2018 Season Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

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

83-79

87-75

88-73

761

705

Last season was an oddity for the Cardinals in a number of ways. They didn’t make the playoffs for the second straight year following five consecutive October appearances. That matches their longest stretch of futility since the turn of the millennium, and there are another twenty fanbases who think the word “futility” is more than a little misplaced.

St. Louis has a different standard, though, considering they’ve been .500 or better in 18 of the previous 20 seasons and missed the playoffs just eight times during that period, including the last two years. But after the completion of one major trade and another that seemed to be in the works, plus highly volatile competition in the Central and the chips to survive injuries or make upgrades, the Cardinals will be strong contenders in 2018.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Marcell Ozuna, Miles Mikolas, Greg Holland, Luke Gregerson, Dominic Leone

Much like their division rivals the Brewers, the Cardinals made the slightly curious decision to take a strength and make it stronger. St. Louis ranked 6th in OF WAR in 2017, making the acquisition of Ozuna a bit odd…until you realize that half of that product was the result of a breakout year by Tommy Pham and another 1.6 came from actual first baseman Jose Martinez. In reality, the Cardinals’ outfield corps was a bit questionable, with more depth than strength, and they wisely chose to consolidate their talent into a 27-year-old coming off a five-win campaign. Mikolas put up great numbers in Japan and should help mitigate the loss of Lynn, as Holland, Gregerson, and Leone form a new closer/setup/setup trio for a surprisingly weak bullpen.

Key Losses – Lance Lynn, Stephen Piscotty, Juan Nicasio, Randal Grichuk, Seung-Hwan Oh, Aledmys Diaz

The vast majority of this is the pruning of players who are merely useful. Grichuk and Diaz are likely solid bench pieces, but the Cardinals are overflowing with those. Nicasio and Oh have both had their moments of glory, but neither should be counted on as core pieces of a team with a short bullpen. That leaves Lynn, who has had a rough couple of seasons. He lost 2016 to TJ surgery, following that with a 4.82 FIP in 2017, the worst of his career by more than a run.

It also leaves Piscotty, whom the club handed a six-year extension just last April and seemed to be a part of the future. In what isn’t completely a baseball move, though, the Cardinals swapped him to the A’s for two solid prospects including SABR-darling Max Schrock. Piscotty’s originally from the Bay Area and wanted to return so he could spend more time with his mother, who was recently diagnosed with ALS. Oakland can certainly use him, and the Cardinals didn’t just give him away, but it’s pretty clear external forces weighed heavy in the swap, which is nice to see.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

87-75

85-77

85-77

The Cardinals are definitely one of the NL’s middle-class teams, not at the Dodgers/Cubs/Nationals level and a fair bit above the small-market rebuilders. A win total in the mid-to-high 80s should keep them in the race all season, but it would be a bit surprising if 85 wins were enough to secure the second wild card considering the number of legitimate contenders there are.

Key Players:

Much like the 2017 edition’s outfield, the 2018 Cardinals have a ton of pitching depth and not a lot of star power; former ace Adam Wainwright is looking to finally stay healthy and effective for the first time since 2014, which means that probably won’t happen and it will be up to top youngster Luke Weaver to provide stable run prevention behind staff ace Carlos Martinez. It seems like every season a different unheralded Cardinals infielder breaks out before fading; Allen Craig, Aledmys Diaz, Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, even Jedd Gyorko and the up-and-down Matt Carpenter. So will Paul DeJong finally be the Cards’ long-term answer at short? Will Jose Martinez provide some post-Pujols stability at first base? Probably not!

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

It’s always hard to say who’s going to impact the Cardinals from the minor leagues, as they tend to call up 26-year-old rookies who put up 2.5 WAR in 110 games and then effectively retire. But with at least four question marks in the rotation, top prospect Jack Flaherty should shove his way in at some point. Depending on how good his arm feels, former top five overall arm Alex Reyes should have his post-TJ action help stabilize either that shaky rotation or a questionable bullpen with some sweet triple digits. Kolten Wong doesn’t seem like a starting 2B on a contender no matter how many years are left on his contract, so Max Schrock will likely make St. Louis ask him if he can keep hitting .320, just do it in the majors this time.

