Arizona Diamondbacks – by Nick Strangis
Atlanta Braves – by Matt Mudd
Baltimore Orioles – by Chris Baber
2019 League Rankings
The 2020 Arizona Diamondbacks: A Team We Do Not Hate
A Review of a Preview
It used to bother me when sites posted projections or predictions but never returned to deliver a debriefing on the accuracy or outcomes related to the predictions. On that note, here are this writer’s comments on the 2019 Arizona Diamondbacks from last year’s preview [please mentally play a “rewind” sound clip here].
Win total prediction: 80
What is the Diamondbacks’ most recent accomplishment?
Successfully traded one the greatest homegrown players in franchise history for 2 former top 100 prospects (catcher Carson Kelly and pitcher Luke Weaver) and an infielder with MLB upside (Andy Young).
How will the Diamondbacks define success in 2019?
Finish above .500. Steps forward for young players like Lamb, Marte, and Kelly.
The Diamondbacks’ most “Effectively Wild” player: Ketel Marte
If you read last year’s D-backs preview, you got a good return on your investment: the team eclipsed even my sunny 80-win projection, by five. Kelly and Weaver made a strong impression in their first season with the club (a 106 wRC+ for Kelly and a 3.07 FIP for Weaver), and Ketel Marte broke out like a samurai cutting his way out of a wet paper bag (7.1 WAR). In addition, Arizona kicked off a whole new Zack Greinke trade tree by sending the potential Hall of Fame pitcher to Houston for two solid pitching prospects (J.B. Bukauskas and Corbin Martin), a first base prospect with tremendous power upside (Seth Beer), and multi-position backup who posted a 137 wRC+ in AAA (Josh Rojas).
Why We Used to Hate the Diamondbacks
Four years ago, Dave Cameron published “Why We Hate the Diamondbacks,” a breakdown of the reasons FanGraphs projected the Diamondbacks to win far fewer games than Dave Stewart, then the D-backs’ general manager, predicted. I didn’t need Cameron to remind me of all the ways I hated the Diamondbacks: I knew I hated them before I signed up to write their season preview on this site in 2015.
My hatred for the Diamondbacks went back to at least June of 2012, when Managing General Partner Ken Kendrick publicly lashed out at Justin Upton and Stephen Drew. While it turned out Drew was heading into an early decline, Upton was only 24 and playing for a fraction of the $22 MM the Tigers handed him in free agency in 2016. Later that year, Kevin Towers compared Didi Gregorius to Derek Jeter after trading Trevor Bauer to Cleveland in a move that saw Shin-Soo Choo move to Cincinnati. At the time of the trade, Gregorius was a rangy shortstop with a pitiful bat – exactly the opposite skill set that defined Jeter for most of his career.
Choo posted 6.1 WAR in one season with the Reds while Bauer pitched his way to 17.1 WAR over roughly six and a half years in Cleveland. Gregorius, on the other hand, managed to eke out 2.5 WAR over two seasons with the Diamondbacks only to be traded to the Yankees for Robbie Ray after the season. (Towers had the last last laugh considering Gregorius replaced Jeter as the starting shortstop for the Yankees).
Towers continued to amputate the Diamondbacks at the knees by trading slick fielding on-base machine Adam Eaton for one-trick pony Mark Trumbo. After Kendrick and team CEO Derrick had enough and fired Towers, the team hired a front office tandem of Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart and embarked on the “Reign of Error,” as Keith Law later dubbed it.
I hated the Arizona Diamondbacks so much that, by early 2015, it seemed like the only choice left was to lean into the chaos that surrounded the team. By the end of the La Russa/Stewart era, the team had generated enough material to fuel their own Effectively Wild spin-off podcast: they failed to understand the rules of both international free agency and trades, gave away the team’s 2013 first round pick, gave away Will Harris, and topped it all off by giving away the farm for Shelby Miller.
While I was a thousand miles away, not-so silently judging the Diamondbacks’ front office, something else happened in Arizona. As Dave Cameron elegantly stated in his blog post “The Humanity of Being Irrational”:
“The connection that most fans have to the game is not based on their front offices making as many efficient choices as possible, but instead, the enjoyment they get out of rooting for their favorite players and seeing them succeed.”
