MLB Free Picks for
Posted on March 26 -- are subject to change.
Pinnacle o81½ -135 BET365 o81½ -110 Sportsinteraction o81½ -130 888Sport
Season Win Total
L.A Angels over 81½ -110
The first thing to note here is that Pinnacle Sports has the Angels over 81½ -135 while BET365 has them over this number at -110. We tend to side with Pinnacle because they have long been known as being very sharp.
Nihilism is the rejection of all religious and moral principles, in the belief that life is meaningless. The Angels, though, not as a team or an organization but as a concept, have been for years fighting for a more brutal and empty sort of nihilism: Whatever meaning their incredible twin poles spin out, the much stronger force of the Angels’ failures—in player development, in Arte Moreno’s indifference, in the flat refusal to accept that going over the luxury tax might actually be the thing any year’s team needs to succeed—wins out. For years they’ve been destroying meaning in baseball in a much different way than the Pirates or Reds by turning so much from their transcendent superstars into an empty expanse of nothingness. This is the year things are meant to be different, and honestly it’s hard to think they won’t be, at least in some ways. But the pull of what the Angels have destroyed makes it hard not to think this year will be more of the same—the only way to keep Shohei Ohtani, if there is any way at all, is to escape the cycle.
Catcher is a great microcosm of each of the Angels’ positional groups. For the first time in a long time, there are plenty of guys around who can do the job—more, in fact, than you strictly need to fill out the field of play, which Arte Moreno appears to have directly prohibited previous general managers from attempting. The only issue with these options, behind the plate and at many other positions, is you’re not exactly sure what a lot of guys have to offer.
Max Stassi in 2020-21 played like he had the Limitless pills. Last year, he played like he had the debilitating side effects from the Limitless pills. His DRC+ (Deserved Runs Created) has trended down from 124 to 91 to 74 in 2022, while his OPS dipped to .570, dismal even for a catcher. Stassi’s stellar framing reputation, as well as the two remaining seasons on his extension, guaranteed his continued presence on the roster, but if both of the players to follow can establish themselves at the big-league level and the 10-year veteran (he debuted with the Astros in 2013) continues to flounder—he also last season posted his first negative DRP since 2016—Stassi could find his roster spot in jeopardy.
Logan O’Hoppe was acquired in one of two Angels-Phillies trades at the deadline last summer, in a challenge swap for Brandon Marsh, who went on to ingratiate himself to Philadelphia fans throughout the postseason and appears a candidate for near-daily play while Bryce Harper is on the mend. It’s a mark of O’Hoppe’s assured second half—he homered 11 times in 131 Double-A PA, post trade—that few have questioned the wisdom of the trade on Los Angeles’ part. He ranked second on the Angels top prospects list, with Jeffrey Paternostro noting, “he should make enough hard contact to get most of the plus raw power into games.” Service time manipulation is the only reason O’Hoppe might not make the Opening Day roster, and the odds are good he claims the starting job by mid-season or earlier. If the Angels are looking for an excuse to stash him, though, they have one.
Matt Thaiss owns one of the stranger developmental paths you’ll see, even in these later, multi-positional days. Since being selected in the first round back in 2016, he’s appeared professionally at just about every position. The thing is that Thaiss has never been particularly good at hitting. His career OPS over 1,553 Triple-A PA’s is .838, which for the PCL is basically average, and his big-league DRC+ is 84. However, for an average defensive catcher, which he appears to be, that’s a perfectly fine level of hitting talent for a back-up. He’s also out of options and has a 1.185 OPS this spring, so the Angels will likely either carry three catchers for as long as the schedule precludes a sixth starter, or option O’Hoppe. Either way, even if you don’t retain as much belief in Stassi as does the projections, the Halos have other choices to make up the difference.
The infield is probably the team’s most unsettled contingent, both in terms of the cast of characters and range of possibility. Jared Walsh was another case of Limitless-listlessness in 2022; he lost 206 points of OPS and underwent surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome last September. He first noticed symptoms back in 2019 and is said to be completely healed, so there’s plenty of reason for optimism in his case—though the fact the surgery has had such polarizing results among pitchers, and is much rarer for batters, offers a significant counterweight. The Angels are reportedly considering platoon options at first, though those splits (.834 OPS v. RHH, .600 vs. LHP) roughly parallel his fall-off after an All-Star 2021, indicating the club has a fall-back plan in place against more than southpaws. Brandon Drury is probably the primary backup, though the depth charts have him slated for time all across the diamond.
If Walsh can rebound, Drury’s best chance to break into an everyday role is at the keystone, where he’s appeared with the second-most frequency as a big leaguer (after third base). The degree he can do so, and get into the lineup in general, depends on his ability to repeat last season’s 113 DRC+ rather than his career mark of 95. A substandard defender, Drury will have to fend off two players who are much more capable in the field, though neither is likely to match his bat. Last year was Luis Rengifo’s first time qualifying as a major leaguer, and he took a huge step, homering 17 times en route to an above-average line and 2.1 WARP. He’s not an ideal shortstop, and he’s swiped 12 bases against 8 caught stealing in his career, so it’s likely last year represents something of a ceiling. But it’d require a pretty stellar showing from Drury to oust Rengifo—though his lack of playing time for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic might have him behind his teammates with only a few days remaining until Opening Day. Rengifo and David Fletcher will both get time on either side of second base, but it’s likely the players spend more time at second and short, respectively.
Between 2019 and 2021 no Angel made as many trips to the plate as Fletcher (1,548), and it wasn’t close. Shohei Ohtani lagged more than 300 PA behind the Orange County native, and Mike Trout was another 250 back. Last year Fletcher appeared in just 61 games spread around three IL trips, the first two for a hip strain that ultimately required adductor surgery. For his career, the 28-year-old has 71% as many triples as he does home runs. Fletch has 14 career long balls and a .082 ISO. He barely ever strikes out (9.6%), and his career 95 DRC+ is actually higher than one might expect given the persistent power outage. Still, despite an extension running through 2025, if anyone’s likely to get squeezed out of playing time it’s Fletcher. Though Gio Urshela was originally slated for a utility role, he’s apparently impressed at shortstop, and his offensive upside (114 DRC+ in 2022) means he’ll likely be one of this club’s several trade acquisitions to receive daily play. And, unless things go very wrong, third base is occupied.
It’s hard to know what to say about Anthony Rendon as he approaches the pivot year of a seven-year contract having missed most of the past two seasons. He was able to make it back for the end of last season, so he didn’t have to sit out the first five games due to a suspension for… fighting in a cast? Yeah, the Angels had a really banner year, why do you ask? DRC+ didn’t lose faith in 2020, as Rendon switched leagues and shed nearly 100 points of OPS, demeriting just four points from his 146 mark for the championship-winning Nationals. He’s been away for so long it’s easy to forget just how good Rendon is: between 2016 and 2019, he had at least 597 PA, 38 doubles, and 20 home runs annually. Recapturing that form, or getting close to it, isn’t necessary for the Angels to have a successful season, but he makes the whole thing a lot more plausible. Imagine if Rendon and the two superstars are all together and all have great years. Wow.
Compared to the infield, where there are plenty of names and not a lot of clarity about how they fit together, the Angels outfield is essentially a one-act play written for three cast members. There’s one star and two supporting players to either side. Hunter Renfroe has logged 9.1 WARP over the last four complete seasons, putting up consistently average WARP totals to go with a consistently average bat. The degree to which his stability in an outfield corner will be a breath of fresh air for Angels fans is a true indictment of their process. That would require both corners to offer average-or-better performance, though, which might ride on which version of Taylor Ward we get. Ward could be an All-Star, or struggle to maintain an average batting line and see his playing time cut into by Mickey Moniak or even Jo Adell, though Moniak’s blazing spring and the presence of Brett Phillips indicates the Angels plan to stash Adell in the minors for a sustained period to get the former blue-chipper back on track.
Then there’s Trout and Ohtani. There’s really little need to provide either an introduction. Trout was one of four batters to slug 40 home runs last year despite failing to qualify after losing time to a back injury, putting up a .999 OPS despite one of the worst stretches of his career prior to his IL trip. Ohtani had the 10th-best OPS among qualifying hitters and, if you like DRA-, had a legitimate case as the best pitcher in baseball last year after completely reinventing his repertoire. Both just completed what they freely admitted were some of the most exciting stretches of their career; they have never in five seasons shared a complete and unhindered campaign and there could not possibly be a better time for it except for the previous half-decade. But, you know: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second-best time is now.
It seems unbelievable, but the Angels rotation could actually be…good. There’s reason to believe any pitcher in the group could and arguably should outpace their projections.
