Which Team Will Surprise Us in 2017?

March 8, 2017
 
Which team is going to surprise us in 2017?
 
Just briefly: this is an on-going project. Every year I use a checklist of indictors and try and identify which teams have a chance of surprising the baseball world over the coming season. It's ‘junk’ metric, just something to do for fun. Don’t bet the house on us, please. 
 
The system is a work-in-progress, tinkered around with every year. Sometimes we've gotten things right and sometimes the system has looked pretty foolish. Last year we looked foolish: we came up with Oakland and Miami as the best candidates to ‘surprise’ us: they surprised us by winning 69 and 79 games, respectively. The year before that we guessed on the Mets, who ran into the World Series. You lose some, you win some.
 
Because this is a perennial effort, there’s a risk of reader fatigue. I like writing this column, mostly because I have no idea what the results are going to be. I set some criteria and then look up information on all of the losing teams and see who comes up on top. It’s fun, and not-so-very scientific. Best of all, it gives me a team to root for during the season.
 
But it’s pretty boring to read the mechanics of how I come up with a team each year, so we’re going to skip all of that noise and jump right to the conclusion. Then we’ll loop back talk about it.
 
Ready?
 
The team that will surprise baseball in 2017 is the Atlanta Braves.
 
*             *             *
 
Huh. Okay.
 
Looking at the losing teams from 2016, the Braves don’t leap out as the obvious contenders to improve dramatically.
 
Just on instinct, I’d have guessed that the Angels were the most likely team to leap into contention, entirely on the basis of Mike Trout’s existence in the world. And the Minnesota Twins look like a fun team. The AL Central is soft this year, and I’m expect big things from Sano and Byron Buxton in 2018. Over in the National League, the Rockies are getting a lot of buzz about their young pitchers, and they’ve made moves like they expect to contend this year. And it’s not crazy to imagine the Pirates winding up in another Wild Card game.
 
But the system picked the Braves, so we’re going with ‘em. Atlanta is going to surprise us in 2017.
 What are the positives for Atlanta?
 
The first thing that stands out is that the Braves are really young. The Braves had the youngest hitters in baseball last year, and they had the second-youngest pitchers. Young teams tend to improve, and there is no team younger than the Braves. No team is close, really.  
 
That was last year, of course. Atlanta has added R.A. Dickey, Bartolo Colon, and Jamie Garcia to their rotation for 2017, so it is unlikely that they’ll pull a repeat on the youngest pitching in baseball this year. And they’re getting a full year of Matt Kemp and Brandon Phillips, who are old-ish position players. I sort of forgot that Matt Kemp existed, actually. We’ll come back to Kemp.
 
What helps Atlanta that the guys behind most of veterans are pretty good. Depending on your source, the Braves have either the #1 or #2 farm system in baseball. They have a lot of talent in the minors, and no huge obligations to play their veterans if they find themselves leaping into contention this year.
So they have youth on their side, and good young players. That’s one factor.
 
But the really compelling factor for the Braves is that they played like a contending team for second half of the season. The Braves played at a .514 clip (37-35) during the second-half of the season. Most of that improvement came in September, a month that saw the Braves went on an 18-10 to close out the season.  
 
It’s important to remember that plenty of bad teams have good months, and it would be foolish to assume that the Braves are going to contend in 2017 just because their last month happened to be their best one.
 
That said, the wider view of the Braves at least jibes with their late success in 2016: it is understood that Atlanta is a team on the ascent, a team that is rising on their win-expectancy curve. They have a talented pair of players in Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran. Ender Inciarte is a good player, and Dansby Swanson is probably going to be an all-star this year. The Atlanta bullpen is stocked full of guys who notch a lot of strikeouts.
 
To bolster that core, the team has made some quietly useful moves through the offseason, picking up three inning-eater veteran starters (R.A. Dickey, Bartolo Colon, Jamie Garcia) who can help keep a few games close. If one of those guys pans out, they’ll look smart. If two of them are productive, we can count it as a good deal.
 