Diamondbacks fans never abandoned a team led by one of the league’s best hitters and, with the signing of Zack Greinke before 2016, one of the game’s best pitchers. The team’s average attendance actually increased from 2014-2015, and never fell out of the twenty-to-twenty first range from 2015-17 and then jumped to sixteenth in 2018, the season after the they won 93 games. Speaking of irrational, the Diamondbacks’ attendance jumped again last season, a season that followed the trade of the face of the franchise as well as its latest future Hall of Fame pitcher.
Which brings us to today, and how could anyone hate the 2020 Diamondbacks? Ketel Marte marks one of the org’s best trade acquisition since it acquired Luis Gonzalez for Karim Garcia. Recently, they extended Nick Ahmed and David Peralta, ensuring a few more seasons with two of the team’s longest tenured players, and the team is starting to reap the rewards of GM Mike Hazen’s youth movement. 2020 may not mark the Diamondbacks’ best opening day roster but it may mark the best upside the organization has witnessed since Justin Upton was still a prospect.
Most “Effectively Wild” Player
Originally hailing from East of the Mississippi, Mason Saunders made a name for himself riding horses out West. With high expectations came plenty of pressure, but Saunders never wilted in three championship rides. This devout Christian and active member of the Freemasons and Shriners is an advocate for adoption, having adopted four children with his wife. When he’s not slinging for Carhartt, you can find him slinging axes with his friend, Khal Drogo. Maybe one day he’ll even lend his name to a chain of restaurants.
What flavor ice cream is your team?
Strawberry – It sounds boring but just give it a try. It’s got a refreshing bite up front and it you won’t want to stop eating halfway through because it tastes too rich.
Must-Try Stadium Food
I live about one thousand miles away but I’ll eat a sweet potato tot anytime, anywhere.
Win total prediction
90. If the 2013 Braves could shock the league with their lineup of no stars/no scrubs, why can’t the D-Backs do it in 2020?
by Matt Mudd
A song for the 2020 Atlanta Braves: “More” by Lawrence
If Atlanta’s 2018 season was a pleasant surprise, 2019 was the proper culmination of a modern rebuild.
Those most instrumental in the team’s success were no surprise. Ronald Acuña Jr. spent the year solidifying himself as one of the game’s most exciting and valuable young players, Freddie Freeman’s brilliance at the plate continued to border on monotonous, and Ozzie Albies’ own combination of youth and excellence continued to be historic in its own right.
After its first full off-season running the team, the front office led by Alex Anthopolous proved itself savvy. Josh Donaldson’s 1 year-deal worked out beautifully for both sides, Dallas Keuchel proved to be the durable arm the team needed after his midseason acquisition, and retaining and acquiring depth like Adam Duvall, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Matt Joyce proved useful when starters spent significant time on the IL in the second half of the year.
I would like to spend the rest of this preview talking about how enjoyable the season was, but a new season is coming, and soon the joy of winning will quickly be erased by the fear of not winning as much.
This year is set up to be an important milestone in the current strategy for Atlanta’s front office. Success in all sports is more often fleeting than sustainable, but the team tells us they’re confident they have the formula. It revolves almost entirely around the idea that a team needs to be built almost entirely from within, and only filled in around the edges through free agency and trades (of course, this strategy is easier when you have two young superstars in Acuna Jr. and Albies on contracts that are at best team-friendly, and at worst blatantly exploitative). Last year may well be the masterclass in executing their master plan. Homegrown stars like Acuña Jr., Freeman, Soroka, and Albies were the constant and mercenaries like Donaldson and Keuchel were called in only when it was clear they were absolutely necessary.
Now, Donaldson, Keuchel, and long-time opening day starter Julio Teheran have left in free agency. The team has given relatively inexpensive and short-term contracts to the likes of Cole Hamels, Travis D’Arnaud, Marcell Ozuna, and Chris Martin, saving its biggest deal for Will Smith in form of a 3-year $39 million contract. These are good and useful baseball players that should help the team be successful in 2020.
