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.

2018 Season Preview: Miami Marlins

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

77-85

77-85

79-83

777

821

Coming off the tragic loss of ace Jose Fernandez, the Marlins didn’t have high hopes of competing for the division in 2017. Behind the best OF in baseball, however, the Marlins hung in the wild-card race until the last six weeks of the season. Big steps forward from core players like Yelich, Ozuna, and 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton provided the team with the keys to the next great Marlins squad. The team’s sale by notoriously stingy owner Jeff Loria should have positioned them to add pitching to a team severely lacking it, putting Miami in a prime position to compete immediately. Oh, no.

Offseason in Review

Key Additions – Cap Room, Cameron Maybin, Isan Diaz, Sandy Alcantara, Jorge Guzman

Lookout! Fire sale.

Goodbye, says Mr. Jeter.

No player remains.

Key Losses – Remainder of fanbase, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna

Jeff Loria was very cheap.

Many losses the Marlins did reap.

Sold the team to great gain.

No all-stars remain.

For thrifting ways, Jeter did keep.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

68-94

65-97

66-96

When will winning days return?

Fans continue to yearn.

The few that remain.

Must try to stay sane.

Will there ever be an end to this constant churn?

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: Boston Red 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

93-69

93-69

87-75

785

668

Dave Dombrowski continued to do what Dave Dombrowski does best: trade any prospect of value for an immediate big league gain. The Red Sox, after acquiring ace Chris Sale, came into the 2017 season with expectations of blowing away the division. They were able to do so, but unfortunately for the Red Sox, this gave them the privilege of facing off against an elite Houston Astros offense and quick elimination from the playoffs.

Missing David Ortiz, the Red Sox’ offense disappointed across the board in 2017. Without their pudgy team icon the Sox finished with a cumulative wRC+ of 92, finishing 22nd in baseball. Things were much better on the other side of the diamond, with the Red Sox finishing with the 3rd best team FIP behind elite seasons from Sale and Craig Kimbrel.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – J.D. Martinez, Eduardo Nunez

In an ode to former GM Jack Zduriencik, the Red Sox’ major free agent acquisition was a player without a real position given the current roster construction. The one thing Martinez should do is hit. Over the last four seasons, he has the 5th best wRC+ (148) in baseball, trailing only Trout, Votto, Stanton, and Harper. An early adopter of the fly-ball craze, Martinez should thrive in Boston, lifting balls over the Green Monster and poking them to right with ease. However new manager Alex Cora manages to get him in the lineup, Martinez should provide the Ortisian slugger that was missing last year. Nunez was brought in as a utility player capable of filling in at a number of positions. Slated to start at 2B for an injured Dustin Pedroia to begin the year, Nunez should bring average defense, good speed, and slightly above-average offense to the team in 2018.

Key Losses – Addison Reed, Doug Fister

With a quiet offseason, the Red Sox return most of 2017’s roster. Deadline pickup Addison Reed left in free agency, a hole that should be filled with healthy returns by Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg in the pen. With a great finish to the season last year, Fister will be missed rotation depth for an injury-riddled Boston staff. Still, neither of these losses should hamper the Red Sox in 2018.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

95-67

92-70

89-73

All three projection systems are in agreement that the Red Sox will remain among the elite teams in 2018. Where they finish in the division, however, depends on each set of projections; while Pecota sees the Yankees taking the East by a few games. ZiPS is particularly optimistic about Martinez, forseeing the best finish for the Sox this year at 95 wins.

Key Players:

Mookie Betts is still the nucleus of this Boston offense, with the only thing changing in between his 2016 and 2017 seasons was the addition of some bad luck last year. After finishing 2017 with a BABIP of only .268, look for a nice bounceback season for Betts. 2016’s 7.9 WAR might have been a career season, but if last year’s improvements in plate discipline remain, Betts could put up another MVP-caliber season. Unsurprisingly, Chris Sale thrived after leaving a team telling him to pitch to contact, with the new Red Sox seeing his career-best strikeout rate last year. Faltering a bit in September, Sale remained in the MVP conversation for much of 2017, finishing with a 2.45 FIP. At just 29 years old, Sale should continue as the trustworthy ace in 2018, anchoring a strong rotation. Xander Bogaerts took a step back in his age-24 season, showing a few worrying trends after solidifying himself as one of the better shortstops in the league in the years prior. At the very least, he should maintain solid defense and good speed, but a return in power would go a long way towards improving Boston’s offense.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

The Red Sox’ farm has dropped precipitously over the last few years, from both trades and graduations of players like Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers. Jay Groome, the Sox’ 2016 first-round pick, leads the pitching prospects. Injuries have hampered the 19-year-old’s early development, though he still has a mid-90s fastball and good curveball. Michael Chavis began tapping into his raw power in 2017, reaching AA at the young age of 21. Though Chavis will probably spend another year in the minors, Sam Travis looks ready to step-in this year should Mitch Moreland get hurt. Never quite doing as much as you’d like from a 1B prospect, Travis still possesses a good hit tool and above-average plate discipline.

Future Outlook:

The Red Sox continue to look like one of the best teams in baseball. There is some risk on the pitching side this year – both David Price and Drew Pomeranz have had elbow/forearm concerns in the last calendar year – but the Chris Sale-led staff will remain top-notch given good health. The caveat to this, of course, is that Dombrowski has traded away tons of key prospects over his short stint in Boston. Betts, Benintendi, and Devers are young enough to keep the team competitive for years, but, with a middling farm-system, the highs might not elevate to the mid-90 win seasons experienced from 2016 to 2018. The Red Sox should certainly be able to afford pitchers to augment this core, preventing a full rebuild or down period. If they quit handing out huge deals to Pablo Sandoval, that is.

 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.