Category Archives: Around the Majors

2018 Division Previews – National League Central

Welcome to part two of 500 Level Fan’s season preview series. Today we focus on the National League Central.

Defending Champion

Chicago Cubs

Past Five Champions

2017 – Chicago

2016 – Chicago

2015 – St. Louis

2014 – St. Louis

2013 – St. Louis

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 96.4

Best Player

Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

The division might be loaded with more exciting players on more exciting teams, but it’s impossible to deny the baseball genius of Joey Votto.  After he missed most of 2014 and went through a prolonged slump at the beginning of 2016, many were tempted to write him off.  Boy were they wrong.  Last year, in his age 33 season, he was flat out dominating.  He topped the NL with a .454 OBP, 1.032 OPS, 168 OPS+, and 134 BB, and finished second in both WAR (7.5) and MVP voting.  Perhaps the most staggering stat?  He appeared in all 162 games and only failed to reach base via hit or walk in 13 of them.  As he ages he somehow gets better.

Honourable Mention: Kris Bryant, Cubs; Anthony Rizzo, Cubs

Best Pitcher

Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs

In a division with several high quality teams, there is a surprising lack of true aces in the Central.  Yu Darvish hopes to emerge as one in 2018.  After spending his entire career with the Texas Rangers, Darvish was shipped to the Dodgers at the trade deadline and was highly effective down the stretch, pitching to a 3.44 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.  However, two disastrous appearances in the World Series (including a devastating outing in Game 7) have raised doubts as to whether he can pitch under pressure.  With Chicago once again poised to contend he will definitely be faced with a lot of pressure.  He’s not far removed from a top-5 Cy Young finish, and the Cubs hope that he rekindles his past success this season.

Honourable Mention: Jon Lester, Cub; Jose Quintana, Cubs

Three Storylines For 2018

1. A Good Old Fashioned Arms Race

In an offseason dominated by negative headlines about collusion, lack of spending, and tanking, it was both refreshing and exciting to watch the three top teams in the NL Central load up and go for it.  In Chicago, the defending champs lost Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis to free agency but added one of the top starters available in Yu Darvish, one of last year’s most dominating relievers in Brandon Morrow, and brought in the underrated Tyler Chatwood for rotation depth.  The Cardinals were heavily rumoured to be a possible landing spot for Josh Donaldson, and ended up taking advantage of the Marlins to acquire Marcell Ozuna.  The Brewers followed suit by snagging Christian Yelich, then signed Lorenzo Cain to give them one of the best outfields in the game.  All of it could make for a crowded view at the top.

2. Can Any Team Hang With the Cubs? 

Despite the arms race within the division, let’s be honest with ourselves: this division is the Cubs’ to lose.  Milwaukee should be much improved, but they have some serious questions.  Ryan Braun, Eric Thames, Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Domingo Santana, and Keon Broxton, all project as 1B/OF types, but there are only four spots to go around.  Depth is a good thing, but lack of playing time could be an issue.  Further, the starting rotation leaves much to be desired, especially with presumed #1 Jimmy Nelson out until July.  With the loss of Lance Lynn, the Cardinals’ rotation also lacks depth and will be depending on rebound years from Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright.  When you compare those starters to the rotation in Chicago (Darvish / Lester / Hendricks / Quintana / Chatwood), it’s clear who is in the best shape.  And we haven’t even talked about their still loaded offense….

3. Battle for the Basement

Last season the Reds and Pirates combined for 181 losses, firmly cementing them in the basement of the division.  Pittsburgh had a seven game age on Cincinnati, but looks intent on sinking lower in 2018.  A tumultuous offseason saw them trade away the face of the franchise Andrew McCutchen to San Francisco and staff ace Gerrit Cole to Houston, fans start a petition to force the removal of ownership, and threats that other players (Josh Harrison, Francisco Cervelli, etc.) might be next.  The Pirates will be depending on a lot of former top prospects to finally make good on their promise (Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte) but things look bleak.  Cincinnati’s winter saw them lose long time SS Zack Cozart and resist the urge to bring in anybody of note, meaning a very young rotation will try to lead a promising but inexperienced lineup.  But hey – they have Votto, so advantage Cincy.

Interesting Stat


Between Opening Day 2017 and June 21st, Kyle Schwarber appeared in 64 games for the Cubs, and was really bad.  His line of .171 / .295 / .378 / .673 (with 12 HR and a -0.089 WPA) earned him a demotion to the minors to figure things out.  Well, whatever he did seemed to work, because in 65 appearances from July 6th to the end of the season Schwarber’s line was .255 / .338 / .565 / .903 (with 18 HR and a 0.226 WPA), an OPS improvement of 230 points.  From Opening Day to June 21st the Cubs went 36-35 and sat 1.5 games back in the Central, only to go 50-28 after Schwarber was recalled.  With Milwaukee and St .Louis both poised to be better, the Cubs need a much better start from Schwarber in 2018.

Who Should Win


Who Will Win

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

2018 Division Previews – National League West

It’s that time of year again, time for 500 Level Fan to start embarrassing myself 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 2018.  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.

