February 20, 2015 Louisville, KY. (Analyzed Sports) By: Zachary Warren
2015 MLB Breakdown-NL East
As most of the eastern part of the country is smothered in snow we can maybe give those people some relief with the release of our NL East preview. This division has seen a lot of turnover in the past few years as the Phillies fell off dramatically as their core aged; the Braves dismantled to rebuild for their new stadium; the Nationals grew into a powerhouse as their young players arrived in the majors; the Marlins built up, tore down and has rebuilt again with young stars; and finally the Mets have slowly built into a respectable team with a stable of young, talented arms.
Just a bit of how this will work. I will provide projected win total, best pitcher, best position player, rookie to watch, most underrated and overrated, project lineup and rotation. When I rate a player underrated or overrated it does not necessarily mean they will be an All Star or the worst player on the team. Compared to the hype they may or may not receive is how I gauged who should fall into those categories. There are some very talented players in the overrated category but they may be overshadowing less heralded players. Just remember perspective when reading about those players.
Total Wins Prediction: 95
Best Pitcher: Max Scherzer, RHP
Scherzer has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last few years. He left the Tigers of the AL Central to join the Nationals this offseason. Should help elevate an already impressive rotation. He is a strikeout machine as he registered a 10.2 K/9 rate over the last two years, the first of which was a Cy Young winning season. He will continue that dominance (maybe even better) in the NL this year.
Best Position Player: Anthony Rendon, 3B
He quietly put up the best season on the team last year with a slash line of .287/.351/.473/.824 to go along with 21 HR and 17 SB. Most people would have Bryce Harper or Jayson Werth here but Harper just has not been consistent enough for me while Werth is getting older and should start to see his number decline.
Rookie to Watch: AJ Cole, RHP/Michael Taylor, OF
There are not a lot of young players who will have a major impact this year since this team is already pretty set at every position. Cole could make some spot starts or could be a nice bullpen piece come playoff time but the chances he breaks with the team as a starter are pretty slim. Taylor could get some at-bats as a fourth OF which should help but he won’t be a starter unless there is a long-term injury. Both of these guys are highly regarded and their time will come but just not this year for this team.
Most Underrated: Doug Fister, RHP
Not many people would know he has been one of the top 15 pitchers in baseball the last four years. He has made 26 starts and not had an ERA above 3.93 in any of those seasons. He is a free agent after this year so he looks to continue that streak to get a nice payday this offseason. He’s not a strikeout machine (6.1 K/9 for career) like most others on this team but he doesn’t walk many (1.7 BB/9) and he keeps the ball in the ballpark (.8 HR/9).
Most Overrated: Stephen Strasburg, RHP
Here is the first example of a really good player appearing in the overrated category. Strasburg is a very good pitcher but with the hype you might think he is one of the five best in baseball..he is not at this point. This past year was the first he threw over 200 innings (standard to be considered a true ace). Another strikeout machine (10.3 K/9) that has all the tools to become a dominant pitcher in the majors. He will have a good year but he might be the third best pitcher on his own team.
Project Lineup: C-Wilson Ramos, 1B-Ryan Zimmerman, 2B-Yunel Escobar, SS-Ian Desmond, 3B-Anthony Rendon, LF-Bryce Harper, RF-Jayson Werth, CF-Denard Span
Projected Rotation: Max Scherzer (RHP), Jordan Zimmermann (RHP), Stephen Strasburg (RHP), Doug Fister (RHP), Gio Gonzalez (LHP); Closer–Drew Storen (RHP)
The Nationals are the class of baseball this year. They have a loaded rotation with 6 legitimate starters and an offense that has the potential to be one of the best in the league. The bullpen lost some key pieces but by the end of the year they should be able to shore that up if need be. Very popular pick to bring home the World Series Trophy this year.
Total Wins Prediction: 85
Best Pitcher: Jose Fernandez, RHP
He is not expected to be back until around June 1st after having Tommy John surgery in the middle of the year last year. When he comes back he will be watched closely but that won’t take away from how good he is as a pitcher. His first 36 starts in baseball have been rather impressive: 10.3 K/9, .6 HR/9, 5.9 H/9 and an ERA of 2.25. Pretty impressive for a 21-year-old who escaped Cuba with his family as a teen. He is an ace in the making and should be healthier later in the season when the Marlins might be in the race for a wild card spot.
Best Position Player: Giancarlo Stanton, RF
Stanton got paid this offseason as he signed the richest contract in North American sports history at 13 years/$325 million. His season ended last year after he got hit in the face with a pitch. He has led the league in slugging two of the past three years and has 154 HR through his first five years even with missing time with injuries along the way. He is a top three or four player in MLB when healthy but he needs to stay on the field for that to happen.
