Alex Chamberlain’s Seven Bold Predictions for 2021: A Review

It’s cliché to say “you know the drill,” but you do! You do, indeed, know the drill! The one thing about bold predictions that gets me up on my soapbox every year is what it means to be bold. There’s bold for shock value, bold to be bold. (Or, not bold enough—its own problem.) And then there’s sufficiently bold (per market sentiments) but readily achievable.

Much of this is qualitative, so “sufficiently bold” and “readily achievable” are eye-of-the-beholder types of descriptors. But we can at least measure sufficient boldness using average draft position (ADP) data. All fantasy baseball websites use them; I use National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) data because it involves high-stakes players. (Let it be known that high-stakes does not always equal high-talent, but that’s altogether another soapbox.) Moreover, we can filter NBFC ADP by date range, so I can leverage ADP specifically from the final week of spring training by which time ambiguous spring training storylines have solidified.

I’m proud of my success this year. I hope a few of these picks were worthwhile for you, if you happened to heed them exclusively because of this post. That’d be quite brave of you!

(“Year-end rank” courtesy of Razzball’s player rater.)

1) Josh Rojas is a top-12 second baseman.

Final week ADP: 387.5 | $1.3 | undrafted in 17% of leagues
Year-end rank: 250th (2B #32*) | $1.2

*Also SS #31

It would have been nice to see Rojas play more. In a mildly insane turn of events, Rojas compiled the most runs for Arizona, which says more about the sad state of the Diamondbacks’ organization than it does our subject. Rojas boasts solid contact skills but is pretty passive at the plate, resulting in a strikeout rate much higher than I would like to see.

All told, he made 122 starts and 17 abysmal pinch-hit/pinch-run appearances. Without them, he would’ve hit .270 in 533 plate appearances, prorating his total production to 15 homers, 12 steals, and 150 runs plus RBI in 162 games. Rojas owned one of baseball’s lowest totals of runs plus RBI among hitters who qualified for the batting title and rated at least average by wRC+. In other words, he was fairly unlucky by virtue of being trapped in one of baseball’s worst lineups. Frankly, that’s an occupational hazard of being a hitter in Arizona.

At least there’s a silver lining to this, which is, being one of the team’s best hitters, it stands to reason Rojas earns full-time reps in 2022 and perhaps gets a little luckier in the counting stats department. A 15-12-.270 hitter is nothing to write home about, but it’s also not nothing, especially in deeper leagues and especially with multipositional eligibility (which expanded to four positions last year in most formats, as Rojas played 14 games at third base, too).

Final verdict: L (0 for 1)

2) Randy Dobnak is a top-30 starting pitcher.

Final week ADP: 559.8 | $0.0 | undrafted in 48% of leagues
Year-end rank: 1,058th (SP #359) | –$18.2

I don’t even want to talk about this one. Dobnak spent much of 2021 hurt, and when he wasn’t hurt, he was one of baseball’s worst pitchers.

Things were looking up when Dobnak plowed through spring training and earned himself a 5-year, $30ish million extension. He had already earned my trust, then he earned the Twins’ trust, too, which seemed like an exclamation-point vote of confidence.

Presumably, he has that vote of confidence still. I’m not sure if he has mine anymore, though. I’ll still draft him here and there next year because no one will touch him with a 10-foot pole. It’s possible he can harness a solid secondary and his bowling-ball sinker to recapture the magic he made in the minors in 2019.

(Note: –$18.2 in value is related to both Dobnak’s performance and also Dobnak’s lack of playing time. Razzball assigns negative value to the idea of Dobnak inhabiting a lineup spot all year, even though he spent much of it injured. It does not change the fact that Dobnak was diabolically bad, but it’s good to make the distinction, because other players who didn’t play much met similar value-based fates.)

Final verdict: L (0 for 2)

3) Myles Straw is a top-35 outfielder.

Final week ADP: 275.5 | $4.3 | undrafted in 1% of leagues
Year-end rank: 94th (OF #31) | $13.7

OK! Here we go! I’m glad I loosened this one up ever-so-slightly. If I had declared him a top-30 outfielder instead, that would have been a devastatingly bad beat!

