Sunday, April 5, 2015

Predictions for the 2015 Season

The 2015 season is fast approaching, which means it’s time for predictions! I’ve put a lot of time into these in the past, to decent-not-great results. So, in an effort to improve that track record, I’ll try to be less meticulous and just predict every division in one article. That doesn’t seem to make sense, but a lot of things in baseball don’t make sense either, so I’ll probably be fine. Onwards:

AL East [Team, 2014 wins (Pythagorean wins)]
Orioles, 96 (94)
Yankees, 84 (77)
Blue Jays, 83 (85)
Rays, 77 (79)
Red Sox, 71 (72)

My Thoughts: The Orioles seem to have taken a big hit on paper, losing Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. But Cruz was unlikely to repeat his 2014 bounceback, and Markakis was not a wise investment at this point in his career. To make up for it, they should be getting more time out of Manny Machado and Matt Wieters (both who missed significant time to injury). Plus, I’m expecting a bounceback from Chris Davis and Ubaldo Jimenez (both of whom were so awful in 2014 that it would be difficult to be worse-all they need to be is average) and progress from Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, and Kevin Gausman. Dan Duquette has made it work with less, so I have faith as a fan and don’t think I’m being too biased.
It’s hard to pick against the Red Sox given their lineup (all the potential of Mooke Betts and Xander Bogaerts, plus the additions of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez). But their lineup is just so aggressively mediocre (with the new-look top three of Rick Porcello-Wade Miley-Clay Buchholz). The Blue Jays are in much the same boat following Marcus Stroman’s injury. Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin are big pluses and will go nicely with Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes, and Jose Bautista, but they need more at the top of the rotation (although maybe Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris, or dark horse Johan Santana can step in).
The Yankees and Rays just feel so much less unexciting. The Rays feel like they took a step back, with no Ben Zobrist or half-season of David Price. Maybe there’s potential for surprise, but it’ll be just that: a surprise. The Yankees look poised to regress; they were so far above their Pythagorean record last year, and they’re mostly just older. A full year from Masahiro Tanaka and Chase Headley will help, but I’m not sure they’ll make up for the extra year, injury threats, and so on.

Prediction: Orioles, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Rays, Yankees

AL Central
Tigers, 90 (86)
Royals, 89 (84)
Indians, 85 (83)
White Sox, 73 (71)
Twins, 70 (75)

My Thoughts: For the first time in a while, I’m not sure the Tigers enter the year the clear frontrunner in the division. Can Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez repeat their career seasons? That’s a tall order. Was Ian Kinsler’s comeback at age 32 for real? Anthony Gose seems like a downgrade from Austin Jackson, and the team replaces a full season of Max Scherzer with only a half-season of David Price. This isn’t last year’s all-world rotation.
The Indians look to challenge them. Bounce backs from Michael Bourn, Jason Kipnis, and Nick Swisher would help things, and wouldn’t be too shocking. The addition of Brandon Moss will add a little as well. If Trevor Bauer and/or Danny Salazar can be legitimate number twos behind Corey Kluber, this is a solid team all-around. The Royals replace Nori Aoki and Billy Butler with Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales. Plus, they lost their 2014 ace James Shields, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect their bullpen to remain as historic as it was. There’s room for growth, but also room for disappointing.
The White Sox might impress with their additions of Melky Cabrera, Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, and Adam LaRoche, and natural growth from young players like Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson. But I don’t think they’re as complete as the Indians, or even the Tigers. The Twins are probably still a year or more away from competing.

Prediction: Indians, Tigers* (wild card), Royals, White Sox, Twins

AL West
Angels, 98 (96)
Athletics, 88 (99)
Mariners, 87 (91)
Astros, 70 (71)
Rangers, 67 (67)

