Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Clayton Kershaw is trialling a changeup

At first view, the 14-3 demolition job handed out by the Dodgers to the Padres on Opening Day doesn't present much intrigue.

Take a closer look at Clayton Kershaw's line (7 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 8 SO, 1 BB) and you would probably conclude that the imperious left-hander was on terrific form but you wouldn't be surprised.

For those of us that walk this earth with a dangerous obsession with the left-handed ace however, the game did provide something interesting.

With his team cruising and the win all but secure, Clayton Kershaw trialled a new pitch, a changeup, twice.

He threatened to do so in Spring:

This isn't the first time we've been over this story. In 2016, he threw two changeups, on opening day, when pitching with an 11-0 lead against the Padres. Sounds familiar right.

In 2014, Kershaw was working on a changeup in Spring Training and he accepts himself that “every off-season I say my changeup’s getting better.”

With three plus pitches, there has never really been a need for Kershaw to develop a changeup but he continues to try to do so, which is what makes yesterday's offerings interesting.

On to the pitches in question. The first came in the fifth inning, with two outs and the bases empty, against Padres catcher/outfielder/relief pitcher Christian Bethancourt.

Looks pretty good right? At 84mph it clocks in considerably slower than most of his sliders but considerably quicker than any of his curveballs.

Just using the eye test, we can see it is different. The pitch has fade and dip unlike any of his other pitches and fools Bethancourt. It is, dare we say, a terrific changeup.

Let's take a look at the grip.

Looks like a changeup grip. Hard to say what exactly Kershaw is doing with his fingers, but we can pretty safely rule out this being a slider that didn't break or a fastball that came out wrong.

So far, so good. Kershaw threw a changeup and it looked awesome! Changeup number two:

Hmm, not so good. I wasn't sure at first that this was a change-up and not a slider, even though it was categorised as one by Brooks Baseball.

But before throwing this pitch Kershaw shakes off several signs before finally landing on one after a time-out. And again, if we peek at his grip as he winds up that looks very different to his slider grip.

The result, however, is a bad changeup. Left up in the zone and with little break, this pitch has the effect of an 86mph fastball and Wil Myers gives it a ride to the warning track.

So what can we conclude? Kershaw is definitely trialling a changeup, it definitely has swing-and-miss potential but it is definitely far from the finished product.

In a 12-1 game, we can't read a whole lot into this beyond 'he is trying something different'. Which shouldn't come as a surprise.

Last year, Kershaw experimented with a new, low angle arm-slot, presumably inspired by team-mate Rich Hill, slinging fastballs up to 97mph from a whole new vantage point.

He liked that experiment so much that he broke it out in the play-offs to various degrees of success, although he did not go back to that trick pitch once on Monday:

Two changeups in one blow-out game doesn't seem like much, and I remain skeptical that Kershaw has the confidence in the pitch to use it in important situations.

What they do signal however, is that Kershaw is still not happy standing pat despite being the best pitcher in baseball. From low arm slots to newly-honed pitches, he is consistently trying to find ways to make himself better.

And if Monday's performance is any indicator, that should scare the crap out of Major League hitters.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Will 2017 be the year of Buxton?

Presented, without comment, are a couple of stat-lines from the 2016 season:

PLAYER ONE .225 .284 .430 10 38 10
PLAYER TWO .287 .357 .653 9 22 1

Aside from a possibly intriguing blend of power and speed, there isn't a whole lot to like about that first player. A .284 on-base percentage is the kind of number usually reserved for back-up catchers or good-hitting pitchers. As you may have guessed from the title of this blog post, that player was Byron Buxton in 2016 who is neither a back-up catcher nor a pitcher.

Indeed since his 2015 debut, Buxton has been something of a disappointment. Ranked as the one of the top two prospects in baseball by pretty much every ranking list entering the 2015 season, Buxton has struggled mightily at the big league level, striking out in nearly one-third of plate appearances and finding very few opportunities to showcase his breathtaking speed and athleticism.

If you follow baseball and top prospects closely, this very likely isn't ground-breaking news to you. After Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant exploded onto the scene as rookies, top prospects now receive as much attention as ever and there are consequently rather unrealistic expectations placed on to the shoulders of some of these players.

Even taking that into account, Buxton has under-performed in almost every way other than his outstanding defense. With that being said, there is a reason this article isn't titled 'Wow, Byron Buxton isn't very good'. The second stat-line listed above is also Buxton, after his September 2016 call-up. He tore the cover off the ball to finish the season, racking up 1.6 wins above replacement over 113 plate appearances, tied for the most valuable player in baseball over that time.

Those of you watching Twins baseball in September (lord knows why anyone would) will have seen the kind of tools on display that made Buxton such a high-pedigree talent and his strong finish didn't avoid the attention of many baseball writers. You can be sure that heading into the 2017 campaign, he will be pegged as a potential breakout star far and wide.

And it's not hard to understand why. Buxton tore up the minor leagues, mashing his way from rookie ball to the majors in less than three seasons. In his time in the minors, he walked a lot, didn't strike out much and showcased enough power and speed to project as one of those rare commodities: a true five tool player. Even as inconsistency and injuries have derailed his major league career to date, the tools remain very much alive and well.

To start with, there's the power. Buxton is tall and rangy at six feet, two inches and is just starting to show signs of filling into that body as his late-season power surge shows. He hangs back well on this two-strike slider and absolutely obliterates it into the left-field bleachers.

Admittedly, it's a hanging breaking ball and it comes off James Shields who also gave up a home run to Bartolo Colon along with most of the American League. But hey, you still have to hit mistake pitches out and Buxton has been dreadful in two-strike situations so this represents a promising improvement.

Then there's the speed. This time, Buxton smokes an offering from AL Cy Young candidate Chris Sale to center field, and although he relies on a fairly dreadful misplay by Leurys Garcia masquerading unsuccessfully as a center-fielder he still shows off that deadly speed by cruising around the bases and beating the throw comfortably. A flat 14 seconds from home to home was easily the fastest inside-the-park home run the statcast era had ever seen.

The speed is where Buxton truly excels, as Mike Petriello excellently demonstrates. In 2016, Buxton had the fastest home to first base time of all right-handed hitters. And the second, and third, and fourth fastest times. Although Buxton doesn't have the pedigree or stolen base numbers of game-changer Billy Hamilton, he can produce a fairly compelling imitation job from the right-hand side.

Much like Hamilton, Buxton leverages this speed into tremendous center-field defense. His unrivalled ability to cover ground lets him get to balls that most defenders could only dream of reaching whilst his innate ability to take a quick first step and run a perfect route to the ball turns him from a plus defender into one of the best in the game.

A 0.47 second first step and 98.3% route efficiency allowed Buxton to track down a ball that is a home run 85% of the time and sported a .915 average this season. Then, of course, there is the typical fast center-fielder play as Buxton tracks down a floater against the Tigers.

