Ariel Cohen’s 2019 Bold Predictions – Recap

The 2019 MLB regular season has concluded. Two Astros may very well finish 1-2 in the AL Cy Young award. The Brewers went on an unbelievable Yelich-less run to make the playoffs – only to be eliminated in the wildcard game with their best pitcher on the mound. A new record was set for rookie homeruns in a single season. The Yankees hit 306 HRs as a team, and yet that did not set a record; the Twins hit 307! Baseball set a new collective HR record. It was the year of the longball, or as Jeff Zimmerman calls it, “Happy Fun Ball.”

It is now time to check back on how we fared this year in fantasy. Let’s start with a review of this season’s bold predictions.

As I often remind my readers – we will never succeed in getting the entirety of our bold predictions correct, or even realize a majority of them. If I wanted to achieve a high success rate, I could simply have filled up my list of predictions with easy ones such as “Justin Verlander will win 10+ games this season.” That class of prediction would have been too easy.

Rather, the point of the exercise is to highlight certain undervalued (or overvalued) players by choosing a few unlikely, yet achievable outcomes. The idea is to target somewhere between the 70th and 90th percentiles of possible outcomes – predictions which are 10-30% likely to occur.

I often use the ATC Projections as a guide for these bold predictions. I look at where the ATC projections generate an outcome which varies significantly from what the general public perceives will happen. Some other times – I just go with my gut and with my own intuition.

Let’s recap!

#1: Matt Barnes will finish as a top 5 saves leader in 2019

There are two elements that need to occur for a relief pitcher to accumulate saves. The pitcher needs to:

1) Get the closer role

2) Pitch well enough to keep the role

I got #1 correct. Matt Barnes was handed the closer role at some point. Barnes got the very first opportunity of the season, saving the second game of the season on March 29 (In the first game of the season, the Red Sox lost 12-4 to the Mariners).

The job though, was awarded to Ryan Brasier in the month of April, with Barnes pitching in more high leverage situations. The Red Sox struggled early on and following Brasier’s April 21st save, the role seemed to be handed over to Barnes. But Matt had trouble in late May and June – and eventually, the role went to Brandon Workman.

Barnes finished with a 3.78 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, a 5-4 record with 4 saves.

Tough break here.

0 for 1

 #2: Michael Conforto will hit 40 HRs

This one was somewhat close. Conforto finished with a career high 33 round-trippers.

Michael Conforto 2019 Statistics By Month
April/March 29 104 6 0.269 0.403 0.519 0.922
May 19 62 4 0.242 0.392 0.500 0.892
June 28 105 6 0.229 0.303 0.429 0.731
July 22 84 5 0.298 0.372 0.524 0.896
August 27 104 7 0.279 0.372 0.548 0.920
Sept/Oct 26 90 5 0.222 0.340 0.444 0.784
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

As typical for him, Conforto started out hot in the first month of the season. His power output started to dip in May, and then his skills fell in June before rebounding over the summer.

Michael is still young, and I believe that he hasn’t reached his peak yet. His skills are trending nicely year over year. His strikeout rate has now declined for a third straight season since 2016 (down to 23%), and he has been keeping up his excellent walk rate (13%). His hard contact rate was up this season, and his soft contact rate was at the lowest of his career.

After posting a HR/FB ratio of 27% in 2017, I was hoping the skill would return in 2019 – which would have put him over the 40 HR mark. I do still believe that Conforto can achieve another higher level of power. I just thought that it would be this year.

The ATC Projections had Conforto projected for 32 HRs, which was a value above many other projection systems. ATC came close, missing by only 1 HR. Conforto fell short of the bold prediction of 40, but not by very much.

0 for 2

#3: Eddie Rosario will out earn Christian Yelich

This bold prediction was less about the possibility of Yelich busting, and more about the ability for Rosario to break out. According to the ESPN player rater, Rosario finished 2019 as the #23 best outfielder. He’s even higher on the list if you place some OF eligible players at other positions – such as Ketel Marte, Whit Merrifield and Kris Bryant, etc.

