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Summer Camp Glance: A Data-Driven, Team-by-Team National League Outlook

By: Jimmy Lynn, Taylor Bechtold

Your long wait is almost over, baseball fans.

An unprecedented summer camp is well underway across the league, and Opening Day is finally in sight. Now that the prolonged offseason caused a pandemic and unproductive labor negotiations is in the rearview mirror, Major Leaguers are focused on working their way into regular-season form for a second time.

As we await the start of this year’s unique 60-game sprint, Stats Perform is taking a look at the top performers on each National and American League team as measured by our proprietary data and advanced analytics from last season.

Each team’s leader in Command+ (minimum 486 batters faced), RV+ (min. 502 plate appearances) and FRM/1000 based on his 2019 rating is listed below. FRM/1000 measures a catcher’s Framing Runs per 1,000 framing chances, with the MLB average being zero. A positive figure represents runs saved per 1,000 chances, while a negative figure represents runs given up per 1,000 chances.

In order to highlight top defensive performers, we’ve also included all players who ranked in MLB’s top 10 in Clean Fielding Percentage (CF%) at their position. To standardize the statistic across positions, we only observed catchers with at least 700 chances and first basemen with at least 500. For all other positions, we looked at players with at least 200.

While the AL will be broken down at a later date, here are our brief capsules on the NL clubs:

Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Ketel Marte takes a throw down to second base March 9, 2020.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Command+: Merrill Kelly (108)

RV+: Ketel Marte (140)

FRM/1000: Carson Kelly (0.87)

CF%: Kelly (99.0, 7th C); Eduardo Escobar (93.2, 2nd 3B); Nick Ahmed (93.8, 3rd SS); David Peralta (96.4, 3rd LF)

The D-backs are considered a team to watch in the NL West after Marte emerged as a first-time All-Star and the team finished four games out of a playoff spot last season. Marte’s .329 batting average ranked third in the majors, and he added a career-high 32 home runs. Arizona, however, suffered a blow to the rotation when Leake, who came over from the Seattle Mariners at the trade deadline and had the team’s best 2019 Command+, opted out of this season.

Marcell Ozuna hugs Martin Prado in the Braves’ dugout before a spring training game March 3, 2020.

ATLANTA BRAVES

Command+: Cole Hamels (103)

RV+: Marcell Ozuna (154)

FRM/1000: Tyler Flowers (2.22)

CF%: Flowers (99.4, 2nd C); Freddie Freeman (98.0, 9th 1B)

The Braves lost Josh Donaldson and Dallas Keuchel in free agency, then Nick Markakis and Felix Hernandez decided not to play over COVID-19 concerns. Making matters worse, Freeman’s status is in question after testing positive for coronavirus. Atlanta signed Hamels to replace Keuchel in the rotation and Ozuna to replace some of Donaldson’s power in the lineup. Hamels, though, is already dealing with left triceps tendinitis. Despite these losses, Ronald Acuna Jr. and the rest of the talented young roster should compete for the NL East crown once again.  

CHICAGO CUBS

Command+: Kyle Hendricks (119)

RV+: Kyle Schwarber (149)

FRM/1000: Victor Caratini (1.24)

CF%: Jason Kipnis (93.6, 10th 2B); Javier Baez (92.8, 7th SS)

The Cubs are hoping to bounce back after a disappointing 2019 season that saw them underperform in several areas. Hendricks finished with the third-best Command+ in the league and an ERA under 3.50 for a fourth consecutive season. Perhaps it’s telling of the team’s offensive struggles that Kyle Schwarber led the team in RV+ instead of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant or Baez. Though he was limited to 138 games, Baez still put up good numbers and ranked seventh among all shortstops in CF%.

Eugenio Suarez throws the ball to first in an intra-squad game in Cincinnati on July 8, 2020.

