Fancy Stats | Analysis
February 27, 2018 at 10:30 AM
Expectations in the Bronx are, predictably, running high.
The New York Yankees, in what should have been a rebuilding year, won 91 games last season in addition to hitting a season-high 241 home runs. Aaron Judge, the unanimous choice for 2017 AL rookie of the year, led the league with 52 home runs, the most by a rookie since 1987, when Mark McGwire hit 49 in his debut.
Then the club went out and acquired Giancarlo Stanton, the reigning National League MVP and one of the best right-handed power hitters in the game, in December, giving the Yankees both of the leading home run hitters from 2017: Stanton smashed an NL-best 59 home runs for the Miami Marlins in 2017, the most in the majors since 2001, when Sammy Sosa hit 61 and Barry Bonds set the single-season record with 73.
The pitching staff features a solid core of starters — Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery — who are all expected to add at least two wins above replacement next season, and the bullpen has elite relievers in Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman.
But that still doesn’t guarantee a big step forward next season. Judge, in particular, could go from being extraordinary to merely very, very good. He is projected to hit .253 with 41 home runs in 2018, striking out almost a third of the time (31 percent). That could go higher if he continues to struggle with off-speed and breaking pitches.
Judge saw fewer and fewer fastballs to hit toward the end of the season and batted just .111 against sliders with 35 strikeouts in 63 at-bats from August to September. He hit just .2017 with 16 strikeouts on 29 at-bats ending on a curveball.
According to the projections at FanGraphs, the Yankees are expected to finish the 2018 season with a 93-69 record, good enough to contend for the AL East title but still below the win total set at 94.5 wins by oddsmakers, giving them a 55 percent chance of going under.
Here are some other intriguing win totals around the majors. Win-loss projections are as of Feb. 26, 2018.
Milwaukee Brewers, Over/Under 84.5 wins
Projected record: 79-83; 80 percent chance of going under
The Brewers, who finished 86-76 last season, third in the NL Central, made some impactful moves this winter. Outfielder Lorenzo Cain was signed as a free agent, agreeing to a five-year, $80 million contract with his new club; outfielder Christian Yelich was acquired from the Marlins for four prospects; and right-handed starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal in December.
Chacin struggled mightily against left-handed batters last season, surrendering a .789 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against compared with a .502 OPS against right-handed batters, and has been tinkering with his change-up in spring training in an effort to improve those results.
Maybe Chacin will succeed in his spring endeavor, but it might not be enough to raise expectations much higher. The offseason additions bring Milwaukee’s overall wins above replacement projection in 2018 to 33.6, the 16th best in the majors, with almost an equal split between the hitters (17.7 fWAR) and pitchers (15.8). As a result, the Brewers are expected to finish the regular season much like they did in 2017, third in the division, with a 79-83 record.
Toronto Blue Jays, Over/Under 81 wins
Projected record: 87-76; 70 percent chance of going over
The Blue Jays are headed to the regular season with a lineup that boasts third baseman Josh Donaldson, one of the most feared hitters in the game. The 2015 AL MVP hit .270 with 33 home runs and a .944 OPS last season, creating runs at a rate that was 49 percent higher than average after taking into account league and park effects (149 wRC+). In 2018, he is projected to hit .273 with a .912 OPS, creating runs at a similar rate (141 projected wRC+).
Improved health from second baseman Devon Travis (50 games in 2017) and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (66 games) will also help the team rebound from an AL-low 4.3 runs scored per contest. It will be tough for Toronto to contend for the AL East with the Yankees and Boston Red Sox still in residence, but the Blue Jays are expected to finish the season with a 86-76 record, giving them a solid chance at going over 81 wins in 2018.
Pittsburgh Pirates, Over/Under 73 wins
Projected record: 76-86; 71 percent chance of going over
The Pirates accelerated their rebuilding timeline this offseason by trading away star outfielder Andrew McCutchen and ace pitcher Gerrit Cole, removing 6.8 wins above replacement from their team.
McCutchen led the team in OPS (. 849), 21 percent higher than the league average, and runs created above what you would expect (21.4) given the runners on base and outs left in the inning during each of his at-bats. Cole, an NL Cy Young Award candidate in 2015, led the team with 33 starts and 203 innings last season, with 20 of those starts (team-high 61 percent) resulting in three or fewer earned runs and six or more innings pitched.
However, Pittsburgh’s pitching staff should be okay. Ivan Nova and Chad Kuhl made 31 starts apiece, while Trevor Williams and Jameson Taillon each started 25 games. Those four, led by Taillon’s 3.8 projected fWAR in 2018, give the Pirates the 13th-highest-rated pitching staff headed into next season.
Pittsburgh also has one of the game’s best closers in Felipe Rivero, a left-handed hurler with four pitches in his repertoire: a slider, change-up and curveball plus a fastball that averages 98.8 mph. That fastball is his bread and butter pitch, but his slider is the out pitch Rivero uses against left-handed batters, especially when ahead in the count.
San Diego Padres, Over/Under 69.5 wins
Projected record: 73-89; 71 percent chance of going over
The Padres have been busy this offseason after setting a club record with 189 home runs in 2017. General Manager A.J. Preller traded for shortstop Freddy Galvis and signed Eric Hosmer to an eight-year, $144 million contract, easing the losses of third baseman Ryan Schimpf, infielder Yangervis Solarte and outfielder Jabari Blash.
Galvis is projected to hit with some power (forecast of 11 home runs in 2018) with speed (10 stolen bases) next season. Hosmer, meanwhile, hit a career best .318 last season with 25 home runs for the Kansas City Royals, creating runs at a rate that was 35 percent higher than average (135 wRC+). He isn’t likely to add much power — his groundball rate has been 51 percent or higher in each of the last six seasons — but he could benefit more from groundballs at his new home park. According to MLB data, players who hit groundballs at Petco Park had a .253 batting average on balls in play, the 12th highest in the majors last season. That dropped to .230, second lowest, at Kauffman Stadium.
Chicago White Sox, Over/Under 68 wins
Projected record: 65-97; 67 percent chance of going under
The White Sox have a young rotation featuring Lucas Giolito (23 years old), Carson Fulmer (24 years old), Reynaldo Lopez (24 years old) and Carlos Rodon (25 years old), who will likely miss the start of the season.
Rodon and Giolito are projected to be the best of the bunch, producing 1.5 and 1.3 fWAR in 2018, respectively, but in reality they are among the best of the worst: Only the Marlins are projected to get less production from their pitchers than the White Sox in 2018. The veteran starters, James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez, are expected to provide 1.1 fWAR combined next season.
St. Louis Cardinals, Over/Under 85.5 wins
Projected record: 88-74; 65 percent chance of going over
Outfielder Marcell Ozuna, acquired from the Marlins in exchange for four prospects, hit .312 with 37 home runs, producing runs at a rate that was 42 percent higher than average (142 wRC+). Expectations for 2018 are less optimistic, .286 with 30 home runs and a 122 wRC+, but his presence in the lineup boosts the Cardinals to the No. 10 spot in projected wins above replacement for 2018.
St. Louis’s pitching staff is expected to be slightly better, ranking ninth, putting this upcoming Cardinals squad among the most likely World Series contenders for next season.