My Thoughts: Maybe this is just a function of the top three teams all being so good last year, but they all look less impressive this year. The Angels of course still have Mike Trout at their heart, and until he drops from MVP-level to just All-Star level, I’ll hold off predicting it since it hasn’t really worked the last two years. Outside of him, though…it’s kind of a boring team. Albert Pujols was good last year (finally), but still not really All-Star-level good. Erick Aybar was good last year, but I’m worried about a 31-year old shortstop coming off a career year. The rest of the lineup is…fine I guess. All of the spots will probably be respectable. No one that shouldn’t be out there, but not a ton of players who look to be more than above average. Which can be enough. On the pitching side, they need to hope that Garrett Richards is healthy and that Matt Shoemaker can repeat whatever magic took him from fringe-AAA starter to a legitimate #2 last year.
The Mariners are rather similar, actually, but with more upside but no Mike Trout-caliber star (which is to be expected, really). I’m a little concerned about Robinson Cano’s age, but most projections seem to think he’ll still be fine and he’s only 32, so I see little reason to contradict that. And Kyle Seager has emerged to pickup some slack that may come from Cano’s age. The rest of the lineup looks solid, but there seems to be more upside in Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller, Austin Jackson, Jesus Montero, et al. than in the Angels’ bunch. And they have a definite 1-2 in the rotation between Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. One of their prospects stepping up though would also help a lot.
The A’s did a lot of shuffling, and I’m not sure that they’re necessarily better this year, but they seem competitive. Brett Lawrie and Ben Zobrist should be solid, possibly better. Sonny Gray might be a solid ace, but you never know with young pitchers. I can see them being good, but right now, I’d call them a step below the first two on paper. The Astros patched their biggest problem spot (the bullpen), and seem to be decent at every position, but they’re a little thinner than the other three. They’ll need a few young hitters to step up (George Springer, Jon Singleton, Jake Marisnick, etc.) and help Jose Altuve and Chris Carter, and Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh to pick up where they left off. Realistically, they need another season, but I can see them hitting the .500 mark this year. The Rangers had everything go wrong in 2014, and seeing how they already lost Yu Darvish and Jurickson Profar for the year, that looks to continue. Adrian Beltre will be fine, but they need a lot of guys to rebound to catch the rest of the division.

Prediction: Mariners, Angels*, Athletics, Astros, Rangers

NL East
Nationals, 96 (97)
Braves, 79 (78)
Mets, 79 (82)
Marlins, 77 (78)
Phillies, 73 (73)

My Thoughts: I have trouble calling anyone other than the Nationals the best team in the game right now. Obviously, that can change really quickly once the games start, but I can’t seen any team entering the season with a roster as well-constructed as theirs. I think this is the year Bryce Harper breaks out (barring any more injuries), and a Harper-Rendon 3-4 seems really good. Ryan Zimmerman playing first should solve his fielding and health concerns. Jayson Werth, Denard Span, Ian Desmond, and Yunel Escobar are a solid supporting cast. And no one can match their rotation in the 2 through 6 spots (heck, it’s easier to list the teams where Tanner Roark wouldn’t enter 2015 penciled in as at least the #3 in the rotation, and he’s insurance here). Given their competition, it’s hard to imagine them not winning the division, much less at least making the playoffs. The gulf between them and the rest of the teams seems to striking.
The Braves went from looking really good to looking atrocious really fast. Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, and Craig Kimbrel are all good, but two infielders, two starters, and a closer will only get you so far (scratch that last one, Craig Kimbrel was apparently just traded to the Padres for Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin, and prospects). And Jason Heyward to Nick Markakis would be a large downgrade even if Markakis wasn’t dealing with neck issues. Meanwhile, the Mets are working their way back up, and the Zack Wheeler injury doesn’t help things, but you can see the promise. The rotation will probably be solid behind the returning Matt Harvey and incumbent Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom. The lineup could use some help (David Wright and Curtis Grandeson returning to form, Travis d’Arnaud progressing), but there are some good things there with Lucas Duda, Juan Lagares, and Daniel Murphy (and even a reduced David Wright is pretty useful).
I think the Marlins will be battling the Mets for second, and they’re kind of the inverse of the New Yorkers. While the Mets seem mostly solid but without peaks, the Marlins either peaks or valleys. It’s hard to top an outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Christian Yelich. Conversely, it’s very easy to top the Marlins’ Jarrod Saltalamacchia-Michael Morse-Dee Gordon-Adeiny Hechavarria-Martin Prado infield. Each of those players have had good seasons, but the track record isn’t there to convince me they’ll do anything like that this year. Even Gordon, whose good season came last year, regressed hard in the second half. The rotation might pick up some of that slack, but each member comes with question marks. Also, like the Mets, their ace is coming off of Tommy John surgery. The Phillies are beyond help at this point; if everything goes ideally for them this season, they should finish the year without Chase Utley and Cole Hamels at the very minimum.

