Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sox Spend Big, Strike Out


As expected, the Boston Red Sox had a busy offseason in the wake of 2014’s last place finish. They revamped their lineup, renovated the starting rotation, and made a host of smaller moves to bolster their overall depth.
They also went on an enormous spending spree, committing nearly $250 million (not including option years) to three players: Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, and Yoan Moncada. Was that the best way to spend a quarter billion dollars—more than the entire payroll of every major league team save the Los Angeles Dodgers?
Probably not.
Let’s start with Sandoval, 28, who fetched a five-year, $95 million deal with a $17 million team option for the sixth year: too much for a lumbering third baseman who plays mediocre defense and hacks at almost every pitch thrown his way.
These weaknesses are only becoming more pronounced. Sandoval hasn’t even attempted a stolen base since 2012. His 48.1 percent chase rate—the proportion of pitches outside the strike zone he swung at last year—was easily the highest in baseball. Consequently, his career already appears to be in decline, as his on-base and slugging percentages have fallen every year since 2011. Three straight seasons of sagging production is a worrisome trend that can’t be ignored, especially since thicker players like Sandoval tend to deteriorate more rapidly. He’ll be best suited for first base or designated hitter within a few years, meaning he’s not a long-term solution at third base.
Those deficiencies could be excused if Sandoval were an elite power hitter, but he isn’t. His power is surprisingly pedestrian for a man his size, as he has failed to top 16 home runs in four of the last five seasons. The league-average Isolated Power, which gauges raw power by measuring the average number of extra bases a player gets per at-bat, is usually around .140, but Sandoval has been below that in each of the past two seasons. He doesn’t offer the game-changing clout Boston needs to supplement aging sluggers David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, who turn 40 and 34, respectively, this year.
The Red Sox desperately needed a third baseman, as Will Middlebrooks proved incompetent and Brock Holt’s unexpected breakout was likely a fluke, but they didn’t need to splurge on Sandoval to upgrade at the hot corner. Chase Headley, a comparable hitter and former Gold Glove winner, re-signed with the Yankees for little more than half of Sandoval’s take. Boston also could have moved shortstop Xander Bogaerts back to third, where he played almost one-third of his games last year.
At least Sandoval filled a hole. Ramirez, who signed on the same day as Sandoval for four years and $88 million with a $22 million vesting option for the fifth year, only adds to Boston’s already crowded outfield situation. The Red Sox should have been trying to trade away outfielders, not bring more in, especially ones that have never played the outfield at the professional level before (Ramirez was previously a shortstop and third baseman).
Even more troubling than Ramirez’s outfield inexperience is the assortment of injuries that have caused him to miss nearly 29 percent of his teams’ games over the past four seasons. Ramirez has played well when healthy, but he’s going to be 31 next year and figures to miss additional time going forward. Boston better be prepared for long stretches without Ramirez, even though a player earning $22 million per year shouldn’t require a backup plan.
While Sandoval and Ramirez were rewarded for their past performance, Moncada, a 19 year-old infield prospect from Cuba, got paid based on what Boston believes (or hopes) he will become. The Red Sox surrendered $63 million to acquire him on February 23–a huge investment in a teenager who’s never had a whiff of American baseball. It’s one thing to throw gobs of money at someone with a lengthy track record of success; it’s quite another to invest heavily in a player with no track record at all. This gamble looks even more questionable coming just two weeks after San Diego’s acquisition of James Shields—an established ace who could have been had for just $12 million more.
The problem is that none of these signings addressed Boston’s most glaring need: starting pitching. Boston spent all that money, and somehow is still without an ace. Instead they got a fat third baseman, a converted outfielder, and a wet behind the ears teenager. Apparently $250 million doesn’t buy what it used to.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

No More Minosos

Another deserving HOFer died before he saw his day in Cooperstown (WTTW Chicago)
Minnie Minoso, also known as the Cuban Comet, died today in Chicago, Illinois. He was 89.

Few players had more historical impact than Minoso, who became the first black Cuban to appear in the major leagues when he debuted with the Cleveland Indians on April 19th, 1949, at the age of 23. It was Opening Day for most teams, and the Tribe were in St. Louis to play the lowly Browns. Minoso pinch-hit for Mike Garcia, who had relieved future Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Early Wynn and would be replaced by another Cooperstown-bound player by the name of Satchel Paige. The rookie walked, loading the bases for Larry Doby--the American League's first African-American player. With Cleveland trailing 5-1, Doby represented the tying run, but flew out to end the inning.

