Archive for the ‘Preview’ Category

MLB: Spring Training-Seattle Mariners at Los Angeles Angels

Whether you’re ready or utterly unprepared, the 2014 baseball season is effectively upon us. Transport trucks are pointed north, loaded down with equipment and no small amount of hope for the upcoming season. Some teams approach the upcoming campaign ready for a six month assault on the playoffs, confident in their assembled talent. Others look up and down their roster and see potential, if not this season than perhaps in the future. The Astros players also look forward to many nights spent in expensive hotels.

There is no predicting baseball or anything else that involves round balls striking round bats. The good teams will win more games than the bad teams. Predictions are for suckers and you won’t get one out of me. Despite the uncertainty (YCPB!) there are some things I believe to be true. Truer than most, anyway. These Things I Believe about the 2014 baseball season.

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Cleveland Indians v Baltimore Orioles

The second half, finally, commences tonight. After some due rest and relaxation, all 30 teams resume their 2013 campaigns tonight. With bodies rested and minds refreshed, the dawning of the second half is not like Opening Day. For many teams, the season is essentially over; the pursuit of division titles and post-season glory a long-dead dream.

But there is still much to play for this season, between the playoff chases and ongoing pursuit of records and the like, here are some things to watch for/enjoy/anticipate during the second half of the 2013 baseball season.

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo Day

46,562 words. Since February 18, that’s how many words I’ve written for Getting Blanked while previewing all 30 Major League teams. After the jump, you’ll find a link to each team’s preview along with a prediction of where I think they’ll finish.

One thing to note: I changed a few win totals. Back in early March, when I previewed the American League East, the injury dragon had not yet breathed fire all over the Yankees, so you’ll notice I adjusted them down slightly and also adjusted the Jays, Red Sox and Orioles up slightly accordingly. Those changes don’t effect anything in terms of my predicted playoff seeding, but I think it needed to be done.

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Washington Nationals Photo Day

The 2013 Major League Baseball Season gets officially under way today (the season doesn’t start until the first pitch in Cincinnati because that’s just how things work) and Getting Blanked is, to say the least, excited.

Predictions are a fool’s errand. Baseball and life have their ways of getting in the way of just about everybody’s best laid plans. The echoes of previously misguided predictions haunt the predictor forever. Nobody predicted the Orioles would make the playoffs last year, which means any prediction which doesn’t tap the Orioles as a playoff-bound club in 2013 receives a whole lot of “didn’t you pick them to finish last in 2012, idiot?”

In the twitter age of instant punditry, there is no worse feeling than making a somewhat bold or declarative statement and seeing a few eager trolls banging away on the “favorite” button, stashing that proclamation away for safe-keeping and posterity.

To mark the occasion and heavily hedge our bets, let me roll out a season preview full of sub-predictions. Not predictions as much as statements: nine baseballish things that we believe in enough to put in writing. Feel free to file under “what was he thinking?” for reference in six months.

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St Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals

2012 Record: 98-64, 1st NL East
2012 Pythagorean Record: 96-66
Impact Player: LF Bryce Harper
Impact Pitcher: RHP Stephen Strasburg
Top Prospect: 3B Anthony Rendon

Significant Acquisitions: CF Denard Span, RHP Dan Haren, RHP Rafael Soriano, LHP Fernando Abad, UT Will Rhymes

Significant Departures: RHP Edwin Jackson, LHP Sean Burnett, LF/1B Mike Morse, LHP Mike Gonzalez, LHP Tom Gorzelanny OF Rick Ankiel, C Jesus Flores, OF/1B Xavier Nady, UT Mark DeRosa

The city of Washington and baseball futility go hand-in-hand. No Washington franchise had made a playoff appearance since 1933 until last season when the Nationals—as a result of smart and opportunistic drafting and savvy additions from outside the organization—won 98 games and cruised to the NL East title. The rotation was among the healthiest and easily the most talented in baseball, the bullpen was deep and impactful and the lineup scored the fifth-most runs in the NL.

Then, disaster. The Nationals and Cardinals split the first four games of their NLDS series in October and Washington held a commanding 6-0 lead in the decisive fifth game before the bullpen—capped off by an awful performance from closer Drew Storen—blew the lead and lost the game, ending their season.