Future Outlook:

Everyone on the Cardinals is always 27. The entire team exists in a bubble between hype and decline – when you’re pretty sure this guy isn’t going to get any better than he already is, but he probably won’t be much worse either. And then every so often Yadier Molina starts hitting .300 instead of .220 and oh look, it’s the Cardinals winning 83 games and a World Series. This is immediately followed by Allen Craig being released and a 105-win team meeting the Red Sox again. For every yin, there is a yang. For every season there is a Cardinals team above .500. That’s just how things are.

2018 Season Preview: Chicago Cubs

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

92-70

94-68

96-66

822

695

Is it an overreaction to say it didn’t matter how the Cubs fared in 2017? Fresh off winning the first championship in over a century, it’s not like the city was going to disown them more or less no matter what they did. They’ve likely sold out Wrigley for the next half-decade at least, and at this point, all they have to do is show up.

Some of the returnees from the defending champs seemed to take that to heart. While they were no doubt one of the NL’s best teams, they weren’t the best team, and it wasn’t especially close. The Cubs weren’t much better than average on either side of the ball, a surprising result considering the youth and promise of their lineup and the veteran leadership of the staff.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Drew Smyly

There’s a pattern in the acquisitions made by Chicago over the winter: pitching. Lots and lots of pitching. A flurry of activity in early December netted Chatwood, Morrow, Smyly, and Cishek – Smyly won’t pitch in 2018 due to Tommy John surgery – but the rest fall somewhere between “useful” and “reliable”. Not the sexiest acquisitions, though maybe some of the most effective.

Chicago saved their bullet for February, though, adding the compensation-pick–free Darvish on a six-year deal that should give them one of the majors’ more formidable rotations again. The midseason deal for Jose Quintana plus Darvish makes a Lester/Hendricks middle much more palatable, and maybe Darvish can get back to the World Series and get some of that stink off of him.

Key Losses – Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis, Hector Rondon, Alex Avila

The worm turns. Arms come in, arms go away. Losing their No. 1 starter and closer means that the additions aren’t quite as additive as one would assume. Think what you might about Arrieta’s future and the general risks of giving 32-year-olds multiple year contracts, but he still averaged 4.5 WAR per season over his four years in Chicago. At least in the short term, that’s a loss, especially for a team that was always short on pitching prospects and has generally emptied the farm over the last few years. Davis’ departure is obviously an issue, though the loss of Rondon may hurt just as badly. Focusing on a poor 2017 ignores three strong previous years, and his strikeout potential makes for a strong bounce-back candidate if he can keep his HR/FB closer to 10% instead of the 20% he posted from 2016-17.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

98-64

92-70

91-71

Some discrepancy here, as ZiPS is much higher on the Cubs than anyone else. This is primarily due to strong projections from the lineup – no position comes in under 3 WAR and the corner infielders combine for 11 – plus a bounce-back for Jon Lester. Having the utility of Ben Zobrist and Javier Baez to cover for injuries will be critical for an organization that suddenly doesn’t have a ton of prospect depth. If they stay relatively close to full strength and Lester can stave off the demons of age, a 100 win season is in play.

Key Players:

Third baseman Kris Bryant has put up back-to-back-to-back six-win campaigns, combining health with excellent defense, power, patience, and average. Whatever tools are, he’s got ‘em, and the Cubs should probably extend him now before he eats their city whole. You’d never believe it now, but there was a time when Jose Quintana vs. Sale was a legitimate question. The lefty massively increased his K% in 2017, jumping from 21.6% to 26.2% year-over-year, but a middling 4.15 ERA against Sale’s Cy Young bid put the comparison to bed. If he’s more of the quiet ace we saw on the South Side, that makes the Cubs more than dangerous. A bounceback from Yu Darvish would accomplish much the same thing; it may be impossible to redefine his career after his two meltdowns in the 2017 World Series, as one could easily argue he single-handedly lost it for the Dodgers, so if he does it’ll be thanks to something truly incredible. If that incredible thing is good, the Cubs’ rotation worries may not be realized.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

Oh, the curse of having all your top prospect pan out and litter your MLB team with young stars: there isn’t much left in the minors. Outfielder Mark Zagunis is possibly the most likely to impact the 2018 squad, considering both the left and right field positions have the less-than-entrenched Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward. Righties Adbert Alzolay and Oscar de la Cruz both reached AA last year and should factor into the MLB mix at some point, whether that’s in the back of the rotation or middle relief. De la Cruz is more likely to end up in the bullpen considering his health issues, but with the lineup and rotation likely set it’s really about the first position to suffer a couple of significant injuries.

