Today's Free Picks for
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 -109 (Risking 2.18 units - To Win: 2.00)
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 (Risking 3.60 units - To Win: 3.00)
Posted on March 26 -- are subject to change.
Pinnacle u87½ -135 BET365 u86½ -110 Sportsinteraction u86½ -128 888Sport
Season Win Total
Milwaukee under 85½ -108
Most books have this price at 86½ with some extra vig on the under but over at Pinnacle we found this price but it’s a game less at 85½. Over at Bet365 and some other joints, you could go under 86½ but you would have to lay -125 or more. Your choice but we’re playing it under 85½ because this sure as hell doesn’t look like a 86-win team to us.
The Brewers missed the 2022 playoffs by one game. It would be easy to blame the trade of Josh Hader—for a quartet of players, headlined at the major-league level by Taylor Rogers, for that miss—if not for the fact that Hader managed to underperform Rogers’ 5.48 post-trade ERA by almost two runs. As with any seasonal failure, there’s no one reason it didn’t work, as every deciding factor standing on the shoulders of the millions of other failings that make up a season made a contribution. No, the Brewers didn’t miss the playoffs because of the Hader trade, or Christian Yelich’s power outage, or Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff merely being elite instead of the best 1-2 punch in the game, or Freddy Peralta’s missed time, or or or…they missed the playoffs because of all of those things and then some. That’s how failed seasons work.
Gone from the team that almost but didn’t are Kolten Wong, Jace Peterson, Hunter Renfroe, and Andrew McCutchen. In are Jesse Winker, Garrett Mitchell, Brice Turang, Brian Anderson, and William Contreras. That last name Brewers fans will have the Hader trade to thank, as Esteury Ruiz, who arrived in the trade from San Diego, was sent to Oakland in the three-team deal that saw Atlanta land Sean Murphy and Milwaukee net Contreras. Milwaukee made a bunch of moves to get a little bit worse and a little bit cheaper, and we’re not sure that doesn’t apply to Milwaukee’s first offseason under GM Matt Arnold. “Worse” doesn’t apply to Contreras’ addition, but “cheaper” was absolutely a theme to the club’s offseason.
Wong for Winker was about cash neutral, but Renfroe was almost certainly a salary dump, as the deal netted Milwaukee three Angels pitchers—which, y’know, they kinda need themselves. Aside from Winker, all of the lineup holes are getting filled by 0-3 types or low-level free agent signings like Anderson. Still, it’s not quite a reset in Milwaukee, because their pitching staff will always give them a puncher’s chance at competing—assuming they can survive the season. Potential breakout starter Aaron Ashby is already on the IL for several months? If the season goes haywire, remember, the pieces that add up to a failure began all the way back in spring training.
Now, about that Contreras trade. The short version is it was a heist for Milwaukee, but there are reasons to think Contreras might not immediately replicate 2022’s success. Namely, he produced so many wormburners he could have seamlessly appeared as a villain in Earthworm Jim. Y’know, if he wasn’t born three years after it launched. He also ran a pretty high BABIP in 2022, although there was a lot of hard contact. The problem is he averaged a better exit velo in 2021 and ran a significantly worse BABIP. He could certainly begin elevating the ball and AmFam Park is a good place to hit. Pair that with the Brewers’ ability to improve catcher defense, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Contreras put together a big year.
One example of the Brewers’ work improving catcher defense is the backup backstop, Victor Caratini: After a bunch of seasons of marginal glovework, Caratini saw his glove back up significantly in his one season as a Padre, producing -3.2 framing runs. After landing in Milwaukee, he generated 8.5 framing runs over 640 fewer pitches. He’s not much with the bat, but he can take a walk at the dish and turn a ball into a strike behind it.
Rowdy Tellez was acquired midseason 2021 from the Blue Jays for Trevor Richards and has basically been the Brewers’ best hitter since. His 117 DRC+ led the team, which somewhat explains the problem with the team last year—while they had some offensive depth, there wasn’t enough star power to make it work. While this is something of a down projection for a guy with his talents, Tellez had a negative DRP (Deserved Runs Prevented) last season, and even in a good offensive year, produced 2.0 WARP. Scale that offense back a touch (112 DRC+ projection) and you get the above. Plus, with Winker on board, it becomes tougher to hide him at DH.
While Kolten Wong hasn’t left the largest shoes to fill (he was weirdly bad defensively last year despite a step forward with the bat), it’s not entirely clear how the Brewers will choose to fill them. Brice Turang is the best bet, but he’s never played in the majors and his offensive line at Triple-A doesn’t exactly jump off the page. A shortstop by trade, Turang should adapt well defensively to second base—and he did squeeze in 45 total games in the minors at the keystone, so it’s not entirely new to him. Offensively speaking, Brice’s last name sounds like a model of Dodge truck but he hits more like an ATV. His defense might make his bat worthwhile, but a positive outcome here would look a lot like a Kolten Wong season.
