2017 Power Rankings

-The K Zone-

2017 Power Rankings

by Mojo Hill

The season is about to start, and that means that it’s time to rank the 30 teams from best to worst going into the season. Their star power, depth, and offseason additions/subtractions are all things that may affect their ranking. Some teams will surprise and others will disappoint, but this is a general view of how I think the teams are going to do this year, along with their 2016 record and ranking.


1. Cubs (103-58, 1st)

After finally getting 108 years of pain off their backs, the Cubs will be hungry to repeat, and most they go into 2017 with almost all of last year’s core pieces healthy and ready to go. There was some concern after they lost their elite closer, Aroldis Chapman, to free agency, but then they traded away Jorge Soler to get someone nearly as good as Chapman in the former Royal Wade Davis.

The rotation is looking a little older this year but it’s still nearly as good, with three aces in Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks, a solid John Lackey, and a decent-when-healthy Brett Anderson. The Cubs have two of the best position players in the game in Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, and both are in their prime years. Unfortunately they lost their center fielder Dexter Fowler to free agency, but they have a young talent in Albert Almora Jr., the newly acquired Jon Jay, a full year from Kyle Schwarber, and Jason Heyward, who is looking to bounce back. Plus there’s lots of depth and versatility all around the diamond. Add all that to a solid middle infield and a very good bullpen, and it appears as though the Cubs have the pieces to win back-to-back World Series for the first time in 109 years.


2. Dodgers (91-71, 6th)

The Dodgers have won four straight division titles and have gone through some frustrating postseason exits. But if they’re going to win with this core group, this year seems like the perfect year to do it. They have the best pitcher in baseball right in the middle of his prime and also the best young shortstop in the game. Justin Turner has emerged as one of the best third basemen in the game on offense and defense. They have a solid catcher as well in Yasmani Grandal, as well as the aging but still productive first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. They improved their team by adding a solid right-handed bat, second baseman Logan Forsythe. The starting outfield will be solid with Andrew Toles, Joc Pederson, and Yasiel Puig.

Depth is one of the strengths of this relentless team, with multiple solid alternative options at every position. All their stars will be playing for them again this year, including one of the best if not the best closer in the game. Health was a problem last year for these Dodgers, but if they can avoid any major blows, they could have a shot at taking down the Cubs this year.


3. Indians (94-67, 4th)

The Indians had a frustrating end to what was otherwise an amazing season. The scary part for everyone else is that this team nearly won the World Series over the Cubs last year and seems to have gotten even better. They’ll be getting a full season from the best non-closer reliever in baseball, Andrew Miller, who they traded for at the deadline last year. They have an extremely solid bullpen behind him with Dan Otero and closer Cody Reed. The rotation is one of the best in baseball, with three possible Cy Young candidates in Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, as well as two solid starters in Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin. They have mostly the same guys around the diamond as they did last year. Francisco Lindor is one of the best young shortstops in baseball as he leads a fearsome infield. The team should get most of a full season from Michael Brantley, and beside him there is a lot of depth in the outfield.

To top it all off, the Indians added Edwin Encarnacion to strengthen their lineup, which makes them the team to beat in the AL in 2017. Despite being weak at the catcher position, there are no major holes, making this a scary team to look out for.


4. Red Sox (93-69, 5th)

Even after losing superstar DH David Ortiz, the Red Sox are looking extremely dangerous going into 2017 and are the heavy favorites to win the AL East. Their rotation features 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello, as well as two aces in David Price and the newly acquired Chris Sale. Their rotation took a hit when Price went on the DL, but it shouldn’t impact them too greatly unless this injury becomes a long-term issue. As with all good teams, the Red Sox have plenty of depth and a good closer, Craig Kimbrel. They have the favorite to win Rookie of the Year in Andrew Benintendi, as well as multiple established stars, including Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Hanley Ramirez and Jackie Bradley Jr. Padlo Sandoval has had a miserable Red Sox career so far, but will be working hard to return to his old Giants self as he becomes the everyday third baseman.

The Red Sox were unable to land someone like Encarnacion, but they did sign Mitch Moreland to fill a hole and play first base. Sandy Leon is a wild card, but at the very least he should provide decent production for a catcher. The bullpen is good but not as great as some of the other contending teams. This team has some minor weaknesses at certain positions but overall they should have no problem competing for a world title.