Tyler Anderson, fresh off signing a three-year deal, is almost certain to regress from his 2.57 ERA as a Dodger, though DRA already heavily penalized that figure and Anderson nevertheless ended up with nearly a full win more than he’s currently projected for. He shouldn’t need Dodgers magic to slide into this rotation and continue to provide valuable innings, though he epitomizes the team’s lack of a true no. 2 behind Ohtani as well as anyone. He’s basically certain to see a .257 BABIP spike dramatically, though the Angels will probably be happy if the onetime Rockie can keep his ERA in the threes.
Reid Detmers cut his ERA nearly in half last year, to 3.77, for which he was rewarded with being slotted in third rather than fourth on the Angels SP depth chart. His strikeout and walk rates are basically right in line with league average, and that’s what DRA sees, too. It’s probably not quite as much as the club was hoping from last year’s top-ranked prospect, but a WARP is a WARP is a WARP, and another homegrown lefty had the breakout last year that Detmers didn’t.
Patrick Sandoval had always impressed—no changeup thrown as frequently saw as many whiffs per swing—but he was also frequently injured. His 27 games pitched last year was actually a professional high, even if it’s only an uninterrupted season in the context of a six-man rotation. Like Detmers, not a ton of what Sandoval offers differentiates him from other pitchers, but two starters who came up out of the system sticking in the majors, and in their pre-arb years, no less, is an unqualified win for was the most depleted pitching corps in baseball for what felt like a half-decade.
José Suarez is ordinally the Angels’ fifth starter, but it’s possible the club ends up with a fifth starter-level performance from everyone in their rotation not possessing an MVP trophy. That includes the sixth starter, presumably an out-of-options Tucker Davidson, though Griffin Canning has returned from the back injury that cost him 2022 and will likely work his way into the mix at some point. Also, Chase Silseth sells seashells by the seashore. There’s not a ton to be excited about after the ace here, but one imagines attaining home insurance would be exciting if one’s last five houses burned down.
It’s always difficult to speak about a bullpen as a unit due to the inherent uncertainty involved, but the Angels really made this difficult. His name is Raisel Iglesias and he plays for Atlanta. This would be the second year of his four-year contract; his 73 DRA- at the time of his salary dump trade ranked third among Angels pitchers, with both José Quijada and Jimmy Herget 10 points worse, and those two still 10 points superior to any Halos pitcher with any significant playing time. Ryan Tepera, Aaron Loup, and Andrew Wantz are all fine.
In the end, the Angels look like a pretty good baseball team. 80½ wins is too low. It’s what depth in the rotation and in the field and to some anonymous degree in the bullpen, indicates. More than a quarter of the way into last year the Angels were keeping pace with the Astros, and then they lost 14 games in a row. The rubber band always snaps, so they need to be better longer than that. It’s more than possible the Angels are pretty good throughout the season, better than they have been in years. However, because nobody trusts them, we get a very beatable number. Any team with Trout, Ohtani and Rendon have a great shot to play .500 ball or much better.
L.A Angels over 81½ -110 (Risking 3.3 units - To Win: 3.00)
Posted on March 20. Odds subject to change.
Pinnacle u77½ -112 BET365 u77½ +110 Sportsinteraction u77½ -106 888Sport N/A
Chicago Cubs under 77½ +110 (No bets for us)
It’s a little cliche to say that 2020 feels like it was a decade ago at this point, but when it comes to the Cubs, the sentiment is no less true. Does it feel like they were just in the postseason three years ago? No, chances are good that what you remember, or at least associate the Cubs with, are their 71-91 and 74-88 records the past two seasons, which contained the remnants of The Good Cubs from the previous decade, until they didn’t.
The 2023 season is a bit like starting over, in the sense they’re introducing some of the Cubs they hope will be on the next Good Cubs team, but it might be a very slow start. And much of that has to do with Chicago’s choice in said new Cubs. The starting lineup has five new faces in it, but two of said faces belong to Eric Hosmer and Cody Bellinger, whose virtues at this point are: for the former, how much other teams besides the one for which he plays are paying him; for the latter, the hope that there’s still something there, even though the last time he wasn’t a disappointment actually predates the last time the Cubs were watchable.
Dansby Swanson is good and all, but he’s more a final piece for a team on the cusp than a building block—for instance, the Braves had a whole bunch of Dansby Swansons en route to a World Series in 2021 and over 100 wins in 2022. You have to sign the players when they’re available and all, but given who all was available to bring to Chicago this winter with a large enough check made out in their name, it feels like the Cubs could have gone bigger and tried to get more than one Dansby Swanson for themselves, especially with the NL Central so winnable. The Cardinals won in 2022 essentially by default, while the Brewers, the other team to finish ahead of Chicago in the division’s standings, decided they were going to start trading away present talent for future talent with the schedule balancing itself. Given that, it’s tough not to be disappointed with how the Cubs handled their offseason, but they’re at least headed in the right direction.
Catchers might be a bit alike these days, but one of the standouts just happened to be in Chicago last summer. Willson Contreras, who hit .243/.349/.466 on the season and managed to put up 2.7 WARP (third on the team) in 113 games, defected to the Cardinals. While Yan Gomes isn’t offensive, he’s also not offensive: his Deserved Runs Created (DRC+) was 33 points behind Contreras’ team-leading mark. Gomes is going to be a worse starter than Contreras, and Barnhart a worse partner than Gomes was to Contreras, so… let’s move on.
It’s difficult to see what Hosmer is expected to provide and not consider instead whether paying full price to retain Anthony Rizzo would have been worth more than the savings and a back-end top-100 prospect who remains far off from the majors. We’re here to talk about the future, yes, but said future involves Hosmer, whose hot start to 2022 propped up his final line is not fooling analytic considerations for 2023.
The projections for Nico Hoerner look better than his second base figure: he’ll pick up some playing time at short behind the shiniest new Cub, which would put his mid-level projection about one win behind last year’s breakout total. Another season like last year’s, and there should be more optimism for 2024 on the Hoerner front. Swanson, similarly, is not expected to repeat his 2022 without a bit more evidence to prove that’s who he truly is: Swanson basically just replaces what they lost when Contreras took off for St. Louis. There’s room for optimism there, at least, to believe that the age-28 Swanson that set career-bests in production has at least another couple of years like that in him, including this upcoming one but it’s a guess more than a lock.
Third base is… well, might be really bad. Four players will audition and four players might see time. That would be Christopher Morel, Patrick Wisdom, Zach McKinstry and Edwin Rios. It’s Morel’s job to lose and he probably will. Morel was better than that last year, at least at the plate, but the less said about his fielding, the better. Or is that the fewer opportunities he has to field, the better? Either way, maybe he’ll hit above his modest weight and make up for the glove again, making Hosmer the center of negative attention in the infield.
The outfield situation has less cringing, which has to feel nice if you’re a Cubs’ fan. Ian Happ was good last year, and is expected to be good once more. Simple! Cody Bellinger was not good last year, but analytics see a little bit of whatever it is the Cubs saw in him after he and the Dodgers parted ways in November, which is a positive, in the sense that hey, maybe there’s something left to Bellinger after all, but also discomforting when you consider that a good version of Bellinger is what’s being used to determine the Cubs’ projected record for 2023.
Seiya Suzuki is just 28 years old and coming off of a productive debut in ‘22, and his projection suggests a more impressive sophomore season. While the outfield lacks real depth behind its starters per the reckoning of these projections, Trey Mancini can certainly fill in and do a productive enough job of things. He’s just a bit stretched as the backup at a few positions at the moment, with time expected at first and as a designated hitter. He never quite got things going in his short stint with the Astros, but he got on base at a .347 clip with the Orioles before that, and isn’t that far removed from having some pop in his bat, either. Maybe a full offseason away from the cavern that Camden was turned into will be good for him and shore up the depth a bit.
As for the Cubs’ rotation, hey, there might be something here when you’ve got Marcus Stroman and Jameson Taillon and Drew Smyly and Kyle Hendricks, and there might also be very little. Stroman is usually at least pretty good, but is occasionally great, and maybe this will be one of those great years! It’s at least more likely than it being one of his rare bad ones, right? Taillon never ended up as good as his prospect potential suggested, but he’s still an average pitcher who reliably takes his turn when his ligaments are all attached like they should be. It’s worth noting the Cubs have him throwing a new slider. Drew Smyly could easily beat out his projections, but he’d have to stay on the mound long enough to do so. Kyle Hendricks was a great pitcher back when the Cubs were still making the postseason. He, too, could see a return to the old ways, but at 33 years old and with his homer numbers spiking, maybe that’s less likely than it is for his club. Especially coming off of an injury. It could blow up quickly shou;d Taillon, Smyly and Hendricks all end up on the IL at the same time. Don’t think that can’t happen because it could.