Defending Champion

Los Angeles Dodgers

Past Five Champions

2017 – Los Angeles

2016 – Los Angeles

2015 – Los Angeles

2014 – Los Angeles

2013 – Los Angeles

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 94.6

Best Player

Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies

There is very little separating Arenado and Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt.  Both are supreme talents who put up eerily similar numbers in 2017 (check it out: Arenado 37 HR, 130 RBI, .959 OPS, 7.2 WAR; Goldschmidt 36 HR, 120 RBI, .966 OPS, 5.8 WAR).  Both led their respective teams to relatively surprising playoff positions. Both won a Gold Glove award for exceptional defensive play.  The nod here goes to Arenado because he plays a premium position and he plays it incredibly well.  No matter the defensive metric, Arenado is ranked right near the top of the game.  He scores a 2.3 in Baseball Reference’s dWAR (6th overall), a 9.0 in Fangraphs’ Def (20th overall), and a 6.7 in UZR (15th overall).  Combine that with his bat and you have a perennial MVP candidate.

Honourable Mention: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks,; Justin Turner, Dodgers

Best Pitcher

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Another year, another dominant performance by Kershaw.  He led the NL with a 2.31 ERA, 18 wins, a 180 ERA+, and a 6.73 K/BB ratio, was second with a 0.95 WHIP,  and eclipsed the 200 strikeout plateau for the seventh time in his career.  To top it all off, he finally got the monkey off his back by delivering in the playoffs, leading the Dodgers to the World Series for the first time since 1988.  It wasn’t all roses for him, however.  For the second straight year injuries limited him (he missed all of August), and despite his dominant performance in relief in Game 7, the Dodgers lost to Houston.  With redemption on his mind (not to mention the possibility of opting out of his contract) Kershaw could be in line for a historic 2018.

Honourable Mention: Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks; Madison Bumgarner, Giants

Three Storylines For 2018

1. Can Los Angeles Recover?

Since 1923 the World Series has lasted the full seven games 37 times.  Only six times in baseball history has a team rebounded from losing Game 7 to win the World Series the following year, and only once has it happened since 1961 (the 2015 Kansas City Royals).  Last year the Dodgers had a 4-0 lead in Game 5, Clayton Kershaw on the mound, and the prospect of going to LA with a 3-2 lead.  But it all slipped away.  Now they have to figure out a way to get the taste of losing out of their mouths, and try to do what the Royals did a few years ago.  With a rotation that might be questionable after Kershaw (no more Darvish), and a bullpen now without Brandon Morrow, the Dodgers might have a tougher time holding off the revamped Giants and still loaded D-Backs and Rockies.  Their lineup is one of the deepest and most talented in the game, but how much does 2017 stick in their minds?

2. Back to the Future in San Fran

2017 was a year from Hell for San Francisco.  They were decimated by injuries (Bumgarner, Pence, Posey, Panik, Belt, Melancon), and underperformance, all of which led to a 98 loss season, tied for the second highest number of losses in franchise history.  But instead of blowing it all up, the Giants revamped in a big way by bringing in Austin Jackson, Tony Watson, and the faces of two other franchises: long-time Pirate Andrew McCutchen and long-time Ray Evan Longoria.  On the surface it seems odd for a terrible and old team to bring in four guys in the latter stages of their careers (the average age of the new guys is about 32).  But it offers a glimpse into the mindset of SF’s front office that last year was more of a fluke than a trend.  A full return to health by their core plus the acquisition of two former studs should make the Giants competitive in the West once again.

3. Who Comes Second?

On paper, the Dodgers remain the class of the division, but there is the potential for a real battle for second place.  Last year the NL West produced both Wild Card teams so the runner-up slot could mean a postseason appearance.  Arizona claimed that position last year, and will enter 2018 with a great rotation but without slugger J.D. Martinez.  Colorado added Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw to their bullpen, but questions exist (as always) about the rotation.  The Giants should be better, and though the Padres may be a year or two away, their stocked farm system and the addition of Eric Hosmer make them a potential sleeper candidate.  Buckle up!

Interesting Stat

152 and 159

Coors Field has always been a paradise for hitters with the thin air of Colorado inflating the stats of Rockies players at home.  That was more evident than ever last year.  Colorado scored 152 more runs at home than on the road (488 to 336) and posted an OPS 159 points higher at home (.862 to .703) the biggest home/road splits in all of baseball.  While their pitching staff also experienced huge splits (4.93 home ERA to 4.09 road ERA;  .273 home BAA to .255 road BAA) the overall spread does not break even.  Essentially at home the Rockies have the best offense in baseball with a bottom-5 pitching staff, while on the road they are middle-of-the-pack in both.  Last season the Rockies were forced to play on the road in the Wild Card game and lost.  Unless they somehow win the division ahead of LA, a 2018 playoff spot will bring more road games.  They will need to narrow those home/road splits in order to stand a chance to progress.

Who Should Win

Los Angeles

Who Will Win

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

Looking Back at My 2017 MLB Predictions

December is here.  A season of reflection, a time to look back at the year that was.  For Jays fans……..wasn’t good.  But why reminisce on bad times when you can have a laugh at my expense?

