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Marty’s Musings: NL East preview

A numbers-based preview of the NL East. 

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at New York Mets Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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 in discussing various numbers and metrics that will determine the fate of all 30 MLB teams.

The last in our series previewing all the MLB divisions, we take a glimpse at the National League East (here you can find the AL East / AL West / AL Central / NL West and NL Central). Last season, the Nationals held off the Mets to win the division handily, besting them by eight games. The Marlins made some noise early but fell off in the summer, then lost their star in a tragic boating accident; the future is not very bright in Miami.

FanGraphs and PECOTA are split as to whether the Mets or Nats will win the division; the difference may come down to what team best takes advantage of two rebuilding divisional rivals and another foe in a constant state of disarray.

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

Washington Nationals

2016 Record: 95-67

2016 Results: First place, lost in NLDS to Dodgers (3-2)

2017 FanGraphs Projections: 91-71, first place

2017 PECOTA Projections: 88-74, second place

90.3 — The Nats’ exit velocity last season. They hit their way to the NL East title leading the majors in exit velocity per MLB’s Statcast. Despite Bryce Harper’s raw power, it was Ryan Zimmerman who paced the team with a whopping 93.7 miles per hour, which ended up as the 12th-best in MLB.

51 — Wins against division rivals last season, considerably better than New York’s 40 wins against the NL East. Beating the Mets 12 out of 19 times helped solidify an eight-game divisional lead last season; this year is projected to be closer, so the Nats better keep their divisional foes at bay.

32 — Age of the current Nationals closer, Shawn Kelley. Last season, Kelley posted his best walk rate in seven years (4.4 percent) and the highest strikeout rate of his career (35.7). It’s his job to lose, but there’s certainly potential the Nats go out and trade for a high-caliber reliever with more of a track record.

6.0 — Win drop for Bryce Harper from an amazing 2015 season to a good, but not great 2016. Harper’s batting average took a tumble from .330 to .243 (partly due to a BABIP that fell over 100 points), and his power crashed considerably. Harper’s career ISO of .222 is much lower than the .319 he posted in 2015, but still higher than his .198 from last season.

New York Mets

2016 Record: 95-67

2016 Results: Second place, lost in wild card game to Giants

2017 FanGraphs Projections: 85-75, second place

2017 PECOTA Projections: 89-73, first place

.225/.305/.372 The Mets’ slash line with runners in scoring position. New York ranked dead last with runners on second and/or third base last season. 30th in batting average with RISP, 29th in OBP, and 28th in slugging. If it’s more clustered luck than skill, those numbers should certainly improve.

51.1 — Percentage of the Mets’ runs that came via the long ball. For a team as ‘unclutch’ as the 2016 Mets, a reliance on home runs is not surprising. Of their 671 runs, 336 came from dingers. To put that into historical perspective, it ranks as the third-highest clip in MLB history behind last year’s Orioles (51.9 percent — thanks Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis!) and the 2010 Blue Jays (53.1 percent).

3.57 — FIP for Mets’ starters, the best in the bigs. The Nationals are right there, at 3.58, but New York starters gave up the fewest home runs (tied with the Marlins with 152, despite pitching over 100 more innings than Miami).

1 — Starter went over 190 innings last season, and he’s not even on the team anymore; that would be Bartolo Colon. Next to Colon, Noah Syndergaard took a nice step forward with 182 23 excellent frames. Beyond those two, there’s a huge drop to third-most innings in the rotation (Jacob deGrom’s 148 innings). If the Mets are going to win the division, they need 180+ innings from most of their young studs. Steven Matz is already at least somewhat injured. Drafting, trading, and relying on pitching can be a huge October asset, but they have to position themselves for success first.

