Saturday, April 01, 2017

2017 Predictions

All the usual disclaimers. This is not serious business.

AL EAST

1. Boston
2. Toronto (wildcard)
3. New York
4. Baltimore
5. Tampa Bay

I have noted the last couple years that I always pick the Red Sox--last year was one of the years where that was the right call. Boston has question marks, and they have less talent on hand to fill holes than in past years, but no one else in the division is making a concerted push with the Blue Jays retrenching and the Yankees in transition. While much has been made of the NL featuring more of a clear dichotomy between contenders and rebuilders, the AL features three strong division favorites and a void for wildcard contention that Toronto may well once again fill. New York looks like a .500 team to me, and one with as strong a recent history of overperforming projections/Pythagorean as darlings like Baltimore and Kansas City, but get far less press for it. (I guess the mighty Yankees aren’t a good sell as a team being unfairly dismissed by the statheads). The Orioles offense has to take step back at some point with only Machado and Schoop being young, and if that happens the rotation can’t carry them. It’s not that I think the Rays are bad; this whole division is filled with potential wildcard contenders.

AL CENTRAL

1. Cleveland
2. Detroit
3. Kansas City
4. Minnesota
5. Chicago

I have a general policy of trying to pick against the Indians when reasonable, out of irrational superstition and an attempt to counteract any unconscious fan-infused optimism. Last year I felt they were definitely the best team in this division on paper but picked against them regardless. But the gap is just too big to ignore this season, so I warily pick them in front. There are reasons to be pessimistic--while they didn’t get “every break in the world last season” as Chris Russo says in a commercial that hopefully will be off the air soon, it’s easy to overstate the impact of their pitching injuries since the division was basically wrapped up before the wheels came off the rotation. Consider the volatility of bullpens, the extra workload for the pitchers who were available in October, the fact that the two that weren’t aren’t the best health bets in the world, and you can paint a bleaker picture than the triumphalism that appears to be the consensus. On the other hand, Michael Brantley, the catchers, the fact that the offense didn’t score more runs than RC called for last year. I see them as the fourth-strongest team out of the six consensus division favorites. Detroit is the team best-positioned to challenge them; I used the phrase “dead cat bounce” last year and it remains appropriate. The less said about Kansas City the better, but as much fun as it was to watch the magic dissipate last season, the death throes of this infuriating team could be even better. The Twins have famously gone from worst to first in their franchise history; given the weakness of the division and some young players who may be much better than they’ve shown so far, it’s not that far-fetched, but it’s also more likely that they lose 95 again. The White Sox rebuilding might succeed in helping them compete down the road and finally ridding the world of the disease that is Hawk Harrelson.

AL WEST

1. Houston
2. Seattle (wildcard)
3. Los Angeles
4. Texas
5. Oakland

Houston looks really good to me; if their rotation holds together (or if they patch any holes with the long awaited Jose Quintana acquisition), I see them as an elite team. Maybe the third time is the charm picking Seattle to win the wildcard. Truth be told, I find it hard to distinguish between most AL teams including the middle three in this division. Picking the Angels ahead of the Rangers is more a way to go on record disbelieving that the latter can do it again than an endorsement of the former, but even with a shaky rotation the Angels should be respectable. My Texas pick will probably look terrible when Nomar Mazara breaks out, Yu Darvish returns healthy, and Josh Hamilton rises from the dead or something. Oakland’s outlook for this year looks bleak, but am I crazy to have read their chapter in Baseball Prospectus and thought there were a number of really interesting prospects who could have a sneaky contender season in 2018? Probably.

NL EAST

1. Washington
2. New York (wildcard)
3. Miami
4. Atlanta
5. Philadelphia

It’s very tempting to pick New York over Washington, based on the superficial like the Nationals sad-Giants even year pattern and cashing in most of their trade chits for Adam Eaton, but there remains a significant on-paper gap between the two. Especially since the Mets stood pat from a major league roster perspective. This might be the best division race out there in a season in which there are six fairly obvious favorites. Sadly, Miami is about one 5 WAR player away from being right in the mix…I wonder where on might have found such a player? Atlanta seems like a better bet than Philadelphia in both the present and future tense, but having a great deal of confidence in the ordering of the two seems foolhardy.

NL CENTRAL

1. Chicago
2. Pittsburgh
3. St. Louis
4. Milwaukee
5. Cincinnati

The Cubs’ starting pitching depth is a little shaky? Kyle Schwarber doesn’t have a position and people might be a little too enthusiastic about him? Hector Rondon struggled late in the season and Wade Davis’ health is not a sure thing? These are the straws that one must grasp at to figure out how Chicago might be defeated. You also have to figure out whether Pittsburgh can get enough production from its non-outfielders while also having some good fortune with their pitching. Or whether St. Louis’ offense is good enough. Or whether Milwaukee or Cincinnati might have a time machine that could jump their rebuild forward a few years. You know, the normal questions you ask about a division.

NL WEST

1. Los Angeles
2. San Francisco
3. Arizona
4. Colorado
5. San Diego

Last year I picked the Giants over the Dodgers despite the numbers suggesting otherwise because of injury concerns. I won’t make that mistake again, as it looks as if LA could once again juggle their rotation and use their resources to patch over any holes. The Giants are strong themselves, but while the two appear close in run prevention, the Dodgers have the edge offensively. The Diamondbacks should have a bounce back season, but one that would still probably break Tony LaRussa’s heart if he still cared. The Rockies seem like they should project better than they do, with more promise on the mound than they usually do. The Padres are the consensus worst team in baseball from all of the projection systems, which can be summed up with two words: Jered Weaver.

WORLD SERIES

Los Angeles over Houston

Just about every projection system out there has the Dodgers ever so slightly ahead of the Cubs. That of course does not mean they are all right--perhaps there is some blind spot about these teams that player projection systems and/or collation of said projections into team win estimates share in common. On the other hand, none of these systems dislike the Cubs—everyone projects them to win a lot of games. I was leaning towards picking LA even before I saw that it was bordering on a consensus, because the two teams look fairly even to me but the Dodgers have more depth on hand, particularly in the starting pitching department (the natural rebuttal is that the Dodgers are likely to need that depth, while the Cubs have a four pretty reliable starters). The Dodgers bullpen looks better, and their offense is nothing to sneeze at.

AL Rookie of the Year: LF Andrew Benintendi, BOS
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, BOS
AL MVP: CF George Springer, HOU
NL Rookie of the Year: SS Dansby Swanson, ATL
NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, WAS
NL MVP: 1B Anthony Rizzo, CHN

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