Let’s get this party started.
While the Red Sox dream of going worst-to-first-to-worst-to-first, there are plenty of other MLB teams across the American and National leagues looking to improve in 2015. Of course, the World Series champion San Francisco Giants would probably be just fine if they only managed to repeat their 2014 results.
With an eye on the statistics that defined teams’ performances in 2014 as well as those that figure to prove most telling this season, here is a look at how things could play out in 2015. From an unlikely all-Washington World Series to complete division standings predictions and award prognostications, here is what might be in store for baseball fans after Opening Day.
Baltimore – With the return of Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters this team will hit better than last season when it scored 705 runs. But the secret here is that from June 1 on last season, the Orioles posted an ERA of 3.04; only the Nationals (2.94) and the Mariners (2.95) topped that. Chris Tillman got better as his games continued last season: on pitches 1-25 he had a .309 BAA; pitches 26-50: .257; pitches 51-75: .223; pitches 76-100: .169. No surprise: Clayton Kershaw led the majors striking out 37.0% of batters he faced with a runner on third and less than two outs. Big surprise: Orioles starter Bud Norris was next, striking out 32.4%.
New York – Rudyard Kipling’s team of “If…”. If the pitchers are not healthy they will be hit like a piñata, but I admit I really like Michael Pineda. It’s the hitting that needs to reappear. Of the 147 batters who qualified for the batting title last year, the two with the lowest BABIP were Mark Teixeira (.233) and Brian McCann (.231). Three teams drove in fewer than 200 runs with two outs last season: the Yankees (197), the Astros (196), and the Padres (191).
Red Sox – Since Sept. 1, 2013, which pitcher has a record of 11-12, with a 4.91 ERA and a 1.343 WHIP? The Opening Day starter for the Boston Red Sox: Clay Buchholz. Will there be a starter in the Sox rotation whose ERA is under 3.90? This team must score 700+ runs and start by being more aggressive at the plate. None of the six teams who saw the most pitches against starters last season made the postseason. The Sox saw the second-most pitches (the Twins saw the most) but scored only 372 runs against starters, the fewest in the AL. Over the last three seasons, no team has taken more called strikes than the Red Sox, who watched 14,623 strikes go by.
Toronto – This team doesn’t stay healthy. Edwin Encarnacion played 128 games for the Blue Jays last season; in his 10 seasons in the bigs, he has been healthy enough to play over 140 games just three times (and he has sore back this spring). In 64 career games against the AL East, new Jays’ third baseman Josh Donaldson has hit .229 with eight homers and 34 RBI.
Tampa Bay – Down by the bay. They don’t hit and when they do it is not productive. Of their 404 extra-base hits last season, they only had 283 RBI, the fewest in the AL (and that included 117 HR). Chris Archer is my dark-horse pick for the AL Cy Young.
Cleveland – Last season, AL Cy Young Corey Kluber permitted just four hits off his fastball, good for an .097 BAA. However it is worth noting that from 2011-13, Kluber pitched a combined 214.2 innings and last season alone, he threw 235.2. Rotation mate Carlos Carrasco, missed the 2012 season with an injury but in 2011 and 2013 he had a swing-and-miss rate on his fastball of 7.1 percent and 7.2 percent respectively. Last season, it was 15.4 percent. New addition, Brandon Moss has 76 homers over the last three seasons, the second most for any player with under 1,300 AB.
Chicago – Wild Card – I love the additions of Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera to the Jose Abreu-led lineup. The awful ChiSox pen got a lot better with closer David Robertson and Zach Duke. Their bullpen owned a 4.38 ERA last year and led the majors with 32 losses. Chris Sale, when healthy, is probably the best pitcher in the AL and he will be helped in the rotation by Jeff Samardzija, although did you know he’s never had more than nine wins in a season?
Detroit – The Tigers are on their way to becoming the Phillies. This will be the season that time and injuries catch up to Justin Verlander (1780.2 IP since 2007 and 3.99 ERA in 2013-14), Victor Martinez (36 yrs. old) and even Miguel Cabrera (how banged up can he get before it starts to take a toll?). Young legs in centerfielder Anthony Gose will help and I think Yoenis Cespedes will have a better season than any Boston outfielder, but the weak bullpen hasn’t gotten better. In 2012, closer Joe Nathan had a swing and miss rate of 20.3 percent, in 2013 it was 19.9 percent, and last season it dropped to 16.2 percent.
