Saturday, December 26, 2015

This Holiday Season, the Best Gifts Will Be These Four Free Agents

Merry Christmas, a belated happy Hanukkah, and an early happy new year to the baseball-blog-reading internet. I have a present for you: the latest update to the Baseballot All-Free-Agent Team. This offseason, readers and I are assembling the best possible baseball team constituted solely of current and recent free agents. Read the rules of our little game here; catch up on the first wave of "signings" here, and contribute to the team by tweeting me here.

We've added four players to the team in the last couple weeks: Jason Heyward, Hyun Soo Kim, Mike Napoli, and Henderson Álvarez. Our team's payroll is now up to $184,940,833 for 2016. That means we have just over $15 million left to spend before hitting our self-imposed budget of $200 million. Here's what the team looks like as we enter 2016:


Like a thunderclap from some out-of-season Midwest supercell, all of St. Louis felt a shudder when Heyward signed an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Cubs. Despite the deal probably being this offseason's biggest for a position player, it was actually underpaying for the svelte outfielder. He may not match up in traditional offensive stats (13 homers, 79 runs, 60 RBI), but Heyward's huge value added in baserunning (+7 runs) and defense (+24 runs) make him one of the best players in baseball. For a six-win player, $23 million a year is a steal. And, while I'm normally leery of long-term contracts, this one is likelier than most to work out because of Heyward's age: he's a mere 26. The deal will encompass four or five years of his peak—not begin just as he starts to fade, as is the case for most free agents. This, of course, is all assuming Heyward doesn't opt out after three years, as is his wont under the contract. Even so, the agreement would work out to $78 million for three of his prime years. That's a fair market rate. Since our team is going for broke on the field, let's go for broke off it too. Heyward's the new face of our fake franchise.

Heyward's signing left us with just one slot to fill in the outfield: a backup position. As at most positions in this loaded free-agent class, our options are an embarrassment of riches. The going price for a solid complementary piece was between $5 and $6 million: Rajai Davis and Alejandro De Aza both got one-year deals in that range. I'd have been satisfied with both: they typically deliver league-average OPSes and create about 50 runs a season in limited time. But is that worth $6 million? On the other side of the spectrum, I loved the Angels' signing of Daniel Nava at $1.375 million for one year—always cast as a bench player, he was nonetheless worth 2.6 WAR just one season ago—but I wasn't confident that he would get enough plate appearances. Thankfully, I had an easy out of this conundrum: Kim, the 27-year-old Korean outfielder who just signed with the Orioles for two years and $7 million. In Kim, our hypothetical team gains a patient hitter expected to get regular playing time in Baltimore entering his physical prime, and at a lower price point to boot. Even after Jung Ho Kang, the market for Korean baseballers remains undervalued. Although it's not realistic to expect Kim to replicate the 28 home runs he hit for the Doosan Bears in 2015, his main skill is contact and batting eye, a skill that should translate. Even with an offensive dropoff, he'll walk enough and strike out rarely enough to be worth $3.5 million a year.


For our vacant DH spot, I opted for Napoli on a $7 million salary. Napoli's down year last season was due mostly to his .252 BABIP with the Red Sox; when he was traded back to the Rangers, he was a changed man (.295/.396/.513). His two biggest skill sets—power and ability to take a walk—were unaffected by age, injury, or bad luck, so at a relatively low salary, I like his odds to be MIKE NAPOLI again.

The DH spot came down to Napoli or Orioles utilityman Steve Pearce, whose .930 OPS season in 2014 has me convinced he's ready for a bigger role. However, I ultimately decided a Napoli in the hand is worth two Pearces in the bush. We have no guarantee that Pearce will receive significant playing time in 2016 (unlike Napoli, who the Indians have said will start at first base for them), and his salary is a mystery too.

There's a small chance I can still shoehorn Pearce onto our team. Our one remaining vacancy on offense is a second baseman, and Pearce played a bit of 2B in 2015 for the Orioles. It may not be his primary position (that's first base and the outfield, where he's actually an above-average defender), but he held his own with 6.5 UZR/150 there last year. The other options for our starting second baseman aren't inspiring. I could sign Pearce to be our utilityman and install incumbent Álex Guerrero as the starter at second, but his defense is even more suspect (though a natural shortstop, he has played only third and left field in the majors, and badly at that). I'll take a hard pass on Daniel Murphy, too; his 2015 was a career year, his defense saps a lot of his value, and he's on the wrong side of 30. Juan Uribe is a name I'll keep an eye on; though he's likely to be a part-timer going forward, he's produced a ton of value in that role before thanks to outstanding defense, including 5.0 WAR (!) in 426 plate appearances in 2013. If I can afford him (and if he establishes legal residency in time), my first choice would be José Fernández—but no, not that one. The 27-year-old Cuban defector fits a pattern I've well established here: in exchange for their lack of major-league track record, international free agents can usually be had at discounts, and their relatively young age means their prime years are usually still ahead of them.

Starting Pitcher

Dodgers fans felt their insides turn a little bit when the report out of Japan leaked that Hisashi Iwakuma had failed his physical. We can relate. Iwakuma was one of the all-free-agent team's first signings, and a personal favorite of mine—the low-ERA, low-WHIP guy with excellent fundamentals who came at a fraction of the cost of a David Price or Zack Greinke. Los Angeles backed away from their three-year, $45 million deal, letting Seattle swoop in and re-sign him to a complex contract. If healthy, Iwakuma will get a similar $47.5 million over three years, but the risk to the team is much less—"the Bear" is only guaranteed one year and $12 million. That built-in safety convinced me to stick with Iwakuma where the Dodgers didn't. Looks like we don't need to dip back into the pool for an emergency starter after all.

