2022 NL Rankings: Have the New-Look Phillies Moved Past the Defending Champs?
With plenty of trades and free agency splashes, who has made the most of the shortened offseason to restock their lineups and which new faces should we be keeping an eye on?
If our roster-adjusted raw value team rankings are any indication, there could be a surprising new king atop the NL East.
The Chicago Cubs made strides back toward respectability in the Central, but still remain light years behind last year’s division representatives in the playoffs – the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals.
The Los Angeles Dodgers certainly aren’t going anywhere in the NL West, but where does our model rank the San Diego Padres after last year’s collapse? And can the San Francisco Giants repeat in the division after an unexpected run to the title in 2021?
After breaking down the American League earlier, let’s reveal who the favorites are in the NL this season according to our roster-adjusted raw value team rankings, which aren’t projections, but rather a single ranking system calculated using a model that combines each player’s 2021 raw value data and adjusted for 2022 rosters.
As a reminder, raw value+ (RV+) examines how a hitter performs throughout each pitch of an at-bat rather than just the end result, while raw value- (RV-) does the same from a pitcher’s perspective. (NOTE: The roster portion of the roster-adjusted RV rankings were calculated on April 1.)
Taking into account last season’s numbers across much of the roster, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised that the Philadelphia Phillies rank only below the New York Yankees and Dodgers heading into the season. The bullpen has certainly been reinforced by the capture of Corey Knebel, who bounced back from two injury derailed seasons to record a 2.45 ERA across 25.2 innings of work for the Dodgers.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski wanted attitude and edge in his clubhouse. He’s certainly found it with Nick Castellanos (143 RV+ in 2021, 21st in MLB; 169 BIP+, 17th) signing a five-year, $100 million deal to support Bryce Harper (175 RV+, second; 211 BIP+, fourth) and other free agency signing Kyle Schwarber in a powerful trio for Joe Girardi to work into his lineup. Castellanos’s .366 OBP against NL East pitching is the best of his career against any division.
The end of the Freddie Freeman era could have been a chance to blow it up in Georgia. Instead, the Atlanta Braves arguably look stronger on paper this season with free agent acquisitions Kenley Jansen and Collin McHugh joining an already deep bullpen. And just a reminder – the Braves won it all without Ronald Acuna Jr. Expect him to see more DH time earlier in the season as his lockout-hit return from ACL surgery might require a little more conditioning.
Lose the face of the franchise and replace him with someone better? Arguably that’s what Matt Olson (113.7 discipline+, 20th in MLB) will be to the Braves following his trade and extension. Their traditional 2021 numbers are quite similar, though Freeman’s finished with a 167 RV+ compared to Olson’s 134. But that extra power off the bat, a slight upgrade in defense and the four-year age gap should see Olson’s star shine longer at Atlanta.
All change on the Cohen express – new GM, new manager, new coaching staff and plenty of new players for the New York Mets. But bar the capture of Starling Marte (who will provide highlights galore if he can repeat his league-leading 47 stolen bases from last season), the lineup still looks a little light with our RV+ ranking putting them just a tick above average and in the lower half of the majors.
Perhaps when you’re stacking the starting rotation with Chris Bassitt and the highest paid pitcher of all time in Max Scherzer (56 RV-, third; 141 whiff+, second) to join Jacob deGrom, Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco there isn’t much need to overindulge in the lineup. But the cracks are already showing – deGrom has been shutdown from throwing for a minimum of four weeks with no timeline for return and Scherzer is day-to-day with hamstring tightness which might not rule him out of opening day, but it’s an early concern ahead of the long, hard season ahead.
Farewell Derek Jeter. Whatever the eventual reason for his departure from the Miami Marlins, you can make an argument that he leaves the franchise with a strong farm system that will start to bring rewards. This season, though, the locking up of Sandy Alcantara to a five-year contract extension is huge, as well as bringing in Avisail Garcia and World Series hero Jorge Soler to provide some much-needed power to the middle of the lineup after they combined for 56 home runs last season.
