March 24, 2014
NL East 2014 Preseason Preview
In the week leading up to Opening Day, Baseball Prospectus is conducting a division-by-division dialogue, asking and answering five questions about each team. Today Sam Miller and Will Woods kick things off with the National League East.
1) This team is so good. Predict the trade they’ll make in July to get better.
Will Woods: No fair, I wanted Danny Espinosa. Hold on, are my answers running first or second? Like, if I say Danny Espinosa, would it look like I had him first? I could really hang one on Sam if I did that. Oh, fine, I’ll say the Nats land Chad Qualls from the Astros for Lucas Giolito. You laugh, but those BP guys in Houston drive a hard bargain.
2) I can’t stop looking at this picture:
Do you think it will be a distraction for the Nationals this year to know that Jayson Werth used to look like this?
Sam: I know overrated/underrated conversations always suffer from the lack of any sort of rating baseline to work from, but last year Werth had the highest OPS+ in Nationals history. (You have to go back to Vladimir Guerrero to find a higher one in the franchise’s history.) He has produced 9.7 WARP in 360 games as a National. Obviously, there’s almost a full season’s worth of games missing since he signed, so you can’t say his contract has been a huge bargain. But he’s been really, super good, and I don’t think people expected that at the time and I don’t think people appreciate how true it is now. I might rather have his contract at this point than Ryan Zimmerman’s.
Will: Bryce Harper is hitting just .206 this spring in part because he can’t stop laughing about this photo. Doesn’t Harper seem like the kind of guy who wouldn’t be able to let that kind of thing go? I feel like he might be responsible for Werth’s strained biceps, which has kept him to just nine games this spring. The picture kept crossing Harper’s mind and he couldn’t stop giving Werth Indian burns.
It is amusing that Werth made every single list of Worst Contracts EVAR! when he signed three years ago, topped those lists after a poor 2011 season, and now sits with Zimmerman (and quietly, Ian Desmond) as both one of the Nats’ longest-tenured players and a cornerstone of their success. I always loved him because he looks like Edge—imagine resembling a pro wrestler, a werewolf, and Napoleon Dynamite, all in one decade?—and it’s always enjoyable when we rush to judge an incompetent team, then have to eat our words, only no one owns up to it because we all agreed it was a horrible contract.
By the way, if the Orioles had thought to promote that picture, they could’ve mocked their crosstown rival and won #FaceOfMLB unanimously in one fell swoop. Wake up, Baltimore.
3) Three years and four months into his career, and Stephen Strasburg still hasn’t received a Cy Young vote. He’s only four months younger than Clayton Kershaw. Is it likely that his stuff starts fading before he puts everything together?
Sam: I’m still optimistic. I’m a sucker for spring training stories, for finally-healthy stories and new-pitch stories, so I’m willing to buy the explanation that he was pitching through some pain (and bone chips in his elbow) last year, and I’m willing to get a little excited about seeing what a full-strength Strasburg slider will look like.
His fastball gets below-average whiff rates. Isn’t that the strangest thing you’ve ever heard?
Will: You just never know when someone is hurt. They never give you a straight answer, you can’t properly evaluate their elbow from afar, and trying to predict Will He or Won’t He Miss Time is next to impossible.
Of course he says he’s healthy, but who’s to say? Let’s judge Strasburg by his actions, and one in particular: The big story out of spring training is that he’ll be featuring a slider amongst his embarrassment of riches. In my first-ever piece for BP, I wrote that Strasburg might become the first pitcher ever to simply choose his pitches at random; adding a slider to the mix makes him all the more devastating.
Except, think for a minute: If you’re Stephen Strasburg, completely healthy and ready to dominate, how would a slider help you accomplish that? In other words, he now has a slider in his bag of tricks … except he’s one of the only pitchers alive who literally does not need any tricks. A healthy Strasburg could simply execute his pitches knowing that when thrown properly, the hitter doesn’t have a chance. And he certainly doesn’t go into an offseason thinking he needs another wrinkle.
