2018 MLB Season Preview

Thank you all once again for sticking with me and reading my 30 Clubs in 30 Days series. Now is the part it’s all been leading up to: the 2018 MLB Season Preview. In this preview I’m going to use what I wrote in my 30 Clubs in 30 Days series to paint a picture of how this season is going to go. This will range from player rankings to World Series predictions and everything in between. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

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Season Predictions:

Here’s the compilation of the regular season standings from the projected records I did for each team. An asterisk (*) represents the teams that I predict will win the Wild Card spots.

AL East

1. New York Yankees: 98-64

2. Boston Red Sox*: 95-67

3. Baltimore Orioles: 81-81

4. Toronto Blue Jays: 78-84

5. Tampa Bay Rays: 68-94

AL Central

1. Cleveland Indians: 99-63

2. Minnesota Twins: 84-78

3. Kansas City Royals: 74-88

4. Chicago White Sox: 70-92

5. Detroit Tigers: 64-98

AL West

1. Houston Astros: 101-61

2. Anaheim Angels*: 86-76

3. Seattle Mariners: 85-77

4. Texas Rangers: 82-80

5. Oakland Athletics: 77-85

NL East

1. Washington Nationals: 95-67

2. New York Mets: 84-78

3. Philadelphia Phillies: 75-87

4. Atlanta Braves: 71-91

5. Miami Marlins: 62-100

NL Central

1. Chicago Cubs: 94-68

2. Milwaukee Brewers*: 88-74

3. St. Louis Cardinals: 85-77

4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 76-86

5. Cincinnati Reds: 69-93

NL West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers: 100-62

2. Arizona Diamondbacks*: 91-71

3. San Francisco Giants: 85-77

4. Colorado Rockies: 81-81

5. San Diego Padres: 70-92

So based on this information, we can see which teams are ready for success in 2018. Now let’s take a look at my postseason predictions even though game 1 out of 162 hasn’t been played yet.

Wild Card Games:

Boston Red Sox defeat Anaheim Angels

Arizona Diamondbacks defeat Milwaukee Brewers

LDS:

Houston Astros defeat Boston Red Sox

Cleveland Indians defeat New York Yankees

Los Angeles Dodgers defeat Arizona Diamondbacks

Washington Nationals defeat Chicago Cubs

LCS:

Cleveland Indians defeat Houston Astros

Los Angeles Dodgers defeat Washington Nationals

World Series:

Cleveland Indians defeat Los Angeles Dodgers

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Congratulations to the Cleveland Indians on your 2018 World Series victory. In my predictions, the Tribe exorcise their postseason demons from the last couple seasons and win their first World Series since 1948 and third overall. For the Dodgers, their first title since 1988 continues to elude them as they fall in the World Series for the second year in a row. It is also worth mentioning that this matchup is between the two previous World Series losers, as the Indians lost to the Cubs in 2016 and the Dodgers lost to the Astros in 2017.

Power Rankings:

1. Houston Astros

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

3. Cleveland Indians

4. New York Yankees

5. Boston Red Sox

6. Washington Nationals

7. Chicago Cubs

8. Arizona Diamondbacks

9. Milwaukee Brewers

10. Anaheim Angels

11. St. Louis Cardinals

12. Seattle Mariners

13. San Francisco Giants

14. New York Mets

15. Minnesota Twins

16. Texas Rangers

17. Colorado Rockies

18. Baltimore Orioles

19. Toronto Blue Jays

20. Philadelphia Phillies

21. Oakland Athletics

22. Pittsburgh Pirates

23. Kansas City Royals

24. Atlanta Braves

25. Chicago White Sox

26. San Diego Padres

27. Cincinnati Reds

28. Tampa Bay Rays

29. Detroit Tigers

30. Miami Marlins

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Gotta put the reigning champs atop the initial Power Rankings. Plus, they lost virtually nothing in the offseason while getting even stronger with the addition of Gerrit Cole to a pitching rotation that already features two former Cy Young Award winners in Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel. I also have to put the Marlins as the worst team in baseball simply for how much they gave up in the offseason. I also don’t think they will be any good for at least another 3 or 4 years, maybe even 5 because of the generally weak prospect pool they received for their troubles. I still can’t believe Giancarlo Stanton didn’t warrant a return of everything the Yankees had in their farm system. The guy hit 59 home runs and was NL MVP last season. Now let’s get into the positional rankings for this season.

Positional Rankings:

Catcher

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1. Buster Posey-San Francisco Giants

2. Gary Sanchez-New York Yankees

3. Salvador Perez-Kansas City Royals

4. Willson Contreras-Chicago Cubs

5. Yadier Molina-St. Louis Cardinals

6. Tucker Barnhart-Cincinnati Reds

7. Mike Zunino-Seattle Mariners

8. Yasmani Grandal-Los Angeles Dodgers

9. Martin Maldonado-Anaheim Angels

10. Brian McCann-Houston Astros

1st Base

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1. Joey Votto-Cincinnati Reds

2. Paul Goldschmidt-Arizona Diamondbacks

3. Freddie Freeman-Atlanta Braves

4. Anthony Rizzo-Chicago Cubs

5. Cody Bellinger-Los Angeles Dodgers

6. Eric Hosmer-San Diego Padres

7. Jose Abreu-Chicago White Sox

8. Ryan Zimmerman-Washington Nationals

9. Greg Bird-New York Yankees

10. Matt Carpenter-St. Louis Cardinals

2nd Base

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1. Jose Altuve-Houston Astros