Kansas City – The Royals surprised everyone last year. They won’t this year. New addition, Kendrys Morales just doesn’t feel like a good fit for the speedy Royals. Last season, Morales was on first 15 times when a single was hit and made it safely to third only twice; he was on second six times when a single was hit and scored only once. The Royals only struck out 260 times with RISP last season, by far the fewest in the majors.
Minnesota – Did you know that Joe Mauer has never had a 100-RBI season? His high mark came in 2009 with 96. The Twins allowed 725 hits with runners on base last season, 251 more than the Mariners. New pitcher Ervin Santana has been suspended for 80 games for a failed PED test.
Seattle – In case you hadn’t noticed, in 2014 Seattle and Boston each scored 634 runs and hit .244. The difference is that Seattle had a 3.17 ERA as a team while Boston’s was 4.01. The addition of Nelson Cruz will only help the Mariners who, when they scored at least five runs last season, went 55-4 (.932), the best in baseball. Felix Hernandez is the only pitcher to have 150+ Ks in each of the last nine seasons (2006-14). Beyond the greatness of King Felix, of the 11 relievers with at least 90 saves over the last three seasons, the closers with the fewest HR permitted are the Royals’ Greg Holland and the Mariners’ Fernando Rodney with just eight each.
Los Angeles – Wild Card – The Angels led the majors last season with 269 extra base hits on fastballs with Mike Trout and Albert Pujols leading the team with 38 each. Trout is a joy to follow. Over the last three seasons, only two players have a combined 500 hits including 100+ doubles and 20+ triples: Mike Trout (545/105/26) and Alex Rios (503/105/23).
Oakland – Will Billy Beane’s reshuffling get A’s or F’s? Is the outlook for the A’s Sonny or Gray? Who are these guys? No stat from last season is applicable for this team that only retained a fraction of its roster from last year.
Houston – The “team of the future” will be champs when extra credit is given for strikeouts. No team whiffed more frequently in 2014 than the Astros with 1442, and they just added Evan Gattis who had a strikeout rate last season of 24.2 percent. The Astros’ Jon Singleton whiffed once every 2.31 AB last season, the worst rate in the majors. On June 19 last season, Jose Altuve crossed the .330 batting plateau and then didn’t fall below it the rest of the season.
Texas – Last season, the Texas Rangers’ 3-4-5 hitters hit the fewest homers in the majors with just 41, after hitting 78 in 2013. Texas will be happy to see Prince Fielder back. Over the last three seasons, no cleanup batter has hit more homers than Adrian Beltre‘s 80. I think Beltre is headed to the Hall.
AL Wild Card
White Sox over the Angels
Orioles over the White Sox
Mariners over the Indians
Mariners over the Orioles
Washington – Among starters who made at least six starts from August 30 last season, Stephen Strasburg led the majors with a 1.13 ERA, an 0.756 WHIP wand had a 13.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio. And now the Nationals have Max Scherzer. After August 1, Jordan Zimmermann went 8-0 (1.81 ERA/.0857 WHIP). There are problems in the bullpen but I expect Bryce Harper to thrive for a team that is really good. Really, really good.
Miami – Wild Card – If there is any team that could put a crimp in the plans of the Nationals and Dodgers to meet in the NLCS, this is it. Miami has a great combo of youth and veterans led by Giancarlo Stanton, who happens to be both. Despite missing the final 17 games of last season, he led the NL with 37 homers and is tied with Dan Uggla on top of the Marlins’ all-time list with 154.
New York – The Mets have had six straight seasons with wins in the 70s, I’m thinking seven despite the return of Matt Harvey who I think will be huge this season coming back from Tommy John surgery. I don’t see Michael Cuddyer who hit .331/.385/.543 in Colorado the last two seasons putting up comparable numbers at Citi Field.
Atlanta – Nick Markakis, the new Braves outfielder, led the majors in 2014 with 75 hits in games that were tied; the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo led with 16 homers. The Braves are now a team that is almost as unrecognizable as the A’s.
