MLB Season Preview: AL

 

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By Josh Mayer

With the Major League Baseball season set to begin, I thought it would be the perfect time to preview the year and predict the division winners. Each American League projected division winner will get an overview, as well as a projected lineup and rotation, and lastly their team MVP and team disappointment.

As far as win-loss predictions go, a small win range estimation has been made.

Note: I do not look much into spring training stats, as they are hard to determine if actually transferable to the regular season.

Example 1: Brad Miller led all spring leagues in OPS in 2014. Brad Miller can’t hit.

Example 2: Koyie Hill went 0-for-12 in spring training last year. OK, that makes sense actually. Well, alright, let’s get started.

AL EAST

  1. Boston Red Sox (94-96 wins)

Going with the hot pick here, the Red Sox will look to rebound after last year’s disappointing season. Many of the naysayers are quick to point out the underachieving, overpaid veteran duo of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval as well as the uncertainty of the rotation past David Price. But the Red Sox have so much young talent that they should be able to overcome some disappointments from those spots. As Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. (kind of) have already proven they’re big-league ready, it will now be up to Rusney Castillo and Blake Swihart, among others, to do the same. I also wouldn’t count out a bounce-back season from Ramirez, Sandoval, or both as they both have proven track records and have apparently been working hard in the offseason. Manager John Farrell was quoted as saying,

“Physically,[Sandoval and Ramirez] look great, there were clear markers set out before the season was over, right at the end of the season, on what the offseason goals were going to be. Playing weight was one of them. Both guys look to be at that target” (Boston Herald).

The Red Sox also went with a Royals-esque strategy by bolstering their bullpen to create a dynamic trio by acquiring Craig Kimbrel to pair with the returning Koji Uehara and always-steady Junichi Tazawa.

My Projected Lineup

R Mookie Betts RF

R Dustin Pedroia 2B

R Xander Bogaerts SS

L David Ortiz DH

R Hanley Ramirez 1B

S/L? Pablo Sandoval 3B

L Jackie Bradley Jr. CF

R Rusney Castillo LF

S Blake Swihart C

Rotation

L David Price

R Clay Buchholz

R Rick Porcello

L Eduardo Rodriguez*

R Joe Kelly

R Steven Wright

CL Craig Kimbrel

*-to start season on DL

Team MVP: Xander Bogaerts: It would be easy to go with addition David Price but instead I will go with one of the game’s most underrated young stars. With a .320 AVG last year and above-average fielding (0.9 defensiveWAR), Bogaerts just needs to improve on walking a bit more and he will be a truly elite shortstop. Look for him to start the All-Star Game over young studs Carlos Correa and Fransisco Lindor, and multi-time all-star Tulo.

Wow the top shortstops have changed real fast; what happened to Derek Jeter and Michael Young being All-Star Game staples?

Disappointment: Jackie Bradley Jr.: As much as I am a fan of his center field defense at the strange gaps of Fenway Park, Bradley has struggled as a hitter most of his big league career, benefitting from an insanely high BABIP (batting average of balls in play) of .451 during his great August last year. I see the Red Sox demoting him to the bench and eventually trading him before the deadline.

AL CENTRAL

  1. Kansas City Royals (92-94 wins)

Yes, yes, I know these first two picks are boring. But how do I doubt the Royals? I have tried the last few years, but they continue to surprise me. I promise things will get more interesting. Questions can be made about the back end of the rotation, along with second base and an outfield spot, but what’s not to love about the core of this team? Hosmer, Moustakas, Perez, Gordon, Cain, Morales, and Escobar (in no particular order) are as solid as a 1-7 in the lineup as any other contender. Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera lost running mates Greg Holland and Ryan Madson but gained Joakim Soria and retained solid reliever Luke Hochevar and swingman Danny Duffy to complete a scary-good bullpen. Ian Kennedy will look to take the place of midseason acquisition Johnny Cueto, joining incumbent starters Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura and Chris Young. The fight for the fifth spot will include a couple intriguing candidates in Kris Medlen and Dillon Gee. The rotation has been about league average in the past two seasons for the Royals, with their core position players and top-tier bullpen being the keys to their World Series runs. They will continue to lean on these strong suits after retaining outfielder Alex Gordon (fourth in WAR among outfielders since 2011) this offseason.

