Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Boston Red Sox 2021 Season Preview

 


        After a sluggish 2019 which resulted in a playoff miss, we wondered if it was just a blip year for the Red Sox, but 2020 proved otherwise. With Ron Roenicke as the Manager instead of Alex Cora, and the rotation missing Chris Sale, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello, the team collapsed. They performed worse than the Orioles. Another potential factor could have been missing an outfielder, but I don't know if they lost one last offseason. Maybe they did, maybe he was good. To look on the bright side, Cora is back, Rodriguez is back, Sale will be back at a point in time, and they improved the bullpen a bit. Maybe things are so bad in Boston.

Offseason additions: RHP Adam Ottavino, UT Marwin Gonzalez, OF Hunter Renfroe, IF Enrique Hernandez, RHP Garrett Richards, RHP Matt Andriese, RHP Hirokazu Sawamura, OF Franchy Cordero, C Chris Herrmann. 

Offseason subtractions: OF Andrew Benintendi, OF Jackie Bradley Jr., IF Jose Peraza, RHP Chris Mazza, RHP Zack Godley, LHP Jeffrey Springs, RHP Robert Stock. 


Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: Nick Pivetta, Connor Seabold, Hudson Potts, Jeison Rosario.

Traded: Brandon Workman, Mitch Moreland, Kevin Pillar, Heath Hembree, Josh Osich.

2020 record: 24-36

2020 placement: 5th

2020 WAR leader (batters): Alex Verdugo

2020 WAR leader (pitchers): Nate Eovaldi


Starting Pitchers

The Red Sox will have to wait until midseason at the minimum until they have a full rotation. Chris Sale is out with Tommy John surgery, after a career worst 2019. Even despite a 4.40 ERA, Sale's 3.39 FIP and 1.086 WHIP show that the ERA was probably a blip. Also returning from a missed 2020 is Eduardo Rodriguez, who has recovered from myocarditis. Rodriguez had a career season in 2019, with a 3.81 ERA and 213 strikeouts in 203.1 innings, plus an average exit velocity of 86.3 mph. However, Rodriguez also walked a league high 75 batters. Nate Eovaldi was the rock of the rotation last year as the bottom fell into chaos. After an awful 11.6 BB% in 2019, Eovaldi improved to an elite 3.5% in 2020. He had a 3.72 ERA with a 9.7 K/9 over nine starts. The next best starter for the Red Sox last year was Martin Perez, a soft tossing lefty who had a 4.50 ERA over 12 starts. Perez only struck out 46 batters in 62 innings, but he made up for it with a 29.2% hard hit percentage. The Red Sox brought in former Angels ace and spin rate king Garett Richards on a one year deal. Richards, whose curveball had an average spin rate of 3299 rpm last year, had a 4.03 ERA in 14 games (10 starts) for the Padres. Richards had a 3.54 ERA over eight seasons in Los Angeles but injuries have cost him a lot of time. The team acquired Nick Pivetta from Philadelphia for Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree, and rival executives reportedly believe that the trade could be a steal, thanks to Pivetta's elite slider which had a 46.2% whiff rate and a 20% usage in 2020. Pivetta always struggled in Philadelphia, but he looked really good in two starts for Boston, allowing two runs with 13 strikeouts in 10 innings. He also walked five batters, a big issue in the past for Pivetta. The Red Sox could consider a 6-man rotation if 2017 1st rounder Tanner Houck makes the team. Houck could also start the season in AAA. He was impeccable in three starts last year, allowing one run with 21 strikeouts in 17 innings. 

Relief Pitchers

After Andrew Benintendi was dealt to Kansas City, Matt Barnes feels like the guy most likely to get traded next. Barnes, a 30 year old who took over closing duties in 2020, struck out 31 batters in 23 innings. Barnes also had a 4.30 ERA, his worst since 2015, and he allowed a career worst 91.3 mph average exit velocity. Another guy who could be shopped is pending free agent Adam Ottavino, who was acquired in a rare trade with the Yankees. Ottavino was great in 2019, with a 1.90 ERA in 66.1 innings, but he had a 5.89 ERA in 18.1 innings. Ottavino's issue has always been walks, as he walked nine batters last year and 40 in 2019. Make fun of Ottavino's walking problems all you want, but he's laughing at what Darwinzon Hernandez has done. In 38.2 career innings, Hernandez has walked 34 batters. Luckily, he's also struck out 70 batters. If he can limit those walks, Hernandez will be a special reliever. After a really rough 2019, Ryan Brasier improved in 2020, but he is not nearly close to where he was in 2018. Brasier had 30 Ks with a 3.96 ERA in 25 innings, with a slider showing off a 46.5% whiff rate. However, Brasier's average exit velocity allowed was a high 91.1 mph. Japanese import Hirokazu Sawamura will make his MLB debut this year, and Opening Day is two days before he turns 33. Sawamura had a 3.05 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 41.1 innings in Japan in 2020. Josh Taylor was a pleasant surprise in 2019, with a 3.04 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 47.1 innings. However, left shoulder tendinitis kept him out for most of 2020, and when he played it wasn't pretty, as Taylor allowed eight runs in 7.1 innings. Standing six-foot-2 but only 160 pounds, righty Phillips Valdez had a 3.24 ERA in 30.1 innings after being claimed from Seattle. He also limited batters to an average exit velocity of 84.8 mph. The Red Sox brought in former Rays starter and reliever Matt Andriese. Andriese is a rare example of a pitcher's strikeout rate increasing after leaving Tampa Bay. In late 2018-2020, Andriese has struck out 131 batters in 121.2 innings. He had a 7.8 K/9 as a Ray. Colten Brewer was a big part of the Sox bullpen in 2019, and he opened some games in 2020. His 4.70 ERA and 1.778 WHIP in his career is not ideal. 

