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1) The Pirates will win the NL Central and it won’t be close

There is an argument to be made that the Pirates are the best team in baseball. The Nationals and Dodgers are getting all the preseason love, but the Pirates just keep on keeping on. Andrew McCutchen continues to get overlooked and overshadowed because his name isn’t Mike Trout. And Ray Searage continues to take reclamation projects like Francisco Liriano, AJ Burnett, Vance Worley and more and turn them into diamonds. Also, this is the year Gerrit Cole breaks out and becomes the ace he was projected to be. The Jung-Ho Kang signing went way farther under the radar than it should have. We are talking about someone who hit 40 home runs last year in the Korean leagues. One person hit 40 home runs last year in the majors: Nelson Cruz. Power is down all across the big leagues, and I know, all caveats in here about how Korean league baseballs are different and the league lends itself to more home runs, but even you take away half of Kang’s home runs and project him out to 20 next year in the big leagues, do you know how many shortstops managed that last year? 3. Ian Desmond, Jhonny Peralta and Troy Tulowitzki. Only 5 had 15 homers, adding in Jimmy Rollins and Alexei Ramirez. Don’t sleep on Kang and don’t sleep on the Pirates.

At the risk of angering the best fans in baseball, I don’t like the Cardinals this year. Every year they are the easy pick. They have good young talent and do well no matter what, they are the easy hedge when making predictions. They have had years of success and should be commended for it, but for the first time in many years I don’t think they’ll do well. Ya, they’ll still make the playoffs, but I don’t like them to win the division. The team has glaring weaknesses and is counting on bounce backs or return from injury for a lot of its regulars. Adam Wainwright has now thrown over 1500 innings in his successful career and injury scares are popping up every day. The ace of the future Michael Wacha is coming off his own shoulder troubles that could resurface at any time. The MVP of the team Yadier Molina finally started showing his age last year and even if he comes back healthy, he will likely never play 140 games in a season again. Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthall have yet to show they can control their lights out stuff, and newcomer Jason Heyward has never quite put it all together. All that being said, I could totally see this prediction being wrong and the Cardinals being great as usual, but it’s just feeling like this is the year that things begin to fall apart for them.

2) The Mets will win more games than the Yankees this year

Of the two New York teams, the Mets are going to win more games in 2015. Not only do reports from spring training show that ace Matt Harvey is back to his old ways, but the team features reigning rookie of the year Jacob DeGromm as it’s one-two punch. We haven’t seen both of those pitchers at full strength at the same time until now. The Mets have an underrated offense, featuring some nice power from the likes of Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda, along with some good veterans and high-upside young arms in Jon Niese, Jenrry Mejia and Rafael Montero. All of this is not to mention that they play in the worst division in baseball (more on that below). This is the year it comes together for the Mets.

Is it possible to feel bad for the Yankees? All of the Derek Jeter pomp and circumstance was a good distraction from a team that ranked 13th in the AL in runs scored despite large free agent signings from the winter before. There are obvious reasons to worry when it comes to relying on aging veterans, but the Yankees actually improved in smart ways this year. Replacing Derek Jeter’s “defense” with Didi Gregorious’s DEFENSE. I also suspect Nate Eovaldi might get the Brandon McCarthy syndrome, develop his offspeed pitches and breakout in the Bronx. But all that being said, this team is going to depend on Masa Tanaka’s elbow. He is going to be playing all year with a partially torn UCL, and all it will take will be one setback before he’ll be forced to have Tommy John surgery. The Yankees will not embarrass themselves, but consecutive seasons without reaching the playoffs could lead to blowback and restructuring in the front office near the end of the year.

