Bold predictions are inherently jovial, whimsical, outlandish, possibly even blasphemous. You know you probably weren’t bold enough if you got too many correct, and you probably were too bold if you got too many incorrect. Mine typically follow suit. I don’t expect to get every prediction correct by the numbers, but I do hope each prediction is correct in spirit. My “spiritual” success in this regard, I’ve noticed, typically reflects upon how well my teams performed in a given season. Accordingly, I take my predictions seriously, and I sincerely use them as a collective barometer for how I had gauged value plays in the preseason.
I don’t remember any of my predictions, really, and I’m revisiting them in real time with you. My teams are doing well this year — 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in my three home leagues (humblebrag) (no expert or high-stakes leagues this year) — but I have a feeling my predictions have not stood the test of time. Again, this is to be expected. But, again-again, I’m not sure they’ve held up spiritually, either.
1) Alex Dickerson is a top-30 outfielder.
Pre-injury, and definitely pre-season-ending surgery. This prediction is kaput. I’ll revisit this one next year. With power up around the league, I might step off the gas a little bit on this one. Given the outfield landscape this year, I think a healthy, productive Dickerson could be a top-40 guy with a top-30 ceiling, maybe. No use pondering it now, though.
2) Mike Montgomery is a top-50 starting pitcher.
Short answer: he’s not. He’s the 104th-best starting pitcher per ESPN’s Player Rater after last night’s shellacking. The prediction was predicated upon (1) Montgomery nudging Anderson out of the No. 5 role, and (2) sustaining his late-season effectiveness from last year. He did one of those better than the other. The ground balls are there — that’s why I liked him in the first place — but a 5-percentage point swing in strikeouts minus walks (K-BB%) has pushed his ratio of strikeouts to walks (K/BB) from usable-but-not-great territory into straight-up-bad territory. He’s not finding the zone, and when he is, hitters are making contact.
So, I got over-excited about a small sample last year. It’ll happen. Fortunately, he was dirt cheap in just about any league format imaginable, so his lack of success was never a devastating threat to any of my teams. And there’s still an outside chance he pulls it together. But given the Cubs sound like somewhat-desperate buyers at the deadline, I anticipate him being crowded out of the rotation come August and September.
3) Tyler Saladino is a top-15 second baseman.
To be clear, Saladino wasn’t supposed to be very good. Good mustache! Not good stats. He hasn’t seen Major League action in, like, a month and a half, so that’s part of the reason why he doesn’t even crack the Player Rater’s top-50 second basemen. The other part of the reason is he’s bad.
It’s a small sample, but: less running, way more strikeouts, and nary any power to speak of. Sure, plenty of guys go 30 games without hitting a home run, except, no, they don’t, unless they’re Ben Revere. What he did better, though: more fly balls (up more than 10 percentage points) and more batted balls to the pull side (above 50% Pull%). His career rate of home runs to fly balls (HR/FB) of 10.8% would put him at three home runs prior to his disabled list stint, and his lofty Pull% might give him extra HR/FB brownie points. Might even turn him into 15- or 20-homer guy.
Won’t happen this year, though, which means it might not happen any year once Yoan Moncada emerges. Speaking of which: the White Sox still haven’t promoted Moncada. Because they’re wise. You’ll see him in September at the very earliest.
4) David Phelps is a top-60 starting pitcher.
Phelps hasn’t even started a game this season. Cool. Cool. Cool.
The bad news is the Marlins were actually serious about rolling out woefully sub-par pitchers in order to keep Phelps in the bullpen. The good news is he sustained some, although not all, of his gains from 2016, striking out more than one-fourth of the hitters he faces with a decent ground ball rate (GB%). Perhaps his aversion to in-zone contact (Z-Contact%) would inevitably regress, but he has countered it with getting hitters to chase more often and make less contact when they do. There’s an argument to be made that his strikeout rate (K%) last year was too high to begin with, given his peripherals. We’re seeing the real Phelps, and a 3.64 ERA / 3.70 FIP / 3.59 xFIP will do, even if it’s not as an elite bullpen arm at this point. He arguably still has enough usable pitches to flirt with success in a rotation, but, again, not in 2017.
5) Michael Conforto is a top-40 outfielder.
Yes! I completely forgot about this one. Hindsight feels like I should’ve gone bolder, but Conforto ended the preseason as the 74th outfielder off the board, outside the top-300 players overall, without the Mets’ blessing nor a guaranteed path to consistent playing time. Ironically, he’s not in ESPN’s top-40 outfielders right now, but that’s due to injury. His April and May were bonkers before Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger redefined what “bonkers” means. He started to fade prior to hurting his hand, but he couldn’t reasonably sustain that kind of performance anyway. Regardless, it’s all legitimate.