CINCINNATI REDS

Command+: Tyler Mahle (122)

RV+: Eugenio Suarez (133)

FRM/1000: Tucker Barnhart (0.46)

CF%: Joey Votto (98.3, 5th 1B); Mike Moustakas (93.7, 1st 3B); Freddy Galvis (92.4, 9th SS)

There were few teams that made more potential impact moves in the offseason than the Reds. Moustakas, who should provide some pop after inking a four-year deal, was the majors’ best third baseman in terms of CF%, but he’s likely to see the majority of his time at second with Galvis expected to play more at shortstop. It’s no surprise that Suarez led the group in RV+ after ranking second in MLB with 49 home runs. Our data points to Mahle (3-12, 5.14 ERA) has a potential breakout candidate this season.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Command+: Antonio Senzatela (101)

RV+: Nolan Arenado (129)

FRM/1000: Tony Wolters (-1.81)

CF%: None in top 10

The Rockies took a step back last season after reaching the playoffs in 2017 and ’18. Kyle Freeland likewise regressed despite posting a decent Command+ (111). The lefty went 3-11 with a 6.73 ERA and spent time in the minors after going 17-7 with a 2.85 mark in ’18. Colorado has a superstar in Arenado, but that relationship could be damaged after rumors surfaced that the team was trying to trade him. The Rockies’ depth took a hit when outfielder Ian Desmond made the decision not to play.

Cody Bellinger doubles against the San Diego Padres on March 9, 2020.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Command+: Clayton Kershaw (103)

RV+: Cody Bellinger (167)

FRM/1000: Austin Barnes (2.32)

CF%: Kike Hernandez (94.0, 6th 2B); Justin Turner (92.9, 3rd 3B); Corey Seager (92.3, 10th SS); Joc Pederson (95.7, 8th LF)

The Dodgers are still chasing their first World Series title since 1988, and they should be well-positioned to be in contention with two stars who placed in the top nine in RV+ in 2019 after acquiring ’18 AL MVP Mookie Betts. Bellinger, the ’19 NL MVP, finished with the fourth-highest RV+ overall after hitting .305 with 47 home runs and 115 RBIs. Ross Stripling, who finished ahead of Kershaw and Walker Buehler in Command+ in a limited role last season, could step into the rotation after David Price chose not to play this season.

MIAMI MARLINS

Command+: Caleb Smith (99)

RV+: Brian Anderson (118)

FRM/1000: Francisco Cervelli (0.85)

CF%: Jesus Aguilar (98.6, 3rd 1B); Corey Dickerson (95.8, 7th LF)

Though the future is starting to look brighter, the Marlins are still a ways away from competing in the NL East. Miami added a handful of veterans in the winter, including Aguilar, Dickerson and Cervelli. They’ll try to bolster an offense that averaged an NL-worst 5.0 runs per game. Anderson could take another step forward after enjoying a breakout 2019 campaign. Sandy Alcantara is scheduled to get the Opening Day nod against the Philadelphia Phillies after posting a 99 Command+ last season.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Command+: Brandon Woodruff (111)

RV+: Christian Yelich (167)

FRM/1000: Manny Pina (0.58)

CF%: Brock Holt (94.0, 5th 1B); Lorenzo Cain (96.9, 5th CF); Yelich (96.0, 9th RF)

Yelich has compiled a .327 batting average, 80 home runs and 207 RBIs over the past two seasons while ranking high in our CF% rankings, and the Brewers rewarded him with a seven-year, $188 million contract extension. Milwaukee is seeking its third straight postseason appearance after falling to the Washington Nationals in the NL Wild Card Game. Woodruff, who missed two months due to an oblique injury, is a breakout candidate after posting a 3.62 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP last season.

Jacob deGrom throws during the second inning of a spring training game on March 1, 2020.

NEW YORK METS 

Command+: Jacob deGrom (112)

RV+: Pete Alonso (138)

FRM/1000: Tomas Nido (0.91)

CF%: None in top 10

It should come as no surprise that Alonso was one of the most productive batters for the Metropolitans last year, as he led the majors with a rookie record 53 home runs. It’s equally unsurprisingly that DeGrom topped New York in Command+ on his way to a second consecutive NL Cy Young Award. In a historic year for the home run ball, deGrom’s outstanding command was key as he allowed the fewest homers (19) among the 15 pitchers that threw at least 200 innings.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Command+: Zach Eflin (115)

RV+: Bryce Harper (138)

FRM/1000: J.T. Realmuto (0.54)

CF%: None in top 10

After a slow start, Harper looked like he might be worth the 13-year, $330 million contract he signed last offseason. The star slugger ended up with 35 home runs – his highest total since 2015 – and a career-best 114 RBIs. Harper, however, may have to improve his career-worst 3.8 PA/K if he hopes to carry the Phillies to their first playoff berth since 2011. Eflin is considered a lock for the rotation after leading the team in Command+ last season, finishing just ahead of Aaron Nola (115).