May I present a look back at my 2017 MLB predictions.

Spoiler alert: they were terrible.

Nailed two of the three division champs, but whiffed baaaaaaadly on the Jays.  New York and Minnesota surprised most people (not just me) so I don’t feel too badly there.  60% of the playoff teams right?  I’ll take it.

Accurate predictions: Rick Porcello drops back to earth….Baltimore relies too heavily on the bullpen….White Sox trade Quintana early…..Astros avoid a terrible start….Don’t trust Texas to stay healthy…..Another playoff-less year for Mike Trout.

Terrible predictions:  Morales adequately replaces Edwin….Bautista has a huge bounce-back year…..Sale has a rough transition to the AL East…..Yankees are a year away…..Detroit remains competitive for one more year…..Royals will sell in July…..Mariners are the real deal.

Completely nailed the division winners, though that really wasn’t too challenging.  Flat out blew the Wild Card teams.  Oops.  I loved the Mets and hated Arizona.  What an idiot.

Accurate predictions: Scherzer continues to dominate…..Miami is a confusing team…..St. Louis falls just short…..Cincinnati could be the worst team in baseball…..The Giants are on the way down.

Terrible predictions: Wild Card is the best bet for the Mets…..This is the season Ryan Braun is traded…..Arizona is a mess.

Two for eight and not that far off on Dyson and Archer.  I put way too much faith in Chris Davis and Miggy, and didn’t foresee the injuries to Britton.

Syndergaard was injured so you can’t fault me there.  But other than that, this was a legit great year for NL predictions!  Nailed the Wins and Saves categories, and all of the other predicted winners finished in the top-10, with four out of five finishing top-4.  Hey hey!

Oh.  Oh my.  I invite you all to ignore the World Series prediction and feast your eyes upon my NLCS prediction of the Dodgers to beat the Cubs.  I am a genius!

In the American League I was way, way off on Gibbons winning Manager of the Year.  But Mike Trout finished 4th in MVP voting and very well might have won if he remained healthy, I nailed Kluber as Cy, and Benintendi finished second to Judge (albeit a distant second) in ROY voting.  Bautista as Bounceback Player was a terrible pick, but you could make a case that Price was the most disappointing.  However, his teammate Rick Porcello was healthy and sucked, and Odor was just plain out bad.

In the National League, Harper finished 12th in MVP voting, Kershaw finished second in Cy voting, Dave Roberts finished second in MOY voting, and Swanson…..well, let’s not talk about Dansby Swanson.  McCutchen did have a very nice season, but was eclipsed by Greg Holland for the Comeback Player of the year.  And I’m giving myself credit for Mark Melancon, who was an absolute bust in San Francisco.

Fun With Early WAR

It’s hard to believe, but the 2017 regular season is close to 30% complete.  That means it’s time for an annual post here on 500 Level Fan where we take a few minutes to have fun with early season stats.

We are approaching June and the standings are starting to become established.  While things look as expected for some teams (Astros and Nationals are good, Padres and Phillies are not), the league is still full of surprises.  The Yankees, Twins, and Brewers at the top?  The Rockies dominating?  The Jays, Royals, Mariners, and Pirates in last?  Fans everywhere are scratching their heads, wondering if down is up or if up is down.

But the one thing we keep hearing, the one universal caution about assessing performance at this time of year is this: it’s still relatively early.

But it’s never too early to have some fun with stats. Let’s take a look at some early season WAR stats and assess which players may have staying power (both good and bad).

Player WAR

The above tables show the best players in baseball in terms of WAR, and the leaderboard is a healthy mix of guys you would expect to see there and guys you wouldn’t.  To the surprise of nobody, Mike Trout is once again dominating the league, and guys such as Goldschmidt, Freeman, Harper, and Arenado are mainstays.  Judge, Cozart, and Conforto have been talked about as having the talent so their names aren’t overly shocking.  But what about Corey Dickerson and Eugenio Suarez?  Crazy.  In terms of defensive WAR, the usual suspects are all there, so no real surprises.  For Jays fans, the shock has to be Kevin Pillar.  To see him leading the team in dWAR is no surprise, but in total WAR?  It speaks to how great he has been, but also to how disappointing the rest of the team has been.

Most Likely to Stick in Top-10: Trout, Goldschmidt, Harper, Arenado

Most Likely to Drop Out: Suarez, Cozart

Two names jump off the list of worst players in terms of WAR: McCutchen and Ichiro.  It wasn’t long ago that both were perennial MVP candidates, but now they both seem like shadows of their former selves.  The biggest shock on the list has to be Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs.  Many were expecting a huge year from him, and I think he still ends up producing.  Maikel Franco is also off to a horrendous start in Philly.  To the surprise of absolutely nobody who watches the Blue Jays, Ezequiel Carrera is ranked as the second worst fielder in all of baseball.  He has a knack for turning every fly ball into an adventure.