Still, the uncertainty means it might not be a bad idea to build some starting-pitcher depth. Bartolo Colón's $7.25 million deal to return to the Mets—reportedly lower than offers he received elsewhere—was tempting for a guy who can still be an effective starter. But I decided to go with upside. Álvarez had a gruesome 2015, dealing with two serious injuries and ghastly results when he did take the field. But when right, he's a young starter with great stuff and the ability to dominate. The Marlins' head-scratching non-tender of him meant that his next team would control him for two years under the arbitration process, a chance too good to pass up. The A's signed him to just $4.25 million guaranteed. That's the price of a decent reliever—except this $4.25 million contract has the chance to be worth tens of millions. This was an easy call and, barring another failed physical, ends my pursuit of starting pitching once and for all. (Sorry, Wei-Yin Chen.)

Relief Pitcher

The bullpen market has exploded since my last post. I'd have loved Steve Cishek as my closer and Tony Sipp as my lefty weapon out of the 'pen—but both signed for contracts that were far too rich ($10 million and $18 million, respectively). Shawn Kelley would be a good eighth-inning guy, right? Only if I want to pay him $15 million (I don't). Maybe Ryan Madson would be a cheap alternative at closer due to his injury history. Nope—somehow he got $22 million. This is a world where Jerry Blevins, a useful lefty but one who only pitched seven innings total last year, got $4 million guaranteed. I'm truly taken aback at how the usually affordable reliever market has gone to the next level.

Most of the truly safe relievers are now off the board, and I still have three slots to fill in late relief. Maybe it's time to get worried? But, as I explained a couple weeks ago, relief pitching is the ultimate crapshoot. I'd almost be comfortable waiting to just sign the last three relievers who ink contracts in February/March; because of the nature of the market, they'll be the cheapest, and because of the inherent randomness of bullpens, they won't necessarily be any worse. I'm not ready yet to succumb to the pressure of the fast-moving market and overpay.

Got any sleeper picks for good free-agent relievers? I'm open to pretty much any suggestions!

Friday, December 18, 2015

In Search of the Mathematically Best Hall of Fame Ballot

I'm not a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame; not even close. But if you are, I'm writing this for you. I'm not here to tell you whom to vote for or how to judge players you've covered and worked with for decades. But, coming from the world of politics and elections, there is one thing that we psephologists can tell you: how vitally important it is to cast your ballot strategically.

The bane of many Hall of Fame voters is the 10-candidate voting limit. Many voters believe this year's ballot is absolutely stacked with deserving candidates—possibly up to 15 or 20. Yet they're forced to choose which worthy players to vote for and which to drop off the ballot—actively punishing their chances of election. This, in a word, sucks, and it's led to several efforts at reform, yet the 10-vote limit remains in place.

Hall of Fame voters: there are many logical pathways to deciding who to cut from your list. Many of you simply vote for the 10 worthiest players in your eyes. Please don't do this. Instead, vote in such a way that maximizes the value of your ballot. Vote for the players who really and truly need your vote. In other words, vote strategically.

There's a lot of resistance to casting a strategic ballot; it seems perverse to vote for a guy you think is on the bubble ahead of someone you think should be a slam dunk. I agree, it's shameful—but so is the voting process as it is. Capping the number of qualified candidates instead of asking, say, a simple yes/no for each player is a balloting system that's here to stay, and it's your job, as a voter, to navigate it. Here, today, in this election, where the rules are already set, you have two choices: you can vote strategically and make a real difference to a player whose enshrinement you believe in (either by pushing him over the top or, more likely, preventing him from falling off the ballot)—or you can selfishly vote in a way that makes you feel morally secure but have it not matter because your votes don't change the outcome one iota.

Strategic voting feels dirty, but it's actually a crucial part of a functioning democracy. Many of us vote strategically all the time in political elections. Are you a Republican who really prefers Lindsey Graham but also wants to keep Donald Trump from being the nominee? Chances are you'll vote for someone like Marco Rubio this spring because he has a better shot at topping Trump. Are you an environmental activist living in Florida who really loves the Green Party? You're probably better served voting for the Democrat in order to prevent your least favorite candidate, the Republican, from winning. (Green Party voters in Florida would have been smart to remember this fact in 2000!) Far from corrupting the process, strategic voting allows the candidates who truly appeal to the broadest cross-section of the electorate to prevail. (Besides, in the case of the Hall of Fame—and, perhaps, political elections—the process was already corrupted by the powers that be long before you arrived on the scene to fill out your ballot.)

Thanks to pre-election polling by Ryan Thibodaux, we know who is near the magic thresholds of 75% (election) and 5% (elimination) and thus have information on which to base a strategic vote for the Hall of Fame. Accordingly, here is your step-by-step guide to choosing the 10 players who will make your vote the most meaningful.
  1. Write down all the players you believe are worthy of the Hall of Fame. Don't limit yourself to 10; list them all. Got it? Good.
  2. Cross out the following names, if they appear on your list: Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith, Edgar Martínez, Alan Trammell, Mike Mussina, and Mark McGwire. Griffey is going to be elected, full stop. It's safe to leave him off your ballot. (If you are worried about what would happen if everyone else did the same thing, don't be. You know as well as I do that only a handful of voters, if that, will vote strategically in this way. Everyone else is too hesitant. Besides, Thibodaux's polling shows that he is hardly in any danger.) Trammell and McGwire are on their last year on the ballot; they will drop off after this year no matter what, and neither is anywhere close to election. Their votes are better used elsewhere too. Finally, Bonds, Clemens, and the rest are stuck in Hall of Fame purgatory between 25% and 50% of the vote. They are in no danger of falling below 5%, and they are incapable of reaching 75%. It doesn't matter whether Bonds gets 37% of the vote or 38%. Don't waste a vote on him.
  3. Fill out your ballot with the remaining names on your list. This will include Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and/or Trevor Hoffman, the four candidates who are hovering around 75% in polls. They have a realistic chance at election this year and therefore need your votes the most. It may also include underappreciated candidates like Larry Walker, Billy Wagner, Jim Edmonds, Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield, Fred McGriff, Jeff Kent, or Nomar Garciaparra. While there is a case to be made for all of these candidates—indeed, chances are decent that you support at least one of them for election—they are all at risk of totaling less than 5% of the vote. With this year's projected turnout of 450, all it takes is 23 votes to keep each of these candidates alive. This is the place where your vote can make the most difference, and yet, because these guys are the less obvious Hall of Famers, it's also the place where most voters start their cutting when they decide to vote for only the 10 players with the best stats.
  4. Fill in the remaining slots on your ballot (up to 10 total) with the crossed-out names of your choosing. Chances are very good that, after Step 3, your ballot has less than 10 names on it. Yet it is important to fill your ballot up to the maximum—if only to show the Hall of Fame that the 10-vote limit is still restrictive and that they must address this backlog of qualified candidates. You can choose any of the names you crossed off, for any reason—as we've established, votes for these candidates don't matter other than for symbolic reasons. You can decide to vote for the best-qualified remaining candidates, you can decide to make a statement (say, for or against steroids users), or whatever you prefer.
So how about an example? Here's how I would vote if I had a ballot.

