Let’s take a look at the offenses of the three teams in the NL East to finish above .500 last year. But instead of just listing the raw numbers for the team, let’s look at the guys who received the bulk of the playing time. Below is a chart that lists the top nine guys in PA for each team, along with their production.
|Pete Alonso||693||148||Juan Soto||659||138||Ronald Acuna Jr.||715||122|
|Amed Rosario||655||102||Adam Eaton||656||101||Ozzie Albies||702||114|
|Michael Conforto||648||128||Anthony Rendon||646||153||Freddie Freeman||692||136|
|Jeff McNeil||567||144||Victor Robles||617||88||Josh Donaldson||659||127|
|Wilson Ramos||524||107||Trea Turner||569||113||Dansby Swanson||545||89|
|Todd Frazier||499||106||Brian Dozier||482||95||Nick Markakis||469||98|
|J.D. Davis||453||138||Howie Kendrick||370||142||Brian McCann||316||86|
|Robinson Cano||423||96||Yan Gomes||358||78||Tyler Flowers||310||86|
|Juan Lagares||285||63||Matt Adams||333||83||Austin Riley||297||86|
There’s a lot to digest in this basic chart. Let’s look at the things that stand out for each team.
Perhaps the most surprising thing to me is that after years of running a “health deficit,” the Mets actually lead the three teams in PA from their top nine guys. They had 4,747, the Braves had 4,705 and the Nats had 4,690. Additionally, the Mets had their most productive guy lead the team in trips to the plate. But their second-best OPS+ player in McNeil finished fourth and their third-best guy finished seventh – not exactly how you would draw it up on the board. The other thing that worked out well for them was that the two guys who finished with the worst OPS+ finished eighth and ninth in PA.
Against the Mets, Robles slashed .290/.397/.613 so it’s very strange to see him finish the year with just an 88 OPS+. But easily the most shocking thing is how big of a boost Kendrick provided the club. Yeah, he didn’t have the PA you’d want but anytime a 35 year old gets pressed into full-time duty mid-year and provides a 142 OPS+ – you know the gods have smiled upon you. Finally, Turner is another guy who saves his best for the Mets. He had a 113 OPS+ overall but a 138 mark against the Mets.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a team top-heavier than the 2019 Braves. Their top-four hitters in PA were also their top-four hitters in OPS+. And not only that but their top-four hitters also had significantly more PA than the top-four batters on either the Mets or Nats. And what you don’t see on this chart is how the injuries to guys on the lower half of this list allowed more playing time for guys who ended up being significantly more productive. Injuries to Markakis (98 OPS+) and Ender Inciarte (89 OPS+) allowed more playing time for Matthew Joyce (120 OPS+) and Adam Duvall (118 OPS+). And don’t even get me started on the outstanding performance in small samples from trash pickups Adeiny Hechavarria (159 OPS+) and Francisco Cervelli (163 OPS+). If there’s a team that deserves a slew of bad luck in 2020, it’s this one.
Of course, each of these three teams will look different offensively in 2020. Let’s talk about the changes we expect to see in this upcoming season.
Frazier and Lagares were allowed to leave in the offseason. Hopefully they’ll be replaced by Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon Nimmo on this chart of the top nine guys in PA. Cespedes is certainly a wild card and he figures to eat into the playing time of Davis. But if those two can combine for somewhere around 775 PA and a 125 OPS+, you’ll hear few complaints from me. And the Mets have the potential to see a significant increase in CF production with Nimmo. There’s the possibility he gives the club Acuna-level of PA and Soto-level of production, which would be a tremendous boost to the club.
They suffer the biggest offensive loss with the departure of Rendon in free agency. It’s unclear how they’re going to work their infield in 2020. They don’t lack for options but it’s not going to be easy to replace the guy who finished third in MVP balloting. First base could be Eric Thames or Ryan Zimmerman. Second base could be Starlin Castro or Kendrick. Third base could be Asdrubal Cabrera – who also was a terrific late-season addition – or Carter Kieboom. Can Cabrera or Kendrick come close to giving the Nats what they gave them last year? Can Thames or Zimmerman turn back the clock to 2017? Is Kieboom ready for prime time? The Nats might need all three of their outfielders to improve from a year ago to match what they got offensively in 2019.
Donaldson may not be as big of a loss as Rendon but the Braves will still feel the consequences. They also lose McCann and Joyce. They hope to make up some of Donaldson’s production with the signing of Marcell Ozuna. Back in 2017, it looked like Ozuna was going to be a star, as he was a 5.0 fWAR performer that year at age 26. But the last two seasons, he’s settled in at the “good” rather than “great” level. In 2018 and 2019, Ozuna has posted OPS+ numbers of 106 and 107, following his 149 mark in 2017. If the Braves continue their tremendous great fortune, he’ll revert to that 149 level. Atlanta also added old pal Travis d’Arnaud to be their primary catcher. d’Arnaud had a nice year for the Rays last year. We’ll see which trend is greater – The Braves’ great fortune or the collapse of players who leave the Rays after a good season. John Jaso, Logan Morrison, Mallex Smith and C.J. Cron are just some of the guys recently who’ve found the sledding tougher once they left Tampa Bay.