When introducing my 2018 bold predictions, I talked about “not being bold just to be bold.” I sought to demonstrate that, by “abiding by The Process TM,” I could make bold predictions that, frankly, didn’t feel all htat bold to me. In hindsight, it’s easy to say how they really weren’t bold. But back when I made them, based on available average draft position (ADP) data, they were, by definition, bold.
It would sound arrogant for me to say my bold predictions this year could be used as a clinic on extracting value in drafts (especially with the social baggage that “putting on a clinic” carries these days). However, it might not be untrue: I hit three of my five predictions, all of them relating to guys who played key roles in the drafts of successful teams this year. Please, do forgive the arrogance, then; I’ll do my best to explain how the strategies I employed this year are repeatable.
All end-of-season values will rely on ESPN’s Player Rater.
1) Garrett Cooper is a top-20 first baseman.
This one was a colossal bust long before the All-Star Break arrived. After years of mediocrity, Cooper broke out in 2017 in a big way: he hit .366/.428/.652 (173 wRC+) at Triple-A with a 15% strikeout rate (K%) fueled by a single-digit swinging strike rate (SwStr%). It was only half a season, but considering he hit 17 home runs three times faster than his previous 17 while making huge contact gains, he profiled to me as an excellent sneaky post-hype breakout candidate. Pair the breakout with an escape from several logjams in Milwaukee and New York to join a hapless Miami Marlins club, presenting himself with abundant playing time opportunities, and it was easy to see (for me, at least) how Cooper could wiggle his way into fantasy relevance.
Unfortunately, he got injured in the fourth game of the season, didn’t return until July, and hit the disabled list again shortly after the conclusion of the All-Star Break. The nail was in the coffin before he ever had a chance. And, because he missed so much time, there’s no evidence to substantiate a claim for or against Cooper heading into 2019. I’m holding out less hope for a sustained breakout, but I’ll keep an eye on him — Miami remains the best place for those seeking the opportunity to simply play, and he could readily pull a Jesus Aguilar in 2019.
Verdict: Incorrect (0 for 1)
2) Matt Chapman becomes the Matt to own in Oakland and out-earns Matt Olson.
Chapman pulled through! His monster 2nd half made him not only the most valuable Matt in Oakland but also the 2nd-most valuable Matt in all of baseball. I admired Chapman’s Minor League power — power that had been consistently better than Olson’s prior to their call-ups — and didn’t think Chapman was any more liable than Olson to be a batting average drain. Despite the high strikeout rates Chapman ran in the Minors, his 11.5% whiff rate in half a season last year suggested he could at least keep it in check.
Keep it in check, he did: trading fewer fly balls for more contact, Chapman still showed off admirable power while hitting for average, unlike his counterpart. Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) carried Chapman but not Olson. I think it’s too early to say Chapman is a high-BABIP guy; normalizing for it, Chapman and Olson pull into a nearly dead heat with each other in terms of value — just like I anticipated.
To be clear, I never thought Olson would be bad; I simply wanted to highlight a hitter being drafted much later in drafts who could provide comparable value. We’re talking about a $7 discount on draft day, assuming the two are comparably skilled, and another $3 in returns if you consider Chapman’s end-of-season value. It’s not an earth-shattering difference, but $7 can buy you a nice upgrade no matter which position.
Ironically, will Olson be the one who’s undervalued in 2019?
Verdict: Correct (1 for 2)
3) Derek Fisher out-earns Domingo Santana.
I know I said I’d be thorough, but I really don’t want to spend much time on this one, so I’ll refer you here. Fisher did compare to Santana, just in all the wrong ways. It’s a testament to the risk one incurs when handling a volatile asset. Santana’s 2017 offensive profile was extreme, and Fisher’s Minor League track record had been similarly so. At least if you bypassed Santana to gamble on Fisher, you saved yourself $10 to $14 worth of grief.
Verdict: Incorrect (1 for 3)
4) Madison Bumgarner, once he returns from the disabled list, is not a top-20 starter on a per-start basis.