It was a star-studded debut for Minoso, who has yet to take his rightful place alongside those hallowed names in Cooperstown. Minoso was just up for election on the Golden Era ballot, but fell short of induction along with the rest of the candidates (including Dick Allen, Luis Tiant, Gil Hodges, and Ken Boyer). Given his age (89), the voters must have known that this could be their last chance to elect Minoso while he was still alive. They failed.

That Minoso is still outside the Hall of Fame 66 YEARS after his debut is inexcusable, and to me ranks right up there with Ron Santo's belated election as one of the Hall's most egregious travesties. Somebody please explain to me why Bill Mazeroski, Jim Rice, and Andre Dawson were elected before Minoso. Tell me how Tony Oliva, Maury Wills, and Jim Kaat all pulled more votes on that screwy Golden Era ballot than Minoso.

When are people going to realize that Minoso was one of the most dominant players of his time? From 1951-1961, in which he played nearly 90 percent of his career games, he was the sixth-most valuable position player in baseball per fWAR, a rounding error behind Henry Aaron at number five. Among American Leaguers, he was second only to Mickey Mantle during this time. The Commerce Comet trailed by the Cuban Comet; how fitting is that?

In the AL during this time, Minoso ranked first in doubles and hit-by-pitches while placing second in hits, runs scored, triples, and stolen bases. He was third in RBI and offensive value, and fourth in walks. He was even 10th in home runs, despite never having a season where he slugged 25. A perennial .300 hitter, Minoso did so eight times and batted .298 for his career. He also walked a lot--way more than he struck out--and mastered the art of getting plunked, ending up with an impressive .389 OBP. For his career, he was 33 percent better than the average hitter after adjusting for league and park.

Minoso sustained his brilliance for more than a decade. He made seven All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves, and drew MVP consideration eight times, finishing fourth in four of those years. That run probably would have stretched even longer had he not been forced to play in the Negro Leagues for several years early in his career, preventing him from playing his first full season until he was already 25. What if he had come up in 1946--his first year in the Negro Leagues? He matured quickly, after all, becoming an All-Star in 1947 and 1948. Give him a handful of seasons at the beginning of his career and he probably winds up with close to 2,500 hits, 1,500 runs/RBI, 200+ homers, and 300+ steals. Those sound like Hall-worthy numbers to me.

For whatever reason, Minoso has never received the credit he deserves for being a pioneer. Paige, Doby, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Monte Irvin, and many others all sailed into the Hall of Fame with far lesser career statistics. Why not Minoso, who paved the way for generations of Cuban ballplayers? He was the first black player in Chicago White Sox history, and one of the first Latin American players to make the All-Star team. I'm sure he faced his share of prejudice and discrimination. Who knows how that affected his performance on the field?

Hopefully Minoso's death will force voters to realize their mistake and induct Minoso the next time he is eligible. But it will be too late, just as it was too late for Ron Santo, and Joe Gordon, and all the other posthumous inductions. Their numbers didn't change in the decades it took to deem them worthy of baseball's highest honor. Neither will Minoso's.

Those tasked with putting people in the Hall of Fame must do a better job of identifying and electing deserving candidates as soon as possible, to admit them while they're still alive and capable of giving a speech at their ceremony. It's nice to honor and remember the dead, but I think we can all agree it's even better to celebrate the living.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pierre Pulls Plug on Career

Pierre was a player unlike any other (CBS Miami)
After 14 major league seasons, Juan Pierre finally ran out of gas. The speedy outfielder, 37, announced his retirement yesterday after sitting out the entire 2014 season. Pierre last suited up in 2013, batting .247/.284/.305 with 23 steals in 113 games for the Miami Marlins.

Pierre's belated retirement officially marks the end to what was a very unorthodox major league career. When Pierre made his major league debut in 2000 with the Colorado Rockies, power at an all-time high. The record for most home runs in a season was set that year, with 5,693 dingers leaving the yard during the regular season. Pierre, in 219 plate appearances that year, contributed 0. The following season--the year Barry Bonds blasted 73 and Sammy Sosa smashed 64--Pierre managed two in 156 games.