Rosario’s final stat line was a healthy .275-32-109 with 91 runs and 3 stolen bases.

As for the stolen bases well drying up … Rosario does have the ability to swipe bags (he stole over 8 bases three times in his career), but the Twins as an organization decided not to steal bases in 2019. Minnesota as a team stole a major league low 28 bases for the season, and it was likely a calculated approach. As mentioned above, the Twins eclipsed 300 homeruns for the team this season. In terms of maximizing runs – analytically, unless a player has a fantastic SB success rate – attempting stolen bases suppresses runs. MIN has fully bought into this notion. Rosario finished the season with the third highest SB total on the team at just 3.

But everything else about what makes up Rosario clicked this season, as I had hoped and predicted. Rosario’s strikeout rate has now lowered in each of the past four seasons to a career low 14.6%. Though Eddie still does not walk enough, his batting average remains high – and he finished the season at .275. This was accomplished with the lowest BABIP of his career, so his batting average may very well go UP next season, if anything. The power continued as he hit a career high 32 HRs. His run production output was also at the highest of his career with the fantastic cast of characters surrounding him.

By many measures, Rosario was a big success in 2019, and this half of the bold prediction came true.

As for Christian Yelich, the reigning National League MVP – it appears  that there was no regression for him.

Christian Yelich Batted Ball Metrics
2013 0.380 63.2% 13.8% 16.7%
2014 0.356 61.0% 17.8% 11.5%
2015 0.370 62.5% 15.0% 12.5%
2016 0.356 56.5% 20.0% 23.6%
2017 0.336 55.4% 25.2% 15.3%
2018 0.373 51.8% 23.5% 35.0%
2019 0.355 43.2% 35.9% 32.8%

We knew that a .373 BABIP was unsustainable, but Yelich’s traditionally high BABIP did continue. Yelich made further progress in shifting his ground balls to fly balls. He lowered his GB% rate by 9% while at the same time raised his FB% rate by over 12%. Yes, he’s no longer a ground-ball hitter. It is hard to tell if his 30%+ HR/FB rate is completely sustainable, but this level of play is now here for two straight years. After two seasons of elite power production, the Milwaukee outfielder is one the of the best in the game.

Again, the point of this prediction was to alert you to an undervalued Rosario, and to remind you of the possibility of regression for Yelich. The Rosario call was on the money, but Yelich clearly is still the better player – as he is in the conversation for the truly baseball elite.

0 for 3

#4: Max Fried will be the Braves’ most valuable starting pitcher

Looking back at NFBC ADPs for drafts in the latter part of March, this prediction was certainly bold.

Atlanta Braves Starting Pitchers – 2019 Average Draft Position
Player ADP
Mike Foltynewicz 157
Kevin Gausman 256
Julio Teheran 267
Sean Newcomb 272
Touki Toussaint 370
Kyle Wright 478
Mike Soroka 619
Max Fried 638

Fried was essentially a FREE fantasy commodity in any format. The two Braves starting pitchers taken latest in drafts, turned out to be the two best.

Fried finished the season with 17 wins – which was good for 2nd best in the National League. He struck out 173 batters in 165.2 innings – a K/9 of 9.4. His accumulated WAR for the season was 2.9, 2nd only on the Braves to Mike Soroka. Soroka finished as the 19th best starting pitcher in baseball on the ESPN Player Rater, whereas Fried finished 45th. Soroka was a high-end #2 SP, whereas Fried was a low-end #3 SP in deep leagues.

If not for Soroka (4.0 WAR, with a 2.68 ERA over 174.2 innings), I would have won this bold prediction outright. But again, as above with Rosario/Yelich – the idea of the bold prediction was to garner your attention to Fried who went almost entirely undrafted. I personally owned many shares of Fried, since the ATC Projections placed him easily above replacement. I was able to snag him quite late in reserve rounds – and I am thankful that I had done so.

