Predicting Over/Under with Each 2016 MLB Contender's Win Total
With spring training ramping up, teams across Major League Baseball are just about ready to start playing fake games. For the contenders, the idea will be to prepare to win as many real games as they can.
But how many real games will each contender win this season? We can't put too fine a point on it, but we can at least play around with the over/unders.
Odds Shark has yet to publish over/unders for 2016 win totals, but the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, Nevada, has, according to Danny Farris of Fox Sports. We'll take a look at the teams pegged for at least 80 or more wins and use projections from Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs as well as good old-fashioned analysis to decide whether the over or the under is more likely.
We'll begin with the contender projected for the fewest wins and end with the contender projected for the most wins. And because there are 21 teams to address, it wouldn't hurt to pull up a comfy chair for this one.
This is right where the Orioles were last season and ahead of where Baseball Prospectus (72 wins) and FanGraphs (78 wins) expect them to be. But according to one Baltimore player, the Orioles aren't sweating the relatively low expectations.
There are reasons for the O's to feel confident. They were able to retain Darren O'Day, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis this offseason. With Wieters, Davis and newcomer Mark Trumbo alongside Jones and the excellent Manny Machado, the Orioles lineup figures to be about as power-packed as it usually is.
It's not all good, though. Though the power stands out, Baltimore's lineup could also be just as one-dimensional as it was in 2015. The Orioles rotation, meanwhile, looks too thin. Yovani Gallardo is a step down from the departed Wei-Yin Chen, and he may also be another injury concern.
Besides which, the AL East and American League as a whole only got stronger this winter. Much to Baltimore's chagrin, you can color us as pessimistic as, well, everyone else.
Chicago White Sox
Good news! The projections are on board with this one, as Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs project at least 81 wins for the White Sox, who only won 76 last year.
After finishing dead-last in the AL in OPS last year, Chicago's offense figures to be better. Todd Frazier's power and speed are welcome additions next to Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton, and Melky Cabrera and Adam Eaton are strong bounce-back candidates.
Even better is the trio of lefties atop the White Sox rotation. Chris Sale and Jose Quintana know what they're doing, and the ultra-talented Carlos Rodon is a big-time breakout candidate.
But like with the Orioles, the White Sox's star power may only count for so much. They have no idea what they're going to get at catcher, shortstop, second base and right field, and as a whole they're not likely to drastically improve on last year's dreadful defensive showing. And though their three power lefties stand out, their rotation and bullpen depth leave much to be desired.
Elsewhere, the AL Central looks just as deep, if not deeper, than the AL East. We'll sum up our feelings by saying, "Eh, no."
Can the Marlins make a 10-win improvement over last year's 71-91 record? Baseball Prospectus (76 wins) says no, and FanGraphs (81 wins) says yes. So, we're on our own.
Well, we like the additions of Don Mattingly and Barry Bonds to the coaching staff. We also like the prospect of the Marlins getting full seasons out of Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez. Throw in Dee Gordon's rising stardom, Christian Yelich's consistency, the rejuvenated Marcell Ozuna and Wei-Yin Chen's stabilizing presence in the rotation, and one's head starts doing the Jack Nicholson nod.
But, durability probably shouldn't be taken for granted where Stanton and Fernandez are concerned. And if the latter's body does hold up, it'll be because the club's innings limit plan is holding him back.
And there are more questions. The back end of the Marlins' rotation personifies the word "meh," and they may also have to live with "meh" production at catcher, first base, third base and shortstop.
Plus, these Marlins will often tangle with the New York Mets and Washington Nationals. Miami has a much smaller margin for error, so a 10-win improvement is a lot to ask.
Los Angeles Angels
Though this is a step back from the 85 games the Angels won in 2015, Baseball Prospectus (77 wins) and FanGraphs (81 wins) think it's actually generous. Hence, Mike Scioscia's defiance.
"I don't think it serves any purpose to handicap," the Angels skipper told Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com. We're going to focus on in-house, what we need to do. I think that's the only way to look at it. I'm confident in this team."
The good news? This team still has Mike Trout, who is to baseball what Arnold Schwarzenegger was to '80s action films. And with the addition of Andrelton Simmons, what was already an efficient defense could be even better.