Prediction: Nationals, Marlins, Mets, Braves, Phillies
EDIT: I forgot that Jose Fernandez will be out until June, so I'm going to flip my order a little and go:
Nationals, Mets, Marlins, Braves, Phillies

NL Central
Cardinals, 90 (83)
Pirates, 88 (87)
Brewers, 82 (90)
Reds, 76 (79)
Cubs, 73 (71)

My Thoughts: As a Cardinals fan, the addition of Jason Heyward to this team gets me really excited. I’m hoping that they can lock him up long-term before the season ends. Around the stars in Heyward and Yadier Molina, the Cardinals look to have an above-average (at least) player at every position. Matt Carpenter followed his 2013 breakout with another strong campaign. Jhonny Peralta took wonderfully to St. Louis, and Matt Holliday is still more than serviceable. The rotation isn’t as strong as the Nationals, but is still very deep, and Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha have the potential to aid Adam Wainwright at the top.
The Pirates might give the Marlins a run for their money in the “Best Outfield” category, between Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco. But I’m not sure what to expect out of Josh Harrison this season after last year’s rise from obscurity, and Jung-ho Kang is a bit of a question mark (I get the sense that I’m more excited about him than most people in the game). The rotation is a bit iffy too; hopefully they get a step forward from Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon, because I’m not sure how much longer than can keep relying on surprising seasons from A.J. Burnett or Francisco Liriano (or Edinson Volquez, who’s now left). The lineup should be good enough to prop up a mediocre rotation though, and anything better is icing on the cake.
The rest of the division feels like a step down from those two. The Cubs have a lot of good youth obviously, but it’s rare for a team with a bunch of good prospects to have them all show up simultaneously and starting doing well. I expect a step forward, but I think expecting the playoffs is a reach. The Brewers have a lot of question marks that they need to go right, since their only for-sure above-average players they seem to have right now are Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy. A healthy Ryan Braun would obviously help a lot. Also, their rotation isn’t the question marks of the Pirates’ but without the recent heights or ceiling. The Reds have a solid enough core, between Joey Votto, Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier, and Billy Hamilton. But they’ll need surprising seasons from a few other players, and their rotation is a bit of a mess (Jason Marquis is starting the season as the #3, for reference).

Prediction: Cardinals, Pirates*, Cubs, Reds, Brewers

NL West
Dodgers, 94 (92)
Giants, 88 (87)
Padres, 77 (75)
Rockies, 66 (75)
Diamondbacks, 64 (67)

My Thoughts: The Dodgers are probably the second-best constructed team in the game right now. They lose out to the Nationals mostly on rotation strength and for not being as well set-up long term, but both of those are hardly indictments. The infield is all on the wrong side of 30, but all four (Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Juan Uribe) were all above-average or better last year, and Jacob Turner and Enrique Hernandez are standing by and more than capable to fill-in should any of them falter. Joc Pederson is technically unproven, but seems ready to go, and they also have Yasiel Puig. Plus, Clayton Kershaw heads a solid rotation, and they had extra money to take on several rehabbing pitchers who might make it even stronger (Brett Anderson, Brandon Beachy, Juan Nicasio) on top of Zack Greinke, Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and their prospects.
The Padres have retooled, and they definitely better than they were last year. It’s just a little like the NL East, where every team seems disappointing after such a strong front-runner. The new-look outfield should be solid, between Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Matt Kemp. If they can flip Carlos Quentin and/or Cameron Maybin for someone to patch the spotty infield (although at least there’s theoretically some upside there in Jedd Gyorko, Yonder Alonso, and Will Middlebrooks), it’s another plus (again, forget that thought). And the rotation seems solid, with new addition James Shields and two lottery tickets at the back-end in Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow.
Hunter Pence’s injury is making the Giants seem a little thin. Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner should be fine, as usual. But the lineup losing Pablo Sandoval will hurt, and Casey McGehee isn’t really an adequate replacement. A lot of their lineup reminds me of the Marlins’ infield; a lot of these guys have had good seasons, but I can’t think of a super compelling reason to expect most of them to reach those heights this year specifically, since most were years ago or seemed like flukes when they happened. Also, there’s the rotation, which sees Matt Cain coming off two straight down years, Jake Peavy (who’s turning 34 in May), and Tim Hudson (who’s turning 40 in July). Should any of them falter, there’s not really anyone to pick up the slack.
The Rockies and Diamondbacks are kind of messes. The Rockies have good things, chief among them Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and Nolan Arenado. However, their strategy relies on all of them staying healthy, which seems unlikely. Also, their rotation is a bunch of question marks. The Diamondbacks have Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and prospects, and that’s about it right now. I’d say the Phillies are the worst team in the NL, but the Diamondbacks and Rockies are second and third. Having two teams of that level in the division might help whoever out west is trying for a Wild Card.

Prediction: Dodgers, Padres*, Giants, Rockies, Diamondbacks

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