Division Breakdowns: NL East

The East is a very competitive division with teams that have great talent and spend money. In this division, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best and the best is the ATL Braves! Not only did ATL win the EAST, the NL Pennant, but they also won the World Series! ATL has won this division each of the past 4 seasons. WSH Nationals won it twice before that. ATL has played in the National League Championship game in each of the last two seasons. Don’t forget, the 2nd place team was the PHI Phillies. I say this because of all the moves the NY Mets made in the off-season. NYM has to surpass PHI before it can surpass ATL.

Fanatics
2021 NL EAST Standings

ATL is of only a few NL teams that have a good offense. ATL is above average in almost all of the offensive categories leading the division. This is a major differentiation point. Although, with all the changes to the players in this division for 2022, it will interesting to see if the other teams narrow that gap. Here is a chart of offense for the NL.

2021 NL Offense

I found it somewhat surprising that WSH Nationals had the 2nd highest rank of offense in the division. PHI looks like a team with plenty of power and on-base skills but lacks RBI guys. They are below average in wRAA, wRC+, and OFF, even though they are above in ISO, runs scored, and BB%. NYM and MIA have the most work to do.

NL East Matrix

The above chart shows many things all for 2022, but let’s start with where the teams should have finished the 2021 season. Starting on the right-hand side, PYTH is the Pythagorean wins for last year and BR is the BaseRuns wins for last year. The 2021 column is the average wins based on those two data standings combined. Ideally, it is the number of wins they should have had based on the team’s output. The columns on the left side show projected wins from FG (FanGraphs), BP (Baseball Prospectus), and SB (SuperBook, LV). The blue columns BLEND is an average of the three projections and its winning percentage. We need to start in the yellow column first, then compare 2021 (left off point of 2021), to the expected 2022 performance in the blue BLEND column. ATL won 88 games in 2021 but should have won 92.5 games. These “should have” wins are important. These wins come from the team’s output statistically therefore, it is a gauge of how good they are versus what they actually did. In the case of ATL, they are 4-5 games better than their results. This matters in this way. By doing the same exercise for PHI and NYM, ATL is 12 games better than PHI and they are 13.5 games better than NYM. The actual results were only 6.5 games better than PHI and 13 games better than NYM. This makes it very clear that those teams have a long way to go! Now looking at the projections in the BLUE, we see ATL at 92 wins, NYM at 90, and PHI at 87. Both NYM and PHI have gained ground, but have not surpassed ATL for the top spot. We should examine the teams for a closer look.

Let’s look at the players in the NL East then a breakdown of the teams.

NL East Star Players

This is quite some list! There is a no bigger name in the game that OF Juan Soto of WSH. He leads all of MLB with WAR of 7.4. OFF 60.1. He is expected to score 120 runs with 105 RBI with nearly 40 HRs! Soto is forecast to be the NL MVP! Here is the top 5 in all MLB, and the NL East has two of them!

ATL OF Ronald Acuna JR is the second in the top five. He is coming off a knee injury and will be ATL’s DH until that knee feels good enough to be back in the outfield. He will also start a couple of weeks behind, hence the games played forecast is 139 not 150 like the others. Nonetheless, he is an MVP candidate. Last year’s NL MVP, OF PHI Brice Harper, is 3rd on the list for 2022. He seems like he has been around forever, but he will only be 29 in this season. ATL brings over 1B Matt Olson from OAK to replace iconic 1B Freddie Freeman. Olson is 4th on this list. Another note on these players, they can all play defense too. Look at their DRS metrics! We should expect a better season from SS Francisco Lindor of NYM as he is 5th. Two more ATL Braves show up. Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley. ATL has 4 players on this list. PHI has 2 and NYM has 2 making ATL double the star talent of the others. Here is a did you know for you. Did you know 2B Ozzie Ablies had 30HRs, 103 Runs scored, and 106 RBI? ATL 3B Austin Riley had his break-out season with 33 HRs, 107 RBI while batting .303! This division has cream of the crop pitching too! None other than the best pitcher in the game NYM Jacob DeGrom. He leads the list of star pitchers. He most certainly is a Cy Contender. PHI Zack Wheeler is 2nd on the list which says a lot. He places ahead of Max Scherzer and his counterpart Aaron Nola! Both Scherzer and Nola fall in 3rd and 4th on the list. MIA now shows up with 3 pitchers having Sandy Alcantara lead the way for them and placing 5th on the list. MIA also has Trevor Rogers and Pablo Lopez. ATL now has their pitchers showing up in Charlie Morton and Max Fried, with Ian Anderson at the end. WSH sees Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin making the list too. I feel like Corbin is a guy to watch. I feel like he was washed last season, but projections indicate a better season for him. As you can see, these are great players and scattered amongst all the teams. It is a fight to come out of this division as the winner. I also believe the teams will do self-harm to themselves in terms of wins. I mean that the teams could go .500 against each other thus reducing their total wins numbers. 90 wins may be difficult to achieve because they play each other 19 times. 76 of their games will be against each other leaving 86 remaining. Let’s say a team goes .500 in the division making 38 wins. That team will now have to win 52 of the remaining 86 games just to reach 90 wins! That is a .604 winning percentage against the of the league.

