2016 American League East Preview: Can Anyone Stop Toronto's Offense?

The Blue Jays fell short of the World Series last season, but will they have another chance to make a playoff run?

The American League East has been in the spotlight for almost the entire offseason. Before we take a look ahead, let's take a look back.

Toronto ended last year with what turned out to be  the bat flip heard ‘round the world. That bat flip has led to nearly endless conversation surrounding the appropriate amount/style of celebration in baseball, and everybody is getting in on the debate.

In other off season news, the Red Sox signed one of the biggest names in free agency, David Price, to a massive deal. The Yankees learned of Alex Rodriguez’s intention to retire. The Rays played in a historically significant game against the Cuban national team in Cuba. And the Orioles, well, have been quiet for the most part, but they did sign Dexter Fowler for about 10 minutes and spend almost $208 million dollars to keep their big-name guys in town.

While the offseason has been totally entertaining, it’s time to take a look at what we can expect from the American League East teams on the field in 2016. Let’s go!

Toronto Blue Jays

Projected Record: 87-75

The Blue Jays were a fiery offense in 2015, and they went out in quite the blaze of glory. Carried by the best offense in baseball, the Jays clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 1993 by winning the American League East. They went on to knock off the Rangers in Game 5 of the ALDS but eventually lost to the Royals in Game 6 of the ALCS. While it was certainly a disappointment not to be repping Canada in the World Series last season, they gave our polite neighbors to the North much to be excited about in 2016.

Troy Tulowitzki. Josh Donaldson. Jose Bautista. Edwin Encarnacion.

That is one bad group of dudes who can smash the cover off the ball and did so last year to the tune of nearly 900 runs -- 891 to be exact. That was good enough to leave the next best team 127 runs in the rear-view mirror. Our projections show that Toronto isn’t going to have any issue scoring runs again this season, but the questions pop up as we move our focus to the pitching staff.

With David Price now with Boston, here’s what Toronto is left with:  Marcus StromanR.A. DickeyMarco EstradaJ.A. HappAaron Sanchez.

That doesn't evoke quite the same ring as that offensive group.

When playing at the Rogers Centre, last year’s group did hold batters to a league best .228 batting average, but when the Jays hit the road, they ran into problems. Not only did opponents’ batting average climb 40 points but the staff ERA also went from 3.22 to 4.41. If the Jays are going to take next step forward in 2016, this group of guys is going to have to be better on the road.

Stroman is coming off an ACL injury. Dickey and his knuckleball are 41 with an Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) over 4.00. Estrada's xFIP is even worse at 4.93. I am going to simply summarize the 2016 Blue Jays starting rotation by saying that there is currently a lot of unknown.

Time to wrap up the positive sandwich.

Listen, there is no doubt this team needs to sort out some issues with regards to their pitching, but it may turn out that things are not quite as bleak as they seem. Here are our projections for Stroman and Dickey this season:

Pitcher IP W K% BB% ERA WHIP
Marcus Stroman 194.7 16 18.4 6.8 3.61 1.18
R.A. Dickey 194.7 13 17.1 7.4 3.97 1.23

These numbers put Stroman just outside the top 25 starting pitchers in the league and have Dickey just missing the top 50. If Stroman has the breakout season a lot of people think he is capable of, we could see him finishing even better.

Behind the league’s best offense and a pitching staff that expects to get right, Toronto enters the season as the second-best team in Major League Baseball, according to our algorithms. Our numbers also have them repeating as American League East Champions, giving them a 40.7% chance to win the division.

Boston Red Sox

Projected Record: 84-78

Take away 2013, a year in which the Red Sox pulled off a classic “started from the bottom now we here” championship, and Boston has finished three of the last four seasons dead last in the AL East.

In response, the Sox spent this offseason making what should be major upgrades to their pitching staff. They signed Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, and -- of course -- David Price. While signing Price was a huge win for Boston, bringing in one of the best relievers in the game may be of equal impact.

Let’s take a look at the how Price has performed over the last couple of seasons and what we are projecting for him this season.

2014 248.1 15 26.9% 3.8% 3.26 1.07
2015 220.1 18 25.3% 5.3% 2.45 1.07
2016 Projection 211.2 15 25.1% 5.0% 3.09 1.07

Price's win total is expected to dip this year from last year, but his strikeout rate and walk rates are expected to remain fairly stable.

Wade Miley led the 2015 Sox with 11 wins. Price, who we have ranked as the ninth-best starting pitcher overall for fantasy baseball purposes, is clearly going to be an immediate upgrade. Now to the bullpen.

The Red Sox have had significant struggles with their relievers in recent seasons. In fact, in 2015, their bullpen was the worst in the league, posting a  -1.4 fWAR.

Adding Craig Kimbrel, our seventh-ranked  reliever, is going to go a long way toward improvement -- as will adding Carson Smith, depending on just how bad the strain of his forearm flexor tendon is. There doesn't appear to be any timetable for his return, but we do know he will start the season on the disabled list.

Below are their projected numbers for their first season in Boston. 

Craig Kimbrel 65.8 4 32.2% 9.0% 34 2.74 1.09
Carson Smith 57.6 3 25.9% 8.5% 0 2.66 1.15

The up-and-down nature of the Red Sox over the last several years has been wild. Yes, they finished at the bottom again in 2015, but in all fairness, it’s not like they were the Phillies. They finished last while a very young -- but very talented -- group won 78 games and scored the fourth-most runs in baseball.

The addition of Price gives the Sox a formidable starting rotation and two dynamic lefties when Eduardo Rodriguez is healthy.