Most Likely to Stick in Bottom-10: Hernandez, Revere, Asche

Most Likely to Climb Out: Schwarber, Franco

Pitcher WAR

For the most part, the list of top WARs is a who’s-who of stud pitchers.  Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, Zack Greinke, and Yu Darvish were all expected to do well, and all have met expectations.  But then there is the rest of the list and….wow.  Mike Leake is baseball’s top pitcher?  Ervin Santana dominating?  Dylan Bundy and Ivan Nova?  It will be interesting to see if these guys are legit.  Over on the other side, Sam Dyson sucks.  But sadly, so does Jason Grilli.

Most Likely to Stick in Top-10 / Bottom-10: Sale, Kershaw, Keuchel, Greinke, Carraso, Dyson, Weaver

Most Likely to Drop Out / Climb Out: Bundy, Glasnow

As always, we’ll check back on these lists later in the season to see if things become “more normal”.

Strength of Schedules: Where We Stand

Last season, while watching the Jays try to chase down the Orioles in the middle of the season, something struck me as rotten: the timing of the schedule couldn’t be more different.  While Toronto was constantly facing teams that were red-hot, the Orioles had the benefit of facing teams and players in deep slumps.

For the most part, teams in the same division play very similar schedules.  They all play each other 19 times, and play equal amounts of games against teams in other divisions.  What is vastly different, however, is when they play those teams.  For example, a matchup last season against the Yankees in the early part of the season was a much different task than playing a New York team that went on an absolute tear in August.

To try and quantify those differences I created a very simple, rudimentary formula, applied it to each team in the AL East, and sized up which team had an easier run.  This year, I thought I’d expand that thinking to the entire American League, with a goal of publishing a summary each month.

The formula for Strength of Schedule is easy:

Season Wins – Season Losses + Wins in Last 5 – Losses in Last 5 + Wins in Last 10 – Losses in Last 10 + Current Streak

The calculation is as at the opening game of each series.  So with Cleveland in town for a three game set this week, their score would be calculated as of Monday May 8 as follows:


Season: 17-13    L10: 6-4    L5: 3-2    Streak: W2

Total Points = 9    (17-13+6-4+3-2+2)

By no means is the formula complex or exhaustive.  It doesn’t include individual player projections, park adjusted stats, weather effects, or injuries.  But it is fairly effective at rewarding teams that are hot, and giving a fairly true picture of the impact of playing a team at the wrong time.

So how does the AL look as of Monday May 8?  Let’s take a look at four different charts: Strength of Schedule, Opponents W-L Record, Series vs. 1st Place Teams, and Series vs. Last Place Teams:

Strength of Schedule (SOS)

Opponent W-L Record

Series vs. First Place Teams

Series vs. Last Place Teams


  • Man, the AL East is tough.  In terms of SOS and Opponent’s W% the four hardest schedules have been played by AL East teams…..
  • ….except for Tampa Bay.  While the rest of the East has been bashing each other, Tampa has played our woeful Jays three times, the last place Royals, an under .500 Marlins team, and got the benefit of playing the Yankees back in early  April when they were struggling.
  • Speaking of the Yankees, they have the best record in baseball and have piled up the wins against quality teams, with +48 SOS, the toughest by far.  They have also played five series against first place teams, including this week against the surprise Reds.  They also had the misfortune of playing the Rays back when they were 3 games over .500, and the Jays when Toronto was red hot (2 straight wins).
  • The Astros are running away with the AL West, having played the league’s easiest schedule by a significant margin.  Their -61 SOS includes five series in which their opponent entered on a losing streak of three or more games, including this week vs. Atlanta (11-18, L4).
  • To date, the most difficult series in terms of SOS was a +20 when the White Sox played a red hot Yankees team beginning April 17.  The Yanks were 8-4 and riding a 7 game win streak.
  • To date, the least difficult series in terms of SOS was a -31, also by the White Sox when they played the Royals beginning May 1.  KC was 7-16, losers of 9 straight entering that series.

Blue Jay Summary

The Jays have played a tough schedule to be sure, with three series against first place teams (April 13 v Baltimore, May 1 v New York, May 9 v Cleveland), and just one against a last place team (April 11 v Milwaukee).  But let’s be honest – the team is in shambles and have been playing poorly regardless of the opposition.  Hopefully a turnaround is forthcoming and some more meaningful analysis will be necessary.

Check back in a month or two for another installment.

2017 MLB Predictions

Over the past week and a half, 500 Level Fan has posted a preview of each of MLB’s six divisions.  Now it’s time to up the ante.  No more “previewing”.  It’s now time to “predict”.

As always, my predictions should not be wagered upon by anybody, because they will likely all be wrong.

The 500 Level Fan predictions will be split over two columns.  The first covers MLB predictions, including final standings, playoff results, award winners, and some miscellaneous categories.  The second will focus on the Blue Jays, with some individual and team predictions.

So sit back, read on, try not to laugh, and get ready to comment.

American League Predictions


1. Toronto

2. Boston

3. Baltimore

4. New York

5. Tampa Bay

Thoughts: Morales adequately replaces EE, Bautista has a huge bounce back season, and the rotation repeats its 2016 dominance…..Red Sox might have a better team on paper, but the injury to Price hurts, Porcello drops back to Earth, and Sale’s transition to the AL East is rough…..Exact same Baltimore team as last year, one that is heavily reliant on the bullpen.  That rarely works out well two years in a row.…..New York is a year away from true contention, but this year will lay the groundwork for the future…..The Rays’ offense just can’t pick up the great arms, which will force at least one starter to be dealt away before the deadline.