Catchers

Christian Vazquez was able to slightly best his career 2019 season last year. He hit seven home runs with a  .283 average and an .801 OPS, the latter two being improvements. Vazquez is also a good pitch framer who has come into his own over the past two seasons. The Red Sox had a sustainable backup last year in Kevin Plawecki, who returns, but don't expect him to sustain his offensive numbers. Plawecki hit .341 with an .857 OPS and a 130 OPS+. Only one of his previous five seasons resulted in an OPS+ over 100, and Plawecki isn't a great pitch framer. 

Infielders

The most exciting thing coming to the Red Sox lineup in 2021 is Bobby Dalbec, the team's third best prospect who just made MLB Pipeline's top 100 prospects list. The 25 year old Dalbec debuted in 2020, and mashed out eight home runs in 23 games, with a .959 OPS. The Red Sox prioritized utility in the offseason, signing both Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez. Hernandez is expected to be the starting second baseman, while Gonzales moves to a super utility role. For the World Series winning Dodgers Hernandez had a .680 OPS, with a .737 OPS over his Dodgers career. His career OPS+ of 98 shows that he is an average hitter, but versatility sells. Gonzalez has slowly declined since his breakout season with the 2017 Astros (hmm....). Last year for the Twins he hit five home runs with a .606 OPS. He did have four outs above average while playing around the infield and corner outfield for the Twins. The left side of the infield is set in stone, barring a surprise trade. Xander Bogaerts received MVP votes for the third season in a row after hitting 11 home runs with eight stolen bases and an .867 OPS. He had the Pedro Cerrano splits, hitting .383 against fastballs, but under .200 against breaking balls and offspeed pitches. Rafael Devers regressed in 2020, but not to an embarrassing point. He was still an above average hitter, with a 110 OPS+. Devers also had an average exit velocity of 93 mph and has made strides defensively. Remember when Michael Chavis looked like a Rookie of the Year favorite for the first half of 2019? Well, we're entering the 2021 season and he is barely an MLB player. Chavis had a .636 OPS in 2020, and he strikes out way too much, at a 31.6% clip last year, and he missed half of the breaking balls he swung at. 

Outfielders

The Betts, Bradley, Benintendi outfield is all gone, although Jackie Bradley Jr. is still a free agent, and could return to the team. Two of the expected starting outfielders were acquired for their predecessors. Alex Verdugo was a big part of the Betts trade, and he hit .308 with an .844 OPS while playing both left and right field. He's fast, doesn't strike out often, and a good defensive outfielder. The Red Sox just got Franchy Cordero for Benintendi, and he will be the center fielder unless Bradley comes back. Cordero is a power hitting lefty bat who has 12 home runs in 95 career games. He also has a career average exit velocity of 92.5 mph, which is elite. Injuries and crowded OFs have always held him back, but that shouldn't be an issue at the moment. The new left fielder is power hitting righty Hunter Renfroe, who has hit 26, 26, 33 and eight homers over the past four seasons. Renfroe walks (10.1 BB%), but also strikes out a ton (career 28 K%). He may not sound like one based off of his swing-and-miss scouting report, but Renfroe is an elite defender. Gonzalez, Chavis and Hernandez can all act as 4th outfielders. So can JD Martinez, but regulating him to DH would be wise. Martinez saw just about every stat get worse in 2020, and he finished with a .680 OPS. However, Martinez was one of the game's best hitters from 2017-2018, and there is little reasons to believe that he cannot return to that form in 2021. 

Projected Rotation
Eduardo Rodriguez (L)
Nate Eovaldi (R)
Garrett Richards (R)
Martin Perez (L)
Nick Pivetta (R)
Tanner Houck (R)

Projected Bullpen
Matt Barnes (R)
Adam Ottavino (R)
Darwinzon Hernandez (L)
Ryan Brasier (R)
Josh Taylor (L)
Hirokazu Sawamura (R)
Matt Andriese (R)
Phillips Valdez (R)

Projected Lineup
RF Alex Verdugo (L)
SS Xander Bogaerts (R)
3B Rafael Devers (L)
DH JD Martinez (R)
1B Bobby Dalbec (R)
C Christian Vazquez (R)
LF Hunter Renfroe (R)
CF Franchy Cordero (L)
2B Enrique Hernandez (R)

Projected Bench
C Kevin Plawecki (R)
UT Marwin Gonzalez (S)
IF Michael Chavis (R)


Projection

The Red Sox aren't as troubled as their 24-36 finish from 2020 would suggest. The team is mediocre overall, and maybe they could succeed in a weak division, like the AL West. But, the Blue Jays made big strides this offseason, and the Rays are the Rays and the Yankees are the Yankees. Those are three teams that are better than the Red Sox right now, already ruling them out for the playoffs before you look at the other two divisions in the American League. They could easily be better than Baltimore, but the playoffs just aren't realistic. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Baltimore Orioles 2021 Season Preview



       You can make fun of the Orioles all you want, but they exceeded expectations in 2020. Sure, a 25-35 record is far from good, but they were only four games behind the Astros and Brewers, who made the playoffs at a 29-31 record. They also did not finish last in the AL East, just nudging out the Red Sox. I'm not going to act like the team got better in the offseason, or even have a fighting chance to make the playoffs, but progress is progress. 

