It’s that time of year again, time for 500 Level Fan to start embarrassing himself with futile, sad, and mind-blowingly awful predictions. Before we get to my annual predictions, let’s go division by division to get a glimpse of what is in store for baseball fans in 2017. These preview posts should be seen as a division primer, so we can get to know the best players and teams, along with some interesting storylines, in each. These won’t have my actual predicted order of finish – just a quick snapshot. The predictions come later.
We’ll begin today with the NL West.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Past Five Champions
2016 – Los Angeles
2015 – Los Angeles
2014 – Los Angeles
2013 – Los Angeles
2012 – San Francisco
Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 92.6
Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
The 2016 season was only the fourth full year of Arenado’s big league career yet he has already developed into one of baseball’s most elite stars. For the second year in a row, Arenado reached the 40 HR, 130 RBI, and 350 Total Bases plateaus, topping the National League in HR, and all of baseball in RBI. He also maintained his title as MLB’s best defensive third baseman, leading all 3B with a +20 Defensive Runs Saved rating, and earning his fourth consecutive Gold Glove award. Arenado is becoming a perennial MVP candidate and is the key reason why many are pegging the Rockies as sleeper contenders in 2017.
Honourable Mention: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks, Corey Seager, Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
If last season taught as anything it’s that Kershaw is mortal, as the Dodgers All-Star missed significant time due to injury for the first time in his career. Unfortunately for the rest of the NL West, it also confirmed one thing: when healthy Kershaw is an untouchable machine. Limited to 21 starts, Kershaw still put up unworldly numbers: a 12-4 record, 1.69 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, and an incredible 15.64 strikeout to walk ratio. That last number is not a typo: Kershaw surrendered only 10 unintentional walks in 149 innings. While the injury robbed him of what was going to be a certain Cy Young win, he still finished in the top-5 in voting for the sixth straight year and led the Dodgers to their fourth straight NL West crown.
Honourable Mention: Madison Bumgarner, Giants; Johnny Cueto, Giants
Three Storylines For 2017
1. World Series or Bust
The LA Dodgers have reached the postseason four years in a row and eight times since the 2004 season, but have yet to reach the World Series since winning it all back in 1988. If there ever is a year for them to finally get over that hump it might be 2017. LA has an elite starting rotation after re-signing Rich Hill to slot in after perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Scott Kazmir, and young sensation Julio Urias. They broke the bank to bring back closer Kenley Jansen, added former World Series winner Sergio Romo from the Giants, then acquired super-utility infielder Logan Forsythe from Tampa Bay to add to a loaded offense that already boasts Adrian Gonzalez, Yasmani Grandal, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Justin Turner, and 2016 ROY Corey Seager. With that kind of roster, anything short of a World Series will be considered a major disappointment.
2. Rockies Revival
With 75 wins, last year’s version of the Colorado Rockies finished below the .500 mark for the 6th consecutive year. But after years spent seemingly spinning their tires without an identity, the Rockies took several steps forward last year and seem poised to contend, at least for a Wild Card spot. Hotshot rookie Trevor Story was lighting the league on fire (27 HR in only 97 games) before succumbing to injury, and the team signed Ian Desmond to a huge deal to join Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, and DJ Lemahieu. And for the first time in forever the Rockies might actually have pitching to get excited about, with Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, Tyler Chatwood, and former Blue Jay prospect Jeff Hoffman. The signing of former Royals closer Greg Holland could also prove to be a huge boost to the bullpen. As currently constructed the Rockies have a surplus of outfielders, but if they can figure out a way to all co-exist, there is nowhere to go but up.
3. Can San Francisco Hang Around?
For the first time since 2008 a team other than the Giants won an even-year World Series, and it’s not hard to figure out why. San Francisco’s bullpen blew a staggering 30 saves in 2016, so the Giants threw $62-million at former Pirate closer Mark Melancon to fortify the late innings. The problem, however, is that the rest of the bullpen remains either weak or unproven, meaning there might be an issue bridging the gap between the rotation and Melancon. But there are more problems: the team is still missing a starting LF, many of its core players are approaching the wrong side of 30 (including Buster Posey, Denard Span, and Hunter Pence) and aside from Bumgarner and Cueto there are question marks in the rotation. Does this squad as currently constructed have another run left in them or does the decline start now?
Clayton Kershaw was utterly dominant in 2016, but the injury that shelved him for 11 starts forever robbed us of a chance to see him make history. Kershaw walked a total of 11 batters (1 intentional) in 149 IP, for a BB/9 ratio of 0.6644. That rate would have been good enough for 35th on the all-time single season list, but 3rd all-time in the modern era behind only Carlos Silva (0.4301 in 2005) and Bret Saberhagen (0.6598 in 1994). But what really made Kershaw special last season was his strikeout totals. With 172 strikeouts, his K/BB ratio was a staggering 15.64. MLB’s single season record is currently held by Phil Hughes, who posted an 11.63 mark in 2014. Kershaw was on pace to obliterate that record but ultimately fell short of the required number of innings pitched. Can he pick up where he left off and make another run at history in 2017?
Who Should Win
Who Will Win
Find out in my season prediction column at the end of March.