2. Robinson Cano-Seattle Mariners

3. Daniel Murphy-Washington Nationals

4. Jonathan Schoop-Baltimore Orioles

5. Dustin Pedroia-Boston Red Sox

6. DJ LeMahieu-Colorado Rockies

7. Javy Baez-Chicago Cubs

8. Brian Dozier-Minnesota Twins

9. Jason Kipnis-Cleveland Indians

10. Starlin Castro-Miami Marlins

3rd Base

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1. Kris Bryant-Chicago Cubs

2. Josh Donaldson-Toronto Blue Jays

3. Nolan Arenado-Colorado Rockies

4. Jose Ramirez-Cleveland Indians

5. Anthony Rendon-Washington Nationals

6. Justin Turner-Los Angeles Dodgers

7. Mike Moustakas-Kansas City Royals

8. Alex Bregman-Houston Astros

9. Evan Longoria-San Francisco Giants

10. Adrian Beltre-Texas Rangers

Shortstop

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1. Francisco Lindor-Cleveland Indians

2. Carlos Correa-Houston Astros

3. Corey Seager-Los Angeles Dodgers

4. Manny Machado-Baltimore Orioles

5. Andrelton Simmons-Anaheim Angels

6. Xander Bogaerts-Boston Red Sox

7. Didi Gregorius-New York Yankees

8. Elvis Andrus-Texas Rangers

9. Trea Turner-Washington Nationals

10. Jean Segura-Seattle Mariners

Left Field

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1. Marcell Ozuna-St. Louis Cardinals

2. Christian Yelich-Milwaukee Brewers

3. Yoenis Cespedes-New York Mets

4. Andrew Benintendi-Boston Red Sox

5. Justin Upton-Anaheim Angels

6. Tommy Pham-St. Louis Cardinals

7. Brett Gardner-New York Yankees

8. Corey Dickerson-Pittsburgh Pirates

9. Trey Mancini-Baltimore Orioles

10. Marwin Gonzalez-Houston Astros

Center Field

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1. Mike Trout-Anaheim Angels

2. Charlie Blackmon-Colorado Rockies

3. George Springer-Houston Astros

4. Lorenzo Cain-Milwaukee Brewers

5. Jackie Bradley Jr-Boston Red Sox

6. Byron Buxton-Minnesota Twins

7. Chris Taylor-Los Angeles Dodgers

8. Odubel Herrera-Philadelphia Phillies

9. Ender Inciarte-Atlanta Braves

10. Michael Conforto-New York Mets

Right Field

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1. Bryce Harper-Washington Nationals

2. Aaron Judge-New York Yankees

3. Mookie Betts-Boston Red Sox

4. Andrew McCutchen-San Francisco Giants

5. Yasiel Puig-Los Angeles Dodgers

6. Steven Souza Jr-Arizona Diamondbacks

7. Josh Reddick-Houston Astros

8. Jay Bruce-New York Mets

9. Avisail Garcia-Chicago White Sox

10. Domingo Santana-Milwaukee Brewers

Designated Hitter

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1. Giancarlo Stanton-New York Yankees

2. JD Martinez-Boston Red Sox

3. Edwin Encarnacion-Cleveland Indians

4. Nelson Cruz-Seattle Mariners

5. Khris Davis-Oakland Athletics

Starting Pitcher

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1. Clayton Kershaw-Los Angeles Dodgers

2. Max Scherzer-Washington Nationals

3. Corey Kluber-Cleveland Indians

4. Chris Sale-Boston Red Sox

5. Stephen Strasburg-Washington Nationals

6. Noah Syndergaard-New York Mets

7. Madison Bumgarner-San Francisco Giants

8. Luis Severino-New York Yankees

9. Zack Greinke-Arizona Diamondbacks

10. Robbie Ray-Arizona Diamondbacks

Relief Pitcher

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1. Kenley Jansen-Los Angeles Dodgers

2. Craig Kimbrel-Boston Red Sox

3. Corey Knebel-Milwaukee Brewers

4. Roberto Osuna-Toronto Blue Jays

5. Aroldis Chapman-New York Yankees

6. Andrew Miller-Cleveland Indians

7. Archie Bradley-Arizona Diamondbacks

8. Zach Britton-Baltimore Orioles

9. Wade Davis-Colorado Rockies

10. Pat Neshek-Philadelphia Phillies

And now onto the preseason awards where I award people for things they haven’t done yet and may not even do at all.

American League MVP: Aaron Judge-RF-New York Yankees

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National League MVP: Bryce Harper-RF-Washington Nationals

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American League Cy Young: Chris Sale-Boston Red Sox

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National League Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard-New York Mets

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American League Rookie of the Year: Willy Adames-SS-Tampa Bay Rays

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National League Rookie of the Year: Ronald Acuna-OF-Atlanta Braves

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American League Manager of the Year: Mike Scioscia-Anaheim Angels

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National League Manager of the Year: Craig Counsell-Milwaukee Brewers

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And finally, on to my bold predictions for the 2018 MLB season. Some will be as harmless as saying “I don’t think the Yankees are going to hit as many home runs as everybody says they will,” and others could get me fired if I had a real job. So let’s get to some predictions.