Offseason additions: IF Freddy Galvis, IF Yolmer Sanchez, RHP Felix Hernandez, RHP Matt Harvey.

Offseason subtractions: SS Jose Iglesias, 1B Renato Nunez, IF Hanser Alberto, RHP Alex Cobb, RHP Asher Wojciechowski, IF Andrew Velazquez, C Bryan Holaday. 


2020 Trade Deadline summary

Acquired: LHP Kevin Smith, IF Tyler Nevin, IF Terrin Vavra.

Traded: RHP Mychal Givens, LHP Tommy Milone, RHP Miguel Castro.

2020 record: 25-35

2020 placement: 4th 

2020 WAR leader (batters): Anthony Santander

2020 WAR leader (pitchers): Tanner Scott


Starting Pitchers

How John Means' 2020 went depends on your point of view on stats. His ERA rose from 3.60 in 2019 to 4.53, with 42 strikeouts in 43.2 innings. However, he had a 4.0 BB% with a .194 xBA and a 3.09 xERA. The small sample size of 10 starts probably contributed to his divided advanced stats and standard stats. 2016 2nd round pick Keegan Akin had a 4.56 ERA in 25.2 innings, but he struck out 35 batters with a 3.27 FIP. However, Akin also had an average exit velocity allowed of 91.4 mph. Dean Kremer, the team's 10th best prospect (per MLB Pipeline) who was acquired in the Manny Machado trade, debuted in 2020. He had a 1.69 ERA through three starts, succeeding against the Yankees twice and the Rays once, before he got bombed by the Red Sox, allowing seven runs in 2.2 innings. That inflated his season ERA to 4.82. Overall, Kremer struck out 22 batters in 18.2 innings. Former Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez is on a minor league deal after opting-out of the 2020 season. Hernandez was awful in 2019, but he could have pitched for the Braves last year. He had a 6.40 ERA with a 91.9 mph exit velocity. Jorge Lopez came over from Kansas City midseason, but he really didn't produce afterwards. Lopez had a 6.34 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 38.1 innings. His curveball was productive, with a .183 xBA. Veteran Wade LeBlanc is back on a minor league deal. In six starts, LeBlanc had an 8.06 ERA, but he was able to limit batters to an 86.1 mph average exit velocity. Also in camp is Matt Harvey, who had allowed 15 runs in 11.2 innings for the Royals last year. He probably won't make the team, but it's fun to dream, right?

Relief Pitchers

The Orioles bullpen is probably the most underrated aspect of the team. The club may have found some diamonds in the rough last year, and it led to them being able to trade away mainstays Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro. One of those standouts was Cesar Valdez, a 35 year old who debuted back in 2010, but since then only played in the MLB in 2017 and 2020. Spending time in the AAA since then, Valdez became a predominantly change-up pitcher in 2020, throwing the 77.9 mph pitch 83.2% of the time. It worked, as Valdez had a 1.26 ERA in 14.1 innings with 12 strikeouts. The change-up had an average against of .140 with a 31.6% whiff rate. He finished with three saves, second on the team behind Cole Sulser's five. Sulser actually had one of the higher ERAs among O's relievers despite his high role in the back of the bullpen. The 30 year old rookie had a 5.56 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 22.2 innings, and it was his 17% BB rate that killed him. A first round pick way back in 2013, 2020 looked like the year of Hunter Harvey after he succeeded in a short stint in 2019. Harvey was instead limited to 8.2 innings, where he allowed four earned runs. Harvey throws a high-90s fastball with a good curveball. Travis Lakins Sr. had pretty good standard stats, with a 2.81 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 25.2 innings. But, having a mostly blue Baseball Savant page is not great. Lakins had an xERA of 5.32, plus a high 11.2% BB rate. Paul Fry had a pretty nice season, increasing his K% to 29.6% (29 Ks in 22 innings). Fry also had a 2.45 ERA with a .184 xBA. Fry was actually not the best lefty reliever on the roster; that was strikeout man Tanner Scott, who K'd 23 in 20.2 innings, and has a 12.2 K/9 in his career. Both Scott's fastball and slider can strikeout batters with a high spin rate. Scott's 1.31 ERA was a big improvement on his 4.78 2019 mark. Another reliever who saw a big improvement on his 2019 numbers is Shawn Armstrong. Armstrong had a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings. His fastball had a .095 average against with a 2479 rpm. The 4th overall pick in 2015, the Orioles acquired Dillon Tate from the Yankees in 2018 for Zack Britton. Now 26, Tate had a 3.24 ERA  in 2020. In his two year MLB career he has a 57.8% ground ball rate. Fringe starter Thomas Eshelman had a 3.89 ERA in 34.2 innings last year, but he only struck out 16 batters with a .298 xBA and a 6.11 xERA. 