Rookie to Watch: J.T. Realmuto, C
He won’t start the year as the starter as Jarrod Saltalamacchia will see most of the time. This kid could take away playing time if he progresses as expected in the majors. He made his major league debut last year but did not get enough time to warrant an opinion yet. He has never hit for much power in terms of HR’s but he should provide plenty of doubles and a nice slash line (.299/.369/.461/.830 last year) to go along with stable defense and catching. He is also comfortable catching the young Marlins pitcher as he caught some of them in the minors.
Most Underrated: Henderson Alvarez, RHP
Very nice, young pitcher for the Marlins. He is entering his age 25 season and has shown flashes of brilliance already in his career (led the league in shutouts last year with three). Not a big strikeout guy (4.8 K/9) and he gives up a lot of hits (9.5 H/9) which might not bode well long-term but in the short-term he will become a household name if he continues to build upon last year’s success.
Most Overrated: Dee Gordon, 2B
I never have been a huge fan of Gordon’s. He could not really ever hit (first time he had an OPS+ over 92 was this year) and was not great defensively. The Dodgers tried him at SS before moving him to 2B last year and it worked out well for him. He led the league in SB last year with 64. I think he comes back down to his normal averages this year and becomes an average player.
Project Lineup: C-Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 1B-Michael Morse, 2B-Dee Gordon, SS-Adeiny Hechavarria, 3B-Martin Prado, LF-Christian Yelich, CF-Marcell Ozuna, RF-Giancarlo Stanton
Projected Rotation: Jose Fernandez (RHP), Mat Latos (RHP), Henderson Alvarez (RHP), Jarred Cosart (RHP), Dan Haren (RHP); Closer–Steve Cishek (RHP)
What a difference a few years makes. When the Marlins moved into their new ballpark and spent like crazy and then disassembled the team a year later it looked like a money grab for owner, Jeffrey Loria. It turns out they may have known what they are doing. Injury and inexperience could be the only factors keeping this team from competing for a title. They are on the rise and will be a force over the next few years.
New York Mets
Total Wins Prediction: 83
Best Pitcher: Matt Harvey, RHP
Harvey lost last year to Tommy John surgery but not pitching when he could have last year should make him even stronger for this year. He was phenomenal as a rookie two years ago when he had a 2.27 ERA, 9.6 K/9 and a WHIP of .931. He will have an innings limit this year but he should still put up impressive numbers in a bridge year for the Mets.
Best Position Player: Lucas Duda, 1B
In his first season playing full-time he put up impressive numbers. His slash line of .253/.349/.481/.830 was 37% over league average and was helped by his 30 HR’s. I look for his offense to continue to improve as he gets more comfortable in a full-time role and the Mets improve around him.
Rookie to Watch: Noah Syndergaard, RHP
Acquired from Toronto when they shipped R.A. Dickey north of the border. His excellent fastball and curveball pairs nicely with an improving changeup. He has great control as he has a career 3.82 K/BB ratio. Should make an impact at some point this year but I expect it to be around June before we see him start in the majors.
Most Underrated: Juan Lagares, CF
All he has to do is be a league average hitter to really produce some value. He is one of the best defensive CF in baseball. Most of his value comes from his defense but he improved enough at the plate last year (.281/.321/.382/.703) to be considered league average. Most people probably do not know much about him but he is a difference maker for the Mets and their big ballpark.
Most Overrated: David Wright, 3B
I like David Wright and think he has been a great player throughout his career but he fell off dramatically last year (8 HR’s when he averages about 21 a year). He just turned 31 so it may be his decline phase but he still has value as a defensive superstar. He needs to hit better to provide the offense the Mets need and I’m not sure he is capable of carrying an offense anymore especially in the spacious City Field.
Project Lineup: C-Travis d’Arnaud, 1B-Lucas Duda, 2B-Daniel Murphy, SS-Wilmer Flores, 3B-David Wright, LF-Curtis Granderson, CF-Juan Lagares, RF-Michael Cuddyer
Projected Rotation: Matt Harvey (RHP), Bartolo Colon (RHP), Jon Niese (LHP), Zack Wheeler (RHP), Jacob deGrom (RHP); Closer–Jenrry Mejia (RHP)
A lot to like with the future for the Mets. They have a nice, young set of arms that are coming up and arriving at the same time. They could use a bit more offense but that will come with some time and money as they save money on pitching for the next few years. Still a year or two away from truly contending with the top teams in the NL.
Total Wins Prediction: 73
Best Pitcher: Julio Teheran, RHP
Most people would put Craig Kimbrel here but I just don’t value even an elite closer near the value of an above average starter. Teheran has been very impressive the last two years as he posted an ERA of 3.12 with K/9 rate of 7.8. He should only get better as he enters his age 24 season and gets stronger after bumping his innings up to 221 last year.
Best Position Player: Freddie Freeman, 1B
Freeman has been one of the best players in baseball the last two years. He missed being a 3/4/5 hitter (.300 average/.400 OBP/.500 slugging) two years ago by .004 OBP points. He is entering his age 25 season so he should continue to get better over the next few years. The only aspect holding him back might be the lack of protection around him as the Braves rebuild for the future.