I take an inclusive interpretation of the Hall of Fame. As far as I'm concerned, anyone whose stats come close to measuring up to other Hall of Famers is welcome to join. Therefore, on this year's ballot, there are no fewer than 18 candidates I'd support for enshrinement. For my Step 1, here they are, in order from easiest call to most borderline:
  1. Barry Bonds
  2. Roger Clemens
  3. Ken Griffey
  4. Jeff Bagwell
  5. Mike Piazza
  6. Curt Schilling
  7. Mike Mussina
  8. Tim Raines
  9. Alan Trammell
  10. Mark McGwire
  11. Larry Walker
  12. Edgar Martinez
  13. Billy Wagner
  14. Trevor Hoffman
  15. Lee Smith
  16. Jim Edmonds
  17. Sammy Sosa
  18. Gary Sheffield
(Extremely honorable mentions go to Fred McGriff and Jeff Kent, who I supported last year and who are right on the cusp for me; Nomar Garciaparra, whose insane peak makes the 11-year-old inside me so desperately want to vote for him; and Jason Kendall, who is no one's idea of a Hall of Famer but accrued enough quality at-bats at the game's toughest position to put himself in the conversation.)

These names are whom I voted for in the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America's (IBWAA) simulated Hall of Fame election (the IBWAA has a ballot limit of 15, and it has already "elected" Bagwell, Piazza, and Raines in years past, so the numbers work out perfectly). But in a real Hall of Fame election, I'd have to make several cuts. Let's follow Step 2 and eliminate those nine names. I'm left with a ballot of nine:
  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Mike Piazza
  • Tim Raines
  • Larry Walker
  • Billy Wagner
  • Trevor Hoffman
  • Jim Edmonds
  • Sammy Sosa
  • Gary Sheffield
However, per Step 4, I need to add one more name. Let's make it Alan Trammell and give him a good sendoff from the ballot. Hopefully the Veterans Committee will take note and elect him someday. Therefore, if I were a Hall of Fame voter, here is the mathematically best ballot I could submit:
  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Jim Edmonds
  • Trevor Hoffman
  • Mike Piazza
  • Tim Raines
  • Gary Sheffield
  • Sammy Sosa
  • Billy Wagner
  • Larry Walker
  • Alan Trammell
That doesn't have to be your ballot. It probably won't be. But here's hoping you come to your ballot via the same sound logic. Good luck, and happy voting.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Five Best Free-Agent Signings Coming Out of the Winter Meetings

After a couple weeks of simmering, then scalding hot stove action, the Baseballot all-free-agent team is starting to take shape. Here's how the roster looks now:

The blue names are players we've "signed" so far this offseason. They've added $38,007,500 to our existing payroll of $122.1 million. That leaves us with $39,892,500 left to spend before we hit our self-imposed budget of $200 million.

Here's why we chose who we did, why we passed on some particularly tempting names, and who our targets will be in the coming weeks.

Starting Pitcher

We only had two open spots in the starting rotation, and with the depth of this year's free-agent crop at that position, I wanted to make them count. That's why I didn't even consider options like Marco Estrada, whose 3.13 ERA was an illusion, having been backed up by a 4.40 FIP, or Jeff Samardzija, who got $90 million over five years despite being pretty terrible in two of the last three years (I'm not at all convinced that his 2014 self was the real version, especially after his 4.18 SIERA in 2015).

Jordan Zimmermann has long been a favorite of mine—after years of going to Nats games in DC, I've probably seen him play more than any other pitcher. When he signed for what felt like the below-market rate of $110 million over five years, I thought about pulling the trigger. But luck of the draw already stuck us with two $20-plus-million-a-year starting pitchers (James Shields and CJ Wilson), and it felt like a luxury to grab a third. Plus, while basic projections by FanGraphs predict he'll be worth the deal just about exactly, there are undeniable risks like his replaced elbow ligament, velocity decrease last year, and high second-half ERA. The market also boasts two Zimmermann clones in strike-throwers Wei-Yin Chen and Hisashi Iwakuma, whose price tags are substantially cheaper. With sadness, I passed on bringing my old ballpark constant on board our little experiment.

Speaking of Iwakuma, he was near or at the top of my wish list from day one of this experiment. The quality of his pitching compares to the top-tier options at this position. His ERA− over the last three years, 84, is the same as Zimmermann's and not far off David Price's 78. His SIERA over that time frame is 3.21, better than Zack Greinke. He also has the best K/BB ratios of anyone on the market other than Price (5.29 last year, 5.36 over the last three years). Only on quantity does he not match up—he's pitched 179 and 129.2 innings the last two years. Because of this, plus his age (34), we knew he would get a much cheaper deal, and that was borne out when he signed a three-year, $45 million deal with the Dodgers. In the friendly environment of Dodger Stadium and the National League, his ability to pitch to that value isn't in question, even if he misses up to a third of starts during that period.