I’ve been banging this drum — that Madison Bumgarner’s fastball is broken as since the preseason. I wrote it in the caption on Bumgarner’s FanGraphs player page in March. I followed up in July. I tweeted about it several times during the season (1) (2) (3). Even anecdotally, we all should have been more concerned about Bumgarner injuring his throwing shoulder in his dirtbike incident. That the data bore out a narrative that warrants such concern should have made it a much larger red flag.
I think Bumgarner injuring his finger before the season started obscures the fact that he would likely have been bad all season. Now there could be a separate offseason narrative at war — one that claims Bumgarner was shaking off the rust gathered while on the disabled list for the better part of one (or, if you’re looking to reach, two) year(s). Fact of the matter is Bumgarner’s fastball was, and remained, broken. His usage pattern suggests he knows it, too.
Bumgarner’s fastball went from elite to futile proverbially overnight. What next? He ought to throw more junk. He ramped up usage of his curveball, which would have been a good development had it, too, not lost the bite it had just a few months prior. I think the curve could bounce back — that truly might be fallout from the finger injury — but the fastball looks like it’s toast. Worrisome yet is Bumgarner’s loss of control in tow.
I posted the results of a model that predicted 2019 ADP yesterday; it guesses we’ll draft Bumgarner 17th on average among starting pitchers. He went 18th in the Too Early Mocks. It seems he’ll still be a top-20 pick in 2019. I’m bearish.
Oh, I completely omitted the discussion of this prediction’s result. It’s hard to compute the value from a certain date onward, but the split leaderboards should help. Here’s how he ranked in each classic rotisserie category from June 5 onward among players who threw at least 100 innings:
Wins: not sure, but 26 pitchers recorded at least six wins after the All-Star Break, let alone since June 5
The only problem with a half-season prediction is anything can happen in half a season. One could argue Madison Bumgarner could’ve performed better if he had more time. That’s why we have peripheral/component metrics, though; among 75 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings after June 5, he ranked 41st in FIP and 55th in xFIP. He was bad, folks.
Verdict: Correct (2 for 4)
5) Miles Mikolas out-earns Luke Weaver.
I dedicated several posts specifically to this pair of teammate pitchers (1) (2) (3). I argued against Weaver, claiming his peripherals could not hold up under duress, even though he had demonstrated a high level of success for a sustained period of time. Meanwhile, Mikolas, coming from Korea with the baggage of being a former bust, demonstrated similar qualities to pitchers like Kenta Maeda (who had himself a rather fine season while healthy).
Mikolas’ obscure history and uncertain projection made him a perfect late-round dart throw, whereas Weaver was either a ticking time bomb or a statistical unicorn. I was willing to bet on the former. Like Chapman and Olson, the draft-day discount was rather steep — $9, almost $10 — and, moreover, I was willing to bet that Mikolas would handily outperform Weaver. By my personal definition, handily would have been a few dollars, maybe double digits. Would it surprise you, then, if I told you Mikolas out-earned Weaver by almost $30? We’re talking about a $40 swing when comparing two teams who drafted these pitchers.
The idea here was to both (1) distrust shaky peripherals, even if our eyes deceive us, and (2) trust strong performances abroad. Most players who have come from overseas have exceeded expectations, even when those expectations were set high. (Think Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Yu Darvish, Kenta Maeda, Hyun-jin Ryu, Jose Abreu, Yuli Gurriel, Jung-ho Kang… I’m sure I’m missing a couple. Only Alex Guerrero and Byung-ho Park come to mind as profound disappointments — again, I’m probably missing a couple, but hey — and I maintain neither got a fair shake.)
Also, fair warning: Mikolas will be overrated heading into 2019.
Verdict: Correct (3 for 5)
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I hope this was helpful, instructive, beneficial, whatever. I hope you found yourself descending down some wormholes in the links I provided; I think this was probably my strongest year analytically, and I hope to keep the ball rolling in 2019. (For transparency’s sake, I went 0 for 10 on my 2017 bold predictions, but I came pretty dang close on three of them. Feel free to disparage me for putting on a clinic of what notTM!)