5. Nationals (95-67, 3rd)

The Nats really had their hearts set on a championship in 2016, but they fell short yet again. However, 2017’s group certainly looks capable of finally getting the job done. They have a top-notch rotation, with 2016 NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and the explosive Stephen Strasburg, as well as three steady, above-average arms in Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross. Daniel Murphy randomly emerged as a star, and Trea Turner will be playing a full season at his natural position. They traded for Adam Eaton to solidify their outfield, who joins the veteran Jayson Werth and the 2015 NL MVP winner Bryce Harper, who is still just 24 years old. Ryan Zimmerman is coming off a tough year, but he’s still a fine option at first base. Finally they have two solid but unspectacular bats at third and catcher with Anthony Rendon and the newly acquired Matt Wieters. In addition, there is a decent amount of depth and pinch-hitting options.

While the rotation and lineup look playoff-caliber, the bullpen is a little iffy. And as we saw in 2016, an elite bullpen is a huge advantage, especially in October. They failed to sign Jansen or Mark Melancon, so they’re left without a proven closer, forcing them to resort to Blake Treinen. There are no superstars in that bullpen, so the Nats are hoping that Treinen doesn’t fail miserably as a closer and that the newly signed Joe Blanton can be as reliable as he was for the Dodgers in 2016. The Nats certainly have some star power and veteran presence on their team, but they’re going to need elite seasons from Harper, Murphy and Turner as well as bullpen reliability if they want to compete with the Cubs and Dodgers for the NL Pennant.


6. Astros (84-78, 14th)

The Astros failed to meet expectations in 2016, but look primed to possibly make a run in 2017. Jose Altuve has used his elite contact skills and improved power to become one of the stars of the game. They should get a full year of Alex Bregman at third, while at short, Correa has been very good but still hasn’t become the superstar they’re hoping he will be. This is the perfect year for Correa to break out as an MVP candidate, because the overall shape of the entire team is the best it’s been in years. The Astros were disappointments last year, but good years from the aforementioned players plus the additions of Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Norichika Aoki and Josh Reddick should help propel this team to an AL West title and possibly more.

While the lineup has improved from last year and is set to score a lot of runs, with depth behind the starters in Marwin Gonzalez, Yulieski Gurriel and others, the rotation is a bit thin. 2015 AL Cy Young award winner had a down year last year, and even if he rebounds from that, he’s still unlikely to return to his Cy Young form. There’s not a whole lot behind him either, with Lance McCullers Jr., Charlie Morton, Joe Musgrove and Mike Fiers. The rotation could be decent if all these guys stay healthy and reliable. This rotation will most likely be a weak spot on the team barring any magical performances from any of the starters. The bullpen is nothing special, but at least they have a somewhat-proven closer in Ken Giles. If everything clicks for this team in 2017, they could be dangerous. But they’re going to need the pitching to step up and their offense to be explosive.


7. Rangers (95-67, 2nd)

Some might call the Rangers’ 2016 season lucky, but they had the best record in the AL and the second best record in baseball by only the Cubs. If you ask me, over a 162-game sample, that’s no fluke. The Rangers are simply good at pulling out close victories and winning baseball games, and that should continue into 2017. They still have Cole Hamels and a full year from Yu Darvish atop their rotation. That 1-2 punch could be dynamic. Behind them are some solid but unspectacular guys that should eat innings and still be valuable assets to the team. There are also some very good arms in the bullpen, led by a proven closer in Sam Dyson.

In addition to the pitching, which should be solid, there’s tons of talent around the diamond, even with the losses of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. They acquired the still-productive Mike Napoli to play first, and they still have the ageless wonder Adrian Beltre at third base, who is likely to get his 3,000th hit this year. There’s also young, flashy talent in Rougned Odor, Carlos Gomez, Jurickson Profar, Elvis Andrus and Nomar Mazara. In addition to all that, they have the second best catcher in baseball and the best in the American League, Jonathan Lucroy. Overall there isn’t as much superstar talent, but there are a lot of good players who should contribute to the Rangers at least picking up a Wild Card spot or possibly finishing ahead of the Astros.


8. Blue Jays (89-73, 7th)

The Blue Jays have gone through two straight frustrating ALCS losses, but the team they’ll have in 2017 looks primed to contend yet again. They took a hit with the loss of Encarnacion, but they did re-sign Jose Bautista and also got Kendrys Morales to DH, which should help significantly. The other main pieces from last year are all still there, with one of the best defenders in baseball in center, Kevin Pillar, superstar third baseman Josh Donaldson, aging and less productive star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, and one of the better catchers in baseball, Russell Martin. Some weak spots are first base, (Justin Smoak/Steve Pearce/Morales), left field (Ezequiel Carrera/Melvin Upton Jr.) and second base (Devon Travis/Darwin Barney/Ryan Goins).

Still, the amount of star talent that there is plus a great rotation and a very good bullpen could carry this team to contend for a Wild Card and possibly even the division title. While they don’t have an ace like Kershaw or Scherzer, they have above-average starters or better with Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman, Francisco Liriano and Aaron Sanchez. Plus, in the bullpen, they have a young, fiery closer in Roberto Osuna plus some solid guys to back him up. This team is probably a little worse than last year, but they should still be a contending team.


