Atlanta Braves - 96-66 in 2013, 4.2 runs scored per game (13th in MLB), 3.4 runs allowed per game (1st in MLB): Color me skeptical. The Braves got a lot of credit for locking down their young stars over the offseason, but what's that got to do with 2014? Here are two pairs of numbers that worry me about Atlanta: .266/.357/.512 vs. .236/.284/.473, and 22.2 vs. 11.6. The former pair is departed catcher Brian McCann's slash line against righties vs. that of his replacement this year, Evan Gattis. That may not be entirely fair, given that McCann bats left and Gattis right, but hey, 72.5% of plate appearances in the NL last year were with righties on the mound. The second pair is an estimate of the number of runs McCann saves per 7000 pitches (roughly a season) by pitch framing--catching a pitch on the fringe of the strike zone in such a way that the umpire calls it a strike instead of a ball--compared to Gattis. That may sound esoteric, but framing is something that can be measured, given that there are cameras in every ballpark the measure where a pitch crosses the plate and how it's called by the umpire. McCann's consistently been one of the very best. I think McCann's departure hurts the Braves' ability to both score and prevent runs. And that's before we consider the injuries to the team's starting pitchers this spring. (Pitch framing stats from Baseball Prospectus.) Prediction: Fewer runs scored, more allowed, 89-73.
Washington Nationals - 86-76, 4.0 runs scored per game (16th in MLB), 3.9 runs allowed per game (7th in MLB): The Nats still have questions at second base, where their .670 OPS was fourth-worst in the league, and they're hoping center fielder Denard Span plays more like he did after the All-Star Break (.302/.337/.413) than before (.263/.320/.358). But they added Doug Fister, a quality starter, for spare parts, bolstering an already-strong rotation. Prediction: A few more runs scored, a few fewer allowed, 90-72, and I'm going to regret that if Fister's elbow inflammation reported this month turns out to be serious.
New York Mets - 74-88, 3.8 runs scored per game (24th in MLB), 4.2 runs allowed per game (17th in MLB): The Mets added three 30+ free agents (SP Bartolo Colon, 41 in May; LF Curtis Granderson, 33; RF Chris Young, 30) to some promising youngsters (CF Juan Lagares, whose bat not keep his outstanding glove in the lineup; SP Zack Wheeler; SP Noah Syndergaard, who will probably start the year in the minors). But oh, for those Matt Harvey days... Prediction: More runs scored, more allowed, 74-88.
Philadelphia Phillies - 73-89, 3.8 runs scored per game (25th in MLB), 4.6 runs allowed per game (25th in MLB): The Phillies are making noises about embracing modern fielding analysis, which should help their newly-acquired groundball pitchers A.J. Burnett and Roberto Hernandez. But other than those moves, they're still a really old team (key offseason acquisitions: Marlon Byrd, 36; Burnett, 37; Hernandez, 33) that can't score runs even in a hitter-friendly ballpark. Prediction: Fewer runs scored, fewer allowed, 70-92.
Miami Marlins - 62-100, 3.2 runs scored per game (30th in MLB), 4.0 runs allowed per game (11th in MLB): The Marlins play in a pitchers' park, but their offense was really was bad as it looked: They scored easily the fewest runs in baseball at home and on the road. Among the new starters this year are 2B Rafael Furcal, who is 36, missed last year with Tommy John surgery, and will start at second base for the first time since 2002; and 3B Casey McGehee, who last year batted .292 with 28 homers and 93 RBI--in Japan. At least they'll have a full season of Jose Fernandez, knock on wood. Prediction: More runs scored, same number allowed, 65-97.
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