Category Archives: Around the Majors

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

East

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.

Central

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?

West

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?

Wildcards

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

East

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.

Central

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.

West

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.

Wildcards

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

Awards

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

Playoffs

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…..is not good.

Who Should Win

Boston

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

Cleveland

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

Houston

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

Washington

Who Will Win

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

2017 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

2016 – Chicago

2015 – St. Louis

2014 – St. Louis

2013 – St. Louis

2012 – Cincinnati

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 97.4

Best Player

Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

Kris Bryant has now played two complete MLB seasons and has already been named an All-Star twice, won two individual awards, and won the World Series.  In 2016 Bryant became only the fourth player in history to win the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards in back-to-back seasons, joining Cal Ripken Jr. (1982/83), Ryan Howard (2005/06), and Dustin Pedroia (2007/08).  The Cubs 3B/LF improved his already stellar offensive numbers in every category finishing in the top-10 in the NL in WAR (7.7), OBP (.385), SLG (.554), OPS (.939), Runs (121), Hits (176), HR (39), and RBI (102).  What’s scarier for the rest of baseball is that Bryant just turned 25 meaning he probably has yet to reach his prime.  He is the lynchpin of a Cubs team that is positioned to be a force for years to come.

Honourable Mention: Joey Votto, Reds; Anthony Rizzo, Cubs

Best Pitcher

Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs

Though Bryant won the MVP, and Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and John Lackey were bigger names, an argument can be made that the real hero behind Chicago’s World Series triumph last year was Kyle Hendricks.  The 26-year old righty came into his own in his third big league season, posting a 16-8 record with 170 strikeouts in 190 IP, and leading the league with a 2.13 ERA.  He kept up his dominance in the playoffs, pitching to a 1.42 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in five starts, including a 2-hit, 0-run masterpiece in the NLCS clinching Game 6 vs. the Dodgers.  Hendricks finished 3rd in Cy Young voting and will look to build on his 2016 success as one of a trio of Cubs aces.

Honourable Mention: Jon Lester, Cub; Carlos Martinez, Cardinals

Three Storylines For 2017

1. Beginning of a Dynasty?

It was one of the greatest stories of the sports year: the Chicago Cubs ended 108 years of futility and heartbreak by winning the 2016 World Series.  But instead of simply resting on their laurels and basking in the glory of ending sports longest title drought, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and co. got straight to work towards winning another title.  Yes, the Cubs lost several significant pieces over the offseason.  Gone are leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler, fireball closer Aroldis Chapman, clubhouse leader David Ross, and pitchers Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, and Jason Hammel.  But Chicago replaced Chapman with former KC closer Wade Davis, signed former highly rated prospect Jon Jay, and brought in Brett Anderson and Koji Uehara to solidify the bullpen.  Oh, and they also return many of baseball’s best (and youngest) position players in Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Wilson Contreras, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Jason Heyward, not to mention Lester, Hendricks, and Arrieta in the rotation.  Add to that one of baseball’s best managers, a still loaded farm system, and a ton of resources, and you have the recipe for a potential dynasty.

2. The Saga of Andrew McCutchen 

Entering 2016, Andrew McCutchen was riding four consecutive stellar seasons in which he earned four Silver Slugger awards, four All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove, an NL MVP, three playoff appearances, and a 26.4 WAR.  But things went downhill in a hurry.  McCutchen posted a career worst batting average and OPS, and was awful in the field (-28 DRS), leading to a -0.7 WAR and a disappointing sub-.500 record for the Pirates.  Then came the offseason and the seemingly daily rumours that he would be traded to give top prospect Austin Meadows a chance to play.  Despite all the turmoil, McCutchen begins 2017 as a member of the Pirates, albeit with a new position (LF).  However, all eyes will be on Pittsburgh: a rough start by the Pirates will likely bring a lineup of suitors hoping to acquire the former MVP.

3. MVP Exile

Andrew McCutchen isn’t the only former MVP from the NL Central seemingly poised to be on the move in 2017.  The 2010 and 2011 winners could also find themselves in new uniforms at some point during the season.  The Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers are both undergoing rebuilds/retools and are in the process of compiling young, controllable assets and turning their rosters over.  Cincinnati has already shipped out Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Mike Leake, and Aroldis Chapman over the past few years, while Milwaukee has bid adieu to Jonathan Lucroy, Chris Carter, Jeremy Jeffress, and Carlos Gomez.  With neither team expected to contend in 2017 and with prospects seemingly set to take over the starting lineups, it seems odd that Ryan Braun and Joey Votto still remain.  Both men’s names have been involved in trade rumours for more than a year, and with the Brewers and Reds seemingly buried by the still solid Pirates, always competitive Cardinals, and champion Cubs in the division, 2017 seems like the time when those rumours may finally become reality.