Here’s the rub. We all know Atlanta is fully capable of spending more without sacrificing the future. The strategy espoused by the front office is more often used by teams whose goal is to turn a substantial profit rather than one that intends to win as many games as possible. The promise of spending the money saved on the Albies and Acuña Jr. contracts may ring hollow when your team’s second most valuable player in fWAR from 2019 signs elsewhere in free agency for an amount many considered below market value. Financial responsibility and savvy roster moves are well and good, but often when a team doesn’t embrace a chance to compete for titles with the proper sense of urgency, they’re often on the other side of the window quicker than they realize.
I digress, Atlanta has every reason to be excited for this season, and they have as good a chance as any team in the National League to be the most worthy adversary for the seemingly unstoppable Dodgers squad. We know that winning solves almost everything, and it may just continue doing that.
How do the Braves define success in 2020?
Four of the five teams in the NL East are looking to compete, and have allocated the resources to make it happen (at the very least in their own imagination). A playoff berth will be no small feat.
This said, after two rather unceremonious exits from the playoffs, the team will want more. They probably won’t be happy without an NLCS berth.
Who is one player from Atlanta who will be a topic on “Effectively Wild” this season?
As I had to talk myself out of writing my whole team preview about him, I’d be hard pressed not to select Mike Soroka. The young Canadian rookie finished sixth in Cy Young voting and second in Rookie of the Year voting. Soroka is the presumptive opening day starter, and with the Braves only acquiring and older Cole Hamels in free agency, the rotation’s success at least in part depends on Soroka’s ability to lead it.
Soroka’s K/9 number don’t jump off the page, but he showed an advanced ability for sequencing his pitches, producing ground balls, and limiting home runs. It will be intriguing to see how he backs up his rookie success.
What flavor ice cream is the Braves?
Chocolate ice cream — very good the whole time, very bad at the end.
What is one food item from at Sun Trust park that readers MUST try if they visit?
A quick Google search has told the Blooper “sandwich” includes four cheeseburger patties, a footlong hot dog, and chicken tenders topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, jalapeños, and cheese sauce. All crammed in between Texas toast.
I will take this and a trip to the hospital.
Win total prediction:
by Chris Baber
The Pizza Hut in the small town I live in closed on February 10, and I immediately thought of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. More specifically, the VHS version with this amazing commercial from 1990. Peter, Paul, and Mary performed this song a short, 4 years prior to this perfect commercial on a VHS. The Orioles were bad in 1990. And again in 1991. They came in 6th in the American League East with a record of 67 and 95. The 1991 team seems like a massive success compared to the team from the past two years. Also, less important, George H.W. Bush and Queen Elizabeth II attended an Orioles game on May 15, 1991.
Two years ago, I journaled every game of the Orioles season. I decided to do it about Machado, as I knew it was going to be his last season with the team. That season started with a win and then, because everything is unfair, it went off the rails in a hurry. In seasons past, I dug deep into the stats; took screenshots of arm angles and release points and wrote a lot about Kevin Gausman. This year there is not much to say that has not already been said. The team traded its best player to save $10 million. They aren’t going to score a lot of runs. They aren’t going to hit a lot of homeruns. They aren’t going to excite you on the base paths. They won’t wow you with their defense. If they win 55 games and get a top 3 pick, that will be a resounding success. This is where we are now in the world of baseball for many fans. But you know what? At least they didn’t trade Mookie Fucking Betts because a billionaire is crying poor.
Losing is not fun. I could just end there. The Baltimore Orioles were not incredibly fun to watch last year. Sure, Jonathan Villar was very exciting in 2019, and was one of the main reasons I watched the O’s at all. Then they traded him for the stale gum from a pack of 1989 Topps. And yeah, the team had some pleasant surprises in John Means, and [checks notes] Hanser Alberto. Trey Mancini bounced back to have a pleasant year. On a very bad team, he somehow scored 106 runs. He looked better defensively than he did in 2018, but that is not saying much.
2019 was pretty tough from an Orioles fandom perspective. Sure, Villar’s combination of speed and power made his at-bats worth watching. I got to see Stevie Wilkerson get a save. Then at the end of the season, I got to see Wilkerson make one of the best catches I have ever seen.
When this catch happened, my wife, who was 9 months pregnant and just a few days from her due date, was fast asleep. I had my headphones on and a cat on my lap and got so excited by that catch that I jumped and did a silent yell, which scared the cat and woke the wife. Two members of my household were pretty mad at me. It was a pretty good way to end a lousy season.
