2018 Season Preview: Atlanta Braves

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record Runs Scored Runs Against
72-90 72-90 72-90 732

821

Despite losing 90 games, continuing a trend of four years without a playoff berth, 2017 was, by and large, a successful season for Atlanta as they are beginning to see more than a few fruits from a post-2014 rebuild. Top prospects Ozzie Albies, Sean Newcomb, Luiz Gohara, Lucas Sims, and Max Fried all made their MLB debuts, while Ronald Acuna, Kolby Allard, and Mike Soroka (among many others) reached the upper minors.

Not everything was sunshine and roses, however. Atlanta still needs to fill a multitude of holes at the big league level, and the league’s hammer came down perhaps harder than we’ve ever seen after allegations of bonus tampering were confirmed. Still, the Braves’ stockpile of young talent is so deep and varied it seems impossible to keep them out of contention by 2019 at the latest and (in a weak NL East) as soon as this season.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Alex Anthopoulos, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir

Anthopoulos took the GM position after former head John Coppollela was banned from baseball for his role in the Braves’ flagrant and repeated violation of international bonus rules. For sabr dorks like us, this is actually a significant upgrade, as Anthopolous immediately set about his business and traded Matt Kemp back to the Dodgers. Kazmir and McCarthy represent two useful starters to guide the youngsters while on the disabled list, and Kemp’s onerous contract is removed from the books.

Key Losses – Matt Kemp, Matt Adams, R.A. Dickey

Losing the lumbering left fielder is a net positive for Atlanta, seeing as how he’s been hanging around replacement level for three seasons and is only blocking further development of their youth. Moving up the spectrum, Adams was mostly useless as a lefty first baseman in an organization that employs Freddie Freeman. But Dickey’s 4.26 ERA and 1.6 WAR over 190 innings is something to mourn, as he provided rotation stability that Kazmir and McCarthy will not.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

72-90

72-90

76-86

“Mild continued improvement” has been the mantra for the Braves over the last three seasons, as their nosedive after 2014 has been followed up by steadily increasing wins. The Braves probably aren’t a very good team, but it’s difficult to call them abjectly bad, and a few surprises from their endless supply of youth could find them in contention in what might be baseball’s weakest division.

Key Players:

Current and future franchise icon Freddie Freeman is coming off a strange year in which he fractured his wrist and came back to play third base. Though his work at the hot corner was acceptable, he’s got more than enough bat to play first and set career bests in ISO, K%, and nearly BB%. At only 28, he might just be coming into his own alongside CF Ender Inciarte, quietly one of baseball’s best and most consistent performers, always hovering around three wins. Inciarte’s excellent glove and solid offense provide a strong foundation upon which Dansby Swanson needs to bloom after being the #1 pick in 2015 and fellow subject of the Miller Massacre; if his bat can catch up to his glove the Braves will have an enviable top of the order.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

Consensus No. 1 overall prospect Ronald Acuna will be up in 2018 after his big league debut was held off despite a ridiculous .413 wOBA and brilliant center field defense at AAA. Atlanta will have a conundrum on their hands as Inciarte and Acuna are both more than capable center fielders, defense that will be appreciated by Luiz Gohara and Kyle Wright. the former shot up prospect lists and the latter somehow fell five picks. Wright could easily be pitching in the bigs by July and Gohara’s dominant stuff could be the harbinger of the Armpocalypse considering the ludicrous amount of pitching the Braves possess.

Future Outlook:

Few teams possess depth like the Braves, as they place between eight and ten prospects in most industry top 100 lists, mostly in the top 50 and many close to the majors. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see them using guys who would be #2 starters in other organizations as middle relievers. Of course, the Braves’ last run of contention was built on arms, and after the ligaments settled, they hadn’t even made the NLCS. Questions at catcher, third, short, and left will not all be answered, and as they can’t use eight starters for five spots, the future may hinge on a couple big trades. Or they could just use their $100M in payroll space to sign Bryce Harper and Manny Machado next year.

2018 Season Preview: San Diego Padres

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

71-91

59-103

66-96

639

776

It’s possible to leave the 2017 season as a Padres fan and think “Hey, that wasn’t so bad.” Sure, they lost a lot of games, but we all knew that was going to happen. That Margot feller sure seems like part of the solution, something called Jose Pirela hit pretty good, Brad Hand is awesome, and Wil Myers found a 30 HR season while he was looking for another L to finish his name (would have been easier if he were a pitcher tho amirite?).

Buddy, things are about to get dark.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Eric Hosmer. ERIC HOSMER. Eric. Hos. Mer.

hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

Excuse me while I pause for breath.

hahahahahahahahahaha

Thank you. The Padres signed Eric Hosmer. For eight years and $144 million. With an opt-out.

