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The AL East is often viewed as the toughest divisions in baseball. This is because the Yankees and Red Sox are more often than not in contention for being the best team in baseball. With current stars like Chris Sale, Aaron Judge, Manny Machado, Chris Archer, and Josh Donaldson it is not hard to see why it is considered to be the toughest division.

Let’s take a look at how each position in the AL East shakes out as we head into Spring Training.

Starting Pitcher Staff     

  1. New York Yankees (12.82 WAR)
  2. Boston Red Sox (11.61 WAR)
  3. Toronto Blue Jays (11.51 WAR)
  4. Tampa Bay Rays (4.66 WAR)
  5. Baltimore Orioles (0.77 WAR)

Luis Severino had a monster breakout season last year with a 2.98 ERA and striking out over 200 batters helping lead the Yankees staff to the 5th best team ERA by starters with a 3.98. With a full season of Sonny Gray, the return of CC Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka staying the Yankees only lose Michael Pineda, arguably the teams weak link in the rotation

Chris Sale is the best pitcher in the division. He has a 2.90 ERA and 17 wins for the Red Sox starting staff. The staff as a whole finished the season with a 4.06 ERA. They did have 5 CG and 11 shutout victories. Drew Pomeranz did his part to help Sale by posting 3.32 ERA and 17 wins also. Unfortunately, every other starter with a significant amount of starts posted over a 4 ERA. As of now, they look to run out the same rotation as last season. They’ll be counting on Porcello to bounce back to his CY Young form after posting a 4.65 ERA this past season.

Marcus Stroman is another young stud coming off a breakout season. He helped lead Team USA to gold in the World Baseball Cup then went on to have a solid season posting a 3.09 ERA, striking out 164 batters, and winning a Gold Glove. Besides J.A. Happ (3.53 ERA), only one other starter posted under a 5 ERA. That was Marco Estrada with a 4.98 ERA.

Out of all the Rays starters to start over 15 games, only 1 posted under a 4 ERA. That was Alex Cobb and he is not currently on the team. Jake Faria started 14 games and had 3.43 ERA. Blake Snell was the best starter beyond them posting a 4.04 ERA. Even after having a couple subpar years, Chris Archer’s talent cannot be ignored. He has the stuff and potential to be a top of the line starter. From 2013-2015 Archer’s ERA was around 3.2-3.3 mark. His 2017 ERA was 4.07. Archer’s HR rate has increased from 0.6 in 2014 to 1.2 this past season. All of these regressions are hopefully flukes. There’s help on the way. Rookie Brent Honeywell is expected to join the rotation next season.

There are not many nice things to say about the Orioles rotation. They had the worst team ERA in the league with 5.70. Dylan Bundy was the Orioles most consistent starter last season. Bundy had a 4.24 ERA to lead the Orioles staff. Kevin Gausman is the other bright spot to look forward too. The main concern is him being consistent throughout the season. Gausman slowly improved as the season wore on and finished in September with his best month. His first half he posted a 5.85 ERA and in the second half he posted a 3.41 ERA. He finished the season with a 4.64 ERA. Luckily for the Orioles, they will be experiencing a high turnover as 3/5’s of their rotation are not returning. Unfortunately for the Orioles, the question entering the season is where they will get the pitching from.   

Relief Pitching Staff

  1. Boston Red Sox (4.1 WAR)
  2. New York Yankees (6.3 WAR)
  3. Tampa Bay Rays (3.1 WAR)
  4. Baltimore Orioles (3.2 WAR)
  5. Toronto Blue Jays (6.3 WAR)

The WAR calculated above was based off of qualifying relief pitchers only using Fangraphs.

Craig Kimbrel was not only one of the best closers in baseball but also one of the top relievers. Kimbrel topped off his amazing season winning the Reliever of the Year Award. He had a 1.43 ERA with 35 saves and 126 strikeouts in 69 innings pitched leading the Red Sox pen. The pen as a whole had a 3.15 ERA with 29 wins and 15 losses and 531 innings pitched.

Chad Green had a breakout season for the Yankees. Green only appeared in 39 games but had 67 innings pitched and struck out 100 batters. He stranded 27 of the 31 runners he inherited when entering games. His 1.83 ERA was best among the qualifying bullpen pitchers for the Yankees. With Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and the reacquisition of David Robertson the bullpen next season should be just as formidable. They finished the season with the third best team bullpen ERA with 3.34 and had 29 wins and 24 losses in 538.1 innings pitched.