John Lackey was in the same boat as Iwakuma. Lackey's 2.77 ERA, 3.30 K/BB, and 3.6 fWAR last year were comparable to elite free-agent starters, but his advanced age (36) kept him cheaper (two years, $32 million). But age hasn't slowed him down so far (he pitched 218 innings last year), so this feels like a low-risk bet. Essentially, for $31 million—the average annual value of a Price or Greinke—we got two almost-as-good starters who are just at different stages of their career. Although there remain lots of interesting names on the starting-pitcher market, our team's rotation is now full, and I think we're probably done at this position unless a crazy bargain presents itself.

Relief Pitcher

I have, apparently, an unusual outlook on building a bullpen: there's no need to spend money to do it. Sure, the absolute best relievers—Darren O'Day ($31 million over four years), Joakim Soria ($25 million over three years)—cost money, but what you're really paying for is their 100% reliability, not their stellar numbers. You can get stellar numbers elsewhere for much less cash thanks to the fact that relievers only throw 50 innings a year—a small sample in which anything can happen. The key is to sign guys who are likely, but not certain, to post stellar numbers for significantly cheaper. Guys like Ryan Webb (3.20 ERA in 2015), César Ramos (2.75), or Joe Blanton (2.84), clearly, are capable of excellence, but they will cost less because they're not sure things. When building a bullpen, it's smarter—or at least more cost-effective—to sign a boatload of these types. If three or four of them work out, you've got a good bullpen for almost nothing.

For that reason, although we have no less than five open bullpen spots, I'm not swimming in the deep end of the pool. And because there are over 100 free-agent relievers, we can afford to wait around for the bargains to surface. With most signings so far being the big fish of the market, I haven't seen a lot of these yet. I was tempted by Justin De Fratus ($750,000) and Ernesto Frieri ($850,000) because they were so cheap, but there are others I like better who will still come at an acceptable price (say, $3 million).

Chad Qualls is a perfect example. Although he put up a 4.38 ERA last year, his SIERA was 2.60, and he has among the game's best walk (1.6 BB/9) and strikeout (8.4 K/9) rates. His deal this week, for $6 million over two years, would have been an excellent value—if it wasn't with the Rockies. Calling Coors Field home will be death to Qualls's ERA, limiting his value to our make-believe team. Going into this exercise, Qualls was my top pick for our vacant closer job, but this signing forced me to move on.

The only relief signing I liked enough to add was the Nationals' one-year, $3 million deal with Yusmeiro Petit. Petit was an average pitcher last year but has always been a strike-thrower, helping him to realize stretches of dominance in the past. His ability to mop up innings also increases his total value. He's on our team.


Colby Rasmus was a tempting target after he accepted his qualifying offer—after all, there's no such thing as a bad one-year deal. But ultimately the $15.8 million price was too big a percentage of our budget to justify on a player who is solid but not elite. At prices that high, we might as well aim for the best. Let's just say we'll be very competitive in the bidding for Jason Heyward...

Until Heyward signs, the outfield market isn't expected to budge much, but one notable early signing was Nori Aoki to the Mariners. There are lots of similar cheap-ish, solid outfield options to complement the Heyward/Justin Upton/Alex Gordon top tier, including Marlon Byrd, Gerardo Parra, and a dark horse pick of mine, Hyun Soo Kim. However, each comes with a red flag explaining why they're not more expensive. Byrd's is his age, and the fact that he has rapidly declined from an OPS+ of 137 to 109 to 101 the last three years. Parra's is the fact that his once-elite defense appears to be crumbling before our eyes. Aoki's is the concussion he suffered toward the end of last season. Ultimately, I chose to accept Aoki's risk as the least scary. The Mariners clearly believe he is over the injury, as they are planning to install him as their leadoff hitter, and his performance throughout his major-league career has been the model of consistency:

It seems pretty safe that Aoki can duplicate those numbers again in 2016, and that would certainly be worth his asking price of $5.5 million.


Ben Zobrist was the big signing during the Winter Meetings, but I'm going to take a pass. I love the player Zobrist is right now, but I don't know how long that player can last. At age 34, Zobrist's historically good defense collapsed to −12 Defensive Runs Saved, dropping his WAR to 2.1 from 5.5—despite his best offensive season (.809 OPS) in three years. Since defense tends to really degrade with age, I'm not sure he's going back to his slick-fielding ways, and the offense is likely to regress too. I don't want to make the $14-million-a-year gamble. I'd rather fill our infield hole the cheap way (Juan Uribe?) or the creative way (recent Cuban defector José Fernández, who has mad OBP skillz and is only 27).


The catcher market caught fire early in November, and by December 11 all the dust seems to have settled. AJ Pierzynski was the first domino to fall for $2 million, but his OBP has always been too low for my tastes. Chris Iannetta ($4.25 million), Geovany Soto ($2.8 million), and Alex Avila ($2.5 million) were also solid, affordable options, but I decided to hold out for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. None of the options on the catcher market are particularly outstanding, but Salty probably has the most upside. Over the last three years, he's averaged 1.9 WAR, tops among the free-agent class (like I said, it's a modest group). And the best part is that he'd be practically free. The Marlins are still paying his salary, so we'd only be on the hook for the major-league minimum ($507,500). Why spend any money at all on a catcher when you're probably not going to get anything other than a lottery ticket?

When Saltalamacchia did finally sign with the Tigers on Sunday, though, I wasn't thrilled with his landing place. Reports say that he'll "compete for the backup catcher job." If we're trying to build the team that will amass the most value/WAR (and we are), that's not great, since even awesome numbers can't make up for a lack of playing time. (Iannetta, by contrast, is expected to start for the Mariners, while Soto and Avila will get plenty of plate appearances as part of a platoon.) Plus, the big park in Detroit will probably not agree with his power stroke. At the league minimum salary, it's not a very costly mistake, but I did paint my way into a corner by passing over all my other options to get to Salty.