It’s all amateur psychology, of course. But Mariano Rivera never added another pitch, because he didn’t need to. Strasburg should be in that class, but something about this makes me wonder.
4) The best rotation in the game last year had Doug Fister. The best rotation in the game this year has Doug Fister. Ergo, Doug Fister is the best pitcher in the game, right?
Sam: It’s weird, I’m excited to see what Fister can do with a really good infield behind him instead of a really bad infield, but then I look and (by some metrics at least) the Nationals actually rated worse in their infield last year than the Tigers. So maybe the question of whether Fister can make his ERA look like that lights-out FIP will come down to whether Zimmerman can get his throws working again. I can think of at least 14 teams whose Opening Day starters are worse than Fister.
Will: The good news is that Ross Detwiler won’t be involved. The better news is that Tanner Roark should be, and his sinker/slider offering should play well if those metrics were wrong about the Nat’s infield defense. I’m a Roark fan because he isn’t afraid to challenge lefties inside with his two-seamer; his minor-league splits tell us that he does that pretty damn effectively. And, hey, maybe Fister can teach him how to get ground balls!
5) Do you have any opinions about Matt Williams as a manager? (I don’t need to hear them. I just need to know if you have them.)
Sam: More than with most new managers. The Nationals are good. I think Williams will be good. Stathead friendly but cites Dusty Baker as his model. Dusty Baker plus math might have been a pretty special manager.
Will: Can he teach Zimmerman to throw? How funny is his thousand-yard stare when Zimmerman puts a souvenir into the eighth row? Will he throw veiled insults at Zimmerman through the media, like “Maybe I’ll bring my glove tomorrow” or “I’m thinking of giving Mrs. Zimmerman season tickets, right in front, down the first-base line”? That’s how I’ll judge Williams as a manager.
PECOTA Team Projections
1) A simple algebra problem: A train carrying B.J. Upton leaves San Francisco for Atlanta going 90 mph. At the same time, a train carrying Dan Uggla leaves Atlanta for San Francisco going 75 mph. Atlanta is 2,138 miles from San Francisco. How long will it take for the trains to crash into each other leaving nothing but a smoking crater where once life thrived?
Sam: Last year, the Braves’ two worst players were their two most expensive players, who combined to bat three times (with three strikeouts) in the Braves’ postseason series. That’s the weirdest thing about baseball: Not only can salary and performance have a less-than-perfect correlation, but in cases like this, they can be diametrically opposed. The two highest-paid players, the two worst players! Astounding. Anyway, that won’t happen again this year, not because Upton or Uggla will be any better, but because Justin Upton got a raise and Ervin Santana got signed, so B.J. and Uggla will no longer be the highest paid players.
(Both will be somewhat better, but at this point I’m lower on Upton than I think the Braves would like me to be.)
Will: I can’t wait for Dan Uggla to retire, just because I can’t call Daniel Murphy the worst second baseman in the division until he’s gone. They’re like the McGwire and Sosa of terrible defensive second basemen: Everyone is in awe of them, they continue to top one another, and we should feel privileged to be able to watch them do their thing head-to-head 19 times a year.
What happened to B.J. Upton last year was sad, and like Sam, I’m not optimistic. There’s a difference between a down year and looking utterly lost.
Here’s my question: Will Justin be angry when the Braves trade B.J. to San Diego for a couple of minor leaguers? Was there some kind of unspoken agreement between Justin and the Braves that B.J. would not be for sale? Would Justin get upset if they simply benched his brother in favor of Jordan Schafer? Don’t all baseball teams work like Melrose Place?
One other benefit of Uggla’s departure: I cannot wait for Tommy La Stella. I’m a sucker for guys with great stage names; if the Braves promote Tommy La Stella and bring back Buddy Carlyle, I’m moving to Atlanta.
2) Make up one statistical fun fact that you expect Craig Kimbrel to make come true this year. (e.g. Kimbrel got more swinging strikes with his fastball than the Twins’ entire starting rotation.)
Sam: Over the course of multiple games, Kimbrel will strike out six consecutive batters on 18 pitches; two hidden immaculate innings, back to back, for the first time in history.
