Alex Chamberlain’s Five Bold Predictions for 2020 – A Review

At this point, when it comes to bold predictions, you should know the drill. Yet it feels increasingly cliché to lead with, “you know the drill.” Nevertheless: you know the drill. We make bold predictions before the season and we review them after the season.

One thing I make a point of highlighting I try to make my predictions sufficiently bold while also actionable. “David Fletcher will hit 50 home runs” is a certifiably insane prediction, but it is not actionable because what do you do with this information? You over-draft him, sure, but by how much?

I like to revisit my track record when discussing bold predictions. I think a bold prediction that is (1) sufficiently bold (2) while also actionable (3) and also correct (or very nearly correct) can be a very helpful thing. Past bold predictions included actionably aggressive (or avoidant!) rankings for José Ramírez (2015 and 2016), Madison Bumgarner (2018), Matt Chapman (2018), Miles Mikolas (2018), Kirby Yates (2019), Jeff McNeil (2019), Mike Tauchman (2019), and Domingo Germán (2019).

I’m excited to add a couple more hits to the list this year. But first, I’d like to announce my regrets. I regret not making a bold prediction about Yu Darvish, at least in the “Five More Less-Bold Predictions,” where I waxed poetic about certain pitchers this year. From June 5 onward last year, Darvish was the 3rd-best starting pitcher in baseball if you looked at his peripherals and not his ERA. Nothing feels as bold in hindsight, but Darvish’s ADP (average draft position) as a top-25 starter was aggressive but not nearly as aggressive as saying he was a 2nd- or even 1st-round talent.

It’s fitting, then, that he was the 2nd-most valuable pitcher in baseball this year (per Razzball’s Player Rater), a hair ahead of Trevor Bauer (feel free to split that hair, but Darvish is invariably top-3, just like his promise suggested). It’s the prediction I wish I made and I regret not pocketing that profit. At least my roster construction this year reflected my preference for him, but it would have been nice to have that preference on paper, especially if it meant you, the reader, might have benefited from it.

Anyway, let’s get to the goods (or, for some of them, the bads).

1) Josh Rojas is a top-60 outfielder.

I only feel marginally less excited about Rojas. Fact of the matter is Rojas needed some kind of injury for me to cash in on this prediction, but the Diamondbacks stayed mostly healthy. The team gave him some reps in September, but now through his first 227 MLB plate appearances, he boasts a paltry .206/.295/.271 line with two home runs and five stolen bases. It leaves a lot to be desired, but it also does not reflect how he has not had an opportunity to simply play full-time consistently. (Although it will be hard for the D-Backs to trust him that much given his performance thus far.)

Regardless, this one bombed, but with the acknowledgment that it had a high probability of bombing.

Verdict: L (0 for 1)

2) Trent Grisham is a top-30 outfielder.

Try top-30 overall. (He was 36th overall, per Razzball.) I saw many Grisham bold predictions this year, so I wasn’t the only one in on him — we are a devout group. But my prediction of him ending up a top-30 outfielder is the most aggressive prediction I saw (most were “top-40 outfielder”), so I’m going to pat myself on the back for that one.

A former top prospect with 1st-round pedigree, Grisham stalled prior to 2019, when he allegedly adjusted his bat grip. He proceeded to break out in a massive way, flashing speed, power, and discipline to set the foundation for five-category potential.

And five-category potential he provided. (Or, eh, four-category — his .251 average was, well, average.) I suggested he was “a dark horse candidate to join a small group of players who record double-digit homers and steals this year.” Ten homers and steals apiece later, he joins a lauded group comprised only of Mookie Betts, José Ramírez, Fernando Tatis Jr., Trea Turner, Trevor Story, and himself.

(Drafted as the 86th outfielder in National Fantasy Baseball Championship leagues, he finished as Razzball’s 13th-best outfielder.)

Verdict: W (1 for 2)

3) Cameron Maybin is a top-45 outfielder.

Eh. So I liked the idea of Maybin’s renaissance in New York continuing in Detroit where his playing time would largely be uninhibited. (In case you hadn’t noticed, he amassed an 11-9-.285 season in just 269 plate appearances, which would have made him elite in this sprint season.)

He did hit for some power but nothing close to what he exhibited with the Yankees — it was more akin to doubles power — and he didn’t run much, which is where we extract most of his value to begin with. The result was wildly mediocre, and entering his age-34 season I don’t see a lot of excess value to extract here. On the extremely-cheap, it was worth a shot.

Verdict: L (1 for 3)

4) Austin Allen is a top-15 catcher.

This was never meant to be an indictment of Sean Murphy. More than anything, it was glowing praise for Allen. (I thought the two of them made for the best backstop tandem in one- or even two-catcher AL-only leagues.)

Unfortunately, the prediction hinged largely on Murphy getting injured and/or struggling out the gate and Allen seizing the platoon advantage. Neither happened, so this prediction flopped. You can judge Allen on his hapless 32 plate appearances, but it’s not worth your time.

Verdict: L (1 for 4)

5) Jose Altuve finishes outside the top-15 second basemen and top-100 overall.

I wrote a lengthy post dedicated exclusively to Altuve once it became increasingly clear my hunch here was correct. Although Altuve slugged a career-best 31 home runs and .252 isolated power (ISO), his batting average fell below .300 for the first time since 2013. This was driven largely by a precipitous drop in batting average on balls in play (from .351 BABIP during the 2014-18 seasons to a .303 BABIP in 2019) and a spike in his swinging strike rate (from 7.7% SwStr in 2018 to 9.0% SwStr in 2019).