Speaking of homers, if Justin Steele can keep the ball in the park again like he did in 2022, maybe he’ll beat out his own modest projection. If any of these arms go down, prospect Hayden Wesneski, who acquitted himself well in a short stint last year, looks ready to take over but consider the lack of projected playing time: If he’s forced into more big-league innings after initially subbing in for Hendricks (who is recovering from shoulder surgery), he should be able to handle them, with Chicago maybe not even missing whichever arm went down in the process.
The bullpen could use some work. That’s an issue on its own, but when combined with a rotation that is a would guess, it’s even more of a concern. Maybe Brad Boxberger has more left in the tank and maybe Michael Fulmer can keep the ball in the park again, but there’s just too much “maybe” in here to expect or project anything good. The new and more balanced schedule can’t help them out either.
We suppose the Cubs have a chance to not be bad, which is more than you could say about how their past couple of years went. Some of it was self-inflicted, sure, but at least they remembered they could add money to the payroll to attempt to improve the team this past winter. There are massive concerns regarding the starters, the bullpen and the infield defense. Maybe there will be something here besides mediocrity, even if mediocrity is the most likely possibility. We absolutely prefer under 77½ but will pass.
Posted on March 14 -- are subject to change.
Pinnacle u82½ -119 BET365 u83½ -110 Sportsinteraction u83½ -125 888Sport
Season Win Total
Chicago White Sox under 83½ -110
Going into the 2022 season, optimism surrounded the White Sox. The team had waltzed to a Central Division title with 13 games of cushion in 2021 with a 93-69 record. Yes, it was compiled in a weak division, but it was still the third-best record in the league. A blend of exciting young players (Tim Anderson, Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert, Andrew Vaughn, Yoán Moncada, Luis Giolito, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, Garrett Crochet) and solid veterans (José Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, Lance Lynn, Liam Hendriks) looked set to rule the division for years.
It didn’t work out that way. Abreu, who’s gone, and Cease, who was wonderful, were the only players among those mentioned who avoided the injured list. Manager Tony La Russa seemed out of touch at times, intentionally walking batters with two strikes on them, and eventually left the club with health issues of his own. The 2021 division champions spent only 11 days in first place, the last of them on April 20.
Following the disappointing season, the White Sox distinguished themselves by being the only team to earn a grade of F in The Athletic’s wrapup of the offseason. They signed Andrew Benintendi to take over left field from AJ Pollock (departed to the Mariners via free agency) and keep Eloy Jimenez from hurting himself in the field. To replace Johnny Cueto, an end-of-spring-training signee who was third on the club in innings (signed by the Marlins), the White Sox inked Mike Clevinger, who (1) last qualified for the ERA title in 2018, (2) had Tommy John surgery in 2021, (3) was suspended for violating COVID-19 protocols in 2020, and (4) will be evaluated by, and be required to comply with recommendations from a joint treatment board to address accusations of domestic violence.. On top of that self-inflicted wound, closer Liam Hendriks will miss at least the start of the season to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Superficially, this team isn’t that much different from the 2021 division champions. A lot of the names are the same. But they have a rough 2022 on them, and the front office has provided little in the way of reinforcements.
Grandal, long an elite pitch framer with underappreciated on-base skills, had a miserable 2022 in which he began to show his age (now 34). He missed 40 days with back spasms and 10 more with a strained knee. Those injuries lingered even when he did make the field, as he had his worst year at the plate (.202/.301/.269, 84 DRC+) and his defense, formerly elite, was merely very good. Zavala was okay as a #2 but may be a stretch as a no. 1. The all-important catching position will be average on its best day. That’s not a good start for the South Side.
Andrew Vaughn, primarily as a corner outfielder, generated -7.7 DRP (Deserved Runs Prevented) in 2021 and -8.2 in 2022. With Abreu gone, he’ll get to play first base, where he played in college and in his one minor league season in 2019. It’s hoped that the return to a familiar position, more aligned with his abilities (Statcast rated him in the 25th percentile for sprint speed and first percentile for outfield jump) wil unlock his bat, which was fine (110 DRC+) in 2022 but fell short of his no. 14 pre-2021 prospect ranking.
Tim Anderson is the man at SS but there is no way a guy with a 4% walk rate and a .350-plus BABIP can avoid regression, but he breaks the mold, year after year. His worrisome drop in ISO (Isolated Power), from .159 in 2021 to .093 in 2022 can, it’s hoped, be attributed to his portfolio of injuries. He’s one of the sport’s most watchable, dynamic players. DRP hasn’t bought in on his defense, and the analytics project only a 105 DRC+, but again, he breaks the mold.
Yoán Moncada hasn’t matched his uber-prospect pedigree, but he’s a perfectly adequate third baseman, with a double-digit walk rate and .160-plus ISO when healthy. Unfortunately, that adjective was elusive in 2022, with three injured list stints, and the falloff if he’s not available is steep.
The White Sox’ primary second baseman in 2022, Josh Harrison, signed with the Phillies in December. Elvis Andrus, picked up last August from the A’s (who wanted to avoid his $15 million vesting option), looks to be the top choice at the position. He hit .271/.309/.464 after taking over at shortstop from the ailing Anderson. Should he falter—he’s 34, has never played any position other than short in the bigs, and was decidedly below average at the plate between 2018 and his arrival in Chicago—the White Sox have Gonzalez and García available to back up there, or at pretty much any other position. Their versatility—García played five positions last year, Gonzalez four—is helpful. Their bats—59 DRC+ for Gonzalez, 12 for Garcia in 2022—are not. Non-roster invitee Hanser Alberto, who put in time at all four infield positions and pitched in ten games for the Dodgers last year, could contribute as well. Lenyn Sosa, the team’s 11th-ranked prospect, may be its second baseman of the future, but the future probably isn’t 2023.
Andrew Benintendi was the team’s big offseason signing, inking a five-year, $75 million deal to take over left field. He’s only 28, a solid player who doesn’t do anything remarkably well or badly. He’s projected to deliver solid defense and a 107 DRC+. His presence means Jimenéz, the club’s oft-injured top hitter post-Abreu, can avoid the harms inherent in standing in the outfield with a glove on one hand. He’ll still get some reps there, likely against tough lefties that could send Benintendi to the bench.
Luis Robert Jr. dealt with multiple maladies in 2022. His health is vital to the White Sox; when he’s on, he’s a top-third-of-the-lineup bat with pop and speed. The advanced metrics are mixed on his defense, but he’s at worst OK. Like Anderson, he tends to swing at anything relatively close to the plate, and he walks only by appointment, but he makes enough contact (20%-ish strikeout rate) to make things exciting.
The right field job is Oscar Colas’ to lose. The White Sox’ latest top-101 prospect terrified pitchers at three levels last year, hitting for average (.314) and power (.524). He walked a little, 7%, too, but facing major league pitching, that rate is likely to recede, and the 23% strikeout rate to climb. If he stumbles (analytics isn’t optimistic), the incumbent, Sheets, who’ll see time at first and DH as well, will take over. Benintendi, Colas, and Sheets are the only lefty swingers on the team. Moncada is a switch-hitter who’s more effective batting left. Everybody else bats right or, in the case of Grandal and García, is a switch-hitter who’s better from the right side.
Beyond that, we’re looking again at the likes of Gonzalez and García. Burger, another failed-to-launch former top prospect, will back up in the outfield and at third. Céspedes—Yoenis’ younger half-brother—played at Double-A Charlotte last year and could see some late-season action.
Dylan Cease was one of MLB’s top pitchers last year, tied for seventh in WARP (4.5) and DRA- (71), third in ERA (2.20), fourth in whiff rate (33.3%), fifth in strikeout rate (30.4%). He walks a lot of guys—his 10.4% walk rate was the highest among 45 qualifiers by a full percentage point—but if everything else is working, that’s not a problem. And other than a brief stay on the COVID-19 IL in 2021, he’s never missed a turn in the majors. If he gets injured, well, that’s another reason to go under this total.