Catchers

The Orioles have two catchers who hit around league average and hit on opposite sides of the plate. If that doesn't smell platoon to you, then I don't know what doesn't. Well, catchers don't platoon as often as say, first basemen, but the Orioles have the option to. Pedro Severino will likely get most of the load, despite being the righty. Severino hit five home runs with a 95 OPS+ in 2020. Behind the plate, he has a strong arm and is very active before and after pitches. Chance Sisco, who is about a year and a half younger than Severino, is not a hit-for-average guy, with a career high .214 average in 2020. He does walk a lot, and that was able to get him to a .741 OPS and a 105 OPS+. 

Infielders

The best player from the 2019 Orioles, Trey Mancini, is back after missing 2020 with cancer treatments. The O's will hope that Mancini picks up where he left off; he hit 35 home runs with an .899 OPS. The Orioles then stashed Mancini in right field, where he is not a great fielder, instead of first base, which was occupied by Chris Davis. Davis is still on the team, but unless the team designates him for assignment, he will be a walking contract taking up a roster spot. Davis went 6-for-52 with 17 strikeouts in 2020. The Orioles are taking a flier on Yolmer Sanchez, who went 5-for-16 for the White Sox last year. In 2019, he was Chicago's starting baseman, and won the AL Gold Glove there. The offensive returns weren't as good, as Sanchez had a .323 xSLG. The Orioles sold high on surprise standout Jose Iglesias, and signed Freddy Galvis to replace him at shortstop. Galvis has power; he hit 23 home runs in 2019, and seven in 2020. The rest isn't too great, as Galvis had a 27.9% hard hit percentage with an 86 OPS+. He is a smooth defender at  shortstop although he had -3 outs above average there last year. Lefty bat Rio Ruiz hit nine home runs in 54 games, which is a 150 game pace of 25. The Orioles will definitely take that, but Ruiz also had a .216 xBA and a .267 xwOBA. Pat Valaika was a solid find for 2020, but we'll see if he can hold up success afterwards. Valaika hit eight home runs with a .791 OPS and a 114 OPS+. He also played all four infield positions and left field. 

Outfielders

There was some trade chatter in the offseason after Anthony Santander had a great 37 game regular season. The switch hitting outfielder mashed 11 home runs, for an unsustainable 150 game pace of 45, plus he had an .890 OPS. Santander also had an above average xBA of .286. 2015 1st rounder Ryan Mountcastle is a favorite for AL Rookie of the Year after a strong 35 game stint. The 5th best prospect in the Baltimore system, Mountcastle hit .333 with an .878 OPS. He also has good speed for a first baseman/left fielder, at 28.0 ft/s. Center field is a battle between Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays, who are both 26 years old. Mullins hit .271 with an xBA of just .209, but he is a great defender, with five outs above average, plus a 28.7 ft/s sprint speed. Hays is also fast and a good defender, but not on Mullins' level. After mashing at the end of 2019, Hays only had a .722 OPS in 2020. Another 2015 1st round pick, DJ Stewart, only hit .193, but a 17.9 BB% raised his OBP to .355, and an .809 OPS. However, if he wants to stay in the lineup he'll need to reduce his 33.9 K%.

Projected Rotation
John Means (L)
Dean Kremer (R)
Keegan Akin (L)
Felix Hernandez (R)
Jorge Lopez (R)

Projected Bullpen
Cesar Valdez (R)
Cole Sulser (R)
Hunter Harvey (R)
Tanner Scott (L)
Paul Fry (L)
Travis Lakins Sr. (R)
Shawn Armstrong (R)
Dillon Tate (R)

Projected Lineup
CF Austin Hays (R)
RF Anthony Santander (S)
1B Trey Mancini (R)
LF Ryan Mountcastle (R)
SS Freddy Galvis (S)
DH DJ Stewart (L)
C Pedro Severino (R)
3B Rio Ruiz (L)
2B Yolmer Sanchez (S)

Projected Bench
C Chance Sisco (L)
IF Pat Valaika (R)
1B Chris Davis (L)
OF Cedric Mullins (S)


Projection

Well, here we are. The playoff section regarding the Baltimore Orioles. No, they aren't making it. You could tell that, and O's fans aren't predicting them to. However, the team is better than you think. They have some solid players, and GM Mike Elias has done a nice job finding players out of nothing. He is definitely the guy going forward for the Orioles. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Atlanta Braves 2021 Season Preview

 


       As websites release their projections for the 2021 season, no team has gained more disrespect than the Atlanta Braves. This is a team that fixed all of their problems from 2019 in 2020, and had a dynamic offense with a successful but young rotation and bullpen. While their offseason wasn't as exciting as some of their division rivals, they remain the same Braves as last year, a team that was up 3-1 on the Dodgers in the NLCS. While they still blew that lead, there are multiple scenarios where the Braves win the World Series. 

