Ariel Cohen’s 2022 Bold Predictions

I am grateful to say that Opening day is finally here! Starting this afternoon, Major League Baseball games will officially count in the standings. Though the season will start a week later than expected, and despite a shorter spring training with an intense “hot stove” period – baseball normalcy is on the horizon.

The 2022 draft season was unique; it was bifurcated with a clear demarcation point in time. There was the period during the lockout, and the period post-lockout. Unfortunately, many of our fantasy baseball drafts and auctions this year were still shifted to virtual events. But all may be forgotten quickly after a full slate of fifteen games appear on the docket this coming weekend.

As our tradition over here at RotoGraphs, it is now time to share our bold predictions with you. This year will be my 5th straight year of 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. A few predictions come 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.

These are bold predictions, not crazy predictions. I am not going to predict the impossible. Myles Straw will not lead the majors in homers. Miguel Sano will not contend for a batting title. Greg Holland will not win 20 games. Those would not be bold predictions – those would be impossible ones.

My definition of a bold prediction is one that is some 10-30% likely. That is to say, they should roughly lie in the 70th to 90th range of percentile possible outcomes. If done right, one should expect to hit on at least one tenth but not more than one third of all bold predictions in the long-term. Any more outlandish a prediction would be miraculous, while any more probable would be too easy a guess.

Some bold predictions may be more likely than others, but all should go against the majority opinion. The point here is to call attention to a few undervalued (or overvalued) bets by the market. The aim is to focus on (or away from) a particular player or situation. Of course, the goal is also to have some fun!

#1: Pablo Lopez will out earn Sandy Alcantara

Sandy Alcantara has garnered a ton of fantasy helium this offseason. After a spectacular second half of ‘21, drafters have pushed Alcantara high up upon their draft boards. Since the start of the new year, his NFBC ADP has been in the 3rd round at 42 – as the 12th starting pitcher to be drafted!

Pablo Lopez, on the other hand (with a 135 ADP), hasn’t gotten as much attention. With an almost 100 pick difference between the two Marlins starting pitchers, this prediction certainly qualifies as bold.

Let’s first take a quick look at how the two fared last year:

2021 Player Statistics
Player A 3.19 3.42 3.45 3.68 24.0% 6.0% .270
Player B 3.07 3.29 3.32 3.49 27.5% 6.2% .301

Can you guess which pitcher is which?

Certainly, based upon the few metrics that I have displayed above – one would assume that Player B is the one with a 42 ADP. But alas, Player B is none other than … Pablo Lopez!

Of course, I intentionally did not display the fact that Alcantara pitched over 100 innings more than Lopez did (205.2 to 102.2). Alcantara also threw harder (98 MPH fastball velocity vs. 94 MPH), and induced more groundballs (53% to 47%) in 2021. Those are clearly in Sandy’s favor.

I am not trying to convince you that Lopez will have the better 2022. ATC doesn’t believe so either. But the two should be more closely valued in fantasy roto formats. ATC projects Alcantara to earn $19 in 5×5 15-team mixed roto formats, with Lopez set to earn $13. That is only a $6 difference!

With a lifetime difference between his SIERA and ERA of almost a run and a half, Alcantara runs the risk of a large regression correction in 2022. With that, and if Lopez can repeat last year’s skills … and stay healthy – herein lies the bold prediction.

#2: Rafael Devers is a top 4 HR hitter in baseball

I am predicting a power surge for the Boston slugger.

Let’s take a look at a few key component metrics for Rafael Devers over the past few seasons:

Rafael Devers – Component Metrics
Season Age HR ISO GB% FB% HR/FB Barrel% EV LA HardHit%
2017 20 10 .198 49.1% 35.6% 17.2% 7.3% 89.8 8.1 44.8%
2018 21 21 .193 46.2% 38.6% 16.5% 7.6% 90.9 11.2 41.7%
2019 22 32 .244 44.4% 34.3% 17.7% 7.9% 92.5 10.5 46.5%
2020 23 30 .220 45.5% 34.5% 19.3% 12.1% 93.0 10.6 43.6%
2021 24 38 .259 41.2% 38.3% 22.1% 15.0% 92.9 13.1 51.5%
Note: Homeruns are scaled up to a 162 game season in 2020.