Philadelphia – Ryan Howard led the majors last season striking out 25 times with a runner on third. From 2010-14, 62 different relievers had 25-plus save seasons; Jonathan Papelbon is the only closer with 25-plus saves in all five seasons. I want to watch Phillies games simply to see the scouts from other teams.
St. Louis – Jason Heyward should have a great season as he heads to free agency. The Cards only hit 105 homers last year, the fewest in the NL. I’m a wreck at the end of Cardinals games. Of the 17 relievers who had at least 30 saves last season, Glen Perkins (Twins) and Mark Melancon (Pirates) had the fewest walks with 11 each. Combined they were about half the number of walks issued by Trevor Rosenthal (42).
Pittsburgh – Wild Card – I love Andrew McCutchen, who over the last three years is the only player with three .400+ OBP seasons. One more for those of you bemoaning a downturn in offense: over the last three seasons, McCutchen has hit .320, with 77 homers, 263 RBI, 65 RBI, and an OPS of .939.
Chicago – They may be third but they are on their way and will finish over .500. Anthony Rizzo is turning into one of the real stars of the game. The lefty hit .189 against lefthanded pitching in 2013 and .300 in 2014. While you’re waiting for Kris Bryant, enjoy Jorge Soler who in 24 games at the end of last season had 26 hits, five homers and 20 RBI. Soler struck out 20 times, his contribution to the team’s 1,477 whiffs, the most in the majors.
Cincinnati – Reds starter Mike Leake led the majors with 89 ground ball hits allowed last season, followed by Wade Miley who permitted 85. Over the last four seasons, among starters with at least 650 IP, Clayton Kershaw has the lowest WHIP at 0.946, next is Johnny Cueto at 1.066. Cueto is in his walk year and I don’t think he’ll finish the season in Cincy.
Milwaukee – Before the All-Star break last season, Francisco Rodriguez had a 2.58 ERA; after the break, K-Rod’s ERA was 3.97. The Brewers were in first place at 73-62 and finished 82-80 and in third place. They only scored 70 runs in the last month of the season.
Los Angeles – You want to know how great Clayton Kershaw is? From 1998 to 2004, Pedro Martinez had 46 starts in which he allowed three hits or less. From 2008 to 2014, Kershaw had 51 starts in which he allowed three hits or less. The Dodgers have the highest payroll of any team in sports history, yet there are holes just about everywhere. If you know who the team’s closer and 8th inning guy will be, call Don Mattingly, stat.
San Diego – What a difference a year makes: Tommy Medica, Will Venable and Chris Denorfia opened for the Padres last season in the outfield. New Padres Matt Kemp and Justin Upton combined to hit .278 with 54 homers last season; new Red Sox Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez combined to hit .280 with 29 homers. But of all the Padres additions, the one I like the most is James Shields. At the last moment the Padres added Craig Kimbrel , the only reliever in baseball to have appeared in at least 60 games and earn 40 saves in each of the last four seasons. Last season, Shields made 39 regular and postseason starts and in his first 20, his BAA was .271. In his last 19 it was .259. This team will be the best team on the outside looking in
San Francisco – After the All-Star break last season, Buster Posey hit .354, the highest rate in the majors. When the Giants won in 2012, he also led the majors after the break at .385. It’s worth noting: including regular and postseason, Madison Bumgarner threw 270 innings last year. With a rotation that includes Matt Cain, Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, and Tim Lincecum, it’s still possible that the champs could fall from first-to-worst.
Colorado – Colorado’s infield of Justin Morneau at first, DJ LeMahieu at second, Nolan Arenado at third, and Troy Tulowitzki at short is projected to be the best in baseball defensively. Now if only the Rockies pitchers could learn how to keep the ball on the ground; the Rox had a team ERA of 4.84 last season, the worst in the majors.
Arizona – Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster went from a last place team to another last place team and their only hope to avoid another finish in the basement is to get traded again. At least they get to see Paul Goldschmidt in action. Goldschmidt lost the last two months of the season after breaking a finger after being hit by a pitch, but still finished with a .300 BA, 19 HR, 69 RBI, and 75 runs scored. He won two-thirds of the Triple Crown in 2013.
NL Wild Card
Marlins over the Pirates
Nationals over the Marlins
Dodgers over the Cardinals
Nationals over the Dodgers
In this all-Washington series, I think the Mariners, who haven’t been in the postseason since 2001, win it all.