More than a month into the 2015 baseball season, we've seen some fascinating subplots emerge -- regarding both teams and individual players.
Using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections, we can already predict final stat lines and records over the remainder of the season, and generally those numbers make a lot of sense on paper.
But the beauty of baseball lies in its unpredictability. With that in mind, here are eight very intriguing PECOTA projections posed in an over/under context.
Felix Hernandez: over/under 19 wins
King Felix has never won 20 games, and he might not ever get a better opportunity than this season. At 29 years old, he's still in the prime of his career, and for the first time, he has both a capable offense and closer backing him up -- the two most important variables in a pitcher's quest for 20 wins.
Hernandez is already sitting on six victories and a 1.85 ERA entering his start on Saturday against Boston. He's allowing an absurd 6.1 hits per nine innings, and his line-drive rate is a career-low 13.1 with an 11.3 swinging-strike percentage. If there were ever a year for Hernandez to reach that magic No. 20, it would appear to be this one.
Kris Bryant: over/under 30 home runs
Bryant is a rookie with three home runs to his name, and it took him 21 games to launch his first long ball. Is Baseball Prospectus' forecast of 30 homers hyperbole then? Not at all. Bryant has hit for power at every level he's played. He launched 43 homers in 138 Minor League games last season, and he led all hitters in Spring Training with nine jacks. Playing his home games at Wrigley Field, Bryant will surely reap the rewards of the warm summer air when the wind is blowing out.
Should Bryant reach the 30-homer mark, it would put him in some exclusive company, historically. Since divisional play began in 1969, only 15 rookies have launched 30 homers in a season, and only five -- Mark McGwire, Albert Pujols, Jose Abreu, Mike Piazza and Ron Kittle -- have hit at least 35. With homers in three of his last six games, Bryant appears to have an outside shot at joining that club.
Aroldis Chapman: over/under 14.5 K/9
Chapman's current pace of 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings would be otherworldly for just about anyone else. For Chapman, it's actually subpar. What the flamethrowing Chapman has accomplished in terms of strikeouts thus far in his career has been nothing short of historic.
No other pitcher in history has more than one season with 15 K/9. Chapman has posted three in a row, and he should challenge for a fourth. In fact, there are only six seasons in baseball history in which a pitcher has thrown at least 25 innings and recorded 15 strikeouts per nine. Chapman owns half of those seasons. Baseball Prospectus has Chapman pegged for a 14.5 rate this year. If he can up that rate by half a strikeout, he could put himself in a territory we may never see equaled again.
Los Angeles Dodgers: over/under 98 wins
Baseball Prospectus forecasted 98 victories for the Dodgers before the 2015 season began, and 34 games into the season, that's still their number. The last time the Dodgers won that many games came in 1977, and they haven't hit the 100 mark since 1974 -- both years in which they won the National League pennant. Los Angeles' 15-3 mark at home (entering Thursday's game against Colorado) is the best in baseball, and its pitching staff's .234 batting average against is the best in the NL.
Given the offseason losses of Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez and the uncertainty surrounding the back end of their rotation and bullpen (with injuries to Hyun-jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy and Kenley Jansen), 98 wins has always seemed like a bit of a stretch. But the current club has done nothing to show they aren't capable of hitting that lofty mark after a 22-11 start.
Billy Hamilton: over/under 72 steals
Hamilton might be favored to surpass this mark simply based on the fact that he'll probably get to face Jon Lester four more times. At this point, 72 seems like a somewhat conservative estimate for Hamilton, who swiped more than twice that in the Minors in 2012. But first and foremost, Hamilton needs to get on base, which he's doing at just a .266 clip.
Baseball Prospectus seems to think Hamilton should post an on-base percentage of around .300 for the remainder of the season, which should help his already spectacular rate of steals. At Hamilton's current pace of 17 steals in his first 34 team games, he projects to swipe 81 bases (and if his OBP does indeed go up, that number could be higher). In the Wild Card era, no one has ever reached the 80-steal plateau, and only eight different players have ever done so -- most recently Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman in 1988.
Mike Trout: over/under 7.9 WAR
No player has ever posted three seasons of 8 wins above replacement before his age-24 season. Last year, Trout fell a tenth of a win shy with a 7.9 WAR -- the same number he's projected for this season. Clearly, the 23-year-old phenom can do it all, even when he's struggling at the plate. He went hitless in nine at-bats in the Angels' series against the Rockies this week, but he managed to save Wednesday's game with his glove and his arm -- purportedly his two weakest tools.
Perhaps Trout set his own bar too high by posting consecutive seasons of 10.8 and 9.3 WAR to start his career. But as of right now, his .958 OPS is higher than his career average, and Baseball Prospectus has him pegged for 30 home runs, which would be his second-highest career total. If Trout can post a WAR higher than 7.9 -- and as we've learned, Trout is capable of just about anything -- he would become the 33rd hitter with at least three seasons of 8 WAR. The first 32 are all either in the Hall of Fame, on their way, or kept out solely because of PEDs.
Clayton Kershaw: over/under 250 strikeouts
Kershaw has never led the Majors in strikeouts, which qualifies as somewhat surprising, considering the rest of his remarkable accomplishments. Baseball Prospectus has the Dodgers lefty currently pegged to do so this season with precisely 250 punchouts -- which represents a pretty special mark in Dodgers lore. Only three pitchers have ever fanned 250 hitters while donning Dodger Blue: Sandy Koufax (four times), Don Drysdale and Dazzy Vance -- all Hall of Famers.
Thus far, Kershaw's 4.26 ERA is nowhere near what any of us expected. And his 9.1 hits per nine innings would be a career worst. But with 56 strikeouts in 44 1/3 frames, Kershaw is whiffing hitters at the highest rate of his career. His ERA and WHIP will probably normalize at some point, which would mean he'll start pitching deeper into games -- giving him more chances for more strikeouts. Assuming Kershaw returns to being Kershaw, there's a good chance he could set a career-high in strikeouts.
Total strikeouts by Cubs hitters: over/under 1,530
The 2013 Houston Astros set the record for most strikeouts by one team in a single season when they whiffed 1,535 times. The Arizona Diamondbacks, meanwhile, hold the NL record with 1,529 in 2010 -- a record the Cubs are currently projected to break. Here's the difference: Those D-backs and Astros teams were woeful, last-place ballclubs. These Cubs, at least so far, are pretty darn good. They just also happen to strike out a lot.
Through their first 33 games, the Cubs' strikeout rate sits at 26.1 percent (which, if expanded over a full season, would be the worst of all time). That's right, they're striking out in more than a quarter of their at-bats. As it stands, Bryant is projected to lead the club with 184 strikeouts, and Jorge Soler and Dexter Fowler should also surpass 150.
The thing is, these Cubs don't seem to care, as long as they're scoring runs. They could very well set an all-time record for most strikeouts by a ballclub, but they'd gladly trade that bit of infamy for a playoff berth -- and, yes, they're currently projected for a playoff berth, as well.