Opening Day is right around the corner, and as the outlook for every team begins to take shape, it is time to turn to the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook for its annual team win over/unders. After looking at projections from FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, I've pinpointed a handful of teams most likely to exceed or fall short of those figures -- teams that should provide value on the win total market.
Prediction: Over 91.5 wins
FanGraphs projection: 91-71
Baseball Prospectus projection: 86-76
The Nationals won 95 games last season en route to their third National League East title since 2012. The club ranked fourth in the NL in runs scored (4.7 per game), yet bolstered its lineup with the additions of Adam Eaton and Matt Wieters, both expected to assume everyday roles. Eaton posted the third-highest WAR among outfielders last season (6.2) behind only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. He will likely hit behind Trea Turner, who became the first rookie in the modern era (since 1900) to hit at least .330 in a season with 10 HR and 30 stolen bases (.342 BA, 13 HR, 33 SB).
Washington's pitching staff is headed by Max Scherzer, the defending NL Cy Young winner, and Stephen Strasburg, whose season ended in early September due to a forearm strain. Despite Strasburg's health struggles, the Nationals own the best ERA in the league during the past three seasons (3.38). Washington's 2017 projection is aided by 57 games vs. Miami, Atlanta and Philadelphia, all of whom are likely to produce sub-.500 seasons.
Prediction: Over 85.5 wins
FanGraphs projection: 83-79
Baseball Prospectus projection: 87-75
The Mariners won 86 games last season, but there is good reason to believe they'll do even better in 2017 based on data projection. According to Baseball Prospectus' third-order win percentage, which measures underlying statistics and opponent quality, Seattle was the best team in the American League West. Its run differential (+61) was markedly better than the Rangers (+8), who won an AL-best 95 games.
The top of the Mariners' lineup will feature two new faces in Jarrod Dyson and Jean Segura, both acquired in offseason trades. The duo is projected to steal a combined 59 bases by FanGraphs' ZIPS projection system, more than Seattle stole as a team in 2016. However, Seattle's season will likely hinge on the performance of Felix Hernandez, whose WAR in 2016 (1.6) was his lowest since 2006 -- back when he was just 20 years old. Should he return to form, the Mariners are likely to find themselves in the postseason for the first time since 2001.
Prediction: Over 78.5 wins
FanGraphs projection: 82-80
Baseball Prospectus projection: 84-78
The Rays won only 68 games in 2016 but were battered by bad luck along the way. Tampa Bay owned the worst record in all of baseball in one-run games (13-27), a figure likely to improve based solely on the fluke of those results, year over year. Its Pythagorean record (based on run differential) was that of a 77-win team, which would indicate it is primed for a turnaround.
Tampa Bay's starting rotation features five pitchers with a projected WAR of 2.0 or higher (per ZIPS), one of two teams in the American League (Boston is the other) who can make that claim. The key to the Rays' lineup is Kevin Kiermaier, who missed nearly two months last season with a left hand fracture. The Rays went 18-39 in 57 games without him and 50-55 when he played. If the Rays' starting pitchers can meet expectations and their star CF can remain healthy, they should approach the 80-win mark they reached in 2015.
Prediction: Under 74.5 wins
FanGraphs projection: 75-87
Baseball Prospectus projection: 71-91
Statistical models have long underrated the Royals, who won 81 games last season after back-to-back American League pennants. Kansas City reached those heights, in large part, due to an exceptional bullpen that no longer boasts Wade Davis, following an offseason trade with the Cubs. The tragic death of Yordano Ventura also impacts a starting rotation that lacks depth and front-end talent.
Many of Kansas City's best position players will be free agents after the 2017 season (Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar), which could create a fire sale at the trade deadline if the Royals aren't within striking distance of a playoff spot. Their third-order record last season (from Baseball Prospectus) was 70-92, which is indicative of a team that is more in decline than the .500 record would suggest.
Prediction: Under 67.5 wins
FanGraphs projection: 65-97
Baseball Prospectus projection: 69-93
After winning just 68 games last season, the Padres reduced their payroll by 44 percent -- the largest drop of any team in baseball. San Diego is fully entrenched in rebuilding mode and projects to be in the bottom five of both pitcher and hitter WAR in 2017, according to FanGraphs.
The Padres do possess the third-best farm system in baseball (according to Keith Law), but six of their top-10 prospects were 20 or younger last season. Thus, San Diego isn't likely to enjoy an influx of big-league performance this season from its minor leaguers, as most will likely remain in lower levels. With all signs pointing to this as the worst team in baseball, 100 losses is well within the realm of possibility.