MLB Season Preview 2018: American League West


With Opening Day fast approaching, I will take a look at each of the American and National League Divisions, analyzing why each team could win the division and why they might not. Today, I will start with the American League West.

Houston Astros

2017 Record: 101-61, 1st place (won the World Series)

Why they will could win the division: Talent-wise, the defending World Series Champions are still head and shoulders above the rest of the AL West. Their top scoring offense remains mostly intact; the only major piece they lost was Carlos Beltran, who retired last November. The Astros’ lineup is filled with dynamic players like AL MVP Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa. Houston also improved their stellar rotation with the addition of former Pittsburgh Pirate Gerrit Cole. He joins former Cy Young Award winners Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel along with veteran Charlie Morton and young upstart Lance McCullers to form a stingy quintet. The front office also brought in submariner Joe Smith and flamethrower Hector Rondon to fortify the bullpen. This team has a great chance to return to the World Series and are almost a lock to repeat as division champs.

Why they might not: There isn’t much to suggest that the Astros won’t repeat as division champions. The one question mark would probably be the bullpen (16th in relievers ERA in 2017). I also doubt that Verlander will replicate his 1.95 second-half ERA for an entire season. If Verlander regresses and Keuchel pitches like he did in the second half (4.24 ERA), then the Astros might be in a little trouble. If this team struggles, it will be because of the pitching, but even that seems like a stretch.

Final Record: 97-65, 1st (eliminated in the ALDS)

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

2017 Record: 80-82, 2nd place

Why they could win the division: Los Angeles (of Anaheim) still has the best baseball player in the world, Mike Trout, on their roster. That’s always a good starting point for any team. Besides Trout, the Angels boast an interesting lineup with some pop. They’ll have a full season of Justin Upton after trading for him at last August. As far as this offseason is concerned, the team signed Japanese pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani. Known for his ability to miss bats (10.3 career K/9) and his home run power (he hit 22 homers in 2016) in Japan, Ohtani should at the very least prop up an L.A. rotation that wasn’t too bad last year (12th in starters ERA). The Angels will also get a full season of Garrett Richards (2.28 ERA in 27.2 innings last year), further bolstering their starting pitching. Combine that with Trout’s presence, and the Angels have enough to compete out west.

Why they might not: Outside of Richards and Ohtani, who are question marks themselves, the Angels’ pitching situation looks shaky. Their other starters project to finish the year with an ERA above 4.00. Their bullpen also got weaker; they replaced Fernando Salas (2.63 ERA) and Yusmeiro Petit (2.76 ERA) with Jim Johnson (5.56 ERA with Atlanta) and Luke Bard (Rule Five pick). The pitching could cost the Angels the division, wasting yet another year of Trout’s prime.

Final Record: 84-78, 2nd (wild card, eliminated in the Wild Card Game)

Oakland Athletics

2017 Record: 75-87, 5th place

Why they could win the division: General Manager Billy Beane shrewdly improved Oakland’s middling offense with the additions of catcher Jonathan Lucroy and Steven Piscotty. With those two joining Khris Davis (43 HR’s last year) and young boppers Matt Olson (34 projected HR’s in 2018) and Matt Chapman (24 HR’s in 59 games) A’s will have little trouble clearing the fences despite playing half of their games in the cavernous Oakland Coliseum. If the other hitters can get on base for the power threats (20th in OBP last year) and if the pitching improves, Oakland could find themselves back in the mix.

Why they might not: The Oakland rotation, which ranked 20th in ERA, features the same arms that struggled for most of 2017. Maybe some of the youngsters will pitch better, but I don’t expect any of them to blossom into staff aces. Good thing Oakland brought in Yusmeiro Petit, Ryan Buchter (2.89 ERA last year) and Emilio Pagan (3.22 ERA) to bolster the bullpen because they might see plenty of action. If the pitching can’t hold up, then it won’t matter how many home runs the A’s hit.

Final Record: 76-86, 5th

Seattle Mariners

2017 Record: 78-84, tied for third

Why they could win the division: The top-heavy Mariners added to their collection of talent when they traded for Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon. The speedy son of Tom “Flash” Gordon will try his hand at centerfield this year (Robinson Cano is still at second). More importantly, Gordon brings some flair to the top of Seattle’s order in a way not seen since Ichiro Suzuki. Speaking of Ichiro, the future Hall-of-Famer returns to the city where he made his name. At 44, he obviously won’t play everyday, but it will still be cool to see him in an M’s uni again. Seattle still has one of the most feared trios in Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager. Their decent bullpen and rotation are still intact as well. Seattle is more than talented enough to compete for the division crown.