But goodness, are there red flags. With Albert Pujols hurting, Yunel Escobar likely regressing and performance questions at catcher, second base and left field, the Angels offense may not improve on last year's dismal showing. And though their rotation features depth, it's short on talent outside of Garrett Richards.
Given Seattle's improvements, the Angels also probably won't beat up on the Mariners like they did last year. They're not a bad team, per se, but they do indeed look primed for a step back.
Speaking of the Mariners, Baseball Prospectus (84 wins) and FanGraphs (83 wins) agree that they can make at least a seven-win improvement over last year's 76 wins. Huzzah...?
Perhaps not. Robinson Cano's decline sours the mood, and Felix Hernandez also showed signs of mortality last year. The Mariners additionally have to worry about Nelson Cruz's age (35) catching up with him and possibly about Ketel Marte and Taijuan Walker not being ready for stardom just yet.
The good news is that the Mariners were incredibly active this winter, retaining Hisashi Iwakuma and bringing in Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Adam Lind, Chris Iannetta, Nathan Karns, Wade Miley, Steve Cishek, Joaquin Benoit and Evan Scribner. In so doing, they patched up many key weaknesses.
Also intriguing is the prospect of general manager Jerry Dipoto influencing new skipper Scott Servais in a way he couldn't with Scioscia in Anaheim. It's already becoming clear that Servais is more open to analytics-based advice, which could have an impact.
The Mariners do have the potential to disappoint again, but their improved depth and increased reliance on information make for two good safety blankets. So, we're finally ready to give a thumbs up.
Only a three-win improvement over last year's 81-win season? Baseball Prospectus (92 wins) and FanGraphs (85 wins) say that's an easy call.
Maybe too easy. The Indians have soft spots at the back end of their rotation and in their lineup. In the latter, Michael Brantley looms as an especially big potential problem. Even if he's recovered from his right shoulder surgery, it may take him time to rediscover his usual excellence.
This team's strengths, however, once again look really strong. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are arguably the American League's best rotation trio, and they're once again backed by an overlooked bullpen. Up the middle, there's a lot to like about the trio of Yan Gomes, Jason Kipnis and 2015 Rookie of the Year contender Francisco Lindor.
If the Indians are beginning to sound curiously like the White Sox, the key difference is defense. Thanks to what was, as Ben Lindbergh noted at Grantland, a historic turnaround in 2015, the Indians are now a good defensive team.
That's a big reason why they went 74-66 after April last season. They're in a position to keep that up, which would take them past 84 wins.
After 79 wins in 2015 followed by the winter they just had, the Diamondbacks may be insulted by such a modest expectation. If so, they're probably more insulted at Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs expecting them to top out at 80 wins.
Arizona finished third in the National League in OPS last season and was arguably the best defensive team in baseball. All the D-Backs needed was pitching, and now they have Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller to go with a healthy Patrick Corbin, as well as Tyler Clippard in the bullpen.
But as Dave Cameron explains at FanGraphs, there's one big issue with the Diamondbacks' offseason haul: "While they made headlines with big splashy moves...there’s a general lack of depth on the roster, and the organization squandered a lot of assets without addressing those issues."
The Diamondbacks got notably worse on defense in right field and at shortstop, and Yasmany Tomas and newcomer Jean Segura may not hit enough to justify it. And though their pitching staff is definitely better, the rotation and bullpen are both still shallow.
Elsewhere, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants were also busy this winter. Arizona should be better, but maybe not as good as it wants to be.
This is an 11-win leap for a Tigers team that only won 74 games in 2015. That's a lot, and Baseball Prospectus (78 wins) and FanGraphs (81 wins) are skeptical.
That may seem silly, given the kind of names the Tigers are working with. They spent well over $200 million on Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton and also added Francisco Rodriguez as part of a long-awaited bullpen remake. Throw in Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, and the Tigers may lead the league in star power.
If all these stars live up to their billing, it could indeed be a huge season for the Tigers. Chances are, we'd be looking not at a mere 85-win team but more like a 95-win team.
But that's where there's plenty of room for doubt.
Cabrera is leaking power and durability, and the same can be said of Verlander. The older Martinez (37) and Sanchez (31) also come with durability question marks. And of the two big new additions, Zimmermann's strikeout decline in 2015 isn't a good omen for his switch to the American League.