3) The Nationals are all in and they will win 100 games this year (and then lose in the playoffs)

The last time a team won 100 games was the Phillies in 2011. That drought will be broken this year thanks to the Nationals being the most “win-now” of the “win-now” ball clubs. Fresh off the signing of Max Scherzer to what will go down as one of the worst contracts of all time, the Nationals now feature a rotation of 6 pitchers that could crack the top 3 on any team in baseball. That the Nationals decided to buy a free agent starter despite already featuring the best rotation in baseball, instead of locking up homegrown talent like Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmerman shows that the team is frustrated after strong showings the past three years, but lack of playoff success and that the owner is desperate to buy a championship in the worst way. This team is solid top to bottom, and it plays in a division with the two worst teams in baseball: the Braves who have already conceded the season and set their sites on the 2016 one featuring their new ballpark, and the Phillies, who are no more than a punch line at this point.

But the issue is, the playoffs are unpredictable. Bullpens can matter more than rotations, and a fluky hit or call here or there can ruin your chances. And unfortunately, managing matters more in the playoffs. We saw last year that Matt Williams can affect a game when he pulled Zimmerman early, leading to a blown save, an 18-inning loss, and an early exit from the playoffs. The Nats will be fun to watch this year, right up until their early exit from the playoffs.

4) This is the year of the Cuban duds

There has been a string of Cuban phenoms making their debut the past few years, featuring concensus rookie of the year Jose Abreu, MVP in the making Yasiel Puig and La Potencia Yoenis Cespedes. This year featured the high profile signings of Rusney Castillo to a $72.5 million deal with the Red Sox, Yasmany Tomas to a $68.5 million deal with the D’Backs, and Yoan Moncada to a record $31.5 million signing bonus (total cost of $63 million after penalties), and Hector Olivera to a $62.5 million deal with the Dodgers despite worries of a torn UCL.

The problem is, the best players from Cuba have already arrived, and even though teams are hoping to capitalize and get their own Puig or Abreu, the recent signings come with real question marks and holes in their games. Castillo is already showing injury issues, Moncada will need at least a year if not more in the minors to catch up to major league pitching (especially with a year off from baseball), and while Tomas has real power, his defense and hit tool are suspect. I expect 3 out of 4 of these new signings to not work out. (Post spring training update: all four players are starting the year in the minors, so we will have to wait and see.)

5) The Cubs will finish below .500 again

Everyone has been hyping the Cubs all offseason thanks to the additions of Jon Lester and Joe Maddon along with the monstrous Spring Training numbers of rookie phenom Kris Bryant. However, the Cubs have already delayed Bryant’s call up to the majors for a few weeks to keep his service clock from starting and earn themselves an extra year of his services before free agency. But Bryant or no Bryant, this club has real issues and is relying heavily on rookies and unproven players to all break out together. Unfortunately, that’s not how baseball works, and while I do expect a lot of the Cubs young talent to begin to emerge this year, they are still one year away from relevancy.

6) The Astros will put up huge offensive numbers

The Astros will lead the league in home runs and will be top 5 in runs scored. However, they will still end up below .500. I like a lot of what the Astros have been doing, grabbing cast offs and bringing up good young players. They have monstrous power with Chris Carter, George Springer and the addition of Evan Gattis, but they also are playing in the toughest division in baseball. You will start to see the first real signs of life from a team that has been dormant for years, but they are still one year away from really making a run in the AL West.

7) The Tigers won’t make the playoffs

The Tigers spent another offseason getting older and worse. They traded away more of their depth and extended more veterans who are past their primes. The AL Central has 4 relevant teams this year, and the Tigers could be the worst of those 4. With Cleveland and Kansas City emerging as dominant teams and Chicago drastically improving over the offseason, the Tigers needed to do a lot to keep up. However, while a full year of David Price will help the team immensely, their reliance on past-their prime players will bite them along with the injury bug this year causing them to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

8) Billy Beane will be right…again

Beane raised a lot of eyebrows this offseason – and rightly so – as he traded away a lot of controlled young talented players for other controlled younger potentially less-talented players. However, the A’s will still be good. They have loads of good young pitching, hitters who will make contributions in many facets of the game, and the willingness to make the extra additions to put his club over the hump should things look bleak midseason.

