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Marty’s Musings: AL East preview

A numbers-based preview of the AL East.

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Welcome to ‘Marty's Musings', my weekly column of numbers summarizing the happenings across Major League Baseball. As part of our regular season preview at Beyond the Box Score, I will be your guide discussing various numbers and metrics that will determine the fate of all 30 MLB teams.

The fifth in our series previewing all the MLB divisions, this week we turn our eyes towards a competitive American League East (here you can find the AL West / AL Central / NL West and NL Central).

In 2016, the Red Sox pulled away from both the Blue Jays and Orioles to claim the division, while the Yankees held their own in the wild card race until September. The Red Sox are again projected as the best team in the division, however unlike last year, there is no ‘pushover’ team in the East. With some luck, even the Rays could potentially be in the wild card race come autumn, as both PECOTA and FanGraphs have them near .500.

All projected 2017 records are based on FanGraphs Depth Chart projected standings and PECOTA Depth Charts as of the weekend before publication.

Boston Red Sox

2016 Record: 93-69

2016 Results: First place, lost in ALDS to the Indians (3-0)

2017 FanGraphs Projections: 92-70, first place

2017 PECOTA Projections: 87-75, first place

.282/.348/.461 - Boston’s slash line in 2016 compared to an MLB aggregate slash of .255/.322/.417. The team’s pop came from all places last year including veteran (and now retired) slugger David Ortiz, soon-to-be-DH Hanley Ramirez, and a youthful outfield that includes Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and 2017-rookie-eligible prospect Andrew Benintendi.

.214/.278/.378 - Boston’s slash line in the 2016 ALDS, in which Cleveland swept them in three games. Three of the Red Sox best hitters (Ortiz, Pedroia, and Betts) combined to go 5/31 in the season-ending playoff series. Boston’s pitching was adequate, but the Sox lineup was completely shut down by the Tribe’s starters.

2 - Major prospects traded away to obtain ace Chris Sale. Both Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech are impact prospects but Dave Dombrowski’s Sox are playing for now. Sale last season threw 226.2 excellent innings and finished fifth in strikeouts across all of MLB. With questions about David Price’s elbow (uhhh ohhh), Sale may be even more impactful than initially expected.

3 - Starters age 24 or under in the Boston lineup. 22 year old Andrew Benintendi is slated as the opening day left fielder, while 24 year olds Xander Bogaerts (shortstop) and Mookie Betts (right field) are regulars as well. Boston has additional players to trade on the farm, a good sized budget, and a strong lineup of veterans and young players.

126 - Weighted runs created by David Ortiz last season. Ortiz posted his best year in nearly a decade. Boston is hoping to make up (or at least come close to making up) his production via a full season of Benintendi, and perhaps a revamped Pablo Sandoval. Hanley Ramirez is taking over Ortiz’ DH spot, while Mitch Moreland is Hanley’s backfill.

Toronto Blue Jays

2016 Record: 89-73

2016 Results: Tied for second place, lost in ALCS to the Indians (4-1)

2017 FanGraphs Projections: 86-76, second place

2017 PECOTA Projections: 81-81, second place

995 - Rotation innings for the Jays last season, whose five Opening Day rotation members ended up pitching 152 of the team’s 162 games. It was an amazing display of durability for a team that came in with question marks, including a 41-year-old RA Dickey, and Aaron Sanchez, who had never thrown more than 92 innings in a season.

3.64 - AL leading ERA for the Jays rotation. Not only did Toronto get some serious innings out of their original rotation of five, but they got quality innings out of them as well. Marcus Stroman bounced back after recovering from a torn ACL that took him out for nearly all of 2015. JA Happ also repeated an unexpected 2015 performance.

3/33,000,000 - Years and dollars for Kendrys Morales, who the Blue Jays signed very early in the offseason. As the market for free agent sluggers developed (or rather, never really did develop) it became clear Toronto overpaid for Morales. Taking over for Edwin Encarnacion (who signed with Cleveland for three years and $60 million), Morales is coming off a year where he was only slightly better than league average at the plate (107 wRC+).

January 16 - Date Toronto and Jose Bautista decided on a one-year contract to keep him roaming the Jays’ outfield in 2017. He tested free agency but a deal to his liking never materialized. Bautista is only one of five players to blast 20 or more home runs in hte last seven seasons.

155 - wRC+ for Josh Donaldson, who amassed the most value of any third baseman in the American League last season. He leads the pop in a Toronto offense that relies on the home run pretty frequently. Donaldson posted his best OBP of his career (.404) and his second highest slugging percentage.

Baltimore Orioles

2016 Record: 89-73

2016 Results: Tied for second place, lost in wild card game to the Blue Jays

2017 FanGraphs Projections: 81-81, tied for fourth place

2017 PECOTA Projections: 74-88, fifth place

19 - Stolen bases for the 2016 Orioles. That is not a typo. That is one... nine. Since 1901, only six teams have stolen fewer bags, the most recent being the 1953 Browns. While the stolen base is becoming rarer across baseball, Baltimore takes it to another level.

253 - Home runs for the Orioles, who blasted their way to the most in MLB. The Orioles had seven players with 17+ homers, led by Mark Trumbo (47), Chris Davis (38) and Manny Machado (37).