And Atlanta has improved their production at second base by adding Brandon Phillips. Phillips is on the decline, but he still has a decent bat and a fine glove, and he’s a Georgia native. At worst, he can be a placeholder and mentor for prospect Ozzie Albies.
 
Objectively, I like what Atlanta is doing. They’ve making inexpensive commitments to veteran players, while gearing up to contend when their new ballpark opens in 2018. The Braves are trying to win baseball games this year, but they’re not jumping the gun on their longer-term strategy. If they luck into contending, they are in a good position to make deadline deals, and if they have another losing season, there will be plenty of positives going forward.  
 
And it’s not crazy to think that they have a shot. The National League East has two teams who figure to contend, and two teams that are going to struggle. The Phillies are in full rebuild-mode, and with the Marlins franchise on the seller’s block, it’s unlikely that Miami will be making aggressive moves to compete this year.
 
I think that the Nationals are a strong team. I figure they’ll win the NL East by a comfortable margin, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the World Series.
 
But I am much less convinced that the Mets are going to be a good team this year. I root for the Mets, but I have some worries about their offense, which seems creaky and one-dimensional. If I had to pick one playoff team from last year to freefall, I’d be tempted to pick the Mets. Or the Orioles, but that’s not pertinent to this article.
 
So the door open for Atlanta. Or at least the door is little ajar. I wouldn’t count on the Braves winning the NL East, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if they snuck in and grabbed a Wild Card spot.
 
*             *             *
 
So how could it happen? What are the scenarios that would allow for Atlanta to contend in 2017?
 
1.       Freddie Freeman puts up an MVP season.
 
This doesn’t sound unreasonable. Freeman had a terrific second-half in 2016, posting a .323/.433/.634 batting line after the All-Star break. He’s twenty-seven this year, which remains a great age if you’re looking to win an MVP award. More significantly, he improved his performance against left-handers, posting a .902 OPS last year that improved his .759 career mark.
 
2.       Dansby Swanson and Julio Teheran play like All-Stars.
 
Again, this seems like it should happen. Swanson, the first overall pick in 2015, managed to hit .300 during his call-up stint in the majors. And Julio Teheran is coming off one of the better 7-10 seasons I can remember.  
 
3.       Some of the veteran pitchers defy their age.
 
R.A. Dickey probably won’t repeat his Cy Young performance, but he’s turned into knuckleballing version of Mark Buehrle-lite: an innings-eating defensive player who can be counted on for 200 IP and a 2.0 WAR. I have a lot less faith that Bartolo Colon is going to make any gains in his twilight push for 300 career victories, but it wouldn’t shock me if Jamie Garcia puts up a solid comeback year.
 
4.       The Braves get some more dingers.
 
I don’t know if you noticed this, but Matt Kemp was a decent hitter last year. I certainly didn’t notice it: the Padres and Braves weren’t on my radar in 2016, for obvious reasons. But Matt Kemp was pretty good with the stick: he hit 35 homers and drove in 108 runs, and while his walk rate continues to spiral down towards Joe Carter territory, his numbers spiked (.855 OPS in 56 games) after he was traded from San Diego to Atlanta.
 
The Braves finished dead last in the majors in homers (122), so power is something they need. It’s not outlandish to think that Kemp can repeat his performance in a more hitter-friendly environment, and while Brandon Phillips won’t hit 20 homers this year, him and Swanson at the keystone should provide more pop than the nine combined homers that Erick Aybar and Jace Peterson hit last year.
 
5.       The bullpen turns out to be great.
 
For me, the big ‘hinge’ for the Braves season is what kind of performance they get from Arodys Vizcaino in 2017. Vizcaino has the talent to be a top-notch closer, and he’s shown occasional stretches of brilliance, but injuries, control issues, and a pesky 80-game suspension for a failed drug test have kept him from developing into the bullpen anchor that the Braves have wanted since they dealt away Kimbrel. Vizcaino is opening this year as the set-up man for Jim Johnson, but it wouldn’t surprise me if those roles switch pretty quickly. If Vizcaino puts it together as a closer (with underrated lefty Ian Kroll adding to the mix), Atlanta could wind up having the best bullpen in the division.
 
