10 Bold Predictions for Michael Simione by Michael Simione March 15, 2021 1) Zach Eflin is the Matthew Boyd of 2020. Matt Boyd had a lot of buzz coming into the 2020 season. He had a stellar first half of 2019 and the high strikeout rate seemed like an intriguing option. Well, this year it seems like Zach Eflin is being touted by several analysts in the fantasy baseball Twitterverse. Last season overall Eflin produced a 3.97 ERA, 3.39 FIP, and an impressive 28.6 K%. Of course, any time a pitcher raises their strikeout rate by 10% it will bring excitement. I’m here to temper those expectations. On the surface level let’s look at what he did in two months compared to his career average. Zach Eflin’s 2020 vs. Career Numbers Year ERA HR/9 K% BB% WHIP SwStr% 2020 3.97 1.22 28.6% 6.1% 1.27 10.2% Career Avg. 4.63 1.51 18.9% 6.3% 1.33 8.8% A ton of improvement compared to his career numbers. Eflin is only 26 so growth can occur but with improvements on surface stats, we have to look deeper to figure out why he improved. Did he add velocity? Not really, about half of a tick compared to 2019. Can the half of a tick make a difference? Yes of course and it did by causing his fastball to move more horizontally. But the problem is he lost command with the four-seam because of it. It became more of a whiff pitch but it also let up a ton of hard contact with a .400 ISO against it. It also dropped in terms of pVAL meaning that he didn’t utilize it any better than that last season and again likely due to the horrible command of it. If you move onto his second most used pitch, his slider he also upped the velocity on this pitch. Except it didn’t increase the movement and took a major step back compared to 2019. Opposing hitters had a torrid .363 wOBA and 135 wRC+ when facing this pitch. You can see a recurring theme here. Eflin added velocity but it lead to a loss of control. He too often left it over the middle of the plate and it lead to a lot of hard contact. Sure the curveball is fantastic and he used it a little more last season but that is the only good pitch I see here. There isn’t enough evidence to make Eflin a legit “sleeper” and too many people are jumping on the bandwagon without really looking. 2) Aaron Civale is the number two pitcher in Cleveland. This isn’t really the craziest bold prediction, if I really wanted to go bold I guess I could have said he would be the number one pitcher over Bieber. Plesac is being taken early in drafts though and Aaron Civale could definitely over-step him. Last season the Indians did what they always do and had Civale start to throw his breaking pitches more. He bumped the curveball usage up 10% and while the cutter usage didn’t change much overall he did favor it at the beginning and then at the end of last season. Both pitches move well and both excelled in creating whiffs. The main question for Civale is the sinker. The sinker took a step back last season but two things should happen. One is that he will likely lower the usage because Cleveland’s pitching staff loves to do this as mentioned earlier. Two the command should come back. His sinker struggled because he left it middle middle too often but Civale has always had good command. You have to assume the command comes back based on his skill level. There also has been word and video now of Civale shortening his arm circle. This means he is trying to better his command, something Lucas Giolito did. If Civale gets that sinker up and continues to use the cutter and curveball more he should take a step forward. Don’t forget how good he looked to start the season, that is his ceiling and it’s a very high one. 3) The Miami Marlins win the NL East. This one definitely has some spice to it, but I do think it is possible. Let’s start with the Marlins first. When scrolling through their lineup you don’t see any star power besides maybe Starling Marte. What they have built reminds me of what the Royals did back in 2015 when they won the World Series. They have gathered a combination of speedy slap stick hitters who are a pain to get out. This is why they were successful last season and why they could be successful again this season. Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte, and Miguel Rojas can all run and get on base often. Jesus Aguilar and Adam Duvall bring the power and Brian Anderson does a little bit of everything. Their bench of Garrett Cooper and Jon Berti are nice compliments and this is certainly a formidable offense. We all know their pitching is fantastic and full of young budding stars. Sandy Alcantara can give you the innings, Pablo Lopez is a star on the rise, Elieser Hernandez is close and just needs to compliment the lethal slider, Sixto Sanchez had a great debut, and Trevor Rogers has a ton of strikeout potential. I would argue that if everything clicks this is a top 10 rotation. As for the rest of the division, I will hit on each team quickly here. The Mets have a risky rotation as Marcus Stroman hasn’t pitched in a year, Noah Syndergaard had Tommy John, Carlos Carrasco is always an injury risk, and Jacob deGrom is starting to get nagging injuries. The Braves rotation is a mess in my opinion. Max Fried pitched to what is likely his ceiling last year, Morton could be burned out, Ian Anderson will regress (I’m sorry his stuff isn’t that good), Drew Smyly is coming off such a small sample, and Kyle Wright or Bryse Wilson haven’t progressed as they’d hoped. Not to mention their “ace” Mike Soroka is coming off an Achilles injury. We all know the Nationals have a rotation made of glass and the Phillies seem like they just won’t be able to click. If the Marlins young rotation takes another step forward and their scrappy offense continues to be annoying they could definitely overstep some of these other teams who have a lot of risk in their rotations. 4) Trevor Bauer is not a top 20 pitcher in 2021. This is probably bolder than you realize. Trevor Bauer is the king of stat compilation and if anyone were to get to 200 innings this season it would be him. Back in 2019 where he finished with a 4.48 ERA he was still a highly rated starter because of the innings and the strikeouts. Bauer is the perfect pitcher for points leagues. The reason I could see Bauer finishing outside of the top 20 pitchers is because of his volatility and the team he pitches for. We all know it has been an up and down journey for Bauer. In 2017 he pitched to the tune of a 4.19 ERA. In 2018 his ERA dipped to 2.21 making him a top pick in fantasy leagues. He followed it up with a 4.48 ERA in 2019 and then gave us a CY Young season in 2020 with a 1.73 ERA. Bauer was very successful last season and it was likely due to the dramatic increase in spin from what seems like the use of a foreign substance. The league likely won’t crack down because a lot of pitchers do it, more than we probably even know. Even if he is allowed to use it still he might be a little reluctant knowing that everyone knows. I believe Bauer cares about his image and it wouldn’t surprise me if he pitches without it to prove everyone wrong. If that is the case, less spin equates to less movement which means not the same results. Also, he now pitches for the Dodgers. I am sure they won’t hold him back and Bauer probably won’t allow it, but it is definitely a possibility. What if they hold him to say 170 innings and he puts up another four ERA? That leaves him outside of the top 20 pitchers. I know there is a lot of speculation in this bold take but it isn’t unfair to think these are a possibility. 5) The Toronto Blue Jays have a top-five bullpen. The lead arm for the ninth inning roles goes to the great Kirby Yates. Yates didn’t really pitch in 2020 due to injury but years prior he was known to be one of if not the best reliever in the league. Between 2018 and 2019 he held a 1.67 ERA and 1.93 FIP and grabbed 53 saves along the way. Word on the street is Yates has looked fantastic in spring training and is completely healthy. The eight-inning pitcher in Toronto goes to Mr. Jordan Romano. Before the Yates signing Romano was a big target in drafts. In 2020 he made a pitch mix change by leaning on the slider and it lead to a 1.23 ERA and 36.8 K%. Romano is the perfect setup man who can step into the ninth inning role when needed. In the seventh inning, you have Rafael Dolis. Last season Dolis finished with a 1.50 ERA and 31.0 K%. He features a slider that is essentially unhittable as it posted a -19 wRC+ and .000 ISO against. He also throws a splitter that induces just as many whiffs as the slider leaving him with two stellar breaking balls. That is three pitchers who could technically all could close. All three have filthy breaking pitches and all three can create a lot of strikeouts. If the Blue Jays go to the seventh inning winning the game it will be very difficult to beat them with these three arms anchoring down the bullpen. Last season their bullpen was ranked 24th overall in terms of ERA and I suspect that a major turnaround is coming. 