Beyond that, questions abound. Lance Lynn was wobbly in his return from knee surgery (5.88 ERA through his first 11 starts). He righted the ship the rest of the way (2.18 over his final 10). He’ll be 36 in May and the list of age-36-or-older pitchers with a better-than-average DRA over the past two years is just two seasons of Max Scherzer and Charlie Morton and one each of Justin Verlander and Adam Wainwright. Giolito had the same 11-9 record in 2022 as 2021 but his strikeout rate fell by 2.5% to 25.4%, his walk rate rose by 1.5% to 8.7%, and his DRA- climbed from 89 to 106. It’s unclear which is the outlier. Kopech moved from the bullpen to the rotation last year, saw his strikeout rate drop from 36.1% to 21.3% and his walk rate rise from 8.4% to 11.5%, and missed time with a knee strain and a shoulder inflammation. Clevinger hasn’t had a better-than-average DRA since 2019 and last year had the 36th-lowest strikeout rate, 18.8%, of 140 pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched. Some of his struggles can be blamed on a sore right knee, which required a PRP injection over the winter. (I know someone that had a PRP injection in his knee once. It didn’t do anything. This is not to be confused with clinical evidence).
Having all five starters available and effective all year seems a pretty big ask, and also a vital one. Martin, who bounced between Charlotte and Chicago last year, and 2021 draftee Burke, who needs time at Triple-A, are probably next in line. Lambert, primarily a reliever in 2022 (40 relief appearances, two starts) could fill in as well.
Hendriks’ absence casts a long shadow; he’s not only an outstanding closer, he’s the pitching staff’s Tim Anderson, its emotional center. Manager Pedro Grifol doesn’t intend to go with a single closer in Hendriks’ absence, so Graveman, along with López and Bummer, will all likely get opportunities. Graveman’s 97 mph heat generates weak contact, López generates chases (37% o-Swing rate, 34th among 273 pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched) and avoids walks (4.3%, 14th), and Bummer, the lefty in the trio, has a career 83 DRA- with a 95 mph sinker that is a groundball machine.
The rest of the primary relievers—righties Ruiz and Kelly and lefty Diekman—all strike out a lot of guys (25%-plus rate for all three) and walk more than you’d like (12%-plus for each). Avila is a Rule 5 pickup from the Giants who had a 1.14 ERA, 28% strikeout rate, and 4% unintentional walk rate at High-A and Double-A last year. If he sticks, he’ll get garbage time until he can establish himself. Crochet, last seen generating a 28% strikeout rate (and a 12% walk rate) with his fastball/slider combo in 2021, hopes to return in May from Tommy John surgery. Bryan Shaw’s in camp as an NRI after an ineffective Age-34 season for the Guardians,
You could look at this team and say, correctly, that it’s mostly the same ensemble that easily won the Central two years ago. You could also say, correctly, that they were bit pretty viciously by the injury bug last year, and at least some of that may be bad luck. But in professional sports, staying pat isn’t good enough. The same guys are two years older, and for Grandal, García, Lynn, Graveman, Hendriks, and Anderson, that puts them on the wrong side of 30. The biggest additions to the team—Graveman over the ‘21-’22 offseason, Benintendi over the past one—are fine, but not the frontline starting pitcher or second baseman the team needs. And the Clevinger pickup blew up in management’s faces. It’s reasonable to expect a better performance on offense in 2023, even without Abreu, counting on a return to health for key players. A better performance on the mound is a little harder to envision.
The change in the dugout may prove to be the most momentous. Longtime Royals coach (the last two as bench coach) Grifol takes over the manager role from La Russa. At 53, he’s expected to be more analytics- and player-friendly than the 78-year-old drunk Hall of Famer. His challenge will be to make do with a weak bench behind the stars, a low-ranked farm system, and an owner unwilling to pay for top free agents. Frankly speaking, we have no idea how the South Side will manage to play over .500, as there are so many things that could go wrong and not a lot that could go right. We're going to press a bit on this one and make is a 3 unit wager.
Chicago White Sox u83½ -110 (Risking 3.3 units - To Win: 3.00)
Posted on March 10 -- are subject to change.
Pinnacle 76½ -128 BET365 o76½ -140 Sportsinteraction o76½ -125 888Sport
Season Win Total
Baltimore o76½ -140
Sportsbooks project the Orioles—a team putatively on the rise who won 83 games last year—to fall back into the AL East’s cellar or damn near it with with just 76 wins (and that’s rounding up).
The Orioles have a few things going for them that projections cannot pick up well. They’re projected to be below-average at more positions than not, mostly because the analytics project the median outcome for most of their young players to be in the meh-to-mediocre range. That includes a lot of real talent, some on the Top 100 Prospects, some just graduated or just below that level, all of whom have significant near-term upside not picked up in a median projection.
The Cardinals keep beating projections. In short, it’s that their player development—specifically their hitting development—is at the top of the league, and they consistently get above-median outcomes from young players. It’s too early to say for sure, but Baltimore has shown a lot of signs they’re getting that good at hitting dev too (and it’s probably worth mentioning that Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal are both off the Cardinals staff tree if you go back far enough in their careers). If the Orioles get three or four of their young players to blossom again, the win projection is going to be low.
The Orioles have a lot of options at some of these positions. It’s impossible to predict precisely who of Connor Norby, Jordan Westburg, or Joey Ortiz is going to break out and displace Adam Frazier if he repeats his awful 2022, or which of Colton Cowser or Kyle Stowers is going to suddenly be a 115 Deserved Runs Created (DRC+) slugger. But it’s likely given the breadth and depth of talent that a few guys will blow past the projections, and if the Orioles can sort that out quickly, their upside is closer to the top of the division, not the bottom.
All that said, Baltimore didn’t meaningfully participate in the hot stove this offseason, certainly not like you would’ve expected a rising first-division contender who is currently way underspending their market. It’s hard to know whether to blame the embattled Angelos family or a market misread or something else, but a couple big moves—especially in the pitching department—could’ve made this discussion very different. And if Baltimore falls a bit short of the playoffs instead of way short, they’re probably going to regret not shooting higher than Frazier and Kyle Gibson.
Adley Rutschman is one of baseball’s brightest young stars. He was perhaps the best collegiate hitting prospect of the last decade, was a consensus top five global prospect for the three list cycles he was eligible for, and got MVP votes as a rookie. He’s been one of the best defensive catchers in the sport since he was at Oregon State, and he’s a disciplined, consistent hitter. He’s probably never going to win a batting title or a home run crown, but expect the switch-hitter to be one of the sport’s premiere backstops for the next decade-plus.
The only weakness Rutschman showed in 2022 was difficulty hitting lefties. That may not be real; it wasn’t a noticeable part of his scouting profile and his splits were reversed in the minors in 2021. But assuming it is, the Orioles might be wise to structure his off days around lefty starters. Backup James McCann completely flopped in two years with the Mets, giving back most of his gains with the White Sox, but he does crush lefties. Baltimore picked him up for a song with the Mets paying the vast majority of the two years remaining on his contract, and at worst he’s a usable veteran caddy for their superstar starter.
Ryan Mountcastle is going to be Baltimore’s first baseman. Mountcastle’s hit tool hasn’t held up as well as the O’s once hoped in the majors, as he’s never really improved his swing decisions and whiffs at an alarmingly high rate, and his adventures in the outfield seem over, so the bat does need to carry things now. He has huge power and he’s still only 26 years old, so even tiny improvements on the margins could vault him from a player you might be thinking about replacing sooner than expected to a clear first-division starter.
Only one other player in this group—Gunnar Henderson, the top prospect in all of baseball—is going to start almost every game he’s healthy for. He’s coming off a sublime 2022 where he hit .297/.416/.531 in the high minors and .259/.349/.440 in the majors in August and September. His power and patience makes him the preseason favorite for AL Rookie of the Year. The main uncertainty at the moment is whether he’s going to play his natural shortstop position or get bumped all around the infield; we’re betting he plays more at third than anywhere else, but that might depend as much on what happens around him as Henderson himself
Jorge Mateo started 142 games at short last year for the Orioles. Once a top prospect for the Yankees, Mateo cycled through stints as an up-and-down speed demon utility player in Oakland and San Diego before an August 2021 waiver claim brought him to Baltimore. He showed surprising defensive acumen in what looked like a placeholder spot in 2022. He’s clearly the best defender on the roster, but he probably can’t hit, and if Henderson (or Jordan Westburg or Joey Ortiz) is going to play shortstop in the medium-term it might not be worth letting Mateo block them.
Adam Frazier, a 2021 All-Star, is here hoping for a bounceback. He was traded to San Diego at the deadline that year—ironically causing the chain reaction that landed Mateo on waivers—and simply has not hit even a little bit in the last year and a half. At his best he makes a boatload of contact and a bunch of singles fall in, but players who hit the ball this softly and are this reliant on batting average are prone to a lot of variation, and there’s a whole host of young talent behind him.