Interesting Stat

No teams in baseball stole more bases in 2016 than Milwaukee (181) and Cincinnati (139).  The Brewers’ Jonathan Villar led all of basebal with 62 SB, followed closely by Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton with 58, and Villar’s teammate Hernan Perez with 34.  But the teams also featured two other speedsters who racked up SB: Milwaukee’s Keon Broxton (23 SB in only 75 games) and Cincinnati’s Jose Peraza (21 SB in 72 games).  No major league team has reached the 200 SB plateau since the 2007 New York Mets.  But with Hamilton, Peraza, Villar, Perez, and Broxton running wild, it’s not inconceivable that two teams top that mark in 2017.

Who Should Win

Chicago

Who Will Win

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

2017 Division Previews – National League West

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.

Defending Champion

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

Best Player

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

Best Pitcher

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?

Interesting Stat

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

Los Angeles

Who Will Win

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

Halfway Home: Revisiting My 2016 Predictions

Crystal Ball

The 2016 MLB mid-season lull

is in full effect.  The Blue Jays are off until Friday night, meaning we have two straight nights of dead air ahead of us.  To help fill the empty space, today I will take a look at just how bad my 2016 predictions look so far.  It’s a good thing that I didn’t make a wager on any of these and I hope that nobody out there made bets at the best sportsbook.  If so, my apologies.

On with the show!

American League Predictions

East 2016 AL East

Thoughts: This is the tightest division in baseball – only 2 games separate Baltimore, Boston, and Toronto.  Call me a homer, but I think the Jays might be in the best position heading into the second half.  Tampa Bay will definitely not finish third as they look completely lost.  The most interesting story will be if the Yankees sell at the deadline or attempt one last charge at a playoff spot.

Central 2016 AL Central

Thoughts: Almost completely nailed this one at the break.  In a very top and bottom heavy division, Cleveland is comfortably ahead and Minnesota is miles behind.  The middle is very tight, with only 0.5 games separating Detroit, KC, and Chicago.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility that I actually sweep this division.  Shocking!

West 2016 AL West

Thoughts: Maybe I should have made a wager after all.  Texas, Houston, and Seattle as the top-3?  Perfect!  In reality, this division is not nearly as settled as it appears.  With the Astros charging and the Rangers hitting a bit of a rough patch, Houston is suddenly only 5.5 games back after a brutal April.  Oakland and LA look like afterthoughts at this point.

Wildcards

I predicted the Royals and Astros.  As it stands now the Red Sox and Blue Jays hold the two slots, but KC (4.5 GB) and Houston (2 GB) are lurking.

Stat Leaders

2016 AL Stat Leaders

Thoughts:  Of all the years I have been making these predictions, this year looks particularly ugly.  I (among many) was expecting a big year from Bautista in his contract year, but his power numbers are down across the board and now he is battling injury.  Jose Altuve as batting champ seems to be nearly automatic these days, and Kimbrel as saves leader has always been as well – except for this year.  Trailing Britton by 10 saves and now out for 4-6 weeks with a knee injury pretty much seals the deal there.  Not my finest effort.

Awards & Miscellany

MVP – Mike Trout, LAA

– Leads all

of baseball in WAR, so has as good a shot as any.

Cy Young – Chris Sale, CHW

– He started the All-Star game so that is a pretty good endorsement.  Seems to be in good shape for a Cy run.

Rookie – Byron Buxton, MIN

– No.  Oh no.  He has nearly twice the number of strikeouts as he has hits.  That is not good.

Manager – John Gibbons, TOR

– He will never get enough credit, even if the Jays do win the East.

Bounceback Player – Matt Wieters, BAL

– A .728 OPS and an All-Star birth are both good signs.

Most Disappointing Player – Justin Upton, DET

– Others may have worse numbers, but considering the expectations and the big contract, Upton’s .235 average, .670 OPS, -0.2 WAR, and 112 strikeouts takes the cake.