And this wasn’t an unexpected thing, like when the Rockies signed Ian Desmond for no reason. Hosmer to the Padres was the stupid rumor that started at the beginning of the offseason, when man had just invented fire, which people kept repeating because they couldn’t understand why it existed. Why a rebuilding franchise with limited payroll and an incumbent first baseman would go out and make the biggest commitment in its history to a thoroughly mediocre player.

Let’s keep in mind that Hosmer was good in 2017, putting up 4.1 WAR. And he just turned 28, so an eight-year deal would take him through his age-36 season, and that’s fine. But damn, that’s a lot to pay for “clubhouse presence” and “championship experience”.

Key Losses – Jhoulys Chacin

Chacin was pretty good on a pretty bad staff last season, racking up 2.3 wins and throwing 180 innings. The Padres usually don’t have much difficulty finding arms, and will probably skate by with a rotation full of fourth starters, a bullpen with a lot of four ERAs, and Hand, who should really be leading off this section. Instead, he’s sticking around for another three years and probably starring in a lot of commercials alongside his new teammate.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

74-88

72-90

73-89

It would seem that the Padres are something like the second or third-worst team in the NL, which is a ship Hosmer will probably right in about three weeks. Most of their problems seem to stem from two key weaknesses: first, they can’t pitch very well, and second, they can’t hit very well. Hilariously, they finished 2017 at exactly 0.0 defensive runs, the first team to do so since the 1994 White Sox (congratulations on knowing the only interesting thing about the 2017 Padres), though putting Myers in the outfield and Hosmer at first should fix that problem.

Key Players

You’ll never believe this, but San Diego’s got a new first baseman! The performance of one Eric Hosmer will likely have a significant impact on the franchise, as he’s now their middle of the order, clubhouse leader, and Thanksgiving host. Incumbent dinger-lord Wil Myers should help Hosmer transition from barbecue to Mexican, all the while secretly wondering what he did to deserve this and planning his inevitable move to Miami, where the suffering shall continue. That move will be orchestrated by A.J. Preller as part of what will technically be performance art, combining with the picturesque city of San Diego to prevent anyone from watching the Padres ever again.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts

For all the guff the Padres have earned, they do sport one of the game’s best systems and it will be fascinating to see how they mess that up. Unfortunately, most of those players are at least a year away. Outfielder Franchy Cordero is a toolbox with barely any idea how to play baseball, putting up a .277 ISO and stealing fifteen bases in AAA, but also striking out 118 times against 23 walks. Christian Villanueva is best known as the main piece in the deal that sent Kyle Hendricks to the Cubs, and might displace Chase Headley at third after a displaying a solid combo of power, patience, and contact in 2017. Righty Brett Kennedy has racked up innings in the last two seasons and put the finishing touches on a solid AA campaign, making it reasonable he’ll see big-league time for a team in need of pitching help.

Future Outlook:

The Padres should at least be an interesting team in a couple of years, when top prospects like Fernando Tatis Jr., Mackenzie Gore, and Luis Urias show up. In the meantime, it’s hard to imagine them being any good at all, especially considering the likely quality of competition in the NL West. Frankly, doing things like giving an eight-year deal to Eric Hosmer also make one question the overall direction of the franchise. It would be nice to have some untainted hope for San Diego; instead, they’ll just have to be content with getting to live in San Diego, so they can deal with a little bad baseball.

2018 Season Preview: Los Angeles Angels

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

80-82

81-81

76-86

710

709

Another year, another legitimate MVP season from Mike Trout, another October fishing trip for the Angels. Star shortstop Andrelton Simmons took an offensive step forward that could radically change his standing among the game’s best players, but the rest of the average-or-better club in LA was comprised of just Kole Calhoun.

Things on the pitching side continue to be defined by injury, as rotation cornerstones Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker combined for just over 100 IP. The bullpen was a surprising success in 2017, behind the resurgent arms of Blake Parker, Yusmeiro Petit, and Bud Norris. But things are looking up…

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Shohei Ohtani, Ian Kinsler, Zack Cozart, Shohei Ohtani

There were two huge prized possessions this offseason in Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani, and the Angels were a surprise destination for the (all things considered) more attractive of the two. Ohtani’s upside as a starter is as good as any Japanese pitcher we’ve seen and he’s under team control for six seasons at outlet prices, an excellent addition to any team but particularly so for an Angels squad with a lot of questions in the rotation and a big Albert Pujols sized bill. Adding Kinsler and Cozart for very reasonable prices puts a lot more depth around anchors Trout, Simmons, Calhoun, and new DH Shohei Ohtani, which will be very confusing for manager Mike Scioscia as he’s got a starter by the same name. The Angels now project to receive above-average production at six of nine offensive positions and their first three starters, a far cry from the find-a-body mentality of 2017.

