Friday, March 30, 2018

Predicting the 2018 Season—National League

The 2018 baseball season is underway, and, as is my annual tradition, I failed to finish writing up my MLB predictions in time for the first pitch of the season. Better late than never, today I bring you my prognostications for the National League. For those new around here, I don't do season previews in the usual sense—no doubt you've already read a zillion of those from better analysts than I. What I do do is project the exact win-loss records of each team and pair them with a handful of way-too-specific predictions. (You can see what I mean in my American League predictions, issued earlier this week.) Warning: as you'll see at the end of the season, these predictions are for entertainment only.

To the line!

NL East

1. Washington Nationals (97–65, 2nd playoff seed)
  • The only person who has posted an 11-WAR season in my lifetime is Barry Bonds. Now, in his walk year, Bryce Harper will do it too. He will deliver a stupid .370/.500/.700 line with 40 home runs and 15 DRS. After winning his second unanimous MVP award, he will sign a 12-year, $396 million contract (with four opt-outs) to return to Washington.
  • Gio González and Tanner Roark will post identical 3.76 ERAs.
  • Comeback Player of the Year Adam Eaton will lead the league in triples; with Harper batting behind him, he'll also score 130 runs.
  • On the less rosy side, Ryan Zimmerman's 2017 home-run and RBI totals will be cut in half, and Michael Taylor's .280 OBP will force the Nats to trade for outfield help.
  • Up 1–0 in the NLDS, the Nats will invite President Trump to come throw out the first pitch. In classic October fashion, they will then lose the next three games of the series, inspiring "the curse of the Donald." It will be the only first pitch he throws during his presidency.

2. New York Mets (81–81)
  • The Mets will live and die by that rotation, so let's get it out of the way: Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom will combine for 300 innings of sub-3.00 ball. Matt Harvey and Steven Matz will combine for 100 innings of super-5.00 ball before they earn their release and hit the DL, respectively.
  • Mickey Callaway will win Manager of the Year for navigating no fewer than three tabloid scandals in the clubhouse.

3. Philadelphia Phillies (77–85)
  • A low BABIP meant Rhys Hoskins is even better than he appeared to be in 2017. Look for a .400 OBP and the most homers in the National League.
  • Maikel Franco will again have negative value, spelling the end of his tenure in Philadelphia.
  • Rookie of the Year Scott Kingery's 4.0 WAR will mean that, at the going rate for wins, he will have already been worth his $24 million contract extension after one year in the majors.
  • Vince Velasquez will be able to boast a strikeout rate of 28%. Whether that will mean he gets outs is anybody's guess.

4. Atlanta Braves (73–89)
  • Ronald Acuña will be solid, but the manipulation of his service time will keep him from winning Rookie of the Year.
  • Dansby Swanson will give the 2018 Braves what they thought they would get out of him in 2017.

5. Miami Marlins (65–97)

NL Central

1. Chicago Cubs (98–64, 1st playoff seed)
  • Yu Darvish will stop tipping his pitches, and he'll pair a 2.90 ERA with 250 strikeouts.
  • After pitching in all seven games of the 2017 World Series, Brandon Morrow will break down after just 30 innings of work.
  • Tyler Chatwood's 2018 ERA will be closer to his 2017 mark at home (6.01) than on the road (3.49).
  • Kyle Schwarber will improve to .240/.340/.500, and Jason Heyward will claw his way back to a 100 OPS+.
  • Kris Bryant will lead the NL in RBIs.

2. Saint Louis Cardinals (91–71, 1st Wild Card)
  • Tommy Pham and Paul DeJong will both fall sharply back down to earth. They will decline by a combined 4.0 WAR—which, luckily for the Cardinals, will be exactly the value that Marcell Ozuna brings to the team from Miami.
  • The St. Louis rotation will improbably be one of the league's best. Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha recapture (some of) their past magic, Miles Mikolas will show up on the WHIP leaderboard, and Jack Flaherty will win all 10 of the games he starts. But most of all...
  • Luke Weaver will be a leading Cy Young candidate before reaching his innings limit and getting shut down for the year. After Carlos Martínez gives up five earned runs and is tagged as the losing pitcher in the Wild Card game, the Stephen Strasburg shutdown scandal will seem tame in comparison.

3. Milwaukee Brewers (81–81)
  • The Brewers' well-rounded outfield will combine for 70 home runs and 70 stolen bases.
  • Ryan Braun will scuffle both offensively and defensively at first base, and the experiment will end by June. A trade for rotation help will alleviate the outfield logjam. (Meanwhile, Keon Broxton will be OPSing .900 in AAA.)
  • No one expects Chase Anderson to replicate his 2.74 ERA, but a 3.50 ERA is reasonable.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates (73–89)
  • Jameson Taillon will steal the NL Cy Young Award from a wide-open field.
  • Colin Moran will quietly hit .290 with 20 home runs and 70 RBIs.

5. Cincinnati Reds (69–93)
  • For the second consecutive year, Joey Votto will finish second in MVP voting. Sometime in the 2030s, a columnist will use that to argue that he was never considered great enough by his contemporaries to join the Hall of Fame.
  • An abnormally high BABIP will gift Billy Hamilton with a .270 average and a career-high OBP, enabling him to steal 80 bases in 2018.
  • Luis Castillo will experience growing pains, but he'll still strike out 200 batters and go to the All-Star Game.

NL West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers (96–66, 3rd playoff seed)
  • In a National League with three evenly matched top teams, the fact that the Dodgers have the league's best rotation and best bullpen will be their secret weapon in securing a second straight pennant.
  • Some reversion to the mean is in order in Chávez Ravine. Chris Taylor will never again be the player he was last year, and expect Cody Bellinger to settle in at .260 with 25 home runs.
  • Clayton Kershaw will again miss seven starts in August with a "bad back," but a paparazzo's surreptitious shot of him on the golf course will give rise to conspiracy theories that the Dodgers are just trying to keep him fresh for October. It will work: he'll lead the NL in ERA and K/BB ratio and win NLCS MVP honors against the Cubs.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks (90–72, 2nd Wild Card)
  • NL strikeout leader Robbie Ray will also finish in the top three in Cy Young voting.
  • Thanks to progressive usage patterns (including several multi-inning appearances), Archie Bradley will be the most valuable reliever in baseball.
  • Arizona will have three four-win players: Paul Goldschmidt, AJ Pollock, and Steven Souza.

3. Colorado Rockies (84–78)

4. San Francisco Giants (71–91)
  • Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen will lift the Giants offense from worst in baseball to merely one of the top five worst. Both will have less valuable seasons in 2018 than they did in 2017. Austin Jackson will be straight-up replacement level.
  • Brandon Belt will hit 20 home runs for the first time.
  • Starting pitchers not named Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, or Jeff Samardzija will combine to allow 300+ runs in 600 innings.
  • Speaking of Cueto and Samardzija, expect the latter to rebound more than the former, thanks to a far luckier HR/FB ratio.
  • Hunter Strickland will have the least valuable super-96-mile-per-hour fastball in baseball, and it will drive his ERA up to 4.40. Tony Watson will spend most of the season as closer; Mark Melancon won't pitch an inning.

5. San Diego Padres (64–98)
  • Manuel Margot will double his stolen-base total, but his home-run total will halve.
  • Wil Myers will tout around a 120 OPS+, but he will be the league's worst defensive outfielder, bringing his WAR down to 0.0.
  • The Padres will rank 30th in baseball in OBP and runs scored.

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