In retrospect, I should have phrased this bold prediction by stating something like “Max Fried will be a top 50 starting pitcher in 2019.” Technically, this was a miss – as Fried wasn’t the #1 most valuable Braves starter. Nonetheless, you would have been super glad to have paid attention to this prediction.

0 for 4

#5: The Cincinnati Reds will make the playoffs

This pick was a total flop. The Reds finished this year with a poor but not awful 75-87 record.

This prediction was not as far-fetched as you might think. The Reds ended the season with the 8th best ERA in the major leagues (4.18), which was 4th best in the National league. In fact, they led the entire NL in pitching strikeouts (1552). Their team ranked 12th in the MLB in team fielding percentage, which was 6th in the NL.

Despite having a nice season from Eugenio Suarez, the Reds couldn’t score many runs. They finished with 701 runs scored, 6th worst in the MLB.

The Reds were a bit unlucky – their simple Pythagorean win expectation generates an expected winning percentage of 0.493. That would translate to winning 80 games, 5 more than the 75 that they finished with. They also had the misfortune of playing in a division with the Cardinals and Brewers who both made the postseason, plus the Cubs who finished with a winning record.

This pick was not all that close. Let’s move on to a few of the more successful predictions that I made.

0 for 5

#6: Taylor Rogers finishes this season as the closer for the Twins

Got this closer bold prediction correct!

As I mentioned way back in March, I grabbed Taylor Rogers in round 25 of the Tout Wars Draft & Hold League, which turned out to be a fantastic use of a reserve round slot. In the previous round, I had just grabbed Blake Parker … so this was an attempt to draft a large portion of the 2019 Minnesota saves (and I believed right from the start that the Twins will win the AL Central this year).

I believed that Rogers was the highest skilled arm in the entire Twins bullpen, and he was. He compiled an ERA of 2.61 with 90 Ks in 69 IP (K% of 32%), with a 1.00 WHIP. This was not BABIP aided in any way – his BABIP of .307 was roughly luck neutral. His SIERA of 2.63 also confirms that his fortunes were legitimate. His accumulated total of 30 saves ranked as 9th in the MLB (4th in the AL) – but could have been even more had he closed out games all season long.

As Rogers is a southpaw, the Twins were thinking in the beginning of the season either to mix and match RPs by inning, or to simply to leave Rogers in high leverage situations. But in the end, MIN decided that Rogers fit the 9th inning role better than anyone else.

It appears that one of my followers in the above tweet was glad to follow my advice. I am so glad to have helped!

1 for 6

 #7: Josh Bell finishes a top 10 first baseman

Nailed it!

Even with a poor 2nd half of the season, Josh Bell was able to hold on to be the 8th best first baseman this season according to the Razzball player rater.

I had mentioned numerous times in my pre-season writings and on a few podcasts including the TGFBI Beat the Shift Podcast which I host – that Josh Bell was one of the greatest bargains this draft season relative to his market price according to the ATC projections. His NFBC ADP in March was 259, the 26th best first baseman. ATC saw that this was a huge misread by the market.

Very briefly, I believed that 2018 was a power outlier for the Pirates first-baseman.

Josh Bell – Power Indicators
Season HR FB% HR/FB%
2017 26 31.2% 19.1%
2018 12 32.5% 9.2%
2019 37 37.3% 23.9%

This season, Bell’s HR/FB rebounded nicely. The power output came right back … and then some. Statcast agrees – Bell’s average exit velocity of 92.3 MPH was the 13th highest in baseball.

2019 for Bell illustrated the traditional “Rookie flash / Sophomore slump / Junior rebound” path to excellence.

As mentioned back in March, Josh Bell was a “Low Variance projection” for ATC. That is the term I use to describe a player for which the underlying projection systems do not differ all that much from each other. The projection systems were all in sync (although not quite to the degree of Bell’s actual success). From simple aggregated data, Bell was set to earn a $7 profit in mixed auctions. The rest was my analysis and speculation. With the average projected discount alone from ATC, Bell was guaranteed to appear on most of my rosters this season, and I’m glad that he did.

