Center field has become a mix of the continuation of the tradition of the defense-first field commander, and the 5-tool powerhouse. Not much has to be said about unanimous #1 pick Mike Trout, as any half decent baseball fan knows enough about him, but it would be safe to say that he would be a Hall of Famer if he retired today, and he may have just had the best season of his career. As hard as it is to follow up Trout, Lorenzo Cain does a pretty good job. His 5.7 WAR, propelled by 20 DRS, set a career high, and made his $80 Million contract a worthy investment for the Brewers. George Springer is a core component of an Astros team that’s trying to make themselves a dynasty. He had a down season in 2018 but still put up 2.9 WAR, and hopes looks to rebound to his 140 wRC+ days of the year before. Aaron Hicks continues to fly under the radar as one of the most underrated players in baseball, staying in the shadow of other star Yankee outfielders despite his 7 year extension from this preseason. The five-tooled Hicks was worth 4.9 WAR last year despite a .264 BABIP, and he put up a 3.3 total in only 88 games the year before that. Charlie Blackmon put together an MVP-level campaign in 2017, but fell off a little last season, albeit still hitting 29 homers for 2.9 WAR last year in Coors. As bad as Blackmon’s problems were last season, Starling Marte had it worse two years ago, being suspended 80 games for a positive PED test. Marte, however, rebounded in a full season last year with a 20/33 season and 3.7 wins above replacement. A.J. Pollock has also had trouble staying on the field, in his case for health reasons. The Dodgers took a $60 Million dollar chance on him over the offseason, hoping he can replicate some of the numbers he’s put up in full seasons in the past, including his 6.8 WAR 2015. Ender Inciarte and his incredible has paid dividends to the Braves for a few years now. Last year, he totaled 17 DRS. New Mariners center fielder Mallex Smith comes in ninth on the list after a great 2018, when he stole 40 bases and posted a .367 OBP with 3.4 WAR. Finally, the inconsistent enigma of Jackie Bradley Jr. ranks tenth. He hit only .234 last year, but still was worth 2.8 WAR, and if he can expand one of his extreme hot streaks to a seasonal scale, he could easily jump into consideration for a very high spot next year.
Left field saw two prominent additions mid way through 2018. Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr. had 143 wRC+ in 111 games last year, complimented by a power speed combo to the tune of 26 home runs and 16 steals. His runner up, Juan Soto, also smashed already high expectations putting up a .406 OBP with 22 home runs in just 116 games of his own. The group was joined by sophomore (now junior) Red Sox outfield Andrew Benintendi, whose solid .290/.366/.465 line with 4.4 WAR helped lead his team to a world series victory. Tommy Pham has broken onto the scene ever since his now famous corrective eye surgery. A rough first half led him to be dealt to Tampa Bay, but he excelled at the Trop, with a massive 191 wRC+ and 2.5 WAR in only 39 games after the trade. Michael Conforto has a high ceiling, but has had trouble staying healthy enough to realize it. 2018 was his first full year, and despite a low batting average, he carried a .350 OBP with a very respectable 28 home runs. Michael Brantley is a long ways off from his 2014 MVP campaign, but he did manage a hardy 3.5 WAR with Cleveland before signing with the Astros int the offseason. The same goes for Andrew McCutchen, the #7 left field, who despite being far removed from his MVP days remains one of the most consistent hitters on the field. The new Philly had a .368 OBP last year, a number that has only dipped below .360 once in his career, and he continues to put up enough power to total 120 wRC+. David Peralta comes in next. His unforeseen power breakout last year helped him produce 3.8 WAR, as he hopes to continue the surge into the coming season. Veteran outfielder Justin Upton continues to hit for pop (30 home runs) and run for speed (8 stolen bases). His 2018 did not come close to 5.2 WAR performance the year before, but Upton has not played fewer than 149 games since 2009, so the Angels can expect strong output from him no matter what. Finally, young Cub Kyle Schwarber rounds out the rankings. Schwarber had a Votto-esque 15.3% walk rate last season and hit 26 home runs in only 137 games, a number that should continue to grow as he matures.