Will: Kimbrel will become the first player in at least the last 50 years to homer on the first pitch of his first and only plate appearance of the season. Kimbrel will blow one save in 2014, by hitting a batter and throwing the ensuing sacrifice bunt into the right-field corner. In the top of the 10th, B.J. Upton, who had been benched months before, pinch hits for Kimbrel, but Kimbrel rips the bat out of Upton’s hands, walks to the plate, and hits a 400-foot bomb to regain the lead. He strikes out the side in the bottom of the 10th.
3) Will Ervin Santana pitch well enough this year to earn a qualifying offer and therefore depress his own market as a free agent next winter, or will he struggle again and improve his stock?
Sam: As frustrating as Santana’s never-the-same-season-twice routine is, in the context of his career 2012 (the bad one) was probably the further outlier than 2013 (the good one). Last year was boosted by a fantastic April, and after that he was a little bit better than league average, which is a little bit better than PECOTA expects. Santana’s never been one to land on the mean projection, but if he hits the high-3s ERA that PECOTA projects, he probably won’t merit the QO—or, at least, the Braves will have to count on him accepting it if they offer. So he should be a free agent in line for a multi-year, Garza- or Jimenez-like deal at last.
Will: This is like trying to predict an alien invasion. Sam broke down the nuts and bolts of it, so I’ll just add this fact: I was going to point out that Santana smartly moved from a solid defensive outfield in Kansas City (speaking of great stage names in baseball: Lorenzo Cain!) to a great one in Atlanta, but then I checked the numbers, and … B.J. Upton put up a minus-10.8 FRAA. That’s Dan Uggla territory! I checked that number roughly a dozen times to make sure it was right.
4) Only 46 of the 162 starts last year are accounted for by current and healthy Braves. In the same way that elbow pain in spring seems to always end up in the worst-case scenario, there’s no way that a rotation depleted this early doesn’t spiral totally out of control, right?
Sam: I think that’s fair. This is already lining up to be a year like the 2012 Padres had, where 15 pitchers made at least one start. That series of accidents did lead to the unlikely discovery of Eric Stults, so maybe some good will come out of a series of emergency starts.
Will: This is why I feel that the NL East is a one-team race, and why second place is very much up for grabs. The standard deviation for the Braves is enormous; sure, they could win 90 and challenge the Nationals, but even in a bad division I see them coming back to the pack. It’s funny that the rotation is getting all the scrutiny; meanwhile the bullpen may not be as strong in years past, and it’s anyone’s guess who will be playing second base and center field by season’s end. The Braves are like a Jenga tower.
5) The Braves have the game’s third-best 25-and-under core, they’ve extended every one of their young stars, they’ve got the revenue of a brand-new ballpark that a municipal government is just outright gifting them, and in the past four years only one team (the Yankees) has won more games than they have. Why aren’t we all talking about the Braves as a team that’s going to dominate the league for the next five years?
Sam: Because...uh. Because there’s not a ligament on the pitching staff that we trust, I guess. Because their star first baseman doesn’t have the power we expect from a first baseman, because their MVP-candidate shortstop doesn’t have the offense we expect from an MVP candidate, because their best position player of the past three years has been a right fielder with a league-average OPS, and because it’s a staff of 2s and 3s without an ace. In other words, they succeed in ways that we’re not used to being impressed by. There’s not a Harper or a Strasburg to attach our emotions to, and there’s not really a well-publicized front office philosophy that we can identify, besides “do everything well.”
Also, they haven’t won a postseason series since 2001, when John Rocker was still the closer. They probably deserve more credit than they’ve received for the recent past and more optimism than we have for the immediate future, but it hasn’t been an elite team for a decade and it won’t be this year.
Will: Because at some point, Fredi Gonzalez is going to ask too much of Gavin Floyd. Because ultimately, with three positions up in the air, the Braves offense may come down to whether Andrelton Simmons can hit. Because Julio Teheran probably shouldn’t be a team’s best starter (although if Mike Minor returns healthy, I don’t think he will be). Because asking a bullpen to dominate year after year is like asking your six year-old to do that cute thing she did an hour ago, only this time in front of a bunch of people. Because PECOTA’s projection for Chris Johnson is going to be dead on. Because Christian Bethancourt walked in on Evan Gattis and Ryan Doumit discussing the finer points of catching and began projectile vomiting all over the room.