The ATL Braves finished their offseason wonderfully. They added Matt Olson, resigned Eddie Rosario, Kenly Jansen, and Collin McHugh. They took small flyers on Alex Dickerson (formerly SFG), Brock Holt, and Tyler Thornburg. Olson and Rosario again solidify their offense as the best in the East. Jansen and McHugh solidify their bullpen as the best in the East. Their starting pitching will not be as good as NYM, but they are not a bad starting rotation either. This offense has speed, power, and average! They are young with mixed veteran types. Well balanced to attack any pitcher. Acuna will start a couple of weeks behind and will be the DH at the beginning. He will again be the leadoff hitter. Rosario will be the leadoff guy until that point. Albies bats 2nd, Olson 3rd, and Ozuna 4th. Yeah, remember him? He missed most last season and if he plays at an All-Star level, it’s like getting another free agent! Riley, Duval, and Swanson make up the bottom of the lineup with C Travis D’Arnaud in there somewhere. Even their bench has good players. Manny Pina is now the backup catcher, Orlando Arcia (who can play OF/INF), Brock Holt, and Guillermo Heredia. The starting rotation will be looking to add Mike Soroka in the middle of the season. He is a top-of-rotation type guy. Charlie Morton will be their #1 starter. He solidly fits that role, but I would not call him an ace. He will likely be a favorite in most games. Max Fried fits the #2 slot and on some teams would be their #1 starter. These are two of the best pitchers in the NL. Ian Anderson (only 24 years old) is 3rd. He should continue to develop and is already on the list of best in the NL. Huascar Ynoa punched a wall breaking his hand last year causing him to miss half of it, but he emerged as another solid starter. Tucker Davidson (#9 ATL prospect) will be the 5th starter or at least hold a spot until Soroka arrives. The bullpen is the best in the East. They are deep and will get two pitchers back in the middle of the season to add to the mix in Kirby Yates and Jay Jackson. Kenley Jansen will close with Will Smith now getting the 8th. These are two closers! Collin McHugh, Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson, and AJ Minter will bridge the innings to get to the closers. They are going to be a handful in the bullpen. ATL is a well-balanced team that can beat you in many ways!

Let’s talk Mets! I have often said and think this is a place to say it again, teams that “win the off-season” are teams that DO NOT WIN the regular season in year one! There are so many changes to teams that often take one year to gel the new components. The Mets fit this statement very well. First, they have a new manager in Buck Showalter. They have 2 new starting pitchers in Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt. They get Robinson Cano back off a season-long PED suspension. They have a new OF Starling Marte, a new 3B Eduardo Escobar, and another new OF Mark Canha. They have 2 new relief pitchers in Adam Ottovino and Chasen Shreve. This is 9 new faces. I like that they see a need to get better, however, I caution that year one is the year it gets put together. This is a team that lacked offense. Lindor and Jeff McNeil struggled to be star players last year. Both of these guys project better for 2022. Who knows what to expect from Cano, but he is 39 years old this season and missed all of last, making expectations low. I believe the offense will be as good as Marte goes. He is off a career season last year so I expect regression this year. His offensive metrics project more like an average Marte season where his wRC+ is 109 (not 134 from ly) and OBP is .333 (not.383 from ly). Pete Alsonso has yet to play up to his rookie season of 2019. He did hit 37 HRs in 2021 and raised his average over the 2020 season. I expect his rookie season may have been his best, though I think he is capable of 100 RBI and 40HRs. Brandon Nimmo must follow up his quality season of 2021 with one in 2022. If he can get on base enough to allow Marte and Lindor to move runners around, they will be better. Escobar, Canha, and C James McCann are not big offensive threats. Yes, they can each hit for power, but all of them hit for poor average. This seems to be an offense that is better than the year before and with Lindor and McNeil likely to progress, I would expect them to be better. The pitching in NY has always been pretty good, but now it is very good. DeGrom is the best pitcher in the game and he will be followed by Scherzer who might just be the pitcher of the past decade! I would find it rare, very rare, that these two would be underdogs in many situations. I think the key is the sign of Chris Bassitt. He was the OAK number #1 starter but will get the opportunity to pitch 3rd for the Mets. I can see him win more games than does Max Scherzer! Their backend of Carlos Carrasco and Tylor Megill/Taijuan Walker is not anything special. They will need to make dividends of the starting three. They have the 2nd best bullpen in the Est and it is pretty good. Diaz found his way as the closer. My only concern is the reliance on Ottovino. I believe he has lost more than he can show at this point. They still have guys like Seth Lugo and Miguel Castro though. They are not like ATL, but they are good.