Key Losses – Yusmeiro Petit, Ricky Nolasco, Jesse Chavez

Hold on, don’t laugh quite yet. Petit was a godsend for the injury and suck-riddled Angels last year, throwing 91 ⅓ innings out of the bullpen and leading all Angels pitchers in WAR. After consecutive sub-replacement campaigns in 2015 and 2016, this resurgence looked a lot more like the guy who racked up 1.8 wins for the Giants in 2014, and while he isn’t likely to do nearly as well with the A’s, losing that production will hurt. Nolasco and Chavez weren’t helping so much as preventing forfeits, as they finished first and third in innings for a team that had to set up a macro adding “rehab setback” to all their tweets. Someone is going to have to replace that.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

86-76

84-78

80-82

Hold your nose cause here comes the cold water. PECOTA doesn’t think the Angels are any better than they were last year, and while Steamer sees some gains, there isn’t a way to pull a playoff team out of these projections without tweaking them. ZiPS is a tad more optimistic across the board, especially on the offensive gains from Zack Cozart carrying over, likely resulting in Trout getting another shot at winning his first playoff game. Man, that is a sad thing to write.

Key Players:

Let’s put it this way: if Mike Trout plays fewer than 150 games or *gasp* regresses in any meaningful fashion, the Angels are sunk. They’re already teetering on the edge of wild-card contention, and he’s the kind of player nobody could possibly replace. Except Los Angeles does now employ the only other guy who could compete for the title of “best player in the world” : Shohei Ohtani, who needs to prove that Japanese pitchers can do more than slightly underwhelm – though that may not be possible given the hype – and that a two-way player can succeed at the game’s highest level. Even if he’s worth no more than a win or two at the plate, that would be a significant win. New third baseman Zack Cozart is overqualified defensively at 3B (nobody’s displacing Simmons at short) and more than doubled his previous career best in WAR. If he takes to 3B and hits another 20 homers the Angels should be the favorites for a wild-card spot.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

Last year LA sported not only the worst farm system in baseball, but one of the worst in many experts’ long careers, so an impact is not soon forthcoming. 2015 first-rounder Taylor Ward should see MLB time at some point next season considering C is the only position the Angels don’t have an entrenched starter, and with a good glove and strong K/BB rates could be a solid-average asset. Pitching depth will always be an issue as long as Richards and Shoemaker are counted on, so Jaime Barria’s wild ride will likely have him pitching in LA for a good portion of the year. Rule 5 selection Luke Bard looks to be the next surprisingly dominant Angels reliever after he used spin rate data to improve his pitch selection last year, striking out 99 in only 65 and ⅓ minor-league innings. No wonder the Twins didn’t put him on their 40 man roster…

Future Outlook:

The Angels have Mike Trout, and as long as that’s true they’ll never be terrible or boring. Now with Ohtani, they will definitely be a must watch on most nights. There’s no real guarantee of legitimate quality despite multiple upgrades this offseason, and they’re not going to be threatening the Astros’ dominance anytime soon. But if Ohtani is all he’s cracked up to be and they can keep their talented arms on the field, it might be enough to stay in contention until a revamped farm system can start churning out help.

2018 Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

75-87

74-88

70-92

668

731

After three years of being over .500 and playing in October, the Pirates hoped a 78-83 stumble in 2016 was merely a blip. Alas, it seems the patience of Pittsburgh will be tested again after the Bucs came out twelve games under even in 2017 and have now gone half-Marlins.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Joe Musgrove, Michael Feliz, Kyle Crick, Colin Moran

Two significant trades have more than defined the Pirates’ direction headed into 2018: technically, it’s baseball. Staff ace Gerrit Cole’s two seasons of team control were turned into a whopping fifteen from Musgrove, Feliz, and Moran, and that’s definitely a bigger number. Musgrove may be a mediocre starter or a good reliever, and Feliz has legitimate closer upside, though Moran will likely need to wait out incumbent David Freese to get a real shot in the bigs. Crick showed well in relief out of the Giants’ bullpen last year, and could be a cheap setup option if things work out.

Key Losses – Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Andrew McCutchen, Andrew McCutchen

Cole’s departure likely makes the Pirates a worse baseball team in 2018, though he was almost certain to depart soon, as agent Scott Boras will have his due. It’s the loss of McCutchen that really stings, as he’s coming off a bounce-back 2017, leading the team in WAR and just generally leading the team. At $14.5 million, it’s difficult to imagine Pittsburgh couldn’t keep him financially; considering his place as the representative of winning in Pittsburgh, and the fact that he’s objectively a wonderful person, this is one of the very few instances where it shouldn’t have mattered what the best value decision was.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

76-86

76-86

78-84

As is now their due, the Pirates seem to be stuck in Neutral Hell: not bad enough to get high picks that might turn into good players, and not good enough to warrant trying to make the postseason. Even worse, they have taken that philosophy and applied it to their entire lineup; only center field is projected to finish under 1 WAR or over 2 WAR. Things look generally better on the pitching side, where the rotation is on the good side of average, but in general a surprising success looks a lot like 82 wins.

