-- As we head into the final quarter, let's take stock of a season that in many ways has gone as expected: The National League is largely split into the haves and the have-nots, the AL East race is tightly fought among multiple teams, and the AL wild card has many contenders.
Which teams have been the biggest surprises and disappointments? One way to look at this is to compare each team's current record with its preseason projected record. I took each team's win-loss mark entering Sunday, projected that over 162 games and compared that win total with the average preseason projection from ZiPS, FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus.
By this accounting, the New York Mets?are not the most disappointing team as many would suggest, as their preseason projections pegged them for 89 wins and they're on pace for 80. On the other hand, the Mets were favorites to win the NL East, or at least win a wild card, and even the latter now appears unlikely. Most ESPN voters picked the Mets to make the playoffs; at FanGraphs, 47 of 55 staff members picked them to make the playoffs.
The Houston Astros are on pace for 83 wins, just three below their projected win total of 86. They currently, however, will be watching the playoffs on television, which means all 55 FanGraphs voters will be wrong.
The Rangers have exceeded expectations thanks to a remarkable 27-8 record in one-run games. The Orioles have overachieved, at least in comparison to the projection systems, but as Orioles fans will happily point out, the projection systems seem to always underrate their team. Some fans will view this as an indictment of the projection systems. See, they're wrong again. There's also a margin of error, however, so it's really just proof that -- thankfully -- baseball still remains unpredictable.
Anyway, I wanted to look at some of the major offseason moves of a few teams and reflect on how they've affected the current standings.
Texas Rangers ( 14 wins over expectations)
The Rangers didn't actually do much in the offseason, but the Desmond signing -- which was mostly criticized at the time, coming in February and costing the team a first-round draft pick -- has obviously paid big dividends, although he has fallen way off in the second half (.220/.250/.348) even as the team has kept winning.
They've been boosted by a full season of Cole Hamels (5.2 WAR), the return of Yu Darvish (2.1 WAR in 10 starts) and a strong 15 starts from Colby Lewis (3.2 WAR). Two under-the-radar signings added depth to the bullpen: Matt Bush, 30, who signed out of a tryout at a Golden Corral parking lot; and Tony Barnette, 32, who played the last six years in Japan. The two rookies have combined for 3.1 WAR at a combined cost of $2 million.
Compare that with some of the big-name free-agent signings and salaries:
David Price: $30 million, 2.2 WAR
Zack Greinke: $34 million, 2.5 WAR
Jeff Samardzija: $10.8 million, 1.1 WAR (salary goes up to $19.8 million next season)
Jordan Zimmermann: $18 million, 0.7 WAR
Scott Kazmir: $12.7 million, 0.3 WAR
Mike Leake: $12 million, 0.3 WAR
Yovani Gallardo: $9 million, 0.6 WAR
Baltimore Orioles ( 11 wins over expectations)
Their biggest moves were to re-sign Chris Davis and Darren O'Day, and Gallardo essentially replaced the departed Chen, meaning a rotation that needed to be upgraded wasn't upgraded.
As expected, the rotation hasn't been that good -- 40-44, 5.00 ERA -- but the bullpen has gone 27-11 with a 3.41 ERA. The Orioles have hit a lot of home runs, with Trumbo and Alvarez both out-OPSing Davis. There's also been some luck: They signed Kim, but after a poor spring training the O's wanted to send him down to Triple-A or even back to Korea. He refused, per his contract, and now leads the team with a .399 OBP.
Boston Red Sox ( 7 wins over expectations)
It seems that many view the Red Sox as a disappointment, but they're on pace for 92 wins, well above their predicted total of 85. What's interesting is that the offseason moves haven't really paid huge dividends: Smith got hurt while Kimbrel and Price have been more solid than great.
A big reason for improvement has come from holdovers Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rick Porcello. Those four have combined for 17.7 WAR already, after totaling 13.4 WAR all of 2015. Hanley Ramirez (1.5 WAR) and Pablo Sandoval (injured) have also been less awful than last year, when they combined for -2.2 WAR.
Houston Astros (-3 wins less than expectations)
We can analyze the Astros every which way, but much of their disappointment rests in the struggles of Dallas Keuchel, who has gone from 7.2 WAR, 20 wins and a Cy Young Award to a replacement-level starter with a 7-12 record and 4.76 ERA. While some regression from Keuchel could have been expected, this decline would not have been.
That said, the Astros did very little to reinforce their team other than trading for Giles (who, after an awful start, has been better and has a 3.61 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 47.1 innings). They hoped Carlos Gomez would play better. He didn't. They hoped one of the rookie first basemen would step up. None did. After Colby Rasmus accepted their qualifying offer -- which they may not have wanted -- they hoped the inconsistent Rasmus would have back-to-back good seasons. He didn't. Now they hope Yulieski Gourriel will be worth $47.5 million.
New York Mets (-9 wins less than expectations)
The .500 record is a disappointment, but did the Mets have a bad offseason strategy? I have a difficult time making that argument. They re-signed Cespedes, which meant they'd have to play him out of position in center field, at least part of the time, but nobody thought that was a bad move. They needed better defense at shortstop and signed Cabrera, who while not great, is certainly better defensively than Wilmer Flores. They traded for Walker to replace Murphy, which seemed like an even swap. Sure, they shouldn't have counted on David Wright, but they had infield depth with Flores and Dilson Herrera if needed.
What has happened is simply within the margin of error of any team. Injuries (Wright, Lucas Duda, Matt Harvey), bad play ( Curtis Granderson, Harvey, the catchers), and, yes, some questionable managing. The Mets are 14th in the NL in runs scored -- a .208 average with runners in scoring position is a big reason why. I don't think that's something you can blame on the front office or the manager.
Arizona Diamondbacks (-12 wins less than expectations)
Yes, they gave up too much to get Miller and it's easy to blame Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart for what has happened (deservedly so for the most part), and they've been terrible even with the breakout season from Jake Lamb and Jean Segura producing a surprisingly solid campaign. But were the offseason moves that misguided? You can defend the reasoning: Coming off a 79-win season, sign an ace and trade for a solid No. 2/3 starter to go with Patrick Corbin (first full season back from Tommy John surgery) and the emerging Robbie Ray. They had three offensive stars in Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock and David Peralta. Then Pollock fractured his elbow in April, Miller couldn't get anyone out, Corbin has been terrible, Greinke a little disappointing, Peralta played just 48 games, and even Goldschmidt's power numbers are way down in a season where everyone else's are up.
The argument against the front office is the projection systems still didn't see a playoff team here, so trading for Miller was ill-advised in the first place. It's also just been one of those seasons.