Hoping For and Previewing the 2022 Season
Hoping For and Previewing the 2022 Season
by Cary Greene
March 2, 2022
Yankee fans are once again optimistic, as many sites feel good about the Yankees chances to win the World Series this year.
Hoping that baseball returns, it’s that time of year when we wonder how the Yankees stack up to the competition.
Projections, which absolutely have about a four to seven game margin of error, seem to agree on the Yankees regular season at least. Both Fangraphs and PECOTA both think the Yankees are presently a 92 win team. PECOTA sees the Rays as being a 100 win team while Fangraphs actually has them closer to an 87 win team with the AL East coming down to the Yankees and the Blue Jays.
Here is a 30,000 foot fly-over of the Division and where the Yankees look like they will slot in:
First Place: RAYS:
Based on projections, what I can tell you is that the Rays are by far the best defensive team in the AL East. It’s not close. They also have a pitching staff that is projected by both Fangraphs and PECOTA to be every bit as good as the Yankees and the potential exists that it might be significantly better. The Rays farm system is very close to being the best in baseball and that’s quite a feat considering that they recently graduated Wader Franco and Shane McClanahan to the big leagues.
They have a number of other nearly ready prospects such as Shane Baz, Josh Lowe, Vidal Brujan and Taj Bradley. PECOTA seems to think that the Rays are easily the class of the division and based on their organizational philosophy of run suppression, strong defense, team speed and strong offensive production, it’s hard to disagree.
One thing projections like PECOTA don’t predict is the impact of a manager like Kevin Cash and the Tampa roster continually morphs and changes as the season moves along, with a focus on matchup-decision-making and the impact all the favorable matchups make over the course of a full season equates to several games in the win column.
The Rays also have a horde of young pitchers they can bring up and put in favorable situations. The CBA may limit the number of times per season a player can be recalled and then demoted. This could absolutely hurt teams like the Yankees and the Rays. I sometimes wonder whether Brian Cashman was a shuttle bus driver in a previous life, because he too loves to constantly use the Scranton Shuttle to make sure the major league team is at full strength for every game.
Tampa also doesn’t spend a lot of money and their organization is very streamlined and nimble. This gives the Rays an advantage when it comes to operating costs and being highly flexible and it’s all made possible by a great farm system that is producing translatable talent.
I think the Yankees have significant ground to make up here and if PECOTA is as spot-on as I believe they are, the Rays could win the AL East by about 9 games this year.
Anywhere from Second to Fourth Place – Blue Jays:
The Blue Jays are easily as good as the Yankees offensively and their pitching is not that far behind. Defensively, both the Blue Jays and the Yankees are bad. Whatever moves remain to be made this offseason will likely determine whether or not the Blue Jays can edge out the Yankees. Of course losing Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien will create big shoes to fill but as things presently stand, they could use an upgrade at third base and they could also use a stud corner outfielder. Sieya Suzuki of the KBO is a player they have their eyes on.
The Jays could also use a little more pitching. Other players Toronto has shown strong interest in acquiring are Kris Bryant, Jose Ramirez, Trevor Story and Tyler Mahle. It does appear that Toronto is going all-in-to-win and if last season didn’t already serve notice to the rest of the Division, the Blue Jays are vastly improved from where they were a few years ago.
Anywhere from Second to Fourth Place – Yankees:
From a pitching perspective, the Yankees are very good. They need another front of the rotation starter, a sure thing, someone who can slot in behind Gerrit Cole and be a force in the playoffs. That way, if Luis Severino is able to regain ace-level form, he could put the Yankees over the top, but if there were bumps in the road for him, the Yankees could fill the gap between Cole and Montgomery. Offensively, the Yankees need a shortstop, a better plan in center field, a first baseman, and more left-handed power. The offensive strength of the team is corner outfielders.
