This is the first installment in a six-part series in which I will go division by division and recap the biggest storylines of each team’s season. To find the recaps for other divisions, follow the links below.
All WAR metrics are fWAR unless otherwise stated.
Washington Nationals (97-65, .599)
It pains me to say this as a Mets fan, but the Nationals look scary heading into the postseason. They made quick work of the NL East, going a combined 47-28 (.627) against divisional opponents and winning the division by over 20 games. It certainly helps that they only had to play 31% of their games against teams at or above .500, but that is mostly a product of playing in the worst division in baseball. That being said, they did have a .580 winning percentage (29-21) against teams at or above .500, which is not too far removed from their season win percentage of (.599). They were missing RF Bryce Harper from August 13th to September 26th due to his knee injury and went 26-16 (.619) without him. The Nats’ 24-year-old shortstop Trea Turner missed 51 games with a broken wrist and the team went 32-19 (.627) while he was out. They traded for CF Adam Eaton before the season and he went on the disabled list for the remainder of the season with a torn left ACL after playing in only 23 games.
Basically, this team is good. They’ve been winning games without some of their best players (granted, it hasn’t always been against the best competition), and I haven’t even begun to talk about their pitching staff. Nationals starters have pitched the most innings of any team in baseball and have done so with a 3.63 ERA and 1.20 WHIP that rank fourth and third in baseball (third and second in the National League) respectively.
The Nationals leaders in rWAR this season are three pitchers: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez, and this is including Strasburg missing nearly a month of time with a nerve impingement. fWAR tends to look less favorably upon pitchers because Fangraphs uses FIP (fielding independent pitching, a sabermetric ERA estimator) in its WAR calculation, while Baseball Reference uses runs allowed by a pitcher and then scales that for defense and park. According to Fangraphs, the Washington pitching triumvirate has amassed only 14.9 WAR as opposed to the 20.4 WAR they have compiled by Baseball Reference’s metric. They also have the NL co-leader in fWAR, Anthony Rendon, in addition to two other 4-WAR players: Bryce Harper, and Daniel Murphy.
The only blemish on an otherwise outstanding 2017 for the Nationals is the bullpen, and even that has turned around since the non-waiver trade deadline. For starters (no pun intended), the Nats have gone through four different closers this season: Shawn Kelley, Koda Glover, Blake Treinen, and now their incumbent closer, Sean Doolittle, who was acquired in a trade with Oakland (the Nats shipped Treinen off in that deal). This is not a sign of a stable or consistent bullpen, and the numbers reflect that. Prior to the July 31 deadline, the Nationals had a 5.05 ERA (last in the NL), and a 71.2% strand rate (second-to-last in the NL), and this is all while having the fewest bullpen innings pitched of any team in baseball. In the first four months of the season, the Nationals bullpen arms did not pitch a lot, and when they did, they were not good. Things changed after the July 31st trade deadline, when they acquired the aforementioned Doolittle from the Oakland A’s in addition to veteran reliever Ryan Madson. They didn’t stop the bullpen improvements there, though, adding Twins closer Brandon Kintzler to their bullpen in a deal announced at the deadline. The moves paid off in spades; the Nationals have compiled a 3.05 bullpen ERA since the trade deadline, good for second in the National League, and a 1.10 bullpen WHIP, which is tied for the best bullpen WHIP of any MLB team since the start of August.
In short, the Nationals were really good at hitting and starting pitching until July 31, and then they became good at everything. They addressed their only major need at the deadline, and they will be a tough team for the Cubs to take down in the NLDS. Not to mention the fact that they were .500 or better the entire season and have been in first in the NL East since April 13th. They also have the likely National League Cy Young, Max Scherzer, leading their staff and a candidate for NL MVP, Anthony Rendon, hitting in the heart of their lineup. This team is scary heading into the playoffs.