Joey Wendle might be the most underrated baseball player in the majors, and the trade for Gold Glove-winning catcher Jacob Stallings gives the team a tantalizing prospect behind the plate. Although not the quickest around the bases, Stallings’ solid .246/.335/.369 slash line in 2021 is more than the one laid down by Miami’s platoon last season (.200/.252/.313).
Since their 2019 World Series triumph, the Washington Nationals have had back-to-back last place finishes in the NL East and you’ll be hard pressed to believe they aren’t going to be there again come the end of this season. The rebuild is still in progress even if they haven’t been able to lock down Juan Soto (MLB-best 187 RV+; MLB-best 136 discipline+) to an extension yet, which begs the question: Could they be forced to trade away another key part?
The implementation of the DH in the National League gives 41-year-old Nelson Cruz a chance to experience life on the other side of the coin (well, aside from those five at bats for Milwaukee back in 2005, but hush!). A disappointing spell with the Tampa Bay Rays saw him record his lowest batting average (.226) since 2006, but as a career .282 hitter against NL opponents, expect Cruz to provide plenty more runs in new territory.
The NL Central wasn’t full of major offseason additions, so the defending champion Milwaukee Brewers basically stood pat behind a pitching staff that ranks No. 1 in our rankings. Reigning Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes (MLB-best 32 RV-; MLB-best 144 whiff+), Brandon Woodruff (fourth-best 67 RV-; fifth-ranked 128 whiff+; 11th-best 112 command+) and Freddy Peralta again front the starting rotation, and lefty Josh Hader still anchors the bullpen.
Christian Yelich seeks to overcome back issues and be closer to his 2018 and ’19 form, when he won back-to-back batting titles and averaged 40 home runs, 104 RBIs and 26 stolen bases. Hunter Renfroe was acquired from the Boston Red Sox following a career season (.259, 31, 96), later joined by Andrew McCutchen as key additions for manager Craig Counsell.
Albert Pujols (679 career home runs) has returned to the St. Louis Cardinals for a farewell tour, and a lot is familar: the Adam Wainwright-Yadier Molina battery and a streak of 14 consecutive winning seasons. Those three players are older than new manager Oliver Marmol, who at 35 is the youngest to open an MLB season in 19 years. After staff ace Jack Flaherty was limited to 15 starts by an oblique injury, he’s now dealing with a shoulder injury. The middle of the order – Paul Goldschmidt (fourth-best 169 RV+; ninth-ranked 185 BIP+), Tyler O’Neill, Nolan Arenado and Dylan Carlson – will carry the team.
The Cincinnati Reds are likely candidates to step back after parting with sluggers Nick Castellanos, Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez, and pitchers Sonny Gray and Wade Miley. Joey Votto (sixth-ranked 165 RV+; eighth-best 187 BIP+) was a finalist for NL Comeback Player of the Year and remains the face of the franchise, but it’s being remade with younger players such as NL Rookie of the Year Jonathan India, catcher Tyler Stephenson, right-hander Hunter Greene; and 6-foot-6 lefty Nick Lodolo. Righties Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle (MLB’s third-ranked 120 command+) are trade candidates given their upcoming arbitration eligibility.
Following their worst season since 2013, the Chicago Cubs shelled out the division’s biggest free agent contracts to Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki ($85 million, five years) and right-hander Marcus Stroman ($71 million, three years). Their lineup isn’t necessarily young even though Rafael Ortega, Frank Schwindel and Patrick Wisdom have just begun making an impact. Wisdom, Ian Happ and Willson Contreras have to cut down on strikeouts after the Cubs led the majors with 1,596.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have posted one the NL’s two-worst records for three straight seasons and enter 2022 last in our rankings. Last year’s futility overshadowed center fielder Bryan Reynolds’ offensive excellence (.302-24-90). As the Pirates seek to increase the majors’ fewest runs (609) and home runs (124), they hope third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes and 6-foot-6 shortstop Oneil Cruz, who will open the season in the minors, deliver on their promise. The Pirates, who committed an NL-low 70 errors, signed catcher Roberto Perez to develop a shaky pitching staff, which added lefty Jose Quintana.