Rookie to Watch: Christian Bethancourt, C
Plenty attention has been given to Bethancourt with good reason. One of the best catching prospects in baseball has had the avenue of his arrival cleared out in the past few years as Brian McCann left in free agency two years and Evan Gattis was traded this offseason to the Astros. He has consistently played up in levels based on his age and has held his own the last few years as his body matured.
Most Underrated: Nick Markakis, RF
Markakis won’t wow you with any certain skill set but he does so many things well that he seems to get forgotten when talking about some of the best RF’s in baseball. His career slash line of .290/.358/.435 puts him about 13% above average since he arrived in the league in 2006. A lot of his value is from defense which is tough to quantify at times. I like him to have a strong year with his new team this year.
Most Overrated: Andrelton Simmons, SS
Simmons is an amazing talent in the field, some have said the best since Ozzie Smith manned SS for the Cardinals. He regressed quite a bit last year and that led me to believe he may be a bit over-hyped based on the previous year’s success. I love his defense but he needs to be a league average hitter to at least be considered one of the top players in baseball. He has age on his side as he is only 25 so he may learn to reach base a bit more often over the next few years.
Project Lineup: C-Christian Bethancourt, 1B-Freddie Freeman, 2B-Jose Peraza, SS-Andrelton Simmons, 3B-Chris Johnson, LF-Jonny Gomes, CF-B.J. Upton, RF-Nick Markakis
Projected Rotation: Julio Teheran (RHP), Alex Wood (LHP), Mike Minor (RHP), Shelby Miller (RHP), Wandy Rodriguez (LHP); Closer–Craig Kimbrel (RHP)
A few years ago they were competing for the best record in baseball and now they have traded away two good players in Jason Heyward (Cardinals) and Justin Upton (Padres) to retool the farm system and make a push when they get into their new stadium in 2017. They do have a lot of young players under their control for the next four or five years but the next two could be rough for Braves fans that are used to their team being in contention.
Total Wins Prediction: 68
Best Pitcher: Cole Hamels, LHP
Hamels has been one of the best pitchers in baseball for about five years now. He has started at least 30 games every year for the past seven and has been above average in all but one, 2009 where he was slightly worse than league average. Look for trade interest to pick up with recent comments about how he wants to win and he does not see that happening in Philly. Any team would gladly take him at the top or in the middle of their rotation.
Best Position Player: Chase Utley, 2B
The best 2B of his generation and future Hall of Famer has been one of the best hitter in baseball for about ten years now. His only problem has been staying healthy but he has managed to do so the last two years. He fell off a bit last year to .270/.339/.407 but he was still 9% above average for a hitter. Not much else to pick from with the Phillies roster but he is still a quality player deserving of this honor.
Rookie to Watch: Maikel Franco, 3B
Franco is one of the best power bats in the minors, he hit 34 HR’s two years ago in AA as a 20-year-old. Part of the motivation to move Ryan Howard this offseason was to get he and Cody Asche at-bats to mature at the major league level. Look for Franco to push for more playing time as one of the few bright spots in the otherwise barren Phillies farm system. He needs to get on base more but that will come with age and experience at the majors.
Most Underrated: Carlos Ruiz, CF
Even at 35 he was still one of the best all-around catchers in baseball last year. His offense has fallen the last few years but he still managed to put up a slash line of .252/.347/.370/.717. His healthy OBP shows he still has a good eye at the plate but his slugging has dipped the last two years but that shouldn’t be a surprise since he is getting up there in age as a catcher. If he maintains as an average hitter his defense still has value for the next few years.
Most Overrated: Ryan Howard, 1B
Howard was one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball until he tore his Achilles on the last out of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals. Injuries happen to bigger guys and they have caught up with him big time. He was hurt the previous two years before playing a full year last year and struggle mightily at the plate (.223/.310/.380). He may rediscover his old bat for a short period of time but to expect that over a full season again would be asking for a lot. He needs to be traded to an AL team to become a full-time DH since his defense has eroded with injuries as well.
Project Lineup: C-Carlos Ruiz, 1B-Ryan Howard, 2B-Chase Utley, SS-Freddy Galvis, 3B-Cody Asche, LF-Dominic Brown, CF-Ben Revere, RF-Grady Sizemore
Projected Rotation: Cole Hamels (LHP), Cliff Lee (LHP), Aaron Harang (RHP), David Buchanan (RHP), Jerome Williams (RHP); Closer–Jonathan Papelbon (RHP)
The Phillies are in a major need for a blowup. They need to trade every valuable piece they have to get as many young players as they can. Cole Hamels should be the first to go. He could help expedite the process by getting three or four good/great players in return. They have the money to be able to spend to help as well but they must first tear it down before they can build it back up. Management is still in denial but staying in limbo only slows down the inevitable.
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