Offseason additions: RHP Charlie Morton, LHP Drew Smyly, IF Jason Kipnis, RHP Nate Jones, IF Pablo Sandoval, RHP Carl Edwards Jr., IF Ehire Adrianza, IF Jake Lamb, IF Jack Mayfield.

Offseason subtractions: RHP Mark Melancon, OF Nick Markakis, OF Adam Duvall, C Tyler Flowers, RHP Darren O'Day, LHP Robbie Erlin, IF Adeiny Hechavarria, RHP Shane Greene, LHP Cole Hamels, RHP Mike Foltynewicz, UT Charlie Culberson, LHP Tommy Milone.


Trade Deadline 2020 summary:

Acquired: LHP Tommy Milone.

Traded: None

2020 record: 35-25

2020 placement: 1st

2020 WAR leader (batters): Freddie Freeman

2020 WAR leader (pitchers): Max Fried


Starting Pitchers

The biggest injury loss for the Braves in 2020 was Mike Soroka, the 2019 runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year. The pitch-to-contact righty had a 3.95 ERA in his first three starts before a nasty torn Achilles ended his season. He is expected to have fully recovered. The 23 year old's issue in his rookie season was average analytics, but that is certainly not an issue for Max Fried, who took over as the ace in 2020. Fried finished with a 2.25 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 56 innings, and finished 5th in Cy Young voting, plus taking home a Gold Glove. Fried is a master at forcing soft contact, with an average exit velocity of 83.4 mph and a 23.8 hard hit percentage. Those numbers are not sustainable over a full season, to say the least, but that doesn't take a lot of it away from Fried. The third overall pick in 2016, Ian Anderson was exactly what the Braves needed last year. He finished 7th in Rookie of the Year voting, and is still eligible for the award in 2021, making him a favorite. Anderson had a 1.92 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 32.1 innings, and batters had an xBA of just .184 against him. MLB Pipeline ranks Anderson as the 34th best prospect in baseball. The Braves brought back former Atlanta draft pick Charlie Morton on a one year deal. Now 37, Morton was dominant in 2018 and 2019, and was a Cy Young finalist in the latter season. Something was off with Morton last year, as he had a 4.74 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 38 innings. His once dominant curveball was hit a little bit more last year, and he shied away from it at times for his not-as-good fastball. The Braves are taking a flier on veteran lefty Drew Smyly, who may have rebuilt his career in 26.1 innings last year. Playing for the Giants, Smyly struck out 42 batters with a 2.01 FIP. His astounding 37.8 K% was undercut by a 90.6 mph average exit velocity. However, if Smyly can keep striking batters out, the exit velocity won't matter as much. 2017 5th overall pick Kyle Wright will be a spot starter and a long reliever. He's only 25, but Wright has really struggled in small MLB samples. He had a 5.21 ERA with 30 strikeouts and 24 walks in 38 innings last year, which are all numbers that need to change.

Relief Pitchers

As Mark Melancon left for the Padres, the closer of the Braves became a brawl. That could have been resolved quickly if the team had signed Trevor Rosenthal, a pitcher they reportedly had interest in. However, right now the closer isn't clear. Only two relievers on the team have substantial closing experience, and neither were great in 2020. The first is Will Smith, who the Braves dished out big money for, only for him to finish just one game, and that wasn't even a save. Smith struck out 18 batters in 16 innings with a 0.938 WHIP last year, but allowed a whopping seven home runs. Keep in mind how small the sample size is, and that Smith had a great xERA and K% in 2019. The other pitcher with closing experience is Luke Jackson, who isn't in the running now. Jackson closed games in 2019 before Melancon, Shane Greene and Chris Martin came in at the deadline. He was a strikeout machine in 2019, but only had a 15.2 K% in 2020, with a 6.84 ERA and an ugly 1.975 WHIP. Martin is likely the best reliever on the team, after posting a 1.00 ERA in 18 innings with 20 strikeouts and a 0.611 WHIP. Martin only had a 4.5 BB% and allowed a .161 wOBA. It is getting hard to predict AJ Minter. He was great in 2018, then posted a 7.06 ERA in 2019. Minter returned to dominance in 2020, striking out 24 in 21.2 innings, and allowing just two earned runs for a 0.83 ERA. He allowed an average exit velocity of just 84.5 mph with a 23.1 hard hit percentage. Tyler Matzek completed his arc from first round pick to independent ball pitcher to dominant reliever. He struck out 43 batters in 29 innings, with a 2.79 ERA, a 2.55 xERA and a .181 xBA. The Braves are probably going to carry four left-handed relievers at the minimum, in Smith, Minter, Matzek and Grant Dayton. Dayton struck out 32 batters in 27.1 innings, with a 2.30 ERA. Dayton's main pitch, his fastball, allowed a .175 average. Righty Jacob Webb continued his 2019 success by not allowing an earned run in 10 innings. He has a filthy fastball and changeup mix that both force swing-and-misses. Right now the Braves have some decent names on the outside competing for a spot. Bryse Wilson, Touki Toussaint and Huascar Ynoa are all young players who have MLB experience, but have failed to make an impact. Josh Tomlin threw more innings than any Brave besides Fried last year, making five starts and 12 bullpen appearances. His 4.76 ERA was less than desirable. The only non-roster invitee with a chance at the roster is Nate Jones, a strikeout pitcher with a career 3.31 ERA. 