Last year, I found myself watching a lot more of other teams, which I did anyway, but made a point to last season. I stayed up later to watch West Coast teams play. I also found myself going outside more instead of sitting inside to watch baseball. I listened to more games on the radio. I went on more bike rides. I learned how to play pickleball. I spent more time with friends. I made new friends. I rubbed my pregnant wife’s swollen feet. The dog enjoyed more time at the Dog Park. I looked for employment after ending graduate school. I sat on the porch staring into the middle distance while contemplating debt, climate change, impending global pandemics, why my cat throws up so much. I thought about how much life was about to change in October, when our baby was due.
When I did watch the Orioles, I did not feel the same connection as I had since I first became a fan in 1990. I did not feel sad about it. I felt indifferent. It could have been a number of things. It could be that watching bad baseball just isn’t that enjoyable outside of a few random really good plays. It could be that playing deep dynasty leagues made me less interested in one team, and more interested in many. It could be the changing landscape of baseball as a whole. While I still cheer for the Orioles, I also enjoy the game of baseball as a whole. I generally cheer individual players from many teams, which is something I would never admit to myself or out loud in 2010.
My fandom has changed over the course of 34 years. I am not tied into the daily game as much as I once was. I do not live and die by a win or a seasons final record. I enjoy the game now more than ever, nonetheless. I still enjoy the smell of the grass. The crack of the bat. The taste of Boog’s BBQ. What I am happiest about is watching a full season of Orioles baseball with my daughter. Maybe I will miss the hardcore fandom that saw me crying with unbridled joy in 2014 when Delmon Young hit a go-ahead, three-run double in the ALDS. I was at that game with my dad and it is a moment that is in the top 10 experiences of my entire life. The absolute joy that permeated throughout Baltimore after that game. I gave so many random people hugs and high fives. Belonging to a fandom is really, really good for your mental health. Fandom allows for a sense of belonging, a sense of identity. Fandom can be pretty badass sometimes. Also, all fans suck and whatnot.
How does your team define success in 2020?
If Chris Davis is slightly better than below replacement player than I will consider 2020 a success. The 2020 Orioles are built to be bad. Not as bad as possible, but very, very bad. They still have some guys to trade if they want to win 0 games. This season is successful if prospects show growth. Adley Rutschman needs to continue to hit in the minors and maintain his status as a top 10 prospect. Austin Hays needs to regain his hit tool that made him a top 100 prospect two seasons ago. Yusniel Diaz needs to hit like a corner outfielder. Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, and Michael Baumann need to continue to develop into serviceable future starters. Cedric Mullins needs to figure it out as well.
Who is one player from your team who will be a topic on “Effectively Wild“ this season?
I am going to go with John Means. He will turn 27 one month into the season. He was worth 4.6 WAR according to Baseball Reference, and 3.0 WAR according to FanGraphs. He does not wow you with much of anything. Fastball is about 92 mph. He tosses a solid changeup with a ton of backspin. And he will throw a slider and a curveball. He was a solid #2 pitcher and if he can continue that level of performance or close to it, this is a guy worth talking about at least once over the course of a season.
What flavor ice cream is your team?
Toothpaste and Orange Juice. Okay, this isn’t a real flavor. The 2020 Orioles are the Butter Pecan flavored ice cream of Major League Baseball. It is sometimes acceptable. It is mostly terrible. One thing it is not…ever good.
What is one food item from your team’s stadium that you MUST try?
Everyone will talk about Boogs BBQ, which has pretty good pork and beef sandwiches. If you only get one trip to OPACY, you need to eat what that area is known for. Crab. Grab yourself some crab waffle fries and crab cakes from the Old Bay Seafood concessions. If you are not a crab fan, grab an Esskay Gourmet Hot Dog with burnt ends.
Win total prediction.
So bad. So, so bad. PECOTA says 63-99. I do not agree with that at all. Last year I was pretty close with my prediction. I think this is a worse team than last year, but I also think the AL East is due for some regression. I will go with the following:
2020 Record: 58-104, 5th in AL East, 28th in MLB.
2020 Win Projection Roundup
Season Preview Series 2020 IndexSeason Preview Series 2020, Pt 2: Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox
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