Miami Marlins

2016 Record: 79-82

2016 Results: Third place, missed playoffs

2017 FanGraphs Projections: 78-84, third place

2017 PECOTA Projections: 77-85, third place

170 — Inning projection for Wei-Yin Chen, the expected ‘ace’ of the staff, at least by the projections. There was no Plan B for Miami behind Jose Fernandez. While perhaps some people could squint and see a potential wild card run (after all, they had a shot last September), without an ace, it’s a middle pitching staff consisting of unimpressive veterans with limited upside (Edinson Volquez / Dan Straily / Jeff Locke).

43 — Age of Marlins fourth outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. There are few reasons to want to watch this team, but Ichiro is one of them. He’s a cultural icon on both sides of the Pacific, is going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and is nearly just as fun to watch now as he was a decade ago. He’s still a league-average hitter who can swipe some bases despite his age. Oh, and he put up his best walk rate since 2002 last season. Enjoy his twilight.

2 — Outfielders projected for nearly eight combined Wins Above Replacement. The pitching is a mess, the infield leaves much to be desired, but the Marlins at least have two strong outfielders. Christian Yelich had one of the quietest breakouts of 2016. He hit for average (.298) and power (21 home runs) and reached base at a .376 clip, all while snagging nine bases. Giancarlo Stanton, meanwhile, remains one of the league’s most powerful home run hitters. They moved the fences in at Marlins Park, so this year could be a fun one to watch both these thumpers thrive.

Philadelphia Phillies

2016 Record: 71-91

2016 Results: Fourth place, missed playoffs

2017 FanGraphs Projections: 71-91, fifth place

2017 PECOTA Projections: 73-89, fifth place

82 — Team wRC+ for the Phillies last year, easily the worst in the majors. The Padres gave them a decent run (85), and we’ll get to the Braves below (86), but the Phillies’ hitters were abysmal last season. Of the eight players who came to the plate at least 300 times, none had a wRC+ over 113. Freddy Galvis finished the season with the third most PAs for Philly and he posted a weighted runs created plus of 74.

7.1 — Percent walk rate for Philadelphia batters, last in the NL. No team is going to finish above .500 with a .301 OBP, and the Phillies’ lack of patience cemented their basement-dwelling status last season.

2 — Pitchers 24 years of age or younger that are slated in the Phillies rotation. Both Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez will have the wiggle room to grow at the major-league level. If the Phillies hope to contend in 2018 and beyond, it will start with a nice step forward by both starters. Last year Nola had his ups-and-downs, finishing the year with 111 innings of 4.78 ERA. His 3.08 FIP was a good sign, as he kept the ball in the ballpark and limited his walks. Velazquez on the other hand gave up quite a few home runs (21 in 131 innings) and will have to keep the ball in the yard to limit the damage in 2017.

Atlanta Braves

2016 Record: 68-93

2016 Results: Fifth place, missed playoffs

2017 FanGraphs Projections: 73-89, fourth place

2017 PECOTA Projections: 76-86, fourth place

6.0 — Wins out of first base, the most of any first base position in MLB. Freddie Freeman led the charge with 6.1 fWAR (thanks for costing us WAR, Blake Lalli!). Freeman had a better year (by fWAR) than Anthony Rizzo (5.2), Joey Votto (5.0), Miguel Cabrera (4.9) and Paul Goldschmidt (4.8).

122 — Home runs for the 2016 Braves, the worst in the majors. The Marlins were nearly as bad, with 128, but Atlanta showed little pop in an offense that finished with an abysmal 86 wRC+. The worst at-bats came from AJ Pierzynski (41 wRC+ in 259 PAs), Erick Aybar (59 in 368), and Jeff ‘I can’t believe they’re still paying me to play this game’ Francoeur (75 in 276).

7 — Atlanta’s top 100 prospects, per Baseball America. Led by Dansby Swanson (No. 3 on the list), the Braves are well-positioned for the future despite looking like they’ll finish well out of the division in 2017. Led by Swanson, a young core should be well-positioned in 2019, if not sooner. The next year or two will be a bit rough.


3 - 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