Regarding the Yankees, I think most projections are counting on players like Luke Voit, Aaron Hicks, Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Judge getting “x” number of bats. Based on injury histories, a lot of the projections amount to speculative data that favors “averages” and therefore with a team like the Yankees, the projections could be very inaccurate. As constructed this could be a 91 or 92 win team, but it could just as easily be a 4th place, 84 win disaster (based on high payroll).
A factor working against the Yankees is that presently, they aren’t particularly deep. Cashman will likely add a significant amount of AAAA depth, like he always does. He hasn’t done much of that yet though. But he probably will become very busy trying to stash proven talent at Triple-A. His signing of Ender Inciarte as a possible depth piece in case (or should I say, for when) Aaron Hicks gets injured sort of shows his and therefore the Yankees strategy. The Yankees believe AAAA depth will help them weather the storms they know are likely to come.
Another major question mark surrounds the back end of the Yankee bullpen. Can Aroldis Chapman still be effective as a high leverage closer in what is a contract year for him? Last year, Chapman struggled mightily and at one point, he had to be removed from closer duties while he figured out how to grip the baseball again. This happened to coincide with the league’s crackdown on Spider Tac. Beyond Chapman, who are the real high-leverage guys in the bullpen? Lucas Luetge again? Will Stephen Ridings take MLB by storm this year?
We know Zack Britton is out for the season and Darren O’Day is gone, as if he were ever here! Will Cashman go out and sign a David Robertson type to provide insurance, or will the Yankees count on Johnathan Loasiga becoming the next Mariano Rivera?
It seems like Brian Cashman understands that the Yankee rotation lacks left handedness. His Trade Deadline deal last July for Andrew Heaney kind of supports my point. Cashman may look to bring in a good lefty starter, someone Aaron Boone could slot in between Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery or Luis Severino.
Two names that come to the forefront are Sean Manaea of the A’s, who may be on the block. He’s affordable in terms of prospects. Another name that comes up is Carlos Rhodon who pitched for the White Sox last season and may be available on a shorter team free agent deal. Maybe Cashman will look to acquire both Rhodon and Manaea and thereby give the Yankees more left-handedness in their rotation. If he goes this route, he may reshape the rotation a bit and perhaps trade Domingo German or Jameson Taillon.
Anywhere from Second to Fourth Place – Red Sox:
The pitching is close, the offense is also close. PECOTA feels the Yankees, the Blue Jays and the Red Sox are all equally good. Second place in the American League East is truly up for grabs and the margin for error is extremely small. What Boston needs is a little bit more pitching and a corner outfielder. They too are rumored to be interested in Seiya Suzuki.
Last Place – Orioles:
Still in full rebuild mode and apparently content to stick with what they’ve got and let their well regarded farm system eventually plug the many holes. They have some good young pitching on the horizon and it may impact the team a little bit in the second half of the year, but they’ll once again likely be out of contention by then.
Once the CBA is finally negotiated and we have a deal in place, I think we will see a highly unusual offseason scrum as teams scramble to shape their rosters. American League East teams will be gunning for a World Series championship. That much is certain. In fact, many teams in baseball will be doing the same thing.
Which MLB Teams are Best Built to Win the World Series?
Recently, I studied past World Series Winners and determined that above average pitching absolutely correlates to winning championships. Some very interesting takeaways emerged from the study.
Looking at how past World Series winners rosters were built since the dawn of World Series play, which dates back to 1903 and spans 117 seasons, there are four basic takeaways that exist that every contending team’s GM should know. They are:
1. 26 of 117 World Series winners had better hitting than pitching (22.2%), so hitting isn’t all that important compared to pitching, but yes, it still matters to a degree because without enough offense, a team can’t take the hill and bring home a championship.
2. How much offense is needed? The average World Series winner had an OPS+ of 103.91, so a team with an OPS+ below this threshold is highly unlikely to hit enough to win it all.