But my favorite of his moves this offseason, and this one is selfish, was the acquisition of Marcus Semien to play shortstop in the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija to Chicago. I had the pleasure of playing with Marcus since I was 5 years old in the El Cerrito Youth Baseball League and then again in High School at St. Mary’s College High School in Berkeley. Then I got to watch Marcus play at Cal a few years later and have been following his quick rise through the minors. Marcus is a solid player, he does everything well even if he doesn’t do any one thing spectacularly. Marcus is a great player and a great person and I think he’ll be the A’s shortstop of the foreseeable future and I can’t wait to cheer him and the A’s on as they race for the AL West crown this year.

9) Kris Bryant won’t win Rookie of the Year

I know that everyone has already crowned Bryant the ROY after his 9 home run romp through Spring Training, but Bryant will have issues this year and will not win the award. First off, he will be getting a late start. It isn’t his fault, since Chicago is delaying his service clock, but regardless, it will hurt his chances as his overall numbers will be down for the year. He also has shown a propensity to strike out in the minors, posting high strikeout rates at both AA and AAA last year. That isn’t the kind of thing that is likely to change at the major league level, and it could bring his batting average way down even as he hits lots of home runs. A good reference for that would be his teammate Javier Baez and fellow phenom George Springer in 2014.

The other problem for Bryant will be Joc Pederson. Pederson will have his own issues with the strikeout in the bigs, but like Bryant he tore up the minor leagues last year and looks to be ready to take the next step. And after a hot spring, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly finally looks ready to make him the every day center fielder. His defense will drastically help the club improve on what they received from Kemp, Puig, Ethier and Van Slyke in center last year, while his power – speed combo will light up the fantasy scorecards and get him on the radar of the national writers. That plus hitting every day in a great lineup will win Pederson the rookie of the year award in 2015 and keep Bryant relegated to 2nd place.

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Alternate Title: “Ya, I know. Predictions aren’t exactly a novel concept when it comes to writing about baseball, but I gotta start back up with something.”

I feel like starting off with an explanation for why I haven’t written in so long isn’t going to do much. This blog has more resurrections than Rasputin and more insincere apologies and promises than a high school relationship. Sorry, but I’ve been busy. I have been working full time and playing in a working band (Johnny Soultrain, check us out if you’re in the Bay Area). Ryan got into and is now attending grad school to go along with working as well. So, this blog has laid dormant. But no longer!

A few weeks ago I got the email asking if I wanted to renew my hosting fee for this domain, and it planted the seed back in my head. Couple that with spring training baseball and preparing for my fantasy draft and the creative juices are flowing again. So, here we are.

I’m going to break this post apart into my by the numbers predictions as well as my choices for the playoffs and major award winners like I did last year. I’ll follow with some predictions for the year and some more “radical” ones as well, which will be linked here when they are posted.

These predictions won’t be the obvious predictions you’ll hear everyone making, or if they are they will be coupled with a not-so obvious follow up. I totally expect some of these to bite me, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see some of them come to pass. We’ll just have to let time be the judge. So with no further ado, here are my by the numbers predictions. Playoff teams are in bold.

 

Predictions for the 2015 Season

 

AL East

Baltimore Orioles 92-70

Toronto Blue Jays 91-71

Boston Red Sox 78-84

New York Yankees 78-84

Tampa Bay Rays 70-92

 

AL Central

Cleveland Indians 90-72

Kansas City Royals 85-77

Chicago White Sox 84-78

Detroit Tigers 80-82

Minnesota Twins 71-91

 

AL West

Seattle Mariners 95-67

Los Angeles Angels 89-73

Oakland Athletics 87-75

Houston Astros 79-83

Texas Rangers 70-92

 

NL East

Washington Nationals 99-63

Miami Marlins 85-77

New York Mets 83-79

Atlanta Braves 73-89

Philadelphia Phillies 69-92

 

NL Central

Pittsburg Pirates 94-72

St. Louis Cardinals 84-78

Milwaukee Brewers 83-79

Cincinnati Reds 82-80

Chicago Cubs 77-85

 

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers 97-65

San Diego Padres 82-80

San Francisco Giants 81-81

Colorado Rockies 79-83

Arizona Diamondbacks 77-85

 

Playoffs

 

Angels over Blue Jays. Marlins over Cardinals.