Prediction: Clayton Kershaw will show slight signs of slowing down now that he’s 30 years old, will post an ERA over 2.50, something he hasn’t done since 2012. People will freak out and panic accordingly.

Prediction: The Yankees’ season will be filled with peaks and valleys en route to 98 wins. Considering Judge and Stanton strike out as often as anyone in baseball, this could lead to some rough slumps at times for the two and their team as a result. However, when they’re on, nobody will be able to beat the Yankees.

Prediction: The Baltimore Orioles will trade Manny Machado to a contender at the trade deadline. The Orioles won’t be super competitive in 2018 and Machado’s contract is up at the end of the year. The smart thing to do would be to trade him to a contender and load up on top prospects. Predicted landing spot? Uhhhh…how about the Brewers? I would say the Yankees but the Orioles’ brass has made it clear they’d prefer not to trade Machado within the division.

Prediction: The Yankees will not break the team home run record. This is mainly because I think teams are going to try and pitch the Yankees a little more carefully this season. Knowing the type of power this team possesses, I doubt they’re going to get great pitches to hit. This may lead to higher walk rates for the team, though.

Prediction: The Marlins won’t be nearly as bad as people think. But let’s be honest, the opinions of the Marlins’ talent can’t be much lower at the moment. However every season there’s a team that everyone thinks is going to be the worst and yet somehow they find ways to be just bad, not historically bad.

Prediction: The American League’s home run king will be an Oakland Athletics player. I can envision this happening, considering the power Khris Davis and Matt Olson showed last season. Matt Chapman could also be a sneaky home run threat as well.

Prediction: Mike Trout will finish outside the top 2 in AL MVP voting for the second consecutive season. This isn’t to say that I think Trout will struggle this season. Far from it. Last season was the first time in Trout’s Major League career (since 2012) that he didn’t finish in the top 2 in AL MVP voting and I think it’s going to happen again. As you saw in my awards predictions, I have Aaron Judge taking home top honors and Trout will have to compete with the likes of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Mookie Betts, Josh Donaldson, Giancarlo Stanton, and many, many more.

Prediction: Don Mattingly will be out as Marlins manager before June. This won’t be Mattingly’s fault, nobody can succeed with this roster. However new ownership has pretty much let go of everyone else and Mattingly just logically seems to be the next domino to fall, especially when the Marlins inevitably struggle.

Prediction: Pace of Play will continue to be a topic of discussion and the new mound visit rule will be hated by catchers even though we could probably count the number of issues this rule causes on one hand. The new mound visit rule limits non-pitching-change mound visits to 6 per 9 inning games. There have already been players such as Willson Contreras who are outspoken against this, however if you think about it, catchers don’t really visit the mound all that much, especially if their guy is pitching really well. I don’t think this will cause nearly as many problems as some guys think it might.

Prediction: The newly-signed pitchers (Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta) will struggle. Darvish has had injury problems throughout his Major League career and Arrieta has been trending downward since winning the 2015 NL Cy Young Award. Im predicting both guys finish with ERA’s in the low-4’s.

So that’s going to do it for my MLB 2018 season preview. Words can’t express how excited I am for Thursday’s Opening Day to roll around, when all 30 teams will be opening on the same day for the first time in over 50 years. Let me know how you think this season’s going to go in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Washington Nationals

More terror out of Boston sports as Chris Sale was drilled in the leg by a line drive in the first inning of his final spring training start. It’s apparently resulted in just a bruise and Sale claims that it looked a lot worse than it actually was so I’m breathing a sigh of relief, unlike with the Kyrie Irving news, whom I’ve just learned is expected to return in 3-6 weeks. Also, the Giants continue to get shit news as both Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija were injured, Bumgarner fracturing the pinky on his throwing hand and Samardzija suffered a pec injury. Both will open the season on the DL. But now we finally conclude this month-long series of 30 Clubs in 30 Days with the Washington Nationals.

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2017 Results:

Record: 97-65, won NL East, lost to Chicago Cubs in NLDS

Notable Offseason Additions: RP Joaquin Benoit, SP Jeremy Hellickson, SP Tommy Milone, 1B Matt Adams, C Miguel Montero

Notable Offseason Subtractions: LF Jayson Werth, C Jose Lobaton, SS Stephen Drew, RP Matt Albers, RP Oliver Perez, 1B Adam Lind, RP Joe Blanton, OF Alejandro de Aza

Best Offensive Player: RF Bryce Harper

Best Pitcher: Max Scherzer

Depth Chart:

C-Matt Wieters, Pedro Severino

1B-Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Adams

2B-Daniel Murphy, Howie Kendrick

3B-Anthony Rendon

SS-Trea Turner, Wilmer Difo

LF-Adam Eaton

CF-Michael A. Taylor, Brian Goodwin

RF-Bryce Harper

SP-Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, AJ Cole, Jeremy Hellickson

Bullpen-Sean Doolittle (CP), Brandon Kintzler, Joaquin Benoit, Ryan Madson, Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley, Enny Romero, Sammy Solis

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Dave Martinez (1st season with Nationals)

Hitting Coach-Kevin Long

Pitching Coach-Derek Lilliquist

1st Base Coach-Tim Bogar

3rd Base Coach-Bob Henley

Bench Coach-Chip Hale

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The Washington Nationals were dominant in 2017, winning 97 games and finishing with the 2nd best record in the National League behind the Dodgers, however they continued to struggle in the postseason as they got bounced by the Cubs in 5 games in the NLDS. Since becoming the Nationals in 2005, this franchise has yet to win a playoff series. Their time is running out, though, as Bryce Harper is an impending free agent that they have very little chance of re-signing since they have a lot of money committed to other key players and people speculate that Harper may land the first ever $400M contract. Here’s how the Nationals are expected to line up in 2018.

