Opening day is now just one short day away. The days this week seem to creep by ever so slowly for a baseball lover. We have already had our fantasy drafts and auctions, and now we want to watch/see how our teams will perform, both fantasy and in real life. Baseball is back … and this year, we get to watch real baseball games that start to count in March!
Below are my 2018 bold predictions. Some of them stem directly from a small stretch of the ATC Projections, which can be found here on FanGraphs. Others come from my own personal analysis on the player, or team situation. The rest arise from some sheer wild optimism, but I have convinced myself that it could happen.
Remember – These are bold predictions, not crazy predictions. I am not going to predict that Billy Hamilton will lead baseball in homers, or that Joey Gallo will finish in the top 5 for a league batting title. Those are just crazy predictions, which cannot and will not happen. These aim to be bold (some more bold than others), possibilities which could happen. They aren’t the most likely outcome – and you wouldn’t draft a fantasy team that depended on any of these to happen. These are all achievable upsides, which I believe could and will happen in 2018.
For those statistically inclined – these bold predictions all lie roughly somewhere in the 75th to 90th range of percentile possible outcomes. Hopefully, I’ll get some 10-25% of these predictions right. Hopefully even more.
I also tried (for the most part) not to list predictions covered by others on the site … unless I just couldn’t resist.
#1: Adam Engel will go 15/20 in 2018.
Adam Engel was one of the worst offensive players in 2017. Yet, the White Sox had no need to go out and acquire a free agent OF to bump him down their depth charts. FanGraphs’ Depth Charts projections (pun intended) projects Engel for 525 PA, which indicates a full-time job this season. For one thing, Engel is a fantastic defensive CF, which could keep him in the lineup through bad stretches.
Last year’s poor .166 BA (which he posted through 301 ABs), also came with a .247 BABIP. His historical BABIP in the minors typically fell somewhere in the mid-300s. This spring he is batting .383, which led all White Sox batters with at least 16 ABs. He’s consistently stolen 30+ bases in the minors, so if that BABIP can bounce back, the speed upside is then real. He is also putting together more of a power swing and has shown that in the spring belting 4 homers.
Engel beat out Charlie Tilson and Leury Garcia in spring training, and the Chi Sox are trusting him with the starting centerfield job to start the year. A hot start for him will keep him in the lineup, and let those counting stats build up.
#2: Ender Inciarte will steal at least 30 bases, the most of any Brave.
Last year Inciarte stole 22 bases. There have been reports of him working this offseason with a baserunning coach – and this spring, Inciarte has stolen 4 bases. Atlanta is now in the midst of a rebuilding phase. With Albies already up and Acuna on his way up, Atlanta might look to run quite a bit this year. Inciarte will likely bat leadoff, with Albies second in front of Freeman – which helps Ender more than Ozzie for SBs. Inciarte will also get more plate appearances than any other Brave – which will help his chances of fulfilling the 2nd half of my bold prediction for him.
#3: Eddie Rosario finishes as a top 15 OF in Roto.
It would be hard for me to leave off Rosario of my bold predictions list. Rosario was the #1 player bargain when comparing the value based off of his ATC projections to what he is going for on the market. In most NFBC auctions that I had participated in, Rosario could be had at about $12-13. In one auction, I bought him for a mere $9. Running the ATC projections through the FanGraphs auction calculator (standard NFBC settings) has him worth about $20.
Can he repeat his 2017 success?
- Batting Average – Rosario hit .290 last year – but can he sustain that? His historical BABIP is at .325 lifetime. Hitting .280+ this coming season isn’t a big stretch.
- Power – Rosario hit 27 homers last year – 17 in the 2nd half alone. He can repeat that full season figure.
- Run Production – Rosario had almost 80 runs and 80 RBIs last year … and MIN’s lineups is even better this year. It isn’t a stretch to have him repeat that as well.
- Speed – Can he steal double digit bases again? He has 2 SBs this spring in only 32 ABs; he isn’t looking to take speed out of his game just yet.
#4: Xander Bogaerts goes 20/15 with a .300 BA, finishes as a Top 4 SS in Roto.
After getting hit by a pitch last year, Bogaerts played through the wrist injury finishing with a full season batting average of .273. Xander previously posted a BA of .294 and .320 in 2016 and 2015, respectively. This spring, he is playing well – batting close to .350 through 47 plate appearances. There are also reports of him raising the launch angle in his swing.