Every year, The K Zone engages in our tradition of ranking the top 10 players at each position. If you want to embarrass us, you can look at our charts from before the 2018 and 2017 years. Rankings, made during the preseason, are based on our projections for the coming season, so the following are our predictions for who will finish as a top 10 player at each position, and how high they will fall among the top 10 in 2019:
Third base has become by far the deepest position in baseball, with player not even making the overall list that who could place near the top at other positions. Almost all ranked players are good enough to make an argument for number overall, but the blog ended up voting for Cleveland corner Jose Ramirez. Ramirez remains underrated after amazing in 2018 with a Trout-like 39 bombs, 34 steals, 146 wRC+, and 8.0 fWAR. #2 third baseman Alex Bregman, who we even outhit Ramirez with 157 wRC+, comes in second with a .394 OBP and 7.6 fWAR. Manny Machado, who played shortstop in 2018 but is moving back to third after signing for 300 million dollars with San Diego, now ranks third. Machado hit 37 home runs and stole 14 bases in 2019 with 141 wRC+, totaling up to 6.2 fWAR. He is followed by Nationals star (at least until the end of the season) Anthony Rendon, who topped 6 WAR and 140 wRC+ for the second year in a row in 2018. An outstanding 38 home runs, the least in four years, bring recent extendee Nolan Arenado to the fifth overall spot. While his defense dropped off a little last year, it remains good enough to bring him his third year in a row of 5 fWAR or above, 5.7 in 2018. The star glove of Oakland’s Matt Chapman carries him to the sixth spot after his 6.5 WAR sophomore year. 29 DRS wasn’t his whole game though, and he also had and extremely strong 137 wRC+. Former MVP Kris Bryant is #7, as despite experiencing a power outage, he gave the Cubs a .374 OBP, and hopes to rebound to his old form, when he put of three consecutive seasons of 6 wins above replacement. Dodgers’ hot corner hitter Justin Turner has had injury issues, but is a superstar when healthy, as shown by his .312/.406/.518 line and 154 wRC+. He places eighth. Veteran utilityman Matt Carpenter earned ninth overall slashing .257/.374/.523 last year. His OBP has not dipped below .365 for eight years and he just set a career high with 36 home runs as a 33-year-old. Eugenio Suarez hopes to improved even further off his 2017 breakout last year, when he hit 34 homers with a .366 on base percentage and 135 wRC+, just a tad below Carpenters’ numbers. He hopes help lead a new era of Reds offense in the coming year. Of course, no third base roundup would be complete without mention of superprospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. While he didn’t make any list today, he could become a mainstay as soon as the coming season.
After experiencing an influx in a rookies a few seasons ago, shortstop has surprisingly become a beacon of young offensive talent. The position is highlighted by unanimous number one Francisco Lindor. He will miss the first month of the season on the IL, but he keeps the spot due to his 7.6 fWAR, 38 home runs, 25 stolen bases, and 14 DRS in 2018. Corey Seager barely played last year, but he was still selected for the second spot due to his remarkable consistency in the two before that. In 2016, he slashed .308/.365/.512 with 7.0 fWAR, and in 2017 his line read .295/.275/.476 with 5.9 fWAR. Infamous PTBNL Trea Turner ranks third. The speedster led the NL with 43 stolen bases in 162 games in 2018, and, while he hit a respectable .271, he hopes he can regain some of the hitting ability he showed when he hit .342 as a rookie. The still-young Carlos Correa follows Turner. Despite an awful 2018 in which he batted .239, he was an MVP candidate the year before with 152 wRC+ and 5.2 fWAR in only 109 games. Fifth overall is Andrelton Simmons, whose defensive wizardry (21 DRS last year, and he has never dipped below 19 in a season) brought his fWAR up to 5.5 last season for the Angels. After falling out from his 2016 power super-breakout, people thought Trevor Story was done by the end of last season. But, he proved the general public wrong last year when he hit 37 homers and stole 27 in Denver. Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts had his strongest season yet in 2018, with 133 wRC+ and 4.9 fWAR. The pending free agent has had a WAR over 4.6 for three of the past four years. Despite his breakout, Javier Baez sits at eighth on the table, likely due to criticism of his high BABIP and low walk rate. Still, he put up strong totals with 34 home runs and 21 stolen bases. Yankees SS Didi Gregorius comes in at #9. His 1.156 April OPS was one of the best in history, although he fell off later in the season, and will miss considerable time in 2019. Finally, Phillies acquisition Jean Segura ranks tenth after hitting over .300 for the third consecutive year and stealing 20 bases for the sixth.
