Monday, March 28, 2016

2016 Baseball Preview

Baseball season is coming! Which means it's time for my least-analytical post of the year, the baseball preview in which I incorrectly predict about half of the playoff teams and inadvertently doom two pitchers to having terrible and/or injurious seasons.

Seriously, though, my Cy Young picks have been very, very bad for quite a while now. I've posted two years of predictions here, and was able to track down my picks for every year since 2009 in old emails. I correctly picked Felix Hernandez to win the AL Cy in 2010, and CC Sabathia wasn't a terrible pick in 2009 (6.2 WAR, 4th in the voting). Outside of that, none of my picks have ever received a single Cy Young vote, and the extent to which they have tended to get injured or have bad seasons or both is rather alarming. Last year's picks were Trevor Bauer, who at least managed to qualify for the ERA title but had a below-average ERA, and Adam Wainwright, who was great until he tore his Achilles tendon four starts into the season.

So, as a Cubs fan, I'm definitely not picking Jake Arrieta to defend his award from last year. But there are other things to pick too, which we'll cover before I get to ruining people's careers.

NL East: This ended up as a two-team race last year, with the Phillies, Braves, and Marlins all being varying degrees of lousy. The Marlins might be somewhat better this year if their stars are healthy, but the Braves should be worse, and the Phillies should be just as terrible. So, Mets or Nationals?

I've picked the Nats in each of the last three years (and hey, I was right once!) Last year, I thought they'd be the best team in baseball; instead, their lineup was decimated by injuries (only two position players appeared in at least 140 games, and it wasn't because everyone else was platooning), and their all-world pitching staff ended up being merely pretty good. The Mets had their share of injury issues as well, but virtually none of them came in their rotation, which returns intact (and great).

I think Washington does better this year; Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos, among others, should bounce back, and they brought in Dusty Baker to manage. Baker isn't necessarily a tactical genius, but he seems unlikely to let his clubhouse reach the point that the NL MVP is being physically assaulted by his hotheaded moron teammates. (What, like that's a bad thing?) But I'll say the Mets hold them off in a close race between two teams whose records are deceptively good, because they'll be fattening up against lousy intra-divisional opponents all season.

NL Central: Ask any projection system, the Cubs are the best team in baseball. They won 97 games last year, and then added Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, and John Lackey in the offseason. (Plus some other moves, most notably the shoring up of their rotation depth in advance of Jason Hammel's annual inevitable second-half collapse.) Of particular interest is the fact that both Heyward and Lackey were snatched from the rival Cardinals, who won the division last year but not by the widest of margins.

On the other hand... the Cards won 101 games last year despite getting less than 30 innings from Adam Wainwright, and they weren't without other injury issues either. Matt Adams and Matt Holliday each missed about half of the year, and their returns, plus presumptive full seasons from Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, will help offset Heyward's departure.

There are also the Pirates to contend with; all they have are the best non-Bryce Harper position player in the NL and an ace starter who would have won the Cy Young last year if not for, you know, the three other pitchers who were much, much better than him. (That sounds dumb. Gerrit Cole is really good, basically.) They've lost some depth (although some of that, such as the departure of former home run champ Pedro Alvarez, may be addition by subtraction), but they're still a force to be reckoned with.

Everyone's comfortable ignoring the Brewers and Reds, right? I've honestly never heard of the starter listed as Milwaukee's #1 on ESPN's depth chart (Taylor Jungmann, who will hopefully remain anonymous enough that Chris Berman will never have the chance to refer to him as "Taylor Jungmann, get your face off the ground"), and the Reds still have a pinch runner leading off for them. Joey Votto might be enough to make Cincinnati interesting in another division, but not this one.

The Cubs may well be everything that everyone thinks they'll be, and I'll be delighted if they are. But the Cardinals are the NL Central's horror movie villain, and nobody has showed me a body yet. I'm picking them until they prove me wrong.

NL West: The Dodgers were very good last year. The most obvious reason why was the unbelievable tandem of Greinke and Kershaw at the top of the rotation. But they also had excellent years out of a few other players, including Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, Justin Turner, and Yasmani Grandal.

Greinke is gone, and a lot of the non-Kershaw excellence is unlikely to be repeated (Gonzalez is not young, Ethier is not young and just broke his leg, Turner is inexplicable). So this division seems at least relatively open to be grabbed by someone else, and a couple of teams very much took their shots this offseason.