Future Outlook:

With most of their core around 25 years old and money to burn, it’s more or less impossible to imagine Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer aren’t going to repeatedly produce winning teams for the next several years at least. It’s usually silly to think beyond that, and Chicago is not overflowing with premium minor-league talent, but there’s enough help and incumbent youth to ignore those problems for a few years yet. And by that point, they may not be worries anymore. In a division with the perennially-good Cardinals and three small-market teams, ousting the Cubs from the postseason is going to be incredibly tough.

2018 Season Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

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

93-69

97-65

96-66

812

659

Say hello to the 2016 Diamondbacks, who missed their bus a year ago and didn’t arrive at Chase Field until the 2017 season. Arizona flipped their record from a season ago, turning 93 losses into 93 wins as the rotation they expected to lead them did even more than expected. Five starters began at least 25 games, pitched at least 150 innings, and no team received more innings from their nominal starting rotation than the D’backs total of 861.

Also, they have Paul Goldschmidt.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Steven Souza, Brad Boxberger, Jarrod Dyson, Alex Avila

Avila replaces Chris Iannetta in a swap of decent catchers, while Dyson’s $7.5 million over two years is a steal considering his utility and history of production. Two late-inning arms in Fernando Rodney and David Hernandez are in new uniforms for 2018, a void partially filled with the acquisition of Boxberger, especially considering Rodney, in particular, isn’t actually good. Arizona continued fleecing the cheapskate Rays with the acquisition of Souza, more than solidifying their outfield alongside Dyson, A.J. Pollock, and David Peralta. We won’t talk about Yasmany Tomas.

Key Losses – J.D. Martinez, Chris Iannetta, Fernando Rodney, David Hernandez

Martinez is probably the single biggest free agent loss of the winter, considering other high-money players like Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, and Lorenzo Cain were either capably replaced or leaving non-competitive teams. But Martinez’ heir apparent in the desert is apparently Souza, and that won’t please fans who watched Martinez lead baseball in wRC+ for the second half of the season. Their only consolation might be that Souza is possibly a better player, coming in at 3.7 WAR to Martinez’ 3.8 last season while also being two years younger.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

82-80

81-81

87-75

Welcome to Competing Through Pitching, A Public Service Announcement. Even though the 2017 version underperformed their expected record by three or four games and still finished with the third-best record in the NL, none of the projection systems are huge fans. Pecota is the biggest advocate, but in general, it’s worrying when so much of your value comes from arms. Goldschmidt and Pollock are joined by Jake Lamb to form the whole of the above-average position players, and while the entire rotation is projected to be worth two wins or more yet again, well, we’ve seen this play before. One or two injuries and suddenly Shelby Miller is your third starter.

Key Players:

There are two completely unambiguous leaders on this team, and they are Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke, both of whom need to be healthy and productive for the D’backs to be successful. We saw what it looks like when one of them is hurt and/or underperforming, and it looks a lot like the 2016 season. One day I’ll get over the fact that Max Scherzer was traded for Robbie Ray and judge him on his own merits, which are pretty good. 2017 was likely a career year as he outperformed his FIP by nearly a full run, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be crucial to Arizona’s 2018 record. Career resurrections are always worth celebrating, and Archie Bradley’s move the bullpen should be permanent considering he was utterly dominant there and should serve as a shutdown closer next season.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

There are concerns with the middle infield and corner outfield situations, so a player like Domingo Leyba, who is listed as 2B/SS and finished last year in AA, will always have a shot. Leyba was hurt for much of 2017 – a season that included a shoulder surgery – so he may be treated with kid gloves in 2018. His high-contact, low-walk game is mirrored by AAA counterpart Ildemaro Vargas and it’s difficult to see Vargas not getting extended playing time in 2018 considering his positional flexibility and hitting ability. Pitching depth is at a worrying low, and the farm may only provide relief in the literal sense, as lefty Jared Miller and righty Jimmie Sherfy both have stuff to pile up strikeouts and possible setup futures.

Future Outlook:

When you’re a mid-market team that hands $200 million to a 32-year-old pitcher, people are going to ask some questions. And you can ignore them, except they’re kind of right. Whether Arizona wanted to retain J.D. Martinez at his market price, they sort of couldn’t. Add the sinkhole that is Yasmany Tomas, and anywhere from half to a third of the Diamondbacks’ payroll is already consumed. There will be a franchise-high payroll of nearly $130 million this season, and with free agency looming for Pollock after 2018 and Goldschmidt after 2019, there will be tough choices facing the team. Unless they can stay healthy and beat some projections this year, the D’backs may not be in the playoffs again for some time.