PECOTA Team Projections
Sam: In the past three years Howard has hit .198/.254/.350 against lefties. There’s almost literally no major-league right-handed hitter who can’t do better than that—only eight right-handers (including Jeff Mathis and Yuni Betancourt) in the past three years have been worse (minimum 250 PA), and Elliot Johnson is tied. So this doesn’t seem all that complicated. Except it’s not as simple as it should be. For one thing, Darin Ruf (the natural platoon choice, reverse-split last year easily ignored) just strained his oblique and won’t play for six weeks. Maikel Franco is certainly a better hitter against lefties than Howard is, but the Phillies obviously won’t want to rush their best prospect into a first-base platoon. Kevin Frandsen, over the past two years, has the 25th-best OPS in baseball against lefties (better than Mike Trout!), but of course now we’ve got SSS issues on top of SSS issues.
So it’s not so simple, but Howard’s defense and baserunning tilt it further against him, so unless I’m convinced that there’s some spectacular morale hit from benching a highly paid team leader, I’d take almost any alternative available. I’d start a healthy Howard 113 times.
Will: To me, Maikel Franco isn’t a part of this conversation, at least in a world where Ruf is healthy. I guess I just don’t understand why Ruf (when he returns) wouldn’t get a chance to be straight-up better than Howard: Sandberg has already shown a willingness to stand up to veteran stars (see question 3 re: Jimmy Rollins—actually, pretty much all these questions are about how screwed-up this team is; so, see all the questions), so why would Howard’s lack of performance be treated any differently? He played just 80 games last year because of the knee injury; I say he’s around that number again in 2014, but at Sandberg’s behest.
Or perhaps I should’ve said “manager’s decision,” because...
2) Imagine still that you’re Sandberg. You can sign a one-year lease on a Philadelphia apartment at $1,750 per month to be renewed annually, or a two-year lease at $1,500 a month, or a three-year lease at $1,250. Boy, you sure don’t want to get stuck paying for an apartment you won’t be using if you get fired. What do you do?
Sam: If my math is right, he should sign the two-year lease instead of the one-year lease if he thinks there’s no worse than a 30 percent chance that he’ll get fired before the start of next season. And he should sign the three-year lease instead of the one-year lease if he thinks there’s no worse than a 60 percent chance that he’ll get fired before the start of 2016. So that’s what we’re working with.
On the one hand, woooof this isn’t starting well. The Jimmy Rollins stuff isn’t nearly as bad as Maury Wills’ first spring training, but Rollins represents a lot of different tests that Sandberg has the opportunity to fail: Can he handle a declining veteran? Can he share power with a vocal presence in the clubhouse? Can he handle players of difference races? Can he manage a team that sucks? Because oh boy, this team is going to suck. Most managers get hired first by a terrible team, and making that terrible team seem like it’s pointing to something better is the first test they get. So far, for Sandberg, nope.
But on the other hand, managers are sort of like closers: It’s not that hard to do the basic stuff, the managerial equivalent of the three-run save, and possession is nine-tenths of the law. Once you’re in the job, the bias is toward keeping you in the job. I’d sign the three-year lease.
Will: I would sign no lease at all because this is Philadelphia, and Philadelphia, as we all know, is basically Brooklyn without the rest of New York, which makes Brooklyn seem quaint. I feel like I’m missing the spirit of this question.
Sandberg should be the even-money favorite for “first manager fired” this season. (Or as they call it in the UK, the “sack race,” which is a term we absolutely need to coopt over here.) But let’s give a nod to the Phillies front office for bringing Sandberg aboard in the most ham-fisted way imaginable. Really, is there a better way to tell the world your current manager is dead man walking than “hire HOF player, make sure he can fill out lineup card at Triple-A, then promote him to big-league third base coach”?