Sometimes, it’s easier to quote yourself, with underlines for emphasis:

Straw might be lucky to hit even one home run in 2021. But it’s worth betting that a combination of frequent contact, low launch angles, and elite speed will generate some outcomes resembling Mallex Smith circa 2018: a top-100 finish featuring 40 stolen bases and a .296 batting average buoyed by a .366 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Straw could hit .250 with 30 stolen bases — he’d still be [groan] a steal at his latest ADP. Like the two players preceding him on this list, I’ve grabbed him nearly everywhere I could.

As I anticipated, Straw held onto Houston’s center field job all year. Of course, he only stole 30 bases instead of 40. However, the Astros featured him lead-off or in the two-hole only 10 times, cutting into his opportunities dramatically. He finished his tenure there with 17 steals in 96 starts. When he arrived in Cleveland, Straw led off almost exclusively and stole 13 bases in just 58 starts.

Most critically, Straw saw 0.73 more PAs per game in Cleveland, and his number of stolen base opportunities per game improved from 1.86 to 2.17. His success rate per opportunity (rather than per attempt) was about 10% with both Houston and Cleveland. Assuming identical production across 162 games, that’s another five stolen bases to be captured. Razzball valued each incremental stolen base at roughly 50 cents, which would’ve added about $2.50 to Straw’s value and made him a top-70 player overall.

Anyway, enough braggin’. Straw did exactly what I hoped he’d do, and now he plays for a team that boasts some of the worst outfield depth in baseball, which means he could (and perhaps should) be locked into a full-time lead-off role in 2022. He’ll be 27, and speed can age precariously, but it stands to reason he still flashes elite foot speed next year, too.

Final verdict: W (1 for 3)

4) Anthony Misiewicz and Scott Barlow lead their teams in saves.

Misiewicz’s final week ADP: 709.0 | $0.0 | undrafted in 99% of leagues
Misiewicz’s year-end rank: 620th | –$11.5

Barlow’s final week ADP: 700.3 | $0.0 | undrafted in 82% of leagues
Barlow’s year-end rank: 187th (RP #24) | $5.3

Missed on the Misiewicz dart throw but nailed Barlow. I suppose I could have split these into two, but whatever.

I was right about Montero being no good (he was putrid), but Misiewicz was not particularly good, either. That could have been fine if Kendall Graveman and Casey Sadler (whom I had dismissed) did not have career years (both in their age-30 seasons, because of course). But really it was Paul Sewald (breaking out in his age-31 season) who stole the spotlight here.

I anticipated the Royals’ bullpen situation perfectly: Holland’s glass slipper fell off, and Staumont proved he could not keep his free passes in check. In a somewhat ironic turn of events (although you’ll have to clarify with Alanis), Staumont walked nearly five hitters per nine innings before losing the briefly-held closer job and only three per nine innings after. Credit where it’s due, because Staumont could perform admirably with that control as a closer. It was too late, though, and Barlow took the job and ran with it. Barlow also has some control issues, but his arsenal is much more impressive from a swing-and-miss standpoint. I would expect him to get the first look at saves (Holland will be a free agent).

Final verdict: (L+W)/2 (1.5 for 4)

5) Ryan Yarbrough is a top-40 starting pitcher.

Final week ADP: 259.5 | $4.8 | undrafted in < 1% of leagues
Year-end rank: 337th (SP #102) | –$3.2

Another bad one—possibly the worst one, given Yarbrough was nearly universally drafted and actually cost more than $1 on average to sign to your team. Yarbs, a contact-suppression maven, was very average in that regard this year. Normally, average isn’t bad, but Yarbrough relies on contact suppression in the absence of “stuff.” If the contact suppression fails, everything breaks.

Interestingly, Yarbrough still did a mostly admirable job of stifling exit velocity—he just suffered more from a launch angle standpoint, as he allowed more fly balls and more home runs on those fly balls. Toss in a miserable strand rate, which oftentimes is outside the pitcher’s control, and you wind up with something of a bad-luck year for our guy.

With all this in mind, I kind of like the buy-low opportunity on Yarbrough next year, should the Rays afford him the opportunity to start again. Frankly, he might not, at least not right out the gate. The Rays omitted him from their playoff roster, which speaks a lot to his utility to them right now. But it’s not like the MLB roster is swimming in pitching depth after Tyler Glasnow (who will probably miss all of 2022 because of Tommy John surgery), the Shanes (McClanahan and Baz), and Drew Rasmussen. You can bet Tampa Bay will make a splash in free agency in the offseason, although their idea of a splash is tossing a pebble into a lake when other teams cannonball.