 

Orioles over Indians. Mariners over Angels. Dodgers over Pirates. Nationals over Marlins.

 

Mariners over Orioles. Nationals over Dodgers.

 

Mariners over Nationals in 6 games.

 

AL MVP: Mike Trout

NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton

 

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw

 

AL Rookie of the Year: Dalton Pompey

NL Rookie of the Year: Joc Pederson

Tampa Bay

Might as well start off with a bang. Tampa Bay is my choice for division winner and for eventual World Series champion. “Pitching and defense” has become a bit of a trope at this point, but nobody does it better than the Rays and skipper Joe Madden is the best at using defensive switches and metrics to set his defense. Notable losses from the 2013 squad include Alex Torres, Fernando Rodney, Luke Scott, Kelly Johnson, and Jose Lobaton. Notable additions are David DeJesus, Grant Balfour, and Heath Bell.

Jake Odorizzi, the lesser known piece of the Wil Myers for James Shields trade, won the 5th starter spot in Spring Training. Look for him to shore up the backend of the best rotation in baseball while Alex Cobb breaks out into a true superstar in 2014. And that is without even mentioning David Price, who I expect to stay in Tampa Bay at least until the end of the season and is also my choice for AL Cy Young. Wil Myers is ready to take the next step after a solid freshman campaign and its time for Desmond Jennings to finally put it all together. Many of these players are young and relatively unproven, but if this team plays up to its potential, look out.

Baltimore

Baltimore was the hardest team for me to figure out going into this year. They lost Brian Roberts and Nate McLouth to Free Agency along with trading away their 40 save closer Jim Johnson to the A’s for once-prospect Jemile Weeks. They then stood pat for most of the offseason before making a flurry of moves late in Spring Training. Johan Santana looks like his days in the bigs are over, but Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez could have real impacts, unfortunately both are flawed players. Cruz will be a negative defensively, unless they utilize him as a full-time DH, left field could be an adventure. Jimenez has had stretches where he has been unhittable in his career, usually coming right before a contract. We’ll see if his new digs translate to his old successful ways, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Suk-min Yoon could be the steal of the season despite flying under the radar as Hyun-jin Ryu did in the 2012-2013 offseason.

This team has real stars in Chris Davis and Manny Machado. It has solid position players in J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters. But the rotation just won’t be able to keep up in the talented AL East. All-Star Chris Tillman’s 19-win season glosses over some problems with his underlying numbers, but he’s still the closest the team has to a number 1 starter. Marwin Gonzalez, Bud Norris and Wei-Yin Chen should not be in the rotation of a team that is looking to win now. And that is what the Orioles need to do. Their team is not built for the future, its built for now, but it is still missing a few key pieces if they look to surprise the baseball world again with another playoff berth.

Boston

The first thing you might notice is that I did not pick the reigning World Series champions to repeat, or even reach the playoffs. Everything went right for the Boston Red Sox last year and they overcame a lot of underlying issues with their pitching and team as a whole and went on an incredible run in the postseason. However, this is not the same team from 2013, and there are real problems heading into the season. Notable losses from the offseason include Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia along with Ryan Dempster who decided to take a year off. Those losses have been replaced with some real question marks in the oft-injured Grady Sizemore, the untested Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., and the consistently mediocre A.J. Pierzynski. Look for Will Middlebrooks to settle into his role as starting third baseman after an up and down freshman campaign and have a moderate breakout. Unfortunately, this team has lost too many key players and is asking too much of its young players as they look to follow up on their 2013 world championship.