2018 Season Preview: Colorado Rockies

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

87-75

88-74

82-80

824

757

After their sixth-straight season with 85 or more losses, the 2017 Rockies were an interesting team, just not interesting enough to be considered a real threat to perennial winners in Los Angeles and San Francisco. But the NL West went haywire last season and the Rockies were the secondary beneficiary, nabbing the second Wild Card spot by a single game.

Colorado does not lack for star power, employing two of the best all-around players in the game at third base and center field. It was a strong starting rotation and dominant relief corps that was primarily responsible for the uptick in wins, however, as the team ranked 29th in pitching WAR from 2011-2016 before climbing to 8th in 2017.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, Chris Iannetta

No doubt the Rockies know where their bread is already buttered, and are trying pretty hard to make sure both sides stay that way. Re-signing Jake McGee and bringing in Davis and Shaw to replace Greg Holland and Pat Neshek keep the relief options pretty well in line with 2017 when they were a key to Colorado’s pitching strength – four relievers were worth at least one win last season, including Neshek’s impressive 22 post-deadline innings. Iannetta suffered through two years of depressed BABIPs in 2015 and ‘16 but rebounded in a big way last year with the Diamondbacks and is consistently useful at worst. With the underperforming Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy as the primary catching options following the departure of Jonathan Lucroy, upgrading at C was a must.

Key Losses – Jonathan Lucroy, Greg Holland, Pat Neshek, Tyler Chatwood

The rotation boasted strength in numbers last year, as seven pitchers started at least fifteen games, and that depth will take a small hit after the departure of Chatwood. Among those seven starters were four 2017 rookies and two more 2016 rookies – Chatwood being the odd man out – so one could certainly argue that having “been there” will prevent the need for more help. As noted above, Holland, Neshek, and Lucroy have been capably replaced by Davis, Shaw, and Iannetta, probably a slight upgrade collectively in terms of overall talent.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

81-81

80-82

78-84

The projections don’t much like the Rockies to ride the upswing from last season, though. The primary worry here is on the pitching side, as the offense should be about as productive, though depth is a major concern. Outside of Jon Gray, though, Colorado has no 150-inning arms or above-average starters; German Marquez and Tyler Anderson should be good, and after that things get worrying. The bullpen is headlined by three great options in Davis, McGee, and Shaw, then Chris Rusin and pretty much nothing else. There is, oddly enough, too much depth in the rotation to use it all and not quite enough in the ‘pen – a problem that may solve itself.

Key Players:

As the only two above-average members of the lineup, Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon have quite a burden to bear. That may sound ridiculous considering the stat lines of some Rockies hitters, but outside of the perpetually underrated fantasy stud DJ LeMahieu, there are holes all over the place. The rotation has the opposite problem, with a ton of options and no obvious answers, leaving German Marquez to step up and become a legit No. 2 behind staff ace Gray. With low walk rates and a downright reasonable 15.4% HR/FB in 2017, he has the ability to survive Coors and make the rotation the true strength of the Rockies.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

The timing of Brendan Rodgers’ 2018 debut will depend on both his performance and that of incumbent SS Trevor Story. If Rodgers is struggling, or Story hits another 20 homers in April, the kid is likely to stay down until September. A strong debut by Rodgers and question marks at short could see the top prospect in a Rockies uniform by midseason, however, as he split 2017 fairly evenly between A+ and AA. Similarly blocked is Ryan McMahon, who was never going to debut at 3B with Arenado on the team and now has Ian Desmond, Gerardo Parra, Raimel Tapia, and Carlos Gonzalez also vying for time between the corner outfield spots and first base. McMahon likely has the best bat of the five but may get squeezed back to AAA.

Future Outlook:

For the last two decades, the Rockies have either been off or on, though it’s mostly been off. 2017 was only the third season since the mid-’90s with a loss total between 75 to 85; even last year they were 13 games over .500 through the first half of the season and one game under in the second. Unlike previous iterations, they should be able to assemble a strong core of pitchers, particularly in the rotation, but with free agency looming on stars Blackmon and Arenado with no real heirs apparent, the team may not have the bats to win long-term. Baseball, she is a fickle mistress.