There are so many positive power trends for Devers. ISO is up and his groundball rate is down. His homer per flyball ratio is now over 20%, and his barrel rate has jumped to 15% in 2021. His launch angle is now up in the teens and his hard-hit rate has jumped up above 50%!

ATC’s projected line for Devers in 2022 is a lofty one – 649 PA, 38 HR, 101 R, 106 RBI with a triple slash of .281/.347/.547. With an ATC InterSD of 2.5 and an InterSK of -0.72, projections not only agree with one another, but suggest that the ATC projected line might even be understated.

On an offseason episode of the Beat the Shift Podcast with guest Trevor May, the Mets reliever suggested that Devers was currently one of the toughest two hitters to pitch to in the major leagues (the other being Juan Soto). The Red Sox lineup has improved in the offseason with the addition of Trevor Story and others. Opposing pitchers might have little choice but to pitch to Devers.

40+ HR and the top of the power leaderboard might be in store for the Red Sox slugging third baseman.

#3: Eric Haase finishes as a top 9 fantasy catcher

According to the NFBC drafters, Eric Haase was the 22nd highest selected catcher since January 1st – with an ADP of 307. Max Stassi, Joey Bart, Carson Kelly and Omar Narvaez were all drafted ahead of the Tigers’ catcher (on average).

One of the reasons that I believe that Haase will greatly out earn his draft position – is that he will beat his current playing time projection. Steamer projects Eric for just 295 plate appearances, FanGraphs Depth Charts give him 307, and ATC has him at 341.

These projected playing time figures seem low to me. Just last season, Eric accumulated 381 PAs – a figure that he should be able to repeat. Haase not only will catch games in 2022, but once again will spend additional time in the outfield. The drafting market seemed to price his value based upon fewer than 300 PA. I believe that he will beat that figure by over 25%.

But what about his offensive skills? Can he repeat last year’s 22-HR performance? I believe so.

Though last season’s 23% HR/FB rate seems high at first glance – we have seen this lofty magnitude of rate in the past for Eric – including a 26% figure in 2019 in a large sample size (though mostly at AAA). Combined with a long track record of a mid-40s flyball rate, the power should continue. As another bit of encouragement – he has an excellent career major league barrel rate of 13%! So far in spring training, he looks good – with 2 HRs in his 28 plate appearances.

Yes, Haase’s batting average should be fairly miserable once again. His career strikeout rate is 32%, and I do not expect that to vastly improve. ATC projects Haase for a .219 batting average in 2022 – which is the highest of all of the FanGraphs projections.

I do expect him to outperform his run production category projections (R, RBI) once again. The Tigers lineup has improved from last season, especially with Spencer Torkelson making the opening day roster and the addition of Austin Meadows this past week.

Look for Eric Haase to compete with the #1 catchers in 2022.

#4: Eduardo Rodriguez will out earn Kevin Gausman

Akin to the Lopez/Alcantara prediction above, I have yet another “out earn” style bold prediction. Kevin Gausman has been selected on average about 75 picks ahead of Eduardo Rodriguez in NFBC leagues – making this prediction bold. Gausman was one of the top earning starting pitchers in 2021, and Rodriguez turned in a disappointing season by his standards.

I view this as a “buy low / sell high” situation. Gausman is being over-drafted, and Rodriguez is currently undervalued. In fact, Eduardo may be very undervalued.

Let’s start with projections. Below are the 2022 projected ERAs and strikeouts from the FanGraphs projection engines for both Gausman and Rodriguez:

2022 Projections Comparison
Projected ERA Projected ERA Projected Ks Projected Ks
Projection System Kevin Gausman Eduardo Rodriguez Kevin Gausman Eduardo Rodriguez
ZiPS DC 3.61 3.47 198 191
THE BAT 4.13 3.88 198 178
ATC 3.72 3.79 191 186
FGDC 3.77 3.67 202 193
Steamer 3.94 3.87 204 192
ZiPS 3.61 3.47 177 172

Rodriguez is almost universally projected to have a better ERA than Gausman. In fact, ATC is the only set of projections to disagree. The strikeout totals between the two are also in the ballpark with one another – typically within an error bar of just 10 Ks. ATC projects Gausman to earn $19 of rotisserie value in 2022 vs. $13 for Rodriguez – only a $6 difference!