9. Giants (87-75, 9th)

The Giants didn’t win the World Series for the first time in an even year since 2008, but they’ll be looking to start some odd-year magic this year with a team that is similar to last year’s. The rotation is one of the game’s best, with their ace Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto (who’s almost as good as Bumgarner) and the steady veterans Matt Moore and Jeff Samardzija. The fifth spot, however, is a weak spot, with Matt Cain set to be their fifth starter. He was once very good, but he is old and struggling now and it would take a miracle for him to stay healthy and finish with an ERA under 4.00. If he does manage to stay healthy and somehow puts up a respectable ERA, the rotation could easily carry the team to an NL West title over the Dodgers.

The lineup is very similar to last year’s, with all of the main starters still on the team except for Angel Pagan, who is yet to sign with anyone. Instead of Pagan, Jarrett Parker will most likely be the starting left fielder, with depth in Chris Marrero, Gorkys Hernandez and Mac Willimason. Left field is certainly a weakness, but it’s the only weak position, as they still have the best catcher in baseball Buster Posey, above-average players in Eduardo Nunez, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik (hopefully he bounces back from a tough 2016), Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence and Denard Span. Expect the offense to be about as good as last year. The bullpen on the other hand was a major weakness before the signing of elite closer Mark Melancon. There still isn’t much between the starter and Melancon, but at least the Melancon signing will help avoid having as many 9th-inning collapses as they had last year. With all of the same key pieces as last year and a shutdown closer, expect the Giants to contend for a Wild Card, and if everything really clicks, contend for a division title.


10. Tigers (86-75, 11th)

The Tigers look like a contending team, but they have more weak spots than some of the other contenders. Justin Verlander and 2016 AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer could be a great 1-2 punch, while they need the other three in the rotation, Jordan Zimmermann, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd, to all step up and have solid years for the rotation to be playoff-caliber. They’ll be getting great production from first base (Miguel Cabrera), DH (Victor Martinez) and second base (Ian Kinsler). Plus, Nick Castellanos is solid at third base. The outfield is relatively weak however, despite a solid abundance of depth. Catcher is also a weak spot, with James McCann being the best they have.

Despite multiple weaknesses at different positions, there is plenty of depth and a bullpen that has at the very least improved when it used to be horrendous. Francisco Rodriguez, or “K-Rod,” has aged and is no longer the elite closer he once was, but he’s still capable of consistently saving ball games, and they’re going to need him as well as everyone else in the bullpen to be reliable. If this bullpen stinks it up, the Tigers will likely miss out on a Wild Card spot. But if at least most things click for them, this could certainly be a playoff-caliber team.


11. Orioles (89-73, 8th)

The Orioles were a bit of a surprise last year, and will most likely be a little worse this year. One of the major weak spots of this team both this year and last year is the mess of a starting rotation. They have their “ace” Chris Tillman, who is solid, expected to start the season on the DL. Then they have a similar pitcher in Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, a mediocre (and currently ill) Wade Miley, and a sometimes laughably bad Ubaldo Jimenez who at times has shown he does know how to pitch. If all those guys can stay healthy and put up the solid seasons that they are capable of, then the rotation would be at least somewhat decent and could potentially carry this team to a Wild Card spot.

Unlike the rotation, the bullpen is extremely solid some quality set-up arms and the best closer in baseball in 2016, Zach Britton. The lineup has some dangerous hitters, with Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo and Adam Jones. Hyun Soo Kim has proven to be a good bat in the lineup, despite an inability to hit lefties. This team doesn’t run much and will rely on its power and bullpen to carry them. And as long as the rotation does decently, they have a good chance of securing a Wild Card spot this year.


12. Mets (87-75, 10th)

This year’s Mets are pretty similar to last year’s Mets. Their rotation is a major strength and could possibly be better this year, depending on whether Steven Matz ever stops getting hurt, how well Zack Wheeler returns from Tommy John surgery and how Robert Gsellman does in his first full MLB season. Yoenis Cespedes is still the leader of the offense, while Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce are all going to need to avoid miserable regression for the Mets to score enough runs. David Wright’s career is in jeopardy as he continues to always be injured, but the Mets still have a productive Jose Reyes manning third base.

First base is a weak spot, with the oft-injured Lucas Duda getting the starting job there. Duda is a streaky player, but if he stays healthy for most of the year, he has 30 home run power. Catcher is another weak spot, with Travis d’Arnaud looking to rebound offensively with the defense-first Rene Rivera backing him up. The Mets have tons of depth in the outfield and in the infield, both on the Major League team and in AAA Las Vegas. The bullpen looks solid, and their closer Jeurys Familia got off easy with only a 15-day suspension. Overall, this is a Mets team that needs to stay healthy, needs their star pitchers to perform and needs offensive production from somebody not named Yoenis for them to contend this year.