*             *             *
 
So that’s the story we’re sticking with: the Braves are going to jump the gun a bit on their master plan, and contend in 2017. Maybe the story will be that the Braves have followed the Royals model of winning by timely hitting and a great bullpen, and maybe the story will be about Freeman or Teheran or Swanson joining the ranks of the very best players in baseball. Maybe they’ll win because some kid on the farm turns out to be John Smoltz or Tom Glavine, and maybe they’ll win because R.A Dickey learns that knuckleballs only work in the NL East.
 
However it happens, the Braves are going to surprise us in 2017.
 
Dave Fleming is a writer living in New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com. 
 
 
 

COMMENTS (30 Comments, most recent shown first)

evanecurb
One more comment about the new ballpark: I know SunTrust outbid everyone for the naming rights, but it seems like Waffle House Field would have been so much better that SunTrust Park.
9:29 AM Mar 21st
 
evanecurb
On the question of suburban stadiums vs. downtown stadiums: I used to believe that whether or not a downtown stadium will work was a function of the level of activity in the downtown area generally. Now I see things differently. There are enough examples of stadiums (stadia?) that have been at the center of a revitalized area within a city (The Wizards and Nationals facilities in Washington are two such examples) that I now believe that a downtown location is the best place to put a baseball stadium or basketball/hockey arena, regardless of other factors.

With respect to Atlanta specifically, the old stadium site, which housed both the old 1966 Atlanta-Fulton Co. stadium and the 1996 Turner Field, is not really downtown. It's 2.5 miles from the Georgia Dome, for example, which is in the downtown area (and is also being torn down, by the way - but will remain at the same location). I think that 2.5 mile difference is a big deal, and is the best explanation for why the site isn't the best place for a ballpark.

Having said that, the solution to a dilemma like this one is not to ram something down the throats of Cobb County voters. The elected officials who were booted out got what they deserved. I hope the same thing happened to the morons who approved the AAA ballpark in Gwinnett County.

9:27 AM Mar 21st
 
steve161
Thanks, Maris, I vaguely remember that. I also vaguely remember that the home team has a somewhat larger advantage in extra-inning games, more than in all games, which casts some doubt on that half-game.

Unfortunately (for these purposes only!), I'm on a hotel computer in London and time-limited, so I can't look it up.
7:18 PM Mar 17th
 
MarisFan61
Correction to the last part of that post:
Bill was clear about which thing he meant by the .003, and it seems to come to 1/2 a game per year.
6:16 PM Mar 17th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. Here's that thing from Hey Bill (Aug. 2016):

Have you played computer simulations of two identical teams against each other--except that one of them always has the home field advantage? If so, what results did you get? It seems like that would help shed light on the question of whether home field advantage is the product of inherent strategic advantage (like getting the last turn at bat) or something else.
Asked by: waisanhart

Answered: 8/27/2016
I did do that, 20 years ago, yes, but it doesn't show much; it shows like a .003 advantage for the home team. It's an overly simplistic approach to a extremely complicated problem. Very, very little of the home field advantage comes from the strategic advantage of batting last.



BTW, it's hard for me to see how a computer simulation (especially from as long ago as that) would have been of the kind of sophistication needed to show the degree of advantage of batting last.
If anybody knows that computer simulation then or now do particularly involve such things, please sing out. I'm always happy to learn more about the degree of sophistication of those things; this particular thing is a thing that it's hard for me to see how a simulation would have it.

I don't think anything on "Hey Bill" from that time (Aug. of last year) got into what does produce the home-field advantage. If anything, people were just 'assuming' -- understandably.
But this thing we're talking about on here -- i.e. that there seems to be no lesser home-field advantage in a team's first year in a new stadium -- seems to undercut one of the main usual assumptions.

As to how many games a year the ".003" advantage would mean: Provided that my math is right and depending on what Bill meant by it -- i.e. whether he was talking about a team's record in its home games or in all of its games -- it would be:
Either 1/2 game a year or 1/4 game a year.
6:12 PM Mar 17th
 
MarisFan61
Steve: A few months ago there was some stuff on Hey Bill about how much of a difference it makes to bat last, and some figure was given, probably by Bill but maybe by someone else like Tom. The figure seemed small but maybe it was big enough to account for a significant part of "home field advantage." I don't remember if the discussion included anything about what number of games per season it might mean.