Catchers

The Braves offense had little flaws in 2020, and starting catcher was not one of them. Travis d'Arnaud was just about everything they could have imagined and more, hitting nine home runs with a .321 average and a .919 OPS. d'Arnaud absolutely crushes the ball, with an average exit velocity of 93.4 mph, and a 57.8 hard hit percentage. The team let Tyler Flowers leave in free agency, so one of Alex Jackson and William Contreras will be the backup. Jackson hit 28 home runs in AAA in 2019, and he has nine games of MLB experience. The sixth overall pick in 2014, He is a few years older than Contreras, at age 25. Contreras, the brother of Chicago's Willson Contreras, went 4-for-10 in four games this year. He is yet to play at the AAA level, so he should start there. 

Infielders

There are a lot of good stats belonging to Freddie Freeman, so I'll try to keep things short. Of course, Freeman won the NL MVP award in 2020, and somehow only his second Silver Slugger. Freeman hit a league leading 23 doubles with 13 home runs, a .341 average and a 1.102 OPS while playing in all 60 games. Freeman also walked more (45) than he struck out (37), and had a .660 xSLG with a .449 wOBA. 2020 was the first season where Ozzie Albies had a below-average OPS+, but at 99 in 29 games, that is not a problem at all. Albies hit six home runs with three stolen bases, plus a .773 OPS. He also had four outs above average, which is amazing for his games played total. Every year seems like the year where Dansby Swanson breaks through, and 2020 was the closest to that. Swanson hit 10 home runs with five stolen bases, and an .809 OPS. Swanson has exceptional speed, and he had 10 defensive runs saved in 2020. Austin Riley was able to cut down on his strikeouts in 2020, something that was a big issue for him in 2019. He hit eight home runs with an average exit velocity of 91 mph. Utility infielder Johan Camargo can play second and third base, plus corner outfielder and shortstop. He is a weak hitter, with a .187 xBA in 2020, but he two outs above average at both second and third base. The favorites for the final spot are two non roster invitees. Jason Kipnis hit three home runs with a .744 OPS, although his .183 xBA and -3 outs above average were rough. Former 30 home run hitter Jake Lamb has struggled since 2017, but he improved in 13 games for the A's last year. Lamb hit three home runs with an .882 OPS for the A's. He can play third and first base. 

Outfielders

Young superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. was great again in 2020, hitting 14 home runs with eight stolen bases and a .987 OPS, picking up his second Silver Slugger award. Acuna also had a 16% barrel percentage, an 18.8 BB%, a .590 xSLG and a 92.4 mph average exit velocity. Nick Markakis is gone, so Acuna should be the main right fielder this season. The Braves brought back Marcell Ozuna, who definitely proved it on the one year prove-it deal he signed a year ago. Ozuna led the league with both 18 home runs and 56 RBIs, and he had a really good .338 average, but unfortunately could not secure the triple crown. Ozuna also had a 1.067 OPS with a 54.4 hard hit percentage. The universal DH is gone, which means that Ozuna will have to play the field again. And by his -8 outs above average in 2019, you can tell he is not a great fielder. It will be interesting to see if top prospect Cristian Pache starts out as the starting centerfielder. Pache debuted in 2020, and most of his at-bats came in the postseason, but he seemed outmatched by the Dodgers pitching. Pache had a .747 OPS in 26 AAA games in 2019, but I don't think he'll go back there to start 2021. He has great speed and is awesome defensively, which are Ender Inciarte's strengths. Inciarte is a light hitter, with a 78.2 mph average exit velocity, and a .230 wOBA. Inciarte has been a great defender throughout his career, although he had 0 outs above average in 2020. 

Projected Rotation

Max Fried (L)
Mike Soroka (R)
Ian Anderson (R)
Charlie Morton (R)
Drew Smyly (L)

Projected Bullpen
Will Smith (L)
Chris Martin (R)
AJ Minter (L)
Luke Jackson (R)
Tyler Matzek (L)
Grant Dayton (L)
Kyle Wright (R)
Jacob Webb (R)
Josh Tomlin (R)

Projected Lineup
RF Ronald Acuna Jr. (R)
2B Ozzie Albies (S)
1B Freddie Freeman (L)
LF Marcell Ozuna (R)
C Travis d'Arnaud (R)
SS Dansby Swanson (R)
3B Austin Riley (R)
CF Cristian Pache (R)
Pitcher

Projected Bench
C Alex Jackson (R)
IF Jake Lamb (L)
UT Johan Camargo (S)
OF Ender Inciarte (L)

Prediction

Once again, the NL East is a war-zone. The Braves are obviously good, but everyone else's stock has gone up since a year ago. Well, the Nationals went really far down then up halfway, but still, the Braves have competition. The bullpen got a little bit worse, but the front office boosted the rotation, and the team is better. The Braves will win the division once again in 2021, and go to the World Series. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Arizona Diamondbacks 2021 Season Preview

 


       When you don't go big, success rarely holds up. That should become the new motto for the Diamondbacks, who have officially missed their window of success with Zack Greinke, Paul Goldschmidt, Robbie Ray and Archie Bradley walking out the door in recent years. Of course, the Dodgers are still a massive threat in the NL West, but the Padres are going all-in, something the Diamondbacks conservatively tried to do, and that makes it impossible for the other three NL West teams to succeed. While 2020's 5th place finish was a little bit undeserved for Arizona, the division rival Rockies did their best to change that by trading Nolan Arenado. With the pressure off of them, GM Mike Hazen and Manager Torey Lovullo have the opportunity to build up a new, younger core.