This may be the least bold of my predictions, but it’s surely no lock. Currently 6 other SSs are being drafted ahead of him in the NFBC.
#5: Manny Machado will finish outside the top 35 players in 2018
I am going back to the AL East once again. Machado’s current NFBC ADP is 17.5. Another way to state the prediction is that he will finish at least 17.5 spots lower than his current ADP of 17.5.
Despite only hitting .259 last season (albeit with a .265 BABIP), most project Machado for a big bounce back season, reflected in his NFBC ADP of 17.5. His earliest pick in the NFBC was as high as 5th this draft season! The FANS on FanGraphs have Machado going .287/35/105 with 107 runs scored, which is quite optimistic. It is possible still that people remember him as a player who used to steal 20 bases, but he no longer does that.
The ATC projections are a lot tamer showing .280/34/95 with only 90 runs scored. Derek Carty’s THE BAT is even more pessimistic with a .279/34/84 and 88 runs, reflecting that Baltimore will not be quite the offensive run environment that it was in the past few seasons. Machado could fall below even a 3rd round player value in shallower mixed leagues in 2018.
Lots of factors went into this bold prediction.
- Power – Perhaps as much as 25-50% of Goldy’s typical power might be reduced at home games due to the impending humidor. Goldschmidt may not crack 30 homers this year, while Encarnacion (provided he doesn’t have his typical slow April start) could hit close to 40. That’s a 10 Homer advantage to E5 right there.
- Run Production – Certainly, the humidor will also affect his RBI and Runs total. Steamer shows Goldschmidt projected for 93 RBIs & 93 Runs – while Encarnacion is projected for 88 and 99. That’s pretty much a statistical wash. Through 3 categories, it isn’t even bold to say that E5 will out earn Goldy.
- Steals – Edwin won’t steal more than a base or two, but the question is how much will Goldschmidt steal? After stealing 32 in 2016, his SB total dropped to 18 last year. Goldschmidt will turn 31 during the season, and most speedsters start showing heavy declines in stolen base output past the age of 30. I’m not sure that he is a lock for even double-digit steals in 2018.
- Batting average – Sure, we can expect Goldy to beat E5 in this category by some 20-30 points. But all it takes is a tad of BABIP luck, and the batting averages are not going to be miles apart.
- Injury risk – Encarnacion will primarily play DH, which will surely keep him on the field more. Goldschmidt does not have that option, and he has not had squeaky clean health in his career.
- Intangibles – Encarnacion is now in the 2nd year at Cleveland, and perhaps he feels more at home. Certainly, last year’s 2nd half was better than his first, etc. Goldschmidt will be dealing with hitting in the humidor.
Although I still rank Goldschmidt well over Encarnacion – I personally do not have a single share of Goldy; I do have a few E5 shares.
#7: Johnny Cueto out earns Yu Darvish
Darvish’s ADP is 49 – the 15th highest pitcher being drafted. Cueto’s ADP is 152 as the 55th highest pitcher. That should be bold enough.
I’m not quite sure why the market is so low on Cueto. Unless he is still injured or has hit an age wall – to me, his awful 2017 was the result of being injured and playing through it. He’s one of my favorite bounce back candidates for 2018. With the newer balls being used in MLB, some have had trouble with blisters, none more perhaps than Cueto. If this was simply a one-time issue – there is no reason why he can’t bounce back to top 10 starter status in 2018.
Cueto’s 2017 skills seemed in line with his norm. His K/9 was 8.3 last year, same as usual. His swinging strike rate was 11%, which was his highest of the past few seasons. He was unlucky with a .322 BABIP last year and simply gave up an increased number of homers. This season, his defense behind him has been upgraded with McCutchen, AJax and Longoria. With some neutral luck, there is no reason why he can’t get back to the high 2’s ERA that he typically has thrown, albeit a tad higher than that just because of his age.
On the other hand, let’s look at Yu Darvish, who had that postseason meltdown at the end of last year.
Yu Darvish’s ERA over the past 5 seasons
2013 ERA – 2.83
2014 ERA – 3.06
2015 (Did not pitch)
2016 ERA – 3.41
2017 ERA – 3.86
Darvish turns 32 this season, and his ERA is trending in the wrong way. His K/9 in that time has also gone down from 11.9 in 2013 to 10.1 last year. His walk rate has also improved in the time, but now there is less wiggle room before the walks become meaningful.
I do not predict that Darvish will collapse in 2018. I simply predict that Cueto will be better.