New York

This Yankee team looks remarkably different from the one that took the field in 2013, with a new starting position player at every position on the diamond in 2014. The loss of Robinson Cano obviously loomed over everything that occurred in the offseason, but the Yankees tried valiantly and expensively to mitigate his loss of production with the additions of veterans Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran along with Masahiro Tanaka the $155 million man. All of these players will contribute in 2014 and help the Yankees to field one of the most experienced and productive teams on the field in 2014, but there are real question marks in the rotation. CC Sabathia has declined for two years in a row now and the zip is off his fastball taking him down from an ace to a hittable middle of the rotation starter. Tanaka will be good, but fans should temper their expectations. The first year in America can be a rough one for players making the jump from Japan, and there is already a lot of wear on his arm from 7 years in the big leagues in Japan – don’t expect Darvish-like production. New York’s best pitcher last year was the ageless Hiroki Kuroda who had one of the best years of his career at 38. The question is how much longer the Yankees can expect him to hold up. At age 39, there may not be much left in the tank, and he will be asked to carry the load all season. Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda represent real upside at the back end of the rotation, and the way they pitch could dictate if the Yankees finish near the top or bottom of the AL East standings.

Toronto

Everything went wrong for the Blue Jays last year, with a majority of the players on the Jays’ roster succumbing to some form of injury or another. That being said, the 2014 Toronto team still has some work to do to contend in the deep AL East. Notable departures include Josh Johnson, Rajai Davis and J.P. Arencibia. Though Johnson never put it together in a Jays uniform, he represented the best chance this staff had for an anchor, and without him or a bounce back from R.A. Dickey, this staff will repeat as one of the worst in the majors. With the loss of Arencibia, the Jays looked to upgrade at the catcher position and did so with the addition of Diner Navarro. Navarro has yet to prove himself as a full-time backstop, but a 2013 slash line of .300/.365/.492 definitely turned some heads. The bat is there, but the defense remains a question, and Toronto is one of the hardest staffs to catch in the big leagues with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and junk-thrower Mark Buehrle. The lineup is one of the best in the bigs, and look for Colby Rasmus to finally break out this year, but the pitching remains a problem even with newcomer Drew Hutchinson making his way into the rotation full time.

It’s been an exciting offseason with star studded trades, record extensions and off-field drama, but the season has started and it’s time to get back down to business. We are already more than a week into the 2014 season and  I’m many days late and many dollars short at this point, I know. But I needed to get something posted to put my predictions out there. Playoff teams are in bold.

AL East

Tampa Bay
Baltimore
Boston
New York
Toronto

AL Central

Detroit
Cleveland

Kansas City
Chicago
Minnesota

AL West

Oakland
Los Angeles
Texas
Seattle
Houston

NL East

Washington
Atlanta
New York
Philadelphia
Miami

NL Central

St. Louis
Pittsburgh
Cincinnati
Milwaukee
Chicago

NL West

Los Angeles
San Francisco
Colorado
Arizona
San Diego

World Series: Tampa Bay over St. Louis

AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Bryce Harper

AL Cy Young: David Price
NL Cy Young: Adam Wainwright

AL ROY: Jose Abreu
NL ROY: Billy Hamilton

Over the course of the week I’ll do a write up looking at each division and pick where I think the teams will finish, call out a few notable additions or subtractions from each team’s roster and pick a surprise breakout or slump performance.

AL East
AL Central
AL West

NL East
NL Central
NL West

The Dodgers are currently in the midst of a hot streak. After splitting a series with the Padres, they went on to sweep the Giants and take two of three from the Phillies, leaving the team four games out of first place. There is a sense of optimism in Los Angeles; Nick Punto in an after game interview mentioned the p-word (playoffs), an unusual topic for teams who have been trapped in the cellar for the past month. A big part of this hopeful outlook is because of rookie phenom, Yasiel Puig. The 22 year old Cuban defector has maintained a .436 average in his first month in the big leagues. With 7 home runs and 4 stolen bases, Puig has produced a large chunk of the Dodger offense while removing much of the pressures from his injured and/or struggling teammates. As Puig garners more headlines, the rest of the team’s struggles seem to fade from memory. Nobody is more pleased to have his name disappear from the papers than Don Mattingly, who appeared to already have his bags packed before the rookie was called up.