My Projected Lineup

R Alcides Escobar SS

L Alex Gordon LF

R Lorenzo Cain CF

S Kendrys Morales DH
L Eric Hosmer 1B

L Mike Moustakas 3B

R Salvador Perez C

R Paulo Orlando RF

R Christian Colon 2B

Rotation

R Edinson Volquez

R Ian Kennedy

R Yordano Ventura

R Chris Young

R Dillon Gee

CL Wade Davis

Team MVP: Yordano Ventura: He is still only 24 years old and already has two years of World Series experience. Last year was a rollercoaster of sorts as I’m pretty sure he started a bench-clearing fight with all 29 other teams. As he struggled with command and striking out opposing batters he was sent down to AAA for a short stint. He came back strong with a 3.41 ERA in August and 3.14 in September/October. I predict he will continue to pitch around those numbers with increased strikeouts, taking command of a Royals rotation in desperate need of a true ace.

Disappointment: Salvador Perez: It was tough to pick a disappointment on a Royals team full of very solid players. I went with what I believe will be an unpopular pick as Perez has been a great catcher in an age where they are very hard to come by. But with playing 150 games in 2014 and 142 in 2015, along with every playoff game, the wear and tear of catching will most likely catch up to Perez’s hitting soon enough. As a player who rarely walks, his 20-home run power and .260 AVG will begin to tail off this season, forcing the Royals to consider more rest days.

AL WEST

  1. Seattle Mariners (91-93 wins)

See, I told you it wouldn’t be too boring! With many touting the AL West as a battle between the Astros and Rangers, I see the Mariners actually being the most complete team. I love the top of their rotation with King Felix leading the way and underrated Hisashi Iwakuma and breakout candidate Taijuan Walker rounding out the top. I also like Wade Miley to bounce back to his Arizona statistics after his rough year at Fenway in the unfriendly AL East. With former Cub great Donn Roach having a chance to round out the rotation, I had no other choice than to pick the Mariners as division winner! Just kidding; that spot should go to Nate Karns, who had a quietly solid 3.76 ERA in 26 starts with the Rays last year. Doubters of Seattle can easily point to depth of the lineup and the bullpen as weaknesses. While they have solid pieces in Joel Peralta and Joaquin Benoit, everyone else is a pretty big question mark. That being said, the rival Rangers also have a very questionable bullpen after Shawn Tolleson, who only has a two-year track record (one as a closer). As far as the lineup goes, I am excited to see Ketel Marte have a chance at the every-day shortstop job. I also like the low-risk additions of Adam Lind, Chris Iannetta and Nori Aoki: clear upgrades over Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley and Logan Morrison from last year.

My Projected Lineup

S Ketel Marte SS

L Nori Aoki LF

L Robinson Cano 2B

R Nelson Cruz RF

L Kyle Seager 3B

R Dae-Ho Lee DH

L Adam Lind 1B

R Chris Iannetta C

L Leonys Martin CF

Rotation

R Felix Hernandez

R Hisashi Iwakuma

R Taijuan Walker

L Wade Miley

R Nate Karns

CL Steve Cishek ??? (Yes, I am also now second-guessing the Mariners)

Team MVP: Felix Hernandez: Not much to say here, I would easily call King Felix the best right-handed starting pitcher in baseball. Zack Greinke did have a better year last year, but nobody has been as consistently good as Hernandez throughout the past nine years. He’s a pitcher that will give the Mariners an opportunity to win practically every game he starts. With a solid defense behind him with upgrades to shortstop, first base and catcher, I can see Felix having an ERA around 2.50 this year with a solid 230 K’s in his usual 200+ innings.

Disappointment: Nelson Cruz: Coming off a monster season in which he hit over .300 and hit a career high 44 home runs, Cruz will be looked to provide the Mariners lineup with steady power throughout the season. The problem with Cruz is how streaky of a hitter he is. During 2014 and 2015, Cruz had five different months in which he hit under .240 and had no better than 6 home runs. I see Cruz continuing to have months in which he struggles but also not to get as hot as he has in year’s prior during his good months due to his advancing age and rising strikeout rate. A career high BABIP of .350 will also be nearly impossible to sustain for a guy without the speed for infield singles.

 

This has been the first part of a five-part series with the next being National League division winner projections. Please feel free to leave comments; I would love to discuss with anyone!

Note: All statistics come from fangraphs.com

 

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