1. Trea Turner-SS

2. Adam Eaton-LF

3. Bryce Harper-RF

4. Daniel Murphy-2B

5. Anthony Rendon-3B

6. Ryan Zimmerman-1B

7. Matt Wieters-C

8. Michael A. Taylor-CF

9. Pitcher’s Spot

That’s arguably one of the most imposing lineups in baseball especially when you take into account the improvements a lot of these guys made. Bryce Harper is the obvious star here as the 2015 NL MVP likely would have won his second such award before his 25th birthday had he not stepped on a wet base the wrong way and missed the last month of the regular season. Harper finished 2017 hitting .319 with 29 home runs and 87 RBI and being worth 4.8 WAR in just 111 games, which was a huge step up from his disappointing 2016 season where a series of always getting walked put him in a funk at the plate. Anthony Rendon was probably the most underappreciated star in baseball, as he quietly topped the NL in WAR at 6.9 by slashing .301/.403/.533 and hitting 25 home runs, driving in 100 RBI and playing excellent defense at third base. Rendon also had the best single-game performance of the season when he went 6-for-6 with 3 home runs and 10 RBI in an April matchup against the Mets (which was also notable for being the game where Noah Syndergaard injured his lat and basically missed the remainder of the season). Trea Turner is also a dangerous player at shortstop as he hit .284 with 11 home runs and stole 46 bases. Daniel Murphy is another guy who will be tough to retire, though he’s going to miss Opening Day due to offseason knee surgery. Last season, Murphy hit .322 with 23 home runs and 93 RBI. The two best seasons of the 32 year-old’s career have come as a member of the Nationals, as he was particularly dominant in 2016 when he hit .347 with 25 home runs and 104 RBI. Top to bottom, this is a very dangerous lineup.

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The pitching rotation is just as dangerous as the batting lineup. The Nationals are spearheaded by ace and 3-time Cy Young Award winner (including each of the last 2 seasons) Max Scherzer. Last season, Scherzer dominated, going 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA and striking out over a dozen batters per 9 innings, which was the best number amongst righties in all of baseball. It doesn’t get much easier behind Scherzer as Stephen Strasburg was also a monster in 2017, particularly in the second half. Overall, Strasburg went 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA and struck out over 10 batters per 9 while having the best HR/9 in all of baseball at 0.67. After the All Star break, though, Strasburg was pitching out of his goddamn mind, as he had an ERA of 0.86 in 62.2 innings. With both guys pitching the way they did, you can pretty much pencil in the Nationals for 2 automatic wins in their 5-man rotation. Gio Gonzalez was strong on the surface last season as he had a 2.96 ERA, however his FIP was almost an entire run higher at 3.93, suggesting that his defense gave him a lot of help and that he may be due for some regression in 2018.

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The bullpen for the Nationals has always been what’s held them back in year’s past, though this season it looks more solid than usual. Sean Doolittle was strong after joining the Nationals from the Athletics in a midseason trade, pitching 30 games in DC and carrying a 2.40 ERA and recording 21 saves. Brandon Kintzler was also solid out of the bullpen for them, posting a 3.46 ERA for the Nationals after being acquired by the Twins. After them, though, there are a lot of question marks. Koda Glover has shown flashes of dominance at times but there have also been moments where he gets hit harder than a Colts quarterback. Ryan Madson has had stretches of dominance, like last season, but he’s 37 years old and at one point missed 3 consecutive Major League seasons due to injury. Considering all the talent the rest of the roster has, though, if the Nats can maintain just a top-15 bullpen, they’ll consider it a success based on the struggles they’ve had in the past.

Overall, I expect the Nationals to run away with the NL East. It’s a weak division and the Nationals are far and away the most loaded team. The issue for them is going to be whether or not they can advance in the postseason. They pretty much have to be all-or-nothing this season, as they won’t be able to retain Bryce Harper in free agency so I expect them to be heavy buyers at the Trade Deadline in an attempt to gear up for that elusive title run. After all, when you take into account their Montreal Expos days, the Nationals and Seattle Mariners are the only two franchises that have yet to even reach a World Series. Perhaps this is the year? After all, Sports Illustrated picked them to win it all for the third time in six years.

Projected Record: 95-67, win NL East

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tom…wait, that’s it. That’s all 30 clubs. I actually succeeded in finishing this series. To be quite frank, this series didn’t do as well as I had hoped, as I think people got a bit tired of me posting about a new team every day. I had a ton of fun doing this, though, which is why I kept at it and didn’t ditch it like I have with my NFL Draft scouting reports. For the future, though, I’ll probably bring it down to just a division-by-division preview and make it a week-long thing rather than month-long. So thank you for keeping with me for all this time and let me know what you think of the Nationals’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Milwaukee Brewers

The deadline for the franchise tag has come and gone and here are the guys getting tagged: Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry, Lions edge rusher Ziggy Ansah, Cowboys edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, Rams safety LaMarcus Joyner, Steelers runningback Le’Veon Bell, and the Bears hit corner Kyle Fuller with the Transition Tag. Out of all of these guys, we know the Dolphins are going to shop Landry. Everyone else is unclear. But with that, let’s get to this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days with the Milwaukee Brewers.