The PHI Phillies are another team like the NY Mets in terms of changes. Now they didn’t make as many but their everyday lineup is now better offensively, but worse defensively. They did not do anything to the starting pitching. They did address the bullpen. They brought in FA Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos. These were two of the bigger names in the FA market. Both will be great improvements to the offense, but both will also negatively impact the defense. The bullpen additions are Corey Knebel who will now close the game for PHI, Jeurys Familia, Brad Hand, Ryan Sherriff, and Nick Nelson. It has been a nightmare to bring in the PHI bullpen over the past couple of seasons so they at least tried to address the issue. Even with the additions of Schwarber and Castellanos, this offense is not as deep as ATL nor would it be as deep as NYM if Lindor and Marte hit. However, if Rhys Hoskins plays well, their top 5 hitters will be very good, and a bottom of Jean Segura, Didi Gregorious gives them veteran presence. Alec Bohm could be a key piece for this team. He struggled in his 1st attempt at being the everyday 3B last year but has a very projection so if he plays well, the lineup gets deeper. Bryce Harper won the NL MVP so it is hard to ask for another MVP season. I suspect a regression will be in order here. This team will not have a true leadoff hitter so Roster Resource projects Schwarber as that role. He does not hit for average enough for me but he does draw BBS and had a good OBP projection it might fit. It looks like this for their order. Schwarber, Castellanos, Harper, and Realmuto. That is 3 30+ HR guys in a row! Hoskins slotted 5th is another 30+ HR projection. Question is, where are all the on-base guys? This almost sets up like a team that will only score when they hit home runs. I guess we’ll have to see how they do at creating runs. The pitching staff has two guys at the top who are best in the division type guys. Zack Wheeler is projected as the 2nd best pitcher in the East only behind DeGrom! This does give him and PHI an edge when he throws as his opposing pitcher will not be an ace-level pitcher often. Aaron Nola is the PHI #1. He does have his ups and downs, but when he is on, he can be as good as anyone. PHI does fall off though #3-#5 compared to ATL and NYM. Veteran Kyle Gibson is the #3. He will be 34 years old this year and likely on the backside of his career. Ranger Suarez is #4. He is interesting as he was a reliever that converted nicely to stating games last season. He projects as a solid starter though, so if he can be that, he could be an advantage deeper in the rotation. Zach Eflin is in the rotation but he will be a couple of weeks behind. As stated, many changes in rosters often mean disarray and time for teams to gel. It does not really hold true though for bullpens. These guys just need to know their role. As long as the roles don’t interchange often, they can find a rhythm quickly. I am not sold on this bullpen but they have moved up to 3rd ranked in the East