Monday, December 7, 2015

What I Didn't Expect in Baseball in 2015

Hard to believe I've been blogging about my MLB predictions for four straight years; it's become a Baseballot tradition. Now it's time for another Baseballot tradition: laughing at how wrong I was. With the baseball season comfortably behind us and another World Series champion crowned, I took a look back at what a younger, more innocent Nathaniel Rakich thought would happen in 2015 in both the American League and National League. Both in the name of accountability and because some of the predictions are truly hilarious in hindsight, I present my home runs and strikeouts alike for you to enjoy.

Prediction: The AL playoff teams would be the Angels, Rays, Indians, Mariners, and Orioles. The NL playoff teams would be the Nationals, Dodgers, Cardinals, Mets, and Cubs.
What Really Happened: Every one of my AL picks missed the postseason, but four of my five NL picks made it—just substitute the Pirates for the Nats. This, though, is consistent with everyone else's picks—the NL was just easier this year. I'm proud that I was so high on the Cubs and Mets, but one of my worst calls was being so down on the eventual World Champion Royals. Overall, the difference between my predicted win totals for the 30 teams and their actual win totals had a standard deviation of 10.0 and an average error of 8.6—roughly on par with my predictions in other years.

Prediction: The Red Sox outfield would be a mess, as Hanley Ramírez and Rusney Castillo flop. Justin Masterson would prove to have lost it for good, but the bullpen would be stronger due to additions like Anthony Varvaro.
What Really Happened: Hanley and Rusney were both constant sources of agitation for Red Sox nation, but the outfield as a whole was passable as Mookie Betts was a legitimate MVP candidate. Masterson does (sadly) look like he's done after posting a 5.61 ERA in 59.1 innings, but Varvaro was put on waivers by May 3. The bullpen had a 4.24 ERA.

Prediction: Despite Eric Hosmer finally reaching the 20-homer plateau, the Royals would score no more than the 651 runs they scratched out in 2014 en route to a sub-.500 season.
What Really Happened: Hosmer hit just 18, but the Royals upped their run total to 724 thanks to contributors like Mike Moustakas and Kendrys Morales. It was, of course, enough to win the World Series.

Prediction: The Mets' time would arrive, as Matt Harvey would return to ace form and Noah Syndergaard would be one of the league's top two rookie pitchers. Travis d'Arnaud would slug 20 dingers, David Wright would double his number of home runs, and the Mets would be an above-average offensive team for the first time since 2011.
What Really Happened: The Mets still had a below-average offense, just barely (98 OPS+), as injuries kept d'Arnaud and Wright to 12 and five home runs, respectively. But oh, the pitching—Syndergaard topped all rookies with at least 130 innings pitched with a 3.24 ERA, and Harvey twirled 189.1 innings with a 2.71 ERA.

Prediction: Steven Souza and Kris Bryant (23 home runs, not including one in the playoffs against the Mets) would be named your Rookies of the Year; Andrew Heaney would be runner-up in the AL.
What Really Happened: Bryant won the award and cranked 26 home runs, plus one in the NLCS against New York. (My prediction was specifically that it would come off Harvey in the Wild Card game, but we'll let that slide.) Souza, though, struggled to adapt to life in Tampa Bay, hitting just .225. Heaney was better (3.49 ERA, 3.73 FIP) but didn't play enough to garner award consideration. My prediction that he would outpitch supposed Angels ace Jered Weaver proved true for all rate stats but walks per nine.

Prediction: Jung Ho Kang would "flop so miserably that no Korean Baseball Organization position player will dare attempt moving to MLB again until the 2020s."
What Really Happened: Kang was a revelation, toting an .816 OPS until he was wiped out by Chris Coghlan's slide and finishing third in NL Rookie of the Year balloting. Already in this young offseason, four KBO hitters have sought to make the jump to the states, with one (Byung Ho Park) already signing with the Twins.

Prediction: The Miami outfield—Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Ichiro Suzuki—would post the highest WAR of any in baseball. If not, it would be the Pirates' trio of Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, and Starling Marte.
What Really Happened: By fWAR, the Pirates' outfield finished 12th; the Marlins were 22nd! (Maybe keeping Ozuna in the minors for much of the year wasn't the best decision?) The Diamondbacks were actually tops, with contributors AJ Pollock, Ender Inciarte, and David Peralta, whom I called undeserving of a starting job. All he did was slash .312/.371/.522.

Prediction: The Braves' offense would lead the majors in shutouts and strikeouts. Only Freddie Freeman would register an offensive WAR above 1.0, and the team would finish with the fewest runs scored of any team in a non-strike-shortened season since 1971.
What Really Happened: Atlanta scored just 573 runs, worst in baseball but not nearly as bad as the low mark of futility set by the 2013 Marlins and 2010 Mariners (513 runs). Amazingly, though, they struck out only 1,107 times—second-fewest in the majors, after the world champs. Several other players did post oWARs over 1.0, including Nick Markakis, AJ Pierzynski, and Cameron Maybin.

Prediction: Álex Rodríguez would pick up where he left off with 20 home runs and a .330 wOBA. Prince Fielder would roar back to hit 25 home runs, and Shin-Soo Choo would put up a 15 HR/15 SB season.
What Really Happened: A-Rod left the yard no less than 33 times and sported a .361 wOBA. Turns out the guy is a Hall of Fame talent—who knew? Choo did bounce back in the power and OBP departments, though not stolen bases (instead of a 15/15 guy, he was a 22/4 guy), and Fielder, with his 23 home runs, won Comeback Player of the Year honors.