Playoff disappointments aside, the Nationals look poised to be World Series contenders for years to come with an incredible young core of excellent players including first overall picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper and other franchise cornerstones like Jordan Zimmermann, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond.

Pitching

The Nationals stuck with their plan of shutting down Strasburg at 160 innings (he pitched 159 1/3) in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Barring further arm injury, this should be the year they turn him loose. His strikeout rate topped 30% and his 11.13 K/9 was the highest for a starting pitcher since Kerry Wood struck out 11.35 batters per nine innings in 2003. If he can stay healthy enough to throw 220 or more innings, we could see some truly historic numbers from the 24-year-old.

The Nationals have two other legitimate top-of-the-rotation pitchers as well in Gio Gonzalez and Zimmermann — both entering just their age-27 seasons. Gonzalez led the NL among qualified starters in strike-out rate last season and also gave up a league low 0.41 HR/9. His 5.4 WAR according to FanGraphs trailed only Clayton Kershaw among NL pitchers. Zimmermann, meanwhile, also put up an excellent season posting a 3.56 K/BB ratio and a 2.94 ERA in 32 starts.

The Nationals chose not to re-sign Edwin Jackson after his one-year pillow contract in D.C. was up; Jackson wound up with the Cubs on a four-year deal. To replace him, Washington is bringing in another pitcher on a one-year stop gap contract in Dan Haren. Haren’s upside is much higher than Jackson’s, but given the back and arm problems he suffered last season, Haren might not be quite as good. Despite being nagged by injuries all last season, Haren still made 30 starts and had a better K/BB ratio than Zimmermann, but he gave up 28 home runs in only 176 2/3 innings. If he’s healthy and can keep the home run-rate down, he could still be a decent mid-rotation option for Washington.

The final spot in the rotation will go to left-hander Ross Detwiler who pitched in 164 1/3 innings last season and fared well posting a 3.40 ERA. His middling strike out- and walk-rates suggest there could be some regression, but he should still be more than adequate in the fifth spot. If he completely falls apart, the Nats are thin on the depth chart with Yunesky Maya and converted reliever Ryan Perry appearing to be the best choices in the minors.

The bullpen is the only part of the team that looks drastically different than it did a year ago. Gone are three southpaws in Sean Burnett, Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny and in is new closer Rafael Soriano who signed a two-year, $28-million deal with a vesting option for 2015. The Nats now posses three excellent high-leverage relievers at the back-end of the bullpen in Soriano, Storen and Tyler Clippard.

They didn’t do much to replace the three departing left-handers and will head north with only one southpaw in the ‘pen in veteran Zach Duke who had a 1.32 ERA in only 13 2/3 innings last season. Clippard does seem to have a pretty consistent track record of reverse splits and can handle some of the tough lefties in opposing lineups. The Nats recently signed veteran lefty J.C. Romero as an insurance policy, though he begins the season in Triple-A.

High-upside and high-velocity arms like Ryan Mattheus and Henry Rodriguez will fill out the pen with long-man Craig Stammen who could, in theory, start if someone gets hurt. Stammen was excellent in 88 1/3 innings last season—the most of any reliever in baseball besides Josh Roenicke who pitched in 1/3 of an inning more for the Rockies.

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Lineup

The Nationals scored the fifth-most runs in the NL last season and by all accounts should be even better in that regard this year. First off, they’ll get a full season from Harper in left field who was impressive as a teenager in 2012 posting a .352 wOBA and 22 home runs. The 20-year-old phenom is poised to put up some monster numbers and should continue to get better over the next few years.

The rest of the Nats outfield will also get a boost with the addition of Denard Span to play center. Span has been a better-than-average hitter the last few years in Minnesota and is a spectacular defender. His on-base abilities and speed make him an ideal leadoff hitter to slide in ahead of the big bats in the middle of the order. In right field will be Jayson Werth who should be healthier this year after a wrist injury kept him out for half the year in 2012. He may not be worth his cumbersome contract, but he’s still a very good player who’s above average in all facets of the game.

It’s expected that the three outfielders will occupy the top three spots in the order ahead of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman managed to stay on the field last season for the most part and posted a 121 wRC+ and 25 home runs. Recurring problems with his throwing shoulder may eventually move him to first base but he should be good for another year or two at the hot corner.

