Well, the Major League Baseball playoffs get started on Tuesday night with the American League Wild Card game. The National League gets their turn on Wednesday night and divisional play starts up on Thursday.
Wild Card predictions
In the American League Wild Card game the Baltimore Orioles head to Toronto to take on the Blue Jays. Chris Tillman faces off against Marcus Stroman. Tillman has a big edge in ERA over Stroman, though Stroman is better across the board in the peripheral stats and advanced ERA predictors. None of that really matters in a one game situation, and both guys have the potential to dominate. At home, with neither starter being a dominant guy, I’m taking the home team and the Blue Jays.
Over on the National League side the San Francisco Giants travel to New York to take on the Mets. In this match up we’ve got an Ace versus an Ace as Madison Bumgarner takes on Noah Syndergaard. In his last eight postseason games, Bumgarner has an ERA of 0.91. That’s not a typo. Zero point nine one. And that one, it’s only because we are rounding up from 0.9049. Syndergaard hasn’t been quite as good in the postseason, though he’s been plenty good enough. His lone season in the playoffs came last year at age 22 when he struck out 26 batters with just eight walks in 19.0 innings over four games (three starts). The defending National League Champions versus the “we win the World Series in even numbered years” San Francisco Giants. The Giants magic runs out this year and Jay Bruce goes on a tear through the playoffs.
Divisional Round predictions
We will start in the American League since their play will begin Thursday. The wild card winner, in my case the Blue Jays, will take on the Texas Rangers. The Rangers have performed better than any team in history when it comes to 1-run games. Their winning percentage in such games was the best in baseball. Ever. Looking simply at the offense and pitching of the two teams, the Blue Jays have a legitimate advantage. The two offenses are similar, but the Blue Jays pitching was significantly better. Will the Rangers 1-run magic hold up in the playoffs when most games are close? We will find out, but I’m picking the better team and I believe that’s the Blue Jays.
The Boston Red Sox travel to Cleveland to take on the Indians. Boston and Cleveland finished 1-2 in the American League in runs scored, but the Red Sox outscored them by 101 runs on the season. They also finished 1-2 in adjusted ERA+ in the American League, but with Cleveland topping the list at 122 and the Red Sox at 114 (higher is better). The conventional wisdom is that good pitching beats good hitting, but someone ask the 90’s Braves about that theory. Both teams have good pitching and good hitting, but the Red Sox hitting is so much better than the Indians hitting that it gives them the edge in this series.
In the National League the Los Angeles Dodgers travel to Washington to take on the Nationals. On the offensive side of the ledger the two teams are fairly even, both having a 98 OPS+. It’s the pitching that separates these two teams. While the Dodgers have the best pitcher alive, Clayton Kershaw, it’s the Nationals that have a huge advantage with the entire pitching staff. In a short series Clayton Kershaw could make the difference, but I will lean on the overall pitching advantage that heavily favors the Nationals and give them the series.
With the Mets moving on from the wild card game they will travel to Chicago to take on the Cubs. Thor may be a super hero from another universe, but he’s not going to be enough to overcome a vastly superior team in every aspect of the game. The Cubs are the best defensive team in the league. The Cubs are the best offensive team in the league. The Cubs have the best pitching in the league. I will certainly be rooting for Jay Bruce, Thor and the Mets, and while anything can happen in a short series between two good teams, there’s no real reason to think that the Mets are the better team here.
League Championship predictions
The Red Sox will take on the Blue Jays in the ALCS with Boston playing the home team. The pitching between these two is evenly matched with the Red Sox posting a 114 ERA+ to the Blue Jays 113 ERA+. It’s the offense that makes the difference here where the Red Sox just run away with this one. How the pitching lines up could be important here, and that comes down to the previous series play out. If both teams are able to line things up how they want, the edge here goes to the Red Sox because their offense is just on a different level. The wild card in this series is the Blue Jays back end of the bullpen, which is better than the one the Red Sox are bringing to the table, though it’s not en enormous advantage. I will take the Red Sox here.
In the National League we’ve got the current Dusty Baker‘s versus the former Dusty Baker’s. The Nationals will take on the Cubs with Chicago being the host team. As noted in the divisional series the Chicago Cubs are easily the best team in the National League. They’ve got the best player, the best offense, the best defense, the best pitching…. they’ve got everything. Heck, they’ve even got the best manager. And while Dusty Baker wins in the regular season quite often, his list of playoff failures is as long as the line of toothpicks he’s left in his wake. Unless something wild happens, I’d expect the Cubs to win this in five or six games. But, with baseball series, you just never know. I’m taking the Cubs.