13. Cardinals (86-76, 13th)

The Cardinals will be looking to play some fundamentally cleaner baseball this year, with no real superstars but plenty of solid players all around. The rotation features Carlos Martinez, who was great last year, and some former good pitchers who struggled last year in Adam Wainwright, Micahel Wacha, Lance Lynn and Mike Leake. If at least one or two of those guys rebound, especially Wainwright, the Cardinals could be better than last year, as starting pitching was a weakness for them last year.

There are no superstar hitters in their lineup, but there are plenty of good ones with Yadier Molina, Aledmys Diaz, Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter and Johnny Peralta. Kolten Wong is a great defender at second but will try to improve with the bat to avoid Jedd Gyorko from stealing his starting job. A step up from Randal Grichuk would also be beneficiary to the offense. The bullpen is a little light, but the signing of Brett Cecil helped and they have a really good closer in Seung-Hwan Oh. Overall this is a team that could be a surprise or a bust; they just need everything to click.


14. Mariners (86-76, 12th)

The Mariners are another team that is right in the middle and could be a surprise or a bust. Their rotation could be very good if Felix Hernandez keeps his ace status and if Hisashi Iwakuma rebounds from a mediocre 2016, but it could also be awful if Hernandez continues his regression and Iwakuma doesn’t get any better, as there’s not much more than mediocrity behind them. They have stars in Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Jean Segura and Kyle Seager, but their outfield is extremely weak offensively and first base (Danny Valencia) and catcher (Mike Zunino/Carlos Ruiz) are both weak spots offensively as well. The bullpen is fine, with a fiery closer at the back end in Edwin Diaz, a guy who could potentially become one of the best closers in baseball if he hasn’t already put himself in that conversation. If everything clicks, this team could surprise. But if stars don’t perform, then this team is in a lot of trouble.


15. Yankees (84-78, 15th)

The Yankees are a unique case, as they seem to be rebuilding while still trying to win at the same time. They have a lot of young talent in the farm system that is slowly starting to make its way onto the Major League roster. Did Gregorious, Starlin Castro, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Chris Carter are all fine starters, but some of the younger guys are starting to challenge them for their jobs. Gregorious is out until May, so Ronald Torreyes may take his spot as the starting shortstop for the time being. Greg Bird won the starting first base job over newly acquired veterans Chris Carter and Matt Holliday, the latter of which is expected to be the starting DH. The Yankees will also get to see a full year out of catcher Gary Sanchez, as well as other youngsters such as Austin Romine, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin.

The rotation is a little thin, but they have Cy Young candidate at the top in Masahiro Tanaka, plus the old-but-steady C.C. Sabathia and the consistently inconsistent Michael Pineda. The rotation should be fine this year, not great but not horrible. The bullpen is really good, with Dellin Betances covering the eighth inning and Aroldis Chapman resigned to close things out in the ninth. Plus, they’re the Yankees, and you can never rule out the Yankees from contending.


16. Pirates (78-83, 18th)

The Pirates have the potential to be a great team, although they need some more stability in their rotation and bullpen. To start off, their rotation has potential but needs to be healthy and consistent. They’re hoping to get a full year from their ace Gerrit Cole, who struggled with health and consistency last year but has shown in the past that he has the talent of a Major League ace. Jameson Taillon was very good last year and will try to continue that into 2017. Ivan Nova’s a veteran innings eater, while Tyler Glasnow is a top prospect who struggled last year and Chad Kuhl’s another youngster with potential. This rotation could range anywhere from horrible to outstanding, depending on health, consistency and whether Taillon, Glasnow and Kuhl reach their full potential.

The lineup is solid, with above-average hitters everywhere except for shortstop Jordy Mercer, who is still fine for a shortstop. They’ll get to see a full season out of first baseman Josh Bell, a potential Rookie of the Year candidate, and they’ll pray for a bounceback year from 2012 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen. Jung Ho Kang may not be able to play for the Pirates this year because of his DUI problems, but luckily they have tremendous depth, as David Freese, Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin and Adam Frazier can all play third base. The bullpen is unspectacular, and if they still had Melancon, they’d be ranked much higher on this last. They still have a decent closer, though, in Tony Watson, and overall have the makings of a team that could contend for a Wild Card if everything goes well.