Anyway, eventually Yarbrough will need to make spot starts or carry a torch full-time for a while, and I expect he performs considerably better than he did this year. Unless he’s washed, of course. In which case, never mind!

Final verdict: L (1.5 for 5)

6) Adam Duvall is a top-30 outfielder.

Final week ADP: 379.6 | $1.5 | undrafted in 14% of leagues
Year-end rank: 62nd (OF #19) | $17.9

Biiiiig money.

He’s not going to win you any leagues by himself, but he should give you 30 homers and a .240 average in a guaranteed spot in the heart of the Marlins’ batting order.

Joke’s on you, pal. Duvall’s 38 homers with a .228 average carried him to a nonsensical 113 RBI (compared to only 67 runs). The Marlins didn’t really have nowhere else to turn, although they really didn’t need to, either. Defense doesn’t matter for fantasy, but Duvall was slightly above-average with the glove, allowing him to accrue 2.4 WAR, good for his best full-time season in terms of value per game played.

Looking back on his career, Duvall really only had one bad year—in 2018, when he hit only 15 home runs in 427 PAs with a preposterously bad .195/.274/.365 slash line. It tainted the industry’s perception of him, even in the non-fantasy realm; he had to fight for playing time in Atlanta in 2019 and 2020. It’s fair to say he earned a shot to start full-time somewhere, given he hit 26 home runs in just 339 PAs. If you’re arithmetically disinclined, that’s a 50-homer pace. So, the Marlins gave him full-time reps, and in another ironic twist of fate, Atlanta paid up at the trade deadline to acquire him (the second time in four years that they did so; they traded Cincinnati for him in 2018!).

Duvall’s career .241 isolated power (ISO) ranks 13th of 175 hitters who have compiled 2,500 PAs since he debuted in 2014. If you remove his bad year in 2018, his ISO jumps to .254, which ties him with Bryce Harper at 8th. We’re talking legitimately elite power that offsets whatever detriment he may be to your batting average. His playing time outlook is a bit fuzzy for 2022, but supposedly it was fuzzy for 2021, too, and look how that turned out.

Final verdict: W (2.5 for 6)

7) Josh Naylor is a top-50 outfielder.

Final week ADP: 558.0 | $0.0 | undrafted in 49% of leagues
Year-end rank: 948th (OF #156) | –$17.0

On a per-game basis, Naylor was worth –$3.5—that is, he was slightly below-average. Not awful, not good. I’m warming quickly to the idea that Naylor is a Quad-A hitter. In 633 career PAs, Naylor boasts a disappointing .250/.306/.389 line (87 wRC+) with just 16 home runs. The plate discipline is good enough if the raw power implied by his frame and displayed at Triple-A would come to fruition at the big-league level. Alas, it hasn’t. In fact, his power has been decidedly below-average.

Cleveland’s MLB roster is a wreck right now. Its farm is loaded with prospect talent up the middle but hardly at the corners or in the outfield. Naylor’s also not even arbitration-eligible yet, making him extremely cost-effective to his employer. All told, Naylor’s leash may be fairly long once he recovers from his broken ankle. It’s good for folks like you and me who are interesting in seeing if he can capture his minor-league form with very little acquisition cost at next year’s drafts. I’m just not holding my breath at this point.

Final verdict: L (2.5 for 7)

* * *

Easily one of my better years. I’d like to think these were sufficiently bold and achievable, which is all I wanted. Of course, to me, Straw, Duvall, and Barlow were locks (well, mortal locks) to hit. That’s the beauty of this exercise: there are plenty of market inefficiencies staring us in the face every year. Some of them are the Vladimir Guerrero Jr.s and Shohei Ohtanis of the world; others are the decidedly less-sexy Straws and Duvalls. But, hey, wherever you can wring profit from the draft board, do it!

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

Duvall is such a strange player! He has the power and strikeout issues of a Joey Gallo, but he rarely ever walks. Those types of outfielders are usually terrible defensively: Castellanos, Teoscar, Arozarena. But Duvall was actually a top 5 outfielder defensively last year. He and Adolis Garcia are some of the first all-power, high-K, few-walk big outfielders I can remember that are also really good defensively, though it might be a fluke in Duvall’s case.

1 year ago
Reply to  dl80

Um, Tyler O’Neill? He even won a Gold Glove last year when he didn’t even have a full-time job and was benched by the end of the season and into the playoffs (before his incredible breakout this season). On top of that, O’Neill is also a speedster!