2016 National League East Preview: The Mets Are Armed for Success
Raise your hand if you picked the New York Mets not only to win the National League East but also to make a run to the World Series, ultimately losing to the Kansas City Royals in five games.
Right, no one. But make it to the Fall Classic they did, behind an incredible starting rotation and a monster second half from a mid-season trade acquisition. They were aided by the collapse of the Nationals, a team with more chemistry issues than a meth clinic on fire, as well as the collapse of the Phillies, Braves and Marlins made it a two-horse race in 2016.
Will the Mets keep the momentum going? Will the Nats rebound under a new manager? Will the Marlins surprise? Will the Braves and the Phillies both lose 100 games?
Will I stop asking questions and get to the analysis? Yes (teams below ranked in order of projected finish).
New York Mets
Projected Record: 89-73
The big question for New York in 2016 is centered around the starting rotation.
There's no doubt the Mets have the most talented staff in the NL East and perhaps all of Major League Baseball. Here is where they ranked among the key statistical categories in the NL last season.
Between Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and the late season addition of Steven Matz, New York threw their way to the pennant last season. Those four players (plus Bartolo Colon and his eventual replacement Zack Wheeler) certainly make them the favorites to win the division once again.
But there is a concern about New York's young arms. The innings.
Last year, deGrom pitched 191.0 innings. His previous high was 173 2/3 innings combined between Triple-A and the Mets the year before. Harvey threw 189 1/3 innings after missing a year due to Tommy John surgery. Syndergaard pitched 179 2/3 innings between Triple-A and New York last season, but his previous high was 133 innings in Triple-A in 2014.
And that was just the regular season. deGrom pitched an additional 25 innings in the playoffs, Harvey another 26 2/3, and Syndergaard another 19 innings. I'm not a big believer in The Verducci Effect, but it's fair to wonder how all those extra innings will affect the young Mets hurlers this year.
Offensively, the Mets unexpectedly were able to re-sign their star outfielder, Yoenis Cespedes, the Cuban right-hander whose power surge was pivotal to their late-summer run. Cespedes is likely only going to be around for one more season (he's signed for three but has an opt-out clause after this season), and New York hopes it's enough to get them back into the dance.
Projected Record: 87-75
In one of the biggest non-surprises of the offseason, the Nationals were not able to find a taker for Jonathan Papelbon.
So one year after manager Matt Williams' clubhouse of fun erupted with Papelbon choking out one of the two best players in the world, Bryce Harper, the Nats will now be run by noted players manager, Dusty Baker. And while the clubhouse, aside from Papelbon and Harper, should be more harmonious, Washington has to hope a number of their veteran players can bounce back from poor 2015s.
The team lost Jordan Zimmermann as a free agent to the Detroit Tigers but must feel good about their top-three of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. They also have the top pitching prospect in the game, Lucas Giolito, ready to come to the Majors at some point this year, too.
But the team also lost shortstop Ian Desmond, although Desmond's dismal start was one of the reasons Washington struggled last year. They also said goodbye to Denard Span, who spent much of last season on the DL. That was a running theme for the Nats in 2015.
Ben Revere and Michael Taylor take over in center field for the Nationals in place of Span, and that could be a very solid combination. However, the Nats are depending on Werth to bounce back, which is no sure thing.
And perhaps the most important player on the team (other than Harper) is Anthony Rendon, who followed up his MVP-caliber season in 2015 with an injury-filled 0.9 fWAR season last year. And Washington is certainly hoping that playoff hero Daniel Murphy can provide more consistency at the plate than Danny Espinosa and Dan Uggla gave them a year ago.
If Harper continues doing what he did, Rendon bounces back, and the rest of the veterans do a bit better, the Nats can compete with New York in the East.
Projected Record: 80-82
The Marlins are one of the most interesting teams in baseball this year.
I thought they were a playoff team coming into last season. They had what projected to be a terrific outfield trio in Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna, but things didn't turn out that way.
|Player||Games||wOBA||wRC+||2015 fWAR||2014 fWAR|
In 2014, those three outfielders combined for 14.3 wins above replacement (fWAR). Last year, they combined for about half that, just 7.2. Stanton missed half the season with a hand injury, Yelich also missed time to the DL, and Ozuna was just bad for much of the season.
If Stanton is healthy, he's a seven-win player. And if the Marlins are going to contend, they need Yelich and Ozuna to be better and for their impressive second baseman Dee Gordon to continue along his current path.