First Major Player Traded – Sonny Gray, OAK

– Unless you count Oswaldo Arcia, there hasn’t been a major American League player dealt yet.  Gray still seems like a good bet.

National League Predictions

East 2016 NL East

Thoughts: Again, not bad at all.  The Mets and Marlins are currently tied in the standings, and with NY’s injury woes and Miami maybe getting a second half boost from Giancarlo Stanton’s HR barrage in the Derby, there may be a chance the Mets slip to third.  I was much too high on Atlanta.

Central 2016 NL Central

Thoughts: The Cubs were an across the board favourite and haven’t disappointed.  I still think the Pirates will emerge over St. Louis for second.  The Reds are just plain awful…..

West  2016 NL West

Thoughts: I decided not to believe in the even year magic, and maybe I should have.  The Giants look strong again.  Arizona has been one of the biggest flops in baseball.

Wildcards

I predicted New York and Pittsburgh, and both teams are definitely in the mix.  It might be tough to keep the Dodgers out, but I still have a chance!

Stat Leaders

2016 NL Stat Leaders

Thoughts: Fantastic on the pitching side, though let’s be honest – picking Kershaw across the board would have been just as easy.  On the offensive side?  Not great.  It has been a bit of a down year for Bryce Harper, especially in comparison to his 2015 season, but he is only six HR back of Bryant.  Goldschmidt still has a shot in the RBI and AVG categories as well.  But unless Gordon comes back from his PED suspension running wild, he is done.

Awards

MVP – Bryce Harper, WAS

– At this point I don’t think he is in the top-5.  Kershaw, Bryant, and Bumgarner all have better shots.

Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

– No-brainer #1.

Rookie – Corey Seager, LAD

– No-brainer #2.

Manager – Dusty Baker, WAS

– Tempted to say no-brainer #3, but you can make a case for Maddon, Bochy, or even Mattingly in Miami.

Bounceback Player – Giancarlo Stanton, MIA

– Unless his impressive home run derby performance triggers a huge resurgence, then I don’t think he wins – not with a .233 average and 107 Ks.

Most Disappointing Player – Johnny Cueto, SF

– Not even close.  He has been outstanding as a Giant, earning the start for the NL in the All-Star game.  A huge whiff.

First Major Player Traded – Carlos Gonzalez, COL

– CarGo is still a Rockie.  James Shields wins this prize.

500 Level Fan’s 2016 All-Stars and No-Stars

allstar

The rosters for the 2016 MLB All-Star game in San Diego have been named, and the Blue Jays are well represented.  With Estrada, Donaldson, and Encarnacion already declared All-Stars, and with Michael Saunders currently leading the battle for the Final Vote, Toronto might wind up with four players on the AL team.  But how many will make my team?  Today I announce the sixth annual 500 Level Fan All-Star and No-Star teams – a list of players who are really, truly, and brutally awful.

So sit back and enjoy 500 Level Fan’s All-Star and No-Stars for 2016:

Catcher

All-Stars: – Salvador Perez (Kansas City, AL) and Buster Posey (San Francisco, NL)

– Believe it or not, Perez is the top hitting catcher in the AL with a .771 OPS, leads in WAR at 2.3, and has thrown out 54.5% of all stolen base attempts.  Posey sports an OPS 100 points lower than Washington’s Wilson Ramos, but trumps him on the defensive side of the ball (MLB leading 58.6% caught stealing compared to 34.6% for Ramos).  Also has a 2.6 WAR.

No-Stars -Yan Gomes (Cleveland, AL) and A.J. Pierzynski (Atlanta, NL)

– It’s been a nightmare season for Gomes as the former Jay is hitting only .175 with a .207 OBP, and 63 strikeouts to 8 walks.  It might finally be time for A.J. to call it quits – he sports the worst WAR in baseball for catchers at -2.0.

First Base

All-Stars: – Miguel Cabrera (Detroit, AL) and Anthony Rizzo (Chicago, NL)

– Cabrera is showing no signs of slowing down, dominating the AL at age 33.  He has 18 HR, 53 RBI, and a .902 OPS, and has the Tigers in contention for a playoff spot.  In a loaded 1B class in the NL (Goldschmidt, Belt, Myers, Votto), it’s Rizzo who takes the cake thus far.  His .962 OPS, 3.3 WAR, and 20 HR lead all NL 1B, and the Cubs are running away with the Central because of it.

