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2017 MLB Preview Part II

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After two weeks of baseball, it is tempting to immediately jump to conclusions about how well teams are going to do this season. However, as anyone who has taken a statistics class could tell you, conclusions based on small sample sizes are often inaccurate. For example, Tuffy Rhodes started off the 1993 season with a bang, as he hit three home runs for the Cubs on Opening Day and led them to a big first win. He proceeded to hit only five more home runs that year and hit .234 for the season, regressing to his normal status as a below-average MLB player. Basically, I am saying that it is still totally acceptable for me to be writing a season preview. Let’s take a look at the next 10 teams in part two of the three part series.

Houston Astros: Despite the fact they switched leagues over four years ago, I still get confused every time I see the Astros listed as an American League West team. As a result of the move, interleague play begins at the start of the season, and I irrationally hate the Astros for messing up the schedule like this. One redeeming factor for the Astros is that they have one of the coolest players in baseball with Jose Altuve, who is one of the best hitters in baseball despite being 5’5”. They added veteran talent at the plate with Designated Hitter Carlos Beltran and Catcher Brian McCann, and they will bolster an offense that Fangraphs, a leading MLB statistics website, projects to lead the MLB with 4.96 runs per game. They also have the best bullpen in the league based on Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which will bode well if and when the Astros play in close postseason games. Overall, the Astros are a good dark horse World Series pick.

Kansas City Royals: The Royals were a great anti-sabermetrics example in 2014 and 2015, where they made back-to-back World Series appearances despite projection models predicting sub-.500 seasons each year. Manager Ned Yost will sacrifice bunt, aggressively steal, and instruct his players to swing early in the count and not look for walks, all strategies that directly oppose those of “Moneyball”. The team’s fortunes reverted back to matching their mediocre statistical projections last year, and this year does not look like it will be any better. They lost ace pitcher Yordano Ventura to a tragic car accident in the Dominican Republic, and didn’t make any big offseason moves to bolster their roster. The Royals may benefit from a weak AL Central, but they don’t seem likely to make the playoffs this year.

Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers once again have the highest payroll in baseball, which gives them a heavy advantage to start the year. They have Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in baseball, who will probably win another Cy Young award as long as he stays healthy. On the mound, the Dodgers also have Julio Urias, who makes me feel really bad about my own baseball abilities considering he is a year older than me and already a solid MLB pitcher. At the plate, they have an MVP candidate in Corey Seager, who is only 24 years old and already one of the best shortstops in the league. L.A. also has Yasiel Puig, who will either be garbage like he has the past few years or will dominate with his raw talent like he did in 2014. The Dodgers will probably be good, but their World Series chances depend heavily on how burned out Kershaw gets this year, and also on him hopefully not turning into a mortal during the playoffs as he has almost every other time he’s pitched in the postseason.

Los Angeles Angels: I feel bad for Mike Trout. He’s the best player in baseball, but won’t receive nearly as much attention as he should because the Angels are trash. He is the all-time leader in WAR through a player’s age 24 season, and has won two AL MVP awards and probably deserves at least two more. Despite his Hall-of-Fame talent, the only national advertising I have seen for Trout has been on the boxes of microwaveable soft pretzels. Beyond Trout, the Angels really don’t have much to help him out. Albert Pujols, who was at one point the best player in all of my baseball video games, is just average now, but will be paid $28 million for what will likely be around 1.0 WAR. His sudden drop in productivity does seem to lend credibility to the conspiracy theory that he’s really five years older than he claims. Garrett Richards will either be at the All-Star game or rehabbing his elbow from Tommy John surgery when we get to July. Unfortunately for Trout and for all baseball fans, I think this will be another year that the postseason will not feature baseball’s best player.