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2017 Results:

Record: 86-76, 6 games behind Chicago Cubs, 1 game behind Colorado Rockies for 2nd Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: CF Lorenzo Cain, LF Christian Yelich, SS Nick Franklin, SP Wade Miley, SP Yovani Gallardo, RP Matt Albers, SP Jhoulys Chacin, RP JJ Hoover, RP Boone Logan

Notable Offseason Subtractions: CF Lewis Brinson, SP Matt Garza, 2B Neil Walker, RP Jared Hughes, RP Anthony Swarzak, SP Wily Peralta

Best Offensive Player: CF Lorenzo Cain

Best Pitcher: CP Corey Knebel

Depth Chart:

C-Stephen Vogt, Manny Pina

1B-Eric Thames, Jesus Aguilar

2B-Jonathan Villar, Eric Sogard

3B-Travis Shaw, Hernan Perez

SS-Orlando Arcia

LF-Christian Yelich, Ryan Braun

CF-Lorenzo Cain, Keon Broxton

RF-Domingo Santana

SP-Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley, Jhoulys Chacin

Bullpen-Corey Knebel (CP), Junior Guerra, Oliver Drake, Matt Albers, Boone Logan, Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader, Jacob Barnes

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Craig Counsell (4th season with Brewers)

Hitting Coach-Darnell Coles

Pitching Coach-Derek Johnson

1st Base Coach-Carlos Subero

3rd Base Coach-Ed Sedar

Bench Coach-Pat Murphy

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The Brewers were SO close to returning to the postseason for the first time since 2011 when they lost the NLCS to the eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals. It would’ve been as a Wild Card team, sure, but the opportunity was there. They were arguably the biggest breakout team in 2017, as they led the NL Central at the All Star break and really kept the Cubs at bay for much of the season before Chicago got hot at the right time. However, the Brewers decided that they were ready for the next step as they signed Lorenzo Cain away from the Royals and acquired Christian Yelich from the Marlins on the same day to bolster their already impressive lineup. Here’s how they’re projected to look in 2018.

1. Lorenzo Cain/Keon Broxton-CF

2. Eric Thames/Jesus Aguilar-1B

3. Christian Yelich-LF

4. Travis Shaw/Hernan Perez-3B

5. Domingo Santana/Ryan Braun-RF

6. Stephen Vogt/Manny Pina-C

7. Orlando Arcia-SS

8. Jonathan Villar/Eric Sogard-2B

9. Pitcher’s Spot

You might notice that basically every position in this lineup has a second player that could get significant playing time at that spot. Well that’s because offensively the Brewers might have the best depth in all of baseball. There are simply too many mouths to feed, which is a good problem for manager Craig Counsell to have. If Cain needs a breather, you have Keon Broxton to replace him, a guy who hit 20 home runs last season. If Travis Shaw twists his ankle, Hernan Perez can take over the hot corner. I mean this lineup is so deep that they don’t even have a guaranteed spot in the order for 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun. Braun’s 2017 wasn’t great as he dealt with injuries, but people forget he hit .300 and hit 30 home runs in 2016 so there’s still pop for the Brewers’ franchise home run king. So many guys broke out for the Brewers at the plate last season, too. Eric Thames returned to the Majors from overseas and set the baseball world on fire for the first month of the season, hitting 11 home runs in April (8 of which were against the Cincinnati Reds) and finishing with 31 on the year. Travis Shaw was dumped by the Red Sox for a reliever that has yet to pitch an inning for them and he exploded with his power stroke, as he hit .273 with 31 home runs and 101 RBI. If it weren’t for Rafael Devers’ emergence, I’d be very depressed as a Red Sox fan watching Shaw rake for the Brewers. Top to bottom this is a strong lineup that shouldn’t have any problems scoring runs. The one major concern will be whether this lineup is full of one-hit wonders and if that’s the case, then this could be a disaster. But I saw enough improvements made by this group to feel comfortable in their ability to continue their progress.

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Pitching might be a little tricky for the Brewers this season. Their best starter from last season, Jimmy Nelson, underwent shoulder surgery in September and it’s unknown when he’ll return, if at all. In the meantime there’s a lot of question marks. New acquisitions Wade Miley, Jhoulys Chacin, and the returning Yovani Gallardo have been very inconsistent these last few years. Miley has not been very good since he finished runner-up to Bryce Harper for 2012 NL Rookie of the Year while Chacin was at one point the ace of the Colorado Rockies and was inconsistent as the ace of the San Diego Padres last season. Gallardo was once the ace of the Brewers however he hasn’t had an ERA under 5.4 since 2015 and it doesn’t appear he’s really improved on anything. Chase Anderson was quietly very good for the Brewers last season, though, as he went 12-4 with a 2.74 ERA and opponents only hit .220 against him. He may have to be the ace in Nelson’s absence. If the Brewers hope to contend for the postseason in 2018, this unit will need to step up.