The biggest splash was made by the Diamondbacks, who grabbed Greinke as a free agent, adding him to NL MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt and exemplary center fielder AJ Pollock. Throw in Daniel Peralta and offseason trade pickup Shelby Miller, and they have the nucleus of a strong team.

To immediately strain an analogy, though, the Snakes may have the nucleus, but they're short on electrons. (Or mitochondria and Golgi bodies, if you were thinking of a different kind of nucleus.) They have a few other starters who could conceivably be pretty good, which is another way of saying "there are pitchers on the team," and the rest of their lineup looks unpromising. Any injury to one of their three stars would be catastrophic, and that's a tough position to hold.

The other candidate is the same one as always - the Giants. Last year, their rotation behind Madison Bumgarner was something of a shambles - so of course, their anonymous infield provided excellent production (21 homers from Brandon Crawford, plus Matt Duffy replacing Pablo Sandoval and outplaying him), and Buster Posey hit like an MVP candidate (which he is), and they won 84 games anyway. And in the offseason, they signed Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, which kind of counts as addressing a pitching deficiency.

Plus, you know, it's an even year. So they're guaranteed to scrape into the playoffs. I'll say they edge the Dodgers to do it.

Wild cards: Cubs as WC1, Nats as WC2.

AL East: I hate trying to pick divisions that all of the teams could win.

Baltimore - Manny Machado is amazing, and Chris Davis is almost as impressive as his contract. I don't think they have the pitching, but if the rotation holds together and the bullpen duplicates last year's success, they could pull it off.

Boston - Last year, they were fourth in the AL in runs scored, but had very little pitching. This offseason, they added David Price and Craig Kimbrel. On the other hand, the rotation behind Price still looks about as trustworthy as a used car purchased for $200, and there are still too many shaky veterans around the promising youngsters for my taste. (Particularly Pablo Sandoval. I still haven't gotten over the fact that last year, when he left the Giants, he ripped them for having the temerity to ask a professional athlete to make an attempt at slimming a physique that is comparable to that of an average Buddha statue. Also, the Giants had won three of the last five world titles at that point, so clearly they had no idea what they were doing.)

New York - The Yankees are old! (How old?) So old that I can't settle on a tired joke to mock them for it. (Murderer's Row! Alexander Cartwright! Constitutional Convention! You get the idea.) Really, though, their middle infielders are their only projected starting position players under age 32. And neither I nor anyone else has any clue what to expect from their rotation; everyone could get hurt or be terrible, or Sabathia, Tanaka, and Pineda could challenge the Mets as the best group in the city.

Tampa Bay - The Rays seem to have two options; they could score the fifth-fewest runs in the league and allow the fewest, or they could allow the fifth-fewest and score the fewest. One of those teams is a playoff contender; the other one comes in last.

Toronto - They're the defending division champs for the first time since 1994, so if labor peace ends this year, blame Canada. They're also now without the services David Price and Mark Buehrle. But they should still get by on the pitching side (given health, always tricky with pitching), and their lineup shouldn't be much worse than it was last year (they'll have a full season of Tulowitzki at short this year, given health, always tricky with Tulowitzki).

I'll take the Jays to repeat; their pitching is shaky, but nobody's rotation outside of Tampa looks great, and the Jays have by far the best hitters. But I'm not delighted with this pick.

AL Central: Has everyone made their peace with the inexplicable Royals yet? They're the two-time defending AL pennant winner, and yet they have open wounds in second base and right field, a leadoff-hitting shortstop who can't really hit, and a rotation that needs the best defense in baseball to prop it up to somewhat above average. Last year's trade deadline acquisitions did their jobs in helping the team to the World Series title and have moved on, essentially unreplaced. They're currently counting on Ian Kennedy, Kris Medlen, and Chris Young in the starting rotation. And even if nobody ever scores on Wade Davis again, they still need the rest of the bullpen to back him up if their starters can't go past the sixth.

But they still have the aforementioned best defense in baseball, and Davis, and enough of their young hitters look to be putting it together that they're still going to cause problems for people.

Before the Royals, there were the Tigers, and a quick glance at their roster looks halfway formidable. Miguel Cabrera is still magnificent when healthy, and JD Martinez was great last year, and there's still some cachet in names like Justin Upton and Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler and Justin Verlander. But it's not clear whether Verlander will ever be what he once was, and it's fairly clear that Victor Martinez won't, and even the good version of the recent Tigers was always heavily star-reliant. Miggy may well be alone as a star on this team, and if so, even he's not enough.