17. Rockies (75-87, 20th)

Ranking the Rockies this high is a bit bold, but I can easily seeing them doing this well and contending for a Wild Card. Coors or no Coors, they have great lineup, with established stars such as Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu and Carlos Gonzalez. Shortstop Trevor Story has tremendous pop, and he could be a scary hitter if he cut down on the strikeouts. Ian Desmond had a very good year with the Rangers last year, and playing in Coors should only help his production. Tony Wolters has shown improvements while playing catcher, and his backup Tom Murphy has shown lots of pop and could potentially become a dangerous MLB hitter.

There are plenty of concerns, however. There isn’t a ton of depth, and multiple players are currently dealing with minor injuries (Murphy, Desmond and David Dahl), while one of their better starters Chad Bettis is dealing with cancer. They have a fiery young arm in Jon Gray, and two similar young guys with potential in Tyler Anderson and Tyler Chatwood. While Bettis is gone, two guys with no MLB experience but with Minor League success, Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland, will make the starting rotation. Despite the fact that they’re both probably going to struggle due to the nature of Coors Field, the rotation should be better than last year. They even made improvements to the bullpen to leave no major holes open and give them a shot at contending in 2017.


18. Marlins (79-82, 17th)

This team took a big hit when Jose Fernandez died, as he was becoming the face of their franchise and was the guy who they thought would bring them back to the playoffs. A problem last year was the starting pitcher after Fernandez, and while they signed Edinson Volquez and Dan Straily, no one in the starting rotation is nearly as good as Fernandez and therefore the rotation may struggle and prevent the Marlins from contending. The bullpen should be really good, however, as they made some good free agent signings over the offseason.

In the lineup, there is the young and improving star Christian Yelich, the strongest hitter in baseball Giancarlo Stanton, and solid hitters in Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon, Martin Prado and J.T. Realmuto. Prado is currently hurt, but they have depth behind him in Derek Dietrich and Miguel Rojas. Adeiny Hechavarria had the worst OPS of any qualified player last year, but has great speed and defensive tools. Plus, they have the ageless wonder and surefire future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki on their team, and he should provide some more key hits in pinch-hitting opportunities with occasional starts here and there. If Yelich continues improving and everything clicks for this offense, the Marlins could possibly have a shot at a Wild Card spot. It’s not going to come easily, however.


19. Royals (81-81, 16th)

This year is probably this core group’s last chance at another deep playoff run, after they lost the World Series in 2014, won it in 2015, and didn’t make the playoffs last year. Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon are all still on the team, and they’re going to be the factors that play into whether this team can contend. The newly acquired Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss have power, while shortstop Alcides Escobar has been a good leadoff hitter in the past but needs to improve his OBP.

The rotation is decent, even after the tragic death of Yordano Ventura. They have steady, above-average but unspectacular arms that will eat innings and possibly pitch the occasional gem. The bullpen is “meh,” and while Kelvin Herrera is good, he’s not a completely proven closer and no matter what is a downgrade from Wade Davis, who they traded to the Cubs for Soler. There is plenty of depth behind these starters, including guys who would probably be starters for a team like the Padres, but all things considered, there probably isn’t enough star power for this team to make it to the playoffs, although we can’t completely count them out just yet.


20. Angels (74-88, 21st)

Despite a poor year last year, finishing 14 games under .500, the Angels could certainly be a surprise this year. Having Mike Trout certainly helps, but they also have very good players that sometimes get overshadowed by Trout, such as Kole Calhoun and Yunel Escobar. Albert Pujols is one of the greatest hitters of this generation, but unfortunately he’s on the downside of his career and is no longer anything like the hitter he used to be. Andrelton Simmons is one of the best defenders in baseball at shortstop, and even has some pretty decent contact skills at the plate. Catcher is a weak spot, although Martin Maldonado has some valuable tools. Luis Valbuena, who was supposed to be the Opening Day first baseman before he got injured, isn’t completely awful, and he has the solid C.J. Cron to back him up. Newly acquired Danny Espinosa has power and should provide some positive value at the second base position.

Hitting this year should be much more of a strength for the Angels than pitching. The rotation is a bit of a mess, with no one standing out as even an above-average starter (except for maybe their “ace” Matt Shoemaker). Their bullpen is nothing special, and has Huston Street at the back end of it, a guy who has had a very successful year as a closer but struggled last year and is now dealing with injury issues. A quick and effective return from him would be extremely helpful to this team. If everything goes right, I can see these Angels possibly hovering around the .500 mark within distance of a Wild Card, but they’re going to need their players to not stink it up while their teammate puts up yet another MVP-caliber season.


