If only my fantasy teams performed half as well as my bold predictions this year.
Not that I had an entirely awful season in 2019. I entered my first two National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) Online Championship leagues (12 teams, 30 rounds, standard 5-by-5 rotisserie categories) and won one of them. (I came last in the other.) I won a second league (a 12-team auction) and had good but futile runs in several others. Still, 2019 felt like a bit of a letdown.
So, again: at least I have my bold predictions to fall back on. Over the years, I find I’ve become increasingly adept at late-round draft strategy (while becoming increasingly inept at early-round strategy, or something like that). My bold predictions are honest assessments of guys I love. Moreover, I intend for them to be actionable; that is, Ronald Acuña Jr. goes 40/40 would have been an extremely impressive prediction, but he was already a 1st rounder. How much does that move the needle?
As in past years, I have forgotten half my predictions, so I’ll be just as curious to find out what they were as I will be to find out if they’ve succeeded. Let’s dig in.
1) Mike Tauchman is a top-60 outfielder.
On July 10, I gave this prediction a less-than-1% chance of hitting. Little did I know what would transpire in New York: the entire town would hit the Injured List, and repeatedly, allowing Tauchman another chance to redeem himself. Redeem himself, he did: exactly 30 days later, he cracked the top-5 hitters of the last 30 days on ESPN’s Player Rater. I… wow. I don’t even know how to feel about this. Enthralled? Ashamed that I ever gave up hope on Tauchman’s 2019 season?
Not all fairy tales have happy endings. Unfortunately, Tauchman suffered a grade 2 calf strain in early September, dashing any hopes for a strong finish and a valuable postseason roster spot. He finished 91st among outfielders overall, per Razzball’s player rater – but 57th among outfielders on a per-game basis. And that list includes hitters who played, like, one game (such as Johnny Davis, who is literally the most valuable outfielder per game played in 2019… because of four plate appearances). Increase the plate appearance threshold to 200 (Tauchman recorded 296), and he’s 44th-best per game.
Ultimately, this prediction counts as a loss. But, by technicality, it could be chalked up as half a win. And, spiritually, it’s a full win and then some. I wrote the premier hype post about a hitter nearly had even heard of who made a legitimate impact (and become a crowd favorite) for a playoff team. That’s something.
Verdict: L (0 for 1, but 1 for 1 in spirit points)
2) Jeff McNeil is a top-10 second baseman.
In July, I was concerned McNeil might not hit 17 home runs for the season — “14, maybe 15,” I had said, which would have been plenty sufficient given my original prediction (17 homers, 10 steals, a .300 average).
McNeil hit 16 home runs after the All-Star Break alone.
The power I saw in McNeil — from Double-A and Triple-A, when he went punch-for-punch with human polar bear Pete Alonso — showed up in spades in 2019, making up for his relative dearth of power in 2018. The final line — 23 homers, five steals, a .318 average — was good for 81st overall, an absolutely massive improvement on his NFBC average draft position (ADP) of 298th.
But… McNeil finished only 13th among second basemen. In an environment saturated with power and counting stats, McNeil’s midseason IL stint and lack of stolen bases (5 for 11 on the basepaths) torpedoed my prediction. So, so close; hard to be upset about the return on investment, but hard not to be upset about how damn close this prediction came to fulfillment.
Verdict: L (0 for 2, but 2 for 2 in spirit points)
3) Willians Astudillo is a top-3 catcher.
This one did not age quite as gracefully. For one, Astudillo missed much of the season due to injuries. But, more significantly, Astudillo and his extremely high-contact propensities simply can’t hang in such a power-soaked context. Maybe he is a 15-homer, .300 hitter, but I’m not sure that matters if the breakouts we saw behind the dish this year (from Mitch Garver, Christian Vazquez, Omar Narvaez, Roberto Perez, etc.) are legitimate.
I still like Astudillo long-term as a meaningful Major Leaguer, but I would only target him in two-catcher leagues next year, especially because he’s immediately overshadowed by Garver and, for lesser reasons, because it appears the juiced ball will still be used in 2020.
Verdict: L (0 for 3)
4) Domingo Germán is the Yankees’ 2nd-most valuable starting pitcher.
Ah, shoot. Got this one wrong.