Let’s now compare a few career component statistics for the two pitchers in question:

Career Component Metrics
Player K% BB% GB% HR/FB%
Kevin Gausman 23% 7% 43% 13%
Eduardo Rodriguez 24% 8% 41% 12%

Sure, Gausman has been a different pitcher since he joined the Giants in 2020, but the comparisons above are remarkably close between the pitchers.

As compared to last year, Gausman will now have to pitch in a tougher division and in a tougher ballpark this coming season. The reverse is true for Rodriguez. The Tigers also now come with a rejuvenated and revamped lineup, which should afford Eduardo Rodriguez the ability to win a large number of games in 2022. Expect a bounce back fantasy season from E-Rod.

#5: Jeimer Candelario will break out, finishing with at least 25 HR, 80 R and 80 RBI

A third Tiger now makes his appearance today. I suppose that I should have titled this article as “Ariel Cohen’s 2022 Bold Predictions for the Detroit Tigers.”

Last season, there was a four-way-tie for the major league lead in doubles. Bryce Harper, J.D. Martinez and Whit Merrifield all hit 42 doubles apiece as the first three members of the elite club. Can you guess which player was the fourth?

Well … I sort of set you up for this one. Indeed, it was Jeimer Candelario!

Was this a display of just warning track power, or will some of his doubles turn into homers in 2022? I am betting on the latter.

Firstly, the way that Jeimer performed in the 2nd half of 2021 may suggest a new level for the Tigers’ third baseman. Take a look at a few key statistical splits from last year by half season:

Jeimer Candelario – 2021 Statistics by Half
Half AB BA K% HR 2B SLG wRC+
1st Half 305 .262 24% 5 20 .377 102
2nd Half 252 .282 19% 11 22 .524 139

Candelario’s contact rate soared into the eighties in the second half of ‘21. He hit 11 HRs with a .524 slugging percentage – a .147 jump from the first half! Instead of being a league average hitter, he jumped to a 139 wRC+. I believe that his latter half of 2021 was closer to the true representation of his talent.

Next, I’ll mention again that the Tigers lineup is markedly improved. Hitting in the heart of the order (or close to it) should afford Candelario with better pitch selections – which will lead to more scoring chances this coming season.

Candelario is a low-risk player. He is sporting an ATC InterSD of only 2.0 and an IntraSD of 0.42 – both of which are extremely low risk figures. Jeimer lacks differential platoon splits, and boasts a superb career 11% walk rate.

In other words – he has a high statistical floor, and I believe that Candelario will take the next step in 2022.

#6: Gleyber Torres finishes as a top 10 shortstop

Do you remember when Gleyber Torres was a 4th/5th round draft selection? That was only a few short years ago. Now, Torres is being selected as just the 20th shortstop by NFBC drafters. I will predict today that he will finish amongst the top ten.

Similar to Candelario above, Torres is a relatively low risk player. His ATC InterSD of 2.9 and IntraSD of 0.39 makes him one of the safest and well-categorically spread players of the entire shortstop pool.

Gleyber Torres – 2021 Statistics by Half
Half AB BA K% HR 2B SLG wRC+
1st Half 279 .240 20% 3 10 .308 81
2nd Half 180 .289 21% 6 12 .456 115

Torres had a much better second half than first. He increased his slugging percentage by .148 points, his wRC+ by 34, and his batting average increased by almost 50 points.

Ian Kahn of The Athletic points out that Torres may have been adversely affected by his poor defensive play in 2021. He is currently slated to be the everyday second baseman in the coming season. The shortstop position (which was his primary spot in ’21) was a bit too much for him to handle at the major league level, and likely caused his offensive skills to decline. The permanent move back to second base should assist him in the coming year.

ATC projects Torres for a .262 BA, 19 HR and 11 SB with 67 R and 68 RBI. I think that he can exceed those figures. Though aided by the juiced ball and favorable AL East ballpark dimensions back in 2019, we have seen the top of Torres’s power potential (good for 38 HRs). Torres should make a run this season at getting back closer to his talent ceiling.

Wishing you all the best of luck in the 2022 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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7 months ago

Ariel, thank you for all of the amazing work that you do. I have two quick questions: First, will there be another ATC update to reflect recent happenings? Second, is there any chance that you’ll update your ATC projections in-season? If not, what do you use for in-season projections?
Thank you.