Tuesday, March 27, 2018

2018 Predictions

See the standard disclaimers. This is an exercise in fun more than analysis, although hopefully there's a touch of the latter or you're just wasting your time.

AL EAST

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

Picking the Red Sox is something of a tradition in this space. I don’t do it on purpose, it’s just that my “model” (such as it is) has tended to pick them consistently. This year it’s a virtual tie with the Yankees; some projections agree with that, but others (notably PECOTA) see a huge advantage for the latter. The Yankees arguably were more impressive last season given their component statistics, and yet Boston’s offense should bounce back, their starting pitching should be better, their bullpen could benefit from some healthy pieces coming back...and if Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton combine for even ninety homers the takes will be hot. The top-heaviness of the AL, with four teams that really stand out, leaves a team like the Blue Jays a stealthy wildcard contender. Incidentally, I have them +9 runs on both offense and defense. The Orioles added enough late and the Rays subtracted enough to make me flip-flop their places, but it would be surprising if either gets into this race.

AL CENTRAL

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

As a partisan am I always queasy about picking the Indians, but last year it worked out okay, and again this year the on-paper gap is just too large to superstitiously pick someone else. But it’s easier to see how the Indians might lose to the Twins in 2018 than it was to compare them to the field in 2017. While it’s easy to overstate the impact of the Twins pitching additions (one could argue that Jake Odorozzi and Lance Lynn would be no more than #4 starters for the Tribe, even #5 if Danny Salazar could get it together), Cleveland’s bullpen is showing signs of vulnerability without a lot of clear candidates to step in, there are still injury questions surrounding Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley, the outfield is unsettled...but it’s also sometimes easier to worry about these things as a fan. The Twins true quality for 2016-2017 might be matched by the win total, but the distribution was all off. A plexiglass principle year would not surprise. The Royals kept just enough of the band together to a) still be annoying and b) provide some measure of optimism for their partisans, but probably more of the former. I’ve been calling for the Tigers to dead cat bounce for a couple years; I’m surrendering and just expecting it for Miguel Cabrera. The White Sox have a lot of prospects and could well be the future of this division, but it’s still a year or two away.

AL WEST

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

The Astros, in my crude system, are the second-best team in the AL...on offense and defense. Just slightly behind the Yankees and the Indians, respectively; combined, that’s enough to declare them the best and most well-rounded team on paper. Prior to Shohei Ohtani’s rough showing in spring training, I was set to pick the Angels as the second wildcard. Is dropping them a small sample size overreaction? Quite possibly, yes, but there wasn’t much separating teams like the Angels, Blue Jays, and Twins to begin with. You have to feel bad (unless you’re a fan of the…wait, do they even have a rival of note) for the Mariners - they now have the longest playoff drought in North American sports. Longer than the Cleveland Browns (this has been true for years but it is a miscarriage of justice that it’s not the Browns that hold this dubious distinction). They’ve been good enough to squeak out a second wildcard for a few years, but it never came together, and the window may be closing. The Rangers franchise history from 2010 - 2017 will make a fascinating case study some day, but I don’t think 2018 will add another dramatic return from the dead to the story. I still like the A’s players and think they could contend in the coming years, but the starting pitching is too shaky to predict good things this season.

NL EAST

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

The Nationals are basically what they have been for the last six years -- the clear favorite in the NL East. This is probably the last year for them to enjoy that status, but that’s a pretty impressive run in a division that features two big markets and a Braves franchise that until some point in the Washington run had basically contended for 25 years. As a neutral observer, it would be nice to at least see them get a NLCS out of the deal. Everyone talks about the health of the Mets rotation, but I think scoring runs might be a bigger question mark. I like the Phillies over the Braves this season, but over the next five years I’d flip that. Philly is a popular second wildcard pick--while that’s certainly within the realm of possibility, it will take better than forecast performances from some of the rookies (JP Crawford, Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams) and Maikel Franko to make that happen. The Marlins are obviously a sad team to ponder, but the fact that Derek Jeter’s halo is being tarnished in the process makes it more entertaining than the usual Miami teardown.

NL CENTRAL

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

The Cubs have the best offense in the NL by my estimation (although they distributed their runs across games so unfortunately last season that it wasn’t evident in the standings), their rotation is stronger entering this season (relative to last April) with the acquisitions of Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish, and I think they’re ready to re-challenge the Dodgers for NL superiority. The Cardinals look like a solid 86 win team, which is enough to make them a wildcard favorite; if they win with it, it’s a departure from the Pujols-era Cardinal teams which always had big stars, although maybe Carlos Martinez will take a step forward or Marcell Ozuna will hold his level and people will recognize how good he is outside of Miami and Stanton’s shadow. I look at four sources for team win projections when writing these up: my own crude version (fueled by the Steamer projections published at Fangraphs and some manual overrides on my part), Fangraphs, PECOTA from Baseball Prospectus, and Clay Davenport’s. The Brewers projected wins range from 76 - 86, which is tied with PECOTA darling Tampa Bay for the largest spread. Mine is on the low end of the spectrum--it just doesn’t seem like they have the pitching, and they have an outfield/corners logjam that’s good for depth but bad for allowing all of their name hitters to fully contribute. Last year I held on to hope for the Pirates; now I think it’s safe to say their 2012 - 2015 revival is over (come here for the bold statements). Amazingly, they would have been better off to have been in the NL East. If the only baseball I was allowed to watch this year was the games of one of the teams I picked last, I’d go with the Reds. Joey Votto, Luis Castillo, some interesting bullpen pieces, Billy Hamilton as a side show…it’s a fun team if not a good one.

NL WEST

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

I might be shortchanging the Dodgers by not picking them as the best team in the NL. They are still really good, they still have good depth, they still have the resources to address issues, but you know all that. There’s not much to say other than to tip one’s cap to the machine. I’m not bullish on the Diamondbacks, per se, but I’ll see your Zack Greinke decline concerns and raise you Zack Godley. I was surprised at how well the Giants came out when I put my forecast spreadsheet together; I was expecting 78-82 wins. A few more put them in prime wildcard contention position, but that was before Bumgarner and Shark became huge injury concerns. I don’t think the Rockies offense is all that good. I don’t think you can expect Charlie Blackmon to be as good, I still am skeptical of DJ LeMahieu, catcher and first base aren’t exactly settled. The Padres are definitely intriguing going forward, but it’s too soon to expect contention.

WORLD SERIES

Houston over Chicago

AL ROY: RF Austin Hays, BAL
AL Cy Young: Trevor Bauer, CLE
I don’t actually think this is the most likely outcome, I just love Trevor Bauer.
AL MVP: SS Carlos Correa, HOU
NL ROY: SP Alex Reyes, STL
NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, WAS
NL MVP: RF Bryce Harper, WAS

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