager, also looks like a perennial MVP candidate (he finished 3rd in the MVP race last year and took home Rookie of the Year honors). The Voltron front office think tank has assembled a strong surrounding cast and you can be sure they'll be actively tweaking the team throughout the season to assure optimal functionality. One of these years, they'll get to a World Series.

2. Giants (Wild Card)
PECOTA: 86 wins
My pick: Over

With a solid rotation and a brand new closer to go along with the established offensive core, the Giants look as strong as they've ever been. Is that enough for them to keep up with the Cubs, Dodgers, Mets, and Nats, though?

3. Rockies
PECOTA: 76 wins
My pick: Over

In what looks to be a fairly predictable overall league standings, these next two teams seem like the best candidates to surprise people. The Rockies are a bit of a weird team, what with a shortstop signed long-term to be their first baseman and all, but you can't hate on that lineup. Nolan Arenado is a monster. Carlos Gonzalez still has one of the most beautiful and destructive swings in baseball. Trevor Story is a superstar in the making. It all just comes down to whether they can pitch. I'll believe when I see it.

4. D'backs
PECOTA: 78 wins
My pick: Over

On paper, they look like a solid contender for a wild card spot. Plenty of pop in the lineup led by Paul Goldschmidt and surprise slugger Jake Lamb (29 homers and 31 doubles last year). The rotation looks good enough to push them into contention. And getting a healthy A.J. Pollock back in center field ought to do wonders on both sides of the ball. I think they'll be a .500ish team but I'm not buying them as a playoff contender.

5. Padres
PECOTA: 70 wins
My pick: Under

A pathetic excuse for a major league roster. I feel bad for their paying fans.

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