Why they might not: The Mariners always look good on paper and they always fall short of their lofty expectations. Cano isn’t the player he once was. Neither is former Cy Yong winner Felix Hernandez. Outside of James Paxton, the starters are pretty mediocre. Seattle is like the AL West version of the Toronto Blue Jays: good, but not great. Good won’t be enough to usurp the Astros.

Final Record: 83-78, 3rd

Texas Rangers

2017 Record: 78-84, tied for 3rd

Why they could win the division: The Rangers had no problem scoring in 2017, ranking ninth in runs and third in homers. Adrian Beltre continues to defy father time and put up monster numbers (.915 OPS). The rest of the offense features a good mix of power (Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor) and speed (Delino DeShields Jr., Elvis Andrus). If the pitching holds up, Texas could return to the postseason.

Why they might not: This resembles a mid-2000’s Rangers team: lots of offense and no pitching. Cole Hamels headlines the Texas rotation, but he’s far from the pitcher he once was. Retreads like Matt Moore, Doug Fister, and Mike Minor fill out the rest of the Rangers starting staff. Only Minor projects to have an ERA lower than 4.00. The bullpen projections look a little brighter, but this is largely the same group that ranked 28th in ERA and WHIP. I’m not holding my breath. Texas will lose a lot of 10-9 games, especially against their divisional foes.

Final Record: 80-82, 4th

Monday: I will look at the National League East


MLB Season Preview 2018: American League Central

Mike Stobe/Getty Images North America

With Opening Day fast approaching, I will take a look at each of the American and National League Divisions, analyzing why each team could win the division and why they might not. Today, I break down the American League Central.

Chicago White Sox

2017 Record: 67-95, 4th place

Why they could win the division: Like the other teams in this division outside of the Cleveland Indians, the White Sox need a LOT of things to go right to win the Central. Jose Abreu must replicate his monster 2017 season (.906 OPS). They would need breakout seasons from youngsters like Yoan Moncada, Matt Davidson, Nicky Delmonico, and Adam Engel among others. They will also benefit from facing their equally lukewarm AL Central cohabitants for most of the year. If Chicago beats up those teams and breaks about even everywhere else, then they have a chance…if you squint hard enough.

Why they might not: This team is still rebuilding. The team will rely mostly on young talent, which means there will be some growing pains throughout the season. Their rotation–which ranked in the bottom five in MLB in ERA, WHIP, BB/9, K/9, and HR/9– has James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez occupying the top two spots. Shields (5.23 ERA) is a shell of his former self while Gonzalez is an innings eater at best. Even if both men pitch well this year, they will probably get moved for more young talent. Chicago will improve their record, but they’re still a long way from taking the division. At best, they’re a darkhorse wild card pick.

Final Record: 78-84, 3rd

Cleveland Indians

2017 Record: 102-60, 1st place (lost to the New York Yankees in the ALDS)

Why they could (or will in this case) win the division: Despite a couple of departures, this is still a REALLY good baseball team. The only big change the team made was finally removing their racist Chief Wahoo logo, which will go away in 2019. On the field, the Tribe will field the same stellar cast that finishes in the top 10 in runs, OBP, and OPS. They get on base and they don’t strike out, a fruitful combination for sustainable offense The pitching staff (second in starters ERA, first in relievers ERA) has Cory Kluber and Carlos Carrasco anchoring the rotation while Cody Allen and lanky lefty Andrew Miller look to continue to shut down teams in the late innings. Combine that with a top-five defense and you get a potential World Series contender.

Why they might not: If Cleveland’s best players suffered a slip in production and/or suffered injuries, I would STILL have a hard time picking another team to win this division. That’s how wide the talent gap is between these five clubs. IF the pitching behind Kluber and Carrasco (along with Danny Salazar when he returns) falters and IF the position players struggle, then maybe the Indians will cede the central to another team. I don’t see that happening though.

Final Record: 96-66, 1st (wins World Series)

Detroit Tigers

2017 Record: 64-98, 5th place

Why they could win the division: (Looks up the Tigers roster). Yeah…they’re not winning 70 games, let alone a playoff spot or the division.

