BravesCentric’s 2015 Predictions

NL East Division Winners: Washington Nationals

For the second straight season the Washington Nationals will coast to a first place finish in the NL East. According to ESPN’s fantasy rankings, Washington has five starting pitchers in the top 32. No other team has more than two and twelve teams don’t even have one. Their offense finished 3rd in the NL last season and should place similarly in 2015, assuming the injury bug doesn’t continue to hamper some of their keys players.

NL Central Division Winners: Pittsburgh Pirates

Despite not adding much impact talent in the off season, the Pirates look poised to claim their first Division Title since 1992. The offense has no obvious weak spots and with so many young players in their prime, career years could result for a number of line up regulars. Pedro Alvarez in particular can finally focus his attention on hitting now that he’s moved across the diamond to first base. Pirates pitching could be spectacular with Fransisco Cervelli stealing strikes behind the plate and top prospects Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow primed to make contributions at the big league level.

NL West Division Winners: Los Angeles Dodgers

Nothing controversial here. The Dodgers have the best pitcher, the most money, and according to Baseball Prospectus the third best farm system in baseball. The rotation lacks depth, especially in light of Hyun-Jin Ryu’s shoulder issues, but Clayton Kershaw was worth more in WAR last season than James Shields, Andrew Cashner, and Ian Kennedy combined so I don’t think there’s cause for concern. The lineup is also solid and could be incredible if Joc Pederson and Yasmani Grandal have breakout seasons.

AL East Division Winners: Toronto Blue Jays

Most projections expect a robust offense in Toronto this season, which isn’t surprising given the presence of Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista. Professional prognosticators are not so complimentary about their pitching but I’m upbeat. Opening Day starter Drew Hutchison may not be a household name yet but after posting 184 strikeouts in 184 2/3 innings last season he seems primed for a breakout season. Top prospect Aaron Sanchez looks like he’s made some improvements on his command this spring and Daniel Norris looks ready to carve up AL line ups after posting a 11.8 K/9 in the minor leagues last season. Buerhle and Dickey lack upside but you can always count on them to be solid contributors.

AL Central Division Winners: Chicago White Sox

Four teams have a legitimate chance at the AL Central crown this season, but I think the Pale Hose have this one on the strength of their rotation. Sale, Samardzija, and Quintana are reliably terrific and I think we can expect top prospect Carlos Rodon to join the rotation some time in May or June. The bullpen remains a little shaky but the White Sox made a number of off season acquisitions to close the gap with their divisional foes. The offense should also be solid assuming none of the new White Sox hitters pull an Adam Dunn.

AL West Winners: Seattle Mariners

The Mariners are currently the vogue pick to win the AL West and I can’t say I disagree. King Felix and Iwakuma make a great one two punch and James Paxton and Taijan Walker look ready to take the bigs by storm. The offense was already a lot better last season and now they’ve added Nelson Cruz and all those homers.

NL Wild Card Winner: Cubs over Marlins

Theo Epstein may be aiming for 2016 but it always seems like these rebuilding efforts pay off sooner than you think. The Cubs have the payroll flexibility and enough promising prospects so even if only half of them work out they should be in pretty good shape. They’ll need another starter but with so much infield depth it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a trading partner.

AL Wild Card Winner: Indians over Red Sox

Clevelands got a good bullpen, a solid offense, and a massive amount of upside in its rotation (oh yeah and Corey Kluber).

World Series: Nationals over Indians

How often does the “best” team win the World Series? If we are going off of wins only 3 times in the last 10 years. Even still I think their rotation is next to unbeatable and though they’re hampered by injury now I think they’ll be blasting on all cylinders come October.

NL ROY: Joc Pederson

Kris Bryant is getting all of the love but Pederson has speed as well as power and he plays a premier defensive position (CF).

AL ROY: Daniel Norris

His aforementioned strikeout rate is insane and he should play for a team that scores him a ton of runs.

NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton

Stantons prodigious power would be impressive in any era but with the permanent power outage we are having in MLB, I expect Stanton will be rewarded for his incredibly rare skill set.

AL MVP: Mike Trout

This pick should really put me on the map.

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2005 Prospects Revisted: Los Angeles Angels

After 10 long years the time seems right for a series of brief yet illuminating re-examinations of top prospect lists (courtesy of Baseball America) from 2005. Given the Angels’ alphabetical placement, they seemed like a good team to lead off with. Here is the list:

1. Casey Kotchman 1B
2. Dallas McPherson 3B
3. Erick Aybar SS
4. Jeff Mathis C
5. Kendry Morales 1B/OF
6. Brandon Wood SS
7. Ervin Santana RHP
8. Howie Kendrick 2B
9. Alberto Callaspo 2B/SS
10. Steven Shell RHP

This is an impressive bevy of prospects. These ten players own a combined 93.5 WAR through 2014, and at least half  can expect to add to that total in 2015 and beyond. Each of the ten reached the majors and every one of them posted a positive career WAR, with the exception of Brandon Wood (-3.7).

