Ariel Cohen’s 2021 Bold Predictions

Opening day is upon us!

Starting this afternoon, Major League Baseball games will officially count for the 2021 season standings.

After a 60-game short season in 2020, baseball looks to drive us just a bit closer towards normalcy. Yes, there will still be abundant COVID protocols in effect, and yes – fan attendance will be restricted. But for most of us, the sun feels just a bit brighter today.

A large number of our fantasy baseball drafts and auctions this year were shifted to virtual venues. Aside from a larger online presence, the vast majority of fantasy baseball players had a somewhat normal draft season. Remember last year, when we essentially had two distinct baseball draft seasons (in February/March as well as in June/July)? Hopefully the 2021 season will proceed without major interruptions.

It is now time to share my 2021 bold predictions with you. One of the first fantasy baseball articles that I had ever written was the 2018 edition. I am proud to be back for the 4th straight year, sharing with you a few unlikely events – that I believe have the chance to come true.

As usual, the ATC Projections have helped shape much of what is to come in this article. Some predictions stem from my own personal analysis on the player, or of a team situation. Other nuggets arise from blind optimism or the crossing of my fingers. These are all possibilities that could happen, that I feel will happen if things break just right.

As always – please remember: These are bold predictions, not crazy predictions. I am not going to predict the impossible. Raimel Tapia will not lead the majors in homers, and I won’t predict that. Khris Davis will not contend for a batting title, and I won’t consider that. Those are not bold predictions – those are impossible ones.

My definition of a bold prediction is one that lies roughly in the 70th to 90th range of percentile possible outcomes. If done right, one should expect to hit on some 10-30% of all bold predictions in the long-term. Any more outlandish than 10% would be miraculous, while any more probable than 30% would be too easy a guess.

While many others may use this forum to provide even bolder predictions, I choose to focus on these percentiles. Some of my predictions may be more probable than others, but all are a distance from the majority opinion. The purpose is to call some undervalued (or overvalued) bets by the market to your attention.

In 2021, doubleheader games will still be 7 innings long. So here are seven bold predictions for 2021.

#1: Eddie Rosario finishes as a top 15 OF in Roto

Alright, let’s get out my token Eddie Rosario prediction out of the way.

My 2020 Prediction: Eddie Rosario will return 2nd round fantasy value in standard 5×5 roto leagues

My 2019 Prediction: Eddie Rosario will out earn Christian Yelich

My 2018 Prediction: Eddie Rosario finishes as a top 15 OF in Roto

I decided to go back and use 2018’s identical forecast for Rosario.

The ATC Projections currently rank Eddie as the 17th best outfielder heading into 2021. This includes Cody Bellinger, who also qualifies at 1B as well as Whit Merrifield who is eligible at 2B. The market places Rosario further down; he is being selected as the 28th highest OF according to recent NBFC ADP data.

There are a number of risky outfielders currently expected to finish ahead of Rosario. Randy Arozarena had an extraordinary postseason, but he has not yet established enough of a track record to be relied upon. Similarly, the league may catch up to newbies Kyle Tucker and Luis Robert. There is also the often-injured Aaron Judge, and Marcell Ozuna who is coming off of a career year which may be unrepeatable (especially if he must play the field this season). Any of these players may fall out of the top 15 of outfielders by season’s end.

Eddie Rosario, however – is still trending upwards. Below are Rosario’s rotisserie earnings for a 15-team mixed league format with 5×5 settings over the past few seasons.

Eddie Rosario – Historical Rotisserie Earnings
Season Roto Value ($)
2017 18
2018 21
2019 22
2020 24

In 2020, Rosario ranked as the 15th best outfielder, but heading into 2021 – the drafting market still does not believe in him. In fact, his average draft position went down between the ‘20 and ’21 draft seasons.

ATC is projecting Rosario to hit 30 HRs, score 81 runs, knock in 92 while batting .270.

Eddie Rosario – Component Rates
Season Age K% BB% FB% HR/FB Barrel%
2017 25 18.00% 5.90% 37.40% 16.40% 6.70%
2018 26 17.60% 5.10% 44.10% 12.00% 7.20%
2019 27 14.60% 3.70% 42.20% 15.80% 7.70%
2020 28 14.70% 8.20% 46.60% 15.90% 6.20%

Rosario’s contact rate is elite, and his walk rate has greatly vastly improved in 2020. His power profile has been largely consistent. Rosario is a low-risk player with a high floor of production. Plus, by virtue of leaving Minnesota (a team that does not run these days) – there is the potential for an increase in stolen base output in ’21.

Although I have been close in the past, I am to hoping to finally get an Eddie Rosario prediction correct this season.

 #2: Franmil Reyes will out earn Yoan Moncada

I am referring to the 5×5 rotisserie format for this prediction, but in other formats, the prediction would be even more likely.