Key Players:

Trading two stars means the Pirates better get something out of Joe Musgrove, otherwise, they’ll have a lot of ‘splainin to do. Ironically, starting pitching is the one thing they have plenty of, so while Musgrove will get a shot in the rotation, his 2017 excellence as a reliever may portend his future. We already know the fate of utilityman Josh Harrison, as he’s requested a trade and will certainly get one; as a consistent performer who can play multiple positions, Harrison should have value but may not get dealt until the deadline. The same may be true of starter Ivan Nova, who is still just 31 and has resurrected his career in Pittsburgh – a year and a half of control at reasonable prices could make the pitching-rich Pirates move on if he continues to eat innings efficiently.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

Now that McCutchen’s spot in the outfield is open, persistent top prospect Austin Meadows should be the recipient of consistent MLB action and may resurrect a once-great Pirates OF troika. The left side of the infield should be remade as Colin Moran replaces David Freese – he’s probably not as good, but definitely cheaper! – and Kevin Newman takes over for Jordy Mercer. Newman’s contact-over-power approach will remind Pirates fans of one of the lights in the Dark Years, Jack Wilson, though it’s unlikely he’ll provide the same defensive value.

Future Outlook:

Optimism for the Pirates must always be curtailed by the fact that they’re the Pirates, a reality which is becoming less magical-sad (how do you not accidentally win 82 games even once?!) and is now just sad-sad. There are more than a few intriguing rotation options and a sufficiently competent lineup that might do some damage if given the proper help. Up against a powerhouse in Chicago, a dynasty in St. Louis, a youth bloom in Milwaukee, and something FDA-approved in Cincinnati, it’s difficult to see where the Pirates can squeeze through.

2018 Season Preview: Cincinnati Reds

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

68-94

70-92

72-90

753

869

With a third-straight last-place finish in 2017, and five years since their last playoff appearance, there is a stronger sense of urgency in Cincinnati to make good on the slow bleed of talent. But, in a division that already boasts two of the majors’ best young teams in the Cubs and Cardinals, plus an up-and-coming franchise in Milwaukee, it may be difficult to find an opening for a club whose best assets are still a few years away.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – David Hernandez, Kyle Crockett

A team without significant aspirations of contention in 2018 has unsurprisingly stayed quiet through the slow offseason, handing out only one MLB contract to Hernandez. He was rather forgettable from 2013-16, losing the 2014 season due to Tommy John, but has thrown 50+ innings in seven of nine big league seasons and was completely dominant in 2017 before a mid-season trade back to Arizona. Left-handed Crockett was claimed off waivers, normally not a notable transaction, but features a surprisingly good sinker/slider combo that could make him an effective and desirable low-cost addition.

Key Losses – Zack Cozart, Scott Feldman

Nearly all of the Reds’ 2017 squad is under contract for at least one more season, which could be taken one of two ways. Feldman finished second on the team in innings at 111, which is more significant than it sounds for a very young staff that ended up bottom-2 in ERA, FIP, and WAR. Former solid-regular Cozart blew up in 2017, doubling his career mark for wins in a single season; unfortunately, the Reds were unable to find a trade partner at the deadline and no qualifying offer means that door is closed.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

 70-92

74-88

74-88

No significant deviations are expected in Cincinnati, as the best they can really hope for, given the likely quality of play in the Central, is marginal improvement . With top prospects starting to arrive, a successful season for the Reds won’t necessarily be decided by their record. Instead, they’ll look to put themselves into the conversation for surprise contender in 2019 and solid threat by 2020.

Key Players:

It’s shocking we’ve gone all this time without talking about franchise icon Joey Votto, but here we are. Votto’s contract is certainly movable despite his age and defensive limitations, as he’s quietly one of the best hitters in the majors year in and year out, though the Reds don’t seem at all interested in cashing in that value. Relief ace Raisel Iglesias led the squad in pitching WAR and should definitely be on the move, hopefully returning far more talent than fellow Cuban Aroldis Chapman. Speaking of that highly questionable pitching staff, it will be led by Luis Castillo, coming off 90 very strong innings in 2017, who possesses the latent to do much more than eat innings.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

The Reds will need some explosions from the upper minors, and the driest powder comes from third baseman Nick Senzel, generally considered a top ten overall prospect and fresh off a huge debut season. Jesse Winker’s 2017 MLB debut featured far more power than he’s shown in the past, though his high-contact profile may still let him be an average regular in left field if the homers don’t stick. At some point, Cincinnati will need someone to pitch, and Tyler Mahle is likely more an innings-eating mid-rotation starter than the ace Castillo could be.