Willy Adames is a DRP darling, grading out as one of the best overall defenders, and at the top of the pile when it comes to range in 2022. Adames regressed from a post-trade 111 DRC+ in Milwaukee in 2021 to a 103 DRC+ in ‘22, but entering his age-27 season we project some progression at the plate. While the Brewers have revamped their lineup, Adames is still going to be one of the main engines for it, so if he’s closer to average than ~10% better than average, it could be another tough season for the Milwaukee offense. It’s not pleasant to consider, but if things go sideways in the first half of the season, the Brewers could seek to move him for a haul—he’d have 1½-seasons left at that point and could provide quite a return. Given his arbitration status, it has to at least be an option if things aren’t going well.
Don’t be fooled by the relatively small amount of playing time for the Brewers starting third baseman—Luis Urías is still slated for 560 plate appearances per most depth charts, he’s just also slated to pick up some time at second base, and a touch at shortstop. Milwaukee has notably gotten a bit more inexpensive over the offseason, but they’ve also gotten quite flexible too. Whereas Mike Brosseau (still around) and Jace Peterson (departed to Oakland) were nominally IF/OF types, free agent pickup Brian Anderson really can slot in at third base or in an outfield corner. That means one fallback plan for a Turang flameout, for example, might be more time for Anderson at third and Urías at second. Regardless of where he’ll play, Urías will be a crucial cog for Milwaukee—he’s been one of their better hitters over the last two seasons, and is a lock to be worth two wins or more over a full slate of at-bats. Keeping him healthy and on the field will lengthen a lineup in desperate need of it. Plus, we’ve already seen what he can do against elite pitching, who’s to say there’s not another gear there. Regarding Abraham Toro and Owen Miller—the less Milwaukee sees of them, the better their season is going. We hope to see a lot of them.
For many of us, it’s time to accept that the power just isn’t coming back for Christian Yelich. He walks a ton, which DRC+ appreciates and is operating on the basis of “old man” skills at this stage. That’s how things go for aging sluggers—the depressing part is Yelich is only 31. It looks like Milwaukee has accepted this and slotted Yelich atop their lineup, where his on-base percentage can still result in plenty of runs. For the dreamers…Yelich’s max exit velo was 117 mph last year, and he averaged 91.5. That’s…really good stuff. The downside is that those are mostly being drummed into the dirt—he ran a staggering 58% ground ball rate. It’s no accident that his elite 2019 season was also the one in which he lifted the ball most, and if he could somehow get back there…well…keep dreaming.
The rest of the outfield is close to a total toss up. There are three rookies in the mix—Garrett Mitchell, Joey Wiemer, and Sal Frelick—plus Tyrone Taylor, who is currently hurt but who has been forgettably solid as a fourth outfielder over his career. He might get the starting looks when healthy.
Mitchell is the best defender of the three and a pure center fielder, though as far as the metrics are concerned, he might as well be hitting with a toothpick. Milwaukee’s no. 3 prospect oozes tools except for the one that might make them all work—the hit tool. Mitchell’s 2022 hitting line in a very brief sample was more than palatable: He rang up an .832 OPS and swiped eight bags in as many chances, showcasing his power-speed combination. He also struck out 41% of the time. While he demonstrated the ability to lay off pitches outside the zone (27.7% O-Swing), his utter inability to connect on pitches outside the zone (43.3%) really hurt him, even if his overall contact rate wasn’t that far under league-average. Put all of that together with his .548 BABIP and you find the discrepancy between Mitchell’s OPS and DRC+ (56). Incidentally, that’s the highest BABIP over at least 65 PA dating back to 1954—by as big a gap between nos. 1 and 2.
It’s looking like Joey Wiemer might break camp in something of an upset, but it’s not exactly clear how Milwaukee will deploy him. Mitchell was banged up in spring training, and with Taylor out they might be looking for center field depth…but Frelick is a better option for that based on scouting reports and overall minor league experience. Wiemer is more in the three-true-outcomes power-and-patience mold, while Frelick would operate more as a table setter (or second leadoff hitter, in all likelihood). While we don’t know who will leave spring training with the club, both Wiemer and Frelick are good bets to see a fair bit of time alongside Yelich and a healthy Taylor.
