Welcome! We here at the Say It Again Network are getting our MLB 2022 season previews started with the AL East. Are the Toronto Blue Jays primed to climb the standings? Is Wander Franco the next Juan Soto? What’s the Story in Boston?
An argument can be made for the AL East being the strongest division in 2021. They were the only division that fielded three teams with 90-plus wins. Even better, they had four such teams. Heck, the Toronto Blue Jays, who led the majors in homers (262) and OPS (.796), finished fourth in the division. Along with the Jays all the other teams were looking up at a 100-win Tampa Bay Rays squad. Clearly, the Rays were elevated by the ascension of minor god Wander Franco.
Now that the lockout is over, MLB.TV has already taken your money for a season in question for over 100 days, and Spring Training is underway, let’s take a look at how we think this division will shake out in 2022.
In order of finish from 2021 (record)
Tampa Bay Rays (100-62)
The Rays must be hungry after a disappointing exit against the Boston Red Sox in the Division Series. Now, there’s some bad news to start, as Tyler Glasnow had ankle surgery and won’t suit up for another 2-3 weeks. Okay, got that out of the way. The best news is to remember that the Rays broke with organizational custom and shoveled a ton of money at Franco.
Keeping with tradition
The organization that broke the minds of aging generations of baseball fans are sticking to their guns when it comes to pitching. In fact, they may have leveled up on caliber. A bullpen that is already fearsome looks to be overwhelming this coming season. Without having to sacrifice prospects or payroll, they get to add four arms to the bullpen. That’s because Jalen Beeks, Jeffrey Springs, Ryan Thompson, and Colin Poche all missed most or all of last season. This monstrous ‘pen was tops in the AL in ERA (3.24), opponent average (.224), WHIP (1.14), and strikeouts (739). Watch out opposing batters! Partner that staff with an offense that has gone to the weight room and bulked up over the last couple years and they might be able to repeat as AL East winners.
Boston Red Sox (92-70)
As a Red Sox fan, I was getting a little anxious with such an underwhelming offseason. Until, that is, they signed Trevor Story to a six-year, $140 million deal. The more I look into things, the more I like this signing. He’s a shortstop moving to second and his bat is good, but not a generational talent. He averages 26 home runs a season and has above average Hard Hit% and Exit Velocity, so I initially wasn’t dreaming of a fifth title in 18 years. However, Fenway Park can help out right-handed hitters at times. From the looks of his 2021 spray chart overlaid on Fenway, he could have had 16 more dingers (see following graphic). Granted, is his career 17.8 degree Launch Angle high enough to drive some of those shots over the Green Monster? Or will it rob him with some long, hard singles? Regardless, their lineup is lookin’ pretty tough. Particularly when you remember Bobby Dalbec hits sixth or seventh in this lineup with a Barrel % percentile of 98!
Dick Mountain Returns
Boston native Rich Hill returns for a third tour of duty with the Sox. The newest member of the Jamie Moyer Club, Hill brings a slow, but crafty repertoire to complement bigger arms such as Tanner Houck and Nathan Eovaldi. Hill isn’t going to strike out an eye-popping number of batters, but his five-pitch arsenal limits Barrels and xSLG. That said, this is not the strongest starting rotation. Hopefully Chris Sale can get healthy, come back, and stay healthy, because that would make a huge difference. It will even effect the development stud reliever (potential future starter) Garrett Whitlock. The Sox may have to outslug opponents to get off to a good start, but it’s not unrealistic to think about a second- or third-place finish and a chance for the postseason.
New York Yankees (92-70)
Speaking of underwhelming offseasons. I started to feel some sort of sympathy to everyone on Yankees Twitter, since they only made one medium-level move. They traded Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela to the Minnesota Twins for Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Donaldson, a former MVP looks to stay healthy and produce from the plate (much as he did last year). Bringing in Kiner-Falefa begs the question of how much this continues to squeeze Gleyber Torres out of at-bats. Another big question for the offense is if Aaron Judge will be able to give a direct answer on his COVID-19 vaccine status. UPDATE: the mandate was lifted after the writing of this article, so it is now a non-issue, but these parts are being left in for comedic effect.