Westburg is the closest—but by no means only—threat to veteran playing time here. The No. 74 prospect spent most of last season rotating around the upper-minors infield with Henderson, and only hit a little bit worse (.265/.355/.496). No. 82 prospect Connor Norby also made Triple-A, basically taking Henderson’s spot after promotion. His arm limits him to the right side of the dirt and the outfield, but he hits the ball hard in the air and could displace Frazier by midseason. Ortiz is a major-league ready defender but it’s less clear if he’s going to hit. No. 69 prospect Coby Mayo isn’t going to be an immediate factor, but could be in the third base/outfield mix by the second half. It’s muddled to be sure.
The outfield is a lot less muddled. At least there’s an obvious starting group here. Cedric Mullins has turned into a heck of a player in the two seasons since he stopped switch-hitting. He’s a splendid defender in center and a significant speed/power threat, although the 30/30 season from 2021 might be a stretch to repeat on the power side. He’s also been mentioned far too much in trade rumors because his timetable is ahead of the rest of the team’s. Austin Hays is a nice solid-average regular about whom there is not much interesting to say. Anthony Santander had his best full season last year (121 DRC+). He’s a pretty lousy defender, so finding another outfielder to consign him more to DH work might not be the worst idea.
There’s young talent here as well. Norby is already moonlighting in the outfield, and it’s possible Mayo and Westburg will soon too. Kyle Stowers graduated out of the prospect universe on service time by a week after slugging .527 at Triple-A last year; he’s ready to contribute and should be the 4th guy in the OF/DH mix out of the gates. No. 38 prospect Colton Cowser is knocking on the door already too. His swing decisions and power were just as good as advertised coming out of Sam Houston State, and his defense is actually probably even better; he has a real shot to stick in center now. But he’s developed some concerning in-zone swing-and-miss tendencies, so his hit tool is more of an open question than expected coming out of the 2021 Draft.
The Orioles made Kyle Gibson the crown jewel of their offseason, signing him to a one year, $10 million contract. He’s a perfectly adequate, extremely consistent fourth starter whose DRA- has hovered between 100 and 103 for five consecutive seasons. He also shouldn’t be anywhere near the front of the rotation for a team with pennant aspirations.
Directly behind him is Baltimore’s top offseason trade acquisition, former Oakland “ace” Cole Irvin. DRA-, like most advanced stats, thinks the crafty lefty is a true talent fringe fifth starter because he induces little swing-and-miss and isn’t particularly good at suppressing damage on contact. But he walks nobody and in Oakland’s big park he’s thrown 359.1 innings over the past two seasons with above-average ERAs. Given the extreme suppression of right-handed power from the new left field dimensions at Camden Yards, this team might not be a bad fit for him either.
The top incumbent starter, John Means, had Tommy John surgery 11 months ago and likely won’t pitch until the second half, if at all. Dean Kremer is set to pitch for Team Israel in the WBC and should have a rotation spot on hold for him when he comes back; like Irvin, he doesn’t really induce swing-and-miss and put up a shiny 2022 ERA by managing his walks carefully. Kyle Bradish…well, batters do miss his slider occasionally, and his 99 DRA- last year outstrips most of the lot, but he’s broadly the same as the rest of the crew. Tyler Wells pitched serviceably in 23 starts after transitioning from the bullpen; all of this begs the question why Baltimore’s big free agent signing was Gibson, who isn’t a clear upgrade on the huge glut of fourth and fifth starters already present.
If there’s an actual ace here, it’s obviously Grayson Rodriguez, still the top pitching prospect in baseball. Rodriguez missed much of 2022 with a lat injury and didn’t quite look at his best in what amounted to a few rehab starts in September. His velocity has rebounded back into his standard upper-90s range this spring, so hopefully everything is back on track. When healthy, Rodriguez throws four pitches which project with plus-or-better potential; he has a long history of striking out the world and walking nobody. He probably should’ve been up years ago at this point, but the Orioles have remained extremely service-time conscious, and in that vein he’s having to fight for a rotation spot; we wouldn’t be shocked if he spends three weeks in Triple-A “working on his command” or some such. Also in the mix is No. 95 prospect DL Hall, whose stuff is almost as good as Rodriguez’s and comes from the left side, but who is at risk of moving to the bullpen for a variety of reasons ranging from command/control to injuries (he’s already behind this spring with back issues).
Félix Bautista rose out of obscurity last year to become one of the best relievers in the American League. Armed with triple-digit velocity and a completely unhittable splitter (.087 batting average against and 53% whiff rate), this level of dominance looks as sustainable as any reliever can be.
The rest of this is a traditional decent–but-not-great, low-investment bullpen. The headliners are typical types of “smart team” bullpen arms: a bunch of shrewd waiver claims (Bryan Baker, Cionel Pérez, Austin Voth) and some formerly notable prospects who didn’t make it in the rotation (Dillon Tate, Keegan Akin). For some reason, the Orioles spent a bunch of money on bringing Mychal Givens back in free agency; if you aggregate the $23 million outlaid to him, Gibson, and Frazier—all of whom don’t really project to be better than options already on hand, only steadier—and spent it on one good player…well, maybe things would be better or maybe the O’s know what they’re doing.
This is an interesting number. Baltimore destroyed the projections last year so there could be an opposite reaction this year. The other possibility is that they didn’t overachieve at all and may be even better this year. It’s a tough call but hold a gun to our head and we’d be playing the O’s to go over the number because of the plethora of young and real talent combined with a nice mix of vets. Still at o76½ -120 to -140, there is too much risk and not enough value so it’s a pass.
Posted on March 9 -- are subject to change.
Pinnacle NA BET365 o91½ -125 Sportsinteraction o91½ -125 888Sport
Season Win Total
Toronto Blue Jays over 91½ -125 (No bets for us)
The Jays have now run off back-to-back 90-win seasons—with a 2020 playoff appearance before that—and continue to build a well-balanced roster in pursuit of dethroning the Yankees on top of the AL East. They used their young catching surplus to bolster their outfield ranks, dealing Gabriel Moreno to Arizona for Daulton Varsho, plugging a hole on the grass they admittedly created by shipping off Teoscar Hernandez to Seattle for relief help. Chris Bassitt was signed to lengthen the rotation, and if José Berríos can find some of his Twin Cities form, Toronto will have four above-average or better starters across their five-day swing. The position player side has added some veteran presence in the form of Brandon Belt and Kevin Kiermaier, but the Jays’ season will rise and fall from on the backs of the same young lineup core and questionable relief corps they’ve featured in recent seasons.
Toronto traded one of the brightest young catching prospects—even if he wasn’t technically prospect-eligible—and still have a top-five situation behind the plate. Alejandro Kirk has developed into a plus defender, so while you’d still take his bat (projected 123 DRC+) in the DH spot when he’s not donning the tools of ignorance, he might end up catching more often than not. Meanwhile, Danny Jansen has a very average set of skills. His 2019 framing numbers look like the outlier now, but Jansen is perfectly adequate at all aspects of catcher defense, and has developed a fair bit of game pop, owing to a pull-happy flyball approach. Any team would be happy with one of Jansen or Kirk minding the plate for 110 games a year. Having two starting quality catchers is a good problem to have, and there’s plenty of ways to get both of their bats into the lineup five days a week or so.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. followed up his 2021 MVP-level season with a merely “very good” 2022. He still hits the ball about as hard as any player in baseball, but his intermittent ground ball issues popped up again last season. He’s never posted an average launch angle over 10 degrees, but he beat the ball into the ground too much last season. This is on balance a minor quibble, as he still hit 32 home runs and was 34% better than average by Deserved Runs Created (DRC+). He’s projected similarly for 2023, and while merely a 4-win player feels disappointing, this will only be Vlad Jr.’s age-24 season, and even a slight uptick in his batted ball profile could see him back among the MVP candidates in the American League.
Santiago Espinal might be a bit stretched as an everyday second baseman, but if he’s the worst hitter in your lineup, you are living pretty well. He didn’t maintain the .300 average of his breakout 2021 campaign, but he makes enough good contact to remain within a shout of average with the stick, while being able to hold down three different infield spots. If the batting average slips anymore, you might see Whit Merrifield pick up a bit more playing time than projected. The Jays will also have Addison Barger killing time in Buffalo until an infield spot opens up. He’s a better fit at third base, but is rangy enough to handle the keystone even in a post-shift universe and has far more offensive upside than the incumbent options at second.