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Command+: Trevor Williams (116)

RV+: Josh Bell (141)

FRM/1000: Jacob Stallings (1.44)

CF%: Adam Frazier (94.9, 2nd 2B)

The Pirates had few bright spots in 2019 on their way to a last-place finish in the NL Central, and this season doesn’t project to be much better. After trading Starling Marte, Pittsburgh enters the season without a $10 million player on its roster. Williams is an example of why command isn’t everything and stuff matters as he’s looking to rebound from a rough 2019. Bell, however, hopes to build on his first All-Star season after hitting 37 homers and ranking fourth in the majors with 4.5 AB/RBI.

Paul Goldschmidt pauses between pitches against the New York Mets Feb. 28, 2020.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS 

Command+: Adam Wainwright (110)

RV+: Paul Goldschmidt (131)

FRM/1000: Yadier Molina (-0.68)

CF%: Molina (99.6, 1st C); Goldschmidt (98.8, 1st 1B); Kolten Wong (94.2, 3rd 2B); Matt Carpenter (91.8, 6th 3B) 

As their CF% indicates, the Cardinals have one of the best defensive infields in the majors. And though his FRM/1000 is below average, Molina more than makes up for it with his top-ranked CF% and nine Gold Gloves. Following the loss of Marcell Ozuna in free agency, Goldschmidt, a three-time Gold Glove winner, has the highest 2019 RV+ on this year’s team despite having a subpar year by his lofty standards. Wainwright isn’t the pitcher he used to be, but he still won 14 games last season thanks in part to above-average command.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Command+: Zach Davies (116)

RV+: Tommy Pham (132)

FRM/1000: Austin Hedges (4.42)

CF%: None in top 10

Led by young stars Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr., the Padres are considered to be a team on the rise despite after a last-place finish a year ago. Pham, acquired from the Rays in December, had 21 home runs, 25 stolen bases and a higher RV+ number than Machado, but says he’s not optimistic about playing after a recent bout with COVID-19. Davies will try to bolster a rotation that ranked 12th in the NL with a 4.60 ERA last season. The right-hander, who came over from Milwaukee in a November trade, went 10-7 with a career-best 3.55 ERA in 31 starts last season.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Command+: Jeff Samardzija (100)

RV+: Evan Longoria (120)

FRM/1000: None with 1,000 chances

CF%: Yolmer Sanchez (94.1, 4th 2B); Mike Yastrzemski (96.1, 5th LF)

The Giants will likely need veterans like Longoria, Brandon Crawford, Johnny Cueto and Samardzija to turn back the clock if they hope to surprise people this season. It certainly doesn’t help that Buster Posey has opted not to participate. Cueto has been named the Opening Day starter after being limited to just four starts last season and Samardzija will be the No. 2 starter. The Giants hope new addition Kevin Gausman can regain his form from the second half of 2018 when he went 5-3 with a 2.87 over a 10-start stretch for the Braves.

Juan Soto swings at a pitch during a spring training game on March 12, 2020.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Command+: Stephen Strasburg (109)

RV+: Juan Soto (160)

FRM/1000: Yan Gomes (-0.48)

CF%: Kurt Suzuki (98.9, 8th C); Trea Turner (93.2, 5th SS)

The Nationals won the World Series thanks to a star-studded rotation, which included Strasburg, three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin. They’ve welcomed that elite group back this season, but had to say goodbye to slugging third baseman Anthony Rendon in free agency. The 21-year-old Soto looks ready to take over as the Nats’ offensive leader after finishing with 34 home runs and 110 RBIs and ranking sixth in the majors in RV+. Infielder Ryan Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross have decided not to take part in the 2020 season.

Advanced analytics and data analysis provided by Stats Perform’s Lucas Haupt