Re the 'flaw' I noticed after doing one of those last posts:
It was here:

It's not that the stadium doesn't matter, nor that the team in a new stadium knows how to use it just as well as any team knows how to use its stadium, but that visiting teams also know a fair bit about whatever stadium they visit, once they've had some experience in it, and in a stadium's first year, the visiting teams are at just as much of a relative disadvantage as the home teams.

Immediately after posting it, I realized that this doesn't really work, at least not fully, because the home team's familiarity with the ballpark has an extra aspect: tailoring the roster to the park. And, it would seem like this indeed is a thing on which the team can only guess until it's had some mass of experience there and that they wouldn't be great at it in their first year -- plus, you can't turn over your whole roster in a single off-season to suit a new ballpark.​
9:43 AM Mar 17th
 
steve161
Here's another possible explanation: the home team bats last and that is where most of the home field advantage comes from. This is true whether they have played in their park for ten days or ten years.​
9:57 AM Mar 16th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. I see there's a little flaw in that last thing (well, at least 1). :-)
If there were an 'edit' function I'd revise it.....
1:43 AM Mar 16th
 
MarisFan61
SO: Why isn't there such an effect? Wouldn't we think that teams in their first year in a new stadium would have to be limited in their home-field advantage?
I sure would have.

Assuming that these data are indeed indicative, as opposed to meaningless due to not-large-enough sample (I think they are enough to be indicative).....here are two possible reasons.
In fact, these are the only the possible reasons I can think of. I'd welcome any other thoughts.

-- Home-field advantage depends much less on the stadium than we think; in fact (per this stated possibility; not "fact fact," just per this possibility) it's hardly a factor at all, if we're talking about teams overall. Maybe for certain teams it's a big factor, but in general it's just things like being at your home base -- home cooking and all that, your own bed, not always having just gotten off a plane, maybe also absence of the, ahem, "distractions" of being on the road; maybe also some degree of favoritism to the home team by umpires, if such exists.

-- It's not that the stadium doesn't matter, nor that the team in a new stadium knows how to use it just as well as any team knows how to use its stadium, but that visiting teams also know a fair bit about whatever stadium they visit, once they've had some experience in it, and in a stadium's first year, the visiting teams are at just as much of a relative disadvantage as the home teams.
That's the main explanation I'm going with (for now).
11:32 PM Mar 15th
 
MarisFan61
.....some more:
(in case anyone's still looking......well I am.) :-)

I also went and compared each of those team's home-field advantage with the average for the teams in its division or (prior to the divisional era) the average for the league.

(N.B. I would have used the league average in all cases if I found those data readily available. For the divisional era, I didn't. I would have had to do some extra arithmetic for each year and it didn't seem worth it.)

RESULT: ESSENTIALLY SAME AS BEFORE, i.e. no such effect.
Again, overall the home-field advantage of the teams in the new stadiums wasn't worse than that of the teams in the comparison group.
In fact, their home-field advantage was a tiny bit better, but really it was essentially equal.
This time I won't take space with any numbers, but again, full data available if anyone wants to see them.

I'll give some discussion in a separate comment......
11:14 PM Mar 15th
 
MarisFan61
(P.S. Full data available if anyone wants to see them.)
12:48 AM Mar 13th
 
MarisFan61
Thank you, Dave!
(That link didn't work exactly -- it gives a page saying there's no such Wiki article, but really there is, and it wasn't hard to get from that page to the actual thing.)

So, I did it. First I'll give the results, then explain what I did, since there are various ways to try to look at such a thing.

There's no consistent such effect.
In fact, more teams had a better home field advantage than a decreased one in their first year in their current park.
15 teams had a better home field advantage, 12 teams worse.
(3 teams showed no change.)

