The AL East is shaping up to be quite competitive in 2016. The division is filled with decent teams, and their lineups, likewise, all look similarly solid. However, while the division's rotations lack a clear top team, the list of the division's lineups suggest a clear number one.
|9||Hyon Soo Kim||.272/.337/.425||106|
The table above presents a reasonable guess at the Orioles' starting lineup, as well as projected offensive numbers courtesy of FanGraphs Depth Chart projections. Glancing down the O's lineup, one thing becomes clear; this team will mash. Well, it will mash home runs, at least, as Baltimore possesses no less than six hitters projected to hit at least 20 dingers in 2016.
The Orioles' impressive power appears to come at the cost of patience. A year after finishing 24th in baseball in walk rate, Baltimore again looks unlikely to post quality on-base numbers. Given that Davis and Machado are the only Orioles that project to post demonstrably above-average on-base percentages, this comes as no surprise.
Kim, an outfielder signed this offseason from Korea, deserves some mention. His projection of a 106 wRC+ looks quite aggressive given the rumors the team is considering releasing him. However, it's difficult to find a sure replacement among the organization's outfielders (i.e. Joey Rickard, Nolan Reimold), so for now, Kim will slot into the ninth spot.
Overall, the O's look poised to smash home runs and strikeout en masse. Whether their prodigous power will be enough to outweigh their shortcomings elsewhere remains to be seen. Still, a lineup that features a top three as strong as Machado, Jones, and Davis demands some respect.
Boston Red Sox
|9||Jackie Bradley Jr.||.253/.325/.408||97|
Boston boasts a lineup that is, on paper, fairly strong. The Red Sox sport five hitters projected to be above average, by wRC+, and two more that are knocking on the door. The biggest question mark looks like Castillo, who could only manage a 72 wRC+ in 289 plate appearances in 2015.
The Red Sox lineup seems to be relying heavily on some regression to the mean this season. A year after combining to be two of the worst regulars in the majors, Boston will slot Ramirez and Sandoval right back into the middle of the lineup. A bounce back towards career norms for this pair of underachievers would represent a massive step forward for the Boston lineup. Should those two continue to look like major albatrosses, the lineup will suddenly look very top-heavy.
That top is still quite solid, however, and with Betts and Bogaerts, Boston can feel confident that the top of their order will feature two studs for the foreseeable future. The Red Sox dynamic young duo, combined with dependable veterans Ortiz and Pedroia, help ensure that the Boston lineup should at least have a reasonably high floor to go with some upside as well.
New York Yankees
The Yankees own a very steady, balanced lineup. The batting order looks determined to congregate close to league average. Teixeira is the only hitter projected to be more than ten percent better than the average, and Gregorius appears as the only one projected to be more than ten percent below. Even Gregorius managed a .294/.345/.417 second half line, and since some of his improvement does seem sustainable, the Yankees could trot out a lineup devoid of any true holes.
However, they also might have a lineup lacking in upside. Most of the lineup's potential appears concentrated in a couple of veterans–Rodriguez and Teixeira–who were outstanding last season, but can't be entirely counted on to rake again. Elsewhere, the lineup features plenty of completely competent, if unspectacular, hitters.
Whether the veterans hit like it's 2009 again likely will determine where the New York lineup fits in the AL East picture. Another strong season at the plate from the likes of A-Rod, Teixeira, Beltran, and McCann would lead to one of the division's best lineups, but anything other than that will likely allow them to slip into mediocrity.
Tampa Bay Rays
|8||Steven Souza Jr||.236/.316/.408||103|
The Rays' lineup somewhat resembles that of the Yankees in that their players seem determined to not stray far from average. Outside of catcher with Casali, every position is manned by a player who is who is around league-average with the bat.
The team doesn't have much star-power, however, as Longoria has seen his production decline recently. While he is still quite valuable, his projected 108 wRC+ in the middle of the lineup isn't particularly formidable. Players like Forsythe, Miller, and Dickerson are all respectable, but none look like they could be the anchor for a truly great lineup.
The Rays do have plenty of depth with the likes of Desmond Jennings and Hank Conger waiting on the bench as platoon players. The team will try every last way to squeeze every ounce of value out of their players. The lineup may not look imposing, but the Rays will still ensure that their hitters are put in the best position to succeed.
Toronto Blue Jays
A few of the AL East lineups can boast that they lack easy outs, but only the Blue Jays can say that while having the star power to back them up. Toronto is home to one of the league's most fearsome lineups, and after leading MLB in home runs in 2015, the Blue Jays look poised to rake again in 2016. The middle of the order is potent enough to strike fear in the heart of any pitcher (non-Kershaw division), as Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion combined to launch 120 bombs last season.
The lineup could possibly be even more productive than listed above. Second baseman Devon Travis, who posted a 135 wRC+ in his rookie season, is targeting a late-May return from injury. Tulowitzki, if he can maintain some semblance of health, has considerable potential beyond his relatively modest projection. The Blue Jays would likely require injuries, or some surprising under-performance to be dislodged from the perch as the division's finest lineup.
I believe Toronto has the clear edge here, but an argument can be made for the other lineups to finish anywhere from 2nd to 5th. I would probably put the Yankees in the middle, with the Red Sox in second, and the Rays and Orioles trailing behind. What do you think?