Future Outlook:

More than anything, the Reds are hard to trust. Trades of quality players including Johnny Cueto, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman, and Brandon Phillips netted relatively little. Top prospects Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, Billy Hamilton, Brandon Finnegan, Amir Garrett, and Phil Ervin haven’t panned out; a trend that largely continued in 2017. In a highly competitive NL Central, against teams with deep pockets and well-regarded systems, it will be difficult for the Reds to find an opening in the next few years.

 2018 Season Preview: Baltimore Orioles

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

75-87

71-91

70-92

743

841

The Orioles watched 2017 break all sorts of league-wide dinger records with a mild disinterest – in terms of total home runs (hit and allowed) they own two of the top five team seasons ever, with last season’s mark of 474 ranking second all-time behind the 2000 Astros. Over the last ten seasons, they’ve combined to hit and give up 3,929 bombs, first in MLB.

Unfortunately, the long ball doesn’t dig them, as this incredible performance is mostly due to leading the league in home runs allowed over that timespan, a trend that was most pronounced in 2017 with 242 opponent big flies, third-most all-time. Whatever the Orioles were and will be, you can bet there will be homers galore.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Andrew Cashner, Engelb Vielma!

The big piece here is Vielma, who’s been moved from the Twins to the Giants to the Phillies to the Pirates to the Giants again and may now stick in Baltimore. Vielma is an excellent defender at SS who can’t hit at all, but the fact that he’s been acquired five times in the last six months has to mean something, right? Also, Cashner somehow managed 1.9 WAR and a 3.40 ERA despite the second-lowest K% and lowest swinging strike rate among pitchers who threw at least 150 innings last year. That might have an impact on the previously-mentioned home runs allowed record.

Key Losses – J.J. Hardy, Welington Castillo, Wade Miley, Jeremy Hellickson

Hardy fell off the wagon in a bad way last year, in what might be the capstone to a solid thirteen-year career. Formerly a premier defender, the glove has eroded enough to expose Hardy’s now suspect bat, and if he gets an opportunity it will be of the minor-league variety. Castillo’s moved on again as the O’s think Chance Sisco is the future with Caleb Joseph filling in as a solid backup option. Starters Miley and Hellickson were repeatedly asked to pitch for Baltimore in what is either a true-life comedy or ripped-from-the-headlines horror film; likely the latter considering the acquisition of Cashner feels a lot like a low-budget sequel where the monster is resurrected, only this time more powerful.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

 75-87

75-87

70-92

Pick your poison here, as the Orioles are either the team they were or the team they looked like, neither of which are especially likely to win many baseball games this year.

Key Players:

Somehow we’ve reached this point without mentioning the main reason to care about the Orioles in 2017: star (now) shortstop Manny Machado. If offseason rumblings are any indication of the future, though, that won’t be true for long, as Machado is likely headed somewhere else before August. If they’re going to deal their franchise player, one has to imagine relief ace Zach Britton (or co-aces Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, and Mychal Givens) is next in line – an ankle injury and mediocre 2017 have caused his value to crater, but he’s a season removed from that hilarious 0.54 ERA. No matter what, ghastly starting pitching depth means much will be required of twin question marks Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy; Gausman seems to have gotten over the injury bug with back-to-back 30-start seasons, but probably isn’t very good, and Bundy may end up with the same epitaph. Bundy is still young, and the return of his best pitch – a nasty cutter that was scrapped due to injury concerns – may help him live up to some of his pre Tommy John hype.Woe betide those who fall to the Curse of Bedard – no Orioles pitcher has exceeded 3.0 WAR since Bedard’s 5.0 WAR 2007.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

Matt Wieters was supposed to be the cure for everything that ailed the Orioles, and now they’re sort of hoping Chance Sisco can do more with less. At this time last year Austin Hays was a third rounder coming off a promising short-season debut; now he’s in the mix for the starting right field job and little stands in the way of an extended look in the majors. Healthy starters are going to be at a premium and Gabriel Ynoa has thrown at least 130 innings in each of the last five seasons, making him an asset as long as he can take the ball every fifth day.

Future Outlook:

More than most other teams, the Orioles are downright weird. General manager Dan Duquette is a quietly effective steward, building the frame of the 2004 curse-breaking Red Sox and turning the 93-loss Orioles into the 93-win Orioles in his first season at the helm. Then you hear about incredibly stringent physicals and a refusal to let pitchers throw cutters and it’s fair to wonder how this team has made the postseason three of the last six years. At this point, though, the lack of talent up and down the roster is readily apparent, with little to no help on the horizon. With the Yankees and Red Sox looking like their former selves and a maybe-contender in Toronto, Baltimore looks headed down rather than up.

Which means they’ll win 91 games and a wild card before dropping the ALDS 3-1.