But, the difference in the home field advantage tended to be larger when it was on the negative side, and so the 'combined total overall home field advantage' did show a decrease for teams' first years in their current parks -- a total "net minus" of 21 games for the 30 seasons that were involved, an average (mean) loss of 0.7 game's worth of home field advantage per season.
The median was basically zero. Since there's an even number of teams, the "median" involves 2 teams straddling the middle. Those 2 teams were 'no change' and 'plus 0.5 game.'
BTW "0.5" doesn't mean a 0.5 game home field advantage; it means a gain of 0.5 game from expected home field advantage.
The largest drop was 17 games; the largest gain was 15.5 games.

Here's what I was comparing to what.
I compared the home field advantage (or deficit) of the first year in the new park to what it had been the prior year.
(For teams that didn't have a prior year, i.e. new expansion teams, I compared it to the record of the season 3 years later. I figured this was a more appropriate comparison than to something like the very next year, because I wanted to be using a year in which we could consider the team to be fairly fully adapted to the park.)

I realize it would have been better to use a larger sample of seasons as the basis for comparison to each season in question, but that would have been harder, and I thought this would be good enough to give some idea.

Per what I had said in the earlier comment, indeed I'm surprised it doesn't show a clear decreased home field advantage for a team's first year in a new ballpark.
12:46 AM Mar 13th
 
DaveFleming
This has a list of all of the active stadiums, and when they were opened. You could start with the thirty current stadiums to give the study a small enough scope.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_current_Major_League_Baseball_stadiums​
9:40 PM Mar 12th
 
MarisFan61
337: You forgot to add a smiley. :-)

I wouldn't even get far enough to get a list of when teams moved into new stadiums.....

But, tell you what: If someone can post such a list (or a link to one), I'll do it.
3:56 PM Mar 12th
 
DaveFleming
I lost the old piece of kid art that I used to tally the figures, but I'm confident that the Phillies had one of the lowest scores in the group. Last year (or maybe it was 2015) the Phillies achieved the dubious feat of having NO positive indicators going into the season...they scored a zero on the system.
3:22 PM Mar 12th
 
337
Mf61, great idea for a study. Get on it.
11:51 AM Mar 12th
 
LesLein
Can I assume that we can rule out the Phillies?
11:37 AM Mar 12th
 
mahdishain
I've got a ticket to see the new stadium and while I am going to root for the Cardinals it is nice to know that I get to see a surprise as well, as long as they don't surprise while I'm in the house.
4:41 PM Mar 11th
 
DaveFleming
Well...the problem with saying that the Braves are throwing their lot in with white fans is that it assumes that the team is directly motivated by racial bias, instead of economic prioritizing.

It's absolutely true that the new stadium is being built in a place to make it more accessible to suburban dwellers, and less accessible to people in inner Atlanta. And it's absolutely true that the suburban dwellers skew white. So they are, by targeting that demographic, invariably favoring their white fan base.

But it's a leap to assume that they are actively being racist, as opposed to chasing economic strategies whose results favor one group over another. When we drop in white and black, the conversation gets heated real quick, and everyone loses perspective.

I think the Braves are chasing the dollars out to the suburbs, and I think...race aside...that chasing the dollar out to the suburbs isn't actually a good long-term strategy for a baseball team. It's a long season, and it helps to have a population that's close by who can fill up the seats on a Wednesday night. Fenway Park is always crowded on Wednesday because there are people around who are keen to go to a game....I don't think the Braves new stadium is going to have that, and I think, from a purely financial perspective, that that will cost them in the long run.
1:37 PM Mar 11th
 
steve161
"The Braves...like the Yankees...seem to have thrown their lot trying to sell with their richest fans, trying to draw the most dough per ticket sold."

There are people in Atlanta saying that the Braves have thrown their lot in with their whitest fans, though in fairness I have to say that, on the few occasions I've been to Turner Field, the crowd there was largely pigment-free.​
7:26 AM Mar 11th
 
DaveFleming
In fairness to the voters in Cobb county: I don't believe that they let it happen. My understanding is that a bunch of politicians pushed the funding nonsense through back channels, without any kind of vote on the issue. Cobb voters responded by kicking most of them out of office as soon as possible, almost entirely (I think) because of the backwards way they pushed the stadium deal through.