Thanks to information like statcast, we can quantify good defenders with more precision now, and virtually every metric loves what Buxton can do with his glove. Then, there's the arm. Where some elite center-field defenders have weak arms (cough, Ben Revere, cough) Buxton has one of the strongest outfield cannons in the game. His throws were clocked as high as 99mph this season as he proved himself an all-round asset on the defensive side of the ball.

So we have a pretty decent volume of work to suggest that Buxton is one of the fastest players in baseball, and that he utilises his incredible speed and athleticism to also be one of the games best defenders from the premium position of center field. Given his monster September at the plate and his high prospect pedigree it's not hard to project Buxton as an MVP contender heading into 2017 - Mookie Betts feels like a not-outrageous comparison for his upside.

There remain, however, a number of serious red-flags for the speedy youngster at the plate. Even in September, Buxton struck out in over one-third of his at-bats. For a player who can do so much damage with his legs, not even getting the ball in play every third plate appearance is unforgivable, especially given power is not his game. The 36% HR/FB rate was clearly unsustainable, considerably higher than his 13.5% season mark whilst his six infield hits and one bunt hit suggest an element of good fortune, although we can comfortably predict a fair share of these given his elite speed.

Over the course of the season, Buxton's hard-hit rate according to Fangraphs was just 27.3% and even in his bonkers month of September it didn't go above 30%, a long way shy of the numbers of more established power hitters. If Buxton's strikeouts are to be explained by a swing-hard approach, we would expect to see him make more consistent hard contact when he does connect.

In giving these warning statistics, I don't intend to damper any enthusiasm for the potential of Buxton. He's an extraordinarily gifted athlete who has shown a propensity for the outrageous on a baseball field and given his incredible speed and defense he doesn't really have to hit much in order to be a productive big league player. A couple of huge three-week stretches each season would comfortably boost his stat-line to the point where he is a three or four win player.

It is also worth remembering that Buxton only turned 23 a couple of weeks ago. He is younger than Trout, Harper, Machado, Bryant, Lindor and Trea Turner among others. The impact performances of some rookies in recent seasons have raised our expectations to the point where prospects who don't turn into immediate MVP candidates are viewed as busts. Guys like Buxton often require a period of adjustment, and his injuries have certainly derailed his progression to a frustrating degree too.

Twins fans are justified to feel disappointed about the performance of their team last season after a strong second-half during the 2015 campaign. In Buxton however, they have a potential superstar who has shown flashes to suggest he is one of the most athletically gifted players in all of baseball. In September, he showed the first signs of turning that athleticism into MVP calibre production. Just don't be too surprised if it takes him a bit longer to put it all together.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Remembering Jose Fernandez

In the hours following the tragic news that one of baseball's brightest young stars, Jose Fernandez, had died in a boating accident I found myself wondering why his death had affected me so greatly. This was a man I had never met, whose life was wildly different from my own and who, frankly, wouldn't have looked twice at me had we been the only people in a room. Yet as I scrolled through twitter and read through articles yesterday afternoon, stunned into silence and feeling sick to my stomach, I realised I was not alone in being profoundly touched by his passing. It was not just that Fernandez had been taken from this earth at the far-too-tender age of 24, not just that he was one of the most supremely talented players we have ever had the pleasure to see, not just that he revealed just five days ago that his girlfriend was expecting a child in a gut-wrenching instagram post. The reason, in my opinion, why the news of Fernandez' death brought the world of baseball to a stand-still and brought grown men to tears was his incredible love of life, his relentless desire to enjoy himself as much as possible and make the lives of his family, his friends and his fans better in everything that he did. Jose Fernandez was an extraordinarily good pitcher, but by all accounts was an even greater person.

Thousands of words have been written on the death of Fernandez since the news broke 24 hours ago, from touching tributes across the sporting world to beautiful pieces of journalism from the likes of Jeff Passan. In truth, there is no reason for me to write more words, mine are guaranteed to be lost among the cacophony of grief, of tributes, of memories, each infinitely more befitting than anything I could possibly say. Yet such was the impact of his joie de vivre, his exuberant love of life and his infectious smile that I feel compelled to celebrate his achievements, his brilliance, his happiness. Jose Fernandez would not have wanted me to mourn his death but instead to celebrate his life and that is precisely what I will endeavour to do.


By now, I'm sure you know the story of how Fernandez came to America, but it bears repeating.  In many respects his journey was a familiar one for Cubans: each year thousands of people attempt to make the 90 mile crossing to Miami and indeed many of baseball's stars have defected from Cuba themselves, including Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes. The journey remains, however, a brutally dangerous one. Many Cubans fashion boats themselves out of scrap metal and anything else they hope to use to survive the rough stretch of ocean in the hope they will safely land on US soil. The United States, for its part, operates a bizarre 'wet foot, dry foot' policy towards Cuban immigrants which dictates that any defectors found out at sea by the coastguard must be returned to Cuba (and more than likely face prison) but those lucky enough to make it to land are able to stay.

There are always a lucky few who manage to successfully navigate the journey, but from the eagle-eyed Cuban authorities who receive constant tip-offs about deportation attempts to the horrendously dangerous journey across open water, usually in the pitch black, to the hawkish attitude of the US coastguard that patrols the Florida waters there are threats abound. Jose Fernandez would attempt the journey three times unsuccessfully. He would spend several months in a Cuban prison at the age of 14, surrounded by murderers and criminals. When he was eventually released, he planned another attempt with his mother, this time to Mexico rather than the United States. Having successfully made it on to the boat, sea sickness appeared to be the biggest of Fernandez's problems but towards the end of the trip, Jose's mother was carried off the boat by a particularly large wave. Unaware at the time who had splashed into the water, Fernandez wasted no time and dived right in. Twenty bruising minutes spent fighting the rough sea later, he returned to the boat, exhausted but alive having saved his mother's life. He was 15 years old.

The journey, of course, was not yet over. Having reached Mexico, Fernandez could not rest on his laurels as the 'wet foot, dry foot' policy of the US does not exist across the border. When five officers stopped his bus near the US border, it seemed that fate had dealt one final, crushing blow to his dream but the officers instead chose to take jewellery and money: Fernandez and his mother finally reached Texas safely and could begin their American dream. The rest, as they say, is history. A wonderful article on grantland details the intensity of Fernandez's regimen when he was a high school player. He was confident, cocky in honesty, but worked harder than anyone. Throwing 96 as a 17 year old, he dominated high school and caught the attention of Marlins pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. In 2011, at the age of 18, he was drafted in the first round by Miami. Generally regarded as a top twenty talent in the draft class, few scouts could have anticipated the impact he would have just two years later.