Factor in the deep division and league in which the Tigers play, and their modest projections begin to sound reasonable.
New York Yankees
Finally, a consensus! This projection has the Yankees taking a two-win step back from their 87-75 record in 2015, and Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs think it's right on the money.
However, 85 wins might be conservative. Cameron recently made a case for the Yankees as baseball's most underrated team, and the idea has merit on paper. The Yankees are a team with a deep lineup, a deep rotation and a bullpen with the scariest three-headed monster since Ghidorah.
But this time last year, each bit of talent seemed to come with a question mark. And now, it's deja vu all over again.
There's no way Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira can do that again, right? Ditto Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann. These four also have durability question marks, putting them right there with Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and basically the entire starting pitching staff.
And yet, the Yankees' depth is a good counterbalance to their many questions, and the bullpen trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman is going to give them a huge margin for error. If the question is whether they can top 85 wins, the best answer we have is a shrug.
Boston Red Sox
Can the Red Sox make more than a seven-win improvement over last year's 78-84 showing? Easily, say Baseball Prospectus (88 wins) and FanGraphs (91 wins).
And they could be right. Thanks to strong work from David Ortiz and a host of young hitters, the Red Sox were actually quite good down the stretch in 2015. Now, they have David Price, Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith on their pitching staff and could get bounce-back years from Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia.
"We've got a ton of talent," Pedroia told Ian Browne of MLB.com. "It's just a matter of putting it together, playing together and winning games. Obviously, expectations every year for this team are high."
There are potential pitfalls, though. There's no obvious No. 2 behind Price in Boston's rotation, and the lineup has its share of questions. Sandoval, whose weight is already a concern, and Ramirez, who may be just as lousy at first base as he's been everywhere else, are easily the two biggest ones.
The trade-off is the upside of young players such as Mookie Betts (23), Xander Bogaerts (23) and Eduardo Rodriguez (22). And like the Yankees, the Red Sox's excellent bullpen figures to give them a good margin for error.
According to this, the Astros aren't going to improve on last year's 86-76 showing. And even Baseball Prospectus (88 wins) and FanGraphs (86 wins) seem cool on the idea.
And for good reason, because...hmmm...actually, we have nothing.
The Astros were a legitimately good team in 2015, using above-average starting pitching—led by Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel—relief pitching and defense with power and speed on offense to put their rebuilding phase behind them. Going into 2016, they have everything they need to take the next step.
That includes a full season of reigning Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa, as well as Carlos Gomez, Lance McCullers, Mike Fiers and, health permitting, George Springer. They also retained Colby Rasmus and added more pitching depth with the additions of Ken Giles and Doug Fister. Giles, in particular, could have a huge impact as the fireballer the Astros bullpen was lacking in 2015.
All told, there's so much talent in Houston that it's hard to argue with ESPN.com's Buster Olney's assertion that the Astros are the sixth-best team in baseball. And after what happened in 2015, nobody can point to inexperience as a possible deal-breaker.
This is a slight step back from last year's 88 wins, and Baseball Prospectus (80 wins) and FanGraphs (81 wins) think the Rangers are in for even worse.
That's believable to an extent. Up until they started getting seemingly every bounce in the final two months of the season, the Rangers were largely mediocre in 2015. And in terms of overall star power, they don't quite measure up to other teams in the American League.
To give credit where it's due, though, the Rangers' strong finish to 2015 was more than just a random swell of magic.
The arrival of Jake Diekman and the emergence of Sam Dyson gave the Rangers one of the nastiest bullpens in the league. Said bullpen is back, and the Rangers can also look forward to a full season of Cole Hamels. Yu Darvish will also be along eventually.
Texas' lineup has its share of question marks, sure. But it's also quietly versatile, and the Rangers have some intriguing cavalry waiting in the wings in top prospects Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara and Lewis Brinson.
The Rangers may not be the AL's best team, but they might be the league's most overlooked good team.
Kansas City Royals
If you think 87 wins sound low, wait until you get a load of Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs. Neither expects the defending champs to even win 80 games in 2016.