2018 Season Preview: Milwakee Brewers

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

86-76

85-77

84-78

732

697

Christmas came early in Milwaukee, and not just because it started snowing in September. A bountiful collection of young talent broke out left and right across the Brewers’ roster, especially in a pitching staff that rose to 9th in WAR and featured four pitchers in the 3+ win range last year.

The Brewers managed to stay in contention all season – thanks mostly to a hot start – and while some of their gains may not be entirely sustainable, it’s clear that the intention is to win now.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Jhoulys Chacin, Boone Logan

Despite a strong record, there is no shortage of concerns on the Brewers’ roster. Coming into the offseason, it was generally believed that the team could use another reliable starter or two in the wake of Jimmy Nelson’s injury, with help in the lineup being focused on the middle infield positions as Jonathan Villar and Orlando Arcia combined for 0.7 WAR in nearly a thousand PAs in 2017. Instead, they elected to massively upgrade a deep (but possibly not strong) outfield core with Yelich and old friend Cain, leaving limited time for cogs Domingo Santana, Ryan Braun, and Eric Thames. Chacin and Logan represent needed upgrades to the staff, though at $17.5 million combined, Milwaukee would likely have been better served to wait out the free-agent market.

Key Losses – Lewis Brinson, Neil Walker, Anthony Swarzak

Evidently, nobody thought Walker’s ability to put up at least two WAR per season, every season, was worth anything. His departure puts additional pressure on Villar to go out and steal another 60 bases, but replacement level is likely about all that should be hoped. Brinson was sent to Miami for Yelich and represents a potentially huge loss if he can develop into his potential, though ample depth in the outfield and Yelich more than mitigate that risk. Swarzak threw 29 strong innings after coming in from the White Sox, and likely wasn’t a long-term fit with a young team that has quite a few starting prospects who will likely end up in relief.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

 78-84

78-84

84-78

Pecota is optimistic, thinking the Brewers will once again fall a single game short of a wild-card berth, which maybe isn’t so optimistic when you think about it. ZiPS generally agrees, seeing one of the majors’ deeper rosters, though no one stands out as a superstar-caliber player. Yet there is a real reason to be worried that the 2017 Brewers will take a significant step back, even with the additions of Yelich and Cain; Steamer projects only three above-average hitters between two and Travis Shaw, with Zach Davies the sole two-win starting pitcher.

Key Players:

No doubt the hired guns of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain will be critical to the Brewers’ success both now and in the future – no small amount of resources were spent in acquiring the two, and they both bring strong overall packages that should age reasonably well. Good defense, high on-base numbers, and occasional power are certainly useful qualities. Lineup mate Travis Shaw was stolen from the 3B-needy Red Sox for a song, leading the offense in value last year, nearly doubling his previous high in home runs with 31. A repeat performance would go a long way to beating the naysaying projections, though they think new ace Zach Davies will do just that as he takes over the reins from the injured Nelson. The Brewers may yet trade for that extra starter everyone seems to think they need, but in either case, Davies will need to be a rotation cog.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

If he can find any playing time – which would likely only come from a litany of injuries – Brett Phillips is probably the biggest impact option in the minor leagues, highlighting the amount of depth available in the Brewers’ outfield. Starter Brandon Woodruff might open 2018 in the majors if no additional starter is acquired, though he and Luis Ortiz are more valuable because of their proximity to the majors than their potential, as neither is likely to be more than a fine mid-rotation arm.

Future Outlook:

The future of the Brewers hinges on a single trade they haven’t made yet. This is a team with a deep lineup and offensive prospects who will shortly be major-league ready, held back by the lack of a dominant starter. Perhaps not surprising given the hitter-friendliness of the lovely Miller Park, still a weakness that needs to be addressed. Nelson likely isn’t the ace they’re looking for, especially considering he’s coming off a significant injury – if they are able to pick up a rotation leader on a cheap contract and pick the right bevy of prospects to send in return, Milwaukee could end up a top team for some years.

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 Dodgers

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

104-58

102-60

101-61

770

580

The Dodgers were an amazing team in 2017. For four months, Los Angeles won games at an amazing pace, leading many to wonder if they were the best team ever. Then September happened. The Dodgers began dropping games left and right, losing 15 of 16 games at one point, highlighted by a ten-game losing streak. They rebounded, of course, making it to Game 7 of an unforgettable World Series and ultimately losing to an Astros team that jumped out early and refused to make mistakes.