Bo Bichette had one of the great bailout months of all-time in 2022. Sitting at .260/.305/.420 as the calendar turned over to September, he hit .406/.444/.662 the rest of the way, raising his OPS nearly 80 points and ending up with nearly a carbon copy of his 2021 All-Star campaign. Bichette and the Jays agreed on a three-year deal to buy out his arb seasons, and while he feels like an incredibly high-variance hitter, the soon-to-be 25-year old feels a lock to hit around .300 with around 25 home runs every year of that deal. You’d be forgiven for imagining that there’s a second gear here, a potential batting title, or 35+ home run season. Bichette has always been able to show that in flashes, but like Guerrero, there’s a few too many ground balls. Unlike Guerrero, Bichette also chases a lot. Part of that is he just swings a lot, and he can do damage on pitches out of the zone, but it does impact his overall quality of contact. If he had Danny Jansen’s contact profile, he’d be an MVP, but perhaps it’s best to just let Bo cook. It’s unclear how much longer he will be cooking at shortstop though. He might be the best organizational fit for second base in the short-to-medium term, as his range and arm have both slid in the wrong direction during his early-20s.
Matt Chapman reined in the Ks a bit in 2022, but has settled into the “merely above-average” portion of his career. He’s still a plus, if not elite, defender at third, and he‘ll hit for power and get on base enough to buoy a batting average likely to sit in the low-.200s. He’ll also be a free agent after this season, but that’s a problem for after this season. Chapman is likely to be a solid regular during it.
The Jays have decent depth on the dirt, Merrfield looked more like the good version of himself in 2022 after the trade, but he’ll be 34 and is best used as a 3-4 day a week player. Brandon Belt dropped 300 points of OPS between 2021 and 2022 and is a 35-year-old corner bat with durability concerns. He’s also not going to be asked to do much more than DH or spell Guerrero at first occasionally, and any bounce back at all will land him in the “good veteran bench bat” role they are functionally paying him to be.
The Jays’ new-look outfield has a bit less ground to cover with the new fences, but should be one of the best defensive groups in the game. Now, it’s not great when you’re leading with the gloves, but hey, George Springer has looked every bit an All-Star at the plate when on the field—which perhaps has been less frequent than Toronto was hoping—and a shift to a corner spot might help save his legs and keep his bat in the lineup more.
Kevin Kiermaier may no longer be at his Platinum Glove peak, but he’s a good defender up-the-middle. Analytics are pretty sour on his bat, predicting something close to his 2022 line. That might lead to his losing playing time in center to new acquisition Dalton Varsho. Varsho was a Gold Glove finalist in left field and graded out well in center in limited playing time. His offensive contributions are going to come almost entirely from his power, but the closer fences in right and right-center make that a pretty viable plan.
If you want to pick one group where the Jays might be a bit thin offensively, it’s the outfield. Kiermaier and Springer have both missed time in recent years, and there’s little in the way of upper-minors depth. Merrifield and Cavan Biggio both have some outfield experience, but are infielders by trade and both of their bats would be stretched by regular time in a corner spot.
Analytics are a bit more bearish on the Jays rotation than we would have expected. Kevin Gausman wasn’t quite as good in 2022 as 2021, but every bit the ace Toronto signed for nine figures, posting a 76 DRA- across 175 innings. He’s projected to be just 10% better than league average in 2023, and while his four-seam did get hit a little harder—and a little more often—last season, his split remains one of the best secondary pitches in baseball. He’s also got a pretty good track record of durability at this point.
Alek Manoah outperformed his DRA by over a run and a half last season. His strikeout and walk rates are pretty unspectacular by modern standards, and his shiny ERA was based on excellent hit and home run suppression. Manoah had a miniscule slugging percentage against his four-seamer, and gets a fair amount of weak contact generally. It’s fair to expect a bit of regression in the ERA, but there is something to his pitch mix that will continue to limit success on balls in play.
Chris Bassitt has made a career out of limiting success on balls in play, and he’s been even better at weak contact inducement than Manoah. The Jays inked him for fewer guaranteed dollars than Taijuan Walker or Jameson Taillon in part because so much of his value comes from outperforming ERA estimators and expected run values, and in part because he’s in his mid-30s. The move from Citi Field to Rogers Centre might exacerbate his occasional issues with the gopher ball, but he’s a high-probability third starter who will give this rotation another arm capable of supplying good innings in bulk.
José Berríos had one of the worst four-seam fastballs in the league in 2022, continuing a downward trend for the pitch. He still threw it about a quarter of the time, which would account for a large portion of his 5+ ERA. His sinker is the far better of his two fastballs, and he badly needs a pitch-mix tweak to get him back towards the success he found in the Twin Cities. As it stands, analytics see a bit of positive regression regardless, and something close to league-average performance when he’s on the mound in 2023.
The fifth starter spot is currently Yusei Kikuchi’s, although he looked better after a move to the pen in 2022. Hyun-Jin Ryu will miss most of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Mitch White cost the Jays a Top 101 prospect in Nick Frasso, and he pitched to a 7+ ERA as a starter for Toronto. Ricky Tiedemann is the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball and did reach Double-A in 2022, but he’s likely more of a second-half option. Yosver Zulueta is closer, but more likely to help out in the pen, and your guess is as good as ours regarding the availability and performance of Nate Pearson in 2023.
Jordan Romano has been one of the best closers in baseball for three seasons now, but the rest of the pen has been an issue for the last few seasons. Toronto opened up a hole in their outfield to help fill it, getting Erik Swanson from the Mariners for Teoscar Hernandez. And despite their very public blow-up in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the Mariners, the Jays pen wasn’t quite as bad last year. Tim Mayza, Yimi Garcia, and Adam Cimber are all respectable medium-leverage arms, and they will get a full season of Zach Pop. They could use one more shutdown relief pitcher, and perhaps Zulueta will fill that role. If nothing else, they have more good options to fill out the late innings than they’ve had in the recent past.
The AL East is inarguably the most competitive division in baseball, and the Jays might reside in the perfect sweet spot of both fun and good. The Yankees are probably a cut above them entering the season—although they are already down one starting pitcher for most of 2023—but can they really ever be considered “fun” by the non-Bleacher-Creatures? The Orioles are certainly fun, but maybe not quite good enough yet. The Rays are the Rays. The Red Sox are flailing a bit at being the Rays, and while Rafael Devers is very fun, they spent most of their offseason marching onto a series of rakes in front of the assembled baseball media. Toronto, meanwhile, might be the perfect MLB.tv team. You’ll usually get a good starter. The lineup is exciting and can beat you in a bunch of different ways—although with the fences moved in, more of those ways are going to be laser beam dingers, not a bad thing. The bullpen means the late innings are rarely boring. Rogers Centre has decent aesthetics for a domed stadium, and the uniforms are always on point. The Jays would be one of the most watchable teams in baseball even if they weren’t a likely playoff team, but they are.
Since so many of you follow the Blue Jays, we wanted to give you a preview of their season and let you decide what you want to do. Personally, we’re not betting it because this number seems to be precisely where it should be. Pass.
Posted on March 2 -- are subject to change.
Pinnacle o86½ -120 BET365 o86½ -130 Sportsinteraction o86½ -130 888Sport -105
Season Win Total
Cleveland o86½ -120
The Guardians enter the 2023 season coming off one of the most exciting events in team history. No, not the Oscar Gonzalez playoff walk off or the AL Central crown in 2022. Those were great, but none compare to the spending of actual dollars on a free agent hitter. Oh, sure, fine it’s Josh Bell, but still. Cleveland’s contact-and-defense approach didn’t do much to impress Deserved Runs Against (DRA-) or Deserved Runs Created (DRC+), which is understandable given the focus they have on avoiding balls in play and power, respectively.
The Guardians ranked in the bottom third of the league in slugging in 2022, but counteracted their general lack of punch with a top-10 batting average and a top half of the league on-base percentage. They were also one of the more aggressive teams on the bases, checking in third in the majors with 119—the new pickoff rules could help them push that figure up even higher in 2023. It all added up to just about a league-average offense—Cleveland was tied for 15th in the league in runs scored with Colorado. Bell should be able to push them higher, but they’ll also need to avoid regression from crucial breakout bats like Steven Kwan, Andres Gimenez, and the aforementioned Gonzalez.
Things are steadier in the rotation, where the club returns each of their top five starters from last year, the top two of whom (Bieber, McKenzie) logged ERAs under 3.00. While the organization always has pitching depth, the first line of starter fill-ins might not inspire much confidence—Konnor Pilkington walked five per nine innings in double-digit starts last year. But there remain intriguing arms galore below the surface: Gavin Williams and Tanner Bibee both landed on some reputable publications Top 101 (as did Daniel Espino, who recently went down with a shoulder injury). Add in Xzavion Curry, Hunter Gaddis, and Joey Cantillo, and the minor league system seems poised to bear more fruit, should any starters hit the IL.