Looks like I’m on a hitting streak now. Let’s see if that can continue …

2 for 7

#8: Zach Eflin out earns teammate Nick Pivetta

After the first month of the season, this was looking to be quite a slam dunk prediction for me.

After a stellar first two months of the season, Eflin did had some trouble over the summer. Zach was briefly sent down to the minors, excelling once again upon his return. Here is his month by month ERA breakdown:

Zach Eflin – 2019 ERA By Month
Month ERA
April/March 3.34
May 2.64
June 4.02
July 11.88
August 3.77
Sept/Oct 2.80

If we remove the month of July, and Eflin would have compiled had a stellar 3.27 ERA for the entirety of the season. Below is the full 5×5 comparison of Eflin vs. Pivetta for 2019:

Zach Eflin vs. Nick Pivetta
Zach Eflin 163.1 10 129 4.13 1.35
Nick Pivetta 93.2 4 89 5.38 1.52

Eflin crushed his teammate in every single category. Success!

3 for 8

#9: Kole Calhoun finishes a top 35 outfielder.

Calhoun finished at #40 according to the Razzball Player Rater. .232-33-74 with 92 runs and 4 SB. If we take away a few outfielders who also qualify (and were drafted) at other positions, Calhoun would squarely be in the top 35.

In the second half of the 2018 season, Kole hit 16 HRs, 10 of which came in July alone. He kept up that pace all season long in 2019. Calhoun was able to reach back to the days where he consistently both knocked in and scored 75+ runs. He walked at an 11.1% rate – the highest of his career, and like everyone else in baseball – was able to turn flyballs into HRs (career high 23% HR/FB% rate).

I won’t be able to take full credit for getting this one right, as he missed the goal by 5 spots, but this was a highly successful bold prediction – and once again, you would have been so glad to have snagged Calhoun in your leagues.

3 for 9

#10 – Extra Innings: Khris Davis hits exactly .246

Khris Davis ended the season with a career low .217 batting average, a far cry from his typical and famous .247. After 4 straight seasons of Davis hitting exactly .247, I expected Davis to regress to his 5-year average of .246, which is what the ATC projections decreed that he would hit.

Well, obviously this one was not a real bold prediction. This was just for fun. Of course, if I would have gotten it correct, I would have surely taken credit for it.


Final tally:

3 for 9, .333

As mentioned at the outset, these bold predictions are aimed at achieving a 10-30% likelihood of success. To that end, I outperformed expectations this year!

In fact, Kole Calhoun came really close, Max Fried was a huge success this year, and Eddie Rosario out earned his draft spot. If one had drafted based off my bold predictions this season (and many of you did follow elements of them), you would have been extremely happy with the outcomes.

Thank you so much for reading all season long! I hope that I was able to provide you a number of good nuggets of information which helped you win your leagues in 2019!

Of course, there is much more wrap up to do in the coming weeks. Keep following me on Twitter at @ATCNY, and of course, keep reading me here at FanGraphs all off-season long.

We hoped you liked reading Ariel Cohen’s 2019 Bold Predictions – Recap by Ariel Cohen!

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Ariel is the 2019 FSWA Baseball Writer of the Year. He is the creator of the ATC (Average Total Cost) Projection System. Ariel was ranked by FantasyPros as the #1 fantasy baseball expert in 2019. His ATC Projections were ranked as the #1 most accurate projection system in 2019. Ariel also writes for CBS Sports, SportsLine, RotoBaller, and is the host of the Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational - Beat the Shift Podcast (@TGFBI). Ariel is a member of the inaugural Tout Wars Draft & Hold league, a member of the inaugural Mixed LABR Auction league and plays high stakes contests in the NFBC. 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.

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the eddie rosario bit outearning his ADP made me laugh considering you said he’d outperform Yelich