1. Cleveland

2. Detroit

3. Kansas City

4. Minnesota

5. Chicago

Thoughts: Edwin keeps the offense going, but having Salazar and Carrasco back for a full season is the difference maker for Cleveland…..Last chance for the Tigers.  The aging core remains competitive, falling just short…..It’s time for the Royals to dismantle the core, and a rough start will have them selling in July…..Things can’t get any worse than last year for the Twins.  The young players finally show they belong in the big leagues…..Jose Quintana will be traded soon.  The biggest question in Chicago is when do Frazier, Cabrera, and Abreu go?


1. Houston

2. Seattle

3. Texas

4. Los Angeles

5. Oakland

Thoughts: The Astros added some big names, and those additions will help them avoid the terrible start that doomed them last year.  They are just too talented to finish second…..Pencil me in as a Mariners believer.  They won’t challenge for the division but will hold off the rest of the AL to secure a Wild Card…..Just can’t see Texas making its way back to October.  I don’t trust any of the starters to stay healthy…..Another year, another hollow, playoff-less MVP season for Mike Trout…..Oakland, as always, is a mystery.  Would anybody be surprised if they lost 100 or won 100?


Mariners and Red Sox

Stat Leaders

HR – Chris Davis, BAL

RBI – Miguel Cabrera, DET

Average – Jose Altuve, HOU

SB – Jarrod Dyson, SEA

Wins – Marcus Stroman, TOR

ERA – Corey Kluber, CLE

K – Chris Archer, TB

Sv – Zach Britton, BAL

Awards & Miscellany

MVP – Mike Trout, LAA

Cy Young – Corey Kluber, CLE

Rookie – Andrew Benintendi, BOS

Manager – John Gibbons, TOR

Bounceback Player – Jose Bautista, TOR

Most Disappointing Player – David Price, BOS

First Major Player Traded – Lorenzo Cain, KC

National League Predictions


1. Washington

2. NY Mets

3. Miami

4. Atlanta

5. Philadelphia

Thoughts: Expect Harper to have a huge rebound season, Scherzer and Roark to continue to dominate, and Trea Turner to develop into a star…..If the New York’s starters can ever stay healthy this team would dominate.  But until we see anything from Matt Harvey I think the Wild Card is the best bet…..Miami is a confusing team, seemingly always good enough to contend but never quite putting it all together.  Nothing changes this year…..New stadium + promising rookies + dependable veterans = a step in the right direction for the Braves…..Unfortunately, expect a step back from the Phillies.


1. Chicago

2. Pittsburgh

3. St. Louis

4. Milwaukee

5. Cincinnati

Thoughts: The Cubs are the defending champs and still have a scary looking team.  Nobody can touch them in the division…..I expect a huge comeback season from McCutchen, with the Pirates making a late charge for the playoffs…..The loss of Alex Reyes hurts St. Louis, and despite adding Fowler they don’t quite have enough to reach October…..Very intrigued with the Brewers roster, especially Eric Thames, but this season might be more about where Ryan Braun ends up…..Cincinnati could be the worst team in baseball.  Poor Joey Votto.


1. Los Angeles

2. Colorado

3. San Francisco

4. Arizona

5. San Diego

Thoughts: The Dodgers were destroyed by injury in 2016 and still nearly knocked off the Cubs in the NLCS.  Expect more of the same in 2017 (without the injuries)…..I have a feeling about the Rockies.  They finally have pitching to at least keep up with their mashers, and will surprise many…..The Giants are on their way down.  Not even Bumgarner and Posey can save them…..Arizona is a mess…..San Diego is a bigger mess.


Mets and Pirates

Stat Leaders

HR – Nolan Arenado, COL

RBI – Nolan Arenaco, COL

Average – Joey Votto, CIN

SB – Billy Hamilton, CIN

Wins – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

ERA – Noah Syndergaard, NYM

K – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

Sv – Kenley Jansen, LAD


MVP – Bryce Harper, WAS

Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

Rookie – Dansby Swanson, ATL

Manager – Dave Roberts, LAD

Bounceback Player – Andrew McCutchen, PIT

Most Disappointing Player – Mark Melancon, SF

First Major Player Traded – Ryan Braun, MIL


American League

Wildcard Round – Red Sox over Mariners

ALDS – Indians over Red Sox, Jays over Astros

ALCS – Jays over Indians

National League

Wild Card Round – Pirates over Mets

NLDS – Cubs over Pirates, Dodgers over Nationals

NLCS – Dodgers over Cubs

World Series

They still have a great rotation, a great offense, and hey – this is a Jays blog.  Let’s play homers and pick the Jays over the Dodgers in 6.

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… not good.

Who Should Win


Who Will Win

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

2017 Division Previews – American League Central

Welcome to part five of 500 Level Fan’s season preview series. Today’s focus is on the AL Central.