Second base scored as one of the weaker offensive positions on the diamond last year, but that didn’t stop us from filling the list with interesting names for next year. Despite falling from MVP candidacy to “mere all-star level,” Jose Altuve still leads the second base list with a .316 batting average and a power/speed combo that can threaten a 20/20 season, or better. Speedy Royal Whit Merrifield takes over the two spot, batting .304 with 45 stolen bases in 2018, a count that led an MLB that is emphasizing speed less and less. Underrated Reds’ keystone Scooter Gennett took home the three-spot after batting .310 last season. His modest yet distinct power broke out a couple seasons ago, and he smashed 23 home runs last year. #4 second baseman Ozzie Albies astonished in April, when he hit nine home runs with a 158 WRC+ mark. He fell back in the second half, but hopes to once again lead the Braves early and throughout the season in 2019. Brian Dozier had a down year last season, marked by a .240 BABIP, but he still hit 21 home runs with 12 steals. Dozier had 5.0 fWAR in 2017, and 6.2 the year before that. Gleyber Torres, entering his sophomore season with the Yankees, had a very solid season at the dish and ticketed third in AL Rookie of the Year Voting with a line of .271/.340/.480 in 123 games. He places sixth, just ahead of veteran Robinson Cano, who was dealt crosstown from Gleyber to the Mets over the offseason. Last year with the Mariners, Cano managed a .303 batting average with 2.9 fWAR in a season that was cut in half by a PED suspension. Another sophomore, Rays second baseman Joey Wendle, finished eighth on our overall chart. While his .353 BABIP draw criticism, it’s impossible the to overlook his .300 BA, strong speed and defense, and 3.7 total fWAR. Cesar Hernandez occupies our nine hole, coming off a season in which he got on base at a .354 clip and went 15/19 on home runs and steals. Finally, the 38-year-old Ben Zobrist rounds out the top ten. After rebounding from a horrid 2017, Zobrist put up 3.6 fWAR backed up by a .303 BA and .378 OBP.
While first base as a position has shallowed in recent years, the addition of designated hitters to this list made it one of the most talented. It’s highlighted by solidified stars a the top, and underrated breakouts at the tail. Boston DH J.D. Martinez, to whom much of the team’s 2018 World Series campaign is attributed, top the chart. Martinez’s bat was one of the most potent this decade, as shown by his 170 wRC+ from a .330 batting average and 43 home runs. The Cardinals’ newest import, Paul Goldshmidt, ranks second after putting having his sixth consecutive season of at least 130 wRC+ and fifth out of six seasons with at least 140 with the Diamondbacks last year. Goldy narrowly edged out the comparable Freddie Freeman, who earned the third overall spot slashing .309/.388/.505 in 2018, helping lead his Braves to a division title. 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton took a step back after being traded to the Yankees for 2018, but he still swatted 38 home runs while staying healthy for the second year in a row. #5 first baseman Joey Votto also lost some power in 2018 (which Ian wrote about here), but the walk machine maintained a 17.3%, leading to his .417 OBP. The Twins’ newest addition, slugger Nelson Cruz, comes in at the six spot. Cruz has hit at least 37 home runs for five years in a row now, and has maintained an on base percentage above .360 in four of the past five. Khris Davis has easily overtaken his homophone counterpart in this category, after setting a career high with 48 bombs last season and, perhaps even more impressively, having a batting average of exactly .247 for the fourth year in a row. The eighth spot on the list went to Cubs’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who finished 2018 with a .376 OBP, which is actually his lowest in five years. Coming in ninth was Dodgers breakout Dodgers breakout Max Muncy, whose .263/.391/.582 line led him to 162 wRC+. Despite never being a top prospect, he paced for a 6 fWAR full season, and hopes to build on his success. Rhys Hoskins broke onto the scenes in 2017, and continued to impress last year with a 34 home runs and a very respectable .354 OBP, earning him the final spot on our list.