Alex Colomé led the league in saves last year with 47. He blew 6 saves and had a 3.34 ERA. As a whole, the Rays bullpen put together a 3.38 ERA with 28 wins and 32 losses. The Bullpen pitched in all 162 games and threw 545.2 innings. Two of the key pieces of their bullpen Tommy Hunter (2.61 ERA/ 58.2 innings pitched) and Steve Cishek (2.01 ERA/ 44.2 innings pitched) both left in the off-season. They have to replace their two most consistent bullpen pieces heading into 2018.  

Mychal Givens is a name that is starting to be heard more and more around the league. Givens had a 2.75 ERA with 88 strikeouts in 78.2 innings pitched. Richard Bleier was another bright spot for the Orioles after he was acquired from the Yankees. Bleier had a 1.99 ERA for the Orioles. The team was without star reliever Zach Britton for most of the season due to multiple DL stints. Unfortunately for them he will also be starting next season on the DL as he injured his achilles in the offseason. Last season, the team turned to Brad Brach to take over the duties as closer, he managed 18 saves but only converted a 75% save percentage. The bullpen as a whole had a 3.93 ERA with 30 wins and 18 losses.

Dominic Leone was brought in 54 times with an inherited runner and only allowed 22.2% to score. He converted a save and had 81 strikeouts in 70.1 innings pitched while producing a 2.56 ERA for the season. He was the brightest spot for the Blue Jays bullpen. Leone was traded this offseason. Closer, Roberto Osuna, converted 39 saves last year. He also had 10 blown saves and a 3.38 ERA. Osuna is still really young and has plenty of time to prove he can handle the role. The relief staff as a whole had a 4.21 ERA and won 29 games with 26 losses.

Catcher

  1. Gary Sanchez- New York Yankees (4.1 WAR)
  2. Russell Martin- Toronto Blue Jays (1.5 WAR)
  3. Wilson Ramos- Tampa Bay Rays (0.1 WAR)
  4. Caleb Joseph- Baltimore Orioles  (1.6 WAR)
  5. Christian Vázquez- Boston Red Sox (1.1 WAR)

Gary Sanchez is by far the best offensive catcher in the AL East currently. He also is the only catcher from this group with enough PA to be qualify last season. Sanchez had 33 HR, 90 RBI with a .278 BA. He is also viewed as defensively detrimental behind the plate leading to him being benched by Joe Girardi. He led the league in Passed Balls (16) and Errors (13) last season.

After Sanchez it is a toss up. Russell Martin is the best fielder of the group but does not provide much value hitting with 13 HR, 35 RBI and a .221 AVG last season. Martin batted .293 at the Rogers Centre versus .167 on the road. Martin also batted .240 against right handed pitchers compared to just .154 AVG against left handed pitchers.

Wilson Ramos spent a majority of the season on the DL and was only able to appear in 64 games, but hit 11 HR and matched Martin’s RBI total with 35. Still only 30, expect Ramos to provide better production for the Rays as he has consistently for teams in the past (career .268 hitter).

Caleb Joseph is another defensive minded catcher with limited abilities at the plate. After finishing 2016 without an RBI in 132 at bats, Joseph bounced back driving in 28 runs in 254 at bats.

Christian Vázquez hit for a solid .290 clip and appeared in the second most games of the bunch but only provided 5 HR and 32 RBI. Vázquez was able to catch 42% of attempted steals against him last year.

First Base

  1. Justin Smoak- Toronto Blue Jays (3.2 WAR)
  2. Mitch Moreland- Boston Red Sox (2.0 WAR)
  3. Chris Davis- Baltimore Orioles (-0.1 WAR)
  4. Greg Bird- New York Yankees (0 WAR)
  5. Brad Miller- Tampa Bay Rays (0.6 WAR)

Justin Smoak is another player in the AL East who broke out this season with a career high in HR (38), RBI (90) and AVG (.270) all tops for AL East 1Bs. Smoak was also able to appear in 158 games. Smoak was rewarded for his efforts by being selected to his first all star game in 2017.

Mitch Moreland is the only other 1B in the East that came close to putting up those numbers. Moreland hit for a .246 AVG with 22 HR and 79 RBI. Moreland performed well enough to earn a contract extension from the Red Sox this offseason to remain their first baseman through 2019.

Chris Davis is the most enigmatic player on this list. One year he could hit 53 HR and bat for .286 and finish 3rd in the MVP voting. Then he has years like this past one with a .215 AVG with 26 HR and 61 RBI. It makes you wonder how he has a contract. Davis has become synonymous with Orioles fans for striking out looking. If Davis can get the production he provided in 2012, 2013, or 2015, he could vault to the top of the list.