No-Stars – Chris Colabello (Toronto, AL) and Ryan Howard (Philadelphia, NL)

– Might seem a bit harsh putting Colabello here, but he might possibly have had the worst first half of all time.  He went 2 for 29 (.069 average, .225 OPS) in the short time he played before being suspended for 80 games for PEDs.  Awful.  Howard makes the No-Star team for the third straight year, as his performance is getting worse and worse.  A .151 average, .557 OPS, and -2.1 WAR are not what you expect for $25-million.

Second Base

All-Stars – Jose Altuve (Houston, AL) and Daniel Murphy (Washington, NL)

– What a year for second baseman, as a case can be made for 11 of them to make the All-Star team.  My vote goes to Altuve (tops in WAR, AVG, and SB) to edge Cano, Kinsler, and Pedroia in the AL, and Murphy (.957 OPS, 14 HR, 56 RBI) over Zobrist and Segura in the NL.

No-Stars – Ryan Goins (Toronto, AL) and Dee Gordon (Miami, NL)

– The second Jay on the No-Star team and Goins fully deserves it.  After a great finish to 2015 much was expected of him this year, but a .176 average is not getting it done.  Gordon won the NL batting title in 2015 and inked a huge contract extension, but started the year hitting .266 with 6 times as many strikeouts as walks, and then got busted for PEDs.

Third Base

All-Stars – Josh Donaldson (Toronto, AL) and Kris Bryant (Chicago, NL)

– The defending AL MVP is at it again with a slash line of .301 / .413 / .596 / 1.009, 22 HR, 60 RBI, 6 SB, and 19 2B.  Bryant is proving to everybody that the hype was worth it by putting up a banner year in Chicago.  His 25 HR and 4.2 WAR lead the entire National League.

No-Stars – Pablo Sandoval (Boston, AL) and Jordan Pacheco (Cincinnati, NL)

– What a season for the Panda.  He showed up overweight, fought with management, went 0 for 6 with 4 strikeouts, then went out for the season with injury, all for the bargain price of $17.6 million!  Pacheco received 51 AB for the Reds, managed 8 hits, 14 strikeouts, and a .392 OPS before being released.  Tough start.

Shortstop

All-Stars: – Xander Bogaerts (Boston, AL) and Corey Seager (Los Angeles, NL)

– It’s a new wave of shortstops in the AL, and Bogaerts, Correa, and Lindor are virtually even.  Xander has a slight lead in OPS, which earns him the nod.  In the NL, Seager is a 22-year old rookie with 17 HR, a .303 average, and a .900 OPS.  Incredible.

No-Stars – Alcides Escobar (Kansas City, AL) and Alexei Ramirez (San Diego, NL)

– A year after making the All-Star team, winning a Gold Glove, and being a huge sparkplug for the World Series champs, Escobar is struggling mightily both at the plate (.609 OPS) and in the field (10 errors).  Ramirez switched leagues but still finds himself on the No-Star team for the second year in a row with a -2.1 WAR and a glove that is an astonishing 16 runs below average.

Outfield

All-Stars: – Mike Trout (LA Angels, AL), Mookie Betts (Boston, AL), Ian Desmond (Texas, AL), and Starling Marte (Pittsburgh, NL), Carlos Gonzalez (Colorado, NL), Ryan Braun (Milwaukee, NL)

– Trout just keeps getting better (18 HR, 1.000 OPS), and Betts is delivering on his pre-season hype (18 HR, .866 OPS), but the real surprise is Desmond.  Signed on a one-year deal and playing out of position he has put up 15 HR, 15 SB, and a 3.5 WAR.  With McCutchen and Polanco sharing an outfield, Marte is often overlooked but he shouldn’t be (25 SB, .318 average).  CarGo and Braun are dialing back the clock a few years with a combined 31 HR, 95 RBI, and .918 OPS.

No-Stars – Justin Upton (Detroit, AL) and Ben Revere (Washington, NL)

– After signing a 6-year, $132-million deal with the Tigers, Upton has been a massive disappointment thus far: .230 average, .653 OPS, 8 HR, 106 strikeouts.  Revere looks nothing like the guy that hit leadoff in Toronto last year.  He isn’t hitting (.225 avg), getting on base (.273 OBP), or running (10/14 in SB).