21. Braves (68-93, 26th)

The Braves have improved a lot over the offseason, and even improved midseason last year, meaning that they won’t be laughably terrible like they were most of last season. The rotation is surprisingly solid, led by Julio Teheran, with three veteran innings eaters in Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garica and R.A. Dickey, and then the young and talented Mike Foltynewicz. That rotation won’t blow anyone anyway, but it’s certainly good enough to propel them over the Phillies in the division. The favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year is their shortstop Dansby Swanson, who will play a full season after an impressive debut last year. The newly acquired Brandon Philips is also an upgrade over Jace Peterson. In the outfield, Matt Kemp is terrible at defense but is still decently productive with the bat at his age. Ender Inciarte is a very good four-tool player, while Nick Markakis is unspectacular with his barely above-average batting average and lack of power.

Adonis Garcia is another unspectacular player, but he should get the job done just fine. They have three catchers, none of which are that exciting, Tyler Flowers, Kurt Suzuki and Anthony Recker, although all have at least shown an ability to hit MLB pitching at some point in their careers. The bullpen isn’t a strong part of the club, but at least they have a respectable closer in Jim Johnson. Overall the Braves should finish with a better record than last year for sure, but contending for a Wild Card is a bit of a long shot.


22. Diamondbacks (69-93, 24th)

Many people thought that the Diamondbacks would contend last year, but they did anything but that in the midst of a miserable season. Their ace that they acquired from the Dodgers, Zack Greinke, had a spectacular 2015 with the Dodgers but struggled with the D’Backs last year. A rebound this year from him would be huge and would move them up this list for sure. They still have their star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, and their center fielder A.J. Pollock will play a full season after an injury-plagued 2015. None of their other position players are too exciting, although there are some solid contributors. The bullpen was terrible last year and looks to have gotten only a little bit better. This is a team that could surprise, but probably won’t. There isn’t nearly enough talent on this roster to compete with the Dodgers, Giants, or even the Rockies.


23. White Sox (78-84, 19th)

The White Sox are in full rebuild mode, after failing to even come close to winning the World Series with the talent they developed. They traded away Adam Eaton and Chris Sale, two of the main players that would have potentially helped them to contend. The future looks bright, but the current Major League roster is full of mediocrity. They still have Jose Quintana, but not much after him in the rotation. Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera and Todd Frazier all solid, but they’re the leaders of a poor lineup. They still have a decent bullpen and some depth options, so they’ll still win some games, but don’t expect these White Sox to contend this year.


24. Rays (68-94, 27th)

The Rays are another team that could potentially have a surprisingly good season, but I just don’t see it. They play in probably the toughest division in baseball with a roster that is nothing more than mediocre. Chris Archer had some struggles last year but is still a fiery young ace, and he leads an otherwise mediocre starting pitching staff. Blake Snell will get a full year of action this year, so it’ll be interesting to see how he does. But the offense is downright bad, and got even worse from last year after they traded away one of their better hitters in Logan Forsythe. Their only clearly above average hitter is third baseman Evan Longoria, while everyone else is either about average with the bat or worse. On the other hand, they do have some good defenders, especially Kevin Kiermaier in center. The bullpen is a little thin, but they do have a very good closer in Alex Colome. Overall this is still a team to watch out for in case they start putting some wins together, but don’t expect them to compete with any of the other four teams in their division.


25. Athletics (69-93, 25th)

You know things can’t be good when your ace is Kendall Graveman. Sonny Gray, a 2015 AL Cy Young contender, struggled in 2016 and is set to start the season on the DL. Their rotation will pretty just be young and inexperienced guys trying to show what they can do and getting used to the way things go at the highest level of baseball. The bullpen is also mediocre, with a bunch of unspectacular arms and a decent closer in Ryan Madson. Trevor Plouffe is a fine guy to play third, and youngster Ryon Healy should also get some playing time after he impressed last season. Stephen Vogt, Marcus Semien, Jed Lowrie, Matt Joyce and Rajai Davis are all decent, but won’t be winning any world championships any time soon. Khris Davis showed some elite power last year, but that’s kind of the extent of what he does well as a baseball player. Don’t expect this team to be too exciting this year or have any chance of catching the Astros, Rangers, Mariners, or even Angels.


26. Brewers (73-89, 22nd)

The Brewers are another rebuilding teams with some decent pieces but nothing that’s going to get them to be a contender quite yet. Junior Guerra broke out last year, and he’s now the staff ace. Zach Davies showed some good flashes last year, and you can pretty much expect mediocrity from Wily Peralta, Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson. Eric Thames has come back to the United States and should be a fine option at first base. Jonathan Villar broke out last year with hitting for average and base-stealing skills, and he’ll play mostly second base while youngster Orlando Arcia gets the bulk of the playing time at shortstop. Travis Shaw is no one to get too excited about at third base, while Domingo Santana has some pop in his bat and Keon Broxton has shown some valuable tools that could totally translate at the big league level. Love him or hate him, Ryan Braun is still a really good hitter and should help carry this team to at least win a respectable amount of games. The bullpen’s fine, with a decent closer at the back end in Neftali Feliz.