6) Tony Zych saves 10 games.
He did get one save, though. His peripherals don’t look too different from last year’s — if anything, they look better — but the results haven’t been there. I mean, they have; a 2.42 ERA counts as “results,” but a 4.88 xFIP certainly doesn’t. That’s the risk of relying on small samples. But what could we do? We had no choice with Zych. An 11.4% swinging strike rate (SwStr%) and a near-60% first-pitch strike rate (F-Strike%) will get you places, though, so I anticipate his K-BB% will improve from its meager 9.2% right now. There’s no reason to get too excited about him at this point, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he became one of the game’s better relief pitchers, albeit not an elite one, in the second half.
Also — and this is only cool exactly right now, because it will change any day or hour now, but — he has exactly 50-point-zero-percent ground balls in each of his three Major League seasons.
7) Chris Davis (significantly) out-earns Giancarlo Stanton.
Ha… ha ha. It’s Stanton and not Davis who’s healthy for once, but that’s hardly the crux of this prediction at this point.
Real talk: Davis was on pace for 38 home runs prior to his injury. The issue, though, is his strikeout rate, which skyrocketed above its already-dangerous levels. Meanwhile, Stanton has actually made legitimate strides in his plate discipline for the first time in, well, ever. (Or, alternatively, he has simply reversed what was an alarming strikeout trend the last two seasons.) He’s on pace for 40-plus homers, although his former batting average on balls in play (BABIP) magic from prior seasons has evaporated. Davis is toast here; now, it’s Stanton versus himself to prove he’s not actually injury-prone.
8) Matt Shoemaker (significantly) out-earns Danny Duffy.
It doesn’t help that they’re both on the disabled list, but at least it levels the playing field. Their rankings, though, as it stands is comical: Shoemaker is SP73 per ESPN’s Player Rater and Duffy, SP75. Neck and neck.
The premise here was that Duffy reminded me of nothing more than a glorified Shoemaker — slightly more “skilled,” maybe, but a fly ball pitcher with generally the same outcomes (roughly 8.5 K’s-per-nine, 2.5 walks-per-nine kind of thing). Duffy collapsed further than I thought, essentially losing all his gains from his breakout 2016 season. Whatever he did to add velocity last season has betrayed him in 2017 as his velocity has fallen to a career-low. I don’t know if it’s causation or correlation, but he has started relying more often on breaking pitches, especially with his four-seamer betraying him. Meanwhile, Shoemaker has been inefficient with free passes. He looks like his typical, somewhat homer-prone self outside of that.
I have faith for both of them; Duffy’s curve and slider arguably are his two best pitches, and Shoemaker’s peripherals suggest his walk-heavy approach has been a bit fluky. But the point here was Duffy, the preseason’s No. 22 starter, wasn’t much better than its No. 57 starter. I’d like to think I was right.
9) Austin Barnes is a top-15 catcher.
OK! OK! I’m feeling it now! I won’t name names, but a writer/editor at another prominent commentary and analysis website, for all intents and purposes, publicly shamed me for thinking Barnes should be included in a preseaon top-30 ranking of catchers. Top-30. So, this… this feels good.
Barnes is the No. 15 catcher on the Player Rater right now, and there’s no reason that, in a vacuum, he shouldn’t stay there. He walks as often as he strikes out, he hits for modest power, and he runs for modest speed. I hoped he would fill a utility-slash-backup catcher role, and fill that role he did. His four homers, four steals and .290 batting average are almost exactly what I would have expected from his prorated end-of-season line. He reminds me a lot of J.T. Realmuto, who is a legitimate top-5 catcher. Barnes is one Yasmani Grandal injury away from possibly joining the ranks.
10) Aaron Nola is a top-10 starting pitcher.
Ugh, Aaron. Why’d you have to get injured? Top-10 was already a stretch pitching for an utterly miserable Philadelphia squad. His draft price is essentially equal to his current value right now, though, and he missed a month of action. That’s getting closer to, ah, the spirit of this prediction. He was too obviously underrated this season. (Noteworthy: 25 strikeouts in 21.1 innings across his last three starts. That’s good.)
In terms of peripherals, he ranks 23rd in both FIP and xFIP (min. 70 innings), suggesting he could be a top-25 pitcher in the absence of luck. It’s not quite top-10, but considering the current crop of elite arms, there wasn’t much room for him to break in anyway. The adjacent point to this: James Paxton was the superior value arm on the draft day, but his being underrated didn’t make Nola any less underrated himself.
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Woah! I have a chance to hit two?, maybe three? predictions if everything breaks right. I dreaded this a bit, but it was actually pretty satisfying. And I hope the mini-analyses herein have been informative. Let’s banter! And good luck, all, in the second halves of your fantasy seasons.