Following a dominant 2012 campaign in which he blew away minor league hitters at the Marlins single-A level, he was a shocking call-up to start the season in Miami after their rotation was plagued by injury. Strangely enough, Keith Law actually replied to my tweet about J-Fer and his view was pretty much industry consensus at the time:

Fernandez was talented, of that there could be no doubt but many talented pitchers have struggled. Just from his own draft, Dylan Bundy, Trevor Bauer, Danny Hultzen, Taylor Jungmann and Archie Bradley are all former top prospects who are yet to really make it work in the Majors - much less at the age of 20 with less than 150 innings of professional under their belt. I remember excitedly setting his first ever start in my diary, a tilt at Citi Field against the Mets. He was breathlessly good. One earned run, one walk and three hits to go along with five innings, eight strikeouts and just eighty pitches.

The fastball hummed at 97mph, quick by anyone's standard and he showed impressive command with it too.

Sweet lord just look at that pitch. He was 20 years old!

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That is a paid major league hitter being made to look like he's never swung a bat before. Three different pitches, and they all made hitters look foolish. Fernandez wasn't just good, he was showing off the kind of stuff that would make him one of the best pitchers in the league. That is exactly what happened, as he went 12-6 in his first season, with a 2.19 ERA and finished third in Cy Young voting. He wasn't just good for a 20 year old, he was one of the best in the game. Ever since that first start against New York, Jose Fernandez has been the most unfair pitcher to face in the league.

As of today, Fernandez is number one all-time in strikeout percentage. No starting pitcher in the history of baseball could match his 31.2% number. He had the best home ERA of all time! All time! He had four career games with at least 12 strikeouts and 0 walks. Nolan Ryan also had four. It wasn't just that Fernandez had potential, it's that he was one of the best there has ever been by almost any measurable stat in his career. Fernandez tore the UCL in his arm in 2014 and underwent Tommy John surgery on May 16th. He was back pitching in the Major Leagues on July 2nd 2015. That is a remarkably quick turnaround from such a debilitating injury. He didn't just return healthy, he returned dominant and in 2016 he was better than ever. To pick a couple of admittedly arbitrary dates, between May 9th and June 26th of this season, Fernandez had a 1.18 ERA in 61 innings with 91 strikeouts, giving up just 35 hits. Since his debut in 2013, Jose Fernandez ranks behind only Clayton Kershaw (who may end up the greatest pitcher of all time) in almost every important pitching category. He wasn't just a prodigious talent, he was one of the best players any of us will have the pleasure of seeing.

Alright, alright, you get it. He was a really good pitcher. You didn't come here to hear that. You came here to see him be awesome.

Those two came from the same start in which his curveball, nicknamed 'the defector' moved like it was on a string. That was also the same game we had this incredible moment.

At the end of his rookie season, the Marlins opted to limit his innings count, and so his final start came against the Braves on September 11th 2013. Obviously he pitched great, but he also did this:

If you haven't seen the video before (or even if you have) go look it up because Fernandez crushed the ever-living snot out of the baseball. It wasn't a wall-scraper down the line, it was a god damn bomb, in his final start, at home. I've never hit a home run in front of 20,000 fans but I imagine I'd watch it too. Of course, the Braves got pissy and Brian McCann tried to exact some kind of weird unnecessary justice at home plate. Did Fernandez care?

Did he balls. He's just happy he hit a home run. Who the hell wouldn't be? It's not as though Fernandez only enjoys his own success either. Here he looks begrudgingly impressed after Carlos Gonzalez drills a home run off him.

When Kenta Maeda fools him with a slider, Fernandez returns to the dugout impressed.

When Evan Longoria hits a home run off him, Fernandez jokingly tells him that such brazen displays of power aren't entirely necessary.

Fernandez was not afraid to get excited for his team-mates. In fact, he appears to be the opposite of afraid.

Occasionally, Fernandez was the one made to look silly.

But he still can't help but smile. Poor Fernando Rodney receives a less than flattering dugout impression.

I could go on and on and on. Fernandez was not just a wonderfully gifted pitcher but a ridiculously fun person, who had the kind of charm and charisma that made him a magnet out on the field. In just two full big league seasons he has inspired a whole host of young players who want to play like Jose Fernandez. The fun he has out on the field is addictive, to be honest he made a thoroughly unwatchable Marlins team bloody entertaining for a few seasons. I may never get the chance to see Jose Fernandez pitch live again, but I will forever carry with me an image of that contagious smile and his love for the game. Thank you Jose.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

What happened to Jackie Bradley Jr?

As things currently stand, on June 28th 2016, Jackie Bradley Jr is the 13th most valuable player in baseball despite having the fewest plate appearances of anyone in the top 15. He has put up a slash line to the tune of a .296 average, .386 on-base percentage and .564 slugging percentage, adding up to 147 WRC+ which is an elite offensive performer. If it weren't for Xander Bogaerts hitting everything within a seven mile radius of Fenway Park he would be considered the Red Sox MVP of the first half of the season. Yet less than two seasons ago, Bradley was acrimoniously demoted after failing to hit .200 in a move that many Red Sox fans felt was long overdue and that manager John Farrell claimed 'had been talked about for a little while now'. What on earth happened in the 18 months since then that has seen Bradley go from the epitome of the Red Sox doomed 2014 campaign to the breakout star that has set the American League on fire in 2016?

Perhaps this shouldn't be all that surprising. Bradley was always considered a top prospect - top three in the Boston system in 2012 and 2013 - and his stat lines at some of the minor league stop-offs aren't far out from the performance he has flashed in the 2016 campaign. We were spoilt in 2012 by the unbelievable breakout performances of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper as rookies. The truth is that only the generational talents can seamlessly slip into Major League play; often the top prospects require time for adjustments and improvements and Bradley's solid production in 2015 was a harbinger for the huge campaign that was to come in 2016. However, even the most vocal Bradley supporters when he was in the minor leagues accepted that his calling card was elite center field defense and that his upside at the plate was high OBPs and 20-steal speed. The version now roaming the outfield in Boston has legitimate power - he is top 20 in the major leagues in slugging - and his defense has actually taken a step back (negative UZR for the first time in his career). This is not the case of top prospect come good, but instead the process of a struggling hitter taking the time to completely revamp his swing and his game and become one of the American League's most productive hitters.

So, what has Bradley improved? In 2013 and 2014, Jackie Bradley hit just .192 against four seam fastballs with one home run, and as a result he was pounded with hard stuff in the zone which he showed an inability to do any damage with. So far in 2016, Bradley has hit .275 off four-seamers and has mashed cutters and sinkers too, with eight home runs on high velocity pitches, slugging well over .600. After seeing 66% hard pitches in 2014, Bradley's adjustments have seen that number fall to 58% this season. With an increase in off-speed pitches, one would expect Bradley to struggle against those, but one would be wrong again. Bradley has feasted on off-speed pitches this season, showing real improvements since 2014 in cutting down on strikeouts.