Why they won’t might not: The Tigers are starting to feel the effects of former GM Dave Dombrowski’s win-now approach. Outside of an aging Miguel Cabrera and third baseman Nick Castellanos, the offense looks pretty toothless. Other than those two, nobody projects to reach 20 homers this year. Their rotation, which ranked 28th in ERA last year, looks just as woeful this year. Their best starter, Jordan Zimmerman, finished with a 6.08 ERA last year, and his 5.18 FIP suggests that his struggles were no fluke. The Tigers better hope that Michael Fulmer pitches more like he did in the first half of 2017 (3.19 ERA) than the second (5.33 ERA). The team added Fransisco Liriano and Mike Fiers, but they feel more like trade chips than long-term solutions. The bullpen, which flummoxed the Tigers front office when they were perennial contenders, is still terrible. Their defense (29th in defensive runs saved) is still terrible. This rebuild is going to take a loooooong time.

Final Record: 65-97, 5th

Kansas City Royals

2017 Record: 80-82, 3rd place

Why they could win the division: Well, it wouldn’t be the first time K.C. snagged the A.L. Central crown from under Cleveland’s nose. The Royals kept a couple of key pieces when they re-signed Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar and added some pop in the form of Lucas Duda. If the pitching improves, Ned Yost’s club could surprise people again.

Why they might not: This isn’t the same team that made consecutive World Series appearances in 2014 and 2015. Kelvin Herrera is the lone remaining member of that dynamite bullpen. Lorenzo Cain is gone. Eric Hosmer is gone. Jarrod Dyson is gone. The team just feels like a shell of its former self. While Kansas City won 80 games last year, their Pythagorean total of 72 wins paints a bleaker picture of the team’s current state. These guys will compete, but the Royals seem closer to rebuilding than contending.

Final Record: 74-88, 4th

Minnesota Twins

2017 Record: 85-77, 2nd place (wild card, lost to the New York Yankees in the Wild Card Game)

Why they could win the division: All of that promise and young talent finally reaped some benefits for the Twins last year. Minnesota rode a stellar offense (top 10 in runs, steals and OPS) and flashy defense (10th in DRS) to their first playoff birth since 2010. Many of the pieces on offense, including sluggers Miguel Sano and Brian Dozier, are still here. Future Hall-of-Famer Joe Mauer, now a first baseman, can still rake (.305/.384/.417 slash line last year). Centerfielder Byron Buxton looks like the two-way star that Minnesota fans envisioned him to be. They even added some cheap power in the form of Logan Morrison (32 homers for Tampa Bay in 2017). The rotation is a little banged up, but offseason acquisitions Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi should keep enough runs off the board for the Twins’ potent offense. If the pitching holds up, Minnesota should prove that last year was no fluke.

Why they might not: As is always the case in Minnesota, the pitching remains a question mark. They won’t have Michael Pineda (Tommy John surgery) of the length of the season. They won’t have Ervin Santana for the start of the season either. In a competitive American League, that could prove the difference between making the playoffs and sitting at home come October. Banking on 39-year-old Fernando Rodney to close games of you is also a risky proposition. This is a young team on the rise, but they still don’t have enough to catch Cleveland yet.

Final Record: 83-79, 2nd

Tomorrow: I will analyze the American League West




MLB Season Preview 2018: American League East

Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America

Note: This piece was written before the Orioles signed pitcher Alex Cobb

With Opening Day fast approaching, I will take a look at each of the American and National League Divisions, analyzing why each team could win the division and why they might not. Today, I will start with the American League East.

Baltimore Orioles

2017 Record: 75-87, 5th place

Why they could win the division: Fangraphs currently projects the Orioles to win 75 games in 2018, which would match last year’s total. However, Buck Showalter’s clubs have defied the odds in the past, and they could do so again this year. If Baltimore wants to beat the projections once more, they’ll need to rely on their usual mix of power and stingy relief pitching. Their offense, headlined by shortstop Manny Machado, will send a lot of balls into the seats. Even without lockdown closer Zach Britton, the bullpen is still in capable hands with the likes of Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens. If the starting rotation (last in MLB in ERA in 2017) pitches even slightly better than they did a season ago, this team can return to the playoffs.

Why they might not: If I’m an Orioles fan (and I am), I would trust this rotation as far as I could throw it. Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette brought back a rotation that ranked in the bottom half of the majors in almost every important statistical category. He’s banking on improvements from former top prospects Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, but it remains to be seen if they can take the next step in their progression. The team replaced the departed Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley with Andrew Cashner and Mike Wright. Those aren’t exactly significant upgrades. The offense, while loaded with power bats, still struggles to get on base (27th in OBP) and still doesn’t steal bases (last in MLB). Even the bullpen has started to show some leaks (12th in ERA, last in K/9). The relievers might struggle to adjust their new roles early on. With the Yankees on the rise and Boston as good as ever, this could be a long season for the O’s.

