MLB Predictions 2016: Projecting the Final Standings
Thanks to the Toronto Blue Jays' relentless offense and the Chicago Cubs' incredible stable of talented young position players, those two teams are the kings of these 2016 MLB predictions.
The Jays and the Cubs land the title of "team to beat" in the American League East and the National League Central, respectively, which just so happen to be two of the most fearsome divisions in the game.
In the process of projecting final standings for the AL East, the NL Central and the other four divisions, we took two key factors into consideration:
- Last year's results—with an extra emphasis on second-half numbers
- Whether given teams bolstered their rosters (or in some cases depleted them) during the offseason
As will be the case with the Cubs, the teams that did the best in these projections stand to improve significantly thanks to external improvements on the free-agent and trade fronts and via internal improvements as promising young stars enter their prime.
|Los Angeles Angels||78||84|
The Houston Astros are scary.
Last season, the squad smashed the second-most homers in baseball, and the young core—including the likes of Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and George Springer—is only getting older, more experienced and better.
As ESPN.com's Dave Schoenfield sees it, Correa has the potential to become one of the giants of the sport: "If there's one player who can challenge Mike Trout and Bryce Harper for best-player-in-the-game honors, it's Correa."
As Schoenfield noted, Correa posted an adjusted OPS of 132 in 2015. Only Trout, Harper, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. put up a higher adjusted OPS at age 20.
But it's not just the corps of bats that gives the Astros the nod over clubs like the Texas Rangers and the Seattle Mariners. It's also the arms—especially new closer Ken Giles, who has a 1.56 ERA in 113 games.
The Rangers are a difficult club to peg because they have so many X-factors in play. Co-ace Yu Darvish is still on the mend from Tommy John surgery, Yovani Gallardo remains unsigned and Josh Hamilton's left knee continues to cause him problems, per Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
After a frenetic offseason, the Mariners should be better than a season ago, when they went 76-86. The M's limiting factor will likely be their offense.
New general manager Jerry Dipoto made a bevy of moves, but with Adam Lind standing out as the biggest addition, it will be a challenge to keep up with the Astros and Rangers, who finished sixth and third, respectively, in runs a season ago.
Offense also looks like the problem spot for the Los Angeles Angels. In the second half, the Halos were 14th in the AL in runs. That offensive ineptitude could re-emerge in 2016, as Albert Pujols is far from a lock to be in the lineup on Opening Day, per Jon Morosi of Fox Sports.
For the Oakland Athletics, who we project to land in the cellar once again, their fundamental problem in 2015 was their dismal pen. The brass has brought in Ryan Madson, John Axford, Liam Hendriks and Marc Rzepczynski as part of a drastic makeover.
Madson (2.13 ERA in 2015) is the star of that group, but it's worth wondering just how big of a difference the new relief crew can actually make. After all, Oakland ran up 94 losses during the season that was.
|Kansas City Royals||92||70|
|Chicago White Sox||73||89|
From this early juncture, the Kansas City Royals—MLB's reigning champs—remain perched atop the heap.
The club brought back Alex Gordon on a reasonable four-year, $72 million pact, and the youthful band of Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar is locked in for another run in 2016.
The club's most glaring weakness was its rotation, which tallied the fewest innings in the AL. GM Dayton Moore addressed that shortcoming by signing up Ian Kennedy, who eats innings like it's his job. The veteran righty has eclipsed the 200-innings plateau in three of the past five campaigns.
The Detroit Tigers have likewise strengthened their starting staff, reeling in Jordan Zimmermann on a five-year, $110 million deal. Detroit also bolstered its lineup (Justin Upton) and its pen (Francisco Rodriguez and Mark Lowe).
But as GM Al Avila admitted to Noah Trister of the Associated Press, those additions will go for naught if injuries strike once again.
"You can bring in Babe Ruth to this team or any team, and it doesn't matter," he said. "What's the key here is that everybody stays healthy and everybody does their part."
The Minnesota Twins are flooded with upside, from Byron Buxton to Miguel Sano to Eddie Rosario. Sano offers the most, as the designated hitter turned outfielder crushed 18 homers in just 80 games. Minnesota also has a highly intriguing new designated hitter in Byung Ho Park, who thumped 53 homers in the Korean Baseball Organization in 2015.
For the Twins, the central question mark is the rotation. The group was 16th in ERA last season and still doesn't have a pitcher who is remotely ace-like to lead the line.