World Series predictions
The Boston Red Sox versus the Chicago Cubs. It’s a 2003 baseball fans worst nightmare. In 2016 it’s the Cubs trying to break their curse and the Red Sox going for their fourth World Series in the last 13 years. The Red Sox playing in the World Series puts their offense at a distinct disadvantage as their best hitter, David Ortiz, either has to play in the field or sit on the bench in up to four games. He started one game in the field in 2016. With Ortiz, and with the pitcher hitting more often than not for the Cubs, the edge on offense goes to the Red Sox. But, with the mixed play format, the two offenses are probably even.
It’s the pitching that makes this an easy choice. While the Red Sox pitching was very good this season, the Cubs posted a 128 ERA+ on the season. That is the third best ERA+ since 2000 began (two other teams also posted a 128 mark). Their pitching has been dominant. Like, really, really dominant. As much as it pains me to say it, the Cubs are going to break the curse this year, well, unless the curse does it’s magic. They are simply the best team in baseball, and they are the best in nearly every aspect of the game.
Most Valuable Player
I am not one that gives two craps about how a players team performed when it comes to awards. The best players in the league aren’t shriveling up like a scared high school kid shooting free throws with the game on the line. That just doesn’t happen at this level of sports. When they fail it is because you fail in baseball more than you succeed and the other guys are also pretty darn good at their jobs of preventing you from succeeding.
With that said, the National League MVP should be handed to the best player on the best team this year, but that’s only because he’s actually the best player. Kris Bryant should be a run-away winner of the award. He excelled in all aspects of the game this year. He hit for average (.292), he got on base (.385), he hit for power (.554), he played quality defense (and at multiple positions) and he provided a lot of value on the bases (third most base running value among qualified players – though he drops down some if we add in non-qualifers).
Over in the American League, the MVP award should also be a run-away winner, but my vote is going to go to a player who probably won’t sniff contention. Mike Trout, quite simply, is too good. He’s good at everything. In fact, he’s incredible at most things. He hit .315/.441/.550 in a pitchers ballpark in a division with three ballparks that play quite pitcher friendly. He walked nearly as often as he struck out, was EASILY the best hitter in the league (his weight runs created + was 171 – only David Ortiz at 163 was above 155). The best hitter in the league also happened to steal 30 bases and plays center field? Yeah, that’s the most valuable player alive and it’s not close. The writers are going to screw it up for the fourth time in five years – Mike Trout has been the best player in the American League every year that he’s played a full season, but he’s managed just one MVP Award because his teammates haven’t been good enough to get him into the playoffs.
Also, I’m just going to point out again that it’s impossible for someone to be the best player and provide less value than someone else. That’s not how it works. It’s not how it’s ever worked. The best player is the most valuable player or he wouldn’t be the best player – someone else would be.
Cy Young Award
The American League is an incredibly tight race for the Cy Young Award. Rick Porcello, Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Zach Britton – those are the names you are going to hear the most. With all due respect to how insane the season was for Zach Britton – he posted a 0.54 ERA in 67.0 innings with 47 saves in 47 chances, I simply can’t vote for a guy who threw 67.0 innings over guys that threw 220.0 innings. It wouldn’t surprise me if he actually wins the Award, but I just can’t give him the vote. For me, by the slimmest of margins, I’d give my vote to Corey Kluber. He threw 215.0 innings this season and led the league in ERA+ (which is ERA adjusted for the parks pitched in). I can easily make the argument to give the award to Porcello, Sale or Verlander as well, so there’s no real gripe here as long as one of those four guys win it.
In the National League things were a little bit easier for me. Max Scherzer gets the nod here. He led the league in innings pitched, strikeouts, strikeout-to-walk ratio and WHIP. Innings matter for me when it comes to the Cy Young Award, and while a few pitchers may have been slightly better when it comes to some of the peripherals or peripheral based ERA estimators than Scherzer was, the guy ate up a ton of innings and was still really, really good. Easy call for me.
Rookie of the Year
The National League Rookie of the Year Award is the easiest pick to make in a while. Corey Seager is a legitimate MVP candidate. He hit .308/.365/.512 this season for the Dodgers and played in 157 games. He finished second in the league overall in WAR. Easy, easy choice here.
In the American League I really, really want to vote for Gary Sanchez. The guy hit .299/.376/.657 with 20 home runs in 53 games. But, it was just 53 games. He posted 3.1 WAR in that time, which, over the full season is almost as good as Mike Trout. I think how long you played matters though and for that reason I would give my vote to Michael Fulmer. He made 26 starts for the Tigers and posted a 3.06 ERA. He threw 159.0 innings with a 1.12 WHIP to go with 132 strikeouts and 42 walks. It’s not an easy call, and I could easily vote for Sanchez because he was an absolute run-away MVP caliber player in most years for the third of the season that he played – but the limited playing time holds me back. If you asked me tomorrow I may have a different opinion.