The Guardians are absolutely addicted to incredible defensive catchers who can’t or won’t hit. Their best catcher OPS in the last three seasons was Austin Hedges’ .527 mark in 2021. Zunino hasn’t topped .600 in three of the last four seasons, though the one exception (2021) landed him a down ballot MVP vote, he was so good. At his best, he’s a three-true-outcomes performer who can add tons of value as a framer. If he can’t make it work with the bat, the Guardians top in-house option is Bo Naylor, who had offensive struggles of his own as he was pushed aggressively through the system. Given a bit of time to catch his breath, he pulled through with a dynamic 2022 season, even getting a cup of coffee in the majors. He’s not the defender the Guardians are used to back there, but he’s also not the black hole of a bat they’re used to seeing at the plate from that position. Naylor is the future of the position for the club, assuming they don’t keep throwing glove-only roadblocks in his way.
First base has been one of the Guardians’ sore spots for a few years now, and even with Bell’s inconsistency, he should represent a marked upgrade at the position. His presence makes this one of the better infield groups around, headlined by Jose Ramirez’s consistent, MVP-level abilities—he’s projected for 5.6 WARP. Ramirez was joined in that tier of performance via a breakout season from Andres Gimenez, who jumped from a 78 DRC+ in 2021 to a 118 mark in 2022. His projected DRC+ (105) anticipates some regression—Gimenez’s average and max exit velos are more solid than good, and he put the ball on the ground over 45% of the time—but still forecasts an above-average season for the 2022 breakout.
Amed Rosario actually has a slightly better average exit velocity than Gimenez, and a significantly better max (115 mph), but his swing path means he’s drilling those balls into the ground far too often. A 5° launch angle produced a batted ball profile with grounders more than half the time, each of the last two years. Those streaks that Rosario goes on aren’t complete mirages—but they likely coincide with either a run of elevated launch angles, a bit of BABIP luck on all those grounders, or both. We should also be careful to note his annually high BABIPs are more likely the residue of the pressure he puts on defenses with his speed than luck in general.
Josh Naylor is expected to split time with Bell at first base—neither of them being defensive wizards there. It shouldn’t surprise if Bell sees more time at DH than first base, though, as his -3.7 DRP at first base is markedly worse than Naylor’s -0.7. Neither is what you want, and both will be relied upon to make up with their bats what they lack with their gloves.
The rest of the infield backups are likely to be supplied by the Guardians’ verdant farm system, which is overflowing with middle infield options on the position player side. Gabriel Arias is a premium defender at shortstop, but saw much of his time last year at first base when he was able to get into games. Throw in Tyler Freeman, Juan Brito, and even some off-depth charts options like Jose Tena, and Brayan Rocchio, at the upper levels of the minors for additional depth. Arias, Freeman, and Brito will be first in line, but should they flop in case of injury, Cleveland has many options to turn to for middle infield assistance.
Steven Kwan was a revelation both at the dish and in the field last year, employing his high-contact swing and quality eye to produce a 116 DRC+. Expect more of the same: a 115 DRC+ alongside elite defense in left field. Sometimes the good players leave so much left to say because what makes them good is so obvious, so we’ll leave Kwan with this: He’s an absolute blast to watch on all sides of the ball—toss in his good baserunning and the upcoming rule changes, and it wouldn’t shock to see him eclipse even this sunny projection.
Center fielders and catchers don’t usually have a lot in common, but they do in Cleveland. The org does not much care about the offense offered at either position as long as the defense is elite. Straw fits the strategy: an upper-echelon outfield roamer who ranges from quite poor with the bat (75 DRC+ in 2020) to average (99 DRC+, 2021) to palatable given the defense (80 DRC+, 2022). This WARP projection might even undershoot Straw’s overall contributions, because his projected Deserved Runs Prevented (DRP) is under what he’s been able to produce each of the last two seasons. That said, his projected DRC+ (88) would also be a significant improvement on each of the last two seasons. His 2021 season (3.7 WARP) showed what happens when he marries league-average offense with his defensive abilities, but it’s also the only season in which he’s been able to make that happen. If he can somehow begin to do so with more consistency. it'll only improve our chances of cashing this ticket.
Gonzalez landed on our list of hitters the analytics do not like. The short version is: elevated BABIP, too many ground balls, an allergy to walks, and not-quite-league average contact rate. He had a great rookie season and we can reasonably anticipate growth in some of those categories, but he’s not going to make use of his solid pop unless he starts lifting the ball a bit more often.
Will Brennan emerged as a quality strong-side platoon bat last year, capable of filling in at all three positions, and the club moved upper-minors breakout Will Benson to Cincinnati before spring training, seemingly a vote of confidence in Brennan’s ability to hold the fourth outfielder position all year. George Valera and Jhonkensy Noel are the biggest bats below the surface, and both will likely require an adjustment period in Triple-A. We do not expect either to see meaningful at-bats this year, but another way to read the trade of Benson is that Cleveland would be comfortable turning to one of these two bats should it be required at either outfield or DH
Long the strength of the Guardians, this year’s rotation returns the top five starters from 2022. Bieber returned to form after some early-May struggles. Some velocity returned on his heater, and he shifted away from his curve in favor of that deadly slider a bit more often. While there seems to be some diminishment with Bieber as time rolls on—his strikeout rate dipped eight points from 2021 to 2022, for example—it’s a little difficult to quibble with the results. He hit the 200-inning mark last year after a 2021 season that saw him fall short of 100.
Triston McKenzie looks to be the heir apparent to Bieber’s title as front of the rotation starter. He’s coming off a 3.6 WARP campaign, where he struck out batters at an above-league-average clip, and walked them at a below-league-average rate. So… what gives with the league-average DRA- and middling WARP projection? Chicks might dig the long ball, but DRA- does not. McKenzie surrendered 25 homers last year, 16 of which were solo shots. That figure isn’t exactly an accident—he held a WHIP under 1.000 at the end of the season and was likely even more aggressive than usual in attacking the zone with the bases empty. Still, it’s easy to imagine that variance could push that figure in a different direction pretty easily if he’s giving up that many home runs a year. For a guy who faced durability questions on his way up the organizational ladder, and then ran into a few concerning arm injuries, McKenzie has been remarkably solid the last couple seasons in terms of workload. He just needs to avoid the stiff breezes coming off of Lake Erie or turning sideways and falling down a sidewalk grate, and he should be just fine.
Of the back three, Quantrill and Plesac somewhat fit together as guys who don’t miss many bats and lean on Cleveland’s defense to convert balls in play into outs. Quantrill’s ERA has significantly outpaced his peripherals the last few years, and he can thank the guys behind him for that. Civale is a bit of a different story, showing the best strikeout stuff of his career in 2022 but, like McKenzie, giving up too many home runs in the process. Unlike McKenzie, nearly half of those homers came with men on. Even more importantly, Civale couldn’t stay on the mound, notching only 20 starts. If he can stay upright in 2023, it will be interesting to see if he can keep missing bats thanks to an adjusted pitch mix that saw many more cutters and curveballs than in years past. Cleveland’s rotation doesn’t have to be great. This is the new era of baseball where starters are asked to go four or five strong and let the pens take over.
Cleveland’s bullpen is among the best in the game, ranking fifth in DRA- last year, and they project to be in the top 10 by WARP in 2023. Emmanuel Clase not only pitches at an elite level, but he appeared in a league-leading 77 games last year, and he’s joined by three other Guardian relievers who exceeded 60 innings pitched. Those three (Hentges, Morgan, Stephan), and a suddenly-effective-post-sticky-stuff Karinchak make for a high-quality, high-volume group. With depth beyond those four, and a number of depth starters who could shift to relief waiting in Triple-A, it shouldn’t surprise if Cleveland once again ends the year with a top-five bullpen.
Aside from Bell, a lateral move at catcher, and the internal options matriculating through their system, Cleveland is mostly just running it back after a successful 2022. It’s hard to blame them given how handily they won the division, but Minnesota especially has made a number of moves to potentially challenge for the Central.
If Cleveland takes a step back in terms of W-L record, it’s likely to come down to one or more of these reasons: regression from the 2022 breakouts (Gimenez, Kwan, McKenzie), Minnesota just generally providing stiffer competition, or injuries to key members of the rotation or bullpen. Cleveland won 92 games last year. This total suggests they won’t match it but we’re going to have to disagree. First, a close colleague of ours, who is sharp as a whip and rarely gives his opinion on a wager, believes the Indians are going to be tough as shoe leather this year with the new rules greatly benefiting them. He, too, prefers playing unders to overs so when he is eyeing an over in a season win total, we pay attention. The Guardians are poised to repeat last year’s success and perhaps even surpass it. This is a beatable number.
Cleveland o86½ -120 -120 (Risking 2.4 units - To Win: 2.00)
Posted on February 24. Odds are subject to change.