But even the guys at Baseball Prospectus don't seem confident in their own projection. As Sam Miller wrote, "This is the projected win total that nobody wanted."
The Royals are returning many of the parts of the championship team, including the newly rich Alex Gordon. And though they didn't find a top-of-the-rotation starter to replace Johnny Cueto, Ian Kennedy is a good fit in Kansas City. In all, the Royals are equipped to keep winning games the same way as always: with just enough pitching and offense and with a whole bunch of defense and relief pitching.
What could stop them? Well, the AL Central is deeper. And at some point, you do wonder if playing so much extra baseball in the last two seasons will begin to take a toll. There are also assorted nits to pick.
But there's nothing that makes such a sizable step back seem like a foregone conclusion. Like seemingly everyone else, we're inclined to send the projections the way of Felicia.
Los Angeles Dodgers
This is expecting the Dodgers to tumble from last year's 92-70 record, which looks overly critical next to Baseball Prospectus' (94 wins) and FanGraphs' (91 wins) projections.
The folks in Reno must not be big fans of the Dodgers' offseason, which saw them lose Zack Greinke and replace him with the aggregate of Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda. But as FanGraphs' Dave Cameron writes, there's value in taking the anti-Diamondbacks approach to team-building: "The front office clearly believes in the value of depth, and so they spread their money around instead of locking up one or two high-end players, and while it isn’t going to be viewed as positively from a P.R. perspective, I think it’s a better way to win baseball games."
We shouldn't overlook how the Dodgers also have stars to go with their depth. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, and Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Justin Turner and Howie Kendrick are all good when healthy. In Corey Seager (21) and Joc Pederson (23), the Dodgers also have two (very) high-ceiling youngsters.
The Dodgers may not excel at any one thing this season, but they should be good enough at everything to cross 90 wins once again.
Evidently, nobody likes the 2016 Pirates. As if an 11-win step back from last year's 98 wins didn't sound bad enough, Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs both see them falling short of 85 wins.
Too harsh? Maybe. The Pirates do still have a solid lineup around the ever-awesome Andrew McCutchen, after all. They also still have an excellent rotation duo in Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano and have mostly retained what was baseball's best bullpen.
What is a clear problem, though, is depth. The Pirates don't have much after Cole and Liriano in their rotation. And with Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez gone, quite a bit of offense is missing. To boot, Josh Harrison and the John Jaso-Mike Morse platoon at first base probably won't make up for that on defense.
Of course, pitching coach Ray Searage might solve the first problem. And in guys like Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell, there are pieces in the Pirates' deep farm system that could step in and help this season.
Still, there's no question we're looking at a downgraded team. And considering that the Pirates arguably overachieved to get to where they finished last year, a fall from grace is entirely possible.
Toronto Blue Jays
Neither this nor the projections at Baseball Prospectus (86 wins) and FanGraphs (83 wins) are surprising. The Blue Jays won 93 games last year, but only because they took off in the second half.
The big piece missing from that run is David Price. Toronto's rotation looks shallower without him, and the fear is that not even the awesome lineup will be able to overcome mediocre starting pitching.
At least said awesome lineup is still, well, awesome. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion make up the best offensive trio in baseball, and the Blue Jays are also going to get a full year of Troy Tulowitzki in 2016. And lest anyone think all this lineup can do is hit, the Blue Jays were also MLB's most efficient defensive team last year.
And though the club will miss Price, Marcus Stroman has the talent to fill his shoes adequately. The rest of the rotation will merely need to be good enough. Because in addition to a great offense and defense, the Blue Jays figure to have a stacked bullpen.
One more thing: It bodes well that the Blue Jays won 93 games last year despite being arguably the unluckiest team in the American League.
This would be an improvement over Washington's 83-79 showing in 2015, but it's basically what Baseball Prospectus (87 wins) and FanGraphs (88 wins) expect. That is, nobody is projecting a huge turnaround.
There are reasons to buy into that. What helped undo the Nationals last year was injuries, and they don't look better equipped to handle a repeat of that problem in 2016. They have injury question marks at first base, third base and left field, as well as a shallow rotation that must not sustain any losses.
For all their bad luck with injuries, though, the Nationals also struggled with bad luck in general. That might have been due to the club's poor chemistry, which new manager Dusty Baker may already be fixing.