Final record: 77-85 (5th place)

Boston Red Sox

2017 Record: 93-69, 1st place (lost to the Houston Astros in the ALDS)

Why they could win the division: Boston’s roster is almost identical to the team that won the AL East last year. That’s both a good and bad thing for Red Sox fans. The Sox improved an offense that ranked 22nd in OPS and 27th in home runs last year with the addition of slugger J.D. Martinez. The former Arizona Diamondback didn’t get the lavish contract he expected at the start of free agency, but his .303/.376/.690 slash line should give the lineup a boost. Combine that with a full season of Rafael Devers and the usual production from the other stars (especially when Dustin Pedroia returns) and Boston will give opposing pitchers fits in 2018. The rotation is a little banged up, but with Chris Sale and David Price leading the way, Boston is in good hands.

Why they might not: Fangraphs projects the Red Sox to win the AL East again this year, but with the burgeoning Yankees on their heels, that isn’t a certainty. As dynamic as Boston’s lineup is, they may still struggle to hit home runs. Some of that is due to the dimensions of Fenway Park (park factors ranked them as the fifth toughest place to homer at in 2017), some of it is because of the lack of pop in the lineup. Martinez should help, but some of the homers he hit last year might turn into doubles this year (Fenway was the fourth easiest place to hit doubles at last year). Outside of Sale and Price–who isn’t the pitcher he once was–the Sox have serious question marks in the rotation. With Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez expected to fill in for Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz (both are on the DL), that could determine whether Boston plays in the wild card game or if they get the EZ Pass to the ALDS.

Final Record: 92-70 (2nd, wild card eliminated in ALDS)

New York Yankees

2017 Record: 91-71, 2nd place (wild card, lost to the Houston Astros in the ALCS)

Why they could win the division: Rookie manager Aaron Boone inherits a New York club that came within a game of reaching the World Series last October. The “Bronx Bombers” returned in a big way last year; leading the majors in home runs and ranking third in OPS. Those stats may rise even further with the addition of Giancarlo Stanton (1.007 OPS). The 2017 NL MVP joins a lineup that has two 50 homer guys and other emerging stars like Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, and Greg Bird. They will have no trouble scoring runs.

The pitching staff, which ranked in the top five in starters and relievers ERA, looks similar to last years outfit. Young flamethrower Luis Severino, who enjoyed a breakout campaign last year, anchors this rotation. He’s flanked by incumbent veterans Masahiro Tanaka (3.77 ERA, .229/.267/.405 opponents slash line in second half of 2017), C.C. Sabathia (3.69 ERA), and Sonny Gray (3.72 ERA in 11 starts with the Yankees). The bullpen boasts the stingy trio of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and David Robertson; all of them had ERA’s no lower than 3.22 in 2017. These Yankees have a good chance of unseating Boston at the top of the AL East…

Why they might not: …Unless the rotation falls apart. Severino looks like a safe bet to repeat his 2017 success, as does Gray, but the same can’t be said for the other two mainstays. Tanaka’s disastrous first half (5.47 ERA) might be difficult to erase from Yankee fans’ minds. They better hope his gaudy home run totals (1.77 HR/9) were due to a fluky 21.2 HR/FB ratio. Sabathia is also due to regress to the mean (4.49 FIP in 2017). If they struggle and Severino slips a bit, New York is in trouble. Their bullpen isn’t airtight either. They tend to walk a lot of batters (19th in BB/9) and those could come back to haunt them, especially come October. Thier two best players on offense, Stanton and Judge, whiff a lot (both ranked in the top 30 in strikeout rate), meaning the Yankees could endure some prolonged scoring slumps. The Yankees are too good to miss the playoffs, but their deficiencies could cost them the division.

Final Record: 94-68 (1st, eliminated in ALCS)

Tampa Bay Rays

2017 Record: 80-82 (3rd place)

Why they could win the division: As usual, pitching powers manager Kevin Cash’s club. Tampa Bay ranked in the top 10 in ERA and WHIP for both the starters and relievers last year, and the Rays hope to do the same in 2018. Chris Archer is still the staff ace, and he should improve on last year’s 4.07 ERA. The other starters–Blake Snell, Nathan Eovaldi, and Jacob Faria–are less reliable, but they should thrive in the most spacious ballpark in the AL East. Plus, they’ll get to pitch behind a tremendous defense (3rd in defensive runs saved last year) headlined by ballhawk centerfielder Kevin Keirmaier. The Rays will also get help from a bevy of top prospects that are scheduled to come up this year, like Jake Bauers, Justin Williams, Anthony Banda, Christian Arroyo, and Willy Adames. In other words, the Rays might look very different at the end of the year. If the Rays’ offense produces at an average rate to buttress the pitching, they could surprise some people.

Why they might not: This team won’t feel the same without Evan Longoria manning third base. The 2018 Rays lineup doesn’t gin up a lot of fear on paper. Carlos Gomez is probably the most dangerous hitter in this lineup. That doesn’t bode well for Tampa Bay. There is also some uncertainty in the rotation thanks to the departures of Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi. While those two weren’t Cy Young candidates by any stretch, they provided steady production that’s hard to replace. For the Rays to compete, everything needs to go right. If not, they might start fielding offers for their veteran players, starting with Archer.

Final record: 81-81 (fourth)

Toronto Blue Jays

2017 Record: 76-86, fourth place

Why they could win the division: The Blue Jays were terrible in almost every offensive category last year, so they did some retooling. Out went Jose Bautista, in came Curtis Granderson, Randal Grichuk, and Aledmys Diaz. Granderson and Grichuk should easily replace Bautista’s substandard production while Diaz should aid a Toronto defense that ranked 21st in defensive runs saved. Josh Donalson is still the player that opponents will gameplan around. The 2015 AL MVP’s production slipped a little last year, but he is still one of the best two-way players in the game. If Justin Smoak can replicate his 2017 season (not out of the question), that should be more than enough to ensure opposing pitchers throw strikes to Donaldson. On the mound, youngster Marcus Stroman improves his ERA by more than one run in 2017. If he pitches just as well this year and gets help from the other starters (including a full season from Aaron Sanchez), then Toronto could be a good sleeper pick in the AL.

Why they might not: Even at their best, the Blue Jays don’t have the arms or the bats to hang with Boston or New York. Any team that banks on quality seasons from Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ to bring them back to the playoffs is rolling the dice. Outside of Donaldson, the Toronto lineup comprises of mostly average hitters. That’s actually the best way to sum up the Blue Jays: average but not spectacular. Average is good enough to stay respectable, but it won’t get Toronto into the playoffs.

Final Record: 83-79 (third)

Tomorrow: I will analyze the American League Central Teams


Andrew Cashner signs with the Orioles. Yay?


Tom Pennington/Getty Images North America

On Thursday afternoon, the Orioles added a veteran starter to a rotation in desperate need of reinforcements. So who did Dan Duquette sign to bolster the Orioles’ starting group? Did he bring Jake Arrieta back? What about Alex Cobb? Well, it wasn’t either of those two. Instead, the O’s agreed to a two-year, $16 million deal with journeyman starter Andrew Cashner. Will the 31-year-old Cashner’s presence push the Orioles back into playoff contention? His track record suggests that he won’t.

Through seven big-league seasons, Cashner has produced league average results on the mound. He has pitched to a 3.80 ERA for his career, though his advanced numbers weren’t as kind (3.99 FIP, 4.12 xFIP). He has averaged about 1.3 fWAR (Fangraphs WAR) over his lengthy career, which pegs him as a back-of-the-rotation innings eater than a top-level starter.

Cashner spent 2017 with the Texas Rangers and pitched well, but his success last year came with some red flags. His 3.40 ERA was more than a run lower than his FIP (4.61). He thrived in Texas thanks to a .266 opponents batting average on balls in play–league average is between .290 and .310–and 8.6% HR/FB ratio (10.4% for his career) that aided his 0.81 HR/9 total (he did give up more homers in Texas than he did on the road). Cashner’s ability to keep the ball on the ground helped him keep the ball in the park, but he is moving from the majors eighth best park to launch home runs in to the third in Camden Yards. Combine that with the powerful AL East lineups and Cashner may see his home run totals skyrocket.

The evidence shows that Cashner is an average starter and nothing more. Here’s the thing, he is still a MASSIVE upgrade over whoever the Orioles were planning to stick in that rotation spot. Baltimore’s starting pitching dilemma has been well documented: they ranked last in ERA, 28th in FIP, and 27th in WAR. Their projected staff “ace” Dylan Bundy finished with a 4.24 ERA last year, though he did show flashes of brilliance. This team had Mike Wright penciled into the rotation before the Cashner signing. No team that’s serious about contending would put Mike Wright in their starting five.

Adding Cashner doesn’t make the Orioles a contender, I think even the most die-hard fan will admit that. Honestly, No pitcher short of Yu Darvish or another ace of that ilk will move the O’s up the standings in 2018. The Yankees look like they’re back (unfortunately). The Red Sox still have the same collection of young, talented players.

The Orioles are essentially the same team too, and I don’t mean that in a good way. They are still the same free swinging, homer hunting lineup that doesn’t steal bases or manufacture runs. Their rotation still features the same fly-ball inducing, erratic bunch that struggle to keep opponents off base.

After whiffing on Ubaldo Jimenez, Orioles owner Peter Angelos has been reticent to spend big money on a starter–although anyone could have envisioned that signing not going well. This time around, he doled out modest money for a modest starter. In the end, Cashner will only deliver modest results for a team that needs more to compete with the AL East powers.


Could Jake Arrieta bolster an already stacked Nationals rotation?

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

When analyzing the Washington Nationals’ team needs for 2018, most fans and journalists wouldn’t put starting pitching at the top of the list. After all, the Nats starters ranked top 10 in the majors in ERA, K/9, BB/9, FIP, and WAR in 2017. Their rotation is headlined by three-time and current Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and the prodigious Stephen Strasburg. It’s safe to say that Washington is set in the pitching department.

Apparently, they want to add more, as the Nats are reportedly eyeing another former Cy Young winner in Jake Arrieta. The former Chicago Cubs hurler can certainly boost any rotation. But would his presence in D.C. help them win that elusive playoff series?

If Washington, or any other team, signs Arrieta, they probably won’t get the guy that won the National League’s top pitching prize in 2015. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t terrible in 2017, he just wasn’t as light out dominant as he’s been in the past. Arrieta pitched to a 3.53 ERA last year, but his advanced numbers weren’t as kind–he finished 2017 with a 4.16 FIP and 4.11 xFIP. Another issue was his tendency to surrender the long ball. Arrieta’s HR/9 ticked up once again last year, jumping from 0.73 to 1.23 (it was 0.39 in 2015). Some of that can be chalked up to some bad luck–Arrieta had a 14% HR/FB ratio in 2017, lower than his career 10.9% rate.

Arrieta’s splits are also concerning; his ERA jumped from 2.90 to 3.87 when he pitched outside of Wrigley Field while his FIP skyrocketed from 3.41 to 4.56. I’m sure the Nats will take those numbers into consideration while pursuing Arrieta.

Fortunately for Washington, Arrieta won’t fill the number one spot in the rotation. Like I said earlier, the Nats are stacked with starting pitching. Aside from Scherzer and Strasburg, Washington got another quality year out to veteran Gio Gonzalez (15-9 2.96 ERA). Adding Arrieta would give Washington one of the better starting quartets in the National League.

But will that be enough to get the Nationals to the NCLS and beyond? That’s always the question when it comes to Washington. They finished with the second-best record in the NL last year but, once again, lost in the Division Series. In that series against the Cubs, pitching wasn’t the problem for the Nats–they had a 2.66 ERA in the best-of-five set. The true culprit was their paltry .186/.302/.335 slash line. Granted, playoff sample sizes are much smaller than the regular season (they ranked fifth in MLB in runs scored) but, Washington bats cost them that series, not their pitching. Arrieta gives the Nats another quality arm, but they need a little more offense to overcome the other National League powerhouses.

Frankly, the Nationals don’t need to improve that much. They’re almost a lock to win the NL East again this year. They’re toughest competition in the division, the Mets, are projected to win 82 games while the Marlins, Phillies, and Braves are still tanking. Their possible postseason opponents, the Dodgers and the Cubs, aren’t expected to look much different than they did last year.

For a team that came within a game of the NLCS, the Nationals don’t need to make too many wholesale changes, just a couple of tweaks. While I still think those small changes should happen on offense, Arrieta could also be the necessary piece to take Washington to the World Series, should they decide to sign him.


With Lauri Markkanen, the Chicago Bulls got more than they expected

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

Entering the 2017-18 NBA season, Chicago Bulls rookie forward Lauri Markkanen represented the bumbling incompetence of the team’s front office. It wasn’t his fault, of course, the former Arizona Wildcat didn’t ask Bulls to send Jimmy Butler and the 16th overall pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for the right to draft him (Chicago also got springy guard Zach LaVine and brick-laying lottery pick Kris Dunn in the swap). Coming out of the draft, Markkanen was projected to be little more than a top-notch shooter; a nice secondary player but not a franchise changing talent. Through his first 42 games playing elite pro ball, it’s safe to say that Markkanen has somewhat exceeded those expectations.