The Twins have two young studs in Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, and still might be the AL's worst team. So that leaves two other challengers to the Royals' reign.

I picked the White Sox in this division last year, and they still have a lot of the players that led me in that direction (Jose Abreu, Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana). But everyone around those guys was a disaster last year, and even if some or all of them rebound, there's a lot of rebounding required to recover from a lineup that had two regulars with OPS+es over 100 last year. (Even if Todd Frazier gives them a likely third.)

That leaves the Indians, who are the same team as always: flawed, but oh-so-tempting.

Flaws first: There are parts of their lineup that are frankly jarring to look at. Juan Uribe is listed as their starting third baseman. Rajai Davis, starting center fielder. Lonnie Chisenhall, starting right fielder. (Lonnie Chisenhall! He sounds like the Draco Malfoy figure in a series about a British preparatory school - a villain, but not one who's impressive enough to be the main villain.)

But there are good parts, too. Michael Brantley is an unappreciated star. Jason Kipnis is also an unappreciated star, and he'll be turning double plays with Francisco Lindor, who is likely going to be a highly-appreciated star some time very soon. And their starting pitchers (Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco) could be spectacular, and should at least be very, very good. Plus, since I'm probably not picking Trevor Bauer for the Cy Young again this year, he might rebound and turn into a capable #4.

I thought the Royals would backslide last year, and I was wrong. This year, I still think they'll backslide, and if I keep thinking that, I'll be right eventually! Any of the Royals, Tigers, or Indians could take this one (and even the White Sox wouldn't be a titanic shock), but I'll say Cleveland gets it in an interesting multi-competitive race.

AL West: There's a lot going on here. The Mariners have the division's best pitcher, plus some other nice pieces. The Angels have the best player in baseball, but fewer nice pieces around him. The A's have Billy Beane, which is usually good, but on the other hand he gave away Josh Donaldson last offseason for effectively nothing, and Donaldson won the AL MVP.

And then there are the two Texas teams. The Rangers won the division last year, which is... still very surprising in retrospect. They relied pretty heavily on bounceback years from non-young players in Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, but on the other hand, they got two months combined out of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish last year, and they could get full seasons out of both of them this time around, which would be nice. And Adrian Beltre is still going alarmingly strong at age 36.

You also have the Astros, with AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa (who will be up all year), and presumably full seasons from Carlos Gomez and George Springer, and... yeah, this team could be very good.

I'll take the Astros to win the division, and I'd lean toward them having home field as well.

Wild cards: There are 12 teams I didn't pick to win their divisions. I feel comfortable eliminating the A's and Twins. Honestly, it seems like you could throw two darts at a list of the remaining 10 teams and have just as good a chance.

So I did... well, kind of. I listed the teams in order by division-then-alphabetical, assigned them each a span of 0.1 between 0 and 1 (Baltimore was 0-0.1, Boston was 0.1-0.2, and so on), and had Excel generate two random numbers. The numbers picked the Rangers and Royals. Which is actually where I was leaning anyway, so that works out nicely.

On to the awards! Pitchers, prepare to add Dr. James Andrews to your speed dial. (If anyone still uses speed dial.)

AL MVP: Carlos Correa. Mike Trout will deserve it like he always does.
AL Cy: Chris Sale. (He's really good! Maybe he'll survive the season.)
NL MVP: Buster Posey. I feel like people forget how good he is just as a player, not addressing the fact that his team wins every other World Series. He's really good.
NL Cy: It's rather tempting to pick a Cardinal for the third straight year... but let's go with Jacob DeGrom, because he's a reasonable choice, and the Mets have enough pitching depth to survive his now-inevitable arm amputation.

ALWC: Royals over Rangers
ALDS: Astros over Royals, Indians over Blue Jays
ALCS: Indians over Astros
NLWC: Cubs over Nats
NLDS: Mets over Giants, Cubs over Cards
NLCS: Cubs over Mets
WS: Indians over Cubs. One drought at a time, Cubs. (Technically two droughts, because the Indians haven't won a title in a while themselves, nor has any other team in the city of Cleveland. If the Cubs don't win the World Series, this would be the outcome I'd feel least bad about.)

1 comment:

  1. Wow! This was very comprehensive, and if I really knew much about baseball I am sure it would be invaluable. However, I found it awesome just for the humor : ) Keep it funny and I will continue to read...