6) Yusei Kikuchi is a top 30 starter. Yusei Kikuchi had one of the more interesting seasons. To start off pretty basic here, he had a 5.17 ERA in 2020. That came with a 59.9 LOB%, 3.30 FIP, 3.78 xFIP, and 4.34 SIERA. He clearly ran into a lot of luck, but that isn’t what makes Kikuchi so intriguing. Kikuchi was able to raise his four-seam fastball velocity from 92.9 MPH to 95.2 MPH. That is a crazy increase in velocity. Now check out the differences in terms of stats. Yusei Kikuchi’s Fastball Year Velocity K% ISO wOBA Contact% SwStr% 2019 92.9 12.8 0.295 0.413 85.4 6.8 2020 95.2 27.3 0.104 0.314 72.0 11.9 Crazy what some added velocity can do for a pitcher. His four-seam transformed from being subpar to being an above-average pitch. What he also did was add a cutter to his arsenal. This gave him a second pitch that he can hit the zone with and generate whiffs with. Pairing the four-seam and cutter seems genius as they play off each other really well. Tack on the slider, his main whiff pitch, and you have a full arsenal from Kikuchi. His main flaw last season was his command as he had one of the worst Command+ in the league. While this is a valid concern, his command should improve. Think about it, when a pitcher adds velocity and a new pitch he is working with more movement. He has to get used to the new movement and learn how to use it accurately. Doing that in a whacky 2020 season couldn’t have been easy. With a full offseason and normal ramp-up, Kikuchi could certainly improve the location of his pitches. With three pitches that produce whiffs and a four-seam that he pumps in at 97 MPH, he could easily spring himself into top 30 territory. 7) Tyler Glasnow has over a four ERA for the second season in a row. I get the appeal of Tyler Glasnow. A hard thrower with a lanky body and a killer curveball is everything you would want in your ace pitcher. Glasnow is running into a major problem and it is that hitters are adjusting. With the lack of a third pitch opposing, hitters know that two pitches are coming at them, either a fastball or curveball. With the curveball being a pitch that is impossible to hit they are sitting and waiting on the fastball. A fastball that he is starting to throw down the middle of the zone more than ever. This lead to his fastball regressing in wOBAcon, exit velocity, ISO, and wRC+. The main question here is A) can he find a third pitch and B) can he command the fastball better? He has been working on a hybrid pitch but we can’t analyze it until the season is actually underway. As for command, his Command+ of 87 last season was one of the worst in the league. I’m not so sure he can fix this issue and that means we will likely see a mediocre season from Tyler Glasnow once again. 8) Mike Minor has a better season than Triston McKenzie. Their current ADPs are Mike Minor at 291 and Triston McKenzie at 222. Mike Minor seems to be the boring old guy while Triston McKenzie the shiny new toy. To me, there seems to be a lot of recency bias here, and let me tell you why. McKenzie is known for his plus four-seam fastball that tops out at 97 MPH with an above-average ride. He pairs it with a slider that proved to be lethal even at the major league level. The issue with McKenzie is stamina. At six foot five he only weighs 160lbs, tall and lanky isn’t necessarily bad (ie. Chris Sale) but we saw how lack of muscle hurt McKenzie. With each start, his fastball velocity dipped further and further. In his first start, it averaged 94.6 MPH and it eventually dipped to just 90.6 MPH. This would lead to two starts where he pitched 9.1 innings and allowed eight runs. On the other side, you have Mike Minor. Minor is a veteran who should see a ton of innings. The Royals have a bunch of young pitchers and they need someone to help anchor that rotation. In 2019 Minor had a fantastic season pitching to a 3.59 ERA relying on a lethal four-seam/changeup combination. In 2020 Minor took a big step back due to a velocity drop in his fastball. To me, more recency bias. So far in spring training Minor’s fastball velocity is back which should lead to the improvement on the changeup. Based on innings alone Minor could perform worse than McKenzie and still be more valuable. Minor could easily hit 170 innings while McKenzie could be stuck at 120. 