I’m going to show you two stat lines here:

Player 1: 15.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.5 BPG, 55.5% TS, 16 PER, .089 WS/48

Player 2: 14.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.9 BPG, 51.8% TS, 17.7 PER, .102 WS/48

The first line represents Markkanen’s season as of Wednesday while the second is Kristaps Porzingis’ rookie season with the New York Knicks. Like Markkanen, Porzingis didn’t receive the warmest reception when the Knicks selected him fourth overall in the 2015 Draft. In fact, it was quite the opposite; Knicks fans greeted the seven-foot Lithuanian with jeers the moment his name left NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s mouth. Fast forward two seasons, and he is the franchise centerpiece for one of the most well-known teams in the world.

Like Porzingis, Markkanen has shown flashes of brilliance in his first year with the Bulls. He helps space the floor with his sweet shooting stroke–a necessity for a team that starts Kris Dunn on purpose–but he has exhibited a level of versatility that even the most sycophantic Bulls fan couldn’t have expected.

In addition to his buttery shooting form, Markkanen can put the ball on the floor and get around less nimble defenders. He has also acquitted himself well on the defensive end, which was another supposed weakness entering the pros. Depending on which advanced metric you use, Markkanen either benefits (1.1 defensive win shares) or hampers (-1.1 defensive box plus minus) the Bulls’ D.

Now, this isn’t to say that the man dubbed “The Finnisher” will assuredly blossom into a superstar. As the minuscule block numbers show (0.5 for a seven-footer is laughable), Markkanen isn’t much of a rim protector. While he’s been better than expected on defense, he can still get cooked on the perimeter. His stats, while impressive, haven’t drastically improved the team. In fact, the team struggles more with Markkanen on the floor; the Bulls get outscored by 7.4 points per 100 possessions when he plays compared to just 4.3 when he sits. Of course, Chicago is just a really bad team in general, but Markkanen’s play hasn’t made them any better…yet.

Roughly seven months after the draft, Markkanen is still an accurate representation of the Bulls. The team has played much better than anyone expected, myself included (whether that’s good or bad is up for debate). For Chicago to return to prominence in the NBA, they need to get a franchise-changing talent in the 2018 draft (maybe Marvin Bagley, Michael Porter, or Trae Young). If the Bulls succeed in landing a potential new superstar–a big if given the current “braintrust”–that player will have a good potential secondary star in Markkanen waiting, and that’s more than what anyone in Chicago expected.

Analyzing the NFL MVP favorites

With the end of the NFL regular season just on the horizon, it seemed like a good time to take a look at the favorites for the leagues most valuable player award. With Antonio Brown and Carson Wentz’s injuries, this list has changed a bit over the past couple of weeks. I will examine five players with the best chances of taking home the trophy based on Bovada’s most recent odds (as of December 18).

1. Tom Brady QB, New England Patriots

Will Brady win another MVP? Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images North America

The case for: Even at age 40, Brady looks as sharp as ever. The former two-time MVP once again ranks at the top of most traditional and advanced leaderboards–ranking in the top 10 in completion percentage, yards per attempt, yards per game, passer rating, QBR, and DYAR. Fresh off of an impressive win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road–albeit marred in some controversy–the race for the league’s top individual honor is Brady’s to lose.

The case against: The other players on this list has to hope that Brady eventually starts playing his age. The man is 40 after all. Sometimes players don’t steadily decline; instead they just “fall off a cliff” so to speak. I would not bet my life on it though. I really just wrote this to fill some space and to give some reason why Brady may not win MVP.

Chances: Brady’s final two games are against the Jets (27th in pass defensive DVOA) and the Bills (12th). Assuming New England doesn’t play their backups in one or both of those games–they need at least one more win to secure the number one seed in the AFC–Brady has a good chance of putting up big numbers on those teams. Even though the Bills are respectable against the pass, Brady played pretty well against the Buffalo secondary in week 13 (63.3 QBR). It would take some amazing performances from other candidates to keep the award MVP away from Brady. My odds: 9/10

2. Drew Brees QB, New Orleans Saints

Thanks to the Saint’s resurgence, Brees is in the MVP hunt. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images North America

The case for: Another ageless wonder, the 38-year-old Brees has produced his usual stellar numbers: fifth in yards per game and third in yards per attempt, passer rating, and DYAR. Brees has also trimmed down the picks as well; his 1.5 percent INT rate would be the lowest of his career. Thanks to an improved defense and running game, the Saints’ fortunes haven’t rested solely on Brees’ very accurate arm. That said, he is still a big reason why the Saints will likely make the playoffs and could possibly reach the Super Bowl.