With Spring Training coming to an end as the teams are all gearing up for the grind of the regular season, the New York Mets are coming off one of their more active offseasons in recent memory. New General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen has gone out and worked hard to make this team a “win now” contender after a miserable 77-win season last year. The question is, has Van Wagenen really done enough to make this a playoff team?
While the Phillies undoubtedly had the best offseason in the NL East, adding four All-Stars including superstar Bryce Harper for 13 years, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the Mets had the second best offseason within the division, and one of the better offseasons in all of baseball.
The Mets did a good job to fill and upgrade that void, signing Justin Wilson to a two-year, $10 million contract and Luis Avilan to a minor league contract. While Wilson has had control problems the last couple years and Avilan has had some health issues, both are proven quality options that allow the team to not have to rely on the talented but unproven Daniel Zamora for a left-handed reliever. Zamora will now likely start the year in the minors and act as a solid depth option rather than the only lefty in the bullpen. The Mets made this upgrade without breaking the bank, too, as they practically got a steal by snagging Avilan on a minor league contract.
So far, the only free agent the Mets have resigned is backup catcher Devin Mesoraco, who is really just depth and isn’t even a lock to make the team out of Spring Training with the presence of Travis d’Arnaud and the new addition of Wilson Ramos.
And according to a report from Anthony DiComo of MLB.com, Mesoraco has requested his release rather than being sent to Triple-A Syracuse. And he may retire if the Mets do not grant his wish. If the Mets lose him, it’s no big deal, because d’Arnaud and Nido are both superior options as a backup.
Update: According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, Mesoraco has been placed on the restricted list and gone home to Pittsburgh, meaning that he is retiring after the Mets failed to grant him his release, as he would rather not play in Triple-A.
Another player who ultimately ended up electing free agency at the end of November was utility infielder Wilmer Flores. Flores ended up signing with the Diamondbacks for one year and $4.25 million with a club option for 2020.
While Flores was a fan favorite for many, in large part due to his crying on the field and walkoff home run two days later in the Mets’ 2015 division title run, losing him wasn’t too much of a burden either. Flores was never a great player, posting a career high fWAR of 1.7 in 2015 and regressing down to 0.5 in 2018. He was essentially a league average bat without a true defensive position. He was awful at third base and shortstop, below average at second base, and not a good enough hitter to be playing first base regularly. With the emergence of Jeff McNeil, there really wasn’t a spot for Flores anymore.
This trade was a good sign of Van Wagenen being aggressive early, but it also raised some concerns as many fans were not nearly as happy about the trade as others. The positives of the transaction were that they got rid of the bad contracts of the not-so-good Bruce and Swarzak. They also obviously acquired one of the best second basemen in baseball, albeit one who’s 36 and has five years and $120 million left on his contract, as well as a hard-throwing 24-year-old who was arguably the best closer in baseball last year.
The negatives? The Cano contract is still quite large, and could get ugly fast if Cano declines. They also had to part with their first-round pick from the 2018 draft, Jarred Kelenic, who has a serious amount of upside and potential and could develop into a real star in this league. Dunn was also a really high upside starting pitcher, so his loss hurt a lot as well. Bautista was just a throw-in, and is still very raw and unpolished, but even he still has potential with a triple-digits fastball.
This trade really set the tone for what Van Wagenen is trying to do with this team. His goal seems to be to create a short-term “win now” contender, sacrificing long-term success to build a team that can compete and win in the near future. This was an extremely aggressive move, as the Mets took a huge risk by unloading two majorly talented prospects for a strong but arguably light return.
Shortly after the trade, the Mets claimed right-handed pitcher Kyle Dowdy off waivers from the Cleveland Indians in the Rule 5 Draft. The 26-year-old is a hard thrower with a fastball in the mid-90s and a strong cutter in the upper-80s. While he has an impressive arsenal, the results haven’t quite matched up with the stuff, as he had held a 5.15 ERA across Double-A and Triple-A last season. After posting a 5.56 ERA and 1.94 WHIP this spring, Dowdy’s roster status is not exactly set in stone.