Let’s start with the ATC Projections for each player:

Projected 2021 Statistics
Player Projected Roto$ NFBC ADP AB R RBI HR SB BA
Franmil Reyes $16.1 155 536 77 91 34 0.3 .259
Yoan Moncada $14.7 80 569 85 79 24 7.1 .259

ATC expects Reyes to out earn Moncada on a 5×5 roto expected basis, yet the market has been selecting Yoan about 75 picks earlier than Franmil. Sure, there might be a utility-only penalty for Reyes, but a 5-round discount seems enormous.

Reyes is a lifetime .263 hitter. Moncada’s career batting average is only .260 – propped up by a historic .406 BAPIP in 2019 when he hit .315. Aside from that year, Yoan’s highest batting average in a season has been just .231. A career 31% strikeout rate will generally yield a lower BA ceiling. ATC projects the two to be similar players average wise, but I see more upside for Reyes, and more downside for Moncada.

As for power, Reyes is clearly the better player. Franmil has 40-HR upside, as evidenced by his age-23 season (2019) when he hit 37 HRs in fewer than 500 AB. Yoan’s career HR/FB% rate is about half that of Franmil’s.

Despite ATC’s small advantage given to Reyes in the run production department (R+RBI), I do estimate that Moncada amidst the excellent White Sox lineup should churn out a bit more than Reyes. However, that advantage is likely to be slim.

The only real rotisserie advantage to Moncada that I can see is his stolen base output. It is unclear how much he will run in 2021. Moncada might have been affected by COVID in 2020, but he didn’t even attempt a stolen base last year. Thus far in spring training, Moncada has only attempted one stolen base. Reyes has tried to swipe two.

#3: Emmanuel Clase will lead the Cleveland Indians in saves

Let’s take a quick look at some underlying components for the top three save candidates in Cleveland:

Cleveland Indiands Bullpen
Player ATC Projected Saves Career K% Career SwStr% Career BB% Career Barrel% Career GB% Fastball Velocity (MPH)
James Karinchak 20 46.60% 16.80% 13.00% 1.90% 26.90% 95.8
Nick Wittgren 6 23.40% 9.20% 6.80% 6.50% 38.20% 92.3
Emmanuel Clase 7 22.30% 10.40% 6.40% 3.00% 60.60% 99.5

Emmanuel Clase, who missed all of the 2020 season due to suspension, was the main return of the Corey Kluber trade. At the moment, ATC projects Karinchak to garner the most saves in 2021 for Cleveland, but I believe that the Indians will end up turning regularly to Clase. Recently, a few Indians beat reporters have written that the team will initially institute a closer-by-committee approach, hinting that Karinchak may not be the main 9th inning man.

Clase has arguably the best raw “stuff” of the trio. His fastball sits 99-100 MPH, which is elite for pitchers. Wittgren on the other hand, has a mere 92 MPH average fastball velocity.

Clase also has accumulated an elite career 60% groundball rate (consistent with his minor league stats), which is far superior to the other candidates. Although Clase’s strikeout rate is nowhere near Karinchak’s phenomenal 47% mark, his 10% swinging strike rate is still excellent. The biggest knock on Karinchak is his awful walk rate of 13%; Clase’s BB% rate is only 6%.

Emmanuel is having a good spring. In 9.1 innings, he struck out 12 batters, compiling a 0.64 WHIP. Wittgren is having a good spring as well, and Karinchak is struggling.

Although the Indians may offer opportunities to the others initially, I would bet on Clase ending up with the lion’s share of saves, barring injury. In drafts this year, he is available quite a bit later than both Karinchak and Wittgren.

#4: Pete Alonso and Joey Gallo will combine for at least 85 HRs

Bold predictions are difficult enough to make of one player, and adding the complexity of including two simultaneously makes the prediction even tougher. ATC projects the pair to hit a combined 80 HRs, so I am hoping that the combined two-player 85-HR threshold makes this one bold enough for you.

Projected 2021 Statistics
Player AB RBI HR InterSD InterSK
Pete Alonso 549 104 41 2.5 -1.02
Joey Gallo 508 90 39 2.4 -1.19

Both players are expected to rebound from down 2020 seasons, and have compiled fantastic spring training figures. Perhaps the start and stop of last year had an effect; Alonso had a poor July/August before exploding in September, for example.

What I would like to highlight here are the players’ ATC Inter-Projection Volatility Metrics (InterSD & InterSK).

  • InterSD highlights how tight projections are surrounding a player. A lower InterSD for hitters typically correlates with better expected production.
  • InterSK highlights how projections sit around the ATC average. A zero InterSK means that projections are just as high as they are low. A negative InterSK means that there are outsized low projections that are dragging the ATC average down. Players with negative InterSKs have tended to perform better than expected.

You can read more about ATC Inter-Projection Volatility in its introductory article, here.

Projections for both players exhibit excellent ATC volatility figures. Compared to typical 3.2-3.6 InterSD figures, Gallo and Alonso’s InterSDs of 2.4 & 2.5 (respectively) are far less volatile. Their InterSK metrics, -1.19 and -1.02 are both decently negative, and should result in better than expected production. I am bullish this year on the power pair.

