These 5 projections for '19 might surprise you

January 24th, 2019

Nobody can predict baseball, and projection systems are no different.
But even though reality sometimes plays out far differently from what projections say, they serve as a useful lens through which to view the upcoming season. Like other systems, the Steamer projections available at FanGraphs use past performance and age to help forecast future results.
Many of the projections for 2019 seem obvious. It's not exactly a stretch to say will be the best player in MLB, or that the Red Sox will win the most games.
On the other hand, some of Steamer's results might raise some eyebrows. Keeping in mind that rosters remain incomplete at this stage of the offseason, here are five notable projections to ponder as we wait for spring (All projections noted below are as of Friday):
1. is still one of the game's best players.
This perhaps isn't so much a surprise as something people might have forgotten. After all, Seager played just 26 games last season, his final appearance coming on April 29. The 24-year-old shortstop then underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and another surgery on his left hip, as the Dodgers traded for Manny Machado as a short-term replacement.
In 2016, however, Seager finished fifth among position players in FanGraphs' wins above replacement (WAR), with 7.0, on his way to winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award. In '17, he finished 11th with 5.9 WAR. Despite his mostly lost '18 season, Steamer projects Seager to pick up where he left off, batting .284/.359/.480 for a 130 wRC+ and finishing fifth among position players with 5.6 WAR -- behind only Trout, ,  and . Yet it's worth noting that projection assumes that Seager plays 142 games, which seems far from a lock as he continues to rehab.

2. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is going to hit the ground running.
It's one thing for fans to get excited about a prospect -- and another for a cold-hearted projection system to do so. But that's exactly what has happened here, after Vlad Jr. obliterated Minor League pitching last year for a 1.073 OPS while rising to Triple-A. MLB Pipeline's No. 1 prospect, who turns 20 in March, is the first player to receive a perfect 80 hit tool grade from the Pipeline prospect team.
That shows in the projections, which have Guerrero batting .306/.368/.511 with 22 homers in 536 plate appearances. The third baseman's 138 wRC+ would tie and last year's rookie sensation, , for 11th in the Majors. His 4.6 WAR would tie for 12th, despite a projection of 124 games played, which is reasonable given the possibility Guerrero could start the season in the Minors.
It's also worth noting that Vlad Jr. isn't the only rookie with a strong projection. White Sox outfielder (131 wRC+, 2.5 WAR in 109 games), Blue Jays catcher (108 wRC+, 2.4 WAR in 95 games), Nationals outfielder (102 wRC+, 2.0 WAR in 127 games) and Astros pitcher Josh James (3.96 ERA, 2.0 WAR in 128 innings) are among the others expected to make a sizeable impact.

3. The hot corner has never been hotter.
Guerrero is just one reason why third base is the position to watch right now in MLB. Steamer projects 27 position players to produce at least 4 WAR next season, and 10 of those could be third basemen: Ramirez, Bryant, , , Machado, , Guerrero,  and Josh Donaldson. No other position has more than seven, and that's counting all outfielders together.
Of course, a few of those 10 could wind up elsewhere on the field in 2019, especially if a team signs Machado to play shortstop. Still, it's an impressive group that features just two players (Turner and Donaldson) who won't still be in their 20s next season, meaning that this golden age of third basemen could extend for a while.

4. The Indians still have a big buffer.
Cleveland was never seriously challenged last year en route to going 91-71 and winning its third straight Americal League Central crown by a 13-game margin over Minnesota. Yet the club hasn't done much so far this offseason to bolster its position coming off an AL Division Series sweep at the hands of Houston. , , , , and are among those who are gone; , and lead a relatively modest crop of additions.
While the Twins brought in to help a promising roster, Steamer doesn't see them or anyone else in the division as a dire threat just yet. Instead, the projections have the Indians at 93-69, buoyed by two of MLB's top four position players (Lindor, Ramirez) and three of its top 12 pitchers (, , ). That record would tie for the fourth best in MLB and put Cleveland 11 games ahead of Minnesota, with no other Central club within 20 games.
Now, the White Sox could shake things up if they sign Machado, as has been rumored, but even that wouldn't make up what is projected as a 23-game gap between Chicago and Cleveland.

5. The Brewers might go first ... to worst?
Milwaukee surpassed many people's expectations last season when it completed a two-year jump from 73 to 96 victories, won the NL Central by beating the Cubs in a tiebreaker game, then advanced to within one win of the World Series. But at this point, Steamer isn't seeing a repeat trip to the postseason, with the Brewers' 79-83 record putting them behind not only the Cubs (87-75) and Cardinals (86-76), but also the Reds (81-81) and Pirates (80-82), albeit by a narrow margin.
The Brewers made one significant move recently by signing to upgrade at catcher, but otherwise, the club has been quiet after making a big splash last winter. That still leaves its roster with some question marks, especially in the starting rotation, where no pitcher is projected to post 2 WAR or more. Nonetheless, it's strange to see a projected drop of 17 games from 2018 to '19 -- the largest positive or negative change for any MLB team.