 2018 Season Preview: Chicago White Sox

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

67-95

70-92

68-94

706

820

Finishing off their first season as a true rebuilding club, the White Sox unsurprisingly finished near the bottom in more than a few team-wide categories. Preseason trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, followed by deadline deals of Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, David Roberston, and Tommy Kahnle left the team with essentially no legitimate MLB talent save Jose Abreu and Avi Garcia’s BABIP.

By the end of the season, though, the flowers were already beginning to bloom. September saw regular playing time for top acquisitions Yoan Moncada, Reynaldo Lopez, and Lucas Giolito, and most of the players acquired through various trades finished the season at AA or higher.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Welington Castillo, Miguel Gonzalez, Various Relievers

The rebuilding Sox landed Castillo for two years and $15M, a surprising value considering he’s league-average at the dish and serviceable behind it. It’s fair to wonder if there’s something else at play considering he’s never been worse than useful and on multiple occasions turned in above-average seasons. Gonzalez will provide local restaurant tips to the incoming minor leaguers, returning to the South Side after five awful starts in Texas at the end of 2017. He’ll probably pitch a lot for what is likely baseball’s most questionable rotation, though he’s not going to stand in anyone’s way. The bullpen contains a number of fliers and likely trade candidates in Bruce Rondon, Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Jose Ruiz, Jeanmar Gomez, and Thyago Vieira – scoff all you want, but there are a lot of former closers and 100 MPH fastballs in that group, and nobody thought much of Tommy Kahnle and Anthony Swarzak last year either.

Key Losses – None

Nearly all the White Sox’ free agents were some combination of irrelevant and terrible in 2017; hitters with fifty below-replacement plate appearances, relievers with thirty strikeouts in fifty innings, that sort of thing. Keeping everyone from a 95-loss team may not be the best thing, but they certainly didn’t lose any future assets.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

 66-96

66-96

71-91

Record estimators liked the White Sox a little more than reality in 2017, and projections basically expect more of the same this season. With the exception of Abreu and Moncada, the entire Sox’ roster is projected to be below-average, but that’s mostly because it’s full of injured or below-average players. Chicago is likely a couple years away from legitimate contention, but there is enough raw talent on hand that a decent team could poke its head out and look around.

Key Players:

After years of being on just the wrong side of the stars-and-scrubs balance, the upcoming talent features more of the same; starter Carlos Rodon should be healthy for some of the 2018 season and will need to show he can provide a reliable mid-rotation arm to a staff that desperately needs it. The double-play combination of Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada slid back in 2017 as the former relies on incredible BABIPs and questionable defense while the latter combines loud tools that lack in refinement, but with Anderson’s extension and Moncada’s #1 overall prospect sheen neither will be going anywhere soon.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

With no rotation spots completely solidified, flamethrower Michael Kopech should be the proud owner of at least a half-season in the majors by the end of 2018, and the dominance of former Cub Eloy Jimenez in AA could mean balls are flying fast in both directions. Center fielder Charlie Tilson is another very fast object that should provide value in the field even if he doesn’t hit – which he likely won’t – and a healthy 2018 could make him a surprising starter.

Future Outlook:

The White Sox aren’t in an enviable position, but it’s clear to see how they could be soon. If nothing else, the future looks much brighter than it did after three years of wasting some of the best players in the game on 87-loss seasons; Chicago has a direction and they’ve committed to a plan. If things work out, they could end up with more than a few of the top twenty players in the game by 2020, beating up on mid-rebuild Detroit and Kansas City, a declining Indians team, and whatever the hell happens with the Twins. Or the avalanche of risk might bury them and their little dogs, too. The best outcome? A couple of their monster prospects pan out, the rest fail miserably, and they are exactly the team they just blew up.

2018 Season Preview: New York Mets

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

70-92

69-93

71-91

735

863

Could something have gone wrong for the Mets in 2017? Then it probably did. While the team actually slightly outperformed the playoff squad from 2016 on the position-player side, a drop of over 14 WAR from the pitching staff sunk the little brother of New York baseball. Nothing Jacob deGrom could do matztered as the wheelers came off with a rash of harvey-ble injuries, leaving only burnt syndergaarding the remains of the previous season’s top staff.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas, Anthony Swarzak

The Mets have been easily the most active team in free agency, signing – get this – more than one free agent to deals of multiple seasons! Crazy, right? Apparently enamored with Jay Bruce after his two half-seasons in New York, they snatched him up on a questionable three-year deal. Bruce could easily be worth the $39M, but New York has four 1B/OF incumbents in Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Nimmo, and Dom Smith. While Bruce is a fine insurance plan, the Mets might have been better served targeting another starter. The same could be said of the Vargas signing, as he is coming off 180 well-chewed innings, but doesn’t offer the upside of a Lance Lynn or below-market priced Jake Arrieta. Frazier ended up signing a bargain at two years and $17M, considering he’s been above-average for the last two years and the Mets have to think David Wright is never coming back. Also, Swarzak is fine (Swarzak was super good last year! -editor).