That was Pierre, swimming against the tide. While players were routinely clearing 30 home runs per, Pierre never swatted more than three and finished his career with just 18. Even though he played in some very favorable parks in Colorado and Chicago (both leagues), power just wasn't part of his game. It was almost comical how rarely he went deep, especially in light of how many plate appearances he racked up. Pierre was the epitome of a slap-hitter, the go-to comp for any light-hitting player deemed incapable of clearing the fences. I'm sure many baseball fans believed that, given the same number of ups, they could outdo his meager home run totals.

Despite his dearth of power, Pierre enjoyed a productive big league career that spanned nearly 2,000 games. He was a full-time center fielder for nearly a decade before the Dodgers moved him to left so they could make room for Andruw Jones (not Matt Kemp, as I originally believed). A .295 career hitter, he sprayed 2,217 hits, topping 200 in a season four times and narrowly missing a fifth. He walked nearly as often as he struck out, which he rarely did, topping out at 52 times in 2002 and averaging just 34 K's per season.

Pierre also ran the bases with abandon unlike anyone else during his time (young Jose Reyes is the only one that comes to mind). His 614 stolen bases rank 18th all-time and 10th since the end of World War II. Over the course of his career, nobody came within 100 steals of Pierre, who led the league three times. Not surprisingly, Pierre ranked second in baserunning value during this time--to the still-active Jimmy Rollins.

On the flip side, Pierre was caught stealing almost twice as often as the next closest guy--remember Chone Figgins? Five times Pierre led the majors and seven times led his league in failed stolen base attempts. On the whole though, his aggressiveness helped his teams more than it hurt, for he was successful in over three-quarters of his tries.

With his speed and banjo-hitting approach, Pierre was a throwback to the deadball era, out of place and out of time in the incredible hulk steroid seasons. He was playing small ball when everyone else was loading up for the long ball. In 2007 Alex Rodriguez banked 30 before the All-Star Break. Juan Pierre finished that season with 0, one of three times he finished a season sans a round-tripper. Over 83 percent of his hits were singles.

The most telling statistic about kind of player Pierre was might be this; over the course of his career, he had almost 100 more stolen bases than RBI. I mean, you think he would have knocked in more runs just based on the sheer volume of hits he accumulated (though he was primarily a leadoff hitter in the National League, and typically batted after pitchers as a result). Apparently it's also very hard to drive in baserunners with a career ISO of .066.

Another cool stat of his is that he had more than five times as many triples than home runs. It's incredibly rare for a player nowadays to have equal numbers of both, let alone have a triples total that dwarfs his home run total. For his era, at least, Pierre was truly one of a kind.

One more aspect of Pierre's game was his exceptional durability, which helped him play 821 consecutive games from September 18th, 2002 through the end of the 2007 season. Over the meat of his career, from 2001-2011, he appeared in at least 145 games every year but one and averaged 155 games per season.

Pierre was a joy to watch whenever he got on base, which happened quite frequently (he had a .343 career OBP). He was one of the few base thieves who could make a pitcher sweat just by his mere presence on first base, as he was a threat to steal whenever he reached safely. In that sense he was like a poor man's Ichiro Suzuki, and considering that Ichiro's a surefire Hall of Famer, I mean no disrespect. Wherever Juan Pierre's headed next in life, I'm sure he's running there.

Pierre was born to run (Capers Block)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Will the Hornets Make the Playoffs?

This article was contributed by Robert Simms:

The Hornets currently sit in the 9th spot in the Eastern Conference, tied with the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers. The three teams are currently just a single game back of the Brooklyn Nets, who at 23-31, currently hold possession of the 8th and final playoff spot in the East. With only 28 games left, the Hornets have an uphill battle ahead of them if they hope to claim that spot. Charlotte made the playoffs last year as the 7th seed, earning themselves a first round drubbing at the hands of LeBron James and the final iteration of the Big Three Era Miami Heat. Though the Hornets (at the time still the Bobcats) were swept in that series, the organization and the fan base entered this season with higher expectations.

The team had an established star in Al Jefferson, a blossoming franchise point guard in Kemba Walker, and talented young players on rookie contracts who seemed poised to make mini-leaps in Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The team even made a splash in free agency, signing versatile wing Lance Stephenson away from the Pacers for what seemed a fair market price. The season has not panned out as expected, to say the least. Jefferson has looked old, Walker has been banged up, and the Stephenson experiment has been something of a disaster. The youngsters have not produced as hoped, and rookie first round pick Noah Vonleh has barely seen the court, having taken on 26 shots all season.