Prediction: With Cliff Lee out all year and Cole Hamels traded before the deadline, Aaron Nola would be the Phillies' best pitcher left standing by September. Elsewhere in the division, Shelby Miller would evolve into the ace of the Atlanta staff.
What Really Happened: Exactly that. Lee didn't pitch, Hamels was traded to the Rangers on July 29, and Nola finished the year as Philly's only decent pitcher, with a 3.59 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. And Miller, despite a 6–17 record, showed with his 3.02 ERA that he could lead a staff.

Prediction: Yordano Ventura and Masahiro Tanaka (after leaving his Opening Day start in pain) would need Tommy John surgery, while comeback bids by Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson would end, yet again, in injury. 2015 would be their last major-league season.
What Really Happened: Tanaka is still healthy as a horse after 24 starts, 154 innings, and 2,290 pitches. Ventura threw 163.1 healthy but inconsistent innings. However, neither Morrow nor Johnson enjoyed good health. Morrow was shut down after five starts with shoulder inflammation, while Johnson didn't climb the mound at all for the second straight year. We've yet to see if their careers are truly over, but it doesn't look great.

Prediction: Yadier Molina and Dee Gordon would cease to be effective hitters. Gordon would actively harm the Marlins with a .300 OBP and half the stolen bases of 2014.
What Really Happened: Gordon didn't walk much, but he maintained an insane BABIP (.383) to post a career-high .359 OBP. His 58 stolen bases were just six fewer than the prior season. On the other hand, Molina's OPS nosedived to a nine-year low of .660. He struggled to get on base (.310 OBP) and could muster only four home runs—the fewest since his rookie year. Buyer beware in 2016 fantasy drafts.

Prediction: Craig Kimbrel would be traded midseason for a number-one prospect. A more surprising deadline acquisition would be Trevor Cahill, who would be in the midst of a nice bounceback season.
What Really Happened: Kimbrel was traded just before Opening Day in a deal that netted pitcher Matt Wisler, who wasn't a number-one prospect for long—he made 19 starts for the threadbare Braves in 2015. Cahill did make for a shrewd pickup, but I didn't get the order of events quite right: Cahill had a miserable 51 ERA+ when Atlanta traded him to the Cubs, but he thrived in Chicago's bullpen with a 189 ERA+.

Prediction: By the advanced defensive metric Defensive Runs Saved, the Cardinals would lead the NL, but Philadelphia's defense would be the most porous in baseball.
What Really Happened: At –92 Defensive Runs Saved, the Phillies had the worst defense in the majors by far. Jason Heyward helped make the St. Louis defense a net positive, but they only finished fourth in the league in DRS. Leading both the NL and the majors were the Diamondbacks, with 71 DRS.

Prediction: Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers would combine for just 40 home runs but –40 DRS for the Padres. Will Middlebrooks would be the least valuable player in all of baseball.
What Really Happened: I was far too negative about San Diego. The outfield's final totals: 57 home runs, –13 runs saved. The ignominious distinction of baseball's worst player went to Víctor Martínez, who was worth –2.0 fWAR to the Tigers. Middlebrooks clocked in at a comparatively mild –0.4 fWAR.

Prediction: In a bit of a '90s flashback, Dodgers rookies Joc Pederson and Álex Guerrero (who would slash .330/.380/.480) would excel. That would be essential to the injury-plagued team, which would lose Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Brett Anderson for long stretches.
What Really Happened: Pederson had a great first half—capped by a memorable Home Run Derby—but was benched in the latter going. Guerrero hit a putrid .233/.261/.434, although the fact that he got his slugging percentage that high is a testament to his power. McCarthy started only four games and Ryu missed the whole season as the Dodgers frantically tried to fill rotation gaps all year long—but one slot they didn't have to worry about was Anderson's, who started 31 games for the first time in his career.

Prediction: Mike Trout, with fewer strikeouts, more steals, and better defense, would again win AL MVP. His Los Angeles counterpart, Yasiel Puig, would take home the prize in the NL. Bryce Harper wouldn't put together a monster season, but he'd be worth at least two wins more than in 2014.
What Really Happened: That monster season came, and Harper won NL MVP for it. By rWAR, he improved by 8.9 wins from a year ago. Puig, though, injured his hamstring in April and was a non-factor on the field the rest of the year. Off the field, he may now be a pariah. Trout did nothing to not deserve winning his own MVP trophy, with fewer strikeouts and better defense than the previous year (but fewer steals), but Josh Donaldson nipped him for the honor.

Prediction: After Trout, Adam Eaton would be the AL's most valuable center fielder. Carlos Rodon, if called up early enough, would lead the White Sox to the playoffs.
What Really Happened: Eaton was only the seventh-most valuable center fielder, but at 3.6 fWAR (same as Adam Jones), he remains firmly underrated. Rodon was called up before April turned to May, but the White Sox stumbled as virtually every offensive contributor took a huge step back—Alexei Ramírez, Conor Gillaspie, and Tyler Flowers as I predicted, Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera as I did not.

Prediction: Álex Ríos would be less productive than the (cheaper) man he replaced, Nori Aoki.
What Really Happened: Ríos hit a dismal .255/.287/.353 with a –1.1 rWAR; Aoki hit .287/.353/.380 with a 1.0 rWAR for the Giants. Again: Nori Aoki's on-base percentage was the same as Álex Ríos's slugging percentage.

Prediction: Revenge of the veteran pitcher! CJ Wilson would return to form with a 3.50 ERA, 3.0 BB/9, and 8.0 K/9. AJ Burnett would likewise be rejuvenated in Pittsburgh, and Dan Haren would ride a 4.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio to his best season since 2011 and retire on top.
What Really Happened: Wilson bounced back, but not to these nice round numbers. He finished with a 3.89 ERA, 3.1 BB/9 (his lowest since his career year in 2011 with Texas), and 7.5 K/9. Burnett's 3.18 ERA made him a rotational rock for the Pirates. Haren's 3.60 ERA and 2.2 rWAR were both his best since 2011. His strikeout-to-walk ratio fell short, though, at 3.47—actually his worst showing since 2005. As promised, he retired after the season.