Update: Dowdy was claimed by the Texas Rangers, so that last bullpen spot appears to be going to righty Tim Peterson, who made his MLB debut last year and posted a 6.18 ERA in 22 appearances, imploding after a strong start.
While the Mets took another risk by claiming Dowdy, who ended up having to be sent to Texas with his quality stuff but unproven results, they made a high-profile signing just the next day to bolster their bullpen with the signing of old friend Jeurys Familia.
Familia spent his whole career with the Mets until he was traded midseason last year to the Athletics for Will Toffey, Bobby Wahl, and international pool money. But Familia, who loves playing in New York as it’s all he’s ever known, was thrilled to come back and re-sign for three years and $30 million. With an elite closer in Diaz and a dominant setup man in Familia, the back end of the bullpen was beginning to look scary, aiding a bullpen that was the team’s biggest weakness in 2018.
The Mets capped off a big month just four days later by signing free agent catcher Wilson Ramos, another huge addition to offense, providing a strong right-handed presence with some pop in a position of weakness for the Mets in recent years.
The Mets went into the offseason with the catcher position as one of their top priorities, behind only bullpen depth. They went after three top catchers on the market, making offers to free agents Ramos and Yasmani Grandal, as well as having discussions with the Marlins about J.T. Realmuto. Ultimately, they settled on a two-year, $19 million contract with Ramos after Grandal reportedly declined their offer of four years and $60 million. While Grandal is likely the slightly better catcher, Ramos isn’t much worse and came on a much better contract than what the Mets were looking to give Grandal. While Grandal would have been nice, Ramos was ultimately a win for the Mets as they acquired a top-ten catcher in all of baseball.
Rolling into the new year, the Mets did not slow down, making three trades in the first week of 2019.
The first was the acquisition of center fielder Keon Broxton from the Brewers for prospects Adam Hill, Bobby Wahl, and Felix Valerio. None of the prospects they traded were huge names or anything, but it was still odd to trade some guys with upside for essentially another Juan Lagares.
The second trade they made almost immediately after was trading catcher Kevin Plawecki to the Indians for minor leaguers Walker Lockett and Sam Haggerty. While Plawecki wasn’t great and declined defensively in 2018, this return still felt light for a guy who is a better hitter than the average Major League catcher and had become a solid contributor. The chances of Lockett or especially Haggerty ever helping the Mets win games is very slim.
However, it did make sense for the Mets to trade one of Plawecki or Travis d’Arnaud after Ramos was signed. D’Arnaud is a much better pitch framer and a better offensive player when healthy, but has always had trouble staying on the field. Ultimately, the Mets chose to take the risk of d’Arnaud staying healthy to be the primary backup over Plawecki.
Davis murdered Triple-A pitching last year, but has struggled immensely in his limited time in the Majors to the tune of a 60 wRC+ in 181 plate appearances. He’s a strong guy who hits the ball hard but can be beat easily by a good fastball. He’s also not particularly great at any defensive position, although he does have some versatility.
In some ways, Davis is similar to what Flores was, except that Davis hasn’t even proved that he can be that yet. And while the Mets didn’t give away any superstar prospects for him, they definitely overpaid, particularly with the inclusion of Santana, a 19-year-old second baseman who was among the Mets’ top 20 prospects and has a .329/.426/.465 batting line in three minor league seasons. He definitely has some upside, and to throw in two decent prospects along with him just for a mediocre, unproven bench bat was quite baffling. It looks even worse when you see that a similar player to Davis such as Matt Davidson was still available on the free agent market.
The Mets continued to bolster their bullpen with the signing of Justin Wilson in late January, as previously discussed. To make room for Wilson on the roster, they designated former first-round pick Gavin Cecchini for assignment after he missed most of the 2018 season with a foot injury. Somewhat surprisingly, he cleared waivers and was sent outright to the Syracuse Mets.
Among many other transactions, the Mets made a lot of small minor league signings to bolster the depth that they so severely lacked last season and which led to their demise.