In what is his 11th season in the league, it seems possible that Jefferson’s age may have finally caught up to him, even though he is still miraculously only 30 years old. His scoring and rebounding have both undergone significant declines; Big Al has gone from a legit 20 point-10 rebound guy last season to barely breaking 17-8 this year. The diminished stats coincide with a dip in both minutes and field goal percentages. As his playing time and effectiveness shrink, I fear we may be seeing one of the last star quality seasons of Big Al’s career. As Jefferson’s role has receded, one would hope that Walker, Charlotte’s other star, has risen to assume a larger role. 

This has not been the case. Walker has battled multiple nagging injuries this season that have kept him out of a dozen games, and though his scoring is up a bit this year, his assist and rebound numbers have both fallen off slightly after he set career highs in both last season. Walker is a nice player; an explosive slasher with a quick first step and a terrific step back jumper who so far seems to have lived up to the “clutch” reputation that followed his college heroics. But he can’t do it on his own. Walker can create shots for himself, but these shots are often inefficient mid-range jumpers, shots that he does not hit at a high enough rate to justify taking. He is a below average three point shooter, a fact that opponents clearly make note of when they slough off Walker to prevent his dribble drives. His limited stature (listed at a generous 6’1”) hurts him in the paint, where he struggles to finish at an above-average level.

It is unfair to lump the Hornets offensive struggles entirely on Walker though because he really has done a serviceable job with the mediocre cards he has been dealt. Much of the blame can be directed towards the team’s general manager, Rich Cho, who has created one of the weirder teams in the league through a variety of puzzling personnel moves. For one, he has illogically surrounded Jefferson with non-shooters. Despite his dip in productivity, Jefferson is still the centerpiece of Charlotte’s offense. He is a post-up beast who scores well in isolations and thus frequently garners double teams that draw defenders away from their perimeter assignments. Big Al can pass fairly well out of these double teams, but a common result of these passes this season have been missed outside jumpers. That’s because none of the team’s perimeter players can effectively and efficiently shoot threes.

Of Hornets players who have played over 10 minutes per game this season, only Jeff Taylor, a seldom used wing player, is shooting above league average from deep. Unsurprisingly, the team is last in the league in three point FG%. This inability to shoot from range allows defenders to slough away from their assignments and sag towards the middle of the floor, where they can disrupt post-ups by Jefferson and crowd against Walker’s probing drives. In doing so, teams have been able to absolutely smother the Hornets half-court scoring this season. The Hornets offense currently ranks 29th in points per 100 possessions and ranks dead last in Effective Field Goal percentage, a statistic that takes into account the increased point value of a three point shot. Charlotte’s offense has been so dismal this year that despite having the 8th ranked defense in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions, the team’s net rating is still negative.

All is not lost for the team’s playoff hopes though. Of the Hornets’ remaining schedule, only 12 games are home. The remaining 16 are on the road, where the Hornets are 9-16 so far this season. This looks grisly, but is actually an easier slate than their competitors face. Each of the Pistons, Pacers, and Nets all have 10 or fewer home games remaining. If the Hornets can tread water at .500 or a bit above, they should be able to secure the 8 seed. The next two week stretch will be crucial. They are scheduled to face Boston, Orlando, LA (Lakers), Brooklyn, Toronto, and Detroit. If the Hornets can go 5-1 (or more realistically 4-2) against that sheet, with victories against Brooklyn and Detroit, they could set themselves up in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the season. Note also that of their remaining 28 games, only 11 are against teams with winning records. 11. They get the Celtics, Nets, and Kings twice, while drawing the Pistons three times. That is not too tough of a road.

The Hornets entered the year with expectations of surpassing their playoff progress from last season. Though the East is still the minor leagues compared to the grueling Western Conference, several playoff teams from the East have taken steps forward over the past year. Chicago, Atlanta, Toronto and Washington have all upgraded their rosters, not to mention the radical transformation that occurred in Cleveland. With the improvement of their playoff peers from a year ago, it comes as no surprise that the Hornets are still an incomplete team. I think the best case scenario for the Hornets would be to capture the 8 seed and to hopefully avoid a sweep at the hands of the Hawks, current holders of the league’s best record. With that in mind, the team might be better served going the way of Philadelphia and tanking for a better draft pick.