The current iteration of Jackie Bradley Jr has shown a new-found ability to turn on high-velocity pitches with impressive power numbers but has also shown an adjustment against off-speed pitches, cutting down his strikeouts in that department too and turning into something of a complete hitter. Despite the fact that he has been more aggressive this season, swinging at over 25% of first pitches, his elite plate discipline has remained a calling card, with walk percentages consistently above 10% that allow him to sustain on-base percentages comfortably over .350. The .345 BABIP he has posted this season may be unsustainable but there is little else to suggest that his adjustments are not real and that he cannot set a new baseline as an elite on-base producer with more than respectable power numbers.

So, now we know how Bradley has managed to turn around his results we can take a look at what he has done to achieve this. In April 2014, Bradley set up in a conventional stance but after just a month he had changed tack, opting instead to load his hands lower as seen in the clip against the Reds.

April 2014
May 2014

Barely scraping by at the mendoza line, Bradley once again opted for a change in swing mechanics in July, this time drastically altering his set up to an open leg stance closer to the plate which clearly has his timing out of whack on this swing against tough lefty Chris Sale as his toe tap occurs way before the swing actually starts. With the struggles ongoing, Bradley is unceremoniously demoted to AAA, not to resurface until the middle of the 2015 campaign.

Now, Bradley has a much higher load, one he first debuted in Pawtucket last season and his swing looks infinitely more balanced with better timing and a better ability to cover all four corners of the plate. On this home run swing, his weight is firmly back and he produces real torque from his hips, several of his home runs this season have been scorching line drives to left-center field that are a testament to his power from the lower half.

Bradley's struggles against the outside half in 2014 have been completely reversed in the 2016 season, as he has mashed pitches out over the plate, although up and in remains a weakness for the young left-hander.

In 2014, Bradley struggled at the plate, and after a disappointing 2013 campaign he found himself pressing for immediate results which lead to a number of big swing alterations within a short period of time. In 2015 at AAA he finally found a consistently comfortable approach at the plate, which allowed him not just better ability to reach the outside pitch but also the leverage to hit for more power than was ever predicted of him as a rookie.

Jackie Bradley Jr is not the first - and won't be the last - top prospect to struggle initially in the Majors before making adjustments and finding success. The Red Sox should be commended for showing considerable patience with him (and indeed Xander Bogaerts) after his poor performances in 2013 and 2014, and they are reaping the rewards of that patience today. Bradley will never be a 30 homer threat, but he has more power today than was ever expected of him and his wonderful plate discipline and strong defence - assuming the metrics this season are an aberration - have made his ceiling particularly high, and Boston fans should feel pretty happy about having him roaming the Fenway outfield over the next few seasons.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

2016 Division Previews: NL East

With five division previews out of the way, we today turn our attention to the final division: The National League East. The NL East was a weak division in 2015, with two of the three worst records in baseball as the New York Mets shocked everyone to win the division at a canter with 90 wins. The Washington Nationals were hugely disappointing despite the acquisition of Max Scherzer and the Marlins (who had been a trendy pre-season pick) limped to a 71-91 record. In 2016 it looks like being a two-horse race between the Mets and Nats but the Marlins will try to spoil that party, whilst the Phillies and Braves will vie for the worst record in baseball as their rebuilding phases enter the suck-for-high-draft-picks era. Which team is going to pack a punch in 2016?


Miami Marlins (71-91)

Projected Opening Day Line-up

No. Name Position Projected 2016 AVG/OBP/SLG
1 Dee Gordon 2B .295/.333/.384
2 Marcell Ozuna CF .260/.308/.414
3 Christian Yelich LF .278/.355/.409
4 Giancarlo Stanton RF .270/.367/.566
5 Martin Prado 3B .282/.329/.393
6 Justin Bour 1B .265/.326/.439
7 J.T. Realmuto C .251/.293/.369
8 Adeiny Hechavarria SS .267/.302/.358

Projected Opening Day Rotation

No. Name Projected 2016 Innings/Strikeouts/ERA
1 Wei-Yin Chen 170/135/3.36
2 Jose Fernandez 145/173/2.80
3 Tom Koehler 161/120/4.22
4 Adam Conley 122/92/4.05
5 Jarred Cosart 125/94/4.17

Dee Gordon had a huge season in 2015, claiming the National League batting title by posting a .333 average and stealing a MLB-high 58 bases atop the Marlins line-up. He has no power but works with that, hitting a huge number of groundballs which fuels a high-BABIP thanks to his elite speed. Another batting crown is unlikely, but a .300 average with tons of steals makes him a valuable top-of-the-line-up presence. Ozuna has always promised huge power potential without tapping into it yet, and in 2016 he'll look to add power to his improved contact rate in 2015. Christian Yelich has strong strikeout and walk rates, 20-steal speed and some line drive power but his tendency to hit ground-balls has stopped him from ever hitting for power which we would expect some of given his body shape. The current iteration of Yelich is a very useful player, but if he could hit more fly balls he could have 20 home run power which would make him a top outfielder. Stanton's raw power is unrivalled in the game today, and in 2015 he mashed 27 home runs in just 74 games. He showed a worrying decline in walks and increase in strikeouts, perhaps selling out for extra power, but if he can return towards his career lines there then health is the only question at this point.

Martin Prado has made a career out of being an excellent contact hitter, who is a fairly safe bet for a .280 average but doesn't have the power or speed that he used to. That still has value, although with free agency impending at the end of the season he may end up trade bait. Justin Bour is the dream platoon candidate, an absolute righty-crusher who has considerable power, but he cannot hit a lick off lefties, so the Marlins should be platooning him with someone. Realmuto had a useful rookie season in 2015, posting an OBP below .300 but stealing 8 bases (most of all catchers), hitting 10 home runs and playing solid defense. He's an athletics back-stop who posted decent enough walk rates in the Minors that a .250 average could still portend a .310ish OBP. At age 25, he's a solid catcher for the Marlins future. Adeiny Hechavarria is a glove-first shortstop who has enough contact skills to hit an empty .280 which will be buoyed by some intentional walks from hitting eighth. He's not an awful hitter, but the Marlins will be relying on his value in the field more than at the plate.

Wei-Yin Chen has been a durable and reliable left-hander for his four year major league career, and his off-season deal with the Marlins reflected that. He doesn't have over-powering stuff but he limits walks, induces pop ups and is especially tough on left-handers. He's not an ace by any means, but he should be a useful innings-eater who could thrive in a spacious home ballpark. Jose Fernandez is maybe the most exciting pitcher to watch in baseball, a strikeout artist who has an electric fastball, knee-buckling curveball and increasingly effective change-up. He is remarkably still just 23 years old, has so much fun and passion on the mound and at this point his health is the only thing holding him back. Even on an innings-limit he is going to be the best starter on this staff by light years.