National League hitter ranks: 819 Runs scored (3rd), 215 HR (7th), 108 SB (3rd), .266/.332/.449 triple-slash (3rd/5th/1st), 26.1 WAR (3rd)
National League pitcher ranks: 3.88 ERA (3rd), 24.0% K% (3rd), 1.24 WHIP (2nd), 19.8 WAR (3rd)
Miami Marlins (77-85, .475)
2017 was the eighth consecutive season under .500 for the Marlins. The only surprise about the final record is that it got them second place in the National League East. I don’t think anyone pegged the Marlins as big contenders this year, so I suppose you could say the team lived up to expectations. This was actually quite the eventful season for the Marlins, though, so let’s dive in.
I have to begin with Giancarlo Stanton. He led all of baseball with 59 HR this year, and would likely be in the MVP conversation if the Marlins didn’t finish eight games under .500. This is what Stanton can do in a full, healthy season, and he looked a three hundred million dollar man this year, so I would be surprised if the new ownership traded him (I’ll get to that in a minute) because he is the cornerstone of this franchise. Stanton leads baseball in just about every power metric (HR, SLG, Isolated Power), and he’s tied for the National League lead in fWAR, despite only posting 2.9 fWAR in the first half (that put him 10th in NL). Stanton’s 33 second half home runs are more than the season total of all but 26 hitters in baseball. He hit more HR than 94.0% (409/435) of players with 100 PA this season. That means that if you counted first half and second half Stanton has separate players, second half Stanton would be tied for 22nd in baseball in HR in less than half as many games as everyone else. In short, he’s good.
And that ownership change I mentioned earlier? Jeffrey Loria finally sold the team, or at least agreed to do so pending approval from all the necessary entities. I would not be surprised if every single citizen of Miami-Dade County decides to rejoice when Loria officially loses the team, considering that he is widely viewed as the worst owner in baseball, and possibly in any of the four major North American sports.
Derek Jeter is headlining the new ownership group, though he only has a 4% stake in the team, and he’s already begun to clean house. According to Sports Illustrated, Jeter has already fired four of the team’s special assistants, two of whom are in the Hall of Fame (Andre Dawson and Tony Perez). Jeter also apparently elected to have someone else inform the gentlemen he was firing that they were being fired, which does not seem like a good start to the Jeter ownership era.
Back to the on-field product, though, the Marlins enjoyed great seasons from LF Marcell Ozuna and 1B Justin Bour. Ozuna triple-slashed a ridiculous .312/.376/.548, with each leg representing improvements of 43 points, 55 points, and 93 points, respectively, over his previous career-highs. He also launched 37 long balls which is 14 more than his previous career-high mark of 23 (2014 and 2016). Bour also set career-highs in each leg of his triple slash while knocking 25 dingers in an injury-shortened season (Bour played only 108 games).
The Marlins didn’t have much to write home about in terms of pitching. Jose Ureña led Marlins pitchers in rWAR at 1.9, and Straily garnered 2.0 fWAR, which led the team. Either way you slice it, the pitching was not a strong point for this team, and the numbers reflected that; the Marlins ranked 2nd-to-last in the National League in fWAR compiled by pitchers at 5.8. At least the fans got to see the Stanton show.
National League hitter ranks: 778 Runs scored (5th), 194 HR (9th), 91 SB (5th), .267/.331/.431 triple-slash (2nd/6th/8th), 26.0 WAR (4th)
National League pitcher ranks: 4.82 ERA (13th), 19.0% K% (last), 1.44 WHIP (13th), 5.8 WAR (14th)
Atlanta Braves (72-90, .444)
In a lot of ways, the Braves and Marlins were very similar this season. Both teams were not expected to be contenders and didn’t contend. Both teams had solid offenses but bad pitching. The Marlins certainly also had a good amount of highlights; the team opened a new ballpark, SunTrust Field, which was a hitter’s paradise. Ender Inciarte enjoyed a career season on offense, triple-slashing .304/.350/.409 while also putting on a show in center field. All of this was overshadowed by Freddie Freeman‘s monster season which was really just a continuation of last year’s monster second half. Just to give you an idea of how good Freeman was, this is his 162-game pace from this season (he only played 117 games due to a broken wrist sustained in May): 39 HR, 98 RBI, 116 R, 11 SB, .307/.403/.586 triple-slash (all career-highs), and a career-low strikeout rate of 18.5%. Those are MVP numbers. Freeman is also only 28 years old. We could be seeing the making of Joey Votto 2.0 here, but even if Freeman only ends up being 80% as good, that’s still pretty good. Needless to say, the Braves have their first baseman for the foreseeable future in Freeman, and this season only confirmed that.