— Randy Miller (@RandyJMiller) March 15, 2022
It’s interesting that there’s so much talk of working out an extension for Judge at this very moment. Maybe Cashman and the Steinbrenners don’t care about missing his attraction at the gate for 81 home games. Obviously, mandates shift and are removed (before they’ll probably be reinstated), but this is an issue for the Yankees and their draw at the turnstyles.
I wonder what the over-under is on Gerrit Cole striking out 300-plus batters this season? He did it in 2019 with 326 and he’s been in the top 5% of the league in K% three of the last four years. Unless the strikeout rates magically decline, I think I’d take that bet (if I were a betting man). Despite Domingo German being on the 60-Day IL, this rotation might be better than it looks on paper. Jameson Taillon – who’s already 29?! – should continue to improve and take on more innings. Can Nestor Cortes keep up with what should surely be a bigger workload, innings wise. Honestly, and not just because I’m a Red Sox fan, I don’t see this team making a Wild Card spot. Seems like they’ll get overtaken by our next team.
Toronto Blue Jays (91-71)
Goodness lord this Blue Jays offense looks downright frightening. Like nightmare fuel for opposing pitchers. They’re gonna hit 350 homers, aren’t they? I bet they not only repeat as league-leaders in bombs and OPS, but they lead in OBP, doubles, and AVG, too. This means that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is going to win his first MVP with Matt Chapman (just acquired from the Oakland A’s in their fire sale), Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and George Springer hitting around. If you like the offensive side of baseball more than pitching, you’ll want to tune into Blue Jays games. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS Projections has nine players who can very reasonably have an OPS+ of 100 or higher. That does not currently account for Chapman being in the lineup. Certainly not a lot of weaknesses there. Here’s a Vlad Jr. bomb for your enjoyment.
Vlad Guerrero Jr chose violence!pic.twitter.com/n4sANvQyoA
— Bet Any Sports (@betanysportsEU) March 19, 2022
An ace in the making
After about 2 tweets from Pitching Ninja about Alek Manoah last season, he disappeared from fantasy baseball waiver wires. With a full season, it looks like he could become the ace of the Jays’ rotation. He has a sick slider in a four-pitch repertoire, which results in elite level results nearly across the board. That overs Average Exit Velocity, Hard Hit%, xwOBA, xERA, xBA, xSLG, Barrel%, K%, and Whiff%. And for the analytics folks, he’s already a Pitching Ninja and Codify darling. The rotation rounds out pretty nicely with Jose Berrios, Hyun Jin Ryu, and newcomer Yusei Kikuchi. With a pretty beefy bullpen featuring closer Jordan Romano, it’s not unreasonable to see this team climb the standings. The offense is the least of their worries, so if they can put it all together, maybe even a second-place finish is within reach.
Alek Manoah, Wicked 81mph Slider…and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/NpJjrnEtXk
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 21, 2022
Baltimore Orioles (52-110)
Woof, that must’ve been a tough season for Orioles fans. Cedric Mullins looks like a man stranded on an island all by himself, despite Ryan Mountcastle’s power. Mullins led the O’s with 5.7 bWAR. He was the only regular to slug over .500 and have and OPS of .800. Hell, Mullins turned in a 30-homer, 30-double, 30-steal season and almost nobody talked about. In the Wild Card Era (1995-present) only 34 player seasons meet that criteria. Looking for help to arrive soon might be an exercise in futility. The farm system is pretty thin; at least within the MLB Top 100 Pipeline. They have two top-ten prospects – Adley Rutschman (#2) and Grayson Rodriguez (#6) – but all the rest of their prospects in the Top 100 are ranked outside of the Top 50.
Now, real quick, I don’t want O’s fans to think I’m doggin’ on Mountcastle. It’s just that his 33 homers and 89 RBIs of production last season where only worth 0.9 bWAR. So yeah, dingers are fun, but his contributions didn’t have as much leverage and impact as those raw counting stats look.
Remember when John Means threw a no-hitter a few years back? Oh wait, I’m being told that was back on May 5th, 2021. Sorry to say, but there’s not a lot of bright spots on the current major-league pitching staff (assuming Grayson Rodriguez doesn’t get called up immediately). Means was the only starter with an ERA+ over 100 and a WHIP under 1.50. It’s messy and I’m not sure what the means are to the end of strengthening their rotation. They will definitely still be cellar-dwellars come September.