Tom Koehler has quietly been a useful mid-rotation starter for Miami for a few seasons now, and though he has big home/road splits and middling walk/strikeout rates he is a good bet for 180 solid innings which this rotation sorely needs. Conley was solid in limited big-league action last season, and should get a decent number of starts for this squad in 2016 where he can try to repeat his solid strikeout numbers from 2015. Jarred Cosart has survived with middling stuff and poor strikeout rates for several seasons now but given his control issues it's likely his future is in the bullpen. He gets ground-balls and tends to avoid home runs which works given his home park but this may be his last chance to prove he has the stuff to stick in a big-league rotation.

The bullpen is once more anchored by 29 year old right-hander A.J. Ramos who rode 11 strikeouts per 9 in 2015 to 32 saves and a 2.30 ERA. A career low walk-rate is a good sign for his future whilst elite strand rates point towards regression but he may have actually been unlucky with home runs so another solid season in the 9th inning role should be on the cards. The unfortunate injury to Carter Capps has him requiring Tommy John surgery which is a real shame given how utterly mesmerising he was in 2015 with a new hop-step delivery. Bryan Morris is a ground-ball specialist who will provide some solid innings for the Marlins bullpen but may find himself higher up the pecking order than he should be given his middling stuff. David Phelps is a useful swing-man who can provide solid long relief or spot starts whilst Edwin Jackson might have some value left as a reliever. The rest of the bullpen is made up of Spring Training invites like Craig Breslow and Dustin McGowan who have no spot on a competing bullpen. Ramos aside, this is an awful bunch of arms and this could be an ugly season for Miami relief pitching.

2016 Projection

The Marlins head into the season with a couple of marquee players in their prime in Stanton and Fernandez as well as the backbone of a reasonable line-up. Gordon, Ozuna, Yelich and Realmuto are all young players who could take steps forward in 2016 to make this a surprisingly strong offense but there's also regression and injury risk abound. The rotation has a few reasonable innings-eaters but very little upside outside Fernandez so there will be a lot of relying on the homer-suppressing ability of Marlins Park. The bullpen is a dumpster fire of awful after Capps' injury which might see Ramos traded if he has another productive season. Despite some good players on this team, it is one that is going to struggle to attain a .500 record as the Marlins continue to show mixed signals about its intentions for winning now or in the future. The Braves and Phillies might help prop this team up a bit but there's a clear gulf in class.

Projected record: 74-88

Washington Nationals (83-79)

Projected Opening Day Line-up

No. Name Position Projected 2016 AVG/OBP/SLG
1 Michael Taylor CF .220/.279/.351
2 Anthony Rendon 3B .272/.346/.430
3 Bryce Harper RF .312/.433/.600
4 Daniel Murphy 2B .288/.332/.431
5 Jayson Werth LF .240/.330/.396
6 Wilson Ramos C .249/.283/.385
7 Ryan Zimmerman 1B .258/.324/.439
8 Danny Espinosa SS .223/.290/.366

Projected Opening Day Rotation
No. Name Projected 2016 Innings/Strikeouts/ERA
1 Max Scherzer 207/243/2.82
2 Stephen Strasburg 166/189/3.01
3 Gio Gonzalez 166/158/3.71
4 Tanner Roark 139/94/3.77
5 Joe Ross 134/111/3.90

The early season injury to Ben Revere means that Michael Taylor is in line for another extended look in center field and the 25 year old had a promising 2015 campaign that included 14 home runs and 16 steals. Unfortunately, he also had a .282 OBP as he struck out at a terrifying 31% rate. His glove is excellent and he has some intriguing tools but until he can make more consistent contact he'll be limited to a fourth outfielder role. Anthony Rendon was wonderful in 2014 but struggled with injuries and inconsistency in 2015 which makes him hard to value this year. When healthy, he makes a ton of hard contact which should ensure a high average and possible 20-homer power whilst he also has elite plate discipline and enough speed to challenge 20 steals. That kind of player is a sleeper MVP candidate. Health is his biggest concern at this point. What is there left to say about Bryce Harper? His 2016 season was as ridiculous as it was incredible: 42 home runs, 124 walks to 131 strikeouts, a .330 average and a Bondsian .460 OBP. He surely can't repeat those exact statistics but there is nothing to suggest he won't be one of the best players in baseball once again. Enjoy Nats fans.Daniel Murphy had already registered his best season with the bat in 2015 before going absolutely berserk in the play-offs and his offensive profile suggests he will age just fine entering his 30's. He's almost impossible to strike out, with a 7.1% mark in 2015 which incredibly coincided with his best power numbers as he hit 14 bombs. A .300 average and 15 home runs is pretty nice at second base.

Jayson Werth was an elite hitter for so long that his decline in recent years has been as terrifying as it has rapid. At this point however, he is a below-average hitter who relies on walks and the occasional home run for all of his value. He's owed too much money to not be given a chance this season, but could be squeezed for playing time if he struggles. Ramos had a hugely disappointing 2015 season but there are plenty of factors that point towards a bounce-back including LASIK eye surgery in Spring Training that reportedly has helped him pick up the ball at the plate. He's never been an elite offensive performer, but for a catcher he has significant upside. Ryan Zimmerman's consistent battle with injuries has somewhat masked the fact that his offensive production has declined and at age 31 his health issues won't go away soon. Clint Robinson will be stealing some playing time against right-handers too. Danny Espinosa has been a poor Major League hitter for some time now, but inexplicably won the shortstop job out of Spring Training over Trea Turner despite the fact he is a second baseman defensively. If Espinosa tears the cover off the ball he may keep the job but it appears he is merely keeping the position warm for Turner's call-up.

Max Scherzer will enter the second year of his mammoth contract with the Nationals once again atop a strong rotation. His 2015 season was his best yet as he improved the strikeout rate, cut the walk rate and even got a bit unlucky on home runs. If he can control the long ball then he has to be seen as the favourite to dethrone Kershaw in the NL Cy Young race. Strasburg was brutal in the early season showings of 2015 before two disabled list stints seemingly doomed him to a lost season. Upon his return however, Strasburg was absolutely dominant, striking out 37% of hitters over his last 10 starts. Assuming he can stay healthy he will try to build off the talent that has been so enticing since his debut.

Gio Gonzalez remains a valuable pitcher, albeit more for his durability than the stuff that made him one of baseball's premier southpaws in 2010 and 2011. A career-high groundball rate matched a four-year-low strikeout rate but Gio continues to roll along productively. Tanner Roark has the fourth starter spot but his magic 2014 season looks like a major anomaly as he was fairly unproductive in spot starts last year. A decent ground-ball rate limits his floor but the ceiling probably isn't all that high either. Like his brother Tyson, Joe Ross rides an elite slider to a decent strikeout rate as a starter, but he doesn't have the same extended repertoire as his sibling which means it could be a year of adjustments in the rotation for the talented 22 year old.