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The Brewers did lose several good relievers in the offseason, such as Anthony Swarzak and Jared Hughes, however they replaced the departed with quality arms like Matt Albers and JJ Hoover. However the biggest story for the Brewers’ bullpen is Corey Knebel. Knebel was one of the best closers in the Majors last season as he saved 39 games while sporting a 1.78 ERA and struck out nearly 15 batters per 9 innings. I have to say that’s pretty good for a closer who had 2 career saves coming into last season. Setting him up might get a little tricky though. Albers was excellent with the Nationals last season but that came a year after posting an ERA over 6 so who knows what the Brewers are going to get with him. Josh Hader also burst onto the scene for the Brewers, posting a 2.08 ERA and struck out over 12 batters per 9 innings. But my favorite of the bunch is Oliver Drake, not for anything he does in particular, but because we went to the same high school (not at the same time, Drake’s about 8 years older than me). Yes, we’re both Northfield Mount Hermon Hoggers. He throws about 93 mph and he has a VICIOUS splitter, though his problem is that it seems like he has no idea where that pitch is going half the time. If he can gain some control, watch out.

Overall I think there’s a lot to like about the Brewers and I think they have a legitimate chance to reach the postseason. I don’t think they did enough to unseat the Cubs in the NL Central, but I do think they’re going to make them sweat. Last season the pitching was actually pretty good despite my criticism of them in this blog, as they posted the 9th best team ERA in the Majors at an even 4. However there’s a lot of uncertainty in their rotation especially with Jimmy Nelson’s injury status. Given how much pop there is in their lineup, though, I think finishing in the top half of the Majors in team ERA will be good enough to obtain a Wild Card berth.

Projected Record: 88-74, win 2nd Wild Card Spot, face Arizona Diamondbacks in Wild Card Round

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow where I discuss the Minnesota Twins, who went from worst record in baseball in 2016 to a playoff team in 2017. Let me know what you think of the Brewers’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Measuring Luck in Baseball

So I’m sure you’ve seen the stats on certain players and thought “this guy can’t be that good, can he?” Or you’ve seen those one-year wonders that never came close to that level of production ever again. A lot of times, you can go back to advanced metrics to try and project who is due for a big breakout season or who might be in for a major decline. I’m going to try and do that here by using statistics to determine who the luckiest and unluckiest hitters in Major League Baseball are. Now I will preface this by saying that this may not be entirely accurate, as I have no way of gaining stats such as “bad hops that turn sure outs into base hits” or “plays where the defender robbed you of a base hit” unless I go back and literally watch every single at bat of every player in the Majors. That’s just not happening, I’ve got stuff to do. I will however, use the stats that I have gained from Fangraphs.com to try and find the best way to paint a picture for you as to who is the luckiest hitter in the game. Ideally, there would be a way for me to combine all of the following stats I will be using into one encompassing number, but my skills as a statistician just aren’t at that level. I will more or less be taking each stat that I think is important in determining luck and giving you the players who fall into these categories. So without further ado, let’s dive into the numbers.

BABIP

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Avisail Garcia had a career year in 2017, could he be due for regression? (photo credit: Detroit Free Press)

BABIP stands for “Batting Average on Balls In Play” and basically measures what a player’s batting average would be if you were to take their strikeouts and home runs out of the equation. This is probably the best stat we have towards measuring luck as it shows how often guys are getting hits when defenders have a chance at making a play on the ball. Here are the Top 10 players in the 2017 season according to BABIP:

  1. Avisail Garcia-CHW: .392
  2. Charlie Blackmon-COL: .371
  3. Jose Altuve-HOU: .370
  4. Tommy Pham-STL: .368
  5. Tim Beckham-TBR/BAL: .365
  6. Domingo Santana-MIL: .363
  7. Chris Taylor-UTIL-LAD: .361
  8. Aaron Judge-NYY: .357
  9. Marcell Ozuna-MIA: .355
  10. Dee Gordon-MIA: .354

Now a few of these guys I can safely say is due to skill at the plate, namely Blackmon and Altuve (my two MVP picks for this season) because they’ve been ranking highly on these lists for some time now. It’s guys like Garcia, Pham, and Beckham who make me nervous just simply because I hadn’t seen production like this out of them prior to 2017. Now for the Top 10 Worst BABIPs in the majors this season:

  1. Rougned Odor-TEX: .224
  2. Todd Frazier-CHW/NYY: .226
  3. Curtis Granderson-NYM/LAD: .228
  4. Maikel Franco-PHI: .234
  5. Jose Bautista-TOR: .239
  6. Ian Kinsler-DET: .244
  7. Scott Schebler-CIN: .248
  8. Albert Pujols-ANA: .249
  9. Joey Gallo-TEX: .250
  10. Yangervis Solarte-SDP: .258

Todd Frazier has been very high on this list for the last few years now yet he is still a productive player, being worth a WAR of 3.0 this season, which is above average. You’ll also notice some other big names on this list, such as Jose Bautista, Ian Kinsler, and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. Pujols’ production has been on a steep decline ever since he signed a huge contract with the Angels back in 2012 so his inclusion isn’t unfathomable here. It’s guys like Kinsler being on this list that surprised me.