Greg Bird is another question mark but mainly in the health department. After missing large chunks of the previous 2 seasons to injury, Bird has the potential to be a huge threat offensively with plus power. Bird displayed this when he went 13 for 44 with 6 HR in the final 14 games of the regular season. Now he has to prove he can do it over the course of a whole season.

Brad Miller was primarily a 2B for the Rays last year and based off the current depth chart provided by MLB, he is shifting over to first. Miller hit for a .201 AVG last year with only 9 HR and 40 RBI.

Second Base

  1. Jonathan Schoop- Baltimore Orioles (5.1 WAR)
  2. Dustin Pedroia- Boston Red Sox (1.5 WAR)
  3. Ronald Torreyes- New York Yankees (0.7 WAR)
  4. Devon Travis- Toronto Blue Jays (0.7 WAR)
  5. Daniel Robertson- Tampa Bay Rays (0.6 WAR)

Speaking of breakout seasons, Jonathan Schoop came out in a big way for the Orioles in 2017. He produced half of his career WAR in this past season alone. Schoop batted .293 with 32 HR and 105 RBI. He is no slouch with the glove either and was selected to his first All Star game this past season. Schoop’s breakout year knocks Pedroia off the top seat of 2B in the East.

The main question Pedroia faces this upcoming season is if can he remain healthy. An offseason knee surgery already forces Pedroia’s season to be delayed and he only appeared in 105 games last season for the Red Sox. He still produced well batting .293 with 7 HR and 62 RBI in that time. Pedroia’s bat hasn’t slowed down but hopefully his body keeps up this season.

Ronald Torreyes faces similar problems as his teammate Greg Bird does; can he stay healthy. No longer blocked by Castro, Torreyes looks to turn in a full complete season for the Yankees after batting .292 last year in 108 games. The AVG was impressive but primarily empty as he only hit 3 HR and drove in 36 RBI. However, he did score 35 runs. One other thing Torreyes has to deal with is the wave of support and enthusiasm for top Yankee prospect Gleyber Torres who looks to make his debut later this year.

Devon Travis also dealt with the injury bug last season appearing in only 50 games for the Blue Jays. He batted .259 with 5 HR and 24 RBI in that time. He looks to stay healthy to keep his job as the Jays starting 2B as Solarte performed admirably during Travis’ absence last year.

Daniel Robertson is a former top 100 prospect who made his debut last season for the Rays. A .281 hitter in the minors, Robertson struggled in his first taste of Major League play batting .206 with 5 HR and 19 RBI in 218 at bats.  

Third Base

  1. Josh Donaldson- Toronto Blue Jays (4.8 WAR)
  2. Rafael Devers- Boston Red Sox (1.3 WAR)
  3. Miguel Andújar- New York Yankees (0.2 WAR)
  4. Tim Beckham- Baltimore Orioles (3.3 WAR)
  5. Matt Duffy- Tampa Bay Rays (DNP 17/1.6 WAR in ‘16)

With Manny Machado being switched over to SS there currently is no competition for best 3B in the AL East. It’s Josh Donaldson. This past season was considered a down season for him and yet he still hit .270 with 33 HR and 78 RBI. A healthy season from Donaldson will most likely return him to the the forefront of MVP conversations.

Rafael Devers and Miguel Andújar both have potential. Devers eventually could be the one to dethrone Donaldson for the crown of top AL East third baseman. Making his MLB debut last year Devers batted .284 with 10 HR and 30 RBI in just 58 games.

While Andújar has been successful in decreasing his strikeout rate, he still has some other things to work on as the team felt his defense could be a little inconsistent at times. He did appear in 5 games last year batting .571 with 4 hits and 4 RBI.

Tim Beckham hasn’t quite met the expectations he held when he was drafted first overall. He came on hot when the O’s first acquired him but cooled off considerably in the final month. Beckham struggled defensively at SS last season so until he proves otherwise he is a defensive liability.

Matt Duffy has not appeared in a game since 2016. In 2016 Duffy batted .258 with 5 HR and 28 RBI in 91 games. Not quite the follow up to his impressive 2015 season in which he finished second in ROY voting. The unknown here knocks him to the bottom of the list.