For the Cleveland Indians, it's the offense rather than the rotation (No. 4 in the AL in ERA) that looms as the problem spot. The Tribe imported a couple of quality pieces in Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis but will be without star left fielder Michael Brantley in the early going as he rebounds from shoulder surgery.
With Brantley sidelined, shortstop Francisco Lindor will have to become the focal point for an attack that ranked No. 11 in the AL in runs.
Like the Indians, the Chicago White Sox sputtered at the plate in 2015.
The South Siders were last in the AL in runs, homers, OPS and slugging percentage. Luckily, the lineup will look unrecognizable come April, as Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie, Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro have all joined the White Sox.
But out of that group, only Frazier has the potential to be a true difference-maker. A lot will happen between now and the trade deadline, but if the White Sox fall behind in this derby early, it's not out of the question to think the club could become a summer seller.
|Toronto Blue Jays||93||69|
|New York Yankees||88||74|
|Boston Red Sox||87||75|
|Tampa Bay Rays||80||82|
When it comes to the AL East, "parity" is the operative word.
"Parity? AL East has had four different division champs [the] last four years: Blue Jays in 2015, O's in 2014, Red Sox in 2013, Yankees in 2012," Richard Justice of MLB.com tweeted in mid-January.
Based on the way 2015 shook out and how the offseason has progressed, the Toronto Blue Jays, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox will be the class of the division, while the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles will be the lightweights.
The Rays were a tick under average in 2015 (80-82) and have been quiet this offseason, as Corey Dickerson gains the title of "top addition."
The O's had an awful rotation (No. 14 in the AL in ERA) and have lost the steady Wei-Yin Chen (3.72 ERA in four seasons).
As for the projected contenders, the Red Sox have generated plenty of buzz. That will happen when you dish out $217 million to David Price. But for all the Price talk, the rest of the rotation looks suspect, and it's actually the bullpen—where president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski added Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith—that has improved more.
The Yankees—who won 87 times in 2015—also have issues with their starting staff. The good news in the Bronx is that the lights-out trio of Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances will shorten plenty of games to six-inning affairs.
The brain trust has also added some much-needed youth to the offense, which ranked second in the bigs in runs. Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro top that list. In 2015, Castro was especially strong down the stretch, hitting .353 from August 11 to the end of the campaign, per Ryan Hatch of NJ Advance Media.
When it comes to offense, there's no team like the Jays.
Last season, Toronto scored 127 more times than any other team, and this year, Troy Tulowitzki will be at the Rogers Centre from Opening Day. So, too, will Marcus Stroman, who was brilliant in a four-start cameo (1.67 ERA) last September.
The righty has the unenviable task of playing the part of Price in 2015, but he'll have lots of help from the supporting cast. Marco Estrada (3.13 ERA) is back, and Aaron Sanchez is ready to return to the rotation after reeling off a 2.39 ERA out of the pen.
|San Francisco Giants||90||72|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||87||75|
|San Diego Padres||75||87|
The National League West is shaping up to be a three-team sprint.
With apologies to the San Diego Padres, who haven't done much of anything to improve, and the Colorado Rockies, who have a disastrously bad rotation (5.27 ERA in 2015), they are the afterthoughts of this pack.
In the upcoming season, all of the attention will be shining on the triumvirate of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants.
The Dodgers were the division winners of 2015, but they've turned in the least ambitious and least inspiring offseason of the bunch.
The D-backs stole Zack Greinke away from Chavez Ravine with a $206.5 million check and also acquired a front-line guy in Shelby Miller from the Atlanta Braves. The pitching staff has been significantly improved, and the dynamic offense is already in place. Last year, Arizona scored the second-most runs in the NL.
The Giants have also been bold since the end of last season. The front office brought Jeff Samardzija and Denard Span to AT&T Park, but the real headliner is Johnny Cueto.
The Dominican endured an ugly second half (4.34 ERA in 11 starts), but his resume is filthy. As Aaron Gleeman of NBCSports.com noted, Cueto's 2.71 ERA since 2011 is second only to that of Clayton Kershaw.
Now that he has arrived in San Francisco, Cueto is ready to write his name into the club's unreal even-year lore. "It's an even year, and I'm ready to roll. Glad to be on board. Vamos!" Cueto tweeted.