As one would expect of a 104-win team, the Dodgers had no real weakness last year. Combined with an insanely deep pitching staff, the Dodgers’ liberal use of the 10-day DL allowed their pitching staff to stay healthy and effective, finishing with the third-most WAR (24.3) in baseball. The defense and offense were equally impressive, finishing top five in the league in team defense, wRC+, and BB%.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Scott Alexander, Matt Kemp?

Attempting to stay under the luxury tax and prepare for the next year’s onslaught of free agents, the Dodgers were relatively quiet this offseason. Scott Alexander was added in a bizarre, five-player, three-team trade. Alexander slots in as the Dodgers best lefty in the pen, coming off a league-best 73.8 GB%. While he walks too many, this elite groundball rate allows Alexander to escape unscathed from most innings. Kemp should warm the bench until the Dodgers manage to find a way to dump him.

Key Losses – Matt Kemp, Brandon Morrow, Yu Darvish, Tony Watson

You might notice that Matt Kemp is on both the additions and losses list, because while the Dodgers did technically gain the rights to Kemp, this is more of a loss to the organization. While they hoped to flip him – perhaps also giving up a prospect in the process – their old friend now seems to be stuck. He’ll take up space and provide horrible defense, as an old Kemp is wont to do. Morrow and Watson join him are key relief components leaving the roster, two effective options who will be sorely missed. Like Watson, Darvish was added at the trade deadline, helping the team get to the World Series before his Game Seven collapse.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

96-66

92-70

97-65

ZiPS and Pecota are in agreement on the Dodgers being one of the best teams in baseball again this year. Steamer is a bit lower on a few key players, though, being especially bearish on 1B Cody Bellinger (2.6 sWAR vs. 4.4 zWAR). All three sources see the Dodgers maintaining their dominance over the NL West in 2018.

Key Players:

When healthy, Clayton Kershaw is still the best pitcher in baseball. Continued back issues plagued Kershaw in 2017, “limiting” him to 175 innings and his worst FIP (3.07) since 2010, almost a run higher than the past three seasons. While Kershaw is the clear leader of the injury-riddled pitching staff, the offense contains several cornerstones. Corey Seager put up 13.1 WAR in his first two seasons at the ripe ages of 22 and 23. Seager looks the part of a complete hitter, mixing in above-average defense at SS to boot; he might miss a few weeks to start the season, but he will be in MVP contention if healthy all year. Joining Seager on the left side of the Dodger infield is Justin Turner. An early proponent of the fly-ball movement, Turner’s added power morphed him from a guy with elite bat skills and plate discipline to one of the better hitters in the league. He’s deceptively old (33 last November), but should maintain his status for another year or two before his average defense starts to drop off. This section could go on for 500 more words, as Cody Bellinger, Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor, and Rich Hill all possess great skill sets, giving the Dodgers an extremely high floor and enviable depth.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

The Dodgers have maintained a good farm system, even with perennial trades to improve the pitching staff for playoff pushes. Walker Buehler returned from Tommy John surgery in 2017 and should make an impact in the big leagues this year with an electric mix of pitches, led by a blazing fastball and tantalizing curveball. When the Dodgers get a few of their inevitable SP injuries Buehler should be ready to step in. Likely joining Buehler at some point is OF Alex Verdugo; performing well in AAA last year, Verdugo could add more power to his profile, though some scouts are skeptical. In the low minors, the Dodgers hope to see more from Cuban Omar Estevez and Dominican Starling Heredia, as both were signed to huge bonuses in 2015 and have failed to live up to expectations thus far.

Future Outlook:

The Dodgers’ future still shines bright. 2018 should see the Dodgers playing as one of the best teams in baseball again, led by All-Stars Kershaw, Seager, and Turner. With only $95 million committed in 2019, they have even more financial flexibility moving forward after this season. Kershaw will need to be re-signed, but the team looks primed to compete for at least one of the other elite free agents this coming offseason. These expensive players are all in play thanks to the Dodgers’ young, cost-controlled core of Seager, Bellinger, etc. The farm has thinned a bit over the last few years, but looks to continue promoting interesting players like Buehler. Don’t expect any drastic changes at the top of the NL West anytime soon.

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.