Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Predicting the 2016 Season—National League

Compared to the American League, the National League is more of a throwback to the turn of the century (this century): if you're good, you're really good; if you're bad, you're really bad; and ne'er the twain shall meet. The lack of parity makes predicting the league standings relatively easy, but it wouldn't be baseball if there weren't a few surprises thrown in. So, as I do every year, below I predict each team's order of finish and final record, as well as a few "fearless predictions" for each team—at least half of which never come true. To the line!

NL East


1. New York Mets (94–68, 2nd playoff seed)
  • Yoenis Céspedes will become a Carlos Beltrán-esque disappointment to New Yorkers: impugned for his salary despite decent (110 OPS+) production. Thankfully (?), he will opt out after the season and enter a weak free-agent class.
  • Just as Zack Wheeler returns, Noah Syndergaard will feel the dreaded forearm tightness. He'll become baseball's latest loss to Tommy John surgery and give the Mets an unusual distinction: all five of their top rotation members (when healthy) will have undergone the procedure.

2. Washington Nationals (92–70, 1st Wild Card)
  • After a May incident where Dusty Baker forgets the handedness of one of his relievers, everyone will begin to wonder if the Nats' new manager is too old to handle the job.
  • The injury bug isn't done with Bryce Harper yet. Although he'll be every bit as excellent as he was in 2015 when he's on the field, balky body parts will cause him to miss a full third of the season.
  • Trea Turner will grab ahold of the shortstop job so surely that Stephen Drew won't even collect 100 plate appearances.
  • Lack of starting-pitching depth behind the mediocre Joe Ross and Tanner Roark will end up as the Nationals' undoing.

3. Miami Marlins (76–86)
  • Under the tutelage of hitting coach Barry Bonds, Marcell Ozuna will take his game to the next level, setting career highs in all three slash categories.
  • Ichiro Suzuki will rap his 3,000th hit during the Marlins' August trip to Cincinnati—in front of the only crowd in baseball that won't consider him the new all-time hit king.

4. Philadelphia Phillies (65–97)
  • As measured by PITCHf/x runs above average, Jerad Eickhoff will have one of the top five most effective sliders in the game.
  • Mark Appel will finally be able to relax away from the Astros organization, and he'll tear through the minors and secure a bullpen role in Philadelphia by September.
  • Befitting his name, Adam Morgan will pitch five games against the Nats in Washington, DC.

5. Atlanta Braves (60–102)
  • Not only will Ender Inciarte be more valuable than the man he was traded for, Shelby Miller, but he'll also be the best Brave, topping even Freddie Freeman in WAR.
  • Hector Olivera will show a knack for getting on base, but pre-season predictions that he'll be in the running for Rookie of the Year will be way off. He'll have trouble staying healthy and on the field.
  • Julio Teheran will continue to struggle his way to a 4.00 ERA, but Matt Wisler should step into the void, improving his strikeout rate to 7.5 K/9 and his ERA to 3.50.
  • Neither Tyler Flowers nor AJ Pierzynski will be worth a whit on offense, but at least Flowers can frame. He'll get more playing time as a result.

NL Central


1. Chicago Cubs (96–66, 1st playoff seed)
  • Three Cubs will be among the NL's top 10 position players by WAR: Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo, in that order.
  • Ben Zobrist will be the weakest link in the Chicago order, as injuries continue to sap his defensive value. But it will just be a chance for Javier Báez to show off his prodigious power in the bigs.
  • Despite starting the year without a clear position, Jorge Soler will still wind up with 500 plate appearances and 25 home runs.
  • Kyle Schwarber will not feel comfortable defensively either at catcher or in the outfield. In a shocking midseason blockbuster, the Cubs will trade him to an AL club for a lights-out starting pitcher—Sonny Gray or Chris Sale, perhaps?