Key Losses – None

The Mets’ top losses after 2017 were likely Jon Niese and Desmond Jennings, neither of whom warrant more words than they’ve already gotten.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

 82-80

79-83

81-81

The Mets certainly aren’t a bad team, and they could easily be a good one. If they can get even half-seasons from arms like Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, or Zack Wheeler, they could reasonably threaten a playoff position. Steps forward among their just-graduating offensive core could make them buyers at the deadline.

Key Players:

More realistically, the Mets will end the season with Jacob deGrom as their WAR leader once again, as he’s led the staff in three of the last four years (finishing 2nd in 2016). If things go horribly, a trade could be on the horizon, but if Noah Syndergaard stays healthy then the Mets have to be considered dangerous. Even more so if Michael Conforto’s breakout season is for real; he could be the offensive linchpin the franchise has lacked since Wright and those times when Cespedes is healthy.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

If we get to stretch the definition of “minor league” a bit, first base prospect Dom Smith is one of the few who might put up an average higher than his ISO. After hitting .330 in AAA and not batting under .300 since A-ball in 2014, Smith faceplanted to a sub-.200 average in his MLB debut. Following every misstep closely was top prospect Amed Rosario, who doesn’t really need to hit given the opportunity for above-average defense at short, but should probably walk more than once per 16 strikeouts. Starter Corey Oswalt threw a career-high 134 dominant innings in his first taste of AA, which means he’ll be starting for the Mets by mid-May and out for the season by the end of June.

Future Outlook:

The Mets are definitely fine. Young outfielders Brandon Nimmo and Conforto would have been handed starting jobs by most other organizations by now, but the Mets. A staff of aces will likely be playing more poker than baseball in 2018, because the Mets. And in an offseason where a franchise that’s hampered by a Ponzi scheme settlement could pick up some half-priced free agents, Bruce and Vargas are the Mets. There is the potential for a good team hanging out in Queens, but it’s too difficult to see them realizing that in more ways than one.

2018 Season Preview: Philadelphia Phillies

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record BaseRuns Record Runs Scored Runs Against
66-96 71-91 70-92 690

782

An electric debut for Rhys Hoskins, who nearly led the team in home runs despite playing only 50 games, overshadowed continued strong production from the up-the-middle duo of Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera, plus injury comebacks by Aaron Altherr and budding ace Aaron Nola. With some intriguing talent moving its way up the pipeline, and possibly the most payroll flexibility in the sport, 2018 looks like a platform year for a return to the spotlight.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Carlos Santana, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek

Neshek is a bit of a retread, as he was dealt to the Rockies over the summer, but he and Hunter are strong additions to what is suddenly a formidable Philly bullpen. The Phillies had four relievers contribute at least 1 WAR in 2017 (including Neshek, who put up 1.5 WAR in just 40 innings). Meanwhile, Hunter has quietly been one of baseball’s most effective relievers since converting full-time in 2013; over that span, he’s thrown the 24th-most innings of any RP and put up a respectable 3.4 wins. The Santana signing is a bit more confusing, as Hoskins seemed entrenched at first and the NL-bound Phils can’t exactly use a DH, not to mention the loss of their second-round pick and $500K in international bonus money. $60M over three years is affordable for the Phillies, and Santana has been one of the most consistent and healthy performers in recent memory, but in retrospect, it’s difficult to imagine Philadelphia wouldn’t like a re-do.

Key Losses – Freddy Galvis

As is typical of a rebuilding club, the Phillies had few prominent free agents leave following the 2017 season. Swapping Galvis to the Padres removes a useful, but not irreplaceable component, as glove-first shortstops are not the most difficult to find (and they almost got away with Engelb Vielma, too). Top prospect J.P. Crawford turned in a fine season at Triple-A and will likely take over at short, making this a likely upgrade.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

 74-88

74-88

78-84

The projections see the Phillies as more of a bad team than a terrible one, befitting their position in the win cycle. It’s likely too much to hope for legitimate contention in 2018, though they should keep an eye out for unexpectedly rapid improvement, perhaps mirroring Milwaukee’s successful season last year. Hoskins’ debut should be proof that sometimes things work out a little better than you expect, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Phillies making some noise in a very weak NL East.