Prediction: The Tigers would sink to last place as their former stalwarts fell apart, including Justin Verlander, JD Martínez, and Víctor Martínez, leading to the dismissal of manager Brad Ausmus.
What Really Happened: This was a pretty bold prediction, as the Tigers were coming off four straight years as division champs, but they did indeed sell at the trade deadline and wind up in the cellar. I was wrong about which players would falter, though—while Víctor slumped to .245/.301/.366, JD hit 38 home runs, and Verlander posted a 117 ERA+ when healthy. Reports surfaced that Ausmus had lost the job before the season even ended, but they were either erroneous or the Tigers had a change of heart, and the former catcher was given one last chance.

Prediction: Fernando Rodney's implosion would mean at least three pitchers would spend time at closer for the Mariners. Meanwhile, the Pirates' Mark Melancon would lead the majors in saves.
What Really Happened: Rodney had 16 saves but a 5.68 ERA, paving the way for closer tryouts from Carson Smith (13 saves) and Tom Wilhelmsen (13 saves). They all aspired to Melancon's mark of 51 saves, which did indeed top all other relievers.

Prediction: The Indians would be the first team in major-league history to strike out more than a batter per inning.
What Really Happened: Not quite, but their staff did strike out 8.84 batters per nine innings, which was good for best in baseball.

Prediction: Yasmany Tomás would look like a bust of a signing, combining terrible defense with one of the game's lowest contact rates.
What Really Happened: Tomás had –14 Defensive Runs Saved, and he struck out 25.8% of the time (though he had plenty of company in this whiff-tastic season). His 73.7% contact rate was also among the lowest in baseball.

Prediction: Félix Hernández would beat Chris Sale for the Cy Young Award in the AL. In the Senior Circuit, Clayton Kershaw would top second-place finisher Max Scherzer and third-place finisher Gerrit Cole.
What Really Happened: Dallas Keuchel took home the award in the AL despite my prediction that he would add a full run of ERA from 2014 (he shaved off almost half a run). The NL race featured Kershaw, Cole, and Scherzer, in that order... but they were third, fourth, and fifth, respectively. Jake Arrieta, of course, came out of nowhere to win the award.

Prediction: The A's would work their magic again, with big breakouts from Ike Davis (.250/.350/.450, 25 home runs, and 90 RBI) and Drew Pomeranz (doubling his career WAR). Marcus Semien would be "one of the AL's better shortstops."
What Really Happened: I whiffed. Davis turned in his worst season yet (.229/.301/.350 with three home runs and 20 RBI), while Pomeranz was decent out of the bullpen but sported just a 0.4 rWAR. Semien was perfectly fine with the bat (.715 OPS), but as a shortstop, he was terrible—getting tagged with an eye-popping 35 errors.

Prediction: Totally healthy seasons from Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos González, and a 6.0 WAR emergence by Nolan Arenado, would lead the Rockies to score the most runs in the NL.
What Really Happened: For the first time in years, both CarGo and Tulo were the models of health in Colorado—with Tulowitzki missing time only after a trade to the Blue Jays. Arenado finally became a household name as his rWAR topped out at 5.8—so close! The Rockies ended up scoring 737 runs, which did indeed lead the National League.

Prediction: Johnny Giavotella would be the Angels' surprise catalyst at the top of the order. He'd amass more WAR than Howie Kendrick or Josh Hamilton.
What Really Happened: Giavotella finally got his biggest chance in the majors but was nothing more than average (96 OPS+), with a disappointing .318 OBP. His 1.0 rWAR was in between Kendrick's 1.1 and Hamilton's 0.4, but in the same number of plate appearances, Hamilton too would have notched 1.1.

Prediction: The Cubs' heralded rookies would all debut before June 1, pushing out placeholders like Chris Coghlan, Ryan Sweeney, Tommy La Stella, and Mike Olt. Jorge Soler would have a .900 OPS and Matt Szczur would have 15 steals as a pinch runner. They'd lead the team that won 73 games in 2014 to their first World Series championship in 107 years.
What Really Happened: All the veterans but Coghlan did indeed lose their jobs, though Addison Russell, not Javier Báez as I envisioned, was the usurper in the middle infield. Szczur stole just two bases, and Soler's .723 OPS disappointed. The North Side youth movement was, however, enough to briefly make the Cubs World Series favorites before they fell in the NLCS.

Prediction: The Reds' division-worst offense would mean an unprecedentedly low number of save opportunities for Aroldis Chapman. Johnny Cueto, their only above-average starting pitcher, would be traded by July 31.
What Really Happened: Their 640 runs scored were indeed bottom in the NL Central, and Chapman's 33 saves and 36 save opportunities were both career lows since taking over as closer. Cueto and Mike Leake were both above average in the rotation—and so both were traded at the deadline.

Prediction: Fatigue from San Francisco's 2014 World Series run would hurt Madison Bumgarner, who would hit a Tim Lincecum–esque wall. Other Giants taking a step back would include Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford. Yusmeiro Petit would be the team's best starter.
What Really Happened: Panik's OPS went from .711 in 2014 to .833 in 2015 in nearly double the playing time. Crawford hit a career high in nearly every category. The team's best starter was... Madison Bumgarner, who had a virtual carbon copy of his 2014. Petit started one game all year.

Prediction: The Rangers would again lead the majors in days spent on the DL, ending the team's season hopes before they even began. Yovani Gallardo would be eaten alive playing half his games in Arlington's batter-friendly Globe Life Park.
What Really Happened: Texas players missed a total of 1,701 days to the disabled list, leading the majors for a second straight year, but it didn't keep them from the playoffs. Gallardo had a resurgent walk year in which he posted a 3.42 ERA—though it came with a 4.00 FIP and dangerous secondary numbers, including a career-low 5.9 strikeouts per nine.