*All stats per nba.com and espn.com

Thursday, February 19, 2015

2015 MLB Over/Unders

Win lines have been set for the 2015 season. Here are my thoughts:

Los Angeles Dodgers -- 92½ OVER
The reigning NL West champs and winners of 94 games last year made some nice moves this winter, solidifying their middle infield by trading for Jimmy Rollins and Howard Kendrick. They also unloaded Matt Kemp's contract for some solid talent in return, namely catcher/first baseman Yasmani Grandal. Now if only they could find a way to do the same with Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford...

Washington Nationals -- 92½ OVER
The Nats could very well win 100 games with that rotation. Let's just run through the names again; Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Gio Gonzalez, with Tanner Roark in reserve. That's ridiculous. Their lineup is equally stacked, with Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Denard Span, and Wilson Ramos. They're also in a fairly weak division, which should help them pile up the victories.

Los Angeles Angels -- 89½ UNDER
I just feel like the Angels got really lucky last year. They beat up a lot on the Rangers and Astros, who accounted for 26 of their 98 wins. Both teams figure to be much better this year, plus LA appears to have gotten worse. Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jered Weaver, and C.J. Wilson are all another year older. Howard Kendrick will be missed. Mike Trout might continue to slide. I don't believe they'll win 90+ again this year, especially in such a tough division.

St. Louis Cardinals -- 88½ OVER
I already loved the Cardinals, so I really love them now that they added Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden. They're not going to miss Shelby Miller one bit, especially if they get a full year from Michael Wacha. I also think Kelton Wong's going to break out, and we haven't seen the best of Matt Adams yet, either. St. Louis is on the older side, which does give me cause for concern, but their all-around depth and balance should be enough to win the NL Central again, especially since the Cubs were the only other team that got demonstrably better.

Boston Red Sox -- 86½ UNDER
Boston's better, but how much better? Where you fall on the Sox depends on what you think of their remade pitching staff. If you think Clay Buchholz and Justin Masterson bounce back, Rick Porcello's progression is for real, Wade Miley doesn't fall apart, and Joe Kelly takes a step forward, then the rotation could be pretty good. But if Buchholz gets hurt, Porcello regresses, and Masterson/Miley stay the same, then they're going to give up a lot of runs. Is the glass half-empty, or is it half-full? If this was at 84 or 85 wins I'd probably take the over, but this just feels too high for me. 

Seattle Mariners -- 86½ OVER
Their rotation's really good and they should hit enough after adding Nelson Cruz to Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and Austin Jackson, especially since Pythagorean says they were a 91-win team last year.

San Diego Padres -- 85½ OVER
I'm very bullish on the Padres this year. They won 77 games last year without hitting a lick, so a really good lineup should add at least 10 wins to their ledger. Job well done.

Detroit Tigers -- 84½ OVER
Losing Scherzer hurts (a lot), but they still have David Price, Anibal Sanchez, and Drew Smyly, not to mention Justin Verlander. Trading Rick Porcello for Yoenis Cespedes upgraded the right field situation (so long, Torii Hunter), and the lineup is still dynamite with Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, and Ian Kinsler. A healthy Jose Iglesias back at shortstop should do wonders for the infield defense, and I think Nick Castellanos has a better year, too. The Tigers are still the best team in their division.

San Francisco Giants -- 84½ UNDER
I'm pretty down on the reigning World Series champs. Not only did they lose one of their best hitters in Pablo Sandoval, but they also lost out on everyone they tried to sign this winter. Their offense is too reliant on Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, and Brandon Belt, and the rotation is really just Madison Bumgarner at this point. Tim Hudson's old, Tim Lincecum stinks, and Matt Cain is no longer outperforming his peripherals. With the Dodgers and Padres both getting stronger, I see the Giants as more of a .500 team this year. 

Cleveland Indians -- 83½ OVER
Cleveland's got a great core of young/in their prime players such as Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, and Jason Kipnis, all supplemented by veteran bats like Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and Brandon Moss. That's a terrific collection of hitters. The Tribe also boast reigning AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, who's likely headed for regression but should be helped out by a better year from Danny Salazar. Trevor Bauer should be better, Carlos Carrasco is pretty good, and Gavin Floyd might be able to help.

Pittsburgh Pirates -- 83½ UNDER
Not a fan of their rotation at all (besides Gerrit Cole), and the offense is way too reliant on Andrew McCutchen. Neil Walker and Starling Marte are pretty good, but Josh Harrison is headed for regression and I'm not sure Pedro Alvarez bounces back. They're really going to miss Russell Martin.

