2017 Division Previews – American League East

Welcome to the final edition of 500 Level Fan’s divisional preview series.  As usual, we saved the best for last – the AL East.

Defending Champion

Boston Red Sox

Past Five Champions

2016 – Boston

2015 – Toronto

2014 – Baltimore

2013 – Boston

2012 – New York

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 94.8

Best Player

Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox

It’s hard to pick against any of the other superstars in this division (Donaldson, Machado, etc.) but Betts really came into his own last season.  As a 23-year old, Betts finished second in AL MVP voting, was named an All-Star, and won both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger.  He finished in the top-10 in the AL in WAR (9.6), AVG (.318), SLG (.534), OPS (.897), R (122), 2B (42), 3B (5), RBI (113), and SB (26).  He was also one of baseball’s best fielders with a +32 DRS.  After David Ortiz’s retirement the Red Sox still have Dustin Pedroia linking them to the glory years, but it’s clear that  Boston is now Betts’ team.

Honourable Mention: Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays; Manny Machado, Orioles

Best Pitcher

Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

David Price is the bigger name and Rick Porcello is the Cy Young winner but when Boston acquired Chris Sale in the offseason he instantly became the division’s top pitcher.  2016 marked the 5th straight season that Sale finished in the top-6 in Cy voting.  his average season over that time frame?  How does 14-9, 3.04 ERA, 203 IP, 227 K, and a 1.06 WHIP sound?  Last season Sale publicly stated that he was interested in trading strikeouts for longevity, and the deal worked: his K numbers dipped from 275 to 233, but his IP increased from 208 to 226.  It will be interesting to see if his usual dominance carries over to the AL East.

Honourable Mention: David Price, Red Sox; Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays

Three Storylines For 2017

1. Boston Arms

There’s no denying that the Red Sox are loaded offensively.  Even with the retirement of David Ortiz, Boston still boasts Pedroia, Betts, Bogaerts, Benintendi, Bradley Jr, and Hanley Ramirez.  On paper they also boast one of baseball’s best pitching staffs, led by David Price, Rick Porcello, Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, Craig Kimbrel and Tyler Thornburg.  But quite often what’s on paper doesn’t translate to the field.  Despite his 17-9 record, Price posted his worst ERA since his rookie season and will now miss time with elbow soreness.  After six straight middling seasons Porcello came out of nowhere last year and is a serious regression candidate.  Sale has never faced the AL East for an entire season, something that derailed Kimbrel and Pomeranz last year.  And Thornburg is already dealing with shoulder soreness himself.  The last time Boston was the consensus favourite to win the division they finished dead last.  The pitching will determine if they can avoid that fate this time around.

2. Blue Jays Post Edwin

After 22-years in the baseball wilderness, the Blue Jays reached the ALCS in back-to-back seasons, yet enter 2017 with a hostile and angry fan base.  That’s what happens when you let icon and fan-favourite Edwin Encarnacion walk away.  Unfortunately the anger over the EE bungling (no matter which side you’re on) overshadowed what might have been a pretty good offseason by Shapiro and Atkins.  New acquisition Kendrys Morales will never replace Edwin in the hearts of fans, but he should do an adequate job in the batters box.  He’s actually younger than EE and hit 30 HR in a pitchers park last season.  Add a few sneaky good pickups in Steve Pearce, Joe Smith, and J.P Howell, plus a full season from Francisco Liriano and Jason Grilli and the Jays seem to be in good shape.  There are still holes in LF and 1B, but with baseball’s best rotation and a highly motivated Jose Bautista returning, Toronto should contend.

3. Brand New  Yankees

The Yankees did something in 2016 that hadn’t been seen in decades – they sold.  After dominating the league for 20 years with their unlimited resources, the Yanks engaged in some fiscal prudence in an effort to make the team younger and better at the same time.  New York enters 2017 without Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Andrew Miller, but with a fully stocked farm system.  Many of those youngsters will be a part of the big league team, including Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, and Aaron Judge.  However, the turnover is not fully complete.  Players like Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and CC Sabathia remain, and just to prove that you can never take the big spender out of the Bronx, they threw money at Matt Holliday and Aroldis Chapman.  The result is a team that might be either on its way down or its way up, something an entire generation of Yankees fans is unaccustomed to seeing.

Interesting Stat

Though many didn’t like the signing, Toronto’s new DH Kendrys Morales has a great shot of replacing most, if not all, of Edwin Encarnacion’s offensive production.  Unfortunately, his presence in the lineup comes with a caveat: he can’t play defense.  While EE was able to rake while playing 1B – thus enabling Toronto to use the DH as a rotating spot – Morales will DH almost exclusively.  That means unless Pearce or Bautista can play first, Justin Smoak will likely be an everyday player.  Last season there were 137 players in the AL with 300+ plate appearances.  Of that group, Smoak finished the year ranked 132 in WAR at -0.4.  Of the players behind him, two are now retired (Teixeira and Prince Fielder), and the other three enter 2017 either unsigned or as fringe MLB-ers (Dioner Navarro, Billy Burns, Eduardo Escobar).  That means that Toronot, a team expecting to contend in the AL East, will likely be using the worst regular in baseball as its everyday first baseman.  That…..is not good.

Who Should Win

Boston

Who Will Win

Find out in my season prediction column at the end of March

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