2017 MLB Season Preview

Other than October, this is the best time of the year for sports. We’ve had another insane March Madness (a big congrats if you still have a Final Four team), the Masters is next week (preview coming this weekend), the NBA and NHL playoffs will be here shortly and MLB season starts April 2nd. Don’t worry, we’re still a golf course and this is generally a golf blog, but I thought we’d take a break this week to do a quick preview of the fantastic marathon that is Major League Baseball.

Even if you’re a casual fan, there are a few storylines worth noting. The Cubs broke their 108-year World Series drought, and are widely considered the favorite to repeat. Mike Trout just completed the ninth-best five-year stretch of any position player in history (according to FanGraph’s Wins Above Replacement – see glossary at the bottom). And he’s only 25, still entering his prime by baseball standards. The game has undergone a broad shift, as analytics have replaced traditional statistical standards. Bullpens are more valuable than ever as managers seek creative ways to utilize their best relievers in important situations, no matter the inning (teams have realized that starters are often much worse the third time through the lineup).

Like every year, there are bound to be surprise teams and players. We’ll take a look at the contenders, sleeper teams and my picks for the major awards (asterisk * denotes a homer pick).

Best Overall Record:

AL – Boston Red Sox (97-65)

Tough not to give this one to Cleveland, considering they added a bomber in the middle of the lineup (Edwin Encarnacion) and were up 3-1 in the World Series before the Cubbie miracle. There are questions in Boston with the retirement of Big Papi and David Price’s health, but they added Chris Sale’s electric arm and return the reigning AL Cy Young winner in Rick Porcello. Last year it seemed that every time you saw the ticker on SportsCenter the Red Sox had put up 10+ runs, and they will be replacing Papi’s bat with the #1 prospect in baseball, Andrew Benintendi. Mookie Betts is now a perennial MVP candidate. Barring an injury bug, watch out.

Other Notables: Astros, Indians, Rangers

NL – Chicago Cubs (99-63)

The Cubs look tough to beat for the next decade. While their staff has aged (Arrieta, Lester and Lackey are all over 30), the lineup is young and their defense is elite. Joe Maddon could pretty much shuffle the lineup around every day and they’d still have a top-3 offense. The return of Kyle Schwarber just adds another dynamic bat to an already history-making attack. Barring another crazy Cardinals’ run, it’s hard to not see them running away with the NL Central.

Other Notables: Dodgers, Mets, Nationals

Surprise Team –

AL – Minnesota Twins*

This isn’t predicated on anything other than pure hope. The Twins’ staff doesn’t scare anyone, and it’s a major leap of faith that Joe Mauer will rise from the dead. Buxton and Sano would need to return to status as elite young talent and a staff ace would need to be found somewhere on the streets of Minneapolis. But hey, right now, we’re tied for first!

Other Notables: Angels, Athletics, Tigers

NL – Colorado Rockies

It would be nice to see the Rockies catch a break. It’s extremely difficult to attract free-agent pitching to the most hitter-friendly park in baseball, and they’ve already been ripped with injuries (Ian Desmond, broken hand, out a month; Tom Murphy, broken forearm, out until May, David Dahl, broken rib, probably out for April). Yet, there’s optimism. No pitcher wants to face Nolan Arenado or the rest of their lineup anywhere. Jon Gray is developing into an ace, and they have a couple No. 2 types in Chatwood and Anderson that can get them through the season. This just feels like a weird enough blend of a good old manager seeking redemption (Bud Black) and a young team with an MVP candidate (Arenado) that they could sneak into the playoffs.

Other Notables: Braves, Marlins, Pirates

Playoff Picks –

AL-

Wild Card – Rangers over Tigers

Divisional – Red Sox over Rangers, Astros over Indians

Championship – Astros over Red Sox

NL-

Wild Card – Rockies over Nationals

Divisional – Cubs over Rockies, Mets over Dodgers

Championship – Mets over Cubs

World Series – Mets over Astros

 

Awards –

AL-

MVP – Mookie Betts, Red Sox

 Cy Young – Yu Darvish, Rangers

Rookie of the Year – Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox

Manager of the Year – A.J. Hinch, Astros

Comeback Player – Joe Mauer, Twins*

NL-

MVP- Nolan Arenado, Rockies

Cy Young – Noah Syndergaard, Mets

Rookie of the Year – Dansby Swanson, Braves

Manager of the Year – Bud Black, Rockies

Comeback Player – Bryce Harper, Nationals

 

Top Ten Fantasy Players –

  1. Mookie Betts, Red Sox
  2. Nolan Arenado, Rockies
  3. Mike Trout, Angels
  4. Manny Machado, Orioles
  5. Jose Altuve, Astros
  6. Kris Bryant, Cubs
  7. Bryce Harper, Nationals
  8. Carlos Correa, Astros
  9. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
  10. Noah Syndergaard, Mets

 

Glossary –

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) – If you’ve been watching baseball at all recently, you’ll probably have seen or heard this term. It’s basically a statistic that encompasses a given player’s entire contribution to a team. It states how many wins this player adds (or detracts) compared to an average minor-league call-up or bench player. For example, Mike Trout was worth 10.6 wins to his team last year (that’s an incredible amount for an individual player). While not a perfect stat, it does differentiate well enough that you can tell how good a player is overall by their WAR number Here’s a little chart:

Scrub 0-1 WAR
Role Player 1-2 WAR
Solid Starter 2-3 WAR
Good Player 3-4 WAR
All-Star 4-5 WAR
Superstar 5-6 WAR
MVP 6+ WAR

 

As always, whenever I make a sports prediction, it’s bound to be wrong. Hope you enjoy the season, and best of luck to your favorite team, unless they’re in the AL and not named the Twins. There will be enough hot-headed managers, bench-clearing brawls and Cuban defectors to keep us all entertained. Happy baseball!