The case against: The improved running game is both a blessing to Saints’ renaissance and a detriment to Brees’ MVP hopes. The Atlanta game a couple of weeks ago showed how vital Alvin Kamara and the running game is to the Saints success. New Orleans collected just 50 yards combined on the ground in that game and couldn’t take advantage of three Matt Ryan picks. Brees also hasn’t been as impressive in some statistical categories– he ranks just 19th in touchdown percentage and 11th in total QBR.

Chances: Brees has the best chance to sneak away with the MVP. He would need two stellar games to tip the odds in his favor. Fortunately, the Saints final two games are against poor pass defenses: the Falcons (17th in pass defensive DVOA) and the Buccaneers (31st). If Brees plays up to his usual standards, he could nab his second MVP. My odds: 8.5/10

3. Todd Gurley RB, Los Angeles Rams

Gurley and the Rams have had plenty of reasons to smile. Photo: Steve Dykes/Getty Images North America

The case for: After a disappointing 2016, Gurley has bounced back with a vengeance. The former Georgia standout leads the league in rushing TDs, ranks third among backs with at least 1,000 carries in yards per attempt and is fourth in yards per game. The versatile Gurley is also a threat in the passing game–he ranks third among running back in receiving DYAR. Gurley is one of the many weapons that have led to L.A., ascent to the NFC’s upper-tier.

The case against: It’s incredibly hard for non-QB’s to win the award. Defenders and skill position players have to almost amass otherworldly numbers to have a chance to win MVP. Gurley’s played great, but his numbers aren’t that eye-popping. He is only seventh in rushing DYAR. The last RB to win the award–Adrian Peterson–put together an amazing season to earn the honor, nearly breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing mark in 2012. Gurley may not even eclipse 1,500 yards.

Chances: The Rams face the Titans (15th in run defensive DVOA) and the 49ers (17th) to close the season. Both clubs are okay at stopping the run. However, Gurley is fresh off of dressing down Seattle’s ninth-ranked run stop unit to the tune of 152 yards and three touchdowns. That said, Gurley is still nothing more than a darkhorse MVP candidate. My odds: 4/10

4. Carson Wentz QB, Philadelphia Eagles

The case for: Before tearing his ACL, Wentz was the leading MVP candidate. His numbers certainly backed that up: first in TDs, second in QBR, and the seventh lowest INT rate in the NFL. Along with Philly’s endless supply of tailbacks, Wentz guided the Eagles and their top-five offense to the top of the NFC standings.

The case against: Wentz’s injury halted all MVP talk surrounding the quarterback. The Eagles may be fine without him in the short term, but other potential MVP hopefuls new have a chance at the trophy with Wentz sidelined.

Chances: With Wentz out, other players have bolstered their claims to the MVP award. He should be considered, but Wentz may have to wait until next year win. My odds: 4/10

5. Russell Wilson QB, Seattle Seahawks

The case for: Despite some numbskull writers saying that he isn’t a top 10 QB, Russell Wilson has almost single-handedly kept the Seahawks in the playoff race. While the same problems exist for Seattle (bad offensive line), Wilson continues to produce with his arm (second in TD’s) and his legs (leads all QBs in rushing DYAR). If the Seahawks make the playoffs, it will be because of Wilson.

The case against: Wilson’s numbers are good, but they aren’t spectacular. He ranks outside of the top ten in passing DYAR, QBR, passer rating, and yards per attempt. That doesn’t all rest at the feet of Wilson; I bet that some of the passers ranked ahead of him in some of those categories (like Case Keenum and Jared Goff) would struggle playing behind Seattle’s mincemeat O-line. Either way, Wilson’s less-than-stellar yardage and rate stats–relative to this era of quarterbacking–may ultimately be his undoing.

Chances: Wilson should probably vie for the MVP award every season given his numbers and the conditions in which he puts them up. Barring two straight monster games against Arizona and San Fransisco, Wilson will probably just be a sleeper contender. My odds: 4/10