Starting Pitcher

All-Stars: – Chris Sale (Chicago, AL) and Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles, NL)

– Danny Salazar has a better ERA, a higher K/9 ratio, better WAR, and has allowed 25 fewer hits than Sale.  So why Sale?  He pitches deeper into games (7.05 IP/start vs. 6.18 for Salazar), has a much better WHIP (0.98 to 1.14), and walks far fewer batters (24 to 44).  Either are worthy, however.  The NL is much more top heavy (Arrieta, Cueto, Bumgarner, Teheran, Syndergaard) but there is no debate: Kershaw is the man.  He leads the league in ERA (1.79), Shutouts (3), ERA+ (220), FIP (1.69), WHIP (0.73), Hits/9 (5.9), and K/W (an astounding 16.11).  He has 8 unintentional walks in 121 innings!

No-Stars – Ubaldo Jimenez (Baltimore, AL) and Shelby Miller (Arizona, NL)

– That Jimenez somehow has 5 wins despite a 6.95 ERA, 1.92 WHIP, and 48 walks shows just how strong Baltimore’s offense is.  Miller has been a huge bust in Arizona with his 7.14 ERA almost single handedly crushing the D-Backs playoff hopes.

Non-Closing Reliever

All-Stars: – Brad Brach (Baltimore, AL) and Seung Hwan Oh (St. Louis, NL)

– Betances and Miller are striking out everybody for the Yankees but it’s hard to ignore Brach’s 0.95 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and 56 K in 47.1 IP.  Oh is now technically the closer for the Cardinals, but he still counts here.  He has been lights out: 58 K, 0.88 WHIP, 1.67 ERA in 43 IP.

No-Stars – Mark Lowe (Detroit, AL) and Jose Urena (Miami, NL)

– I don’t know what is crazier: the fact that Lowe has a 10.33 ERA and 1.89 WHIP, or the fact that he has appeared in 31 games, meaning the Tigers keep putting him out there!  Urena was awful in 16 appearances for the Marlins, putting up a 7.52 ERA.

Closer

All-Stars: – Zach Britton (Baltimore, AL) and Kenley Jansen (Los Angeles, NL)

– Britton is 25 for 25 in save chances, and sports a crazy looking 0.76 ERA and 0.84 WHIP.  Jansen’s WHIP is even lower, however, at 0.64 thanks to only 5 walks allowed 35.2 innings, compared with 47 strikeouts.

No-Stars – Shawn Tolleson (Texas, AL) and J.J. Hoover (Cincinnati, NL)

– Tolleson came out of nowhere in 2015 and seemingly was in a hurry to get back there in 2016, blowing four saves with an ERA of 9.20 before finally losing the closer job in late May.  Hoover blew his very first chance as Reds closer, and had an ERA of 19.50 on April 22.  That….is not good.

2016 MLB Predictions

Crystal Ball

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

East

1. Toronto

2. Boston

3. Tampa Bay

4. New York

5. Baltimore

Thoughts: Defending champs come back with the offense intact, a stronger bullpen, and a deeper rotation – what’s not to like?…..If David Price could make 60 starts I might go with Boston, but he only makes 30.  Not enough to overcome still employing Pablo and Hanley…..The big question in Tampa is can the Rays score enough?  With their rotation, they might not need many runs.…..The bullpen is great and there are intriguing arms in the rotation.  But how much longer can A-Rod, Beltran, Teixeira, Gardner and co. keep going?…..The best part about Baltimore will be seeing how many times Buck “Blanche” Showalter complains about the new dirt infield in Toronto.

Central

1. Cleveland

2. Kansas City

3. Detroit

4. Chicago

5. Minnesota

Thoughts: Cleveland could legitimately have four starters exceed 200 strikeouts, and with Kipnis, Lindor, and Gomes, the offense is underrated…..Kansas City can’t do it again can they?  With reclamation project Ian Kennedy in the rotation, and a bullpen that will be asked to throw a lot of innings again, it’s safer to say no.…..I think Detroit can still win the division, but they need a return to full health from a lot of key players, which might be too much to ask…..I was tempted to pick Chicago to finish first, but then I remembered what happened the last time Melky, Lawrie, and Navarro were teammates in Toronto…..Minnesota surprised last year, and will likely take a step back this year.  But the team is very good, and only a year away.