The closer on the Nationals is Alex Rodriguez's closest competitor for the 'most hated man in baseball' moniker, the constantly-smirking Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon is no longer one of the best relievers in baseball but even at age 35 he has enough in the tank to be a solid end-game option for the Nats, although it's what he does off the field that is more interesting as his spat with Bryce Harper was an ugly eyesore that summed up a disappointing 2015 campaign. The departure of Drew Storen leaves the Nats bullpen looking revamped, and off-season acquisition Shawn Kelley had a fantastic 2015 on the Padres maintaining his elite strikeout rate whilst reducing the walks. Blake Treinen has a big 97mph fastball that gets him an elite groundball rate and though the strikeouts and walks are fairly average he's a good bet to outperform those stats thanks to the heavy sinker. Oliver Perez is a consistent southpaw who got unlucky in 2015 but is a good bet to bounce back this year whilst Matt Belisle has struggled with injuries but is usually solid when healthy. Overall, the bullpen lacks the dominance it has had in recent years but has enough solid underrated acquisitions to be an asset overall.

2016 Projection

The Nationals have been a popular World Series pick for a couple of seasons now but have consistently disappointed which makes me bearish on their chances for 2016. One look at the roster though and it is easy to see why they receive so much attention as the NL MVP and two clear Cy Young candidates headline this team. The line-up has some impact bats at the heart and even with some declining veterans taking up playing time it should score plenty of runs when Harper is healthy. The rotation has two legitimate aces, a solid number three and two back-end starters with upside, not to mention the upcoming arrival of the game's top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito. The bullpen is solid enough to close out most leads, so ultimately this team will go as far as the health and production of its line-up will allow it. I think they're a good bet for a wildcard spot given the weakness of the rest of the division and could even push the Mets for the division.

Projected record: 91-71

Atlanta Braves (67-95)

Projected Opening Day Line-up

No. Name Position Projected 2016 AVG/OBP/SLG
1 Erick Aybar SS .272/.309/.371
2 Nick Markakis RF .277/.343/.370
3 Freddie Freeman 1B .277/.373/.465
4 Adonis Garcia 3B .253/.285/.385
5 Hector Olivera LF .257/.328/.383
6 Tyler Flowers C .232/.291/.368
7 Jace Peterson 2B .234/.306/.331
8 Drew Stubbs CF .203/.278/.331

Projected Opening Day Rotation
No. Name Projected 2016 Innings/Strikeouts/ERA
1 Julio Teheran 193/171/3.83
2 Matt Wisler 152/121/4.55
3 Bud Norris 143/127/4.36
4 Williams Perez 129/93/4.45
5 Jhoulys Chacin 81/62/4.18

Erick Aybar will finally don the uniform of a team other than the Angels, and he will attempt to take his remarkably consistent if a little one-dimensional game to Atlanta with him. His batting average is consistently solid and he has 15-steal speed to go along with it, but the rest of his value is derived solely from whatever defensive value he has left as he enters the last year of an extension. Nick Markakis is a solid top-of-the-line-up hitter who has lost his power and speed skills but remains an on-base and doubles machine, walking almost as much as he strikes out. Freddie Freeman is clearly the best hitter in this line-up but may find himself pitched around this season, although a near-.400 OBP and 25 home runs is superb production, even on a rebuilding team like Atlanta. Adonis Garcia hit 10 home runs in just 58 games at the end of 2015 and appears to be the Braves starting third baseman. The power looks like it could be fairly legitimate, but he'll need to cut down on strikeouts and walk more to post an OBP over .300 - hitting behind Freddie Freeman will give him plenty of RBI opportunities though.

At 31 years old, Olivera is very old for a player entering only his second year with Major League playing time, but the Braves seem set to give him every chance to rake at the heart of their line-up. Olivera has some power potential, but like Garcia is unlikely to post a particularly impressive OBP. Flowers has decent pop for a catcher but also strikes out in a terrifying one-third of his plate appearances meaning he hasn't posted an OBP over .300 since 2011. Behind the plate his defensive skills are fairly solid and he'll platoon with A.J. Pierzynski who just won't retire no matter how much we pray. Jace Peterson was fairly average in his first taste of regular big league action in 2015, with little hitting ability but the occasional steal and a good enough walk rate to get by. He'll resume his development in 2016 but the ceiling looks fairly limited at this point. The injury to Ender Inciarte opens up playing time in center field that will be filled by some combination of toolsy journeyman Drew Stubbs and exciting youngster Mallex Smith, with the latter an intriguing speedy prospect who could use some further seasoning. 

Julio Teheran took a bit of a step back in 2015 after two great seasons in the Braves rotation, as increased walks, decreased strand rate and ineffectiveness against left-handers contributed to a 4.04 ERA. Some regression should be in store for 2016, although his platoon split remains an issue but at the young age of 25 just having three consecutive 185+ inning seasons under your belt is impressive. Matt Wisler is a talented right-hander who struggled to get many punchouts in limited action in 2015 but was reasonably effective nonetheless. Some refined control and better pitch selection is needed this season but at age 23 a year of adjustments and growth is all that is needed. Bud Norris spent much of 2015 in the bullpen but will have a rotation spot in Atlanta to start the year. He can strike guys out but has always struggled with command and control. At best, he is a reasonable workhorse who has some upside but in likelihood he will be replaced in the rotation by a younger arm at some point and given a more permanent role in the 'pen. Williams Perez is a similar pitcher, with more groundballs and fewer strikeouts who gives up a lot of hits to left-handers but is a useful innings-eater on a rebuilding team. Jhoulys Chacin appears poised to fill the fifth spot in this rotation, and the right-hander was an intriguing pitcher about six years ago but has failed to demonstrate significant progress since then. Once again, he will be relied on to eat some innings but little else.

Flame-throwing 25 year old Arodys Vizcaino appears to be the current choice for ninth inning duty in Atlanta after a successful conversion from a starter last year and on raw stuff he is probably the best choice in this pen. On a fastball/curveball combo he has more than enough stuff to close out games although Atlanta may want to keep his saves down for arbitration. Jason Grilli was fascinatingly dominant in 2015 until his injury, somehow racking up saves and strikeouts at the age of 38 with diminished stuff and he will at least start the season attempting to repeat the trick at the back-end of the Atlanta bullpen although he'll almost certainly be traded at some point. Jim Johnson repaired some of his battered reputation in a quietly solid season for the Braves last year and he'll try to ride groundballs and a smattering of strikeouts to similar effect this year. Alexi Ogando and Eric O'Flaherty provide some veteran arms without much upside whilst Jose Ramirez is a young pitcher with some upside in a bullpen void of much noteworthy talent.

2016 Projection

The Braves are in full-blown, unapologetic rebuild mode. The line-up has almost no-one you could consider an above average regular outside Freeman and Markakis, whilst the rotation contains a couple of exciting young pitchers and three questionable innings-eaters who likely aren't long for the Braves. There's no shame in having a couple of awful seasons in order to plan for the future, and the Braves trades and drafts of late have seen them amass a number of high-upside prospects, some of whom will get a taste of Major League action this year like Mallex Smith, Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair. For 2016 however, something approaching 100 losses feels inevitable.