27. Reds (68-94, 28th)

There are some bright spots on this team, but there are a lot more problems. The rotation is mediocre at best, and the bullpen won’t be much better without a proven closer and the fact that at times last year the bullpen was laughably and historically terrible. A bright spot is that in the middle of this mess of a team is the best offensive first baseman in baseball, a man by the name of Joey Votto. Votto is a superstar who’s had to play on a rebuilding team the last couple of years. Zack Cozart, Eugenio Suarez, Tucker Barnhart and Scott Schebler should all be fine, while Adam Duvall will try to continue his breakout 2016. Billy Hamilton has tremendous speed and defensive skills, and he could be a real offensive threat if he improved his contact skills and OBP. The young Jose Peraza impressed last year, and will get a lot more playing time this year as the Reds completely rebuild their team.


28. Phillies (71-91, 23rd)

The Phillies could actually be a surprise if some of their younger players began to succeed at the Major League, but a surprise season would still be under .500 and it is unlikely that Freddy Galvis and Maikel Franco suddenly become Corey Seager and Justin Turner. Cesar Hernandez had a good year last year, and the only major hole in his game is a lack of power. Still, he’ll be a valuable asset if he can hit .294 like he did last year. He certainly has the makings of a very good leadoff hitter. Tommy Joseph showed some pop last year and has the makings of a Major League first baseman. Odubel Herrera is the best hitter on the team, while Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick are streaky veterans who at the moment are upgrades over their young guys who aren’t quite ready.

The rotation has some good young arms in Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola, plus the addition of veteran Clay Buchholz. A fulfillment of potential from one or more of these guys could easily move the Phillies up this list. The bullpen actually isn’t terrible, and they are even developing a pretty good closer in Jeanmar Gomez. But with the mediocre lineup and unspectacular (for now) rotation, I can’t see the Phillies even competing with the Braves, let alone competing for a Wild Card spot.


29. Twins (59-103, 30th)

The Twins were the worst team in baseball last year, and there’s little reason to believe that they’ll be much better as their roster consists of an ugly combination of bad hitting and bad pitching. Their best hitter and one of the few bright spots of their team is second Brian Dozier, a leadoff hitter who hits for a decent average and had a power breakout last year. Their first baseman Joe Mauer was once great, but has severely declined over the past few years. Robbie Grossman, the DH, was a bright spot, having easily his best offensive season last year. His lack of success before then probably means regression, however. Jason Castro has always been a weak-hitting catcher and doesn’t add much value. The rest of the lineup is a bunch of young speedy guys all trying to hit their way into the Twins’ future.

Pitching was a problem last year, and it probably will be a problem again this year as there isn’t much behind Ervin Santana. The bullpen could be decent, but certainly won’t blow anyone away. Overall you can expect a slight improvement from last year but still a last place finish in the AL Central.


30. Padres (68-94, 29th)

In case you hadn’t heard, the Padres are a bad team. They’re seemingly always bad, but this year they could really stoop to a new low. They have five below-average starters, with their “ace’ being Jhoulys Chacin. In addition to a terrible rotation, they have a messy bullpen with no proven closer. Their former catcher Christian Bethancourt is switching to a reliever and is already making his way into the Padres’ bullpen plans because they really don’t have too many better options. The only proven, reliable reliever on the staff is Brad Hand, but he doesn’t blow guys away with strikeouts like some of the better relievers in the game.

Wil Myers is the MVP of the team, and if he doesn’t have another good year, the Padres will be lucky not to embarrass themselves. Yangervis Solarte has also shown some solid skills, and Ryan Schmipf showed some legitimate extra-base power last year. Erick Aybar is below average at second base as he continues to get older. Travis Jankowski is fine in left, but they don’t really have a center fielder, so they’re most likely going to have resort to Manuel Margot, who has 37 career MLB at-bats. Hunter Renfore has showed some serious pop while playing right field, so while he’s certainly someone to get excited about, he’s still not yet proven or established as an MLB hitter. After losing Derek Norris, who was the only qualified batter last year to hit under .200, their catcher position is a disaster, as their best option right now is the 24 year-old Austin Hedges, who has a career .161/.206/.236 line in 161 at-bats.

So you can see why the Padres are set to have a pretty terrible year, even if some young guys break out. They have a chance to be relevant again in a few years, as their farm system is top-notch, so they’ll still want to see guys fulfill their potential, especially Wil Myers, who they really don’t want to experience a regression. But even if all these things click, the chances of the Padres winning the World Series are about the same as Mike Trout hitting under .200.