Offseason Additions: RHP Joakim Soria, IF Asdrubal Cabrera, RHP Chris Devenski, LHP Ryan Buchter, C Bryan Holaday, RHP Ben Heller.

Offseason Subtractions: RHP Junior Guerra, RHP Hector Rondon, OF Jon Jay.


Trade Deadline 2020 summary:

Acquired: LHP Caleb Smith, RHP Humberto Mejia, LHP Travis Bergen, UT Josh VanMeter.

Traded: RHP Archie Bradley, OF Starling Marte, LHP Robbie Ray, LHP Andrew Chafin. 

2020 record: 25-35

2020 placement: 5th

2020 WAR leader (batters): Nick Ahmed

2020 WAR leader (pitchers): Zac Gallen


Starting Pitchers

After trading away ace Zack Greinke in 2019, the Dbacks went aggressive, and pried Madison Bumgarner from the rival Giants, after he posted a career worst 3.90 ERA in 2019. Bumgarner, who is somehow only 31, got absolutely crushed in his first year in the desert. In nine starts, he struck out just 30 batters in 41.2 innings, with a 6.48 ERA. He allowed barrels nearly 15 percent of the time, with an expected slugging against of .613. His fastball velocity also plummeted to an average of 88.4 mph. The team did find a replacement for Greinke however, in 25 year old Zac Gallen. He throws a curveball that had a 38.4 whiff rate and a .098 average against last year. Gallen had a 2.75 ERA and 10.3 K/9 over 12 starts. Injuries limited Luke Weaver to 12 starts in 2019, and he succeeded with a 2.94 ERA. However, the shortened season limited him to that exact same amount of starts in 2020, and the results changed drastically. Weaver finished with an ERA of 6.58, accompanied with a 9.5 K/9 and a hard hit percentage of 42%. The Diamondbacks used a hot start by Starling Marte to flip him to Miami for lefty Caleb Smith, who showed the ability to strike out batters and put exceptional spin on his fastball in Miami. In four games (three starts) after the trade, Smith had a 2.45 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 11 innings. Merrill Kelly failed to show his KBO success in 2019, when his 4.42 ERA in 32 starts made him questionable for the rotation in 2020. While he made just five starts last year, he pitched well, with a 2.59 ERA and a 0.989 WHIP. With a 4.0% BB rate, Kelly placed in the top five percent of pitchers. Lefty Alex Young spent a lot of time in the 'pen last year, but he can be stretched out to be a spot starter. Young posted a 5.44 ERA with a .545 xSLG in 2020. 

Relief Pitchers

Sinkerballer Stefan Crichton became the team's closer after Archie Bradley was dealt to Cincinnati, and converted five saves. He had a 2.42 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 26 innings. Plus, he limited barrels to just 1.4%, and his curveball had a 44.6% whiff rate. The only competition for the closing job right now is veteran Joakim Soria, who comes in after closing for the Royals, Tigers, Rangers and White Sox in previous seasons. Soria spent 2019 and 2020 in Oakland, and last year he had a 2.82 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 22.1 innings. His peripherals were great, as Soria finished with a 2.76 xERA and a .243 wOBA against. Yoan Lopez had a 3.41 ERA in 2019, but the warning signs were massive. He had a .312 xBA and a 6.60 xERA. Those awful numbers improved last year, although his standard numbers didn't. Lopez had a 5.95 ERA with a .227 xBA, a 90.5 average exit velocity and a 4.39 xERA. 2016 24th round pick Riley Smith had an encouraging rookie season. He appeared in just six games, but he threw 18.1 innings, with a 1.47 ERA and 18 strikeouts. His sinker being thrown predominantly led to a 48.9% groundball rate. Former Reds farmhand Keury Mella probably earned a roster spot in 10 innings last year, with a 1.80 ERA and 10 strikeouts. He throws a mid-to-high-90s fastball and sinker, plus a slider that contributed to 80% of his Ks last year. The lefty in the bullpen (besides Alex Young) will come down to Travis Bergen and Ryan Buchter. Bergen was acquired for Robbie Ray at the deadline, and he struck out eight batters in seven appearances afterwards. However, he also walked eight batters, with a 4.05 ERA. Buchter is a 34 year old veteran who has a career ERA of 2.90. 2020 was actually his first season with an ERA over 3.00, as he posted a 4.50 mark in six innings with eight strikeouts for the Angels. Buchter has limited lefties to a .620 OPS in his career. The final spots will go to two of a trio of right-handers, two of which came from the Yankees organization. Ben Heller recently signed a minor league deal with the team. Injuries and a high walk rate prohibited him from becoming a regular in New York, but he has a 2.59 ERA in 31.1 career innings with 30 strikeouts. Taylor Widener debuted in 2020, striking out 22 but also walking 12 in 20 innings. The most experienced of the group is Taylor Clarke, a long relief and starter option who probably isn't needed if the team carries six starters plus Smith. Clarke had a 4.36 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 43.1 innings last season. Chris Devenski, in camp on a minor league deal, could make the team. He allowed six runs in 3.2 innings last year, and is not the same player he once was in Houston.