The ranking itself is, of course, a bit out of whack with Dallas McPherson ranked ahead of three All Stars and Kendrys Morales but all in all BA identified many of the Angels’ future cornerstones. They did arguably drop the ball leaving Mike Napoli unranked. Napoli was coming off a season in which he hit .282/.393/.539 with 29 homers for the High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (say that three times fast). Also absent were Jered Weaver, Sean Rodriguez, and Mark Trumbo but their professional experience at that point was either little or none.

Anyway, hard to say if this is an impressive number with nothing to compare it to yet but the 2005 Angels minor league system produced 44 players (200.9 combined WAR) who would go on to see at least some time in the major leagues.

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Putting the Braves Awful Offense in Historical Context

So everyone knows the Braves are going to suck this season. The pitching is solid with Teheran, Wood, and Miller fronting the rotation but it is universally accepted that the offense will be abysmal. To wit, look (if you dare) at the Braves projected opening day lineup for the 2015 season:

1. Nick Markakis RF
2. Andrelton Simmons SS
3. Freddie Freeman 1B
4. Chris Johnson 3B
5. BJ Upton CF
6. Jonny Gomes LF
7. Alberto Callaspo 2B
8. Christian Bethancourt C
9. Pitcher Spot

Yikes. This is a bad lineup. But how (relatively) bad is it? To answer this question I pooled data on Braves’ lineup regulars from 1966 to 2014. By “regular” I mean whoever Baseball Reference had ranked as having the most plate appearances at a particular position in a given season. I then took the Steamer projections for the players above and ranked them among their positional cohorts. I only looked at OPS because this is an inaugural article and I’m trying to keep things simple.

Here are the results:

Christian Bethancourt (C)
Steamer Projected OPS: .612
OPS Ranking: 44th out of 50

A glove man by trade, Bethancourt hasn’t achieved much offensively since entering professional baseball in 2009 and has so far hit poorly in his limited time in the majors (.246/.271/.272 in 118 plate appearances). He’s currently projected to have the worst season for a Braves regular catcher since Jody Davis (.489 OPS) in 1989.

Freddie Freeman (1B)
Steamer Projected OPS: .856
OPS Ranking: 14th out of 50

From 2011-2014 Big Fred has slashed a solid .287/.368/.466 and hit a combined 85 homeruns. With the exception of the failed Scott Thorman experiment back in ’07 the Braves have been pretty productive at first base and that trend should continue in 2015.

Alberto Callaspo (2B)
Steamer Projected OPS: .674
OPS Ranking: 29th out of 50

After watching Dan Uggla flail embarrassingly at practically everything thrown at him for three plus seasons, Braves fans should come to appreciate Callaspo’s more contact based approach. At 31 his best years are likely behind him but he should provide a steady presence at the bottom of the order.

Andrelton Simmons (SS)
Steamer Projected OPS: .675
OPS Ranking: 21st out of 50

Simmons’ offensive game took a step back last season. His walk rate fell, his strikeouts rose, and he saw his homerun total drop from 17 to 7. Steamer expects a mild bounce back, but not enough to make a significant impact on an otherwise anemic offense.

Chris Johnson (3B)
Steamer Projected OPS: .694
OPS Ranking: 42nd out of 50

The 2013 Batting Title runner up fell off the table last season hitting .263/.292/.361 with an 83 OPS+. Given his low walk rate and inability to make consistent contact, it remains doubtful that he’ll be able to return to his pre-2014 form.

Jonny Gomes (LF)
Steamer Projected OPS: .675
OPS Ranking: 48th out of 50

Google “Jonny Gomes good clubhouse presence” and you get 34,400 hits, which is nothing to sniff at. That said, Gomes is projected to put up the third worst season for an Atlanta Braves left fielder behind only Melky Cabrera (.671 OPS) in 2010 and Rufino Lanares (.664 OPS) in 1981.

BJ Upton (CF)
Steamer Projected OPS: .652
OPS Ranking: 44th out of 50

What can be said about BJ Upton that hasn’t already been said about the Hindenburg? In his first two seasons with the Braves, Upton has already put up the second worst and fourth worst seasons for an Atlanta centerfielder, hitting a combined .198/.279/.314 over 1028(!) plate appearances. Perhaps the name change will inexplicably provide him the boost that he needs.

Nick Markakis (RF)
Steamer Projected OPS: .712
OPS Ranking: 44th out of 50

The Markakis signing has been derided by many in the industry but it’s amazing how much worse this team looks without him. He’ll be one of Atlanta’s worst right fielders to date but he should at least provide league average production after he returns from surgery.

There you have it. Five of the Braves eight regulars should number among some of the worst in franchise history and only two project to have an OPS over .700. It’s going to be a long season.

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