Defending Champion

Cleveland Indians

Past Five Champions

2016 – Cleveland

2015 – Kansas City

2014 – Detroit

2013 – Detroit

2012 – Detroit

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 92.0

Best Player

Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians

Francisco Lindor only made his major league debut midway through the 2015 season but has already established himself as one of the top players in the game.  In his first full season in the big leagues, Lindor posted a .301 / .358 / .435 / .794 slash line with 15 HR, 78 RBI, 99 R, and 19 SB.  He is also an elite fielder with a +17 DRS metric that ranks him as the second best defensive shortstop in the AL.  And if that wasn’t enough, Lindor also proved that he has nerves of steel, refusing to wilt under the intense pressure of postseason baseball.  He posted a .310 / .355 / .466 / .820 slash line in leading Cleveland to within one run of the World Series title.  To top it all off?  He’s only 23.

Honourable Mention: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers; Edwin Encarnacion, Indians

Best Pitcher

Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Just when you thought he was finished, Verlander turned back the clock with an outstanding 2016.  After two straight down seasons, Verlander topped the AL with 254 strikeouts and a 1.00 WHIP while posting a 16-9 record and a 3.04 ERA.  He (arguably unjustly) finished second in Cy Young voting and even cracked the top-20 in MVP balloting.  The most impressive part of Verlander’s campaign was how he finished it.  At a time when many players on the wrong side of 30 were wearing down late in seasons, Verlander went the other way, posting an 8-3 record, 1.96 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, .180 opponent batting average, and 134 strikeouts in his final 16 starts from mid-July to early October.  He almost single-handedly kept an underperforming Tigers team in the playoff chase right down to the season’s final day.

Honourable Mention: Corey Kluber, Indians; Jose Quintana, White Sox

Three Storylines For 2017

1. Edwin Goes to Cleveland

The Cleveland Indians came within an eyelash of winning the city’s first World Series since 1948,.  Instead of sitting back and hoping the same core could take that one extra step, the Indians shocked the baseball world by signing the top available power hitting free agent.  After being linked to teams like Boston, New York, Houston, Texas, Colorado, and his previous team in Toronto, Encarnacion chose the Indians with a 3-year $60-million deal.  Edwin’s presence in the lineup will more than compensate for the loss of Mike Napoli to free agency and provides Cleveland with a true slugger, arguably baseball’s most consistent masher over the past five years.  Add to that a full season of bullpen ace Andrew Miller and the return of Michael Brantley, Danny Salazar, and Carlos Carrasco, and you have the clear favourite in the Central.

2. Talent Exodus

2017 could be a very interesting year in terms of who ends up leaving the division.  The White Sox have already started a rebuild by dealing Adam Eaton and Chris Sale, and releasing Brett Lawrie.  Closer David Robertson, starter Jose Quintana, and position players like Melky Cabrera and Todd Frazier (and maybe Jose Abreu?) could be next.  There is every reason to believe that Minnesota will send 42-HR second baseman Brian Dozier packing.  And with Cleveland the prohibitive front-runners, a slow start by either of Detroit or Kansas City might see those clubs start moving big name pieces.  It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Ian Kinsler, Justin Verlander, or even (gulp) Miguel Cabrera on the move.

3. Minnesota Kids

Banking a team’s future on prospects is a dangerous proposition: for every Mike Trout there is a Kevin Maas.  That is why the Minnesota Twins are so interesting this year.  The Twins are banking their future on not just one, but five highly rated prospects, each aged 23 or younger.  Outfielders Byron Buxton (2) and Max Kepler (30), infielder Jorge Polanco (99), and starting pitcher Jose Berrios (28) were each ranked in Baseball America’s top-100 prospect list in 2016, and third baseman Miguel Sano was #13 on the 2015 list.  All five are expected to be on the Opening Day roster and bear the responsibility of bringing the Twins back to respectability.  However, the early major league returns have not been great.  All four position players posted OPS totals of below .800 in 2016, Buxton and Sano struck out at alarming rates, and Berrios was an outright disaster on the mound (3-7, 8.02 ERA).  Minnesota will be preaching patience but if the quintet continues to struggle, both the near and long-term future will be bleak.

Interesting Stat

4.22.  That was Detroit’s bullpen ERA in 2016, 3rd worst in the AL.  Unfortunately for Tigers fans, that was nothing new.  The Tigers finished 14th in bullpen ERA in 2015, 13th in 2014, 12th in 2013, 10th in 2012, and 11th in 2011.  They haven’t finished in the single digits since 2010 and haven’t finished in the top half since 2006.  So what did Detroit do this offseason to improve their putrid pen?  Absolutely nothing.  But that might actually be a good thing.  Detroit has seemingly been making an effort to remake its ‘pen for years, employing a different setup man / closer combo each season since 2012.  By bringing back mostly the same group in mostly the same slots, maybe familiarity will lead to better results.  After all, it can’t get much worse.

Who Should Win


Who Will Win

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

2017 Division Previews – American League West

Welcome to part four of 500 Level Fan’s season preview series.  Today’s focus is on the AL West.