Baltimore Orioles -- 82½ OVER
Full, healthy seasons from Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, and Manny Machado would make this a killer lineup with J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, and Steve Pearce. Their pitching's pretty meh, but that lineup should do some serious damage, especially in that park.

Chicago Cubs -- 82½ OVER
After signing Jon Lester and trading for Dexter Fowler and Miguel Montero, the Cubs are contenders this year.

Toronto Blue Jays -- 82½ OVER
An easy one. Toronto won 83 games last year, then went out and signed Russell Martin and traded for Josh Donaldson. They're my favorites to win the division this year.

Chicago White Sox -- 81½ OVER
With a formidable top of the rotation (Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Samardzija) and improved offense in the form of Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche, the White Sox will win more than they lose this year.

Miami Marlins -- 81½ OVER
Miami made some sneaky good moves this offseason, trading for Dan Haren and Mat Latos to bolster the rotation and improving the offense via Martin Prado and Mike Morse. Assuming Jose Fernandez returns to health and Giancarlo Stanton isn't negatively affected by last September's beanball, and that's a good team.

New York Mets -- 81½ OVER
The Mets may well be the better team in New York right now. They have a lot of good young pitching (Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler, Jacob deGrom) to complement a veteran lineup anchored by David Wright, Michael Cuddyer, Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda, and the always-underrated Daniel Murphy

New York Yankees -- 81½ OVER
The Yankees have won more than they lost for each of the past 22 years. So yeah, I'm taking the over. They'll be okay without Derek Jeter (better, actually).

Oakland Athletics -- 80½ OVER
This feels way too low for the A's--a team that has won 278 games over the past three years. Granted, they lost a lot of talent from last year--i.e. Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Josh Donaldson, and Derek Norris--but there's still plenty to like here. They traded for Ben Zobrist, signed Billy Butler, and got Brett Lawrie in the Donaldson deal. The rotation added Jesse Hahn to Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, and potential rebounds A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker. Oakland was much better than an 88-win team last year anyways, for its run differential suggested it should have won 99 games. Assuming their true talent level was somewhere in between--let's call it 94 wins--then falling all the way to 80 wins is asking a lot. This is still a deep team, even without last year's star power, and I just think they're too good to have a losing record this year.

Kansas City Royals -- 79½ UNDER
The pitching staff is pedestrian without James Shields, the bullpen is due to regress, and the lineup is fairly mediocre. .500 is probably the best Kansas City can do this year.

Milwaukee Brewers -- 78½ OVER
The Brewers can flat out mash with Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, Khris Davis, Aramis Ramirez, Adam Lind, and Gerrardo Parra. I think there's just enough starting pitching between Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Wily Peralta, and Mike Fiers to help them win more than they lose again.

Tampa Bay Rays -- 78½ UNDER
The pitching is still very good thanks to Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore, and Chris Archer, but I don't see where the offense is going to come from outside of Evan Longoria and occasionally Desmond Jennings. A return to mediocrity is likely in store for Tampa Bay.

Cincinnati Reds -- 77½ UNDER
Positive regression from Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, and Homer Bailey will be offset by negative regression from Devin Mesoraco and Johnny Cueto as well as the losses of Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon.

Texas Rangers -- 77½ OVER
Lost pretty much their entire team to injury last year and still found a way to win 67 games. With better luck this year they should be around .500.

Houston Astros -- 74½ OVER
The Astros are on their way up and have a sneaky good lineup with Jose Altuve, Chris Carter, Evan Gattis, and George Springer, especially if Jed Lowrie and Colby Rasmus bounce back. The staff needs Colin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel to replicate their success, which I don't necessarily think will happen, but the bottom line is that this is a better team than last year.

Atlanta Braves -- 73½ UNDER
The Braves are going to be brutal this year. 

Arizona Diamondbacks -- 71½ UNDER
After a quiet winter on the heels of a 98-loss season, Arizona may lose 100+ games this year. Poor Paul Goldschmidt.

Colorado Rockies -- 71½ UNDER
The Rockies didn't do much of anything after losing 96 games last year. As such, there's no reason to expect they'll be much better this year.

Minnesota Twins -- 70½ OVER
The Twins won 70 games last year but project to field a halfway decent rotation with Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, Tommy Milone, and (gulp) Ricky Nolasco. They're not going to hit much, but they have a great infield and young talent is on the way.

Philadelphia Phillies -- 68½ UNDER
Once they trade Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee (good luck getting rid of Ryan Howard), this team is going to be absolutely abysmal.