Washington waited out first baseman Adam LaRoche and allowed him to test free agency this winter, but they ended up re-signing him to a two-year deal with a third-year option at reasonable dollars. He was a better hitter than Zimmerman last season and will make a nice stop-gap until top prospect Anthony Rendon is ready and pushes Zimmerman across the diamond.

In the middle infield will be Desmond at short and Danny Espinosa at second. After a disastrous 2011, Desmond lived up to some of his promise in 2012 hitting 25 home runs and posting a 128 wRC+ while improving his defense greatly at short. According to FanGraphs, he was the most valuable position player on the team last season. Espinosa, meanwhile, showed some pop with 17 home runs and hit well enough to keep his job. If he regresses, Steve Lombardozzi isn’t much worse overall.

Wilson Ramos had the year from hell in 2012. After being kidnapped prior to the season in his native Venezuela he got hurt during the year and played in only 25 games. If he’s healthy, he could be a first-division starter, but he’ll share playing time with Kurt Suzuki at least to start the year.

Defense

Washington turned batted balls into outs better than any other NL team last season and with the addition of Span in center and a healthy Werth in right, they could be even better in 2013. Both Suzuki and Ramos are excellent defenders behind the plate as well and Espinosa and Desmond are solid up the middle. Despite his arm problems, Zimmerman is at least average at third and LaRoche is about as good as a first baseman can be.

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2013 Outlook

Most people didn’t expect the Nationals to be quite so good last season, but they arrived a year ahead of schedule. Now that they have arrived, the weight of expectations will be placed upon a team whose cornerstones are still very young. They have easily the most talent of any team in baseball, but also could have some issues if injuries strike—something that didn’t really happen to them much last season, at least on the pitching staff. The only real threat to their second-straight division crown is the Braves, but either way they should make the playoff without too much trouble. Once they do, that pitching staff will be awfully tough to overthrow.

2013 Prediction: 97-65, 1st NL East 

For a detailed depth chart with statistics, click here. Stats obtained from FanGraphs (Washington’s team page here) and Baseball Prospectus. Depth chart info provided by MLB Depth Charts.

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals

2012 Record: 81-81, 3rd NL East
2012 Pythagorean Record: 81-81
Impact Player: 2B Chase Utley
Impact Pitcher: LHP Cliff Lee
Top Prospect: LHP Jesse Biddle 

Significant Acquisitions: CF Ben Revere, 3B Michael Young, RF Delmon Young, RHP Mike Adams, LHP John Lannan, RHP Chad Durbin, C Humberto Quintero, OF Ender Inciarte, RHP Aaron Cook, CP Joe Mather

Significant Departures: 3B Placido Polanco, RHP Vance Worley, CP Ty Wigginton, RHP Michael Schwimer, RHP Chad Qualls, RHP Josh Lindblom

“All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance.” – Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Despite their complete disdain for analytics, the Philadelphia Phillies string of success over the past ten years or so has been impressive. From 2007-2011, the Phillies won five straight division titles, two National League pennants and a World Series in 2008. Under former successive GMs Pat Gillick and Ed Wade, the Phillies drafted as well as any team in baseball and loaded the roster with high-upside talent like Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Cole Hamels. They also made savvy trades and free agent signings, acquiring the likes of Placido Polanco, Shane Victorino, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay.

But over the last few years, that core has crumbled with age and the once invincible Phillies have fallen hard. Current GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has tried to hang on too long and has made a number of questionable moves. There was the Ryan Howard extension, the Jonathan Papelbon contract and of course, the acquisitions of Delmon Young and Michael Young.

Suddenly, the once insuperable Roy Halladay is throwing 87 MPH, the back end of the rotation includes John Lannan, and the lineup features Michael Young as the projected number-three hitter. The idealistic among you might suggest that the inevitable decline is merely a symptom of a decade of sustained success, but the more realistic can look at Amaro and cast some of the blame his way for the state the Phillies currently find themselves.

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Atlanta Braves v Toronto Blue Jays

Over the next week, we will take a look at how each team’s lineups looked to start the season in 2012 compared to the projected look for 2013 (all ZiPS projections courtesy of Fangraphs.)

We covered the NL West and NL Central, NL East and AL West. Now we look at the American League East.

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