The Mets bolstered their outfield depth with not just the acquisition of Broxton, but with minor league signings like Gregor Blanco and Rajai Davis. Not that these guys are much good or anything, but it at least means that in case of an injury there will be no more Kevin Kaczmarski or, God forbid, Tim Tebow type players getting called up to the Majors.
The Mets also improved their infield depth, most notably with the signings of Lowrie and Adeiny Hechavarria, and of course the Cano trade. Lowrie’s presence moves Todd Frazier to a bench role, creating substantial depth at the third base position. Unfortunately, both are hurt right now, but both have begun activity of some time and should not be out for a drastically long period of time.
Hechavarria is a weak-hitting shortstop with a good glove who could replace Amed Rosario if he happens to get hurt. They also already have Luis Guillorme to fill that role, and after a strong spring, he appears to have won that job over Hechavarria to begin the season. And there’s always Jeff McNeil, who can play third, second, and corner outfield.
Finally, to wrap up the offseason, the Mets made the move fans had been begging for, signing ace pitcher Jacob deGrom to a five-year, $137.5 million extension after a historic season in which he posted a 1.70 ERA and won the NL Cy Young Award.
Overall the Mets have built a much more versatile and deep team than in years past. There will be no more room for shenanigans like John Mayberry Jr. batting cleanup or James Loney starting at first base. This is a real competitive team that is going to give the other three competitive teams in the NL East a run for their money. With the new additions along with stars such as Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Brandon Nimmo, and Michael Conforto, this team could be magical and full of talent on both sides of the ball. Don’t count out the Mets this year, because this is a scary group of players who are hungry to bring a title back to Queens for the first time since 1986.
For the most part, the American League was easier to try to predict than the National. The Astros and Indians should each win their divisions easily. Boston and New York will have a tough fight, but I really like the Yankees’ Paxton acquisition and given a bounceback by Sanchez and full season out of Judge, I think they have the upper hand. That rounds out the four AL superpowers, leaving no other clear option. I chose the Rays to the take the final spot because of my love of bullpenning, and continued belief that the strategy remains underrated. It could legitimately shave 100 runs off the pitching staff, and will make up for a less-than-spectacular offense. The Red Sox, however, will easily defeat Tampa in the wild card game, and move on to face Houston, who will out-pitch Boston to the championship series. Meanwhile, the Indians and Yankees will get locked in a 5-game series that New York just barely edges out. While the Yankees may continue to display strength in the CS, they are still defeated by the Astros, who return the World Series for the second time in three years.
The easiest division in the senior circuit to predict was the West. The Dodgers are one of the deepest teams I have seen, as assets like Max Muncy, Joc Pederson, and several pitchers continue to get underrated. While others have had trouble predicting the NL East, I think the Nationals will run away with it. It’s true that there are four teams that may contend to make the playoffs, but the Nationals have both the best hitting (even without Harper), and by far the best pitching (Scherzer, Strasburg, and the underrated Corbin could make a historic group). Early season injuries appear to be a potential issue, but I still expect a strong bullpen and better-than-Chicago offense to carry the Brewers to a division title over the Cubs, although neither team will win too many games. The Cubs pick up the first wild card spot, and are met by the Phillies, who out-pitch the Braves and out-hit the Mets. While I have the Cubs over the Phillies for the regular season, the Cubs lack a strong ace, and will be defeated by Nola in the wild card game. But, the Dodgers make quick work of the Phillies in the next series. The Nationals will also rather easily bring down the Brewers’ weak rotation to move past the DS (yes, I know I say this every year and yes, I know the Nationals never actually succeed). While Washington does give L.A. a run for their money, the Dodgers’ depth ultimately leads to D.C.’s defeat in the Championship Series, leading Los Angeles back to the World Series for the third time in a row.
Justin Verlander outduels Clayton Kershaw to win game one of the 2017 rematch World Series, as does Gerrit Cole to Walker Beuhler in game two. The Dodgers, however, pull through to win games three and four, tying the series at two-a-piece. The two teams split games five and six, leading to a rubber match (sounds familiar?), but Houston’s bullpen outlasts the tragic Dodgers’ once again in game seven, as the Astros become World Series champions for the second time in three years, and the Dodgers are handed yet another loss, in a kind of cruel Shakespearean/Sisyphusian crossover.