Pinnacle -76½ -109 BET365 -o75½ -125 SportsInteraction -o75½ -130 888Sport
MLB Season Win Total
Miami over 76½ -109
We are very rarely in the “over” business when it comes to season win totals in any sport but we’re going to make a rare exception and double down on the Marlins this year. We bet ‘em over this near same number last year and ripped up our tickets. This is Round 2.
The Marlins swim alone. Not a single other team last season failed to have one batter break a 100 Deserved Runs Created (DRC+) over at least 250 plate appearances. They are metaphysically alone, too: When the Rays exorcised their Devil in 2008, leaning into the starburst over the humble, harmless fish, they left the Marlins as the only team not nicknamed after a type of person, inanimate object, or land-dwelling animal. Does that mean anything? No, but neither does most of what Miami has done, historically. We’re going to try to make it make sense.
It’s clear Miami GM Kim Ng will once again be working on a shoestring budget after the team began the last four seasons with a payroll in the league’s bottom five, so it’s not about critiquing the Marlins front office for failing to get in on the Carlos Correa sweepstakes. But last season brought aboard four under-the-radar acquisitions to boost the offense, and none of Jorge Soler, Avisaíl García, Joey Wendle, or Jacob Stallings managed a league-average line (both García and Stallings had an OPS beginning with a five). Particularly given that all four appear likely to return as starters with the roster as it’s currently constructed, the primacy of making successful moves this year can’t be overstated—Sandy Alcantara and Jazz Chisholm will never be this young and cost-controlled again. If the window doesn’t start to open this year, it probably never will with this core.
Miami racked up 93 losses last year, and plan to run back the significant majority of the roster. There are plenty of comebacks and breakouts to hope on—and we’ll get there—but it’s clear how much pressure that performance puts on the incoming players to perform. Texas won one game fewer than Miami last year and, despite adding an entire rotation in free agency, has seen aspersions cast on their contender status. Miami, though, can’t leverage their finances to improve: The $25.5 million the Marlins committed this offseason in free agency currently places them 20th in MLB. They have little to spend, and don’t have the ability to move on from signings that don’t pan out. Their flashiest move has been a trade, but those, too, are perilous.
The thing that’s so enticing about free agency is that it adds, theoretically, non-zero sum value to a team’s player pool: Absent financial motive, a front office would only make a trade if it felt the player(s) coming back could contribute as much or more to present or future rosters. That maxim is particularly true for teams where a filled roster spot was slated for replacement-level production. The Marlins don’t have the financial muscle for free agency, so it shouldn’t be expected they can use cash considerations to disrupt traditional trade algebra. Their swaps, then, either need to hit in unexpected ways or are borrowing from the future for the present—not something teams of any market size should fear, but when things have been so bad for so long, the Miami front office needs to start being right.
Luis Arraez, fresh off a batting title, makes some obvious sense as an addition—at the cost of Pablo López plus two prospects. In terms of the deal itself, Arraez is currently controlled through the 2025 season, a year later than López hits free agency. The analytics considers him the slightly better player, projecting 3.4 WARP (compared to 2.6 for López). Last summer, the Marlins were flirting with a .500 record through mid-July; a 4–11 showing heading into the trade deadline nudged them to sell. If Salas or Chourio explode out of the gate while Miami is noncompetitive this season, this move is going to seem bizarre.
Though he’ll have to meet lofty expectations, Arraez brings aboard both what the Marlins need (a good hitter) and what they purport to want (a contact hitter). His 123 DRC+ last season was nine points better than Chisholm’s and a dismaying 30 points better than the sole qualified Marlin. He also plays the same position as Chisholm (who will be moving to the outfield going forward) and has had some injury issues of his own, logging IL stints for both knees and his throwing shoulder. If addressing one logjam by creating another without addressing the core problem sounds like a metaphor for major-league baseball in Florida, we’ll let your imagination fill in the particulars.
Miami’s leaning into contact, hoping a singles and doubles guy fits their spacious park better. Thus, the 28th-ranked team by SLG last year found one of 15 qualified players with a single-digit home run total. Not to imply Arraez is a worse choice than a player who arrives at the same production in a more contemporary fashion, but it’s hard to think changing the shape of the run production will fix the problem. Eating 1200 calories of perfectly seasoned food daily won’t make you feel less hungry. Arraez and free agent addition Jean Segura, plus Chisholm, make for a solid top third of the lineup. But is there a single Marlin whose bat you’d trust beyond that? That’s why their season projection win total is so low but here’s the key to understanding why this could work.
We’re not asking for a goddamn miracle here. We’re asking for 77 lousy victories. All Miami is ever trying to do is compete for a Wild Card spot—their fanbase, especially, knows how much it can be worth. There’s more than enough here to see that coming together. Segura was one of the savviest uses of limited funds possible, at a rate that looks extremely reasonable. Last season was his first time not qualifying for the batting title since breaking into the league a decade ago, and he’s had a DRC+ of at least 107 in five of the last seven years. He provides consistency any team can use, but the Marlins desperately needed. A 92 DRC+ would be right in line with the four Marlins who broke 400 PA last season.
Segura’s consistency makes all the comebacks Miami needs to succeed more palatable. Soler, for instance, never stopped hitting home runs once that faucet opened; his issues in recent seasons have had much more to do with BABIP. Given his last two seasons have comprised three stints for as many teams between 242 and 360 plate appearances, it’d be fair to err toward the two sub-.700 OPS lines as future indicators. Considering the awful BABIP luck (and various injuries) Soler had with Kansas City (in 2021) and Miami (last year), though, it’s tempting to long for that .882 OPS provided normal batted-ball luck in Atlanta. One can run through a similar logic with García, who last year continued to put up premier exit velocities but saw everything else fall apart, though on that front, the projections are less confident of positive regression (91 DRC+).
Time for small sample size theater: Bryan De La Cruz returned to the majors on September 1 with a more stoic batting stance; he didn’t actually get back into a game until the 7th, but from then on his 1.158 OPS was second to only Aaron Judge. He out-hit Bo Bichette, who made headlines for his own late-season resurgence. He hits the ball hard and with consistency, and is much more suited to left field, where he’s now slated, than center. If the overall 98 DRC+ from last season isn’t eye-popping, it’s still better than any 2022 Marlin who batted more times; this is one area the team’s intent to give a player the job and hope for more is fully justified. Miami ranked 29th in MLB by DRC+ last season against an 11th-place finish by DRA-; if they can bring the lineup to par, everything could click.
The Marlins’ starting pitchers collectively earned a 94 DRA- (Deserved Runs Against) last year, ninth in MLB. Alcantara was the major contributor there (76 DRA-), racking up a quarter of Miami starter innings, but López (91) was the team’s only other starter to reach 30 or even 25 outings, shouldn’t be discounted.
There’s talent among the rest of the group, definitely. Even if Jesús Luzardo can’t be penciled in for much beyond 100 innings, that’s enough to contribute a few WARP; Edward Cabrera is armed with the hardest changeup in MLB and, judging by his zero years and 168 days of service time (172 is the threshold at which he would’ve earned a year), the Marlins are ready to ride it; Braxton Garrett is a lefty who barely crosses 90—clap. Trevor Rogers is also, get this, a bounceback candidate. Finally, Johnny Cueto, another free agent addition, will be counted on for 20 or more starts while the newer members of the rotation get their sea legs, but is barely beyond replacement-level at this point if you trust DRA. Whether he can repeat last year’s 3.35 ERA on a 10.6% strikeout-minus-walk rate could end up holding significantly more sway in Miami’s postseason fortunes than anyone is hoping, but if Cueto proves unpalatable the Marlins aren’t hurting for other options to try out. There’s no reason to think the group behind Alcantara can’t help put together a league-average rotation, which is plenty enough to win 76 games or more.
After a season that was almost-invariably bad, the Marlins bet against consistency in hopes that they end up on the right side of variability. Ultimately, we can see it happening. If Cabrera hadn’t exceeded rookie thresholds, he’d be our favorite for NL Rookie of the Year. Chisholm makes sense as a center fielder. Rogers had 2.9 WARP in 2021 and hasn’t lost velocity, which is an argument for his resurgence. Maybe this is the year California’s drought ends, and Luzardo starts 25 games. Maybe the new rules (that rewards speed), will help the Marlins win more games than they otherwise would have. Everything went wrong for the Marlins last year, a very decent team with a very good rotation. Chances are things even up a bit this year and the Fish easily surpass this total. A new skipper (Skip Schumaker) doesn’t hurt either.
Miami over 76½ (Risking 2.18 units - To Win: 2.00)
MLB Historical - Totals
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