And to top it off, they were completely unprepared for the very obvious, very logical questions posed about whether Sandberg was destined to replace Charlie Manuel at season’s end. Now, shockingly, Sandberg is the manager, and nobody seems to like him. Funny how that happens.
3) Imagine you’re Jimmy Rollins. You can sign a one-year lease on a Philadelphia apartment at $1,750 per month, or a two-year lease at $1,500 a month, or a three-year lease at $1,250. Boy, you sure don’t want to get stuck paying for an apartment you won’t be using if you get traded, released, or if you leave as a free agent, or if you just retire in a huff. What do you do?
Sam: I’d probably ask to go month to month at $2,000. I probably wouldn’t put him at much better than 50 percent to get the 434 plate appearances he needs for his 2015 option to vest. He should probably be a second baseman at this point anyway.
Will: I would sign no lease at all because this is Phwaaaiiiiit a minute. Okay, I would sign the three-year lease because it’s a nice value for someone like Rollins, who probably has enough cachet around those parts to rent it to a die-hard Phillies fan at twice the price because “Jimmy Rollins lived here!” while he retires in a huff. Which might be in the club’s best interest, by the way, because it might be the only thing that would make ownership say, “Wow, maybe things ought to change around here.” The Phillies could be the Knicks of baseball by 2016.
4) Imagine you’re an author who has somehow landed a book contract to write about the market inefficiency that the brilliant Phillies are exploiting. You have grave doubts about the premise, but you already spent the advance installing a vintage McDonald’s ball pit in your living room. You have to write it now. What do you focus on?
Sam: I genuinely can’t think of an answer for this. Their payroll this year is $170 million, or $10 million per playoff-odds percentage point. Their payroll commitments for 2015 are already higher than the Cardinals’ payroll was last year, or will be this year. I like their offseason this year, because they managed to get two veterans who seem to have signed reasonably priced deals that end after 2015, and because there are literally dozens of humans we would have made fun of had the Phillies signed them, but the Phillies signed none of them. If the Phillies as an organization had started sometime last July, we’d consider them a roughly average front office.
But only average, and that’s obviously a small sample size.
Will: First off, I am delighted at Sam’s inability to answer a question that he wrote himself about an extraordinarily unlikely hypothetical situation.
I would probably say that if all the controversy surrounding the Phillies were just a hoax to convince Jimmy Rollins to retire in a huff, thus clearing his salary, that would one of the great front office moves of all time. You could get another Moneyball out of that one. Also, can we hide the corpse of Ryan Howard inside the ball pit? I once played dead inside a ball pit at a Long Island Chuck E. Cheese, and it was quite convincing until a young Greg Louganis impersonator dove headlong into my stomach.
5) From ages 29 to 34, since 1975, pitchers ranked by WAR:
What’s your favorite Nabokov novel?
Will: My favorite Nabokov novel is Lolita, because it’s the only Nabokov novel I know anything about. Fittingly, by mid-August, Phillies fans will feel like they’re driving cross-country with someone they have no idea how to talk to, and with whom they share very little in common, to the point that they almost forget why they started this drive in the first place. But they’ll keep driving anyway because it’s been years at this point and hey, maybe there’s an endgame here. But then they finally get so sick about the whole thing that they have to check into a hospital, and the whole thing goes downhill from there.
I guess I could’ve just said the Phillies are like Lolita because you find out they’re all dead right at the beginning. The point is, I’m not all that excited about the 2014 Phillies.
Sam: More like Lo-Lee-ta, right? I prefer Laughter in the Dark. This answer is only a metaphor if you insist.
PECOTA Team Projections
Sam: The last time Flores actually played shortstop was around the time that Rookie of the Year came out. Well, not quite that far back: 2011, though it was obvious that the move was coming years earlier. Indeed, this is his BP player comment from 2009:
Given his big frame and tremendous offensive potential Flores's top comp might just be another Venezuelan phenom, Miguel Cabrera, who also started his career at shortstop. Like Cabrera, Flores will grow out of the position.