Prediction: The Cardinals would be much improved from last year's .254 average with runners in scoring position but possess the majors' worst record in one-run games.
What Really Happened: St. Louis somehow got worse with runners in scoring position (.242) while still winning 100 games. Maybe it had something to do with their 32–23 showing in one-run games, as Trevor Rosenthal was far more reliable than I envisioned.

Prediction: Toronto would be able to boast three 30-home-run hitters (José Bautista, Josh Donaldson, and Edwin Encarnación) and a Gold Glove center fielder (Dalton Pompey). The squad would lead the league in runs, edging out Boston.
What Really Happened: Toronto's 891 runs scored did lead all of baseball by a huge margin—but it was the Yankees that finished second. Bautista, Donaldson, and Encarnación almost had 40 home runs each (Encarnación was one shy). And the team's center fielder was a Gold Glove finalist—but it was Kevin Pillar, not Pompey. Pompey spent most of the year in the minors.

Prediction: The Astros would lead the AL, if not MLB, in offensive strikeouts; Colby Rasmus would parlay a bounceback year into a four-year, $50 million contract.
What Really Happened: The Cubs kept the sport-wide title from them, but the Astros' 1,392 Ks did lead the AL. And Rasmus did improve in 2015, setting a new career high with 25 homers, but he surprisingly became the first player in history to accept a qualifying offer.

Prediction: Carlos Santana, with a .900 OPS, would be the Indians' best player, ahead of a disappointing followup by Michael Brantley. Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall would also lose value thanks to their sloppy defense.
What Really Happened: Santana's .752 OPS was lower than his .792 from 2014, and his deflated average, which I predicted would rebound, matched his .231 from 2014 exactly. Santana ended up being the Tribe's 15th-most valuable player; Brantley was fifth. Meanwhile, Kipnis and Chisenhall were both net positives on defense—a truly astounding turnaround for Lonnie, who went from –16 Defensive Runs Saved in 2014 to +18 this year.

Prediction: Pat Venditte would debut in The Show and post a sub-2.00 ERA.
What Really Happened: The switch-pitcher did finally make his long-anticipated debut, but he came away with a mediocre 4.40 ERA.

Prediction: Drew Hutchison would help the Blue Jays by shaving a full run off his 4.48 ERA from 2014. Toronto would still have the worst bullpen ERA in baseball, though.
What Really Happened: Er, did I say drop a full run? I meant add a full run! Hutchison's ERA shot up to 5.57. With a 3.50 ERA, the Jays had the 12th-best bullpen in baseball. Not bad—unlike my prediction.

Prediction: Rickie Weeks and Seth Smith would prove to be strong additions to a now-middle-of-the-pack Seattle offense—more valuable, even, than Nelson Cruz—leading the M's to their first World Series appearance ever.
What Really Happened: Smith was good (1.9 rWAR), but Cruz was an absolute beast (5.2 rWAR). Weeks hit .167 in 84 at-bats. The Mariners offense was exactly average according to wRC+, but the Mariners fell far short of the World Series, losing 86 games.

Prediction: Jesse Hahn and Kendall Graveman would pitch well in the first half before running out of steam. Age would catch up to Ben Zobrist.
What Really Happened: Hahn had a 3.35 ERA before the All-Star break but didn't pitch after it due to a forearm strain. Graveman had a 3.38 ERA before the break but a 5.73 showing after it. But Ben Zobrist, of course, was his consistently excellent self (.276/.359/.450), at least at the plate (–12 Defensive Runs Saved).

Prediction: In Milwaukee, Carlos Gómez would go from great to meh and Ryan Braun would go from meh to great. Mike Fiers's 4.0 K/BB ratio would make him the staff ace of a rotation full of 3.70 ERAs.
What Really Happened: Braun had a career renaissance, hitting .285/.356/.498. Gómez's value halved—exactly as I projected—from 5.7 fWAR in 2014 to 2.6 in 2015. Fiers was the one with a 3.70 ERA, but that was enough to make him the staff ace as Matt Garza (5.63) and Kyle Lohse (5.85) fell apart.

Prediction: Terry Francona would win Manager of the Year in the American League, joined by Joe Maddon in the National League.
What Really Happened: Jeff Banister won the award in the AL for bringing the Rangers out of nowhere into the playoffs; Francona didn't get any votes as the Indians finished 13.5 games out. Maddon, however, easily took home the NL trophy.

Prediction: Despite the loss of Nelson Cruz, the Orioles would outscore their 2014 selves thanks to Chris Davis's 33 home runs and 121 OPS+.
What Really Happened: The Orioles scored 713—eight more than in 2014. Davis blew my expectations away with 47 dingers and a 146 OPS+.

Prediction: Charlie Blackmon wouldn't regress, but Corey Dickerson would.
What Really Happened: Blackmon didn't get the same attention he did during his All-Star 2014 campaign, but his line of .287/.347/.450 was actually a little better, and he hit just two fewer homers. Dickerson, however, managed only half as many plate appearances as the previous season; his 118 OPS+ was still quite good, but it didn't touch his 141 OPS+ from 2014.

Prediction: Nate Karns (ERA under 3.00, strikeouts over 200) and Jake Odorizzi would excel in Tampa Bay thanks in part to Kevin Kiermaier's 25 Defensive Runs Saved.
What Really Happened: Karns wasn't that good, but he still struck out a batter an inning with a 3.67 ERA. Odorizzi was even better at 3.35, and Kiermaier saved an unreal 42 runs on defense.

Prediction: The Twins would do better the more they just let their many young studs play.
What Really Happened: Minnesota surprised a lot of pundits by finishing with 83 wins, and young players did contribute—although Alex Meyer and Oswaldo Arcia, two I was high on at the beginning of the year, were largely absent from the team.