Alex Chamberlain’s 10 Bold Predictions for 2016

I won’t bore you with introduction. You know how this works.

1) Nicholas Tropeano, Tyler Skaggs and Matt Shoemaker generate more value than Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Hector Santiago.

My prerequisite Angels prediction that isn’t Justin Mason’s “Garrett Richards will win the AL Cy Young award,” this isn’t bold as much as it is irritated. One of Tropeano, Skaggs or Shoemaker will earn the #5-starter role, and injuries (namely, Weaver’s back issues) will affect the rotation at some point, too, so I would understand your reluctance to deem this bold. I anticipate, however, that some amount of poor performance will warrant the removal of one or more of the rotation’s key components of the past few seasons, thus opening the door for one of Anaheim’s younger, cheaper, more talented arms.

2) Jose Berrios will be a top-30 starting pitcher.

Berrios was many things in his age-21 season. He was profoundly effective at both Double-A and Triple-A as one of the youngest arms at either level. He was inarguably better than Steven Matz, currently the 30th starting pitcher off the board per NFBC ADP, and Tyler Glasnow, who could not replicate at Triple-A the solid control he showed at Double-A. Going for pennies in standard leagues, Berrios legitimately has nothing left to prove and no one but his personified service clock stopping him from broaching the Twins’ anemic rotation.

(For the record, I have my own reservations about Matz, from his subpar swinging strike rate (SwStr%) to his suspiciously great zone contact rate (Z-Contact%) that makes me leary of his Triple-A strikeout rate. Neither of these mean he won’t succeed — his ground ball tendencies should elevate his floor — but it’s enough to make me wary to draft a largely unproven arm at his ceiling.)

3) Devon Travis is a top-5 second baseman.

It’s tough to balance this between too bold (top-5) or too soft (top-10), so I erred on the side of the former. Travis’ surgically repaired shoulder should keep him sidelined through at least late-May, and those 200 plate appearances he misses will take a ferocious bite out of his value. He’s a special talent, though, with double-digit power and speed, and excellent bat control that will loft his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) among the game’s best for years. Only 25, we also have yet to see the (conservatively) above-average plate discipline he exhibited in the minors, which should only serve to further boost his batting average. The second base landscape pales in comparison to what could one day amount to the Golden Age of Shortstop, offering fantasy owners solid odds on Travis being among the game’s best second basemen from June onward.

4) Dellin Betances is a top-50 pitcher, assuming zero saves.

(As a disclaimer: if Betances does save any games during 2016, I will disregard them when assessing his final value.)

Like my first prediction, this is less bold than it is a lesson in disregarding labels and understanding value. By title, Betances is, in not an alternate universe but this very universe, third in line for saves in New York and merely a middle reliever. But let’s acknowledge the facts that you probably already know: he strikes out more than some starting pitchers in about half as many innings, during which he also records ratios that blow a starter’s numbers out of the water. In a daily league, Betances is like owning Clayton Kershaw on a layaway plan for about 40% of the season. Sure, you could say this about any elite closer. But Betances is the workhorse of relievers, throwing almost 20 more innings the last two years than the next workhorsiest reliever, Jeurys Familia — and posting 3.2 more WAR than Familia in the process. Point being: Betances’ distance from the closer role should make him cheaper than ever, and he will pay dividends on whatever his draft price (or ADP) ends up being, no matter the format.

5) Manny Machado out-earns Nolan Arenado by 50 spots.

I can’t equate 50 spot to auction dollars given the distribution of offensive performances every year. Fifty spots at the top of the pack could be $10; near the bottom, $2. So I’ll go by nominal rank. I did some ADP (average draft position) research earlier this offseason; in this post, I asked readers to predict who, among the top-10 players, would fall out of the top-20, top-100 and top-300 rankings at the end of the season. Of 21 respondents, Machado received the most votes to fall outside the top 300 (despite Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa receiving far more votes to fall outside the top 20 and top 100). I don’t totally get it. If anything, Machado’s on-base skills and speed offer a higher floor. They both clobber the ball, and Arenado’s swing lends itself to more loft. I’m betting against one of the game’s most talented hitters, but hey, you do what you gotta do to be bold, and sometimes being bold means being stupid.

6) Austin Barnes is a top-15 catcher.

I don’t want to say something too grandiose like “This is the longshot to end all longshots,” but it’s close. I’m pretty much relying entirely on Yasmani Grandal getting injured, which is something that I really don’t want to do. But, again, bold predictions aren’t always about being right. Despite Kiley McDaniel pegging Barnes with a 45 future value (FV) ranking, predicated upon allegedly below-average hit, power and speed tools, Barnes has flashed excellent plate discipline alongside both double-digit power and speed during his entire trek through the minors. Nothing here is prodigious, but he could float a .280/.380/.450 line and offer the wheels that catchers rarely possess. This comparison is lofty as all else, so it’s OK if you scoff, but Barnes could be a poor man’s Buster Posey who steals. Think about it: Aside from Posey’s .318 and Francisco Cervelli’s BABIP-fueled .295, no catcher hit better than .270, and none of them stole more than four bases.

7) Kevin Pillar out-earns Starling Marte.

Again, maybe not so bold. But my intentions here predicate entirely on the merits of Marte’s performance rather than his playing time — although, in all honesty, playing time was an issue for Marte prior to 2015. Marte hit six “just enough” home runs last year, according to ESPN. He hit one “just enough” homer in 2014. Subtract all of the just-enoughers and his 2015 total barely outpaces his 2014 total, 13 to 12 — and that’s with an additional 88 PAs. Meanwhile, additional playing time also obscures Marte’s baserunning prowess — his stolen base attempts, per 600 PAs, have declined from 64 in 2013 to 49 (2014) to 41 (2015). I’d be surprised if Marte manages 35 attempts, and that’s in a full season’s worth of PAs. Give him a stint on the disabled list and he may barely crack 20 steals. What I’m trying to say is: Pillar did last year what I think Marte will do this year, and Pillar is being drafted 40th among outfielders and a full 130 slots after Marte.

8) Clay Buchholz is a top-20 pitcher.

This will make Paul Sporer so mad. As with all Chamberlain predictions, I must offer the usual caveats: Buchholz has no one to beat but himself. From his health to his pine tar, from his greasy-ass hair to his greasy ass-hair, Buchholz has the goods to rank among the best. In terms of strikeouts minus walks (K-BB%), Buchholz’s 2015 campaign outpaced his absurd 2013 first half, and it’s not really that close. It was his best season in terms of FIP and xFIP, the former of which ranked 4th — 4th! — among all starters who threw at least 110 innings. So it’s not inconceivable that Buchholz, fronting what projects to be the American League’s best team (no, I could not care less about the Red Sox and FanGraphs’ perceived bias), could make waves if he stays on the field. Gigantic “if,” there. But as the 74th starter off the board, you could do worse for late-round flyers.

9) Maikel Franco is the #1 third baseman.

This is actually insane. It might be impossible. It might not even be possible if Franco somehow batted at the heart of the ridiculously potent Blue Jays lineup (and not the lowly Phillies’ cadaver of a starting nine). (Actually, that’s a bit rude — Odubel Herrera, Cameron Rupp and the recently injured Aaron Altherr offer contemporaneous glimpses of hope.) But I can’t help but be enamored by Franco’s combination of power and plate discipline. Granted, there are some red flags to heed — namely, the infield fly ball rate (IFFB%) and the swinging strike rate that suggests there are more strikeouts to come. In due time, Franco will be to the Phillies what Freddie Freeman eventually became for the Braves: the leader of Philadelphia’s youth movement and a de facto captain. One would hope, then, that Franco’s counterparts offer a little more hope during his age-27 season than Freeman’s currently do.

10) Jose Ramirez is a top-15 shortstop.

Ugh. I’m here again, making the same predictions — and, likely, the same mistakes — that I made last year. Jose Ramirez’s contact rate (Contact%) ranked 11th among all hitters with at least 350 PAs last year, and his excellent contact rate on pitches outside the zone (O-Contact%) paced the American League and trailed only Nick Markakis. His on-base percentage (OBP) could exceed his slugging (SLG), but a .300/.400/.425 line (yes, really, .300) gets the job done, and it’s not like he’s sapped for power, having hit eight home runs in his first 635 PAs in the majors. He’s a legitimate 10-HR, 20-SB threat with a high average. Essentially, he’s Daniel Murphy with a glove, but the existence of Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and now Juan Uribe have sufficiently capped Ramirez’s ceiling. Here’s to hoping.

* * *

These are all so specific to end-of-season rankings. I guess that’s the way things shake out sometimes. If I hit too many of these, they weren’t bold enough — mostly, I hope these serve as more of a learning experience. Feel free to yell at me if they’re not bold enough, though. I also wouldn’t mind a light pat on the head and a doggie biscuit if they are truly bold.

Also, I’ll be driving all day tomorrow, so be patient if you comment expecting a response.

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Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant. Reigning FSWA Baseball Writer of the Year and 5-time award finalist. Featured in Lindy's Sports' Fantasy Baseball magazine (2018, 2019). Now a Tout Wars competitor.

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Justin Mason
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Personally, I think you nailed the boldness level.

khabibul35
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khabibul35

I agree, best of the bold predictions series thus far!

Vil Blekaitis
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Vil Blekaitis

Damn straight!