Miami Marlins: The Marlins faced a lot of adversity in 2016, especially after their ace pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident. The team has some bright spots going into this season, but none shine brighter than Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton is the best raw power hitter in baseball. He had half of the ten hardest-hit balls last year based on Statcast exit velocity, and he’s demonstrated his power with mammoth dingers in games and in the home run derby, which he won last season. Stanton’s biggest issue in the past has been durability, as he’s only played more than 125 games once over the past five seasons. Beyond Stanton, the Marlins have a lot of potential in the outfield with Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, who both have a lot of upside and are already among the NL’s better outfielders. The biggest question mark will be pitching, as the Marlins return a rotation with a 4.70 ERA, which puts them near the bottom of the NL. Miami has potential, but will need some luck, as they will be dealing with one of the better divisions in baseball.

Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers haven’t made the playoffs since 2011, and this doesn’t look to be the year they break their streak. Ryan Braun is the only remaining star from that team. He’s likely going to give the Brewers another solid season. The rest of the roster is filled out with young talent with high upsides. Jonathan Villar hit 19 home runs and stole 62 bases last year, and looks to build on that success this year at second base. Junior Guerra, who once went five years without an MLB contract but now features one of the filthiest splitters in the league, leads the pitching rotation. The future looks bright for Milwaukee, especially due to their top-three farm system, but this doesn’t appear to be their year.

Minnesota Twins: The Twins were the worst team in baseball last year, losing 103 games. They probably won’t pull off a worst-to-first run this year. They still look to be building for a future that does look promising, but does not look like it will be realized anytime soon. Top prospect Byron Buxton finally started hitting well in his September call-up at the end of last season. Miguel Sano also had a great rookie season two years ago, but regressed last year. If these two play to their potential, the Twins will be scary in the middle of the order. Joe Mauer can still be a solid contributor if he stays healthy. Out of the bullpen, Craig Breslow reinvented his delivery and looked great in Spring Training. Another pitcher to watch is Jose Berrios, who was dominant in Triple-A last season, but was shelled in his 58 major league innings. The Twins probably won’t be good, but they won’t be the worst team in the MLB for two seasons in a row.

New York Mets: The Mets may have the scariest starting rotation in the MLB. That rotation carried them to the World Series two years ago, but they faltered last year due to injuries and the fact they had to face Madison Bumgarner in an elimination game in the postseason. If the rotation stays healthy, no team will be able to compete with a rotation of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zach Wheeler. However, in baseball, arm surgeries are not sure fixes, and many pitchers never regain their pre-injury abilities. Statistically, with four pitchers coming off surgeries, at least one of their stud arms will have some problems. On the offensive side of the ball, the Mets are lead by outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, king of fancy cars and riding horses. If everything goes well and injuries are avoided, the Mets look like they’ll once again make the postseason and challenge the Cubs in the NLCS.

New York Yankees: One of the weirdest developments across the MLB is the fact that the Yankees actually have a decent farm system. Most baseball fans are used to the Yankees just relying on absurdly high payrolls and big-time free agent signings rather than actually developing talent. Unfortunately, for pretty much any sane person, the Yankees may be good this year. Gary Sanchez went on a tear in the final third of the season and finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting. The Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman to the largest relief pitcher contract in baseball history over the offseason, apparently deciding that they needed him again after trading him away last July. The Yankees are in a weird half-rebuilding, half-trying-to-win state, and we’ll likely see which direction they decide to go in once we reach July and see what their record is at the trade deadline.

Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies are projected to finish second-to-last in the NL this season. I looked up their roster and the first player I recognized was Clay Buchholz, which is not a good thing. Buchholz is infuriatingly inconsistent, as any Red Sox fan will tell you. I’m sure that he’ll finally pitch up to his potential now that he left Boston, but even if he does, the Phillies have an extreme lack of developed talent at the big league level. They may be good by the time I graduate Swarthmore, as they have the makings of a Big Three in their starting rotation with youngsters Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff, and Aaron Nola. 2013 number one draft pick Mark Appel may finally make his MLB debut this year, but there’s no reason to rush his development. Overall, the 2019 Phillies look like they’ll begin to compete with the Mets and Nationals for NL East dominance.

Stay tuned for part three of the MLB season preview, where my predictions will probably start to be influenced by actual production on the field this season. Until then, enjoy April baseball and all of the absurdities that it brings, and, more importantly, the faint hope of your team bringing home a World Series title this year.

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