It almost seemed to me like Altuve swung out of his shoes to mask a decline in speed (a big and largely ignored issue in fantasy circles, in my opinion) — and perhaps a decline elsewhere. At the time, I couldn’t know for sure if his power outburst simply coincided with this issue or was a direct effect to the cause.

While compiling my research on launch angle consistency, I noticed Altuve not only lagged the league but also suffered a large negative change from 2018 to 2019, coinciding with his power outburst but also his otherwise poor performance everywhere else. The power seemed to mask a serious issue looming overhead but largely unseen: his elite hit tool might be unraveling.

Unravel, it did. Altuve’s launch angle never tightened back up, and in 48 games this year he posted career-worst everythings, from his strikeout rate (18.6% K) to his slash line (.219/.286/.344 with a .250 BABIP) to his whiff rate (9.8% SwStr). He only stole two bases on five attempts, continuing a trend of poor baserunning success and bringing his two-year conversion rate to 8-for-16 (50%), well short of his 78% rate through 2018.

Altuve finished as Razzball’s 34th second baseman — this, after being NFBC’s 37th player overall from July 1 onward. Needless to say, he finished absurdly far outside the top-100 — in fact, he finished outside the top-300.

Some folks will invariably be drawn back to Altuve next year, clamoring for his pedigree as a former #2 pick behind Mike Trout as well as being simply one year removed from a 31-6-.298 season (and also possibly chalking it up to small samples, although I don’t think any Astros are receiving much sympathy these days). His price will be cheaper, making it, in theory, an attractive buy.

But as I suggested from my Altuve-themed post in the first sentence: perhaps he may be past the point of no return. Maybe we’ve already witnessed the beginning of the end.

Verdict: W (2 for 5)

Five More Less-Bold Predictions

  1. Zac Gallen. “It seems like, every year, there’s at least one pitcher who is a fairly obvious candidate to break out. […] This year, Gallen seems to me the most obvious candidate to step up from potential mid-rotation arm to SP2 or better in 2021.” I’ve seen a lot of chatter about early 2021 rankings, and a lot of that early chatter includes Gallen among the top-15 starting pitchers. Gallen and his 2.75 ERA and 28.2% strikeout rate finished the season as Razzball’s 25th-best starter, no thanks to only three Wins. He boasts a career 2.78 ERA and 28.5% strikeout rate through 27 starts (152 innings). Verdict: W (1 for 1)
  2. Julio Urías. One thing appears certain: Urías’ contact management skills appear legit. Across 134 innings and change since the start of 2019, he owns a microscopic .257 BABIP and 7.9% home run-to-fly ball rate (HR/FB) en route to a 2.81 ERA. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate catered, which cost him a big chunk of his potential value. He finished the year as Razzball’s 59th-best starter (again, no thanks to only three Wins). If anything, though, I think this presents a buying opportunity, especially if the community fades Urías because of his peripherals (5.06 xFIP, 4.88 SIERA in 2020). His 3.72 FIP better characterizes his adeptness at managing contact. Verdict: W (1.5 for 2; you can argue with this if you’d like, but you’d be arguing against a 3.27 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, which is… weird!)
  3. Robbie Ray. OOPH. Not all changes are good changes. Ray might have actually been worse off with his mechanical change. He might be on the down-and-out in fantasy circles, especially with declining velocity. We can only trust his complete dearth of control for so long. Verdict: L (2 for 3)
  4. Joe Musgrove. OOOOOOPH. However, I feel better about this one. Musgrove sucked some serious ass out the gate, but he also showed declining velocity relative to the bump we all saw last September. That’s bad news! Musgrove’s breakout hinged on that added velocity. So it’s reassuring, then, to see him recapture that velocity once more in his last three starts, striking out 29 while walking only three with a 2.00 ERA and 1.92 xFIP. That’s the Musgrove we hope to see again in spring 2021. Hopefully he doesn’t catfish us again. Verdict: L (2 for 4, but I’m seeking vengeance next year)
  5. Dylan Bundy. A better home park and an elite pitch framer behind the plate… they’re exactly what I thought Bundy needed to finally, finally, break out. He did it, although not just with those two changes alone — he also optimized his pitch mix a little more, showing more confidence in his secondaries. I’m extremely curious to see how people value him come 2021 — I imagine most will buy the breakout (there will be fewer skeptics now that Lucas Giolito basically did the same thing last year) but some may still fade what they think is noise. He was the 17th-best starter per Razzball; that sounds about right. Verdict: W (3 for 5).

Two-for-five where it counts, plus two-and-half-for-five in the bonus rounds. The only busts that hurt your pocketbook here were Ray and Musgrove — they may have cost you middle-round picks in deeper leagues. Otherwise, any investments in Rojas, Maybin, and Allen were dirt cheap, bordering on negligible. And your profits elsewhere — well, they make up for any losses at least 10 times over. I hope you took at least some of them to the bank!

Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 8-time award finalist. Featured in Lindy's magazine (2018, 2019), Rotowire magazine (2021), and Baseball Prospectus (2022). Tout Wars competitor. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.

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1 year ago

I took Grisham in the later rounds of my dynasty league draft this spring based almost entirely on your bullish outlook on him, Alex. Thanks for making me look like a talent-scouting pro!
Hopefully Grish Jrs builds on his success next year, cause I locked him in for another year on my team at the expense, principally, of oft-injured-but-valuable-when-he-isn’t Padre hermano Tommy Pham.
What’re your thoughts on Grisham as a developing talent? Have we seen his ceiling? What improvements does he need to make to push his potential?