The American league has a clear top three. Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Jose Ramirez all put up WAR’s over 8.0 last season, and should repeat similar feats again in 2019. Trout is the best of the three, and will be making a handsome sum of money for the next 12 years because of it. The NL is much less top-heavy in both teams and individual players. I ended up going for Harper as MVP, mostly because I couldn’t find anyone who I think is better. Goldschmidt, a similar player, will finish second place with power, some steals, and a high OBP for St. Louis. I expect a lot of regression out of Christian Yelich, who had unsustainable BABIP, HR, and fly ball numbers in 2019, but I sneaked him in at third out of the probability that he does not regress as expected.
Another recent extendee, Chris Sale, will win the AL Cy Young award with an incredibly strong K/BB ratio. Verlander has been extremely consistent and just had his best season yet at 36 years old. Bauer’s ceiling narrowly brings him ahead of Verlander’s teammate Gerrit Cole for the third place spot, and his FIP from last season suggests a mid-two ERA could be coming once again. In the NL, Max Scherzer is a safe pick to carry the award after turning in his fourth straight season with an ERA under 3.00. Jacob DeGrom was incredible last year, and while some regression is expected, he will still be stellar after regressed numbers. Finally, the best pitcher of this generation, Clayton Kershaw, will win third place in voting, and that could go up if he can stay healthy.
I went with the easy pick for AL Rookie of the Year, and while I don’t guarantee Vlad’s success like many optimists are trying to do, he certainly has the best chance at it. If he gets brought up early enough, Rogers also has a chance to be an elite hitter, especially in Colorado. Cash and Counsell are similar in their masterful bullpen use, and that, in addition to the lineup manipulation both will need to make the playoffs, earns the two managers awards. Gary Sanchez is the best catcher in baseball, and will rebound to prove so this season after lucking into a dismal 2018 BABIP, and Josh Donaldson will also return to old form with his power and walks. Finally, I chose two pitchers: Bieber and Pivetta, to take out breakout player honors. They put up 3.42 and 3.30 xFIP’s in 2018, respectively, and should move towards those numbers, maybe even with improvement from experience, in the coming season.
This is my favorite part of the annual predictions column. I won’t be right on all or most of these, but I think all of them have a real chance at happening, and with each I’m trying to make a statement about a team or player.
Trout, Betts, and Ramirez put up the highest combined WAR in history out of three AL hitters. The three are all truly spectacular in all five categories, and will likely play more total games than last season.
Every member of the Dodger’s closing day rotation – that’s five of Kershaw, Beuhler, Ryu, Maeda, Hill, Stripling, and Urias – put up a better ERA than any other pitcher in the NL West. All seven have sub-three ERA potential, and the only strong other candidate I can think of outside of the team is the elderly Zack Greinke.
Matt Carpenter leads the NL in OPS. Carpy is known for his consistent on-base prowess, and hit 36 home runs last season.
Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole combine for a 12.5 K/9, an extreme strikeout feat that looks possible based on their 2018 numbers.
The Indians have four starters with ERA’s under 2.80. While the rotation doesn’t have quite as much depth as the Dodgers’, there are still a plethora of ultra-talented arms (Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer, Clevinger, Bieber).
Anthony Rendon and Brian Dozier combine for 12 WAR for the Nationals. Rendon is an easier call to make up his share, as he remains possibly the most underrated player in baseball, and Dozier should bounce back to all-star form.
Jon Gray finishes with an ERA under 3.30. He manages to pitch in Coors, breaks the Rockies’ pitching curse, and becomes an extremely valuable asset.
The AL has four 100 game winners and four 100 game losers. There are some seriously good (Astros, Indians, Red Sox, and Yankees) and seriously bad (Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Jays) rosters in that league.
Less than 10 closers get 25 saves. Teams are finally starting to realize that the best pitcher should face the best batters.
Bullpenning becomes a largely accepted strategy in MLB, as shifting did a few years ago, and low-budget teams must start to search for the next big strategic advantage.
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