3. Why is pitching more important? The average World Series winner had an ERA+ of 113.66 and this is a highly important stat. Teams below this mark will find it absolutely difficult to win it all.
4. How should this information influence a GM to shape his roster? Thus, on average, the World Series winner has an ERA+ of 9.75 more than its OPS+ and this stat is most related to roster building 101. It’s a stat every contending team’s GM should absolutely use to shape their rosters and best allocate resources.
I concluded during the precursor to this article by comparing each American League East team over the last 5 years running, to the World Series Winner that year. The numbers show the Yankees best chance of winning was in 2017.
If we look at teams that had an ERA+ of 113.66 or higher last season, it’s an impressive list but a lot has changed from then to now. First up is a team that I feel has slipped a long way.
The team with the best overall pitching last year, the Dodgers (136 ERA+) didn’t win the World Series. Their offense went flat when it mattered most and the upstart Braves stole the glory. Three of their four losses to the Braves in the NL Championship series were by a combined total of 4 runs. 3-2, 5-4 and 4-2. A slightly better offense might have made all the difference. The Dodgers regular season OPS+ was a 103 (slightly below where it needed to be).
In the pitching department this offseason, the Dodgers also lost Max Sherzer (208 ERA+) to the Mets and Clayton Kershaw (115 ERA+) remains an unsigned free agent. Kanley Johnson (185 ERA+), Joe Kelley (144 ERA+) and Jimmy Nelson (222 ERA+) are also free agents. Suffice it to say, the Dodgers will probably lose quite a bit of ERA+ dominance over the rest of the league. Therefore, I think the oddsmakers are significantly off on the Dodgers chances. They’ve also lost Corey Seager’s offense so their highly regarded minor league system will need to pony up and contribute. Meanwhile, the Dodgers front office will have to make a number of significant moves.
Next are the two teams I think are the real favorites.
Presently, as things stand I would actually rate the Giants as the most likely team to win the World Series this season. San Francisco sported an ERA+ of 127 last year. The Giants are for real. They’ll need to find a way to offset the loss of Kevin Gausman and also decide whether or not to re-sign Kris Bryant. The Giants are extremely close to winning it all. The moves the Giants front office makes this season may wind up delivering a championship, this team is that close. If they were to sign Carlos Rhodon or trade for
One of Oakland’s potentially available starters, that single move might be all it takes in the pitching department. Sprinkle in a positional move for a bat or two and I’d go so far as to proclaim them prohibitive favorites. Pitching wins championships and the Giants have oodles of it. The Giants 2021 OPS+ was 107, which is good enough. If the Giants make a few positional moves this offseason, watch out!
Milwaukee needs offense and though they traded for Hunter Renfroe, who should help, they are still a few bats away from being able to take the hill. Wouldn’t Nelson Cruz look nice in their lineup, providing the DH is adopted in the National League? The Brew-Crew has the pitching to win, it should be a very interesting offseason for their franchise. Last year the Brewers posted an ERA+ of 123. Based on the fantastic pitching, the Brewers would be my other prohibitive favorite to win a title this season. Last year, the Brewers OPS+ was only 91. This offense needs dramatic improvement and the front office knows it. Look for this to be addressed because Milwaukee can absolutely taste a champagne celebration.
The American League is a little more wide open.
The White Sox:
The Chi-Sox are also built to win a World Series and what they need to happen is for their pitching to get hot in October, instead of having it implode. Beyond that , this team is absolutely good enough to win. Last season, the White Sox had an ERA +of 117 and an OPS+ of 107. This makes Chicago easily good enough to win it all.
The next two teams have work to do if they want any chance of winning.
The Bombers don’t quite have enough offense and their infield is holding their chance of success back. Last year the Yankees had an ERA+ of 115. What stopped them from winning was Gerrit Cole’s late season nose-dive and poor offense (their OPS+ was only 100 and that’s not going to win a World Series). They also need left-handed balance in their lineup. They can also benefit from a Trevor Story signing and a middle of the order hitter to slot in between Judge and Stanton. Perhaps Brian Cashman will also bring back fan favorite David Robertson or look to upgrade the back of the bullpen. Time will tell.