Shortstop

  1. Manny Machado- Baltimore Orioles (3.5 WAR)
  2. Didi Gregorius- New York Yankees (3.7 WAR)
  3. Xander Bogaerts- Boston Red Sox (2.2 WAR)
  4. Adeiny Hechavarria- Tampa Bay Rays (1.6 WAR)
  5. Troy Tulowitzki- Toronto Blue Jays (0.1 WAR)

Manny Machado also suffered what could be considered a down year for the young superstar. Batting just .230 in the first half he rebounded in the second half batting .290 including .327 and .341 in July and August respectfully. Manny is a defensive web gem waiting to happen and there is no reason to suspect him to become a liability at shortstop. It will be interesting to see how the young star transitions to his first full season as a Major League shortstop especially following the knee surgeries he has had in the past few years.

Didi had a great season for the Yankees last year batting .287 with 25 HR and 87 RBI (all career highs). His performance was part of the reason the Yankees “rebuild” was so short lived.

Xander Bogaerts was reliable for the Red Sox last year batting .273 with 10 HR and 62 RBI and appearing in 148 games. He did have more errors (17) in less chances (552) than in previous seasons. That could be a trend to keep an eye on as his fielding percentage has dropped the last 2 seasons.

Adeiny Hechavarria was acquired by the Rays in a midseason trade with the Marlins. He ended the season batting .261 with 8 HR and 30 RBI. He only appeared in 97 games though as he was primarily the Marlins backup/reserve player.

Troy Tulowitzki has fallen off the wagon. This is primarily due to the fact he cannot stay healthy for a full season anymore. He only appeared in 66 games last year batting a paltry .249 with 7 HR and 26 RBI. His health was part of the reason the Blue Jays acquired Aledmys Díaz from the Cardinals.

Left Field

  1. Brett Gardner- New York Yankees (4.9 WAR)
  2.  Andrew Benintendi- Boston Red Sox (2.6 WAR)
  3. Trey Mancini- Baltimore Orioles (2.2 WAR)
  4. Mallex Smith- Tampa Bay Rays (1.7 WAR)
  5. Curtis Granderson- Toronto Blue Jays (1.5 WAR)

Someone forgot to tell Brett Gardner it is Benintendi’s time to take the crown as the top AL East left fielder. Gardner is coming off his second best season as a pro and best since 2013. He put up a career high in HR with 21 and was just shy of his career high in RBI (63 in ‘17). Gardner also just posted his third highest dWAR season of his career and is still getting on base as much as ever. He is the stage setter for the Yankees potent lineup with his patience and on base ability. Until he slows down, he’s the top dog in left.

Coming up behind Gardner are a couple of young promising stars in Andrew Benintendi and Trey Mancini. They both finished second and third in ROY voting last year. Benintendi batted .271 with 20 HR and 90 RBI. Benintendi being natural OF gives him an edge over Mancini who just switched to the position this past season.

Mancini batted .293 with 24 HR and 78 RBI in his impressive rookie season. With another offseason of preparation his defense should improve as his playing time in left increases.

Mallex Smith is another young player still coming into his own hitting .270 with 2 HR and 12 RBI in only 81 games. According to Fangraphs, Mallex Smith had a BABIP of .347 last season with the Rays. Expect his offensive production to lower some as that number comes back down to even out.

Curtis Granderson is still hitting the ball out of the park but is primarily a platoon player at this point in his career. He hit 26 HR last season with 21 coming against right handers. He only hit .214 against righties though (.212 on the season) as he continues to play into the twilight of his career.

Center Field

  1. Kevin Kiermaier- Tampa Bay Rays (5.1 WAR)
  2. Adam Jones- Baltimore Orioles (2.5 WAR)
  3. Aaron Hicks- New York Yankees (3.9 WAR)
  4. Jackie Bradley Jr.- Boston Red Sox (2.8 WAR)
  5. Kevin Pillar- Toronto Blue Jays (2.8 WAR)

Center Field is perhaps the deepest position in the Al East. Every player had a 2+ WAR last season and the list is headed by Kevin Kiermaier and his defensive prowess. He’s won multiple Gold Gloves and makes highlight reel catches look routine. He hit .276 (career high) with 15 HR (career high) and 39 RBI.

Jones is the best offensive CF for now in the AL East. Batting .285 with 26 HR and 73 RBI. Defensive metrics have not been to kind to Jones even though he has won 4 GG. He was credited with a -13.3 UZR last season. Players are still skeptical about defensive metrics though and prefer the eye test; which Jones is still passing with flying colors.

Aaron Hicks batted .266 with 15 HR and 52 RBI all of which are career highs, which was his best season in the bigs. Hicks will need to keep his performance up with pressure coming behind him from rookie Clint Frazier. A slip in production could have Yankee fans calling for his job and with new manager Aaron Boone wanting to make an impression with the fans he might make it.