Baseball is so insanely hard to project that two players can start at around the same place, and one wins the Triple Crown and the other is Wilmer Flores. And yet even in this swirl of uncertainty, there was never any uncertainty about Flores’ ability to stick at shortstop. This seems significant.
Incidentally, Pedro Guerrero, Bobby Bonilla, and Barry Bonds appeared in Rookie of the Year. Playing themselves, you always figured, but in fact their characters were identified in the cast not by the names Pedro Guerrero, Bobby Bonilla, and Barry Bonds, but as the Three Big Whiffers.
Will: Flores is as obvious a trade candidate as you’ll find in a top prospect. While everyone believes in his bat, the Mets have a franchise player at the only position he can play passably. The Mets’ answer to this, naturally, is to make the defensively challenged Daniel Murphy their smoothest middle infielder by playing Flores at shortstop. So, to answer the question, the obvious answer is, “Thomas Ian Nicholas: big-league shortstop.”
2) Which first baseman/shortstop combination would have a greater pacifying effect on Crimea while the Mets win the same number of games no matter what?
Sam: At first base, Lucas Duda and Ike Davis should platoon. I realize they both hit left-handed, but that’s not the kind of platoon I’m talking about. Here’s what I’m envisioning: When Duda is going to be good that game, he plays. When Davis is going to be good that game, he plays. That way, the good one is always playing. See?
At shortstop, I’d probably start offering that position to various J.P. Morgan executives, who could forgive a certain amount of debt for each start they are allowed to make. The Mets could knock out that debt in no time, and the whole exchange would turn the team’s situation into slightly less of a joke.
Will: The first base competition between Ike Davis and Lucas Duda has, rather appropriately, been held on a minor league field. As for shortstop, if the Mets were using Flores and Noah Syndergaard to make a run at Javier Baez (or, who am I kidding, Starlin Castro), we could talk. But trading scraps for Nick Franklin or Didi Gregorius is rearranging deck chairs. It reminds me of when the Royals signed Mark Grudzielanek in nine consecutive offseasons, just to hold the press conference announcing they’d done it.
3) Given they aren’t looking to win right now, why would the Mets let Daisuke Matsuzaka be the fifth starter with so much young talent behind him?
Sam: Because he lets them pretend to have a reason not to have to rush the young talent behind him, and because when it’s time to move him out of the way so the young talent behind him can move in front of him, they just get a couple of moving guys to come pick him up and carry him into storage like a statue. Which, incidentally, is a fitting analogy for him on the mound.
Will: Say this for the Mets: they’re remarkably dedicated to getting fly ball pitchers to maximize their strong outfield defense and mask their horrendous infield counterparts. But the Mets have so much good young starting pitching—to the point that they’re thinking about converting some to the pen, rather than, you know, trading for some offense—that the prolonged flirtation with Daisuke is bizarre. Jenrry Mejia is ready for his shot. By the way, here’s how you know no one else offered Bartolo Colon a second year: The Mets have so much starting pitching talent coming down the pike that Colon basically signed up to be pitching just about anywhere by the end of July.
4) Better for David Wright’s legacy: better numbers on a better team in a more hitter-friendly park, or loyalty to one franchise?
Sam: I want to say loyalty to one franchise, because the guys who have done that in my lifetime really do have strengthened holds on my memory. But for one problem: He’s never going to get MVP votes on a lousy Mets team, and there’s something about a career without an MVP award (or even a top-three finish) that makes a player seem less interesting. I’m not sure he’d get MVP awards going forward no matter where he plays—his skills aren’t the bold-ink kind—so maybe now it doesn’t matter. Is there any chance he’s the next generation’s 75-WAR non-HOF guy? The only thing he’s ever led the league in is sacrifice flies. That doesn’t matter to you and me, but to the voter who fires up his computer on vote day to do his obligatory 45 minutes of research…
Will: The best thing you can say about David Wright is that he seems totally comfortable with his decision to re-sign and lead this not-very-good team. Wright is 31 and in a race against time: When the Mets finally get good again, will he be one of the reasons why? The various injuries are starting to add up, and for a team that looks to have one eye on 2015, the most important number for its most important player may be games played.