After seeing their streak of eight consecutive division titles be snapped by their archrivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers return to the top of our NL West raw value rankings. Entering the offseason, it was assumed the 2022 Dodgers would look a lot different from the 2021 version. They lost Corey Seager to Texas, Kenley Jansen to Atlanta and Joe Kelly to the south side of Chicago, but the team re-signed Chris Taylor, who was selected to his first All-Star team last year, and traded for Craig Kimbrel, who should fill Jansen’s shoes. Oh, and they signed 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman (fifth in RV+ in 2021) to a six-year, $162 million contract. So the offense should still be among baseball’s best.
Julio Urías and Walker Buehler, who ranked ninth and 11th, respectively, in RV- last season, will lead the rotation. The back of the rotation will be pieced together over the course of the season, with some combination of Clayton Kershaw (when he’s healthy), Tony Gonsolin, Andrew Heaney, Dustin May (when he returns from Tommy John surgery) and more of the team’s highly touted prospects. And with Kimbrel, Blake Treinen (1.99 ERA in 2021), Daniel Hudson and Brusdar Graterol, the bullpen is expected to be just fine too.
The San Francisco Giants’ 2021 was no fluke. Sure, they got career years from guys like Darin Ruf and Brandon Crawford, but most of the pieces of the 107-win team remain. San Francisco will have to replace Buster Posey, who retired after 12 seasons. Joey Bart, who remains one of baseball’s top catching prospects, is expected to take over the full-time role. They added Joc Pederson, who has played on the last two World Series-winning teams and returns to his native Bay Area.
Kevin Gausman left in free agency for Toronto, but Logan Webb, Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood all return, and the front office added Alex Cobb and Carlos Rodón to help bolster their rotation. Closer Camilo Doval’s slider might emerge as one of the best pitches in baseball.
For a couple of years now, the San Diego Padres have had World Series aspirations. The Padres were swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS in 2020 and went 18-36 from August 1 to the end of last season. They’ll start 2022 without their star as Fernando Tatís Jr. recovers from a wrist fracture he suffered during the offseason. The Padres acquired Luke Voit and Sean Manaea (98.3 RV- in 2021), but perhaps San Diego’s biggest “additions” this season will come from Mike Clevinger, who returns from Tommy John surgery, and Mackenzie Gore, the former top prospect who might have finally figured things out at the big-league level. Missing Tatís Jr. will be significant, but the Padres have a roster that can withstand it.
The Colorado Rockies might be the most puzzling team in MLB. They traded Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals, along with about $50 million, and received an uninspiring collection of prospects in return. They chose not to trade Trevor Story and Jon Gray at last year’s trade deadline, and then watched them leave for Boston and Texas, respectively, in free agency. And while this looks to be the moves of a team in a complete, albeit poorly executed, rebuild, the Rockies gave Kris Bryant a seven-year, $182 million contract. Holdovers like Charlie Blackmon and Ryan McMahon will likely help Bryant carry the load on offense. And Germán Márquez and Antonio Senzatela will try to be the bright spots in an always-battered rotation.
According to our roster-adjusted raw value model, the Arizona Diamondbacks are baseball’s second-worst team in 2022, which is…basically what they were in 2021 (Arizona picks second overall in the upcoming draft in July). Ketel Marte just signed an extension with the team and should once again provide one of baseball’s most underrated bats to the D-backs’ lineup.
Madison Bumgarner, Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly are expected to be innings-eaters. Mark Melancon and Ian Kennedy, two offseason signings, could become trade bait in July for reliever-needy teams. There’s a long road back for Arizona, but there are still things to which fans can look forward. The farm system is getting better and should only strengthen this summer.
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Graphic design by Matt Sisneros. Research support provided by Stats Perform’s Chase Weight.