And what about Jose Fernandez? His season got a late start after Tommy John surgery, and he made just eight starts after suffering from a biceps strain late in the year. He was worth 1.6 fWAR in those eight starts with a 2.44 ERA while striking out 12.19 batters per nine innings, so the stuff is still there.
But Fernandez will also be on an innings limit in 2016, somewhere between 150 and 180 innings. The Marlins picked up a solid starter in Wei-Yin Chen, but the back of the rotation with Tom Koehler and Jarred Cosart don't quite match up with the staffs the Mets and Nats will be able to throw out every night.
Projected Record: 71-91
The battle for the last place in the division will be a taut affair, with the Braves and Phillies likely battling it out all season long.
Atlanta is set up for long-term success, with the top farm system in baseball as recently ranked by ESPN's Keith Law. But the product on the field in 2016 is going to be a bit scary. The reason I think they'll finish ahead of the Phils is they have more players who can help them win ballgames.
Freddie Freeman is still there, and he's the best player on either team. Wrist and oblique injuries limited him to just 118 games last year, but he still managed to hit .276/.370/.471 with 18 homers, a wRC+ of 133 and an fWAR of 3.4. The wrist injury sucked away much of his power in the second half (just six homers after the All-Star Game), but if healthy, he's one of the few bats in the lineup who can do damage.
Atlanta also acquired a quality center fielder in Ender Inciarte from the Diamondbacks in the Shelby Miller trade. Inciarte is adequate at the plate (his wRC+ of 100 is league average) but his outstanding glove work put him at 3.3 fWAR in 2015. The Braves also have the capable, if unspectacular, Nick Markakis, who put up a wRC+ of 107 despite a measly 3 homers and .376 slugging percentage.
The Braves also have something the Phils do not: a quality ace. Julio Teheran will be just 25 years old on Opening Day, and even though his ERA jumped to 4.04 last year, with a 4.40 FIP, his ERA the two previous seasons was a legitimate 2.89 and 3.20. Left-handers killed him last year, but the expectations are he will adjust in 2016.
The rest of the Atlanta 2016 crew is inexperienced. Hector Olivera will be the team's left fielder, but it's unknown what the Cuban export acquired from the Dodgers will give them. And the rotation after Teheran is largely untested after the departure of Miller.
Projected Record: 71-91
This is a radically different team than the one that lost 99 games in 2015. Of the 66 players invited to spring training this year, only 16 were also in camp last year. And while there is now more talent in the system than at any point in the last decade and a half, with much of that talent near Major League-ready, it's likely not going to help them in the win column in 2016.
The rotation will have a lot of options after the acquisitions of Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton. Both had down years in 2015, and the Phils are hoping for a rebound. Aaron Nola is the team's best starter but only has 77 2/3 big league innings on his resume. The biggest wild card is Jerad Eickhoff, who dazzled in eight starts after coming over from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade.
In those eight starts, Eickhoff put up a 2.65 ERA and a 3.25 FIP, striking out 8.65 batters per nine and walking only 2.29 per nine innings. He featured a nasty curveball (some say it's a slider) that generated far more swings and misses in his 51 MLB innings last year than at any point in his minor league career.
The offense could be a serious problem. Maikel Franco is coming off a solid rookie season (.280/.340/.497, 14 home runs in 335 plate appearances) in which he had a wRC+ of 128, worth 1.5 fWAR. He missed the last month of the season after getting hit by a pitch on his wrist. And Odubel Herrera surprised everyone by having a 3.9 fWAR season as a Rule 5 pick (.297/.344/.418 in 537 plate appearances). Both players will have to prove 2015 was no fluke, and the Phillies will have to get lucky with players like Aaron Altherr, Rule 5 pick Tyler Goeddel, and the platoon of Darin Ruf and Ryan Howard at first.
What could save the Phillies are when the reinforcements arrive. Prospects like Nick Williams, Andrew Knapp and J.P. Crawford, depending on when they're called up, could inject some much-needed offense into the lineup. And pitching prospects Vincent Velasquez, Jake Thompson and Mark Appel could help out in the rotation at some point too.
Overall, the Mets seem to have the fewest question marks among the five teams and seem the surest bet to win the NL East. Our initial projections give them a 50.5 percent chance to win the division.
The Nationals and Marlins will likely battle it out for second and for one of the two NL wild card spots, but our algorithm much prefers the Nationals and gives them a 41.2 percent chance to win the NL East. Miami owns a 7.5 percent chance.
The Braves, who our numbers see as 0.85 runs per game worse per game than an average team, and the Phillies (0.92 runs worse) will arm wrestle left-handed to see who might get the number one overall draft pick in 2017.