Projected record: 60-102

New York Mets (90-72)

Projected Opening Day Line-up

No. Name Position Projected 2016 AVG/OBP/SLG
1 Curtis Granderson RF .232/.330/.416
2 David Wright 3B .266/.345/.397
3 Yoenis Cespedes CF .268/.311/.495
4 Lucas Duda 1B .249/.348/.485
5 Neil Walker 2B .259/.327/.438
6 Michael Conforto LF .256/.322/.464
7 Asdrubal Cabrera SS .258/.315/.419
8 Travis D'Arnaud C .249/.310/.439

Projected Opening Day Rotation
No. Name Projected 2016 Innings/Strikeouts/ERA
1 Matt Harvey 169/156/3.05
2 Jacob DeGrom 172/180/2.86
3 Noah Syndegaard 166/190/3.11
4 Steven Matz 153/151/3.55
5 Bartolo Colon 152/103/4.16

Curtis Granderson was fantastic in his second season in a Mets uniform, putting up a .364 OBP and 26 home runs as one of the best lead-off hitters in the game. His ability to draw a walk and greater willingness to take the ball the other way did not come at the expense of power and he should be a very solid table-setter once again in 2016 even at age 35. David Wright really struggled to stay on the field in 2015, as chronic back issues limited him to 38 games and he's unlikely to log a full season in 2016. When on the field, his bat remains fairly potent with good contact and power although the steals and defense has been diminishing for some time. Health is the question mark once again. Yoenis Cespedes enjoyed an MVP-calibre season in 2015 thanks in part to good fortune on balls in play but also due to increased hard contact which manifested in a career-best 35 home runs between the Tigers and Mets. He won't repeat the entire stat-line but the power surge is believable and he remains a legitimate heart of the line-up threat. Lucas Duda continued to mash home runs and walk enough to negate an elevated strikeout rate although at age 30 he is probably past his best days at this point.

Neil Walker was a consistently solid second baseman for the duration of his tenure in Pittsburgh and there is no reason he can't bring his solid contact, eye and power to the big apple too. He was a shrewd replacement for Daniel Murphy. Considering how much hype the New York Mets generated on their way to the World Series it kind of feels like Michael Conforto's dazzling debut slipped through the cracks a bit. He was wonderful in his first taste of big league action despite being professional for just 13 months at the time of his call-up. If he can continue to make adjustments in 2016 he could end the season as the Mets best hitter. Asdrubal Cabrera is a fairly average shortstop, the occasional highlight reel defensive play aside, but if he can put up a slash-line similar to that he posted in Tampa Bay last season he will represent an upgrade for the Mets with decent power for the middle infield. D'Arnaud was long a top prospect but after three years of middling results I think it is fair to say that he is what he is at this point. Which is an injury-prone backstop that has reasonable average and power statistics for a catcher (.250, 15 homers) as well as reasonable patience to make him an above-average overall package but not a top echelon option. He will likely lose some playing time to Kevin Plawecki this season although he has been equally disappointing in the Majors.

The rotation will be lead by several ace candidates, but the de-facto leader is Matt Harvey, the 27 year old right-hander who made a full recovery from Tommy John Surgery to post another fantastic season in 2015, even recording 217 innings including the post-season which is a huge (and not uncontroversial) figure for his first year back. The elbow held up fine however, and the stuff has never been in doubt so he looks locked in for another great 2016 campaign. Along with one of the most dominant all-star cameos in history, Jacob DeGrom improved his performance all around in 2015, striking out over a hitter per inning and cutting down on his walks over 190 solid innings. There have been some early concerns about his velocity heading into 2016 but assuming his arm is healthy he should be a lock for another great year and lots of ridiculous comments about his hair. Noah Syndegaard has maybe the best raw stuff on this pitching staff which is a laughably ridiculous notion given the absurd stuff of the two men in front of him. But yeah, Thor is just that good. He has the fastest fastball in the Majors among starting pitchers, touching 100mph with ease at times as well as a devastating curveball (Thor's hammer) and two potentially plus pitches in the change-up and slider. At 23 years old he is a frighteningly good pitcher who will be a lot of fun to watch now and in the future. 

Oh look, another precociously talented youngster takes the fourth spot in southpaw Steven Matz who was also wonderful in limited 2015 action. The stuff isn't as obviously great as it is for Thor but 94mph from the left-side and two potentially solid off-speed pitches portends well for his future. An innings limit may be on the cards but Mets fans have to be excited about his future as their fourth starter. Who else but Bartolo Colon could close out a rotation like this, the loveable 42 year old entering his 19th season in the Majors but still as effective as ever (kind of). The reduced velocity, the average strikeout rates and the age are all red flags but who really cares because Colon continues to be one of the most entertaining players in baseball and when that two-seamer is working it's a beauty to behold.

Jeurys Familia worked his way into the closer's role in 2015 more through process of elimination than anything but he ended the year as one of baseball's most dominant relievers. An upper-90's fastball, devastating splitter and 58% ground-ball rate tends to do that. He will be a top ninth inning option once again in 2016. Setting him up will be Addison Reed who turned his season around after arriving at Citi Field last year, getting his control back under.. control and striking out guys as he always had. Hansel Robles came out of nowhere to be a valuable component of the Mets pennant-winning bullpen and the raw stuff backs up the results as he easily struck out more than a hitter per inning although he did give up quite a few home runs. Antonio Bastardo is the primary southpaw, a strikeout artist who gives up a lot of fly balls which means his end of season statistics tend to be pretty volatile but on the whole he's an above-average option against right and left-handers alike. Jim Henderson has started off 2016 by inducing 23 swings and 15 misses in his first three innings. Whilst such a rate is obviously unsustainable, if he can rediscover his 2013 form it would be a major coup for the Mets who have a strong bullpen either way.

2016 Projection

The Mets enter the 2016 season as division favourites after their surprising run to the World Series last year and they have a good shot at repeating behind one of the most talented rotations in baseball. The biggest question mark, however, is going to be the line-up which could face regression from guys like Granderson, Cespedes and Duda. Regardless, given the strength of the pitching staff the floor for this group is pretty high so it would be shocking to see them not compete for the division or at the very least a wildcard spot given the relative weakness of the rest of the NL East. I think the battle between them and the Nats will go right down to the wire.