It's a tricky issue...on the one hand, the Braves are correct that they draw more fans from the suburbs than the city. On the other hand, putting a stadium out in the 'burbs in a spot without good public transport ain't gonna draw fans from the city. The Braves...like the Yankees...seem to have thrown their lot trying to sell with their richest fans, trying to draw the most dough per ticket sold.

My two cents...understanding that I know NOTHING about the socio-economic dynamics of Atlanta, specifically, and how to turn a profit running a baseball team generally...I think it's a pretty short-sighted way to build a fan base. I mean, you can watch any mid-season broadcast of a Yankees game and count the empty seats. It's not a way to cultivate fandom, and it's a decision that's going to look progressively foolish.
12:35 AM Mar 11th
 
evanecurb
The Braves' new ballpark, SunTrust Park, is 6.7 miles from Coolray Field, the home of their AAA affiliate Gwinnett Braves. Gwinnett drew 225,000 fans last year in a league where 8 of the 14 teams drew at least 500,000 and four (Indianapolis, Charlotte, Lehigh Valley, and Columbus) drew over 600,000.

Gwinnett County paid for the AAA ballpark, and Cobb County paid for more than half the cost of SunTrust Park. I have no idea why the voters of those counties allowed this to happen.
8:33 AM Mar 10th
 
Mike137
DaveFleming wrote: "To answer Mike's question ... we were looking for a team that would improve by something in the neighborhood of 20 wins from the previous season".

Thanks. I'd think on that basis I'd pick the Twins. Last year they dropped by 24 wins from the year before in what looks like a fluke bad year. So they seem like a good candidate to get a big chunk of 20 wins back just from regression to the mean. And they have some good young guys.

For jumping into contention, you make a good case for Atlanta.
6:53 PM Mar 9th
 
DaveFleming
To answer Mike's question about what constitutes a 'surprise'....I think when this process started, we were looking for a team that would improve by something in the neighborhood of 20 wins from the previous season, which happens more often than you'd think.

To VB's comment: I think I'd probably favor the Angels over anyone else....they under-performed their Pyth W-L by something seven games, and were above .500 during the second half last year. The system ranked the Angels and Pirates as the second-most likely teams to surprise. Minnesota was fourth...I like Minnesota because of how soft that division is. We didn't count 'softness of division' as a criteria this year, but maybe we should. As for Colorado: I was hoping it'd be the Rockies year, but the numbers didn't pan out for them.

When we did this project last year, I noted that no one really looked like a strong 'surprise' team except Boston, which I didn't consider because they seemed too obvious a choice, having acquired Price and Kimbrel during the off-season. And it turned out there weren't any teams that really jumped up in the wins column, except Boston.

This year, there are a lot more teams who, by the goofy metrics we employ, look like they could surprise us. Atlanta came out on top, but it wouldn't shock me if we saw a few teams improve by 20+ games this year.

One of these years I'm going to actually put some effort into taking this from 'junk metric' to 'slightly less junky a metric', but I haven't done it yet. Next year?
2:42 PM Mar 9th
 
MarisFan61
You have a pretty good record on these things (I think!), and so I think it's a good guess that you're right about the Braves. I hope you will be, because it'll be a nice story.

BTW, I wonder what's the history of how teams have done in their first year in a new ballpark. We might guess that they do less well than average, because, well we assume (don't we?) that "home field advantage" is a usual part of the game and, and we'd figure (wouldn't we?) that it takes at least a little time for a team to really know what gets benefited in their park, as well as for the players to adapt -- and so, they wouldn't have any normal home-field advantage but the same away-disadvantage as other teams. This would seem to be an easy enough study to do, if anyone wants to.

Regarding it taking time for a team to realize what gets benefited in a new park, sometimes it's like "never." There was such an assumption for so long that Fenway Park benefits righty hitters -- probably still? -- even though, as I think Bill wrote in an old article (and as has been right there before everybody's eyes for decades), the Red Sox' most successful hitters have usually been lefties.