Boy if only the MIA Marlins could score some runs! They have very talented starting pitchers but rank dead last in the NL in wRAA and wOBA. It means they don’t get on base nor do they generate runs. They were the only team not to have a star player on the East list for batting. Their off-season though addressed some of this so hopefully, this team can be even more competitive this year. They brought in Avisail Garcia and just recently signed Jorge Soler. Soler with big HR power projects at 34. If they can get their better hitters to develop more, Soler and Garcia could capitalize with RBI spots. Both guys project with 80 or so RBIs. The key will be Jazz Chisholm at 2B. He batted just above the league average at .248 ly but his OBP was only .303. He needs to get on base more. He does some pop though projected at 20 HRs. This team doesn’t have a guy who hits near .300. Their best regular projects at .267 in Miguel Rojas SS who is just a punch and Judy hitter. and usually is down in the order. Garret Cooper could be their best hitter. He projects with 20 HRs, .262 avg, and .344 OBP. He has been primarily a platoon player, but with the DH, he could very easily see 500+ abs. Jesus Sanchez and Jesus Aguilar both are 20+ HR projection players as well. Sanchez should have regular playing time this year in the OF as he has been a call-up or part-time player. He is only 24 years old, so his development could be a big factor on this team. That is basically it. Yes, they are better, but I don’t think any one of these players (maybe Soler) would play for ATL, NYM, or PHI. It shows how far they have yet to go. The Marlins can pitch though. Well, they can start games strongly as their bullpen is not strong. Sandy Alcantara has developed into a solid #1 starter. He is their ace. He was one of only a few who threw 200+ innings in 2021. He had an amazing WAR of 4.2, and an ERA of 3.19, yet only went 9-15! He had many tough luck losses where his team just didn’t score. However, you can bet when he pitches, MIA has a good chance to win. Trevor Rogers had a solid season. He is only 24 years old and throws left-handed. He was on an innings limit throwing only 133 last season so he likely get around 160 this year. His ERA was 2.64 and he could only win 7 games in 25 starts! Pablo Lopez is often the guy left out of the conversation here but he shouldn’t be. His ERA was 3.07 last year. He is only 26 years old. These 3 guys are very good. Sixto Sanchez burst onto the scene in 2020. He got hurt and missed all of 2021 and is expected back in the middle of 2022. They got Jesus Luzardo from OAK last year. One of the top pitching prospects in the game has had trouble translating to MLB level. He is only 24 years old and could be another one of those super arms. Elieser Hernandez is not one of the super arms and should be considered more an average pitcher. However, if he is the worst of them, that is pretty good! Max Meyer is their #1 prospect and #58 overall. He should be at the big league level by the season’s end. They can pitch! The bullpen needs some work yet. However, they are not really ready to compete with the upper tier of this division for the crown, so maybe they will address it as they get there.

Washington has been a team that is competing for the division crown but stepped back last year. It is hard to say a team is not competitive when they might have the best player in the game (Juan Soto). They have become very young. They are going to be reliant on prospects and unproven talent to carry them forward. They did bring in 2B Cesar Hernandez, and Nelson Cruz. Cruz needs to be Soto’s protection! WSH needs 1B Josh Bell to be a stud. He hit 37 hRs in 2019 in PIT! They need that Josh Bell on this team! There is no question that Soto can do it all. He is one of very few hitters to walk more than he strikes out! He had 145 BBs with only 93 strikeouts last year. His OBP was .465 with an OPS of .999. He projects at 35 HRs, 120 runs, and 120 RBIs! He projects as the NL MVP! Keibert Ruiz is now the starting catcher. He is the #1 prospect for WSH. He likely will bat 5th. The rest of the order fills out with Lane Thomas 2B, Alcides Escobar SS, Maikel Franco 3B (Carter Keiboom injury), and Victor Robles OF. They just don’t have enough firepower even with Soto! The starting staff used to be Scherzer, Strasburg, then Corbin. Now it is Corbin, Josiah Gray, and Paolo Espino! HUGE difference. Corbin is off his worst career season so maybe he will bounce back some, I think of more as washed, but projections seem to think otherwise. Gray (who they got from the Dodgers) is only 24 years old. He had trouble last season with an ERA of 5.48! He only threw 70 innings and will likely get only 140 or so this year. Espino is 35 years old and a fill-in for sure. He has only 139.2 innings at the big league level and 109 came with WSH last year! This team is so strapped for pitching they resigned Anibal Sanchez! Yes, the same guy who did not pitch all of last year because everyone thought he was washed. Erick Fedde is there too. Stephen Strasburg is aging and getting injured! He went down in July last season and won’t be ready to begin this season which will be his age 33 season. WSH has the worst bullpen in the division.

Let’s summarize this way. ATL should have won 92.5 have games last year and they won 88. I believe this will be a tough division to get 90 wins! They project at 92 wins this year. Their wins total in Vegas is 91.5. I think they are just as good as last year and should be the clear favorite. The NYM are next up as they project at 90 wins! They should have only won 70 last year. Yes, they are better and addressed many areas. I don’t think they win 90 games even though they are better (so is ATL and PHI). I think this is a team that wins 86 games. The PHI are a team that brought in star power but I don’t think are much better than they were. The offense is still reliant on the HR and their pitching is not deep enough in this division. They should have won 80.5 games last year and actually won 82. Let’s say they are marginally better and win 84 games which is still improving. MIA won 67 games last year, but should have won 73! There Las Vegas win total is 73.5, but they are better. I say they get closer to .500 but just shy of 80 games. Lastly, WSH. Should have won 7.25 games and Vegas set their total at 72.5 games. I don’t think they are this good. They only won 67.5 last year and I think they should stay around that number. I like NYM UNDER 90 wins, MIA OVER 73.5 wins, and WSH UNDER 72.5 wins.

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