50 innings is a big difference. Take away the innings argument, Minor could still beat out McKenzie. We have a small sample to go off of with McKenzie and Minor has done it before. In terms of skill level, I would still lean Minor. 9) Alec Mills becomes the SP1 for the Chicago Cubs. Now, this is a bold take. Kyle Hendricks has been the most consistent pitcher over the last five years. For his entire career, which is 1047.1 innings, he has a career average ERA of 3.12. Phenomenal. So how the heck does Alec Mills surpass Hendricks? By becoming Kyle Hendricks. Alec Mills is like Kyle Hendricks in a lot of ways. He has a deep arsenal of five pitches that he throws all over 10% of the time. Mills, like Hendricks, relies on deception and all of his spin-based movement is observed differently through the batter’s eyes. Now I know Mills had a bad season minus his no-hitter, but he could be in for a much improved season. Mills’ pitches all have a ton of movement to them and not in just one direction but in all directions. The sinker, slider, and changeup all have above-average movement in both vertical and horizontal movements. To go along with all of this movement Mills has fantastic command. Last season he had a Command+ of 115 which is top 15 in the league. Pairing his command with his arsenal it feels like Mills should be able to make strides. While Hendricks is great it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that he finally takes a little step back. Maybe if that happens and Mills takes a step forward he could outproduce Hendricks. As for the other Cubs pitchers, we all know we aren’t getting anything from Jake Arrieta, Zach Davies, and Trevor Williams. 10) The Royals make the playoffs. I’m probably not alone with this sentiment as it seems to be a common consensus that the Royals offense is underrated. It certainly is, but so is their rotation and bullpen. There is a lot of potential with their lineup. Whit Merrifield is one of the top leadoff bats in the league. Andrew Benintendi is still only 26 years old and has 20-20 potential as well as a decent average to boot. The most controversial player in this lineup is Adalberto Mondesi. He can literally dominate games at times while also possibly being the biggest detriment. You have three hitters here who provide speed and some power at the top of their lineup. They are then backed with two huge power bats in Carlos Santana and Jorge Soler. Add in one of the best catchers in the league in Salvador Perez and a great bounceback candidate in Hunter Dozier and you quickly realize why the fantasy baseball community loves this offense. Their pitching staff has some talent to it as well. Danny Duffy can be serviceable as long as he stays healthy. Brad Keller was great last season and is able to take on a big workload. The addition of Mike Minor gives them a veteran presence that is much needed. His velocity is back this spring and he could easily be the SP1 they needed. Brady Singer made strides towards the end of last year by featuring his slider more. Kris Bubic definitely needs some work but has shined at times. They even have Jakob Junis who has a great slider and is working on a new pitch. A lot has to go right here but the talent is there and the solid base of Keller and Minor can be big for them. Moving on to their bullpen, I know Greg Holland is old but last year he showed he can still get the job done. He pitched 28.1 innings with a 1.91 ERA and grabbed six saves. His backup and eight innings guy Josh Staumont increased his velocity and that lead to a 2.45 ERA and 33.0% strikeout rate. Then you have Scott Barlow who experienced some bad luck with a 4.20 ERA and 3.42 FIP. He too improved his strikeout rate to an impressive 31.2%. Lastly, you can throw in Jesse Hahn who had a pitch mix change last season and produced a 0.52 ERA and 2.56 FIP. There is a ton of talent here and if a few things go right they could definitely be a winning and competitive team. The lineup seems scrappy and has a ton of power to back it up. The rotation has two anchors with some young talent. The bullpen has several high strikeout pitchers who can be difficult to face for any hitter. This is a young and exciting team that could come to fruition this season.