2. Saint Louis Cardinals (90–72, 2nd Wild Card)
  • A two-year streak of terrible luck with runners in scoring position (.254 average in 2014, .242 in 2015) will snap, and the Cardinals will score 50 more runs despite a nearly identical team OPS (.716).
  • Despite remarkably high BABIPs in 2015, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty will be able to sustain them thanks to a great hard-hit percentage and speed, respectively.
  • While it looks like there isn't a weak spot in that rotation, one will emerge as Mike Leake hands in a pedestrian 100 ERA+ season. Jaime García will land on the DL again.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates (86–76)

4. Milwaukee Brewers (71–91)
  • Remember the name Domingo Santana. The Brewers right fielder could put up a vintage Adam Dunn season: a .230 average but a .340 OBP, 180 strikeouts but 30 home runs.
  • Milwaukee will be the only team in baseball whose starters pitch zero complete games in 2016.

5. Cincinnati Reds (64–98)
  • Jay Bruce, one of the Reds' few high-performing players, will be shipped out by June. Devin Mesoraco will put together a nice rebound year behind the plate—and then get traded as well.
  • Billy Hamilton will never learn to get on base, squandering the talent of his wheels. A career-low 35 stolen bases are in the cards.
  • Anthony DeSclafani will use a 5.0 K/BB ratio to shave a full run off his ERA; we'll see him in San Diego at the All-Star Game.
  • Brandon Phillips will have an OBP below .300 and his glove will begin to attrite. His 2016 WAR will be exactly 0.0.

NL West


1. San Francisco Giants (91–71, 3rd playoff seed)
  • It's an even year, and you know what that means: the Giants are going to the World Series. They'll win their fourth championship this decade in controversial fashion—playing all seven games against the Rays at home after Tropicana Field is damaged by a freak hurricane.
  • Jeff Samardzija will be a bust, amassing just 0.5 WAR in the first year of his five-year, $90 million contract.
  • Johnny Cueto, however, is fully healthy and will even outpitch Madison Bumgarner.
  • Bruce Bochy is your 2016 NL Manager of the Year.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (88–74)
  • In the outfield, Andre Ethier will scuffle, but Yasiel Puig will rediscover his 2013–2014 form. If the Dodgers just sit back and let Joc Pederson do his thing, they won't regret it.
  • The Dodgers will lead baseball in days on the disabled list. The injury bug will be particularly devastating to their starting rotation, as only Clayton Kershaw hits the 200-inning mark.
  • The victim of diminishing velocity, Scott Kazmir will wash out of the major leagues just as suddenly and mysteriously as he did in 2010.
  • Two Dodgers will bring home hardware in November: Corey Seager for Rookie of the Year and, of course, Kershaw for Cy Young.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks (80–82)
  • The DBacks' two major offseason trades will both prove to be counterproductive. In addition to the Miller-Inciarte debacle, Jean Segura's presence will rob the team of its best remaining defender in Nick Ahmed in exchange for an equally limp bat.
  • Shelby Miller won't appreciate the move to homer-happy Chase Field. Patrick Corbin and maybe even Robbie Ray will allow fewer runs.
  • Zack Greinke's ERA will rise by 1.50—the biggest increase of anyone in baseball—but will still rank in MLB's top ten.
  • Arizona will give back every last one of its league-leading 63 Defensive Runs Saved from 2015, finishing as a neutral fielding team. When the team allows exactly the same 713 runs it did in 2015, GM Dave Stewart will admit, "We forgot that defense matters in run prevention, too."
  • After two second-place finishes, it's finally Paul Goldschmidt's turn to win an NL MVP Award, completing the NL West's sweep of the postseason awards.

4. San Diego Padres (73–89)
  • PETCO Park was surprisingly offense-friendly in 2015; don't expect that to carry forward, depressing the Padres' offense but rejuvenating their pitchers.
  • James Shields will keep the ball in the park and pound the strike zone more. The results will be a return to form: a 3.30 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, and 2.0 walks per nine innings.

5. Colorado Rockies (72–90)
  • By Coors Field standards, the Rockies' bullpen won't be bad. Jason Motte, Chad Qualls, and Jake McGee will all pitch well above average—probably leading to some fruitful trades in July.
  • Poor Jon Gray will be dominant on the road—posting a 2.80 ERA—but will be unable to solve Coors, stumbling to a 5.20 home ERA.
  • José Reyes won't play a single game for the Rox after he is convicted of domestic assault.

1 comment:

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