Defending Champion

Texas Rangers

Past Five Champions

2016 – Texas

2015 – Texas

2014 – Los Angeles

2013 – Oakland

2012 – Oakland

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 94.2

Best Player

Mike Trout, LA Angels

Is an explanation even necessary?  Trout put up yet another unbelievable season in 2016.  He led the league in Runs (123), Walks (116), OBP (.441), OPS+ (171), and WAR (10.6), while winning his second MVP award.  In fact, the 10.6 WAR was tied for the 113th best single season mark in big league history, tied for the 40th best single mark since 1920, and tied for the 6th best season since 2000. And the scary thing is that he seems to be getting even better.  From 2015 to 2016 Trout reduced his number of strikeouts by 21, walked 24 more times, stole 19 more bases, and improved his defensive metrics.  About the only thing he didn’t do was drag his injury riddled team into the playoffs.  Just give him the 2017 MVP now.

Honourable Mention: Jose Altuve, Astros; Robinson Cano, Mariners

Best Pitcher

Cole Hamels, Texas Rangers

Last season was a real down y ear for pitching in the AL West.  Many of the division’s aces struggled, either with injury, underperformance, or decline.  Names like Darvish, Hernandez, Iwakuma, Gray, Keuchel, McCullers, and Shoemaker left a lot to be desired.  And then there was Cole Hamels who put up his typical All-Star worthy season.  It was another 200-inning, 200-strikeout, sub-3.50 ERA campaign for the lefty, who added a 15-5 record to the mix.  More importantly for the Rangers was the fact that he made all 32 starts, providing stability to a rotation that badly needed it.

Honourable Mention: Felix Hernandez, Mariners; Yu Darvish, Rangers

Three Storylines For 2017

1. Texas Threepeat?

In 2015 the Texas Rangers lost Yu Darvish for the season yet somehow won the AL West.  In 2016 they dealt with the sudden and abrupt retirement of Prince Fielder, a half-season from Darvish, a year-long injury saga with Josh Hamilton, and a middling +8 run differential to somehow outlast Houston and repeat.  All of which begs the following questions: what will go wrong in 2017 and how will they once again overcome?  IF they are to threepeat they will do so with a different roster.  Gone are Mitch Moreland, 2016 standout Ian Desmond, and trade deadline acquisition Carlos Beltran.  But fellow deadline pickup Jonathan Lucroy is back for a full season, Darvish is (presumably) healthy, and Texas brought back Mike Napoli to try and plug the DH hole.  The big questions are in the rotation.  Will Darvish stay healthy and will new signees Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner provide anything?  If so, the Rangers are set up well to once again lose to the Jays in the ALDS.

2. Houston Going for Broke

2016 was a mess for Houston.  A year after making the playoffs for the first time with their young core, a terrible start put the Astros in a hole they couldn’t dig themselves out of.  The team regressed to 84 wins and an October spent watching TV.  To rectify that, Astro management decided to go all-in on 2017.  They opened up their wallets and brought in Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick, Nori Aoki, and Charlie Morton.  The absurdly talented core returns intact, with Altuve, Correa, Springer, and Bregman bolstering the lineup.  The season may hinge on an inconsistent rotation.  If 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel can return from shoulder surgery and find his form, this one scary, scary team.

3. Breaking Another Drought?

The Seattle Mariners are the current holders of a title that nobody wants: baseball’s longest playoff drought.  But if there is good news for the Mariners it’s that baseball has been in a habit of breaking droughts recently.  The Giants broke a 56-year World Series drought in 2010.  The Pirates broke a 21-year playoff drought in 2013.  The Royals broke a 29-year playoff drought in 2014.  The Blue Jays broke a 22-year playoff drought in 2015.  And of course the Cubs broke a 108-year World Series drought last season.  The Mariners haven’t reached October since 2001, but they sit poised to end that dark period in 2017.  Jerry Dipoto took his 86-win team that barely missed the playoffs and made a ton of moves to put them over the hump.  In are Jarrod Dyson, Yovani Gallardo, Carlos Ruiz, Jean Segura, Danny Valencia, and Drew Smyly.  Electric closer Edwin Diaz will handle the 9th inning for a full season, and with Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, and Robinson Cano all back, this is a team that could make some noise.

Interesting Stat

It’s hard to be blown away anymore by Mike Trout.  The guy is simply unreal.  But let’s try: In five full seasons (plus a 40-game stint in 2011) Trout has compiled a career WAR of 48.5, a total that places him 327th on MLB’s all time list.  To reiterate, Trout has played only five full major league seasons and doesn’t turn 26 until August, yet he already ranks in the top 2% of all players to ever play the game.  If his 2017 performance matches 2016, Trout will pass such notables as Sandy Koufax, Nellie Fox, Ralph Kiner, Dennis Martinez, Bernie Williams, Fred Lynn, Minnie Minoso, Kirby Puckett, Fred McGriff, Davit Ortiz, and Whitey Ford on the career list.  Projecting future performance is a fool’s game but Trout is on a historic pace, one that could conceivably see him cross the 100-WAR threshold by the time he hits his early 30’s.  For perspective, only 32 players in major league history have ever reached that mark, and Trout might get there still in his relative prime.  Incredible.