Had I only predicted one of these two players to have a fantastic season, it wouldn’t be so bold. So, I’ll predict a combo of both.
People forget that Rougned Odor is only 24 years old; his peak is not yet upon us. 2017 was a down year for Odor, where he hit a miserable .204. A .224 BABIP certainly doesn’t help you – but barely breathing above the Mendoza line, is quite awful. Despite that, Odor still smashed 30 homers, and swiped 15 bags. Previously, Odor has typically hit for .260+ … so I’m betting here on a rebound.
Nick Castellanos just turned 26 and is coming off a remarkable second half in 2017 where he hit 17 homers and batted .296. This second half outburst is the result of real skills growth, and Statcast agrees. Now it’s a question of sustaining it for a full season. Castellanos already has 5 HRs this spring, which validates his power potential.
Combining what I think is an achievable upside this year for both players – leads to the bold prediction of 60 HRs / .275 BA for the aggregate of the two. I was able to snag Castellanos in my Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational team (TGFBI), league #2 at a great spot. Unfortunately, Odor was taken earlier in the round that I wanted him.
#9: Garrett Richards is a top 18 SP in 2018.
I remembered that Paul Sporer had done a bold prediction this year on Richards, but I did not remember exactly how high he had him before I wrote this. Then I looked and saw that mine was even bolder (top 18 vs top 25 SP). I couldn’t leave Richards off of my bold predictions list – He is my #1 starting pitcher target this season.
Already with MadBum and Shark out [I do feel bad for Giants fans this year … but hey, on the bright side – it’s still an even year], Richards projects to be a top 30 SP according to the ATC Projections. According to THE BAT projections, Richards is already valued as a top 15 pitcher!
Richards has been great when he has pitched. A K/9 of near 9, ERAs of under 3.00 – three out of the past 4 seasons. It is just a question of him staying healthy for a full season, which he was healthy at the end of last year. The main thing that I have looked for in spring training for him, is health – and so far, so good! The Angels should be a team that is competitive in 2018, and that will generate a nice win total for Richards, should he make it through the season. To me, the bold prediction is with his health. If so, 16+ wins, a 3.00 ERA and 175 Ks is possible.
#10: Tommy Pham becomes the first Cardinal to go 30/30 in a single season
Finally, to my mega power/speed combo prediction – a 30/30 season from Tommy Pham. To find the last player to go 30/30 in a season – we have to go all the way back to 2012, where both Ryan Braun and Mike Trout accomplished the feat. It was the 2nd time that Braun went 30/30.
30/30 seasons are rare these days … there have only been 5 players to do so since 2010 (Trout, Braun, Kemp, Ellsbury and Kinsler). Baseball was in a power outage in the middle of this decade, and now speed is at a standstill. To predict a 30/30 season from anyone these days is bold, let alone from a specific 30-year-old, namely Pham.
Pham came on to the scene last year seemingly out of nowhere, for a full breakout that included a .306 BA. While I don’t believe that the batting average will be anywhere near .300 this year, I do believe in the power/speed. I believe that he will be trading that batting average from 2017 for even more power in 2018, ending up with 25-30 homers. If we squint and stretch our imaginations just a bit, we can see 30 with enough at-bats. STL has traded away Grichuck and Piscotty this offseason, and they fully intend to give Pham the playing time.
As for speed – it is about opportunity and manager green light. Pham was only caught 7 times in 32 tries last season, which bodes well for the Cardinals letting him run once again. Pham has been quoted this offseason saying that he thinks he is a 30/30 player and would have gotten there already had he played and started the entire 2017 season. Let’s see if he is right …
Hopefully, I’ve given you a nice range of reasonably bold to very bold here. Enjoy the season!
Ariel was a finalist for two 2018 FSWA Awards - Baseball Article of the Year, and Baseball Writer of the Year. Ariel is the creator of the ATC (Average Total Cost) Projection System. Ariel also writes for CBS Sports and Sportsline, and is the host of the Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational - Beat the Shift Podcast. Ariel and his fantasy partner, Reuven Guy, have used the ATC system projections to finish in the money in several NFBC, RTSports, Doubt Wars and other national leagues, racking up several division titles. Ariel is a member of the inaugural Tout Wars Draft & Hold League. Ariel Cohen is a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA). He is a Vice President of Risk Management for a large international insurance and reinsurance company. Follow Ariel on Twitter at @ATCNY.