Jesse Winker might log some time in the outfield, but Milwaukee would be best served by leaving him in the DH spot as much as possible. Winker had about as rough a season as he could have in Seattle, landing in a park that muted his lefty power more than just about any other. He continued to make contact and walk at high rates, he just wasn’t able to slug like he had back in Cincinnati. The future probably lies somewhere in between those two extreme parks, but it’s hard not to like his fit in Milwaukee, where his ability to lift the ball should play better than Seattle. One thing to keep an eye on is that after his best two seasons launching the ball at an angle between 10 and 11 degrees, Winker’s average launch angle shot up to nearly 17 degrees last year, as his average exit velocity tumbled three miles per hour. Fantasy players might want to take a shot at Winkler.
The fate of Milwaukee’s season rests mostly on their rotation. In 2021, they got 28 Freddy Peralta starts. In 2022 that number was 18. That’s probably the difference (all else equal) between missing the playoffs and making them. Expect more of the same this year, as Milwaukee leans on the dominant duo of Burnes and Woodruff to be the foundation of their success. Woodruff will continue to manage his Raynaud’s syndrome, which causes numbness in the extremities, but he was his dominant self after returning from the IL in late June, so we shouldn’t expect anything different heading into this season. Burnes remains in the upper, upper echelon of pitchers, but given the comments he made after going through the arbitration process and his escalating costs, he finds himself in a similar boat as Adames—should things go haywire to open the season, Milwaukee might explore exactly how big a haul they can get for him at the deadline, where any acquiring team would be receiving 1.5 seasons.
The scaffolding will be provided by Peralta and ‘22 breakout Eric Lauer, but we’re going to have to abandon the metaphor there because we don’t know anything else about construction. Lauer’s breakout featured an increase in slider usage and the highest fastball velocity in his career—sitting over 93 mph for the first time. Expect regression, because the goods under the hood did not like what Lauer did last year anyway. He allows fly balls by the bucketful without meaningfully suppressing exit velocities or missing a ton of bats.
Taking Burnes and Woodruff as a given, then, Peralta might well be the most important guy on the staff, especially with the injury to Ashby. Wade Miley is back and already slotted into the fifth starter’s spot, with Adrian Houser in the bullpen to open the season. The starting pitching depth beyond that is like strapping Gary Busey to a rocket ship: ugly, fast, etc. Peralta wasn’t at his best even when on the bump last year, failing to replicate 2021’s top-end production. But the Brewers don’t need him to be the third part of a three-headed monster so much as they need him soaking up innings, rather than resorting to the likes of Jason Alexander for more than a couple starts a year.
Milwaukee has made a habit of churning out good bullpens composed of largely anonymous pitchers. The exception to that this year is Devin Williams, who inherited the closer job from the departed Josh Hader. He was still brilliant post-trade, notching 30 strikeouts in 21 innings, but it paled in comparison to the 66 punchouts in 39 ? innings he had working mostly in a setup role. Still, Williams is one of the most dominant relievers in baseball, and should remain a lockdown closer as long as he doesn’t punch any more walls.
The rest of the cast generates a Q-Score so low you’d have to find them on 8kun (look it up). That doesn’t mean they’ll be bad, though—Milner, Strzelecki, and Bush will likely set up Williams, with Javy Guerra and converted starters Wilson and Houser in middle relief. One wild card is Gus Varland, a Rule 5 pick from the Dodgers who has gotten hit hard this spring (eight hits in 7 ? innings, three homers allowed) but struck out 15 batters against only one walk in that time. They also have a deep cast to mix in throughout the year, including Renfroe-return pieces Junk and Peguero. There’s also Jake Cousins, who was optioned to the minors already, but misses tons of bats and has pitched well in his two brief MLB stints. He is also notably cousins with Kirk Cousins.
Starting pitching is not what it used to be. With so much money invested in starters, they are not being stretched out, instead, they are being babied like a prized offspring from a Kentucky Derby winner. Starters go four, five or six innings. Even six, especially early in the year, will be rare. Managers are instructed to get them out of there quickly because an injury to a stud starter means less fans will attend if they aren’t starting. When Burnes or Woodruff starts, it’ll attract 10,000 or more fans in the stands. A big year for a starting pitcher these days is 10 wins. Very few even get close to 15 wins anymore. 15 is the new 20. 20 wins used to be a benchmark season but 20 win seasons will be more rare than hitting for two cycles in a month.
Give Arnold this: After being part of a pretty successful run relying on a mostly average lineup and elite pitching, he’s doing something different this year. The first two starters are elite and he’s building far more upside—and downside—into the lineup. Contreras and/or Winker could post star-level seasons at the plate, but Mitchell and Turang could also be offensive black holes. Still, always remember that everything is about money and he’s building it this way because it is less expensive. A transition period is, if not a necessity, an inevitability. The Dodgers are doing much the same thing on a much bigger scale. Whether it works or not remains to be seen, but there’s so much that could go wrong here that we must go under.
Milwaukee under 85½ -108 (Risking 3.24 units - To Win: 3.00)
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 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)