Kimbrel is as good as any closer in the game, and with Carson Smith (when healthy) and Koji Uehara setting him up, the Sox should be able to close out games efficiently.

An already highly potent offensive squad that will now include a much healthier Dustin Pedroia and that couldn’t possibly get less from Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval should be able to contend with the best offenses in baseball.

There is no reason that the Red Sox can’t contend in 2016. Our algorithms see Boston as the seventh-best team overall and finishing second in the AL East.

New York Yankees

Projected Record: 83-79

The 2015 Yankees had a much better season than many thought they would manage. This was in part due to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira finding a fountain of youth late in their careers and combining for 64 home runs.

Even if those two old-timers can somehow stay healthy enough to match that type of combined production this season, the Yankees may have big problems with their 2016 lineup.

Greg Bird is already out for the year, which furthers depth problems. Carlos Beltran is such a defensive liability in right field that it might as well be a statue of Dick “Stonefingers” Stuart playing right (Google it. He’s a real dude.). Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury should bounce back but aren’t what they used to be. And top outfield prospect Aaron Judge just doesn’t appear to be call-up ready.

The Yanks are going to struggle to score runs.

What about the rotation?  It still feels bizarre to say it, but CC Sabathia is nothing more than an afterthought at this point, as our projections have him ranked at 186th overall. Masahiro Tanaka will be the ace of this staff as long as his UCL holds up. We have him ranked as our 29th-best starting pitcher with a projected ERA of 3.84 and a WHIP of 1.13.

The good news for New York comes from the bullpen. When newly acquired Aroldis Chapman finishes serving his 30-game suspension for domestic violence, the Yankees may have not only the best trio of relievers in the league but potentially the best trio in recent memory. Innings seven through nine when trailing the Yankees are going to be absolutely brutal for opponents.

If Tanaka can stay healthy and Nathan Eovaldi -- along with Luis Severino -- can take the next step forward in consistency, then New York could see some real positive results out of this staff this year. If they don’t, things are going to go south in a hurry.

Our projections have New York finishing third in the American League East with an 18.3% chance to win the division and a 37.7% chance to reach the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Rays

Projected Record: 80-82

The Rays roll into their 2016 campaign feeling like a very familiar squad. They are a team with a lot of depth, a lineup that lacks elite talent but is full of solid consistent ball players, an older but still productive Evan Longoria, and of course, a lot of young talented arms to bring to the table.

Chris Archer will be the leader of that group. Having emerged as an absolute ace for Tampa bay last season, Archer checks in just outside our top 15 starting pitchers in the league.

Chris Archer IP W K% BB% ERA WHIP
2015 212 12 29.0% 7.6% 3.23 1.13
2016 Projection 205.9 14 25.2% 7.7% 3.23 1.16

As far as the rest of the rotation goes, Drew Smyly and Jake Odorizzi have stuff that is going to make batters look just ridiculous. Last season, Smyly posted a swinging strike rate of 11.4%, well above league average of 9.9%. Odorizzi's was 10.1%.

Combine those three guys with some mix of Matt Moore, Erasmo Ramirez, and Blake Snell (one of the top pitching prospects in baseball), and this rotation could end up being one of the best in the American League if healthy.

With the offseason acquisitions of Corey Dickerson and Brad Miller, Tampa Bay feels like they have made real improvements to their lineup. The Rays have needed a big left-handed bat in their lineup for quite some time, and Dickerson can fill that void -- even when losing the Coors Field effect.

At the plate, Miller has shown nice power, but that’s also where his real issue surfaces. He’s got a lefty/righty split that is out of this world (57 wRC+ against left-handers and a 113 wRC+ agains right-handers).

It’s possible Tampa bay will outperform expectations this year, as they often do, but our projections have them finishing fourth in the American League East.

Baltimore Orioles

Projected Record: 80-82

We have arrived at our last-place team for the American League East. For the sake of our O’s fans, I’ll try and keep this relatively short. Actually, the reality is there are far worse fates than finishing last in the AL East with 80 wins. As a matter of fact, even though our projections have them at the bottom in their division, they are still ranked as our 17th-best team overall.

On offense,  Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Chris Davis do give Baltimore a powerful trio to build around. The question is whether those three guys provide enough consistent production for the rest of the offense to survive.

Jonathan Schoop is another source of power on whom the Orioles will rely -- assuming he can stay healthy. It’s possible that core group of four hits around 130 home runs, which is simply nuts, and then you still have to add another 50 or so homers for new additions Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez. This team will certainly have troubles throughout the season, but there is no doubt they are also going to smash the ball out the park.

Headed into spring training,  Hyun Soo Kim was supposed to be a reliable outfielder, but unfortunately, he has been terribly unimpressive so far this spring. In fact, he’s been so unimpressive that he may not make the roster at all.

The bigger issue is that most everything we have seen from the Baltimore Orioles so far this spring has been equally uninspiring, including the pitching. While the O’s did add Yovani Gallardo this offseason to help cover the loss of their best starter, Wei-Yin Chen, if this spring is any indication of what to expect this season, the O’s are going to need way more help. The staff has been getting destroyed. 

In 2015, Baltimore's starting rotation had the second worst ERA in the American league (4.53), and they may not have the guys to improve upon that mark. Ubaldo Jimenez and Gallardo just aren’t the same pitchers they used to be, and Kevin Gausman is already dealing with a shoulder injury.

There are going to be nights where Baltimore scores a ton of runs and is a lot of fun to watch. There are also going to be a lot of nights where they can’t get guys on base, make base running errors when they do get on, can’t get anything from their starting pitcher, and get totally housed by their opponent.

That is why our projections have them finishing last in the American League East with just a 21.1% chance to reach the postseason.