130614092959-yasiel-puig-smi2-single-image-cut

Mattingly has had a rough year, and while much of this is a result of the struggles of the heavy hitters on his team, he has done little to boost the confidence of LA fans or prove his competency at damage control. Mattingly has hear boos in Dodger Stadium this year get louder after he would take the field to pull Brandon League after another blown save. (It’s hard to say that the jeers are entirely Mattingly’s fault; if your GM decides to give a reliever seven million dollars a season, your hand is forced.) While Puig has helped damper the amount of Mattingly’s boo’s, the Dodger manager has not received enough credit for the work he has done with the lineup.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta Braves

There has been quite a lot of noise in the sabermetric community about reinventing the traditional batting lineup. Usually, a manager will put the fastest guy first, a good sacrifice guy second and then the big and best hitters three and four, with the primary goal to manufacture runs in the first inning. The rest of the lineup descends in order of skill.

The sabermetric lineup focuses on the stats associated with each batting order position and adjusts accordingly with the focus being on the number two hole. The second batting position should be home to each teams best hitter. He reaches the plate the second most times in a game and more importantly, comes to bat 44% of the time with a runner on base. Mattingly has seemingly stumbled into a sabermetric lineup and it is one of the quietest reasons that the Dodgers have won eight of their last nine. (A more in depth reading of the entire sabermetric optimal lineup can be read here.)

After shuffling Puig around in the lineup during the first weeks of the rookie’s call-up, Mattingly has settled him into the number two hole and been rewarded with great success. Most notably was game 1 of the recent Giants series. Puig homered in the first inning off of Bumgarner, which the giants countered in the second inning and the game remained tied until the eighth. Puig stepped into the batters box with two on and no out and singled to score the go-ahead run. The Dodgers went on to score again that inning, but they wouldn’t need it as the team won 3-1.

Three nights later the Dodgers were losing to the Phillies by one in the seventh inning. The bases were loaded with two outs and Puig steps up to the plate. Sure enough, the rookie hits a single scoring two and handing the Dodgers the lead they would need to win the game.

Only a month into his career, it is fair to question whether Puig is the best hitting Dodger. He is adequately described as “raw”, which is continually evident as he chases breaking balls low and away and currently sits with a 5:1 K to BB ratio. But there is no denying the fact that he has been the best hitting Dodger in June.

The lineup has also been built around Puig, with Gonzalez, Ramirez and Kemp hitting directly behind him in that order. As a result, Puig has scored six times during the last nine games, which has been vital since the team won by 2 or less runs in six of those games.

la-sp-dn-dodgers-six-game-win-streak-20130627-001

While there is no guarantee that Puig will find himself in (and producing in) these clutch situations as often as he has been, Mattingly should receive more credit for trusting the odds of the batting order and batting his best hitting Dodger second.

To our readers,

We wanted to start by apologizing on behalf of Fastball/Changeup for the lack of updates over the course of the last month or so. Ryan and Matt have both been going through changes in their lives including final exams, college graduation, the job hunt, and an increase in workload. That being said, the good news is that both of us have settled in and are getting a handle on our responsibilities and we plan on updating the site a lot more frequently in the near future.

Photo Credit: Slate

The Delay is over. Hope you’ve been keeping yourselves busy!

To come is a fb/cu on the umpire controversies and whether or not it is time for an expanded replay.

Also soon to come is a piece that Ryan has been working on about lineup order optimization and how stats and sabermetrics can contribute to overall runs scored.

If there are any other issues you are interested in us writing about, please leave them in the comments below!

Thank you for your patience and we look forward to posting a lot more frequently in the near future.

Sincerely,

Matt and Ryan