Key Players:

We’ve been dancing around him all night, and now it’s time to get down to business. Rhys Hoskins exploded onto the scene in 2017, with a late-season call-up resulting in 18 homers, a .359 ISO (third in MLB minimum 200 PA), and the hopes of Philly residents rising once again. He’ll have to adjust to left field in deference to Santana, but 85 dingers in two seasons should make everyone sit up and take notice. Future Cy Young winner (editor’s note… HA! Not this again!) Aaron Nola is coming off 168 innings and 4.3 WAR; he’s done nothing but pitch well since turning pro and could easily be a top 10 starter by next winter. Former rule 5 pick Odubel Herrera looked lost to start the season but hit .323/.378/.551 in the second half to actually out-produce Hoskins in nearly identical playing time.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

Persistent top prospect J.P. Crawford finally debuted in 2017 after a solid run at the highest level. A combination of OBP and excellent glovework should make the shortstop an above-average contributor immediately. Future double-play partner Scott Kingery is mildly blocked by Herrera, but contributes on both sides of the ball and should force his way into the picture. The window is much wider for Jorge Alfaro if he can ever turn his incredible tools into production, as it’s hard to go wrong with lots of homers and great defense out of your catcher, and he’ll likely be given the job at some point no matter what.

Future Outlook:

The Phillies’ history of ineptitude returned with a vengeance in 2013, just a season removed from a franchise-record 102 wins, and credit to them, it would appear that the best is yet to come. After five seasons playing under .500, there’s light at the end of the tunnel for an increasingly talented Phillies team that may make a major play for one of 2019’s premium free agents.

 

2018 Season Preview: Detroit Tigers

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

64-98 66-96 69-93 735

894

After four playoff appearances from 2011-2014, including their second pennant in ten years, the Tigers had mild aspirations that a bounce-back 2016 was a sign of things to come. Instead, they stumbled into a tie for the worst record in the majors, earning the first overall pick in June’s draft as they try to replace franchise icon and newly minted world champion Justin Verlander.

As you’d expect from a 64-win team, the Tigers were pretty abysmal at all aspects of play last year. Good seasons from Justin Upton and Alex Avila couldn’t stop a 24th-place finish in offensive fWAR. The pitching staff, fueled by Michael Fulmer and a partial season of Justin Verlander, fared only slightly better. Team baserunning was, yet again, the worst in the league, with the lead-footed team also performing poorly in the field.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Mike Fiers

What do you get when you combine a team that is definitely rebuilding with an offseason where nothing happens? A team that has done nothing but hand out a minor-league deal here or there since the beginning of December. Astros 2017 innings leader (seriously) Mike Fiers was non-tendered and latched on in Detroit, where he’ll probably pitch. Will he pitch well? You’ll just have to wait and see!

Key Losses – Ian Kinsler, Anibal Sanchez

No key free agents departed after last season, as Sanchez and his 5.33 FIP were not asked back and will likely head for retirement or, at best, a minor-league deal. The pending departure of J.D. Martinez was preempted with his swap to Arizona, followed by trades of Justin Upton (deadline) and Ian Kinsler (early January). All of these trades brought back pretty mediocre returns, although it doesn’t take much to stand out in Detroit’s farm.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

 70-92

70-92

68-94

There’s a bit of optimism on the horizon for Tigers fans, as most projections don’t even have them as the worst team in their division! While they should remain in the hunt for the 2019 #1 pick for most of next season, there are a few decently useful players that could slightly derail the tanking process. Of course, with so many major free agents yet to sign, and none of them likely to land in Detroit, it’s more than likely these figures will be shifted downward in the coming months. So all is well, then.

Key Players:

Entirely undisputed staff ace Michael Fulmer (2.7 sWAR) put together another fine season, and with four arbitration seasons after 2018 should be a valuable trade chip. Teams are hoarding prospects these days, but Fulmer will be one of the few cheap high-end starters available. James McCann (1.8 sWAR) would be a good backup or a mediocre starter in a market almost entirely bereft of reliable catching options and is coming off his best season. One could say the same about Nick Castellanos (1.0 sWAR), who really shouldn’t be allowed near a glove, but now has consecutive above-replacement campaigns behind him and managed to hit 26 homers last season. Pretty much every Tiger is and will remain on the block; all Detroit can hope for is overperformance to inflate trade value.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

A somewhat under-the-radar trade of Justin Wilson to the Cubs netted the massively-blocked but still interesting Jeimer Candelario, who got a cup of coffee in each of the last two seasons and hit reasonably well in Triple-A in the interim. Unlike Castellanos, he might actually be a third baseman, though more of an OBP-focused hitter. Right-hander Franklin Perez was the main prize received for Justin Verlander and won’t be the same type of pitcher, but might just show up before the year is out. Wilson might be more easily replaced than one would think with lefty Matt Hall coming off a strong season in high-A; he likely doesn’t have the stuff to be a starter, but with a fastball playing up to the low 90s and a wicked curve he could push himself into a setup role quickly.

Future Outlook:

More than any team in the majors, the Tigers look like they are ready to go full Astros style rebuild. The roster generally consists of aging former stars and middling prospects, and there are no impact players arriving soon, signs of an organization that needs a consistent injection of talent on multiple levels. Midseason swaps of Verlander and Martinez were a step in the right direction, but it will be a while before there’s playoff baseball in Detroit again.