If the Braves bring back Freddie Freeman and focus on making a few upgrades, they have a legitimate shot at repeating. The team is built right. Last year, the Braves had the worst record of any Division winner (88-73), but the reason they won was that they had the pitching and they got timely hitting. The formula for success was there. They had a 114 ERA+ and any team with pitching that strong is a big-time threat.
Perhaps what the Braves need most of all, beyond re-signing Freddie Freeman, is good health. If star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. and starter Mike Soroka can stay on the field, Atlanta suddenly becomes even more scary. Acuña missed the second half after tearing his ACL, while Soroka missed the entire season after re-injuring his Achilles tendon. Atlanta is also probably going to sign a quality reliever as most contenders look to do this in an offseason where they are trying to win it all.
The Braves had an OPS+ of 96 last season, so obviously the loss of Freeman might be enough to take them out of contention, because if they can’t make the playoffs, they can’t repeat! Personally I think Atlanta needs to not only bring Freeman back, but they need a bit more offense and also could use a veteran starter.
Houston could also push the right buttons this offseason and find themselves winning it all. Offensively the Astros will need to find a way to overcome the loss of Carlos Correa., but from a pitching perspective, any team with Justin Verlander in the mix has to be taken seriously. Houston had a 114 ERA+ last year. Add in Verlander and that number goes up a tick. Also factoring in a healthy Alex Bregman and perhaps a move to offset the loss of Correa and Houston is still going to be a major obstacle in the playoffs for any American League team.
Next we have a group of barnstormers. Three teams that have forced their way into to the conversation. A trio of teams that are making every effort to win and they are dangerously close to being able to do just that!
The Red Sox:
Boston has very good starting pitching. If they solidify their bullpen and add a corner outfielder with pop, they will contend for a World Series. The Sox are that close. The offense is about to get a huge boost from slugging left-handed first base prospect Triston Casas who obliterated Triple-A pitching last year and has fancy footwork, soft hands and a rifle arm. If Bloom adds the player he wants, Seiya Suzuki, and Cris Sale rounds back into form, Boston could challenge the Rays for the Division title and they could take the American league pennant. Last year’s ERA+ was 111, without Sale for the bulk of the season.
Offensively, Boston put up a 104 OPS+ last season and that number is sure to go up this year. It could easily climb to the 112-115 range if Bloom pushes the right buttons and Casas steps into the middle of the order and does what he’s capable of doing.
Tampa is easily good enough to win a World Series this year. Losing Tyler Glasnow hurt the Rays last year. He won’t be back any time soon and he may in fact miss all or most of 2022. That said, Shane Baz is poised to smash projections and become an ace. Not to mention, Shane McClanahan is just getting situated and he’s a legit front of the rotation piece. If Corey Kluber pans out, last year’s ERA+ of 108 could bump significantly up. The offense is already easily good enough to win it all. Tampa is presently my preseason pick to win the American League pennant.
Possessing the best front of the rotation in all of baseball, the two-headed monster of Max Scherzer and Jacob DeGrom is formidable. The Metropolitans need to keep adding pitching and also bump up their offense even more, otherwise all the spending will be for naught. Last season’s OPS+ of 94 just isn’t good enough to bring home a championship .
Adding Starling Marte and Mark Canha to their outfield and Eduardo Escobar to the infield instantly makes the lineup a lot more diverse so the Mets have done quite a bit already. If the offense comes together, the Mets do have the pitching needed to win, which makes them my pre-season dark horse pick to win the National League pennant. The team still needs to offset the loss of Aaron Loup, who signed with the Angels, but I believe Cohen isn’t done yet. Look for at least one more big splash and it might be a shocking one as the Mets still need significant pieces.