NL East Infield Preview
The Atlanta Braves paced the NL in wins last year, ending 10 games ahead of any other team in the league. Their 101 wins put them 3rd in wins for any team, and they were top 4 in every category, other than home runs. The thing is, the teams behind them boast a top pitching staff in the Mets (#2 in starter ERA, and #1 in bullpen ERA) a high ranking offense in Washington (#3 in runs scored, #2 in batting average), and the #1 and #2 vote getters in the 2016 Cy Young voting in Philadelphia, all while Miami ended #2 in home runs.
The division as a whole won 435 games, with Miami coming in last, just 3 games under .500. No other division is as tight as this one, and this next year expects to be a similar outcome.
We’ll begin by breaking it down by position, then giving a full preview and prediction, as well as a look into the future of each of these teams.
Bird is the only one of these 5 hitters that will hit in the middle of the order. The second year player will once again be the starter, and last year hit his way to a 2.6 WAR. His 3.27 CERA is greatly boosted by the excellent staff that he catches for, but he did throw out 30.3% of runners which is at least serviceable.
He’s played 2 full seasons, and in that time he’s put up a 7.2 WAR. Scouts around the league don’t think the guy has a world of talent, but he gets the job done every day he comes to the park. He was hurt this year by his rise in strikeouts, and lost out on RBI chances due to the weak offense around him, but he is a solid everyday catcher.
D’Arnaud is by no means a hitter. Only once in his career has he had over 100 hits in a season, but there’s been 3 full seasons since then. His value is behind the dish, where he threw out 41.1% of runners, and led the pitching staff to a 3.26 ERA while he was catching.
The Phillies have several options at catcher, and when GM John Comey was contacted, he was still unsure of who would have the starting job come Opening Day. 2 seasons ago, Ramon Cabrera was the everyday starter, and ended the season with a 3.5 WAR. But last season, he had the position most of the season, and ended with a -0.2 WAR. Which is why Logan Moore was called up in mid-September. But he struggled to a .143 batting average, so he may not hold the position long if he continues to struggle. This would open the door for team #4 prospect Tom Murphy, who has spent 3 full seasons in AA for the Phillies, to step in and start. He’s already 25 and seems to be ready for the big show.
Martin does not have the best bat of this group, but he has a lifetime batting average of .257, and has had double digit home runs in 3 of the last 4 seasons. His value comes from his excellent catching prowess. He’s regarded as one of the best pitch framers in the league, and is also a team leader.
At a position known for offensive juggernauts, Laumann is a little bit of a yawner. Sure at just 23, he’s a solid player, and maybe has more left in the tank, but last season was his first full season, and while he didn’t struggle, he was in the bottom half of the league for first baseman in OPS (.789). He’s expected to bat eighth for the Braves, and that’s suitable for him. His personality description fits him perfectly, “Everyday guy who enjoys country music.” That’s all he really is.
Not many teams can move a player as good as Joey Votto and expect very little drop off in production. Yes, they moved a Silver Slugger, and their replacement could very well win the award in 2017. Rieger made the jump from AA to the MLB, after just 60 games in AA. In his 29 starts, he hit 8 home runs, which is a pace of 45 in a full season. He did just have 188 at bats, but this season, when he gets close to 500 more, the sample size shows that similar stats are likely. Look for this guy to be a breakout star in 2017.
Ike Davis is not the guy you pay $60 for bleacher seats to see. Hell, you wouldn’t pay $20 for bleacher seats to see him. But he’s the guy that’s going to look back on his career (which has already netted him $27 million) and think of it as a success. The 2-time All-Star is the face of consistency, although he has dropped off slightly in the last 2 seasons.
Again, the Phillies have several options at first base. Currently slated to start is LF Kelly Dugan, who started 71 games there last season. That being said, he struggled last season, unable to post a positive zone rating at the position, and amounting a measly .244 batting average with 15 home runs. Neftali Soto could also be used there, perhaps even in a platoon, with Soto facing LHP. He spent the majority of the season in AAA last season, only getting 16 at-bats for the Phillies last year. The best option for them would be Ryobe Kamida, their $26 million import from Japan, but at 22 years old, he’s still developing, and the team would prefer to see him perform at AAA before rushing him up. If that’s this season, he could turn heads.
Loney was at his best back in 2012 when he hit .313 with 17 home runs. In 2015, he was used as a pinch hitter and defensive substitute, starting just 27 games, but he hit .301. In his age 32 season, he showed that may be the role he’s best suited for. If the Nationals want to make the playoffs, they may search for a better hitter, while Loney is in a vesting option season (needs 520 PA).
Ballard has just gotten better and better every season. His MLB Pro career batting average progression looks like this: .270, .307, .318, .321. And he appears poised for another uptick in production, and can be the necessary spark plug that this team needs as they look to improve their offense even more.
Okay, yes, last season was probably Rutherford’s worst of his 5 seasons, but the English native is one of the best hitting second baseman in the league. In the past 3 seasons, he’s hit 68 home runs, and the last 2 seasons he led the league in triples. What’s the reason for last season being worse than the past? No idea. He cut down on his strikeouts (albeit also cutting down on walks) but his BABIP was .305. Expect him to get back on track for the 2017 season.
Tulo is no longer a shortstop. He did play there all last season, amassing over 1250 innings at the position, but produced a negative zone rating. Despite that he had a good offensive season, although it doesn’t even hold a candle to his 2012 season in Colorado. That being said, as a second baseman, he should be better defensively, as his age has limited his range, and his bat will be one of the best in the league.
The 38 year old still plays like he’s 28. The $20 million man is the 10th highest paid player in the league, and while he is likely to receive a much smaller contract after this season, he is not the starter just because of the money due to him. He’s had over 4.0 WAR in 3 of the last 4 seasons, and still plays solid defense. To top it off, he is the Phillies captain, and a fan favorite.
The 35 year old utility superstar had a good season last year, posting a 5.1 WAR, good enough for his 3rd best season. Much of his success comes from his terrific knowledge of the strike zone, as his OBP is over .100 points higher than his batting average. He’ll likely have a similar season in 2017.
Ford will be a rookie for the Braves, coming over from the Rays this offseason. While he likely won’t win a Rookie of the Year award, and will also never be a Silver Slugger winner, he will be a consistent player for the Braves. This is all they really need at the hot corner.
Another young hitter on the rise, the Marlins have the ultimate utility man in DeLeón. He’s best served to be a third baseman, but he could start at 6 different positions, and his bat is nothing to shrug about. In his second season as a starter, look for him to continue to progress, getting back towards the .300 level, and around 15 home runs.
Slated to hit fourth for the Mets, he is not your stereotypical cleanup hitter. The first baseman by trade is a strong fielder at third, and that’s what makes him a solid player. Yes, he hits well, but nothing to write home about, and that’ll be expected to continue this season.
Lawrie had a great season for the Phillies, returning to his days of 20+ home run power, while providing solid defense at the hot corner. If he stays on the field, which he has a majority of the time, he’s going to help your team win.
Last three seasons: 5.3, 6.0, 7.3. That’s the WAR that Moustakas has put up for the Nats. That’s good enough for 2nd best of third baseman last season. One of the best hitting third baseman (#2 in batting average, #1 in extra base hits, #2 in total bases, #1 in hits, #2 in RBIs) and he was also #3 in zone rating and defensive efficiency.
Arrington is one of the premier defenders in the league, which is why he’s the starter for the Braves. In 81 games, he posted a +6.9 ZR, which was good enough for 8th in the league, in just half the time of others. No, he won’t be a great hitter, but his defense is so tremendous that he’ll be a good player for a winning team. If he can stay away from the bumps and bruises that have cursed his career, then look for him to be a Gold Glove candidate.
Rojas missed 7 months last year due to a broken bone in the elbow, but if you look to 2015, you’ll see what you can expect from him. He hit .285 and posted a +10.0 zone rating, and ended up winning a Gold Glove award at shortstop. Expect him to be a little rusty coming off of the long injury, but he could be back in contention for the award, as well as providing offense to the team.
Torres spent last season at second base for the Mets, and did well, but this season he looks poised to take over at shortstop from Troy Tulowitzki. While he isn’t going to be a premier defender, he will hold his own, and looks ready to take a jump back up to the offensive production he had in 2015 (.297/11/61).
Roxa has been praised by scouts for years for his ability to make contact, and always profiled him as a potential .300 hitter. He’s never been able to do it, as his rookie season (2014) was the closest he got, which was .273. He’s also never had the arm to be a shortstop, but he’s managed to hold his own over the years at the position.
Figueroa was the best player in the league, based on WAR, tied for the league lead with 8.3. The Nationals shortstop batted leadoff or 3rd in the order, and should do the same again this next season. Despite half his at bats coming at leadoff, he’ll still come near 100 RBIs, which shows just how good of a hitter he is. He also posts solid defense at a position that demands it, which brings his value through the roof.