While the D-backs and Giants have been busy acquiring aces like Greinke and Cueto, the Dodgers' big get is Scott Kazmir. Inked to a three-year, $48 million pact, Kazmir is a good, but not great, pitcher. He posted a 3.10 ERA in 2015, but it ballooned to 4.17 during his 13 starts with Houston.
For a team that had the richest payroll in baseball a season ago, it feels like the Dodgers have been shopping at the dollar store. That frugality will leave Los Angeles on the outside looking in when October rolls around.
|St. Louis Cardinals||88||74|
Make no mistake about it—this was the most challenging division to decide upon a winner.
It's easy enough to see that there are two very distinct tiers in the NL Central. There are the Chicago Cubs, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals. There's 50 feet of nothing, and then there are the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds.
Let's start with that second tier.
As the offseason trade activity of the Brew Crew and the Reds makes abundantly apparent, both of these franchises have their focus trained squarely on 2017 and beyond. Simply put, these teams are playing for draft position and giving auditions to promising young players.
For the Cubs, Pirates and Cards, it's all about 2016.
It feels foolish to drop St. Louis, winners of 100 games in 2015, into third, but that's the reality of the situation. The Cardinals lost John Lackey and Jason Heyward to the Cubs, and those defections aren't even the worst part of the winter. That distinction belongs to the murky future surrounding catcher Yadier Molina, whose left thumb is still recovering from a second surgery.
"That cast, GM John Mozeliak said, won't come off until mid-February, leaving the Cards in a wait-and-see mode as they seek to project when the veteran catcher will return to the field," Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com wrote.
For the Red Birds, that's one scary mode.
As is almost always the case in the offseason, the Bucs have been in stealth mode. Pittsburgh hasn't made any splashy additions, but the core of last year's team—with the exception of Neil Walker—remains intact. And it's worth remembering that last year's team racked up 98 wins.
The Cubs' core—from Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler to Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo—is not only intact but a year older and more experienced. Chicago only added to those riches by bringing in Heyward, Lackey and big league Swiss army knife Ben Zobrist.
Grab your popcorn, because this team is going to provide maximum baseball entertainment in 2016.
|New York Mets||92||70|
With the nastiest rotation in baseball, the New York Mets earn the title of "team to beat" in the Senior Circuit East.
It doesn't get any better than watching Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom throw darts, but don't sleep on the offense. With Yoenis Cespedes setting the tone, the Mets were first in the NL in runs following the Midsummer Classic.
Another Met who will play a crucial role in keeping the attack rolling is sophomore left fielder Michael Conforto. The 2014 top pick wasted no time adjusting to major league life last summer, hitting nine homers and putting up an .841 OPS in 56 games.
After losing to the Kansas City Royals in the Fall Classic, the soon-to-be 23-year-old has big plans for the upcoming campaign.
“It absolutely, definitely, motivates us,” Conforto said, per Marc Carig of Newsday. “I know everybody on this team feels this pain when they’re getting ready for this season. We’ll just use it to motivate us moving on.”
For the Washington Nationals, the motivation will fall to skipper Dusty Baker. The new boss inherits a team that seriously underperformed in 2015 and was also undone by an onslaught of injuries to guys such as Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth.
Of that group, Rendon has the potential to be a real game-changer. Health issues limited the right-handed hitter to just 80 games last season, but in 2014, he was No. 5 on the NL MVP ballot.
The Miami Marlins are another team with a new manager that could make some noise in the East. Don Mattingly takes the helm in South Beach, where the Fish are poised to play the dark-horse role.
Dee Gordon sparks the lineup and Giancarlo Stanton hits the ball harder than any other player in the bigs. In 2015, his average launch speed (99.1) was four miles per hour faster than the next-closest player, per MLB.com.
The Marlins will also have the electric Jose Fernandez from Day 1, and then there's the new guy, Wei-Yin Chen. The unheralded lefty doesn't generate much buzz, but he gets results. In 2015, Chen posted a 3.34 ERA, which ranked seventh in the AL.
Now we get to the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves, who are among the legion of NL teams tanking in 2016. The Phillies, losers of 99 a season ago, jettisoned star closer Giles this offseason in a seven-player swap with the Houston Astros, and the Braves sent out Miller and Andrelton Simmons.
For both of these teams, 2016 isn't about the win-and-loss record. It's rather geared toward building for the future and securing the best draft position for 2017.
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.