"We're having more fun," Max Scherzer told Bill Ladson of MLB.com of the effect that Baker is already having. "His personality has so much charisma. Sometimes you just need new faces, and this is the situation."
With better chemistry, the Nats might be able to make the most of their talent in 2016. And between Scherzer, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and top prospects Lucas Giolito and Trea Turner, they have enough of that to warrant optimism.
St. Louis Cardinals
You'd think this is the bare minimum of faith anyone could have in a Cardinals team that won 100 games in 2015, but you'd be wrong. Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs don't even project them for 85 wins.
At first glance, that does seem like a bit much. The Cardinals won 100 games last year largely because of their pitching, which posted an MLB-best 2.94 ERA. And though John Lackey and Lance Lynn are gone, Mike Leake is in and Adam Wainwright will be healthy. That gives them a fighting chance at repeating their pitching dominance, which could take them a long way.
That's not the extent of this team's concerns. Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez all come with durability concerns, and Wainwright (34) is part of a larger aging core that includes Yadier Molina (33), Matt Holliday (36) and Jhonny Peralta (33). Also, it could be tough for youngsters such as Randal Grichuk (24) and Stephen Piscotty (25) to replace the departed Jason Heyward in the aggregate.
That is, the Cardinals may need more devil magic than usual to get by in 2016.
New York Mets
Are the Mets really worse than the 90-win team they were a year ago? Baseball Prospectus (91 wins) and FanGraphs (85 wins) can't agree, so we're on our own again.
One's knee-jerk reaction is to combine the words "hell" and "no." The Mets still revolve around their killer rotation trio of Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard, after all, and don't count out Steven Matz's ability to join the party.
And like in the second half of 2015, the Mets should also feature a dangerous offense. By retaining Yoenis Cespedes and acquiring Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera, they've arranged a lineup that could have an average or better hitter at every position.
The big knock on this lineup, as Cameron argued, is that it's not going to be nearly as good on defense. While we're picking nits, there's also a soft underbelly beneath Jeurys Familia in the Mets bullpen.
But this is where one's head turns back to the Mets' starting pitching. If it lives up to its billing, it's going to downplay the club's defense and bullpen by striking out a ton of batters and eating a ton of innings. If that's the case, 90 wins sounds like a reasonable floor.
The Cubs won 97 games in 2015, and both Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs expect them to top 92 wins in 2016. So, easy call?
Yeah, easy call.
The Cubs could have done nothing this winter and still gone into 2016 as a favorite to win the World Series. Instead, they signed Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist, giving them an impressively well-rounded team.
Heyward and Zobrist add a bit of patience and contact to a lineup that already had power covered courtesy of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber. Lackey joins a rotation that already had Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. In a more under-the-radar move, Adam Warren was a good addition to the club's top-10 bullpen. In control of all this is Joe Maddon, arguably baseball's best manager.
Mind you, the Cubs aren't perfect. Schwarber and Jorge Soler are defensive question marks on either side of Heyward, and one wonders if they need more starting pitching depth.
But that's about it as far as complaints go. The general consensus is that the Cubs are now the best team in baseball, and you'll find no disagreement here.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants as the best team in baseball? In light of their 84 wins in 2015 and their projections of 87 wins and 85 wins from Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs, respectively, it seems like a reach.
But then, it is an even year, and the Giants do have their reasons to be optimistic.
Chief among those is what they added to an already solid foundation this winter. With an elite catcher and an elite infield already set, the Giants only needed outfield depth and starting pitching. In came Denard Span for the outfield and Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to join Madison Bumgarner in the rotation.
"I can't think, in all my years, where we were this solid," Giants manager Bruce Bochy told ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick of his new-look rotation. "And that's saying a lot, because we've had some very good rotations here. But when you add two guys like this, they make you that much better."
For all of their optimism, however, there are things that could go wrong. The rotation is still thin after its front three, and the team lacks offensive depth as well. Because Span, Angel Pagan and Joe Panik are all coming off injury-marred 2015 seasons, that could bite the Giants.
Given all this, 90 wins seems more like a good target than a mark to beat. And with the NL West now a little deeper, we'll defy even-year magic by erring on the side of pessimism.