Quality of Contact

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Joey Gallo was about as all-or-nothing a hitter as you will find in 2017 (photo credit: Fan Rag Sports)

Typically when a ball is hit hard, it suggests that the hitter got a good piece of it or squared it up really well. We all see those plays where a guy absolutely smokes the ball and it’s hit right at the third baseman for a quick out, which affects their batting average the same way as a strikeout despite not missing the ball. This is an imperfect tool because sometimes, you get guys like Giancarlo Stanton who are just flat out stronger than everyone and could hit a hard hit ball on a check swing. A ball is considered hard hit when it travels at roughly 100 mph off the bat. Below is a list of the guys who hit the ball hardest in 2017. I want you to keep in mind that the best hitters have contact rates of about 40-45-15:

Player                           Hard Contact                       Medium Contact                  Soft Contact

Joey Gallo-TEX                        46.4%                                        38.9%                                  14.7%

Aaron Judge-NYY                    45.3%                                        43.5%                                  11.2%

Paul Goldschmidt-ARI          44.3%                                         44.3%                                  11.3%

Corey Seager-LAD                  44%                                           43.1%                                 12.9%

Nicholas Castellanos-DET      43.4%                                     45.1%                                  11.5%

Cody Bellinger-LAD               43%                                          43%                                      14%

Miguel Cabrera-DET             42.5%                                       47.5%                                   9.9%

Matt Carpenter-STL            42.2%                                       45.7%                                    12.1%

Khris Davis-OAK                  42.1%                                        44.4%                                    13.5%

Chris Davis-BAL                  41.5%                                        45.7%                                   12.8%

One thing I want to draw your attention to on this list is Joey Gallo. Yes, he hit the ball hard the most consistently, but he also had the highest percentage of softly hit balls among guys in the top 10 as well as the lowest percentage of medium hit balls in this group. Gallo was a go-big-or-go-home type of swinger this season, as also evidenced by his 41 home runs and 196 strikeouts on the season. Here are the guys who hit the ball softly the most frequently in 2017:

Player                      Hard Contact                         Medium Contact              Soft Contact

Jose Peraza-CIN              21.4%                                        52%                                      26.6%

Jose Reyes-NYM                26.7%                                        47.2%                                    26.1%

Manuel Margot-SDP         25.4%                                     48.7%                                    25.9%

Yangervis Solarte-SDP      31.1%                                     43.8%                                   25.2%

Billy Hamilton-CIN          16%                                         59%                                      25%

Dee Gordon-MIA               16.1%                                      59.2%                                  24.7%

Didi Gregorius-NYY         23.1%                                       52.4%                                 24.4%

Odubel Herrera-NYY       29.4 %                                     46.3%                                  24.4%

Cesar Hernandez-PHI      22.1%                                    54.4%                                  23.5%

Todd Frazier-CHW/NYY             32.2%                                      44.6%                                 23.2%

A few guys on this list won’t be considered for “luckiest” or “unluckiest” because a lot of times this soft contact is a result of them playing to their speed. Guys like Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon often drop down bunts because they are freakishly fast, so using their soft contact against them isn’t really fair in this case. You may also notice a couple guys in the top 10 softest hit balls who were also in the top 10 worst BABIP: Todd Frazier and Yangervis Solarte, so you can pretty much rule these two out for consideration for “unluckiest.” They just aren’t hitting the ball hard and it’s hurting them.

Pop Up %

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Had Freddie Freeman not missed a large chunk of the season due to injury, he may have been a leading candidate for NL MVP (photo credit: AJC.com)

Pop ups can be killers and often happens when a guy tries to get the ball airborne and dips his back shoulder a little too much. I often find that pop ups can be a good indicator of a guy who is due for a big home run season, because usually when the ball is popped up, the hitter got a little too far under the ball. And when they hit those balls that are skied in the air with terrific hang time, you can probably guess that if they squared it up properly, it’d be going a long way at a more horizontal level. It will just take a little bit of tweaking in their swing to turn those pop-ups into bombs. I must also clarify that a ball is considered a pop up as long as it remains in the infield or fieldable by an infielder. Here are the guys who popped out most frequently:

  1. Todd Frazier-CHW/NYY-18.5%
  2. Jose Reyes-NYM-18.1%
  3. Tommy Joseph-PHI-18.1%
  4. Byron Buxton-MIN-17.7%
  5. Yangervis Solarte-SDP-17.4%
  6. Giancarlo Stanton-MIA-16.9%
  7. Alex Bregman-HOU-16.7%
  8. Jose Bautista-TOR-16.5%
  9. Maikel Franco-PHI-16.3%
  10. Jonathan Schoop-BAL-16%

I should also note that Schoop was number 11 in soft contact. This surprised me, especially considering the fact that he hit 32 home runs this season. But once again, Frazier and Solarte appear on a list they don’t want to appear on for futility. I was surprised at first to see Stanton on this list, but then I got to thinking about it and it started to make sense as, considering the guy was chasing 61 home runs, he probably hit a few pop ups trying to get to that number. Here we have the guys who hit the fewest pop ups in 2017:

  1. Freddie Freeman-ATL-0%
  2. Joey Votto-CIN-0.5%
  3. Shin-Soo Choo-TEX-0.9%
  4. Nicholas Castellanos-DET-1.6%
  5. Domingo Santana-MIL-2.1%
  6. Miguel Cabrera-DET-2.5%
  7. Christian Yelich-MIA-2.5%
  8. Buster Posey-SFG-2.8%
  9. Chris Davis-BAL-2.9%
  10. Dee Gordon-MIA-2.9%

Freddie Freaking Freeman didn’t hit a single popup this season. That’s just unbelievable to me. That’s a guy who is totally fundamentally sound with his swing on every single hack he takes. Not surprised to see Dee Gordon on this list. As a guy who bunted for more hits than anybody else (he had 18 bunt hits, next closest was Buxton at 11), I’m sure he was trying to hit the ball on the ground as much as humanly possible. This is how I imagine a discussion between Gordon and Marlins manager Don Mattingly would go.