111.1 - MLB innings for Dylan Bundy, who has suffered from injuries and setbacks throughout his young career, but looks ready to contribute fully to the O’s staff. The Orioles are an offense-first team, but a strong 2017 by Bundy would go a long way to complement Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman in the rotation.

5 - More games the Orioles won last year than what their Pythagorean record showed. In the last five years the Orioles have blown past their projected wins on multiple occasions. They have not only outperformed their pythag record, but they’ve often blown past their projected wins as well. Who can argue with the on-field success of Buck Showalter? Take the 81 and 74 win projections in recent historical context!

New York Yankees

2016 Record: 84-78

2016 Results: Fourth place, missed playoffs

2017 FanGraphs Projections: 81-81, tied for fourth place

2017 PECOTA Projections: 80-82, fourth place

20 - Home runs in only 229 plate appearances for 2016 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Gary Sanchez. Sanchez plays a premium position and destroyed the ball in his abbreviated rookie season. Despite playing only ⅓ of a season (53 games) he still posted a 3.2 fWAR. If the Yankees are to outperform their projections, they’ll need 25-30 home runs from Sanchez to go along with a solid average.

27.4 - Strikeout rate for number-two starter Michael Pineda. Pineda has been the subject of many ups and downs during his two-plus years in the Bronx. He’s in a contract season which will either make him a rich man, or a VERY rich man. He put up the best strikeout rate of his career across the highest number of innings in 2016. A step forward would include limiting hard contact (which hitters generated on ⅓ of all hit pitches).

4 - Offense-first veterans dumped by the Yankees going into 2017. They bid goodbye to Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran in an effort to become younger and more cost-controlled. Combined, those four players only posted 1.2 wins above replacement in total, being dragged down considerably by Rodriguez (-1.2) and Teixeira (-1.1).

24 - Consecutive years of over-.500 baseball in the Bronx. With the two-Wild Card format, any team that is above .500 will be in the playoff hunt come September. This can be both a blessing a curse, as it creates the allure of trying for a run at the pennant, but distracts from a full rebuild. Last year, Brian Cashman navigated the .500 waters beautifully, keeping the Yankees in contention while adding to the farm by trading Andrew Miller (for Clint Frazier and three other Indians prospects) and Aroldis Chapman (which netted Gleyber Torres, Adam Warren, and two other prospects). The trades should pay off dividends in the shorter term, and New York ended up with Chapman back on the roster in 2017 anyway.

10.15 - K/9 innings for Yankee relievers, the best of any bullpen in baseball. Despite trading away Miller and Chapman, the Yankees ranked as one of the best ‘pens in the American League. They finished the year second in the AL in strikeouts, and in fWAR. New York lost Miller but retained Dellin Betances (though they’ve endured some ugly publicity on his arbitration number) and reacquired Chapman.

.817 - The Yankees’ winning percentage when leading after six innings last season. Despite the wow-factor of that number, the Yankees only did slightly better than the league in total, which posted a .811 winning percentage after being up after six innings. A good bullpen is important, but even with a three-headed monster in their pen, the Yankees were just a smidgen better than the league average.

Tampa Bay Rays

2016 Record: 68-94

2016 Results: Fifth place, missed playoffs

2017 FanGraphs Projections: 82-80, third place

2017 PECOTA Projections: 84-78, second place

887 - Strikeouts for Rays starters, best in the American League. Led by Chris Archer’s 233 Ks, the Rays had three pitchers with at least 166 strikeouts. The Rays’ starters fanned a ton of hitters and showed excellent durability; 155 of their 162 games were started by six pitchers. Rumors swirled they would trade at least one pitcher and they ended up dealing Drew Smyly to Seattle for Mallex Smith. Smith came up with the Braves while playing center field, but will move to a corner if and when he is part of the everyday Braves lineup.

59 - Combined home runs given up by Chris Archer (30) and Jake Odorizzi (29). Prior to last season, neither pitcher had given up even 20 despite Archer’s 190+ innings in each of the previous two seasons.

5 - 2016 starts by recovered Tommy John surgery patient Alex Cobb. Cobb will join Archer and Odorizzi at the top of the rotation. His K-rate went down quite a bit in his five starts (from 21.9 in 2014 to 15.4 last season). The recovery will be interesting to watch, seeing as the Rays have Jose De Leon next in line if there’s an injury or sputter in the rotation.

6/53.5 - Tampa Bay and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier agreed to a six-year, $53.5 million extension. He turns 27 next month, and is regarded as one of the best defensive outfielders in the game.

160 - Games played by Evan Longoria in each of the last four seasons. Longoria provides some much-needed production and stability in what otherwise can be described as a disjointed infield. Logan Morrison is penciled in as the everyday first baseman. Morrison’s defense is not particularly good, nor is he a prototypical power bat, and ended last year with a 101 wRC+. Tampa traded away second baseman Logan Forsythe for De Leon, forcing Brad Miller, who started last year at shortstop but ended up at first base, to move to second. Matt Duffy, primarily a third baseman, will man short. The infield defense this season should be... interesting.

.307 - The Rays’ team OBP last season. The Rays ranked 24th MLB runs per game (4.15) despite finishing fourth in the AL in home runs and seventh overall. Their team OBP will have to improve if they’re going to contend with the rest of the division, which may be a tall task with several starters under the .300-mark last season — the worst of whom were regulars Colby Rasmus’ .286 and Corey Dickerson’s .293 OBPs.

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6 - Days to Opening Day!

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano