My first attempt at making bold predictions (2015) was rather aimless. My second attempt (2016) was a little more focused and a little more successful, with my baby boo Jose Ramirez finally making good on his promise (and redeeming my year-too-early prediction for him in 2015). This year, I’ve earnestly attempted to make bold predictions that spawned from research. In other words, they’re not bold for the sake of being bold — not that those kinds of predictions can’t be fueled by research, but, well, you know. Anyway, you don’t care about any of this. Let’s get to the goods.
For those keeping score at home: five predictions apiece for hitters and pitchers, in alternating order.
1) Alex Dickerson is a top-30 outfielder.
Original post from September. The premise is simple: keep an outfield job and sustain his place discipline gains. With prospects Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot and speedster Travis Jankowski fighting for playing time, Dickerson seems to have fallen to the wayside. I’m not sure why; he projects to be the Padres’ 4th-best hitter by wOBA and best-hitting outfielder by more than 30 points. Accordingly, the projection systems must believe in his plate discipline gains — and they do. The doubters will doubt, but the gains emerged in 2016 prior to his promotion. In a full season’s work, he looks like a poor man’s outfielding Kyle Seager: 20 home runs, 10 steals, a .270 batting average. As the 70th outfielder off National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) draft boards, it’ll cost you virtually nothing to find out.
2) Mike Montgomery is a top-50 starting pitcher.
Original post from September. This shamelessly self-promoted recent Tweet of mine succinctly sums it up:
Pitchers who threw three pitches that each induced >10% whiffs + >50% GBs:
Mike Montgomery my boyyyyyyy
— Alex Chamberlain (@DolphHauldhagen) February 28, 2017
The potential is there; now it’s just a matter of how many starts he actually sees from the No.-5 spot in the rotation. Brett Anderson and his poor bill of health pose a minor threat but a threat nonetheless. What we forget, however, is that few rotations actually hold up under duress for an entire season the way the Cubs’ did in 2016. They’d be lucky to have such fortune again.
He’s going 85th among starting pitchers (and is tabbed as a middle reliever on NFBC, if that’s any indication of the kind of respect he’s getting). Like Dickerson, he’ll cost you virtually nothing to take a chance on success.
3) Tyler Saladino is a top-15 second baseman.
Original post from March. Let me be clear: I don’t think Saladino is particularly good. But fantasy baseball doesn’t care who is truly “good” (right, Matt Kemp?). In this scenario, the rebuilding White Sox see little reason to promote uber-prospect Yoan Moncada (1) in order to preserve his service clock, and (2) before he’s ready. The latter is important; did y’all notice he struck out more than 30% of the time at Double-A last year and in 12 of 20 at-bats at the Major League level? He’s going to be good, but Chicago owes it to him to avoid what Minnesota did to Byron Buxton. That would afford Saladino plenty of time at the keystone, and a 12-homer, 20-steal, .275 line is a real possibility. He’s going 27th among shortstops (he’ll play second base with Tim Anderson in town) — aka outside the top 400. Dirt cheap.
4) David Phelps is a top-60 starting pitcher.
Original post from January. Phelps and Montgomery are my wild cards. Phelps is a much wilder card. The newfound velocity plays up in the bullpen and the rotation. Unfortunately, he only made five starts last year, making any speculation on sustained success in this regard a bit dubious. Combine this with the fact that the Marlins, for some godforsaken reason, want to keep him in the bullpen and that he walks four hitters per nine innings and you’ll see his path to success contains many more obstacles than Montgomery’s. Pitchers who strike out 11 hitters per nine during multi-inning stints probably don’t get stifled for long. Your standard ADP caveat: he’s the 55th reliever off the board, also well outside the top 400.
5) Michael Conforto is a top-40 outfielder.
This prediction relies almost exclusively on an injury to any of Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce. If both are healthy, either of the latter two could be traded at the All-Star break, ultimately affording Conforto half a season of plate appearances. All of this already makes this prediction a longshot. With that said: draft skills. Conforto has legitimate hard-hit skills that suggest his rate of home runs to fly balls (HR/FB) dramatically trails those of his peers. Also, I don’t care how much you think you or the Mets’ negative hype machine know about Conforto’s ability to hit left-handed pitching. Would you ever make a concrete judgment on 68 plate appearances plagued by a .178 batting average on balls in play (BABIP)? Conforto already has more hits against lefties in spring training than he does in his Major League career. If you gave up on Conforto, don’t. This is probably your last opportunity to buy him cheap for dynasty purposes. He’s OF77 right now.
6) Tony Zych saves 10 games.
I wrote Zych’s player caption. He’s a big-velocity, big-strikeout, big-grounder guy with only 32 innings to his name. Unfortunately, Edwin Diaz is the Next Big Thing among closers, so this prediction implicitly wishes ill upon Diaz. I’d never! I just really want to see Zych succeed. He also presumably trails Steve Cishek in the pecking order, so he may not even be a high-leverage reliever, or even a 25-man roster guy, on Opening Day. Still, I have faith, and I think this is simply a premature confession of love.
7) Chris Davis (significantly) out-earns Giancarlo Stanton.
This is my least bold prediction because it’s based entirely in facts. I don’t care. I just want to attack a prevailing bias. Per NFBC ADP, Stanton is going 38th; Davis, 81st.
— Alex Chamberlain (@DolphHauldhagen) March 15, 2017
Since 2013, Davis has posted a better isolated power (ISO). On paper, his power is not inferior to Stanton’s. Couple that with a clean bill of health and he has been worlds more valuable than Stanton the last four years. I mean, 50 more home runs? One hundred more runs and RBI apiece? Stanton’s talent floor exceeds Davis’ because of slightly better plate discipline, helping boost his batting average and on-base percentage (OBP). But we, as a fantasy community, really need to reckon with the fact that Stanton is legitimately injury-prone. Yeah, he got popped in the jaw last year, but that doesn’t exempt the other three injury-shortened seasons he has suffered. He once swung so hard he broke his wrist. (Hamate bone. Whatever.)
Point being, Davis — who also plays for a better-hitting Orioles team — is perpetually underrated compared to the perpetually overrated Stanton (who, ironically, is the most underrated he has ever been). In the last five years, Davis has one more top-10 finish and two fewer finishes outside the top 200 than Stanton. The discrepancy here is ridiculous and it sincerely makes me angry. So, again, not particularly bold, and I’ll own up to that. But aaaaaaaaAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
8) Matt Shoemaker (significantly) out-earns Danny Duffy.
I get it. I get it. The two are fundamentally different pitchers, primarily in regard to velocity and handedness (but also original draft/prospect hype). I want to get past inputs and onto outcomes. The two excel in baserunner management — excellent strikeout and walk rates — but struggle with fly balls. They’re both first-pitch-strike (F-Strike%) mavens and rack up enormous swinging strike rates (SwStr%). News flash: Shoemaker did better than Duffy in both regards. His strikeout rate trailed Duffy’s, but one could argue it should have been just as good in light of this. Neither pitcher fares particularly well in contact management, and Duffy’s elevated hard-hit and fly ball rates (Hard%, FB%) propelled him to a wholly lackluster 3.51 ERA in light of a tremendously high 80.9% strand rate (LOB%). The fantasy community is placing a lot of faith in a seemingly highly-skilled but volatile asset — one with a short track record of success and legitimately nerve-racking peripherals. Shoemaker is not quite as exciting but will give you exactly what you want out of Duffy with a longer track record (don’t forget about 2014!), and you can wait almost eight more rounds to get him in 15-team leagues.
9) Austin Barnes is a top-15 catcher.
I was a year early on my bold prediction about Jose Ramirez (you know I’ll never let it go), so I repeated it in 2016 because I believed very strongly in it. Alas, I’m repeating my 2016 prediction for Barnes in 2017 with the hope of capturing that same magic. Per Baseball Prospectus, Barnes was Triple-A’s second-most valuable defensive catcher last year, so the dude should already provide plus value behind the plate without a bat. Thing is, he has a bat, and it’s arguably plus: he has hit .299/.388/.439 throughout his Minor League career with almost as many walks (11.4%) as strikeouts (11.7%). He’s a virtual lock for a high average and solid OBP. He doesn’t hit for a ton of power, but he runs much more than your average catcher, helping make up for his deficit therein. Honestly, he’s cut from the same cloth as J.T. Realmuto but with more power and better plate discipline. What’s not to like?
Barnes has been lackluster at the Major League level, but with only 74 plate appearances by which to judge him, don’t let that (nor anyone else) discourage you. With A.J. Ellis out of the picture, Barnes is Yasmani Grandal’s primary backup, and Barnes’ ability to play the infield should open him up to a kind of light super-utility role. And if Grandal goes down, Barnes is an automatic top-15 catcher for me — maybe better. He just needs the playing time. He’s about as a good a “handcuff” as you can get for deep leagues. He’s going outside the top-40 catchers, meaning he’s barely being considered in NL-only leagues.
10) Aaron Nola is a top-10 starting pitcher.
You’re probably in on Nola’s skills and out on his health. Or, you’re out on his skills because of his health, which correlated with a dip in velocity as he was getting shelled last year.
I’m going all in. To hell with his injury scare and miserably bad summer; not even a dip in velocity can explain a .451 BABIP and 49.4% strand rate over a 33-inning span. The bad luck he suffered is almost unheard of — he only gave up three home runs in that span, so it’s not like hitters were pummeling the ball, either — and it has completely soured him for many. Not me! I don’t actually think he’s a legitimate top-10 starting pitcher — not yet, at least — but he’s probably in the top 20 for me, and I think a little bit of performance- and health-related turnover in the upper ranks could help me see this one out.
He’s a special talent; the swinging strikes aren’t there, but the called strikes are, all with plus command and excellent ground ball skills. Had he qualified for the ERA title, his xFIP and FIP would have ranked 3rd and 4th, respectively, and he would have easily finished top-10 in WAR. The kid’s a stud. At SP54, we’re talking the difference between being drafted barely top-200 overall to finishing almost top-40.
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My anxiety tells me these aren’t bold enough. It always does! I know some of them aren’t (by design), but I hope the rest are. Happy Almost Baseball, everyone!