Line Drives

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Daniel Murphy has hit .334 since joining the Nationals in 2016 (photo credit: CBS Sports)

This is the last stat we will consider when trying to determine luck. There really isn’t a definitive way to consider a line drive except by the eye test. I’m not going over every single swing to clarify information, so I trust the guys at Fangraphs have these numbers up to par. Typically a line drive is affiliated with hitting the ball perfectly. Here is a list of the guys who had the highest percentage of line drives in 2017:

  1. Daniel Murphy-WAS-27.6%
  2. Domingo Santana-MIL-27.4%
  3. Miguel Cabrera-DET-27.3%
  4. Jed Lowrie-OAK-27.1%
  5. Shin-Soo Choo-TEX-25%
  6. Joe Mauer-MIN-24.9%
  7. Chase Headley-NYY-24.9%
  8. Corey Seager-LAD-24.8%
  9. DJ LeMahieu-COL-24.7%
  10. Nicholas Castellanos-DET-24.5%

Not surprised to see Daniel Murphy on this list. The guy hits lasers and ever since 2015 he’s been one of the most consistently solid hitters in the game. Chase Headley was a bit of a surprise for me, I always knew he was more of a doubles guy but he’d been having his struggles with the Yankees this season. Now we have the worst at hitting line drives in 2017:

  1. Hunter Pence-SFG-13.4%
  2. Javy Baez-CHC-15.4%
  3. Manny Machado-BAL-15.8%
  4. Giancarlo Stanton-MIA-16%
  5. Mark Trumbo-BAL-16.1%
  6. Yasiel Puig-LAD-16.1%
  7. Scott Schebler-CIN-16.2%
  8. Rougned Odor-TEX-16.3%
  9. Yangervis Solarte-SDP-16.4%
  10. Carlos Beltran-HOU-16.4%

Hunter Pence had the lowest line drive rate by a WIDE margin, a full 2% below Javy Baez for the next lowest rate. Yet again, we find Solarte on a list that he REALLY doesn’t want to be on. It was well documented throughout the season that Manny Machado struggled and we may now have the reason why: he’s not hitting line drives, third worst rate in the majors.

And now the moment this article has been building up to: the Luckiest and Unluckiest hitters in baseball for the 2017 season. I don’t have a clear-cut singular number to round all of these stats into, but I tried to find the guys who found themselves ranking highly the most frequently in these specific categories.

Luckiest Hitter: 

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Eric Hosmer was the luckiest hitter in 2017 (photo credit: MLB.com)

Eric Hosmer-1B-Kansas City Royals

This may have come as a bit of a surprise to some of you because Hosmer didn’t appear in any of the Top 10’s for the chosen stats. However he wasn’t far off from making all of them. Hosmer slashed .318/.385/.498 with 25 home runs and 94 RBI, all really impressive numbers for a guy set to become a free agent. However, those numbers were inflated by a .351 BABIP, 14th best in the Majors out of 144 qualifiers. He also was 15th in soft-hit balls at 21.8% and was 116th in hard hit balls at 29.5%. He was 49th in pop-up rate at 7.2%, which isn’t too bad, it’s right around average, and his line drive rate was 22.2%, which ranked 36th. So for any team that is ready to hand Hosmer a $100M contract this offseason, I say buyer beware, he’s due for regression.

Unluckiest Hitter:

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Future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera had terrible luck in 2017 (photo credit: ClickOnDetroit)

Miguel Cabrera-1B-Detroit Tigers

I knew there had to be some explanation as to why Miggy was having such a shitty season. Cabrera’s slash line was .249/.329/.399 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI. It seemed to be the symptoms of getting older (despite remaining one of the most baby-faced players in the game) but it turns out, the baseball gods hadn’t been doing Cabrera any favors. His BABIP was .292, which was 97th in the Majors out of 144 qualifying players, his line drive percentage was third best at 27.3% and his pop up percentage was 6th best at 2.5%. Only Justin Turner hit the ball softly less frequently (9.8%) than Cabrera did (9.9%). Cabrera also hit the ball 7th hardest this season at a 42.5% rate. While the lower home run totals may be concerning, I expect Cabrera to have a bounce back year in 2018. He’s a much better hitter than what his base stats showed this year and these advanced stats proved it to me that his 2017 season was probably just an aberration.

Thank you for bearing with me being a gigantic super nerd with all these stats. I had a lot of fun doing this and it answered a lot of questions for me. I’ve always had a soft spot towards guys with shit luck simply because that was me in high school. I used to hit the ball right at guys so often that I eventually gave up and stopped swinging the bat in the hopes of getting walked. It worked for a little while (I had a two-game stretch where I got walked 7 times in 8 plate appearances. The one appearance that I didn’t walk was when I swung at the first pitch. I hit a hard ground ball right at the shortstop.). Do you want to see more blogs like these? Did you absolutely despise it because you hate nerds? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.