#5: Tyler Glasnow will strike out 250 batters

Let’s take a look at Glasnow’s strikeout numbers over the past two seasons:

Tyler Glasnow – Strikeout Statistics
Season IP K K% SwStr%
2019 60.2 76 33.0% 12.0%
2020 57.1 91 38.2% 14.0%
2020 Scaled 154 246 38.2% 14.0%
2019-2020 118 167 35.7% 13.0%

Staying healthy has been an issue for the Rays right hander, but the strikeout numbers have been enormous. Over the past two seasons, Glasnow has averaged a 36% strikeout rate predicated on a 13% swinging strike rate. One should never extrapolate a partial season to full, but if you scale 2020 to the standard 162 game duration – Glasnow would have approached 250 strikeouts.

There is a ton of optimism for Glasnow heading into the 2021 season. First, he has reportedly stopped tipping his pitches. He used to exhibit different glove placement locations prior to each pitch. For fastballs, he would set his glove up higher than he would for off-speed offerings. He has since corrected that flaw.

Second, Glasnow has been working on a new pitch over the offseason. To this point in his career, he has been just a two-pitch pitcher; a third pitch was surely needed. His new pitch has been described as a slider or cutter, and he started throwing it during spring training. To boot, his fastball velocity has ticked up as well – touching 100 MPH on occasion. These new tools can only help elevate Glasnow’s already strong skills.

ATC currently projects that Glasnow will amass 212 Ks in 158 innings in ’21. The key here is the innings count. Should Tyler be able to stay healthy for 185 innings – using the same projected strikeout rate, he will hit the 250 K mark.

#6: Edwin Diaz will lead MLB in saves

A second Met appears in my bold predictions!

First, in 2021 there are only a handful of “safe” closers – relievers that have low risk of losing the closer role. Especially with Seth Lugo injured, Edwin Diaz will be given lots of rope. Having the role is the most important part towards leading the league in saves.

For those that doubt Diaz’s skills – last year, he struck out 50 batters in 26 innings – good for a 46% strikeout rate. If you would extrapolate that to a full season, Edwin would have amassed 135 Ks – which is the equivalent of a 4th/5th starting pitcher in many fantasy leagues. His ERA in 2020 was not horrible either … at 1.75! Yet, Diaz somehow only saved a total of 6 games.

I conjure that Edwin Diaz has faced an enormous level of bad luck in his tenure with the New York National League ballclub. As a Met (2019-2020), his BABIP was an ungodly .378! If a pitcher has a BABIP of .320, he is rather unlucky. A .378 mark means that the fates abhor him. Plus, as a Met – his HR/FB% rate has been a high 24%. As a Mariner, it was just 13% – almost half of the Met figure. Since BABIP does not include homeruns, Diaz has been getting hit from more than one side of the angry baseball gods.

Diaz will be only 27 years old in 2021. He throws hard and his “stuff” is elite. Hader, Chapman and Hendricks are all riskier players in my opinion. The Mets project to be a playoff contending team. I expect them to have many save chances, and Diaz should be there for almost all of them.

#7: The Colorado Rockies will win the World Series

Just kidding.

Well, its April Fool’s day today, so I was obligated to write something humorous and out of the ordinary (sorry Rockies fans).

No, the Rockies will not win the World Series this year. They will possibly lose over 100 games. The ATC Projections give the Rockies a 0.0% chance to make the playoffs.

NL West – 2021 Simulated Standings & Playoff Odds
Team Proj W Proj L Strength of Sched Win Division Win Wild Card Make Playoffs Win Pennant Win World Series
Dodgers 99.6 62.4 .489 68.2% 29.8% 98.0% 31.7% 20.3%
Padres 95.2 66.8 .493 31.3% 60.6% 91.9% 18.0% 10.5%
Giants 78.6 83.4 .501 0.4% 8.5% 8.9% 0.6% 0.1%
Diamondbacks 73.6 88.4 .505 0.1% 1.9% 2.0% 0.1% 0.0%
Rockies 62.2 99.8 .513 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
SOURCE: ATC Projections

Just imagine, you may actually want to stream pitchers who will play at Colorado this year, despite the altitude of Coors Field. Particularly in leagues that reward wins and strikeouts – the Rockies’ poor lineup may outweigh the Coors effect.

What a wild 2021 it will be!

Wishing you all the best of luck in the 2021 fantasy baseball season!

Ariel is the 2019 FSWA Baseball Writer of the Year. Ariel is also the winner of the 2020 FSWA Baseball Article of the Year award. 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 over the past three years (2019-2021). Ariel also writes for CBS Sports, SportsLine, RotoBaller, and is the host of the Beat the Shift Podcast (@Beat_Shift_Pod). 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 is the 2020 Tout Wars Head to Head League Champion. 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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Mario Mendozamember
1 year ago

Clase missed 2020 due to PED, not injury, correct? Regardless, he’s still throwing 99 mph cutters