And what about Colorado: I remember the stuff about "fly ball hitters" in their original expansion draft, and, as Bill wrote in his 'annual' that year about one of their picks, the guy wasn't really a fly-ball hitter, and anyway he wasn't good enough that it made any difference. And, it took them some years to realize that breaking-ball pitchers got more-killed than others, and that what their pitchers really needed was a change-up.
12:38 PM Mar 9th
 
ventboys
I look forward to this column every year, Dave. I think you nailed it with Atlanta. My personal choice for the leap into actual contention is Colorado, and my top three choices to make the 20-game improvement are Minnesota (would still be under .500), Atlanta and Arizona.

Two of the teams that look like they should improve - Colorado and Arizona - are both run by general managers who don't seem to understand a couple of baseball's underlying realities.

The Rockies, who seem to spit outfielders from their farm system like watermelon seeds, signed a 30-something shortstop-turned-outfielder to a 5-year contract to play first base, a position he's never played. Their backup plan at the position is another outfielder, Gerardo Parra, who walks about as often as Stephen Hawking.

I still like 'em though, because their pitching is genuinely good this year - especially the bullpen - and, while much of it is an illusion, a healthy roster will get pretty good production out of every position on the field. Bud Black seems to have a calming influence when he's not throwing water coolers at rats in the clubhouse, and Denver is well-stocked with mood-stabilizing drugs. I see 87-75, and maybe they slip into the playoffs.

The Diamondbacks, who play in one of the most extreme pitcher-antagonistic parks in the league, keep bringing on pitchers from pitcher-friendly parks. They are like those diet plans who say "hey, are you fat as hell because you eat too much cake and ice cream? Try our plan! Every day you drink two milkshakes and then eat a piece of cake for dinner!"

It does work the other way - Jean Segura was certainly helped by the park - but I'm not sure trading a guy who fits your working environment (and is as young as Segura) for a guy whose hair is still on fire from his dumpster fire of a 2016, when he gave up 27 homeruns in 134 innings in a far nicer ballpark paradigm, is the best way to exploit the ballpark differences.

The D'Backs dumped Dave Stewart - the guy who made the Miller trade and signed Greinke - but the new guy (Mike Hazen, former Red Sox assistant under Ben Cherington) made the Segura trade. Here's what he had to say about making the deal:

“When we looked at the pitching that’s out on the market, we felt like this was an opportunity we had to take right now,” said Hazen of the trade. “Obviously, Jean is a great fit for them and was for us, but in order for us to get a starting pitcher the caliber of Taijuan, we felt like this was the opportunity we had to take given the market. It takes a lot of starting pitching to get through the season.”

I'm skeptical, but when I see "Red Sox" I have a certain degree of faith. If Taiwan Walker wins the 2017 Cy Young award and Segura hits .240 with 8 homers ...
9:33 AM Mar 9th
 
Mike137
"the Braves are going to surprise us in 2017"

Just what does that mean? Seven months from now, how will we know if the prediction was a good one? What constitutes a surprise? Making the playoffs when nobody predicted it? A big increase in wins over last year? Winning many more games than predicted by PECOTA?
9:04 AM Mar 9th
 
steve161
I've been keeping an eye on the Braves, having noticed that a number of rebuilding teams have tended to impress a year ahead of schedule. If they get rid of Chip Caray, I might even watch them now and again.

Dave, I always look forward to your columns and I forgive you for using 'him' as the subject of a sentence. I know you're better than that.
7:40 AM Mar 9th
 
DaveFleming
Oh, wow. Shows how little I watched the Braves last year...I had no idea it was the last hurrah for decrepit old Turner Field.

Everyone knows that Fenway and Wrigley are the last remaining old timers...and maybe a few of you know that the Dodgers are third. But did you know that the fourth-oldest stadium is a tie between the Oakland and Anaheim stadiums? That's....surprising. Both opened in 1966. Kaufmann is fifth (1973). Toronto's Skydome/Rodgers Centre is the sixth-oldest park in baseball. Opened all the way back in 1989.
1:17 AM Mar 9th
 
OldBackstop
".....when their new ballpark opens in 2018...."

Axshully Suntrust opens this year, March 31.

I also tell people its the Braves this year the Metsies have to worry about.
9:45 PM Mar 8th
 
 
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