Speaking of the future, the Braves demoted SS Dansby Swanson, who was the first-overall pick in the 2015 amateur draft, at the end of July because he was hitting extremely poorly. On the heels of a very respectable .302/.361/.442 triple-slash in a 38-game cup of coffee last season, Swanson posted a paltry .232/.312/.324 this year. Fortunately for Swanson, 2017 was a rebuilding year for the Braves, so this does not change the fact that he is the Braves SS of the future. He just needs to remember how to hit.
The Braves made most of their headway on the farm this year. They have six prospects that currently sit in the MLB Pipeline Top 100, and none of those more prized than Ronald Acuna. Acuna triple-slashed .325/.374/.522 over three (!) levels this season. He also posted 21 HR and 44 SB in only 139 games. Acuna played a majority of his games in center this year, but with Inciarte in center, my guess is that he’ll end up shifting over to right.
Atlanta also got a glimpse of 20-year-old 2B Ozzie Albies, who triple-slashed .286/.354/.456 in 57 games. He and Swanson will play up the middle for the next half-decade, so the Braves are in a good spot at those two positions. They also have an insane pipeline of pitching talent debuting or set to debut in the near future; Luiz Gohara and Sean Newcomb both made fairly extensive appearances in the big leagues this year, and they have Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, Kolby Allard, Kyle Wright, Max Fried, and Touki Toussaint all set to debut in either 2018 or 2019. I could talk about their current pitching, but I’d rather not considering how not good it was this year. That being said, this is going to be a fun team to watch for the next couple of seasons, but unfortunately for Braves fans, 2017 wasn’t that fun. And to add insult to injury, former GM John Coppolella resigned today amidst an MLB-led investigation into his international recruiting habits. It remains to be seen what will come of the investigation, but a GM resignation is fairly unprecedented, so my guess is that the Braves will take a serious hit in the near future in terms of international spending capacity, draft picks, or both.
Only 17.5 months until Spring Training 2019.
National League hitter ranks: 732 Runs scored (t-10th), 165 HR (13th), 88 SB (t-5th), .263./326/.412 triple-slash (4th/9th/11th), 16.6 WAR (9th)
National League pitcher ranks: 4.72 ERA (12th), 20.0% K% (13th), 1.42 WHIP (12th), 9.7 WAR (12th)
New York Mets, (70-92, .432)
I am sad. I am sad because this team was selected to make the playoffs by 69% (24/35) of ESPN experts polled in the preseason. I am sad because this team is my favorite team and they were very bad this season. I am sad because the Mets were projected by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight to go 87-75 and capture a Wild Card. None of that happened.
Here’s what did happen: 28 trips to the disabled list by Mets players, including all of the following players: Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes, Jeurys Familia, Lucas Duda, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman. Don’t worry, that’s only about half of the guys the Mets DL’d this year. They went from an MLB-leading 24.4 pitcher WAR in 2016 to a mere 10.0 pitcher WAR in 2017, which put them 21st in baseball. The team ERA dropped by nearly a run and a half from 2016 to 2017: 3.58 to 5.01. They went from making the world series in 2015 to 22 games under .500 in 2017. And the season culminated in the firing of pitching coach Dan Warthen, manager Terry Collins, and head trainer Ray Ramirez. Collins and Warthen have both accepted positions elsewhere in the organization, and hopefully Ray Ramirez never sets foot in the state of New York (or at least the Citi Field clubhouse) again. I think this image (courtesy of @EricSals on Twitter) sums up Ray Ramirez’s tenure as the head trainer for the Mets pretty accurately:
As for Collins and Warthen, I was never really a Collins fan to begin with so I’m not too beat up over that. He’s been an above-average manager for sure, but he’s been more of a people manager than an X’s and O’s guy since taking the managerial position for the Mets. At the very least, he got the Mets to a World Series. Warthen’s departure is more confusing to me, because it’s not his fault every pitcher got injured and he was stuck playing with a AAA pitching staff for the majority of the season. Even Noah Syndergaard didn’t want him to go.