West

1. Texas

2. Houston

3. Seattle

4. Los Angeles

5. Oakland

Thoughts: If Darvish can come back and be a force, pairing

him with Cole Hamels will be the difference maker.  Rougned Odor is the real deal at 2B.…..I don’t foresee much of a regression in Houston, especially with Carlos Correa poised to become one of baseball’s best, but the rotation behind Keuchel might be shaky…..Seattle can contend for a Wild Card, but they need a lot of the black holes in the lineup to go away.  Above average years for Iannetta and Lind are crucial……They have the best player in the world now (Trout) and the best player in the world from 10-years ago (Pujols) but unfortunately not enough of a supporting cast.…..Oakland, as always, is a mystery.  Would anybody be surprised if they lost 100 or won 100?

Wildcards

Royals and Astros

Stat Leaders

HR – Jose Bautista, TOR

RBI – Chris Davis, BAL

Average – Jose Altuve, HOU

SB – Billy Burns, OAK

Wins – Marcus Stroman, TOR

ERA – Chris Sale, CHW

K – Chris Sale, CHW

Sv – Craig Kimbrel, BOS

Awards & Miscellany

MVP – Mike Trout, LAA

Cy Young – Chris Sale, CHW

Rookie – Byron Buxton, MIN

Manager – John Gibbons, TOR

Bounceback Player – Matt Wieters, BAL

Most Disappointing Player – Justin Upton, DET

First Major Player Traded – Sonny Gray, OAK

National League Predictions

East

1. Washington

2. NY Mets

3. Miami

4. Atlanta

5. Philadelphia

Thoughts: It’s a rebound year for the Nats.  Expect another huge year from Bryce Harper, and with Strasburg in a walk year, I think he dominates with Scherzer to form a potent 1-2 tandem…..Expect the Mets to battle for first right down to the wire.  With Cespedes back and a magical rotation, they are poised to do some October magic again……The Marlins aren’t as good as the top-2 and not as bad as the bottom-2.  There also might be a player revolt due to their asinine no facial hair policy…..They got a huge haul for Shelby Miller, but the Braves are still several years away……Philly has some nice pieces, but they haven’t quite finished tearing everything down.  The rebuild is still in progress.

Central

1. Chicago

2. Pittsburgh

3. St. Louis

4. Cincinnati

5. Milwaukee

Thoughts: The Cubs are the best team in baseball on paper, which is often hard to replicate on the field.  But they have a great mix of youth and veteran talent, and the right manager to guide them.  Cubs win!…..I fully believe in Gerrit Cole, and the Pirate outfield is arguably the best in baseball.  They are desperate to avoid another Wild Card appearance…..St. Louis is still good and will have Wainwright back for a full season.  But Molina is wearing down and the losses of Heyward and Lackey will hurt……Joey Votto is still Joey Votto, and the rotation has a lot of good looking young arms.  Sadly there isn’t a whole lot else…..The Brewers still have the best mascot in the game, so there’s that!

West

1. Los Angeles

2. San Francisco

3. Arizona

4. San Diego

5. Colorado

Thoughts: The Dodgers rotation is already decimated.  But they still have Clayton Kershaw, the lineup is solid, and they have a potential rookie of the year in Corey Seager.  They have enough for one more run……It’s an even numbered year, so the Giants will be good, but I’m not sold on either Cueto or Samardzija……Arizona was a busy team and will be much improved.  It will be a real battle between the top three teams…..The Padres are a mess….The Rockies are a bigger mess.

Wildcards

Mets and Pirates

Stat Leaders

HR – Bryce Harper, WAS

RBI – Paul Goldschmidt, ARI

Average – Paul Goldschmidt, ARI

SB – Dee Gordon, MIA

Wins – Stephen Starsburg, WAS

ERA – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

K – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

Sv – Jeurys Familia, NYM

Awards

MVP – Bryce Harper, WAS

Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

Rookie – Corey Seager, LAD

Manager – Dusty Baker, WAS

Bounceback Player – Giancarlo Stanton, MIA

Most Disappointing Player – Johnny Cueto, SF

First Major Player Traded – Carlos Gonzalez, COL

Playoffs

American League

Wildcard Round – Royals over Astros

ALDS – Rangers over Royals, Jays over Indians

ALCS – Jays over Rangers

National League

Wild Card Round – Pirates over Mets

NLDS – Cubs over Pirates, Nationals over Dodgers

NLCS – Cubs over Nationals

World Series

In what might be the final year for both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion they leave the fans of Toronto with the best possible parting gift: a World Series title.