Jackie Bradley had a down season after posting career highs in ‘16, batting just .245 with 17 HR and 63 RBI. He has said this offseason he would like more steals and new manager Alex Cora seems willing to let it happen.  

Kevin Pillar set a career high with 16 HR last season but only batted .256 and drove in 42 RBI. Most of Pillar’s value comes from his defense. He committed just 1 error in 325 chances this past season with 8 assists from the outfield. While the metrics have his defense as down last year he was still plus value with a 1.9 dWAR.

Right Field

  1. Aaron Judge- New York Yankees (8.1 WAR)
  2. Mookie Betts- Boston Red Sox (6.4 WAR)
  3. Steven Souza Jr.- Tampa Bay Rays (4.2 WAR)
  4. Randal Grichuk- Toronto Blue Jays (1 WAR)
  5. Austin Hays- Baltimore Orioles (-0.5 WAR)

Aaron Judge was one of the best players in all of baseball last season. He won Rookie Of the Year and finished second in the AL MVP voting. He is also a plus defender (something that is not mentioned nearly enough with the young star). Judge hit 52 HR while batting .284 with 114 RBI. Yes he struck out 208 times but he also walked 127 times. His OBP was .422. Enough said.

Mookie Betts had a down year coming off his monster 2016 campaign. Mookie hit .264 with 24 HR and 102 RBI. Most players can only dream of that kinda year. Betts is also considered to be the best defender of the group and was ranked by the MLB Network as the third best RF in baseball last year behind Judge and Stanton respectfully.

Steven Souza batted .239 with 30 HR and 78 RBI (both career highs). While his average might not turn a lot of heads, Souza had an OBP of .351 last year and drew the 5th most walks in the AL with 84 .   

Randal Grichuk, who just came over in a trade this past January, batted .238 with 22 HR and 59 RBI for the St. Louis Cardinals, his worst season. He has a tough task being brought in to replace departing Blue Jays star José Bautista. He will look to rebound with the Jays as he looks to replicate his impressive 2015 rookie season.  

Austin Hays has a chance to shoot up this list but is hurt by the possibility of him not making the Opening Day roster. Hays has put up big numbers in the minors but his small sample size in the majors last year was not the debut he was looking for. He batted .217 with 1 HR and 8 RBI in 20 games. Hays has lots of potential, he will just need the chance to show it.

Designated Hitter

  1. Giancarlo Stanton- New York Yankees (7.6 WAR)
  2. Corey Dickerson- Tampa Bay Rays (2.7 WAR)
  3. Kendry Morales- Toronto Blue Jays (-0.2 WAR)
  4. Hanley Ramirez- Boston Red Sox (-0.3 WAR)
  5. Mark Trumbo- Baltimore Orioles (-0.6 WAR)

It should be no surprise that Giancarlo Stanton is at the top of this list. Stanton and Judge could be swapped out and the positions on the lists won’t change much. Stanton won MVP last year in the National league and joins a Yankee lineup ready to mash. Expect Stanton to DH more often than not with more in the field playing time than the usual DH. Stanton set career highs with 59 HR and 132 RBI. He batted .281 on what was his best season yet as a professional.

Corey Dickerson had a good year for the Rays. He batted .282 with 27 HR (career high)with 62 RBI. His best season since 2014 with the Colorado Rockies.

Kendry Morales, Hanley Ramirez, and Mark Trumbo all had relatively disappointing seasons. Morales batted .250 with 28 HR and 85 RBI. Morales is long removed from his best season as a pro back in 2009. His 28 HR hit in 2017 is the third highest amount he has hit in his career.

Ramirez batted .242 with 23 HR and 62 RBI in what was one of his worst seasons as a professional. The Red Sox will be hoping he can replicate his 2016 season, his best so far with the team. Hanley in the past has had a bounce back after a disappointing season (2012-2013, 2015-2016) so the trend is in his favor.

A year after hitting 47 HR Trumbo only managed to hit 23 with 65 RBI and batting only .234. Trumbo’s BABIP was the same as his 2016 season and he cut down on his strikeout percentage as well. Trumbo’s 2017 were below his career average so there is hope for him to bounce back next season.

Thanks to recent acquisitions and transitions of players the AL East hosts a major player at every position. The division is as strong as it’s ever been and is loaded with young talent. While there is room for improvement, there is plenty of talent in the pipeline coming up as well. The AL East has plenty to offer in terms of stellar play and interesting story lines.

 

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