Because German was the Yankees’ most-valuable starting pitcher outright.
Granted, Luis Severino got injured in March, which I acknowledged in my predictions might make this a little easier to achieve. But the ship finally sailed on CC Sabathia‘s career, J.A. Happ‘s uncommonly good fastball finally broke (because of differences in ball or seams, perhaps?), Masahiro Tanaka’s splitter broke (definitely because of the seams), and James Paxton dealt with injuries (per usual).
German benefited from more wins in fewer starts than Paxton, but he also simply pitched better. Per Razzball’s calculations, if you normalize each of German’s and Paxton’s wins per start, German probably was more like the Yankees’ #2, just like I drew it up.
The sad part about this prediction is what happened off-field. Two weeks ago, German was placed on administrative leave for a domestic violence investigation. It stands to reason he pitches in 2020, foreseeable for the entire season (lest an additional or extended suspension is levied), but it certainly leaves a taste in one’s mouth.
Verdict: W (1 for 4)
5) Austin Barnes is a top-5 catcher.
I truly don’t want to talk about this one, not just because it was wrong about the outcome but because I was wrong about Barnes. His passivity begets an ineffective approach sunk further by suboptimal contact quality. I’m willing to admit my love for him as a fringy dude over the years has been for naught, and 2017 might ultimately be the outlier here. My pride hurts.
Verdict: L (1 for 5)
6) Madison Bumgarner is not a top-200 player.
Oooooh… that’s a bad one! This prediction broke down in two ways. One: I did not expect Bugmarner, who averaged roughly 120 innings the previous two years because of injuries, would eclipse the 200-inning mark as he had done from 2011 through 2016.
Two: I assumed he wouldn’t optimize. Considering he had been one of the best in the game more than half a decade, it was unwise for me to expect more of the status quo in terms of pitch selection. His cutter saved him, as did major bumps in his spin rates, which I highlighted in my midseason review post.
I did get one thing right, though (again, in spirit): Bumgarner’s peripherals remained somewhat mediocre (4.15 SIERA), and he pitched to them (3.90 ERA) instead of outperforming them by wide margins like he did in 2017 and 2018. A 4.00 ERA is much more tolerable in 2019 than it was half a decade ago, but it’s still a far cry from the ace material MadBum had been for so long. There’s a spirit point to be taken here as well, but I’m not stupid enough to take it.
Verdict: L (1 for 6)
7) Kenta Maeda out-earns teammate and (alleged) budding ace Walker Buehler.
Totally taking the ‘L’ here. I’m fine with it. I went with fading the upstart ace in the off-chance his fastball wasn’t as glamorous as it appeared to be (and because I love Maeda and needed someone against whom to compare Buehler). Turns out not only is Buehler’s fastball as good as advertised but also his secondaries are better than advertised (at least as they were advertised in 2018).
Buehler is a true ace and, given his age, is arguably the best dynasty arm in baseball.
I still love Maeda, though (who, just so the record shows, finished 34th among starting pitchers but had an ADP well outside the top 50).
Verdict: L (1 for 7)
8) Kirby Yates is a top-2 closer.
Only Josh Hader, who threw 15 more innings, out-earned Yates among closers this year. Yates carried his extremely valuable peripherals into a high-leverage role and ran with it. Everything screamed (and still screams) elite, and while the 1.19 ERA will inflate his draft stock next year, there’s no reason he shouldn’t drafted as a bona fide top option in 2020 (unless all the people who drafted Edwin Diaz and Blake Treinen this year get cold feet).
Verdict: W (2 for 8)
9) Jake Lamb and Jung Ho Kang are both top-12 third basemen.
Is it OK if I just don’t evaluate this one? Thanks.
Verdict: L (2 for 9)
10) Nathaniel Lowe is the American League Rookie of the Year.
Wrong Tampa Bay rookie named Lowe, but hey, the dude friggin’ crushed it in his first 50 MLB games. The 29.6% strikeout rate (K%) creates cause for concern, but his 10.6% swinging strike rate (SwStr%) suggests there’s good fortune on the horizon in this regard. He makes for a nice sleeper heading into 2020, depending on the Rays’ playing time situations.
Verdict: L (2 for 10, but 4 for 10 in spirit points)