From League Average Second Baseman to Babe Ruth

-The K Zone-

February 10, 2017


From League Average Second Baseman to Babe Ruth, by Mojo Hill

Daniel Murphy played for the New York Mets for about six and a half years, playing mostly second base, although he occasionally spent time in the outfield, first base, or third base. Over this time he accumulated 13.6 WAR while hitting slightly above league average with a .288/.331/.424 line and a 109 OPS+ (where 100 is league average). He did this while playing less than stellar defense, making him about an average player. He was an All-Star backup once in 2015. He was a valuable piece and one of the most consistent hitters on a mediocre Mets team, but was never seen as much more than just a slap-hitting second baseman with mediocre on-base skills and not much power who played mediocre defense.

But in 2015, after six straight sub-.500 seasons, the Mets overcame some difficulties while utilizing their young pitching and trading for some clutch hitters en route to a 90-win season. The Mets were headed to the postseason. Their first obstacle was the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had two of the best pitchers in baseball in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

Murphy came to the plate against the best pitcher on the planet, Kershaw, in his second at-bat after striking out in his first one. Murphy was a left-handed hitter who didn’t hit many home runs, especially not against lefties. Kershaw was a superstar pitcher who didn’t give up many home runs, especially not to lefties.

So, naturally, Murphy took him deep and the Mets won 3-1.

Murphy collected a hit in the next two games, at which point the Mets led the series 2-1. They had to face Kershaw again, and this time with the young lefty Steven Matz taking the mound. The Mets lost 3-1, but the one run came on, you guessed it, a home run, by Daniel Murphy, off of the best pitcher in the game.

So it came down to game five, with All-Star Jacob deGrom facing the ERA leader Zack Greinke. The Mets squeaked out the win, 3-2, as Murphy hit another home run, this time off of Greinke. Murphy was possibly the deciding factor in this nail-biting  series, hitting three home runs off of arguably the best two pitchers in baseball that year.

But Murphy would not stop there. He continued his success into the NLCS against the Cubs. In his first at-bat, against another one of the best lefties in baseball, Jon Lester, he hit yet another home run in a 4-2 Mets win. He hit a home run in the next three games as the Mets swept the championship-hungry Cubs.

Murphy came back to Earth in the World Series as the Mets lost to the Royals 4-1. He made a costly error in the final game of that series, but none of this took away any of what he did prior to the World Series, when he suddenly became a slugging second baseman.

Due to the uncharacteristic and short-lived nature of Murphy’s surge, most people assumed that it was a fluke and that in 2016 Murphy would go back to being Murphy. He was a free agent after the 2015 season, and was eventually picked up the Mets’ rival team, the Washington Nationals.

Now in a different part of the NL East, Murphy set out to prove that his surge was no fluke. His bat was magma hot through the first stretch of the season. On June 1, he led the Majors with a .397 AVG and 77 hits and was in second in SLG (.634), and third in OBP (.428).

These were absurd numbers, especially for a league-average second baseman on the wrong side of 30. His stats up until this point compared with hitters like Mike Trout and David Ortiz.

As the season went on, Murphy came back to Earth a little bit, as could be expected. But his overall numbers at the end of the season were still tremendous. His .347 AVG came in second in the batting title race to Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu’s .348, mostly due to a late-season surge by LeMahieu. While Murphy’s numbers did fall from absurdity, he remained remarkably consistent throughout the year. He finished the season with a superb .347/.390/.595 batting line and tied with Joey Votto for the third best OPS in baseball (.985) behind only Ortiz (1.021) and Trout (.991). He also annihilated his former team, batting .413/.444/.773 against them, collecting a hit in all nineteen games against them. He also hit 25 home runs, shattering his career high of 14.

Obviously, Murphy shattered the expectations that anyone had for him. On the surface of it, it looks he had to have completely changed his approach to one like that of legendary Yankees slugger Babe Ruth, for instance. When Babe Ruth came to the plate, he wasn’t looking to bloop a single into right and jog to first. He was looking to hit the ball hard and far. Through Murphy’s career, he had always been a contact-first hitter, which helped him hit for average in light of his lack of power.

Here’s a graph of Murphy’s K% throughout his career relative to league average.


You can see here that he didn’t make all these improvements to the expense of putting the ball in play. Unlike Ruth, he has a contact-first approach. His goal when at the plate is to make solid contact with the ball, put in play and see what happens. While a lot of times these types of huge surges are a result of a change in approach, Murphy kept the same mentality into the 2016 season.

Now, here’s a graph of Murphy’s ISO (SLG-AVG) throughout his career, again relative to league average.


Before 2016, his overall power had been well below league average, but he started putting the ball in play with more authority and posted an ISO ahead of sluggers such as Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis. The Nationals’ 2016 home run leader was not 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper or Ryan Zimmerman; it was Daniel Murphy.


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