Catchers

Carson Kelly regressed after a career 2019 season. His OPS+ dropped 40 points, down to 71. Kelly hit five home runs with a big decrease in his walk rate, down to 4.7 from 13.2% in 2019. Veteran Stephen Vogt also hit well in 2019 before a huge drop-off in 2020. Vogt finished with a .167 average and a .525 OPS, as his average exit velocity dropped by 2.5 mph. Still, Vogt is a great pitch framer. Daulton Varsho is one of the top catching prospects in baseball, but he played center field more than he caught last year. Varsho hit three home runs, stole three bases and had a .653 OPS in 37 games last year. Varsho had an .899 OPS in AA in 2019. He has a solid chance to be the starting center fielder in 2021. 

Infielders

Paul Goldschmidt's replacement, Christian Walker, continued to slug in 2020, as he finished with seven home runs, a .271 average and a 110 OPS+. Walker mashes the ball, with a 90.4 average exit velocity and a 48.5 hard hit percentage. After an MVP-level 2019 season, Ketel Marte regressed back to what he was prior to that. He hit just two home runs in 45 games, with a .287 average, and a very low 10.8 K%. One thing that he needs to improve on is a low 3.6 BB%. Nick Ahmed has become a slightly below average hitter, which is great for Arizona. Once an offensive liability, Ahmed had an acceptable 94 OPS+ in 2020. This is fine because Ahmed is a great defender, finishing with four outs above average last year, and 48 since the start of 2018. Like Marte, Eduardo Escobar regressed after a great 2019. Out went the 118 RBI pace, and in came a .605 OPS. Escobar did have a career high 88.5 average exit velocity and his K rate was under 20 percent, so I would not put too much stock into his rough 2020. Veteran Asdrubal Cabrera has reportedly signed a deal with the club, although nothing has officially been announced by the team at the moment. Cabrera hit eight home runs with a .753 OPS in 2020 for Washington. He was a key contributor in their 2019 World Series run, with 40 RBIs and a .969 OPS in 38 games down the stretch. He could move to second base while Marte plays center, but for now he should be a super utility player. 2017 7th overall pick Pavin Smith does not have the pedigree of Keston Hiura or Jo Adell, two players picked right after him, but he has a chance to make the roster. The lefty debuted in 2020, and he can play first base and left field. Smith hit .270 with a 99 OPS+ in 12 games, and he had an .835 OPS in 2019, down in AA. A 2012 2nd rounder by the Pirates, Wyatt Mathisen has a small chance of making the roster. He played in nine MLB games in 2020, and in 2019, Mathisen hit 23 home runs with a 1.004 OPS at AAA. 

Outfielders

Entering his eighth season, David Peralta was still productive in 2020. Peralta hit five home runs with a .300 average and a .773 OPS, while playing above average defense. Right fielder Kole Calhoun was actually the most productive offseason pick-up from last year. After hitting 33 home runs for the Angels, Calhoun brought his power bat to Arizona, where he hit 16 home runs with an .864 OPS in 54 games. His .519 xSLG was well above-average. Center field is where things can get messy. Varsho and Marte will both likely get reps there, and Varsho could be the primary CF. Speedster Tim Locastro is also an option. He is 26-for-26 in stolen base attempts in his career, with four of them coming last year. He is a great defender, and 30.7 ft/s sprint speed led the majors in 2020. Locastro is not known as a good hitter, but he hit .290 with an .859 OPS in 33 games last year. If either Varsho or P. Smith (there are three Smiths on this team!) start in the minors, then Josh Rojas will start on the roster. Since coming over in 2019 in the Greinke deal, Rojas has played both corner outfield positions, plus second base and shortstop in 58 games for the D-backs. Rojas only has a .567 OPS in those games though. 

Projected Rotation

Zac Gallen (R)
Madison Bumgarner (L)
Luke Weaver (R)
Caleb Smith (L)
Merrill Kelly (R)

Projected Bullpen
Stefan Crichton (R)
Joakim Soria (R)
Yoan Lopez (R)
Riley Smith (R)
Alex Young (L)
Ryan Buchter (L)
Ben Heller (R)
Keury Mella (R)
Taylor Widener (R)

Projected Lineup
2B Ketel Marte (S)
3B Eduardo Escobar (S)
1B Christian Walker (R)
RF Kole Calhoun (L)
LF David Peralta (L)
C Carson Kelly (R)
SS Nick Ahmed (R)
CF Daulton Varsho (R)
Pitcher

Projected Bench
C Stephen Vogt (L)
1B/LF Pavin Smith (L)
IF Asdrubal Cabrera (S)
OF Tim Locastro (R)

Prediction

The Diamondbacks are caught in an odd position. Maybe they could finish second or third in the NL Central or AL West, but they aren't close to competitiveness in the NL West. The Dodgers and Padres will dominate the division for years to come, while the Diamondbacks have a shot at third place at best. That is where I see them finishing in 2021.