There were some bright spots in this season, though. Jacob deGrom threw over 200 innings with a 3.53 ERA, 10.7 K/9, and 1.187 WHIP, and he’ll probably show up on a Cy Young ballot or two. Michael Conforto, before going on the disabled list on August 25th with a separated/dislocated shoulder, triple-slashed .279/.384/.555 with 27 HR in 440 PA (extrapolated to 600 PA, that’s 37 dingers). The Mets also got a glimpse of the future; 1B Dominic Smith and SS Amed Rosario both made their first MLB appearances, while fan favorite OF Brandon Nimmo showed fans what he could do with everyday playing time in September. And the cherry on top of the cake is that the normally penny-pinching Mets are in contract extension talks with deGrom.
Despite all the bad this season, I think the future is relatively bright for the Mets. But maybe I’m just a delusional fan.
National League hitter ranks: 735 Runs scored (9th), 224 HR (t-1st), 58 SB (last), .250/.320/.434 triple-slash (t-9th/11th/6th), 22.0 WAR (7th)
National League pitcher ranks: 5.01 ERA (14th), 21.5% K% (t-7th), 1.49 WHIP (last), 10.0 WAR (11th)
Philadelphia Phillies (66-96, .407)
FiveThirtyEight projected the Phillies to finish 29th in baseball in record this season. They finished 28th, so I’d call this a successful season.
In all seriousness, this was a bad year for the Phils, but that was expected. They weren’t supposed to win very many games (they didn’t), but they were expected to make the next step in their rebuilding process (they did). They got to see more of ace Aaron Nola, who posted career highs of 4.3 fWAR and a 26.6% K%. The story this year was not the pitching, though. The story was Rhys Hoskins.
You can read all about my love for Hoskins here, where I compared him to Paul Goldschmidt, or you can just look at the obscene numbers he posted in 50 games (212) this year: 18 HR, 17.5% BB%, 21.7% K%, .259/.396/.618 triple-slash, 158 wRC+ (for reference, Stanton posted a 156 wRC+ this season), and 2.2 WAR. Extrapolated to 600 PA, the numbers become even more ridiculous: 51 HR, 6.2 WAR. For a rookie. I think it’s safe to say the Phillies have their 1B of the future.
They also got a good look at OF Nick Williams (.288/.338/.473, 12 HR in 334 PA), and C Jorge Alfaro (.318/.360/.514, 5 HR in 114 PA), both of whom were acquired in the Hamles trade during the Ruben Amaro Jr. era. The Phillies won’t contend in 2018, and probably not even 2019 either, but they have a nice pipeline of talent coming up to the MLB within the next few seasons, including RHP Sixto Sanchez, 2B Scott Kingery, CF Roman Quinn, LF Dylan Cozens, and OF Mickey Moniak. Things are looking up for the Phillies, it just might take a while for them to get back to the postseason. Sit tight and watch closely, because GM Matt Klentak knows what he’s doing.
National League hitter ranks: 690 Runs scored (12th), 174 HR (12th), 59 SB (t-13th), .250/.315/.409 triple-slash(t-9th/13th/12th), 12.0 WAR (12th)
National League pitcher ranks: 4.57 ERA (10th), 21.0% % K% (9th), 1.39 WHIP (11th), 12.7 WAR (9th)
Up next: American League East
(Image Credit: Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)