Who Should Win


Who Will Win

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

2017 Division Previews – National League East

Welcome to part three of 500 Level Fan’s season preview series. Today’s focus is on the NL East.

Defending Champion

Washington Nationals

Past Five Champions

2016 – Washington

2015 – New York

2014 – Washington

2013 – Atlanta

2012 – Washington

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 95.0

Best Player

Bryce Harper, Nationals

Harper’s numbers fell off a cliff last season, but he remains the best, most dynamic and most polarizing player within the confines of the NL East.  After winning the MVP award in 2015 Harper was expected to continue his rise to superstardom, potentially even joining (or passing) Mike Trout as baseball’s top player.  Instead he fell apart.  He hit 18 fewer HR and 14 fewer 2B, scored 34 fewer runs, drove in 13 fewer runs, and his batting average decline by 87 points, his OPS drop by 295 points, and his WAR drop from 9.9 to 1.6.  But he gets the nod here due to his raw talent and his youth, ahead of a few veterans who posted career years (Daniel Murphy and Freddie Freeman), and a few other enigmas like himself (Yoenis Cespedes and Giancarlo Stanton).

Honourable Mention: Yoenis Cespedes, Mets; Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

Best Pitcher

Max Scherzer, Nationals

The East is loaded with ace quality pitchers, but it’s hard to pick against the 2016 NL Cy Young award winner.  Scherzer was electric last season, topping the league with 20 wins, 228.1 IP, 284 strikeouts, and a 0.968 WHIP.  His season was highlighted with a historic start in May against Detroit, when he tied the major league record with 20-strikeouts in a 9-inning game.  Last season marked the fourth year in a row he has finished in the top-5 in Cy balloting.  With down years by franchise cornerstones Harper and Strasburg, he was one of the main reasons behind Washington’s NL East division title.

Honourable Mention: Noah Syndergaard, Mets; Jacob deGrom, Mets

Three Storylines For 2017

1. Division of Enigmas

The word enigma is defined as a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand, and no division has more players that fit that definition than the NL East.  As discussed earlier, Bryce Harper is one of baseball’s most confounding players.  Is he the player who won the Rookie of the Year award as a 19-year old in 2012 and posted one of the best single seasons in MLB history while winning the MVP in 2015?  Or is he the guy who missed 106 games in ’13 and ’14 due to injury, or whose performance cratered in a miserable 2016?  But Harper is far from alone.  Stephen Strasburg, Giancarlo Stanton, and Matt Harvey have all been anointed to baseball’s upper echelon only to fall flat seemingly year after year.  To a lesser extent, players like Travis d’Arnaud and Steven Matz (NYM), Odubel Herrera (PHI), Marcell Ozuna (MIA), and Matt Kemp (ATL) continue to fall short of lofty expectations.  It will be interesting to see how many (if any) of these players can finally take the next step forward.

2. New York Health

Heading into 2016 the New York Mets starting rotation was labelled baseball’s best by several publications.  And why not? Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Jacob deGrom were fresh off leading the Mets to the World Series, and they were set to joined by top prospect Zack Wheller.  But due to a variety of injuries, things have yet to work out in the Big Apple.  Only Syndergaard reached the 30 start plateau in 2016.  deGrom was held to 24 starts, Matz to 22, and Harvey to only 17.  Wheeler, meanwhile, hasn’t thrown a big league pitch since September of 2014.  If healthy, this group still projects as elite.  But with the departure of Bartolo Colon to Atlanta, there is even less room for injury in 2017.

3. Intrigue in Atlanta

Long the model of consistency, the Atlanta Braves have fallen on hard times with back-to-back 90+ loss seasons.  But things are getting very interesting in Atlanta.  With the team set to move into a brand new stadium, it is clear that they don’t plan on rebuilding for long.  Several shrewd trades over the past year have gifted the Braves several exciting young players, including former number 1 pick Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte, adding them to a team that already had the talented Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran.  With a bunch of live arms in the high minors the Braves then acquired several veterans to provide leadership and stability, including Matt Kemp, Brandon Phillips, R.A. Dickey, Bartolo Colon, and Jaime Garcia.  There is a very good chance that the Braves lose over 90 games and finish last again.  But there is also a shot that everything comes together and they surprise a lot of people.  Regardless of what happens, it will definitely be interesting.

Interesting Stat

The Miami Marlins enter 2017 as fringe contenders.  After losing 82 games in 2016, the Marlins will no longer have Jose Fernandez fronting their rotation meaning the middling additions of Edinson Volquez and Dan Straily will have little room for error.  But that could change if their offense performs to expectations.  The Marlins scored 655 runs last season, the third fewest in the National League, and also finished second last with 128 HR and fourth last with a .716 team OPS.  For a team with one of the best outfields in all of baseball (Ozuna, Yelich, Stanton), the speedy Dee Gordon, and useful bats like Martin Prado and Justin Bour, those totals are both shocking and unacceptable.  Injuries had a lot to do with the suppressed run totals, but even moving into the middle of the pack in the NL could translate in a few additional wins that could make all the difference between contender and pretender.

Who Should Win


Who Will Win

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