The good news…I didn’t get all of my 2019 Bold Predictions wrong. But I came pretty close. Let’s take a look and see what exactly went wrong.
1. Gary Sánchez will set the major league single-season record for home runs by a catcher.
This prediction was inspired by a bold prediction made by my wife, Mary Beth Melchior — that J.T. Realmuto would break the single-season record of home runs hit by a catcher. In his first season with the Phillies, Realmuto set a career-high with 25 home runs, but only 23 were hit with him in the lineup as a catcher. That total fell 19 home runs short of tying Javy Lopez’s record. Sánchez came a little closer, hitting 27 of his 34 home runs as a catcher. Despite some likely assistance from the rabbit ball, Sánchez probably would not have broken the record, even if he managed to stay healthy all season.
2. Max Kepler will hit 30 home runs.
Ding, ding, ding! This is the only bold prediction that came true, and in my original writeup, I noted that I felt this prediction was not especially bold. However, Kepler did exceed his prior personal best of 20 home runs by a total of 16. I expected that Kepler would increase his home run total by moderating his flyball launch angle, which he did accomplish by reducing it from 38.2 to 36.0 degrees. Increasing his flyball pull rate from 24.1 to 41.0 percent probably played a larger role in Kepler’s power surge.
3. Aníbal Sánchez will finish with the second-lowest ERA in the Nationals’ rotation.
Of the four starters who were a part of the Nationals rotation all season long, Sánchez ranked last, not only in ERA, but also in FIP, xFIP and SIERA. While I got the prediction wrong, the reasoning behind it was not entirely off-base. I argued that Sánchez would continue to be one of the best pitchers in the majors at limiting soft contact, especially on grounders, and he did achieve that. His 81.3 mph average exit velocity allowed on grounders (EV GB) was the ninth-lowest among the 92 pitchers who yielded at least 400 batted balls. In turn, he posted a .265 BABIP that was only 10 points above his 2018 mark.
In expecting Sánchez to finish with a low 3.00s ERA — which could have been low enough to rank him second among the Nationals’ starters — I already built in regression from last season’s 79.4 percent strand rate. His 74.9 percent rate was right around where I expected it to be, but I did not foresee the significant drop in his strikeout rate, from 24.4 to 18.8 percent. Opponents swung more frequently at Sánchez’s cutter, which contributed to a 2.0-percentage point drop in his called strike rate.
4. Mark Melancon will be the Giants’ closer from wire-to-wire.
I’m tempted to give myself partial credit for this one, because I don’t think many people thought Melancon would be closing for anyone in 2019. Then again, thinking Melancon would beat out Will Smith for the Giants’ closer job out of spring training looks pretty silly seven months later. I didn’t read the intentions of Giants management very well, but I did write that “Melancon should pitch well enough to keep the closer’s job once he is given it.” When he took over for Shane Greene as the Braves’ closer in mid-August, he did just that, converting all 11 of his save opportunities and compiling a 2.60 ERA, an 0.98 WHIP and a 64.7 percent ground ball rate over his final 17.1 innings.
5. Garrett Hampson will be the Rockies’ everyday second baseman, and with regular playing time, he will steal 30 bases and finish as a top 15 second baseman in Roto value.
Even if Hampson had been able to stave off Ryan McMahon as the Rockies’ primary second baseman, he might not have reached the 30-steal threshold. As it was, Hampson stole 15 bases in 18 attempts with 327 plate appearances. With a strong finish (.318 Avg, 5 HR, 9 SB in September), he may have positioned himself for a more prominent role in 2020, and it’s encouraging that he got a run of late-season games where he hit either first or second in the batting order. If he can play regularly and hit near the top of the order next season, he will have a good shot stealing 30 bases and cracking the top 15 second basemen in Roto value. Over the final 30 days of 2019, Hampson ranked third at the position on ESPN’s Player Rater.
Both players failed to maintain early-season power surges, and both missed time due to injury. However, Winker was sufficiently better at hitting for power and getting on base that he ranked 48 spots above Stewart in Roto value (OBP instead of Avg) among outfielders. Despite tallying only 384 plate appearances, Winker snuck just inside the top 90 at 89th, while Stewart had to settle for 137th place. The Tigers’ rookie could still get his walk rate into double-digit territory, like it was in the minors, and his pull-heavy approach should yield more power than this season’s .154 ISO. His xISO of .175 offers us some hope for better things in 2020.
6a. I will not make a single Christin Stewart Twilight pun for the entire season.
I never had any intention of making this bold prediction come true.
7. Ryan Pressly will lead the Astros with 20 saves.
I fell only 17 saves short on this one. Not only was I enticed by Pressly’s superb second half of 2018, but I had concerns about Osuna’s mediocre strikeout rate and average exit velocity on flies and liners from 2018. Osuna improved in both areas this season, so his job security as the Astros’ closer was never in question. As Osuna’s primary setup closer, Pressly had a tremendous first half (.209 wOBA allowed), but he was slowed down by a knee injury and subsequent surgery in the second half.
8. Brad Miller will bat .260 and hit 20 home runs as the Dodgers’ super-utility player.
I will admit that I actually forgot that Miller started off the year as a Dodger. He was released before the end of spring training, so he never panned out as a successor in the Chris Taylor/Max Muncy lineage. Miller caught on with the Indians but made only 40 plate appearances with them before he was released and then signed by the Yankees, who subsequently traded him to the Phillies. Gabe Kapler generally stuck with a steady lineup this season, so there was little opportunity for Miller to play until the final two weeks of the season, when he filled in for an injured Corey Dickerson. All Miller did during that stretch was go 14 for 37 (.378) with seven home runs. Maybe he’ll land a super-utility job in 2020. For what it’s worth, Miller batted exactly. 260 this season, and in launching 13 home runs in 170 plate appearances, my prediction of 20 homers wasn’t so bad.
9. Shane Bieber will get dropped in more than half of the 12-team mixed leagues in which he is drafted.
Missed this one by juuuuust a little bit. Bieber finished the season ranking eighth among starting pitchers in standard Roto value, so of course, he was universally owned. My concern stemmed from Bieber’s propensity for allowing hard ground ball contact in his rookie season, which contributed to a .356 BABIP. It turns out that Bieber was even worse in that regard in 2019, as his EV GB increased from 86.8 mph to 88.1 mph. It mattered less, though, because he increased his SwStr% from 11.4 to 14.0 percent and his K% from 24.3 to 30.2 percent. Bieber also got help from a normal-looking .296 BABIP that should have been higher, as his .229 Avg allowed was 12 points below his xBA.
Because of his demonstrated ability to get strikeouts, avoid walks and rack up innings, Bieber has earned his place as a top 10 starter for next year, but he may be slightly riskier than he appears. We should not totally discount his back-to-back seasons of ranking in the bottom 10 percent of pitchers for exit velocity.
This may have been an even worse prediction than the one for Bieber. Escobar returned nearly $24 in value in standard 15-team Roto leagues, while Arcia’s value in those leagues was negative. Arcia did not have the breakout I envisioned, while Escobar remains something of an enigma. For the second year in a row, he posted a SLG above .480, even though his xSLG was below .450 in both seasons. Escobar still looks like a regression candidate to me, but even if Arcia produces more next year, there is too large of a gulf between them for the Brewers’ shortstop to make up the difference.
Statistical credits: FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, Baseball Savant, ESPN.com.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.