5) If you were a fashion model, but not a supermodel—like, say you do product shoots for J.C. Penney, or some such—would you consider Matt Harvey a nice buy-low candidate?
Sam: Even with Harvey missing this season, I think it’s probably too late to get any sort of discount on him, model-wise. Anyway, he’s a terrible listener, and all he ever talks about is Qualcomm.
At this point, I’m not sure Wheeler isn’t the better commodity. He’s got six years until he hits free agency, three before arbitration. Harvey will essentially pitch four more years until free agency, one before arbitration. And Tommy John surgery isn’t without its victims. If I were modeling gardening shears for the Burpee catalog, I’d probably have my eyes set on Wheeler, who might just be, somewhat counterintuitively, safer.
Will: I actually think Harvey’s ship has sailed unless you’ve done high-profile runway work. He played catch at 75 feet last week and seems serious about a late-season return. Look for Harvey to trade into Leighton Meester territory before making a failed run at Scarlett Johansson to end the season. And as I always say, never, ever rule out Pippa Middleton.
PECOTA Team Projections
Sam: I don’t think the Marlins will win the World Series this year, though it wouldn’t surprise me if their bullpen is slightly better than league average.
Will: Not on your &$@#ing life.
2) Not even with Christian Yelich adding that always crucial Second Credible Hitter to the lineup?
Sam: One of my favorite things about last year: This is where the Marlins’ team OPS ranked in the National League by each lineup position:
So, no, Yelich doesn’t dramatically change this lineup. That said, I think the .258/.324/.395 line PECOTA sees coming is too pessimistic.
Will: I would like to see a list of people who appeared at Rookie level, Single-A, Double-A, and the majors in the same season without stopping at Triple-A. Yelich is on that list. By the way, he has no extra-base hits in 51 springs PAs, so I’d say Second Credible Hitter honors are very much up for grabs. I’m booking Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Casey McGehee in a steel cage for the title; the winner gets to wear a large cowboy belt buckle that says “Credible Hitter” on it.
While we’re talking about other position players looking to contribute, if you happen to catch a Marlins game this season, keep an eye out for Marcell Ozuna. He’s like a slightly smaller, more distracted Yasiel Puig. He plays the game as if he learned the rules just as the national anthem was dying down, and while he isn’t too concerned about remembering them, he does think baseball is pretty cool. He’s a delight.
3) Not even with a full season of post-May 2013 Jose Fernandez, when he switched over to the guy who had a 1.50 ERA over four months?
Sam: And a full season of Tom Koehler. The Marlins’ rotation last year was basically the Twins plus Jose Fernandez, which is better than the Twins but still very much like the Twins. Those two teams were the only teams in baseball with at least three starters who struck out 6.0 batters per nine or fewer, and all three of the Marlins who met that maximum (Turner, Koehler, Alvarez) are back in the rotation this year. The final starter, Nathan Eovaldi, struck out only 6.6.
Will: One of my memories of the 2013 Marlins was an article—one of many—praising Jeff Mathis for coaxing the very best out of the young phenom. Just as my eyes were rolling into the back of my head, I remember thinking, is the Jeff Mathis effect now transferred onto Rob Brantly? Like, does he now get to go around saying, “Hey, that Fernandez guy? That was me,” and then teams just sign him and lock him in a hotel room with their top prospect and have them run lines from Bull Durham?
Sam: And not even with Carlos Pena, Chad Tracy, Tony Gwynn Jr., Chien-Ming Wang, Xavier Nady and Chris Snyder, all of whom I expect will cycle through the Marlins’ organization at some point this year.
Will: The Marlins are the right combination of terrible team and mercurial ownership that, if they held one of those local tryouts at the ballpark, some kid might actually start at second base that same night. And you’d be like, hmm, that’s not the craziest story I’ve ever heard.
5) But really, they will win the World Series, right?
Sam: They will not.
Will: Oh, this is like one of those meta previews, isn’t it.
Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @SamMillerBB