Grading 2016’s Non-Playoff Participants (Part 2)
After taking a look at the American League’s crop of teams that missed the playoffs, let’s look at the National League, and hand out some grades to the Senior Circuit’s squads.
Colorado Rockies: 75-87, Pass
The Rockies faded in the second half after a surprisingly strong start, but they still actually exceeded expectations overall. They had a number of breakout performances, namely from DJ LeMahieu, who posted a . 348/.416/.495 line and a 128 OPS+ en route to a batting title, and Charlie Blackmon who smashed 29 home runs with a 130 OPS+.
Plus, Colorado now at least has hope that they have found some young pitching. Colorado’s best chance at a great power pitcher looks like Jon Gray, who dazzled with a 16 strikeout shutout in September. Other starters like Chad Bettis, Tyler Chatwood, and Jeff Hoffman have potential, and when you toss in quality prospects and youthful players like David Dahl, Brendan Rogers, and Trevor Story, things may finally be ticking upward in Colorado.
San Diego Padres: 68-94, Fail
In truth, the Padres are still reeling from their failed all-in moves prior to 2015. GM AJ Preller sacrificed numerous long-term assets to overhaul his starting lineup that year, in a brazen attempt to catapult the Padres out of the bottom of the NL West.
Instead, San Diego has spent the past two seasons in irrelevance. Among the positive developments this year was Preller’s acquisition of blue chip pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza at the deadline, and the progression of Wil Myers. On other hand, Preller and the organization were reprimanded for misconduct regarding medical records, at the end of what was a miserable season on the field. It was, simply put, a terrible all-around year for the Padres.
Arizona Diamondbacks: 69-93, Fail
The Diamondbacks’ season was probably the biggest failure in MLB last year. After a somewhat surprising 3rd place finish in 2015, Arizona decided now was the time to make a run. They made a massive financial investment in Zack Greinke, and perhaps an even larger prospect investment in the acquisition of Shelby Miller.
Greinke struggled in the first year of his six year pact, but the story of Arizona’s season was the awful Miller trade. Miller posted an ERA above 6, and Dansby Swanson, the top prospect surrendered for Miller, flourished in Atlanta. The Diamondbacks’ playoff push never got off the ground, as they finished mired in fourth place.
St. Louis Cardinals: 86-76, Fail
It’s not often one can assess the Cardinals’ season as a failure. However, 2016 qualifies, as St. Louis missed the postseason for the first time since 2010.
The Cardinals still of course fielded a solid team, and a number of young contributors such as Carlos Martinez, Stephen Piscotty, and Aledmys Diaz stepped up. But veterans like Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, and Jhonny Peralta all showed signs of decline. The Cardinals will obviously never be counted out, but as they stare up at the Cubs’ juggernaut in the NL Central, the Cardinals’ path to the playoffs looks trickier than ever.
Pittsburgh Pirates: 78-83, Fail
Not long ago, a season like 2016 would’ve been fairly successful for Pittsburgh. Expectations are no longer so low, not after the Pirates made the playoffs every year from 2013-2015. That 2016 was a disappointment at least illustrates how far the franchise has come.
Yet Andrew McCutchen still declined sharply, pitching projects like Juan Nicasio and Ryan Vogelsong never panned out, and the Pirates sputtered to a below .500 record. With a bevy of young pitching on the way, Pittsburgh may well bounce back in 2017, but it’s hard not to wonder if 2016 was a sign of a window that was already closing.
Milwaukee Brewers: 73-89, Pass
I hesitate to hand out passing grades to teams that perform quite poorly. Praising teams for not winning, and not trying very hard to win, feels counter-intuitive. Yet the Brewers had enough positive developments during a season in which they were committed to rebuilding to make 2016 a success.
The team acquired a bushel of prospects in exchange for veterans like Jonathan Lucroy, Khris Davis, Jean Segura, and Will Smith. Potentially interesting younger players like Jonathan Villar and Keon Broxton emerged, and star Ryan Braun continued to reestablish his value a couple years removed from PED suspension. After winning a semi-surprising 73 games, the Brewers may have even proven themselves closer to contention than most thought, and with the maneuvers they made across the season, the future looks reasonably bright in Milwaukee.
Cincinnati Reds: 68-94, Fail
Of all the teams that entered 2016 with the understanding it would be a rebuilding year, the Reds might have had the worst season. Outside of Joey Votto, the positive developments in Cincinnati were few and far between.
A couple of young pitchers, Brandon Finnegan and Anthony DeSclafani in particular, managed to progress. But several others, like John Lamb, Cody Reed, and Robert Stephenson failed to impress, and the team wasn’t able to make any noteworthy deals during the season to improve their future outlook. Couple that with the worst record in the NL, and you have a recipe for a lost season.
Miami Marlins: 79-82, Pass
It’s not easy to fit the Marlins’ season into a pass/fail prism, not when they were so struck by tragedy. In the end, the heartbreaking passing of Jose Fernandez will overwhelm any other memory of Miami’s 2016 season.
If we must focus on their on-field pursuits, the Marlins’ season was solid. They remained in contention deep into the season, and while Giancarlo Stanton again fought injury troubles, his outfield wing-mates Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich had resurgent seasons. If owner Jeffrey Loria ever decided to invest significantly in his team to complement the stars they have on hand, the Marlins could field a pretty potent squad.
Philadelphia Phillies: 71-91, Fail
For several weeks, it looked like 2016 would be more than a successful season for the Phillies. Philadelphia parlayed good fortune in close games into a 22-15 record in mid-May. That strong start quickly faded, as the Phillies ended up with a poor win total that even overstated their 62-100 Pythagorean record.
Surprising seasons from position players like Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis and Odubel Herrera were among the highlights. But after showing flashes of potential, talented pitchers like Aaron Nola and Vincent Velazquez fell victim to injury. The team neglected to trade veteran starter Jeremy Hellickson at the deadline, thus ensuring that no real rebuilding moves were made (in fairness, the Phillies had precious little to offer at the deadline). Regardless, 2016 didn’t do much to push the Phillies closer to contention.
Atlanta Braves: 68-93, Fail
The Braves don’t earn a passing grade because it is near impossible to praise a team that essentially fields a Triple-A rotation all year. There simply wasn’t enough of an effort to win in Atlanta this year, even if contending in 2016 wasn’t their goal.
Atlanta ended up giving a hefty number of starts to replacement level players like John Gant, Bud Norris, and Aaron Blair. On the position player side, Freddie Freeman was typically excellent, but the trade of Andrelton Simmons ensured that there was very little left in the Braves’ lineup to get excited about. Even so, the trade of Shelby Miller for Dansby Swanson, Blair, and Ender Inciarte was a gift from the Diamondbacks, and one that ensured there probably won’t be many more seasons like 2016 in Atlanta.