Projected record: 92-70

Philadelphia Phillies (63-99)

Projected Opening Day Line-up

No. Name Position Projected 2016 AVG/OBP/SLG
1 Freddy Galvis SS .245/.281/.361
2 Cesar Hernandez 2B .274/.326/.359
3 Odubel Herrera CF .276/.323/.390
4 Maikel Franco 3B .274/.318/.475
5 Ryan Howard 1B .226/.286/.415
6 Cameron Rupp C .219/.278/.360
7 Cedric Hunter LF .241/.291/.415
8 Peter Bourjos RF .223/.293/.356

Projected Opening Day Rotation
No. Name Projected 2016 Innings/Strikeouts/ERA
1 Jeremy Hellickson 130/113/4.52
2 Aaron Nola 171/153/4.18
3 Charlie Morton 129/106/4.55
4 Vincent Velasquez 76/92/3.77
5 Jerad Eickhoff 141/124/4.83

Freddy Galvis is a fairly unexciting shortstop who has a short clean hack which allows him to hit for a reasonable average but very little plate discipline or power which limits his OBP or SLG. He would probably be hitting much lower down if the Phillies were competitive but they're not so he's not. Cesar Hernandez was quietly useful in 2015, hitting for a decent average, drawing some walks and stealing 19 bases. At age 25 there may not be much development left, but even his current iteration is a not-terrible second baseman which is useful for the Phillies. Odubel Herrera was a hugely successful Rule 5 investment in 2015 as the converted centre-fielder put up a .297/.344/.418 slash-line and played solid defense for a four-win return on a $50,000 gamble. The luck on balls-in-play is bound to fall but if he can cut the strikeouts and walk some more he can be a similarly useful hitter. Maikel Franco led the league in Spring Training home runs and his intriguing blend of power and contact makes him one of the Phillies best hitters already. More consistently quality at-bats and Franco could sneakily be a stud at third base this season.

Ryan Howard and his gargantuan contract are fairly easy targets as symptoms of this awful Phillies group and entering his age-36 season Howard is basically a one-tool hitter who will occasionally hit a home run but offers negative value everywhere else. He was a great player a few years ago, but now he will simply look to hold some playing time over Darin Ruf. Cameron Rupp will be a reasonable stop-gap option at catcher whilst the Phillies wait for Alfaro to develop in the minor leagues, and he has the same traits as most catchers - 15 home run power but considerable contact struggles. Cedric Hunter is a long-time minor leaguer who has put up some reasonable stat lines at AA but has never really converted it to big-league playing time. This is at least his opportunity, but it's hard to see much upside. A speed-first outfielder who has struggled with injuries and is now 29 years old, Bourjos is exactly the kind of lottery ticket the Phillies should be aiming for. At his peak, he's an elite defensive outfielder who has decent contact skills and bags of speed. He's not that player any more, but if he gets hot he has some trade value.

Ever since his dominant and surprising 2011 rookie campaign with the Rays, Hellickson has been hit hard by regression, and whilst 2011 was an anomaly his true value is probably considerably higher than it has looked over the last couple of seasons. He induces swings and misses, doesn't walk too many guys but has an issue with hard contact, especially home runs. In Philadelphia he will get a chance to rebuild his reputation with little pressure on his rotation spot. Aaron Nola moved quickly through the minor leagues and had a solid taste of Major League action in 2015. He's not an ace, with stuff that doesn't look particularly flashy but he has a solid mix of pitches that give him enough strikeouts to get by and at just 22 years of age, Phillies fans should be exciting about his future. Just don't expect him to dominate in 2016. 

Charlie Morton is a ground-ball specialist who doesn't excite and has spent periods of the last few seasons on the disabled list but he has a proven ability to get hitters out and is a nice upside play for the Phillies, especially if he runs into some good luck on balls in play. Vincent Velasquez, or Double-V as I have just affectionately decided to nickname him, has the best stuff in the entire rotation. A rising 94mph fastball, hammer curveball and slider/change-up combination that he didn't use much in 2015 but had devastating results when he did points towards a bright future. He has just 55 innings of experience above Double-A but the Phillies will give him every chance to develop and it looks like it might pay off. Jerad Eickhoff was quietly excellent over 60 innings in 2015, striking out nearly a hitter per inning and working around an elevated fly-ball and hard hit rate to a 2.65 ERA. The aforementioned hard contact is concerning, as his fastball is fairly flat, but intriguingly his slider graded as the best in baseball admittedly over a limited sample size in 2015. Extended usage of that pitch could see him get by as a solid back-of-the-rotation option.

The departure of young closer Ken Giles over the winter opened up the ninth inning role and it appears that it will be filled by veteran reliever David Hernandez. Hernandez doesn't quite have the dazzling strikeout rates that he did a few years ago but his new ground-ball tendency works too if not quite as effectively. Home run prevention has been a problem in recent seasons, so a few ugly early-season outings could see the 30 year old out of the role fairly quickly. Dalier Hinojosa appears to be second-in-line early in the year, after impressive 2015 results that were boosted by a 93.8% strand rate which is pretty unsustainable. Nonetheless, the right-hander has decent enough stuff to be a useful back-end option albeit a fairly volatile one given the control issues. Jeanmar Gomez has been a workhorse reliever for several seasons now with plainly average results that make him a fine option for a bullpen like Philadelphia's although early season whisperings that he will be an option in the ninth inning feel awfully premature. Brett Oberholtzer and James Russell are two left-handers that will excite no-one but be fine middle-relief options whilst Daniel Stumpf is a rule-5 pick with a grade-80 name. It's a pretty awful bullpen, but quite why the Phillies would invest in anything better is hard to see so it makes sense.

2016 Projection

The Phillies are in unashamed rebuild mode and it shows. This is a team that has very little immediate talent as far as the Major League roster is concerned and so will struggle to avoid 100 losses, but at this stage restocking the farm system is the priority. There are some exciting young players on the team now, including Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, Vincent Velasquez and Aaron Nola as well as an increasing wealth of talent in the minor league system headlined by top shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford. This is a team that is going to be shut out a lot, and would probably rank pretty highly on any 'most likely to be on the receiving end of a no-hitter' list but there are better times to come Philly fans, I promise.

Projected record: 59-103


And with that, my divisional previews are finally done! Only one week into the regular season... Suppose that will teach me to take on a huge project that I don't really have the time for! I hope you've enjoyed reading through them, and I truly appreciate any feedback you would be willing to give. Personally, I think that they probably ended up a little too dry and mechanical as I tended to just waffle on about every player on the team which is great if you support that team but a little tedious if you're not that concerned about what stat-line Avisail Garcia is going to put up... Maybe in future I'll try to keep it a little fresher.

As for the tables, I tried to give them a mix in stats between 'old fashioned', traditional metrics and some 'newer' more representative one but again they could probably use some tweaking - especially on the pitcher's side. I think the GIF's worked well again though, I left them plain without comment as they are generally self-explanatory but I would be interested to hear if any of you feel they could have used some context. I'm going to try to produce some more content during the season this year, and if you have any ideas for content then please don't hesitate to tweet at me!

My gratitude is owed to Fangraphs, from whom I stole all of the player statistics and information, to the ZiPS projection system for the player stat-lines, to tablesgenerator.com for the neat tables and to Major League Baseball and its affiliates for the GIF's, none of which are my property.

Thanks for reading!